Career Paths Inspired By A Pharaoh In His Underwear: The Essay That Got Me Into UCLA

Where it all began. (Source: Goosebumps.wiki.com)

PORTFOLIO SAMPLE

CONTEXT: Successful application essay for UCLA’s undergrad program.

REASON FOR INCLUSION: This is a funny, true look at my personal history with English literature. The tone is slightly more relaxed and conversational than my usual academic writing, and I have chosen it to demonstrate the creative latitude I am capable of within the framework of formal writing.

My love of English began with my dad in his underwear, wearing a Pharaoh mask. I was about eight at the time, and until then had held an intense — albeit distant — fascination with books. That night, my father sought to change that with a clever ploy. He told me he was going to a Halloween party in a couple of days and needed to “research” his costume, gesturing to the young adult horror novel about rampaging mummies lying next to me on the bed. With masterfully calculated innocence, he casually added “You can read it after I’m done, if you want.”

I did, and of course the book was as hackneyed as anyone would expect. To an eight year-old raised on cartoons about men in loincloths firing lasers at skeleton monsters, however, it was like Finnegan’s Wake, but readable. I devoured it, followed by every other book in the series — it was a very persistent mummy — and before long, I was familiar with every major author in my age group. By the time I graduated high school, I could provide a pretty solid exegesis on the major works of Tolstoy and Dickens, even if the works I’d read were more or less limited to the sort of thing one may find on the “Summer Reading Classics” shelf at Border’s.

The tumultuous period after high school, however, was marked by the death of my father, a sudden influx of money, and a dramatic reorientation of my worldview caused by extensive travel, all of which lead to a cooling-off period of minimal reading. I never forgot the joy of literature, but at the same time studying long-dead authors felt both quaint and somewhat hubristic compared to the enormity of the world opening itself up to me.

When I returned to college a few years later, then, reacquainting myself with books was like returning to the loving embrace of a beloved yet distant relative. Even so, the genuine turning point never arrived until I had an excellent Bible as Literature class that was taught by an instructor who believed in me enough to get me a job in my school’s tutoring program. Since then, I’ve been studying writing on a level far more nuanced than I ever fantasized. I’ve read hundreds of papers by hundreds of students from dozens of countries, and the thrill of peering directly into someone’s brain has never worn off. For hours a day, I parse language down to its finest points, rending the fat from ideas and forever seeking that sublime marriage between efficiency and beauty. My own grasp of the language has developed accordingly. My writing and analytical skills have achieved something beyond rote class learning, a level of professionalism that can only come from endless real-world experience. The cliché about teaching is right: there is no better instruction than instructing.

Before I started tutoring, I loved English but was unsure of my ability to fit in at a formal university program. I sometimes feared I would be unable to create a solid foundation in English’s often amorphous, ever-shifting grammar. Today, I can say with unblinking sincerity that not only will I fit in, I will be one of the strongest students in the program.

This is not the empty plea of a paper tiger begging for acceptance. It is a simple promise born from years of experience.

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