Each time I reached the word count on an essay draft, I would roll my eyes and think I hate this. This is not going to get me into college. I couldn’t justify submitting an essay that I wasn’t proud of. My college counselor told me that my voice should shine throughout my essay, so much so that someone could read my essay and immediately know that I was the author. I kept this advice in the back of my mind, but I needed to focus on writing something that I was proud of. If someone read my essay, I needed them to know it was mine, but I also wanted to be confident and say “Yes, that is my essay! I am proud to claim it!”.
I HATE THIS ESSAY…IT’S TOO EMBARRASSING TO SHARE
No matter how many half-hearted drafts I wrote, I hated them all. That was just it though, they were half-hearted. I never felt connected to any of the drafts, so I did not proceed to the editing stage. Why should I refine something that I can barely stand to read? I thought. I stared at my doc with 5 different essay ideas, varying from injury and recovery to travel, and felt overwhelmed. Maybe I should ask my friends what they were writing about. That could have been helpful, but they seemed to be stuck in the brainstorming process too. I needed a completely new set of eyes, and luckily my school had just hired a new essay specialist. Having previously worked at prestigious universities, I knew she would be helpful. My essay was so far from being in good enough shape to share, or so I thought. Nevertheless, I got over my embarrassment and just emailed her to set up a meeting. Early one morning, I logged on to Zoom to discuss my essay. She asked me what the main message of my essay was. Slightly confused, I explained what I had written. She sounded pleased, as she told me that was what came through. Okay, that’s good, right? Not bad so far. Before sharing any strong opinions, she asked me how I felt about the essay. I explained that I hate everything I write, but I really wanted to be proud of this essay. I told her that the importance of these 650 words was getting to me, and I was open to any suggestions – even starting over.
WAIT…IT’S NOT THAT BAD!?
She sighed and said that I was being too harsh – this was objectively a good paper and it could be great with a few changes. Impressed by the extremes of the narrative I reached, she turned her attention to the conclusion. She asked me why I had ended my story with the conclusion, and I didn’t know how to answer. Uh, because the conclusion is what I wanted to say, but I held my tongue at the possibility of sounding disrespectful. I said that I didn’t know and asked for suggestions. Her response stuck with me. “Just because you’ve reached the end of your essay doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of your story. The conclusion doesn’t have to wrap up every single point you touched on. You’re a senior in high school. There are things you don’t know, but you have a plan. Tell them that. Open it up to your future, instead of tying off the past.”
COMMON APPLICATION ESSAY: CHECK!
Let me quickly clarify, the essay I previously referred to was for the Common Application – meaning that it was sent to every school I applied to. It needed to be spot on, and by the time I submitted it, I believe that it was. After finishing the great task of the main essay, I could allocate my time to the supplemental questions for each school. “Why Us?” and “What are your interests and goals?” should be relatively easy questions to answer, but don’t be deceived by the seemingly simple prompts. Stating your favorite subjects and activities, while connecting them to your intended major and career will come naturally, but that isn’t enough. The supplemental essays are tricky because they are bi-directional. You have to prove that you would be a good fit in the school’s community based on your interests and previous experiences, while also convincing the school that they should accept you. Basically, a “Why us?” essay is a “Why should we want you?” essay, too.
In order to keep track of my college application progress, I kept one (very organized) document with all of my work. This document was over 25 pages long when I turned in my last application, and I just stared at it. Moments after hitting submit, nearly the second the confetti left my screen, my heart sank. I’m done, I thought. What in the world do I do now? Turns out, stress and worry would perfectly fill my free time. I can’t believe I did all that work for nothing. I don’t have a chance with most of these schools. Even if I am accepted, we might not be able to afford it. I should’ve been happy with my safety school. Please, I am begging you – DON’T DO THAT. Even though the work is over, you don’t have to spiral into a cycle of self-deprecation and filling your mind with negativity. I applied to nine schools, and I doubt that I will be accepted into at least two of them, but that is okay. I tried, challenged myself and put my name out there. Hard work pays off, even if it doesn’t play out how you intended. Maybe I won’t get into the school with the lowest acceptance rate, but I will end up where I am meant to be anyway. I am proud of the work I put in, even if some schools don’t accept me. Congratulate yourself now, instead of worrying about something that is out of your control. Your work will pay off, don’t worry. Be proud of yourself. Good luck!