Unsolicited Advice and Other Stuff

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a high school student in possession of a desired college must be in want of an admissions essay.


The thing about shameless self promotion is that it is always easier to promote something one knows well. Not just ‘know’ in the ‘this is an eighteen year old human’ kind of way, anyone could have said that. The thoughts and experiences that sum up the greater whole of I cannot be reduced to 7 words.


As any H2 Economics student worth their salt knows, rare things are worth more. When I was eighteen, my life thus far had been devoid of spice, lacking extraordinary achievement and crippling set-backs in equal measure. The greatest tragedy I had faced was how much of a boring individual I was. Eighteen-year-old me was bread-and-butter without even the saving grace of kaya.


I was probably a good example of the kind of applicant colleges receive for a dime a dozen. Something in me rebelled at that thought though because no one cares for well-rounded mediocrity. That my assumptions were all wrong only crossed my mind by chance – of course I am an extraordinary homo sapien. I am the main character in the two-page autobiography of me and like all good literature, the protagonist is complex and fascinating and thoughtful.


Some people are lucky enough to have taken the path less travelled by so that what they do reflects who they are. (No matter if you were born into it, thrust onto it or achieved it, write about the road not taken if that person is you.) I was not brave enough to undertake such an enterprise, but I slowly came to realise that there is more to me than the things I do. We are each a perspective and a unique outlook on the world, not a checklist of the Singaporean school experience. The admissions essay was not just about story-telling (my own story would have been singularly unspectacular), it was about who we are and the road that got us here.


In the manner of a child who read too many novels and not enough textbooks, I believe that there are repeating themes in life, things that stand out again and again and again (most people call it their passion). The stories I wanted to tell, no matter how mundane, were important to me for a reason. If I could put that reason into words, it would become an instance of what made me different.


If there was one thing that helped, it was to keep writing. This is probably the result of an obstinate impulsivity and a chronic inability to plan anything in detail, which is why I started soliloquising about pink school uniforms with no moral-of-the-story in sight. Memories have a way of leading to one another though, so the ending of the essay eventually came unbidden – it was never about colour or my early childhood education, it was about feminism in my life.


Like I said at the start of this long ramble, it is difficult to write about something one does not know well. For all that I wanted to be special, I did not really look different even to myself. Writing an admissions essay requires self-understanding to be less ordinary (maybe even extraordinary) and it helps to impress yourself first.


If I have one advice to give, it will be this: Say yes to anything, dare to try everything once (this comes with disclaimers a mile long, there is no need to be reckless). Food fights with monkeys? Sure thing. Make bows and arrows out of twigs? Why not. Climb onto seven storey rooftops for stargazing? Say yes because even if there are no railings to catch a fall and a responsible adult could get you into trouble any moment, these are the everyday moments that become once in a lifetime (and even if not for the essay, do it for yourself.)

Grace Guo

Grace is a second year student at Carnegie Mellon University who spends her time fretting over her houseplants: Francis II and Francis III.

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