More (Friends) in Four. More (Friends) in a Lifetime.

Here I am at the end of my sophomore year feeling sentimental because three of my closest friends here on campus are graduating soon. This may seem like something that is completely irrelevant to some but I think that this particular situation speaks to how the dynamics at Kalamazoo College work in terms of creating friendships and relationships, and maintaining those connections. During my first year here at K, my friend group primarily consisted of other first year students due to participating in LandSea, orientation week, First Year Seminars, and living in one of the all-First-Year dorms. This wasn’t a bad thing by any means. I was very comfortable within my group of friends and was glad I had a stable and strong group of individuals that made my transition from high school to college seem so smooth and comfortable. However, I’ve been able to connect with more people this year for various reasons.

Being a sophomore is very different from being a first year student, and I’m sure that is not a surprise to anyone reading this. When you’re a sophomore you have a year of college experience and have become familiar and more comfortable with the college environment. Yet here at K, the sophomore experience is a little different since you and the seniors essentially run the school. Due to a new wave of first year students and practically all the juniors being on study abroad, student organizations and events typically come down to the responsibility of the sophomores and seniors. This dynamic serves as a catalyst for communication and connection between the two different classes. I have been lucky enough to really get to know seniors in the student organizations and classes I am in because of this dynamic.

Specifically, I have gained three senior friends that I am so grateful to have gotten to know. The three of them have helped guide me through sophomore year (which can be overwhelming because of the responsibility you now have). Through them, I have gained more confidence in certain areas of my life (such as writing and leading) and have been reassured that I don’t have to have everything figured out. One is a Psychology major that will go to medical school, one is an English major who has actually graduated early and will pursue her MFA at a graduate school in northern Michigan in the fall, and the other is an English major who will attend a publishing program at the University of Oxford in England from September to December. The three of them through their own experiences, challenges, and triumphs have taught me that even though their post-grad plans sound so sure and concrete, it took time and effort for them to fall into place. I am beyond thankful that I have had the three of them to serve as friends, mentors, and supporters. That’s the thing about this weird dynamic here at K, it can expose you to some of the most influential people, and I hope one day I will pass on all that they have given to me.

Karina Pantoja ‘20

Ten Ways to Get Through Tenth Week

It’s no secret that Kalamazoo College is academically rigorous. We may only take three classes a quarter, but all of the material that would normally be spread out across a 15-week semester is packed into only ten weeks. Luckily, there are plenty of resources on campus and off campus to help you through the tumult of finishing off the quarter.

  1. The Cavern

The Cavern is a space located underneath Stetson Chapel that has an assortment of comforts for students looking to take a break from the commotion of tenth week. Whether you need a cookie, tea, or merely a soft couch to take a nap on, the Cavern has it all. There is also no WiFi in this underground sanctuary, so if you are feeling like you just need to disconnect, this is a great place to gain some uninterrupted rest and relaxation.

  1. Exam Week Extravaganza

The Saturday night before exam week the cafeteria hosts what is called “Exam Week Extravaganza”. This event, put on by our Office of Student Involvement, has food, drink, and activities to provide students with entertainment and fuel they need to push through the final few days of the quarter. Students can come here for some food and fun – and one year there was even a mechanical bull!

  1. The A Cappella Concert

The weekend before finals week the A Cappella groups at K host their end of quarter concert. We have four a Cappella groups here on campus, and on Friday and Saturday night they perform the songs they’ve been practicing all quarter. This event is a campus favorite and provides students with a respite from studying to support their peers and hear some great music.

  1. Puppies on the Quad

The Office of Student Involvement here at K knows that tenth week is a stressful time for students. Each quarter they host some form of de-stress event during tenth week so that students can take a break from their studies. While their tenth week programming varies throughout the years, my personal favorite is when they partner with local animal shelters and bring in puppies for students to interact with. There is nothing better to energize you than cuddling a pup!

  1. The Lillian Anderson Arboretum

Sometimes, on-campus stress relievers just aren’t enough, and I need to get off campus in order to really relax. One great resource that is owned by the college is the Lillian Anderson Arboretum – a nature preserve about a ten minute drive from campus where students can reconnect with nature. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos and expectations of the end of the quarter, so having a peaceful afternoon on a nature trail is definitely one way to ease the tension of tenth week.

  1. Water Street Coffee Co.

There are several other off-campus locations in addition to the Arboretum that can help students survive their final week of the quarter. The city of Kalamazoo is full of funky little coffee shops such as Water Street Coffee Co., Black Owl Café, Fourth Coast Café and Bakery, and more. All of these locations are within walking distance from campus and can provide a way for students to get off campus.

  1. The Book Club

While taking breaks for self-care is definitely an important part of managing tenth week, sometimes the only way to get through is to hunker down and get to work. When this is the case, the Book Club – our campus coffee shop – can help. Located right on the first floor of the library, the Book Club offers brewed coffee, specialty beverages, and assorted food items. This is a great place to get the fuel you need to power through those tough assignments.

  1. The Library

Speaking of which, the library is also a great resource for students who need a quiet place to focus on their work. Our library has three floors, and as you ascend, it gets quieter. If you need to have absolute silence in order to work, you can find a private study cubby on the third floor to dive in deep with your work. If you work better in a more social environment with background noise, the first floor is the place for you. On the second floor we have the reading room – a gorgeous open space with two fireplaces, comfy arm chairs, and tall glass windows so you can soak in the sunlight while you study.

  1. The Counseling Center

Sometimes, the stress of tenth week can just be too much. When that happens, students can make an appointment with a trained, licensed professional at our student Counseling Center. This resource is completely free for any K College student, and appointments can be arranged within 24 hours of initial contact. This is an excellent resource for students who need that extra bit of support to navigate stressful times.

  1. The Fitness and Wellness Center

Self-care looks different for everyone. For those whose self-care looks like getting their body moving, the Fitness and Wellness Center is a great resource. This newly constructed building has state-of-the-art machinery that is available for free for all students and faculty. There are also squash and tennis quarts, yoga and dance studios, and a weight lifting area. Whatever exercise therapy you may need, the Fitness and Wellness center is the place to go.

Finals week is a stressful time for students at any college or university. Kalamazoo College cares about the well-being of its students and so the resources above and many others are here to ensure that everyone can navigate this intense time of the quarter. With tenth week quickly approaching, I’ll be sure to keep this list in mind!

Savannah Kinchen ‘18

Going in Blind – The Roommate Search

When I was coming to K for my first year, I went into the roommate search blind. I was the only one from my high school coming to K, so I couldn’t simply live with a friend from high school. I decided to do what a lot of incoming First Years do– register for housing and hope for the best. Even though I was no stranger to having to share a space with someone, as I had already shared a room with my sister for a majority of my life, I was still nervous. What if my roommate (or roommates) were messy? What if they always wanted to blast music and never respect some quiet time for studying and homework? Or what if we just really didn’t get along? I was pretty anxious about the whole process, especially when all I could do was wait for the email with my roommate’s name and information.

I can’t lie and say that when that email finally came my worrying ceased. I think I actually became more worried. I now had the name and face of who’d I’d be living with for my first year at K, but I didn’t know what living with them would be like. I decided to reach out to my future roommate and get some basic introductions out of the way (this is something I highly recommend doing!). Even if you just talk a few times on social media or text, you can get a better sense of who your roommate might be as a person. Also, if you introduce yourselves and try to strike up a conversation in advance, it won’t be so awkward on move-in day as you two will already know a little bit about each other.

In terms of actually living with another person, it can definitely be a tricky thing. Sometimes people just click with their roommate or can adjust very easily to a new environment with new people. However, it’s definitely okay if you don’t. My roommate turned out to be super nice, very low-maintenance, and not messy at all. However, we still had to get used to each other’s presence and habits. No matter what rate you go in adjusting to living with someone, I think the best way to handle the change is to keep an open-mind. My roommate and I made sure to keep an open line of communication and not jump to conclusions over things we didn’t necessarily like or understand. For example, if your roommate is supposed to take out the trash and you come back and see it’s still there, it’s better to ask or just casually mention it to them without assuming they’re lazy or left it for you to do. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you just talk and give each other the benefit of the doubt, for both the smaller and bigger things.

All in all, my number one advice to you is to trust the roommate process. once you receive your roommate assignment, remember that you both are experiencing a new place and new people together. Be sure to communicate and be understanding with one another, it can go a long way and be the first steps in creating a lasting friendship.

Karina Pantoja ’20

Make Your Way to K

Here’s the thing, at this point in the college process, you are deciding where you’re going to end up for the next four years of your life. The next four years – it sounds scary and almost like a decision too big for an seventeen or eighteen year old, but let me tell you this, you’re going to end up exactly where you need to. However, while you’re calculating the distance from home or trying to figure out what school colors you’d look better in, you should read this list of 10 reasons why you should make your way to K:

1. Our entire campus lies in (barely) a mile-long radius. It will literally, at most, take you five
minutes to walk from one end of the campus to another. Do you know how great that is in the winter?

2. We have free food at every. single. event. I’m serious, we have so much food to offer you!

3. Downtown Kalamazoo is only a short walk away. There’s everything from a movie theater to restaurants to a museum and stores just a few minutes away!

4. We have the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (also known as the best building on campus). You have the ability to get involved and attend various events with topics that range from Native American representation throughout history to resistance through art.

5. Jorge Gonzalez is the most wonderful, caring, and genuine man you might ever meet and he is also the President of the College (this is a fact). Come for Jorge, he’d love you!

6. We’re on a trimester system (three 10-week terms), which means we start school later (mid-September) and you get a six-week winter break (end of November until the second week of January) – it’s what you need, trust me.

7. The average class size at K is 13. Our small class sizes mean you get to make valuable connections with your professors, which comes in handy for recommendations and networking in the future.

8. STUDY ABROAD. I mean, let’s be real here, what schools allows you to study abroad for a full academic year and still graduate on time? (Hint: Kalamazoo College does.)

9. By the time you’re a sophomore, you have the opportunity to hold various leadership positions within student organizations. Typically, you wouldn’t serve on an executive board of a club or organization at a bigger university until your junior or senior year, but here at K, you can start as early as the end of your first year so you can go into your sophomore year holding certain positions.

10. You will literally get more in your four years here at K – from career development to study abroad to independent research, your work throughout your time here at K will put you on track to obtain more in a lifetime.

Now there you have it, ten reasons (although there are so many more) on why YOU should make your way to K. We hope to see you soon!

Karina Pantoja ’20

Roommate Anxiety: How I Survived Living with a Total Stranger

During the summer before I came to Kalamazoo College, one of my biggest concerns about the year ahead was how I would have to live in a small space with a complete stranger. I debated whether or not I should go in blind and let the college pair me with someone according to their Housing survey, or if I should find someone over social media to room with that had the same interests as me. Friends and family who had already experienced their first year at college had mixed reviews: stories of college roommates they were still close to into adulthood
that their school had paired them with, acquaintances they had chosen themselves, and roommates they did not get along with. To say the least, the prospect of choosing another person I would have to live and interact with everyday was overwhelming.

I waited to turn in my Housing survey, going back and forth between wanting to just get it over with and go in blind and trying to find someone online. Luckily, the Admissions Office sets up a Facebook page for every incoming class as a way for students to get to know each other prior to coming to campus. A lot of kids posted information about themselves on the page, like their prospective major, their interests and hobbies, their living and studying habits, and where they were from. I scrolled through most of the posts, noting people with similar interests or habits to mine. As the deadline for Housing requests was quickly approaching, I commented on someone’s post who said she liked to paint and loved the movie, Palo Alto – two of my favorite things. We bonded briefly and decided to room together last minute.

Since there wasn’t much on her social media pages and she went on LandSea without a phone for the last two and a half weeks leading up to Orientation, I was nervous that I knew very little about this random girl I had agreed to room with. Flash forward to move-in day, when we finally met and discovered we were in the same First-Year Seminar without even planning it. Since freshman spend the majority of Orientation with their seminar group, we got to know each other pretty quickly and ate most meals together with people in our seminar during the first couple of weeks of school. Regarding the time we spent together in our room, we laid out ground rules with our RA in the Roommate Agreement every resident has to fill out. During the first few days, we talked about standard issues, like how we preferred to study or what our sleeping habits were, but eventually we became more comfortable with each other and starting talking about our hobbies and our personal lives. As the year went on, we learned more about each other and now my roommate is one of my closest friends here at K. For something I came into college thinking would be a huge deal, living with a roommate turned out to be fairly easy. As long as you respect each other’s space, communicate about your habits and needs, and abide by the rules you and your roommate decided on in the Roommate Agreement, the two of you will be able to peacefully coexist and who knows? Maybe you’ll even become friends.

-Emiliana Renuart ’20

The Dorm Is Where The Heart Is

I remember before coming to Kalamazoo College that one of the first things that everyone wanted to know – complete strangers and family members alike – was what my living situation would be. My plan was always the same, and I told them so: I didn’t really know anyone from my incoming class, and so I would “go in blind,” as most first-year students at K do. Though the idea of doing so didn’t have me bouncing off the walls with excitement, it also didn’t fill me with terror. But most of those around me, for whatever reason, seemed to believe I should have more worried than I was.

Going in blind, huh?” they would say. “Good luck. I hope she’s not crazy or anything.”

Just be careful. Keep an eye on your stuff. You never know – she could be a thief.”

Let’s just hope she doesn’t have too many ‘guests’ over too often. Am I right?”

I wish I was making this up, but I genuinely received comments like these and others. They always confused me, and, eventually, grew to annoy me. Perhaps it was naive, but I wasn’t especially concerned about my future roommate stealing my stuff or having too many “guests” in our room or even being “crazy.” I was inclined to believe that the housing folks at the College would take my housing application seriously and pair me up with someone who seemed, at least on paper, to be a good match for me.

My trust was not misplaced. I ended up rooming with a girl named Danielle, “Dani” for short. Though the housing office gave us the other’s phone numbers and we texted throughout all of August, Dani was quiet at first when we met. But then, I suppose, so was I. The first few weeks of living together during fall quarter had some moments of awkwardness, mostly because the two of us had never had to share a room with anyone else before. We could both tell that the other was trying her best to make a good impression, which we appreciated, but we weren’t especially close right away.

And then, early into winter quarter, it was as if a flip had been switched. Dani and I found rather suddenly that we had a lot of common interests, and that translated into a series of effortless interactions that lead to a genuine friendship. We both mourned the death of Vine by texting one another a series of compilations. We belted along to songs from Hamilton together, complete with water bottle thrusts in the air during “Satisfied.” She convinced me to watch The Office, her favorite TV show of all time, and in turn, she started watching Mad Men, which was mine. We went to Zoo Flicks together pretty regularly as well, catching both critically-acclaimed films like Moonlight and La La Land together as well as crowd favorites like Moana and Rogue One. By the time spring quarter rolled around, I was so used to getting sandwiches or mini pizzas with Dani at the Richardson Room (more commonly referred to as “Stacks”) that I rarely went without first checking to see if she wanted to come with. Finally, Dani, a black belt, convinced me to sign up for an on-campus Tae Kwon Do class with her this semester under the condition that she would take a theater class with me later on.

Despite our newfound friendship, Dani and I weren’t attached at the hip, which made the situation work even better for me. Instead, she grew to become close with some of the friends I made through my first-year seminar, and I got to know people through her as well. What’s more, besides Tae Kwon Do, we have never had a class together (with her being an intended computer science and Spanish double major and me an intended English and history double major), so we weren’t likely to get sick of one another. Not too long ago, all of these factors convinced Dani and me that were a good match and should room together for another year – and this remains our intention as our first year at K comes to a close.

Even though I gush about Dani, I understand that my situation with her isn’t exactly typical. I know that most randomly-assigned roommates don’t grow to like each other as much as we do or become as close as we have. But I also know that I didn’t believe the stereotype that girls living together is destined to become a catty mess of fights and passive-aggressive side-eyes. There are no guarantees in life, and that certainly includes someone’s first-year living arrangement. It is not likely that your rooming situation will be totally without problems – mine certainly wasn’t. But it is highly unlikely that every waking (and resting!) moment with your roommate, be they randomly assigned by the Office of Residential Life or hand-selected by you, will be a living hell.

The best advice I can offer is to be friendly and open; if you walk into your room on the first day with a cold shoulder and a sour expression, convinced that you and your roommate are doomed to dislike each other, you’re very likely to be correct. But even if you put your best foot forward and you and your roommate never become more than casual acquaintances, that’s no huge loss either. Getting to know your roommate is only one method among many of finding lifelong friends at Kalamazoo College – but it’s certainly one that’s worth an open mind.

– Addie Dancer ’20

Reflection

A lump formed in my throat the morning I had to wave goodbye to my mom from the red bricks of Academy Street. She pulled away in her rental car, waving in the rear view mirror, and I turned around and joined my other Landsea participants and soon-to-be classmates in Hicks. I remember feeling all at once wide open and tightly closed.

When I arrived at K, I thought that by now I should know what I wanted to study but in reality I was just as confused as ever. When people asked, “what do you want to study?” I outwardly responded with a smile, thoughtful nods, and “probably psychology” while my insides swelled with panic and guilt.

I was grateful for K’s open curriculum, which allowed me to spend my first year shopping around in different departments to see which one might be a good fit for me. I eventually landed on Anthropology and Sociology because the classes interested me the most and the major requirements were flexible. After years of being forced to take certain classes even if I had no interest in them, I felt empowered by the ability to choose exactly what I wanted to take.

The Anthropology and Sociology classes I took as well as my introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality class challenged me to unpack my ideas of social justice. These classes completely transformed my worldview. It was like I had been walking around with foggy glasses for my whole life – sort of being able to see the picture in front of me but only seeing clearly once they had been wiped clean.

Some of my most cherished memories that K provided me include anything that revolved around experiential learning. From my externship to the many service-learning classes I took to my study away program in Chicago to the CBI summer internship I had, I was allowed to learn through community engagement, which I have found is the most impactful for me.

As I neared the end of my sophomore year, I was grateful that K offered domestic study away opportunities in addition to study abroad. I was more interested in getting experience in the work force and figuring out what sort of professional work environment worked for me than doing a study abroad program, so the Chicago Program really appealed to me. I truly believe that the internship experience that I had in Chicago prepared me to be highly qualified for the internship with the YWCA I completed last summer that I ended up basing my SIP off of.

My SIP wasn’t the first time that I had conducted an independent study project at K. During the winter of my junior year I designed and completed an independent study in the psychology department centered on self-compassion, vulnerability, and shame. I first heard of the concept of self-compassion from one of the therapists at the counseling center; I can quite safely say that because of this resource offered by K, my life changed completely.

I’ve continued my practice of self-compassion and now that I am a co-facilitator of a new student organization on campus called K Team that focuses on mind-body wellness and empowerment; I am so excited to grow a community of self-care here at K.

As I think back to that farewell moment right before Landsea, I remember feeling so uncertain and afraid. If only I had known what incredible experiences were waiting for me. In a lot of ways I feel like K has given me all that I need, and now I am in a place where I want to give back.

From one nostalgic K College senior to you, reader: I hope my experience has offered you some clarity or comfort.

-Savannah Kinchen ’18

Good Eats

If you’ve decided to come to K and are anything like me, you may be wondering what food options exist in and around the city of Kalamazoo. Lucky for you, there are a wide variety of places in the city that are within walking distance from campus. So whether you’re looking for breakfast on the weekend, a small place to drink coffee and study, or if you’re wanting to escape the K bubble, here’s a list of some of the most popular food spots in Kalamazoo.

  1. Fourth Coast Café and Bakery/Crow’s Nest

The Fourth Coast/Crow’s Nest area is a popular part of downtown Kalamazoo and for good reason. The café on the lower level prides itself on its wide selection of coffee, its fresh baked bread, and its vegan organic desserts that are also offered. The atmosphere of the café creates a perfect place to go if you want to take advantage of the free WiFi and study.

Crow’s Nest, the restaurant located above the café, offers breakfast all day (their banana bread french toast is to die for) along with dishes from soups and salads to burgers and vegan options. They also offer the fresh bread sold in the bakery downstairs if you decide to take a loaf back to your dorm.

 

  1. Martini’s Pizza

On the other side of the building where Fourth Coast and Crow’s Nest are located is Martini’s Pizza. The small Italian restaurant is relatively cheap and is the perfect spot for a quick and casual lunch where you can buy pizza by the slice. Or, feel free to get a little dressed up with your friends and go for some pasta and a bread basket at dinner time.

 

  1. Black Owl Café

This café in downtown Kalamazoo is a hidden gem that has a more urban/industrial feel to it. It’s a place where you can go for a cheap cup of coffee and read a book, or to go grab a muffin and sit on the outdoor patio and soak in the sun. It’s one of the best places to relax and enjoy the energy and life of the city.

 

  1. University Roadhouse

Located just down the street from K’s campus,the Roadhouse is a great place to go for dinner or to catch the game. It offers everything from crab rangoons to potato skins. Make sure you show up on Tuesdays from 9PM to midnight for the famous “Chicken Tender Tuesday” special, or show up and see if you can finish the delicious and well-known Bombshell- Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream surrounded by crushed Oreo cookies and dipped in chocolate.

 

  1. Irving’s Market and Deli

The market portion of the building is a great place to grab fresh fruits and vegetables to take back to campus or to load up on snacks for those late nights in the library, while the deli portion of the building offers fresh deli salads to take home. Irving’s Market and Deli also offers a salad bar and a hot bar that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Overall, you can find almost anything in this market/deli combination!

Hopefully if you’ve never been to Kalamazoo before you feel better about the food options around in and around the city. Just hop on the bus, hitch a ride with a friend, or go for a walk to get to these well-known places in the city and enjoy some good eats.

– Karina Pantoja ’20

The Best Way To “Fall” In Love With Kalamazoo

School is back in session, and I can’t believe how quickly the first few weeks of school flew by! Because K College is such an academically rigorous institution, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially during fall quarter since we’re all readjusting to school after summer break. Now that I’m a senior, I recognize the importance of “fun time”, as well as how easily it is overlooked; therefore, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite things to do in Kalamazoo in the fall. Whether you’re planning an afternoon with your friends, a date with a significant other or some much-needed “me time”, these are all experiences that I think every K College student should have:

  • On the last Thursday of fall quarter, head over to Hicks for Cafsgiving, where the Kalamazoo College Dining Services puts on an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for the whole campus. It’s the perfect time to let your school friends and professors know how much you appreciate them, and to celebrate before everyone heads home for winter break. (Just make sure you get there early—the line to get in usually stretches throughout the entire building!)
  • If you want a sight to behold, go to the Kalamazoo Balloon Festival at Gull Meadow Farms (October 27th-29th), which is the largest hot air balloon festival in Michigan. Admission to the festival is free, so you can pick apples, get lost in the corn maze, check out the petting zoo, and eat cider and donuts all while watching the balloons take to the sky.
  • The weekend of October 13th-15th is our Mid-Term Break this quarter, meaning that we have that Friday off—so, if you’re able to (and want to), why not surprise your family at home for the weekend? Everyone needs a relaxing weekend at home once in a while—and it could be worth it just to see the priceless looks on your parents’ faces when you walk through the door.
  • For a cheap deal on a good meal, make sure to stop by Chicken Tender Tuesdays at University Roadhouse. From 9:00 PM until midnight, you can get a basket of chicken tenders and fries for only $3, making it the perfect late night snack (and, if you’re still hungry, be sure to get a famous Bombshell for dessert—it’s worth every extra penny!)
  • Whether you like to tap, twerk, or tendu, if you want an opportunity to show off your best dance moves, be sure to participate in the fall Frelon show—and if you’re not in it, definitely go see it! Frelon, the student-run dance company here at K, is open to everyone, regardless of the student’s level of dance experience; they two shows they put on each year (fall and spring) are two of the most widely-attended events on campus.
  • And, of course, we can’t forget about the end-of-quarter a cappella show, which features all four a cappella groups we have here on campus (Premium Orange, The Limelights, The Kalamadudes, and AcaPOC). Performances usually occur on the Friday and Saturday nights of 10th Week, so support your friends as they put a new twist on some of your favorite songs.
  • If you’re craving a late night snack, a great place to get one (or many!) is the Kalamazoo Food Truck Rally, which takes place once a month and hosts a variety of local food trucks. The fall is the best time to go to the food truck rallies because they’re often centered around certain themes (e.g. Homecoming themed, Halloween themed), bringing members of the Kalamazoo community together for a “rally” good time!
  • Last but not least, we can’t forget about this year’s Homecoming (October 20th-22nd)! Cheer on the football team as they play against Adrian College, participate in the annual Homecoming 5K Run/Walk, and meet K College alumni who have come back to show their Hornet Pride!
Hot-air balloons at night during the Kalamazoo Balloon Festival
Kalamazoo Balloon Festival

Lauren Landman ’18

Conquering the College Admission Essay

Sometimes the word “essay” conjures up images of a five-sentence, five-paragraph response to a straightforward question. Instead, think of this part of the application as a story you tell about yourself that A) shows the College how well you write, and B) gives the College insight into your character beyond what the rest of the application indicates about you. The essay prompts, then, are not “gotcha” questions, but an opportunity to reveal parts of your character and identity that we can’t see anywhere else.

Here are some ideas to consider as you select your story and begin writing:

Kalamazoo College Admission Counselor Marcus Johnson
Marcus Johnson        Assistant Director of Admission

Don’t use a thesaurus. This is not the vocabulary section of a standardized test; you do not need to impress us with your word bank. Stuffy, ten-dollar words often cover up the real identity behind the essay writer. Besides, if you don’t use that kind of vocabulary in your regular speech, adding words that you don’t normally use just to impress the College will make you sound incredibly inauthentic.

Shock and awe alone won’t sell your story. Essays that recap all the awesome stuff on your list of extracurricular activities don’t show the College how awesome you are. Essays that reveal a significant tragic life experience may make your application reader feel incredibly empathetic toward you, but that doesn’t necessarily tell that reader who you are.

Avoid generalized statements/lessons/definitions. “Webster’s dictionary defines ____ as…” is a common beginning for application essays. It’s been done before, it’s not particularly interesting, and it’s not as helpful as you might think. “Some/many people experience (general experience),” etc. is not only a weak, inaccurate, and offensive way to start an essay, it begins your story with the focus on abstract general society, when the focus should be on you.

Your identity makes a story interesting. Let’s assume you want to write about being an athlete. Do you live in a small town where the entire community knows your name and comes out to see you play? Did you have to convince your parents that the sport you play matters? Does your team always make it to state championship so there’s a lot of pressure on you to perform well, or do you never make it to playoffs, so your team is an underdog in your region? What about your racial identity, gender, sexual orientation, faith, economic status? Does that impact what it’s like to be an athlete at your school? There is no one-sentence answer to any of these questions; you have to tell a story that answers these questions.

Proofread, and get someone else to read your writing. The College definitely values story over grammar, but a poorly written essay suggests that you didn’t put a lot of time into writing. Write your draft early, and get it into the hands of someone who can give you honest feedback. Do they understand what the story is? Do you come across as an honest writer? Do they see spelling errors?

Best of luck to you in your essay writing, and in your college search!

Marcus Johnson, Assistant Director of Admission