Cornell Johnson Essay: “Table of Contents” Breakdown

This essay is a creative submission that states the following:

“You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. In 2000 characters or less, please write the table of contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. Note: approach this essay with your unique style. We value creativity and authenticity.”

So, essentially you need to break down your life into a series of chapter titles that convey what you want to the admissions officers.  These titles should integrate seamlessly into your story.  For me, I wanted to demonstrate how I’ve gotten to be interested in the field of education and where I intend to take it, all while showing some of my personality that wouldn’t otherwise be expressed in the application, such as humor and attention to stylistic detail.  Think about what portrait of yourself you’d like to convey and start brainstorming chapter titles that work towards that portrait.

My Table of Contents example can be found here.  Feel free to take a look as I dissect it.

I chose to separate my book into six main sections (representative of six of the main sections of my life so far), and provided a small blurb about each section.  Some of the sections are supposed to be lightly humorous (such as the foreword by Will Smith), while others are supposed to be a bit more serious.  The sections and blurbs were as follows:

Page 4  Foreword by Will Smith  A few kind words about our lifelong friendship

Page 16 The Beginning  Where the seed of a love for learning was sewn

Page 48 Taking Leaps  An intimate chapter focused on world travel and personal growth

Page 77 College and a Calling  When my passions and career path began to mesh

Page 105 My Johnson MBA  2 years of learning, development, and life-changing experiences

Page 139 A New Frontier  How and why I changed the world of education

Some of the things that I think I did well with this creative submission and that you might like to implement in yours are the following:

  • Use some humor
    • The admissions officers are reading thousands of these submissions.  If you can make them chuckle a bit without going overboard your submission will be that much more memorable.  I included a foreword by Will Smith and added a publisher’s logo for “Corn L. Publishing” (an ear of corn).
  • Use images
    • I used images from my real life to supplement my titles and say many things that words cannot.  I included a picture of a young, happy me showing off my school work to demonstrate how deep my love for learning runs, and a picture of me jumping off of a bridge to symbolically represent me taking the figurative leap into business school right out of undergrad, among others.  These pictures give some validation to the claims that I’m making and can help you squeeze in more conveyed information if you’re nearing your 2,000 word limit (which you shouldn’t even get close to in my opinion).
  • Do not neglect style
    • Sure, you’re not applying to art school, but you still want to show that you pay attention to detail and have at least the slightest eye for the art.  Keep title colors, fonts, sizes consistent.  Do the same with page numbers and blurbs (if you include them).  Develop a color scheme with colors that go well together.  Line things up.  Choose clear images that pop.  Put borders on your images that match your color scheme.

This submission, perhaps more than any other, represents you.  It gives you essentially free reign to do what you’d like creatively in order to represent something you know best:  your life.  Don’t think less of this submission because it’s not an essay.  Don’t miss the opportunity to really “WOW” the admission officers with it.  Make it informative, make it look nice, and most importantly, make it your own.

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