If you Google “best college essays,” hundreds of links will pop up. You can kill a lot of time reading essays that got applicants into Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and every other elite university under the sun – and there is much to be gained from doing so! However, my personal favorite essay* is an antique. Written by Hugh Gallagher in 1989 as part of his NYU application, some admissions counselors call this essay “the most famous college essay ever written,” and for good reason: there isn’t another one like it.
The full text of Gallagher’s essay is below, and it’s worth a read. (I’ve even bolded my personal favorite lines.) In it, he lists a variety of completely fictional and hilarious “accomplishments.” In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Gallagher explained his approach, stating that he “thought it was ridiculous that a college application would ask for an essay about the accomplishments of a 17-year-old, so he decided to have fun with it.” That’s right – instead of frantically trying to come up with an achievement that would wow the admissions counselors, he decided to say, in a humorous way, that he really didn’t have one. And it worked.
*Full disclosure: Gallagher didn’t actually use this as his main essay, though many websites, blogs, and articles will incorrectly claim that he did. However, it was a writing sample submitted as part of his application. Either way, it’s the essay he’s remembered for, the thing that got him into NYU, and the “claim to fame” that jumpstarted his successful career.
“I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.
Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing. I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook 30-minute brownies in 20 minutes.
I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello. I was scouted by the Mets. I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire.
I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life, but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven.
I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.
But, I have not yet gone to college.”
Obviously, you cannot recreate Gallagher’s essay. However, there are some great takeaways from what he did. First, he thought outside the box. He got a whooooole lot of attention because he decided to do something different. It was risky, it was funny, and it was memorable. Is risk-taking always smart on an application? Probably not. Is there a time and a place for it? Absolutely.
At the Enrichery’s College Admissions Summer Workshop you’ll have help crafting an attention-grabbing, out-of-the-box essay. In this week-long, all-inclusive workshop, you’ll solidify your college list, create your resume, write your essays, finish your applications in their entirety, and more. Most importantly, our expert coaches and editors will make sure your application has what it takes to stand out in one of the most competitive seasons of college admissions.
Wondering if our College Admissions Workshop is the right fit for you? Let’s chat! We’re always here to answer questions or simply explain a bit more. Send us a message, contact us on Facebook, or email email@example.com. We’ll discuss your specific needs, and see if this Workshop is the perfect addition to your summer plans!