“Just be yourself” – arguably the most cliché, most useless, and most frustrating piece of “advice” handed out on a day-to-day basis. But if it’s so useless, why do we hear it constantly when setting out for first dates, readying for interviews, or sitting down to start that all-important college essay?
A majority of college applicants know that the amount of time a reviewer spends poring over college applications is infinitesimal, so why bother? Regardless of the impressive awards you’ve spent your high school career amassing, to the person reviewing your file, you’re nothing more than a slip of paper – that is, until you differentiate yourself.
But is there such a thing as going too far – sure, every great joke can be ruined with poor delivery, but can every terrible joke be redeemed with a hilarious rendition? Are there experiences that are just so flat out boring and unimportant that, even with the proper storytelling, fall flat in a college essay setting?
My freshman year of high school, an admissions officer came to our school to do a presentation on how to write a college essay. After some basic tips and what to include, he ended the presentation by reading a few examples of his favorite essays. While I can’t recall the exact topics of the first two essays he read, they were wonderfully written and both told compelling stories. The third one, which left a permanent imprint on my mind, was about a three-year-old boy on a quest for his lost shoe. Despite the ridiculous pretense, I was hooked. By the time the lector was finished, the child-like and colorful layers of the essay had fallen away to reveal a surprisingly deep message. Not only did the essay demonstrate the applicant’s eagerness to explore and problem-solve, but its novelty and presentation kept me entertained. It was simultaneously the most fun and most meaningful essay I had heard in my life.
The college essay is the chance to show to the college admissions officer not only that you’ve done the preparation for college, but also how it has impacted you as a person and how you’ve grown and benefitted from having that experience. The college essay is an opportunity to tell that story from a personal lens. For example, loads of people have been skydiving, but not everyone conquered their fear of heights and have used that experience to challenge their fears, break new ground, and etc… (you get the idea). Even though people may experience similar circumstances, the way that they approach the situation and what they take away makes them stand out – and that’s exactly what the college officers want to see.