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an essay writing journey by Nisha D. '21

one of my MIT essays, as told through revision history

July 25, 2018

To the rising seniors beginning to think about their college essays – hello, fellow kids. Are you as stuck on what to write your college essays about as I was exactly two years ago? Some of you probably are. Some of you are probably thinking that it’s way too early to be thinking about college essays, and maybe you’re right, but I really like writing! College essays gave me the creative writing space that I never really got outside of writing excessive amounts of fanfiction, so I was pretty excited to get started on them. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t hard to write, though!

I’ve been meaning to do some sort of college essay post while I’m still young enough to remember what I was thinking as I wrote them (it’s been two years, yikes). I didn’t want to just post my essays straight onto this blog, though. I don’t want to be *that* kind of college blogger.

Instead, I thought I’d show you guys one of my essays through Google Docs revision history. For those of you who don’t use Google Docs, a. Start using it and b. It timestamps every single edit you’ve ever made on the document. Essentially, I can see myself from the past writing, deleting, and revising my essays at every editing point. It’s pretty cool, and for those of you who are now in college and used Google Docs to write your essays, I’d recommend looking back at your revision history. Not only is it a cringey blast from the past, but it’s an insightful journey through the self-reflection and brainstorming that you put into your essays.

The essay that I’m showing y’all was written for MIT’s, “Describe the world you come from” prompt. This was actually the last essay that I wrote for MIT’s application because the prompt confused me a LOT. I spent many nights lying awake wondering how I could express something meaningful in so few words. But in the end, it wound up being my favorite essay out of all the ones I wrote for any college application. I applied to MIT early action and didn’t apply to any Common App schools in that round, so I wound up using this essay as the basis for my Common App essay during regular decision season. Full disclosure, I didn’t get admitted into any of the schools I applied to with the Common App (Harvard and Stanford, lol), but I was really proud of this essay and I still am. When you can read an essay two years later and still think, “Hey, that’s pretty good”, that’s when you know you’ve written a fire essay.

For a bit of background, here’s a quick rundown of what I wrote about for the other essays:

  • “Something you do for the pleasure of it”: video games!
  • “What do you want to major in”: 18C, with a minor in Japanese – lol
  • “Contribution to community”: My sister and I started a nonprofit in our town to teach young girls math!
  • “Challenge you’ve faced”: Failing the last competitive math test of my career (to be fair, this is when I wanted to major in math and REALLY cared about competitive math)
  • That one culture essay on the first part of the application: I wrote about how I never really connected with my own culture, and as a result, went and explored a new one instead.

Finally, here’s my, “world you come from” essay, complete with time stamps and a large collection of very cringey drafts.


9/09/16 9:52 PM: While trading state-themed memorabilia at MATHCOUNTS Nationals in middle school, I distinctly remember receiving blank stares when I mentioned that I was from New Hampshire. “Where even is that?” these students would say, and I would grumpily answer that it was next to Massachusetts. That seemed to ring a bell for them. Now, I usually just say that I’m from Boston.

My hometown, Nashua, isn’t really on the map for much either. Our sports teams are terrible. There are frequent drug incidents. Academically oriented families sometimes move to nearby Lexington for better schooling.

9/12/2016 1:56 AM: Nashua, New Hampshire. Some people don’t even know where New Hampshire is, let alone Nashua. If they do, it’s likely because they frequently take advantage of our tax-free shopping.

My high school, Nashua South, is even more unassuming. It certainly doesn’t invoke the awe that nearby schools Lexington High or Philips Andover do. In fact, academically oriented families sometimes simply just move to Massachusetts because they believe that Nashua isn’t good enough. While trading state-themed memorabilia at MATHCOUNTS Nationals in middle school, I distinctly remember receiving blank stares when I mentioned that I was from New Hampshire. “Where even is that?” these students would say, and I would grumpily answer that it was next to Massachusetts. That seemed to ring a bell.
My hometown, Nashua, isn’t really on the map for much either. Our sports teams are terrible, and there are frequent drug incidents. Academically oriented families sometimes move to nearby Lexington for better schooling; on state charts, my high school doesn’t even rank.

And yet, I chose Nashua High South Nashua South over an admittance to Phillips Exeter, arguably the best high school in the world.

9/16/2016 7:05 PM: Nashua, New Hampshire. Some people don’t even know where New Hampshire is, let alone Nashua. If they do, it’s likely because they frequently take advantage of our tax-free shopping.

My high school, Nashua South, is even more unassuming. It certainly doesn’t invoke the awe that nearby schools Lexington High or Philips Andover do. In fact, academically oriented families sometimes simply just move to Massachusetts because they believe that Nashua isn’t good enough.

And yet, I chose Nashua South over an admittance to Phillips Exeter, arguably the best high school in the world.

Why?

In the big leagues, we at South are the underdogs.

The math team that I proudly captain hasn’t lost the league in eight years. Last year, our varsity quiz bowl team took the state win for the first time in three decades. We even beat Phillips Exeter in history bowl – not once, but twice.

Wherever I may end up, I’ll always be grateful to Nashua for opening more doors for me than anybody could have ever imagined.

9/20/2016 4:56 PM: Nashua, New Hampshire. Some people don’t even know where New Hampshire is, let alone Nashua. If they do, it’s likely because they frequently take advantage of our tax-free shopping.

My high school, Nashua South, is even more unassuming. It certainly doesn’t invoke the awe that nearby schools Lexington High or Philips Andover do. In fact, academically oriented families sometimes simply just move to Massachusetts because they believe that Nashua isn’t good enough.

And yet, I chose Nashua South over an admittance to Philips Exeter, arguably the best high school in the world.

Why?

In the big leagues, we at South are the underdogs.

The math team that I proudly captain hasn’t lost the league in eight years. Last year, our varsity quiz bowl team took the state win for the first time in three decades. We even beat Philips Exeter in history bowl – not once, but twice.

Wherever I may end up, I’ll always be grateful to Nashua for opening more doors for me than anybody could have ever imagined.

9/23/16 12:44 AM: The many worlds that have impacted my life are all very neatly contained within

A guitar is propped up behind a stand filled with violin sheet music
Books are everywhere. Candide and The Time Machine are haphazardly stacked behind my computer; my glasses sit upon Lolita and Norwegian Wood. The countless universes within these paper portals have instilled in me a love for the heroes and the idealists; for fantastical worlds and magic spells. “A reader”, after all, “lives a thousand lives before he dies.”
-books
-music
-math
The many math trophies that populate the top of my bureau chronicle a lifetime’s journey; from elementary school’s Math Olympiad, to MATHCOUNTS, to math team trophies and AMC pins,
-ff
There are not one, nor two, but three Final Fantasy VII posters on my walls. The beloved Japanese RPG not only inspired my intended career path in computer science, but nudged me into the beautiful world of Japanese language and culture.
-fam

9/27/16 11:12 AM: I can see it when I close my eyes: a city of twisted metal rising up from blackened plains; jagged mountains reaching to pierce the sky; a swamp threatening to swallow up the small farm that sits on its edge. Snapshots from a world much like ours – but it only exists on a computer screen and within my mind.

10/10/16 2:58 AM: I can see it when I close my eyes: a city of twisted metal rising up from blackened plains; jagged mountains reaching to pierce a clouded sky; a swamp threatening to swallow up the small farm that sits on its edge. Snapshots from a universe much like ours – but its atoms are pixels pixels are its atoms.

Perhaps it’s ironic that a This world with such a tangible influence on my life is, in reality, itself intangible.

{} planted in me a burning desire to learn two things. The first was programming – I wanted to know how my beloved world was created and perhaps even figure out how to create my own. Second was the Japanese language; I firmly believed, and still believe, that I could better understand the game by playing it in the language it was written in.

And now, when I reflect on

10/14/16 1:32 AM: I can see it when I close my eyes: a city of twisted metal rising up from blackened plains; jagged mountains reaching to pierce a clouded sky; a swamp threatening to swallow up the small farm that sits on its edge. Snapshots from a universe much like ours – but pixels are its atomsbut its inhabitants are pixelated and lines of code make up their DNA .

I now know that the advanced technologies of the future are my future as well, but it was the technologically primitive Final Fantasy VII – a classic Japanese video game released nearly 20 years ago – that first opened my eyes to so many unexplored realms within the world we all share. The complex game mechanics got me into coding; I spent so much time puzzling over how to disable random battles that I eventually asked my parents to send me to programming camp to learn how to most optimally hack the game. The subpar English translation compelled me to learn Japanese so that I could play the game in its original language and discover a more nuanced meaning to its dialogue, and not have to deal with lines like, “This guy are sick”.

This world with such a tangible influence on my life is itself intangible.

{} planted in me a burning desire to learn two things. The first was programming – I wanted to know how my beloved world was created and perhaps even figure out how to create my own. Second was the Japanese language; I firmly believed, and still believe, that I could better understand the game by playing it in the language it was written in.

And now, when I reflect on

10/16/16 12:25 AM: I can see it when I close my eyes: a city of twisted metal rising up from blackened plains; jagged mountains reaching to pierce a clouded sky; a swamp threatening to swallow up the small farm that sits on its edge. Snapshots from a universe much like ours – but its inhabitants are built from pixels and lines of code make up their DNA.

I now know that the advanced technologies of the future are my future as well, but it was the technologically primitive Final Fantasy VII – a classic Japanese video game released nearly 20 years ago – that first opened my eyes to so many unexplored realms within the world we all share. The complex game mechanics got me into coding; I spent so much time puzzling over how to disable random battles that I eventually went to programming camp with the full intention of learning how to most optimally hack the game. The subpar English translation compelled me to learn Japanese so that I could play the game in its original language and discover a more nuanced meaning to its dialogue, and not have to deal with lines like, “This guy are sick”.

The game’s universe is a mere microcosm in the wider scheme of the world that I inhabit, but as small and intangible as it is, it inspired me to expand my own horizons to limits unforeseen. I can only imagine what the

10/18/2016 7:42 PM (final version!): I can see it when I close my eyes: a city of twisted metal rising up from blackened plains; jagged mountains reaching to pierce a clouded sky; a swamp threatening to swallow up the small farm that sits on its edge. Snapshots from a universe much like ours – but its inhabitants are built from pixels and lines of code make up their DNA.

I now know that the advanced technologies of the future are my future as well, but it was the technologically primitive Final Fantasy VII – a classic Japanese video game released nearly 20 years ago – that first opened my eyes to so many unexplored realms within the world we all share. The complex game mechanics got me into coding; I spent so much time puzzling over how to disable random battles that I eventually went to programming camp with the full intention of learning how to most optimally hack the game. The subpar English translation compelled me to learn Japanese so that I could play the game in its original language and discover a more nuanced meaning to its dialogue, and not have to deal with lines like, “This guy are sick”.

The game’s universe is a mere microcosm in the wider scheme of things, but as intangible as it is, it inspired me to expand my own horizons in ways unforeseen. The smallest of worlds led me to explore the limitless one that surrounds me.


And there it is! I’m still impressed with high school senior me for being able to express those sentiments in under 250 words. But as you can see, it took a lot of writing, rewriting, deleting, and revising to get me to a point at which I liked it. I showed you guys very little of the actual editing history – I pulled timestamps from approximately every 3 days, and there were at least 6 or 7 large edits every 3 days. And sometimes, all of that writing and rewriting yields an essay that you’re not really even that happy with. That happens too. I didn’t like my “contribution to community” and “challenge you’ve faced” essays much at all, and they were the ones I wrote and rewrote the most times.

What I’m trying to say in this post is that regardless of how much effort you wind up putting into them, college essays are hard. You might rewrite them a million times and still hate them afterwards. Optimally, you’ll love them, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. You might have to think for uncomfortably long periods of time about yourself and who you are as a person. You might not like everything that you discover about yourself. But as most of the people who survived the ordeal will tell you: this is all part of writing your essays! We all went through it, and for better or for worse, learned a lot about ourselves.

You might get into your dream school. That school might be MIT. It might not be. But I can assure you: you’ll learn a lot from your college essays. For all of you reading this post, I wish you the best possible combination of events: you learn a lot about yourself AND you get into your dream school 🙂