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Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

(516) 362-1929

Ivy League Student on Pain of College Application Essays

If you’ve spent time reading my blog, watching my YouTube videos, or reading the success stories, you know I love listening to students’ stories and helping them craft authentic college application essays that shed interesting, useful light on who they are and who they’re in the process of becoming.

Truly opening up in your application essays isn’t always easy, but it’s important.

I invited a freshman at Columbia University to share with you her perspectives on this process.

ENJOY!

COLLEGE APPLICATIONS SUCK,
BUT YOU CAN GET MORE THAN
MISERY OUT OF THEM

If someone asked me in December what I was getting out of the college application process, I would have politely kicked them in the face.

Now, having already traversed through that hell, I feel spectacularly worldly and wise, which is the sort of pious attitude needed to answer that question.

What on earth did I get out of the application process?

Besides the obvious (acceptance into college) and the sad (crippling self-doubt), I learned several tidbits about myself that I will share with you and then ignore entirely.

I learned that I have a fear of vulnerability.

If you ever see me in person, please never bring this up because it is totally embarrassing.

COLLEGE ESSAYS,
IN ALL THEIR WELL-MEANING CRUELTY,
ARE JUST AN EXERCISE
IN LAYING YOURSELF BARE

In my personal essays, I was extraordinarily worried about presenting myself in the best light, which either meant skimming over some facts or digging deep into others. It was very difficult to be completely genuine in the way that personal writing rarely is.

There’s a difference between writing 650 words about yourself and writing yourself into the 650 words.

I was often afraid to write anything past concrete fact––what I did, what others did, what happened as a result––and found it uncomfortable to mention the abstract––my intentions, my thoughts, my feelings.

In fact, it still makes me nauseous to think that somewhere out there, strangers have read not only about my life but about me, and that they had to judge me on me.

It was terrifying to put the weight of college acceptance on the strengths and weaknesses of the very person I was, but that was the only way to do it. Anything less, I learned, felt phony. An essay can be accurate, but it needs to be true.

So over the course of ten different college applications with varying levels of misery, I finally learned that it’s easiest to be entirely authentic.

It’s exhausting to write cautiously.

Seriously!

That’s not just a line I came up with that sounds really cool and should be featured somewhere big.

To anyone daunted by the sheer word count lying ahead of you, just remember my really cool line, and you might avoid the I’m-sick-of-this-crap phase.

Put yourself out there.

Be brave about it.

However, I realize now that this entire blog post has been a convoluted explanation of how I learned to understand that quintessential piece of advice: Just be yourself!

So if you’re actually capable of comprehending those words, I’m sorry you read all this way.

It’s very difficult to muster up any sort of nice feelings when you can still vividly recall being mired in 3 am brainstorming sessions and hours of backspacing and rewriting.

But I promise there are things to learn about yourself, even if that sort of enlightenment can only come afterwards. . .even if that sort of enlightenment isn’t even that nice. . .even if that sort of enlightenment is as stupid as “Hey, you’re scared of being vulnerable!”

So here’s hoping you learn something better about yourself than me.

Happy struggling!

 

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