The first board game I ever played was Disney Princess Monopoly against my mother. It was a shocking experience. My otherwise loving and compassionate mother played to win. Though she patiently explained her strategies throughout the game, she refused to show me any mercy, accumulating one monopoly after another, building house after house, hotel after hotel, and collecting all my money until I was bankrupt, despite my pleas and tears that I was her daughter and only five years old. I remember clearly the pain I felt from losing, but I remained eager to play and determined to one day beat her. Eventually, we left the princesses behind and graduated to the regular, then the deluxe, editions of Monopoly, and expanded to Rummikub. Every time we played, I carefully observed my mother’s moves and habits while considering my own options. Over the years, she continued to beat me in both games, but the contests became more competitive and my losses more narrow. Finally, at twelve, I won for the first time, at Rummikub no less, a game at which she claimed to be undefeated! I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, which was only magnified when I saw the same emotion in my mother’s face.
I move over to the right side of the page. At the top, I have neatly sewn on three items. The first is a page of a Cambodian Bible that was given to each of the soldiers at a military base where I taught English. Beneath it is the picture of my Guatemalan girls and me sitting on the dirt ground while we devour arroz con pollo, red sauce slobbered all over our lips. I reread the third item, a short note that a student at a rural elementary school in Korea had struggled to write in her broken English. I lightly touch the little chain with a dangling letter E included with the note. Moving to the lower portion of the page, I see the photo of the shelf with all my ceramic projects glazed in vibrant hues. With great pride, I have added a clipping of my page from the Mirror, our school newspaper, next to the ticket stubs for Wicked from my date with Dad. I make sure to include a photo of my first scrapbook page of the visit to Hearst Castle in fifth grade.
“That man in the plaid shirt is stealing the eggs from their mothers again,” the chicken thinks the next day as he unlocks the cage. Then the man reaches into the wooden coop, his back to the entrance. “Now!” At its own cue, the chicken scurries towards the opening and exits unseen. With a backwards glance at his friends, the chicken feels a profound sadness and pity for their ignorance. It wants to urge them to open their eyes, to see what they are sacrificing for materialistic pleasures, but he knows they will not surrender the false reality. Alone, the chicken dashes away.
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I then decided to run for one of the seven Distinguished Representative positions for all of Ohio. This was an intense process! I was required to first take a test over HOSA rules, regulations, and guidelines. I was then asked to set goals for the organization and give a speech regarding my goal ideas in front of several hundred people, the current state delegates and officer team. The final step was a vote by the current state delegates and officer team. I was successfully elected as Historian and my HOSA experience was in full swing.
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.
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A good essay topic can relate, as much as possible, to a particular anecdote, story, or even scene. Let’s say Josh found himself writing about his siblings—his older brother who just left for college, and his little sister who he’s spent more time with since his brother left. His essay shouldn’t start, “I love my little sister,” but “I remember the first time my younger sister and I connected. It was July, and our older brother had just gone to college, leaving the two of us alone at home together for the first time.”
Also, keep in mind why colleges are asking for an essay: they want to get to know you better. Nearly all selective colleges and universities (as well as many that aren't overly selective) have holistic admissions, and they consider many factors in addition to numerical measures such as grades and standardized test scores. Your essay is an important tool for presenting something important to you that may not come across elsewhere in your application. Make sure your essay presents you as the type of person a college will want to invite to join their community.
My ability to be self motivated has assisted me in becoming a leader in several of my extracurricular activities. I was one of the 4 male students of my school district that was selected as a delegate by the American Legion to participate at the Boy’s State program and I am also the captain of my group in the Young Senator's Leadership Program that is run by California Senator Tony Mendoza. I also developed skills on the wrestling mat. On one occasion I wrestled the person who was ranked the 9th best wrestler in the state and although I did not win there was not a single second that I was afraid to fail because I knew I gave it my all. Similarly I have put the same effort into becoming a successful.
The Ortiz family was my fourth family. Kimberly, the host mom, treated me the same way she treated her own son. She made me do chores: I fixed dinner, fed their two dogs Sassy and Lady, and once a week I cleaned the bathroom. I also had to follow some rules: No food in my room, no using the family computer, no lights on after midnight, and no ride unless it was an emergency. The first couple of months were really hard to get used to, but eventually I adjusted.
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.
For many high school seniors, it can be maddeningly frustrating to choose the “right” Common App essay topic because the options are so broad. Take a look at the seven available essay prompts for the 2018-19 Common App. (These prompts are unchanged from the 2017-18 application season.) As we noted in a previous blog post, prompt number 7 actually grants students permission to write their own essay question and respond to it. How open-ended can you get?
Reading the essays of other students who successfully got into the college of their choice is a good way to find inspiration for your own writing. Look for common patterns in college admission essay samples, such as personal stories and a touch of humor. You might also find some good ideas for structuring your essay to give it a breath of fresh air.