My dad's favorite day of the year is bulky trash day, the one Saturday morning each May the garbage trucks haul away over-sized items from the curb.

Bulky trash day, however, is but one weapon at his disposal in his war against garage clutter. Now I suspect he has enlisted a more fearful one yet: my mom.

I don't blame my dad. For years, he has been telling me, "So, JP, I have some of your boxes of old stuff. Would you like to take them?" And for years, I have been telling him, "Sure, Dad, but I don't have the SUV today" or whatever other plausible excuse I could invent.

So long as my sisters still have boxes in the garage, I am not the sole obstacle between my dad and his dream of un-clutter, and I figure my stuff is not in danger. This strategy has worked well since I graduated from Stanford. In 2001. My parents are endlessly patient. I really should go pick up those boxes.

A week ago, my mom induced me to accept one of the boxes by teasing the contents: "I found your old college applications." Great! I wanted to see the essays I wrote. I wasn't expecting much, which is fortunate, because, as you will see from UC essay, I didn't offer much. Though I couldn't find the prompt, I infer it was something like "What qualities and accomplishments do you have to offer?"

UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley

I hope two things happen when you read this essay. First, I hope you don't think any less of UC Berkeley. Back in the day, and luckily for me, admission there was based on a GPA/SAT formula. Essays didn't matter as much in the waning years of the last millenium.

Second, I hope you become convinced that an English essay is a poor template for an application essay. You can see the structure I used: intro paragraph with thesis, body paragraphs with transitions (first, second, third, fourth), and conclusion paragraph. It's clear but dull. Don't do it - there are better ways.

When you write an application essay, your predicament is not unlike that of parents trying to hand off boxes of old stuff to their kids. The recipient knows the contents are probably junk and is rightfully skeptical. Enticement is required. Creating anticipation is the whole purpose of the Organization and Paragraph sections of my ebook, The Essaywise Pyramid. If you understand the elements that make a story a story, and if you understand how an application essay paragraph differs from an English essay paragraph, then you might manage to make your reader to accept your essay with excitement, not dread.

In the meantime, I hope you  enjoy the horror. I did.


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.