Angela Allen

Changing my mind the day after high school

This is a sample of a well-written college entry essay. At the end of the essay, look at why it’s good. The college asked the student to write about:

If you’re not a musician, what will you be in 10 years?

So this is what he wrote:

To tell the truth, I don’t know what I’ll be doing 10 years from now. This feels strange to say.

From the time I was 13 until this past summer, I was sure that I would become a professional jazz guitarist. I was prepared to devote my life to the priesthood of jazz.

Last spring, I was enrolled in a jazz conservatory, deposits down, when I realized that I didn’t want to make that commitment. In the end, or before school started, I decided not to attend the school in New York City, the center of the jazz world, the place I’d dreamed of living and performing.

Of course, I wanted to continue playing guitar, but I also wanted to do something that engaged other parts of my mind.

I can still imagine myself performing, composing or arranging music for a living. I am already somewhat of a professional musician. I play in clubs and restaurants around Portland with small groups, and this spring, I wrote a score for a short movie for a Hollywood writer/director, who has had films produced for the silver screen.

I enjoy doing these things, but I rarely earn more than $50 a week. Other family members have faced difficulty making money in the music business. My cousin was dropped by a record label soon after signing a promising deal. He continues to travel to small nightclubs around the country with his wife and his van. Based on practical considerations alone, it makes sense to consider other careers.

Fortunately, I have other interests. I genuinely want to study politics, history, writing and Spanish, as well as jazz.

Partly because of the 2008 presidential election, I’ve become enthusiastic about politics. Listening to Obama and McCain debate pushed me to think about such ideas as foreign intervention and civil liberties.

At times, I become so passionate about politics that I think about entering public service later in life. I usually abandon this idea when I realize I would have to give up a lot of what I believe in, including being an honest person and not sucking up to money and power. I need to learn much more about politics, government and history in order to form sophisticated political opinions, and I would like to do so in college.

I would also like to use my education to become fluent in Spanish. Through travels to South America and Latin America, as well as studying high school Spanish and watching Mexican soap operas, I speak well enough to hold a conversation. Occasionally, though, I fall back on hand gestures. On a recent trip to Mexico, I learned that pantomiming the phrase, “wrestling match,” is embarrassing. Not only to avoid these situations, but also as a tool in whichever profession I choose, developing an intellectual Spanish vocabulary will be invaluable.

Who knows where my interests will lead me? I have only a vague idea of what kind of job I would like to have. Possibly, the most important part of my education will be to direct me towards a career.

In the meantime, I’d like to go to a school where I can pursue all of my interests at the highest level. College XXXX would be the perfect place to do this.

Good things about this essay:

  1. Writer took a commonplace subject — changing one’s dreams – and outlined how he is creating new dreams as a more mature person.
  2. He uses a nice, easily paced, conversational tone. Pretentiousness can turn off college-admissions people.
  3. His thesis is carried out and the essay was well organized. It proceeds from the question of career to music to politics to Spanish and back to career.
  4. The writing is fairly tight, without an excess of adverbs and adjectives. Always think about strong nouns and verbs.
  5. Humor is sprinkled throughout, but there’s not an overdose.
  6. Writer shows an open mind about learning, and colleges love that.
  7. He toots his horn, but not too loudly. This student is a music pro, but he doesn’t dwell on that. He wants to become better educated. AND that’s what colleges like to hear.
  8. No grammatical or spelling errors.