Essay writing had always been a point of anxiety for me, particularly when it came to my college applications and personal insight questions. How do I make myself stand out over thousands of other incredibly ambitious students? What is it about my essay or writing style that will make the counselor pause, and really stay interested in what I have to say? How am I supposed to summarize every passion, dream, and challenge I have faced in my life, in 350 words or less? College application essay writing was one of the most daunting tasks I faced during my high school career, but oddly enough, the only thing that actually held me back most of the time was my own insecurity and uncertainty when it came to conveying my ideas.
What held me back was my fear of imperfection when it came to my essay ideas: I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make my sentences flow into one another, build up suspense, and then leave the reader wanting more. I was worried that the admissions representative would get bored within the first sentence, and begrudgingly read the rest of my essay. I didn’t have confidence that my story meant anything to anyone else but me, and I didn’t think I knew how to clearly articulate the journey I had gone on to make it to the point I was at.
What ultimately made the difference for me was my ability to let my fears go, and focus on an essay that made me feel good to write - I let go of this image I had built up in my head of the “perfect college admissions essay:” one that I had been imagining and competing with my entire application process. I turned my attention inward instead of outward, not asking what they would want to read, but asking what I wanted to say.
I picked a memory that stood out in my brain, and brought emotions to the table that were worth writing about: emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear - feelings that could truly bring out the person I was inside, and illustrate how I reacted to the world around me. My college essay was about revealing my inner thought processes, not only to those around me, but truthfully to myself more than anyone. I focused on my raw emotions: my authentic frustrations with the world, my growth, my pain, and the progress that I wanted to push myself to recognize.
In full transparency, I wrote about being a young girl in the world of baseball: a kid with a very mild understanding of the effects of sexism and discrimination in the world, but a full understanding of my own heartbreak when I was forced to switch to softball after playing baseball for years with my friends. I wrote about my anger every time I heard someone tell me that I “ran pretty fast, for a girl,” and my melancholy relationship with softball as a sport altogether. I found a topic that challenged me and brought out every emotion in me, which looking back, made an engaging college essay in and of itself. I didn’t ignore the sad memories, the angry thoughts, or the painful decisions: I used them to be even more honest about myself, making the high points of my essay even more euphoric. After that, editing and grammar became secondary. The emotions and genuine nature of my writing stood out, and generated a story that made me feel both proud and vulnerable at the same time. After all, colleges want to know YOU, and the best way to do that is be completely honest, and show every emotion that has made you who you are today.
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the Class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language & Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.