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College Essay: Painting the House, and Growing Up Fast

College Essay: Painting the House, and Growing Up Fast

By Lauren Passell

The Essay:

Pressed against the house, I felt it bringing me closer. The sun beat across my back as I painted on my canvas. I recoiled from the ladder to admire my Mona Lisa. It was already a masterpiece before it felt my touch. All my life, I had worked hard, hard to get good grades, hard to be "likeable", hard to get into a good college, but you see nothing had felt more rewarding than this hard work, as I painted the house. In fact, my Dad lives across the street from the guy who does landscaping and plowing for the whole town and has an unusual fetish to compete with him for the best lawn; so naturally, as his child labor, I am no stranger to blisters. My work ethic is nothing but a handed down secret from the man who built this house.

My paint dried as the sun caressed the two of us. I was not sure where to go from there.

Born with two nephews since the age of six , I did not know where my life would go but I knew where my childhood had gone. It had left me. Taken from me and put in place, a mature responsible adulthood. But the best kind of maturity is formed out of compulsory not curiosity. I felt it was my duty to do a good job on this house.

I remembered how this house was a gift to the whole family from him; now we have reunions there. Among the many qualities I deeply coveted, his liberality was one of them. And then I madeactions out of words. I went out, first at the Canton Public Library, then My Brother's Keeper, and finally on a grand venture to the heart of poverty in the poorest county of America, in West Virginia. And out of all my experiences my favorite was completing something and never knowing the reward, as my grandfather did for us before he died. In a weird way my day dreaming skills took over as to what might become of the people I helped. Yes, I am a prouddreamer of the day who makes dreams a reality to quote sir T.E. Lawrence. My first order of business: to write the perfect college essay.

Now as I continue to paint, my day dreaming takes a hold of me.

The sun melts my heart as it did the day. In Vermont the sunsets are not buried under smog, the stars are not blinded by light pollution, the clouds are not disguised by tall buildings; the sky is as prosaic as the day it was born. Now, the placid lake is indistinguishable from the placid sky, as the sun comes down to extinguish the only barrier. I remember the story as my dad told it but of course I never got to hear it from him. He built the house to see a sunset on the water before he died.

Our thoughts:

This can be a really strong essay. Just remember to say exactly what you mean and be completely clear with your thoughts. The reader has a lot of questions about what exactly you are talking about. Ask yourself at the end of every sentence, “is this thought completely clear to someone who does not know me?” Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation of your words. As it is now, the reader thinks your father is still alive. We’re sorry he isn’t. (You even say “he lives across the street...”) It’s fine to provide that element of surprise, but you should hint toward the beginning of the piece that he is gone. Explain how you wish he was there, or you are imagining that he is there. Make it clear that he is not physically there. And at the end, tell the reader when he died. Here are a few more specific things to keep in mind:

  • Pressed against the house, I felt it bringing me closer. Closer to what?
  • Repeating “hard to” is awkward. just say “to get good grades, to be “likable,” to get into a good college.”
  • Eliminate the phrase “you see” and make “this hard work” the star of the sentence (also describe what “this” is.) Painting the house was the most rewarding of them all.
  • Eliminate “in fact." It does not add to your piece.
  • Better describe “the guy who does landscaping.” Call him the town landscaper.
  • Change “child labor” to “laborer.”
  • “Born with two nephews since the age of six” is unclear. Do you mean you grew up with nephews in your house? Go into further detail about how this experience made you mature. Having nephews since a young age isn't really a big deal, and does not necessarily force a child to grow up fast. You'll need to do some more explaining to get your point across here.
  • In the fourth paragraph, describe who “his” is referring to.
  • You need to explain what you mean by your father’s liberality.
  • “Made actions out of words” is awkward because it is passive. Say that you turned your words into action. And what words are you referring to, exactly?
  • Be more descriptive when you say “I went out.” You went out where?
  • What is “My Brother’s Keeper”?
  • Put a space between “proud” and “dreamer,” and don’t start your sentence with “Yes.” Start out with the T.E. Lawrence quote. And make sure the quote makes sense. Technically, he said “ the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” Say, “to quote sir T.E. Lawrence, I am the dreamer of the day who acts their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.”
  • “The sun melts my heart as it did the day. “ What day?
  • You say “of course I never got to hear it from him.” But the reader does not know that your father has died, so don’t say “of course”. Also, you need to explain what story you are referring to.

What other advice do you have for this Sparkler?

Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: college, sparklers, college applications, college admissions, application essays, college application essays, writing help, college essays, admissions essays, college admissions essays

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