The following drafts of a student’s Common App essay show the different stages of our essay consultation process.
“Match ball.” I served the ball to my opponent, and watched as he returned it seemingly beyond the reach of my forehand. I lunged forward, swung my racket across my body, and watched as the ball sailed just outside of the grasp of my opponent. And there it was, I had just secured another win for my varsity squash team. Growing up with the daily routine of playing as a soccer goalkeeper from a young age, I never imagined that I would end up playing a racquet sport, let alone one that I had hardly heard of.
From the moment I started playing squash, I understood the importance of my individual performance. Between controlling the T or hitting my rails close to the wall, it seemed that every action I took determined whether I would win or lose a point. Even winning my first game required day-in and day-out of practicing my shots and footwork, until I became a well-versed and fluid player.
Although joining my high school’s varsity squash team required me to put my best self on the court, I also learned that I had to help my teammates be at their best as well. Whether it was practicing with other players at my level or teaching technique to the younger players, I found that helping out my teammates was key to our team’s success. I took great pride in how I contributed to my team’s success, in spite of the individual nature of squash.
Consultant’s comments: Well-written, grammatically correct, and dull. I learned that you play squash and are a team player. The former is already on your list of extracurricular activities; the latter is ubiquitous. This is your one chance to tell colleges something personal about yourself that they would not otherwise know.
The student took the Highlands Ability Battery and engaged in a brainstorming session with his consultant. One of the abilities in which he scored high was inductive reasoning. He told the consultant a story about how he tends to solve problems intuitively, often not following a set procedure or set of rules. Their conversation led to the following draft.
Seven minutes left. I wrapped the wire that was the final piece around the pencils that were the foundation for our mechanical arm. As my teammate tested to see if she could maneuver our project to get the water bottle on the target, the anticipation from my group was almost palpable. I watched with dismay as the grey duct tape binding the pencils together bent and collapsed. An elaborate plan from the start and more than 50 minutes of detailed construction with my teammates had amounted to nothing. We were left with a pile of scrap, and while our hearts may have stopped for a moment, the clock did not.
Five minutes left. My situation warranted panic, but I was able to maintain a deadly calm. With the clock ticking, and no plan to build off, I wasn’t sure where I was going. But after 15 years, I knew I could trust my intuition, so I kept working. I thought through the countless possible steps I could take to reach my goal. My hands raced just as fast as my mind as I bent the wire hangers and put the pencils in place without hesitation. And just as the final design came to completion in my mind, it was there on the table in front of me.
Time. I stepped up to the front with an odd array of wire and pencils spanning more than 2 feet in my hands. My forearms strained as the wires bent to pick up the water bottle. As I released, the bottle landed just off the center of the target. 48 points, 1st place in the school. It was moments such as these that I remembered that I could depend on my instincts to get me through a tough spot.
The clock was counting down again, but this time, I was in a chess game. As I advanced my pieces, my opponent quickly guarded his king with his pieces. I made move after move, but it felt as if every attempt I made to reach his king put me further into a deadlock. There were countless options, but they all seemed to lead nowhere.
With a determination to win and a razor sharp focus, I narrowed down the possibilities, searching for a weakness in my adversary’s defense. And there it was. Despite being well protected, the enemy king had nowhere to go. An elaborate plan came together in my mind, and all I had to do was execute it. I advanced my pieces one by one, putting them into the line of fire. I knew I was putting the game at risk if I made the slightest error, but the thought never even crossed my mind. I saw an almost puzzled expression on my opponent’s face as he gleefully captured my pieces without hesitation. All of a sudden, his king was all alone, and I maneuvered my queen to attack. Checkmate.
With an unwavering focus and dependable intuition, I have been able to persist through countless mysteries and obstacles. And what others might consider as a sixth sense, I see it as my ability to think spontaneously and unconventionally. That is not to say that I have always been successful, but I have found that my failures have their own way of sharpening my intuition. No matter what happens, I know I will continue to be a quick and outside-the-box thinker.
The student and consultant worked together to add another quality (adventurousness), tighten the writing, and weave a playful, unifying theme throughout the work. As the student was a big fan of Star Wars, they decided on a Star Wars theme.
Seven minutes left. The anticipation from my group was almost palpable as my teammate tested the mechanical arm we had just constructed: Would it be able to maneuver the water bottle to the target? I watched with dismay as the duct tape binding the foundation of pencils bent and collapsed. Our elaborate plan and more than 50 minutes of detailed construction had amounted to nothing but a pile of scrap. And while our hearts may have stopped for a moment, the clock did not.
Five minutes left. This was the final run, our last chance. I knew what had to be done, but I was unsure of how to start. Use the Force, Luke. The pieces of the puzzle suddenly came together in my mind. My hands raced as fast as my mind as I bent the wire hangers and put the pencils in place without hesitation. And just as the final design came to completion in my mind, it was there on the table in front of me.
Time. I stepped up to the front with an odd array of wire and pencils spanning more than two feet in my hands. My forearms strained as I bent the wires to pick up the water bottle. As I released, the bottle landed just off the center of the target. Forty-eight points, first place. It was my own personal final throne room scene. And I was grinning as widely as Luke Skywalker.
Some call it intuition, some call it inductive reasoning, but I like to think of it as using the Force. Dorky, I know, but that’s how I secretly think of it. It’s too bad that this Jedi ability isn’t always at my beck and call, but it’s there for me when I need it most. Like Luke, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. As a young chess player, my coaches and opponents commented that I didn’t play by the book or use the time-honored opening moves of the masters. I can’t quite explain it, but I often saw the game play out in my mind and made my moves instinctively.
It’s not just my instincts that feel Jedi-ish to me. I crave adventure and excitement like one. Ok, Yoda did tell Luke that a Jedi craves not these things, but Luke seemed to have plenty of the above along the way. At my school’s nature observatory, my friends and I faced a 100-foot-tall obstacle course. My friends promptly made bets on who would be the quickest to the top, but without thinking twice, I went for the hardest route. I wasn’t the fastest to the top, but how is tackling an obstacle course fun if you don’t tackle every obstacle? On a different day, we were dropped off in the middle of the wilderness and had to trek miles back to the lodge through two feet of snow, with only a map and a compass. We formed a line, letting those in the front make a path through the heavy snow, but I couldn’t stand to stay in line. I branched off, stepping on fresh and untouched snow, forging my own path. The snow was heavy, but I felt exhilarated. Similarly when I was tasked to study the sixth plague of Egypt in my epidemiology class, I got excited. It was a legend shrouded in millenia of mystery, and the culprit had never been found. After relentless research, I narrowed it down to Anthrax and Glanders.
While it may seem that the Jedi’s greatest weapon is his or her lightsaber, it’s really the Force that powers the Jedi’s abilities. And while I very much covet a real working lightsaber, it’s my intuitive problem solving and thirst for challenge that propel me to seek the next great adventure. I don’t know what obstacle or mystery will next challenge me, but as Han Solo says, never tell me the odds.