Admissions Essay Help?

by OnTheOtherHandle2 min read1st Aug 201235 comments


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I need help writing a college application essay that will maximize my chances of getting into a school that the world considers prestigious. (17 years old, preparing to enter 12th grade at a central California high school as of this writing.)

Throughout high school, I resisted being over-scheduled, and basically eschewed all extracurricular activities in favor of having time to think and read. Even when my parents pushed me into things like tennis, dance, or debate clubs (ugh), I was secure in the belief that I could forgo them and rely on my grades and test scores to get me into a college that was good enough to earn a useful engineering degree and find a few interesting friends. (I was right.)

However, my priorities have changed, and I’m starting to really value the extra leverage prestige can bring me. I plan to start a Less Wrong/80,000 Hours club at whatever university I end up attending. I would have access to more intelligent, interested people at Stanford than at, say, UC Irvine. Perhaps more importantly, the club itself would have a better standing in the outside world if it were founded in Stanford. (This in addition to the fact that Stanford already has a world-class Decisions and Ethics Center that may be able to help.)

This is not to say I now regret not being an officer in a dozen useless clubs or participating in endless extracurricular activities. I do, however, regret not doing at least one really impressive, externally-verifiable thing like writing a book. Nothing in my life would make someone say, “Wow, how the hell did she do that?” If admissions officers could scan my brain, they would find a lot that would make them say, “How the hell could she think that?” – but not much of it would be positive.

So my question is, how do I write a personal statement essay, 250-500 words, that will leave an impression in an admissions officer’s mind, without lying or plagiarizing, given that my adolescence was spent thinking and reading, not *doing*? Each university then has 2-4 follow-up prompts (<= 250 words), such as these from Stanford:

  1. Stanford students possess intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. What would you want your future roommate to know about you? Tell us something about you that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. What matters to you, and why?

The problem with answering these is that all of my *best* answers for these questions (“Newcomblike problems,” “Hey, do you want to join this rationality club I want to start?”, and “optimal philanthropy,” respectively) would take way more than 250 words to explain.

The focus on Stanford, by the way, is because my parents would be extremely unwilling to send me to a university on the East Coast, even if it were really prestigious. But feel free to give me general advice or advice specific to another university. :) If it actually happens, I'll be in a better position to convince them.

May Be Relevant:

I once tutored a girl in Algebra 1 over a period of three months, bringing her grades up from a D to a B. She stopped needing help and I didn’t go looking for another tutee.

I completed NaNoWriMo my freshman year – yeah, it was pretty bad.

I’ve been writing a daily essay on 750 words since December 2010, and have written over 518,000 words in 562 days – writing something 98% of the time, and completing my words 95% of the time. (Although a lot of the missed days were due to glitches in the early website eating my words.)

I entered the Science Fair with a couple friends, hated it because it crushed the spirit of curious inquiry under a predetermined experimental procedure with a predetermined result, and unsurprisingly didn’t win – although we got a certificate from the US Army.

I joined a community service club, hated it because we were just unpaid labor for rich people who didn’t need much help, but stayed anyway because my friends were in it.

General SAT: Reading and Writing scores slightly above the median for most prestigious universities, Math score slightly below. 800's on SAT Math II (Pre-calculus), SAT Biology Molecular, and SAT US History.

5's on AP Calculus AB, AP English Language, and other, less relevant AP's. Five AP classes so far taken, received A's, planning to take 6 more next year.

High probability of a good letter of recommendation from APUSH and Calculus teachers.

Thank you!

Edit: Fixed the hyperlink formatting.

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