I look around my room, dimly lit by an orange light. On a desk in the left corner, a framed picture of an Asian family is beaming their smiles, buried among US history textbooks and The Great Gatsby. A Korean ballad streams from a pair of tiny computer speakers. Pamphlets of American colleges are scattered about on the floor. A cold December wind wafts a strange infusion of ramen and leftover pizza. On the wall in the far back, a Korean flag hangs besides a Led Zeppelin poster.
During my career as a photojournalist, I lived for the action shots: the excited gestures of a school board member discussing plans, a rabbi preaching vividly, a group of teenagers chanting and waving flags downtown. To me, the most energetic photos always told the biggest and best stories. They made me feel important for being there, for capturing the superheroes in the moment to share with everyone else. The softer moments paled in comparison, and I thought of them as irrelevant.

This is one of the most common mistakes that students make. In the pursuit to write the perfect essay, many forget to connect it to the original prompt. While the Common Application prompts for the main essay are general enough to allow students to write about whatever they choose, it still needs to be clear how that essay addresses the prompt. The same applies to school-specific essays. Check and double check that a clear connection is made between the topic or lesson of your essay, and the question the prompt is asking.

Studies have shown that there are winning strategies to rock-paper-scissors by making critical assumptions about those we play against before the round has even started. Douglas Walker, host of the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championships (didn’t know that existed either), conducted research indicating that males will use rock as their opening move 50% of the time, a gesture Walker believes is due to rock’s symbolic association with strength and force. In this sense, the seemingly innocuous game of rock-paper-scissors has revealed something quite discomforting about gender-related dispositions in our society. Why did so many males think that brute strength was the best option? If social standards have subliminally influenced the way males and females play rock-paper-scissors, than what is to prevent such biases from skewing more important decisions? Should your decision to go to war or to feed the hungry depend on your gender, race, creed, etc?

Answer: Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else. Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say—if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it. An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.
Essay Prompt: Please explain a personal hardship or catastrophic life event that you have experienced. How did you manage to overcome this obstacle? What did you learn and how did you grow from it? This answer is critical to your application as Change a Life Foundation’s vision is to assist individuals who have persevered and overcome a hardship/catastrophic life event.

Although every aspect of your college application is important, a strong college admission essay is one of the most important elements of the application. It is one of the final pieces of information that can influence admissions decisions, and it’s the only part of your application that is totally within your control. Your essay is also the only part of your application that is guaranteed to be unique; many other students may have the same GPA, nearly identical transcripts, or the same extracurricular activities as you, but none will have an essay like yours. Beyond helping you get in to school, well-written college admission essays can help students gain scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Investing the time to learn how to create a memorable essay can pay rich dividends.
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