I’ve always thought diaries turned memoirs are fascinating reads. The willingness of a writer to share vulnerable moments and to be authentic, even if only with the pages in a book. It’s their introspective nature that really grabs me. A writer’s willingness to be open, to be honest and to be fair. Fair about acknowledging character flaws, likes, dislikes, things that anger them, things that frustrate them, things that bring them great joy. There is a level of honesty and candor in a diary that most people don’t permit in other forms of writing about themselves. I’m sure it is that honesty that makes them so fascinating. I mean, we all are flawed, we all have bumps and bruises on our personalities, we all have “baggage”. There are those quirky and not-so-flattering stories to tell about things we’ve done and experiences we’ve had and most of us (if we’re lucky) also have delightful stories of joy to share which have added levity to our lives. We are all human and life is a complex jumble of fantastic, good, bad and interesting moments. It’s amazing what one can learn about one’s self when he or she acknowledges the mix of those experiences in his or her life.
It’s probably no surprise then, that I’m drawn to students who are willing to treat their college application essays a bit like a diary entry; a window into something completely honest about themselves. It’s those students that use the writing process as time for self reflection and introspection that usually get the A+ from me. Now- let me qualify. There are certainly a few topics that I would flesh out in a diary which would never make their way into any college application essay I would write, and I think knowing what those things are for yourself is important. But it is the free writing exercise of thinking openly and expressing your true self that can serve as a great way to start the application essay writing process.
Share a piece of who you are. Try not to worry if there is a “right” answer to an essay question, or that we are expecting to be wowed by an applicant’s influence on politics in the European Union EVERY time we start an essay. We’re far more interested in hearing about the real you. The you who wrote a diary rant about the guy in the car who merged late on the highway earlier this morning, the you who was disappointed by a friend and learned something about people and relationships as a result, even the you who absolutely cannot stand fruit cake despite a great love of the holiday season.
It is a willingness to be genuine that I am moved by. If I were honest, there are more than a handful of times each year when I am brought to tears by a student’s willingness to share in an unrefined kind of way. Robert Frost once said, “No tears in a writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Take the time to really think about yourself as you write. Stuck for a topic that fits? Think of it as a diary exercise and write down five things people don’t know about you. They might help you find the “thing”- the thing that tells us why you are a puzzle piece in the Class of 2014. You might surprise yourself, you might laugh, you might even cry. None of those things is bad and they all make you human.
- Jennifer Scott