Here I'll discuss the strengths and weakness of "Wallflower," the model essay by Eileen.
The minute we read her title, we know that Eileen has chosen an unusual and perhaps risky topic. In truth, the topic is one of the reasons I love this essay. So many college applicants think their essay needs to focus on some monumental accomplishment. After all, to get admitted to a highly selective college one needs to have single-handedly rebuilt a hurricane-ravaged island or weaned a major city from fossil fuels, right?
Obviously not. Eileen tends to be quiet, thoughtful, and observant. These are not bad traits. Not all college applicants need to have the type of exuberant personality that can psych up a gymnasium full of students. Eileen knows who she is and who she is not. Her essay focuses on an important character in fiction who helped her be comfortable with her own personality and inclinations. Eileen is a wallflower, and she is proud of it.
Eileen's essay readily acknowledges the negative connotations bound up in the term "wallflower," but she uses the essay to turn those negatives into positives. By the essay's end, the reader feels that this "wallflower" could fill an important role within a campus community. A healthy campus has all types of students including those who are reserved.
Eileen may be a wallflower, but she clearly has a sprightly mind. The essay takes its subject matter seriously, but it also has no shortage of wit and humor. Eileen takes a self-deprecating jab at herself for needing to socialize more, and she plays with the idea of what is "real" in her second paragraph. Her language is often informal and conversational.
At the same time, Eileen is never flip or dismissive in her essay. She takes the essay prompt seriously, and she convincingly shows that fictional Charlie had a profound influence on her life. Eileen strikes that difficult balance between playfulness and seriousness. The result is an essay that is substantive but also a pleasure to read.
Eileen has accomplished an impressive task by covering her topic so well in under 500 words. There is no slow warm-up or broad introduction at the start of the essay. Her first sentence, in fact, relies on the essay's title to make sense. Eileen jumps into her topic immediately, and immediately the reader is drawn in with her.
The variety of the prose also helps keep the reader engaged as Eileen makes frequent shifts between complex and simple sentences. We move from a phrase like "the fine art of polysyllabic language" to a deceptively simple string of three-word sentences: "I understood him. I was him. He was me." The reader recognizes that Eileen has an excellent ear for the language, and the essay's pacing and rhetorical shifts work well.
If I have one criticism to offer, it's that the language is a little abstract at times. Eileen focuses on "beauty" in her third paragraph, but the exact nature of that beauty is not clearly defined. At other times the use of imprecise language is actually effective -- the essay opens and closes with reference to a mysterious "they." The pronoun has no antecedent, but Eileen is abusing grammar deliberately here. "They" is everyone who is not her. "They" are the people who don't value a wallflower. "They" are the force against which Eileen has struggled.
While "I'm a wallflower" may be a conversation stopper at a social event, Eileen's essay is remarkably successful. By the time we finish the essay, we can't help but admire Eileen's honesty, self-awareness, sense of humor, and writing ability.
The essay has accomplished its most important task -- we have a strong sense of who Eileen is, and she seems like the type of person who would be an asset to our campus community. Remember what is at stake here -- the admissions officers are looking for students who will be part of their community. Do we want Eileen to be part of our community? Absolutely.
Read the results of Eileen's college search.