College Essay Overcoming Challenges

Responses to comments:

Sam said:Laura, I can't make my lab printer duplex. Can you come fix it?
No.

Anonymous said:SOMEWHERE... there's a photo of a Burton-Conner room also with an amazing beach theme (jaw-dropping in its home makeover-like looks). Do you know anything about it? (JKim didn't.)
Arg, you know, I think I actually know what you're talking about. I feel like it was used in some previous i3 publication (the handbook with photos of the various dorms distributed to incoming freshmen during the summer), but I'm not sure where I could find it...

Sean said:So..can anyone paint any dorm room any style? How far can the "decoration" go?-Custom fish tank/mini fridge/plasma screen a possibility?
Ah, so it's important to note that only some dorms, namely the East Campus (Bexley, Random, East Campus, and Senior House) dorms plus Burton Conner allow students to paint their rooms. Other modifications, such as lofts, and I suppose, custom fish tanks, are allowed in these dorms if they meet safety requirements. Other dorms would be less understanding. As for your plasma screen TV and fridge, sure- you're welcome to put whatever you'd like into your dorm room (in any residence hall), except for microwaves and hot plates, which are usually allowed to be stored in some common area.

Snively said:The beads are so confusing!!!
Ha! I wish I had a good video of Snively trying to come into my room, it's hilarious. I sometimes refer to the beads as my "Snively trap."

Anonymous said:I'm sorry but I just have to tell the truth. Your room doesn't look like a 'I could be an interior designer' person's room. It's boring and looks like very typical college dorm. What makes you so proud?
Way to be a total killjoy. *eyeroll* Obviously a college dorm room is not ideal to demonstrate interior design skills. What exactly would a future interior decorator's college dorm room look like anyway? Would it look less like a college dorm room? Equally obvious, I would think, is that I'm not even actually serious about becoming an interior designer. I'm proud because I took what most people considered to be an awful room with a bad shape, size and lighting and through a lot of hard work made it seem more spacious and livable.

Steve said:good blog,I am doing research for my Daughter,she wants to apply to MIT but I think she may be feel somewhat intiminated,she is a hs jr in a sci.math.& tech. academy in the midwest ranked 8 of 667,she didn't get much respect going in as a girl,that know has changed, it if I can get her to read your blog ,it may help her. Thanks
Oh boy, I could go on for hooours about the topic of women in engineering, and I might not have exactly the opinions that you might assume. In any case, you can read lots of other people's perspectives on the topic here.

I said:I'm off to grab some food, head to a 2.009 meeting, and then pack for a spontaneous 24 hour trip back to the greatest state ever.
sauza said: but why are you going to colorado?
Oh, haha. Now that I'm back from New Jersey, I can say it was a much-needed break to get off campus for awhile. I'm even more confident to not continue on into grad school right away, because man, living on a college campus puts you in such a bubble. I think I even forgot that suburbia existed. It was also my first time home after living in Spain, which represented not only another culture, but my first time really living on my own, outside the whole college dorm system. So I think I looked at my hometown with even more adult eyes than ever before. I don't think I've actually expressed what I mean here at all, but basically, it was interesting. I was also lucky enough to come home on the weekend when my sister had her "Baby Think it Over" doll for health class- it's basically this electronic doll that will start crying at random times and will only stop when you feed it, change its diaper, whatever. It was hilarious. =)

So, on to my real entry.

I thought about posting my college admissions essay before, but it just sort of never happened. But Cristen has just posted hers, so it seems like now is the time, since it will give our dear readers a chance to compare and contrast how two different people approached the essay situation.

I started digging through my hard drive for this essay and of course couldn't help myself: I stopped to read the whole bunch. It was pretty interesting to read them with 3 years of perspective on life, and experience talking to people about college admissions. I re-read one of the essays I wrote for Caltech and the moment I finished I said, "that was a really good essay, but no wonder they waitlisted me!" It was well-written and engaging, but really didn't give them any useful information about me, I don't think. It was also weird to be reminded of the many colleges I applied to, and the fact that almost all of them admitted me. MIT is great and all, but I am very intrigued by the mysterious thought of where I would be if I had chosen the fork in the road marked "Columbia," "University of Maryland," or "Case Western Reserve." It's actually a little creepy.

So, on to the essay. For a little backstory and explanation, the essay prompt was "Life brings many disappointments as well as satisfactions. Tell us about a time in your life when you experienced disappointment, or faced difficult or trying circumstances. How did you react?" I had a pretty rough time writing this essay, as I described in my first application advice entry. I will now blatantly plagarize myself instead of writing the exact same thing over again.

For my essay, I decided to write about problems I had to overcome on my high school field hockey team. I thought I had a great, original story to tell. So I wrote my essay about overcoming obstacles and not giving up and gave it to a friend to proofread, and he told me it was horrible. I got pretty upset with him, as you can imagine. Here I was, totally convinced that I had this edgy, original story to tell, and he went and shot me down by telling me just how unoriginal it was.

It turns out we were both right. I did have a pretty cool and original story- after all, it was a true life story. No one else has had the same experiences as me. But while writing the essay, I tried to cram 3 years of experience into 500 words, so all that came across was "I didn't give up even though I came across obstacles." Well guess what- that has happened to everybody! So I sat down and completely started over. Only this time, I chose a very specific obstacle that I was faced with- one incident that happened on one particular day- and wrote a very detailed description about that experience. I showed this new essay to my mother, who told me it made me look like I was just whining about challenges! The actual story had been lost in all my details about that one specific incident.

By now I was really frustrated with everyone who kept telling me my essays sucked, and I was determined to prove that I actually did have a good essay in there somewhere! So I sat down with the 2 completely different essays and pieced together a hybrid with the most important parts of each. By the time I was done I thought I had a pretty cool college application essay. The key is to find the right balance between giving detailed descriptions that are about you, and showing the admissions people the big picture (how your story shows something about who you are, and how it relates back to the question they actually asked you in the first place!)

And just one note, for the record: I apologize for the last couple of lines. They are a bit ridiculously heavy-handed, and I recognize that they not necessarily absolutes. So before you start arguing with me about them, please remember that this is a college admissions essay, and I tried desperately to make the last paragraph into something both with an inspiring message and not cookie-cutter beat-you-over-the-head cheesy, and if I failed I am sorry. =)

Also, if Coach Bower is out there reading this...well, too bad.

I couldn’t breathe. If there was ever a time to quit, this was it.

It was an innocent conditioning drill. Two partners raced to a ball at the fifty yard line with incentive to win: the loser ran an extra one hundred yards. My partner was Kelly, one of the fastest girls on the team. It wasn’t long before I was having an asthma attack.

I often imagined myself wearing a varsity jacket with pride, but my field hockey coaches impeded my goal. They humiliated me on the field. They promoted freshmen to varsity and made me the ball girl. They told me I’d “never be more than an okay player.” When I crossed the end line after yet another one hundred yard punishment sprint, I’d long since given up hope on my goal. The dream of a varsity jacket I could wear proudly had degraded to the dream of a varsity letter gathering dust in the attic. After years of sacrifice and hard work, I was nothing more than a senior in high school still playing junior varsity.

Coach Bower called my name. I turned to her, holding my back erect and pressing my hands to my stomach, desperately trying to control the frantic nature of my breathing. She must have noticed the wheezing. She must have seen the tears threatening to spill from my panicked eyes.

“Walk to the stroke mark.” She was giving me a six yard head start.

I forced my body forward, head to the ground to hide the tears of shame that burned my eyes. There was dead silence behind me as my teammates stood in a uniform line and stared at my back.

“Take a few more steps.”

The silence was broken by my own gasping sobs. This was more than embarrassment. This was abject humiliation.

I could see my teammates out of the corner of my eye, whispering.

Coach announced to the field: “Let’s see if we can give Kelly a challenge.”

My hands shook with rage. I narrowed my eyes, glaring at the orange ball ahead of me. It suddenly didn’t matter if it was forty-four yards or fifty yards or three miles away. I was going to get there first, or die trying. I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet, wheezing, hiccupping, and waiting.

She blew the whistle.

I clenched my teeth through the pain in my chest and sprinted, sobbing between gasping breaths. I beat Kelly by one step.

Days later, I was finally given one chance to play varsity and prove myself to the same coaches who said I’d never be “more than okay.” It wasn’t long before I was a varsity starter.

I might have waited my whole life and never caught that lucky break necessary to capture my dreams, but it would have been impossible to succeed if I had given up before that chance came my way. There is no such thing as failure. There are only missed opportunities.

Then I Will Build Them

by Patrick Masterton
(Carol Stream, Illinois, USA )

Overcoming Obstacles College Essay - If I Can’t Fly the Aircraft…Then I Will Build Them - If I could choose one person in the United States history to be my idol, it would be Jim Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 mission. You see all my life I wanted to serve my country as a member of the NASA astronaut team as he did. In my opinion, he embellishes all that it means to be an American as evident of his actions during the “successful failure” that was the catastrophic mission which he commanded. I believe that he and I share several common traits, such as passion for aerospace and the ability to keep a level head under extreme pressure. We both have the ability to persevere and move forward despite numerous setbacks and seemingly insurmountable odds.

When Jim Lovell was hurling through space towards the moon at over eleven miles per second, he had to acknowledge the fact that his dreams of landing on the moon were impossible to achieve after disaster struck his spacecraft. I had to come to the same realization that my dreams of ever flying in space were unattainable when disaster struck for me in the form of a diagnosis. I had been collapsing at various times without any formal cause. All of the diagnostic tests were negative until my sixteenth birthday when I suffered a grand mal seizure while talking to my friend. All of the previous attacks were now linked to epilepsy.

The neurology team told me that I could live a normal life with the exception of two things: serving in the military and piloting an aircraft. I felt as if my dreams had been shattered. I had worked so hard in school and had planned so intently for my future career as a naval aviator only to be told that my dream was unattainable. I spent hours researching my options. The setback forced me to reevaluate my dreams and opportunities. I accepted the situation and continued to move forward.
I applied for a chance to participate in a week long summer engineering camp at Purdue University which introduced me to the field of aerospace engineering. I knew from day one that this was my new career path. I decided that... If I can no longer fly the aircraft then I will design them. I plan to obtain both my baccalaureate and masters degree in the area of aerospace engineering.

I am using Jim Lovell’s set back due to circumstances beyond his control as motivation for my own challenges. I hope that my studies in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University will allow me to impact the world in a positive manner in this new role as well as Mr. Lovell did in his role as the commander of the Apollo 13 mission. I have been able to remain in honors classes with a perfect attendance record in high school. I have played football and volleyball during school and worked full time as a lifeguard during the summers. These experiences have made me stronger and more determined to achieve my career goals.

Please consider me for the EAA scholarship. I will use the funds to off set the costs of learning how to build the machines that I had once hoped to fly. I will meet the educational challenges with the same determination that I used to overcome the epilepsy. Thank you for your consideration.

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Thank you Dylan for sharing your college scholarship essay about overcoming obstacles. Best of luck to you in college and your future.

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A Change in Path

by Ayme Houston
(Newton, MA, United States)

Personal Story College Essay - Everything changes when you lose what you know. You think you have your path planned out to the exact date and time it will all happen for you, and then in an instant it's gone. I trained 20 hours a week; 6 hours on Sundays. No social life, nothing other than gymnastics. All for the satisfaction I got when I did a routine. When I let my feet carry me across the carpet, pointing and leaping, twirling and landing. It was perfection. The burn on the ball of my foot after a turn, the glide of my ribbon across my hand before I let it sail through the air, the smack of my clubs against my palms after a toss double roll catch; gymnastics was me. It was everything. I was an elite rhythmic gymnast and everyone thought I was headed toward the National Team. And just as I was beginning to believe them, I injured my back, and my reality became nothing more than a fantasy.

I remember the day I went to see the doctor. I was sure he was going to merely suggest a couple of days rest. This I could live with. See it’s a love, hate relationship with gymnastics. There were days when I would come home from school lying about how much homework I had so that I would miss at least an hour of practice. And there were times I would lie and say I had no homework at all so I could go to practice early. At the appointment the doctor told me things I already knew; I could have stayed home for him to tell me that I had scoliosis and a twisted tailbone. He scheduled me for an MRI and I went through it in a careless state; all I could think was how overboard the doctor was getting to analyze a case of scoliosis I’ve always had. I just wasn’t that worried. I knew I would be back in the gym soon enough, well rested from a mini-vacation. I remember returning when the results were in. On the car ride over I joked about what a relief it would be to know if my baby was a boy or a girl. I even made up names for the possible genders. I walked into the office, not bothering to take a seat because I was certain it was nothing serious. Instead I was told that there was a new imperfection in my back; now I was up to scoliosis, twisted tailbone and a stress fracture. The doctor spoon-fed me this sugar coated lecture, saying “it would be very risky to continue gymnastics, you don’t have to quit, you just can’t compete or train at your level anymore but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of your gym” but I knew it meant I wouldn’t do gymnastics ever again. I felt as if the floor collapsed from underneath me.

Yes, after you lose something you were, things get hard. For the longest time I felt weak. Utterly fragile. My family looked at me with that pitiful, belittling look. The one my brothers would give me after realizing why I was home after asking why I wasn’t at gymnastics. The one that reminded me that gymnastics was really gone. I tried to find a replacement, dipping my feet in other sports, clubs, arts, but nothing quite compared. I was searching for the feeling I had when I did gymnastics. That complete satisfaction. There was a sort of security I felt when I lost myself in a routine; it was my savior. Through all my attempts, I wrote. Stories, songs, poems, diaries, they all kept me sane. I could write up a whole life for my characters, down to the exact date and time, and the only outside force was me. I chose their lives. Not injuries or doctors…me. It took me a while to realize that the two feelings came hand in hand. That when I write, and my fingers dance across the keyboard it’s to the rhythm of my story; my fingertips burn as I smack them against the keys and my hands glide over the board with intention.

Writing is my routine now; my only apparatus are my hands and fingers rather than my ball, clubs, ribbon or hoop. As overheard it may be, my loss helped me. I wouldn’t have started writing unless I stopped gymnastics. Or rather I wouldn’t have taken writing seriously. I do still feel lost sometimes. I still cry whenever I watch anything to do with gymnastics. And I still don’t have my map planned out, I have no idea how far my aspiration of writing will take me, but I know I want to walk down this path. And I know I’m no longer weak. I’m now an open book, and I like the vulnerability of that.

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Thank you Ayme for sharing your moving personal story college essay. Best wishes to you in college.

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