The College Essay Blues
I have been fretting about my college essay. I am worried that it will decide my future. Everyone tells me that’s not true. Even books (especially books) tell me that’s not true. I can’t make myself believe them.
I am worried about “putting myself down on paper” as all those books have been telling me to do. I am not Flat Stanley, I am not a word. I cannot be pasted to an 8.5×11 sheet of paper and forgotten. It doesn’t work that way.
I don’t know how I’m going to capture my “essence” on paper. How can I write down my complete inability to part my hair straight? How do I capture my favorite song – “Perdoname” – which I love for reasons even I don’t understand? I don’t think I can write down my memories of my gypsy-themed sixth birthday, or my excitement and apprehension at moving after eleven years in the same tan-and-red house.
I am not sure how to begin to describe my inordinate delight at choosing a “Word of the Day” for junior English classes. I can’t explain my collection of papier-mache “Dia de los Muertos” skulls. I’ll never figure out how to chronicle my late-night baking adventures.
Colleges are asking too much, perhaps, when they tell us to sum up our lives (however short; sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen is a lifetime to us – literally!) in a clear and concise 350-500 word essay. How can we be clear and concise about our teenage-selves, which are tumbling around in our heads like clothes in a washing machine on the fritz?
Am I supposed to describe my tendency to drink Diet Coke in excess, or the “Feliz Cumpleanos” banner that’s still hanging in my room from my sixteenth birthday? Should I try to write down the utter joy I feel at composing a simple German sentence? Am I allowed to fess up to my gossip magazine addiction?
More likely, colleges want a laundry list of my achievements. They want to hear that I’m an editor on the yearbook staff, that I’ve won a national writing award. They want to hear about my summer spent volunteering in rural Nicaragua, about my language skills and how they’ve won me competitions. They want to hear that I’m the VP of the Gay-Straight Alliance and historian of the German club, that I’m a member of both the NHS and the Spanish NHS. That’s all fine and good, except it’s not really what I want to tell them.
I want to tell them that I can’t be summed up in 500 words, much less 350. The fedora collection, the USPS flat-rate box infatuation, the typewriter, the giant pink bear from eighth grade…none of it can be explained away in 12pt Times New Roman. I am not an essay, as much as I would like to be. I am a person, for better or worse, faults and all. I am a life-loving, eye-crossing, picture-taking, overly-sensitive soul who paints her toenails neon colors. I am not 350 words, nor 500. I’m me, acceptance letter or not.