Essay help! Am I a Snob?

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: August 2003 Archive: Essay help! Am I a Snob?
By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 08:19 pm: Edit

When I read Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” I sympathized instantly with the ancient king. I know just what it is to struggle against a sense of one’s own inadequacy, that inescapable, insidiously corrosive feeling, always hiding just behind every triumph, that Ozymandias must have built that statue to stave off.

I remember when I first understood the sort of greatness to which I wanted to aspire. I was sitting in the smoky kitchen of one of my dad’s friends, trying to make my nominal glass of wine last, and listening to a passionate argument. They had been gesturing through the shimmering cigarette smoke for over an hour, licking their lips as they searched for just the right phrasing, over the use of a certain word by Mandelstam, my dad’s favorite Russian poet. Endless cigarettes had been smoked, wineglasses had been refilled countless times, they had both repeatedly jumped up purposefully and returned with open books, but no agreement had been reached. I so longed to be able to join this conversation, effortlessly marshalling textual references in defense of my revolutionary interpretation. Or, at the very least, I wanted to have an opinion. I knew that this was what I wanted to be able to do.

People have always been distinguished among my parents and their friends, a circle of ex-Soviet intelligentsia tight enough to safely allow the circulation of a forbidden book and loyal enough to maintain ties even after its members had scattered to cities as distant as New York, Boston, Washington, DC, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, by the books they had read. Haven’t read Pasternak? What about Kundera? No? Well, just step along on your way, then. The most passionate arguments at their Brie and Merlot-crowned tables were never about things anchored in the squalid mud of reality, such as sports or daily life, but about such ethereal things as art and literature.

I thought myself born to this life. I’d always loved to read. Not content to be read to by my mom, I demanded that she teach me the alphabet at two years of age. When I was three and a half, I began to write poetry in Russian. In middle school, I often read four books at a time – one hidden in each of the desks I would sit at throughout the school day, plus one in my desk at home, to flip open in my lap the second no one was looking. It was much more exciting than middle-school busywork. As I read more and more, however, I increasingly began to feel as though I was not meeting the writer’s expectations. John Steinbeck, writing about The Grapes of Wrath, expressed these expectations this way: “There are five layers in this book; a reader will find as many as he can and he won’t find more than he has in himself.” I was terrified that I did not have enough layers in me to be worthy of these great minds.

How well I understood the “passions” that drove Ozymandias! How acutely I felt his frustration at being a mere mortal man, not “mighty” at all! As he wanted to overcome his mortality, so I want desperately to overcome my mediocrity. And sometimes, as when my dad and I both finished Lolita and laughed together about the scene in which Humbert’s wife’s lover decides not to flush the toilet in Humbert’s apartment out of politeness and marveled together over the sheer density of Nabokov’s English, I feel that I have risen a little above myself. I feel myself slowly evolving the “layers” to be finally worthy of the books I read and the art I admire, and especially of the conversation of my mentors.

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 09:04 pm: Edit


By Yz16 (Yz16) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 05:22 am: Edit

hehe, it's one of the best-written essays i've read on this board : ) besides also showing a unique background and culture.

grats to you!

By Ctrain890 (Ctrain890) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 08:04 am: Edit

1) cut down on the SAT-words
2) Explain Ozymandius in a sentence or two at the beginning

Otherwise, very good.

By Delirious (Delirious) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 10:38 am: Edit

Don't cut down on the words. Your diction is fine. I think almost all educated English-speaking people have heard Ozymandias, and it's not really necessary that they know it.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 11:12 am: Edit

Not only is this a great essay, but the reader will easily imagine that you would have no trouble at all writing six others of the same quality---and be enjoying yourself doing it: the perfect impression to make on a college admissions committee The essay cries out "There's more here!"

The only advice I offer would be to edit out the cigarette/smoking reference---which is quite likely to be a thorny issue to any politically correct reader--and there are plenty of them to go around. I don't think of myself as a particularly PC kind of guy, but I paused at the mention of tobacco to think, "Ugh!" It's just one dose of reality the essay can do without. Drop that one possiblilty of a negative thought and you have a total winner, in my opinion. You could probably leave in the "smokey kitchen" for atmosphere, but I'd drop the "cigarette" part.

There's little danger of anyone "stealing" this essay----they'd have a rough time matching your flavor in an interview!

By Chim_Chim (Chim_Chim) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 07:50 pm: Edit

Thanks, I needed an essay to send in, and now I have one!

Just kidding :)

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 08:05 pm: Edit

Thank you so much, everyone! I was feeling so insecure about this essay, especially after reading Michelle Hernandez's "A is for Admission" and what she says about the way adcoms define disgusting privilege.

By Yonif18 (Yonif18) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 03:50 pm: Edit

what is Morgabntruce talking about??!! The cigarette smoke references gave the opening paragraphs its flavor! You did such a great job putting me in that smoky room, I can see the haze as I read it. And you know what? I hate smokers! But that doesn't matter cuz it adds to the essay.

By Serene (Serene) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 03:56 pm: Edit

i love the scene

they had both repeatedly jumped up purposefully and returned with open books, but no agreement had been reached.

excellent essay. just refine it a bit... like "I remember when I first understood the sort of greatness to which I wanted to aspire." sounded a bit awkward to me....

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 09:55 pm: Edit

(off topic)

I just wanted to wish you a great experience this fall--and beyond.

My older daughter is heading up to nearby Wellesley on Friday. We dropped off our younger daughter at Kenyon a couple days ago---the latest word is that her orientation is going well in spite of a lightning storm that knocked out all power. Classes start tomorrow and everyone's flashlights are getting dim---sounds like they'll be a pretty tightly knit group!

By Davidrune (Davidrune) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 10:00 pm: Edit

one word, wow.

By Serene (Serene) on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 - 10:17 pm: Edit

thank you Morgantruce =) I hope your daughter's having a blast at Wellesley too =)

By Crystal_Baller (Crystal_Baller) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 12:44 pm: Edit

simplify the essay. as soon as i read the first sentence, i cringed and imagined a cliche of yellow cheese and school buses. you need to learn word placement. you put in the "million dollar" words in the wrong places - sounds like a text book. one more thing, you brag too much. don't send in this essay.

By Crystal_Baller (Crystal_Baller) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 12:49 pm: Edit

P.S. stay away from trite words: aspire, admire, shimmering, sympathsized, interpretation, and especially.

they're sickening to hear over and over again and just add to the blob of yellow school bus cheese.

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 05:38 pm: Edit

See, that's what I was afraid of, too -- that I sound like I'm bragging. Except for a few really clumsy phrases (like the one Serene pointed out... thanks, Serene), I think the style is pretty good. As both my parents are Ph.D's, most people only see advantage and elitism. The elitism is there -- you can see it in my essay. It's not very good, but it's there. The advantage is there, also, but there is pressure, too, not just to do well in school, but to be able to read and converse on their level. My parents and their friends have given me my ideal. This is what I get depressed about at night, and I think it's also what makes me a good college applicant.

By Sac (Sac) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 06:16 pm: Edit

This is a great essay -- well written, thoughtful, original and, best of all, it really conveys who you are. I like that it's about your aspirations rather than your achievements. I like the picture it paints of your family and your place in that family. I like how you tie in the questions raised by what you've read with the questions raised by what you've experienced. Bottom line: I like you, as you portray yourself here, and I think colleges will, too.
This just calls for tightening and smoothing in a few awkward places (some of your prepositional phrases?). I agree with Serene about simplifying the aspiration sentence. I would also rethink using the word "mediocrity" in reference to yourself -- you can be humble, but you don't need to be that humble. There's a big difference between adolescence, being unformed, even the fear of being ordinary, and mediocrity.
I have no problem at all with the cigarette smoke and don't really know why an admissions committee would either. What a great scene. I imagine it will just leap out of the pile.
Good luck.

By Valpal (Valpal) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 08:13 pm: Edit

Folk Hero, I couldn't disagree more with C-train and Crystal Baller. This essay is refreshing, readable, and reflective of a fine and incisive mind. You are a college professor's dream. What is college about if not the lively exchange of cogently expressed ideas? Your insatiable desire to learn and grapple with intellectual ideas is obvious and engaging. Your essay makes me want to meet you. Believe me, this is the impression you want to leave with an Adcom.
I also have no problem whatsoever with your references to cigarettes. (I had just a slight mental snag with the use of the word, shimmering" to discribe cigarette smoke. Perhaps a word such as, "swirling" would be more accurate---I don't know---it may just be a matter of personal opinion....) I doubt that many adcoms are so politically squeamish so as to be offended by the cigarette reference. Most people are aware that the European culture from which you originate is very "smoking inclined". In addition, Adcoms don't live in caves: They also know that college students are sometimes inclined to smoke, which explains the need to designate some dormatories, "smoke-free". You also mention, nursing a, "nominal glass of wine". I also have no problem with this reference, again owing to the fact that European youths are introduced to alcohol at a much younger age than their average American counterparts.

As Delirious said, your diction is fine. Just a tad bit more fine tuning, and it will be worthy of one of those, "College Essays That Win Admission" reference books.

By Valpal (Valpal) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 08:24 pm: Edit

Also, to answer you initial question: No, I do not think you're a snob. I think that you are a genuine "thinking person", which is in sharp contrast to the "quasi-intellect" many college students display at student/faculty mixers. Don't let your peers make you doubt yourself. You're just way ahead of most of them.

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 08:32 pm: Edit

Thank you! I've done some minor editing as you've suggested, and I'm sending this in. Maybe the adcoms at either Columbia or the University of Chicago will agree with you.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 10:13 pm: Edit

Folk Hero,
Good for you! When you receive "criticism" that sounds like it's written by an idiot, you really have to just ignore it. Any valid criticism is bound to come in a nicer package...

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 10:47 pm: Edit

ITA with Valpal and Sac. A superb college essay, Folk Hero. You know what's so impressive about this essay (imho)? Even with the unevenness of a high school writer's hand, it creates a splendid visual of your background and who you are. The references to cigarette smoking and the "Brie and Merlot crowned tables," the open books, and the movement of individuals in the room, introduce your essay beautifully.

Do not worry about coming off as a snob. I'm sort of amazed at the skill you used in setting up the lofty, intellectual tone at the beginning of your essay. Then, in one short sentence, you reveal this humble quality about yourself, the desire to form your own opinion and to be worthy of participating in thoughtful discussions. The Steinbeck reference to "layers" of self-enlightenment is quite nice and really ties things together at the end of your essay.

Your essay makes a point and tells a story at the same time. College is all about personal evolution, another nice touch at the end. I can hear the rubber stamp of approval hitting this essay all the way down the line! Don't forget to let us know where you get accepted.

By Sac (Sac) on Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 11:34 pm: Edit

Which topic in University of Chicago's "uncommon application" would you use this for?
Columbia and University of Chicago also are high on my son's list. Based on this essay, I could see you in either place.

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Friday, August 29, 2003 - 12:39 am: Edit

One more thought...there is some awkwardness in the introduction and in a couple of other places, but within the context of this essay, I'd actually recommend against a lot of polishing. The imperfections illustrate your need and your desire for a college education, underscore the fact that you are aware of your limits, and hint at what you could accomplish in an intellectually stimulating environment. Leaving in these slightly modified mistakes could enhance the overall essay by exposing your vulnerabilities. Alright, enough with the gushing! Good luck to you.

By Folk_Hero (Folk_Hero) on Friday, August 29, 2003 - 11:28 pm: Edit

I'm writing my own question for the Uncommon App. I know they've got some cool questions, but the part of me that's in this essay is the reason I want to apply to Chicago in the first place, so I'll use this. As for polish, I probably need it to back up my test scores. The short essay about the favorite book or artwork is giving me trouble. It seems like the perfect essay for me, but HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT?

By Crystal_Baller (Crystal_Baller) on Saturday, August 30, 2003 - 01:31 am: Edit

it's a school bus yellow cheese essay. i gagged twice.

By Valpal (Valpal) on Saturday, August 30, 2003 - 02:07 am: Edit

Yes Crystal Baller, Now you've stated your opinion twice. We get it and most of us DISAGREE. Move on to another thread if you wish to stop "gagging".

By Shari (Shari) on Saturday, August 30, 2003 - 07:45 am: Edit

*grin* I wrote my common app personal statement about reading. :D (I graduated Spring '03) It's a good idea-I applied to 3 colleges, was accepted to all 3 and offered their highest scholarships, and had a handwritten note referencing the essay on each of them. Sorry-I know that sounds like bragging but really it's just to let you know that the chose a good essay topic.
That being said, I'm the daughter of an Air Force linguist and stay-at-home-mom and the first generation of either of my extended families to go to college. So we have different backgrounds, and different approaches.
I can definitely see the 'elite' thing you're talking about, but it seems more of a reference to your parents than yourself (read: I don't find myself hating you as an arrogant jerk by the end, instead I find myself envying you your experiences). You might want to take another look at the sentence about middle school busy-work...I think most people think middle school is full of busy work and I'm not sure it really contributes to the essay. Other than that, it's a solid essay and I think you reveal not only that you're well-read but that you know there's much more for you to learn.
As to your question about favorite book/artwork, that depends. I'd probably write about a favorite book (unless you're *very* involved in art) just because it kind of follows through with this essay. And I wouldn't pick the book that you feel you understand the best, or feel you can analyze...instead pick the one that speaks to you. The one that when you think about reading it, you can taste your enjoyment (or maybe that's just a personal thing, lol). And then try to put that feeling into words.

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