One unquestioned pillar of journalism is the importance of accuracy in a journalist’s work.
This was the first sentence of the essay I wrote to gain acceptance to Medill and Northwestern. I’d be hard-pressed to craft another sentence that so eloquently states, “I am the essence of a typical Medill student, and I want to come to Northwestern solely in the valiant pursuit of truth. Also, I’m a complete asshole.”
The prompt for the essay, which was specific to Northwestern, asked students to identify “unique qualities” of the school that had convinced applicants that it would be a good idea to give $200,000 to Northwestern. I decided to use the essay to describe my unrelenting determination to become what I imagined Medill wanted me to become: some sort of super reporter who would spend all his time focused on career preparation.
The pomposity only grew as I continued.
So when my counselor at the National High School Institute, a current Northwestern journalism student, proclaimed, “Medill kicks your ass,” I knew she had given my fellow cherubs and I the straight-up truth. Many exchanged nervous looks, and several immediately dismissed any chance of attending the Medill School of Journalism.
I surveyed the room, surprised at the fear hanging over the group. After all, we were 83 student journalists giving up a substantial portion of our summer to learn about and participate in the art.
In this passage, I assert my superiority over other students participating in a summer journalism program at Northwestern. “Cherubs,” as we are commonly called for some reason, are high schoolers willing to give up five weeks of their summers to hone their journalism skills. Clearly a very cool group of kids. But when my essay notes the “fear hanging over the group,” I manage to paint a picture of students cowering in fear while I stood tall, pen and notebook in hand, ready to break some news and hold some public officials accountable, damn it.
Also, I referred to journalism as “art.” Gag.
So far, the essay is accomplishing its mission: Build myself up, and disparage all other applicants.
Northwestern’s reputation as a top-rated academic institution immediately drew me to the school. Specifically, the close connection with high-caliber professors was one quality that I originally found appealing even before my summer stay. I was also intrigued by the abundance of resources and facilities within the university and the city of Chicago. The journalism school has unmatched amenities and a rigorous curriculum designed to produce top-of-the-line journalists. But above all, Medill has a reputation as the best journalism school in the country.
Did these lines come straight from a Medill brochure? Obviously not, because originality is another “unquestioned pillar of journalism,” to quote myself. Either way, this section of the essay is obligatory: Compliment the institution until it blushes.
Outside of the classroom, I would be the first to get involved with resources such as the Northwestern News Network, The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern Radio WNUR, and other student periodicals.
This line turned out to be a complete lie. Sorry, North By Northwestern – or, perhaps I should say, “other student periodicals.”
Northwestern’s outstanding academics combined with an athletic program in the Big Ten Conference makes the university unique. It is certainly fun for everyone (except maybe for the Northwestern football team) to see the Buckeyes and Wolverines roll into Ryan Field every couple years.
In retrospect, it has not been “fun for everyone” to see the Buckeyes and Wolverines roll into Ryan Field every couple years. Particularly it has not been fun for me. It sounds trivial, but many of my most frustrating moments of college have taken place on autumn Saturdays, walking dejectedly from Ryan Field to campus. On Oct. 8, 2011, I made that walk after Northwestern blew a 10-point first-half lead to Michigan. I made that walk again on Oct. 5, 2013, when Northwestern relinquished a 10-point second-half lead to the powerhouse Ohio State Buckeyes. And I made that walk one last time on Nov. 16, 2013, after Northwestern lost a heartbreaker in three overtimes to Michigan.
For the record, I didn’t have to look up any of those dates.
I would be able to use my experience writing about the Detroit Lions to report on Northwestern teams. And by covering the lowly Lions, I would be prepared for any sort of losing season thrown at me.
(Sobs while rocking back and forth in a fetal position)
But I am sure of one thing: I am attending college in order to learn, contribute, and to become the best journalist I can be. So while my friends may be having an easy, fun time at some school not named Medill, I’ll be getting my ass kicked. And to tell the truth, I won’t mind at all.
I should probably issue a correction: I minded the ass-kicking. I’ve enjoyed my Medill experience, and without a doubt it has prepared me for what will hopefully be a long and successful journalism career. But I’ve never complained more – mostly just for the sake of complaining – than I have during some of my journalism classes at Northwestern.
But the line I find most interesting from this final passage is the first: “I am sure of one thing: I am attending college in order to learn, contribute, and to become the best journalist I can be.”
I genuinely believed this sentence when I wrote it. But was the primary drive behind everything I did in college actually related to journalism or even academics?
I am doubtful. With my graduation from Northwestern a few days away and my nostalgia for college already in full force, I now recognize that while I entered college as the typical Medill student focused only on the outcome of my college experience (in other words, my first job), I’m leaving college thinking more about the journey: the relationships I forged, the lessons I learned and the memories I’ve made.
If I could rewrite my college essay, it would largely look the same. It accomplished its mission, which was to earn my acceptance to Northwestern, and I’ve had a tremendous college experience.
But if I could rewrite my college experience, I would have shed the careerist attitude I evoked in my essay’s conclusion. I still would have undertaken the same journalistic pursuits I ended up doing in college. But I would have done so because I loved it, not because I had my sights set on a high-ranking position in campus media or a great job after college. I would have focused more on living college life for the moment and not for the future.
I know I’m not the only Northwestern student who has placed too much emphasis on career throughout undergraduate life. But it’s my sincere hope that future Northwestern students think less about the outcome of college and more about the during of college.
In other words, don’t let the story of your college experience look like it was written for a college essay.
Stanley served as WILDCA$H Editor, Life & Style Editor, Sports Editor, Assistant Managing Editor, Managing Editor, Features Editor and Print Managing Editor for North By Northwestern.