Let Your Life Speak
Looking for examples of past college essays that worked? These are some admissions essays that our officers thought were most successful from last year.
Amir Abdunuru Rwegarulira '20
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
I grew up knowing exactly what it felt like to have parents everywhere. Of course, my biological parents - a retired social worker and an economist - had nothing omnipresent about them, it's just that in my immediate neighborhood, every adult automatically became my parent. This ideology was based on a Swahili saying “mkono mmoja hauuguzi mtoto” meaning one hand cannot nurse a child. I learned to respect neighbors the way I do relatives. There were no wedding invitations or funeral ceremonies that one could excuse oneself from attending. Everything was done with the welfare of the community as a whole in mind. As children we could not pass by a woman carrying a bucket of water without helping her, and adults would take the liberty of escorting us all the way home if we were returning late from school. Regardless of age or gender, there was an intangible sense of obligation that unified everyone and its importance was deeply instilled in me from a young age.
My life is still speaking; as I scale the ladder in education, sports and personal life. I continue to see the world through the lenses created by my community and treating everyone I encounter as part of it. Whether it is a primary school student struggling to finish his homework or a friend grieving over a lost loved one, I know that I am responsible not just for my own self but also for the people around me.
Sacdio Ali ’21
Jamaica Plain, MA
When I was in second grade, I wished my mom could talk to my teachers like the other parents did. Instead, I had to translate from English to Somali so that my mom could understand what was going on. Since my parents never went to school and I am the oldest of my siblings, I was used to this: if I went home, I had to be my own homework help, so I often stayed late at school to get help from my teachers. I was sad to see my friends working at home with their parents because I couldn't do that with my mom. I wanted to be them so badly--but even more, I wanted that for my siblings. I managed to do well in school thanks to my mother's constant encouragement, but I promised myself that I would never let my siblings feel sad that they couldn't come home for help. When my siblings were growing up, I read to them. Before they started school, I taught them how to read and do simple math. With time, they looked up to me for guidance and any help they needed outside of school. The strong connection I developed with my siblings helped me realize how much I enjoy working with children. I started helping other students like my classmates, which inspired me to become a school counselor so that I can explore how the environment and people around a child can influence his or her life.
Emma Tombaugh ’21
Dinnertime in the Tombaugh household is seldom dull. I sit down, never knowing what topic will be introduced that night. When the standard chatter subsides, and the last bits of food are being plucked off the plates, any innocent query can launch itself into a lengthy scientific discussion. Why does my dad's watch have a ratcheting bezel around the edge? I'm plunged into a lesson on why decompression stops are necessary for scuba divers. (Nitrogen bubbles in the blood vessels...Who knew?). Evidence for the theory of evolution is presented as neatly as the silverware next to my plate. I now know more than I ever thought I would about mimicry in animals and antipredator adaptation. The justifications for the demotion of Pluto (our favorite planet, discovered by Clyde Tombaugh) are hotly contested. Scientific and mathematical concepts are explored, debated, and questioned. How does one classically condition mice? Let me count the ways. Together, we marvel at the sheer enormity of the universe and in an instant might be awestruck by the small size of a single cell. Conversations like these feed my insatiable appetite for learning. I regard the world around me with inquisitive eyes; there is always something new to discover. Scientific phenomena exist to be doubted and scrutinized. In cultivating these investigations, my family has stimulated me to be curious and engaged. Never satisfied with the facts that are placed in front of me, I am constantly on the lookout for the hows, the whys, and the what-ifs.
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Joe Hyatt ’21
Five years ago, I became the member of a new community, a community of siblings. I was an only child for over twelve years. Life was great- I had my parents' undivided attention and no one stealing my toys. Then my world changed dramatically. Our family was blessed with three baby girls. I went from being the center of the universe ,to one of Pluto's moons. My life of order spiraled into disorder. "Me time" became "story time." Now I'm in high school with three baby sisters. They cry at my basketball games when the buzzer blares, escape onto the court during volleyball warm-ups, but melt my heart nonetheless. Plenty of my friends have younger siblings, but none are babies. While my friends were teaching their siblings how to skateboard and throw a fastball, I was changing diapers and rocking babies so my mom could shower. While buddies were helping their sisters with homework, I was feeding mine oatmeal in their high-chairs so my dad could grill. My sisters are finally old enough that I can teach them to shoot a basketball and skip and to create snowflakes from popsicle sticks and sparkles. I can now explain simple math on their fingers and perform science experiments with a coke can and a flame. Above all, I now also understand the meaning of the phrase "herding cats." My new micro-community has turned my world upside down, changing me forever. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Celina Vidal ’21
From age three until nine I attended a Waldorf school, or as I affectionately refer to it, the "school of fairies and gnomes". While my high school classmates spent their childhoods decorating coloring books and watching cartoons, I crocheted a poncho, played the violin, and learned a type of rhythmic dance that allowed me to spell words with my body. As archaic and unproductive as these activities might sound, I am eternally grateful for the person I have become due to my lack of media exposure and excess of wooden toys throughout my youth. Primarily, I developed in an environment where I had the opportunity to test my creative outlets. This innovative drive has continued to fuel my academic experience through high school, and I constantly find myself searching for interactive ways to obtain knowledge rather than turning to textbooks. Also, in a society overrun with technology, having the prior knowledge of detachment allows me to observe my surroundings, not my phone screen, and inspires me to explore my community. Fond memories of third grade nature days in which we gained a basic knowledge of botany established my lasting appreciation for the outdoors. Finally, having a safe place to believe in fairy tales for so long preserved an innocence in me that guides me through our often disturbing world. As I continue to inquire and create during my college experience, I hope my Waldorf background will help me imagine new discoveries and inventions no matter how fantastical they may seem.
William Wilson ’21
I grew up in a town whose one traffic light only flashed yellow, there were more churches than gas stations, and the nearest clothing store was a thirty minute drive along a dusty road. Despite the barren land of the prairie, I kept busy by helping with chores around my household, serving pancakes as a cub scout at Lions Club feeds, and volunteering at the library to help my fellow peers with homework. My parents were both dynamic members of the city council in my home town. My mother worked as a courthouse clerk, my father was the mayor, and both were leaders in the local fire department as volunteer firefighters. Their impact on the community had an equal impact on me; I was encouraged to influence my surroundings in any way possible. This influence continued after I moved. I quickly found haven volunteering to help in children's education classes. In high school, I jumped at the opportunity to be in student government by running a campaign every year I was in school. My parents' active roles in my neighborhood inspired my love for having a positive influence on those around me. As I continue to grow, I aspire to enrich not only myself but also anyone else that I can impact.
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How does the man demonstrate his love for his son in The Road?
The man demonstrates consistently that he is prepared to take whatever action necessary, even if violent, to ensure his son's survival and best interests. The most obvious example of this occurs when the man does not hesitate to shoot the attacker who holds a knife to the boy's throat. In less dramatic examples, the man continually sacrifices his own health to give his son nourishment. He also works hard to reassure his son that they are good people who hold the fire of goodness within them, and that they would never do things like eat other humans.
Overall, does The Road put forth a positive and uplifting view of humanity, or one of darkness and pessimism?
The striking last paragraph, with its vivid imagery of trout hidden in deep mountain glens, offers a redemptive ending to what has been a story of awful indifference and destruction, where hope has eked out a meager, slight existence in the face of the ubiquitous destructiveness of human nature, which has both caused the catastrophe and perpetuated the evils in the world afterward. The boy's rescue by a family of "good guys" might be read as an ironic ending with hope in the face of disaster, where somehow the good-guy fire persists. The result is optimistic resilience, a hope against hope, which offers humans an existential choice about how they want to live, whether or not human nature and physical nature make those choices easy or hard.
How do the man and the man's wife differ in their conceptions of death?
Both the man and his wife understand that in this post-apocalyptic environment, they are likely to be brutalized at the hands of rapists, murderers, and cannibals. The wife considers death to be a needed relief from these threats. To the contrary, the father considers death an abhorrent threat that would prevent him from protecting his son; his commitment to life drives him on the journey south to ensure his son's survival.
Discuss at least two contrasting ways in which the survivors of the catastrophe deal with the chaos.
The man's wife responds to the catastrophic circumstances by committing suicide and avoiding whatever gruesome fate might befall her. Scavengers on the road choose to resort to murder, thievery, and cannibalism in order to survive. For them, humanity, kindness, and empathy are greatly diminished, it seems, although many of them continue to live in groups. The man and the boy, however, choose to scavenge and refrain from harming others unless violence is absolutely necessary to their survival.
What is the significance of "the fire" to the man and the boy?
That the man and the boy internally "carry the fire" signifies that they are the "good guys." Upon his deathbed, the man assures the boy that the fire can be found within the boy. The fire represents internal human strength in the form of qualities such as hope, perseverance and resilience, as well as morality, the ability to retain one's humanity in the face of ultimate destruction and evil.
How do the protagonists distinguish the "good guys" from the "bad guys"? Are the protagonists indeed the "good guys"?
The man and the boy consider themselves good guys, which they tend to see as seeking survival without harming others. They only scavenge for food and supplies, but they try not to steal from others, and they punish those who steal from them. In contrast, the "bad guys" are willing to hurt, use, or murder others for their own benefit. Yet, a central conflict in the novel is between the boy’s idea of what good guys do, on the one hand, and what the father does, on the other hand, in being so afraid of others that he refuses to help them, and in more severely punishing others than the boy thinks is necessary.
How does the boy's relationship with his father change over the course of their journey?
The boy matures over the course of this journey, and his changing relationship with his father reflects this growing maturity. At the beginning of the novel, the boy looks to the father for knowledge and guidance, believing his father to speak the truth unequivocally. However, as he gains new experiences, the boy learns to use his own judgment and can assess somewhat better whether or not his father is telling the truth. He begins to question his father's honesty on such matters as whether or not they are truly the "good guys" and asserts his own opinion when believing that they should help other people. He never doubts his father’s love for him, however, and continues to love and trust his father, even while he begins to have more and more serious reservations about his father’s choices. In a sense, it is time for the father to die when the son is mature enough to make his own moral decisions for the new generation.
What purpose do the father's memories and dreams serve in The Road?
The man's recurring memories and dreams poignantly underscore, often by contrast with, the hopeless destruction and chaotic violence which characterize his situation in reality. These passages also demonstrate the man's struggle not to succumb to wishful fantasies but instead to persevere throughout the journey's seemingly insurmountable hardships. The vivid excerpts from his past life remind him (and the reader) that such a life did once exist, despite the hellish present circumstances.
Discuss some of the literary techniques used by McCarthy to evoke and maintain the novel's largely grim and bleak setting.
Perhaps the most important literary devices used to achieve this end are flashbacks, repetition, and vivid imagery of nature. The bleak imagery he evokes insistently impress upon the reader the extremely harsh conditions the protagonists must face. Throughout the novel, the boy and the man also touch upon the same themes in their conversations: whether they will die of starvation; being the good guys; carrying the fire. These repetitions or mantras keep the sobering themes of death, violence, and unlikely survival to the fore. Furthermore, the contrasting flashbacks, full of life and color, juxtaposed with the imagery of a dead land inhabited by the walking dead, highlight the gravity of the protagonists' present circumstances. The flashbacks also scramble the linear telling of the story, seeming to lengthen the arduous journey endured by the man and the boy.
Describe the role of trust in the novel.
Trust or the lack of trust is the expression of a basic human relationship. Those who can be trusted will work together; those who cannot be trusted will be either ignored or killed. The father's paranoid and unsympathetic behavior towards other travelers on the road, though they may be harmless like Ely and the burnt man, stem from his distrust of all other individuals, because of his past experience. The boy has seen much less trouble in his short life and tends to trust others much more. His trust in his father reflects his love but also his immaturity, and as he matures he learns to decipher the situations in which his father may be lying to protect him, so that by the end of the novel, he does not simply take his father's words at face value.