Hi, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to post this here or in the UA Essay section, as I just want some feedback on this essay. I am thinking of using this on my applications, but I've gotten mixed results from those I asked (teacher liked it, parents don't). Just a quick glance, and a note as to whether it's viable would be much appreciated.
"The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light ... The cynic puts all human actions into two classes - openly bad and secretly bad." (Henry Ward Beecher) My personality could probably best be described as quirkily cynical. I can't say I'm quite as misanthropic as Beecher describes, but I do have numerous traits (read: quirks) that would give the appearance of overflowing cynicism.
Recently, one of my assignments was to have others describe my personality. My list had a little of everything, including overt sarcasm ("Really? I never noticed."), my tendency to argue about most anything ("What? I strenuously object!"), a complete lack of tact, and my ever present smile (which another student noted was more of a smirk). A few even had the audacity to state that I am a *softie* at heart (the worst insult possible to a masculine ego). I really can't deny any of these, since they are all integral parts of my persona (with the obvious exception of being a softie). Myself, I prefer to think that they are the result of scientifically inclined thinking combined with near-omnipotent wit. What is sarcasm but witty reply to an unnecessary statement? Playing devil's advocate ensures that I have a healthy supply of arguments (the battles of the mind). And my smirk... well, um... ah... let's just ignore all that and just say that I have a scientific mind.
I've always had an affinity towards science, especially biology. I've found that both my propensity for argument and cynical disposition are assets in a field where theories are always tentative and subject to change. These qualities helped me advance to District on all three of the Science Fair experiments I have conducted. Something about biology (I still haven't found exactly what) especially called to me, and I signed up for AP Bio at the earliest possible chance. Our teacher, Dr. Baker, had worked for several years as a nano-biologist and was determined to show us the technological side of the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed many of the experiments we conducted, and decided to explore the field of Biomedical Engineering since it appealed to many of my interests, combining biology with technology.
At this point, most of my goals are subject to change on a daily basis (other than desire to enter college, of course). My subconscious is also maintaining some vague images of great discoveries and breakthroughs (my dad continues to pressure me into developing a cure for cancer). Aside from the intrinsic aspirations of overwhelming success, eternal happiness, etc., one of my primary objectives is simply to enjoy life. This basic revelation was influenced by one of the last speeches of our school play, You Can't Take it With You (my latest acting adventure): "You've got all the money you need. You can't take it with you. ... Where does the fun come in? Don't you think there ought to be something more, Mr. Kirby? You must have wanted more than that when you started out. We haven't got too much time, you know - any of us." After all (yeah, I really like quotes), "There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way." (Christopher Morley)
Well, I, for one, really enjoyed your essay! And if it were merely an essay to express your thoughts on a topic, I'd be inclined to say, "don't change a word!" It's engaging, thought-provoking, humorous and entertaining. But . . . (you knew the "but" was coming), does it accomplish its purpose? This is an essay which has a job to do, and the most important thing is to make sure it does its job, namely, get you admitted to college.
Answering that question is a little difficult without knowing the precise question that is being asked. Is it "What can you tell us about yourself?" or "Why should we admit you to our university?" or something else with a slightly different emphasis? If you are applying to several different universities which ask somewhat different questions, you might want to tailor it to fit. Also consider the type of school to which you are applying. Is it one with a reputation for being liberal? Is it a more conservative, perhaps religious, college? This makes a difference in how it could be received.
I might be inclined to split the difference: tone it down just slightly for a one-size-fits-all audience. The opening does paint you just a bit negatively. At the least, I'd cut the quotes down in size, one or two sentences apiece at most, and take out the "mousing for vermin" bit, even though it's a fabulous metaphor. When all else fails, remember the writer's (artist's, entertainer's) creed: know your audience.
I know it's not easy to take out writing that you think is good. Writers always struggle with this. Because you like quotes, here's one that might help from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote in The Art of Writing (1916), "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it - whole-heartedly - and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."
Best of luck in your studies!
Ah, thank you very much for your comments. It is very nice to hear an opinion from a third party, and I'll be sure to incorporate many of your suggestions into this essay.
Also, I was wondering if you could look over another essay, and compare it with the above. Both are options for the Common Application, and I've been trying to decide which to use. This was the first essay I wrote, but it kinda got put on the back burner as it seemed to fit the bland, lifeless archetype too well. I still have some concerns that the above essay (which I've included another draft of) is a bit too controversial, and I'm wondering if I should just stick with the less colorful but non-flammable choice. Any comments on how to spice up the below essay would be much appreciated, as I will probably end up using it for some of the colleges that require two essays. Thank you!
The shrill ring of the telephone echoed through the house, disturbing the silence of the afternoon. My mom was in the backyard cultivating near-ripe cucumbers and sprouting chives, so it was left up to me to end the unremitting ringing. I strolled to the machine, and reached it just before the answering machine.
It was Pat, our elderly neighbor just across the street. "Yes?"
"I'm going to Oregon next week to visit my daughter, so would you mind watering my garden again?" Pat's garden is truly a masterpiece. Entering via a gravel sidewalk, rows of tomatoes and pumpkins inside a raised brick corral greet the visitor. To the right of the garden is a field of lush green grass (I don't know how they do it; ours is always more yellow than green), surrounded by a band of wood chips. A wood porch leads to the back door of the house. Positioned throughout are trees, bushes, vines, and dozens of potted flowers. My dad has often attempted to imitate this work of art, and his efforts have produced a gravel sidewalk and a brick-lined garden.
"Sure," I replied. "Same as last time?"
"Oh, there are a few new additions, but you should see them. I'm sure that you'll know what to water. It's mostly the same even after all these years."
Around eight years, now that I think back. Pat has always been close with her family, and often went on vacations to visit her children and grandchildren. From the first time that she asked me to irrigate her foliage, I've helped her whenever she felt the urge to leave. Her garden back then was just as beautiful as it is now, if missing a porch and a few flowers. Setting to work, I carefully (at least as careful as an eight year-old boy can be) watered the multitude of flora.
A week later when she returned from her trip, Pat insisted on giving payment for my services, but my mom returned the money. I was dumbfounded. Giving back money? To my eight-year old persona, ten dollars was a colossal sum. Then my mother explained to me the importance of helping others. When my parents first came to the US from Shanghai, they had little money and no possessions. Only through the generosity of neighbors who gave both furniture and aid were they able to endure. Now they were in the position to give back, and wished to instill in me a sense of charity.
Not to be deterred, and knowing my love of reading, Pat gave me a book. Soon after, another neighbor, Jeff, called to ask if I could take care of his dog while he went on vacation. When he later came to pay me, I returned the money myself. Every odd job I have done in the neighborhood since had become thus, although Pat always finds a hat, a wallet, or some other small trinket to show her appreciation.
"Alright then. Starting tomorrow?"
"Yes, dear. Thank you so much for this."
"No problem. Have fun in Oregon."
"Thank you, dear."
As we said our good-byes and I hung up the phone, a slow smile crept across my lips. I sat back a little, wondering what new items Pat had added to her garden.
I have to say, your writing is utterly enjoyable to read! I think BOTH your essays show you to be a candidate any college would be lucky to recruit!
I think your changes to the more "controversial" essay were perfect: you managed to keep the spark while toning down that which might have offended or irked. Excellent job of "murdering your darlings"!
The only possible change I might suggest is to the ending of the one about Pat and her garden. It was slightly anti-climactic. The imagery throughout was wonderful, and I chuckled aloud at the results of your dad's "imitation." But it seemed as if you were building up to something -- say, that Pat had added something strange and unusual -- and I felt just a little let down not to know what it was.
I am not familiar with the specific requirements of the Common Application, so I can't tell you how well I feel it fulfills them. The more controversial essay actually gives me more insight into who you are -- but if good writing is the key, I'd say you have that more than covered with either option!