Don't Succumb to Application Pressure

Sijin Choi

I found the college application process dehumanizing, particularly the personal essays. Colleges seek to judge a person by what is written on a piece of paper, and they admit those that fit certain criteria. In most cases, however, who gets in is determined by how esoteric or dazzling one presents oneself in the essay, which is why so many students prowl their ordinary, teenage lives in search of something unique, something out-of-this-world.

The cost of this approach is we often lose our true identities, choosing to instead project ourselves as other than we are.

I suffered from this sort of pressure to "blow away" the admissions officer. As a New York-based Asian male seeking financial aid, I was told by my peers and teachers that I had to write stellar essays, even they were about a trivial subject that rarely influenced me as a person. My English teacher even told me to write one on why I hate broccoli.

But after writing over 10 essays, all of which seemed flashy and unique in each of their respective ways, I began to question whether such works were indicative of the type of person I am. Do I really learn a life lesson each day from riding the train? Was that moment in the museum really a life-changer? The answer was no. When I’m on the train going home, I am reticent and detached, and hardly the philosopher I portrayed in one of my essays. That time in the museum? Yeah, it inspired a sense of social service but so did the homeless man sleeping outside.

I could have written about the 10 countries I visited before the age of eight because of my parents’ profession. Or I could boast about my tendency to give a dollar to the poor while riding the subway late at night. Each of these events could have inspired essays that made an admissions officer sob. But they are not “significant experiences” that have affected me more than other more ordinary occurrences.

In a way, the college application process forced me to be someone I am not. Yes, I provided the engaging essay, complete with Ph.D.-worthy philosophical introspection, finished off with a speck of humor. I hope it works.

But College X: who exactly am I? I am a pragmatic student that does just enough to get by in the subjects I abhor, such as AP Calculus, but stick around and debate with teachers for hours on subjects that I love like Government and Journalism. I have yet to find a panacea for world hunger and poverty, but volunteer a week every summer on a South Dakota Native American reservation. And, finally, I lack the capacity to search the conscious as deeply as Sigmund Freud or Immanuel Kant. Please stop trying to turn us into something that we are not; it hurts us and it also hurts you.

My message to my fellow seniors: follow your heart. Take others’ advice and critiques into consideration but don’t let it change which essay you submit. Because if College X does not want you for who you are, they don’t deserve the hefty $75 required application fee in the first place.