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  • Writer's pictureKate Robertson

College Application Essay: Revealing Something Special

Revealing something unique about yourself is often a useful tool to tell the college application readers several things about you. As a writing coach, I often look for something different about the student that can be used to build upon in the essay. For example, one student was born with brachydactyly type D, a common shortening of her thumbs. She used this rather inconsequential condition to weave a hilarious tale of her misadventures in Key West, communing with Ernest Hemingway's unusually toed cats. She wove in her love of literature, history, and all things feline. Another student wrote about her struggles growing up with an autistic brother, using specific experiences to reveal her personal narrative, painting the picture of a compassionate, responsible, ambitious young woman planning to pursue a career in medicine.

In the following essay, the student revealed the unusual way he experiences numbers and how that has led to his love of math. Notice how the introductory anecdote uses vivid imagery to set the scene and leaves readers wondering why the sunrise represents the number seven. He goes on to explain synesthesia and how he discovered he had this unusual condition. Finally, the essay comes full circle, with all the feels.

College Application Example Essay:

The Color of Chaos

My friend Troy and I sat huddled atop the mountain watching over the valley below in remote Virginia, waiting for the sun to rise. We had camped on the mountain the night before with fellow scouts during our week at National Boy Scout Jamboree. The first glimmers of light peaked through, casting a red glow against the dark sky. “It’s going to be a lucky day,” I said. “Why?” Troy asked. “Because it’s a seven,” I said, giving a nod at the sunrise. “And seven is a lucky number.”

I have always known that I interpret the world a bit differently than most. But in that moment I smiled, as I acknowledged that I also see it quite differently. When I was very young, my parents had wooden block numbers decorating a wall in my bedroom. The number one was painted yellow. The two was blue. The three was red. And that was all wrong. I hated those numbers. I was also bothered by the magnetic numbers on our refrigerator. “The three should be yellow not green,” I’d tell my mother, who dismissed me as a silly little boy.

It was several years later before I understood. I have synesthesia. I see numbers in color and experience them with pleasure. Not all the time and in every situation, and not to the point of distraction, but there is definitely a strong association for me. Each number is a specific color and it never changes. Seven is always red.

When I first stumbled upon a reference to the condition on the internet, I felt a sense of relief and understanding. Many people have synesthesia, a condition where sensory systems overlap in some way, causing people to consistently experience two senses at the same time. Most often, someone associates certain words or names with certain tastes, or certain shapes with a smell or feeling.

This condition allows me to see the world from a different perspective, to see patterns and order in mathematical chaos. Where others see numbers and equations as streams of boring digits, I see a beautiful canvas filled with bright splashes of color. Synesthesia allows me to see a deeper sense of order in numbers. The colors unify the numbers, bringing a certain aesthetic that compels me in the same way that musicians might be drawn to certain chords or melodies. Math, for me, is like a symphony of color that brings me great pleasure.

Although I rarely speak of my synesthesia, it is the real reason I love math. It lets me see order and beauty in something that others often find confusing and confounding. It allows me to see connections between the numbers and the math more clearly.

So, I chuckle a little bit every time someone mentions how a piece of music left them with a bitter taste in their mouth, or how the sound of a loved one’s name sounds sweet. Perhaps this is just how our brains makes sense of the world around us -- through connection. Because truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and seven is a spectacular sunrise.

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