This week we are going to look at essay topics to avoid and an essay that gained a student admission to all of the top colleges. We’ll examine some of the techniques the author used that you can incorporate into your own essay.
Types of cliché essays to avoid:
The List – Avoid repurposing your resume or your activity list into your essay or any variation on this theme. The admissions officers do not want to hear about all the different shoes you wear when you participate in your plethora of activities.
The Trip– Avoid the surface recounting of a school or family trip that changed your life. This essay usually consists of: I went somewhere exotic/foreign, and I was uncomfortable at first. Then I learned more about the culture and gained a new perspective and it changed my life.
My Thoughts on World Peace – Avoid the Miss America type essays that are a regurgitations of thoughts from your teachers or newspaper articles. It is better to focus on an issue that you have directly experienced and are passionate about.
The problem with these types of essays is that they are cliché and therefore quite commonly received by college admissions boards. College admissions officers want to hear about what is unique about you and how you see the world. You need to delve past the surface of these “expected” topics. If you find the right creative angle you may be able to make one of the above subjects work, however don’t try to imitate someone else and don’t try to write what you think the college admissions board wants to hear.
Let’s take a look at a successful college admissions essay:
BEWARE: Girl With Wrench
My friends never approved of the “smart” kids. Good grades were apparently lame. Passion for the sciences was social suicide. And above all, the kids who stayed after school for robotics were reserved a special seat at the very bottom of the social food chain. Right below the kids who watch Star Wars religiously and right above the kids who have imaginary friends.
This stigma was the catalyst to my secret life. After school, once the halls had been evacuated, I snuck into the washroom, and put on my robotics T-shirt that even smelled like physics. It humorously featured a stick figure reminiscent of bathroom signs and in bold letters underneath: “BEWARE! Girl with Wrench”. It was one of my most prized possessions.
We would all gather in the physics lab and begin our work hastily, as the six-week deadline left us with little time to spare. I would remove myself from the rest of the girls and resume my programming. The most tedious job in all the Robotics Team, the role of programmer was not coveted, and I was usually left to complete the job alone. I had come to the conclusion that the incredible programming code I was wrestling with was indecipherable, rivaling the Egyptian hieroglyphics in complexity. However, I felt we had come to an agreement. We had choreographed an uneasy dance that allowed us, if not to waltz happily onward, then to at least forcefully tango into a state of temporary mutual tolerance. Lol!
Last night, just as the team was finishing the chassis of the robot, I was screwing the last piece of metal into the frame, with my goggles on and my power drill in hand. Out of nowhere, one of my friends, Jessica, having forgotten one of her textbooks in the physics lab, burst into the room. She was out of breath and obviously in a hurry, but stopped suddenly when she saw me. Her mouth hung open as she gaped at me in disbelief, “What are you doing here?” she spewed out with a snarl. “I thought you were at dance practice?”
My friends hardly shared my passion. It wasn’t enough that I had been up all night preparing for the upcoming competition, but now I had to deal with them, too. I had rehearsed this in my head. There is nothing wrong with robotics. Sure, the robotics stereotype is notoriously riddled with a lack of friends, and in some cases, a lack of bathing, but I knew this was only a result of ignorance.
“Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry,” I whispered to myself the next morning at school. A hot tear rolled down my cheek as I took in a deep breath. They were looking right at me. I quickly lifted up my hands and wiped the tears away, trying to pass it off as a tired rub.
The dam that I was frantically trying to build to stop the rising waters in my tear ducts gave way. My friends were looking at me closer now, not trying to hide the fact that they knew. I looked up at the ceiling, praying that this would stop the tears somehow, but they persisted as I listened to the snicker of the girls at the next table.
Finally, one of the girls got up, flipped her long blonde hair, and started walking over to me. My throat dried up and I started licking my lips to try and restore some of the moisture and some of my dignity. This only made it worse.
“Hey Ally!” she said with a smirk on her face as she finally approached me, “I heard you were at robotics last night. You decided to ditch us for the physics nerds? That’s really cool.” My unchanging face surprised her, as she expected me to immediately fall to the floor where I would beg for forgiveness. She persisted regardless, “Anyways, will you be at my party tonight?”
“Actually, I don’t think so.”
“What, are you going to ditch us for robotics again?” her smirk became a scowl as she anticipated my response.
“Yeah. I think I will.”
I never feared walking down a crowded hallway with my robotics T-shirt on again. Our team won regionals, competed at the world championships, and won the respect of our entire school. Sacrificing my teenage popularity on the altar of scientific discovery, I came to appreciate the stifled potential that women have in the sciences. I never knew the true meaning of pride until that moment, where I could forget everything I knew about how to be cool and how to be popular and just focus on how to be me.
This essay is successful because it shows the author as an individual with a real sense of self. Rather than re-listing her activities, she is focusing on one activity and passion that was meaningful to her. The playful tone is unexpected and gives us some insight into the author’s boldness as she navigates her way as a woman in science, despite being unsupported by her friends. The author creates a compelling narrative arc with tangible details and setting.
For this week, try to draft an essay that reflects your individuality and passion for something unexpected. Please feel free to post questions to the blog or e-mail me at email@example.com.