The College Essay Blues
Today is the start of Winter Break. While many of you are about to enjoy your winter holidays, I know seniors are about to enter a world of pain.
It is college essay time. I may be going against the mantra of the disillusioned senior, but despite their many annoying qualities, I think college essays are a constructive experience.
College essays are unusually cruel. They range from 250 to 650 words long, yet they take forever to complete. I’ll spend hours obsessing over the same 500 words, until my essay blends into a hazy conglomerate.
Often these essays ask the applicant to write about a moment of growth. It can take the form of a challenge you have overcome, how you have contributed to a community, or what intellectually excites you. All questions try to probe at core beliefs and personality traits, and it feels impossible to wholly answer the prompt. I have been driven to not include the whole truth and idealize situations in order to ft a prompt.
Colleges say they want to learn about the true you, but I am rather skeptical. When I write about my time as a camp counselor, am I going to mention that my lack of communication led to problems? What if I didn’t grow? What if I still wait till the last minute before sending urgent emails? Does a college really want to hear that? No.
Instead they want to hear how I overcame adversity, how I was irresponsible initially but grew to become a better counselor. Any negative attributes have to include some positive spin. For example, instead of mentioning how I can procrastinate for hours on end, I am compelled to say that I don’t meet with teachers enough. By saying this, I’m showing the admissions offcer that I’m independent and have the determination to figure problems out on my own. I’m not saying something truly negative. The college process is a big game, yet colleges have the audacity to frame it as a holistic review of oneself.
I have found some positive side effects from the circus that is the college process; it requires self-refection. As I constantly think about a multitude of prompts, I start to reconsider my role in various communities and my core beliefs. Why do I do what I do? Why do I have certain beliefs? It’s nice sometimes to have an existential crisis.
If I can only include my cherry-picked positive attributes, I might as well make them nuanced. This is easier said than done, though. The hardest part of writing an essay is simply knowing what to say. I get stuck in this loop of writing and deleting as every answer I supply is not what I am actually thinking. In the midst of the ninth draft, exhausted and dejected, the answer will come. Often this revelation is a subtle discovery, a reason behind certain quirks I thought were meaningless.
To my fellow disillusioned seniors who have given up on the merit of school. Class is not meaningless, life is not suffering, and your essays are a means of self-discovery. Who am I kidding? College essays are terrible and the prompts were created by monkeys banging their fist against keyboards. Enjoy the holidays.