My mother and my father wept after they closed the shop. Seeing the business as a failure, my mom commenced her packing that night; returning to Vietnam seemed inevitable. The next business day, however, sales increased ten-fold. More and more customers came each successive day. My mom’s tears turned into—well, more tears, but they were tears of joy. My mother unpacked a bag each night. Fifteen years later, my parents now own Blue Ravine Grocery. My parents work, work, work to keep the shelves stocked and the customers coming. The grocery store holds a special place in my heart: it is the catalyst for my success. So when the opportunity to attend the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science presented itself, I took it and ran, as did my parents by leaving Vietnam and by buying the store. Although the opportunities that my parents and I pursued are different, our journey is essentially the same: we walk a road paved with uncertainty and doubt with the prospect of success fortified by our hearts and our hands.”
The Jill M. Balboni Memorial Scholarship is dedicated to the memory of Jill Marie Balboni who lost her life long battle with cystic fibrosis in July 2013 at the age of 36. Jill was a lover of life and lover of learning. Jill received her Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D and still managed to enjoy every day with a smile while spending time with her family and friends between her time in the Tri-Delta [...] More

Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees. I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school. A self-admitted Phys. Ed. addict, I volunteered to help out with the Adapted PE class. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students. To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. I love working with the students and watching them progress.


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Don’t be afraid to dig deep and talk about something that may feel vulnerable. Try to conclude with an example of how the failure improved the way you deal with similar situations now. It can be uncomfortable for anyone to admit they’re less-than-great at something, but that honesty can be refreshing, especially if you tell your story in an authentic, relatable way.


Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don’t expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.
Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?
I was a late reader and had difficulties with spelling, but I didn’t realize that as my mom let me progress at my own pace and never compared me to others. I had plenty of opportunities to be a child and learn through play during the early years and to explore and follow my interests, which often centered around horses and animals. The freedom to pursue my interests is how my passion for architectural design also began as I got a little older. In the early years, my mom would dictate for me and allow me to answer questions orally while my written expression and spelling developed. My mom was a firm believer in “better late than never,” when it came to reading and learning. This method worked well for me. I learned much later that I had dyslexia, and I believe if I had started off in public school I would have been frustrated and realized I was struggling more than the other children. My love for learning very well may have been hampered.
Answer: Your essay can draw on whatever moves you, regardless of when the anecdote, event, or inciting incident you’re writing about occurred. However, what matters most, in terms of timeline, is that you show your readers how the event not only influences you now but will continue to inflect your thinking about yourself and the world as the years roll on.
We would like to award one undergraduate student affected by cancer with a $2,000 scholarship for the coming academic year. The scholarship is for any undergraduate student who has been affected by cancer in any way (be it themselves, a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc.) and they must also be attending their undergraduate in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, [...] More

The VABA Aviation Scholarship is awarded to a well deserving Virginia resident high school, technical school senior, or college/university undergraduate who is pursuing an aviation-related career in an accredited institution. You must submit a completed essay, typed, double-spaced between 250-500 words on the subject: "Why I Wish to Pursue a Career in Aviation" or "Why Aviation is Important to [...] More
When I was sixteen I moved on to a larger project: my clunker of a car. I had purchased my 2002 Elantra with my own savings, but it was long past its prime. With some instruction from a mechanic, I began to learn the components of an engine motor and the engineering behind it. I repaired my brake light, replaced my battery, and made adjustments to the power-steering hose. Engineering was no longer just a nerdy pursuit of robotics kids; it was a medium to a solution. It could be a way to a career, doing the things I love. I was inspired to learn more.
When I was 16, I lived with the Watkins family in Wichita, Kansas. Mrs. Watkins was the coordinator of the foreign exchange student program I was enrolled in. She had a nine year old son named Cody. I would babysit Cody every day after school for at least two to three hours. We would play Scrabble or he would read to me from Charlotte’s Web or The Ugly Duckling. He would talk a lot about his friends and school life, and I would listen to him and ask him the meanings of certain words. He was my first friend in the New World.
This remains one of the most challenging prompts of the Common App’s selection, even though it has become slightly friendlier with the addition of the option to discuss a time you questioned an idea instead of challenged one. This prompt requires a student to speak passionately about beliefs and ideology, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory. This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that students need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications.
This question was reworded in 2017-18 admissions cycle, and the current language is a huge improvement. The prompt use to talk about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, but the new language about a "period of personal growth" is a much better articulation of how we actually learn and mature (no single event makes us adults). Maturity comes as the result of a long train of events and accomplishments (and failures). This prompt is an excellent choice if you want to explore a single event or achievement that marked a clear milestone in your personal development. Be careful to avoid the "hero" essay—admissions offices are often overrun with essays about the season-winning touchdown or brilliant performance in the school play (see the list of bad essay topics for more about this issue). These can certainly be fine topics for an essay, but make sure your essay is analyzing your personal growth process, not bragging about an accomplishment.
Award Amount: 2 Awards of $1,000 The College Scholarship is available to students enrolled at an accredited high school, college or university. You must have a minimum 2.8 GPA and submit a 500-700 word essay to qualify for this award. The essay should detail how you are driven to innovate, how you plan to influence progress on any level in any space or how you have already affected positive change with creative thinking. Learn more about the College Scholarship.
I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it.

Project Sleep's Jack & Julie Narcolepsy Scholarship is the first-ever national narcolepsy scholarship program to support students with narcolepsy while also fostering awareness in high school and college settings. Applicant must be a high school senior who will attend a four-year university starting in the fall and must have a signed letter from an accredited sleep specialist or neurologist with [...] More
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Bill Cowden was a private pilot, commercial airline pilot and airshow performer who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 47 in an airshow performance. It is in this spirit and in the loving memory of Bill Cowden that his family established this scholarship so aspiring pilots who lack the financial resources to pursue advanced pilot training will be able to fulfill their dreams. One scholarship [...] More
“Since I opened the first page of the book titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” I have realized how to write a scholarship essay to win a day. I realized the true essence of being a journalist. Despite my attitude to writing, I had some doubts regarding the future career because my parents did not treat the profession of the writer as something successful. I will explain why I am the one who deserves a scholarship at Yale University.”
Sarah Myers McGinty, author of The College Application Essay, shares the following tip for both counselors and students: "If you get a chance, ask college representatives about the role of the essay at their colleges. At some colleges the essay is used to determine fit, and at others it may be used to assure the college that the student can do the work. At any rate, find out from the rep how essays are weighted and used in the admissions process."
Balancing talking about your experiences and traits with describing what excites you about the school can be tricky, but it's vital that you touch on both. If you don't talk about yourself, you're missing your chance to give the admissions committee a sense of who you are and how you would fit in to their community. And if you don't discuss the school itself, you risk coming off as uninterested. So make sure to do both!

My love for animals has been encouraged by my family and friends. I have had the opportunity to volunteer with the local animal shelter and provide basic care to the stray animals. With the help of my biology teacher, I was able to start a 4-H club on campus. Many of the other students on campus developed an interest in the animals and now our club has 100 members. My family also has many animals for which I provide care, including basic needs as well as first aid. I find that I enjoy that aspect of pet ownership best. Unfortunately, my family cannot afford to pay for my entire education, so I hope to use my skills and love of animals to help me pay for college.
One could argue that college is largely about the pursuit of knowledge, so you can imagine it would be quite appealing for an admissions officer to have a meter for your level of self-motivated learning, along with a better understanding of how and why you choose to pay attention to the things that intrigue you. This is a window into your brain: how you process information, how you seek out new sources of content and inspiration. How resourceful are you when your curiosity is piqued to the fullest? The answer to this prompt should also reveal something to admissions about the breadth or depth of your interests. For example, if you’re interested in studying astrophysics, you might choose to discuss a concept that shows how far your exploration of the sciences truly reaches. How consumed are you by this passion you are choosing to pursue academically?
While a postsecondary degree or credential has become indispensable for entry into professional careers and the middle class, the cost of college continues to increase. Student Veterans of America is proud to partner with Rockwell Collins to award three $2,500 scholarships to student veterans that are interested in pursuing a STEM degree path. This scholarship will not only build a diverse talent [...] More
"Don't bury the lede!" The first few sentences must capture the reader's attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading. Think about any article you've read—how do you decide to read it? You read the first few sentences and then decide. The same goes for college essays. A strong lede (journalist parlance for "lead") will place your reader in the "accept" mindset from the beginning of the essay. A weak lede will have your reader thinking "reject"—a mindset from which it's nearly impossible to recover.

“If you can’t live off of it, it is useless.” My parents were talking about ice skating: my passion. I started skating as a ten-year-old in Spain, admiring how difficulty and grace intertwine to create beautiful programs, but no one imagined I would still be on the ice seven years and one country later. Even more unimaginable was the thought that ice skating might become one of the most useful parts of my life.
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We’ve bought it, but it didn’t stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity. While it’s okay to choose a relatively mundane “failure” such as not winning an award at a Model UN conference, another (perhaps more powerful) tactic is to write about a foundational failure and assess its impact on your development thereafter.
Don’t let unusual college application essay and short answer prompts intimidate you. This is a chance to get creative so take some time to think about what you want to convey with your essays or short answer questions. If you need any help with the college application process, contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for seniors and younger high school students!
According to a report from the College Board, an applicant’s grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the top factors, but all universities believed the essay to be of considerable importance in determining the most qualified students. In fact, a compelling and well-written essay can also tip the scales when all else is equal between competing applicants. Therefore, read on to find the top college application essay tips to help you compose an exceptional essay that will stand out to the admissions committee.
“Let only the eager, thoughtful and reverent enter here,” is inscribed on one side of Pomona’s College Gates. Dating from 1914, the gates remain a potent symbol today as we welcome every new class of students to enter them together. If you were to inscribe a fourth quality into the gates to describe students who enter Pomona today, which adjective would you choose? What quality would you want your Pomona peers to share, and why?
After I finished the exchange student program, I had the option of returning to Korea but I decided to stay in America. I wanted to see new places and meet different people. Since I wasn’t an exchange student anymore, I had the freedom--and burden--of finding a new school and host family on my own. After a few days of thorough investigation, I found the Struiksma family in California. They were a unique group.
You might be familiar with The Common Application, Common App for short, which serves as a single application that over seven-hundred colleges, including every Ivy League school (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and Stanford, share. The Common App allows you to fill out things like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more, just once for every school that uses it. It is also where you’ll encounter “The Common App Essay,” otherwise known as your personal statement (PS), which is what this guide will focus on.
To additionally earn more money as a young teen, I began flipping bicycles for profit on craigslist. Small adjustments in the brake and gears, plus a wash, could be the difference between a $50 piece of trash and a $200 steal. Seeing how a single inch could disarrange the lining of gears not only taught me the importance of detail but also sparked my fascination with fixing things.
In the center of the first page are the words MY WORLD in periwinkle letters. The entire left side I have dedicated to the people in my life. All four of my Korean grandparents sit in the top corner; they are side by side on a sofa for my first birthday –my ddol. Underneath them are my seven cousins from my mom’s side. They freeze, trying not to let go of their overwhelming laughter while they play “red light, green light” at O’ Melveney Park, three miles up the hill behind my house. Meanwhile, my Texas cousins watch Daniel, the youngest, throw autumn leaves into the air that someone had spent hours raking up. To the right, my school peers and I miserably pose for our history teacher who could not resist taking a picture when he saw our droopy faces the morning of our first AP exam. The biggest photograph, of course, is that of my family, huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window.

I didn’t really understand my community until I was forced to see it from the outside; sort of like when you see a picture of yourself someone else took that you weren’t aware of. It took a 3,000 mile flight for me to gain a different perspective of the world, of my world. When I landed in Maine it was nothing like the place I called home. There was no traffic, there were lots of trees, and absolutely no spanish to be heard anywhere. I missed my people, my home, and my community the most as I saw the ways in which other communities fostered creativity, advocacy, and community involvement.
I hope to contribute to ending racial discrimination by utilizing our present interconnectivity and running a social media campaign titled #It’sNotOver. #It’sNotOver aims to oppose the widespread misconception that, because racial inequality was legally outlawed, de facto racial inequality does not still persist in our society. Our recent presidential election may have brought life to a ‘Divided America,’ but it also exposed how influential social media is. By raising awareness of racial disparities that occur everywhere, I might encourage a new wave of change in our country like that of the present Time’s Up movement. Furthermore, if I can access the influence of celebrities in my #It’sNotOver campaign, like that of Time’s Up, I might similarly capture the attention of millions of people and inspire action against this issue across the globe.
Notice that I didn’t say, “write a rough draft, and submit it.” Why shouldn’t you let your essay fly? Because you need to take some time away from it to get some critical distance. For example, in the flurry of a rough draft, you might feel attached to a particular sentence or paragraph, but after stepping away—physically and mentally—from your first effort, you might come back to find that those wonderful turns of phrase don’t really fit the content or tone of the rest of the piece. You’ll be better able to catch those inconsistencies and revise them if you’ve given yourself distance from the essay. You want to make sure that your application is polished and tells a clear, convincing, coherent story about why you belong at XYZ University, so instead of dashing it off and being done with it, give yourself at least a day or two away from it so that you can come back to revise with an alert mind and fresh eyes. Only after you’ve had a chance to review your essay carefully and put the finishing touches on it should you click the submit button.
Buy a few composition notebooks: those $1 things, available at Walmart or the like. Work in these for the summer. No need to get precious—no fancy Moleskins here, and no laptops or tablets unless you are physically unable to write by hand. Why? Take the cartoonist Lynda Barry’s wise words here: “There is a kind of story that comes from hand. Writing which is different from a tapping-on-a-keyboard-kind-of-story. For one thing, there is no delete button, making the experience more lifelike right away. You can’t delete the things you feel unsure about and because of this, the things you feel unsure about have a much better chance of being able to exist long enough to reveal themselves.”
2. Follow the directions of the prompt: As with many things in life, here, too, it is critical to follow directions and answer the question or address the topic presented to you. If you don't have sufficient knowledge to do so intelligently or aren't confident in your ability to do so, research the topic or talk to friends and family about it to perhaps get some inspiration.
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With the announcement of the essay prompts and the ability for applicants to roll over their Common App account each year, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now to help them start thinking about the application process. For more information, go to Common App Ready, a series of ready-to-use resources, presentations, training videos, and handouts covering everything from account creation through submission. Last year, we expanded this free tool with Spanish language translations. 
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2. Tension, conflict, and opportunity to show growth. Josh might write a lovely reflection on how close he and his brother were, or how much he likes his little sister—but that doesn’t give the admissions committee much to work with. Why? Because your topic needs to display your ability to grow, to show change over a period of time. If Josh has always had a perfect relationship with his sister, well—first, no one will believe that!, and second, Josh is not really telling a story. So as you’re identifying the right anecdote for your essay, make sure you have a point of tension—a point where we, the reader, wonder if everything will turn out okay. For J, this might mean beginning with a time before he and his sister were close—say, when all the siblings were in the house and there wasn’t much time for the two to connect. Then Josh would tell us about what changed as soon as the brother left, and in there he might find an opening anecdote.
Remember that stories don’t begin with a repetition of the prompt (e.g., please don’t start with, “One time when I questioned or challenged a belief or idea was …”) or a definition from a dictionary (e.g., avoid saying, “Merriam–Webster defines ‘success’ as …”); instead, you should begin with something descriptive, such as setting the scene or jumping right into the middle of the action. Then, go on to illustrate how the event took place, devoting details only to significant moments. (Life hack: Keep in mind that this is also a story and not a novel, so don’t go all Charles Dickens on this.)
The essay is often the college application component where students experience the most stress, and the element where they’re more likely to make mistakes. College admissions essays are not rocket science, but there are a number of steps that students can take to put together the most accurate and compelling essays that will help their chances of gaining admission to their top-choice colleges.
In short, the book discusses several instances in which typical American history classes do not tell the whole story. For example, the author addresses the way that American history classes do not usually address about the Vietnam War, even though it happened only a short time ago. This made me realize that we hadn't discussed the Vietnam War in my own history class! The book taught me that, like my story of the Indian reservation, there are always more stories beyond what we see on the surface and what we’re taught in school. I was inspired to continue to tell these stories and to make that my career.
Sharing a personal story that’s relevant to the prompt is an excellent way to make your essay stand out from the crowd. You don’t have to pick a strictly academic story for your essay; college admissions boards care about your complete persona, not simply your academic history. However, remember that your story exists to serve your prompt; avoid telling a story for its own sake. Leave out elements that aren’t relevant to the essay, and resist the urge to include every single juicy detail. When searching for stories from your history, choose incidents that allowed you to learn and grown. Don’t be afraid to use a failure in your story; colleges know that students are humans and that failure is a natural part of life.
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