44: Typing Out Your Life

44: Typing Out Your Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Typing Out Your Life

Truth is rarely writ in ink; it lives in nature.

~Martin H. Fischer

There is nothing more terrifying than the idea of putting your entire, amazing, charming existence on paper. In a page or two. On a certain topic. To determine the rest of that entire, amazing, charming existence. Ah, such is the joy of the college essay.

Even though I always prided myself on my writing, I sat and stared at my word processor. I slumped into the chair at the college counselor’s office. I glowered at my mother across the dinner table. The question on the tip of my tongue was always the same: “You mean I have to get the whole thing, my whole life, out in about two pages?”

Where to begin? I’d emigrated from Moscow at the age of seven. That definitely had to go in there somewhere. I loved punk music and was a fixture at the San Francisco clubs, my French was pas mal, I was a renegade with a skillet and a pile of eggs. All of these things were me, too, but the question remained — which would make the cut?

The closer it got to the application deadlines, the more I tried to figure out Application Me. Real Me was tossing and turning at night while Application Me would tap dance on the admission officer’s desk, putting on the best possible show to get me into the school. Would she be a funnier, more witty version of me? A more profound, chin stroking deep thinker? I had to create an Application Me that reflected the Real Me and then let her do all the work.

I gazed in the mirror with a sculptor’s eye. In crafting my application, which parts of my large personality, sharp mind, loud laugh, big pores would I cut out and which part would I leave on to make me more attractive to the college admissions committee? Hmm.

When I actually wrote the essay, I shared all I possibly could about myself in hopes of leaving them wanting more, as in, Big Fat Envelope more. The One ended up being about my interest in psychology. It focused on the fact that my childhood memories of Russia were completely different from what I saw when I went back for the first time my junior year.

An emotional topic, it let my writing sparkle, it showed my interest in the human mind and, helloooooooo, my worldliness for traveling all the way across the freaking planet. I thought I had a home run. I read it over a few times, jiggling my foot in a dizzy rhythm against my computer desk, printed it out and sent it off.

Now that I’m done with it, I can honestly say that writing a college essay is the worst part of the process. So many decisions to make, such high stakes. You in a nutshell and make it snappy, funny and eloquent, thanks. Having done it not once but twice now—I just got into graduate school—I’ve got a few things I want to pass along. A whispered hint to my fellow essay-writing hopefuls.

First, take your hands off the keyboard, jump up from your seat and scream: “I hate these things!” Louder. “They are horrible, awful, insane, criminal, out of their gourds!” That’s good. I like that. Essays are a pain.

Next, spit out the essay you want to write. Just sit down, shush up that critic in your head. You know the one. She’s always sitting on my shoulder, even right now. “Don’t write that,” she says, her brows knit together. “That’s stupid. They’re not going to like that. You think that’s funny? Ugh, who ever let you into college in the first place?”

Kick her off your shoulder and write the essay you want to write. The one that’s going to get you into college, the one that sparkles with your amazing wit and personality. Now put it away for three days.

When you come back to it, you will want to take a dirt nap. The stuff you thought was so funny three days ago will fall flat. You’ll find yourself rambling on without purpose and you’ll discover sixteen spelling errors that a second grader would’ve caught.

This is good. Now, find your point. What’s the number one thing you want your admissions guy or gal to know? Mine, and I think everyone can agree with me here, was: “I really want to get into your college, please, please, please, please, pretty pleeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaasssseeeee.”

Figure out why you belong at that school, gosh darn it, write toward that point and keep all the fun things you salvaged from your first stab at the essay. Weave them together and you’ll get a brand new version, full of personality and purpose.

When you think you’re done, have five people read it. People who are smart and won’t just say: “I loved it, it was, like, so brilliant, you are ah-mazing!” Then, change the font and read it again. You’ll catch stuff you’ve never seen before.

Last but not least, try to relax. My essay expounded on my lifelong commitment to psychology. Two days after I got to college, I switched my major to English and Theater. The essay you write has to be you in that moment, but you don’t have to apologize if that person changes when you hit campus. It happens to all of us.

The only promise you do have to keep, though, is this: that you will write the best you, the best essay, the best intentions you have. Print it out, stamp it, slip it in the mail. Then, kick back and let Application You take over and do the grunt work. You’ve earned it.

~Mary Kolesnikova

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