Essay For College Magazine Subscriptions
I used every single one of my fast waning powers of influence to get my oldest son to cut his hair. I begged, bribed, teased, and—eventually—grew to ignore it. Not only did it stand out like a sore thumb in Fairfield County, Conn., it stood in stark contrast to the hair of our friends’ sons, which was closely cropped and perfectly shaped.
Somewhere in the tangle of my son’s nine-foot afro, I learned an interesting lesson about how parenting for conformity can make the college application process a lot more difficult.
I am not proud of it, but watching the other toddlers crawl, I worried when my first child showed little interest in crawling or walking even though he spoke like he could deliver the nightly news.
Now, as a college consultant, I have to convince other people’s children to recognize and embrace what makes them different. After all, there is really only one essay question when it comes right down to it, and it is:
“What can you bring, teach, or offer to other students on our campus?”
Therein lies the difficulty of this process. “Difference” for many parents and students has been an obstacle, even the enemy. Now, when difference is to be celebrated and prized, it’s not so easy to uncover. Ahead of our brainstorming meeting, distraught parents will drop their student off at my office and announce in exasperation, “Good luck brainstorming about what to write for the essay. We got nothing!”
Here are a few tips to make it easier to find the right long essay topic for you:
Tip #1. Do Not Read the Long Essay Prompts
This sounds counterintuitive, I know. But the prompts give you enough freedom to write whatever story you want to tell about yourself. So don’t restrict yourself by reading them until after you write your story. Write first, and then choose the “right” prompt.
Tip #2. Think of Your Essay as a “Slice”
The essay should not and cannot be about every moment you’ve existed on God’s green earth. Choose a slice of your story that represents you at your very best and tell it in excruciating detail. (You can always address word count and trim the details later.)
Tip #3. Avoid These Four Over-used Essay Topics
- Writing about someone else (such as a relative or a coach)
- Writing about your mission trip
- Writing about how you made “lemonade” from a sports injury “lemon”
- Writing about your time at camp
If you feel you simply must use one of these topics, know that you will need to make your essay extra compelling.
To the Admissions Committee:
As the gatekeepers of your fine university’s selection process, you are probably asking yourselves, “Why in hell should we even consider the application of Adam Harper Steinem Mandela Kellowitch-Frane?” My answer? “Let’s find out together.”
From my earliest childhood, all I’ve ever wanted was to attend either an Ivy League school, a still respectably expensive party school, or a so-called safety school, where the standards are so low that I’d be a shoo-in, and which my parents could tell their friends was “a better fit.” Although, of course, as a biracial child, I wasn’t sure if higher education would even be an option for me. And, when I say biracial, I mean that my father went to Harvard and my mother attended Oberlin. When I was young, this situation tore me apart, because I never knew which world I belonged in. Should I follow my dad and become hugely successful and condescending to everyone, or should I dream of becoming every bit as creative yet talentless as my mom? I still don’t know the answer, but maybe not knowing is my greatest strength.
When I was twelve, I first became aware of the world’s suffering, and I used the dividends from my trust fund to fly to Berlin to help the victims of the recent tsunami. Upon my arrival, I discovered that, while the tsunami hadn’t affected Berlin, I could still express my empathy for the victims by joining an activist performance troupe and mounting a piece entitled “Younami: The Superstorm Inside Us All.”
Upon my return to the States, I was accepted as a legacy to the prestigious St. Callowmere Academy, where I pursued my passionate yet quirky interests in designing chairs without legs for people who’d rather sit on the floor; developing alternative fuels, including my rage at my stepmother; and writing, directing, and starring in a Web series about my dorm room (inspired by my unpublished graphic novel about the mouse who lived in my desert boots). I have also volunteered as a tutor, helping public-school children learn to lie about it, and to stop already with the colorful backpacks, because it’s a dead-ass giveaway. I have also excelled at lacrosse, wakeboarding, and riding the subway while thinking, Look at me, I’m riding the subway!
But all this was just a prelude to meeting a very special person, who changed not only my life but my perspective on humanity. He was someone I’d seen every day but had never focussed on, until I came home late one night from this amazing club in Bushwick, which was really more of an opium den with banjos and decent frittatas. When I got back to our building, I had to be carried out of the Uber car by the guy I’m talking about, although I’d never said more to him than a casual “Hey” or “Are you the new one?” His name was Patrick, and he’s one of our doormen.
That night, once Patrick had helped me stumble up to our penthouse and had brewed me a perfectly acceptable cup of whatever Cuban-Laotian blend Fresh Direct had delivered, we started to talk, and a new world opened up. Patrick had come to this country many years ago, from a place he called “somewhere else,” by which I assumed he meant a much lower floor in our building. Patrick also told me that he’d always dreamed of wearing a fine uniform and signing for mysterious packages that had been FedExed to what he called “impressive young people like yourself” and then, later, “telling the detective everything I could remember.” Then he laughed and asked if I’d like to hear a story, and even though I’d already clamped on my headphones and was lost in my tunes, I nodded: whatevs.
“I was once a boy just like you,” Patrick began, “and everyone kept telling me that I should go to college. So I applied everywhere, and I was accepted at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, although I was wait-listed at Stanford, because I’d made the mistake of combing my hair for the application photo. So I decided to spend one year at each school I’d got into, and then pick the place I liked best to graduate from. Things were going just fine, and I was meeting many kinds of people, all wearing moccasins and Shetland sweaters with holes in them, although the young ladies often added pearls and bits of canned frosting around their mouths. I studied pre-law and pre-med and business, and also Persian enamels, the evolution of the Iberian ribbed newt, and the films of Sandra Bullock. But then, after those three years, I dropped out and crowdfunded a startup called SnitSnot.com, for people who want to send photos of the beer they’re drinking, along with their net worth, scrawled across the chest of a fashion model, to everyone within a five-block radius. I sold this app for $2.8 billion, and I used the money to buy a private island in the Pacific. I surrounded myself with the planet’s foremost artists and economists and scientists, and, just as we were about to unlock the secret of a peaceful and happy world, I thought, You know, I really wish I were standing in the sleeting rain, helping kids with too many names to drag their duffelbags filled with smelly laundry into the elevator. So here I am.”
Of course, I never spoke to Patrick again. But his words meant so much to me, because I knew that I could include them in this essay, which would make me stand out among all the other kids with perfect S.A.T. scores and Arizona rock-climbing epiphanies, or siblings who’d died in their arms. So, please, Admissions Committee, don’t you need someone like me, someone who hired a bitter thirty-eight-year-old with a useless doctorate in English literature to write this essay for him? An essay that I, Adam Harper Steinem Mandela Kellowitch-Frane, have never even bothered to read?
An Incoming Freshman!!! ♦