College Essays

Common Application

Who knew my life would be changed by a 9 inch orange rubber ball? I certainly didn’t, until I started playing basketball. As someone who stuck to their guns, I wasn’t enthusiastic to try anything different. That changed, as certain events and people within my basketball experience eventually made me into someone who would face every new challenge. 
When I decided to play basketball, I went in with a hesitant mind- I had never played sports before, and the prospect of competing frightened me. However, after receiving encouragement from my team, I began to view basketball differently. I had looked at the sport negatively, as simply “put the round object in the round hole”, not bothering to look further into the game. My character changed as I played the game as I found growing only comes from trying.  
That orange rubber ball changed my life and so did the people that came with it. Soon, I no longer feared the court, nor what life had waiting for me outside it. Instead of individual players, the team turned into a unified machine, a machine I contributed to.  As I spent more time with the group, whether during practices or games, I observed the respect demonstrated by my teammates on and off the field and I began to do the same. Basketball taught me more than how to dribble and shoot; it taught me the strength of teamwork, respect, and confidence, things that helped shape me into the person I am today.  
When junior year in high school came around, I quit. 
The orange rubber ball changed my life for the worse. The bounce bounce of dribbling balls put pressure instead of joy into me. Playing felt like a chore; I hated it whenever I couldn’t hang out with friends, or put off homework until nighttime. Each car ride to away games dragged on and on. I kept coming home from practice, late at night, always feeling tired and unhappy
These people: my teammates, and opponents, both changed my view of the game. A numerous amount of great people helped me develop into a better person; others always frustrated me. I constantly encountered people who drove me away from basketball. I can recall memories of opposing players who took the “contact” in contact sport too seriously and coaches who would use cheap tricks to win games. The pillars of character I built from basketball took a blow every time someone played unfairly. I remember teammates who pretended to be my friend, who would condescend my play and see me as an incompetent teammate during games. My confidence would waver with each day being seen as the below-average player. As my confidence fell, so did my skill, and soon I could no longer perform like the rest of the team. The guys that helped me integrate into the basketball community drifted away, and I eventually lost connection with everything that made the game great for me.   
That orange rubber ball changed my life. Those people; my teammates changed my life. In the end, the game of basketball has changed my life for the better.
Looking back on my experiences, it amazes me how a ball, two baskets, and a community of athletes shaped my life more than anything I had at that time. I left basketball an improved person, with a stronger understanding of myself. Although the game helped me grow stronger, I couldn’t rely on them forever. When I drifted away, I knew going back wouldn’t help me or my team. 
In retrospect, these events are like the game of basketball itself. I pick up the lessons I learn as balls and shoot them into my basket to improve my score. If I fail, I try again. Although I may not hit every shot, each that I do make contains a setback or success, all of which composes a better me.

Tips for Writing:
The Common App essay won’t look like a big deal when you first see it. After all, you’ve done tons of essays before hand right? You may have even taken the AP Lit exam and done well on it. But the Common App essay is a whole different monster, as it just might be the deciding factor on whether a college accepts you or not. 
Let’s get some basics out of the way- safety schools don’t particularly care about your essay- your grades should speak for themselves and they’d be happy just to have you. For target schools, it’s a little more valuable, but your grades should be adequate enough for an acceptance. Therefore, if you are only applying to safety or target schools, the essay shouldn’t be a top priority. However, for reach schools, your grades aren’t quite up to snuff and colleges want to see you as a person to decide whether you’re a good choice for their college. This is where your essay comes in.
When people say that you shouldn’t talk about things like sports, camp experiences or jobs, I think they’re a little to general with it. Of course, you want to avoid the “I won the big game” or “I was quiet but now I’m not” pitfalls that are so commonly associated with basic essay topics. But if you really have a good experience that’s totally unique that involves sports, camp, etc, then that’s a good topic for your paper. In the end, YOU are the one driving the essay and you can write what you want. Getting peer feedback is quite important, and be sure to consider what others have to say. Don’t try to write about something that you think they’d like to see. Additionally, don’t try to sell yourself, appear over idealistic, or rehash what they already know from your admissions. You work as a waiter on your application? Don’t write about it on your essay. 
During the summer, I would write a rough draft of the essay. Just make sure you have a clear topic and start writing. Once you’re done, you can see if you liked how your idea went out, or if you need to change topics of prompts. The essay is a work in progress, but I would decide the essay topic and prompt before school starts so you’re not totally turned around during the year. Additionally, I would complete any Common App questions before school starts, so you can allocate more time to your essay. 
When you write your essay, avoid passive voice, spell out numbers under 10, and use contractions. Titles aren’t really necessary unless you absolutely need it to convey the story. Unless the prompt says otherwise, make sure the essay is about YOU. Start with a good hook, like a question, paradox, gross generalization, or enigmatic statement. End with sentences that provide closure to your entire essay, yet don’t sum up. Try to impress them with your style, but don’t rely on gimmicks like poetry or songs. 
The College Essay is something that shouldn’t be put off, and should be considered thoroughly before submitting. Although it will be difficult to write, with good time management and strong practices and skills, you’ll make an essay you’ll be proud of.

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