I know that college application is a pain in somewhere the sun doesn’t shine (you know what I mean). One of the most significant steps a high school student needs to prepare, is brainstorming college essays. Essays can come in different styles and formats.
For Common Application or Coalition Application, they give you the specific prompts to follow. There are 7 prompts in Common App and 5 prompts in Coalition App (which are VERY similar) that I want to discuss later.
These are the prompts from Common Application:
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
These are the prompts from Coalition Application:
1.Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
3.Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
4.What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Other colleges (especially Ivies) require additional essays (limited or unlimited word counts) to let the student fully demonstrate their capabilities, personalities and several extraordinary aspects that will make a student stand out. In Iater posts, I will also want to discuss how to brainstorm an essay that make an ordinary student become a peak amongst other well-rounded, academically inclined applicants.
Here is an example of what an additional essay looks like. The format is story-telling with unlimited word count.
Prompts: A Hero
Everyone has their own definition of a hero. What makes a person a hero? Plato said: “A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men.” William Manchester stated: “The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources…” Christopher Reeve declared: “A hero is someone who, in spite of weakness, doubt or not always knowing the answers, goes ahead and overcomes anyway.” My younger self’s interpretation would be: “A muscular human figure who wears a cape and an additional red underwear, soars in the midnight sky and saves the day.”
Humanity needs heroes like a fish needs water. Heroism itself is embedded in our subconscious, embodying what it means to be human. Now, my perspective of a hero has altered altogether. Instead of being someone unreachable, untraceable and unnoticeable, a hero always exists in our hearts, sleeping deeply and peacefully. Only our Integrity and Righteousness can be his alarm clocks.
Of course when explaining “Heroism” and “Bravery-The Final Virtue” to six-year-old white-belt kids in Taekwondo 101 class, I scratched my head and pinched my ears for 15 minutes, because how can a child understand the complexity of these concepts? Unfortunately, those pairs of innocent eyes bore into me, full of expectation. It would be a complete disaster if I were to snap from embarrassment and punish them with more practice in punching techniques.
“Master”, I pursed my lips and walked forward, “would you mind if I let those kids have a 30-minute break, instead of practicing the horse stance? I want to tell them a story.”
“Alright, but don’t be too long.”
“Thank you.” I gathered my students into an empty space and sat down, cross-legged. “Now, I’m going to tell you a true story about heroism, and especially about bravery. Then you, will explain to me again, what your definition of a hero is? Okay?”
Okay!” They chorused.
“This story is about a girl, who endured her bullies with great fortitude, who believed in herself and continued to fight, for years. Fighting for her morality, fighting for her worthiness and fighting for other people…”
Sharing this intimate part of my vulnerable past would never be in my list of “Top Ten Conversational Topics”, especially with my high school friends. They would laugh at me for making things up: “How could you, a badass black-belt, a member of the Student Council, a class representative, have been bullied?” Or they might be overly pitiful. Somehow the Taekwondo community offered comfort that I could never find anywhere else. Furthermore, my students would never judge me.
Back in middle school, I was at the bottom of the food chain in the school’s social hierarchy. Sixth grade, my best friends transferred to other public schools, and left me hanging out with books. My ignorant oddball self at that time coped by not caring about anything except academic achievement: no friends, no clubs, no social life. I barely spoke in class and refused to participate in group-work. These attitudes secluded me from my peers and made me “a nerdy freak”. I became a wraith.
I was voiceless, hopeless and hapless. But I was content with that.
Seventh grade, some of my peers started to exhibit insidious, vindictive behaviors. Hormonal puberty and a stressful school life caused those teenagers to behave irrationally. Bullying was inevitable, despite my school’s severe code of discipline. Day after day, lurking around dark corners like a ghost, I observed thoroughly every incident: friends sobbing amidst bullies laughing, the freshmen pleading and begging for mercy, victims curling up and shaking in fear… My head ached hearing them cry. My heart even more so.
It was a miracle the bullies never targeted me. Maybe being transparent had its perks.
The bad thing? I did nothing. I did not even help the victims recover from their misfortune. Too much of a coward to appear and be a hero like I wanted to be. A hero who wears a cape, and an additional red underwear, jumps in mid-hallway and saves the day. No, I told myself and turned away, I’m no hero. I will end up being a victim just like the others.
Worse than that? They bull’s-eyed my only friend. The one person in class who regarded me as a normal human being. They tore his textbooks in half and hung them on the air-conditioner. Standing at the threshold of tolerance, my head was in serious conflict. My heart twisted uncontrollably.
Anger and resentment. Agitation and despair. But not at all hopeless.
“What did the girl do, then?” One of my students asked.
“She did nothing. She was no hero, but a chicken, turning around and backing out at the last moment. Bwak, bwak, bwak…”
The worst thing ever? I could not sleep for a week, dreaming about that scene again and again. I could not look at him in the eyes and say “I’m sorry”. I could not stop hurting from the intense pangs of guilt I felt.
Integrity can do some fascinating things to a person. Where I was held back by doubts, weaknesses and fears, “Morality” and “Heroism” were rooting for me to stand up for others. Then my dear friend “Bravery” woke up and led the way.
I acquiesced in the end. Two weeks later, nothing could stop my legs from stepping up, or my brain from creating retorts and accusations, or my vocal cords from voicing them out.
“LEAVE HIM ALONE! YOU @#@!#!$#@*%&…”
Those words earned me two and a half years of constant verbal abuse from those bullies. I was cursed, insulted, ridiculed and isolated, but nothing was worse than being “abused” by Ethics. Since then, never once have I regretted upholding my values.
“Is the girl you, sis?”
“Oops, I just broke the ‘Modesty’ code, didn’t I?” I smiled and stood up. “You know, not that Taekwondo builds up Bravery and Heroism, but it nurtures my character by helping me define myself with these virtues.”
“Does that count as bravery?”
“What do you think about bravery?” I questioned back.
“From this story what is your definition of a hero? Who is your hero? And are you, a hero?”
I am no hero myself. But a hero lives within me.
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