SN&R’s College Essay Contest makes us think

Jeff vonKaenel

If you haven’t already, please read this week’s News & Review College Essay Contest winners. The essays and the kids who wrote them are remarkable. Smart. Funny. Insightful. Their very existence is a reason for hope in this crazy world. You can read them here.

This is the seventh annual News & Review College Essay Contest. It’s a simple endeavor. Instead of writing something new, we ask local students to submit their college essays to us. These are pieces that the students have sweated over, and often written and rewritten many times.

They’re a very good read—and the top ones are worth cash prizes, thanks to our generous sponsors. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, sponsored by InterWest and Gilbert Associates. The second-place winner will get a check for $1,000, via SN&R, and the third-place winner will receive $500, sponsored by GiveBack2Sac.

Even though the essays are primarily designed to convince a college admission officer to admit the student, the very process of writing a personal essay provides for forced introspection. It asks students to think about who they are and who they want to become. These are important questions that need to be considered, but are usually put off because of other, more pressing activities.

In preparing to write this column, I researched college essay questions. There is a whole industry to help students improve their answers. Or, to be more exact, to help students manipulate their answers so they will get the desired acceptance letter.

I am not 18, and I am not applying to any college. But, looking at these prompts, I wondered how I would answer them. It was not easy.

While questions vary from college to college, there are some common ones:

Who are you?

How did you become who you are today?

What are your key experiences, beliefs and interests?

Tell us about a failure. What did you learn from that experience?

Have your core beliefs ever been challenged? What happened?

And then, a wide variety of wacko questions, such as, “What do you expect to find over the rainbow?”

I thought it would be pretty hard to answer any of these questions.

But I thought of other questions that may not be of interest to the college admission officers, but should be of interest to anyone who is trying to figure out a life plan.

My questions include:

What do you do with your days?

Are your efforts making the world a better or a worse place?

What is actually important to you? Family, friends, status, wealth or …?

Should you change what you are doing?

If so, what stands in your way?

I am not 18. It has been 47 years since I stopped caring about college admissions officers. But I still care about these important questions. And the answers.

Answers to these questions at age 18 reflected my hopes and dreams for the future. Answers at age 65 reflect my understanding of what has transpired since then, but I’ve still got dreams for the future.

So, I encourage you to read the College Essay Contest winners. Be inspired.

And then think about what your own answers would be to these questions.

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.