College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A boy in my class nearly jumped out of his seat to answer, “A police officer! Like my dad.” A good answer, I thought—too bad my parents both worked in telecommunications marketing. I love them, but even back then I knew there was no way to make that sound exciting to a group of kindergarteners.
My friend proudly proclaimed her intention to become an anesthesiologist—a word I still struggle to spell, so naturally I had no idea what it meant. When I asked, she shrugged.
“My aunt is one. She makes a lot of money.” Fair enough.
I had many answers to this question too, though they varied year to year and sometimes even day to day. A veterinarian, I shouted in preschool, in love with animals (mostly of the stuffed variety). A teacher, I thought sagely as a third-grader, choosing the only profession I knew anything about firsthand. An actress. A lawyer. A brief stint as a circus performer (despite lacking any abilities that would warrant being in a circus). Nothing lasted longer than a year. In middle school, I just avoided the question.
By my freshman year, desperate for an answer to prying relatives’ questions, I became fascinated with personality tests. It was a decidedly strange hobby for a fourteen-year-old, but I was intrigued that there could be so much about myself I did not know, and convinced the tests held the calling for which I had been searching. Whether it was the dubious psychology of the Myers-Briggs, a Pottermore quiz to decide my Hogwarts house, or Buzzfeed promising to determine which Parks and Recreation character I embodied most, I took the revelations to heart. An INTJ: curious, logical, and driven. A Ravenclaw. Ben Wyatt.
There was one problem, however, that no internet questionnaire could easily solve. So many of the questions hinged on “either/or” situations: Was I detail-oriented or did I focus on the big picture? Prone to thorough planning or spontaneous? These dichotomies struck me as lamentably incomplete. I want to be both detail-oriented and focus on the big picture. I want to thoroughly plan my history report and spontaneously surprise my teammate on her birthday. When I would retake the same quizzes, I would choose different answers, receive vastly different results, and proceed to question everything I thought I knew. Do I even have a personality, or am I as mutable as the weather?
Then, while I was watching the sun set over the beach one day, it occurred to me that the best things in life appear at the confluence of disparate things, whether they are ideas, cultures, climates, Hogwarts houses, or Parks and Recreation characters. Sunrises and sunsets—the moments when the day meets the night—look so much lovelier than midday skies. Brackish tide pools that I used to explore at my grandparents’ house, which combine fresh and saltwater, hold a greater diversity of life than solitary streams or seas. I can love history, and psychology, and statistics, and literature, and politics, and reading and running and rambling on about subjects I love, and that’s okay.
So, what do I want to be when I grow up? Something exciting, engaging, and impactful. Something any kindergartener would be proud to shout out in class, or perhaps something no kindergartner could possibly understand. By the time I retire, maybe I’ll have an answer to that question. I don’t think I want one before then.

Tips for Writing:
Look for inspiration in other essays or writings. I found the basis for this essay in a piece I wrote my freshman year. If you’re in the mood to write, take advantage and get as much down as possible. You can always edit later – getting ideas on paper is the hard part. You don’t want to have to force it. Get as many people to read it as possible, across different ages, genders, backgrounds etc. Having someone read it who’s exactly like you won’t help you see it objectively. At the same time, take edits with a grain of salt. Don’t let your other voices replace yours – I accepted roughly half of the suggestions I received, after carefully considering each. Write about something you like or are passionate about, and have fun with it. If it’s not fun for you to write, it probably won’t be fun for the admissions office to read, and your senior fall will be very stressful.

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