Money, Working, or Social Class as a College Essay Topic

If you wrote about money, working, or social class as your college essay topic, you can send it to the New York Times for possible publication in the paper.  This is an annual contest, so if you’re still thinking of a possible topic for your applications next year, keep this broad category in mind.

Does money make a good college essay topic?

Discussing money can make for a good college essay topic, though it presents challenges. It’s something that most people aren’t comfortable talking about with honesty.  If you’re coming from a place of privilege, it can be difficult to state your perspective without coming across as entitled or pretentious.  It can be equally difficult to write from a disadvantaged perspective, as opening up can bring you to a very vulnerable place.  But a well written essay on this topic can be surprising and fresh.  As colleges become more and more expensive and economically stratified, admission committees will be increasingly interested to hear from students who have a true knowledge and perspective on these issues.

For information on the New York Times essay contest, go here.


The Waiting Season

While we wish our students the best of luck as they wait for their letters of acceptance to arrive over the next few weeks, this article from the New York Times helps put the whole process in perspective.


“For every person whose contentment comes from faithfully executing a predetermined script, there are at least 10 if not 100 who had to rearrange the pages and play a part they hadn’t expected to, in a theater they hadn’t envisioned. Besides, life is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them. And there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.”


A Year of Reading

What’s the best way to prepare for your college essays? Besides actually writing them, and rewriting them, and then editing them, and of course, building life experience so that you have something to write about, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can in the meantime. Read more than just school-assigned books. Those are often just chosen for their length, or their appropriateness, or the easily palatable lesson they can teach. There’s so much more out there!

I’ve always believed that everyone would be obsessed with books if they only found the right one to get them started.

Here at Naked Essay, it’s obvious that we love to write, but even more, we love to read. I’m always loathe to recommend books, because one person’s Favorite is the next person’s Forgettable. But I always keep track of the books I read, and this is my list of Books Read in 2014:

A Passage to India-E.M Forster
Out of Africa-Isak Dinesen
August:Osage County-Tracy Letts
The Ambassadors-Henry James
The Guts-Roddy Doyle
Persuasion-Jane Austen
If on a winter’s night a traveler-Italo Calvino
Some Do Not-Ford Madox Ford
War Brides-Helen Bryan
No More Parades-Ford Madox Ford
A Man Could Stand Up-Ford Madox Ford
The Last Post-Ford Madox Ford
Fingersmith-Sarah Waters
Mrs Dalloway-Virginia Woolf
The Last Enchantments-Charles Finch
Longbourn-Jo Baker
Brighton Rock-Graham Greene
The Book of My Lives-Aleksandar Hemon
The Boy Kings of Texas-Domingo Martinez
A Childhood in Scotland-Christian Miller
Small Island-Andrea Levy
A Room with a View-E.M. Forster
Dangerous Liaisons-Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Lost for Words-Edward St. Aubyn
The Custom of the Country-Edith Wharton
Pnin-Vladimir Nabokov
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man-James Joyce
Super Sad True Love Story-Gary Shteyngart
The Silkworm-Robert Galbraith
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius-Dave Eggers
East of Eden-John Steinbeck
An Artist of the Floating World-Kazuo Ishiguro
Essays by George Orwell
-Such, such were the joys…
-Charles Dickens
-Rudyard Kipling
-Shooting an Elephant
-Politics and the English Language
-Reflections on Gandhi
-Looking Back on the Spanish War
-Inside the Whale
-England Your England
-Why I Write
Wolf Hall-Hilary Mantel
Stories by Anton Chekhov
-A Story without an End
-A Living Chattel
-The Doctor
-Mari d’elle
-Too Early!
-The Cossack
-An Inquiry
-The Lion and the Sun
-The Daughter of Albion
-A Work of Art
-A Joke
-A Country Cottage
-A Blunder
-Fat and Thin
-The Death of a Government Clerk
-A Pink Stocking
-At a Summer Villa
The Handmaid’s Tale-Margaret Atwood
An Alphabet for Gourmets-M.F.K. Fisher
Bring Up the Bodies-Hilary Mantel
Consider the Oyster-M.F.K. Fisher
Frankenstein-Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
The Children Act-Ian McEwan
The Black Sheep-Honoré de Balzac
The Kite Runner-Khaled Hosseini
On the Edge-Edward St. Aubyn
Nora Webster-Colm Toibin
The Zone of Interest-Martin Amis
Life Never Let Up: A Review of Call It Sleep-Irving Howe
George Orwell: “As the Bones Know”-Irving Howe
Tolstoy: Did Anna Have to Die?-Irving Howe
Where’d You Go Bernadette: Maria Semple
Empress Dowager Cixi-Jung Chang
The Narrow Road to the Deep North-Richard Flanagan
How to Be Both-Ali Smith
Dept. of Speculation-Jenny Offill
The Third Policeman-Flann O’Brien

Looking back over this year’s books, my favorites would have to be Ford Madox Ford’s Tetralogy, Christian Miller’s A Childhood in Scotland, Orwell’s Essays, Hilary Mantel’s books on Thomas Cromwell (the third is coming out next Spring!), and The Children Act by Ian McEwan.

What will I read in 2015? I’ll be re-reading some Brontë’s in my Classics Book Club, and various histories and novels about colonialism for my Serious book club.  Two of my favorite writers, Kazuo Ishiguro and Kate Atkinson both have new novels coming out in the Spring.  Waiting for me on my bedside table are Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bottle-Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge, Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles, The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling, and The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien. I can’t wait to get started!

College Essay Assistance in the Most Surprising Places


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!


College Admissions Essays: What did Abigail Write About?

Abigail, Tulane class of ’04

Emily: Hi, Abigail! Do you have a moment in your busy schedule as a Surgery Resident to stop for a moment and reminisce about your college essays?
Abigail: Wait one second while I sew up this patient. Just kidding, it’s my one day off this month. I can talk for a moment and then I have to catch up on a month’s worth of sleep.
Emily: Do you remember what you wrote your college essay about?
Abigail: Of course! It was all about how I wanted to become a doctor. I wrote about how my grandmother had breast cancer and how she lived with it for over 20 years, trying out new innovations and surgeries. That’s what inspired me to want to become a doctor, and more specifically, a breast surgeon. But why are you asking me? Don’t you remember editing it?
Emily: Did I?
Abigail: Yes! You’ve edited everything I’ve ever written, from my college admissions essay, to my medical school and internship essays.
Emily: Wow! I guess I’ve been doing this for over 20 years then. Who knew? Well, I guess I would know if I were better at math, but then I wouldn’t have spent so much time reading books and editing everyone’s essays if I were any good at anything else.
Abigail: [making snoring noises]
Emily: Thanks, Abigail!

College Admissions Essays: What did Chris write about?

Anna: Hi, Chris! What did you write your college essay about?

Chris: I don’t remember a specific topic. It certainly wasn’t as complex a process as it is today. I think I dashed it off in an afternoon and didn’t even show it to my parents. I didn’t want to show it to my father because he was so convinced I was going to UT. The main reason I applied is because Duke had the best basketball team.

college essay tutor sample chris
Chris, Duke class of ’66

College Admissions Essays: What did Ben write about?

Emily: Hi, Ben! I know you graduated more than a few years ago, but can you remember what you wrote your college essay about?
Ben: I wrote about developing my perspective on leadership through outdoor expeditions.
Emily: Cool! Can you remember any details?
Ben: The first sentence was, “Life is an uphill climb. There are peaks, false peaks, and even some downhills. We may never reach the summit, but…sorry, can’t remember the rest.” I also remember saying something about turning bossiness into leadership.
Emily: Hmmm…we don’t really recommend starting an essay out like that. That sentence, if it works at all, would be better served towards the end of the essay. But this was back when it was a lot easier to get into college. Not easy, but still easier.

Ben only got into one school—granted, it was an Ivy and the only school he applied to, but still!

via PressSync