Analysis of a College Essay
Continuing on in our series, we’ve got another analysis of a college essay for our readers. The admissions essay below was published on the pages of “The New York Times.” It should be noted that the student who wrote this essay was not — not — a client of Ivy Coach. We would absolutely never publish an essay that one of our students submitted to colleges. We would also never encourage our students to publish their college essays on the pages of “The New York Times”! But these students did so and that gives us the right to offer our feedback and analysis.
Remember that just because a student got into a highly selective college, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they earned admission because of their Common App. Personal Statement. A variety of factors go into admissions decisions, as our clients know. It is quite possible that a student earned admission in spite of a Common App. Personal Statement. But let’s save the analysis until after we’ve all read the college essay. So here, without further due, is an essay written by Griffin Karpeck who hails from Darien, Illinois and attends Hinsdale South High School. Karpeck earned admission to Butler, a university that is not among the most highly selective in the nation. But they’ve got a great basketball team in spite of their former head coach, Brad Stevens, fleeing to coach the Boston Celtics. Anyhow…
“I work at McDonald’s. This is not a job that inspires envy from my friends, and I usually see people smirk when I tell them where I work. I had submitted dozens of applications without so much as a call back, and when the phone finally did ring it was McDonald’s. I reluctantly accepted the position. Little did I know, I would come to value the knowledge and life experience that I would gain there much more than the $8.25 an hour.
I’ve always known that I live a pretty good life. I live in a quiet upper-middle-class neighborhood with my parents, both of whom work, and my younger brother. Though my family had its own share of tough times during the most recent economic recession, and we had to cut back on a lot of extras, my parents continued to provide for us and they shielded us from the worst of it. However, I attend a very affluent high school and many of my friends and other classmates I know have the kind of wealth that I could only imagine before. Suddenly I found myself having to go through guard gates to get to the houses of my friends. I watched them drive to school in luxury cars. I started to feel like my family didn’t have enough, that my parents should be able to give me more. Working at McDonald’s completely changed this perception of mine.
I knew that not everyone lived like my family does, and that there were people who struggled, but I never saw first hand what that means until I began working at McDonald’s. I’ve made great friends who come from families much different than my own. In telling me about their lives, they’ve helped me understand just how difficult life can be.
A co-worker my age who has become one of my best friends not only rides his bicycle several miles to work, but gives his entire paycheck to his mother so they can pay the rent. I was shocked when I learned this. I soon realized that for him college is just a dream. One of my favorite managers opened up to me and told me that by her 19th birthday she had 3 kids and was struggling to support them. She works the night shift and watches her kids during the day. How is that even possible? I tried to imagine what she was going through and just couldn’t.
There are many more stories like these. I felt guilty for thinking the life that I was living and the things I had weren’t enough and began to realize just how lucky I really am. I was born on third base in life, and most of the people I’ve met at McDonald’s are starting at home plate with two strikes and have very little chance of scoring a run in life, let alone winning the game. I understand now that for many, it is hard enough just to survive, let alone save up for an education that costs tens of thousands of dollars per year. Their stories stay with me and make me think about my own life differently.
In life, it is really easy to get caught up in your own bubble and never really look outside of it. My time at McDonald’s has made me see the world in a completely different way. I am different as a result. I am grateful for the things my parents have provided and the opportunities I’ve had, and I let them know. I’m more open to people who are different than I am and have made friends that I wouldn’t have been open to before. I also have a newfound respect for anyone in hard situations similar to those I’ve met along my journey. I know now that there are a lot of good people who just need a chance in this world. In fact, I do what I can to help them get that chance, even if it’s as small as helping them research community college or find a higher paying job.
My journey is not over. What better place than a college campus to continue to meet interesting people whose life experiences are different than my own? In admitting me to Butler University, you will be adding a student not only serious about academics but one looking to make a positive impact on the campus and community of students.”
Our Analysis: This is by no means an outstanding essay. It’s in fact extremely cliche. A young man doesn’t appreciate what he has, goes to work at McDonald’s, and comes to realize that he has it quite good. He learns to appreciate the lot he has been given in life, even if his wealthier high school classmates with their guard gates in front of their houses have been given better lots. The fact is that this student had the potential to write a really powerful essay about his experiences working at McDonald’s. If you think — even for a second — that working at McDonald’s is a negative in highly selective college admissions, think again. College admissions officers at highly selective universities very much appreciate — and respect — students who hold down jobs. They’re mature. They’re not entitled.
Think about it for a second. Wouldn’t you want to go to bat for someone who works at McDonald’s over the kid who takes tennis lessons behind the guard gates of his family’s mansion? It’s straight up common sense. But Griffin should have shown the reader — rather than told the reader — about what he got out of his experience. He should have shared stories and insights rather than just relayed the benefit of working at a far from glamorous minimum wage job. We could have really helped Griffin write an outstanding essay. Not every student has the material. We can always — always — help a student find the material. But this student had it in his hand and blew it. Hopefully he wanted to attend Butler. If he did, it didn’t matter.
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