Cringing in Common: 8 Students Re-Read Their College Application Essays

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I wrote my college essay about metal, which is probably the most unmetal thing I could have done. I describe playing “Symbolic” by Death for my friends, which is when the essay begins to read like a eugenics manifesto: “The experiment had failed and their cultural immune systems had rejected the foreign musical parasite.” Kind of Mien-Kampf-y right out of the gate. The essay paints me as the victim: a straightedge, death metal fanboy whose friends just don’t understand him. That any admissions director read my self-absorbed 500 and thought, “Yeah, that guy!” is odd.

I asked students to re-read their college admissions essays and answer the following questions: What was it about, what about it made you cringe and how have you changed? Some are funny, some are serious and one interviewee asked that I protect her privacy with anonymity.

1. Innate Endowment

Boston College senior Chris Aoiliako wrote his essay about ingenuity, but underneath his DIY approach to life’s problems rested a minefield of sexual charge.

He said he rescued his computer from a virus that came from “God knows where” – He does know where, Chris, and He thinks you know too – and praised guitar players as possessing “innate endowment of phalangeal dexterity,” which sounds rather like foreplay from a hand-surgeon.

Upon revisiting his essay, Aoiliako’s only words were “Oh my God, I sound like a dick.” He exhaustively assured me that he is no longer a dick.

2. Mind In Hand

Most of my interviews were fast and loose, but University of Pennsylvania senior Abby Gilligan gave a powerful response about coping with depression through crafting.

After quitting ballet her junior year, she arrived home at 3 p.m. instead of the usual 9 p.m., and the idle time only fueled her sense of purposelessness. Abby occupied herself with handicraft, like jewelry, drawing and sewing. “If my mind is in my hands, it can’t be in my head,” said Gilligan.

However, she feels as though she almost appropriated her own experience to impress colleges. “In the process of marketing yourself, you’re also commodifying yourself. If I had to write that essay again, I wouldn’t,” she said.

3. Impressionante Appropriazione

Dickinson College sophomore Allen Belo wrote about how Capri’s fairy-tale beauty inspired his devotion to international studies, which has since been tempered by classes about poverty and human rights abuses. Leave it to college to ruin a memory.

Taken by wanderlust, Belo said he tried to class up his essay with excerpts of his tour guide’s Italian, which he completely made up. He was accepted though, so I guess lying works.

4. The Bad Wife

Colgate University sophomore Audrey Rupert was once a fear-mongering attorney… at Mock Trial. To the dismay of her peers, she would cruelly interrogate her witnesses, and though the trials may have been fake, she said the terror she inspired was real. “There is no mercy among attorneys,” she wrote.

Rupert’s cold attitude melted away after finding her place at Colgate, as did her view of the legal system. “That quote is total BS and justice has very little to do with attorneys,” she said.

Based on her nontraditional views of the law, perhaps she has gone Two-Face, but hopefully she’s not lurking around Carlton asking people if they want to flip a coin.

5. Running On

Endurance enthusiast Christopher Kabacinski, a senior at Boston College, wrote about what every runner writes about: running.

He analyzed running in a quasi-philosophical light.“Whether we realize it or not,” wrote Kabacinski, “we’re all running from something or to something.” After chasing a dog that I realized was running from a bear, I’d argue you can do both.

Kabacinski said he now knows he is more than “just a runner,” but still waxes philosophic along the Boston hills.

6. Another Romantic Liar

University of Pennsylvania senior Emily DeLisle said immediately that writing about French immersion camp was obnoxious.

Like Belo, she also lied. “There were a lot of moments where I thought, ‘That didn’t actually happen, why am I lying?’” said DeLisle. She also included sentences in French that, upon review, were all incorrect.

DeLisle said that she was much more confident in herself at 17. “I was inappropriately secure. Now I have a healthy lack of confidence.”

I’d agree with that sentiment. The only knowledge I had at 17 was that I was supposed to hate The Black Album.

7. The Reluctant-To-Use-The-Word Spiritualist

In eleventh grade, Boston College senior Raymond Santos wrote about a class-discussion in which he posited that life is a lease from God. “It is ours entirely, but we shouldn’t ding it up too much,” wrote Santos. Kind of like an apartment, if your landlord knew all the weird stuff you do in there.

Santos said he still prays, but more through mantras than recitations. “Now, in spite of my intense distaste for the word, I think I’m spiritual.”

8.  The Weeping-Redbud

A college senior wrote her college essay about a tree, specifically a dwarf weeping-redbud. Every day she photographed the tree and after a year, she had a visual representation of the change of the seasons.

Colleges eat that s—t up.

What most makes her cringe is her striking innocence at 18. “I had not been far from home in a long time. I had not received less than an ‘A’ for a final grade. And I had not been date-raped as a freshman.”

Since 2012 her entire worldview has changed, but she she said she would take back none of the pain she endured, as it was the lows that gave her a deeper appreciation of the peaks.

Senior at Boston College studying computer science and English. Currently unemployed, he frequents bars after 5 p.m. to vicariously complain about others' workdays.

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