You’re working on your college essay, staring at the blank page, or that sentence that doesn’t sound quite right, or thinking about scrapping the whole thing and starting all over again. Who can you turn to for an objective opinion? Your parents are no help: they graduated back when it was much easier getting into college. No way would they get in now with those essays they wrote 40 or 50 years ago! Your English teacher is busy. Your friends have their own essays to write.
Maybe some advice can be found in a book? Yes, there are a few helpful college essay writing advice books out there. But sometimes, you can come across the best advice is the most surprising places. I was just reading a book published in 1759, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne, and came across a passage that comprises some of the best advice on the college essay that I’ve ever read:
“You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of a mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed farther with me, the slight acquaintance, which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship.—O diem praeclarum!—then nothing which has touched me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling. Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out—bear with me,—and let me go on, and tell my story my own way:—Or, if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,—or should sometimes put on a fool’s cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,—don’t fly off,—but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;—and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short do any thing,—only keep your temper.”
What Sterne writes here, as his narrator communicates with his audience, is exactly what the best college essays say to their readers, those overburdened Admissions Committee members who are looking for an essay that truly shows who the student is as a person, and tells a story, no matter the mundane subject, in an engaging, new, and surprising way.
So take this advice from Laurence Sterne. He may just be the world’s first, albeit unofficial, college essay tutor. For even more great advice, contact Naked Essay. Laurence Sterne unfortunately died in 1768, but we are still around!