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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

MY college essay by Laura N. '09

498 words of angst.

Responses to comments:

Sam said: Laura, I can’t make my lab printer duplex. Can you come fix it?

Anonymous said: SOMEWHERE… there’s a photo of a Burton-Conner room also with an amazing beach theme (jaw-dropping in its home makeover-like looks). Do you know anything about it? (JKim didn’t.)
Arg, you know, I think I actually know what you’re talking about. I feel like it was used in some previous i3 publication (the handbook with photos of the various dorms distributed to incoming freshmen during the summer), but I’m not sure where I could find it…

Sean said: So..can anyone paint any dorm room any style? How far can the “decoration” go?-Custom fish tank/mini fridge/plasma screen a possibility?
Ah, so it’s important to note that only some dorms, namely the East Campus (Bexley, Random, East Campus, and Senior House) dorms plus Burton Conner allow students to paint their rooms. Other modifications, such as lofts, and I suppose, custom fish tanks, are allowed in these dorms if they meet safety requirements. Other dorms would be less understanding. As for your plasma screen TV and fridge, sure- you’re welcome to put whatever you’d like into your dorm room (in any residence hall), except for microwaves and hot plates, which are usually allowed to be stored in some common area.

Snively said: The beads are so confusing!!!
Ha! I wish I had a good video of Snively trying to come into my room, it’s hilarious. I sometimes refer to the beads as my “Snively trap.”

Anonymous said: I’m sorry but I just have to tell the truth. Your room doesn’t look like a ‘I could be an interior designer’ person’s room. It’s boring and looks like very typical college dorm. What makes you so proud?
Way to be a total killjoy. *eyeroll* Obviously a college dorm room is not ideal to demonstrate interior design skills. What exactly would a future interior decorator’s college dorm room look like anyway? Would it look less like a college dorm room? Equally obvious, I would think, is that I’m not even actually serious about becoming an interior designer. I’m proud because I took what most people considered to be an awful room with a bad shape, size and lighting and through a lot of hard work made it seem more spacious and livable.

Steve said: good blog,I am doing research for my Daughter,she wants to apply to MIT but I think she may be feel somewhat intiminated,she is a hs jr in a sci.math.& tech. academy in the midwest ranked 8 of 667,she didn’t get much respect going in as a girl,that know has changed, it if I can get her to read your blog ,it may help her. Thanks
Oh boy, I could go on for hooours about the topic of women in engineering, and I might not have exactly the opinions that you might assume. In any case, you can read lots of other people’s perspectives on the topic here.

I said: I’m off to grab some food, head to a 2.009 meeting, and then pack for a spontaneous 24 hour trip back to the greatest state ever.
sauza said: but why are you going to colorado?
Oh, haha. Now that I’m back from New Jersey, I can say it was a much-needed break to get off campus for awhile. I’m even more confident to not continue on into grad school right away, because man, living on a college campus puts you in such a bubble. I think I even forgot that suburbia existed. It was also my first time home after living in Spain, which represented not only another culture, but my first time really living on my own, outside the whole college dorm system. So I think I looked at my hometown with even more adult eyes than ever before. I don’t think I’ve actually expressed what I mean here at all, but basically, it was interesting. I was also lucky enough to come home on the weekend when my sister had her “Baby Think it Over” doll for health class- it’s basically this electronic doll that will start crying at random times and will only stop when you feed it, change its diaper, whatever. It was hilarious. =)

So, on to my real entry.

I thought about posting my college admissions essay before, but it just sort of never happened. But Cristen has just posted hers, so it seems like now is the time, since it will give our dear readers a chance to compare and contrast how two different people approached the essay situation.

I started digging through my hard drive for this essay and of course couldn’t help myself: I stopped to read the whole bunch. It was pretty interesting to read them with 3 years of perspective on life, and experience talking to people about college admissions. I re-read one of the essays I wrote for Caltech and the moment I finished I said, “that was a really good essay, but no wonder they waitlisted me!” It was well-written and engaging, but really didn’t give them any useful information about me, I don’t think. It was also weird to be reminded of the many colleges I applied to, and the fact that almost all of them admitted me. MIT is great and all, but I am very intrigued by the mysterious thought of where I would be if I had chosen the fork in the road marked “Columbia,” “University of Maryland,” or “Case Western Reserve.” It’s actually a little creepy.

So, on to the essay. For a little backstory and explanation, the essay prompt was “Life brings many disappointments as well as satisfactions. Tell us about a time in your life when you experienced disappointment, or faced difficult or trying circumstances. How did you react?” I had a pretty rough time writing this essay, as I described in my first application advice entry. I will now blatantly plagarize myself instead of writing the exact same thing over again.

For my essay, I decided to write about problems I had to overcome on my high school field hockey team. I thought I had a great, original story to tell. So I wrote my essay about overcoming obstacles and not giving up and gave it to a friend to proofread, and he told me it was horrible. I got pretty upset with him, as you can imagine. Here I was, totally convinced that I had this edgy, original story to tell, and he went and shot me down by telling me just how unoriginal it was.

It turns out we were both right. I did have a pretty cool and original story- after all, it was a true life story. No one else has had the same experiences as me. But while writing the essay, I tried to cram 3 years of experience into 500 words, so all that came across was “I didn’t give up even though I came across obstacles.” Well guess what- that has happened to everybody! So I sat down and completely started over. Only this time, I chose a very specific obstacle that I was faced with- one incident that happened on one particular day- and wrote a very detailed description about that experience. I showed this new essay to my mother, who told me it made me look like I was just whining about challenges! The actual story had been lost in all my details about that one specific incident.

By now I was really frustrated with everyone who kept telling me my essays sucked, and I was determined to prove that I actually did have a good essay in there somewhere! So I sat down with the 2 completely different essays and pieced together a hybrid with the most important parts of each. By the time I was done I thought I had a pretty cool college application essay. The key is to find the right balance between giving detailed descriptions that are about you, and showing the admissions people the big picture (how your story shows something about who you are, and how it relates back to the question they actually asked you in the first place!)

And just one note, for the record: I apologize for the last couple of lines. They are a bit ridiculously heavy-handed, and I recognize that they not necessarily absolutes. So before you start arguing with me about them, please remember that this is a college admissions essay, and I tried desperately to make the last paragraph into something both with an inspiring message and not cookie-cutter beat-you-over-the-head cheesy, and if I failed I am sorry. =)

Also, if Coach Bower is out there reading this…well, too bad.

I couldn’t breathe. If there was ever a time to quit, this was it.

It was an innocent conditioning drill. Two partners raced to a ball at the fifty yard line with incentive to win: the loser ran an extra one hundred yards. My partner was Kelly, one of the fastest girls on the team. It wasn’t long before I was having an asthma attack.

I often imagined myself wearing a varsity jacket with pride, but my field hockey coaches impeded my goal. They humiliated me on the field. They promoted freshmen to varsity and made me the ball girl. They told me I’d “never be more than an okay player.” When I crossed the end line after yet another one hundred yard punishment sprint, I’d long since given up hope on my goal. The dream of a varsity jacket I could wear proudly had degraded to the dream of a varsity letter gathering dust in the attic. After years of sacrifice and hard work, I was nothing more than a senior in high school still playing junior varsity.

Coach Bower called my name. I turned to her, holding my back erect and pressing my hands to my stomach, desperately trying to control the frantic nature of my breathing. She must have noticed the wheezing. She must have seen the tears threatening to spill from my panicked eyes.

“Walk to the stroke mark.” She was giving me a six yard head start.

I forced my body forward, head to the ground to hide the tears of shame that burned my eyes. There was dead silence behind me as my teammates stood in a uniform line and stared at my back.

“Take a few more steps.”

The silence was broken by my own gasping sobs. This was more than embarrassment. This was abject humiliation.

I could see my teammates out of the corner of my eye, whispering.

Coach announced to the field: “Let’s see if we can give Kelly a challenge.”

My hands shook with rage. I narrowed my eyes, glaring at the orange ball ahead of me. It suddenly didn’t matter if it was forty-four yards or fifty yards or three miles away. I was going to get there first, or die trying. I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet, wheezing, hiccupping, and waiting.

She blew the whistle.

I clenched my teeth through the pain in my chest and sprinted, sobbing between gasping breaths. I beat Kelly by one step.

Days later, I was finally given one chance to play varsity and prove myself to the same coaches who said I’d never be “more than okay.” It wasn’t long before I was a varsity starter.

I might have waited my whole life and never caught that lucky break necessary to capture my dreams, but it would have been impossible to succeed if I had given up before that chance came my way. There is no such thing as failure. There are only missed opportunities.

48 responses to “MY college essay”

  1. anonymous says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your essay with us.

  2. You guys got nerve, and quite a heck of it, year after year, carrying the same legacy of Marilee Jones’ traits. Doesn’t it trouble you even slighest of it. Lies, treachery, Marilee Jones, backstabbings to name a few. Easily employed by a company to defend and force, whatsoever the policy or the treachery may be, on kids by showing them fancy dreams and then telling them that they would be tougher by this rejection. By jove, I’m waiting to see you guys at your sayback table.

  3. Piper says:

    “There is no such thing as failure. There are only missed opportunities.”

    A wonderful story.

  4. lulu says:

    This is a good essay. Really good.

  5. Laura says:

    “Marilee”: Yes, we have nerve, and courage, unlike you, who write rude comments without even leaving a real name. At least have the decency to explain yourself. Lies? Backstabbing? What are you even TALKING about?

  6. lulu says:

    Holy crap, MIT doesn’t accept every student that applies? This is such huge news, let’s all flip out and scapegoat Marilee Jones.

  7. Another Shot says:

    Congratulations! Both you and Cristen have managed to make my essay look like garbage in comparison. :-(

    No, really I think these two entries may be the most important bits of advice I’ve read on MIT’s entire website. It’s much better to realize my essay’s shortcomings now than to let it be and wait for that rejection letter.

    So, thank you both for having fantastic essays! Time to start my over from scratch.

  8. Snively says:

    I, for one, hate Marilee Jones. I can’t believe she didn’t let everybody in! I mean, MIT would be so awesome with class sizes of 15,000, 15 times as many dorms, kids lost in the shuffle and drowning in work because they can’t handle it, and less one-on-one attention with professors.

    Also, “Marilee,” you do realize that the actual Marilee did more to diversify admissions than any other dean of admissions, right? She re-wrote the application to draw the focus off of pure numbers and focus on other attributes of the applicants, something that, far from hurting the institute, has made it a more vibrant setting.

    Also, the only people holding grudges about Marilee Jones are the people that didn’t get accepted while she was dean. That means you applied at least 2 years ago, which also means either you’re a sad, miserable person who is still pouting about not getting in or you just decided to be a jackass and start bringing your ill-fated agenda to the comments of a blog where you will be subsequently ripped apart by every single person who reads what you wrote.

    Back off of Marilee, she did so much more for admissions than you could ever hope to realize. Go cry in a corner and get off the Internet.

  9. mohit says:

    Very nice and inspiring essay! In this period of frantic essay writing, I thank you for this post as it gives people like me something like a reference. One think I did notice was that in both your and Cristen’s essay, the conversations have been reported in active voice and not as reported speech. It does give the essay more of a anecdotal effect. Mostly, we are taught to prefer reported speech. Interesting…..

  10. @Laura
    It seems your comments are written in a frenzy of gritted teeth and creases on your forehead. As an ongoing engineering students, haven’t you been taught to never try to solve a problem with adrelin rush. But what can you do, a pupil is as good as its mentor. As far as my job’s concerned perhaps you can see two guys on the floor laughing thier lungs out. But rest assured, (one from the floor yells- you should’ve seen thier faces. Mari..Second-I cant believe we really missed that, I – I didn’t read all, too long, but meant like I should be teared, in pieces, ripped apart, Jesus these guys are homicidal, see folks I.shattered by this threat. LOJ)

  11. This time don’t break your keyboards folks, even in university mall, them chips dont come cheap, unless otherwise you are a kid.

  12. Efolse '11 says:

    Uhh, is ANYONE able to make ANY sense of what the person above me just said?

    Way to destroy the English language.

  13. mohit says:

    could someone please tell me whether the observations that I made in my previous post are correct?
    and no, i’m unable to make any sense of what the person above efolse said although he seems to be rather angry…..

  14. lulu says:

    Active voice and passive voice both have a place in essays. They generate different kinds of effects, passive voice is more introspective, active more engaging, one slows the writing down and one speeds it up. you’re taught to never use the passive voice because people are prone to overuse it and then the essay falls flat and has no motion to it, but it has its place and can be done well, I think.

  15. mohit says:

    Thanks lulu, for that helpful reply.

  16. @Snively

    we three of us killing our time for your and yer folks response. Jeez is me I’m shakin.

    c me english man named alfonso 11 or allfoe Like that… Lil bit but dem folks were cool man, really cool. Undumstand, governar. Alofoe or ulefo..

  17. hello says:

    if only you had a few hundred more words…
    but none the less, great!

  18. Then bye man, its been a hectic day. From them 3 of us.

  19. Chris M. says:

    @ no one in particular (maybe…)

    I’m always perplexed as to why some people with vendettas against the institute keep lurking the admissions blogs. Does that seem weird to anyone else?

    On a more productive note, just to add to what Laura said about painting rooms, you CAN paint your room in Simmons Hall, but it must be approved, and you must repaint them white at the end of the year, or the new resident must agree to do so at the end of the year, or have HIS new resident do so….ad nauseum

    And as far as I know, there aren’t too many people who’d want to put in the work of painting (much less a mural) only to have to repaint it at the end of the year. Hence, most people have the standard issue off-white (or is it eggshell?) dorm walls.

  20. Reena says:

    Just curious, which prompt did you fit that to?
    And how closely do we have to adhere to the prompts?

  21. BrittanyM says:

    Any other prospective applicants out there? I for one think that it’s about time to get serious about this whole application business. How is everyone’s process going? I wrote my essay the first week that the apps were posted and I’ve been revising it daily since. I feel like I’m getting to that point where I really like it, but it’s still nothing like what anyone else has put forth. Different can be good, right?

  22. Ehsan says:

    Epic Essay!
    Do you remember what the essay question was? Also I think it is a great time for other bloggers to post their essays!

  23. anonymous says:

    Yes, the lesson is that you should try and write an essay that shows, rather than tells, why you deserve MIT admission.

  24. 2009 Hopeful says:

    I was on the MIT web site. 2 MIT students on JEOPARDY in a month. Wow. So now I have to go back to my essays and try my best to get in.

  25. anonymous says:

    @ Reena

    Laura gives her exact prompt in the third paragraph following – “So, now on to my real entry.”

    It appears she answered the prompt wonderfully!

  26. Laura says:

    Yeah, to the 5 people who asked what the prompt was: read the entry again, it’s in there. =P

  27. Thanks, Laura and Cristen, for posting your essays. And bless your bravery – you couldn’t get me to post my college essay for love or money!

    That being said, are there any guys out there willing to share? Trying not to stereotype too much, I think my son’s voice in his essay will sound very different from these powerful examples. What does an 18- (17, 16) yr-old guy sound like when he is speaking from the heart?

  28. Another Shot says:


    I had the same question, and I found the answer in one of Matt McGann’s old blog entries:

    Good luck on your applications!

  29. @ Community v. 2.0 and those who wish to join.

    Nothing as good as a good book. So it is our humble request, for all of you to read a book “Men, Machine & Modern Times” by Elting E. Morisson, professor of history at M.I.T in sometime, maybe in 1939. Since this book has been published by MIT press, so we think it can be obtained via library.

    There’s way much one can learn from his (vendetta seeking, crying in a corner) enemy -if we qualify for this noun-, then one should learn. And as we’ve seen, brilliant folks are always way eager to learn anything new, even if it comes on the cost thier self esteem. And maybe thats why they’re called brilliant. Assuming you folks are already enough brilliant to get this, I hope community v. 2.0 will read this book.

  30. Wow, great examples, Cristen and Laura, thanks so much for posting those. I visited MIT last month, and since then (even more than before), it’s become the greatest center of my hopes for my future. Your essays provide great examples–and for students as anxious about the outcome of their apps as I am, that’s wonderful.

    I have to ask, though… (despite not wanting to acknowledge it as a possibility) I know that a percentage of this years’ applicants (as with every year) simply won’t get accepted.

    So, when you were applying, what other colleges had you picked out as secondary options? I have some in mind, but none of them seem to match up to the great style and culture I see at MIT. Did any of you find other places with similar spirit during your application season?

    Thanks for your help, and the great insight you provide to those of us looking in from the outside (though hopefully not for long!) :D

  31. deng says:

    “except for microwaves and hot plates, which are usually allowed to be stored in some common area”
    err.. what.. MIT students don’t know how to use microwaves? wink

    my essay so far is very different from both of yours… making me feel a bit insecure raspberry but hope it’ll work for me

    annddd… shouldn’t there be a way to delete unwanted comments? >.>

  32. Reena says:

    Oh :D
    Well, errm, I apparently have short term memory loss.
    Sorry ‘bout that!

  33. Snively says:

    Shoot me an e-mail. snively [at] mit [dot] edu

  34. Sam says:

    Fine, then, maybe you can find a hotel for Spring Break. Let me know if you want me to print out any reservation confirmations or anything–SINGLE-SIDED.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Fake Marilee Jones: BOO!! Get off here and get a life!!!

    I couldn’t even read the rest of the comments,I got so furious!!

    Laura, that was an amazing essay!!

  36. FH Fan says:


    We haven’t seen you much on this year’s FH team – where have you been? Hope you’re well.

  37. Ed says:

    Snively trap!? lol

  38. SRV says:

    well U nd Cristen did a good job…as this essays will definately enrich us……thanx

  39. BrittanyL says:

    Thanks, Another Shot, I hadn’t seen that post, and there were some good suggestions in there. I appreciate the help. smile

    Also, if any of the other admissions bloggers have suggestions, I’d still be interested in hearing their ideas as well.

  40. That 2nd Comment from “Marilee Jones” (apparently) just seems to have been written by a Markov Chain. It’s almost like reading the dissociated press.

    Anyway, lovely blog post, and I love your essay. wink

  41. shawn says:

    that was 500 words? very nicely written. i didnt want it to end.

  42. Tristam says:

    Great essay it sounds like you’re demanding admission. I love the essay.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Others dream the American Dream, of wealth, prosperity, owning a home.

    I care nothing for such earthly possessions. I only dream of MIT.

    Others dream of meeting their soul mate, getting married, raising a family, watching the successes of their children.

    I do not need a family in my own image; my family is all those around me. My soul belongs at MIT.

    Others dream of going to school, getting a degree, having a successful and fulfilling career.

    I doubt the true meaning of the term “success”. I will find fulfillment at MIT.

    Others seek enlightenment, whether through learning, philosophy, religion.

    I have forgone the quest for ultimate truth. I seek only a life at MIT.


    There is only one thing that I still desire from this world.

    Can you give it to me?

  44. Petr says:

    Very interesting website. Keep up the outstanding work and thank you…

  45. @Snively,

    That was a very kind offer, and I have thought of emailing you, but for some reason it makes me feel like a stalker.

    Anyway, my son’s application is submitted, so maybe some day he’ll share his essay.

    “Heartfelt” sure sounds different for different people, though.

    I guess that’s obvious.

  46. Oh, and I just realized Ahmed posted his essay <a> here </a>

  47. Kaizad R. says:

    Not a cheesy ending at all. smile