A Short Story About Writing a College Essay

Writing a college essay can be great fun or incredibly boring, depending upon your subject and how you handle it. First of all, the professor (or instructor) assumes that you are well enough versed in the subject that you can do an effective essay and prove the knowledge you have gained in his or her class. That’s not always a safe assumption, as many students don’t pay sufficient attention to the salient points. That can leave you ill-equipped to make the essay either convincing or entertaining enough for a good grade. So, the most important thing to remember is to know your subject, and the style you must present it in, as well as the instructor or professor has taught it. A Harvard, mla and apa style essay can sometimes be as important as the topic itself.

Here is a story that was told to me by a family member before I went to college that really made me think. “When I was in college, three particular essays leap to mind as examples of what to do and what to avoid in the way of essay writing.

The first was early in my college education.  The students were handed a list of subjects to write about and given one hour to finish the essay. I began writing a college essay about  the fuel shortages of the 1970’s and why they were a good thing. (Obviously, the professor had some quirky ideas!) I used humor (having endured the crisis and all its many ramifications). For example, while waiting in line two hours to buy half a tank of gas, the time can be well spent learning the lyrics to five different songs. When traveling and running out of gas near a closed filling station, you get to have your own personal walking tour of an unfamiliar town, and even get acquainted with some of the local police! I got an A on it as soon as the professor was able to quit laughing.

The second essay concerned my Geology class. We had our choice of everything the instructor had covered that semester. I chose earthquakes. It took five pages for me to say “The longer it has been since the last earthquake, the sooner the next one will happen.” In those five pages, I managed to quote a dozen different sources who were all quoting the original speech that it came from. Redundancy can work if it’s done right. I got an A.

The third essay that I remember vividly was the last one in an Administration of Justice class. The instructor was a former policeman and seemed like a decent enough guy… on the surface. We were allowed to research essay topics and select any subject we wanted including his suggestions such as “Airplane Crashes” and “Martial Music”. My choice was writing a college essay on comparing investigative techniques in the days of Sir Robert Peele and the modern FBI. The two cases I used were, of course, Jack the Ripper (still unsolved) and D.B. Cooper (also unsolved). Alright, so one was a serial killer and the other was a high jacker, but the investigative techniques had some interesting similarities as well as differences.

I turned the analytical essay in on time and awaited my grade. He gave me a C! When he refused to let me have it back or explain why the low grade, I smelled a rat (as they say). A few months later, there was my essay, under his byline, in a criminology magazine! The biggest lesson I learned was to make copies of everything I turned in! That was back in the days before computers, of course.”

The moral of this story is that writing a college essay can be difficult or fun. It depends on how you approach it.