In my previous post, I discussed one of the gurus of college admissions and the college essay, Harry Bauld. Mr. Bauld described a set of essay types which he believes are “a noose” with which a college applicant can “hang” herself. Scary.
What Bauld is after is a set of essay types which are commonly submitted. Each takes the form of an extended cliche. Among those essays condemned by Mr. Bauld is something he called “The Trip Essay.” In this you describe a trip you went on and what you learned from it. This is, in my experience, a very common type of essay used on college admissions, as is the “Jock Essay,” which is about what one learned in athletics, and the “Three D” essay, in which one describes or shows one’s Drive, Determination and Discipline or some related set of positive attributes.
It doesn’t help that many college apps tend to push you toward some of these essays–”tell us something about yourself which isn’t immediately apparent,” or “describe an important situation or person from which you learned,” are examples of recent prompts of this nature. And what if you do want to write about a trip you took because it has been the most important experience of your life? Can you not do this because Those Who Know say it is a bad idea, a sure dud?
Of course you can. Your challenge, however, is to avoid writing a cliche. It’s not really the essay topic Mr. Bauld condemns so grimly as it is the way the essay is written and what it reveals about you.
Specifically, the problem lies in the kind of self-awareness you show and your audience’s reaction to your material. Aristotle identified these two aspects of the rhetorical situation as ethos and pathos. I discussed Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle at some length in an earlier post–see the archive for this, as a basic knowledge of these ideas is a strategic necessity for you.
So how can you write an essay about what you learned from a trip without writing a cliche or boring your audience? The key is creating a lively narration and using detailed description. You should show more than you tell.
Easy to say, but what do I mean? Let’s start with a simple exercise.
This post continues with a series of exercises to develop application essay content, including experiments with point of view and use of detail. It is related to previous posts on getting the college essay started.
To get full access to this and all other posts by WordGuild related to college essays and application writing , put “subscription please” into an e-mail, along with your first and last name, and we will send you an invoice from Google Checkout/Wallet.
The fifteen-dollar subscription fee gives you access to all existing and future posts through January of 2013. This includes 2-4 new posts per month and will include detailed analysis on all new prompts for the Common Application in 2012-2013 as well as numerous Ivy League and other application prompts, including Stanford and other “elite” schools for the 2012-13 application period. I do write posts addressing specific prompts when multiple clients/subscribers express interest; feel free to contact me with your requests after subscribing.