College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

My footsteps rang through the unusually quiet Chinatown streets of New York City. That familiar smell of fish markets and cigarette smoke filled my nostrils. Adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream as the stale March air whistled through my hair. My frustrated face peered through yet another pitch-black storefront window. I was on a mission. I couldn’t fail him. I wouldn’t.
I entered through the smudged glass door. By the time it shut again, I had finally found it-a box of chocolate candy Maltesers. My hands gripped the familiar red box of treasure. Every time I saw my Yeye (grandfather in Chinese), he gave me Maltesers. He did so with the rest of my nine cousins, even if we tried to refuse. To everyone else, it’s simply a box of chocolates; to me, it’s a symbol of my Yeye, of our relationship, our connection, our love. Back at the funeral home, I placed the chocolates next to his body. It was my final goodbye. The next morning, we buried him.
I had never experienced loss or death, beyond the casualties of (countless unlucky) goldfish. What I thought I grasped and understood as the meaning of life was the concept of success: get smart, get rich, and get great. If you died with brains, money, and fame, you had lived a successful life. It followed then that all that I did-to achieve success-I did for myself. I lived a life that never escaped my own skin.
However, with the pain and grief that came after my Yeye passed away also came the realization of what it means to live and to be successful. When I saw the sheer amount of people who honored my grandfather at his funeral-when I saw that there were not enough seats for all the souls he touched-I redefined my interpretation of success. To make a difference in my school, my town, and my world was to be bigger than myself: to live a life like my Yeye. Success is much more than knowledge, wealth, and achievement. Success is family. Success is connectedness. Success is community, a collective extended family.
Since that bleak March day, I strive every day to use my time, passion, and strengths to become a part of something bigger than myself. Walking into a classroom twice a week after-school and volunteering with the autistic aid program at my high school might seem mundane and minute at the surface. Yet, the children’s wide smiles and eager eyes that greet me at the door convince me that I have achieved success. Knowing that these teenagers look forward to our simple interactions fills me with more pleasure than any amount of money or fame ever could.
My newfound understanding of true success will not change once I graduate high school. I will progress, continuing to leave my mark as an undergraduate. I look forward to joining clubs, participating in university events, and exploring scientific research with university faculty. If my Yeye were still here, I know he would be proud of all I have accomplished and still have yet to do. I hope to one day be able to look back on my life and say that it was filled with success.

Tips for Writing:
I knew right away that I wanted to write about the influence that my grandfather (and his death) had on me. Here’s one thing you have to keep in mind: college admissions officers are looking at thousands of essays. You want your essay to stand out. Don’t write the clichéd essay that anyone on a sports team or in a club could write. The essay is the only facet of your application in which you can show your colleges who you really are, beyond your GPA and your SAT scores. Looking at the five prompt options, this one clearly stood out. The hardest part about writing the essay, however, was fitting all that I wanted to say into the 650-word limit. There was simply so much I wanted to mention, but I had to be concise in choosing what I wanted to convey. You have to make every sentence—every word—count. I cut out any extraneous sentences or words and thought about ways I could reword unclear sentences. Moreover, I highly recommend having anyone and everyone read your essay, from friends and siblings to parents and teachers—your essay will only get better.

Write A Comment