Feeling alone as you swim through the terrifying waters known as the college admission process? Have no fear! We have five seniors blogging about ups, downs, and random in-betweens of their college process for the next 12 months (from June 2013 to June 2014!). Sit back, relax, and get that “OMG I totally get you, bro” feeling.

Ah, the Common App essay: the bane of many college-bound seniors’ existences. This maddening piece of writing has the potential to turn a relaxing retreat from school into a full-blown stressapalooza, making students go crazy wondering if their topics are strong enough, their word count is suitable, and their commas are all positioned perfectly. I am certainly feeling the pressure, and although I think I have some interesting ideas, I am not sure if admission committees will be impressed or simply roll their eyes at my attempts to stand out.

When faced with such a dilemma, many teachers and counselors are quick to give the same advice: “just be yourself!” Well that’s pretty difficult considering A) I don’t freaking know who I am and B) “myself” (whoever that may be) will be judged and scrutinized by a highly-esteemed panel of men and women who have the power to control my destiny (all right, I’m being a little melodramatic here, but that’s basically how I feel right now).

Even with this anxiety, I figured I should at least try to start writing my essay. At first, I thought I should write about my experience horseback riding competitively. It seemed like a good enough plan, as this is something that matters a lot to me and that I spend hours a week doing. Although I got off to a good start with this idea, the essay soon began to turn into a big “sports as a metaphor for life” cliché, which was greatly discouraging to me. So I ditched that plan and started brainstorming again. I then thought to write about how I first discovered my passion for writing. I actually managed to churn out a complete rough draft on this subject, but when I finished, it just felt kind of… eh. Nothing horribly wrong with it, but also nothing that would make an impact on someone. It felt too pandering, like I was just stating the obvious and not really expressing anything interesting about myself. I started to become distressed, wondering if I had just never done anything compelling enough to write an essay about. Even after scouring the internet for resources, nothing seemed to fix my brain block. All I could do was wait, keep thinking about the prompts, and hope that something would eventually come to me.

Finally, after weeks of hard deliberation, I had a breakthrough. I found the perfect topic. It was unique, it showed my personality and my interests, and it told a complete story. I was ecstatic, knowing that this would be the essay that I would eventually put on my applications. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, as telling this story brought its own set of problems. When I write on my own, it is exclusively in the genre of fiction. I like to create characters and bring them to life on paper. This puts me in a position of power; I have control over what my characters do and who they are. Writing about myself is different. I need to be vulnerableI need to reveal my own strengths as well as my own weaknesses. And I have to work within the confines of reality, as I cannot just create good characters traits for myself if I do not actually have those traits. For example, while working on my essay, I wrote a sentence similar to this one:

I have loved collecting Tamagotchis ever since they first became cool in elementary school.

(Note: my essay is not actually about Tamagotchis.) However, after writing the sentence, I begin to question it. “Hmm,” I wonder, “this sounds like I am sort of shallow, maybe I should change it to this:”

I have loved collecting Tamagotchis ever since I first saw one on store shelves, even before they first became popular.

It takes me a good couple of seconds before I realize, “Wait, that’s me! I didn’t do that! That is a lie!” The protagonist of my story is me, so I have to balance telling the truth about my life with narrating an effective story. This is extremely difficult for me, as well as just plain weird, because life does not usually have a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end.

Working with myself as a “character” is also hard because it forces it forces me to, like, discover stuff about myself. I need to ask myself “who am I?” “what am I about?” “what do I value?” Until I practically break down in existential dread.

Okay, maybe I’m taking this way too far. Maybe I should just shut up, finish the stupid essay, and send it off like normal people do. After all, it’s only 650 words. How hard can it be, right? …RIGHT!?!

You can get in touch with Celeste by shooting her a message on her Tumblr

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the author

Celeste Barnaby is a senior at a tiny private school in Reno, Nevada, also known as the Neon Babylon. She has committed to attend Wesleyan University and plans to major in film studies (but she's keeping an open mind). When she’s not stressing out over her schoolwork or procrastinating said work, she enjoys horseback riding, writing macabre short stories, and shopping for flannels. You can observe her attempts at humor and various television-related obsessions on her Tumblr.

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