Sample Essays: College Admissions Essay Help (page 4)
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.
(I clear) and relabel the test tubes, put the plates in the 30 degree incubator, turn off the light and lock the door to the mount Sinai lab. My dad picks me up, and we drive to the shop that my belly dancing teacher runs. Her husband and my father stay in the small lining room, drinking Turkish coffee and chatting while she takes me into the little enchanted room of hip scarves, earrings, head pieces, veils, finger cymbals, and tribal and traditional costumes. We choose a traditional Persian-looking teal and gold costume for me, the beautiful skirt embroidered with a lotus. To be creative we drape gold necklaces from the center top piece to the back. Next, we choose a gold chiffon veil. I let my long hair down.
Walking into the lining room to show my father, I shyly unwrap the veil from my body, and at that moment I feel truly sacred, my father always says I have an old soul, and at that moment I understand completely—I feel united with my female ancestors, that I am continuing something magical. To define me as a belly dancer or a scientist is insufficient; I am both. It was always a given that I would pursue science. To me, science, specifically biological research, is an intricate puzzle. I enjoy the intense focus required to perform an abstruse procedure, like cutting bands of E.coli DNA and Iigating it through electrophoresis. I am able to tune out any distractions and find it peaceful to focus on the task at hand. It is fascinating to think how a million different complicated molecular processes are tiny expressions that combine to form the complex language of life, feeing able to speak that language gives me a sense of pride and empowerment. I realize that just as in dance, here too there is an unveiling, But here it is the contents of my mind that are repealed.
The language of belly dancing, in contrast, is a silent celebration of a woman's body and her connection to ancestors, nature, and life. This is a language that I am equally proud to speak, Belly dancing brings me back to my roots, When I dance, I feel connected to my Persian ancestors, and I am remembering and honoring their existence through the movement of my body. I think of my Aunt Touran in home videos tenderly holding my father as a child. I imagine grown-ups watching belly dancers at family events and parties. So belly dancing not only reminds me of my heritage, but also of the joys of being with family. When ever or wherever I hear Middle Eastern music, my body instantly reacts—excitement rushes through my veins, my eyes widen, and I smile. I love the intricate motion of my hands when dancing, the tension I hold in them; in the full body movement there is sensuality and grace.
Biological research and belly dancing may seem like am unusual combination, but to me it makes perfect sense. Belly dancing offers me a figurative entranceway to my past, and science offers me greater insight into the basics of life and the potential of the future. It is in balancing these two contrasting passions that I can discover who I am and what makes me happy. There is an unveiling to my own self; discovering what my body can do and what my mind can create. I feel my whole body dances cohesively and fervently with movements of the past and ambitions of the future.
Your Notes and Reactions
Although this essay might have used as its subject something that was already mentioned elsewhere on the student's application (the fact that she has studied belly dancing for six years), it isn't always a recipe for failure. Here, the writer reveals much more about herself, through her discussion of belly dancing, then could ever be conveyed in a simple list. The strong connection with family and ancestry highlighted in the essay also shows that this student is coming from a supportive environment, one she is proud of and that has provided a stable base from which she can grow.
In addition, she has made some unique connections between her love of dancing and science. Both are described as having languages of their own, each providing a type of unveiling, which helps the writer understand more about herself. Through the clever juxtaposition of these two seemingly different passions, she is able to tell the reader much more about herself than a mere mention of an activity and a potential major.
The kitchen table is the chaotic wall Street of my home. It easily beats out the upstairs bathroom shared by two teenage girls. It defeats the computer, which all five family members fight over to send messages to other friends. It surpasses the family room, with the main television, and one remote.
As the sun goes down, we trickle to the table after assembling our Plates. As soon as the last members lower themselves into their chairs, the conversation erupts, usually with me. I am the oldest child in the family and the one who always has something to share. It also helps that I am the first to the table and the first to finish eating. Soon the table has exploded with conversation and laughter. Everyone wants to say what happened in their day. What funny thing the biology teacher said today. What a friend said in the hall. Anything and everything mildly funny or sad that occurred in our lives during the day is applicable to the conversation.
Ironically, everyone wants to share everything that happens to them, yet they care less who is listening. And so, our dinner conversations morph into a competitive exchange between the stories and the voices of all at the table. If you can't keep up, you might as well shut up.
These "conversations" are the best part of my day. The average six days a week I get to have them are priceless. Although a specifically earth shat tering volume and persistence is necessary to survive, it is the one time that the true chemistry of my family comes together. Like these conversations, I live from one laughing moment to the next. As soon as I finish my last Laugh. I wait hungrily for the next. I am told my laughter is contagious, and I love to hear other people laughing along with me.
My family and the time JS spend with them, is a strong base for me. We laugh together, cry together, grow together, and of course, eat together. I often stay home on Friday nights to spend time with my family. My family supports me in everything JS do, and is the backbone of my success thus far, and I know With them behind me I will go farther. Without my thirteen-year-old brother's attempts at telling stories, my father's inabilities to remember names, or even my sister's incessant voice-cracks, my life would not be the same.
As I leave this table. I know that I will have my family behind me, and this experience will be one JS can share. I know I will bring this constant jabber with me wherever JS go. Every time I sit to eat in my new and larger kitchen, it will remind me of my old debate arena, as the daily events spill onto the table.
Your Notes and Reactions
Here is an example of the writer's magnifying lens at work. Many students choose to write about their families, and the subject reveals some important concepts. Remember that admissions counselors are looking for students who can not only handle college-level academic work, but who are also mature and stable enough to handle life on their own, make new friends, and contribute to the community. This essay makes readers think that the writer is indeed ready for college.
This student, although she has not been part of a household in China and doesn't have a heritage that led her to an exotic activity such as belly dancing, has focused in on an important element of family life. Some writers gripe that their experiences aren't unique enough to make them stand out in an essay, but this essay demonstrates that the magnifying lens that brings an activity into sharper and more personal focus can take a subject from the common to the highly personal and poignant.
The smell of freshness amongst the midnight skies, a crisp taste we all dream about, wind streaming by sounding like a mini tornado over the ear drums, only the sun's reflection of the moon lighting up above, as darkness skirls around the solo motorcycle. Suddenly! Buzz... Buzz... Buzz... a vibration then comes from my friend's pockets. His right hand releases the throttle, leading the left hand struggling against pot holes in the dark.
SMACK!... RING… RING… RING…the phone at 230 am. "Hello Mrs. Cleary, this is Jane at City Hospital. Your son was just in a motorcycle accident and we would like for you and your family to come to the emergency room immediately. "In a matter of minutes the family of five frantically raced to the E.R. Hearts pumping, neurons running through the nerve cells like blind mice knowing what to think, they arrived. There he was, lying on the E.R. bed, legs crossed, blood cohering his face, a site each and every family should never see. Tears pouring down their faces as they said their goodbyes. Then all of a sudden the doctor saw his left leg twitch and yelled "FLY HIM TO UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL..HES GOT A CHANCE TO LIVE!!"
Scary enough, three months in a comma and 6 months in ICU, we thought my friend was a goner. All of the impact focused on his forehead and skull, and the doctors assumed that there could be severe brain dam age with a possibility of being mentally screwed up. with the support we gave and his own inner ambitions Patrick survived the miracle without any internal damage. Each and every human in this world deserves the same amount of respect, whether they be two years old or seventy years old Japanese man.
Since up to this age of the accident, 14 years old, I only knew of "old" people who died. Older people who have health issues that make them slowly parish. when looking upon my friend's closed eyes, who was tangled in life support tubes, I got my first glimpse of death. For three months we lived in tearer of a fear that he might go. For three months I was lost within my brain, looking for a conclusion to my situation; having the feeling to act foolish as I did not know how to react. I have come to realize that life is short, to look and act with everyone as if it was their last moment.
Your Notes and Reactions
Because it's important, many students think they must write an application essay that's dramatic. If they've experienced a death of a family member or friend, or an accident such as the one described in Essay Four, they conclude that it's the right subject for the essay. But big and bold doesn't necessarily mean successful.
You probably noted some of the many errors in word choice, grammar, and punctuation throughout this essay. References to potential mental problems and Japanese men may have stood out as potentially offensive. The long, dramatic description of a cold, dark night might have also caught your attention. But the real problem is a more fundamental one: the essay reveals almost nothing about the writer.
The only hint we get of the person behind this essay is a cliche: who doesn't, at least for a while, view life as more precious when they are faced with a loss? Rather than revise, edit, and proofread, this student needs to go back to his personal inventory to find a story that reveals something about him. The opportunity to make a connection with the reader shouldn't be missed by focusing on a subject that, no matter how dramatic, says little about the writer.
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