This prompt is about more than just your favorite novel. At its heart, this prompt is asking you to tell a story about your own personal development through your relationship to a work of art.
It might be tempting to choose a fancy piece of literature in order to show off your intellectual prowess. But you should not feel pressured into claiming that you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow every summer since you were eight years old. The admissions committee is more interested in seeing that you are a thoughtful person who is capable of reflecting on how you have changed. If you can tell that story best by writing about Pokémon, Episode 70, “Go West Young Meowth,” so be it.
You might say that as a child you were mostly drawn to the flashy drawings and silly cartoons. But maybe when you saw that episode again in your high school years, you were fascinated with how it imagines that an animal might learn to speak “human language.” This might have been one piece of your growing interest in the philosophy of human-animal relations and the different ways that species communicate with each other.
Of course, not everything that we read as a child ages well. One way to approach this essay is to talk about something that you might have once loved, and perhaps still love, but has come to seem more problematic. For one example of what such an essay might look like, you might turn to Daniel Jose Ruiz’s essay on Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. For Ruiz, the fantasy world where mice and badgers were good guys and weasels and ferrets were bad guys was a place where he felt included as a child:
I felt a kinship with the badger characters. They were large, strong, a bit stubborn, with big tempers, but they were good guys and heroes. Redwall seemed to say that I could be a good guy and a hero even though I was big for my age, stubborn, and volatile.
But as Ruiz grew older and read more, parts of the Redwall books called out for critique:
You can do a pretty thorough Marxist reading of Redwall as a parable of the righteous nature of bourgeois property relations. The mice, hares, and badgers are metaphors for the inherent superiority of the ruling class, while the vermin are symbols of the degenerate nature of the proletariat.
In the real world, however, few people just decide to become bandits unless their situation dictates that this is one of the better options for survival. I can’t recall a single time where the [mice and badgers try] to establish a mutually beneficial agreement with the vermin, as opposed to occasional acts of charity that don’t address systemic issues.
However you choose to write about your changing relationship to a piece of art, your focus should be on how you and your interpretation of that work have changed over time. You do not want to get bogged down with lots of plot summary. Notice how, as you read Ruiz’s essay, no sentences are given over to just describing the plot: Every sentence weaves summary and analysis together, with constant references to his own personal story.
Finally, there is one last possibility for how you might approach this prompt that is a little bit more experimental. The prompt asks you to address how your developmental story changed the way you understand a work of art. But what if you reversed the prompt and asked how a work of art changed the way you understood your own developmental story? Perhaps a relevant essay in this vein is Ashon Crawley’s poetic meditation on Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winning 2016 film, Moonlight.
“Sometimes fiction functions to produce memory,” Crawley says, and then goes on to tell the story of how he grew through three different nicknames (Berry Berry, Cookie, and Ashon) parallel to, but not exactly the same as, the film’s main character who is known as “Little,” then “Chiron,” then “Black.”
Even if you end up structuring your essay in a more traditional manner, it is worth noting how Crawley zooms in on precise details that might have been mundane but vibrate with meaning in the force of his prose — a change in email address, a choir membership card, a Walter Hawkins song…
As you respond to Villanova’s prompt, you will not be able to tell the admissions committee every twist and turn in the story of your maturation, but your essay might become bland if you only speak in vague general terms. Ashon slices through this dilemma by focusing on precise details, little snippets from his life, that tell some, but not all, of his story. As you write, it is worth considering what little moments you might choose from your own life’s story to represent how you’ve changed.
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One of the core values of Villanova, as an Augustinian university founded on the teachings of St. Augustine is that students and faculty learn from each other. As you imagine yourself as a member of the Villanova community, what is one lesson you have learned in life that you will want to share with others?
The scar on my face
Girls with haircuts, no makeup on, not even the slightest lip gloss, maybe some 'Vaseline' on the lip to prevent cracks, wearing a beige blouse, a brown skirt, brown flat sandals to match and on the ear, a pair of tiny copper earrings or nothing at all. This is what one would see at a typical gathering of students in my secondary school.
'Beautiful ladies' at first sight will usually be found wearing a beautiful attire with accessories to match and a nice hairstyle or the latest style in 'Vogue'. In my secondary school, which happened to be catholic and a girl's school, "every student is beautiful", our headmistress always said and we all laughed every time she said that because we knew how awful we looked. We always compared ourselves to women (beautiful ladies) we saw in magazines and they were truly beautiful, we all admitted. Our headmistress always told us that the word beauty meant eloquence, confidence, decency, intellect, respect for one's self and others but we defined beauty to be make-up, tight clothes to show your womanly shape and other things we saw the showbiz people wear (could one blame us?).I did not pay so much attention to her definition of beauty until the arrival of someone who was a great illustration of what she meant.
In my last semester, second year, in senior high school, a transfer student came to our school and I will forever remember her. She walked into the class elegantly; she wore a warm smile on her scarred face and she talked with so much sweetness and confidence. I just wanted to talk to her and when I finally had the chance to, I was amazed that a girl my age could talk like that. She talked with so much experience and the next thing I knew, I was asking her why she was so beautiful and she answered: the scar on my face (how can a scar make you beautiful for Christ's sake? I thought). I don't know and would probably never know how she got that scar because she left the next semester but one thing I know is that she got it through a very bad experience.
The semester she left, I knew I had learnt something, that beauty can be defined in so many ways. One can be beautiful by dressing like what my friends and I saw in the magazines. Another person could be beautiful because of what she has gone through and how she reacts to it. It could be the way one behaves, walks, talks or eats. I eventually agreed to what my headmistress said. We were beautiful. Aside our academics, we were taught to be young ladies, to be fashionable but decent, to talk well, to walk briskly, and to respect one another, to help people in need and many more. That is what made us beautiful.
Now that I have graduated, I do like to use a little makeup. As I walk around, I feel beautiful and I see beauty in people that others cannot see. I have learnt what true beauty is. I can see myself sitting with beautiful ladies and handsome gentlemen in the Villanova community sharing with them what I have learnt in life about beauty. If I should go back to my school at a time of a gathering, I know I would see beautiful young ladies, who will become the future leaders in the world, dressed decently and proud of whom they are.
Hey! I like the idea of your essay. Give me just a few minutes to edit it...
"Girls with haircuts, no makeup on, not even the slightest lip gloss, maybe some 'Vaseline' on the lip to prevent cracks, wearing a beige blouse, a brown skirt, brown flat sandals to match and on the ear, a pair of tiny copper earrings or nothing at all. This is what one would see at a typical gathering of students in my secondary school."
Personally I would shorten this a lot. You go a little too much into detail and it can start to sound redundant. Try:
"Girls with no makeup on, wearing beige blouses, brown skirts and brown flat sandals to match. This is what one would see at a typical gathering of students at my high school. "
" 'Beautiful ladies' at first sight will usually be found wearing a beautiful attire with accessories to match and a nice hairstyle or the latest style in 'Vogue'. In my secondary school, which happened to be catholic and a girl's school, "every student is beautiful", our headmistress always said and we all laughed every time she said that because we knew how awful we looked. We always compared ourselves to women (beautiful ladies) we saw in magazines and they were truly beautiful, we all admitted. Our headmistress always told us that the word beauty meant eloquence, confidence, decency, intellect, respect for one's self and others but we defined beauty to be make-up, tight clothes to show your womanly shape and other things we saw the showbiz people wear (could one blame us?)"
I see what you're trying to do here, but in context it doesn't make much sense. Try:
"This isn't what most of the world would describe as "beautiful." "Beautiful ladies," in contrast, usually sport the latest hairstyles in "Vogue" magazine, with glitzy makeovers, outfits, and accessories to match.
My headmistress at the single-sex Catholic high school I attend always said that "Every student is beautiful." My classmates and I would laugh every time she said that because we knew how awful we looked."
"We always compared ourselves to women we saw in magazines, whom we thought were truly beautiful ."
* Don't use the word "we" so much. Colleges want to hear about YOU, not you and you classmates as a group.
Hi Nessa, sorry I didn't respond until now. Lots of people, like you, got only one answer around the end of december... it was busy! :-)
This comma should be moved, but it's no big deal:
...sandals to match, and on the ear a pair of tiny copper earrings or nothing at all.
In order to avoid presumptuousness, add "often":
As I walk around, I feel beautiful and I see beauty in people that others often cannot see.