“An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.”
College essays can be about almost anything. One of my all-time favorites, excerpted here, extols the virtues of the paperclip!
«You can write your college essay on a paperclip?»
You sure can, especially if it is as well-written as this one is and if it exposes as much about its author as this one does.
While looking at winning essays does not train you how to write one, it does display you what is possible. This is where model essays can be useful.
«Wow! You can write about that?» is what my students say when I read them winning essays from my stash.
I showcase students sample essays in order to broaden their horizons. I want them to see both how broad open the field is (in terms of what they can write about) and how varied in style of writing the college essay can be.
A lot can be learned from observing what others do.
Here is the opening of «A Fresh World Order» by Kat Hill (She got into USC with this essay!)
One miraculous day, I discovered the paperclip. It was the beginning of a fresh world order for me. I had begun the summer naively filing my college applications into one single eight-and-a-half-by-eleven manila folder. I thought, «Great. I’ll just stuff everything in here.» This method worked for about a week. That is, until numerous drafts of essays tangled themselves inbetween pages of applications and the «folder» no longer folded at a single crease. In fact, the folder had become one big crease, losing its rectangular form downright. It was such mayhem that I would lose items inwards the folder for weeks at a time until, as if by some miracle, they would abruptly reappear. Then the day came. I discovered the seemingly elementary, twisted world of adult organization. How mildly those metallic tendrils of angel hair clasped to my stacks of papers. My discovery of the paperclip inspired me to invent the «sub-section,» where essays could rest within categories in my dilapidated manila folder. That curled strand of genius initiated the beginning of a while fresh era in my life — The Era of Organization!»
Even tho’ the subject of this essay seems to be the virtues of the paperclip, actually it’s about a lot more than that. You can see this writer is a risk-taker (Writing your college essay about a paperclip?), creative, a good writer, fair (she’s not afraid to describe the error of her ways before she sees the light! and clearly she is intelligent.) You can be sure the admissions director read this essay from beginning to end which is telling A LOT. Ulitmately, it is the final test of whether an essay does or does not do what it’s supposed to — get you into college!
The essay that goes after, which I had lost and found again on the Internet by plugging in the words «Crazy college essay that got student into NYU) was written by someone called Hugh Gallagher:
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch cracks, making them more efficient in the area of fever retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.
Periodically, I tread water for three days in a row.
I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an experienced in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a puny village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants.
I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build suspension bridges in my yard. I love urban string up sliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller ‘number nine’ and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured Fresh Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400.
My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at petite moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a petite bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but left behind to write it down. I have made extreme four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven.
I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.
But I have not yet gone to college.
What can we see about him from this essay?
Clearly, this student has a very broad understanding of how the world works, of cultures and their particularities. He knows what a covert operation is and that there is such a thing as a mouli used for cooking. He has a sense of humor, a light-hearted spirit, upstanding values («Children trust me.») He has high aspirations, is creative, bold, inventive, articulate — and let’s face it, the stud knows how to write!
Would you accept him into your college even if his grade point average was only a Three.Three?
The real point, however, is «Oh the places you can go!» They are infinite — and await you.
What They’re Telling
Gabby Glancy is amazing at connecting with teenagers. It’s like she
can zero in almost instantaneously and get to the heart of the student and the college
application. I’m still affected at how she kept a 17-year-old, masculine, largely
passive applicant on schedule, and helped him produce an outstanding, touching
essay. Gabby’s a real ally for any applicant to have in the process of applying to college. — Sarah S.
Gabrielle Glancy’s students will never, never leave behind her. Her bounty is not simply the dedication of the inspired teacher; it is the uncompromising truth of genius, the laser-like insight of honesty and the courage of the divine.
Stanley Bosworth (1927-2011), Visionary, Founder & Head of The Saint Ann’s School for Gifted and Talented, Fresh York City