Sample Essays: Significant Experience
Please select from the following sample application essays:
Note: The following essays were not edited by EssayEdge Editors. They appear as they were initially reviewed by admissions officers.
Princeton, Athlete (Football)
I have learned a great many things from participating in varsity football. It has changed my entire outlook on and attitude toward life. Before my freshman year at [high-school], I was shy, had low self-esteem and turned away from seemingly impossible challenges. Football has altered all of these qualities. On the first day of freshman practice, the team warmed up with a game of touch football. The players were split up and the game began. However, during the game, I noticed that I didn't run as hard as I could, nor did I try to evade my defender and get open. The fact of the matter is that I really did not want to be thrown the ball. I didn't want to be the one at fault if I dropped the ball and the play didn't succeed. I did not want the responsibility of helping the team because I was too afraid of making a mistake. That aspect of my character led the first years of my high school life. I refrained from asking questions in class, afraid they might be considered too stupid or dumb by my classmates. All the while, I went to practice and everyday, I went home physically and mentally exhausted.
Yet my apprehension prevailed as I continued to fear getting put in the game in case another player was injured. I was still afraid of making mistakes and getting blamed by screaming coaches and angry teammates. Sometimes these fears came true. During my sophomore season, my position at backup guard led me to play in the varsity games on many occasions. On such occasions, I often made mistakes. Most of the time the mistakes were not significant; they rarely changed the outcome of a play. Yet I received a thorough verbal lashing at practice for the mistakes I had made. These occurrences only compounded my fears of playing. However, I did not always make mistakes. Sometimes I made great plays, for which I was congratulated. Now, as I dawn on my senior year of football and am faced with two starting positions, I feel like a changed person.
Over the years, playing football has taught me what it takes to succeed. From months of tough practices, I have gained a hard work ethic. From my coaches and fellow teammates, I have learned to work well with others in a group, as it is necessary to cooperate with teammates on the playing field. But most important, I have also gained self-confidence. If I fail, it doesn't matter if they mock or ridicule me; I'll just try again and do it better. I realize that it is necessary to risk failure in order to gain success. The coaches have always said before games that nothing is impossible; I know that now. Now, I welcome the challenge. Whether I succeed or fail is irrelevant; it is only important that I have tried and tested myself.
The topic of this essay is how the applicant has matured and changed since his freshman year. He focuses on football. One of the strengths of this essay is that it is well organized. The applicant clearly put time into the structure and planning of this essay. He uses the platform of football to discuss and demonstrate his personal growth and development through the high school years. What he could have done better was spend more time describing himself after he made improvements. As it is, he only tells us about his newfound confidence and drive. This essay would have been stronger had he actually shown us, perhaps by including a story or describing an event where his confidence made a difference.
Harvard, International experience: Living in Switzerland
"Je deteste des Americains," said the old Swiss woman sitting across from me. Her face contorted into a grimace of disgust as she and her friend continued to complain that Americans had no culture, that they never learned another language, and that their inferior customs were spreading throughout Europe like an infectious disease. Each hair on the back of my neck sprang to attention, as I strained to hear the women's inflammatory remarks. I gripped my bag of McDonald's harder with each insulting phrase.
I had been living in Geneva, Switzerland for four years, during which time I had attended an international school consisting of over 96 different nationalities. I had already become fluent in French and had become accustomed to the new culture in which I was living--a culture which I had believed to be rich in tolerance and acceptance. Naturally, the women's remarks hurt. Was I really an "ugly American?" Did I have no appreciation of anything other than McDonald's or Coca-Cola? Had I not been touched by the new world I had been exposed to? Without question, my four years in Switzerland changed my life in countless ways. From the minute I stepped off the plane at Cointrin Airport, the vastly different sights along the clean street, the ubiquitous smells of rich delicious French cuisine, and my feelings of excitement about my new surroundings told me that I definitely was "not in Kansas anymore." My school helped greatly in modifying my attitudes, as for the first time I was with peers from countries which I had only read about. Although it was sometimes difficult trying to find links between my self and my Saudi Arabian, Hungarian, French, Nigerian, or Chilean friends, I soon came to enjoy my new stir fry environment. By the time I left, I was wondering how I ever could survive the boredom of attending a homogeneous institution. This is not to say that, prior to this, I had been closed up in a bland box of a world. I had traveled to India, my father's home, and England, my mother's home, annually: a practice my family and I continue to this day. I had been brought up without specific religious beliefs, but an awareness of my parents' spiritual backgrounds of Judaism and Hinduism. Thus my exposure to these various different nationalities in Switzerland built on my found-ations of cultural awareness, rather than laying the cornerstone for it.
My understanding of my new environment was aided tremendously by my ability to speak French, and was subsequently one of the best gifts I brought back from my four year stay in Switzerland. An entire year of school lessons could not have taught me as much of the language as I learned form speaking with my Swiss friends, shopping in the local stores, or apologizing to my neighbors for hitting my ball into their yard. My proficiency in French earned me a regular spot on a nationally broadcast Swiss radio program, in which a Russian child and I discussed tensions between major world powers. This was a rare opportunity, as, although Stephen and I were peers, the fact that Russian children attended the Soviet Embassy school meant that we were not classmates. Though, even if we had been allowed to speak casually before, I am not certain that our conversation would have reached the depth of discussion we achieved on the show.
America will never again seem the same to me. Geneva gave me enough distance to look at my country through objective eyes. Traveling throughout Europe was like a trip with Gulliver: it gave me the ability to look inside myself and discern my country's faults as well as its numerous strengths. Like the Swiss women's remarks, it hurt me to find that the United States is not the only country in the world with a rich and stimulating environment. With my new perspective, I saw that America was not what it had been. Then I thought for a moment and realized that America had not changed, but I had.
One officer called this, "A good example of a foreign culture essay that works." The only negative comments about this essay came from one officer who found the conclusion to be a bit weak. "I would like to see her elaborate a little more in the last paragraph. This is because in most of her classes, she will be required to support any opinions." Another agreed that she could have kept her final points more personal and specific.
The writing is excellent.
The vocabulary is sophisticated without seeming labored. I do not suspect that the author had a thesaurus at hand! This tells me that she/he would certainly be successful academically, at least in the courses that require strong communication and analytical abilities.
This essay is very well written. The writer demonstrates a refreshing maturity that seems to come from his/her abroad experience. The essay demonstrates a transformation of the student from just an American in a foreign land to someone who embraces the international experience and grew with it.
What I like about this essay is that it shows that the traditional categories of "extracurricular activities" need not be the only way to demonstrate that one has something of interest to bring to the college experience. I think this writer would be a fascinating person to get to know, because she would be able to contribute a fresh perspective to conversations about many of the important ideas that we wrestle with in college. She might well be someone who would be especially adept at bringing together diverse members of the student body because she would not feel intimidated by differences, but would, instead, seek them out and value them highly.
Princeton, Childhood experience: A fishing trip
Reluctantly smearing sunblock over every exposed inch of my fifty-three pound body, I prepared mentally for the arduous task that lay ahead of me. After several miserable fishing ventures which had left my skin red and my hook bare, I felt certain that, at last, my day had arrived. I stood ready to clear the first hurdle of manhood, triumph over fish. At the age of seven, I was confident that my rugged, strapping body could conquer any obstacle. Pity the fish that would become the woeful object of the first demonstration of my male prowess.
Engaging me deeply was my naive eagerness to traverse the chasm dividing boy from man. In fact, so completely absorbed was I in my thoughts that the lengthy journey to our favorite fishing spot seemed fleeting. The sudden break in the droning of the engine snapped me to reality. Abruptly jarred back into the world, I fumbled for my fishing pole. Dangling the humble rods end over the edge of the boat, I released the bail on the reel and plunked the cheap plastic lure into the water. Once I had let out enough line and set the rod in a holder, I sat back to wait for an attack on the lure. The low hum of the motor at trolling speed only added to my anxiety, like the instrumental accompaniment to a horror film. And then it hit. A sharp tug on the line pulled me to my feet faster than an electric shock. I bounded to the pole, and when I reached it, I yanked it out of the holder with all of my might. My nervous energy was so potent that when I tugged on the rod, I nearly plunged headlong over the side of the boat and into the fishs domain. Although adrenaline streamed through my veins, after five minutes both my unvanquishable strength and my superhuman will were waning steadily. Just when I was fully prepared to surrender to the fish and, with that gesture, succumb to a life of discontentment, pain, and sorrow, the fish performed a miraculous feat. Shocked and instantly revived, I watched as the mahi-mahi leapt from the oceans surface. The mahi-mahis skin gleamed with radiant hues of blue, green, and yellow in a breathtaking spray of surf. Brilliant sunlight beamed upon the spectacle, giving life to a scene which exploded into a furious spectrum of color. The exotic fish tumbled majestically back to the sea amidst a blast of foam. With this incredible display, the fish was transformed from a pitiful victim to a brilliant specimen of life. I cared no longer for any transcendent ritual I must perform, but rather, I longed only for the possession of such a proud creature. I hungered to touch such a wonder and share the fantastic bond that a hunter must feel for his kill. I needed to have that fish at any cost.
The fight lasted for only ten minutes; nevertheless, it was a ten minutes which I will never forget. When my fish neared the boat, I felt more energized than I had when the fish first struck. At my fathers command, I netted the fish and hauled it into the bottom of the boat. I was nearly bursting with exhilaration. Released from the net, the fish dropped to the bottom of the boat with a hollow thud, and my jaw dropped with it. I stared in complete horror at the violently thrashing fish which was now at my feet. Within minutes, all of the fishs vibrance, color and life had vanished. Instead, came blood. Lots of blood. It sprayed from its mouth. It sprayed from its gills. Shortly, the boat was coated with the red life blood of the mahi-mahi. It now lay twitching helplessly while it gasped and choked for oxygen in the dry air. I felt sickened, disgusted, and utterly lost in heart-wrenching pity. As I watched the color drain from the fish, leaving it a morbid pale-yellow, I realized that I was responsible for the transformation of a creature of brilliance and life into a pitiful, dying beast.
Despite my brothers cheers and praises, I rode back to shore in bitter silence. I could not help thinking about the vast difference between the magnificent creature which I saw jump in the sea and the pathetic beast which I saw gasping for life in the bloody pit of the boat. What struck me most forcefully on that day, though, was the realization that I was no mere bystander to this desecration. I was the sole cause. Had I not dropped the hook into the water, the fish undoubtedly would still be alive. I, alone, had killed this fish.
In retrospect, I am relieved that I reacted in such a way to my passage from boyhood to manhood. Although my views about many things, hunting and fishing included, have changed considerably since that day, I still retain a powerful conscience which actively molds my personality. One cannot dispute the frightening potential of the human race to induce the permanent extinction of every life form on the planet. As the ability to change the world on a global scale is arguably limited to one breed of life, so, too, is the force which impedes instinctual and conscious action, the human conscience. My own sense of strong moral principle reaches far beyond simply averting Armageddon, however. I often find myself unable to disregard this force of moral and social responsibility in whatever I do. Part of my keen social conscience is demonstrated in the effort I have made to be a positive intellectual leader among my classmates and in the community. Realizing how lucky I am to have been born with a high aptitude for learning, I feel sorry that others who also work very hard cannot achieve like I have nor be rewarded with success as I have been. In a leadership role, I hope to constructively guide my peers to find their own success and see the fruition of their own goals. By serving as class president for three consecutive years, as founder, member, and chairman of the peer counseling society, and as a peer tutor, I have enabled others to reach their goals, while finding personal gratification at the same time. I am fortunate in that I have been given the opportunity to optimize the usefulness of my personal virtues in helping others; I can only hope to continue heeding my conscience in work as a research chemist, or whatever I may do in the future. It is my right and my obligation, for I firmly maintain that the charge of a humanitarian conscience is one which each person must eternally bear for the good of humankind and all the world.
"A good example of how a talented writer can make a standard topic appealing" was the general consensus. One officer did think, though, that the writer got "overzealous" with his language and could have avoided some of the more corpulent sentences like, "Engaging me deeply was my naive eagerness to traverse the chasm dividing boy from man," by writing with a simpler, more natural voice.
I really enjoyed this essay. It starts with a wonderful, humorous touch, but describes vividly and movingly the young boy's first experience with death and with personal responsibility.
In reading this essay, I get a strong impression of the kind of person this young man must be, someone full of good humor, but great sensitivity as well. His easy way with the language convinces me that he would be an excellent student, and a welcome addition to the class.
This was a nicely written piece. This student took time to think about this experience and was able to articulate his memories of his fishing adventure rather well. This could have been another bland essay but the writer took you on the adventure with him, from boyhood to manhood.
I like the way he took his fishing adventure and transitioned to his life today and how and what he learned from it.
What I liked most about the essay was that the writer told of an experience in his childhood and was able to take that experience and make the connection to his life and goals of today.
Brown, Achievement: Martial arts competition
A faint twinge of excitement floated through my body that night. A hint of anticipation of the coming day could not be suppressed; yet to be overcome with anxiety would not do at all. I arduously forced those pernicious thoughts from seeping in and overcoming my body and mind. I still wonder that I slept at all that night. But I did. I slept soundly and comfortably as those nervous deliberations crept into my defenseless, unsuspecting mind, pilfering my calm composure. When I awoke refreshed, I found my mind swarming with jumbled exhilaration. The adrenaline was flowing already.
After a quick breakfast, I pulled some of my gear together and headed out. The car ride of two hours seemed only a few moments as I struggled to reinstate order in my chaotic consciousness and focus my mind on the day before me. My thoughts drifted to the indistinct shadows of my memory.
My opponent's name was John Doe. There were other competitors at the tournament, but they had never posed any threat to my title. For as long as I had competed in this tournament, I had easily taken the black belt championship in my division. John, however, was the most phenomenal martial artist I had ever had the honor of witnessing at my young age of thirteen. And he was in my division. Although he was the same rank, age, size, and weight as I, he surpassed me in almost every aspect of our training. His feet were lightning, and his hands were virtually invisible in their agile swiftness. He wielded the power of a bear while appearing no larger than I. His form and techniques were executed with near perfection. Although I had never defeated his flawlessness before, victory did not seem unattainable. For even though he was extraordinary, he was not much more talented than I. I am not saying that he was not skilled or even that he was not more skilled than I, for he most certainly was, but just not much more than I. I still had one hope, however little, of vanquishing this incredible adversary, for John had one weakness: he was lazy. He didn't enjoy practicing long hours or working hard. He didn't have to. Nevertheless, I had found my passage to triumph.
My mind raced even farther back to all my other failures. I must admit that my record was not very impressive. Never before had I completed anything. I played soccer. I quit. I was a Cub Scout. I quit. I played trumpet. I quit. Karate was all I had left. The championship meant so much because I had never persevered with anything else. In the last months, I had trained with unearthly stamina and determination. I had focused all my energies into practicing for this sole aspiration. Every day of the week I trained. Every evening, I could be found kicking, blocking, and punching at an imaginary opponent in my room. Hours of constant drilling had improved my techniques and speed. All my techniques were ingrained to the point where they were instinctive. Days and weeks passed too swiftly. . . .
I was abruptly jolted back into the present. The car was pulling into the parking lot. The tournament had too quickly arrived, and I still did not feel prepared for the trial which I was to confront. I stepped out of the car into the bright morning sun, and with my equipment bag in hand, walked into the towering building.
The day was a blur. After warming up and stretching, I sat down on the cold wooden floor, closed my eyes, and focused. I cleared my mind of every thought, every worry, and every insecurity. When I opened my eyes, every sense and nerve had become sharp and attentive, every motion finely tuned and deliberate. The preliminary rounds were quiet and painless, and the championship fight was suddenly before me. I could see that John looked as calm and as confident as ever. Adrenaline raced through my body as I stepped into the ring. We bowed to each other and to the instructor, and the match began.
I apologize, but I do not recall most of the fight. I do faintly remember that when time ran out the score was tied, and we were forced to go into Sudden Death: whoever scored the next point would win. That, however, I do recall. I was tired. The grueling two points that I had won already had not been enough. I needed one more before I could taste triumph. I was determined to win, though I had little energy remaining. John appeared unfazed, but I couldn't allow him to discourage me. I focused my entire being, my entire consciousness, on overcoming this invincible nemesis. I charged. All my strenuous training, every molecule in my body, every last drop of desire was directed, concentrated on that single purpose as I exploded through his defenses and drove a solitary fist to its mark. I was not aware that I would never fight John again, but I would not have cared. Never before had I held this prize in my hands, but through pure, salty sweat and vicious determination, the achievement that I had desired so dearly and which meant so much to me was mine at last. This was the first time that I had ever really made a notable accomplishment in anything. This one experience, this one instant, changed me forever. That day I found self-confidence and discovered that perseverance yields its own sweet fruit. That day a sense of invincibility permeated the air. Mountains were nothing. The sun wasn't so bright and brilliant anymore. For a moment, I was the best.
The admissions officers admired this essay for its passion and sincerity. In fact, most of the noted drawbacks were based on the writer being too passionate. "Kind of a tempest in a teapot, don't you think?" wrote one. Other suggestions for improvement were "purely editorial" such as the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, using a passive voice, and making contradictory statements. "For example, he says, 'I slept soundly and comfortably as those nervous deliberations crept into my defenseless, unsuspecting mind, pilfering my calm composure.' How could he sleep soundly and comfortably if the nervous deliberations were pilfering his calm composure? There are a few other examples like that that I won't go into here. I would just suggest that the author look carefully to be sure his ideas stay consistent and support one another."
What I like about this essay from the point of view of an admission officer is that I am convinced that the change in attitude described by the author is real. I do believe that he will carry with him forever the hard-won knowledge that he can attain his goals, that perseverance and hard work will eventually allow him to succeed in any endeavor. This is an important quality to bring to the college experience. Especially when considering applications to prestigious institutions, the admission committee will want to feel sure that the applicants understand the need for hard work and perseverance. Many times the strongest-looking applicants are students for whom academic success has come so easily that the challenges of college come as a shock. I always like hearing stories like this, of students who know what it means to struggle and finally succeed
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