Writing college applications can be fun. Stop laughing.
Think about it: in the next few months, we are asking you to write about only things that you already love! That can be fun! Here’s the thing: “fun” doesn’t mean “easy.” It can be very tricky to write a combination of essays (for Tufts it’s four, including the supplement and the Common App’s Personal Statement) that you feel describe you perfectly and authentically. These essays need to be informative, concise, and written totally in your 17-year-old voice. That’s hard. So every year my colleagues and I collect a handful of essays written by last year’s applicants that worked really well (meaning they’re now Jumbos) and we publish them on our site for you to read! We then choose a few and talk about why they worked so well. Here are the resulting videos. Watch and learn, my friends:
“Biogeochemical. It's a word, I promise!” There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother's famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out. And then, I am crowned the victor, a true success in the Merchant household. But it is fleeting, as the small, glossy, plastic tiles, perfectly connected to form my winning word, are snatched out from under me and thrown in a pile with all the disgraced, “unwinning” tiles as we mix for our next game of Bananagrams. It's a similar donnybrook, this time ending with my father arguing that it is okay to use “Rambo” as a word (it totally is not).
Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life: from silly games like Bananagrams and our road-trip favorite “word game,” to stunted communication between opposing grandparents, each speaking a different Indian language; from trying to understand the cheesemonger behind the counter with a deep southern drawl (I just want some Camembert!), to shaping a script to make people laugh.
Words are moving and changing; they have influence and substance. Words, as I like them, create powerful flavor combinations in a recipe or (hopefully) powerful guffaws from a stand-up joke. They make people laugh with unexpected storylines at an improv show and make people cry with mouthwatering descriptions of crisp green beans lathered with potently salty and delightfully creamy fish sauce vinaigrette at Girl and the Goat. Words create everything I love (except maybe my dog and my mom, but you know, the ideas). The thought that something this small, a word, can combine to create a huge concept, just like each small reaction that makes up different biogeochemical cycles (it's a stretch, I know), is truly amazing.
After those aggressive games, my family is quickly able to, in the words of a fellow Nashvillian, “shake it off.” We gather around bowls of my grandmother's steaming rice and cumin-spiced chicken (food is always, always at the center of it), and enjoy. By the end of the meal, our words have changed, changed from the belligerent razzle dazzle of moments before to fart jokes and grandparental concern over the state of our bowels.
All my life I have been surrounded by science, filled with science, covered in science. I grew up with an electron microscope in the house, a holography lab and darkroom in the basement, and a cleanroom next door. While my friends were playing in sandboxes I was playing with dry ice in the sink. It is not impossible that I may have been influenced by this. I grew up with an interesting mix of science and art, which comes from my parents. My mother is a photographer and holographer, as well as an optical engineer; my father is an entrepreneur and the creator of the plasma ball light sculpture. They embrace both science and art and have taught me to embrace both as well. When I was young my mother taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and at about the same time my father introduced me to BASIC programming. This laid the seeds for nearly everything that has come after. I kept much of my childlike creativity, and infused it with technology. Nearly all of my school projects have had an extra element that made them much more interesting; a book project on Cities in Flight was a magnetically levitating model of a city, a tectonic map project became a Blender animation, an English class final project was a trio of holograms.
My family has taught me to do interesting things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, and fun.
After a long day of school, a strenuous practice, and a long ride home on SEPTA, I walk into a noisy house. Balls flying, TV loud, dogs barking, food cooking. A two-bedroom house with seven occupants. My mother in the kitchen cooking; the dining room table cluttered with paper. The living room is filled with animals and a few humans. I go upstairs and the bathroom is occupied while the children play in the bedroom I am designated to sleep in. My younger brother runs in and out of my mom's room sneakily playing the Playstation, although no one is patrolling. Where in this two story house can I do my homework? The basement? I like to have spider web-free hair. The bathroom? Occupied. My bedroom? Occupied. My mom's room? Inconsistently occupied. The closet? The closet!
On roughly a 6-foot by 4-foot shelf I sit with my books and papers spread out in front of me. Garments hanging from above and footwear resting below. Trying to ignore the clamor around me, I indulge in my homework. The most peaceful place in the house, although it is quite uncomfortable. No one notices I'm gone so they don't bother to look for me-except for the cat. I successfully avoid all humans, but when the cat prances in and finds me he stops at the doorway and stares. I stole his hiding place.
Tufts' ILVS major drew me instantly. I wanted to explore both film and literature as vehicles of social and cultural significance, to discuss the parallels of transnationalism in cinema and literature, to compare the auteur theory across cultures and media; I'd already noticed common threads of cynicism and anti-establishment sentiments that influenced this generation of Singaporean writers and filmmakers, and I found this intersection a rich, fascinating one. The ILVS is uniquely Tufts; the fact that this major exists at all speaks volumes - this is a community that embraces diversity, and uses it to enrich the way students learn.
My first vivid memory of swim practice is of being yanked by the ankles from underneath the kitchen table, my nails scratching against the wood floor and my screams loud enough to elicit the neighbors' concern.
Clearly, I hadn't “gotten” swimming yet. As a first grader, I simply couldn't understand how shoving my hair into a cap, wearing goggles that almost pressed my eyes out of their sockets, and flailing my limbs in freezing liquid for an hour could possibly be worth my while.
However, as I came to understand the mechanics and elegance of the sport, my attitude started to change. It really changed in 4th grade, when I began to win races. The little gold medals gave me a confidence that was addicting. More than that, they motivated me to cultivate good habits before I learned that discipline, daily practice, and just being part of a team are rewards in and of themselves.
Swimming has definitely influenced the way I move through the world. To avoid head-on collisions with lane mates, swimmers are taught from the beginning to always stay to the right of the lane, called circle swimming. Sometimes I feel as though I “circle-live”-walking on the right, driving on the right (naturally), even sleeping on the right. Yet, thinking of how focused and alive I feel after swimming, I think it's more accurate to say that my time in the pool keeps me centered.