College application season is finally over — a sweet relief for Oli’s talented seniors. In honor of their hard work, we’re highlighting a few of their creative and insightful admissions essays.
The best college application essays do more than rehash resumes; they help admissions officers understand students as real people who overcome real challenges. At Oliverian, we encourage our students to engage with the difficult work of finding balance in their personal and academic lives — something easier said than done! For her college application essay, this Oli frames that pursuit of moderation around an exhilarating evening of painting, allowing admissions officers a peek into her artistic, academic and personal development.
“Beyond the window is a silhouette of two palm trees backlit by a pale cobalt blue and a city of thirty million people and two million motorized vehicles at rest. I haven’t eaten or placed my paintbrush down in the last twenty four hours; I am too immersed to feel tired, hungry and thirsty. In front of me is a woman made of scraped impasto red, white and blue acrylic. She is looking down with a pensive expression. This is the second woman I have painted tonight, she is rougher and more intense than the first. Despite the lack of sleep, I feel energized and in such a state of flow that I am unconscious of what I put on the canvas. The sky blushes in the sun’s warmth as I add my last stroke of red. My mother steps out of her room and scrunches her swollen face, “Did you sleep at all?” Her question is answered when she sees three five by six feet paintings and tubes sprawled on the ground. She squints and exclaims, “Hey, that red, blue and white one looks like you!” I step back and am stunned to see myself. Her blocked features simplify to mine, and her expression matches my experience in high school, one of intensity and turbulence.
I often find myself in this state of flow. It derives from both passion and an inability to accept moderation: I either run for three hours, practice calculus problems for up to twelve hours or not at all. Even my hair reflects this tendency towards extremes; ideally it would be above my ears or below my waist. The stark difference between working obsessively and being dormant resulted in a high school transcript that resembles an upward facing parabola. By the end of junior year I was stuck at the bottom of the vertex. I had fallen into a pattern of doing nothing after being exhausted by the intensity of moving schools halfway through the year three times and becoming ill towards the end of junior year. My inability to let go of perfection in these new environments – where I had double the tasks and half the time – rendered me paralyzed. Isolating in a room or hiding in a school bathroom was better than facing a C.
A balanced life is a risk I have only taken recently. I have had to prioritize what I value and what I can bear to sacrifice; by January first will I regret choosing to spend three hours reading and exercising instead of going over my calculus notes again (the only one out of the three that appears on my transcript)?
My answer to this thus far has been no. On my current to do list I have to: cover a years worth of physics in a month, stay on honors study hall, create three supplemental portfolio pieces, learn to use AutoCAD to create the blueprints of a building, complete the common app, write six essays, workout and heal from a breakup. If I was faced with this list a year ago, I would have stayed in my room panicking and procrastinating or obsessively working. I have realized that I can no longer function as the obsessed artist that loses herself in her passion. I can no longer be someone who sacrifices love, friendships, enjoyment, health and sleep for an A+ instead of an A-. I have found that a balanced life, one without the flammability of obsession, has the same capacity for creative depth. The only way to be sustainable is to find an equilibrium of passion and sanity. While writing this essay, I have found the time to dye my hair with girlfriends, sled on new fallen snow, play games of chess with teachers and old friends, and bake with my dorm mates. Now, I wear my hair slightly below my collarbone, a moderate length.”