Elements of the Application – Essay


Okay, you know how I said that all the other essays were nutcase checks? Well remove
all notions of that for these essays. FIRST OFF, START EARLY. Although some people can
pull off writing solid essays in the last minute, it doesn’t hurt to start early and to have many,
many drafts and redrafts before you are satisfied with your final product.

You will be able to recycle many essays, so make sure you group them before you start writing
so that you can write as few essays as possible. For example, I made a chart:

Essay Organization 101

How to organize your essays before you start writing to minimize the amount of work you have to do.
Organized by Essays
1Common AppAll, MIT (250 words), UC #1
2Art (supplemental)Harvard, Yale, Brown (500 words), UC #2 (cut), MIT (250 words)
3Why science/Magic showBrown (500 words)
4Personality attribute MIT (250 words)
5Roommate Stanford (250 words)
6Why this school?Stanford (250 words), Columbia (1500 characters), Brown (1000 characters), Yale (500 characters), NU, UChicago (optional)
7Why PLME?Brown
8Interest in science/liberal arts; program for PLMEBrown
9Factors for career in medicineNU
10Why BA/MD?NU
11Situation in which friends saw differentlyNU
12Intellectual vitalityStanford (250 words)
Short Answer
1Free afternoon (175 characters)Yale
2Compliment (175 characters) Yale
3Moment in HistoryStanford (300 characters), Yale (175 characters)
4Best words to describe youStanford (5 words)
5Wish you were better at doingYale (175 characters)
6Activities essayAll, except UCs (100-150 words)
7Last 2 summersStanford (300 characters)
8Why this field/degree/department?Brown (1000 characters), MIT (100 words)
9BooksColumbia (600 characters), Stanford (300 characters)
10PublicationsColumbia (600 characters), Stanford (300 characters)
11Most significant challenge to societyStanford (300 characters)
12Favorite events/exhibits/performancesColumbia (600 characters), Stanford (300 characters)
13Question for YaleYale

In total, I wrote about 13 essays (some of them are really short, but take a lot of effort to write
nonetheless), but this number would have been much greater had I not recycled many of my
essays (albeit slightly different variations for each school).

YOU WANT TO BE WEIRD AND DIFFERENT! Have fun writing your essay! The
more fun you have, the more interesting it is to you and most likely your enthusiasm will
rub off on the reader. No one wants to read a generic, boring essay about how you changed
through this one scholastic event already mentioned in your Awards and Activities section of
the CommonApp – unless it was spectacular like meeting the President or something. They
want to see a quirky, unique individual, but one that’s not depicted negatively. Show yourself
as someone who is CLEARLY different from every other applicant, but with a passion for
learning unrivaled by anyone else – maybe even in a specific topic. Here is an example of a
successful “different” essay, which I wrote as part of Brown’s Common App supplement:

Why are you drawn to the academic fields you indicated in the Anticipated Degree and Academic
Interest questions above? (1000 characters)
I tilted my head and raised my left eyebrow. I was looking at something…very peculiar. The giant, brilliant blue
Balloon Dog stared back at me glassily. Mr. Jeff Koons was certainly saucy to think that he could plop this metallic
monstrosity in the middle of LACMA and get away with it (which he did). But I admire him. For a moment of sheer bewilderment, I thought I’d found an exile from Carroll’s Wonderland. Whether I’m creating or viewing it, art is my vehicle for escape.

Looking closer, I saw my face reflected in the Balloon Dog’s polished metal surface. Bajillions of delocalized
bonding electrons were absorbing and re-emitting visible light, I thought. I moved to test the metal’s hardness before I remembered the age-old warning: DO NOT TOUCH THE ARTWORK. Sometimes I need to put my curiosity in check. I find chemistry irresistible; it lets me see my world in a way that is less obvious to others. How does it work? How did it come to be? I still haven’t figured out the Balloon Dog.

I have chosen an unconventional topic with an interesting hook in order to convey my
interest in chemistry and art, which is much more effective than simply listing reasons why you
might be drawn to either. If you are good at it, try to include a touch of humor/wittiness. It will
make your essay much more interesting for the reader. For just this short essay, I have spent at
least a cumulative of several hours rewriting and polishing several drafts. It is often difficult to
express what you want in the character space allotted.

For example, you can write about why you’ve always wanted to be a doctor. Just don’t
make it cliché or what some other person could have potentially thought about. What makes this
essay YOU? What DEFINES you? What experience have you had that no one else has? That’s
what you should write about. Also, don’t be afraid to twist (even lie or exaggerate about) your
experiences! Just have someone else read it over to make sure it can still sound genuine… you
don’t want to turn in something sounding obviously made up.

Now there are different types of essays or plain writing.

The shortest ones are those interview-type questions that you’ll probably encounter at
Stanford’s or Yale’s CommonApp. Be honest. Admission officers have read thousands of these
before and you won’t fool them. Don’t fret too much over your responses to these questions…
they will not make or break your application.

Probably the most frustrating type is “Why our school?” We, as well as the admissions
committee, know that we’re applying to these schools because of their prestige, but the
admissions committee wants to know why they should accept you – basically, they want to pick
the top-notch students who will matriculate. Therefore, you have to make it appear as though
this school is your number one pick! Now, the hard part is researching. You have to thoroughly
research each and every one of these big kahunas and find all the nuances that make it unique
and “better” than the other institutions. In essence, they want to see if you can find the correct
reasons why you chose their school! Remember, although it’s mainly for the name, never say

For the open-ended essays, just… be CRAZY and have FUN! Don’t be afraid to use
contractions and sound informal – it sounds natural that way!

Disclaimer: for the above advice to work, you must write well.

Next up: Extracurriculars!