A good friend’s daughter, Madeline, was recently assigned a practice essay for her college applications which tells me she goes to a better high school than I did because I spent three and a half years thinking the guidance counselor was there to help kids with eating disorders. When the guidance counselor called me into her office my senior year to go over college options, I felt bad for her when I figured out what her real job was. Helping someone with bulimia seems way more rewarding than talking about SAT scores.
Counselor: Nice to meet you, girl I’ve never seen in my life. Where do you want to go to college?
Me: Somewhere hot because Connecticut winters are making me fat.
Counselor: Do you have an eating disorder?
Me: Binge eating muffins and pizza to stay warm is a survival skill in Connecticut.
Counselor: True. What about the University of Florida? It’s in the middle of a hot swamp.
Me: I don’t know if swamps are hot enough. Are there any schools in the middle of an active volcano?
Counselor: Gainesville is exactly like an active volcano but with more humidity.
Me: Sign me up.
Counselor: Do you know what you want to study? UF has a great vet school.
Me: Works for me. I like dogs.
So yeah, that’s how I picked my college. I didn’t even visit before deciding, a mistake that became evident the minute I stepped out of the car in front of the vet school. Turns out, I hate heat way more than I hate cold. Also, vet schools smell like hay and poop and I didn’t see a single puppy. I did stop eating though because chewing is exhausting in a swamp. That’s why alligators sit by the water with their mouths open. It’s easier to let food just kind of wander in.
I don’t remember if Florida required an essay when I applied but I’m certain that I didn’t write any practice college essays in high school. I didn’t even know I liked writing until I was 30 – mostly because I thought the guidance counselor’s office was where pregnant girls went to cry.
Madeline is the kind of kid who not only knows what a guidance counselor does, she probably knows her name and how to find her office. Madeline’s applying to Harvard and schools in that tier so she has some serious pressure on her with this essay (sometimes I like being old and mediocre). I’ve been thinking about her practice essay so much that I decided to attempt one. It did not go well.
This is the essay topic I chose from the Common App website:
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
I got bored just reading that. Common App, by the way, is a thing used by a bunch of colleges and once again, I’m glad I’m old and don’t need to know why it exists.
Okay so here’s my college essay:
Left Turns are for Jerks
Some people choose to smash through barriers and never look back. I prefer to quietly find a way around obstacles without causing a fuss or running over people.
The first time my mother let me borrow her car, I attempted to make a left-hand turn onto a completely deserted street. As per driver’s ed, I looked left, then right, then left again and proceeded slowly into the turn. I forgot about the looking straight ahead part because I found out the street wasn’t actually deserted when I glided right into an off-duty policeman’s car. As I pegged the corner of his car, he rolled down his window and yelled, “asshole!” which caused me to slam on the brakes and collapse into uncontrolled sobbing. I wasn’t injured or scared; I was devasted because someone called me an asshole. I am not perfect but I am confident in my lack of asshole-ish-ness. No one was hurt and there was barely a ding on our cars but I continued to cry inconsolably because he hurt my feelings. It was at that moment that I vowed never to turn left again. And I haven’t.
Avoiding left turns might seem like a maladaptive overreaction to a minor fender bender/ego-dent but I’ve chosen to frame my decision to always turn right as an evidence-based, caring approach to the solemn responsibility of driving. According to the US National Highway Traffic Association, left turns are three times more likely to kill pedestrians than rights ones; they are also one of the leading events to occur before a collision. Left turns lead to traffic buildup which causes a significant net increase in time on the road for drivers. I am saving gas and lives while protecting the men of America from the embarrassment of discovering they’ve just called a little girl an asshole.
Left turns are dangerous, time-consuming, and selfish. UPS truck drivers don’t make them so why should I. Moreover, I think we all can agree that the people who turn left across six lane highways and hover in the median with their backends jutting into oncoming traffic are the true assholes in our society. May I one day be blessed with the confidence of a person who does not care if their passenger is t-boned.
While some might say I’m failing to face my fear of left turns, I get where I’m going with less stress and more creativity. I see more of the world by taking the route less traveled. In short, there is almost always a traffic light that will guide you to safety if you’re willing to look for it.
P.S. I am only applying to colleges where I’ll never have to drive again.
Welp. University of Florida was where I belonged after all because that essay sucked. I should’ve written about the year I didn’t make the cheerleading squad and spent 11 months working out to the Ice Castles soundtrack. Melissa Manchester > Rocky Balboa
Good luck, Madeline. You’re going to crush your essay and everything else you do.