Last time a batch of college admissions essays leaked online, from Columbia University, everyone was embarrassed, mostly because they were forced to remember their own adolescent humblebrags disguised as thesaurus-fueled philosophizing. But it’s hard to feel bad for Kwasi Enin, the 17-year-old Long Island student who was accepted to every Ivy League school, and whose own essay is now public, thanks to the New York Post. It is very much a college essay — flowery language, Big Ideas, lessons learned — but it also worked.
Enin writes about his love of music — he plays violin, bass, and has a good voice, too — stretching the refined extracurricular into a story about leadership, community, and bringing joy to the world by singing and dancing in a production of Guys and Dolls. “Music has become the spark of my intellectual curiosity,” he writes. “I directly developed my capacity to think creatively around problems due to the infinite possibilities in music.” (Don’t be jealous.)
“The self-guided journey known as music in my life excites my mind every day,” Enin concludes neatly in his fifth paragraph. “My heart sings every day because the journey is already wonderful.” It’s well organized (by the numbers) and touching (sappy) — the guy, along with his 2,250 SAT score, is obviously going places. But the question remains: Why do we make kids do this to themselves?
Kwasi Enin's college essay
I’ve been meaning to write about the hubbub around the high school student who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools last April. It was an amazing and well-deserved accomplishment for Kwasi Enin, a 17-year-old from Long Island, New York.
Because of his feat, the media and some college experts have held up his college application essay as one of the main reasons he was accepted. And it has been championed now as an example of a great essay.
I do not agree with this at all. I thought his essay was mediocre at best. (Read Kwasi’s essay and see for yourself.)
I believe Kwasi’s acceptances had more to do with his perfect GPA, 2,250 SAT scores, the 11 AP classes he took, his impressive musical and other talents. And it’s also true that his essay certainly did not keep him out of any of these schools (since he got in them all!), and might have helped him get in.
But I think it’s wrong to assume that this essay had a big part in his acceptance. It’s just not that good. At least in my opinion. It reminded me of the type of writing many adults and English teachers believe would make a good essay.
My main concern is that students will look to this essay as an example of a great essay, and try to emulate it.
Again, I’m not out to dis Kwasi or in any way imply that he is undeserving of his acceptances into these stellar schools. Who wouldn’t want this amazing guy?
But I’m all about writing standout college application essays, and trying to make sure that they help students get into their top-choice schools. I believe students should try to write essays that are engaging to read—especially from the start—and that carry their unique voice and reveal something that sets them apart from their peers. (This is especially true for students trying for their “reach” schools.)
I will spare you a blow-by-blow analysis of Kwasi’s essay. It certainly wasn’t terrible, and overall was earnest and heartfelt, and had some nice lines.
However, I think his topic was way too broad—“love of music”—and Kwasi tried to cover too much ground about himself, everything from his love of music in all things, how it linked to his leadership skills and even his career goal in medicine. I believe it could have had more impact and been more engaging to read if he had focused his topic. Instead of writing about all things music, he could have picked one specific part of his love of music and expanded upon that.
The worst thing about this essay, to me, was that it was on the dull side. It made all sort of general points that I didn’t find that interesting. He did bolster some of his points with specific examples, and that helped. But overall, it was written with a lot of passive voice and broad, flowery statements.
While I think it’s important to express what you think, feel and believe in these essays, I also think they need a sharp focus and lots of examples to back up general points. Otherwise, they end up on the bland side.
With Kwasi, I would have wanted to get a sense of his personality through the essay, and to hear his authentic voice. There was nothing in this essay that made him stand out from the other zillion students who love music, at least in my mind.
Enough picking on Kwasi. Again, a huge congratulations to him and his future at Yale this fall! But if you are working on your essay, I wouldn’t use this one for inspiration or as a guide on writing your own. Be bold. Pick topics that haven’t been written about a lot. Focus them to make a specific point about yourself.
You may not be as brilliant as Kwasi, but I think you have a good chance of writing a better college application essay!
Read some Sample Essays I believe are better.