Here's an "I told you so"
When I wrote about the issue of how high schoolers pick their colleges, the very first "bad" reason was:
Do you remember? Well, I've got another essay for you, but this time I'll let you read the essay first and then I'll tell you about the writer.
* * * *
When I was nine years old, my favorite movie was E.T., flying bicycle, Reese's Pieces, and all. The scene that pierced my heart, though, was where E.T., gray and unconscious, lay dying in a stream. I didn't understand then that E.T.'s crisis came from the thinness of Earth's atmosphere. He needed richer air to breathe.
And, symbolically, so do I. The academic and cultural atmosphere at Washington and Lee (W&L) is too thin for me. Certainly others here are prospering, but I am in need of greater specific substance. Here I can't find the variety of majors offered at Yale. I know now that my life's passion is languages. I need a school that offers a linguistics major. I've tried to compensate here by maintaining my German skills and starting to learn Russian. I have even taken on Hindi studies on my own, outside of class. This has been frustrating on two fronts. I receive no credit for my independent language studies and, within my formal language classes, there is practically no linguistic context. There is just not enough teaching depth.
Another area where W&L starves me is the arts. Several years ago, I began my study of classical guitar. This has now become a vibrant, central part of my life. W&L's faculty, however, has no classical guitarist with whom I may study. This sounds hard to believe, but I am the only classical guitarist on campus. Yale offers not only the tradition of Eliot Fisk through world-class guitarist Ben Verdery, but also a group of talented guitar students who stimulate an aura of infinite possibilities. For example, during a visit to Yale, I met first-year student Alex Henry who also plays classical guitar. His academics, musicianship, and dedication to the guitar inspired me to raise my own level of performance in these areas. This is the kind experience W&L does not offer.
Such teachers and students live outside of the classroom as well. The diversity of people and opportunity adds to the richness of Yale. The residential colleges promote the level of diversity I seek, the kind I so sorely miss here at W&L. The overwhelmingly homogenous social strata at this small, 1,400-student school prohibits me from learning anything about the world's cultural fabric. We have a so-called International Club here. I say "so-called" because International students comprise only 2 percent of the student body, a mere shading within this very white, upper-class school's profile. The residential colleges at Yale will give me the integrated perspective on diversity that I want rather than a student body where 90 percent belong to fraternities or sororities.
The atmosphere at W&L is suffocating me. My growth is being blunted. I've done the research, defined my needs, and selected the school where I know I'll prosper. Yale has what I need to become the scholar, artist, and social member I must be. Perhaps the most sobering thought for me these days is imagining myself ten years from now, frustrated and dissatisfied, constantly wondering "What if . . .?" Yale has the power to fulfill me now, without any "What-ifs."
* * * *
Ted Grice couldn't stand Washington and Lee University. He reached that decision about half way through his first semester there. His goal: transfer immediately to another more highly diverse college or university. This essay, which essentially served as his transfer statement to other schools, displays his frustration and longing for greener pastures. Keep the tone of Ted's essay in mind as you read this e-mail that he sent to me:
"Hi. As for the vital statistics:
- Applied to: Swarthmore (ED), Haverford (RD), W&L (RD), PSU (RD), St. Joseph's (RD)
My majors now are Russian Studies and German Language.
Just a personal note: I stayed here at W&L. I'm extremely glad I did. I really underestimated what a small college can do. There are opportunities that I never dreamed of. I'd still have some fightin' words about the whole Greek system, but the place is really changing and has offered me some incredible experiences in terms of conferences, study abroad, and getting to know professors. W&L has a lot to offer and life here can be pretty challenging and enlightening if you take advantage of it. Anything else I can provide you with, I'd be happy to do.
* * * *
I wanted to share Ted's essay with you to illustrate the point that, indeed, temporary personal circumstances can cloud our thinking. Consequently, we sometimes do things that we may later regret. Had Ted bailed out and gone to the University of Chicago, he would have missed out on all the benefits that W&L had to offer. He hadn't given his school a chance. The lesson here is: don't be quick to commit to or abandon something unless you have done thorough research.
Ted's title translates: "Air from Another Planet." It's an alludes to the fact that he is seeking a much different environment in which to pursue his college education.
* * * *
So, I hope these essay lessons will help you write your best essays come application time. Think outside the box and from inside your heart and mind. As always, remember: Don't write what you think they want to hear; write what you want to say!