Winning Admission Essays
The following essays are from the book Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe.
Elisa Tatiana Juárez
Based on her research in osteoporosis and gerontology, Elisa has won awards in a number of competitions including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the South Florida Science and Engineering Fair. But each time she entered a competition, she noticed that economically disadvantaged students were underrepresented. She did something to change this. Working with the Miami Museum of Science and Big Brothers Big Sisters, she founded the Students and Teachers Advocating Research Science (STARS) program to assist disadvantaged middle school children. A graduate of Coral Reef Senior High, Elisa has been recognized for her work and won both the Hispanic Heritage Youth Award and the Target All-Around Scholarship.
Birks & Barbie
I am not a Barbie doll.
I came to that realization the day I discovered the power of Birkenstocks. As we all know, Barbie is genetically engineered by marketing professionals to wear stiletto heels every day of her life, which makes it impossible for her to even consider Birkenstocks. I, on the other hand, have molded my Birkenstocks to my feet. To put my feet into a pair of five-inch spikes would be criminal. This whole concept is quite simple actually. Here let me explain. Which of the "new and improved" Barbie dolls stands up against all odds and wins international science awards? Or walks through the streets of México teaching children Bible stories? Or spends her Saturdays in downtown Miami feeding homeless people? How many times have you heard of Barbie advocating the rights of women and minorities? Never, as far as I know.
When I was younger I never had a Barbie doll. There was something about her that I just didn't like. Growing up, I remember getting chemistry and biology kits as gifts, not some plastic doll with long blonde hair and beyond-perfect measurements. Now, don't get me wrong, Barbie is a wonderful inspiration to many of us. She teaches wonderful marketing skills, she stands for the capitalism America is known for; whether or not that is a good thing is up to you. Still, I was very disappointed when I dissected a neighbor's Barbie one day and discovered that there was nothing inside. She was empty, hollow, uninteresting scientifically, and I soon lost interest.
I mentioned that Barbie does not wear Birkenstocks. How would that help you learn more about me? When I slip on a pair of Birks I feel invincible. I think it has to do with the stories my mother told me growing up. Protesting against the Vietnam War, wearing flowers in her hair and fighting for peace, not war, all the while sporting leather sandals. Those stories have been an inspiration to me. She made me think of all the things that I was capable of doing. She was the one who gave me my first pair of Birks and planted in them was the power of invincibility. To this day I wear my Birkenstocks to everything I do that is non-conventional. I tend to look at life outside the box, unlike Barbie, whose imagination and very existence depends on the plastic box that surrounds her. How boring can that be? Life is to be experienced from all perspectives. No idea is too crazy for me.
Never once in my life did I imagine that I would compete one day against the best high school science projects in the world. Through my perseverance, tenacity and faith in myself, I was able to not only fulfill my dream, but also to do more. Due to my success in science fairs internationally, I began to sense that it was not fair that other kids weren't given the same opportunities. This motivated me to start a project involving middle and elementary school age children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to come together and create with exciting projects. The goal of this project is to give kids confidence in science. So what if they come from "disadvantaged" backgrounds? They should have the same opportunities as others. The group of kids I am working with now is small, but they are so excited about science and research. Just the other day, one of my girls came up to me and said, "I don't really like science, my thing is literature and English, but these workshops have given me the opportunity to explore and have fun learning about science. Now I actually like it." I have helped someone discover that science isn't just something that crazy guys in white lab coats do. Science is new, always changing and open to anyone who is passionate and motivated to find out why.
When I look around at the girls in my school, I wonder which girls spent a lot of time with Barbie growing up. Maybe they're the ones more concerned with what they look like on the outside and not on the inside. The ones who worry more about who will take them to prom than whether they will graduate from high school. The ones who worry about dating the guy who drives the newest model of car, when right down the street young kids are worrying about where they'll get their next meal. Don't get me wrong; I am not bitter, or even envious. I am proud of who I am. I am proud to be the girl who always wears those not very attractive sandals. I am proud to try to be that invincible revolutionary girl who wears her Birks.
Mark R. Eadie
Rensselaer, New York
Mark was born with a desire to build, whether it was with his older brother's Legos or with hammer and nails. He has worked with his family to hand craft their own summer home and with his college classmates to build a national championship-winning solar car. At Columbia High School, Mark was an Eagle Scout, leader in his church and involved in Boys State and Model Congress. Through his essay, he says he wanted to give "an honest look at my life, what I've done and what I've had to deal with to do these things."
University of Michigan
The week before my second birthday was my introduction to the world of Legos. My mother was busily getting ready for Christmas and needed to keep me occupied so she let me play with my 12-year-old brother's Legos. Although she did not think I would be interested, I sat on the carpet creating airplanes, cars and rocket ships for nine hours. That was the beginning of my love affair with engineering, design and building.
Soon clocks, motors, even new bicycles were not safe from my screwdriver or pliers, much to the consternation of my mother. My dad, a builder by avocation, was thrilled when I asked to help him and demanded an explanation of how everything worked as we repaired the house and added on to our summer camp. My father taught me many skills, how to build walls, plumb a bathroom, wire a house, lay hardwood floors, install windows and add cedar siding. Using many power tools and saws was fun, but the care I learned in planning and executing each step for highest quality was especially important.
In addition, I have an insatiable hunger for knowledge. When young, I read the World Book Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica as other kids read comic books and the backs of cereal boxes. No matter how much I learned I sought to know more. I wanted to understand the way things work more than I wanted the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure. For my ninth birthday, my grandmother gave me a subscription to Discover magazine. I read every issue cover-to-cover, reading past bedtime to learn about fly-wheel engines, archaeological digs in China and the moons of Jupiter. I can never thank my "Grandmommy" enough for adding fuel to my fire for learning.
My father's and my latest project, due to our shared love of astronomy, was building a five-foot-long, six-inch diameter reflecting telescope with a Dobsonian mount. It was here I first really appreciated my dad's demand for perfection. After days of work, the result was incredible. The starry view is breathtaking — it adds so much to my excitement as I read Steven Hawking's and others' views on cosmology.
As the Senior Patrol Leader in my Boy Scout Troop, I have experienced the importance of teaching and inspiring younger scouts so they will develop the skills and values that I have learned. As an Eagle Scout, I had to design, organize and direct the troop in completing a major project. Utilizing the knowledge gained through working with my father and the communication skills developed through leadership in Boy Scouting and Presbyterian youth work, we extended the hiking trail system in our community by building a 20-foot by 4-foot bridge across a stream near the Hudson River. Not only is there satisfaction in seeing the completed bridge, there is the more important realization that my leadership is helping younger scouts develop into responsible, community-involved citizens. I'm very proud of them.
My church leadership role, as moderator of the Presbyterian Youth Connection Council for eight states, has allowed me to share my hope for the future, faith and vision with thousands in my generation and with adults across the Northeast.
Because of a baseball accident at age 10, the nerve in my right ear is dead, leaving me with only monaural hearing. Surgery did not work, and conventional hearing aids can't help people who are totally deaf in one ear. Fortunately, creative innovation combined with technological development has provided a "cutting edge" solution. A doctor in Connecticut has developed a trans-cranial hearing aid — the sound produced by the aid is transmitted so powerfully that it is conducted through the skull to the nerves in the good ear, on the opposite side of my head. With this, I can hear stereophonically as my brain interprets the second set of sound as though it was coming through my right ear.
As the beneficiary of one man's creative skills, I know what engineering can accomplish. The ability to examine a problem like unilateral hearing loss, create a new vision and solve the problem for people is the inspiration for my applying to Michigan's Engineering School. My faith and commitment to serve people motivates this drive. I want to use my insatiable desire to learn and create in order to advance technology for the benefit of others. The field of engineering is leading our society into more exciting developments than ever before, and I seek to use my leadership skills within this arena.
My vision is that aerospace engineering will allow humans not only to exceed the physical boundaries of our planet's limits but to grow intellectually beyond the constraints of terrestrial experience. In addition to all the practical earthly benefits that come from aerospace engineering, like biomedical, mechanical and materials breakthroughs, the philosophical and emotional benefits to humankind are extremely significant.
I want to attend the University of Michigan for love of engineering, for the challenge of it and to prepare myself to make a greater contribution to our society.
Los Angeles, California
When you think of East Los Angeles, you probably don't think of surfing. But one student does. Daniel bucked convention to become one of the few in his community to take to the ocean, the topic of his essay. At Woodrow Wilson High School, he was student body president, captain of the baseball team and president of the science club. Daniel wrote this essay to counter critics who said that college would not be an option for him. "There was that one little voice that told me to keep trying and to never give up," he says.
Surf's Up! In East LA?
In my family everyone grows up playing soccer. It is not a question. You just do it. Although I played soccer, it was not the same for me. Dashing back and forth on a 120-yard field, kicking a ball around and not being able to use your hands was not my idea of living. It was not until about three years ago when I found myself slipping off a seven-foot-long piece of fiberglass and Styrofoam, landing head first into the deep blue sea when it slapped me right in the face. Surfing was for me! It was not just my image of living life, but living life on the edge.
Riding waves was not an easy thing to do, and I mean that in two ways. First, surfing is a difficult task, period. Just the laborious thought of being a surfer alone was inconceivable. I had never in my life seen a surfer except on TV. None of my friends surfed, and it was unheard of in East LA to see a Hispanic surfer. At first I never told anyone that I had been surfing. I kept it to myself, though it was very hard to hide a seven-foot-long board in my sock drawer. My friends would come over to my house and say, "What the heck is that?" Of course, I had to tell them even though I knew how they would react. They would just laugh and say, "You ain't no surfer, you're a wannabe." I would stay quiet. Some nights while lying in bed, I would think: Was this just a phase? Was I trying to be someone that I really was not? Was I really a "wannabe"?
At times failure would make me think that surfing would just be a small chapter in my life. I remembered the closing days of summer a few years ago. I got up early that morning to get ready for my short 20-minute trip to Venice Beach. Something seemed different that morning. I felt bold, I felt confident and I was immortal. (Not really.) The day was perfect. I did it, the first wave I saw and was up and in it. I cannot say I did not fall that day, because I did. But after eight long weeks of nothing but sand in my face, I was on top of the world. I persevered. It was not going to be just a phase.
No matter what race: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic or any other race, people living in East LA do not become surfers. But here at the Heras residence, you do find the rarity. I have discovered who I am. I am courageous, unique and at times I am not always going in the same direction as everyone around me. But this is alright. Sometimes reacting unlike anyone else leads to success. No one tells me I have to play soccer, I have to tag on walls or even own a lowrider bike. My family does not pressure me to get a job right out of high school or go to community college part time. Just because so many here do, that does not mean I have to do it too. Looking back, the decision to surf instead of play soccer has made me a more versatile person. It made me love life, it made me stop and think and be thankful for everything around me. I feel that if my decision to surf did this for me, then other decisions, like my decision to pursue the highest level of education, will be even better. This proves that being a little bit on one's unique side can sometimes be the best.
There was a time in my life when I did not know who I was but as a result of surfing I now know who I really am. I also know that surfing will not just be a small chapter in my life but the recurring theme that holds the story of my life together. I am not a "wannabe."
Jacqueline is thankful for her junior high math tutor. Mr. Chase helped her build the foundation for impressive achievements. In addition to the math honors she describes in her essay, she was a member of the USA Today All-USA Academic First Team, a Siemens Advanced Placement Scholar for being the highest scoring female junior in New England on the math and science AP exams and a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search. At Lexington High School, Jacqueline led a student-directed a capella group and a traditional Chinese dance troupe, edited for the newspaper and won first place in the state for her National History Day paper.
In the back of my dresser sits a set of old, beaten-up plastic polyhedra lying dusty and unused. I haven't touched them for years, since the time in sixth grade when I filled the pyramid, sphere and cone with dyed water to compare their volumes and spilled water all over the kitchen chairs. I spent forever cleaning the stains out of those white chairs! I had to stick my polyhedra into storage after that, because Mom banned me from ever mixing polyhedra, food dye and kitchen chairs again in my entire life, or at least while I was still living under her roof.
One afternoon a few weeks ago, soon after learning about the death of my friend and math tutor, Mr. Chase, I suddenly get an impulse to dig the polyhedra out of their hiding spot. I finger the cracked plastic container and lift the hexagonal prism, once my favorite polyhedron, out of the box. Holding the chipped prism in my hands, in a moment's time I am taken back to bits and pieces of the afternoons when Mr. Chase and I explored polyhedra together. The flashbacks of all the time I spent with Mr. Chase, memories that I have long since neglected and almost forgotten, flood my mind. Within each passing frame, I feel, see, hear the images fall bluntly.
It is a fall afternoon after school, and I'm lying stomach-down, legs dangling in the air and chin propped up by my hands, on the front entrance bench of Clarke Middle School. I am absorbed in my sixth-grade factoring homework while waiting for Mr. Chase to come. I have never met him, and truthfully, I'm a little dubious of this random man volunteering to teach me math on his own time. But when he comes in carrying his work briefcase and greets me with a serious, quiet expression, I feel a little more comfortable. We end up sitting in a small teacher's room talking about what I like and what he likes about math for the rest of the afternoon. Going home, I decide that maybe this won't be another restless math class filled with boring plug-and-chug problems. I like Mr. Chase, and I like talking about math with him.
Now Mr. Chase and I are in the same cramped teacher's room at the middle school on a dismal, rainy January afternoon. I'm at that little chalkboard (I wonder if it's still there?), scrawling numbers all over the place and he's sitting in a plastic chair too small for him. Only an eighth grader and just learning the complexities of math problem solving, I can't see the pattern in the numbers he's reading to me from a number theory book lying in his lap. He's smiling ever so slightly while watching me become frustrated. It takes us more than 30 minutes, but we reason the answer out together, slowly. By the time we finish, I'm excited, he's excited and we are pondering possible extensions of the pattern. I understand the whole proof!
I'm in high school now, freshman year. I've just blown into the room, a little late, and I plop into a seat front row center. Mr. Chase, at the whiteboard, is already explaining the math club's activity for the afternoon. Five minutes later, everyone else is busy puttering around with the materials, but Mr. Chase sits down with me and guides me through the exploration activity. I cut out the brightly colored tetrahedrons, octahedrons and dodecahedrons he has prepared ahead of time, and he directs me with questions about the number of edges, vertices and faces of each polyhedron. He leads me to conjecture a relationship between these three polyhedral characteristics, also known in texts as Euler's Theorem. When I look up momentarily, I see his smile — the special one I rarely glimpse — because he knows that I'm on the verge of making my conjecture.
A few months later, I'm at home, sitting on my bed, calling Mr. Chase. "Hello? Is Mr. Chase there?" A pause. "Hello?" His soft-spoken, scratchy, familiar voice comes on the line. I think I'm squealing by this point. "Guess what! I made the AIME!!" All our afternoons of hard work designing the best scoring strategies and exploring math problems has paid off, as I have qualified for the second level national math exam, the AIME. Chatting with him on the phone, I am excited to share the good news because we have reached our goal together.
A jolt. The moment has passed. Back in real time, I am stunned by the news of Mr. Chase's death. I am 17 years old, but this is the first time a person whom I knew well has passed away. Only thinking back now do I stop and fully appreciate the impact he made on my life. Only after he is gone do I realize that I, as well as so many other young mathematicians, have lost a great source of inspiration. I regret all those times in the past years that I thought of calling him to tell him about my latest mathematical endeavor but never quite got around to it. I wish I had called Mr. Chase to tell him about qualifying for the USAMO my junior year, the most prestigious national math exam, or making the elite 15-member state ARML team that took second place nationally. I want to thank him now for taking the time out of his busy work schedule to tutor me one-on-one in middle school and tell him that he was the person who first sparked my love for mathematics. In some way, though, I hope he knew how much he touched my life.
While I set the plastic polyhedra back into their dusty spot behind the dresser, I do not leave the memory of Mr. Chase hidden there with them as I once did a few years ago. Although I go on with my life, Mr. Chase is there. I reflect on Mr. Chase's generosity, gentleness, passion for math. I talk to my dad, math team coach and his other tutees about all the good conversations we had with him, joking around and thinking about math. I may have lost contact with Mr. Chase over the years, but playing with my old polyhedra set again freshly etched our relationship back into my mind, and his passing away has altered my formerly untouched perspective on life and death. As so aptly put to me by a friend during a recent conversation, "Welcome to life, Jackie."
El Sereno, California
In his essay, Emanuel appreciates the view from the top of a hill, where he goes to exercise and think. He has had a lot to balance in his life. At Woodrow Wilson High School, he was the captain of five varsity athletic teams and earned 19 varsity letters. A first-generation college student, he was raised by his single mother, an immigrant from Mexico. His efforts have resulted in him not only getting into his dream college but also winning almost $30,000 in merit-based scholarships. Emanuel hopes to enter politics or return to teach at his high school.
I am pumping my arms, trying to keep my legs moving. I feel lightheaded and frail needing to catch my breath, but I am only half the way up. I will not stop. I will keep going and going until I reach the top. These are some of the feelings I get as I am running up my hill. The community of El Sereno, which I live in, is full of hills. The biggest one with the antennae on top is "my hill." I use it to work out, to reflect upon things and just to be alone. As I am running up my hill, I remember how hard my mom has worked all her life for my sister and me. I remember playing basketball as a fifth grader amongst teenagers and grown men, learning to believe in myself and to stay on the right path. When I reach the top I look around and appreciate the beauty, tradition and all the hard workers of my community. I realize that I am part of it. I must contribute to the tradition and give back.
Sometimes I feel that I am not in tip-top shape, but I know I must be to play all my sports. At these times I say to myself, "Let's hit the hill." I have to work the hardest. That is just how I am. This comes from my mom. I always think of her when I am running my hill. She is the hardest worker I know. I remember the times we got off the bus at 10 o'clock at night coming from downtown LA after a full day of shopping for the things my mom sold throughout the week to support us. We would still have to walk about a mile as my mom carried my little sister and a bag in one arm and held me by the other hand while I carried another bag. Besides earning a living, my mom went to school to learn English. She has gone to school for as long as my sister and I to try to earn her high school diploma. Even though it has been a tough road, she has never given up. I take that feeling with me going up my hill and in life.
Another reflection I have when I am on my hill is of when I was a fifth grader playing basketball every day at my elementary school until it was too dark to see anything. All the older guys would come and play too. They tossed me around, but it made me tough. I will not be afraid of anything after playing with them. It was a great challenge, and I love challenges. They taught me to believe in myself and never let anything put me down. They were not the greatest of role models as they did drugs and basically did not have a future, but they always talked to me as if I was their little boy. I could have ended up like them as other childhood friends have, but I just took the advice and stayed on the right path. One guy told me, "Keep on practicing and one day you can make it to the NBA." I probably will not be a professional basketball player, but just the belief that they had and actually still have in me has given me the boost to always excel. Being on my hill helps me reflect upon what has shaped me in my community.
On top of my hill I can see all of El Sereno on one side and the rest of Los Angeles on the other. I love to look at my community, especially my high school. My high school represents the place in which I live. It represents the whole community, as it holds our future. It also holds our past, as many of our teachers are Wilson alumni. It is a great tradition at our school that allows our teachers to teach with more passion since they are back to where they started. They really want to help our youth and that is what makes the place where I live special. It has shaped me to look at life as a mission to help people succeed. It has given me a positive outlook that has motivated me to give back to my community as much as I can as I get older.
My hill gives me my motivation, lets me reflect on my past and lets me see the future. It is a long journey in life as it is a long run up the hill. My hill starts off pretty easy, although I cannot see how far it is or where exactly I am headed because of the tall grass. Eventually though, I see the top and what path I have to take to get there, but I realize I still have a long way to go. I face obstacles and doubts, but I do not let them stop me. I am determined. When I get to the top, always knowing that I will, I feel unstoppable. I know the hard work will pay off.