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.


Opening the door, the crisp winter air snapped me awake. Moments earlier, my brother had sprinted out of the house, leaving impressions behind in the snow. Not wanting to get my socks wet, I slowly took each step within the boundaries of his footsteps until I climbed my bus completely dry. Growing up, it often felt like my brother and I were too similar; we loved the same movies, sports, and hobbies. I loved technology but was shrouded in doubt as I questioned whether it was my true passion or the machinations my privileged past had provided me. With a family of engineers and entrepreneurs, I never had to make a mistake. Every decision I made came with years of experience. I enjoyed writing poetry but the only poem I would hear was, “follow the steps, and you will be successful,” as a child with no experience, how could I refute this?

I tried to tread this golden line as I learned to code and studied physics, but exploring new opportunities ultimately pushed me into divergence. On a particularly late night of Freshman year, I stared at gears, bolts, and blades in front of me; parts pulled clinically out of the original machine for inspection. What must have seemed like a meaningless spew of greasy metal on my desk intricately came together in my mind. Finally, the dull pencils on my desk longed to be molded again, so I gave in and reconstructed my pencil sharpener piece by piece. I inserted the pencil, feeling the button click as current began to flow, I heard the gears mesh, and the blade grinding at the wood. Of course, my inspection of a pencil sharpener wasn’t part of the predestined line and perhaps a waste of time on a Monday night before an exam, but in this deviation, I found a feeling like no other.

I continued to chase this excitement, and incrementally I strayed from what was expected or easy. Each step felt darker as I was no longer guided by the past. Each step confused those around me, but I was creating my own experiences without the guarantee of a safe reward. My pursuit of satisfying my curiosity regarding my world led to an internship working on simulations of self-driving cars. There I had the unique opportunity to design a vehicle and implement it into a ROS2 simulation. I spent hours working on designs as kinematics equations littered my desk to create a robot model approaching perfection. An old family computer turned into a Linux desktop to test for me in virtual environments. The internship let me peer into my future, and my passion for dissecting the workings of the world led me to make an impact there I could claim as my own. During this work, I realized the “deviations” that led me here were not distractions but instead my wonder for my surroundings pulling me in. The straight line toward success I had followed began to branch out into endless possibilities.

My unintended branches into design, mechanical ingenuity, poetry, and a general love to dissect everyday things gave me the unusual but timely experience necessary to become part of the forefront of reality innovation. The future of technology has become intertwined with the virtual world. A future where life-altering robots can learn tasks without wasting energy or making real-world mistakes. A future brings professionals from anywhere in the world close to the people that need them most.

The footsteps left behind for me inspired a path forward, but it was through the divergence from that course that I found convergence. On my own, I stumbled into mistakes: missed opportunities, inefficiencies, and inevitable failures. A fixed path is incompatible with a changing world. I don’t know what the future will hold, but in taking my own steps forward, I will get my socks wet (or maybe buy some snow boots).

Tips for Writing:

START WRITING EARLY. Hopefully you aren’t looking at these essays in October, but if you are you have a LOT OF WORK TO DO. Get to it and do them quickly. I think the best thing to do for each application is write down the things you want your essays to show as a whole. You can start general and put maybe specific points you would want to mention to show those qualities. This is far more organized than just writing out the essays because you are bound to repeat information about yourself or miss some key points. Also if you just write out your essays like that you are going to end up going through a lot of extra drafts you might not have needed to do. Overall, the process is made a lot easier if you aren’t up against the deadline so be smart and do it now. Good luck!

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