"Lunch-Time Horror Stories"

University of Southern California

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250 - 650 words

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“One of the parents emailed me, saying their daughter came home terrified because of your lunch-time horror stories.”

I was in third grade, and Mrs. Brewer pulled me aside at lunch. She leaned down - barely, however, as she was already so short - and gently grabbed my shoulder. Her lips were chapped and pink and wisps of her soft gray hair outlined her round face.

Without a mirror, I already knew my cheeks were red. The idea of getting in trouble engulfed my face with heat and tingled the tip of my nose. “It’s okay!” she assured me, with an air that suggested she found the whole situation amusing. “I just wanted to tell you so you could stop. You aren’t in trouble.” I granted a small nod, my mouth drier than the Sahara. She stood and patted my back. “Alright.”

That was the first time a story I created had ever affected anyone else; part of me danced in the sunlight, while a larger part of me ruminated in the dark, worried about the trouble I may have caused because someone’s daughter came home terrified thanks to some chubby, nerdy girl’s ghost stories. However, for that chubby, nerdy girl, those scary campfire stories were her door into the A-list social crowd of the lunchroom; the popular girls in my grade invited me to their table every day. Granted, I knew they only wanted me for entertainment. But, man, it felt good to be wanted, and it still does.

When my films affect other people, I feel joy. For example, “Cardboard Castles” is a drama I co-directed about a father with a terminal illness grappling with the challenges of explaining to his daughter that he is dying. When I watch it with an audience and the audience begins to cry, it means I have successfully conveyed a story that connected deeply with others. There’s not a feeling in the world like it.

From creating make-believe scenarios with dollhouses to Scooby-Doo movies made by my cousins and me to producing my own films, stories follow me like cats follow laser pointers. I feed off of other people’s energy like a new-age carnivore. I am fascinated by the human experience and enjoy thinking, talking, learning, and even complaining about it. With this in mind, it makes sense that I talked to random strangers as a toddler, loved history class, and have participated in student council since I attended a school that offered it.

To build on this, storytelling is one of the most human things we do. As far as we know, humans are the only species who do this. From cave walls to the Globe Theatre to online fanfiction, humans have been telling stories since we could think. Now, I find myself considering a career path, and I have concluded with certainty that I want–no, need–to collaborate with others to celebrate the human experience.

So, here I am, pushing forward with my motivation to become a successful director. I want to influence filmmaking in a revolutionary way. I want to be an auteur. I want little girls to look up to me and see that directing is something they can do. I want to win awards. I want to mentor young filmmakers and help them overcome obstacles. I want to push limits and break glass ceilings. I want to tell stories the world needs to hear. I am so fortunate to have found a profession that combines all of my skills and passions into one expansive field. My leadership, resilience, creativity, and drive are like a delicious soup served at one specific restaurant: the film industry.

Why This Essay Works:

  • Shows Strong Sense of Personality: This essay has lots of moments where the author's character comes across vividly. By using conversational language and interjections like "I want to—no, need—to...", the author has a clear "voice" and you can easily imagine them as if they were speaking directly to you. This student also showcases self-awareness and a sense of humor, by using slightly self-deprecating phrases like "some chubby, nerdy girl" and by recognizing how the social approval of sitting with the "popular girls" was enthralling at the time. Self-awareness is a highly valuable trait to portray, because it shows that you're able to reflect on both your strengths and weaknesses, which is a skill needed to be able to grow and develop.
  • Connects To Accomplishments Naturally: This author manages to tie in their activity of producing films and reference them specifically ("Cardboard Castles") by connecting them to their main point. Instead of listing their activities or referencing them out-of-the-blue, they show how these accomplishments are perfect examples of a greater message. In this case, that message is how meaningful it is to connect with others through storytelling. To write about your activities and achievements without seeming arbitrary or boastful, make them have a specific purpose in your essay: connect to a value, idea, or use them as examples to show something.
  • Unnecessary Descriptions: In the intro of this essay, there are some descriptions that seem fiction-like and are ultimately unimportant to the main idea. Sentences that describe Mrs. Brewer's appearance or phrases describing how their teacher stood up after talking to them ultimately don't contribute to the story. Although these provide "context," the only context that admissions are interested in is context and details which have a purpose. Avoid writing like fiction books, which describe all the characters and settings, and instead only describe exactly what is needed to "go somewhere" in your essay.

What They Might Change:

  • Hook Lacks Explanation: This essay has a strong hook which captivates the reader by making them ask a question: "What are these lunch-time horror stories?" By sparking the reader's imagination early on, you can draw them into your writing and be more engaged. However, ultimately this is somewhat of a letdown because these intriguing "lunch-time horror stories" are never described. Although it may not be completely necessary for the main point, describing one example or hinting at it more closely would be satisfying for the reader and still connect to the main idea of storytelling. One idea is to replace the conclusion with a reference to these "lunch-time horror stories" more vividly, which would be a satisfying ending that also could connect to filmmaking and storytelling. In general, anticipate what the reader will be looking for, and either use that expectation to your advantage by subverting it, or give them what they want as a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.
  • Stronger Conclusion: Although this conclusion could work as is, it could be stronger by seeming less arbitrary and less "fancy for fancy sake." Often, a good strategy is to connect your conclusion to something earlier in your essay such as your introduction or specific wording that you used throughout. In this essay, it could work much better to end by revealing one of those "lunch-time horror stories" in a way that also emphasizes their main point: how storytelling is a powerful tool to connect people.
Word Count: 606/650
Our Rating:
Very Good
Why this rating?
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
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