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You have 150 words. Take a risk.’

Molly Howell | Thursday, September 13, 2012

College applications are exhausting assignments, both for applicants and for those reviewing them. They require an absurd amount of time and energy, and in the end reveal very little about one as a whole person or as an individual. I personally can’t stand them. I found the entire application process stressful and draining. Your whole future rests in the hands of one of the university’s admissions faculty members, possibly a few if applications exchange desks. So, no pressure or need to worry, right?
On top of the tedious nature of college applications, they tend to all be the same. There’s the section where you fill out your name, address and SAT scores nearly a dozen times, followed by the dreaded essays. For each school there’s the essay about a significant experience or person, the essay about who or what inspires you and the essay about why you want to attend said university.
However, Notre Dame didn’t wholly follow this trend. Its supplement stood out from other schools to which I was applying. In their supplement, Notre Dame provided theessay option, “You have 150 words. Take a risk.” 
Reading this, I was completely at a loss for words. Take a risk? What does that mean? What kind of risk? What are the rules? Is this some kind of sick and cruel joke a guy in admissions created as a means to laugh at overwhelmed students like myself? For me, the option was a taunt, a dare to step outside my comfort zone, to take a risk for once and do something that did not ensure success in its doing.
Like many others at Notre Dame, I was and am a devoted student who likes knowing all the answers and being successful in the classroom and life. Such an essay just seemed wrong to ask someone applying to Notre Dame.
After the initial surprise wore off, I began to seriously think about choosing it as one of my essays. It basically was offering an opportunity to write about anything I wanted. However, as time went by I failed to think of anything I deemed adequate or creative enough for the essay. Rather, I chose to play it safe, to not take the risk, and instead wrote about my significant experience and why I wanted to attend Notre Dame.
After submitting my application, I forgot about the “take a risk” essay. I enjoyed my winter break and celebrated when I received the big ND envelope in the mail. Only months later when I was joining the various ND Facebook groups was I reminded of this essay. Among the “I’m so excited! Who else is excited for next year?!” and “Where’s everyone living?” posts, one caught my eye. A student wrote, “Amidst all the housing hype, I was wondering if anyone else did the essay topic ‘You have 150 words. Take a risk’ for their application? If so, what’d you write about? I wrote a song called “Party at Notre Dame” to the tune of my beautiful Miley’s “Party in the USA.”
I expected nobody to respond. But then people did. A lot of people. Soon enough there were more than 200 likes and 110 comments about said essay, with many coming from all across the board. Some wrote poems, some wrote about Disney World, some wrote five words or fewer and one wrote about his or her future toy store.
Reading through these comments, all I could think was, ‘Who are these people? I am not like them at all! What have I gotten myself into?’ But after getting past our differences, I realized how much I admired them. They took that risk, with some taking it in a huge way (I’m looking at you guy who claimed he simply wrote, “To be continued in the fall of 2012”). I made an error in assuming all overachieving Notre Dame students were unable to step outside the lines and do anything that could possibly jeopardize their future.
From my current position, I see how wrong I was to stereotype Notre Dame students. The truth of the matter is we are all very different, viewing the world in unique and diverse ways. That’s the real reason we were accepted and why we chose this school as our home for four years. We were not accepted simply because we are intelligent, involved and exhibit leadership, but because we see the world from different angles and appreciate each other’s perspectives.
Notre Dame is a place that challenges you, as it did from day one with its application essays. Walking away from this, I see how necessary it is to take risks in life, calculated or not. The expression “leap of faith” is aptly used; having faith and conviction in something, especially yourself, is crucial to success. Notre Dame’s admissions staff recognized this, and therefore put this test within its application.
I was afraid of failing and did not take the challenge, but I was happily surprised so many students here now did. So, take a risk today, whether it’s like you to do so or not.
Molly Howell is a freshman Anthropology and International Economics major, as well as a Gender Studies minor. She can be reached at mhowell5@nd.edu.
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.