A high school senior in 500 words

From the end of August through the beginning of April, anxiety and stress accumulates on the shoulders of seniors in the hallways of Wilton and high schools around the country as college acceptance and denial letters fill mailboxes. Every complaint and every worry somehow seems to trace back to college, whether it be performing well on midterms to get into a regular decision school or quell senior slump as much as possible third quarter to hold on to a spot after being accepted.

What bystanders of such hysteria do not see is the stress amounting from the applications themselves. Most colleges in the United States have adopted a universal application called The Common Application, which requires full background, academic and extra curricular information as well as a 500-word essay. Many schools have developed their own supplements to The Common Application, which generally require an additional essay of the same size more specific to the personality of the college. For people applying to 10 or more schools, that could mean at least 10 essays to write on top of schoolwork.

Other than mustering up the drive and energy to sit down and write these essays, the most common preoccupation of seniors is figuring out what to write about. Colleges expect students to convey as much about their character, values, experiences, and diversity as possible in a page and a half double-spaced. Most could write 10 pages on the subject and feel it still does not encompass who they are. With such space restraints, selecting a topic requires extensive planning, multiple trials, and meticulous editing. The final products of Wilton High School’s Class of 2013, though, have shown why students from our district attend top colleges.

Popular essay topics generally include a work of art with the greatest influence on a student, positive and negative experiences that drastically changed the course of a student’s life, or something a student is passionate about. Wilton High School senior Emmeline George knew she would impress colleges most by writing about her two passions: community service and puzzles. “When I started thinking about what to write about, I wanted something unique but still close to heart,” Emmeline said. “Since I have always been weirdly attached to puzzles and community service is a huge part of my life, I knew I should connect them.”

After edits from a professional college adviser at Metro Academic Prep and from Wilton English teachers and over 10 drafts, Emmeline had written an essay that personified who she was and why any college would be lucky to have her. “If you read my essay,” Emmeline explained, “I explore the idea of how my life is like a puzzle, and how I didn’t know how my puzzle pieces fit together quite yet until I discovered that I love to help people put their puzzle pieces together.” In doing so, Emmeline touches upon her variety of extra curricular activities, her path towards self-awareness and most importantly the impact that working with kids with disabilities at the Darien YMCA and with younger students dealing with at-home difficulties has had on her. So far, Emmeline has been accepted to all three schools she has applied to with this essay.

Wilton senior Lydia Freliech, who will be attending Colorado College in the fall, also wanted to stand out with her essay topic. “My essay was kind of satirical in a way,” she admitted. “I said that math has taught me a lot in the sense that ‘x’ is a destination and that showing your work, aka experiencing the journey to find x, is more important than the outcome itself.”

For students like Wilton senior Jake Bazilian, the traditional route is just as effective. Jake, who will be attending Michigan University, begins his essay with, “I am a risk taker, and my dad is my muse.” Throughout the rest of the piece, he expresses the profound influence his dad’s courage to take risks and dynamic personality has had on his life choices, like trying out for high school musicals or attending outdoor semester school High Mountain Institute without previous experience in theater or the outdoors.

Emmeline’s, Lydia’s, and Jake’s essays all differ vastly in subject and content, yet all three demonstrate how they have utilized the people, lessons and experiences in their 17 years to shape who they have become and what they can offer colleges. “My advice is to be as truthful as you can possibly be,” said Emmeline. “I really enjoyed writing my college essay because it makes you explore yourself and bring to light all you have accomplished so far. Plus, it’s the one time you get to brag about yourself!”