College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

The sound of running water and clinking plates fills the emptiness of our home. As I finish washing the last few dishes, I glance at the clock. “Caleb, Joyce, it’s time for bed. Do you need help flossing tonight?” Before Caleb can answer, I walk up the stairs to help him. (I know he can’t reach his last two teeth.) I’ve never thought of moments like these as anything other than normal. They have become part of my daily routine, another box to check before the end of the day. Perhaps that’s why I was caught off guard when a friend jokingly asked, “What’s it like to be a third parent?”
In school, I was always the quiet kid. Having moved seven times by third grade, I found it difficult to find and maintain new friends. At home, my closest companions became my books, my two-year-old sister, and my schoolwork.
Then, while I was ten years old, my brother was born.
My brother was not born at an ideal time. He came into the world to a father who had just lost his job, a mother who was stressed out and worried about her own father who had terminal cancer, and an infant sister with a weak immune system. As a fourth grader, I wasn’t told any of this until much later. For all I knew, Mom was just a little bit crankier for a few months.
During the first two years after my brother was born, my siblings quickly became a central part of my life. I became a “one boy show”—changing diapers, mixing baby formula, and still playing the part of an older brother. From the time my brother could sit up, we would have three way staring contests, always ending with my sister and I giggling uncontrollably at the puzzled, unblinking expression upon our brother’s face.
As my siblings grew bigger, so did my responsibilities. By sophomore year, my dad was once again working in a different state, and my mom worked late into the night. Not only did I have schoolwork, track practice, and choir to balance, but soon cooking, washing dishes, and chauffeuring my siblings to their various activities became part of my daily schedule as well. Most nights, my homework wasn’t started until nine, and not completed before twelve. I never complained to my mom, but deep down, I knew my academics and friendships were suffering because of all my extra responsibilities at home. Yet, a simple Saint Patrick’s Day project made it all worth it. When asked in his first grade class what he was lucky to have, my brother wrote —“I am so lucky because I have the best big brother.”
Being a “third parent” now means many things to me. It means differentiating between what you want to do and what you have to do. It means being patient and persevering, even when you’ve spent twenty minutes explaining mixed fractions to your brother. It means learning new skills that you would never think you’d learn, like how to properly brush, blow dry, and braid your sister’s hair. It means learning how to balance your life—learning to put others before you, while also taking care of your own needs.
As I finish tucking the last corner of my brother’s blanket in, I wonder what I would do if I had more personal time. Maybe I could use it to hang out with my friends. Maybe I could spend it on my own hobbies, like singing or photography. But at the end of the day, caring for them and being their brother has shaped who I am and who I will become. Sure, I could be a little bit better at singing in falsetto, but then where would I learn how to style a French braid? Sometimes, life hands you lemons. Instead of lemonade, I’ll make my siblings’ favorite lemon cheesecake.

Tips for Writing:
Reading sample essays can help, but don’t try to copy anyone else’s style or voice. Your college essay is meant to tell the admissions officer something that the rest of your application can’t. It’s your one chance to show them your personality, to reveal who you are as a person. Try to stick to a prompt and don’t forget to actually answer it. Your essay won’t please everyone. However, it’s not supposed to. Your essay, is a personal statement that reveals who you are. You can write about your Grandma and her incredibly inspiring immigration story but make sure that your essay circles back to tell something about yourself. Focus on how her story impacted you, tie it back to the prompt. Finally, don’t get too hung up on word limits. Write to your heart’s content and worry about cutting and editing after. This will make a much better essay in the long term because you won’t be afraid to write what you truly want to say about yourself. 

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