If an undergraduate’s time is spent eating, working, socializing, and sleeping, I expect that I’ll spend large chunks of my time in the cafeteria, the libraries, and the dorms. My days will most definitely be hectic. As I run across the quad to my history class, I’ll already be thinking of where I’ll be heading after that.
Sometimes I’ll be running to a big round table in the Food Court. This table seems to be a magnet for my eclectic friends. One of the guys, a saxophonist with whom I play the oboe in an ensemble, is trying to get his own avant-garde band some places to play. Another student writes an editorial column for the Daily Pennsylvanian; he always seems to be searching for a hot topic with which he can stir up a ruckus. A French major who sits next to me in French class uses French verbs in conversation, causing some confusion for the rest of us. We tend to talk about everything from the Beastie Boys to the controversy over political correctness. We sit for hours sharing our mashed potatoes and discussing activities to collectively embark on for the weekend. I suggest some rock climbing in the Shawangunks of New York State or an art show in Philadelphia.
After my extended repast, I’ll be heading for a good place to study. When I have detailed notes to take on the reading for my Social History of China course, I know that the Quad will be way too busy and social for me to get any sizable amounts of work done. I’ll have to slip away to the Furness Library. It is so quiet in there that you can hear the students breathing. In the other libraries there is too much commotion caused by people hustling around as they search for references. If I worked in the Van Pelt Library, I know I would speak to everyone who passed by my carrel. Given my extroverted nature, I am safer in a library like Furness.
At the end of my day, I’ll be heading for my dorm, where the door to my room is hardly ever closed. The people who live in my dorm are definitely an energetic group. Just like molecules being heated in a beaker, they can’t sit still. They bounce all over the dorm’s halls, in and out of my room, telling me random ridiculous things as they procrastinate about their work. My roommate and I seem to be from different planets. She grew up in Poland, Maine, the small town where my camp was, and I grew up in the big city of Manhattan. At first I’ll think that all we have in common is our passion for chocolate. But after living with her for a few weeks, I’ll know that we were destined to be together. She’ll know when she comes back from a day that just didn’t go right at all that I will be there for her to complain to, and I’ll understand. She’ll do likewise for me. We’ll make each other chicken noodle soup and coffee to keep us going on long nights of work. I’ll help her decide whether she has a thesis for her paper on Macbeth and then proofread it for her. She’ll explain to me again why humans can ‘t digest cellulose—and then try to convince me that it’s better to get up early and work rather than stay up late. We’ll order some takeout from her favorite Cantonese restaurant. At 2 a.m., on full stomachs, we’ll get some sleep before our 9:00 classes, when once again I’ll be rushing across Locust Walk to get to my history class, thinking about where I’ll be heading after that.
The writer deals inventively with the difficult question “Why are you and this school a good match?” Instead of telling the admissions committee what they already know about the college’s curriculum, athletic program, or academic reputation, she tells them what they do not know about: herself. She answers the question by imagining herself in a college routine. She then makes that routine specific to Penn through references to the school newspaper, campus buildings and walks, and a particular history course.
What she reveals about herself along the way from cafeteria to library to dorm gives this well-structured essay its zest. The reader learns that she plays the oboe, is a rock climber, goes to art shows, studies history, is extroverted, loves chocolate, treasures her roommate, does not fully understand why humans cannot digest cellulose, and happily digests Chinese takeout at 2 A.M. She is confident enough to write in her own voice, using informal language in an informal essay (”chunks of time,” ”way too busy and social,” ”random ridiculous things”). Her lively sense of language comes through in sentences such as, ”It is so quiet in [the Furness Library] that you can hear the students breathing,” and in her comparison of her dorm neighbors to ”molecules being heated in a beaker.”
She is as specific about other details in the essay as she is about herself. The net effect of these well-chosen details—for instance, about her friends’ varied interests or how she and her roommate cooperate in their work—suggests that the writer has long been attending the school to which she is applying. Such a commitment to a particular school will impress admissions officers.