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Did This Sparkler Nail Her College Essay?

Did This Sparkler Nail Her College Essay?

Sparkler brods21 sent in her college application essay for me to review! Her prompt was, "Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence." Here's what she wrote:

“Stick your thumbs out. It’ll align your arms and fix your droopy shoulders.”

I thought this strange advice, but as a freshman who was completely new to the rigors of high school cross country, I was in no position to turn down any help. This was the first of many criticisms and encouragements, some seemingly inconsequential, that added up to so much more; Jordan’s influence was greater than the sum of its parts. Between all the lectures, the yelling, the crying, and the cheering, I learned more about dedication from this seventeen-year old girl than I ever could have from some celebrity or all-star. What really set her apart, and what I try each day to emulate, is the work she put into all her endeavors.

I hate to waste time; at practice, I feel that I might as well put in the work rather than spend three hours pretending. “Work,” then, was completely redefined once my first season really kicked off and my coach quickly cranked up the intensity. I would have been content to settle into an easy rhythm… if not for Jordan’s refusal to let anyone, especially herself, put in anything but her best.

At one particularly grueling practice, Jordan finished her modified version of an already difficult workout, and then joined us in our last 400 meter sprint, nagging all the way to look up, use our arms, lengthen our strides. Some of my teammates got annoyed with Jordan or resented her success. They dismissed her as a “tryhard” (yes, used as a noun and used disparagingly), or attributed her performance to some mutation beyond her control. They seemed to forget that she began running as a pudgy fifth grader who would stop and walk during her two-mile races. Whether the girls liked it or not, she excelled because she pushed harder while others went through the motions. Nothing beyond my own capabilities.

I admire Jordan not for her talent, but for her commitment to hard work and improvement. Two years after she graduated, I remembered her perseverance when I wanted to qualify for state in track. When I narrowly missed my goal, I could comfort myself in knowing that I truly gave it everything I had. In hindsight, my hard-earned fourth place was probably more satisfying than an easy first place would have been: every workout, every push-up, every single step I endured that season pulled me through that last race. More importantly, I could look toward the upcoming season with nervous excitement, not discouragement and apathy. In a world where adolescence is synonymous with nonchalance, Jordan was a standout because she cared. My competitive running career is rapidly coming to a close, and my interests will soon lie elsewhere. No matter where I end up in five years or ten, I hope to throw myself in with all the earnestness I witnessed three years ago. I would hate to live life halfheartedly.

Are you in awe of this person's essay-writing prowess? Me. Freakin'. Too. And congrats, Sparklefriend, because you're in terrific shape—and I'm not talking about your cross-country runner's buns of steel. (Although, okay, I am talking about those, too. Can you bounce a quarter off those bad boys? MEOW.)

There are so many good things about this piece, but my favorite is the way it flies out of the gate; instead of wasting words with a boring introductory paragraph, our writer jumps in with an anecdote that shows in one delicious sentence what would have taken three times as long to tell. This essay is short, yet it paints a vivid and personal picture of Jordan's verve, spirit, and work ethic—and of how much she meant to the author.

So, what needs improvement? Not much! But I've got two important suggestions, beginning with this: don't let your writing skills get in the way of your writing. There's a lot of elegant phrasing in here, and no shortage of four-dollar words—the byproducts of our writer's natural abilities to put together a well-crafted sentence. But sometimes, these things don't serve you; they can be distancing, less-impactful. For example: "I was in no position to turn down any help" is an awfully detached perspective for a panting, freaked-out, freshman cross-country runner. Make it less formal—"I wasn't about to argue"—and bam, your reader is right there with you. So when you proof it again, read carefully to make sure you're not obfuscating the emotional core of your essay with fancy, formal language. (Says the lady who just used "obfuscating" in a sentence.)

And second: that last paragraph? Hit it harder, Sparkler. "I hope," "I would hate"—these thoughts are passive and contemplative where you want to be declarative: "I will," "I'll never." Punch us in the face with your resolve! And then pat yourself on the back for an essay well-writ.

Topics: Life, College Advisor

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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