Judgement Day

The application essay.   We’ve all done it.  A huge part of the application process where you try to share everything that is anything about yourself in 500 words or less.   As the applicant, you sit there, staring at the computer screen, knowing that so much rides on the choice of those 500 words. 

Remember:  This is your chance to show them who you are.

Yeah, right.  Fat chance.  Especially not for those of us that excel at drawing diagrams rather than writing sentences.

I have written lots of these absurd essays.  And I always face the same problem, they make me question if I really am good enough, or qualified enough, or, well… worthy.  After weeks of fretting, I eventually sit down to write something in a semi-delirious, desperate state, days before the deadline.  Then I swallow my pride and force some (very unlucky) trusted and honest friend read it before I send it off.   And then I hope, and fret, and hope some more that I “captured myself”.

But this application season I have found myself in a new position.  I have been asked to read a bunch of application essays in order to find a new grad student to work for me next year. 

Wow.  Me?  All of a sudden I am the faceless judge of everything you, the applicant, are and think you could become.  (Evil laughing…)

Honestly, even reading these essays is stressful.  How do you judge someone on 500 words or less?  It’s almost more painful than writing one (except for the writing part).  The main problem is the tone.  No one sounds like themselves (at least I hope).  Most of them come off sounding like a elaborate resume listing everything that you have accomplished.   It’s braggy and conceited and how it has to be.  As for goals and dreams, how are you supposed to say that you want to save the world from the energy crisis, without sounding cliche and unoriginal.

It’s not that the essays are really so terrible, it’s just that they all seem so fake.  Because no one goes around patting themselves on the back, selling themselves to other people all the time.  It’s definitely not a great way to make friends and influence people.   And yet in the application essay you have to do it.  Trust me, everyone’s the same.

As I read through these essays, I cringe when I think about how my own have read.  It makes me feel even less worthy of being where I am today.  Most people do a much better job than I ever did of sharing themselves in their precious 500 words.   Now that I am on the other side, I am starting to appreciate the imperfect necessity of application essays.    It is an insight I wish I had before I wrote one.

The essays that stand out are the ones that  remind me of myself, of who I am, or who I want to become.   These are the ones for which I remember the names and the details.   These are the ones that inspire… me.

I plan to use this hint.  I think the next time I write an application essay I am going to try to write it for myself.  Not so much for the black box committee.   I am going to convince myself that I am worthy.  I am going to remind myself who I want to become.  And hopefully, I will be able to convince myself to accept me.

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2 responses to “Judgement Day

  1. Hey! You guys were holding out on me — I had to find out about this from Cosmic Variance!

    Look forward to reading more from you. (And oh, do ever I wince when I remember my own graduate school application essay.)

  2. I too find it incredibly hard to judge people on a brief writing like their research statements/proposals – Gee, even a website usually tells more about the person (and is that good or bad?). I find it occasionally very stressful to imagine applications of how many bright people potentially end up in the trash bin just because they didn’t sell themselves well enough.

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