Wayyyyy back when I was a wee 'un, I wanted to go to a glorious place, one I had read about in books and seen in movies. College! It was everything I wanted! But first, I had to apply. And applications require writing.
I applied to college at a strange time. Colleges were starting to jump on the common application bandwagon, I was in the first senior class that could submit the new SAT scores (and subsequently, the last class that could submit the old SAT scores), and Facebook had just been opened to high school students (there's a whole post about Facebook that's not for now).
Writing my common application essay was a terrible process. I started five or six different essays and none of them felt like me or my voice, and I just couldn't get anything done while doing homework for both high school and community college. During fall break, my parents went on a round-the-island trip with some visiting relatives, leaving my brother and me at home. This was the weekend. I had to finish.
I took my brother to a birthday party on that Saturday at a bowling alley and sat in Borders with a stack of college essay for dummies books. I wasn't looking for ideas because I had too many, but I needed to get into the mindset. So stack of books in the college section for four hours it was.
I came home, still unfocused and waiting for a stroke of genius, and decided to bake a pizza. Food calms me and focuses me, and that's when I came upon this idea. I know it's egocentric, but people say to write what you know. I know myself and I know food, and more than anything, your college essay needs to reflect who you are.
So, on October 9th, 2005, at about 1am I posted a draft to my Livejournal for some generalized angsty peer comments, and by 8pm, when my parents came home from their circumnavigation, I had my essay.
Common Application Essay Option 6: Write on a topic of your choice.
A Recipe for Ma'ayan
Serves four, but can easily be multiplied to accommodate the masses.
To make a Ma'ayan, you must always use the freshest spring water available, hence the dish's name [Ma'ayan: (n.) (Hebrew) a spring of water]. Not all good cooking comes from precise measurements and definite cooking times. Like any exotic one-dish meal, a Ma'ayan must be prepared over time and with careful planning. After deciding to make a Ma'ayan, however, the dish is relatively easy to create.
As any good recipe starts, you must begin with sautéing a flavorful tidbit, usually an onion. For a Ma'ayan, the first step is to sear interpersonal skills in a well-seasoned pan, quickly, over a heated conversation. Allow the skills to sizzle, drawing in the ears and imaginations of those around and whetting their appetites. The skills continue cooking until heated through and caramelized.
An incorporation of the sous vide cooking method is necessary. The sous vide method involves cooking small morsels in a vacuum-packed bag to concentrate the already intense flavors. To a vacuum-packed bag, add the caramelized interpersonal skills to a wide array of past experiences, taken from birth until close to eighteen years. While cooking sous vide, the spring water must never boil--only simmer--as the delicate essence and fibers of the food will break apart. Once separation occurs, there is no way to salvage the dish, save returning to the beginning.
Once the sous vide has cooked, remove from the vacuum-packed bag. There should be eighteen distinct pieces, with some particles. Dip each individual piece in whisked ideas and creativity, allow excess to drip off, and then roll in dried crumbs from the past. Bake Ma'ayan in a 400ºF oven until crispy. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly. Store Ma'ayan in an air-circulating container for up to a week.
It is best to serve Ma'ayan on chilled plates with a warm sweet and sour sauce and a grain of salt. A nice complementary side dish of a handmade creation or of spun tales is not essential, but it will draw out the zest in the Ma'ayan.
Do not hesitate to take Ma'ayan to any lively family, school, or social event, for she is easily handled and holds up well under extreme heat or moderate cold. Ma'ayan travels very well and will not need any alterations for altitude. Most any dish, from sashimi and kalua pork to southern fried chicken and bagels, has been served alongside Ma'ayan. Cultural gatherings on the mainland and outlying islands usually have some form of Ma'ayan present. Usually liked by one and all, Ma'ayan will please even the pickiest palate and tickle the fancies of critics.
This essay did me well. I'm not saying that Oberlin needs a cookbook of essays to read through, but find something that works for you. Your essay should emanate your voice and your interests and your passions. If you have a few spare minutes this summer, up-and-coming high school seniors, start looking into it.
My brother will be applying to college this fall, and living in Hawaii isn't exactly conducive to college visits. Anytime we've headed to the mainland in the last three years we've added college visits to the list of activities, and I've heard much about the applying process from the visits I tagged along to. I'll give you guys some application and more essay advice in the next post!
Responses to this Entry
The "write an essay on the topic of your choice" prompt is by far the best. I had so much fun composing my college essay, and I think that the Admissions staff found out a lot more about me from three pages on how I aspired to be a rock star in middle school than anything else I could have written about.
Love your blog, Ma'ayan!
Posted by: Helena Thompson on June 26, 2009 6:11 PM
That's a great essay! Note: your essay does not have to be as cute and creative as Ma'ayan's for you to be admitted to Oberlin. And we know not everyone can be funny. So if you're feeling boring, don't despair--just make sure your essay is well-written.
Posted by: Elizabeth on June 29, 2009 2:33 PM
That is amazing; probably one of the most personal yet unique application essays I have read. I think that you are very right though, the essay is just as much about your own personal flair as it is about the content — for instance, mine drew parallels between my life and the characters Ivan (in Chekhov's MISERY) and the Very Hungry Caterpillar (in Carle's eponymous children's story).
As colleges move towards a more uniform application set (a one size fits all document, it would seem), the unique nature of one's application will become its saving grace more than anything else.
So yes, I wholeheartedly agree with Helena, the 'write your own is the best' and with Ma'ayan, don't cutcopypaste a concept from some sort of best application essay book but let your voice 'emanate through' for that will always be the most powerful and best way to show who you are.
Posted by: Daniel on July 26, 2009 4:01 PM
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