Comfort Food College Essay Critique
“Are you okay, Ngozi? Just drop the Starbursts, and walk away.”
“Huh? I-I-I d-don’t know wh-what you’re t-t-talking about,” I stammered as my right eye twitched.
It was eighth grade, and I was walking towards my mathematics class. Junior Beta members helped sell assortments of candy during lunch, and bought eight different packs of Starburst with my money. By the last period, I ate seven. Since each package had twelve individually wrapped Starbursts, my body was hopping on pure sugar and empty calories alone. It was “The Sugar High” of all sugar highs in the history of my fourteen years. With my newly-found energy, I half-skipped, half-ran to the mathematics trailer behind my middle school.
In my Accelerated Integrated Algebra I class, we played a Jeopardy mathematics review game. Unaffected by others around me, I laughed louder, jumped higher, and talked faster in class that day. I couldn’t stay still. When I sat, my legs would nervously bounce under the table. As the teacher finished reading the questions on the board, my classmates would raise their hands while I would jump out my seat and waved my arms wildly in the air. The teacher announced that my team won at the end of the period. As I started packing up, I lift my head to see my teacher walking towards our table with packages of mini Starbursts. “YESS!” I cried as I lifted the mini Starburst package in victory.
” Mission accomplished.”
Looking back, I realized that crazy consumption of Starbursts was the happiest time of my life. All of that sugar in my system heightened up my senses, and the made the memory that much stronger. The fact that my friends surrounded while laughter was shared amongst them were precious to me. Throughout middle school, we endured the difficult gifted classes together, shared tears of sadness, and expressed moments of pure delight and happiness with our other classmates. Starbursts represent happy moments that come from the variety of people that we meet. There are twelve colorful arrays of flavors when a person first opens the Starburst package. In this world, there are a variety of people who live in this world, so no two humans are the same. With an individual Starburst, the only thing that separates one from the fruit-flavored taffy candy is the thin wrapper that comes between. Like the wrapper, we tend to judge others by their first impression, but underneath their ‘wrapper’ is their personality, their values, and all the things that they stand for. When one places the candy in their mouth, it takes time for the fruit-flavored cube to disappear. It also leaves behind a pleasant after-taste long after it disappears. A beautiful thing about mankind is the fact that perfect strangers can become best friends and lovers. Lasting friendships tend to appear in themiddle of first glances, awkward conversations, and moments of kindness.
Even on my worst days, I’d smile to myself when come across a Starburst. It reminds me to take a chance on uncovering a person’s personal wrapper, and understanding the person ,in order to, appreciate the flavor they have to offer in this world.
What I love about this essay: its exuberance. There's a staccato rhythm to the writing, plus so many evocative verbs—twitching, jittering, skipping, jumping!—that really conveys what it's like to be deep inside the Mother of All Sugar Highs. And it's so fun and unexpected that what seems at first glance like a cautionary tale about the dangers of candy consumption ends up being completely the opposite: a story about finding confidence, and even a little perspective, in something with no nutritional value. I don't even like candy, and I want to run out and buy a pack of Starburst right now!
But even though you've got a strong foundation, this piece could use a little work. Most importantly, watch your tone: there's a gleeful, goofy, vivid energy at the start of your essay, but it starts to disappear when you leave your math class anecdote and start talking about the meaning behind it. And while using Starburst candies as a metaphor for the human condition is a fun and original idea, one of the things that makes it fun is that it's also a little absurd. You don't want to get too heavy-handed or earnest when it comes to delivering your message; one of the things that'll make this essay a successful one is for you to make it clear that you see the humor in comparing people to pieces of taffy.
You could do this with a disclaimer (Ex: "Ridiculous as it seems, I can't help seeing parallels between the Starbursts I shared with my friends each day and the vibrant landscape of my high school experience.") Or, alternately, you could dive right into the absurdity, roll around in it, and escalate your claims about the importance of Starburst until you're writing full-blown satire: claiming that you envision a future in which people use the candy as currency, dress their children in clothing made of recycled Starburst wrappers, and a piece of orange taffy is the President of the United States. The latter will be a challenge, but I hope you'll at least give it a try; if done right, what you create could be truly funny and memorable for the admissions counselors who read it.
And once you've worked on your tone, give your essay another once over—carefully, this time—to make sure you're not sacrificing grammar or clarity along the way. There are a few places where things get wonky, or where it's not totally clear how many Starbursts were eaten or by whom. For instance, this bit—"By the last period, I ate seven. Since each package..."—would be better and more impactful with a little editing.
Ex: "By the last period, I had eaten seven packs—a grand total of eighty-four Starbursts."
("Holy horse biscuits!" your reader will say. "That is a LOT of Starbursts.")
Oh, and one last thing: unless you're going for humorous hyperbole, beware describing something as trivial and momentary as eating candy as "the happiest time in my life." Not just because it's both inexact and excessive, but because it wasn't the actual consumption of Starbursts that made them so wonderful; it was the way it led to a high-octane mathletic victory, a bonding experience with your teammates, and a year full of terrific memories. And those are the things that not only make Starburst your ultimate comfort food, but that make you, and your experiences, an attractive candidate for the schools you apply to.
What do you think of this Sparkler's essay?