Embarrassing Moment?

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Embarrassing Moment?
By Lani05 (Lani05) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 08:50 am: Edit

Okay, first of all I would like to say that I am slightly embarrassed to be asking another essay question on the parents board, but the two English teachers I've spoken to have been of little help and now I'm really starting to panic.

There is an amusing story about my second year French teacher and her unique method of teaching the class about direct and indirect object pronouns- namely, by chucking wads of paper at my head and declaring loudly, "Mademoiselle is the indirect object; she is indirectly receiving the action." This story is well-known to my peers and always seems to crop up when they feel the need to make fun of me.

The problem is that I can't think of what the story might say about me or my personality. It is humorous, no doubt, and my writing always seems dull and formal without some element of humor or satire, but I am unsure of where to take this particular incident. As do many of my high school experiences, this one makes me smile at how young and easily embarrassed I was. There are literally dozens of stories like this one- moments where my own weakness is displayed with candor. But is that what I really want to show to potential colleges? Certainly I would like to embrace that human element, but at the same time I risk sounding insecure and trite by just telling a humorous tale. To tell a story for the story's sake is not a smart idea on college essays: there must be some point to it all, some reason for choosing to reveal that tidbit of information about myself. This is where I am stuck, and why I am turning to you parents for help.

I know you cannot possibly tell me exactly what to write, but perhaps you can at least tell me if writing such a story would be a smart idea? And if so, how can I incorporate a positive message about myself? Thanks very much.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 09:02 am: Edit

When choosing an anecdote to tell, think about how much context you need to provide readers in order for them to understand what it is about. Then think about the message the anecdote is supposed to convey.

For example,with an anecdote involving French pronouns, you should not assume that all readers know French or realize the importance of feminine and masculine pronouns, or that the sentence you spoke or wrote contained a blooper. So you have to explain. Does explaining undermine your anecdote, does it render it dull and less funny? If it does, then you should choose some other story.
By the way, somebody once said that it's very hard to be funny. When it doubt, play it straight.
Next, do you want your essay to be about an embarrassing moment, however trivial, or do you want it to be about how you soldiered on and triumphed?
More generally, ask yourself: what do I want people on admission committees to know about me? what part of my resume would I like to highlight?

I hope this is helpful.

By Lani05 (Lani05) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 09:16 am: Edit

Yes, it is helpful, thanks. My biggest problem is that I can't seem to think of a proper story. This particular story actually has very little to do with French grammar; it is more about my own embarrassment to be my teacher's guinea pig. I could throw in some French expressions, of course, but I think the final product would be about my emotions rather than object pronouns.

But again, I can't think of whether that would make an appropriate essay, or how refined I should make it. I have little trouble being descriptive, but is simply writing the thoughts that went through my head as I was being laughed at enough? It probably isn't a good thing to say that the only thought in my mind was to make a dive for the window and end my misery. This is my dilemma.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 09:39 am: Edit


An essay about feeling embarrassed would not fly, LOL! An essay about feeling embarrassed when picked on by a teacher, but also about becoming determined to do well and triumphing by making good grades would be better.
Surely, though, you must have had many experiences in your life, whether attending camp or working, doing ecs, visiting museums or doing sports. Try to use an experience, however trivial it might be, that illustrates what you would like adcoms to remember about you. A good friend? a caring person? a resourceful one? someone who is good at music or dance or who likes to go to museums or hiking in the mountains, who cares for the environment, is involved in the community...the possibilities are so many. But I'm sure you do not want to go down as the person who is easily embarrassed!

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 09:43 am: Edit

Lani, I think you are sort of starting with the anecdotes rather than with the "points" about yourself that you wish to convey. I have a kid who just started college and one who is applying. They approached the essays a bit differently than you are. At an early stage of the application process, they brainstormed attribute, points, or strengths about themselves that they hoped to convey on their applications. They did this brainstorm on their own and then I looked at it and if there was anything else I could think of from a different perspective, I mentioned it, though they pretty much were adept at this self assessment or reflection.

They used these "points" to drive the entire application. In other words, these attributes were things that they hoped to convey in various parts of the application such as the "resume", essays, teacher recs, and so forth. When they wrote the people writing them recs, they mentioned what about themselves they were hoping to convey and hoped that the rec writer (if he/she agreed) might support similar points. When it came time to write the essays, they tried to think of topics or anecdotes that would bring these points out to the reader. So, rather than think up a anecdote like you did and then hope it told something about them, they started with what they wanted to tell but then found a way to show it through anecdotes and such. Do you see the difference?

Also, there are several kinds of essay prompts so they had to fit these points into the prompt at hand. Some essays were not a story but had anecdotes interspersed. I can think of one essay that was a story. But that story revealed certain characteristics about my daughter that were not miscellaneous ones but ones she really was hoping to get across.

So, I encourage you to start the process in the way I just described. Perhaps the anecdote you shared here will be one that can connect to the qualities you want to reveal about yourself, I don't know. But remember, when the reader is done your essay, he/she should be able to describe you with a few adjectives and make sure these are ones you truly wish to drive home.

Good luck.


By Lani05 (Lani05) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 10:00 am: Edit

Hmm. This is hard, and three months of brainstorming over the summer has apparently not helped. Ah well. Eventually I'll find a decent essay topic.

By Patient (Patient) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 11:57 am: Edit

Lani...do you have an essay prompt? For instance, are you using a common application prompt or a particular college prompt? Maybe if you gave us that, people could suggest ways in which the story could be used effectively.

College application essay writing is hard! So much seems to be on the line...but you'll get there. Sometimes you have to toss out your original idea and start all over. I know my S did that but eventually came up with a very good essay. Sometimes you just have to have a few false starts. Don't get too wedded to using that anecdote, although it may fit in somewhere. Soozie's right about thinking about what you want this adcom to know about you; it may be that using the anecdote will then fit in.

But again: we need to know the topic!

P.S. Son started writing his essays I believe sometime in October, if that is any consolation--had them done by early decision deadline of November 1st (barely!) I know he was thinking about them before, and wrote a few that got tossed too I believe....

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 12:06 pm: Edit

Underscoring here that the place to start is by thinking about what strength you want to to make the adcoms aware of about you.

As others have suggested, this could be things like your creativity, your love of a particular academic or extracurricular, your willingness to work hard, your interest in a field, your sense of independence, etc.

Start with that strength and then think of an anecdote that illustrates that strength.

The idea isn't to think about an anecdote to entertain the adcoms. The idea is to think of a strength that you have -- something that would make the adcoms see that you have good things to offer their school. After you identify that particular strength, then find an anecdote to illustrate it.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 01:42 pm: Edit

>> When choosing an anecdote to tell, think about how much context you need to provide readers in order for them to understand what it is about.

Isn't that the truth? My daughter took a stab at a couple of potential essay anecdotes, only to quickly realize that the amount of explanation was far in excess of anything that could be handled in 600 words. She had one "story" where she went over the head of her Science Team teacher/advisor (who was publicly berating her and her team members at the time) to appeal a decision to the chief judge at a competion. Her team's project went from being disqualified to finishing second as a result of her gumption. Unfortunately, telling the story was just too convoluted because it required presenting too much irrelevant information about the technicalities of the project. Without the details, it would have come off as a "complaining about a teacher" story rather than a "stand up for yourself" story.

Actually, she had a similar problem with her main essay on summer teaching in Boston/Cambridge. There were key facts about the program that needed to be communicated, but they were bogging down the more personal story she was trying to tell in her story. For that particular story, details about how she taught and the reaction of the kids were more important than details about where she taught, how many classes, how many students, etc.

That's when she decided to use her "most meaningful activity" essay to present the facts and the context of the activity as a "step-up in weight class" along a continuum of prior tutoring. That relieved the need to provide much background explantion in her main essay.

The decision to use BOTH essays to present the same activity meant a commitment to a one-trick pony application. It also meant not having an essay to highlight state-level science fair competition. Hwever, she felt that any adcom "index card" benefit from science fair would probably come just as well from from the line list of her participation and best finishes, rather than yet another "what I learned about myself and the world by competing in the science fair" essay.

Back to the original poster. This is the kind of thought process that goes into choosing essay topics. It really helps to make a list of everything that you like to do and decide, as a first step, which one is the most important thing you want the adcoms to know about you. Once you've decided what you want to say, start thinking about a list of potential essay topics that will help you say it.

As for the paper wad in the head story. The only way I could see this being a really effective application story would be if you used it as an illustration of the close, fun-loving interaction you had with your teachers. To make that effective, it would be best if you also had an example of it being two-way street, allowing you to "get them" in a good natured way, as well. For certain colleges (those that place a premium on students who interact with and challenge their professors), that could be a effective "identity".

By Dix (Dix) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:35 pm: Edit

I liked the application with the 2" X 3" box that asked students to put something /anything in the box. "The box" offers much more creative options for expressing yourself outside the limitations of writing essays. Perhaps you haven't identified what it is that you want adcoms to know about you.
Just a thought for more brainstorming....
What would you put in a 2"X 3" box to give the ad com an idea of who you are? Or perhaps, start with an identity poem or favorite activity poem. You know the one your teachers made you write to introduce yourself at the beginning of the school year.
Any of these activities can help you identify who you are.
That is the most important component of your essay. Using an anecdote is one way to do that.

By Patient (Patient) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:51 pm: Edit

By the way, Lani, as a Francophile, I love the story and I think it was a very effective way to teach a concept...I think I'll try it on my daughters if they run into trouble .

I can see how it could be used very effectively, for instance, if you were writing an essay about why you wanted to become a teacher...about the creativity required and the fun of building bonds with students while teaching them...not that you said you wanted to be a teacher, but just leapfrogging in my own mind!

By Lani05 (Lani05) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:54 pm: Edit

I'm using the Common App. for most of mine, so any essay topic would be appropriate.

I did as some people suggested and made a list of points I'd like to get across, but no essay stories have come to mind. I left the points broad, so maybe I can find something soon.

By Lani05 (Lani05) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:57 pm: Edit

Haha, no, I don't want to be a teacher. But you're right, it was effective. Perhaps a little too effective. In every subsequent year of French, someone made it a point to tell the story to the new teacher. We did, however, learn our object pronouns! XP

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 03:01 pm: Edit

What is the most important strength or asset that you feel that you have to offer a college?

You are asking the impossible to expect that an essay will be able to cover all of your strengths. Zero in on one main point for your essay.

I am not sure what the point of your embarassing paper wad essay was.

Depending on what happened and what sense you made out of it, though, such a story could illustrate your persistence to learn a foreign language despite your being shy. It could indicate how the teacher and the class taught you to overcome your shyness. It could illustrate how the personal attention that you got from that teacher taught you that you want to go to a college where classes are small and teachers care about their students, not about getting lots of articles published.

The anecdote could be a lead in to why you want to be a French major or why you are saving your money to travel to France before going to college.

But the bottom line is that you have to figure out one main point that you want to get across about yourself. After that, the anecdote will naturally follow. You'll still need to think and edit, but you have to start the whole process with thinking about you and what makes you special.

It is not a modesty test. You have to have the confidence to figure out one important thing that is special and good about you and that would make you an asset at a college.

If you are having trouble zeroing in on a strength that you have, ask your parents and friends about what they see as your strengths. Ask them, too, for examples of how you displayed those strengths.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 03:16 pm: Edit

>> If you are having trouble zeroing in on a strength that you have, ask your parents and friends about what they see as your strengths. Ask them, too, for examples of how you displayed those strengths.

I second that. At a fairly early stage, my daughter took a pad of paper with two lists: her strengths and potential events in her high school life to write about.

We kicked it around for a week or two over dinner, with all of us throwing out ideas for both lists. Many of the ideas were greeted with, "Oh, Dad. I'm not going to write about THAT!" But, at least two lists started to emerge. For example, we have a long tradition of a weekend "family-movie night". We argue about what should be at the top of the Netflix list, debate the movie, what we liked, what we didn't, why we like certain directors (Cohen Bros, Quentin Tarrantino, etc.). So "family movie night" went on the list. Same thing for cooking ethnic foods from around the world as a regular staple in our kitchen. Same thing for the fact that my daughter was the ringleader for organizing concert outings to Boston in her circle of friend or hosting parties at our house. None of these ended up on the college app, but they were all things that were part of my daughter's personality and they were on those initial lists for consideration.

One other point. We aren't necessarily talking about grand epiphanies here. Sometimes you just have to look at your list of "stuff" and decide to pick one and run with it. If you were selling a car and realized that you offered ABS brakes as standard equipment versus an extra cost option for your competitors, you would write your ad copy about standard ABS brakes. If you look at your high school transcript and activities, a couple of things will probably stand out as being obvious choices.

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