October 14, 2014

KIM | Finding a Fair Formula

Print More


Having a younger sibling means that you will eventually be confronted with the task to proofread his or her essays for college admission. And with this task comes the inevitable introspection process that ensues from revisiting your own Common App essays.

Mind you, as a senior, I’ve already been doing my fair share of introspection (mostly in the form of writing resumes). But confronting your 16-year-old self opens a whole ’nother can of worms. Here’s an excerpt from my essay for admission in 2010:

“We will never know what greatness could have emerged from the group of people left behind. But I want to know.”

Besides the fact that I was clearly vulnerable to the overly dramatic style of writing that many teenagers like to write their juvenile prose in (too much Shakespeare and Tumblr reblogs of inspirational quotes with sunset backgrounds can do that to you), I have found comfort in the fact that one sentence still resonates with myself almost five years later, that is, my interest in history, specifically that of film and literature.

But that’s it: only one sentence in an essay with a 2,000 character limit. And I can’t disregard the lengthy context in which this singular sentence finds itself. With the help of many marketable metaphors, my 16-year-old self continues to write about how life-changing Event A and Event B led her to her intention to enter law school upon graduating from college. In fact, 16-year-old Teresa insists that there is no other way for her to accomplish Life Goal No. 1 if she did not go to law school.

I wonder if 16-year-old me knew how strong the winds of fate could be, landing me in the comparative literature and film departments at Cornell and how completely content I would be in these departments, well on my way to not going to law school.

And of all the places on campus, I write this column in the newly constructed wing of Cornell Law School while watching prospective students and their families traverse the courtyard with looks of awe and confusion. The campus itself is dripping with history. Murals and ivy adorn the walls at every corner. And above me stands a portrait of a well-suited, white male I know absolutely nothing about, besides the probable fact that he financially endowed the school generously enough to be able to hold a portrait in Myron Taylor Hall.

I wonder if he knew that the Law School would add a stylish, glass exterior to the school’s brick foundation all these years later. I wonder if he knew that a female president would one day preside over the school. I wonder if the future he envisioned extended beyond the next five years. Because mine certainly didn’t.

So with this, I write a letter to my little brother:

Dear B,

I’m inclined to make this letter a woeful description of today’s admission process. But I won’t. The topic of college admission reformation is exhausted and you would do better to heed some practical advice.

The nature of the admission process remains the same as it was for me four years back (and it doesn’t seem like it will change much in the future). They want you to sound like a hot commodity and be slick while you do it. Committees — although they popularizing the idea that they don’t — still prioritize numerical stats over other pieces of personal data in your application. But it seems like you’ve got your numbers down, so now it’s time to write your essays.

Like your application, your essays should make you look like a shiny gem that your potential school would want to collect. Yes, the process very much makes you feel belittled and will be one of the few instances in your life when you will be objectified as a male. But more on that later (if you aren’t already tired of my gender rants at home).

While writing your essay, think twice about how you envision yourself to be in the future. When I was writing my essays, I made myself to believe that I was a ruthlessly acquiescent to recognized modes of success (MBA, medical school, law school, etc.) and ignorant to other forms of success — that is, finding friends you can shamelessly watch reality bridal shows with or making a perfect latte.

The whole admission process forces you to take on a personality that is determinedly rigid to win. And sadly, this is the same mindset that most students enter university with. Even more so for Ivy League students.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing who you are on paper. Yes, sell yourself. But you don’t have to tire over trying to make yourself matter in a sea of thousands of applicants. Even if it isn’t to the the folks at Cambridge, you already matter without condensing yourself into an Ivy league admission formula. So adhere to the formula — but don’t believe in it.

Your overly dramatic sister,


Teresa Kim is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her Meneutics appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.