[Help] Critique my Admissions Essay on HPMoR

by ahartell2 min read17th Sep 2011119 comments

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I mentioned this last week in the open thread and yesterday decided to write it.  Since a few people on the site helped me choose this topic and the content is relevant to the site, I thought it would be nice to see what everyone thinks.   If a change is suggested that I like I will edit the post.  Sorry if I don't implement what may seem to you like an obvious change.  I'd like to keep the style as close to mine as possible.

The prompt was to describe a fictional character that influenced you and to describe that influence in 250-500 words.

Below is the Rot13 version of the submitted essay.


Ba snasvpgvba.arg, nzngrhe jevgref qensg aneengvirf hfvat gur jbeyqf naq punenpgref bs bgure nhgubef, naq gurer ner yvgrenyyl gubhfnaqf onfrq ba Uneel Cbggre.  Zbfg ner cbbeyl jevggra naq pyvpuéq, ohg fbzr ner vaperqvoyr.  Uneel Cbggre naq gur Zrgubqf bs Engvbanyvgl, ol Ryvrmre Lhqxbjfxl, vf bar fhpu fgbel, naq vg punatrq zl yvsr.  Gur nqiragher’f cebgntbavfg, Uneel Wnzrf Cbggre-Rinaf-Ireerf, vf vagryyvtrag, phevbhf, naq engvbany, bireynccvat yvggyr jvgu gur oenir-ohg-npnqrzvpnyyl-nirentr Uneel Cbggre bs W.X. Ebjyvat’f pryroengrq jbexf. 

Lhqxbjfxl’f vgrengvba bs gur ureb bsgra pvgrf fghqvrf va pbtavgvir cflpubybtl (vafcvevat zber guna n srj abpgheany ovatrf bs nhgbqvqnpgvfz) ohg uvf vasyhrapr ba zr pbzrf sebz ubj ur guvaxf engure guna jung ur xabjf.  Vzzrqvngryl hcba ragrevat gur jbeyq bs zntvp, Uneel fgnegf grfgvat naq nanylmvat gur zntvpny sbeprf gung trarengvbaf bs jvmneqf unir nyybjrq gb erznva zlfgrevbhf.  Ur qrfvtaf naq cresbezf rkcrevzragf, oryvrivat va uvf bja novyvgl gb svaq gehguf gur hafpvragvsvp jvmneqvat jbeyq unf bireybbxrq.  Ur gehfgf uvf bja vagryyvtrapr naq crefrirenapr, naq, hayvxr uvf crref, nccebnpurf rnpu ceboyrz nf vs vg pna or fbyirq.  Svanyyl, guvf fgbel’f Uneel vagebqhprq zr gb znal shghevfg vqrnyf, cerfragvat frevbhfyl gur pbaprcgf bs enqvpny yvsr rkgrafvba, pbtavgvir raunaprzrag, naq rkgen-fbyne rkcnafvba.      

Lbhat Cbggre gnhtug zr n terng qrny, ohg ur nyfb rssrpgrq npghny punatr va zl yvsr.  Uvf vzcerffviryl grpuavpny vaare zbabybthr cbvagf bhg ubj crbcyr bsgra tvir hc cerzngheryl, naq V’ir yrnearq gb bssfrg guvf snvyher.  Ol nqbcgvat gur unovg bs ernyyl guvaxvat nobhg fbzrguvat sbe ng yrnfg svir zvahgrf orsber tvivat hc, naq abg whfg nvzvat sbe gur nafjre ng svefg ohg nyfb cbaqrevat gur angher bs gur dhrfgvba, V’ir orra noyr gb fbyir znal ceboyrzf gung ng svefg tynapr nccrnerq vagenpgnoyr va gur pbzcyrkvgl gurbergvp, “cbffvoyr tvira vasvavgr gvzr naq pbzchgre cbjre,” frafr bs gur grez.  Uvf engvbany bhgybbx cebzcgrq zr gb vagebfcrpg ba jul V cebpenfgvangr, naq, guebhtu gur ebhgvar hfr bs uvtuyl ngbzvmrq gnfx yvfgf, V’ir gnxra fhpprffshy fgrcf ntnvafg gur ceboyrz.  Uvf rssbegf gb fghql naq haqrefgnaq gur ynjf bs zntvp, naq uvf vagrag gb hfr gung xabjyrqtr gb orggre gur jbeyq, vafcverq zr.  V unq arire ernyyl orra fher nobhg jung V jnagrq gb qb jvgu zl yvsr.  Ohg abj V xabj: V’z tbvat gb or n fpvragvfg.

Uneel qvqa’g whfg thvqr zr gbjneqf zl shgher; ur tnir zr ubcr.  Uneel Wnzrf Cbggre-Rinaf-Ireerf gnhtug zr gb ybbx hc ng gur urniraf, gur fgnef oynmvat ntnvafg gur qnex naq gur zbhagnvaf ba gur fhesnpr bs gur Zbba, naq frr abg bayl gur pbyq vaqvssrerapr bs gur havirefr ohg nyfb gur cebzvfr bs uhznavgl'f shgher.  Gung jr pna rkcnaq orlbaq gur Rnegu naq gur Fbyne Flfgrz, cbchyngvat gur uhtr, yhzvabhf fcveny bs gur Zvyxl Jnl; pbadhre gur nvyzragf gung cynthr hf naq chfu njnl qnex guvatf yvxr qrngu naq qvfrnfr.  Ur gnhtug zr gung gur shgher pna or nf ovt naq nf oevyyvnag nf gur avtug fxl, ohg bayl vs jr svtug sbe vg.  Naq gung’f rknpgyl jung V’yy qb.

 


 

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Your originals are rated 1-10. My suggested changes are rated 1-10. You might think a change that I suggested is poor - I might agree, and merely think that it is better than what was there, and that you should keep thinking about how to improve it. You might think that a phrasing or idea of yours I changed is good or good enough - I might agree, and merely think mine is an improvement.

My comments are in italics, suggested changes are in plain font.

I am an ideal editor for this because I have not read any of Rowling's books, nor seen the movies.

Fanfiction.net is the legally gray slum of literature, overpopulated with mostly bad Alternate Universe versions of popular novels. 5

"Alternate universe" should not be capitalized. I think "alternative universe" is more accessible.

The website fanfiction.net is a legally gray slum of derivative literature, mostly populated by bad versions of popular novels set in alternative universes. 7

Unexpectedly, however, it hosts a few stories capable of truly impacting a person's life. 8

Ideally your thinking would reflect that impact isn't a property of stories, but rather a property of story-audience pairs. See mind pr... (read more)

5NancyLebovitz9yI go off balance at "legally gray slum" since my first interpretation is that it's a slum with a legal requirement to make things the color gray, and then I have to sort it out. Also, there's probably no need to talk about fanfiction.net rather than fan fiction. Part of my problem with guessing how it ought to be phrased is that there's no way to know whether the audience knows anything about science fiction, or likes science fiction. I'd go with "uninspired, cliched variations on popular culture"-- if the reader does know something about fan fiction, they'll know it's not just about novels, and that some of it's filling in gaps rather than alternate universes.
4ahartell9yI think I'll go with something like this: I don't like the word culture at the end though. I may just use "novels" despite that it isn't entirely accurate. Do you have any other ideas?
0NancyLebovitz9yThe thing is, there's fan fiction about movies, games, comics, etc. How about "popular fiction"? "Popular art"? And I'm torn between 'fan fiction' and "fanfiction". Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_fiction] uses both in the article.
0Normal_Anomaly9yI vote for "popular art." Wait, never mind, you already decided.
0ahartell9yI haven't decided. Do you think "art" is better than "media"?
3komponisto9yI have to disagree. I think "art" sounds terrible here; I'm expecting ff.net to be hosting not only paintings but music and drama as well. Here's what you should say:
1ahartell9yThat sounds good, but what about the end of the paragraph?
1komponisto9yThere you can use "novels".
0ahartell9ySo do you disagree with the following comment by NancyLebovits? or do you think "stories" is broad enough to still work? That was posted when it read "variations of popular novels".
1komponisto9yWrong passage. I was talking about specifically about the passage you quoted, at the end of the paragraph: Rowling's Harry Potter books are indeed novels, so the word may be properly applied: "J.K. Rowling's celebrated novels." (Guess: you misread the grandparent as "Then you can use 'novels' " rather than "There you can use 'novels' ".)
0ahartell9ySorry, I was unclear. I was wondering if you think that "stories" is broad enough to include the things Nancy mentioned such as video games. It may be, but I'm not sure.
1komponisto9yI think a misunderstanding still persists, because now I notice you've gone back to "popular novels", while retaining "Rowling's celebrated works". My suggestion, just to be absolutely clear, was: "popular stories" and "Rowling's celebrated novels". (If you were worried about "popular stories" not being broad enough, "popular novels" is even narrower, and definitely doesn't apply to video games.)
0ahartell9yNo, you were clear. I'm considering sticking with "novels" though as 1) the reader probably won't know enough about fanfiction for it to be a problem, 2) I like how it sounds this way, and 3) it's probably true that most of the stuff on there is about books. (Maybe not though considering how much anime stuff there is).
0komponisto9yI would say so. What is the title of the first page in every video game manual? "Story". (At least it was back in my day.) The narrative element of video games is what makes them suitable fanfiction subjects. The same presumably applies to any other art form which might be represented on fanfiction sites. I don't think your sentence is in any way misleading.
0pedanterrific9yThink [http://www.fanfiction.net/game/Pong/] again [http://www.fanfiction.net/game/Tetris/].Edit: The tag didn't seem to be working so I made it visible.
0komponisto9yThat falls into the "quirky exception" category. As far as I know, most of fanfiction.net is Harry Potter and the like. I still don't think the sentence is misleading. If necessary a qualifier like "mostly" can be added.
0Normal_Anomaly9yI like "art" better. My mental referent for "media" is the news media, though, and that's affecting my preference. If thinking of "media" as meaning "news outlets" isn't common, media could also work. Art still has an esthetic edge though.
0ahartell9yYeah, I'm just worried that they'll think of paintings and stuff when they read "art".
0Normal_Anomaly9yIf you say "literature" earlier in the sentence that shouldn't be too much of a problem. "Popular works" might be another term to consider.
2ahartell9yThat's the same conclusion I came to, so I chose "art". I use works later in the paragraph.
0NancyLebovitz9yIt's a mess because these things shift fairly quickly (I think some of them cycle in less than a generation), and there's no way to tell how old the person reading your essay is, aside from not knowing their tastes and background.
0ahartell9yI may go with "fiction". Or what about "media". I'll probably just write "fanfiction.net" so it's not too big a problem that Wikipedia is inconsistent.
0Normal_Anomaly9yAnother thing to do is, if you refer to fanfiction.net, you may want to explicitly state that it's a website. I don't know how oblivious admissions officers are, and it likely varies a lot.
0ahartell9yYeah, Lessdazed suggested that. I made the change but most of lessdazed's suggestions are so far only affecting my google docs version of essay since 1) I'm not completely sure how I want to use all of them and 2) I'm making a lot of edits pretty quickly.
0lessdazed9yI endorse this.
0ahartell9yDoes this mean I wouldn't mention Harry Potter in the first paragraph?
0lessdazed9ySorry, I meant "The new paragraph should probably have its first reference to Potter by name rather than pronoun," or "For each paragraph, the first mention of a person should not be a pronoun referring to a previous paragraph," not "The first mention of Potter by name in the essay should be in a later paragraph than the first."
0ahartell9yThis is amazing. I would definitely like to see your alternatives. I'm going to go through it step by step along side my essay in a moment.

I would recommend using the last lines to tie back into whatever you're applying for.

If it's for a college, mention how you can't wait to learn so you can change the world. If it's for an internship, mention how you'd love to get and how working there will make the world a better place. If it's for a specialist scholarship, mention how your values coincide with their mission. Etc.

Every part of an application should be designed to get you selected.

persons

person's

life;

life.

Wizarding World

wizarding world

minutes

minutes,

burning freezing spiral

something other than "burning freezing spiral"

0ahartell9yDoesn't it seem a bit over segmented with the comma after "minutes"? There are already 5 commas in the sentence. I'll substitute "burning freezing" for something else when I think of it, but I'd like to keep it as "(adjective) spiral of the Milky Way". Thanks.
4Alicorn9yYou could rewrite the sentence to have not so many commas. Like, "One useful technique that I’ve picked up for emulating this indomitability is to, when faced with a problem, really think about it for a solid five minutes before writing it off as too difficult." But as you wrote it adding that comma was the smallest change to make it look non-wrong to me.
0ahartell9yI'll use the quoted text. I think it flows much better. What do you think of "starry," "astral," or "sidereal" in place of "burning freezing"?
1Alicorn9y"Starry" is okay, if not particularly interesting. "Astral" just makes me think of astral projection and I would have to look up "sidereal"... *looks*... that's okay, if you don't mind making your admissions person head for the dictionary.
0ahartell9yI like it but I'll have to make sure that the stars in the Milky Way actually are "sidereal" first. ETA: They are. "Stellar" and "Luminous" could work maybe. Do you have any suggestions? (not meant to be antagonistic at all)
2Alicorn9yYou could just omit the adjective. That's usually safe.
0Dorikka9yI think that I would be slightly annoyed when I had to look up a word if the person definitely knew that using the word would make me look it up.
0Desrtopa9yI already knew what it meant, and I would still be annoyed because it says to me "I was stretching for any adjective to put here."
0ahartell9yDo you think it seems any better now?
0Desrtopa9yYes. I agree with Normal_Anomaly though that the inferential distance is probably great enough for mentioning defeating death to not be a good idea.
0ahartell9yWhat about this?
1Desrtopa9yWithout more elaboration than you can put into the space of an admissions essay, I think that positing a world literally free of disease, or early deaths even as statistical aberrations, is liable to come off as naive. On the other hand, my attempts to come up with a viable substitute mostly suffer from sounding too vague, so maybe it's worth taking a gamble on a sympathetic reader, since it at least offers an opportunity to stand out. I think the take I'd use for the bolded text might be something like
0ahartell9yI'll add that to my list of considerations, but with the first line as follows: I'm going to try out the different lines on some friends (who are all "normal"), family members, and if I can gather up the courage, teachers, to see what they think about it.
0ahartell9yI changed it.

First: you're above-average for an undergraduate already. This is a good essay. My suggestions are quite picky. Most adults can't satisfy me.

You seem motivated. You should definitely ask the opinion of people who are unfamiliar with HPMoR, though. If they don't understand, I'd stick with the answer you believe in, but you should be able to figure out what context you need to provide so that you'll be understood by your average seen-a-few-HP-movies adult.

The website fanfiction.net is a questionably legal slum of derivative literature, mostly populated by

... (read more)
[-][anonymous]9y 6

Where are you submitting this to? Be aware that your essay may be run through Turnitin or some other anti-plagiarism software, which may discover this post.

3ahartell9yA few colleges. I thought about that. I was thinking maybe if they saw this they would notice the similarity between my name and the account name shown here but I may just delete the post after people stop commenting. Edit: It says on the wikipedia page that "It scans its own databases, and also has licensing agreements with large academic proprietary databases." Do you think this would include lesswrong.com?
6Paul Crowley9yPlease don't delete the post. If you think you need to, remove the text of the essay while it's being marked, and put it back once you get the result.

I'm not quite sure, but that very last paragraph might sound rather odd for someone who is not a transhumanist. You may want to make it suitable for "normal" people as well.

1ahartell9yI thought about that but I'm not sure I'd still be able to get the point across. They say they're looking for intellectually diverse applicants though, and probably people with the intent to eventually do something important. I'll think about other variations though.
0Vladimir_Nesov9ySeeing your vocation as "not important enough", and so not making much of an effort to do a good job (while also not doing anything better) is a common failure mode (in employer's eyes at least).
0ahartell9yDoes it seem like I'm seeing my expected vocation as "not important enough"? That wasn't my intention at all.
1Vladimir_Nesov9yI expect exceedingly grandiose dreams can be interpreted that way.
0ahartell9yDo you think that the admissions officers will view it in the same way? Would the suggested change be to get rid of the last paragraph? Because I quite like it.
6Normal_Anomaly9yI like this essay, but I agree that it needs to be made "tamer" for non-transhumanists. I think it can be made safer with little loss of poetry by changing: to Extrasolar colonies are an acceptable idealistic dream; extragalactic anything is too "out there." Also, the sentence mentioning the defeat of death, while a good thing in my eyes, is probably not in your interest here. Mentioning the end of poverty or war or hatred or disease or some other subset of suffering is both less grandiose and at a shorter inferential distance than mentioning the end of death.
1ahartell9yGreat point about the Milky Way part; I changed it. I'm not sure about the death part though. It might be weird to say that it took a fanfiction to convince me that it would be nice if there were fewer diseases out there. I'll try to think of something that I like. I don't mind sounding a bit weird (because aren't we?) but you guys are right and it would definitely be a bad idea to alienate every normal person who reads this. P.S. Does it sound like I'm saying that I personally hope to achieve these things? I only meant to convey that I would try to play some (small) part in working towards them.
1Normal_Anomaly9yI wasn't thinking "it would be nice if there were fewer diseases out there" so much as "we don't have to accept disease as a fact of life, we can fight it and win." More about how goal X is possible than that it's desirable. You can write about something being desirable if you want, but I think explaining it as a new belief/way of seeing things is a better bet. My intuition is that generally it's easier to plausibly convey a novel belief than a novel preference. A bit of Cognitive Science to back this up: people instinctively believe novel factual statements [http://lesswrong.com/lw/k4/do_we_believe_everything_were_told/]. I don't know of any evidence that they instinctively adopt novel statements of preferences.
3ahartell9yI might implement something like this but make it slightly broader to include early deaths in general. Others have pointed out that it would benefit from being more specific though and I probably won't go into medicine. I'm more interested in something either space related or having to do with intelligence enhancement. ETA: How about I think that works but it's kind of a lot of clauses starting with "that," which as far as I know is incorrect. I think it worked stylistically before though. How about now?
0shokwave9yYep, it works.
0NancyLebovitz9yI think it's stronger without the 'that's, but I don't know whether my reaction is common.
0shokwave9yPotential ambiguity: do you mean stronger as in better, or stronger as in more forceful? I agree on the second interpretation, and I think for an admissions essay being forceful about transhumanist beliefs might not signal high status.
0ahartell9yI changed it a while back so I'm not sure this still applies. Do you think its current state to too strongly transhumanist?
0NancyLebovitz9yI forgot it was an admission essay, so I was suggesting what I think is better, clearer prose. I don't have the foggiest whether blunting the message a little would work better in an admission essay. I don't think the strong version is so transhumanist as to put people off-- it's not talking about extending lifespans or modifying people away from the usual. On the other hand, I've been reading science fiction and hanging out with weirdos for so long that my judgement might be suspect. My impression is that what works in admission essays changes from year to year. If word gets out that something works, then it may well go out of fashion just because admissions people don't want to feel as though they're being gamed.
0ahartell9yI already blunted the message a bit. What do you think of Do you still think it would be better without the "that"s?
2NancyLebovitz9yI think the "that"s work (or at least taking them out makes for a much smaller improvement), but what do you think of
0Vladimir_Nesov9yI know too little of the process you are submitting this to, it's just a consideration that I think you should be aware of.

Man, I can't stop thinking "Human James Papilloma Evans Virus."

6pedanterrific9yMe, I always think "Harry James Potter Extrapolated Volition" which, come to think of it, might actually be true.
0Alex_Altair9yWhen I saw the title, I couldn't really figure it out. My best guess went something like, "...Human....something...Preferece Extrapolated Volition?" My guess is that this post would be read more if it simply said "[Help] Critique my Admissions Essay on HPMoR".
1ahartell9yI think so too.

Yudkowsky’s iteration of The Boy Who Lived

"Iteration" is pretentious in this context (and it means "repetition", so even to be correct it requires the reader to already understand that HP has been "done" numerous times -- something which is perhaps implicit in your first paragraph but certainly not emphasized enough to make this usage appropriate) ; replace with "version".

But now I know; I’m going to be a scientist

Replace the semicolon here with a (more forceful) colon.

Fanfiction.net is the legally gray slum of literature, overpopulated with mostly bad Alternate Universe versions of popular novels. Unexpectedly, it hosts a few stories capable of truly impacting a person's life.

Too abrupt. You need another sentence:

Fanfiction.net is the legally gray slum of literature, overpopulated with mostly bad Alternate Universe versions of popular novels. As would be expected, it hosts few stories capable of truly impacting a person's life. Nevertheless, the site does contain a small number of works in this elite category [or r

... (read more)
4Normal_Anomaly9yThis! I'm applying to college this year, and I hate admissions essays. They're designed to reward signaling at the expense of substance even more than most things are. The admissions officers have no reason to believe that what I say is coming from my real personality, whether it is or not. I cringed while writing my own essays, and I know that my writing is worse quality when I don't feel like I can communicate anything.
3Paul Crowley9yI've never heard of this "admissions essay" ritual before. Having just Googled for some sample essays, I agree that cringeworthiness is pretty much unavoidable and this essay does as well as can be hoped for on that score. I wonder if there's some way of making the ambition of the last section seem less crazy to a non-transhumanist by quoting Carl Sagan: "The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars".
2[anonymous]9yThis, this, a thousand times this. Admissions essays were the most nail-bitingly painful thing I have ever written, and they always came out poorly written in addition to being substanceless drivel. Eventually I just gritted my teeth, wrote them, and then sent them off without worrying as much about quality as I normally would. I'm very happy the process is over. In any case, best of luck with your admissions essays, Normal_Anomaly.
0NancyLebovitz9yI've heard complaints for years about using "impact" as a verb, but this is the first time seeing it has bothered me. Perhaps this is because the essay is heading into a picky environment.
0pedanterrific9yReally? That's a new one on me. On the other hand, I've frequently heard (and made) complaints about using "impactful" as an adjective - where 'that event had a big emotional impact on me' becomes 'that event was very impactful'.
1NancyLebovitz9yhttp://www.thefreedictionary.com/impact [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/impact] I suspect that there was never anything wrong with using impact as a verb, but a rule appeared out of nowhere as a matter of status enforcement.
1ahartell9yApparently the problem lies in using "impact" without the "on". As in "it really impacted me". Dictionary.com says that, though new, this usage is allowed in formal writing.
0pedanterrific9yHuh. Today I learned something new!
1ahartell9y(By the way, you never responded to my comment about astrophysics. I was hoping for either a "sorry, kid but that's not how it works" or an "oh ok, that makes sense".)
2pedanterrific9yOh, that was just a terminology confusion - to me, what 'astrophysics' brings immediately to mind is 'something kids think is cool' + 'writing obscure theoretical math and wrangling for telescope time all day'. I mean, if obscure theoretical math is your thing then more power to ya, but it seems likely that the set 'people who think astrophysics sounds awesome' is much larger than the set 'people who think astrophysics is actually awesome'. But you went on to clarify you meant something like aerospace engineering, which - while it actually is rocket science - is perhaps ironically a lot less pie-in-the-sky than I was fearing. TL;DR : Oh ok, that makes sense. (And I am nowhere near old enough to call you 'kid'.)
0ahartell9yIs this really a problem? I can keep it as "affecting" but I liked it much better before.
0NancyLebovitz9yProbably not really a problem, since no one has voted my comment up.
0ahartell9yIt's pretty depressing to hear this is cringe-worthy but thanks :). Do you think the addition of "however" is enough? I think you're right about the abruptness and it seems to me like that really helps.
3Normal_Anomaly9yAs a piece of writing, it fulfills the purpose for which it was intended. However, that purpose is a necessary evil. Please don't take it personally.
[-][anonymous]9y 3

This essay reminds me of several other pieces of writing I've read by LessWrong users. Specifically, it has a certain flavor of "trying-to-retell-something-written-by-Eliezer". Bits of your essay are written in your own style of writing, and bits of it are unquestionably in someone else's style. That other style is very distinctive and nonstandard, and I find it very very jarring when it's not used consistently.

I don't know if I'm more sensitive to this issue because I've read the source material. If so, it might not matter for an admissions essay (and otherwise, I have no major criticisms).

I like it up until the last paragraph, where it feels too grandiose and vague to me. Yes, spreading across the galaxy and ending death are specific things, but what do YOU personally expect to accomplish?. I like the rest of it because it's talking about highly specific, actionable things you have done.

1ahartell9yI'm vaguely in the process of thinking of a way to make it more specific and less crazy. Unfortunately though, I'm a bit like Tracey Davis: quite ambitious, but not completely sure of an ambition.
0pedanterrific9yFor a second I thought you were going to say (Also, bear in mind that Tracey Davis is eleven.)
0ahartell9yHaha. But I don't think it's THAT uncommon to be unsure of what you want to do as you enter college.
9komponisto9y(Warning: this comment contains an uncharacteristically high level of cynicism.) This is one of those areas where the propaganda is false. Roughly speaking, society actually expects you to decide what you want to do as soon as possible, and do it, without wasting any time. (I suppose this is actually an improvement over previous eras, in that you actually get to make the decision yourself, rather than it having been determined by the circumstances of your birth.) You'll hear a lot of propaganda to the contrary, and all kinds of fuzzy anecdotes from high-status people about how they took forever to decide; perhaps an apparently successful 45-year-old will say at a dinner party that they are "still trying to figure out what [they] want to be when [they] grow up", and everyone will politely chuckle. Don't believe a word of it. It's either false modesty, or else the person doesn't have as much status as you think, and the chucklers are actually contemptuous. Another myth is that your 20s don't count, and you can write off that period as your "youth". That may have been true for George W. Bush, but it isn't true for you. In general, do not believe any claim to the effect that you have "plenty of time". The truth is that you can go from precocious to remedial in a subjective instant. The slightest snooze will turn you into Rip Van Winkle. One moment, you will hear (for example) "oh, don't worry, grad school is a long way off"; and then suddenly, a moment later, it will be "you know, you've been in grad school for quite a while now...". (Or whatever the corresponding equivalent is for paths not involving grad school.) It isn't just society that does this to us; it's nature itself. Death will no doubt come as quickly as grad school (unless we do something about it). When old people speak implausibly about how the 1950s were like yesterday, or people who knew you as a child condescendingly remark on how fast you have grown up, they may not just be trying to bolster the
1pedanterrific9yPretty much what he said. Also: even if you really don't know what you're going to do, pretend otherwise. It's okay- in fact downright expected- for undergrads to change their mind and switch majors, but there's a definite stigma attached to being 'Undecided'. Pick something that sounds interesting as a major- flip a coin if you have to- and verbally, publicly commit to it, for at least one semester. Confidence and decisiveness are not unattractive qualities, to admissions officers or anyone else.
0ahartell9yDo you think it would be unsafe to claim interest in intelligence enhancement? I'm very interested in either working on that or something space related like astrophysics.
0pedanterrific9yNo, that should be fine, but I think it might help at this stage to get a little more general: when you say "intelligence enhancement" are you thinking psychology, neurology, programming, education, some combination of the above...? The universities you're applying to should have a list of the majors they offer, it might behoove you to pick the closest match to your interests and tailor your approach accordingly. Edit: "something space related like astrophysics" ... okay, I feel I have to ask the obvious question: what do you imagine the career a degree in astrophysics will get you is going to be like? Just in general.
0ahartell9yWell ideally I'd leave school with a degree in aerospace engineering and work for NASA or SpaceX or something.
3AdeleneDawner9yIt may just be me, but this seems to not actually answer the question. Assume for a moment that you do get an aerospace degree and work for one of the companies you're thinking of. Furthermore, imagine having been there a while - long enough to get the hang of things and see what your career prospects are for the future. In that situation, what could make you say "this was not at all what I thought this job would be like, and if I'd known it was like this I would have done something else"? What could make you say "this is exactly what I signed up for and I'm glad I chose it"?
0ahartell9yThat's more difficult. His question did say "in general" though. I would have to think about this more but off the top of my head I would regret the decision if I ended up spending the majority of my time on funding related issues. I also think I would enjoy it more if I had a fair number of people working on similar problems alongside me. I'm not sure I can predict either of these things though. Additionally, I probably wouldn't enjoy myself if it were either very above or very below my ability level, which I don't anticipate. One problem is that, so far, I've never really not enjoyed anything school work related. I've been annoyed by work loads but there aren't any classes I regret taking. This makes it hard for me to think of intellectually stimulating tasks that I would regret undertaking.

"going to be scientist" -> "going to be a scientist"

2ahartell9yDuh, I can't believe I missed that. Thank you.
2pedanterrific9yWhy in the world was this downvoted? Honestly, some people. Upvoted for having precisely the correct attitude.
0gwern9yI would point out that that typo and a number of others were fixed in the version I sent you.
2ahartell9yI noticed that afterward. I didn't want to use all of your changes and didn't notice that typo fix since I read my version in my head as if the typos weren't present.

I won't say anything about the nitpicky details, you've gotten a lot of good feedback on that already.

Just wanted to chime in and say I love that you're doing your admissions essay on MoR and I think the overall tone is great. Good luck buddy!

I'm realizing how bad I am at modelling a college admissions person. I really have no idea. While many people here may have a more accurate idea of mainstream people than I do, it doesn't sound as though anyone commenting knows a tremendous amount about what the actual practice is likely to be.

Is there any way of getting better information?

0ahartell9yThere are other sites that focus solely on the college admissions process. Perhaps I'll test it out there when I reach a product I'm happy with. They'll probably have better information and will be a good example of how "normal" people react to this kind of thing.

One more nitpick - "help guide me" should be just "guide me". The first version implies three agents - one doing the helping, one doing the guiding, and the one whose future is being discussed. There are only two agents really - HJPEV and you.

If "guide me" is too strong a term and you added in "help" to mitigate that, consider alternatives that suggest weaker agency - "show me a possible future" for instance.

0ahartell9yYeah, I didn't want to give him too much credit. Do you think it would be better to though? Edit: I'll just change it to guide. That's not too strong a word I don't think.

Overall I like this a lot. One nitpick:

Replace "indomitability" with "perseverance". First, "indomitability" is just too ugly. Especially if you went out of your way to use that word to avoid repeating "perseverance" twice in rapid succession, go back to your first inclination. There's nothing wrong with repetition, there's a lot wrong with using words that make your writing overwrought.

5Alicorn9yOpinions differ. I probably would've complained if I'd seen "perseverance" twice. Thesauruses are useful if one can't come up with a good alternate word off the top of one's head.
7Morendil9yWhat would your complaint be? Imagine the following: How can this be any clearer? The second sentence refers back to a concept introduced in the first, and uses the same word. Perfect transparency. Reaching for one's thesaurus in an attempt at stylistic embellishment will only do damage to the meaning. Meaning should always trump style. If you really needed a different word because you had a slightly different nuance of meaning in mind, that was also the word you wanted in the first sentence!
2shokwave9yAs long as you say "this", it works.
1komponisto9yIt is interesting that you in particular would say this, because I've heard that repeating a word is greatly frowned upon in French. (Ted Stanger, an American journalist who writes books in France, recounted how he was taught this by his editor, who apparently told him: "il faut trouver des synonymes".)
2Morendil9yYes, that's what I was taught. And like many such "rules" it's often wrong, or at least with a great deal of exceptions and corner cases. I have very little time for editors who do their job with a checklist rather than with an eye, ear and mind for what will communicate most clearly. (Disclaimer: my lifetime income from paid writing is a piddling sum, only a few thousand bucks. And [http://bit.ly/o45zTs], an iPad [http://www.financialagile.com/reflections/9-general/101-financial-agiles-first-essay-competition] .).
0[anonymous]9yI actually chose it because Harry mentions his dark side's "indomitability" at some point. How does tenacity sound though (or determination)?
1ahartell9yI actually chose it because Harry mentions his dark side's "indomitability" at some point. How does tenacity sound though (or determination)?
0pedanterrific9yI remember what you're talking about. I think it's during the Azkaban arc- there's some wordplay about how warm!Harry is feeling particularly "domitable" right then, or something along those lines. I would go with 'determination' myself, but frankly if you're going to say 'sidereal' you may as well go ahead and use 'indomitable'. (And who knows, the admissions officer might be an Exalted fan.) Edit: You know, there's probably a way to rework the sentence so 'conscientiousness' fits in there.
0ahartell9yI may switch out "sidereal" for "huge, luminous" but I wanted to get rid of "burning freezing." I'm getting rid of indomitability.