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College Admissions: Common Application Prompt #2

Thursday, September 03, 2015

 

Common Application Prompt #2

This is an actual college application essay written in response to the Common Application prompt: Learning from Failure. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective. 

The intention of this series is to show readers a sample of a good essay in response to each of the Common Application prompts. This essay is an actual college admission essay, written and submitted by a real student. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective.

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I open my eyes and am immediately greeted by a stinging sensation. Water fills my mouth and nose. It’s everywhere. I need out. I kick up, greedily gulping air, but another wave is crashing down on top of me. I’m underneath again, frantically searching for the surface.

I open my eyes underwater and see the blurry shapes that are my opponents. We have been crushed by this team twice now. This might make a third—the score is 2–0 at the end of the second quarter. I surface and look around at my teammates: Kayla is close to tears, Lizzy looks furious, and the others are downcast.

I have always considered myself a good swimmer, courtesy of eleven years of swimming and three years of water polo. In fact, that’s why I’m in the water now: my water polo team has decided to take our strong legs and swimming skills to the beach. But the waves have dragged us far from shore. I duck under a wave and miss the lifeguard’s warning: there is a strong rip tide building, and we’re in the middle of it. When I surface, the other girls are already swimming in, yelling at me to hurry before I get stuck. It’s too late.

My legs ache; I’m starting to get tired. I glance at the clock—34 seconds left in the quarter. “Alright,” I tell myself, “you can do this.” Julia steals the ball. This is what I need. I quickly swing my hips and sprint to the opposite goal. Opponent number 12 swims by my side; I speed up and cut her off. The whistle tells me I have achieved my goal. She is kicked out for 20 seconds; my team is up one player.

I remember what my father told me about rip tides: swim parallel to the shore. I swim to the left, but I soon realize that I am not moving at all. I try to scream for help and cannot. My throat constricts. I think I am having an asthma attack. I force myself to calm down, comforting myself with this knowledge: I play a sport where I have to tread water for over an hour. I motion for help and duck the waves, pretending that this is just a game. The lifeguard notices my struggle and approaches.
 
I race down the pool, yelling, “We’re up!” This is exactly the break we need. We pass the ball around, but I realize that the other girls are afraid to shoot. I glance at the clock again—only seven seconds left now. I shift toward the shooting pocket. Kayla gets the ball, does one quick fake, and passes to me. I shoot with all the energy I have left. The buzzer sounds as the ball leaves my hand. The goalie lunges for the ball, but it skips under her arm and into the net. The stands erupt, and I see smiles return to my teammates’ faces. I have scored our first goal.

It seems to take an eternity to move, even with the lifeguard’s help. On the way back, we spot two prepubescent boys struggling against the unrelenting ocean. They are frantic, grabbing onto the first thing they can—me. I recall from my lifeguard training that they are likely too panicked to realize that they need to hang onto the buoy. While the lifeguard focuses on kicking us to shore, I yell instructions at the two boys, forcing them off of me and onto the buoy. Eventually they grab hold and help kick. We finally make it to the sand—exhausted, but alive.

Back at the wall, the sounds of heavy breathing and lapping water are accompanied by congratulatory remarks and smiles. The momentum is shifting, and the team is eager to get back into the game and show everyone that we are alive. (Colleen, Gonzaga University, Class of 2019)

Conor’s feedback: I like the contrast in this essay between a very real life, very dangerous situation with a much more safe, and commonplace one. Both are tied together by her experience as a swimmer, yet showcase a stark difference in her response given the relative stakes of each situation. Reading the two side by side really allows her message regarding the human response to fear to feel very poignant and self-reflective.

Anna’s feedback: This student talks about her tenacity through another lens – and passion – which gives depth to the essay. You don’t have to start an essay with “I am tenacious…” or “I have persevered…” to talk about a challenge and this student does this beautifully. 

Jodi’s feedback: Wow! This student is really determined. She never gives up and that trait will serve her well in college. I like the way she took two stories that dealt with swimming and recovery from failure and told them in parallel.

Conor O’Rourke is Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at Pomona College, which is also his alma mater. Contact Conor at: [email protected] 

Anna Aegerter is the Director of West Coast Admission for Sarah Lawrence College In her twenty year career, Anna has worked at Lewis & Clark College (her alma mater), Trinity University (TX), Lawrence University, and Pitzer College. She also was the Director of College Counseling for an independent school in Seattle before returning to Admission to work at Sarah Lawrence College. Contact her at: [email protected] 

Jodi Walder-Biesanz is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. She has also worked as an application reader for Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Contact her at: [email protected].

 

Related Slideshow: Where Do Our Colleges Rank on the Princeton Review’s Top Lists ?

So where does your college fit in on this list ?

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Party Schools

1 Syracuse University (NY)
2 University of Iowa (IA)
3 University of California - Santa Barbara (CA)
4 West Virginia University (WV)
5 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (IL)
6 Lehigh University (PS)
7 Pennsylvania State University - University Park (PA)
8 University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI)
9 Bucknell University (PA)
10 University of Florida (FL)
11 Miami University (OH)
12 Florida State University (FL)
13 Ohio University - Athens (OH)
14 DePauw University (IN)
15 University of Georgia (GA)
16 University of Mississippi (MS)
17 Tulane University (LA)
18 University of Vermont (VT)
19 University of Oregon (OR)
20 University of Delaware (DE)

photo credits: DJ Anski - PSU Rooftop Party  Copyright 2012 to Nathaniel Young

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Birkenstock-Wearing....

Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians

1 Skidmore College (NY)
2 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
3 Reed College (OR)
4 Bennington College (VT)
5 Oberlin College (OH)
6 Vassar College (NY)
7 Bard College (NY)
8 Pitzer College (CA)
9 Guilford College (NC)
10 Lewis & Clark College (OR)
11 University of Puget Sound (WA)

12 Emerson College (MA)
13 New College of Florida (FL)
14 State University of New York--Purchase College (NY)
15 Warren Wilson College (NC)

photo credits: NatalieMaynor - Birks under copyright license

Prev Next

Reefer Madness

1 Skidmore College (NY)
2 Eckerd College (FL)
3 The Evergreen State College (WA)
4 University of Colorado - Boulder (CO)
5 Ithaca College (NY)
6 University of Vermont (VT)
7 University of Oregon (OR)
8 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
9 Pitzer College (CA)
10 University of CA - Santa Cruz (CA)
11 University of CA - Santa Barbara (CA)
12 State University of NY - Purchase College (NY)
13 Colorado College (CO)
14 Guilford College (NC)
15 Lewis & Clark College (OR)
16 Emerson College (MA)
17 Reed College (OR)
18 Syracuse University (NY)
19 University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI)
20 Marlboro College (VT)

Photo Credits: Pave Espitita - Reefer Madness under copyright

Prev Next

Town Relations are Great

1 Clemson University (SC)
2 Virginia Tech (VA)
3 Saint Michael's College (VT)
4 Gordon College (MA)
5 Kansas State University (KS)
6 Loyola University New Orleans (LA)
7 Texas A&M University--College Station (TX)
8 Auburn University (AL)
9 University of Mississippi (MS)
10 Agnes Scott College (GA)
11 College of the Ozarks (MO)
12 Ripon College (WI)
13 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (WA)
14 The University of North Carolina at Asheville (NC)
15 Brigham Young University (UT)
16 St. Anselm College (NH)
17 United States Naval Academy (MD)
18 Wheaton College (IL)
19 Westminster College (PA)
20 Washington State University (WA)

photo credits: Joshin Yamada - 20090204_MG_0120_smart under copyright license

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Happiest Students

1 Vanderbilt University (TN)
2 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
3 Clemson University (SC)
4 Tulane University (LA)
5 Virginia Tech (VA)
6 Rice University (TX)
7 Kansas State University (KS)
8 Bowdoin College (ME)
9 Vassar College (NY)
10 Hillsdale College (MI)
11 Whitman College (WA)
12 The College of Idaho (ID)
13 University of California--Santa Barbara (CA)
14 Yale University (CT)
15 Wheaton College (IL)

photo credits: Enokson - We <3 Students Who <3 Reading  under copyright license

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Is That a Dorm?

1 Vanderbilt University (TN)
2 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
3 Clemson University (SC)
4 Tulane University (LA)
5 Virginia Tech (VA)
6 Rice University (TX)
7 Kansas State University (KS)
8 Bowdoin College (ME)
9 Vassar College (NY)
10 Hillsdale College (MI)
11 Whitman College (WA)
12 The College of Idaho (ID)
13 University of California--Santa Barbara (CA)
14 Yale University (CT)
15 Wheaton College (IL)

photo credit: Karan Jain - decrepit house. under copyright license

Prev Next

Most Beautiful Campus

1 Colgate University (NY)
2 Pepperdine University (CA)
3 Rhodes College (TN)
4 Sweet Briar College (VA)
5 Scripps College (CA)
6 Rollins College (FL)
7 Southern Methodist University (TX)
8 University of Mississippi (MS) 
9 Princeton University (NJ)
10 Florida Southern College (FL)
11 University of San Diego (CA)
12 Union College (NY)
13 Wellesley College (MA)
14 Hanover College (IN)
15 Vassar College (NY)
16 Kenyon College (OH)
17 Ohio University--Athens (OH)
18 Agnes Scott College (GA)
19 Lewis & Clark College (OR)
20 University of Richmond (VA)

photo credits: Jeremy McWilliams - Unicycling at Lewis & Clark College under copyright license

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Easiest Campus

1 Wabash College (IN)
2 New College of Florida (FL)
3 Webb Institute (NY)
4 Whitman College (WA)
5 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)

photo credits: Joe Shlabotnik - Whitman College under copyright license

Prev Next

Most Liberal Students

1 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
2 Warren Wilson College (NC)
3 Bennington College (VT)
4 Bard College (NY)
5 Marlboro College (VT)
6 College of the Atlantic (ME)
7 Beloit College (WI)
8 Reed College (OR)
9 New College of Florida (FL)
10 Smith College (MA)
11 Macalester College (MN)
12 Skidmore College (NY)
13 Grinnell College (IA)
14 Pitzer College (CA)
15 Mills College (CA)
16 Vassar College (NY)
17 Occidental College (CA)
18 The Evergreen State College (WA)
19 Lewis & Clark College (OR)

20 Swarthmore College (PA)

photo credit: Reed Magazine

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Most Politically Active S

1 The George Washington University (DC)
2 Grinnell College (IA)
3 United States Military Academy (NY)
4 Vassar College (NY)
5 Wellesley College (MA)
6 Amherst College (MA)
7 New College of Florida (FL)
8 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
9 Georgetown University (DC)
10 American University (DC)
11 Warren Wilson College (NC)
12 University of Chicago (IL)
13 Macalester College (MN)
14 Bard College (NY)
15 Bard College at Simon's Rock (MA)
16 United States Naval Academy (MD)
17 University of Maryland, College Park (MD)
18 Hampden-Sydney College (VA)
19 Reed College (OR)
20 New York University (NY)

photo credits: Maryland GovPics - University System of Maryland Student Rally under copyright license

Prev Next

Everyone Plays Intramural

Everyone Plays Intramural Sports

1 United States Military Academy (NY)
2 Clemson University (SC)
3 Gonzaga University (WA)
4 Pennsylvania State University--University Park (PA)
5 Grove City College (PA)
6 Whitman College (WA)
7 Wabash College (IN)
8 United States Naval Academy (MD)
9 Providence College (RI)
10 Gettysburg College (PA)
11 United States Coast Guard Academy (CT)
12 Florida Southern College (FL)
13 Colorado College (CO)
14 Florida State University (FL)
15 University of Notre Dame (IN)
16 Kansas State University (KS)
17 Washington State University (WA)
18 University of Nebraska--Lincoln (NE)
19 Ripon College (WI)
20 University of Colorado--Boulder (CO)

photo credits: Beavervolleyball - OSU vs Washington under copyright license

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Nobody Plays Intramural

Nobody Plays Intramural Sports

1 College of the Atlantic (ME)
2 Stephens College (MO)
3 Wells College (NY)
4 Prescott College (AZ)
5 New College of Florida (FL)
6 Reed College (OR)
7 Manhattanville College (NY)
8 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
9 The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (NY)
10 Emerson College (MA)

andrechinn - Hayward Field gandstands under copyright license

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Students Pack the Stadium

1 University of Kansas (KS)
2 Clemson University (SC)
3 Syracuse University (NY)
4 Pennsylvania State University--University Park (PA)
5 University of Arizona (AZ)
6 University of Notre Dame (IN)
7 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (NC)
8 University of Southern California (CA)
9 Auburn University (AL)
10 University of Connecticut (CT)
11 Kansas State University (KS)
12 West Virginia University (WV)
13 University of Iowa (IA)
14 University of Oklahoma (OK)
15 Gonzaga University (WA)
16 University of Oregon (OR)
17 Florida State University (FL)
18 Texas A&M University--College Station (TX)
19 University of Louisville (KY)
20 University of Florida (FL)

photo credits:  Eric Schnedier under copyright license

Prev Next

There’s a Game?

1 Bennington College (VT)
2 College of the Atlantic (ME)
3 Prescott College (AZ)
4 Reed College (OR)
5 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
6 Barnard College (NY)
7 St. John's College (NM)
8 Thomas Aquinas College (CA) 
9 Spelman College (GA)
10 Marlboro College (VT)
11 New College of Florida (FL)
12 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
13 Champlain College (VT)
14 Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
15 State University of New York--Purchase College (NY)
16 The Evergreen State College (WA)
17 City University of New York--Hunter College (NY)
18 Case Western Reserve University (OH)
19 Stephens College (MO)
20 The University of Texas at Dallas (TX)

photo credits; David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott - DSC02115 used with copyrights license 

Prev Next

Best College Radio

1 Hofstra University (NY)
2 Ithaca College (NY)
3 St. Bonaventure University (NY)
4 Emerson College (MA)
5 Syracuse University (NY)
6 Fordham University (NY)
7 DePauw University (IN)
8 Union College (NY)
9 Rochester Institute of Technology (NY)
10 The College of Wooster (OH)
11 Knox College (IL)
12 University of Puget Sound (WA)
13 Guilford College (NC)
14 Howard University (DC)
15 Manhattanville College (NY)

photo: KUPS 90.1 FM - Tacoma Radio
*the student-run radio station licensed to University of Puget Sound*

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Professors Get High

1 Reed College (OR)
2 Bennington College (VT)
3 College of the Atlantic (ME)
4 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
5 Swarthmore College (PA)
6 St. John's College (NM) 
7 Bard College at Simon's Rock (MA)
8 Hillsdale College (MI)
9 Bard College (NY)
10 Middlebury College (VT)
11 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
12 Marlboro College (VT)
13 Harvey Mudd College (CA)
14 Ripon College (WI)
15 Wellesley College (MA)
16 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
17 Carleton College (MN)
18 Wabash College (IN)
19 Whitman College (WA)
20 Randolph College (VA)

photo credits: Reed College Press Release

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Students Study the Most

1 Harvey Mudd College (CA)
2 California Institute of Technology (CA)
3 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
4 Reed College (OR)
5 Middlebury College (VT)

photo credits: Molly Dilworth - Cooley: Crosher, Dilworth under copyright license

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Most Accessible Professor

1 United States Military Academy (NY)
2 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
3 St. John's College (NM)
4 Webb Institute (NY)
5 Swarthmore College (PA)
6 Bennington College (VT)
7 Bard College (NY)
8 Hillsdale College (MI)
9 College of the Holy Cross (MA)
10 Grinnell College (IA)
11 Hamilton College (NY)
12 Whitman College (WA)
13 Centre College (KY)
14 Wake Forest University (NC)
15 College of the Atlantic (ME)
16 The College of Idaho (ID)
17 Scripps College (CA)
18 Sweet Briar College (VA)
19 Beloit College (WI)
20 United States Naval Academy (MD)

Photo Credits: JD Hancock - Professor John Frink Jr vs Professor Huvert J Farnsworth under copyright license, half the photo was cropped

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Least Accessible Profess.

1 McGill University (QC)
2 United States Merchant Marine Academy (NY)
3 New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJ)
4 Howard University (DC)
5 Hampton University (VA)
6 University of Hawaii-Manoa (HI)
7 Portland State University (OR)
8 Trinity College Dublin (Dublin)
9 St. John's University (NY)
10 University of California--Los Angeles (CA)

Photo Credits: JD Hancock - Professor John Frink Jr vs Professor Huvert J Farnsworth under copyright license, half the photo was cropped

Prev Next

Best College Library

1 University of Chicago (IL)
2 Yale University (CT)
3 United States Military Academy (NY)
4 Stanford University (CA)
5 Columbia University (NY)
6 Emory University (GA)
7 Hampden-Sydney College (VA)
8 Whitman College (WA)
9 Vassar College (NY)
10 Harvard College (MA)

photo credits: official Whitman College photo from site

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Great Financial Aid

1 Pomona College (CA)
2 Swarthmore College (PA)
3 Princeton University (NJ)
4 University of Virginia (VA)
5 Yale University (CT)
6 Vassar College (NY)
7 Rice University (TX)
8 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
9 Columbia University (NY)
10 New College of Florida (FL)
11 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
12 Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
13 Trinity College (CT)
14 Reed College (OR)
15 Stanford University (CA)

Photo credit: Lending Memo

Prev Next

Best Science Lab

1 California Institute of Technology (CA)
2 St. Olaf College (MN)
3 University of Richmond (VA)
4 United States Naval Academy (MD)
5 Pomona College (CA)
6 Middlebury College (VT)
7 Bowdoin College (ME)
8 Harvey Mudd College (CA)
9 Grinnell College (IA)
10 Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
11 Colgate University (NY)
12 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
13 Wheaton College (IL)
14 Lehigh University (PA)
15 Union College (NY)
16 Smith College (MA)
17 University of Chicago (IL)
18 Whitman College (WA)
19 Beloit College (WI)
20 Swarthmore College (PA)

photo credits: Whitman Science Lab credit to official site

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Best Classroom

1 Bard College (NY)
2 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
3 Reed College (OR)
4 Bennington College (VT)
5 Swarthmore College (PA)
6 Whitman College (WA)
7 Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
8 Grinnell College (IA)
9 Wabash College (IN)
10 Mount Holyoke College (MA)

photo credits: Tulane Public Relations - students enjoy a study break under copyright license

Prev Next

Best Health Services

Best Health Services

1 Pennsylvania State University--University Park (PA)
2 University of Central Florida (FL)
3 University of California--Davis (CA)
4 University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI)
5 United States Military Academy (NY)
6 University of Arizona (AZ)
7 University of California--Los Angeles (CA)
8 Calvin College (MI)
9 Whitman College (WA)
10 The University of Texas at Austin (TX)
11 Mills College (CA)
12 University of Pittsburgh--Pittsburgh Campus (PA)
13 Rice University (TX)
14 The College of Idaho (ID)
15 Villanova University (PA)
16 North Carolina State University (NC)
17 University of Oregon (OR)
18 University of Alabama at Birmingham (AL)
19 University of Georgia (GA)
20 University of Louisville (KY)

Photo Credit: El Alvi - Vacuna infuenza/ Flu vaccine under copyright license

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Students Love It

1 Claremont McKenna College (CA)
2 Clemson University (SC)
3 Virginia Tech (VA)
4 Pomona College (CA)
5 Vanderbilt University (TN)
6 Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (MA)
7 Villanova University (PA)
8 Scripps College (CA)
9 Rice University (TX)
10 Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
11 College of the Atlantic (ME)
12 Bowdoin College (ME)
13 Whitman College (WA)
14 Stanford University (CA)
15 University of Wisconsin-Madison (WI)

Photo Credit: John Martinez Pavilga - IMG_8924 under copyright license

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Least Religious Students

1 Vassar College (NY)
2 Lewis & Clark College (OR)
3 Pomona College (CA)
4 Reed College (OR)
5 Bard College (NY)
6 Bennington College (VT)
7 Sarah Lawrence College (NY)
8 Skidmore College (NY)
9 Emerson College (MA)
10 Bard College at Simon's Rock (MA)
12 Prescott College (AZ)
11 Marlboro College (VT)
13 The Evergreen State College (WA)
14 University of California--Santa Barbara (CA)
15 Beloit College (WI)

photo credits: Ms. Phoenix - Safe Zone under copyright license

Prev Next

Most Religious Students

Most Religious Students

1 Brigham Young University (UT)
2 Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
3 Wheaton College (IL)
4 Hillsdale College (MI)
5 Gordon College (WA)

photo credits: flickr commons Tim (Timothy) Pearce under copyright license

 
 

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