College Essays

Common Application

While most families attend parties, barbecues, and shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July, I’m surrounded by dirty fishing poles, the overpowering stench of bait, and the uncontrollable urge to vomit. My parents decided to take my brother and me deep-sea fishing, an unexpected choice for a Korean-American family. 

My dad puts his first bait on the hook of the fishing rod and teaches me the basics. I, however, am too entranced by his ability to touch the bait without recoiling in disgust. I can’t tell if it’s a worm, shrimp, or eel, but all I know is that it’s alive. I am not touching that. Finally, I take the pole and like a samurai whirling his sword before a fatal strike, I “throw” the reel far into the ocean. 

Waiting for a fish to bite is excruciating, especially because I am not a particularly patient person. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be 30 with a family and a job. My eyes are constantly set on the future, thinking about the most efficient ways to complete tasks so that I don’t waste time. Thus, I often rush through my life—I scarf down my dinner every night or I drive fast to get home quickly, all because of my eagerness to complete other important responsibilities. This often leads to sleepless nights because of my habit of meticulously planning out the next day while lying in my bed. Even my sport is fast. Beginner fencers must choose between three different weapons in fencing, which is normally a difficult choice to make. However, it was easy for me: I chose saber solely because the others were just too ‘slow.’ 

Time passes gradually on the boat and my competitive nature kicks in. I want to catch at least one fish for the customary fishing photo. Soon, however, the silence begins to overwhelm me and an onslaught of thoughts start building up—do I have to do laundry? I wonder how the dog is? I begin to pace rapidly. This precious time could easily be used in other, more productive ways. 

While reflecting on my plans, my brother nudges me and points upward. I look up to find myself overwhelmed with the beauty of the sunset. My brother pulls out his phone from his pocket to take a photo but I decide against it. All I have to remember this moment are my own eyes. The beautiful, orange sky slowly transforms into a dark background dotted with bright stars. I then realize why people enjoy fishing so much—the serenity and inner peace. 

I never once considered that perhaps a long line at a coffee shop or traffic on the way to school are just opportunities to relax, like talking to the stranger next to me or listening to the radio. This overplanning and overthinking mindset was often helpful… but also often a hindrance. There were also many moments in my fencing career where my impatience led to setbacks and defeats: matches I rushed through and regretted and successes that I could never really enjoy because I was unsatisfied.

As this realization sets in, I make one final attempt to catch just one fish. I reach into the bucket of bait and skewer one onto the hook. I slowly lower it into the water and wait. Soon, the boat returns to the dock and I reconvene with my family. My brother is the only one of us to catch a fish. It’s nothing special—just a carp that every amateur fisher ultimately catches in their career. I look into its bulging eyes and my dad jokingly prods me to kiss it. As he snaps a photo of me reluctantly puckering up, I feel glad to be there in the present moment, spending time with my family. Even if it is on a dirty boat.

Tips for Writing: 

Start by picking a moment in your life that may seem mundane but is significant to you and expand upon this moment to 1) answer the question and 2) show your growth as a person because of this event. The best essays tell stories that are personal and unique— stay away from topics like injuries, divorce, and moving since these could be trite. Remember that admission officers read thousands of essays so you want to make sure that your first lines are attention-grabbing, and try to tie back to this hook in a creative way at the end of your essay, showing your growth throughout the course of your story. Be honest but paint yourself in the best light possible.

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