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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Best college essay ever?

By Valerie Strauss

Over the years that I have covered education, I’ve repeatedly been sent the following college essay with different stories about its origin. It was said to be a real essay, a fake, a contest submission.

After receiving it again recently, I found the the author, a writer named Hugh Gallagher, to find out the real history of the piece. Gallagher told me that he wrote the essay when he was 17 for a high school writing contest. He won (and the essay was published in Harper's Magazine). He did then use the essay as part of his applications when he applied to five colleges about two decades ago. He attended New York University and is now a New York-based writer with experience in journalism, PR, branding, advertising, multimedia, television, film and novels.

Every time I read this essay, I laugh. You will too, even if you’ve seen it before.


"I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

"I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

"Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

"I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

"I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

"I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

"But I have not yet gone to college."


If you have other amusing essays, send them to me.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 7, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, Laugh and cry  | Tags:  best college essay, college admissions, college applications, college essays, funny college essays, great college essays, harpers magazine, hugh gallagher  
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Would be tough to top the originality of thought in this one.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 7, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Hate to ruin the fun but I've seen this ads. Not original. Hope someone on the admissions committee is single and looking.

Posted by: nycyclegirl | February 7, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

If the Answer Sheet is a "School Survival Guide for Parents (And Everyone Else), it's no wonder that people who read it report very high rates of school failure.

Which part of the essay makes you laugh, Strauss? Did he woo you into bed with his sensuous and godlike trombone playing?

Posted by: pensaed | February 7, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Let's hear it for humor, tongue-in-cheek and creativity!

@pensaed: Sorry, but I think you're jealous

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | February 7, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the fore-runner for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials. Some of you need to lighten- up. This essay is probably more creative than much of the contrived crap that some students send in as serious admissions essays.

Posted by: demathis | February 7, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the fore-runner for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials. Some of you need to lighten- up. This essay is probably more creative than much of the contrived crap that some students send in as serious admissions essays.

Posted by: demathis | February 7, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Sorry about the double post.

Posted by: demathis | February 7, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I see a lot of double posts, both here and in "Class Struggle." I also have had problems with these sites--not so much now that I am using a wireless connection instead of my old dial-up, but I still get more error messages when trying to open Post articles than other sites. So it's not just you, demathis; a lot of people are having trouble with these sites.

(The obvious solution would be to require the IT people to apply for their paycheck every week on these sites!)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 7, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse

this dude isn't a pimple on the ash of the real Hugh Gallagher....please.

Posted by: SofaKingCool2009 | February 7, 2011 11:44 PM | Report abuse

I love humor, but this essay is so excessive that it just doesn't seem very funny to me. Of course, I didn't think the Super Bowl half-time show this year was very good either (nor were the commercials, overall).

Whatever else it may be, this essay is clearly not the "best ever."

Posted by: DrDemocracy | February 8, 2011 8:00 AM | Report abuse

So is dual submission of the essay -- Harpers, multiple admission processes, etc. -- an ethical violation? I edit an academic journal and we have a strong prohibition against receiving a submission that is actively being considered elsewhere.

It is, however, a great piece of work.

Posted by: wallywabash | February 8, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Very original, creative, and excellent use of grammar. However if I was an admissions officer I'd feel like he didn't really answer the essay question.

Posted by: carbon916 | February 8, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

This about sums up our educational system.

Posted by: dcc1968 | February 8, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I didn't laugh. It was dumb. All college essays are dumb. That's just the way it is.

Posted by: Potter2 | February 8, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

George Carlinesque.

Posted by: gonzosnose | February 8, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

As a college consultant, I would give the essay an A for creativity, but I am not sure how much I learned about the applicant beyond that. I read the essays of the high school students I work with and I think I have a few that could top this one for the best essay. It was clever, but not the best.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | February 8, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Obviously people don't have a sense of humor! If you had been working on admissions apps and college scholarships like we have, this strikes you as hillarious!

Posted by: TexasMom3 | February 8, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

College consultants? Really? That explains why the students that end up in my classes can't think for themselves.

Posted by: cpwdc | February 8, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"a New York-based writer with experience in . . ."

I assume that means he's unemployed.

I wonder if this essay is his most popular work.

Posted by: 123face | February 8, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

@nycyclegirl -

Did you not read the prelude intro to the essay? This was written when this guy was 17 - a quick look on the internet reveals that this was 1990 when he wrote it. Unless you have seen this prior to 1990 it is original. I doubt that was even around in 1990.

Better to remain silent and let people think you are an idiot than open your mouth and confirm it.

Posted by: cmhbph1 | February 8, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Did either of his parents write this for him?

Posted by: Cfhoag | February 8, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

The author and the fellow in the Old Spice commercials are one of the same...

Posted by: kschur1 | February 8, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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