More Sample Essays: College Admissions Essay Help (page 3)
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.
Sunday. As the bus bumps along through the muggy heat of July, I find it hard to be proud. Although I have just played great soccer in the Eastern Regional Tournament and am on my way to Regional Camp, to compete with sixty other girls for positions on the East Coast Select Team, I feel tremendously nervous and inferior. The hot bus ride has been lengthened from five to nine miserable hours, and I already think that everyone at the camp will be much better than I am. Yet when I call my parents that night and learn that my grandmother has had a second stroke and is in the hospital, I realize that this week of competition is going to be much more challenging emotionally than physically.
Wednesday. I haven't been playing very well; I'm on the reserve team and my chances for advancement are slim. There is only one person who can alleviate my depression: my mother. Somehow she already knows just what to say. That night, I call her to say hello and let her cheer me up. Instead, she tells me that my grandmother is now in a coma. The news hits me like a physical blow. My mind starts reeling with thoughts of my grandmother: the way she would pour her coffee into water glasses if it wasn't scalding hot, her soft, all-encompassing bear hugs, her smiling voice over the phone. The thought of this plump, joyful woman I love so much lying prone on a cold, sterile hospital bed is too painful to think about, so I lose myself in a fantasy novel.
Thursday morning. Now I'm really playing poorly; my mind is with my grandmother, not my soccer ball. I look up across the field and see my whole family clustered together, walking slowly towards me. I know, Before I realize what I'm doing, tears are streaming down my face as I choke sobs into my mother's hair.
Thursday afternoon. The funeral service is over, and I'm struggling to come to terms with what has happened, trying to accept the fact that I will never see my grandmother again, except in faded pictures and fond memories, I go into a bedroom to talk to my aunt, and oh what strength it takes for me to hold her and try to comfort and sooth her as she breaks down and cries into my hair. I realize that even though she is 36 and I am 14, I have to be the adult. My aunt is single; she has no close family left except my mother and my uncle, while I still have both my parents, two brothers, and a sister. I cannot imagine how deep her grief must be, and know no words that will make it go away, so I remain silent, pondering how I will feel when my mother dies.
Friday, a little after 11:00 am. After much debate, I have decided to return to the Regional Camp for the last game. My grandmother would have wanted me to finish what I'd started, even though she never quite understood our family's obsession with soccer. I also feel I hove an obligation to myself to follow through: I have worked so hard and so long to get to this point that I would be letting myself down if I didn't grasp my last opportunity to be selected. The coaches put me on the advanced team, the only one they really watch, and I block out all thoughts of my grandmother and play my heart out—for fifteen minutes. The game ends. Regional Camp is over, and I haven't made the team. Another blow. This is the first time someone has told me I'm not good enough at soccer and it hurts. I resolve to work harder.
Friday afternoon. I am on my way home, staring out the car window, seeing yet not seeing the trees rush by. As I reflect back on the events of these past few days, I find that my focus isn't on my failure to make the team. I think about how I've been able to help my aunt with her sorrow, and to overcome my own grief and continue to stride for success.
Your Notes and Reactions
Although this is an example of another dramatic essay, this one doesn't fall victim to the problems of the previous one. While it is about the writer's grand mother's death, it also manages to do much more. By using the backdrop of soccer tryouts, she is able to show the reader a glimpse of herself. What do we learn? Most importantly, that she comes from a strong family, she sometimes doubts her abilities but doesn't give up, and she's empathetic.
Her family's loss is also not described in overly-dramatic language, which is often a temptation for this subject. While obviously not upbeat, the tone isn't completely somber, either. The writer also uses an interesting and effective organization that grabs the reader's attention. The essay is broken down into scenarios which are ordered chronologically. Finally, it centers on a situation in which the end result wasn't a success, without making the writer seem like a failure (in fact, she may not have mentioned this soccer tryout on her application because of the result, but it works in the essay).
Walking down Old Stage Road, an elderly couple spotted a vehicle with a curious appendage. As the car drew nearer, the couple saw what appeared to be a human head sticking far out of one of the windows. Upon passing, they determined this head belonged to a boy of about nine, with a pale look on his face.
That nine year-old boy was me. Riding in the backseat of our family minivan, I was as nervous as can be. The waves of nausea that cascaded over me forced my body to seek refuge in the fresh air outside, resulting in the single rolled down window that made everyone's ears shake. With palms sweating and knees shaking, we arrived at the building where my very first piano recital was to take place.
As it turns out, that evening went surprisingly well. No stumble on the endless walk to the stage, no blaring mistakes, and a. well-executed bow were among my most notable achievements. But none of this discounts the difficulty that performing in front of an audience presents, Being a fairly shy person, this aspect of playing the piano was very difficult.
However, performing wasn't the only obstacle I encountered when beginning my piano career, As an athletic kid growing up in an athletic family, I found that the learning curve of most sports was steep in the beginning and then shallowed-out over time. But as I became more accomplished at the piano, the learning curve flipped. In the first few years, I could learn pieces in less than an hour, and memorize them before my next weekly lesson. By high school though, pieces required weeks of daily practice in order to make any progress. I wasn't used to this system and, being a bit of a perfectionist, I became very frustrated. I would throw childish hissy fibs, bending the spines of my books in the process. I was more than ready to quit.
But that wasn't the end. More setbacks came my way. When my meathead-like friends found out that the reason why I was leaving early from lacrosse practice once a week was for piano lessons, the floodgates opened and the torrent of liquid demoralizer rushed in. The middle school "nerd jokes" hit me very hard, even bringing me to tears sometimes. I was so embarrassed to be playing the piano that I refused to go to my lessons and I asked my mother to let me quit.
This could have been the end of the line, but my mom wouldn't let me quit. I was the only family member still playing my great-grandmother's piano, and my mom didn't want her father's post-war gift to his mother to become cold with retirement after all its years of life, I fought and fought, to no avail. Piano lessons continued. And I'm so glad they did.
Now that I'm older, I thank my mom every day for not letting me quit. Playing the piano has become an artistic passion of mine that I had never imagined would. Of course I still experience the nervousness of performing, the torture of the learning curve, and the occasional joke, but none of that matters to me anymore. I look at performing as a way to let people know what I'm capable of; the pain of the beginning of the learning curve as a step toward the joy that comes when the arc steepens; the taunting as an indicator of what I've been able to accomplish as an athletic teenager.
As busy as I've been throughout high school, I've had more reasons to quit than ever, but I can't imagine giving up piano. When I sit down and my fingers start tickling the ivories, the world stops. All the worries of a high school senior get pushed to the back of my brain to make room for the feeling of freedom that ensues. This is when I know that as hard as life gets, I will never give up playing the piano.
Your Notes and Reactions
This essay demonstrates that its writer possesses most of the traits listed on the Common Application Teacher Recommendation Form, including creativity, motivation, and disciplined work habits. Its introduction hooks the reader with an image of a young boy's head hanging out a car window. And while you may have questioned the writer's decision to delve into old childhood memories (which often don't reveal much about who a student is today), this essay moves quickly into the present, connecting the piano lessons of earlier years to more challenging recent ones.
Errors that should be corrected for the final version of this essay include a few repetitions (the word quit appears five times, for example), and the reference to "nerd jokes" (substituting middle school would get the point across just as well while eliminating the risk of offending the reader). At over 650 words, the essay is also too long for some schools. Notice that the first three paragraphs describe the first piano recital. They could easily be condensed. The last two paragraphs both sound like conclusions, and some tightening could be done there without a loss of important details or insights.
I vividly remember the time I first heard the poem "The Dash". I was still a Soy, in 7th grade, and' I was in an elementary school gym having basket-Sail practice with my traveling team. Practice was almost over so, as you can imagine, my teammates and I were a little anxious to leave. we lost focus. My Coach, Jim Harrison, huddled us up at center court, and told us to take a seat, feeing 7th graders, we moaned and complained under our breath about hosing to stay an extra couple minutes.
Coach Harrison pulled out a piece of paper from his back pocket and unfolded it. The gym immediately turned quiet, we knew he had something to say. He began to read us this poem, an unusual thing for a coach to do at a basketball practice. I was listening very closely to each line. The words struck home deep down in my heart. I could feel what the writer was communicating. I was changed by that poem; my attitude and philosophy would never be the same.
The poem called "The Dash" was written by Notre Dame football player Alton Maiden. The poem is about the dash in-between the date of birth and the date of death on a gravestone. Maiden wrote, "People may forget your birth and death, but they will never forget your dash." The dash represents people's lives, what they did in their lifetime. I have always tried to do the right thing, and give my best in whatever I am doing.
(When I'm playing sports I think about the dash. I always give 110 percent to make my teammates and myself better. My best friends are my teammates and I work hard for them because I know they do the same for me. In the long run, I don't want to be remembered as an outstanding athlete or a great player, but as a hard worker who never gave up. Sports, while very important, are just one of many things in my dash.
I wasn't exactly sure how to name this next part of the dash, but I think a good name for it is sharing. Sharing is something I always try to do. During the summer I work at a camp as a counselor. I do it because I love sharing my time to make a difference in those kids' lives. I cry tears of happiness every summer knowing these kids will never forget the week they spent at Camp Destiny and their time with me. I am volunteering every week as a Big Brother/Big Sister working with a 6th grade student. He has a learning disability and is bi-polar. Although I am supposed to be teaching him, he is teaching me, showing me how to appreciate what I have and how true happiness is found only in one's heart. Sharing is an amazing gift because it is not only a huge chunk of my dash, it is something that makes other people's dashes better.
As high school ends and I am looking at colleges, I want to make sure I continue filling my dash, Your college will help in my pursuit for a strong dash. The satisfaction of facing the challenges that a top notch school like yours has to offer will inspire me to keep working my hardest. It will continue shaping me into a better person, with its wide variety of learning experiences.
My dash is something that I hold close to my heart because I know that it's the only thing I Will really care about in the end. It won't matter how many points I scored, money I made, songs I recorded, or the grade point average I achieved. The experiences I've had in this life and what I got out of them is what really matters. I hope others will think of me as a hard, determined worker who always tries to do the right thing. I know that as long as I put forth my best effort in whatever I am doing, the dash will take care of itself.
Your Notes and Reactions
Remember, the personal essay is your opportunity to sell yourself to a college. In many ways, it's an integral part of a marketing campaign—and you're the product. But there's a fine line between revealing something positive and sounding boastful. This essay does the latter, especially in the paragraph about volunteering. While this student may be honest about his effect on others, and about the tears he sheds, the overall effect is a turn-off. And the line "he's teaching me more than I'm teaching him," while possibly true, is cliched.
You may have noted that paragraph five, while intended to demonstrate interest, offers no specific reasons as to why the student is applying, or what the college could actually offer him. Any student could have written it about any school. Length is another problem with this essay. Think about how you would rewrite the first paragraph to retain many of the details while getting to the point more quickly.
Finally, recall the show versus tell distinction. After the first paragraph, which uses about 120 words before mentioning the poem, there are very few concrete details. What does "giving 110 percent" mean? What does the writer do as a counselor at Camp Destiny that is so unforgettable? The essay would be greatly improved with more showing.
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