College Essays

Common Application

Essay:

As I haul the final plastic storage bin into my bedroom, the pungent scent of permanent
marker stings my nose. All fourteen bins display a different label, from SHIRTS to SHOES to
MAKEUP to JOURNALS, in thick black streaks. Every one of my possessions except my
furniture lies in these fourteen boxes. My goal is simple: for the next thirty days, I will unbox
only the items that I need to use. Whatever items remain in the containers after a month will be
donated to Goodwill.
After learning about landfill pollution in science class, I made the decision to turn to
minimalism to do my part in living more sustainably. No longer would I contribute to the 3,091
landfills across America. No longer would I contribute to the toxic emissions released during
decomposition. No longer would I contribute to the contamination of nearby water sources.
I spent the first thirty days of my new journey unloading the possessions that did not
improve my life. Did I really need two alarm clocks? Did I really need every imaginable size
suitcase? Did I really need the several bowls I created in ceramics class? The answer was simple. No. One would think it would be difficult discarding memories, but it was quite the opposite. In fact, it was cathartic. I kept only the items that would fulfill my needs. Blankets were put on shelves, two pairs of jeans were folded in the drawer, and my one winter coat was hung in the closet. I then began only purchasing items essential for my well-being: bamboo toothbrushes, TOMS slip-ons, Billie razors. Needless to say, before buying necessities or objects that truly bring me joy, I research the impacts these brands have on the environment to ensure I am supporting more eco-friendly businesses.
One cold night the following November, I strolled to my mailbox. Sitting on top of the
stack of envelopes lay a crimson red LTD Commodities catalog addressed to me. In years past, I relished flipping through the holiday edition and circling items I wanted for Christmas. I would
make an extensive gift wish-list for myself with a navy blue phone charger, a pair of cat-eye
sunglasses, and a Great Gatsby inspired book organizer. This year, however, I no longer sought
temporary happiness from tangible goods. The materialistic cover lines didn’t intrigue me to
open the magazine. I recycled the catalog with ease. There was no need for a wish-list as I finally felt content, despite owning a limited number of belongings.
With my minimalist lifestyle and reduced focus on consumerism, each item I do own has
greater value. Every object in my life serves a meaningful purpose. This provides me with a
sense of fulfillment, freedom, and flexibility that materialism cannot. What began as a genuine
desire to help the planet now helps me to be a more joyful and positive person.

Tips for Writing:

My first tip for anyone planning on applying to colleges is to start planning your applications as early as possible. Start with writing out your extracurriculars in the activities section. If you can, it is best to begin brainstorming ideas for the college essay and even begin writing out a first draft during the summer leading up to your senior year. That way, you can spend the beginning of the new school year working on your supplemental essays and other aspects of your applications, and at least have a rough draft of the college essay to edit.
When you brainstorm ideas for your college essay, start by making a list of all the aspects of your life that have shaped (or currently shape) who you are. Make this list with pen and paper (not on a laptop or phone!). Write down whatever comes to your mind – people, things, places, experiences, hobbies. Even if it sounds too weak or too small for a college essay, your idea may help later on. In the future, it will be better to cross-out ideas than to barely have anything written and to be in need of more.
Make sure that whatever idea you choose is SPECIFIC and PERSONAL to you! Keep this idea DIFFERENT from what you have already written in the activities section or in other parts of your application. If you do choose to write about an extracurricular activity, ensure that there is at least one VERY specific and VERY personal event that occurred in that activity that has impacted your life. In my example above, my “general” idea was about minimalism, but I connected this more widespread lifestyle to my personal life. I showed (and explained) how minimalism has impacted my life. I felt that this topic has a great influence on who I am and would be unique since not many teenage applicants would be living minimalist lifestyles.
Furthermore, once you have a rough draft constructed, have a parent, sibling, OR teacher read it over to see if you are on the right track. Only have one person that you really trust read your essay at this point in time because you should already have some trust in yourself and you want to keep writing your own. If that person thinks that the topic you chose is sufficient, then continue revising and editing your work. This step is crucial since a LOT of applicants struggle with choosing a topic that he/she can write a great essay on. Don’t be discouraged if this is you! A lot of my friends created multiple drafts on different topics before figuring out the best one for them.
When you are editing your essay, add details and description to SHOW rather than TELL. In my example above, I added a lot of parallelism to expand on my points and to try to keep the reader intrigued with my topic. Get to the point as soon as possible, and keep in mind that every word that you use should have a purpose. In other words, don’t repeat sentences or exact ideas in your essay because you have a word limit and should only include the most important information!
Once you have a close-to-final draft of your essay, have one or two more trusted adults read through it and give you feedback. Remember that this is YOUR essay and any final decisions should be up to you! If you want to show your essay to your friends or family, that’s totally fine, but don’t listen to feedback from more than two people or else your essay might become very different from your own writing.
Finally, when you move on to writing your supplemental essays, make sure that each essay touches on a DIFFERENT part of your life – DIFFERENT from each other, DIFFERENT from the college essay, and DIFFERENT from the activities section or other sections of your application.

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