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Let's Help This Sparkler with Her Life Story!

Let's Help This Sparkler with Her Life Story!

College essay prompt:

There may be personal information you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.

Our Sparkler's Response:

A person’s life is only as valuable as they build it up to be, and one will only be as happy as they allow themselves to be; my parents instilled this logic in me the hard way. When I think about my mother and father, and try to define who they are based on my memories, all I see is a storm of screaming matches and abuse. The relationship between my mother and father is damaged and unstable on so many levels. They don’t understand how their poor decisions made impacted my sister and me.

My life is anything but easy. Growing up in a single parent household for most of what I can remember, struggling for money and basic necessities is something with which I am familiar. My mother has always found it easy to blame our family’s dysfunction and her alcoholism on our lack of money, but I find that hard to believe. Money is merely a thing to me; yes, a certain amount is necessary, but the amount that goes beyond that is not a huge matter of importance. For example, some people have a car, others do not- but having one or not having one doesn’t define the kind of person you are.

During our childhood, my sister and I had to stand alone at times, sort of just taking care of each other and making sure that we were alright. I can recall various occasions in which I would cook dinner and my sister would wash the dishes, or I would sweep the floors and my sister would mop them, because my mother was too drunk to or just didn’t want to. Together, we tried our hardest to maintain semi-normal lives. These memories go back to as early as the third grade.

It was tough growing up so quickly, but in the end, I feel like I had an advantage over the kids my age. Like a good student who studies ahead of time, I figured out the challenges life can throw at you before most kids had even experienced them yet. The lessons I learned at an early age have taught me to view hardship not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to grow as an individual and learn from the mistakes of others. I look at my life kind of like weight training. When you have to increase the load you’re lifting, it seems impossible, but if you really try, you can do it. After lifting the same mass repeatedly, it gets easier and you grow stronger.  In my parents’ own inconvenient way they raised me to be a really strong person. It is because of them that I can get through whatever tribulations I am faced with.

It’s completely understandable for people who have grown up in a dysfunctional household to want to cast their strife upon someone else. I used to think like that, but I have come to understand that God placed me in this situation, because He knew I would persevere. He chose me to learn this way, therefore I accept it and have allowed myself to grow from it; it’s no hindrance to me. Everything that I have gone through has molded me into an independent and ambitious individual. I’m truly grateful for that.

My friends who have graduated high school already and have experienced college say that it’s really scary being so independent. I realize now that I’ve been preparing for college my whole life, without even knowing it, so I’m not afraid. I’m so excited to meet new people, learn new things, and experience a whole different world outside of my small town. My life is about to changed for the better, and I can’t wait.

Our Thoughts:

You have a really solid concept here, but the execution needs a little makeover. You're using a lot of personal information (which is good, since that's what the prompt calls for), but you've got to make sure it's really compelling. Here's a few of our tips on how to make this essay really resonate!

General Tips:

    1. Your grammar is probably the shakiest part of this essay; luckily, that's the easiest to fix! Read over your essay a few times and make sure you use the same tense throughout. (Or, if you change tenses, make sure it makes sense.)
    2. Find focus. Your essay talks about some vague hardships you faced as a kid: not having money, dysfunctional family life, etc. Talking about how this shaped you is good! But it would be even better if you made it more of a cohesive whole. You mention your sister, not having a car, your mom's alcoholism, and other things, but you don't really bring them together as direct cause-and-effect ideas, and you drop things like your parents' relationship (which you bring up in the beginning) without ever really explaining it, which is confusing to your reader. Trim these down, pick one or two to focus on, and then make sure you give a sentence of explanation about anything extra you bring it.

Specific Tips:

  1. Your first sentence's subject changes from "a person" to "one" to "me." Pick one of them and stick with it, because the switch is distracting.
  2. You can cut "made" out of "their poor decisions made."
  3. The second sentence of your second paragraph would read easier as "Because I grew up in a single parent household for most of my life, struggling for money and basic necessities is something with which I'm familiar."
  4. In the last sentence of the second paragraph, you start talking hypothetically about "some people." Cutting this sentence out would help your essay sound more grounded in your own life, which is what you want.
  5. Cut "sort of just" out of the first sentence of your third paragraph to make your writing stronger.
  6. In this third paragraph, you might want to mention your age a bit earlier. Sweeping and mopping doesn't sound all that strange if you're a teenager, but making dinner by yourself in the third grade does.
  7. In the next paragraph, you throw in a couple similes about how you view your life. It'd be better if you could focus on one; that way you avoid sounding too cliched.
  8. You pull the God card here at the end of your essay. Mentioning your religion and how it has shaped you is fine, but you haven't even brought it up before, so it comes off a bit odd.Try working your faith into your essay a bit earlier so the reference makes sense to your reader.
  9. In the last sentence, "changed" should be "change."

Now get out there and wow 'em, Sparkler!

Topics: Life, College Advisor
Tags: sparklers, college applications, senior year, writing, college admissions, essays, college application essays, writing help, life, colleges, college admissions essays

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About the Author
Jennifer Grudziecki

Jennifer Grudziecki is a writer, intern, and soon-to-be college graduate living in New York City. Her life goal is to be a space pirate, and maybe to write a book along the way. Follow her on Twitter @JennyGrudzy or on Tumblr at

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