College Essays

Common Application

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


It’s my turn. I step forward to carefully lift my end of the stretcher. Making eye contact with my partner, we squat, using our legs (not our back muscles as our instructors advised) and count – 1, 2, 3. Lifting at the same time, the cot slowly moves up, perfectly balanced and sturdy. Our instructor looks at us, laughing, telling us we look like professional EMTs, ready to carry a patient to the ambulance, lights and sirens ablaze. I stand up a little taller, gripping the cot with a new burst of energy and we look at each other, smiling, excited to take on the next drill.

Now, this was me a month into EMT school. From what I can remember, my first day of EMT class consisted of cold sweat running down my face and nail-chewing. Being only sixteen years old in a class full of adults was daunting, and I expected everyone around me to be condescending, cold. However, what I didn’t realize was that the competitive highschoolers I was familiar with weren’t the only types of people that existed in the world. There were 16-year olds like me, but there were also retired 60-year olds who wanted to give back to their communities, and pre-med students who wanted hands-on training. I even had a friend who wanted to go serve in a medical unit in the Air Force. Over the course of 3 months, we helped each other memorize medical assessment procedures, practiced responding to mass-casualty incidents, and celebrated together after a tough unit test. For the first time in my life, I found happiness, not through my own personal success, but through working with others towards a bigger objective.

While training widened my perspective, my first aid squad taught me the true satisfaction of being an EMT. We responded to calls at 3AM and treated patients with all sorts of illnesses. We filled out confusing paperwork, even if it meant staying at the squadhouse for an extra hour. When we weren’t on call, we spent time together, going out for food and talking about our lives. We worked together, learned about each other, and built each other up, because victory for us meant saving a life, not just a job well done. 

If it weren’t for that simple email from my neighbor, my EMT career would’ve just been another missed opportunity, another closed door in the path of my life. I would have remained miserable because self-centered goals dictated my life. All throughout high school, I was told that my purpose was to get good grades, take honors classes, and receive athletic awards. My unwavering gaze inward constantly reminded me about what I didn’t have, what I should’ve had, and how I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t realize that this self-centeredness had reduced me to a selfish and boring person until EMS rushed into my life and saved me from a fate of unhappiness and self-deprecation. 

Through my time with the first aid squad, I’ve realized that I don’t need to be a standout, prestigious student to be satisfied. Helping others has helped me become satisfied with the gifts I already have, rather than being insecure about the things I lack. Instead of looking inward at my flaws, I now look out at the world around me. There are changes to be made, people who need help. With my newfound energy and perspective, I can save people from pain and suffering just as my first aid squad saved me. The world is calling out to me, telling me it needs help, and I can’t wait to respond, lights and sirens ablaze. 

Tips for Writing:

While writing my essay, I wish I had been more proactive about getting critiques/revisions earlier on. I was afraid to accept critique, especially from adults in my life, because I didn’t want the main point of my essay to be diminished. However, critique from parents, teachers, or guidance counselors is so important because it helps point out issues that you wouldn’t have noticed by yourself. For me, it helped me tell my story with my own voice, but in a way that stood out from others. So, write a first draft, get all your ideas out, and talk about it with someone who will be objective with you (hence why I suggested talking to an adult figure rather than a friend).

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