College Admissions Personal Essay - Give Goth a Chance

An Essay on Diversity by Carrie Written for the Common Application

A Goth girl.
A Goth girl. Diversity is about more than race and ethnicity. Jim Corwin / Getty Images

Carrie wrote the following college admissions personal essay for question #5 on the on the pre-2013 Common Application: "A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you." 

The essay works, however, for the current version of the Common Application as well. Carrie focuses on a central part of her identity, so option #1 of the current Common Application would be a good match: "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."

Once you've read the essay, be sure to read the critique immediately below it.

Carrie's Essay on Diversity: "Give Goth a Chance"

When I sat down to write this essay, I tried, as my high school English teacher always instructed, to imagine the audience for my writing. The more I thought about it, the more I pitied the college admissions screeners who would be reading a thousand essays on diversity. Along with the expected takes on race and ethnicity, how many of those essays would present their authors as outcasts, loners, kids who didn’t fit in at his or her school?

How could I present myself as someone unique and interesting—strange, even—without falling prey to the cliché of the self-pitying social misfit?

Let me be direct: in some ways, I am the antithesis of what one might picture as a student who contributes to campus diversity. I am white, middle-class, and heterosexual; I have no physical handicaps or mental challenges apart from a tendency towards sarcasm.

But when I receive college brochures picturing smiling, clean-cut teens dressed in the latest from Abercrombie & Fitch and lounging on a blanket in the sun, I think, those people are not like me.

Simply put, I am a Goth. I wear black, lots of it. I have piercings and ear gauges and tattoos. My hair, naturally the same sandy blonde that the rest of my family shares, is dyed jet, sometimes highlighted in streaks of purple or scarlet. I rarely smile, and I don’t do sun. If I were inserted into those brochure photographs of typical college students, I would look like a vampire stalking her wholesome prey.

Again, I am imagining my reading audience, and I can almost see my readers’ eyes roll. So you’re a little weird, kid. How does that contribute to campus diversity? Well, I think I contribute plenty. Diversity goes beyond the physical; race or ethnicity might be the first things one thinks of, but really, it is a question of what makes someone the person that he or she is. Diversity might be considered in terms of economic or geographical background, life experiences, religion, sexual orientation, and even personal interests and general outlook. In this respect, my Goth identity contributes a perspective that is far different from the mainstream.

Being Goth isn’t just about physical appearance; it’s a way of life that includes not only individual tastes in music, literature, and popular culture, but also particular beliefs about philosophy, spirituality, and a range of other human issues.

To give just one example, I am planning to major in Environmental Studies, and while it might seem odd to picture a ghoulishly-dressed girl who adores the natural world, it was my Goth outlook that led me to this academic interest. I read voraciously, and am drawn to subject matter that is somewhat dark; the more I read about humanity’s impact on the planet and the near-apocalyptic dangers posed by global climate change, pollution, overpopulation, the manipulation of the food supply and other environmental threats, the more interested I became, and the more determined that I should become involved.

I, along with other members of my school’s Environmental Club, started a campus recycling program, and lobbied our superintendent to install in all classrooms power strips that are used to easily shut down equipment such as printers and computers at the end of the day, thereby conserving energy and generating significant savings for our school. I was drawn to this dark subject matter of environmental crisis, not to wallow in it or savor the Schadenfreude, but to change it and make the world a better place.

I know Goths look a little funny, as we wear our ebony trench coats in seventy-degree weather. I know we seem a little odd as we gather in shady nooks to discuss the latest episode of True Blood. I know professors may sigh as we swell the enrollments of poetry and art classes. Yes, we’re different. And we—I—have a lot to contribute.

If you want to read more essays responding to prompt #1 of the Common Application, check out Vanessa's essay "Handiwork" and Charlie's essay "My Dads."

Critique of Carrie's Essay on Diversity:

The diversity topic on the Common Application presents a writer with specific challenges that are discussed in these writing tips. In broader terms, however, all college admissions essays must accomplish a specific task: the admissions folks will be looking not just for good writing skills, but also evidence that the writer has the intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness and the strength of character necessary to be a contributing and successful member of the campus community.

Okay, on to Carrie's essay . . .

The Essay's Title:

In general, Carrie's title works fine. It clearly captures the subject of the essay -- approaching Goth with an open mind. Also, the allusion to John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance is appropriate given the song's message about acceptance and understanding. It's not a title that is highly original, and it isn't the best hook for grabbing the reader's attention, but it is still a solid title. As this article on writing a great essay title suggests, the best titles often strive for clarity, not cleverness.

The Essay Topic:

Carrie takes a risk in her essay. When you read advice about college admissions interviews, you'll often be told to dress somewhat conservatively, get rid of the pink hair and remove all but the most innocuous piercings. The danger of looking too far out of the norm is that you may encounter an admissions officer who isn't open-minded or who feels disturbed or uncomfortable with your appearance. While we don't want to cater to people's biases, we also don't want to diminish our chances of getting into college.

Carrie, however, isn't one to tone down her identity during the admissions process. Her essay blatantly states "this is who I am," and she makes it the job of the reader to overcome his or her preconceptions. There is a slight danger that she will get a reader who refuses to accept the "Goth" culture Carrie describes, but I think most readers will love the way Carrie approaches her topic as well as her straight-shooting style. The essay has a level of maturity and self-confidence that the reader will find attractive. Also, the reader is likely to be impressed by the way that Carrie imagines her audience's reaction. She has clearly encountered prejudice before, and she preempts it when she imagines the admissions folks reading her essay.

The current Common Application essay option #1 is a smart choice for Carrie's topic, for the essay certainly is about a central part of her identity. Carrie clearly shows how she will add an interesting and desirable element to the campus community. The essay demonstrates that she has thought about identity and diversity, that she is open-minded, and that she has a thing or two to teach others about their preconceptions and biases. She weaves in enough details about her passions and accomplishments to debunk any knee-jerk assumptions a reader might make about a Goth.

The Essay's Tone:

Carrie's essay approaches her topic seriously, but it also has a pleasing smattering of humor. Little phrases like "I don't do sun" and "a tendency towards sarcasm" capture Carrie's personality in an economical manner that will also get a nice chuckle from her readers.

In general, the essay has a great balance of seriousness and playfulness, of quirkiness and intellect.

The Quality of the Writing:

The quality of the writing in this essay is superb, and it is even more impressive because Carrie is going into the sciences, not the humanities where we might expect to see stronger writing. The essay has no grammatical errors, and some of the short, punchy phrases reveal a high level of rhetorical sophistication (see these tips for improving your essay's style for guidance on this front). If you take apart the essay sentence by sentence, you'll notice a huge variety in sentence length and structure. The admissions officers will immediately recognize Carrie as someone who has a mastery of language and is prepared for college-level writing.

The length of the essay is right near the 650-word limit, but that's fine. Her essay is neither wordy nor repetitive. The essays by Lora and Sophie are both strong, but both could use some cutting and revising to get the length down. Carrie writes economically; every word counts.

Final Thoughts

Think about the impression you have when you finish reading Carrie's essay. We feel that we have gotten to know her. She is someone with an offbeat appearance, but she is wonderfully comfortable with who she is. The self-confidence and self-awareness demonstrated in the essay will certainly impress her readers.

Carrie's essay teaches her reader something, and the mastery of language is remarkable. Admissions officers are likely to finish the essay thinking three things: 1) they want to get to know Carrie better; 2) they think Carrie would make a positive contribution to the campus community, and 3) Carrie's reasoning and writing skills are already at a college level. In short, Carrie has written a winning essay.

If you'd like to learn more about the Common Application essay options and see other sample essays, be sure to read this article: Common Application Essay Tips and Samples.