Essay critique

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: March 2003 Archive: Essay critique
By Jgottlieb (Jgottlieb) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 04:59 pm: Edit

Hi folks... I wrote this essay for the Harvard app, and at the time I (stupidly) didn't get any outside input. It's too late to change it now, of course, but I'm just curious as to what you think of it:

In Mordecai Richler's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the title character is told throughout his childhood that "a man without land is nothing," and is led to relentlessly pursue the materialistic success that he believes will bring him happiness. He ultimately achieves his goal, but he discovers happiness is nowhere to be found; "success" has failed him. Richler's novel influenced me immensely by prompting me to reevaluate my own beliefs on success.

In our society, success is often construed as a six-figure salary or an influential job or a comfortable suburban home. I've always been suspicious of this definition of success - not because it is inaccurate for all people, but because to me, it seems meaningless. Duddy realizes this as a young man (though tragically, he has already sacrificed too much in his pursuit of success, and decides to continue with defeated resolve). What is the purpose of discussing success at all if it is merely defined as wealth? After reading Duddy Kravitz, I realized that it is something broader and more intangible - and, most importantly, unique for every individual. Duddy's downfall is that he accepts the goals his family and friends force upon him, without taking his own aspirations into consideration. Success must be rooted in personal fulfillment; and as clichéd as the sentiment may sound, fulfillment isn't always brought by material goods.

So what does success mean to me? I think that the most important things in life are to be happy and to have fun, and I believe it's essential to extend these values to one's work. My personal goal is to enter a career that is enjoyable and interesting, through which I can challenge myself and contribute to society. Some may argue that there must be a balance between work and leisure. I think the balance lies within each; fun without purpose will leave one feeling unfulfilled, as will work without enjoyment. Pleasure and satisfaction in life are not derived solely from lack of work. If work is interesting and challenging, it will cease to seem like work at all, and instead become an experience to be enjoyed. And if I can accomplish this in my career, I'll know I've attained success.

I'd always held this opinion in the back of my mind, but it wasn't until I read Duddy Kravitz that I asked myself what I truly wanted to achieve. My specific goals will undoubtedly change over the course of my life, but I hope my definition of success remains the same. Does that definition make me a wiser person than Duddy? Well, you'll have to ask me that in about thirty years.

By Creatorcat (Creatorcat) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:24 pm: Edit

not that I don't appreciate your work and effort, but what you are doing now is so vain.

You're posting an essay that you've already (I persume) shown to teachers, proof-read a billion times and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL- sent to colleges.

Why, except for obviously wanting to hear a bit of praise, would you want any of us to read it and make a (let's assume sincere) comment? Does it matter now? Would you really feel better if someone here told you it was damn good? Like, it would make a difference to the Harvard amin officers?
Personally, I couldn't care less about your essay, nor do I have time to read it, nor have I read it... It's different when ppl post the Harvard winning essay, that might be helpful to someone, though I never bother to read any of that...

But, anyway, why do all of you keep on posting the essays they've already heard people's opinion about (far more qualified and concerned than the people that post here), and sent to colleges? If you still have the urge to do it, start a new discussion group or something.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:26 pm: Edit

Average, I will say about half of all applications are like this. A quarter are worst and a quarter much more unique than yours.

There is not enough spark in your essay and through out the whole essay your opinions are too common. Unless you goal is to be down to earth, I will said your essay is a C+ at worst B at best.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:31 pm: Edit

Creatorcat, I disagree with you. I enjoy reading other people's essays and I assume there is more people that do as well. Speak for yourself and do not critize anyone because they did something you do not like. It is not your business. If you do not like it, then no one is forcing your to read it.

By Teddykgbad (Teddykgbad) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 05:50 pm: Edit

Let me break it down for you: your style works, but your topic does not. Nowadays, it's implied that it is more important to pursue happiness rather than money. Half of the world knows this, and the other half ignores it (but they still know it). With that said, nobody on the Harvard Ad-Com will be moved after he/she reads your essay. It tells little about who you really are, and in some respects, it sounds a bit contrived. I gaurantee you that many other applicants will have written about the same theme.

It's a shame that you did not post this earlier...and I align with Creatorcat when I question your motives for posting it. If you came searching for praise, well... you got the exact opposite from me. Good luck.

By Creatorcat (Creatorcat) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 06:00 pm: Edit

Congocross: I DID specifically say that I PERSONALLY do not enjoy reading or care about other people's essays, and that I NEVER read any of them, which I (again..) believe means that I was purely speaking for myself.

But one must admit that essay critique threads do not belong to college admissions group. Start a new group and enjoy yourselves!

By Frank (Frank) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 06:40 pm: Edit

I say quit your bitching. It's only a single topic. So he wants to know what the ppl in this forum think, that's no big deal.


Sorry, but the essay fails. It really doesn't reveal anything about you, and certainly doesn't make you seem like a unique candidate.

It's hard to do an essay on a cliche topic like success, but it'd be better if you talked in depth about an experience that gave you this perspective of success.

Like, I did my essay on personal ambition, a very general topic, and I never was like "to me, ambition is what drives me to try my hardest," in fact, I never used the word "ambition" in the text. What I did was talk in depth about a past experience that demonstrated my personality... I formulated the essay so that a reader would think "Wow, this kid's truly ambitious in life".
And hey, I got into MIT.

Shoulda made your essay much more personal and less direct. Think about what a reader thinks when s/he done reading it. Too bad its too late.

By Cookie (Cookie) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 07:59 pm: Edit

Sorry to say, but the essay was quite boring. I saw the movie with Richard Dyufuess and it was really good. Maybe you should have based your essay on the movie. Good Luck!

By Dwaynehoover (Dwaynehoover) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 08:06 pm: Edit

First of all, the kid said he never had ANYBODY else read it--so he wanted some feedback.

It is very well-written, so for Style and organization you receive:


For content, although it is an interesting topic, I feel that since the word limit is so low for these essays it is hard to go into detail on a broad topic so it just comes off broad and does not really SPARK the reader. It is personal and does reveal that you are a fine, young man not driven by the standards of 99% of Harvard applicants. ALl of them say they don't care for success yet they worked so hard and pursued all their EC's SOLEY to get into you see, you might sound like you made this up--but from your writing, it seemed like you were being sincere. I think your sincerity will make up for your broad topic--and if any other harvard applicants wrote about this, I bet they seem rather contrived(and phony)--your's does not.
so for content/creativity/extra oomph you receive a


Overall(not an average) i give you an A-!

I hope you get into Harvard. I respect your ideas.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 10:58 pm: Edit

I skimmed, didn't read in-depth. I'm not here to criticize, and say "your essay was horrible" because I'm in about the same position. I had my mom and a friend read my essays, but that was mostly to find parts that didn't flow or places I could cut. That said, your essay seems like a literary analysis. I realize that you use the book to emphasize your own beliefs, but you are focusing too much on it and it's summary to put your part across. Good try on the academic essay format....I just about went nuts if I couldn't make and fit in 5 paragraphs. If you've looked around the boards, you may have noticed that I deplore the 500 word was the bane of my existence in December. So, it's a decent essay, doesn't seem really passionate, but we all got screwed with the word limit and did what we could.

P.S. I really admire your courage in putting your essay up. I want to do that too to get some outside evaluations, but I'm more than a little wary of a lot of the posters on this board.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 11:20 pm: Edit

Jgottlieb, despite my critique on your essay above I still wish you luck in getting into Harvard.

Kalitiha, I would love to read your essay so POST if you dare and I double dare you.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 11:28 pm: Edit

Okay, I do not want to usurp jgottlieb's thread, but I've rarely resisted a dare. I don't really want a lot of critiquing of this essay, it's just up for Congocross to read. The prompt was to write about a decision or risk that has impacted you the most.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 11:55 pm: Edit

I could have stayed at Earlham High School and received a perfect transcript, instead I chose to attend Central Academy and receive a quality education. The Academy is a talented and gifted school with half-day programs that’s thirty-five miles from my home. I’m the only Earlham student to have attended as an eighth grader, and only after a serious battle with the school board for permission. Though fitting my two schools’ schedules together has been difficult and I have had to give up many activities, I will never regret going to the Academy. The opportunities afforded me at Central Academy have shaped not just my high school career, but also my future.

I was initially drawn to Central Academy because of my local district’s lack of a talented and gifted program and accelerated classes. The Academy offers a variety of accelerated and Advanced Placement classes, and I reveled in the selection of challenging courses. I thrive in the atmosphere at the Academy. For the first time in my school career, the teachers were stimulating and the other students were interested in the class. Every student attending is there to learn, not just warm a desk until the bell rings. The Academy has become more to me than a school; it has become my haven where I have always been comfortable expressing my ideas and having dissenting opinions– something not always tolerated at my local school. I’ve been encouraged to explore my boundaries and to push past them. I haven’t always been the smartest person in class, but I’ve chosen to take the most challenging courses available, honoring the commitment I made in eighth grade: to pursue educational excellence-- not the best grade.

My first day as a scared eighth grader, I didn’t know anybody and I thought of the Academy only as a school. Five years later, I have met hundreds of students with different backgrounds and points of view; I think of the Academy in terms of the wonderful people I’ve met and friends I’ve made there. Experiencing this diversity has been an education in itself and an unexpected benefit of attending Central Academy. Other benefits include the unique programs, opportunities, and activities in which I’ve been allowed to participate. I’m one of two Central Academy Ambassadors (guides that lead tours throughout Central Campus, the building that houses Central Academy and four other unique programs), am a member of the Central Academy quiz bowl teams for the Black History Quiz Bowl and the Knowledge Bowl, and belong to the Academy “We the People” team. None of these activities were available in Earlham, so I’ve gained opportunities in exchange for what I gave up.

Being a student at Central Academy has instilled in me the strength of character necessary to forge through adversity. I’ve learned to think actively and to express myself effectively. I’ve adapted to different points of view and become more confident in my own. I’m preparing for the future, not only with my academic courses, but also with the stamina I have acquired as a result of my experiences at Central Academy. The risk I took five years ago will always shape my life because it has impacted my thought processes, opinions, and interests.

By Dwaynehoover (Dwaynehoover) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:04 am: Edit

*ding ding ding*

cliche cliche cliche...

sorry man-- well written and all, but i mean the whole importance of education is a big nono with most admissions officers. The admission officer at northwestern is a good friend of my family. so i know what i am talking about.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:10 am: Edit

Thanks for the evaluation, Dwayne, though I didn't really want to have anybody but Congocross evaluate the essay. Good thing I didn't apply to Northwestern. Actually, the essay isn't so much about the importance of education as it is about the extra distance and sacrifices that I went to get it. What's cliched about it? It's a pretty unique experience, not many people bother to drive, at their own expense, 70 miles round-trip every school day for 5 years just to take advanced classes.

But I appreciate your input.

By Dwaynehoover (Dwaynehoover) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:15 am: Edit

the anecdote is unique, but the themes and concepts are not: "value of education"; the loner who was made fun of for raising his hand or being smart, wanted a school where everybody loved learning..and so on. Its a GREAT essay, don't get me wrong...but it will not really stand out except for the efforts you took to get the education. HOpefully, the admission officer will see your efforts as a stand-out thing..which they may--so good luck.

Sorry if i was a bit sardonic with my "ding ding" thing...ooh that rhymes...well good luck.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:29 am: Edit

Thanks for the revision. BTW, I read your other post and it seems like you have a really great thing going with film. That definitely stands out. Why don't you apply to USC, I hear that they have a great film school? Even if you do want to focus on the business aspect of it.

Also, did you call me a loner that gets made fun of? Haha....just nitpicking. The kids at school are normal, some of them are annoying....I wouldn't say that everyone loves learning, but no one is apathetic.

Do you actually think that it's a great essay? It went to most of my schools and I've been worrying that it was substandard. Not much point I guess, cuz I can't change it now.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 01:10 am: Edit

This is the last time I respond to a dare. Congocross didn't even stick around long enough to see the essay. Nuff of this stuff, I'm going to bed.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 01:18 am: Edit

Kalihita, this is a fine written essay and thanks for sharing it with me. If I am an English teacher the grade for this essay will be an A-. Here are the reasons why:

1. Through out the whole essay you held a distinguish voice
2. The topic of the essay shows your determination to receive a finer education
3. The idea of quality education over a better grade (I can relate to that)
4. 537 Words...We all know that is a big deal
5. The flow of the essay and the transitions are excellent
1. I think certain lines in the essay were not necessary or should have be express in a different way such as the beginning sentence. “I could have stayed at Earlham High School and received a perfect transcript, instead I chose to attend Central Academy and receive a quality education.” The thing is you never know for sure you could have gotten a perfect transcript. Also the line, “Every student attending is there to learn, not just warm a desk until the bell rings.” You are mocking the students at your old school and that can give the admission a bad impression of you.
2. I love the last sentence, “The risk I took five years ago will always shape my life because it has impacted my thought processes, opinions, and interests.” But you did not describe in depth how the decision to attend Central Academy has impact your thought processes, opinions, and interest. You focus too much on wanting to get a better education and the experiences you encounter at the academy. The application essay should be more personal and it is not somewhere to relist the activities you have on your resume. You did so in paragraph 3.

Nevertheless, it is a great essay well written with great flow. Well above average I would say. Good luck with wherever you apply. If you want read my Notre Dame essay, let me know. Your act of courage inspire me to be bold as well.

By Frank (Frank) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 01:23 am: Edit

Not a bad essay at all. It shows you've got a good writing ability. The only downside is that its not very unique and wouldn't really distinguish you from the rest of the applicant pool.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 01:31 am: Edit

Thank you both for your critiques. I know I shouldn't have listed the activities, but I couldn't fit them on my resume so I decided to put them in the essay. And you're right, I should have explained the thought processes, etc.......damn word limit....i felt I was stretching it at that. And actually, my home school is so bad that I would have ended up with straight A's. The only academic classes I've ever taken there, I usually end up teaching the class parts of the material b/c the teacher is a total screw up. I don't want to have my essay reflect poorly on me, but I do want to mock my home school. It was a tossup, and mocking won.

Haha.....thanks again. I really appreciate your honest opinion. At least I know that the essay is pretty good. I was focusing more on "was it poorly written?", than "is it unique". My situation is unique, but it's hard to tell what will be considered unique by an admissions reader, so I just decided to have faith (cliche?)and wrote about something that had really impacted me for 5 years, and allowed me to have the stats to even consider ivies. your essay! I'd love to see it, but I'm going to bed, so don't expect any comments until the morning.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 01:39 am: Edit

This is for you Kalihita! I have an extremely hard time writing this essay because it something that is very personal and it has haunted me for a good part of my life. I hope you enjoy it.

Essat Question:

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela reflects upon his life and commitment to the anti-apartheid movement. He writes: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Give a personal example of how courage has played a role in your life.


Fear and courage are like two moons revolving around our lives. If the moon controls the tides, then it is fear and courage that govern our actions. Anyone can have a moment of courage, but what happens when that moment has passed by? I came to know my fear when I realized I have speech difficulties. It seemed like nature had broken its social union. Suddenly the moons stop revolving and over the horizon, fear is sitting on top of my world. I assume it is true, that most of the time, people do not put themselves in other people’s shoes, or else they would not laugh when I am reading my essay in front of the class. Nor would they ask me to pronounce words they know I can’t. I am grateful for the kindness my teachers and friends have provided. Because of them, I experienced a few moment of courage. However, I know that I have to conquer my fear; I cannot let my fear to eclipses my passion to enjoy life to the greatest extent.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White is one of the first English books I read in middle school. In the story, Luis is a swan who lacks the power of speech. Instead of submitting to his impairment, Luis learned to play a trumpet and was finally able to speak through a musical instrument. Somehow this story is a catalyst for me. In order to achieve my goal I know I need to stop hoping perfect speech will come to me. That day I took “I wish” & “I want” out of my vocabulary and tossed them out the window. I started going to the library and borrowing books both in English and Chinese. At home I would pretend to be giving a speech in front of a large audience, and I would read these books out loud. That year I went through over 250 books and gave numerous speeches. I started to write my own speech. Since I can not speak with the perfect American accent, I have to work hard to make sure my speech is twice as good as it needs to be. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than giving my first speech and being understood. The eyes that were once full of questions are now with replaced eyes eagerness to hear the rest of my speech. Suddenly, the celestial fire in my eyes and burning passion inside my heart break the thin sheet of ice named fear. I am not longer underneath the moon. Without fear, I am among the stars and the dark side of the moon is no longer so intimidating.

Whenever I listen to someone speak, it does not matter whether it is a teacher or a peer. I will look at the speaker straight in the eyes with a smile on my face and give them my undivided attention. I know I would want the same. Perhaps Mr. Mandela said it best, “As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.” Luis liberated me from my fear, I wonder who will follow in my footsteps?

By Dwaynehoover (Dwaynehoover) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 09:02 am: Edit

Kalithia, I'm not calling you the loner, I'm saying the cliche is generally about kids who say they were at a less-driven school and they were the only ones who really raised their hands and tried hard, so in essence, they are "loners"..i guess wrong word. sorry, it was by no means meant to be negative towards your part, I should have actually said that you were "unique", which you are.

By Kalitiha (Kalitiha) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 12:51 pm: Edit

Thanks Dwayne...I was just kidding, sorry if you thought I was harping.

Congocross: I really liked your essay. I don't think it's cliched, but I'm not really a good judge of that. This essay shows your determination and perseverance. I liked the continued cosmic theme, though it sometime became a bit garbled. The english usage is not perfect, but I believe that it is only a small detraction considering the topic of your essay. My father is an immigrant, and I've watched him struggle with words sometimes too. I've also struggled with Greek, I can remember trying to say something correctly....saying it over and over to try and remember it, but ending up changing and messing up the word.....I got laughed at too. I really enjoyed your essay, it was inspiring, but I think that you should have had a teacher correct some of the irregularities of speech. Thank you for having the courage to post it.

By Congocross (Congocross) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 02:19 pm: Edit

I appreciate your opinion, Kalitiha. At times I feel like I am the only person with speech difficulties. About the irregular English usages, I think that is my writing style and a way to show the admission that I am different. I had had two teachers and two classmates look over this and edit it, so I hope it is fine and hopefully this essay will also earn me a spot in the class of 2007 at the University of Notre Dame.

Dwaynehoover, what you think?

By Dwaynehoover (Dwaynehoover) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 03:35 pm: Edit

One trap that most college essay-writers fall into is that they stray from the topic and don't really answer the question...You certainly did NOT fall into that trap. You were very succinct, and I think this essay was a window into your resilient, and persistent personality. There were about 1-2 instances of wordiness/cuteness that could have been done without, but it was definitely not a complaint worth dealing with.

Your essay shined, and definitely worked as a window into your personality, something most adcom readers love to see.


By Congocross (Congocross) on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - 10:45 pm: Edit

Thanks Dwaynehoover for evaluation. I really do hope the admission Committee at Notre Dame would enjoy it. This essay was hard for me to write mentally because there is so much of myself inside there. It is hard to talk about my own flaw.

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