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Create Your Essay’s Structure

Learn the three types of essays

This is

where you learn the three common types of college essays and see the way content is arranged in each.

Do this because

because starting from scratch is way too hard.

Every essay you’ve read so far falls into one of these three simple patterns. That’s kinda crazy — the essays seem so different in the ways they’re structured. If you recognize these structures in the samples, you’ll be able to put together your essay just right.

Now, do this

There are three common types of essays. For each of the three, read the description, then read the sample essay. We break down each sample to make sure you see how it’s structured.

As you read the essays, keep your in the back of your mind. Pay attention to the kind of content, stories, or events each sample has. Which ones remind you of yours? You’re looking not at the topic of the essay, but the elements in it. Here are the kinds of questions you can ask (thinking about your essay as well):

  • How many stories are in the sample?
  • How many events are in the sample, and in each discrete story? 
  • What kind of balance of stuff that happens, in-the-moment experience (thoughts and feelings), and deep thoughts are in the essay?
  • Which aspects of the writer does the sample focus on: how the writer’s mind works, interacts with others, expresses their creativity or individuality, shares their career aspirations, etc,?
  • Are the message and content clear and straightforward or is there a complexity to them?

None of these is right or wrong, better or worse, than any other! There are countless ways to write an engaging, authentic short story that shows how you are. 

1

Read these single-story essays. 

What does a single story essay look like?
The Single Story Model of a College Essay is the most common and straightforward. Most take place in a short time period, but some span the years.

Single stories are narratives.

As you read these two examples, pay attention to the flow of the story; the timeline; and what content, details, observations, and ideas the writer included.

Single story example: Moving and full of surprises
I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin.

I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin. It was the end, the twisted climax of a week I will always associate with pure, unbridled pain.

Darius had been building to this all week. This eleven year old had become my sole responsibility for the week he was at YMCA Camp Orkila, and he was systematically breaking me down. My directors had told me to focus my efforts on him for the week he was here, because as a first year counselor I could use the experience of dealing with a child like Darius. Yet in the seven years I’d been a camper here, I’d never encountered anything like him. Here was a child naturally skilled at wreaking havoc; harassing people and wildlife was an art form for Darius.

Before this week, all I’d wanted was to be a counselor. I wanted to support children and teach them to trust themselves, just as this camp supported me as a camper. I was ecstatic, and spent hours learning the best methods of managing children. But what about when your camper is fifty feet up a climbing tower and unstraps himself to taunt you? I realized that nothing I learned in the workshops had prepared me for Darius.

My drive to help others succeed was gone. After days of being positive with Darius, negative reinforcement became my best friend. It was all I could do to keep him in line.

Then, the finale. I’d been setting up for dinner when another camper told me that Darius had peed inside the girls’ cabin, and ran away to the forest. I led a four hour search party tracking him down, and spent an hour cleaning the desecrated cabin. I was broken. The hours of mental depravity had gotten to me. For those last two days, I paid as little attention to Darius as possible. We only spoke when he created problems.

When Darius got on the bus to leave, I started breathing for the first time all week. But as he boarded the bus, he said something I never expected: “Jacob, thank you for this week. I had so much fun.” That moment still feels as raw today as it did two years ago, and I still can’t put what I’m feeling into words .

No one was waiting for Darius back in Seattle. His foster parents had abandoned him while he was at camp; CPS picked him up a few hours later. I still question myself about how I acted that week. Was I justified in how I treated him? Or was I simply too frustrated to dig deeper and help him, to support him? I tell myself I was only fifteen, it was how anybody that age would handle it. Maybe that’s true. But the idea that Darius is still out there, living a life in which everyone treats him the same way, still haunts me. It will for a long time to come.


This is a straightforward story that takes place over a week. Some things to notice:

  • When does Jacob start the story? What’s the timeline?
  • What background or backstory does Jacob share?
  • How does the story flow? What follows what?
Single story example: Adventurous and fun
I could hear the melodious tune in the background as I saw them trudging in single-file.

I could hear the melodious tune in the background as I saw them trudging in single-file. With overstuffed packs and walking sticks in hand they climbed up the mountain. They were small in stature with big hairy feet; they were in fact hobbits.

I’m going on an adventure!

This past summer my friends and I got this crazy idea to go backpacking in the middle of nowhere for a few days. Of the four of us, I was the only one who had backpacked before and that had been four years ago.

I did my best to prepare. I went to an REI class and scoured YouTube. With our limited resources I ransacked Target and Amazon. I started this process three months prior to the trip which was about two and a half months before my friends did. Needless to say that week leading up to the trip was hectic. I didn’t really mind though, I was used to it. The spontaneity of my friends is probably what I love most about them.

I’m going on an adventure!

The scene kept replaying in my mind as we hiked up the mountain. The flowers danced in the wind and the trees waved, wishing us good luck. I imagined the mountain wasn’t just any mountain, but the Lonely Mountain and somewhere deep within its core lay The Great and Terrible Smaug atop unimaginable riches. I was Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure.

I have always loved books, so full of adventure and mystery. I can be anything I want to be. I can be a courageous hero battling a fierce dragon or a wizard attending a magical school. All my life I’ve read other people’s adventures and now finally I was going on one of my own!

I’m going on an adventure!

“Any moment,” I thought, “I’m going to collapse.” I was physically and mentally exhausted. “I can’t go on,” I thought. “No more! No more!” my legs screamed at me. Three hours of hiking uphill under the blistering sun had utterly drained me. I wanted to turn back; this wasn’t what I signed up for.

I was at my breaking point.

“Guys I need to stop,” I said. Too tired to respond they just nodded. We all flopped onto the ground trying to muster the energy to keep moving. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be at home, in my bed, cuddled up with a book.

Staring at my friends, my mind flashed back to the previous night. Our bellies rumbling, we spent a half hour desperately trying to turn on the stove (ravioli never tasted so good). That night the four of us crammed into one of the two-person tents and stayed up talking about nothing and everything: school, human nature, our love lives, good and evil. I remembered the first day, we sang at the top of our lungs the entire drive to the trailhead, excited to be going on our adventure.

I stood up.

No!

This was our adventure. Every adventure has its highs and lows. What hero hasn’t experienced some sort of trial? This was our adventure, our time to make memories. When we look back we will remember how we kept going; we didn’t give up.

With renewed purpose I trudged forward. Each step one step closer to a great memory.

After another two hours of pure determination we reached the top, and my God what a view.

I whispered, “Holy cow…”

We stood atop a cliff overshadowing a deep valley. In the valley lay an iridescent lake cut in half by a spit of land.

It was breathtakingly beautiful, and it was ours.

Having memories like this is what motivates me to go out of my comfort zone and do extraordinary things. I want to look back on my life and be able to say, “What a great adventure!”


This story takes place over a couple of months. Some things to notice:

  • How does Andrea divide separate the different sections of the story?
  • How does she weave together story (what happened) and observations about herself or life?
  • How does the story flow? What follows what?
 Write down similarities between your content and the essays.

2

Read these layer cake essays.

What does a layer cake essay look like?
The Layer Cake Model of a College Essay is simple and straightforward: two or more stories stacked on top of each other, with just enough content in between to hold them together perfectly.

A layer cake can be simple:

Chocolate layer (story 1)
Tiny bit of frosting (transition)
Vanilla layer (story 2)

Or a bit fancier:

Tiny bit of frosting (opening)
Chocolate layer (story 1)
Tiny bit of frosting (transition)
Vanilla layer (story 2)
Tiny bit of frosting (transition)
Strawberry layer (story 3)
Thin layer of graham cracker crust (ending)

As you read these two examples, pay attention to how the stories relate and how they’re held together.

Layer cake example: Chocolate and vanilla
With a cup and a spoon you can do it all.

With a cup and a spoon you can do it all.

I was rafting on Idaho’s Snake River with my Boy Scout troop. I packed lightly. There was a saying I had on trips like this: the more experience I have, the less stuff I need. I would find a way to make do with what I had or didn’t have.

I thought that I had enough experience to pare my mess kit down to two items: a big plastic mug, and a cheap plastic spoon.

I didn’t bring a spoon.

I tried to bargain my way into a spoon, but it was futile. No one wants to give up their spoon. When you’re a hungry teenager a spoon is the most valuable thing you’ve got.

Boy Scouts is about learning through struggle. If you don’t have something, you suffer the consequences. You won’t forget it the next time.

I therefore did the only thing I could: I made a spoon out of duct tape. It was a terrible spoon, but it got food into my mouth all week. It was dirty and floppy, and crumbs would stick to the spots where the adhesive side of the tape was still showing. I was really proud of it.

Each time I used the spoon it got dirtier and dirtier. It couldn’t really be cleaned. It was so lacking in structure that it was more effective to drag food up the side of the mug than to use the bowl part of the spoon. Everyone was jealous. Not that I had to eat with the spoon, but just the idea of it.

In a way we were both jealous. I wanted their spoons and they wanted mine. Of course they only wanted the good parts. No one wants to sacrifice their reliable spoon, but everyone wants to be that guy who made his out of duct tape. Everyone could see the silver outside, only I could see the food particles still stuck in the crevices from breakfast.

The next summer my pursuit of adventure would take me to Chajul, Guatemala, where I would be far removed from my trivial spoon issues of the year before.

The first night at dinner my host family and I had stew as we crowded around a table clearly built for kindergarteners.

There weren’t enough spoons.

We were hungry and needed food. Everything that I knew told me that the spoons should be even more valuable here. But we didn’t argue over them, we just took turns. Was it unsanitary? Maybe, but it was life.

Whenever I look back at these two situations, I find myself considering the same question: which way was right? And to be honest, I still don’t have an answer. I never forgot my spoon again. But I don’t think that’s the point.

In scouts I was left to my own means, to make do and learn. In Guatemala they would never imagine this.

They just shared their spoons.


This is a simple layer cake with two layers (and a bit of frosting to hold them together and a thin graham cracker crust on the bottom with final observations):

Chocolate ____________
Tiny bit of frosting ____________
Vanilla ____________
Thin graham cracker crust ____________

 

Chocolate: boy scouts

With a cup and a spoon you can do it all.

I was rafting on Idaho’s Snake River with my Boy Scout troop. I packed lightly. There was a saying I had on trips like this: the more experience I have, the less stuff I need. I would find a way to make do with what I had or didn’t have.

I thought that I had enough experience to pare my mess kit down to two items: a big plastic mug, and a cheap plastic spoon.

I didn’t bring a spoon.

I tried to bargain my way into a spoon, but it was futile. No one wants to give up their spoon. When you’re a hungry teenager a spoon is the most valuable thing you’ve got.

Boy Scouts is about learning through struggle. If you don’t have something, you suffer the consequences. You won’t forget it the next time.

I therefore did the only thing I could: I made a spoon out of duct tape. It was a terrible spoon, but it got food into my mouth all week. It was dirty and floppy, and crumbs would stick to the spots where the adhesive side of the tape was still showing. I was really proud of it.

Each time I used the spoon it got dirtier and dirtier. It couldn’t really be cleaned. It was so lacking in structure that it was more effective to drag food up the side of the mug than to use the bowl part of the spoon. Everyone was jealous. Not that I had to eat with the spoon, but just the idea of it.

In a way we were both jealous. I wanted their spoons and they wanted mine. Of course they only wanted the good parts. No one wants to sacrifice their reliable spoon, but everyone wants to be that guy who made his out of duct tape. Everyone could see the silver outside, only I could see the food particles still stuck in the crevices from breakfast.

 

Tiny bit of frosting: simple transition

The next summer my pursuit of adventure would take me to Chajul, Guatemala, where I would be far removed from my trivial spoon issues of the year before.

 

Vanilla: Guatemala

The first night at dinner my host family and I had stew as we crowded around a table clearly built for kindergarteners.

There weren’t enough spoons.

We were hungry and needed food. Everything that I knew told me that the spoons should be even more valuable here. But we didn’t argue over them, we just took turns. Was it unsanitary? Maybe, but it was life.

Thin graham cracker crust: final observations

Whenever I look back at these two situations, I find myself considering the same question: which way was right? And to be honest, I still don’t have an answer. I never forgot my spoon again. But I don’t think that’s the point.

In scouts I was left to my own means, to make do and learn. In Guatemala they would never imagine this.

They just shared their spoons.

 

 

Ponder these questions:

  • How simple or complex are the two stories?
  • What’s the transition sentence?
  • What are the concepts that hold this together?
Layer cake example: triple-layer rainbow cake
Red and green were my favorites.

Red and green were my favorites. I bounced up and down with excitement: the skittles were brandished in a little plastic cup. I saw my reward with veneration and as a colorful break from the tedious knot tying and sheer repetition of fumbling with the same task until I got it right. It was a colorful break from the blue pads, blue workout balls, and blue trapeze bars.

It was the training room where I practiced my motor skills.

Thirteen years later, the black water instilled doubt and fear in Nathan’s mind. I was a lifeguard at the waterfront at Jeff Lake Camp after my junior year. What do you do when a second grader has never swum in dark water before, is terrified to jump in and is sitting, basking in his own gloom, while all of his friends are in the lake and playing on the water trampolines on a bright, hot, beautiful summer day? I tried to use logic to convince him as I would any other person:

“Nathan go in the water! You’re wasting your time when you could be playing on the trampolines.”

He looked at me with his head tilted downward and muttered, “I don’t want to.”

“Come on Nathan, it’s just water.”

He rebuked my logic with a firm, “No!”

It was clear that the usual approach would not work. He was a second grader. They want what they want because they want it. There is no way to convince a second grader using logic. So I decided to make it fun. I jumped off the chair, where I have a clear view over the lake, and stomped over to Nathan. A defiant smirk was on his face because he knew I was going to make him go into the water. I picked him up under the arms, held him up and shifted closer and closer to the edge of the dock:

“Do you wanna go in now? How about now?”

His smirk turned to a smile. “Wait, wait, wait—I’ll jump. put me down.”

I let him down and he ran to the end of the dock, jumped in the water and swam out to join his group playing on the water trampolines.

The yellow sunset spread out across the clouds, making a milky orange landscape in the sky I worked under. At camp, how do you make a mundane act of cleaning up oars into a fun activity to inspire your coworkers to join in and help? Our boss asked all seven guards to put away the paddles. It wouldn’t take all of us to do it, and no one would budge. So I stood up with a second wind of energy and said, “Come on Serpico, Let’s put the oars away.”

I got the bright idea of an assembly line to move the oars from the beach to the shed 50 feet away. I followed up with another instruction, “Serpy, go stand next to the bundle of paddles—I’ll wait here.”

He looked at me with a face of confusion, but proceeded to the pile of oars. I shouted over, “Alright Serpy, now throw them!”

Serpico then javelin-launched the oars through the air, and they came down to the left or right of me. I jumped and caught them all, while our boss drove by with a smirk on his face.

I was probably around Nathan’s age when I realized that if I have a positive attitude, I can still see the task at hand with angst, but can transform the activity into something else entirely—something that I am excited to do and share with others. I want to make everyone I meet feel how I felt when I was presented my cup of skittles.


This cake has four layers (the frosting is really tiny – can you see it?):

Strawberry  ____________
The thinnest layer of frosting
Blueberry (followed by the thinnest layer of frosting) ____________
The thinnest layer of frosting
Lemon (followed by the thinnest layer of frosting) ____________
Thin layer of graham cracker crust  ____________

 

Strawberry: practicing motor skills

Red and green were my favorites. I bounced up and down with excitement: the skittles were brandished in a little plastic cup. I saw my reward with veneration and as a colorful break from the tedious knot tying and sheer repetition of fumbling with the same task until I got it right. It was a colorful break from the blue pads, blue workout balls, and blue trapeze bars.

It was the training room where I practiced my motor skills.

 

Blueberry (with the thinnest layer of frosting): teaching Nathan to swim

Thirteen years later, the black water instilled doubt and fear in Nathan’s mind. I was a lifeguard at the waterfront at Jeff Lake Camp after my junior year. What do you do when a second grader has never swum in dark water before, is terrified to jump in and is sitting, basking in his own gloom, while all of his friends are in the lake and playing on the water trampolines on a bright, hot, beautiful summer day? I tried to use logic to convince him as I would any other person:

“Nathan go in the water! You’re wasting your time when you could be playing on the trampolines.”

He looked at me with his head tilted downward and muttered, “I don’t want to.”

“Come on Nathan, it’s just water.”

He rebuked my logic with a firm, “No!”

It was clear that the usual approach would not work. He was a second grader. They want what they want because they want it. There is no way to convince a second grader using logic. So I decided to make it fun. I jumped off the chair, where I have a clear view over the lake, and stomped over to Nathan. A defiant smirk was on his face because he knew I was going to make him go into the water. I picked him up under the arms, held him up and shifted closer and closer to the edge of the dock:

“Do you wanna go in now? How about now?”

His smirk turned to a smile. “Wait, wait, wait—I’ll jump. put me down.”

I let him down and he ran to the end of the dock, jumped in the water and swam out to join his group playing on the water trampolines.

Lemon (with the thinnest layer of frosting): Tossing oars to Serpico

The yellow sunset spread out across the clouds, making a milky orange landscape in the sky I worked under. At camp, how do you make a mundane act of cleaning up oars into a fun activity to inspire your coworkers to join in and help? Our boss asked all seven guards to put away the paddles. It wouldn’t take all of us to do it, and no one would budge. So I stood up with a second wind of energy and said, “Come on Serpico, Let’s put the oars away.”

I got the bright idea of an assembly line to move the oars from the beach to the shed 50 feet away. I followed up with another instruction, “Serpy, go stand next to the bundle of paddles—I’ll wait here.”

He looked at me with a face of confusion, but proceeded to the pile of oars. I shouted over, “Alright Serpy, now throw them!”

Serpico then javelin-launched the oars through the air, and they came down to the left or right of me. I jumped and caught them all, while our boss drove by with a smirk on his face.

Thin layer of graham cracker crust: some closing observations

I was probably around Nathan’s age when I realized that if I have a positive attitude, I can still see the task at hand with angst, but can transform the activity into something else entirely—something that I am excited to do and share with others. I want to make everyone I meet feel how I felt when I was presented my cup of skittles.

Ponder these questions:

  • How are the three stories related? How are they part of a whole? How do their messages build on each other?
  • What role does color play in this essay?
  • What connects the layers? Is there frosting between them?
 Write down similarities between your content and the essays.

3

Read these hamburger essays.

What does a hamburger essay look like?
The Hamburger Model of a College Essay starts with one story, moves onto another story, and ends with the story it started with.

The most basic hamburger essay is just bun and patty, with no condiments, lettuce, or special sauce:

Bun (Story 1)
Patty (Story 2)
Bun (Story 1)

Some hamburgers are a lot a fancier:

Bun (Story 1)
Ketchup (Brief memory from childhood)
Mustard (Brief early incident from Story 2)
Patty (Big section from Story 2)
Lettuce (Brief incident from school)

Bun (Story 1)

As you read these two examples, pay attention to where they start, where they go, and what’s in the middle.

Hamburger example: Just the beef, hold the lettuce and tomato
“Dare you doubt me? I will send you to Valhalla for your insolence!”

“Dare you doubt me? I will send you to Valhalla for your insolence!” Beowulf thundered.

“Uh… okay then. Um, so uh, when was the last time you uh, saw the monster?” The prosecutor stuttered.

I smiled to myself, but the character of Beowulf stayed locked in a stony scowl. That moment of shock was what I had prepared for. I’d rehearsed, researched, and fallen into character. I settled back, comfortable at the center of this mock trial in my junior year English class.

It was then that I REALLY appreciated the SCA. The Society for Creative Anachronism is dedicated to recreating medieval history.

Translation: a bunch of Shakespeare/Lord of the Rings geeks get together in a hayfield somewhere to play dress up. Equestrian events (á la, “Knight’s Tale”), armored fighting (á la, any bad fantasy movie), and bickering over which fabric weave is more “period accurate” ensue.

My parents have been involved since the 80’s, and I’ve been going to SCA events with them for my entire life. Every event is dusty, hot, and smells like kerosene and canvas. I love it, especially the fighting. Getting geared up so I can hit people with sticks, huzzah!

As there are not very many people my age in SCA, I spend lots of time pretending to be an adult. I can sew costumes, make armor, and talk like 40 year old engineers. While lots of these weekends were more than a little bit boring, 17 years dressed as Hamlet recreating ye olden days was the best possible preparation to be Beowulf.

The SCA has a strong bardic tradition. Many will crowd around one person, illuminated by firelight, spinning stories and songs, verses and rhymes. These stories were meant to be heard and spoken, not read from books. You have to be able to feel the intensity of the words to understand Beowulf.

When everyone else in my English class was reading and bored, I heard the bards’ powerful voice, drawing me in, weaving line after line of poetry.

I was still seated, and the room was still. Nobody expected the quiet kid who liked history to burst forth with a warrior’s fury. Least of all the “prosecutor.” Standing before a Danish prince, in full Norse costume and finery, he swallowed and continued asking questions. Most were answered with angry yelling, decrying “petty justice” or boasting about Beowulf’s deeds.

I’ve never associated reading aloud with boring. For me, it’s always been about the performance, the entertainment. It’s about making small changes in body language to be larger, louder, grander—to become a warrior prince. I’ve always been able to project emotion and entertain people. And that’s exactly what I did.

I stood up, and sheepishly smiled at an applauding audience. Even Mrs. Merrell congratulated me on the performance. All the reading, rehearsing, and scowling into a mirror had paid off. I slipped out of costume and out of character quickly, but spent the rest of the day with a goofy grin plastered across my face, smiling at anyone who’d witnessed the mighty Beowulf.


This hamburger is pretty basic. What do you think make up the three parts? (We’ll break it down below.)

Top bun ____________
Patty ____________
Bottom bun ____________

 

Top bun: English class

“Dare you doubt me? I will send you to Valhalla for your insolence!” Beowulf thundered.

“Uh… okay then. Um, so uh, when was the last time you uh, saw the monster?” The prosecutor stuttered.

I smiled to myself, but the character of Beowulf stayed locked in a stony scowl. That moment of shock was what I had prepared for. I’d rehearsed, researched, and fallen into character. I settled back, comfortable at the center of this mock trial in my junior year English class.

 

Patty: Society for Create Anachronism

It was then that I REALLY appreciated the SCA. The Society for Creative Anachronism is dedicated to recreating medieval history.

Translation: a bunch of Shakespeare/Lord of the Rings geeks get together in a hayfield somewhere to play dress up. Equestrian events (á la, “Knight’s Tale”), armored fighting (á la, any bad fantasy movie), and bickering over which fabric weave is more “period accurate” ensue.

My parents have been involved since the 80’s, and I’ve been going to SCA events with them for my entire life. Every event is dusty, hot, and smells like kerosene and canvas. I love it, especially the fighting. Getting geared up so I can hit people with sticks, huzzah!

As there are not very many people my age in SCA, I spend lots of time pretending to be an adult. I can sew costumes, make armor, and talk like 40 year old engineers. While lots of these weekends were more than a little bit boring, 17 years dressed as Hamlet recreating ye olden days was the best possible preparation to be Beowulf.

The SCA has a strong bardic tradition. Many will crowd around one person, illuminated by firelight, spinning stories and songs, verses and rhymes. These stories were meant to be heard and spoken, not read from books. You have to be able to feel the intensity of the words to understand Beowulf.

 

Bottom bun: English class

When everyone else in my English class was reading and bored, I heard the bards’ powerful voice, drawing me in, weaving line after line of poetry.

I was still seated, and the room was still. Nobody expected the quiet kid who liked history to burst forth with a warrior’s fury. Least of all the “prosecutor.” Standing before a Danish prince, in full Norse costume and finery, he swallowed and continued asking questions. Most were answered with angry yelling, decrying “petty justice” or boasting about Beowulf’s deeds.

I’ve never associated reading aloud with boring. For me, it’s always been about the performance, the entertainment. It’s about making small changes in body language to be larger, louder, grander—to become a warrior prince. I’ve always been able to project emotion and entertain people. And that’s exactly what I did.

I stood up, and sheepishly smiled at an applauding audience. Even Mrs. Merrell congratulated me on the performance. All the reading, rehearsing, and scowling into a mirror had paid off. I slipped out of costume and out of character quickly, but spent the rest of the day with a goofy grin plastered across my face, smiling at anyone who’d witnessed the mighty Beowulf.

 

Ponder these questions:

  • How big are the bun and patty? (In other words, how many words for each of the three segments of the essay: school, SCA, and school again)?
  • Where does he jump into the story? How much backstory does he give for the English class project?
  • What do each of the paragraphs about the SCA communicate? How does each one contribute to showing who he is as a person?
Hamburger example: Gimme the works!
When I was younger, I flew.

When I was younger, I flew. I stretched out my feather-light wings against the wisps of crisp, October air, and soared up, up, up; above the buildings, over the mountains, amidst the clouds and into the galaxy. It was beautiful in every single imaginable way. It was liberating because I was above it all: the water and ozone, the tiny, rocky and breakable pieces. There was absolutely nothing but the strange subliminal drifting of stars inside my lungs. Then I would open my eyes and was always surprised to be greeted by the dry yellow and brown Australian landscape. The stars were gone, and I was brought back each time into my seven year old body, arms extended, and standing on the peak of a grassy mound. I guess I’ve always wanted to be something larger than myself. I’ve always wanted to feel larger than life.

Years have passed since I was that little girl who threw open the screen door on windy days, sprinting outside to the field behind her house. I grew older imagining myself in an office setting, clad in a newly ironed Brooks’ Brother’s oxford button up shirt tucked into a black pleated skirt. Having family members rooted in the financial world, I was engineered to believe that corporate life was the adult life. A flawless, carefully sketched path had been laid out for me to follow, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my footsteps kept slipping outside the lines.

I still remember my first step inside a hospital for a volunteer interview and suddenly it was like all the pieces fit together. After letting go of business classes because of the lack of passion, I was exploring new opportunities. I remember drinking in my surroundings and thinking that it would be okay if I were to stay here for a long, long time. Because for the first time in what had been a while, I felt like I was home.

“Hey, can you go transport umbilical cord blood from 7-South to Main Lab?”

“We’ve got a guy with a 150 pound tumor in room 4320.”

“CODE BLUE – Surgery Pavilion!”

There’s never a dull moment in the on-call dispatch room. I find myself sprinting once again, not across the grassy Australian fields, but the white marble steps of the University of Washington Medical Center. Empty wheelchair gliding in front, I am unstoppable. The service elevator lifts up, taking me to see the joy of a finally homebound oncology patient’s face and to the “preemies” in the NICU whose monitors beep steadily, reassuringly. It takes me to the hallways outside Operating Rooms where lack of sound is enveloped by deafening importance. The ceiling lights seem to be sublime and twinkling.

Amidst it all, Carol, a suicidal schizophrenic woman, hands me a beautiful handmade bracelet after I had sat with her and listened to her tear-filled, frantic tales.

“Thank y-y-you so much” she splutters. “You’ve been k-kinder to me than anybody h-has this entire year and it means so so m-much to m-me”.

In moments like these, the world stops for a little bit. I’m reminded of how fragile life is. I’m reminded of why I am human, of why I am here.

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, some people look at the sky, at the stars and feel small: because we are such a miniscule portion of the bigger picture. But he looks at the stars and feels big: because the universe is in us, our atoms came from those stars. Living life as a sixteen year old girl in a suburban town, attending a public high school, I used to feel small and irrelevant. But then I walked across the halls of a hospital, I talked to people and patients with endless stories of their own and I feel big. I feel inspired. I feel infinite.


This hamburger is much more complex than the first.

Top bun ____________
Lettuce ____________
Tomato ____________
Patty ____________
Cheese ____________
Bottom bun ____________

Top bun: lyrical aspirational writing

When I was younger, I flew. I stretched out my feather-light wings against the wisps of crisp, October air, and soared up, up, up; above the buildings, over the mountains, amidst the clouds and into the galaxy. It was beautiful in every single imaginable way. It was liberating because I was above it all: the water and ozone, the tiny, rocky and breakable pieces. There was absolutely nothing but the strange subliminal drifting of stars inside my lungs. Then I would open my eyes and was always surprised to be greeted by the dry yellow and brown Australian landscape. The stars were gone, and I was brought back each time into my seven year old body, arms extended, and standing on the peak of a grassy mound. I guess I’ve always wanted to be something larger than myself. I’ve always wanted to feel larger than life.

 

Lettuce thought she’d be a businesswoman

Years have passed since I was that little girl who threw open the screen door on windy days, sprinting outside to the field behind her house. I grew older imagining myself in an office setting, clad in a newly ironed Brooks’ Brother’s oxford button up shirt tucked into a black pleated skirt. Having family members rooted in the financial world, I was engineered to believe that corporate life was the adult life. A flawless, carefully sketched path had been laid out for me to follow, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my footsteps kept slipping outside the lines.

 

Tomato stepped into a hospital

I still remember my first step inside a hospital for a volunteer interview and suddenly it was like all the pieces fit together. After letting go of business classes because of the lack of passion, I was exploring new opportunities. I remember drinking in my surroundings and thinking that it would be okay if I were to stay here for a long, long time. Because for the first time in what had been a while, I felt like I was home.

 

Patty: all the excitement of the hospital

“Hey, can you go transport umbilical cord blood from 7-South to Main Lab?”

“We’ve got a guy with a 150 pound tumor in room 4320.”

“CODE BLUE – Surgery Pavilion!”

There’s never a dull moment in the on-call dispatch room. I find myself sprinting once again, not across the grassy Australian fields, but the white marble steps of the University of Washington Medical Center. Empty wheelchair gliding in front, I am unstoppable. The service elevator lifts up, taking me to see the joy of a finally homebound oncology patient’s face and to the “preemies” in the NICU whose monitors beep steadily, reassuringly. It takes me to the hallways outside Operating Rooms where lack of sound is enveloped by deafening importance. The ceiling lights seem to be sublime and twinkling.

 

Cheese: Carol story

Amidst it all, Carol, a suicidal schizophrenic woman, hands me a beautiful handmade bracelet after I had sat with her and listened to her tear-filled, frantic tales.

“Thank y-y-you so much” she splutters. “You’ve been k-kinder to me than anybody h-has this entire year and it means so so m-much to m-me”.

In moments like these, the world stops for a little bit. I’m reminded of how fragile life is. I’m reminded of why I am human, of why I am here.

 

Bottom bun lyrical aspirational writing

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, some people look at the sky, at the stars and feel small: because we are such a miniscule portion of the bigger picture. But he looks at the stars and feels big: because the universe is in us, our atoms came from those stars. Living life as a sixteen year old girl in a suburban town, attending a public high school, I used to feel small and irrelevant. But then I walked across the halls of a hospital, I talked to people and patients with endless stories of their own and I feel big. I feel inspired. I feel infinite.

 

 

Ponder these questions:

  • How different are the first and last paragraphs (the bun) from the rest of essay? How do they fit in there?
  • What’s in the middle of the buns? How many different stories is she telling?
  • What do the two short paragraphs about Carol say? Why are they in this essay? (BTW, Mia was able to condense the key message from the 1000 word story about Carol into those four sentences.)
 Write down similarities between your content and the essays.

You're ready to move on when

  • You have a good grasp of the three common structures of college essays.
  • You’ve noted down which sample essays have content similar to your content.