stranger things

What Will the Stranger Things Kids Write About in Their College Essays?

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photo by Netflix

Banding together with your best friends to save the world from a monstrous creature that turned your neighbors into other-dimensional goo is exhausting, terrifying, and it’ll change your view of the world forever. But after Stranger Things season three, there’s another problem for the teens of Hawkins, Indiana: After surviving all that and a secret Soviet invasion, how could you possibly describe your life on a college admissions essay? No one will ever believe you, and yet, these are the things that happened, and they’re why you did so few extracurriculars in your junior year!

Here, then, are nine completely real excerpts from college admissions essays written by the main characters of Stranger Things and collected over the years as each kid applied to college, as requested by New York Times TV critic and former Vulture staffer Margaret Lyons. Happily, most of these excerpts are taken from early rough drafts, and all but a few of these kids eventually turned in modified versions of their essays. (Erica Sinclair and Will Byers’s essays are from the final versions.)

Nancy Wheeler, Northwestern University

“My interest in journalism started when I was an intern for our local paper, the Hawkins Post. I had many mentors there who helped me understand what makes for a good story, how to prioritize what goes on a front page, and how to keep a newsroom running. But I also caught the ‘bug,’ and had an opportunity to chase down a major story about a significant event in our town! Based on an unsolicited phone call from a Hawkins resident about a rat problem, I uncovered a much bigger story about a rip in the fabric of the universe caused by Russian agents. My reporting eventually led to understanding the connection between a group of local disappearances and the rise of the immense goo monster who eventually destroyed our local mall!

Throughout high school, I have also had several opportunities to develop my firearm skills …”

Jonathan Byers, transferring from Joliet Junior College to Loyola University

“… which is why my time at Joliet Junior College has been so valuable to me. I’ve had a chance to grow on my own, away from my family. Throughout high school and after graduation, my little brother Will was kidnapped, imprisoned in another world, and also possessed by a demon seeking to destroy all life on Earth. It was very hard to focus on my grades and my career while Will was being taken over by a world-ending monster from another dimension. I needed to take care of him and my mother.

I am still responsible for my mother and little brother, and I love them very much, but I’ve also been able to focus on my own interests in photography and music, and in developing my academic career. Although I once planned on attending NYU, I now feel I have a strong personal interest in staying in the Chicago region.”

Steve Harrington, Ball State University

“Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines friendship as ‘the state of being friends,’ and it defines friends as ‘one attached to another by affection or esteem.’ My friends have played an important role in my life. Although I once thought it was lame to be friends with kids who are younger than I am, and that the most important thing in life was to be a ‘cool’ kid, I slowly learned that friendships can cross age, and coolness, and gender. Friendships can teach us lots of new things about ourselves.

My friends and I have overcome many obstacles. One of the obstacles I faced early was that I was not ready for college after high school, and I now feel I am much more prepared for college life. Another obstacle is that at the end of my time in high school, my friends and I were almost killed by a monster that came back to destroy us many times, and also by a team of Russian spies who took over the mall. Through these battles, I learned what it means to be loyal, and also about the importance of learning languages and cracking codes …”

Mike Wheeler, Indiana University Bloomington

“I am excited to be applying for college at Indiana University Bloomington! I grew up in Indiana, in a town called Hawkins. You may have heard about Hawkins on the news, but I am one of the few people who knows the real story of our town. When I was in high school, the mall was destroyed and there were several other strange occurrences, but not many people realize that my girlfriend was behind everything that happened.

It’s exciting to be in the middle of important events. It was especially exciting because my friends and I were the ones who put all the pieces together, found out about a mysterious place under our town called the Upside Down, and saved everyone from the monster who lives there. Teens can have a lot of power, and we can see things adults sometimes cannot.

But my experiences in high school were also scary, and they were very character-building. The horrible beast that almost took over our town made me lose people I was very close to, but it also made me the person I am today.”

El Hopper Byers, Indiana University Bloomington

“My name is El Hopper Byers. I would like to attend Indiana University Bloomington.

My life has had many challenges. My mother died when I was little. I was a subject in a mind-reading experiment that tried to turn me into a spy against bad people. I have saved the town of Hawkins from a monster many, many times. I have lost many people I love.

I have also learned about family and about friends. I have also learned to harness my powers so that I can be stronger in battles.

I have a 4.0 GPA, and a combined SAT score of 1400.”

Lucas Sinclair, University of California Berkeley

“I grew up in the middle of rural Indiana, and although I love my friends and I have been powerfully shaped by my upbringing and my home town, I am applying to the University of California Berkeley so that I can have a fresh start in a new place. I am extremely motivated by Berkeley’s history as a place for multiculturalism, diverse voices, radical ideas, and by Silicon Valley’s growing reputation as a place for technological innovation.

I am confident that I will be a strong voice in the incoming Berkeley class. When I have been forced to make hard decisions in my life, I have stepped up to the plate. When I have been called upon to rise to the occasion, I do not fail. For instance, on the day my friends were attacked in a cabin and nearly eaten alive by a hellbeast with many tentacles, was I cowering beneath some boxes, waiting for someone to save me? No. I was wielding an axe.”

Dustin Henderson, MIT

“… which is why I am a perfect fit for Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My radio tower is still there today!

Because MIT values independence and inquiry in its students, I want to use the opportunity of this application to tell a story about my adolescence. Like all great heroes, my friends and I were presented with many quests during our youth. My radio tower was not just an impressive feat of engineering; it was also the key instrument in a battle between good and evil that took place at our local mall. While most people know the story of Starcourt Mall’s destruction, our government has hidden the fact that a being from another dimension destroyed that mall after being released from an alternate dimension by a secret group of Russian agents operating in tunnels underneath our town.

Destroying this monster was the work of many people, some of whom have since been lost. But my radio tower and my courage were important strategic elements in that confrontation … and that’s why I’ll now remember Planck’s constant until the day I die.”

Will Byers, Oberlin College

“I grew up in Hawkins, Indiana. It’s a smallish town surrounded by cornfields, and although my mother moved my family away in the middle of my high school career, Hawkins never left me. In part that’s because of the things that happened to me there, things I’ll never forget: My darkest dreams began to come true, and elements of my own mind were turned against me. Monsters I once could only have imagined began to take shape before my eyes. Nightmares turned to living flesh.

But Hawkins is still with me because of the friends I made there. They have supported me and loved me during the hardest moments of my life, even when we could feel ourselves growing apart from one another. I have always enjoyed expressing myself through my art, something my friends no longer do. I am drawn to telling stories and to imaginary worlds, and I know what it feels like to be an outsider.

This is why I’m also drawn to a place like Oberlin, where I know there will be lots of people share my love of art …”

Erica Sinclair, Harvard University

“… and in addition to being editor-in-chief of our school newspaper, president of our graduating class, and a star varsity athlete, I have also played a primary role in rescuing humanity from the brink of extinction. While the official history of our town is now largely off limits to civilians without sufficient governmental security clearance, the urban myths about Hawkins that feature monsters of the deep and foreign agents is much closer to the truth than many people imagine. For documentation of my skills in this area, please see my attached letter of reference from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I want to be clear: Although I recognize my flaws, and am committed to growing and learning so much during my time in college, I am also confident that I would be an asset to Harvard University’s graduating class of 1997. My capacity for problem-solving, negotiation, and outside-the-box thinking is something I’ve valued in myself from a young age, and while I also recognize the importance of humility, I’ve similarly come to appreciate the honesty of true self-recognition. I have a lot to bring to any well-rounded freshman class. Thank you.”

The Stranger Things Kids’ College Essays Revealed