College Essays

Common Application

At least thirty of us pack tightly in the room closest to the front door. The kids pack themselves on the floor, while the adults squish as many people on the couches as possible. The room is unruly and chaotic, everyone is dressed in various shades of green and red, each head adorned with a hat more ridiculous than the next. Although it is relatively dark, I see the brightness in my family’s eyes as we prepare for our most beloved tradition, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” sing-a-long! I receive the part of the two turtle doves, which entails that each time my family horribly belts “two turtle doves,” all eyes turn to me as I act out that role, completely enthused and not at all ashamed. My cousin receives the role of the partridge in a pear tree, the only role that is mentioned in every verse, and therefore she must lead the group in enthusiasm and dedication. It doesn’t matter what type of movement my cousin chooses, she inevitably acquires praise and love for taking on the position.
Although I played the turtle doves and not the fearless partridge, I carry out similar “partridge” leadership roles in my life. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside special education students throughout high school. When assigned a buddy, I need to possess the characteristics of a role model who leads with enthusiasm and dedication. One boy I usually worked with has difficulty communicating verbally. I often felt anxious and nervous that I was doing something wrong, that maybe I was hurting more than helping. But one time, while playing basketball, he clapped and cheered and said, “good job!”as I often said to him. That moment made me realize that my enthusiasm and love for what I was doing lead to two simple words, but two incredible words. It was a breakthrough for both of us. I realized that the students I work with do not judge me, and they hold no preconceived notions about me. I am consistently greeted with smiles and an eagerness because they appreciate someone to spend time with, regardless of whether or not I am perfect all the time–just as the partridge is always lovingly welcomed.
With our sing-a-long, the assigned roles vary each year, and I must quickly think of an accurate way to portray my lyric. Not only that, but most roles are collaborative. I faced this same situation when my dad remarried. The size of my family doubled, from four to eight, adding two stepbrothers, a stepsister, and a stepmother. I was thrilled to have the little sister I always wanted. Despite the excitement, we still felt like two separate families; it was just more comfortable to gravitate towards those we had lived with our entire lives.
Gradually, I realized that embracing the change allowed me to find comfort in an uncomfortable situation. In the sing-along, I never knew the outcome or role ahead of time, and neither did I with my family. I came to recognize that the little things were the most impactful: the pizza nights, the board games, the homework help. Challenges still continue, collaboration is still needed, and everyday is my house is unexpected, but I’ve adapted enough that it often slips my mind we were ever two separate families.
As I look around the room seeing everyone in unattractive Christmas sweaters, jumping up and down to act out the roles, and singing their hearts out completely off key, I embrace the chaos, because everything comes together: perfectly messy.

Tips for Writing:
I rewrote this essay, which I ultimately submitted as my Common App essay, between seven and ten times. The first few times, I wrote about completely different topics. If I could go back and tell myself one thing about writing college essays, particularly the Common App one, it would be to just write. Write something, write anything, and then get feedback. When I sat down to write, I became so worried about making it poetic, or deep, or breathtaking, that I barely ever got anything written. It was almost as though I was waiting for some divine intervention before I allowed myself to write even a paragraph. But my advice is just to write; get your ideas down on paper, refine, and then get feedback. You won’t know what works or what doesn’t until it is all put on paper. You’re going to have to rewrite your essay, probably many times, so just remember it does not have to be perfect before showing it to someone for editing. And that’s another thing—let other people tear your essay apart. I can assure you it is better to have a teacher or friend tear apart the essay rather than a college. Overall, the college essay process is a lot of back and forth between topics, word choice, editing, etc. It takes time, but in the end your final product will be something to be proud of.

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