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College Application Essays Help
Lesson One: Influential Person Essays

College Application Essays Help

Please select from the following sample application essays:

Note: The below essays were not edited by EssayEdge Editors. They appear as they were initially reviewed by admissions officers.

SAMPLE ESSAY 1:
Wellesley, Influence of mother

It took me eighteen years to realize what an extraordinary influence my mother has been on my life. She's the kind of person who has thoughtful discussions about which artist she would most want to have her portrait painted by (Sargent), the kind of mother who always has time for her four children, and the kind of community leader who has a seat on the board of every major project to assist Washington's impoverished citizens. Growing up with such a strong role model, I developed many of her enthusiasms. I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I also came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love, and spirit.

My mother's enthusiasm for learning is most apparent in travel. I was nine years old when my family visited Greece. Every night for three weeks before the trip, my older brother Peter and I sat with my mother on her bed reading Greek myths and taking notes on the Greek Gods. Despite the fact that we were traveling with fourteen-month-old twins, we managed to be at each ruin when the site opened at sunrise. I vividly remember standing in an empty ampitheatre pretending to be an ancient tragedian, picking out my favorite sculpture in the Acropolis museum, and inserting our family into modified tales of the battle at Troy. Eight years and half a dozen passport stamps later I have come to value what I have learned on these journeys about global history, politics and culture, as well as my family and myself.

While I treasure the various worlds my mother has opened to me abroad, my life has been equally transformed by what she has shown me just two miles from my house. As a ten year old, I often accompanied my mother to (name deleted), a local soup kitchen and children's center. While she attended meetings, I helped with the Summer Program by chasing children around the building and performing magic tricks. Having finally perfected the "floating paintbrush" trick, I began work as a full time volunteer with the five and six year old children last June. It is here that I met Jane Doe, an exceptionally strong girl with a vigor that is contagious. At the end of the summer, I decided to continue my work at (name deleted) as Jane's tutor. Although the position is often difficult, the personal rewards are beyond articulation. In the seven years since I first walked through the doors of (name deleted), I have learned not only the idea of giving to others, but also of deriving from them a sense of spirit.

Everything that my mother has ever done has been overshadowed by the thought behind it. While the raw experiences I have had at home and abroad have been spectacular, I have learned to truly value them by watching my mother. She has enriched my life with her passion for learning, and changed it with her devotion to humanity. In her endless love of everything and everyone she is touched by, I have seen a hope and life that is truly exceptional. Next year, I will find a new home miles away. However, my mother will always be by my side.

COMMENTS:

The topic of this essay is the writer's mother. However, the writer definitely focuses on herself, which makes this essay so strong. She manages to impress the reader with her travel experience, volunteer and community experience, and commitment to learning without ever sounding boastful or full of herself. The essay is also very well organized.

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SAMPLE ESSAY 2:
Harvard, Favorite Fictional Character

Of all the characters that I've "met" through books and movies, two stand out as people that I most want to emulate. They are Attacus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird and Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham from Field of Dreams. They appeal to me because they embody what I strive to be. They are influential people in small towns who have a direct positive effect on those around them. I, too, plan to live in a small town after graduating from college, and that positive effect is something I must give in order to be satisfied with my life.

Both Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham are strong supporting characters in wonderful stories. They symbolize good, honesty, and wisdom. When the story of my town is written I want to symbolize those things. The base has been formed for me to live a productive, helpful life. As an Eagle Scout I represent those things that Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham represent. In the child/adolescent world I am Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham, but soon I'll be entering the adult world, a world in which I'm not yet prepared to lead.

I'm quite sure that as teenagers Attacus Finch and Moonlight Graham often wondered what they could do to help others. They probably emulated someone who they had seen live a successful life. They saw someone like my grandfather, 40-year president of our hometown bank, enjoy a lifetime of leading, sharing, and giving. I have seen him spend his Christmas Eves taking gifts of food and joy to indigent families. Often when his bank could not justify a loan to someone in need, my grandfather made the loan from his own pocket. He is a real-life Moonlight Graham, a man who has shown me that characters like Dr. Graham and Mr. Finch do much much more than elicit tears and smiles from readers and movie watchers. Through him and others in my family I feel I have acquired the values and the burning desire to benefit others that will form the foundation for a great life. I also feel that that foundation is not enough. I do not yet have the sophistication, knowledge, and wisdom necessary to succeed as I want to in the adult world. I feel that Harvard, above all others, can guide me toward the life of greatness that will make me the Attacus Finch of my town.

COMMENTS:

This essay is a great example of how to answer this question well. This applicant chose characters who demonstrated specific traits that reflect on his own personality. We believe that he is sincere about his choices because his reasons are personal (being from a small town, and so forth). He managed to tell us a good deal about himself, his values, and his goals while maintaining a strong focus throughout.

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SAMPLE ESSAY 3:
Harvard, family illness: Mother's fight with cancer

I am learning, both through observations and first-hand experiences, that there are many mishaps in life which seem to be unexplainable and unfair, and yet have devastating consequences. Disease fits into this category. Its atrocity does not stem from the fact that it is a rare or uncommon occurrence, since illness and disease pervade our lives as we hear numerous stories of sick people and come into contact with them each day. However, there is a marked difference between reading in the newspaper that a famous rock star or sports icon has tested H.I.V. positive and discovering that your own mother has been diagnosed with cancer.

Undoubtedly, the most influential people in my life have been my mother and father. It is to them that I credit many of my accomplish-ments and successes-both inside and outside of school. Throughout my childhood, my parents have always fostered and encouraged me in all my endeavors. At all my sporting events, spelling bees, concerts, and countless other activities, they have always been front row and center. My parents, in conjunction with twelve years of Catholic training, have also instilled in me a sound belief in a loving, caring God, which I have come to firmly believe. It therefore should not come as a surprise that the news of my mothers sickness would greatly alter my entire outlook on life. Where was my God?

My mother, in fact, had been aware of her condition in the spring of my junior year in high school. She deliberately did not inform my sister or me of her illness because she did not want to distract us from our studies. Instead, my mother waited for the completion of her radiation therapy treatments. At this time, she brought me into her room, sat me down on the same wooden rocking chair from which she used to read me bedtime stories, and began to relate her story. I did not weep, I did not flinch. In fact, I hardly even moved, but from that point onward, I vowed that I would do anything and everything to please my mother and make her proud of me.

Every subsequent award won and every honor bestowed upon me has been inspired by the recollection of my mother's plight. I look to her as a driving force of motivation. In her I see the firm, enduring qualities of courage, strength, hope, and especially love. Whenever I feel discouraged or dispirited, I remember the example set by my mother and soon become reinvigorated. Instead of groveling in my sorrow, I think of all the pain and suffering that my mother had to endure and am revived with new energy after realizing the triviality of my own predicament.

For instance, last year, when I was playing in a championship soccer game, my leg became entangled with a forwards leg on the other team, and I wound up tearing my medial cruciate ligament. I was very upset for having injured myself in such a seemingly inane manner. Completely absorbed in my own anguish, I would not talk to anyone and instead lamented on the sidelines. But then I remembered something that my mother used to say to me whenever something like this happened: If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, I'll be very happy, and you'll be very lucky. Instantly, many thoughts race through my mind. I pictured my mother as a young thirteen-year-old walking to the hospital every day after school to visit her sick father. She had always told me how extremely painful it had been to watch his body become emaciated as the cancer advanced day by day and finally took its toll. I then pictured my mother in the hospital, thirty years later, undergoing all the physically and mentally debilitating tests, and having to worry about her husband and her children at the same time. I suddenly felt incredibly ashamed at how immature I had been acting over my own affliction. I gathered my thoughts and instead of sulking or complaining, helped coach my team to victory.

I am very happy to say that my mother is now feeling much better and her periodic checkups and C.A.T. scans have indicated that she is doing very well. Nevertheless, her strength and courage will remain a constant source of inspiration to me. I feel confident to greet the future with a resolute sense of hope and optimism.

COMMENTS:

The majority of the suggestions for this essay highlight the danger inherent in relying on an overly poignant topic, in this case the writer's mother's bout with cancer. Part of why the reactions to this piece are so passionate (and why there are so many of them) is because had the applicant just taken a slightly different approach, he could have had a powerful and touching composition on his hands. It is always frustrating when a piece with so much potential misses the mark. In this case, the material and emotion are all there. Had he spent more time and written with more sincerity, this essay might have been a real winner.

I wish this kid had started the essay with his mom sitting him down in the rocking chair. That would have been a powerful beginning. In general, using the introduction of the essay to paint a scene or mood can be very effective.

He should begin with the most simple and striking sentence possible, such as "On January 5, 1995, my mother learned that she had cancer." Use real times and exact places. Let the most dramatic point go where it belongs, at the end of the sentence-also known as the stress point.

Because this topic is so personal, I yearn to know more about the student's reaction to his mom's cancer, how he and his family dealt with it over time. As written, things just seem a bit too tidy.

The author describes a valuable life lesson, but I find the writing style to be artificial and a bit maudlin. I imagine he resorted to the thesaurus more than once.

The writer tells us a sad story about his mother with cancer and how he has strived to do his best because of what his mother has been through. The topic can be a tear jerker, but this essay lacked the depth and richness that other essays with similar topics possess.

The experience obviously impacted the student very much. But what students do not realize is that they do not have to share such personal issues within the confines of a college essay.

I don't believe the "epiphany" in the conclusion as it's described. It's too easy and convenient to be believable. He begins his description with "For instance," which negates almost everything that follows. When he sees his mother in his mind, he "instantly" thinks this and "suddenly" does that, and finally "helped coach his team to victory." He "coached" the team. "Cheered" maybe. "Coached?" No way.

This essay smells of contrivance. Yes, his mother's bout with cancer affected him. Just not in the way he wants me to believe. This is the "lasting sanctifying effect" essay. Look at what the writer is actually saying (using his own words): I used to be "absorbed in my own anguish" and "lament" my bouts with adversity. But, "instantly" or "suddenly" (take your pick), I became a young man "confident to greet the future with a resolute sense of hope and optimism." Why not say, "I used to be a thoughtless, immature teenager. My mother got cancer. I'm now a thoughtful, mature adult. You should admit me to _____."? His essay is no less subtle.

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Return to Lesson One's College Essay Questions Help

Lesson One:
Tackling the Question
Select One:
College
Business School
Law School
Medical School

Lesson Two:

Brainstorming a Topic
Lesson Three:
Structure and Outline
Lesson Four:
Style and Tone
Lesson Five:
Intros and Conclusions
Lesson Six:
Editing and Revising
From ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO COLLEGE, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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