College Admission Essay: Ten Great Essays to Inspire You (page 2)
If you need a spark plug to get your essay-writing engine going, browse through a few of these gems. None were written as college admission essays, but all display fine writing from a personal point of view — the goal of your admission essay.
Because they’re so good, these essays are anthologized in many collections. If you can’t find them in a general book of essays, check with the librarian in your school or public library for alternate publications.
In no particular order, here are ten great essays.
"Letter from Birmingham Jail" by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the most eloquent essays of the modern civil rights movement, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written in 1963 during King’s incarceration for a non-violent protest. The essay is an answer to a plea from several white ministers in Birmingham, Alabama. The ministers asked the black community to call off protests against Birmingham’s segregated bus system, contending that the protests did more harm than good and that the black community should patiently seek justice through the courts. King explains clearly why patience, nearly a century after the end of the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves, is not the answer. As you read this essay, notice how King builds his argument, fact by fact, to an inescapable conclusion.
"Of Studies" by Francis Bacon
Okay, I admit that Francis Bacon is an old timer; he was born in 1561. And yes, he sounds old. But if you can pick your way through some strange spelling and punctuation, you’ll find a gem. Bacon’s technique is compression. He makes his points with a minimum of words; you almost feel as though you are reading a series of machine-gun bursts, each bearing a short but deep message. In fact, Bacon’s style is so concise that every sentence could be the topic of another essay. “Of Studies” discusses education — a topic close to the heart of all college applicants who are not completely fixated on keg parties.
"Mother Tongue" by Amy Tan
Novelist Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) reflects upon the nature of language in this essay. Tan’s mother immigrated to the United States from China, and her English always reflected the grammar and usage of her first language, Chinese. Tan relates several incidents in which people respond differently to the same message delivered in her mother’s imperfect English and in Tan’s own college-educated speech. Tan’s weaving together of anecdotes and interpretation may serve as a model for your admission essay.
"The Search for Marvin Gardens"by John McPhee
This essay is one of my all-time favorites because of its strange but extremely effective structure. McPhee bases this piece on the fact that the properties in the original Monopoly game were named after places in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the essay he constantly cuts between two separate stories — two players zooming through a series of Monopoly games and descriptions of the actual places that are bought or landed on during the games. The title comes from the one spot that McPhee can’t locate in Atlantic City. McPhee’s structure may stir your creativity; also notice the sparse but vivid details he chooses to create word pictures of each street.
"The Solace of Open Spaces" by Gretel Erhlich
Erhlich lives in Wyoming, a sparsely populated state. Her lyrical descriptions of the landscape are interspersed with short anecdotes about life in the “open spaces” of that state. Erhlich manages to show the reader how a physical setting can shape one’s personality and worldview. If you intend to write an admission essay focused on a place, check out this essay for a fine model.
"The Lives of a Cell" by Lewis Thomas
The scientifically-inclined may learn a lot from reading this essay by Lewis Thomas, a medical doctor and author. Thomas considers the basic unit of life, the cell, and wonders whether the cell serves as a model for the organization of human society, the universe, and other little things like that. Thomas builds his case by way of examples, which he labels “items.” The essay is a good model for students who want to write about highly technical subjects in a readable way.
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