Successful Stanford University Application Essay on Hobby or Interest

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Successful Stanford University Admission Essay on Hobby or Interest

Essay by Frances Patricia Neukom

My mom is already telling me that I will have to clean out my room and throw away most of what fills my desk drawers. I am a very sentimental person and keep large quantities of what friends have given me over the years, so it will be hard for me to decide what to discard. The one thing I will never throw away, though, is my letters.

I first began seriously writing letters when I was in fifth grade and found my first pen pal, a cheery girl named Cate from Virginia. We were referred to each other through a magazine and began avidly writing. Cate was not much like me, as she loved horses and hiking while I preferred dogs and writing. Our geographic differences amused us—she couldn't believe I'd never seen a snow storm and I was perplexed when she started playing lacrosse, a sport seldom heard of on the West Coast. But we learned about each other through our letters and I grew close to her—this girl I'd never met who lived three thousand miles away.

She was followed by many others: a girl who lived in West Virginia, another Kate but spelled with a K, who wrote me a letter when she read a story I'd published in a kids' magazine; an elderly lady I knew from Kentucky, Ginny; an old friend from camp, Georgina. I wrote to Frances (named after me), the daughter of a Welsh pen pal my mom had when she was my age. I even began writing to a girl who left my school in eighth grade and lived right over my back fence. Although I saw Sarah occasionally, the way we described our unfolding high school experiences to each other was through our letters. She described her public high school events, like making Homecoming floats, while I told her of my small-school happenings, like the annual lip sync. In my letters, I expressed more and more of myself, igniting my lifelong love of writing. My letters were always keys to self-discovery—I learned who I was through those scribbled sheets. And I kept almost all of my pen pals' letters.In this world of word-processing computers and instantaneous e-mails, letter writing seems a bit quaint to most people, an activity of yesteryear. But I never see it that way. I have always told everyone I can write much better than I can speak. Sometimes when I need to discuss a serious subject with a friend, I find it easier just to sit down and write a letter. With a letter, you have time to reflect on the issue at hand, mull over the precise words to use, and eliminate the constant need to keep the conversation going. Letters are permanent things—they don't vanish into the air like the spoken word. If someone pays you a compliment in a letter, you can save it for when you need it.

I don't type letters. As much as I love computers for their many advantages, typing seems so impersonal. Everyone uses Times or Helvetica to aid the reader in legibility. But letters don't need to have every word be understood—they speak for themselves. You can tell more about someone by their handwriting than printed papers. For instance, my Welsh pen pal would always adorn her curvy handwriting with doodles in the margins, something you couldn't do on a computer. Besides, question marks and exclamation points are so much more effective in handwritten form.

My letter-writing ability has carried over into other aspects of my life. At the end of the year, everyone wants me to sign their yearbook, for I am able to recount the private jokes I've shared with my classmates better than most. People are delighted to receive my postcards, even when I have spent only a weekend in Lake Tahoe, because I don't waste space telling them the lake is beautiful and wishing they were there. One time I got an eleven out of ten on an assignment from a particularly demanding teacher because the assignment was to write a letter from someone else's point of view.

I have lost pen pals over the years. Cate didn't write me for a while and then wrote back recently, describing in detail how she'd gotten drunk at a Creed concert. I felt as if she had become a different person than the girl I grew to know through letters and didn't write back. The elderly lady died a few months ago, and I still cry when I come across cat note cards of hers, filled with her distinctive cursive handwriting. My Welsh pen pal had family problems and never wrote back, no matter how many letters I sent her, pleading for a response, even a short one. (Her mom even stopped writing to my mom.) But I've kept a lot of them, and added some new ones. I am dreading next year a bit, considering how many friends I will want to write long letters to, even though most of them will probably send me only mass e-mails. But I know I will never join their ranks, for letters have allowed me to discover more about myself and other people than any activity ever has. My letters I could never throw away.

Frances Patricia Neukom attends Stanford University.

Essay Review

a life in letters

Just as online chatting can be a great essay topic (Essay 7), so too can the process of old-fashioned letter-writing. Author Francie Neukom eloquently conveys her love of language as she describes her interactions with various pen pals. Says Francie, "My friends would always laugh at me for preferring old-fashioned snail mail to the phone. They rolled their eyes when I said I was writing a college essay about it. However, I knew that my true self would shine through if I wrote about something I was head-over-heels in love with, and writing letters is one of those things. Sometimes the things that make us dorky or weird are the exact qualities that will make us stand out from a pile of fifteen thousand other application essays."

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