How To Write a College Admissions Essay

The Atypical College Essay – unedited from 2001, for @blobyblobyblob, since he asked.

Author’s note: the following is my response to one of the essay prompts on the undergraduate application of Stanford University. Applicants were instructed to choose something important to them, take a picture of it, paste this picture into a box on the application, and then proceed to write about a thousand words on the significance of the item or people within the picture. I included a picture of a pineapple. This is not a joke or the result of a creative writing assignment. This is, verbatim, the actual essay that I submitted.



This pineapple is very important to me, because I know that if I write a good enough essay about it, I will be accepted to Stanford University. In fact, the solipsist in me would like to point out that the pineapple pictured in the bottom left-hand corner of page two is the most important fruit ever to exist on the face of this earth. A pineapple is a strange object, and the use of one for this purpose appeals to my sense of humor, which is, I have been told, at least as quirky as this pineapple being pictured here. Therefore, the first reason I chose to picture a pineapple is for use of a visual demonstration of an aspect of myself. To give more than a vague impression of what I’m talking about, I would say that my sense of humor is what one might get if one could mix the clever wile of James Joyce, who is believed to have put peculiar objects in his stories, such as the bicycle pump in “Araby”, for the sole purpose of confounding scholars, and the offbeat sensibilities of Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, whose autobiography, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, is subtitled, “Adventures of a curious character.”

This pineapple is, with the exception of a slight elongation along the vertical axis, a well-rounded specimen. In a similar way, I am, despite the fact that some of my greatest accomplishments fall under the “science” category, a well-rounded individual. A quick glance at the rest of my application might give one the impression that I am mainly a “math and science” student and that I sit at home and stare at my computer, or study math and biology, or conduct research all day. This is not the case. AP English is one of my favorite classes. One of the things I like to do in my spare time is creative writing. Two months ago I was one of 600 students nationally to win the National Council of Teachers of English Award. This qualifies me to enter the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition in January. I have been a member of the editorial staff of my high cchool’s literary magazine, Ursus, for the past four years. This year I am the editor-in-chief of the publication. I would imagine that most applicants who chose this essay will be writing about their family, a particular person who has influenced them, or of an exotic place that they have been to. If I could not write well enough to author a worthwhile essay about a pineapple, I would probably be writing on a topic comparable to those myself.

Pineapples appear in several of Salvador Dali’s paintings. They are, apparently, a fruit that appeals to artistic people. The Arts are something that I enjoy experiencing, as well as something I enjoy partaking in. I have taken two years of photography (my high school only offers one photography class, the second year was independent study), ceramics and sculpture, both in school and out, and a general-purpose studio art class. A family vacation to Venice afforded me the opportunity to take some great photographs of buildings in various states of decay. Upon returning home and developing the negatives, I found that they provided a great library to pull from when composing creative images in the darkroom. For my final project in photography, I developed a series of photographs in which I had superimposed natural images of trees and rocks from my backyard over the images of those Venetian buildings. I scanned the pictures into my computer, wrote a creation myth to accompany them, made a program to flip through them back and forth like a book, and put them to music. I was very pleased with the results and have since been augmenting a lot of my artwork with digital editing. For the first time ever, as a result of an innovation of mine, last year we were able to print photographs in Ursus, which is a black and white magazine, by scanning images into the computer and then using an error-diffusion algorithm to get stippled black and white pictures.

As nice as pineapples are, not all good things can be spoken of with reference to them. Pineapples aren’t mentioned in The Lord of the Rings. Not even once. One can read through all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and never feel the lack. Computer programming is another thing that has nothing to do with pineapples. Programming is a hobby that I have had since I was eight and my family got our first personal computer. Since then, I have become a self-taught Visual Basic and Visual C++ programmer. I also know a smattering of assembly. My most involved computer science project thus far has been a simulation of morphogenesis in multicellular organisms. This effort is the heart of the research project that I have been working on for the past three years, and that won at the International Science and Engineering Fair. My final paper, which I submitted to both the Siemens Westinghouse Science Competition and the Intel Student Talent Search, was entitled, Discrete Simulation of Reaction-Diffusion Systems Applied to Morphological Development. The work is loosely based on Alan Turing’s 1952 mathematics paper, The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis.

Now, as an admissions officer you are presented with a question that probably doesn’t come up very often, “Do we really want a person who evidently cares a great deal about this or any other pineapple?” The answer is, don’t worry. I don’t even like pineapples. I only use this pineapple as a conversation piece. For me, it has no culinary value. In fact, if I get accepted to Stanford, I promise not to bring any pineapples at all with me.

Note to the reader: It is important to note that the pineapple pictured on page two is a Del Monte pineapple, as opposed to a Dole pineapple. I think that my choice of this particular brand of pineapple bespeaks of a certain amount of savior-faire. It seems obvious to me that a college application is no place to make a political statement.