College Memoir Essay Examples

To find a memoir to read, it will probably work better to look at some of the links below, rather than just googling. For your third blog post (finding a memoir online that connects to your chosen theme), you can use any of the memoirs listed below–except the student memoirs listed at bottom of page. I’ll try to add some more links shortly (1/26).

Here’s a favorite of mine, from a wonderful book-length memoir called Without a Map by Meredith Hall:

Killing Chickens“  (this essay would fit the “family” theme)

As you read the essay, pay attention to Hall’s use of sharp images to convey powerful emotion. Think about what the essay is “about,” what universal issues are embedded in Hall’s personal experience. How can you connect to her experiences though you may be no chicken-murderer yourself?

Here’s one that would fit education: Heal McKnight’s “The Hard Part of Community College

And here’s one that would fit health theme: Alissa Nuttig’s “An Appointment with Dread.” And another nice one from the New York Times: Dana Jennings’s “After Cancer, Everyday Miracles.”

You may find some inspiration, in the form of model essays connected to your theme, by browsing through the site This I Believe.

Here are links to some other sites/literary journals that publish memoirs:

The Sun Magazine

Creative Nonfiction

Orion Magazine (this would be a good one to look at for nature memoirs)

Bellevue Literary Magazine (focuses on health-related issues)

Brevity

Sample student essays

Here’sa great essay that would fit the family theme.

Here’s one the fits a food theme, andhere’s one for sports.

Last weekend, I participated in a weekend writing workshop. In a sun-filled room overlooking the Berkshires, I sat amid 30 or so other writers for two days, as we talked, listened, read and practiced the art of memoir writing.

On the first day of the workshop, Dani Shapiro, the author who led the workshop, talked about inspiration, memory and the ways to enter into the telling — and in our case, writing — of a story.

There I sat, struggling to put parts of my story onto paper. Into what incident, relationship or place did I want to delve? How would it feel to unlock something that resides within me? How would readers feel when they interpret my words?

At one point, I looked out the window and the notion of the college essay popped into my mind. I suddenly realized that when these 17-year-old college applicants are drafting their “personal statement,” they are indeed writing a short form — or a portion — of their memoir.

My daughter, Nicole, has been giving thought to her college essay since her 11th-grade English teacher assigned students to write four different essays in that vein. I’d read the drafts of those essays, and was touched and amused by the subjects — her heritage, middle name, love of storytelling, and a ropes course experience — she chose, remembered and recounted.

Over these last several weeks of summer vacation, Nicole has been working, and working some more, on her common application essay. She’s gone back and forth between two ideas, trying to perfect both, hoping that the one she ultimately chooses will best reflect who she is. Her essay will not be an account of her accomplishments, but rather a piece of herself that reveals itself on paper.

Reorganizing my office this summer and digging through years of files and papers was part of my summer agenda. And in doing so, I came upon my own college essay. Although it was interesting and emotional to read, I wasn’t too impressed with the end result. The topic was my grandfather — a Holocaust survivor — and all that I’d learned from his passions and ability to appreciate life after surviving the atrocities of a concentration camp.

“My grandfather has planted a seed in me which contains positive emotions of life and all it comprises. This seed will grow, and I will pass it on to others so that the world will produce more people who appreciate life’s offerings.”

Huh?

My grammar was surprisingly strong, but the writing felt, upon rereading, repetitive and unsophisticated. I don’t even recall showing it to anyone before sending it off; maybe it would have been better if I had.

I’m not sure that writing a personal essay or memoir is ever easy. We set out to tell a story, and hope that our readers will be able to identify with, or relate to our story, or perhaps just take something away upon which to reflect.

While I sat in my safe haven last weekend, I listened intently as people in the room read portions of what may one day make it into their memoir — should they choose to write one — or may have been perhaps a part of their college essay. Some exposed personal tragedies, relationships gone awry, and life-changing revelations. Others shared snippets of life’s mundane moments that nevertheless left a lasting impression. It felt liberating to be, and write, in such an environment.

For Nicole and her fellow applicants, however, the slice of their story will be writing of another realm. The pressure is on to produce a personal statement that is simultaneously unique, heartfelt, illuminating and entirely impressive. This will be their chance to give a very different set of strangers an opportunity to turn the pages of their memoir, perhaps the most important one they’ll write for a long time.

To offer your thoughts on what Ms. Gerszberg has written, please use the comment box below. To read more by her, click here.

Mom U.

Occasional reflections on the admissions process by Caren Osten Gerszberg, the mother of a high school junior.

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