Sample Essays: College Admissions Essay Help
These sample student essays are included for one important reason: there is much to learn from the strengths and weaknesses of other personal essays. As you read each one, think about what you know about what makes a great essay. Imagine the kinds of comments you think the essays will receive from readers, and take notes in the space provided. As you look at the feedback provided, compare it to your observations. Were the weaknesses you detected the same as those described? Were you able to spot strong introductions, descriptions that weren't vivid enough, or examples of too much telling and not enough showing? The better you become at evaluating other application essays, the more you'll be able to bring to your own work.
The tentacles move back and forth, leaving at me. Despite being cut up into pieces, the squid is as alive as ever. Do I dare eat it? The atmosphere in the room feels overwhelming, inundated with a toxic mix of humidity and sweat. I sit with my host mother and her two sons in a crowded, yet somehow quiet, age-old restaurant. She picks up a piece of squid with her chopsticks and places it on my plate with an innocent smile. My younger host brother scarfs down his squid. I look at the squid on my plate and it looks back at me as if to say, "Nihon eh youcoso" (Welcome to Japan).
The uneasiness of the moment reminded me of what had happened three long weeks ago...(When I Met my host family in Japan, the first comment my host mother made was, "Kare wah totmo segatakai amerika jene desu yo" (He is a very tall American). I politely responded, "Hai. watashi wah roku foot you inches desu." This combination of English and Japanese translates as, 'Yes. Six-feet, four-inches." my host mother—an affable Malaysian cook Who met her Japanese husband while he was touring Malaysia during his vacation—didn't answer but merely smiled and shifted her eyes downward. I first thought that she didn't understand my English, but I then realized that she only knew the metric system. Pffter a crude calculation in my head, I said, "Gomensai, hyaku kyu jyu centimeters desu" (Sorry, 190 centimeters). My host family looked at me—shocked.
Maybe it was my clumsy Japanese, or my very tall stature (I was at least a full foot taller than everyone in the room) that caused the tension, but whatever the reason, the awkwardness in my face was undeniable as my cheeks slowly turned red. My first two weeks in Japan were rife with culture clashes, big and small. I was taught to use only formal language when speaking to strangers and to always be self deprecating when talking about myself. I learned to bow instead of to shake hands. I also learned to not drench my food in soy sauce, but rather to enjoy its simplicity and purity, or as my host mother put it, jyunsui. Looks of disgust were sent my way when I didn't think to shower before entering the local hot spring, or when I didn't offer a name card to people that I met. (but, Me by little, I chipped away at the mystery that was Japan.
By the end of the second week, I had started to find a place in this different universe, and when my host mother asked me if I would like to visit my older host brother's school, I enthusiastically responded, "Hai!" Upon walking into the school however, I became conscious that I was still wearing my shoes, breaking a cardinal rule in Japan: always take your shoes off when entering a building. I quickly removed my shoes before anyone noticed and domed a pair of mint green slippers—offered by a jovial teacher—that were paper-thin and had a cracked smiley face on the front. Naturally, the slippers were too small and only three of my toes fit. I settled for walking bare foot, only to trigger giggles from a group of kindergarteners who were learning English by playing "paper-scissor-rock. "F felt my face getting warm, but I walked over to them, name card in hand.
I chose to go to Japan because I wanted to enrich my ability to speak the language, but by the end of the trip I found so much more. I had trans formed from the ignorant red-faced American who forgot to take his shoes off, to the insider ex-pat who knew where to find the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Tokyo. I had somehow found a place in this neon-lit and green-tea-obsessed world.
Still wiggling, the tentacle tries to escape the grip of my chopstick. The sweat on my hand almost causes me to drop this Japanese delicacy. My host brothers watch me, waiting to see if the American will truly embrace their world. Hesitating every step of the way, I" raise the chopsticks to my mouth, my courage falters, if only for a moment JI thrust the squid in my mouth and chew and chew and chew and quickly swallow. Ply host family applauds—causing the couple wearing kimonos next to us to turn around—and I smile.
The squid was not delicious. I did not become more Japanese at this moment, I did learn, however, how a small act of respect can help to bridge the cultural divide.
Your Notes and Reactions
Essays about diversity can be tricky; many students' experiences are limited to their own school and surrounding area. Descriptions of people met on volunteer trips, or even on academic trips as the one described in the essay, can easily veer into stereotypes (which can be offensive) or cliches. This essay, however, is an example of how to do it well.
Take note of the opening sentences, which describe a squid. The vivid details draw the reader in without giving too much away. Also notice the way the senses are engaged, helping the reader to further connect with the story. You can almost hear the kindergarteners giggling, see the tentacles of the squid moving, and feel the cheeks of the writer turning red.
Finally, review the conclusion. While the writer does state in an earlier sentence that he went to Japan expecting one outcome and left having learned much more, he doesn't end with that idea, which could simply be a cliche. Instead, he ends by returning to the squid he described in his opening paragraph. The final sentence makes sense of the anecdote without making more of it than necessary.
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