Every year, I have students bring me that essay —the incredibly heartfelt one– about their trip into the woods, or up a mountain. Some of these students are accomplished hikers, some total, struggling newbies. 97% of the time there are blisters in these essays. It’s hard to explain to the writer that this rubs a blister in the admissions readers. But I have to try.
Here’s why: what you experience on the mountain top or in the mosquito-thick woods is likely very similar to what every other person who ever hiked experienced: irritation, discomfort, transcendence, appreciation, disappointment. Often, you leave with gratitude, renewed perspective. It’s also very likely those two last mental states are quite short lived.
That essay doesn’t translate to real life!
Say: until someone double-crosses you at school, or you drink soured milk your sibling put back in the fridge, or you can’t get a new bus pass and you have to walk somewhere in the sheeting urban rain, or…the list of irritating things in everyday, non-hiking life that ask you to face your inner self goes on and on.
Where are the woods then? Where are all those blisters and mosquitos and the high cloud vista of the craggy peaks?
Admissions offers have heard that essay too many times
The admissions readers have heard your story 10000000 times, maybe literally. They know you mean it– but everyone does. They also know, because they have lived a little longer than you– that those take-aways are often temporary. So they are looking for something more. Sorry to say: Not the cliched journey with its predictable life-lesson.
So what are you to do, if that essay is burning a hole in your mind, feels like THE ONE?
Find a unique angle on that essay
You need to dig much, much deeper into your experience. Beyond even those aggravating, debilitating blisters that dominated your psyche at the time.
Last year, I worked with a student whose essay took a long time to find itself, but when it did, it was profound. He was a committed boy scout who had planned with his crew an ultimate trip into the Colorado mountains. They prepared for months.
The trip had the usual difficulties, and high stakes danger. But that wasn’t the issue that made his essay come to life: He was faced with the very difficult decision of having to ask a peer to go home.
His peer was unprepared physically and mentally, and would have cost everyone the completion of the journey. But everyone liked the kid. My student was faced with conveying this decision to the student, and holding space for everyone’s disappointment, and for his sense of himself as leader.
I guarantee, there have been few, if any, admissions essays written exactly on this topic. That was why it was so successful, and stirring. There was unfinished business, but this applicant knew in a hard situation, he could make a hard choice, considering the needs of a whole group.
Admissions officers like to know that. And it didn’t hurt that the essay was so well-written and believable.
What’s your angle to get beyond that essay?
So what’s your angle? Ask yourself what really happened to you on this trip that you could zoom in on, beyond the blisters, so you’re not *just* writing *that essay.*
And then, be really courageous: if you can’t find anything that breaks you out of the cliches, that gets at a specific experience that illuminates your own character, or shows some value you hold in action– let the essay go.
I promise, you’ll find another topic to write on that does just that.
We can help you dig (beneath the blister of that essay)
Stuck on the mountain, but with nowhere to go but gratitude? Contact us for help brainstorming topics beyond that essay, or shaping the one you currently have beyond blisters and sore backs.