College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: 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.

“The best heirlooms you could own,” my mother hummed in that sing-song voice of hers, tracing the swirls of my juvenile thumb, “are your hands.”                
At six years old, I digested this by blinking at my upturned palms. Lost in a thorough examination of my right hand’s life line—and lost in the hope that, somehow, this concentration would prompt the definition of that “H” word I only knew in reference to tomatoes—I shifted my curious gaze to Mom. She patiently clarified, “Nana gave you her fingertips, and Pa gave you his knuckles.” 
Squeezing my eyes shut, I pictured them: fists weathered from decades of grit, freckled from their many revolutions around the sun. Sure, I mused, my knuckles are big and knotted like Pa’s, but Nana’s fingertips are just— well, fingertips. For crying out loud, I was born with these hands, no one gave them to me. Stumped by her profundity, I shook my eyelids open to my very own set of ten winding tree-branch fingers.  
While navigating through my adolescence, I realized that my mother’s once-mysterious prophecy was my reality. I, the granddaughter of a meticulous seamstress and an industrious builder, grew up aching for a sense of fulfillment that no toy could provide. Coloring books and jigsaw puzzles fared as temporary cures for my insatiable drive for creation; their perfectly rectangular, cellophane-wrapped packages and predetermined final products were too finite for me. I yearned for something limitless, something my heirlooms could mold as uniquely mine and mine alone. 
My childhood stopped unravelling as a patchwork of fruitless trips down craft store aisles the night I opted for a different excursion: my living room. At eight years old, I gingerly unfastened the tarnished clasp on Nana’s walnut chest. Its antiqued, old-book scent peppered the air, inviting me to liberate the harvest of folded botanic fabrics and tightly-wound threads from their wooden confines. Delirious with inspiration, I excavated this artistic feast. I only paused to readjust, oh so carefully, the textile scraps and yarns that swelled unmanageably from my arms. 
While my family slept under their covers, I perched atop mine with a glowingly crooked grin. The unrepeatable rhythm of my hands guided the needle with a raw ebb and flow. My nimble fingers were numb from hours of stitching, the pad of my thumb pulsing from a steadily applied pressure. Though awkwardly overstuffed with an indistinguishable silhouette, my very first (and very misshapen) pillow sat gloriously on my blanketed workspace. The seams may have been gnarled and unapologetically novice, but each stitch was a testament to my victory; my hands’ yearning for limitlessness had finally met their infinite match.
My needle-bound devotion quickly shifted from personal concoctions to a concern for detailmy mother’s holey sweater, my dad’s buttonless button down, my best friend’s oversized prom dress, my classmate’s tattered old tee. The favor I have been asked most often since elementary school“hey, could you fix this?”has evolved into a fascination for mending keepsakes so cherished, they’ve been worn to shreds. Though both outdated in its design and loyal to a machineless, time-honored practice, Nana’s sewing chest humbles me with the decade long reign of The When-and-Where Seamstress. This simple act of tailoring taught me the art of loving something with the sole intention of giving it to a person I love more. 
Looking at my now pin-pricked and weathered hands, I understand. From Nana’s fingertips flow the nuance in her craft, her grace imbedded in every seam, while Pa’s robust knuckles grant him the stability and ambition necessary for his carpentry. Through each garment I mend, I’m reminded that my dynamism is the product of not just my heirlooms, but my ceaseless drive to deviate abstractly from my comfort zone. And to my six-year-old self, I know nothing would sound more limitless than that.

Tips for Writing: 
Ask people to edit your paper with this question in mind: “If you didn’t know it was me that wrote this, how would you describe the author? Do these traits reflect who I am?” Having someone else (a friend, a parent, even a classmate you aren’t close with) read what you wrote can add extra dimension or clarity to your paper. Also, when you write something and reread it over and over again, you don’t realize that certain parts don’t make much sense or that your paragraph layout is a little off. Make several documents of your different drafts. If you can feel your essay starting to really shift in a new direction, make a new document titled something along the lines of “Essay Version 2”. By having various versions at your disposal instead of congested not one, you can pull direct quotes from different versions of the same paper without rummaging through your google doc edit history in a frenzy. VARY YOUR SENTENCE STRUCTURE! It will flow so much better with a variety. I started by writing down everything that came to mind without realizing they all read the same exact way, and then struggled to edit them– take this process on as a challenge to find your voice in your writing! You may think some parts of your essay are absolutely vital to be able to understand it- while this could be the case, it also might not be. Use this to understand when/where to cut out sentences or words. Looking back on my many drafts, there were so many details I did not need, but held onto because I thought they added more substance than they actually did. 650 words is hard to budget when you are very passionate about a topic, so think critically about what to keep and what to remove! Small things can actually be very, very, very big things! You don’t need to have gone cliff diving in Europe or have had an earth-shattering revelation about life itself (though, disclaimer, all of these things are really cool) to write an essay for college. If you can write about it with passion and without trepedation, as long as it’s not cliche and is unique to you, then chances are it’s the one. Take the idea and run with it, the worst that happens is you don’t use it and just get more practice. Start as early as you can. Enjoy the summer before your senior year, but balance having fun with working and brainstorming. Find inspiration around you and good luck!

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