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09/04/2019

Who/What Should I Write My College Application Essay About?

QUESTION
Who/What Should I Write My College Application Essay About?
The prompt is: Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

I have a few characters in mind:
Mrs. Dalloway from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
-she was, in a way, a cautionary tale about how I should live my life for myself, not for others.
Septimus from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
-he is Mrs. Dalloway’s foil, barely living a “civilized” life, thus experiencing freedom
Quoyle from The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
-he was an example of how even the most damaged of people can experience happiness
George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
-they destroyed the ideas of marriage and existence as a whole in a very rigid societal structure

Historical Figures:
Virginia Woolf
Sylvia Plath
John Steinbeck
Tennessee Williams
Tom Perotta
Jack Kerouac
Ernest Hemingway
Alanis Morissette
Sinead O’Connor

Creative Works:
The Hours (novel) by Michael Cunningham
The Art of Roy Lichtenstein
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee

Does anyone have any recommendations or suggestions? I would really appreciate some input on what colleges prefer to see as far as originality vs tradition, contemporary prose vs. classic prose… etc. Thank you in advance!

ANSWER
First off, realize that this is not a book report. The person reading your essay may or may not know anything about the character you choose. So do not treat this as you would a report in english class. You should also realize that it actually matters very little who or what you choose or even what you say. What really matters is how you say it. The admissions people are going to be looking for the following:

1. Can you write?
2. Did you care enough to spell and grammar check? There should not be a single error in the essay.
3. Can you make a cohesive piece that makes sense?
4. Can you be clear and concise?
5. Can you effectively use writing to define your message and relay it to your reader?
6. Can you make your writing entertaining in at the same time? Entertaining can mean funny or moving or any of a lot of things. There is no correct way to be entertaining, but you certainly do not want the reader to feel like it is a chore to read your essay.

And finally,
7. Who are you? Your essay is one of the few places that your voice can be clearly heard by the admissions staff. This does not mean that you should write about who you are. More interesting information is in the tone and style of your essay than in the topic. Are you funny? Are you a deep thinker? Are you callous and self-centered? These types of things come across in the way you say things. This essay is the admissions staff’s opportunity to get a feel for who you actually are.

You see, a lot of people have a misconception about the essay in applications. People seem to think the admissions staff is looking for you to say something specific, and if you do that, you will get in. These people then write essays about how they care so much about hungry kids and they want to feed them and blah blah blah. But those essays are usually very boring to read, especially when you have dozens of essays to read in a night and they are all the same sort of drab.

Instead, the essay is an opportunity for the admissions staff to gauge two things. First, your intelligence. Smart people write well. Point 1 to 6, above, are all directly related to your intelligence. And second, they can get a sense of your personality and what is important to you. The best possible outcome you can have after someone reads your essay is for them to come away having enjoyed reading it. That should be your ultimate goal. If they enjoy your essay, they like you, and they are more likely to accept you.

So, what should you write about? It really doesn’t matter. Pick something that has significance to you, and then worry more about getting your point across and the style of your writing rather than the topic. You can probably write a good essay on every single topic you brought up, and you can certainly write a bad essay about any of them.