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"That is intellectual exhaustion." - Stanford Short Essay: Intellectual Vitality


TimMill 9 / 63  
Sep 30, 2009   #1
Hey guys, wondering if you could critique this:

Stanford students are widely known to possess a sense of intellectual vitality. Tell us about an idea or an experience you have had that you find intellectually engaging.

Here goes:

It is intellectual exhaustion that makes this essay so hard to write: intellectual exhaustion, the product of intellectual vitality. Intellectual exhaustion, the kind that is all encompassing and totally immersing. Intellectual exhaustion, the kind that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and the kind I know will change my life forever.

I am spending this year just outside of L├╝beck, Germany. Here, everything I experience is something to learn. Here, all communication is a true challenge. Never having learned German before, here I build everything I know from the ground up. Here, I am not just experiencing something new- here, I am discovering a new world.

In yet another world, great Buddhist master Shunrya Suzuki wrote that "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few". For me, this is especially true: I am like a baby opening his eyes for the first time. I am the epitome of a beginner. My possibilities are infinite.

It is my nature to seize every possibility. And, with infinite possibilities, my plate is quickly full: I am in Germany only a week, and I am playing sports, and I am making music, and I am joining clubs. I am so busy that I hardly remember that I'm speaking another language- that is, until I come home absolutely, totally, utterly exhausted.

That is intellectual exhaustion.

Every day, that is my schedule, and I stick to it. I am here, I am pushing everything to its limit, and I know I will do so for the rest of the year. I know this, because this is who I am. I am striving for intellectual vitality. Intellectual vitality - discovering a new world, discovering it completely, and becoming a part of it. Intellectual vitality - going someplace I could never have imagined before. Intellectual vitality - vital to how I live my life.

Rip it to pieces and let me know what you think! Thanks.

EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Sep 30, 2009   #2
I see what you are trying to do, but I would focus more strongly on describing your experiences in Germany. If you are already intellectually exhausted before even finishing your application, then how will you handle actually attending a university? The problem is that "exhaustion" has negative connotations, and you do not want to associate yourself with any word that has negative connotations in these sorts of essays.
OP TimMill 9 / 63  
Oct 1, 2009   #3
Hmmm... my aim was to focus on perseverance through exhaustion. Do you think I can aim for that angle without casting a negative light on myself, or I should scrap this and start over?
shahindian2009 8 / 12  
Oct 1, 2009   #4
I don't really like this essay. It was honestly too choppy for me just to read it and say "oh that's great!"

make is simple.
OP TimMill 9 / 63  
Oct 4, 2009   #5
Hmm... I see what you mean, shahindian. I wouldn't ever do this if it were only this essay I was submitting, but it's along with two others, which are both written more traditionally. When it comes down to it, I'm working to put a feeling of exhaustion into the essay- can somebody tell me: is that working, or does it just come across as choppy and forced?
samcguff - / 12  
Oct 4, 2009   #6
I see what you're getting at by going for the feeling of exhaustion.

In a sense it works. But it only works because your writing is so repetitive and choppy, not conducive to the fluid flow you would want- even if you want it to appear exhausting. The repetition of "intellectually exhausting" in the first paragraph and of "here" in the second paragraph lacks the point that gives a feel to the essay. Instead, they feel like a nuisance and are overbearing. You are going the wrong way to accomplish a sense of tiredness.

Don't manipulate your syntax so much- it really does seem so forced. You want to use imagery and heavy description to create the scene inside the readers head. To make the reader imagine what's going on. Onomatopoeia is a great tool for this- for example:

"Tick. Tick. Tick. I couldn't concentrate and my eyes flicked across the room. Erik, next to me was making a paper airplane with his homework. Tick. Tick. Tick. I fiddled with my own paper, trying to mimic Erik's plane. I ended up just crushing it in my hand. Tick. Tick. Tick. Still five minutes left of class?"

Here, the point is the kid has trouble paying attention. The constant "tick tick tick" throws off the rhythm of the sentence structure, but also provides an actual feel to the reader of being impatient or wanting to leave. It's a great tool for getting a different sense of emotion into your writing.

You only brush off your experience in Germany. It seems like it's just a basic lead in to discuss how you feel (which isn't backed up). Weave your experience throughout the entire essay.

Your last paragraph is a bunch of hasty words. You could easily compile that into one shorter sentence. It seems you are not using the space of 1800 characters to their potential. Make sure you double check your sentences, searching for the best possible way to maximize your space while still creating a powerful impact. That's what you said you do, right? Maximize space?

Also, I disagree with placing that quote in there. It makes it sound like you are saying that your possibilities are not infinite when you're an expert- when really your possibilities are always infinite (expert or beginner).

Rework this. Really commit to making each sentence as powerful as it can be. Build your essay up to make it strong in all aspects, so it is not forced but rather fluid.
OP TimMill 9 / 63  
Oct 5, 2009   #7
Sammcgruff, that was by far the most useful post anyone has given me yet- thank you. I'll rework this in the next few days, would you mind checking back here and telling me what you think then?

And the onomatapeaia idea is good... we'll see about that. Thanks again.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Oct 5, 2009   #8
The prompt asks you to talk about intellectual vitality and things you find engaging, not that you find exhausting. Again, it's an interesting approach to the prompt, but the negativity really isn't what you want in this sort of essay. Perseverance is a great trait, but the prompt clearly wants you to talk more about enthusiasm. You can of course mention how your enthusiasm gives you the energy needed to persevere in an intellectual challenge.
samcguff - / 12  
Oct 5, 2009   #9
Not a problem. I can't critique a piece without tearing it apart- it's hard enough for me not to do a full edit like I'm used to. Post it again after you rework it and I'll be happy to rip through it again :)

I would change the angle as well. Like I said in my post before, talk about your experience in Germany a little more. Are you still in Germany now? If you want I can read through your other essay as well- I saw it needed a bit of work but I have yet to get around to it. Personally, when I read through it I thought there was a big need for fixing. But that's just me, I'm hard to please (your roommate essay).

Let me know if you have any problems, etc.
OP TimMill 9 / 63  
Oct 6, 2009   #10
If you saw a "big need for fixing", I can't my any means turn down the help, so please, go ahead and critique the other one as well.

I've started this one from scratch. I tried to rework it, but that didn't work, so I'm going back to square one. I'll make a new thread when that's done, because it doesn't fit in this one and it probably won't be until next week sometime- I'm going to Berlin this weekend for my SAT II's, and I'm studying all week.

Thanks again for all your help.


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