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Be Yourself, Be The Chosen One

The college essay is your chance to show schools what is truly unique about you that has not been captured in academic records and test scores.
By GPA Admin

Be Yourself, Be The Chosen One

In January, 2013, Ron Lieber, a contributing writer of New York Times, asked high school students to submit their college application assays about money, class, working and the economy. He received a total of 66 essays and reviewed them with the help of Harry Bauld, the well-known author of “On Writing the College Application.” Together they selected the four most outstanding works and published in full online. What these essays have in common is their authors’ brave and unconventional approach to sensitive topics, from national identity to the application process itself. The tone in each essay is direct and confident, and it embodies the author’s unique story.     

The first rule of college admission process is that you don’t talk about the college admission process. Julian Cranberg, a 17-year-old from Brookline, Massachusetts, however, didn’t shy away from breaking that taboo. He questioned the tremendous cost of the piles of mail schools sent to potential students. “Why, in an era of record-high student loan debt and unemployment, are colleges not reallocating these ludicrous funds to aid their own students?” he critically raised the question. It is a bold and quite risky move to question the very institution he applied in but Mr. Cranberg successfully pulled it off with his intelligence and humor. He got accepted to Antioch College, the institution he targeted his question toward though he chose to attend Oberlin College instead.

The second essay that was selected belonged to Lyle Li, a senior at Regis High School. He wrote about his experiences being the son of an immigrant from China who once dreamed to be a doctor but now works behind a cashier register. Each year New York University received plenty of essays about the immigrant experiences but Mr. Li’s essay still stood out. He demonstrated an admirable range of emotional intelligence through his very personal storytelling. Each detail vividly demonstrated the environment at his house, his personal struggle, and especially his love and respect toward the woman who “put on her uniform with just as much dignity as a businesswoman would her power suit”, who “wholeheartedly believes that her son’s future is worth the investment.” Mr. Li will be attending N.Y.U next fall.

The third writer in the list was Ana Castro, an 18-year-old senior at Doane Stuart School in Rensselaer, NY. In her essay to Hamilton Collge, she told a sad story of her visit to Dominican Republic where her dad refused to let her play with the destitute boy next door. Her experience inspired her to serve in the Peace Corps. Ms. Castro made a startling statement about her national security, “I have never felt total patriotism to any country. I do not instantly think of staying here to help ‘my home,’ because I do not consider the United States my home. The Earth is ‘my home.’ ” Such bold declaration is a strong sign of authenticity and Mr. Inzer, Dean of Admission and Financial aid at Hamilton, highly appreciated it. Mr. Bauld loved this piece for “there is no attempt to smooth out anything.” Ms. Castro will be a freshman at Hamilton next year.


The most notable essay in the bunch probably belongs to Shanti Kumar, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science. In response to the prompt “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” she advocated for the increase of global consciousness through Bridge Year Program. Ms. Kumar expressed a strong and sincere desire to make a difference in the world where “most people are afraid to peek through the cracks in their snow globe and see what exists beyond their merry blizzard.” By opening her essay with an inquiry “I wonder if Princeton should be poorer”, Ms. Kumar showed the willingness to question, to dig deeper, and to give an interesting answer to the most boring question. However, she got rejected by Princeton and Mr. Bauld suggested that Princeton may be swayed by her words. She will be attending Cornell next year and according to Mr. Bauld, it is Princeton’s loss.       

From these examples, one can formulate certain ingredients for a successful college essay. Students can take risk by discussing “taboo” topics or choose to elaborate on the most conventional subjects. Whatever the case, they have to demonstrate a great level of originality and thoughtfulness. Cranberg, Castro, and Kumar didn’t shy away from debating sensitive topics or making controversial statements but they clearly stated their grounds demonstrated by unique and significant examples and antidotes. Li, on the other hand, lent toward a more ordinary topic but by telling the story with subtle, yet compelling details, he makes the readers actually care about the character in the story -himself and his relationship with his mother. More importantly, a successful essay should reflect personal experiences in the context of the broader world that the writers live in. College admission officers do give credits to students who can see a bigger picture.   

Source: The New York Times


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