What Can the Wild Things Teach Us about the College Application Essay?

Quite a bit. If you're feeling nostalgic, go ahead and watch the version of Where the Wild Things Are above, which is narrated by Maurice Sendak. If you have no time for that sort of thing, then keep reading.

Wild Thing College Application Essay Tip #1: Story = Desire + Conflict

Stories are cycles of desire and conflict. Like this:

Here's how the desire-conflict cycle plays out in Where the Wild Things Are. Max desires to act like a wild thing. This desire brings him into conflict with his mother. This conflict creates a new desire in Max: the desire to escape. Max's desire to escape brings him to where the wild things are and into conflict with said wild things. After Max wins this conflict and becomes king, he realizes a desire to return home to where someone loves him best of all. And the story ends with the fulfillment of Max's last desire.

If you're trying to think about how to make your story more exciting, first think about desire. As Kurt Vonnegut observed, "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." Then think about conflict arising out of that desire.

Wild Thing College Application Essay Tip #2: Story = Home + Away

Stories are also journeys from home to away to back home. Like this:

Here's the home-away cycle in Where the Wild Things Are. Max starts the story at home. He ventures away across his private ocean (must be nice). He fights with some wild things, becomes king, and then realizes it isn't as great as he expected. Then he comes back home. Lots of stories follow this home-away pattern. Lord of the Rings comes to mind, and I'm sure you can think of many more. As you figure out the setting for your story, think about the home-away cycle.

Good luck writing!


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.