You know, a while ago, Mitra did an entry on how to write a winning MIT application essay. I figure it’s getting to be around crunch time for you regular applicants to start writing your essays for all of your colleges, so I thought I’d offer you a little advice of my own. More specifically, I’m going to lead by example by posting some of my own writing.
Also, I’ve gotten comments from high school juniors and sophomores, so I know that not every single person who reads this blog is necessarily applying to MIT this year. In this vein, I thought I’d post some of my old writing samples so you can gauge your own level of writing against mine. As luck would have it, my high school made us submit a “district writing sample” each year to make sure our writing skills were progressing adequately. They filed all of them in one big blue folder, with no indication that any of them had ever been read, and kind of arbitrarily gave them back to us upon our graduation. While being nostalgic this evening, I rediscovered all of them in my closet. So, here goes.
I wrote this first one in fifth grade about my future aspirations. Now, you can’t argue about the first sentence coming true, and the last one still more or less applies, but the rest has changed, uh, quite a bit since I wrote it. I’d say that your application essay for MIT should probably use a little more varied sentence structure–notice how pretty much every single sentence begins with “I.” There’s nothing else as wonderful as “I” when you’re describing yourself in an application essay, but some coordinating conjunctions and prepositional phrases are always nice too.
When I Grow Up
When I grow up, I will get good schooling. I will go to college for six years, get my Master’s Degree, and become a teacher. I’ll go to Penn State. I hope to have an “A” average.
I will move to Washington, D.C., probably in my early twenties, and buy a normal, two-story house. I will be humble. Everybody says they will be a billionare [sic], but not me. I will also not use drugs. I may not even buy a car. If I do, it will probably be a Saturn, preferrably [sic] red.
My job will be a teacher. I will go to meetings to learn how to be a better teacher. I will relate life to teaching to help the kids. I will make an average salary and probably not earn much extra money on the side.
I will buy a great dane, and call him “Buffalo.” I will marry around thirty. My wife will probably the same age as me [sic]. I will tell her she may have any job she wants. It really doesn’t matter if we have kids, although I’d like a boy. I’ll do a lot of cooking to save her the trouble.
I might get a weekend cooking show for a month or so. It will be the only extra money I earn. I will be like Graham Kerr. I will cook only main dishes.
This is what I plan to do when I grow up. I will be very humble, but I don’t care. To me, money isn’t needed. I just want to be happy
Here’s what I submitted in third grade. This one is in the most hilarious cursive you have ever seen. I honestly don’t even remember how to write in cursive anymore, and don’t know how I managed it from third through sixth grade. If they made you write college applications in cursive, I would probably be a starving artist right now. The prompt for this essay was to write a letter to your mother. Now, I’m not really “in the know,” but I think Marilee Jones would be quite pleased if you used that as an essay prompt. She’s of the compassionate sort. Here’s what Sam’s Mom received over ten years ago:
On Mother’s Day I plan to cook you dinner after coming home early. Then I’ll give you flowers and 2 more presents. I’ll use the money from my own bank. I don’t know what your favorite dinner is, so I’ll just cook PB+J. NOT!
I liked it when we went to Niagara Falls. Are you going to take me to New York this year? If you do, I’d love to drop a penny off the Empire State Building’s roof! It would be fun to go somewhere on a plane. How about Colorado? Japan might be nice. Or maybe just the seashore again.
I kind of regret not ending this letter to my mother “Love, Sam.” But what can you do? For those interested, Sam’s Mom took me to New York for the first time four years later to see Lucy Lawless in Grease. I didn’t get on a plane for the first time until two years after that. Boy, did I have some imagination… which, as it turns out, is the central theme of this next piece from second grade:
Behind the Couch
I like to go behind the couch. It is comfortable and very dusty. I like that.
When I go back there I could be mad. If I’m mad, I’ll smack my stuffed animals. I could be sad. If I’m sad I’ll cry. or I might go back there to hug my animals.
I imagine things. It is so good for imagining behind the couch.
I sneeze behind the couch. It is so dusty behind the couch.
Well, I guess I covered why I like it.
This is not my most impressive writing sample from the second grade; Sam’s Mom has always been dazzled by a poem in which I used the word “azure.” She thought it was because I was really advanced for my age, but actually it’s just because I saw it while playing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (there’s a level called “Azure Lake”). The moral of the story is to let your children play Sonic the Hedgehog 3 if you want them to stand any chance of getting into MIT. This will also help them understand certain receptor pathways in 7.06.
And finally, to round off my elementary school experience, here’s a literary analysis of “Peter Rabbit” from first grade.
Peter Rabbit had problems. His mother said “Don’t go into the garden, your dad had an accident there. But Peter went. He ate cucumbers and parsley. He saw Mr. MacGregor and ran frantically. Things couldn’t get much worse… Because he forgot the way out! He ran north, south, east and west! He finnally [sic] found the gate and ran home. But he hated his medicine.
Everything from sixth grade on is just more boring literary analyses of dumb poetry, Julius Caesar, Winesburg, Ohio, and other unmentionables. Surely that won’t be of any use in helping you express the essence of yourself to the admissions office. I actually think something like “Behind the Couch” would be a great place to start–it could just use some syntax work, a little more vivid diction, and maybe 450 or so more words… BAM! Instant essay!
Okay, if you have any more questions about how to be a good writer… you could e-mail somebody from the MIT Writing Center, I guess. That’s what I do when I have a problem with an essay.
Or, once again, you can consult Mitra.
That is actually always the best option when confronted with any problem.
Nice link to MacGregor; you make me proud.
I used to write stories about Sonic and his fellow hedgehogs in 1st grade (accompanied by crayon pictures). It was seven pages long, and was a masterpiece (except for the repeated use of “And then…”). This means I’m getting in! (I wish…)
My elementary school had the same thing. I remeber writing one thing about my future. Boy have things changed for me. Oh yeah, are there any more people named Sam at MIT?
Hey, we have something very similar to that this district, except the folders are purple and we get some of the stuff back in middle school to make way for the more ‘important’ writings.
A long, long time ago I had to write in cursive. It was 2nd grade and it was the cool thing to do. Then in the 3rd grade, I started writing deformed sentences, partly in cursive, and partly not. They were ugly. To an extent, it’s what I still do, but on a more organized and aesthetic level: I’ve decreed that certain letters look better in cursive, so they shall always be written in cursive.
Sometime around fifth grade I discovered that writing in print is faster. MUCH faster.
For the fifth grade yearbook, we had to write about our aspirations. All the guys were going to marry nurses and be soccer players, but I said that in 25 years I would have a laptop running Windows 2026 (see, I extrapolated ahead version numbers, XP wasn’t out then) and a computer running Windows 2024 (variety! and plus they can’t be expected to release every year)
For the senior yearbook, my entry goes something along the lines of “I AM GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD.”
By the way, are you at McGregor? I know the names of about three dorms, so you probably mentioned somewhere which dorm you were in and I just didn’t catch it.
This was quite possibly the greatest thing I read all week. You are my hero. I especially love the part about not doing drugs. It was so relevant!
Did you really write that “When I Grow Up” in 5th grade and not a week ago for this blog entry? Cause I think it’s your best work ever, even including that Friday Journal for Mrs. O’Brien that ended with Moll Flanders and Jose Aureliano swimming in a vat of cow testicles.