A guest post by Ed Weathers
Your 500 Word College Application Essay should be about the real YOU.
These days, most colleges require that your application essay be no more than 500 words. In that essay, colleges expect you to reveal your writing ability and, just as important, the real You, with a capital Y.
Who are You? What makes You tick? What are Your hopes, expectations, fears, joys, tastes, desires, foibles, sins, and virtues? That’s a lot to expect of a 500 word college application essay.
Of course, you can’t say everything about yourself in 500 words. Forget that list two sentences ago; you can’t fit all that in 500 words. You must narrow the focus of your essay. So what do you write?
Some experts suggest that you start your 500 word college application essay with a brief personal story and then draw a “moral” from it that expresses your values.
There’s nothing wrong with that advice, but if I were a college admissions officer, I’d be sick by now of essays that begin with a touching little tale about a wise grandfather, a handicapped sibling, or a South American orphan the applicant met on a summer good-works trip. I’d prefer hearing about why you still drink only chocolate milk at the age of 17, or how Bonnie Sue McKay broke your heart at the age of twelve (and how you got over it by learning to quilt), or why table tennis is your favorite sport, or how you, with your tin ear, wept the first time you heard Schumann’s Piano Concerto.
If I’m your college admissions officer, forget “touching.” Give me honest and accurate, instead. Give me “tough” before “touching.” Give me clear observations — in your own words, please, not stock phrases. Give me concrete images: a chocolate milk stain on a white hospital gown, a quilting needle stuck in your index finger, a cracked ping-pong ball behind the basement furnace, a scratchy old recording coming out of a friend’s iPod. Give me wit, if you’ve got it, but don’t strain for something that doesn’t come naturally.
Give me honest feeling, not prepackaged, Hallmark-card, tell-’em-what-they-want-to hear mush. If you now hate quilting and prefer rugby to table tennis, fine, write that.
If I’m your college admissions officer, think hard about chocolate milk or Bonnie Sue or table tennis or Schumann, and answer me this question, as accurately and honestly as you can: Why is this important to you?
If you think you know the answer to that question before you start writing, then you don’t know what writing is. Writing — through thinking and brainstorming and free-writing and revising and revising—is a way of searching for the answers to such a question and then writing down those answers as accurately as you can. A good essay would surprise the you you were before you began to write it.
I’m not a college admissions officer, but if I were, I’d say this: The subject of your essay doesn’t matter. It simply needs to be well written and about something you — you, not everybody else, and certainly not some imaginary admissions officer—honestly do care about. Think of this not as an exercise designed to impress colleges, but as a piece of writing as sincere as a love letter. Even if it’s about chocolate milk.
Hmmm. All this sounds very solemn. Your college application essay does not need to be solemn. It does not need to be profound. It does not need to be heart-warming or tragic or full of marvels. It can be funny or quirky. It can be plain and simple. (I often prefer plain and simple.) It can be about something or someone you like, not necessarily something or someone you love. In other words, it can be about lap blankets or Roger Federer, not necessarily about environmental awareness or your grandfather.
I once was paid good money for a little essay about the contents of my wallet. I believe that essay would have got me admitted to Harvard.
All this means your college application essay can be written only by you. Your mother can’t write it. Your guidance counselor can’t write it. That friend of the family who’s a writing teacher can’t write it. When my son applied to college, I refused to help him with his essay. I’m a professional writer and college writing teacher; I knew I could make his essay better. But I couldn’t make it his.
If colleges wanted to know what he had to say and how he said it, then the work had to be his. Otherwise, he was applying under false pretenses. (Who knows, you may want to write something you don’t want to show your mother or your guidance counselor. Do you really want them to know about your crush on Bonnie Sue or your fear of white milk?)
I know that many college applicants get help—some of them get lots of help—on their application essays. Maybe I shouldn’t judge them. But I do. I think they’re cheating just a bit. Your essay needs to be your essay.
And of course it needs to be no more than 500 words. Why? Because that’s the rule, and even if it’s a narrow and arbitrary rule, you need to prove you can color inside the lines. In my next post to this site, I’ll give you some advice about how to write concisely and make the most of those, or any other, 500 words.
Ed Weathers is a retired magazine writer, editor, and college writing instructor. His writing website is writeyourbest.blogspot.com.
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Tags: 500 Word College Application Essay writing tips, a good essay, college admissions officer, college application essay topics, ed weathers, free-writing
How Does Charlie and Chocolate Factory Speak to the Phrase “Good Things Come to Those who Wait”? What about “Good Things Come in Small Packages”?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a magical world created for children. It is a world of sweets, chocolates, candies, miracles, little creatures and magical inventions. This story takes you from reality to the incredible fairy tale. But this fairy tale isn’t so simple. At first sight it’s just a story about a lucky poor boy and his fascinating chocolate factory tour. But why did Charlie Bucket become this lucky one?
What distinguished him from other children? This tale answers these questions. It shows us how bad behaviour and immorality can lead you to a bad ending. It shows us that it is very important to respect elders, listen to them and not to break rules. It teaches us how to be good, kind, moral, courteous and generous. Because eventually all the evil will be punished and all the goodness will be rewarded. And it’s not just the moral of all the tales, but it’s the law of life.
Our magical travel in this charming chocolate world begins with the acquaintance with Charlie and his family. Charlie was a little kind-hearted boy who was born in a poor family. He lived with his parents and four bedridden grandparents. He always “went into the room of his four grandparents to listen to their stories and then afterwards to say good night” (Dahl, p.19). The biggest happiness for him was a chocolate bar which he got once a year for his birthday. But nevertheless he wasn’t greedy and was ready to share his little piece of happiness with others. “Here, Mother, have a bit. We’ll share it. I want everybody to taste it” (Dahl, p. 45). The cold and hunger were common things for him. Grandpa George said that “He deserves better than this” (Dahl, p.58). And the world of this little boy changed because miracles happen to those who believe in them and deserve them. He was so anxious to get a golden ticket that would allow him to visit Willy Wonka’s factory, but his chances, comparing with other rich children, were so small. Nevertheless, it was a lucky chance, when he found some money on the sidewalk and bought two chocolate bars. There was a golden ticket in one of them. Thanks to it he visited Willy Wonka’s factory and in the end of the chocolate factory tour he won the factory itself. It was not just a ticket to the chocolate factory, but it was a ticket to his new life which he was awarded because of his good nature and heart.
Besides Charlie, this story acquaints us with other children who differed from him. They were ill-bred, selfish and greedy. Because of their bad nature and behaviour they were ridiculed and they had a bad ending (Tumer, 2009). Augustus Gloop was so greedy that he started to drink chocolate from the chocolate river and fell into it. He had to be boiled to make sure that “all the greed and the gall will be boiled away for one and all” (Dahl, p.105). Violet Beauregard used to chew a gum all the time. When she went in the Inventing Room, she took an experimental gum, despite forbiddance from the elders, and blew up into a blueberry. Veruca Salt was a very spoilt child and she used to get everything from her parents. She wanted to have a trained squirrel. When she was refused, she entered into the Nut Room and was attacked by squirrels. She was thrown into the rubbish chute. Mike Teavee was so obsessed with television that he used a television teleport and shrank himself because of it. All these children were punished because of their bad behaviour.
You see that Charlie rather differs from other children in this story who are disobedient, greedy and aggressive towards the parents and others. That’s why they are depicted as immature and are punished to correct their behaviour (Syakira Meor Hissan, 32). Despite their money, parents and possibilities, they lacked the main principles of humanity. They lacked kindness and kindheartedness. The fate of Charlie is absolutely opposite. He was destined to be a lucky one. When others tried to use all their money and possibilities to get these golden tickets, he got it absolutely unexpectedly and without a great tug. He got not only the golden ticket, but the whole chocolate factory itself. Of course he wasn’t rewarded by chance. It’s the case when a kind heart and good intentions and deeds do marvels. He attracted all these miracles that happened to him because of his good nature. It’s like the law of universe. It’s the law of the boomerang. All our words and deeds return to us. Because of it Charlie managed to change not only his own life, but the life of his family. He saved them from hunger, coldness and poverty. That’s why the destiny of Charlie is not the same as the destiny of other children portrayed in this tale. And this is a lesson that we should take from this story.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a magical fairy tale that teaches us to be human beings. It shows us how we create our fate through our deeds and intentions. We shouldn’t forget that everything we do or say returns to us in some way. Miracles happen only with those who deserve them by their deeds, thoughts and behaviour. Only good nature and kind heart are those things that can change our life and attract some marvels to it. But if you are greedy, aggressive and disobedient you must not just forget about some miracles in your life, but you will be also punished because of your bad behaviour. We shouldn’t forget about the principle of the boomerang that exists not only in fairy tales, but in real life too. It’s one of the main principles that exists in our universe. Let’s try to follow Charlie in his deeds, and not the other ill-bred children who met a troubled end in the tale. We should take a lesson from this fairy tale and try to make our lives and behavior better.
Dahl, R. (1964). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Great Britain: Puffin Books.
Syakira Meor Hissan, Wan (2012, July). “An Analysis of the Children’s Characters in Roald Dahl’s Novel: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Retrieved from: Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 83-92.
Tumer, I. (2009). “Analysing Roald Dahl’s Works for Children as a Means of Social Criticism.” Retrieved from http://tedprints.tedankara.k12.tr/27/1/2009-Irem%20Tumer.pdf
The author of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book review declares that good things come not to those who wait but to those who deserve. The protagonist of the novel, poor boy Charlie, has a kind heart and a generous soul. He often suffers from cold or hunger but never forgets about his family. The other kids who received their golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory were greedy, impatient, and spoiled. Although a fantastic miracle happened in their lives, they were not grateful for it and fate punished them for their ingratitude: what goes around comes around.
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