Anna Skrobala — Common Application

Essay:

If my cousins and I weren’t related, we probably wouldn’t be friends.

I don’t have much in common with many of them. I have lived in New Jersey suburbs my whole life, while Andrew has lived in England, China, Bahrain, and Tunisia. The youngest cousins are in middle school and the oldest are already a few years out of college. Some of them are mixed race, so they have faced challenges that I never had to. Angus has Down syndrome, making it difficult for him to communicate with us.

Yet when we were younger, we put on shows together every Christmas and went on scavenger hunts around the house and exchanged mail in our age-order cousin mailboxes taped to a door in our grandparents’ basement. I will never forget the hours of playing board games, or how my mom never knew what I was doing on our family vacations because I was always off with the cousins, or how excited I was when I found out that Olivia, Audrey, and Matthew were moving from Spain to a town right near me.

As we have grown together, my cousins and I have shared so much with each other.. Although Olivia and I have very different personalities, we like the same kinds of clothes. When she needed closet space, she gave me her old things. Every time I wear them, I remember how much fun we had walking around Madrid and Barcelona when I stayed with her a few years ago. And while Lance tends to keep to himself at family events, last Christmas he asked me to sing with him. We performed “O Holy Night” for our family; for a few minutes, we overcame the usual distance between us to connect through our shared love of music and performing.

When I was little, I thought I was just having fun playing games and making up silly stories and songs with my cousins. But now I understand how much every minute I spent with them mattered. I learned how to be patient when not everyone knew the rules to Monopoly and how to stay calm when the board got knocked over. I learned to take recommendations to heart when Audrey told me about my future favorite book. I learned that I can connect with anyone, no matter how different we might seem on the surface.

Most of my friends and I are very similar. We like the same movies and games and we talk the same way. With my cousins it’s different—we don’t all like the same things, and we’re not ever going to. But we still have the same nose that we inherited from our grandfather and we remember our family vacations in huge houses rented for the week. We’ve grown up constantly looking forward to the next family gathering because it’s a chance for us to see each other.

I don’t know why we get along so well, considering how different we are. It could be because we’ve known each other our whole lives, or that we always have things to talk about because of all the time we’ve spent together. Or who knows, it could have something to do with the fact that we are inherently linked by our shared genes. All I know is that the way it ended up happening, we are both cousins and friends.

So no, we probably wouldn’t be friends if we weren’t cousins. But I still learned everything from them.

 

Tips for Writing:

The biggest piece of advice I could give about the Common Application essay is to make sure it has enough about yourself in it. I personally find it very difficult to talk about and compliment myself, especially in something like a college essay that I know people will read and evaluate me on, but I realized through the course of writing and getting feedback that I needed to get over it and talk about myself. Because my essay is about my relationship with my cousins, the first draft had a lot of information and anecdotes about all of them, and hardly anything about how they have affected me, even though for this purpose, their traits don’t really matter because I am the one who marketing myself to the admissions department. 

I had to take out many lines that I had been really proud of and had really loved because they revealed nothing about my or my life and only focused on the personalities and characteristics of my cousins. I think the key paragraph in my essay is the fifth one (starting with “When I was little”), because it is the main part that states the things I have learned from them directly. Although I tried (and I think succeeded) to subtly include other things I have gained from my cousins throughout the essay, this paragraph states some examples more explicitly, showing some specifics while the rest of the essay shows broader subjects.

I would definitely suggest to anyone writing a college essay that you write a strong draft that you are happy with before getting extensive feedback from others, because that might lead to you changing the subject of your essay unwillingly or even unconsciously if you don’t know exactly what it is you want to say before showing it to other people.