Looking back on my college application essays

Feb. 25, 2020, 12:36 a.m.

As I begin drafting this article, it is 10:39 p.m. on a night that I should spend working on an organic chemistry problem set. To be quite fair, while it may seem like I’m procrastinating, this is usually when I take time for myself and reflect. Tonight’s exercise: looking back on my college application essays.

When I first got to Stanford, I told myself I would wait a while before eventually looking at my admissions file. In recent years, FERPA requests have gained popularity. I do intend on filing one and seeing what the admission officers wrote about me, if Stanford hasn’t deleted the comments already. I very much knew I wanted some time to acclimate to campus life before submitting that request.

My logic went like this: If I read it and it absolutely wrecked me, the support systems I established here would prove my admissions officers wrong. However, by writing this article, it’s clear that I have yet to read my file. This is not because I don’t feel like I belong on campus. I do. At least, I would sure hope so by now. Rather, I don’t know if I would care to read those comments. Those comments, evaluations and criticisms were about an individual who no longer exists. 

I know this because I finally reread my college application essays, and I’m glad to say that I have cringed at them. My high school senior self had rather low expectations, and I hate to say it — very little personality. The one place where I even showed a hint of humor was in my letter to my roommate. However, to my younger self’s credit, I feel like this might have been a product of the college application process as a whole. As you complete multiple portfolios and college applications, it becomes easier to see yourself as a number and harder to see that we all have intrinsic value. As for me, I’m glad that college has allowed me to breathe a little easier. 

Similarly, something that caught my eye throughout this entire process was my expectations going into Stanford. In one of the supplements, I believed that I would look forward to Stanford’s research environment and community the most. I wrote, “I’m looking most forward to Stanford’s sense of community. I know from prior experience that research fosters tightly-knit groups. I look forward to not only joining a vibrant academic community but also partaking in Stanford’s social scene. I can see myself screaming ‘Fear the Tree’ at Berkeley students.” In retrospect, I would only keep the first and third sentences. The times I have absolutely loved my college experience have been when I’ve been immersed in a meaningful community — whether it be here at The Daily, another club or with the first-generation and/or low-income (FLI) community. I have learned the most from people and friends outside the classroom. Stanford’s social scene encompasses so many interesting characters that I would have probably never met nor cared to meet under any other circumstances. “Open-minded” was one of the words I used to describe myself, and it’s one of the values that I’ve commonly practiced for my own benefit. It’s the reason why I’ve picked up hobbies that I never had before and the reason why I love meeting students from other university campuses.

Prior to Stanford, I very much would not have considered myself an extrovert, but I have come to appreciate a balance where I can think and love in both solitude and community. If I could go back and rewrite my college application essays, that would be my answer. I’m looking forward to changing, to growing, to learning to love soft embraces and brief encounters.

Contact Richard Coca at richcoca ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Richard Coca '22 has previously served as editor of The Grind for volume 258, managing editor of Satire in vol. 257, and CLIP Co-chair in vol. 255. He is majoring in Human Biology and minoring in Anthropology. Contact him at rcoca 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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