College Essays

Common Application

There are no greater moments than those when I unexpectedly catch a whiff of a familiar scent, and suddenly I’m eight years old again, begrudgingly pausing my fun to reapply sunscreen, this time borrowing from my aunt because we ran out after the seventh reapplication. The slightest trace—just a single molecule—of Coppertone Water Babies, which I will forever associate with my aunt, is enough to whisk me back in time. Cow patties produce a similar effect. My club volleyball teammates often find themselves gagging when downwind of a farm at our annual Lancaster tournament. I must clarify that I do not enjoy the odor of bovine feces. That said, I do not find it entirely unpleasant because it brings me back to the first time I went zip-lining on a family trip to North Carolina—my very first taste of adventure that left me perpetually craving more. No other sense possesses the power to so vividly call to mind a person or experience. Scents are memories; they are people, and I often wonder about my own.

For a while, my question was whether I even had one—the answer to which I received a couple years ago after presenting my cousins with a box of hand-me-downs. Their faces lit up as they exclaimed that the clothes smelled like me. I was surprised. I associated everyone I knew with a particular scent but never before considered that others did the same. What was my scent? 

My cousins seem to associate me with the fragrance of the clothes that I give them, which fades a little with each wash, gone completely by the time they reach the youngest girls, who perhaps think of me when they smell my grandparents’ basement. This is the basement where my twin brother and I, the two oldest, take all the kids to play during family gatherings. That beloved, kimchi-fridge-smelling (yes, an entire fridge dedicated to jars upon jars of kimchi) basement.

My church friends probably couple me with the smell of those cream-filled supermarket wafers that used to be my go-to snack after services ended until my church tragically modified the selection. I spent every Sunday of my childhood eating those wafers, and while I may be the oldest of my cousins, I am the youngest of my church friends—forever a wafer-eating child to them, never mind the fact that I am a legal adult. 

And for my school friends, thoughts of me are probably linked to the doughy, delicious aroma of the bagel shop that we frequent and the smell of Extra Polar Ice gum, which takes up residence in my mouth in the absence of said bagels. Seldom have I been caught gum-less—not even on the volleyball court (which my coach considers a choking hazard).

Among the many facets of my proprietary scent exists one constant: my perfume. This is a fragrance everyone recognizes as me, no matter what other scents they may know me by. It is the scent of a girl who seems shy until you know her, at which point you can’t believe you ever thought she was shy; a girl who carries on giggling long after the rest of the room has stopped, causing everyone to start again. It is the scent of me, that fills the room while I spend hours alone, sewing and cooking and baking to recharge, because as much as I love my friends, sometimes I need time to relearn my own scent.

Scents are the most powerful reminders of my favorite moments and people. The experiences that define me, the people who’ve molded me—all I am is a culmination of smells. Scents make my world make sense.

Tips for Writing:
My recommendation for getting started on your essay would be to sit down and write a list of things about yourself that you think are important and do not show up elsewhere on your application. That’s not to say there can’t be any overlap; if you’re writing your essay about basketball, obviously basketball is going to be included in the “Activities” section on your Common Application, but make sure your essay provides extra insight into your life–and you as a person–that an admissions officer wouldn’t know from the rest of your application. Your essay is your opportunity to showcase qualities that don’t necessarily come through elsewhere. So make a list: moments that changed you, character traits you possess, anything that defines you that you think admissions should know about. And then find a way to incorporate it all into an essay. You can pick a common theme and relate everything to it (like I did) or describe whatever topic you’re writing about in such a way that allows you to incorporate all the details in your list. A good rule-of-thumb is to write about whatever comes easiest to you—if you have a lot to say about it, it’s probably important to you! Hope this helps!

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