College Essays

Common Application

Prompt (Common Application) 

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


With eager anticipation, at the start of summer vacation before junior year, I waved goodbye to my parents and boarded the plane to California. Trying competitive math for the first time motivated me to travel alone across the country to live in a college dorm for three weeks at a summer institute. Kindling an appetite for new and adventurous experiences, this trip filled me with a sense of independence that was liberating and nerve-wracking.

Once at the University of San Diego, I settled in at the dorm, met my roommates, and bonded over our shared passion for mathematics. Surrounded by teens with the same inquisitiveness for math felt exhilarating. Days were spent in the classroom learning from seasoned mathematicians from all over the country, applying complex algebraic formulas, and reflecting on solutions with peers as our teamwork developed exponentially. Nights were spent in my room pondering fundamental concepts, wrestling with challenging problems, and agonizing over the mistakes I encountered, which steadily enhanced my math proficiency. While in deep thought, like John Nash trying to analyze white boards filled with numbers, my appreciation for math expanded. Additionally, connections with peers multiplied and produced many new friendships.

During breaks between sessions, free time yielded socializing with new friends, playing basketball, and exploring the campus and the surroundings to unwind from the days of intense classwork. Our dorm community members trusted and supported each other through daily mishaps. One evening while relaxing in the common area, I found a misplaced purse filled with cash, and on another occasion, someone returned my lost cell phone, gradually giving way to a camper-created community lost and found box. My favorite activity was playing chess with my roommates who proved to be worthy adversaries. Having played in competitive chess tournaments, my opponents sought my advice, and I, in turn, consulted them for guidance on solving intricate math puzzles. Our mutual support reinforced a collaborative bond. We developed into a cohesive cohort, tutoring each other on chess strategies and math concepts and helping one another adjust to dorm life. An added bonus was the “intense” philosophical discourse: a fundamental analysis of solving non-math problems.

With supportive teammates, we undertook a somewhat unorthodox shared side project: food. Food was always a topic of interest for our group of teens, which led to exploring the campus food court and determining that we needed inexpensive supplements. When in the local Target, an idea came to mind: ramen! I persuaded the group to integrate our resources to procure ramen, an electric tea kettle, bowls, and utensils. We congratulated ourselves on reaping the benefits from our joint enterprise, even offering other dorm mates our home-cooked comfort snack. With the excess inventory, I experimented with creative additives such as Sprite and Red Bull, taking our product to a new level. While eating this mixture of sweet tasting noodles and bubbly soup, a trace of homesickness sneaked into my heart. I missed my dad’s secret noodle recipe and my mom’s constant nagging about eating vegetables with noodles. A cup of ramen brought a taste of New Jersey to California, buoying my spirits. 

With the summer institute coming to an end, closing ceremonies brought an unexpected honor when I was voted as the Funniest Person by my fellow campers and new friends. Never one to seek the limelight, I was shocked and flattered to gain such recognition from my peers. Saying goodbyes and exchanging phone numbers and email addresses, I left for the east coast, comfortably navigated airport check-in, TSA, and even stopped for in-flight snacks, feeling like an experienced traveler despite just turning sixteen. Returning home with a more confident and open-minded perspective that the summer institute had inspired, I could picture the critical points curving upward on my life’s graph: driver’s license, paying part time employment, graduating from high school, and ultimately, living at college. Math, it seems, is an omnipresent integer in life. 

Tips for Writing

Here are some pieces of advice I have for the essay. Brainstorm many topics before you start writing the essay. Brainstorm topics that are outside of your main activities, unique to you, and a topic that showcases personal growth or highlights important characteristics that you want to be shown. When you choose the topic that you want to write about, write an outline with important information, themes, or anecdotes that you want included in the essay. When writing your first draft, just use the outline and write the essay because even if the first draft is bad you can always trim, edit, and enhance the essay later. Also, spend lots of time improving the essay such as by adding details and sensory information.

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