Why I love the College Essay Contest

Jeff vonKaenel

Who are you? And what are you going to do with the rest of your life? These are tough questions for anyone, but they are particularly tough for a high-school senior when their answers may significantly impact the course of his or her future.

Welcome to SN&R’s 2013 College Essay Contest.

After receiving hundreds of submissions, we selected a few for awards, a few more for publication and we’re printing even more of them online. As you can see, they are remarkable (see page 17).

The idea for this contest came to me after reading my two teenagers’ college application essays. I do not recall putting any effort into my own application essays, but that was 44 years ago. Back then, if you had a 3.0 grade-point average, you were guaranteed a position at any University of California campus, nearly tuition-free. It is much different now. And therefore, so are the essays.

I was flabbergasted by how hard my kids worked on their essays and how good they turned out. There was a depth to their experiences and an optimism about the future that somehow I had never noticed at home. I loved their essays. And I wanted to read more like them. I figured if my kids could write great essays, then so could a lot of other kids. Their college essays, already completed, would be a treasure chest of young-adult writing.

So I proposed that we have a college essay contest. Our editor, Melinda Welsh, loved the idea, as did Kel Munger, who did most of the work in prior years coordinating the contest. This year, editors of the contest Deena Drewis, Rachel Leibrock and Nick Miller are in charge. And they are pumped about the entries.

Over the last three contests, I have been struck by how much turmoil our younger citizens have been through. This latest round of entries revealed similar hard times. There’s the essay, for example, from the young woman who managed to make the honor roll, even as she and her family lived in cars and motels. Or the Mexican-American teen who fears deportation for himself and his family. And then there’s the young man who realizes that forgoing alcohol is just the first step in facing his addictions. And despite it all, there is a sense of excitement about the future—our country’s future and their own future. There is a belief that things can change and will change. They will be the people doing the changing. I love the sense of hope in the essays.

Being young, they clearly do not know how the world works. It is so much easier for a 17-year-old to believe that we can end racial prejudice, that gays will be accepted and that the world can come together to solve global warming. It is a total joy for me to see the world from a 17-year-old’s perspective.

The college essays are a treasure. And so are our youth. We at SN&R are honored to shine a spotlight on them. Happy reading.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.