College Essays

Common Application


I love puzzles. I don’t mean the 500-piece ones from the Dollar Store. Of course, those are fun too. I mean approaching life’s challenges as puzzles, fusing together what at first appear to be disjointed pieces of information. My goal is not simply to get answers but to understand the “why.” Putting the pieces together and pulling from different disciplines to solve those puzzles is generally both fun and productive. For example, when analyzing how things work in everyday life, like the effect of topspin on my tennis strokes, I apply knowledge from my study of physics. When figuring out how to resolve a conflict, I draw on wisdom from my study of Judaism. However, there was one important puzzle I struggled for years to solve—how to manage my various, seemingly unrelated, health issues.

Among these issues was difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. I am a very outgoing person, but my excess weight often made me feel uncomfortable in social settings. Although I strived to be fun and positive, I was self-conscious about how I looked and felt judged by others. To avoid feeling uncomfortable, I learned to sew and altered clothes to hide my extra pounds, shied away from public speaking, and avoided being photographed. Qualities I once loved about myself were obscured by the shadow of my excess weight.

One day, I was dreading the social studies presentation I was about to give, not for lack of knowledge about entertainment in the 1920s, but for my discomfort standing in the spotlight in front of my classmates. When I finished my presentation, I decided that my apprehension was inconsistent with my essence and absolutely had to end. 

I had tried repeatedly – and unsuccessfully – to lose weight before, but I am nothing if not determined. I threw out all junk food (much to the dismay of my two younger brothers), began intermittent fasting, reduced carbs, logged my meals, and exercised more. The weight loss did not come easily. There was no simple method, clear formula, or source of wisdom to help solve my weight loss puzzle. Instead, the only answer was a lot of time and effort. Eventually, I found my rhythm and achieved my goal. In 10 months, I lost 50 pounds, almost one-third of my weight. Although I began to feel better—MUCH better—in my own skin and experienced the satisfaction of working hard to achieve a goal, I still did not understand why I had to work so hard to maintain a healthy weight. 

This past March, a happenstance conversation between my mother and my brother’s endocrinologist unexpectedly began a path that led to a diagnosis: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects hunger, acne, weight retention, and other health issues I experience. The PCOS diagnosis was the missing puzzle piece that had eluded me for so long. For the first time, I understood that my various symptoms were connected and more importantly, not my fault.

The combination of the weight loss I achieved through concerted effort and a newfound understanding of my body and its predispositions has allowed me to become more confident. I have always been confident in fundamental aspects of my persona, such as my intellect, how I treat others, and my potential for success. Now I also have the confidence to stand in the spotlight and effectively portray my positive qualities to the world. I use my skills to connect rather than to shy away. I sew clothes I want to wear. I actively seek opportunities for public speaking, and I even love being in photos. Additionally, I have gained increased empathy for others, realizing that they may be missing important pieces to their own puzzles. I have emerged from this experience better prepared to tackle the great and challenging puzzles that lie ahead.

Tips for Writing:

When I began to write this essay, my biggest struggle was coming up with a topic that I thought was interesting enough to hit the mark. For a long time, I had heard people talk about huge struggles that they had overcome as “great topics for a college essay,” but I did not have one stand-out experience like the ones I had heard. I researched ways to begin the process and made lists about my qualities and experiences to spark ideas. I also asked friends and family what they thought would make a good topic. Ultimately, after writing my own essay and reading my peers’ essays, I have found that any topic that you can write about with clear enthusiasm and that conveys positive qualities about you is a great topic for an essay. While my essay is about a struggle that I overcame, I have also read great ones about positive experiences, important objects, passions, and even favorite foods. Once you have your topic in mind, my advice is to write over the word limit. Write at least 800 words because, when you go back to edit your writing, there will be a lot of “fluff” to take out. Don’t be discouraged if you go through many, many drafts of the essay. This should be the most highly-edited piece you have ever written and, although it may take a while and a few trusted editors (teacher, tutor, friend, parent, counselor, etc.), it will feel good to have a final product that you are proud of. Good luck!

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