But what about the winners? What does a good one look like?
It was harder to find out than I thought, but I did manage to find a little something. First I’ll take a quick national look and then offer one local sample.
The New York Times has a few snippets to model and avoid, but the real find was Connecticut College’s 18 “essays that worked” on its Web site. Here are the first paragraphs from three winning essays to give you a flavor of what succeeds:
I stare deeply into its red glowing eyes. 5:57 it blinks. I wait for it to come. 5:58. It never misses its cue. 5:59 I close my eyes as the inevitable happens. 6:00. AARRGG! And off he goes. Being awakened every morning by my little brother’s punctual scream and my grandmother’s response, “Jacob! Tranquilisate!” is a typical morning in my life. For a while now, I have stopped asking myself why he has to scream every morning. I’ve accepted that it’s part of who he is and he has no control of it. When it comes to Jacob there are many things I have had to get accustomed to. It’s easy to turn around and pretend he is perfectly normal six year old, but the fact is he is not. Living with an autistic brother is far from easy, but his life has become mine as well.
I chopped the reeking onions with my sister’s swim goggles over my eyes. William mixed the pesto, Stephanie stirred the potato-leek soup, and my brother grilled the pork tenderloin. The onions were to be sautéed – my first time sautéing – for an unusual balsamic pasta sauce. A seven-course meal was in the making.
I defy gravity. In fact I do it every day. After school from three o’clock to seven, Newton’s laws do not apply. Why, you ask? Because I am a member of the United States Level 9 National Gymnastics Team, and during that time, I am flipping, tumbling, and flying through the air. For the past thirteen years I have poured my heart and soul into gymnastics, dedicating an immeasurable amount of time, buckets of sweat and a couple shards of bone. However, the reward is priceless, standing on top of a podium, knowing that all your hard work and perseverance has brought you to that point. There is no equal feeling. Of course, gymnastics also gives back to you, it whispers subtle teachings from each event—Vault, Bars, Beam, and Floor—and of course, no one can forget the judges.
Locally, I was able to connect with Carleton College, which allowed me to use by Evan Summers. You can read the full essay here, and below is the first paragraph:
“That ball is hit well. It goes back, deep, gone! Another home run for Chicago, and the Royals trail by eight.”
I am accustomed to listening to Denny Mathews, the long time voice of the Kansas City Royals, make these types of calls on hot, steamy evenings in the middle of July. Denny, a rare survivor, has actually seen a winning and successful Kansas City Royals team. To be honest, I am not sure I even believe the stories about the Royals’ once perpetual success. Sure there is plenty of evidence, but it is just so hard for me to imagine a championship in my hometown.
One important note: As you go through these, use them to get a sense of what works, but as the Times points out:
… Trying to copy a particular approach — or in some cases avoid it — can be perilous. That’s because how one responds to an essay can be an intensely personal experience.