The majority of people I speak to about college essays / personal statement –and I must say that group is a small one, considering how shy I am about any material I authored before the age of 19– tell me that their entries were crafted around singular events, like the trying death of a loved one or an eye-opening trip to a third-world country. This kind of college essay, or the kind that centers on an existential metaphor, like a colony of ants fighting to escape a fumigated anthill representing the mad, bottlenecked struggle for college admission, is likely the most common. It serves its purpose: set up with a vivid description of the event of choice, follow with an explanation of its effect on one’s life, finish with a bang by asserting how it connects back to a desire for admission into college.
To me, there is nothing wrong with writing this type of essay. But what if you don’t have that singular event? When I started brainstorming about my college essay (much later than I should have), I came up empty every time I tried to think of a ‘turning point moment.’ My efforts stalled for many days; I would come up with something, but try as I might I would fail to inject the memory with life-altering significance in my mind, and everything I wrote came out sounding artificial or over-exerted. Finally, I came to realize that this method was simply not going to work, and I zoomed out a bit, pondering over what defined the person I was. My big epiphany came soon after: I couldn’t tell admissions officers who I was yet, but I could tell them how I was figuring out what I wanted to be.
I know that sounds much less concrete than you were probably hoping, but this method got me into Cornell as both an undergraduate and a Masters candidate, so it’s worked for me twice. Instead of describing how one moment had shaped me into what I was, I wrote about my life’s trajectory so far. About how I reassessed my values in middle school and how my friendships in high school gave me a new perspective on those values. I wrote about the psychological hardships I am still overcoming, and about how I am working in small steps to achieve the ultimate goal of self actualization. The punchline? That I knew I could, with the help of [insert your top school; Cornell for me] I could reach that goal. I was offering them my diligence and potential in exchange for their support and trust, like drawing up a social contract.
One of the most important aspects of a Common App essay, in my opinion, is authenticity. This is your biggest (or only) chance to let your voice shine in your application, so exposing as much of your personality as possible can only help you. For this reason, I kept my essay as unique to the rest of my application as possible; for example, horseback riding is a huge part of my personality, but was barely even mentioned in my essay because of its strong presence in my list of extracurriculars.
I am not professing to know everything about these essays, but having been through the process twice I have some pretty strong opinions, so I thought I might as well share as one member of the GTL community to some others. If you would like to learn more about my application journey or connect with me for tutoring, feel free to connect with me on my Linker channel, located on the Global Talent Link website!