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. (650)


“What color am I?”

“Purple with red wings.”

“And how big?”

Sarah scrunched up her face as she pondered. “Bigger than a house, but not as big as me.”

The details settled, we got down to the serious business of being dragons. We soared upward, leaving the playground for a world of cotton-candy clouds. We made dragon sounds, circling the villagers below in their fields. Our adventure ended with a swoop down to the house of a neighborhood bully where Sarah breathed fire all over his swing-set.

“That’s not very nice,” I said.

 “It’s not me doing it,” Sarah replied. “It’s the dragon.”

It was hard to argue with that logic and, the truth was, I understood. When you’re seven, you want to imagine yourself big and powerful. You want to be a dragon.

Sarah was my match in Big Sibling, a program that pairs high school students with children who need mentoring, and we had our small size in common. At four-foot-eleven, with a bunch of long-legged giants for friends, I knew what it felt like to be forever looking up at the big people.

It was funny to me that we spent so much time in imaginary flight because in real life I feared heights, always hanging back and saying, “It’s okay. You guys go ahead,” whenever my family’s hikes went vertical. I wanted to get over it, though, and when I joined the track team, I saw my chance. A few weeks into the season, I approached our coach about pole-vaulting. It seems like a crazy choice, but that’s why it felt like the perfect way to vanquish my fear.

Coach refused to let me even try out.

“Trust me,” he said, “it wouldn’t be a positive experience for you. Besides, you’d never get off the ground.”

As much as it felt like an emotional slap in the face, I did trust him, because everyone said he knew his stuff. Over time, though, I wondered if maybe I should’ve trusted myself more. I loved sprinting and weaving myself into the fabric of my new track family, but every day as I looped around the track, my eyes wandered toward the athletes slingshotting themselves into the air.

Was it true? As short as I was, could I really never get off the ground? I dove into the science of pole-vaulting, researching kinetic energy from the runway converting into gravitational potential in the air. I combed the internet for articles and videos. I discovered that pole-vaulting, in its purest form, is all about technique and technique doesn’t care how tall you are. I began next season ready to make my case and earn a try-out. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t pretty, but I got off the ground.

I can still remember my competitors’ reactions at my first meet. I collected all their smiles. Encouraging. Amused. Disdainful. I can also remember how I felt before my first attempt. I wasn’t the big, flying shadow overhead. I was the villager cowering in the field, waiting for the inevitable flames. I kept telling myself it was all about technique. As long as I respected it, it wouldn’t burn me. And it didn’t.

I’m in love with pole-vaulting. I love the precision and focus it demands. A year of physics has only bolstered my appreciation for all the complexities in technique. I love that minor tweaks can produce massive improvements. The airtime means that I’m less and less afraid of heights. I never would’ve experienced any of this had I not decided the most important person to trust is myself.

Since I started, I’ve grown two and a half  inches, but it feels like more. Grip. Sprint. Plant. Release. When I get it all right and know I’ll make it over, I’m not a short girl with a tall pole anymore. I’m a dragon. I’m as big as a house and I can fly.

Tips for Writing:

The hardest part of the college essay process for me was knowing where to start. I got so hung up on trying to have a really unique story or experience to talk about that I had no idea what to write. However the most important part of the essay isn’t having some crazy story, but reflecting a positive trait about yourself through whatever you choose to write about. I would recommend starting by choosing a trait or traits you want colleges to know about you and then write about a specific event that showcases those traits. I wanted to demonstrate a willingness to try new things and resilience, so I wrote about trying pole vault despite a height disadvantage and a fear of heights.


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