College Applications: Using Metaphors Effectively

College Applications: Using Metaphors Effectively

By Valerie Burn

Metaphors and similes are a part of any writer’s toolkit, and can transform a basic essay into a great story. However, it's easy to fall into clichés when you are first becoming comfortable with them. Clichés are phrases like “cold as ice” or “quiet as a mouse.” While they certainly convey what you are trying to say, there is something very obvious and trite about employing overused phrases.

This essay uses a powerful metaphor throughout the story—a metaphor of comparing storms and energy to difficult experiences in life. One way to make it more powerful is to use it and refer to it even more, which really demonstrates the message you are trying to convey.

Prompt: Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Struck by Lightning

Since I was a little child, I have always enjoyed listening to the sound of thunders rolling through the sky. I have always thought of it as living energy moving through the atmosphere. And often, when I was younger, I asked myself questions such as can I grab the lightning with my bare hands? Or can that energy be stored and used? Now, that I have grown older, I know it can be stored, but not in human beings— since it is physically impossible. However, let us leave space for imagination just for a while. And I will invite you to picture human beings as batteries that store great amounts of energy. Nevertheless, this energy starts running out and eventually we need to be recharged. Therefore, lightning makes itself a perfect source of energy for us.

Thunderstorms are a natural phenomenon. Of course, with modern technologies we have been able to control where the lightning will hit. However, if we were to stand in a vast plain without having a shelter of any kind, the prediction of the fall of the lightning would be impossible. The same occurrence takes place in humans—keep in mind that for the moment we are batteries. You never know when or where a lightning will strike you. Now, allow me to explain what these intriguing natural phenomena consist of. Lightings encompass all the hardships and trials that define the life of human beings. I suppose that you are wondering how I plan to illustrate that a hardship recharges a battery. Well, it is quite simple if one analyses it carefully. As human beings we make the decision of whether we will receive the energy or not.

For instance, two years ago my father was diagnosed with a tumor located between his cerebellum and brain stem. At first glance, the news left me in a state of stupefaction. The lightning had struck me in such a hard and swift way that for a brief moment I fell into a state of numbness. I had to deal with the whole situation—having two younger sisters it was my duty to depict strength. This circumstance affected every single area of my life—from my financial condition to my student life. However, before it was too late, I realized that instead of wasting the energy that the lightning was exerting on me; it was better to use the energy as a boost of power.

After conceiving that reality, suddenly I understood that my struggle was not a hardship, but on the contrary it was an opportunity. Of course, every single day my heart breaks into small pieces when I see my father unable to move his body’s right side as a consequence of his various surgeries or even when I see him coiling in his bed because of the unbearable pain that he endures. Nevertheless, instead of using this image for lamenting on the unfairness of life, I use it to gain fortitude in order to get through the day. When I look back at the whole situation, I remind myself that it is imperative to keep looking forward. I don’t have to ponder on whether persevering or not; I know I have to continually thrive for the best of the best.

During my whole life, I have seen people, who are undergoing similar situations, crumble apart on the first discharge of energy. I have come to understand that I am not that kind of person—my character will never allow me to be so. I not only possess the ability of getting up on my two feet—if I ever get knock down—, but also have the ability of encouraging my peers to follow my example. I am aware that life will hit me with more lighting in the future. Nevertheless, I already know how to manage them. I have raised myself up before and I will do it again. I am prepared to face future lightning, support the ones that also get struck by them, and impact everyone around me with the knowledge that I gained throughout all these experiences.

Our Thoughts:

  1. First of all, college admissions officers want a personal story. I like that this is personal and the essay describes a significant experience, which is the goal.
  2. The battery and storm metaphor is really good, but you might want to develop it more in the beginning, with a few more analogies or similes between humans and batteries. Also, it would be helpful to further connect how storms and energy are connected to batteries.
  3. You tell a great story, but sometimes you get caught up in a clunky sentence or idea.

For example:

Now, that I have grown older, I know it can be stored, but not in human beings— since it is physically impossible. However, let us leave space for imagination just for a while. And I will invite you to picture human beings as batteries that store great amounts of energy. Nevertheless, this energy starts running out and eventually we need to be recharged.

Consider:

Now, that I am older, I know it can be stored, but not in human beings— since it is physically impossible. (Paragraph break)

(New topic - suspending belief.) However, let us suspend belief, just for a while. I invite you to picture human beings as batteries that store great amounts of energy. Like batteries, this energy starts running out, and eventually we need to be recharged.

Always think about how you can cut out words: it often increases clarity. Instead of saying "have grown older" just say "am older." Instead of saying "let us leave space for imagination," say "let us suspend belief."

Another example, from the last paragraph:

When I look back at the whole situation, I remind myself that it is imperative to keep looking forward. I don’t have to ponder on whether persevering or not; I know I have to continually thrive for the best of the best.

Consider:

When I look back at the situation, I remind myself that it is important to keep looking forward. I do not have to wonder about whether I should persevere. I know I must continually strive for the best.

Sometimes, having a great vocabulary is a curse because it makes things sound awkward. Here, I substituted "imperative" for the word "important." "Important" is a better fit, and sounds more like a real voice. Same for "wonder" versus "ponder."

Lastly, "whether perservering or not" can be de-clunkified by saying "whether I should persevere." When you use the word "whether," the "or not" is implied. I would also use semicolons sparingly, because often a period makes more sense than trying to connect two sentences.

4. The biggest problem with your essay is the flow—sometimes it is hard to connect all the different ideas you have going on: storms, batteries, sickness, strength. When you have an idea in your head, it is very clear how things tie together. Once it gets on paper, a lot can be lost in translation. Do not patronize your reader, but be sure to make all the logical connections and leaps explicit.

You can do this in a variety of ways. Think about how batteries can run out or be recharged, and how that’s similar to what humans experience when they’re “drained.” You can even, perhaps, describe what it looks or feels like when a toy runs out of batteries—as a way to describe how you were feeling when your father was first diagnosed.

What I think you are missing is the connection between the storm and the energy. How did your father being sick give you energy? How is this like a battery? Be explicit.

5. I also think you should reinforce the battery/energy analogy in the last two paragraphs—just to tie it all together.

6. Lastly, college admissions officers do not just want to know about you. They want to know about why you want to go to their school, how their school is special to you given your goals, why you’re a good fit, etc. You do not need to reinvent the wheel to do this—and somewhat generic explanations are okay. For example, if you are staying close to home, explain that the school is a great fit because you can still see your dad and younger sisters on weekends, while pursing a great education. If you are going to a school for a specific major or program, mention that! It shows you did your research and you are ready for college.

What do you think, Sparklers? How can our writer improve her essay? What stylistic or grammatical things would you change to make it the best?

Topics: college, sparklers, college applications, writing, application essays, college application essays, writing help, college essays, admissions essays, college admissions essays

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