Owning your college essay

For many, writing a college essay can feel like a daunting task. It just takes up too much energy. We get it. You are in the middle of the rest of your lives: high school, homework, and extra-curricular activities are taking up almost all of your time. Adding college essays and applications into the mix can feel overwhelming. Luckily, you just need to remember that we have all been there. We have all written them, and life is going to be okay.

As a new admissions counselor, I have a unique perspective. I walked in your shoes back in 2010 when I was applying to St. John’s. I sat there in front of my computer staring at the exact same writing prompt you are staring at now, “Discuss a book that has particular significance for you. What makes this book great in your view? What effect does it have on what you think or how you think?” So, I truly get it. I was you.

Let me give you a little advice. Just be yourself. That’s really all it takes. You don’t need to write on a book that you think we are interested in or will impress us. There isn’t a right answer that we are waiting to read. You don’t need to write on a classic or a book that is culturally or historically significant. We aren’t asking for that. What we are asking is for you to write about YOU. What book is significant to YOU? What effect does it have on how YOU think?

When I was in your shoes, I wrote my essay on a children’s book entitled Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. No, this book isn’t the most sophisticated novel ever written, but I used the book as an opening to talk about myself and how I would learn at St. John’s.

In the story, a little girl struggles in school year after year, unable to read even though it being her deepest desire. Though she is extremely smart and gifted, the words on the page could not come to life for her. The little girl experiences ridicule and bullying from those around her.  Mr. Falker, her new teacher, takes notice of the struggle and takes the time to help and teach this student in new and different ways. One day, it finally clicks. The words pour out of the girl, and she is able to read. This story mirrors my own reading experience. I struggled academically as a child until a special teacher took the time and energy to try something different and help me learn in a different way. And then suddenly, I was flourishing. “Thank you, Mr. Falker” was the first book I was able to read fully with my teacher beside me, smiling.

For me, this process defines St. John’s. We might struggle with an idea, take a different approach to our learning, and together take the time to work through hard topics and confusing problems. Each student is unique and brings a different perspective and opinion to the table. If something isn’t clicking, St. John’s students are not afraid to try a different tactic to further understanding. Mr. Falker and my own teacher are Johnnies at heart, teachers and learners with the determination to approach a challenge and try something new.

I wrote my essay on a book that truly impacted my life and changed me forever. It’s a book that will forever be bound to who I am. I present just one of many examples. Students have written on classic authors such as Plato, Austen, or Faulkner; others have written on fantasy books such as Harry Potter, Narnia, or the Lord of the Rings. There are no boundaries. Just keep in mind that your essay should reflect on your own life and on a book that remains close by your bedside at all times. It should be the first one you would grab in a fire. Own the book; own the essay. Make it your own and the rest will come naturally to you. Good luck!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jacckson Coster says:

    Love the advice thank you. Being genuine and honest is the answer to all of life’s greatest questions, even writing essays! Writing is a deeply personal and unique thing, so it only makes sense that your writing directly reflects who you are.


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