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Seeking a cure for dread disease brought on by college admissions essays

I suffer from an acute case of admissionitis gravis (n. Abbr. AdGrav. 1. A disease of high school seniors characterized by severe anxiety, often developing into writer's block, mental paralysis and overall paranoia. 2. A state of anxiety experienced by adolescents facing the need to craft powerful personal essays for college admissions, despite having lived relatively brief, less-than-powerful lives. From Latin admissio, admission, and gravitas, heavy).

The definitive, telltale symptom of my disease? A complete inability to locate the admissions essay key that will unlock the pearly gates to undergraduate heaven.

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Perhaps I could write about the exchange trip that tested my love of all things French.

Stuffed into a Renault on a long road trip with five opinionated Lyonnaises, where the subject of George W. reared its head no fewer than seven times, I grappled with the art of international diplomacy.

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The sympathy that the French displayed after 9/11 had turned to anger toward American foreign policy in the summer of 2003. Repeatedly, I tried to explain the reservations that so many Americans shared about invading Iraq without sounding like an utter flag waver or flag burner. En franM-gais, no less.

Despite the memory of being a lone voice in a hot and hostile sub-sub-compact car, I came home convinced that I had triumphantly navigated a diplomatic minefield. I took comfort in knowing that a small group of Lyonnaises understood that Americans were not just a posse of cowboys out to settle the wilds of the world.

Unfortunately, one of the primary symptoms of AdGrav is a marked fear of offending in any conceivable way the readers of one's essay. What if my admissions readers think it was absurd to attempt to explain the American presence in Iraq? Or what if they think that I'm presumptuously comparing myself to Condoleezza Rice? Unthinkable. So I veto the topic of diplomat sans portfolio.

Maybe a better topic would be my experience volunteering at Valley Village, a residential facility for individuals with Down syndrome.

One summer, a wonderfully spunky resident decided that he had a crush on me. I became the recipient of his love poems, visits and hand-picked dandelions. Village policy was to terminate any contact with residents who demonstrated undue interest, so the staff directed me to refrain from any contact whatsoever with Andrew.

But when he shyly asked me to be his partner at the end-of-summer square dance, I could not turn him down. Under the disapproving glares of several administrators, Andrew and I awkwardly do-si-doed across the picnic pavilion. The memory of that happy August night is a treasure that I took home from my volunteer experience. Still better, Andrew remains a dear friend and correspondent to this day.

But wait. Yet another symptom of AdGrav kicks in: the feeling that something personal might be misconstrued as silly or saccharine. True, it might reveal my kinder, gentler side, but do I dare risk leaving the impression that I'm some bleeding heart who fashions herself a teenage Mother Teresa? Not a chance.

So how about a safer subject, such as my connection with Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby?

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I could mimic Fitzgerald's poetic prose to show how reading this book was like waltzing through a distorted mirror into a world so parallel to my own - its hopes and realities, its nightmares and dreams. I could show how I learned from Gatsby's errors and how, while some "beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," I turn my boat to sail with the waves of the present onto the shores of the future.

But could this one be too artsy? What if my readers hate Fitzgerald? Or maybe they've forgotten The Great Gatsby entirely and would toss out this essay as bizarre.

And so my AdGrav rages on.

Having warned friends to stay away so as not to contract the illness, I now sit alone in front of my computer screen - this document forming a CT scan of my suffering. Yet even in my state of near-delirium, I derive some perverse pleasure from the essay requirement. After all, it is the recollection and pondering of such things as political debates on foreign soil, the surprise of self-discovery through volunteerism and the realization of a profound connection with literature that give me hope that my AdGrav will soon be in remission.

Of course, a complete and quick cure lies exclusively in the hands of my admissions readers: Rx: One thick acceptance envelope. To be administered immediately.

Emily Hahn is a senior at the Bryn Mawr School. Her e-mail is absolutelyemily@hotmail.com.


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