That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.
Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom.
About how I remember you as I listen to John Waite sing, “Missing You.” About how you brought euphoria to my life with every mention of your name. As I stand in front of the mirror, looking at the young man, the innocent naked man, I whisper to myself, I tried to ignore the fact that I’m falling, because I know too much about falling in love.
About how I keep telling myself to love you until I don’t need you anymore. When you’re in love, you allow yourself to be blinded of the reality.
It’s like a drug, it gives you a temporary pleasure and you don’t like to be temporary.
It’s giving someone the authority to break your heart while you’re sitting in the corner watching.A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications.They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big.Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading.You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense..Thank you, because while I was begging you to appreciate me, you never did.Thank you, because you taught me that I was so stupid for loving you. We both needed inspiration and motivation in our lives, and sadly we didn’t fall in any of the two.But once you start adding exclamation points, you’re wading into troubled waters. ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency.When you write a line like “His hands threw up,” the reader might get a visual image of hands barfing. CLICHÉS THINK YOUR THOUGHTS FOR YOU Here’s one: There is nothing new under the sun. George Orwell’s advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”TO BE OR NOT TO BE Get rid of “to be” verbs.These exhausted folks, hopped up from eating too many cookies and brownies, have been sitting in committee meetings for days after spending a couple of months reading applications, most of which look pretty similar: baseball = life, or debate = life, or “I went to a developing country and discovered poor people can be happy.”They wade through long lists of candidates, state by state, region by region. But occasionally one will make an admissions officer tear down the hallway to find a colleague to whom she can say, “You have to read what this Math Olympiad girl said about ‘Hamlet.’ ” Your goal is to write an essay that makes someone fall in love with you.The best applications and the weakest don’t come to committee. Once you commit the time and emotional energy to get your butt in the chair to write, you face a daunting task — figuring out what to write about. With so much freedom, this is a challenge for most students.