College Admission Essays

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Lily Johnston - Federal Way - Washington

When a close friend attempted suicide, Lily reevaluated her priorities and had some realizations about the expectations placed on females. She volunteered with the Real Women Project, an organization that seeks to show the beauty of women. She says, “Writing about depression, body image and how this affects young women was a natural extension of my work at Real Women as well as my way of pulling together what I was experiencing personally with what I was observing publicly.” At Charles Wright Academy, she was editor of the yearbook, a managing editor of the newspaper and captain of the volleyball team.

In for the Long Crawl - Princeton University

We died that day. Not her, not I, we. She came close enough for the both of us. I can still remember that feeling of the earth just dropping out from underneath me when my mom told me that Chris had tried to kill herself. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised. I knew she had been “sick” for years, but that old scar on her wrist was always “a scratch from the coffee table.” Since that day, we have never shared a secret or dreamed up a new fantasy—the “we” that had defined us for so long, those 10 years of friendship, that sisterhood, was the one thing she swallowed that a stomach pump couldn’t remove. From that day on, I made it my mission to find the cause of the nation-wide epidemic of depression that had shattered our lives and to do everything in my power to find a cure.

In her world, everything was warped. In her delusion, a pocketknife, a gift that should have marked her coming-of-age and responsibility, became the “coffee table.” Her grandfather’s illness, which should have been sad but a natural part of life and living, was seen only for the drugs it would provide her for death and dying. I watched as she dug her own grave for two years. I don’t feel guilty; I did everything I could to help her but alert the newspapers. What I would later understand and what would fuel my desire to help others was that she couldn’t process or even understand help at that point; she was too sick.

My family is the only reason I didn’t share her fate, they are why she ended up in a mental ward and I didn’t. They were the only substantial difference between Chris and me: we were both depressed, we both had few close friends and we both were too young for our grade and too old for our own good. It was the little things that really counted. My parents didn’t yell at me or each other. My sister and I never fought. My father didn’t commute to another state regularly. I felt sorry for Chris and her family, but I realized early on that I couldn’t control people’s families or home lives, so I changed my focus to the things that I saw around me that made people feel “lessthan” and incomplete.

Opening my eyes has never been such a powerful experience. I began to see things all around me that had the potential to make people, especially girls, feel depressed. Around every street corner, in every shopping mall and even in museums these images and ideas accosted me: anorexic girls modeling the latest fashions and the latest fashions only available in sizes 0 to 10 are a few examples. At one point I wondered if there existed some large-scale conspiracy to make all the girls in the United States depressed. The idea of social, physical and intellectual perfection was defined and fed to us as if there were such a thing as perfection and it could be defined only one way. It was all of a sudden a wonder to me that we all didn’t just start jumping off cliffs, one after another like lemmings.

Trying to reverse a nationally accepted image has been like trying to crawl up Mt. Everest. As one might expect, I’ve made little headway and have run into more obstacles than I can count. Apparently, it’s common for people to be advocates for women but to be much stronger advocates for their own pocketbooks. “Yes, we would really like to promote reality,” they say, “but people don’t buy reality. We’re a business, not a charity.” But, for Chris’ sake, and for the hope that our relationship may still be salvaged someday, I will keep crawling as long at it takes to save one life, for if I can save one life, I have saved two. If I have saved two, I’ve saved them all. If I’ve saved them all, I’ve finally saved myself.

Why This Essay Succeeded

One of the biggest mistakes that many students make when writing about an issue is that they do not personalize it. They write about an issue as they would for an assignment for a social studies class rather than for a creative writing class. Whatever the issue, there needs to be a reason why it is important to you. Clearly, teen depression is a huge national issue. But Lily does an excellent job of making it close to home. Her essay covers both her individual experience with depression and some of the larger societal issues that she believes perpetuate it.

Notice that her essay contains a lot of thoughtful reflection. She realizes that she can’t change the world in one fell swoop but she also knows that there are things she can do to help. This essay is not so much a display of her writing ability as it is of her ability to think, feel and analyze.

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