Writing an Admissions Essay

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Writing an Admissions Essay

The process of writing—and writing admissions essays in particular—invites a consciously-constructed performance of the self. What I mean by this is that a text—any text—inevitably conveys some persona; and when that text is known as an autobiography or representation of the self, the persona of the text is under even more scrutiny.

Andy Warhol, with whom we could never be sure of where the performance ended and where the self started, once said, “When I did my self-portrait, I left all the pimples out because you always should. . . . Always omit the blemishes—they’re not part of the good picture you want.” *

This statement has relevance for any act of self-representation, including admissions essays. Because the essay is an acknowledged representation of the self, the student tries to omit “blemishes” or whatever material she thinks will make her unattractive to the school. She consciously tries to frame her essay so that it will project the particular kind of persona she thinks the admissions officers want to see. However much they tell you, “Just be yourself,” that’s hardly possible when so much rides on how that self is presented. Even more challenging than the decision of how to frame this self-portrait is the anxiety-producing task of choosing a topic. For example, in a recent New York Times article, a student lamented the fact that no one had died in her family thus leaving her without anything moving to write about. Admissions essays are an unusual and peculiar exercise, one in which we know the student performs.

But the school is performing, too. The University, in particular, is known for its quirky and surprising essay questions. This quirkiness itself is a performance of a kind that seeks to attract a certain type of student, perhaps the creative or quirky.

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"Writing an Admissions Essay." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Jun 2018
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The University also consciously constructs its presentation just as the applicants do. Because the very process of admissions is set up as an interaction of performances, it is at least a bit suspect when admissions essays are measured using words like “genuineness” and “authenticity.”

*Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1988), 62.

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