College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”


I am a theater kid. I am also a tax policy nerd. Despite no apparent overlap between these two identities, my journey as a member of Ridge High School’s production of Guys and Dolls informed my journey as a member of U.S. Congressman Malinowski’s Youth Advisory Council to create impactful tax policy. Let me explain.

Guys and Dolls presented me with my first winter musical opportunity. Did I have the skills to be part of that show?  But what’s the point of high school, if not to try new things? I approached that audition with clear resolve: be prepared to shine. I spent afternoons plunking out parts at the piano, singing with and without the backing track. The vocal audition passed in a nervous haze of bright stage lights and pumping adrenaline. My memory of the dancing call back shines clearly – I remember the electricity generated as I mamboed to Havana, in heels on a slick wooden stage. Each practice thereafter, I reread rehearsal notes backstage, stretched before warmups while listening to show recordings, and perfected my stage make-up and curls. I could see and hear the show awakening, person by person, song by song, and scene by scene. After the final rehearsal I was ready for the show to go on! 

As I stepped from the wings opening night, I engaged with the final member of our theater production—the audience. I was their guide, welcoming the audience through song and dance into the journey of our show. Though the directors and choreographers create the show’s vision, the cast’s and crew’s unique vitality bring it to life. That winter, I learned the power of theater to unite 60 students, each with wildly different backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives, into one community. Theater gives me the power to inspire, to bring joy to, and to share sorrow with others. The greatest thing I can do with that power is connect with people, and, in the words of the Drama Club Manifesto, to “Dream Big!”  

Democracy also requires us to dream big. Beginning sophomore year, I have been an active participant in Congressman Malinowski’s Youth Advisory Council. YAC members form groups to draft policies that advise Mr. Malinowski on issues important to our generation. In the Ways & Means Committee, I wanted to support marginalized groups through revenue generation, but had only a basic understanding of tax policy. How would we achieve this? I needed to create a unified vision.

Opening night, a Teen Town Hall presented to Mr. Malinowski and his aides, rushed towards us. I learned the differences among income, consumption, and property taxes, and which were progressive, regressive, or flat. I became our group’s director, culling ideas to reveal the most illuminating. Yet our revenue generation plan still failed to coalesce—we needed help with our tax script. I gathered my courage and asked a former Wall-Street broker and tax expert for advice. The clearest direction was to close the carried interest rate loophole and raise the capital gains tax. I convinced my unruly team to choose this compelling script as the heart of our written bill.

As in the theater production, each member’s unique strengths now fused to create the final presentation. Leaning against the back wall of a drab, musty conference room was a somewhat lackluster experience compared to standing in the offstage wings and hearing the rustling of an eager audience. Yet I felt a similar excitement bubbling in my gut before I strode onto the floor to present my tax policy details to Mr. Malinowski. I had to guide this audience, with compelling documented research, and duets between charts and humanizing anecdotes, to join our journey for social improvement through enacting our tax policy. I connected with this audience, to convince them that to better humanity, though the journey may be fraught, we must “Dream Big!”

Tips for Writing:

You are going to get this piece of advice often, but please, start earlier than you think you need to. Taking the time during summer to create your personal statement will provide you relief when school starts. Set yourself benchmarks over the summer, and share these with a friend to keep yourself accountable for chipping away at the project.

Make sure you brainstorm ideas before looking at the prompts. The prompts are guidelines to provide structure to your personal statement. The topics are broad so that they cover a wide range of experiences.

Your essay is not meant to cover a wide range of experiences. It should cover your experience/experiences. By brainstorming and outlining many, diverse essay options, you can determine which topic puts you in the best light.

From there you can see if it fits into one of the given prompts. But do not be afraid of selecting the choose-your-own-adventure option if it captures you best. The personal statement needs to be personal so choose something that excites you, and your energy will come across in the writing.

Also, when you ask for feedback on your essay I recommend you make a new document for every round of editing. This way you can always go back to older versions if you feel like the essay is losing its center or you want to remember how you phrased a certain message.

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