Stayin’ Alive Pt. II by Jon French

Alright! Part II! Here we go! Last month I mentioned that there are a few “types” of essays that immediately place you within a pool of students who have written on very similar topics—topics that for one reason or another are boring or cliché. Before I finish up our list of essay topics that induce Da Snooze or otherwise potentially turn off an admissions officer, I want to preface by quoting Harry Bauld in On Writing the College Application Essay:

Everything I say you can’t do, you can…There are no good or bad topics for college essays, only good or bad essays…Sometimes good writing is just the result of reinvigorating what has become a cliché. In your essay, you don’t have to say something startling or new, or strain to be different…You can make a college essay out of anything; the materials are everywhere. You just have to pay attention and teach yourself to care”

Basically, just do whatever the heck you want. I mean, not really, but kind of. The point here is that if one of these essays calls out to you, think of how you can make it fresh and unique.

5.) The Autobiography

The year was 1991. Mission Viejo, California. I am born.”

“Every since I was a wee boy, I have loved nature…”

“…and by 4th grade I became the best basketball player in Istanbul…”

NO!

While it may seem daunting at first, 650 words is not nearly enough time to get into the “nitty-gritty” of who you are by giving the Forest Gump-style narrative. Attempting to tell your life’s story in 650 words is like trying to explain the new TV remote to my grandparents. They’ll hear what you’re saying, but it won’t really mean anything. A better strategy is to F O C U S in on a moment or aspect of your life that reveals an important value or values that you hold. Think about this: Which of these tells you more about who I am?

A.) The city I was raised in.

B.) The first book I read.

C.) My parents’ occupations

D.) My brothers names and occupations

E.) Roundhouse kicking my brother into a tortoise enclosure.   

 

I think you know the answer to this one!

 

6-8.) The Dickens, The Great Debater, and The Comedian

I’ve lumped these “essays” together because they’re not so much types of essays as they are voices in which the essay is written.

The Dickens Essay sounds something like this:

“Traversing the thoroughfare of my propinquity of the diurnal course, I ascertained a serpentine I found prepossessing.” 

…?

I think what our young writer means is that he was wandering the streets of his neighborhood and found a cool snake.

Guys, I love the thesaurus. It helps me find that perfect word when its right on the tip of my fingers (appendages?) However, I have seen many students use it as a way to enlarge (Enhance? Extend? Expand?) their vocabulary. If you’re using a “thesaurus word,” make sure it’s a word that is part of your personal lexicon. Admissions officers want to know you’re literate, not that you can navigate a thesaurus.

Use the words you know.

The Great Debater

I believe in political activism. If you talk to me about politics for more than a few minutes, you’ll know where I stand on the ever-expanding spectrum. However, I understand the need to be respectful when discussing politics, understanding that we’re all entitled to our own opinion. The same goes for personal statements and supplemental college essays. I am by no means suggesting to stay away from politics, particularly if you are interested in political science. I am suggesting, though, that you steer away from making claims or establishing a position that depicts you as close-minded or disinterested in civil discourse.

In general, though. I don’t see the Personal Statement as a place to be getting too deep into politics. If you spend a great fraction of your essay defending the death sentence or making assertions about the economy, the reader will end up asking, “but who is the author?”

The Comedian

I’m going to keep this brief because I think discussing the matter in depth is silly.

Here is what I will say:

1. The funniest college essays are not written by folks who are trying to be funny.

2. The funniest college essays are usually not about a funny topic.

3. The funniest college essays are by people who are being 100% authentic in who they have presented on the page.

In short, if you think of something funny or a funny way of describing something, go for it. As with any essay (funny or not) get a second opinion on anything you’re unsure about. Humor is one of the most subjective phenomenons known to humankind. What you and your friends might think is hilarious could be deeply offensive to somebody else. Just keep it cool and let that humor come out naturally.

See you next time,

Jon