In my humble opinion, the single biggest reason quality applicants get rejected from elite colleges is their inability to understand and execute essays. When people ask me, “Dave, wha’s the biggest problem you see among today’s high school students?” I don’t have to think twice: It’s their inability to formulate and articulate a convincing written argument.
Compounding this problem is the unique challenge of the elite college application. Admission committees at these top schools aren’t looking to hear about your summer vacation to Europe or your plan to end world hunger. In fact, they are much more interested in hearing your observations about the frequency of cars running yellow lights at the intersection near your home or how many years it has taken for that oak sapling outside your front window to push up the sidewalk slabs next to it.
You’re probably asking yourself why on earth anyone could be more interested in your intersection or oak tree than your great trip or humanitarian ideals. The answer is simple: Because the intersection and that oak tree can tell more about who you are and how you think. As you read a few samples of real-life college essays, notice how the writers reveal themselves, their attitudes, preferences, strengths, and even weaknesses, in a series of everyday situations. Their lives are no more exciting or glamorous than yours is. The difference between your writing style and theirs, though, may be due to your lack of understanding of how to speak through your writing in your own unique “voice.”
Voice is that elusive quality that allows your reader to hear you talking without the aid of your spoken words. Tha’s what makes the great novelists so great. Think about Steven King and D.H. Lawrence, or essayists like Andy Rooney, and even humorists like Dave Barry (no, not me; I’m Dave Berry). Once you’ve read these people’s writing, you feel as though you’ve seen the world through their eyes and, if you had the chance to meet them, they would probably talk just like they write. If you don’t believe me, just watch Andy Rooney’s spot at the end of 60 minutes some Sunday evening, then read one or two of his columns in the newspaper or one of his excellent essay collections. He sounds just like he reads. He reveals himself through his writing. Therein lies your essay challenge.
Handcuffs, vomit, Dick Cheney, rap music and car accidents… these are the essay topics that got students into top colleges. Thousands of students uploaded their common apps to AdmitSee last year. Here are 10 incredibly shocking essay intros from students accepted to universities including Harvard, Duke, USC, Stanford and Scripps.
1. My parents named me after their dead dog. Honestly. Let me be clear: they did not simply recycle the name of an admired pet or panic after harboring a “Baby Boy Goodman” after several days in the hospital. My parents thoughtfully and intentionally named me after their beloved golden retriever. Read On >>
2. I’m tired. I’m tired of the dirty looks. I’m tired of the condescending comments. I’m tired of having to justify. I doth confess: I love rap music. Rap is, to use a scientific term, quite “dope.” Read On >>
3. “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” That’s what my father says when he greets people at his job. Similarly, my mom may ask a Sears customer, “How can I help you today?” Read On >>
4. Lying motionless, my body tensed up as I could hear the careful, yet quick unwrapping of needles. Read On >>
5. When I was young the world of men was frightening, a world where women cried on the couch because in the kitchen there were words thrown across the room like stones, words meant to hurt and maim, to tear the water from open eyes, eyes that looked like mine. Read On >>
6. I was thirteen years old when I ran away from home for the first time. Read On >>
7. We met in 2006—the year Dick Cheney shot some guy in the face, Twitter was launched, and Pluto was declared to no longer be a planet—at a SkateWorld birthday party. Rosa was hyper competitive, overly ambitious, loud, and sometimes crude: in other words, everything I was not. Read On >>
8. The first thing I remember about childhood is vomit, little me retching Wonderbread and grape juice on Calvary Preschool’s shag carpet. Read On >>
9. I shouldn’t be alive right now, but I am. My story almost ended when a drunk driver and two semis crushed my family’s car. Read On >>
10. I heard the click… click of the handcuffs as she locked them around my wrists and the wooden dining chair I was pushed onto. The smell of her cigarette breath stuck under my nose, carrying her irate words—”useless,” “stupid” ... grotesque breasts swinging above me as she stood back up from bending over. Read On >>
Wondering why these students shared such personal information? They get paid every time high school students view their application details and message them. If you’re a current college or grad student, upload your old application essays now. You get $10 upfront plus half of every dollar we make sharing your content. It’s anonymous and takes just minutes. Join the AdmitSee community to start earning now.