Columbia Application: Essay A

Columbia Application: Essay A

In a short autobiographical essay, tell us about yourself. You can write about your family, your education, your talents, or your passions about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met, or work you have done that has shaped the person you have become. Our only requirements are that the essay be informative, well written, and reflective of your own voice; our only cautions are that you avoid poetry, purple prose, or writing about yourself in the third person.

A perfect score was an eight. Would I get one? Probably not. Writing was not my strongest subject in high school. I excelled more in math. There were rules and formulas, things that made sense and could be used repeatedly without fail. Writing was so subjective in my opinion, and I could never win my English teachers over with my concise, straightforward manner of writing. Time after time, their feedback was that a richer vocabulary and variations in sentence structure would boost my grades and, better yet, give me a more literary writing style. I compromised some, but eventually realized I was content writing in a tone that conveyed all necessary information without any obnoxious vocabulary or frilly descriptions.

The lackluster grades I received from my English teachers bruised my confidence. So I was ready for the Nebraska State Accountability Writing Test to prove my mediocrity yet again. All high schools juniors across the state were required to take it. Each exam would be graded by two assessors who gave a score out of four, with four being reserved for superior papers. The sum of the two grades made the highest possible score an eight.

The topic that year was “If you could invite anyone to give a speech at your high school, who would it be and why?” Knowing that this would not count for an actual grade and that my teacher was not the grader, I chose Oprah. I justified my choice by detailing her successes despite rough beginnings and hardship. I thought that her stories would inspire the student body of my middle class, suburban high school to appreciate our privilege and acknowledge that inequalities exist in American society. A few weeks after the assessment, I received my results along with the rest of the junior class. To my teachers’ and my complete surprise, I received a perfect eight, one of only a handful in the class of three hundred. My success on the writing test gave me the confidence to pursue writing, at first for personal reasons, but eventually in a more public forum.

Later in my junior year, I received a scholarship to attend the United World College Costa Rica, an international boarding school where I had classmates from more than 70 countries. To chronicle my two years in such a concentrated international environment, I kept a single handwritten journal. It covered a hodgepodge of topics: classes, friends, my waning obsession with Catholicism. Looking back, it was pretty rough writing, but it gave me the outlet to celebrate my successes and vent my frustrations that I needed at the time.

From my own private journal, I graduated to a study abroad blog in college, a medium that was all the rage among my peers. Rather than bore my readers with the standard narration of my international travels and experiences, I focused on entertaining by using humor and incorporating topics, like relationships, that many saw as taboo. I received an overwhelming amount of interest and have continued writing entries even after returning from abroad. Some of the recent topics that I have covered include my job search after graduating from college, the prevalence of HIV in Washington, DC where I live, and the dating situation for young professionals in this city. With the progression of my blog, my writing style has also evolved. I include data from research I have conducted when relevant and have explored other online platforms where I can market my work.

Almost ten years have passed since my junior year of high school when I wrote my essay for the Nebraska State Accountability Writing Test. As a typical teenager, I was insecure about many things, my writing included. Yet, with time and the confidence I have gained from that initial score of eight, I have challenged myself to explore new channels for my writing. Throughout each chapter of my life, my writing has transformed, but I like to think that it has always matured into some greater form than it was last. I think of myself in the same way: constantly evolving into a new version of myself but always remaining firmly planted in the foundation I established years ago.


-Peter Jones