College Essays

Common Application

I always thought tennis was a lonely sport. Other than the final handshake, there’s no communication with your opponent. No backup—no goalie to save the shot that got past you, no center to grab the rebound off your miss. Debate is much the same: you’re on your own.
Sophomore year, I went to the U.S. Open. Well, most people call it “Speech and Debate Grand Nationals,” but to me, that championship was just as prestigious as a Grand Slam. As I stepped into the arena, I stared across the table towards my round one opponent. He opened with an irrefutable ace. I attempted a return, responding “it’s all hypothetical,” among other gibberish, but to no avail. The crowd applauded my effort, but my internal anguish didn’t lessen. This was supposed to be my championship; I couldn’t lose in Round One! I needed a way to return that serve, an argument I’d never prepared for and had never expected.
In the hallway, I ran into Dan. The Nadal to my Federer, the Sampras to my Agassi—he was my self-declared rival. I had met Dan freshman year at one of my first debate tournaments where he had completely destroyed me. That same trend continued for a year and a half. When I heard Dan speak, fear and admiration permeated me. I declared him my rival—surpassing Dan became my goal.
Seeing Dan at nationals I learned that he had a similar first round. I could actually help him: coming to the tournament, I had prepared against the particular argument his opponent had made. Dan revealed that he had great responses to the argument my opponent had made. We could help each other, but considering our history, I was hesitant. After losing to him for two straight years, I could finally beat him. Why would I reveal the tricks up my sleeve? I pondered my journey to this debate stadium. For my first year and a half, the only trophy I had won was a stomachful of stale Domino’s pizza. Though I competed every weekend and drilled every day, I had nothing tangible to show for it. But I truly loved debate.The adrenaline rushes, intellectual challenges, and warm friendships kept me from giving up. Finally, my debate career had taken off. In the last half of sophomore year, I qualified for nationals, closing the gap between Dan and me. If I kept my secrets, I might be able to beat Dan. But at the same time, if I lost nonetheless, I’d be kicking myself for not learning more for future rounds. If we both improved, I’d know I’d have done everything possible to better myself, making that potential victory or loss all the sweeter.
So, I helped Dan—and he helped me. We gave each other responses to the argument we struggled with. We divulged everything_the nuances of our cases, the entirety of our research, and the cruxes of our strategies, allr to better deal prepare ourselves in the match. With Dan’s help, I placed ninth nationally.
We became close friends and e both qualified for NSDA nationals for World Schools Debate in 2018, now on the same team representing the State of New Jersey. On the same side of the net, we placed among the top 32 internationally. Having Dan in my life made me realize that debate, like tennis, doesn’t have to be a lonely sport. I’m not on my own, as long as I’m willing to invite others into my player’s box. It’s not that I want to win less now. It’s that I now realize that when both sides truly want to learn, there is no win or loss. Competition gives one team the win, but cooperation makes everyone a winner.

Tips for Writing:
When I wrote this essay, I wanted to give a human face to the accomplishments on paper; I wanted to show how the activities that I’ve dedicated time to (specifically debate) gave me more than just trophies and medals, they changed who I am as a person. So, I centered the essay around one specific aspect of my debate career: my relationship with my “rival.” I emphasized a few aspects of my personality: cooperativeness, ambition, and open- mindedness. When I wrote my first draft, I didn’t have the metaphor comparing debate nationals to the US Open. In my opinion, at that point, the essay was extremely boring. So I decided to add in that tennis overlay. This decision had a few impacts. It made my essay a more entertaining read (for myself and admissions officers). It also reminded readers that I’m more than a nerd who loves debate, I’m also a sports enthusiast. At the end, I was also able to somewhat subtly highlight my accomplishments in debate, in addition to exemplifying the multiple facets of my personality.

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