Opinion: College essays teach us about ourselves

Anushka Mukherjee | Staff Writer

There I sat pulling my hair, staring at the screen.

The empty, white document burned my eyes. 

I was racing through all my memories looking for the “right” thing to write about. Nothing caught my attention. Everything was too common. Too average. And as it has been engraved into our brains since elementary school, average isn’t good enough. Colleges want extraordinary students with eccentric personalities. I, on the other hand, was mundane. 

The prompt I chose gave me the option to take my college essay in any direction I wanted, and so I sat at my desk launching arrows at every possible accomplishment of mine to see what stuck. And after hours of target practice, I came to the conclusion that I sucked at archery literally and figuratively. Great, that’s one more thing I can’t mention in my college essay. 

The process was so tedious and a nuisance, honestly. Sitting there reliving my failures because, at that moment, none of my achievements came to mind. They just took off. It baffles me how this one essay will essentially determine the rest of my life. The weight it carries is far too great. 

In my junior year, the seniors advised us to start the essays over the summer so that it can get the meticulous attention it needs. And at the beginning of summer, I had it all planned out. I was going to start my applications, start my essay, look for scholarships, and such. 

But then summer actually happened. 

I decided to push all that away and actually have fun. That, my friends, was a grave mistake. Summer flew by, and my college essays still didn’t get the attention they deserved. Subconsciously, they mocked me. Told me I wasn’t going to write the best essay out there and that my life would end there. It started attacking me in my dreams. A giant blank document running behind me, arms stretched. Ready to engulf me. And it’s not like I didn’t try, I did. But I wasn’t in that productive, creative mental state. It takes time to recover from the disaster that is junior year. 

So August rolled around and I finally put down my foot. I still didn’t know what I was going to write because let’s be honest, no one at the age of 17 really knows who they are. And so I spent continuous days stuck in that vicious cycle: write, delete, rewrite, delete. Nothing I wrote satisfied me. Every word felt wrong. Every sentence felt forced. It wasn’t even writer’s block; instead, I was in a writer’s coma. And I didn’t know how to wake up. 

After days and weeks of frustration, it struck me. It was there the whole time. The whole process is a well-developed scheme designed to help us figure out who we are. Or at least try to. It’s essentially a chance for us to reflect on our accomplishments and failures, the ups and downs, and write our own character vignette. Colleges want to see the struggle, the pain, the whole “heroic” journey in a sense. 

At the end of the day, we are all characters in this world. We are complicated beings who are always a work in progress. The college essay is a checkpoint for us to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Instead of viewing it as a burden, much like I initially did, I now had a better understanding of what I needed to do. It became so much easier for me to write the essay because I finally knew how to look at myself.