Last week you heard my tips regarding your essays for your college application. This week I thought I’d share with you my recollection of my very favorite application essay I ever read as an admissions committee member.
The writing prompt that year was something to the effect of, “What is your favorite piece of literature, work of art, or musical composition – and why?” What we received that year included lots and lots of condensed book reports.
Do you think that’s what an admissions committee really wants to hear? If I need book recommendations I have plenty of resources (and friends who know my reading tastes!) I can consult. An admissions committee wants to hear about YOU. We didn’t really care about what the student had read, but rather how that book shaped the person they’d become.
Yes, A Children’s Book
Was it a risk? Possibly. Had she not executed the essay so skillfully one might have thought she simply had not read any real literature. However, the essay was simply exceptional.
The writer described how this worn cardboard book was her favorite because, when she was little, every night her father would get home from his job, exhausted, and come straight into her room just in time to snuggle with her and read the story before bedtime.
She wrote beautifully about how she could still hear his voice and feel his arms around her. She wrote about how at times even during her teenage years she would ask her Dad to come in and read to her. She wrote about how it made her feel safe and loved. She wrote about how it made her realize what sacrifice looked like and that among the best things parents can give children is their time.
She explained how it shaped her values and how she envisioned herself as a parent someday. She wrote about how it wasn’t the book itself, but the feelings it still evokes today that made it her favorite. She didn’t summarize the book for the committee – she shared a piece of herself and did it masterfully.
Not A Goodnight, Moon Fan?
Now maybe you didn’t have parents who read Goodnight, Moon every night. Maybe your favorite book is actually more along the lines of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (though even as a former English teacher I’m not sure how that could ever be).
Whatever book you pick or question you answer, though, make sure you’re telling a story that leads back to YOU. What did you learn? How did it make you feel? How did you change? How did it shape the person you are today?
I wish I remembered this applicant’s name. I wish I had thought to copy and keep the application essay itself. So, to the applicant from a decade ago, if you’re out there – well done! Perhaps you’re reading that same worn cardboard book to your own children now. I hope you’re practicing the lessons you learned from your father so long ago. Just know you made this college admissions counselor remember you.