Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)
Most of you will write one or two “core” essays for your college applications.
These essays will focus on revealing who you are and why you are unique.
But you will also write numerous supplemental (shorter) essays.
The good news is that many of these “supps” ask similar questions. So if you are smart, you will find ways to re-use parts of your answers and streamline the process.
At the same time, you also will hone, sharpen and improve your answers.
Here are some examples of typical sup questions that are looking for similar answers:
- Why do you want to go to OUR UNIVERSITY?
- Why are you a “good match” for OUR UNIVERSITY?
- What is it that you like the best about OUR UNIVERSITY?
- How will you contribute to OUR UNIVERSITY?
Basically, there are two parts to these prompts. One: Why YOU? Two: Why COLLEGE X? Your job is show how and why they fit together. Here is a short guide on how to do this:
ONE: State your main goal for your education at your target schools. To be an engineer? To get a liberal arts education? To play waterpolo? To become a filmmaker? To earn a pre-med degree? To figure out what you want to do in the future?
TWO: Now jot down some of your other goals for your college experience at your target schools:
To meet different types of students? To join activities that support your interests and hobbies?
To connect with real-world opportunities (study abroad/internships/etc.)? To enjoy the school’s traditions and programs?
THREE: Now figure out how your target school would help you meet these goals. If you are really wise, you will first take time to investigate your target schools. Start at the web site. Or recall specific facts or observations you collected during a visit. You want details.
Jot down specific examples of what features will help you meet your goals: unique programs/curricula/classes/clubs, student-teacher ratios, class sizes, accolades of professors, reasons for status among other colleges, the campus and specific facilities (classroom buildings, architecture, dorms, gathering places), the surrounding environment (big city, small college town, etc.), size of school, vibe of student body, location in country (near mountains, close to home, etc).
FOUR: Even though these supps are very short, it’s best to focus on (and start with) your main point—that is, the strongest way that College X meets your most important personal goal.
Even better, give an example of how you believe this college will meet your most important goal. Be specific. After that, you can add other examples of how this college will meet your other goals.
Whenever possible, make it personal!
Example: If you want to be an engineer, and you believe the strongest asset College X has for you is their intellectual, eclectic study body, then start with that.
You could start by describing the type of students you noticed during a college visit, and how you relate to them.
After that, include other examples, such as specific programs, activities, etc.
If your main goal is to study in a big city so you can have access to real-world opportunities, describe the urban environment during a previous visit and explain why it’s important to you.
FIVE: Once you have a list of goals and specifics about how College X would help you meet these goals, you are ready to write. The trick is to write it all out and don’t worry about the word limit.
MAIN OBJECTIVE: Explain how College X will help you meet your goals. Give specific details on both your goals and what College X offers that links to them.
Once you have all your ideas out, re-read and underline the best ideas. Now re-write it and chop out the stuff you don’t need. You want to pack in your best examples and points.
SIX: Make sure to tweak your answers to address the different questions and schools: This should be obvious, but you will use your same personal goals but provide varying examples and details depending on the school you are writing about.
For instance, if you want a college with outstanding study abroad programs, you will be as specific as possible when describing each school’s unique study abroad offerings.
A hot tip: Do not re-state the question in your answer. This takes up your precious word or character count. Launch directly into your answer.
WARNING: If you are re-using your answers and only making minor changes, you must make sure that you only talk about your target school. Re-read each supplement to triple check for any inadvertent mentions of the wrong school.
If you are so certain you are a perfect match for a school, your answer had better match perfectly!!!