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Does Fan Fiction Make for a Great College Essay?

Does Fan Fiction Make for a Great College Essay?

Whoosh! Reading this essay was like getting in the way-back machine! I remember answering this same prompt for my common app schools back in the day:

Essay prompt:

“Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.”

I think I wrote about how The Scarlet Letter made me want to go into typography. For whatever reason, I didn’t get into those schools. Ah well!

Sparkler AlynZuko73, on the other hand, used this prompt as a chance to geek out about fan fiction and her passion for reading and writing. Here goes:

AlynZuko73’s response:

How Fan Fiction Changed My Life

I have always been a dreamer. From as early as Kindergarten, I have had a fascination for the characters in books and other forms of media. I always had my nose in a book and thought up alternate versions of the books I read and the TV shows that I watched. I never thought that there could be a place for people with my passions and had never before considered a job in books until one cold day in 2011 when everything changed.

It was early February; I was just coming off of a restful winter break and settling into the second half of the school year. One day, I found myself with very little homework. At the time, I was interested in a TV show called “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” the popular animesque show on Nickelodeon. My favorite character was Prince Zuko, one of the more iconic characters of the show.

On a whim, I decided to search for Zuko on Google. The first page was the predictable mess of fanmade websites and wiki pages that gave interesting, but not useful information about the topic. None of the bold titles and flashy summaries drew me in. The page that intrigued me was actually quite plain. It was a site called, which I later learned is the largest fan fiction site in the world.

What I found there was my community. I was ecstatic to have a whole group of people who loved all of my interests and were for the most part, helpful to the newcomers and novice writers that filled the website. I published my first story, a three chapter crossover which was a meld of Avatar and one of my favorite book series Warriors.

Since then, I have become active on the site and have attained the status of Beta Reader, or online editor. Because of my experiences with fan fiction and becoming a Beta Reader, I have decided that I want to work as an editor professionally because it complements my love of reading with my newfound love of original stories.  During college, I want to study Creative Writing and Journalism to help me become a better writer. After college, I hope to become a copy editor for a publishing company. And I will always be thankful for that chilly day in February and an anime inspired TV Show that opened my eyes to the possibilities.

My feedback:

Nice work! Your essay is clear and concise and you come off as a naturally curious individual. You’ve made me want to learn more about The Last Airbender and the world of fan fiction, especially since you play up the community aspect of it. Let’s start with some of the smaller critiques:

1. A couple nouns to make improper: in Kindergarten should be kindergarten.

2. Replace “fascination with” with “fascination for” – or you could say, “the characters in books and other media have fascinated me” – a more direct version of the same thought.

3. Notice that I shortened “other forms of media” to “other media.” The former is a little repetitive. A medium is a form.

4. Also on the topic of repetition: you say “books” quite a bit in this paragraph. Why not replace a couple with more colorful or appropriate words? For example: “I always had my nose in a book and thought up alternate versions of the stories I read and the TV shows that I watched.” And in the last sentence, instead of a “career in books,” how about a career in “writing” or “publishing” or the “world of literature”?

5. Typo: replace the period after “Airbender” with a comma.

6. In the next paragraph, I might put “animesque” in quotation marks and/or briefly explain what that means. I wouldn’t count on the admissions board knowing this word. And if you explain it, I think you’ll get bonus points for showing them you can translate your world for folks who aren’t fluent in animation-speak! (Similar to the way you explain what a “Beta Reader” is later.)

7. A couple word choice comments in the fourth paragraph. I would say “shared my interests” instead of “loved my interests.” And I’m wondering if “newcomers and novices that filled the website” makes sense. Is the site mostly comprised of newcomers and novices? It sounds like many people have been writing on there for a while, but you know better than I do. I would tweak this to clarify.

8. I would add a comma after “were” in the second sentence of the fourth paragraph.

9. Add a hyphen between “three” and “chapter”–this is how you treat multiple words when turning them into an adjective or adverb.

10. A final word choice critique: in the last paragraph, instead of “complements,” it seems like you’re searching for a word like “merges” or “combines.” Complement would be what one area of interest would do to the other. Here, we’re talking about what a career as an editor would do to your two areas of interest. You could also say, “I have decided that I want to work as an editor professionally because this would allow me to pursue both my love of reading and my newfound love of composing original stories.”

Now for the bigger stuff: I don’t know how close you are the word limit, but if you have some room I would expand on the work of art itself and explain your connection to it. What do you love about Zuko? Are you like Zuko, or do you aspire to be? Why? How does Zuko’s story parallel or influence your own? Give specific examples that add color and life to your essay. This will make it more memorable.

Similarly, I would try to explain further what it is you love about writing. Perhaps start by asking yourself how you feel when you’re writing. Have you seen the movie Billy Elliot? The ballet school admissions people ask him what it feels like when he’s dancing. “Electricity,” he says. Is writing an escape for you? When you write about The Last Airbender characters, do you feel transported to that world? Do you love the feeling of getting to know the characters by trying to decide how they would react in different situations?

You also discussed the community of writers on the website. Why do you love being a part of that community? I know it may seem obvious to you, but explaining this in your essay might more thoroughly convince the admissions board of your readiness to be part of their community of thinkers and writers. Do you love when people read your work and then give you ideas for improvement that you never would have thought on your own? Do you love helping people express their ideas?

I hope these questions are helpful thought-starters for you. I know it can be difficult to do when the stakes are so high, but remember to have fun with your college essays in the same way that you do with your fan fiction. It definitely seems like you have the imagination and skill to write something that really stands out.

Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: college, college applications, writing, college admissions, essays, writing help, college essays, admissions essays, college admissions essays, college essay critiques

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