English Paper 1 Personal Essay For College

Themes: sexuality, social conflict

Candidates may adopt a variety of approaches (serious, humorous, anecdotal, discursive, etc.), but they should include a reflective element, and focus on one or more moments of uncertainty. Allow for a broad interpretation of “moments” and “uncertainty.” 

2014/English/Paper I/Section II/Composing/Q6

Uncertainty is something that everyone encounters at some point in life. In my life, I have an usual selection of uncertain moments. In the words of a good old friend "uncertainty is a bitch". I like to think of every opportunity as a door. Sometimes you can only take one door. "When one door closes, another one opens." There were doors I sprinted for, doors I glued shut, some I closed gently and some I closed and regretted. Many of the doors I hesitated at left a mark: some good, some bad but marks nonetheless. 

When I hear the word "uncertainty", I instantly think of two words: "questions" and "regrets". I find that the moments of uncertainty are the moments I think about most. One of the major moments of uncertainty in my short 17 years was coming out about my sexuality. There were so many questions going through my head: "What will people think?", "Will I be treated differently?" and "Will I be isolated?" I didn't know what to do or who to talk to. I was tossing and turning for nights-on-end, worrying about everyone's reactions and opinions. Everyone's except mine. I was putting everyone ahead of myself as I usually do. I was being eaten alive by this question. I was on a path to self-destruction. I isolated myself from my friends and family. There was only one way out, suicide.

One night, I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor crying. I didn't know what I was doing. This voice started talking to me. First, I thought it was higher power reaching out to me, but it was just my friend on the phone. Obviously, that one friend turned everything around. I "came out" a couple days later and haven't looked back since. Sure, sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't been open about my sexuality at 15. Yes, I openly said I was gay at fifteen. That seems to shock people, but I never understand why. I guess that whole situation showed me that someone always cares. It also showed me that people are not as closed-minded as I thought, or at least, my friends and family weren't. 

By closing that door of uncertainty behind me and stepping into this new room, I must have accidentally opened a window to bullying. Yes, I got bullied. I don't know why, and I probably never will. I had got through two years of secondary school without any issues, so I always blamed it on "coming out". I'm going to spare you the little, petty details of each tedious incident and which ignorant pig was to blame. Usually, when I say that I got bullied, I feel like I'm playing the sympathy card. I'm not proud of it! If anything, I'm mortified by it. I treat it like a nasty scar, hide it and try to forget that it even happened. It doesn't bother me that I got treated that way, I had anticipated it - no uncertainty there!

The fact that bothers me to this day is that it went unpunished. Is this the society we live in? Where a majority can treat a minority whatever way they want? If so, I'd gladly be isolated! I couldn't tolerate it anymore. I had to escape. Uncertainty was better than certain torture. As school was the main host to my plague, that was the first change to be made. It's all well and good to block people on Facebook, but that doesn't stop them in real life.

Given the state I was in, I figured that a new school couldn't be any worse. I had already had a year of agonising torture, I could deal with two years in a new school even if they were equally as horrible, which I highly doubted. I moved to a mixed school from an all-boys school in the same town. I don't understand why, but I find that boys tend to act differently when there are girls around. I honestly didn't know what to expect coming into this school. I experienced both anxiety over the uncertainty and relief of escaping the certain badness of my previous school. I knew two people in my class. Fifth year was alright, nothing fantastic. I still only really knew two people in my class by the end of it. Sure, I knew everyone's names, but that's as far as it goes.

Sixth year is going better, I'm actually enjoying school, which -if you asked me during third year- is something I never thought I would say. Given that my new school was full of uncertainty, it turned out great. As I always say, "Change is a good thing". I guess that's my story about uncertainties. I have learnt some valuable lessons in my short 17 years; I learnt to think of myself as well as of others, that someone always cares and to always embrace change. Now my only uncertainties are about what happens after the Leaving Cert. Hopefully, I head off to college. Until then, I'm taking life one door at a time.

Based on a Leaving Cert student's essay


The metaphor framework (opening and closing doors) helps to add structure. 

The essay is deeply personal as per the brief, and the language is emotional.

Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.

A good topic will be complex. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. In an essay, conflict is good.

For example, “I love my mom. She’s my best friend. We share clothes and watch ‘The Real Housewives’ of three different cities together” does not make for a good essay. “I love my mom even though she makes me clean my room, hates my guinea pig and is crazy about disgusting food like kale” could lead somewhere

While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.

Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom. They would go into the garage and talk, really talk: “Once my mom said to me in a thick Korean accent, ‘Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo.’ I instantly burst into laughter and said, ‘Mom, that could get kind of expensive!’ ” A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants.

A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am.

Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.

10 Things Students Should Avoid

REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big. Bigger than me.”

LEAVE WEBSTER’S OUT OF IT Unless you’re using a word like “prink” (primp) or “demotic” (popular) or “couloir” (deep gorge), you can assume your reader knows the definition of the words you’ve written. You’re better off not starting your essay with “According to Webster’s Dictionary . . . .”

THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer. When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words.

YOU ARE THERE! When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. All you can do is tell the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading. You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense.

SOUND EFFECTSOuch! Thwack! Whiz! Whooooosh! Pow! Are you thinking of comic books? Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. Clunk is a good one. Or fizz. But once you start adding exclamation points, you’re wading into troubled waters. Do not start your essay with a bang!

ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency. When you write a line like “His hands threw up,” the reader might get a visual image of hands barfing. “My eyes fell to the floor.” Ick.

CLICHÉS THINK YOUR THOUGHTS FOR YOU Here’s one: There is nothing new under the sun. We steal phrases and ideas all the time. George Orwell’s advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

TO BE OR NOT TO BE Get rid of “to be” verbs. Replace “was” in “The essay was written by a student; it was amazing and delightful” and you’ll get: “The student’s essay amazed and delighted me.” We’ve moved from a static description to a sprightlier one and cut the word count almost in half.

WORD PACKAGES Some phrases — free gift, personal beliefs, final outcome, very unique — come in a package we don’t bother to unpack. They’re redundant.

RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. No sentence fragments. It’s imperative to always avoid split infinitives. Ending on a preposition is the sort of English up with which teachers will not put. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book. You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

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