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"Pho changed my life" - Common app transfer essay

ryanrhee90 1 / 4  
Feb 3, 2012   #1
Prompt: Please provide a statement (250 words minimum) that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve.

This past Sunday, I woke up wanting pho. No, that's an understatement - I woke up needing pho. You see, I have a ritual every Sunday afternoon where I have pho, to calm my stomach from the alcohol that I probably had the night before. Nothing's ever worked quite as well, or left me quite as satisfied. There's just a certain way the pieces fall together when you combine a night's drinking with warm beef broth the next morning.

Oh, right, this past Sunday. I woke up, called up my best friend, and made plans to give into our cravings. (My little habit was a contagious one, and there were a few others with that awoke with the same condition every Sunday morning.) We threw on some clothes, met up, and set off on a journey to the promised-land of Pho Saigon.

I wish I knew then - how accurate the word "journey" would describe our trip. For some reason, the weekend after Chinese New Years, all of the roads were clogged up near china-viet-town in Austin. It took forever and a day to enter the parking lot, only to realize that there's probably no parking and that the line for entry into heaven (and its steamy broth) would take hours. We tried our other place of tangy noodles, but it was the same story - hours of waiting in line. Like Harold and Kumar, we just wanted some food, man.

We weren't about to give up on our quest for our sustenance just yet. No other dish would do. We knew exactly what we needed, and we were going to get it. After calling around other places that came up on a google maps search for "pho", we decided we'd just drop by a couple of them to see if they were crowded or not. We said we'd give up only after seeing that there was no other choice. We picked the one with the highest rating on yelp, and off we went.

We pulled in, and we weren't particularly impressed with its exterior. It was a small shop, with a couple of open tables. Nothing about it seemed special, and it was almost too easy to accidentally pass it by without ever noticing it, but we were desperate for any form of relief from our carnal need of pho. We pulled in, parked quickly, and got out of the car. As soon as we opened the door, it hit us: the aroma of slow-cooked bone marrow intermingled with a hint of star anise, basil and cilantro. I swore to myself to never judge a book by its cover again, and we entered paradise.

We were seated promptly, and our orders were taken by a friendly-but-hard-to-understand lady. I'm fine with that. There's a relatively significant correlation between how understandable your waitress is and how authentic the foreign food is, so things were already looking promising. The sight of so many tantalizingly appetizing dishes around us reminded us of how much we had to journey to find this remote haven. After what seemed to be the longest, most grueling 300 seconds in my life, our saviors were delivered to us.

The rest of the visit is is a blur in my memory, with the choice round-eye steak being cooked to perfection in the piping-hot broth and a symphony of spices overwhelming my senses. I added the freshly picked and washed sprouts, the full-bodied asian basil leaves that crisply tore off of my finger tips, and the juiciest lime slice I had ever squeezed. It had the most delectable soft-tendon, and of course, the divinely distinctive taste that only fatty brisket could add to the mix. I kicked up the heat with some fiery Sriracha, the most addictive hot-sauce known to man, and it began. The rest of the experience is even harder to describe: so sinfully ambrosial, walking the lines between gluttony and greed, tormenting me to have to choose between the most tender and succulent of the meats.

Before I knew it, it was all gone - decimated by my overpowering desire to consume more of the mouth-watering goodness. My best friend and I just looked at each other, and knew that we had just stumbled upon a magical place. That was the most satisfying meal I had in a long time, and was by far the best pho I had in my life, hands down.

We so often find ourselves unsatisfied. We want more. No, we desperately yearn for more - and yet, we do nothing about it. If my best friend and I had given up and decided to eat something else instead, we would have never stumbled upon that fine gem. We were unhappy about the state of affairs, and decided to do something about it.

Good things only happen to those who take action to change the situation. It wasn't until after despairing from how hopeless it seemed to want pho to how gloriously satisfying that meal was, that I really learned to take action. This is me taking action. I'm taking action because I'm not happy with knowing that I could be at a more prestigious school, learning more, and actually being challenged. I chose my major because I wanted to learn everything about it, but I feel like I'm missing out on things that I could be learning at a different institution - perhaps one that's known to be more rigorous in its course load. This is me taking action, and I know that I'll be even more satisfied when I'll be instructed on the knowledge that I so yearn to consume.

fastact /  
Feb 4, 2012   #2
Dear Ryan,

This essay is cute. I wouldn't use it as a college transfer essay though. Do you want to study writing or culinary arts? Otherwise, I would use a different type of experience such as a work or volunteer experience. Your plans for the future with your degree in _____. Who do you want to be like? Who do you admire? Try and research famous alumni from the school. Read research published by faculty. Is there anyone you would like to send an email to on faculty? It's so easy to find these things out now. I went to college in 1995. Two years before, I asked my parents to buy me a book that listed all the 4-year universities in the U.S. I read the entire book. Now, all you have to do is search google! It's like snapping your fingers.

I'm a little worried that you thought it would be appropriate for a college application essay. Colleges have to deal with so many students with alcohol problems that they would trash your application if they smelled even a slight whiff of anything illegal for your age. At your age, alcohol and marijuana are the same thing. Would you tell them about your experience in jail?

I can't say that I can relate to your experience--I was a goody two-shoes. I had my 1st drink at age 26--my mom bought me a martini. I had 3 drinks that year: martini (I couldn't stand up), kahlua(yuck!), and amaretto sour (pretty good actually). But, I did skip classes my freshman year. The classes were a repeat of high school--I was so bored!! Ok the multivariable calc was putting me to sleep too b/c I read the book faster than listening to lecture. Did you enjoy math? Write about that.

I would be interested in reading another one of your essays.
OP ryanrhee90 1 / 4  
Feb 4, 2012   #3

Thanks for your input! I can definitely see how alcohol could be a sensitive topic. I'm actually 21 years old, (i know, 3rd-year applying for a transfer is really late, hah,) so it legal for me to drink, but it's still probably a good idea not to mention it.

The format of the common app is that there are 2 essays that are sent to all schools that use the common app system, and usually a 3rd essay that's school-specific. This particular essay is one of the common app essays, and the same copy is being sent to many different schools. (Therefore I can't really talk about any alumni's here.) Also, the other common app prompt* is specific to extra-curricular or work experience, so I don't know if I should write about that twice. Given the circumstances, do you think the topic is more relevant?

Another question I have is about the length. Some of my friends who have read the essay say that I may want to shorten it a bit. (I'm at 939 words, I was told to aim for 500-750.) What do you think of this?

*short answer: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below (1000 character maximum).

optimisticJ 1 / 3  
Feb 8, 2012   #4
This essay is okay, I suppose. I would suggest emphasizing more on what you have to offer since you cant really elaborate on any specific university. Maybe even mentioning how your school now isn't meeting your needs, and if so, how and why? You need to express why your leaving one school to go to another (even though transferring from a community college to a university should be quite the obvious! haha) This story is "cute" and I suppose relevant to the point you are making but it is definitely not strong enough to compete against people who express passion and desire in their essays.
OP ryanrhee90 1 / 4  
Feb 8, 2012   #5
Here are some simple revisions I made to the first paragraph:

This past Sunday, I woke up wanting pho. No, that's an understatement -- I woke up needing pho. You see, I have a ritual every Sunday afternoon where I have pho, to calm my stomach from the late-night programming that I probably had the night before. Nothing's ever worked quite as well, or left me quite as satisfied. There's just a certain way the pieces fall together when you combine a night's coding with warm beef broth the next morning.

It's a little cheesy, but I'm thinking that at least not explicitly mentioning alcohol will do much good. Also, I'm mentioning programming here (I'm a CompSci major), so that's probably a bonus.

Here's a couple of paragraphs I'd add right before the final paragraph:

... decided to do something about it.

In computing, abstraction is one of the most powerful tools used to create an illusion of simplicity to a very complex subject. The way I'd describe my educational experience with Computer Science is that I was taught how to look past those abstractions, one layer at a time. I strongly believe that it's important that a well-educated CS major should not leave anything to "magic" -- or an abstraction that one doesn't know the internal workings of.

While I've learned to look past a substantial number of abstractions since first learning to code, there are still many things that are left to "magic". The problem is that learning all the internal workings of a particular subject is too time-consuming and tedious for a number of students. To me, it seems like the curricula must reasonably cater to the average student, so parts of the subject matter are glossed over to regulate the difficulty level. This means I must do individual research and learn the extra parts myself. I believe that my passion for the subject and the persistence in not leaving anything to "magic" merits me the opportunity to study at a more challenging university.

Good things only happen to those ...

A part of me is worried that the jump from talking about pho to talking about computing is very sudden. However, another part of me feels that it's OK to introduce the other topic suddenly as long as I bring it all together at the end.

Thanks for reading!
OP ryanrhee90 1 / 4  
Feb 13, 2012   #6
*shameless bump*

I've changed some of the things that people have critiqued, please let me know what you think of it.

EF_Susan - / 2,365 12  
Feb 16, 2012   #7
In computing, abstraction is one of the most powerful tools used, to create an illusion of simplicity to a very complex subject.

This means I must do individual research to learn the extra parts myself.

Here's all I could find to edit, good essay!

OP ryanrhee90 1 / 4  
Feb 17, 2012   #8
Thanks for the corrections! :)

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