In my last email, I introduced and gave a few writing tips for the leadership personal insight question for the University of California application. At the end of the email, I promised some examples of actual responses.
First, please note that for a good reason, I have chosen not to write these essays to the required UC word count. Why? There is the very real possibility that someone will copy the writing entirely and use it as an actual response. Or more likely, use this writing as a template. Neither case is desirable.
Recap of the essay prompt:
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
(Note: The following writing is completely my original writing based on composites of the hundreds of application essays I’ve read in the past decades.)
In tenth grade, I was president of the Latino Culture Club. There were about 20 members in the club, but most of them didn’t come very often. We met to discuss the unique aspects of our culture in the United States, and my job was to get more members and figure out ways to show our culture to others.
In the first week of the club, I was overwhelmed by what to do. It seemed like I had so much responsibility, but not much time. But I decided that the best way to get ahead and reach our goals was to use: teamwork.
As a team, we were not only stronger, but we had more ideas. Suddenly, people who kept to themselves spoke up. They seemed more excited about coming to meetings. And we also had many more suggestions about what to do. After this, one of the best suggestions came up, we should put on a talent show to show the different kinds of culture we had amongst ourselves. We decided to include singing, dancing, music, and traditional costumes that each performer could pick.
The talent show was a great success, and it could never have happened without harnessing the power of the team. It’s like a bundle of sticks—alone, each one is breakable. But together, they are unstoppable.
In ninth grade, I set a goal for myself: I wanted to increase the presence of the Latino Culture Club at my school—I wanted it to be one of the clubs people talked about and actually wanted to join because they enjoyed it, not because they felt like they were required to.
I initially joined the club because I wanted to share the beauty of Latino culture with others, and hopefully, even improve race relations at my school. We have a fairly balanced mix of races at my school, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our opinions of each other are as fairly balanced. I believe that to some extent we all represent others who look like us and come from similar backgrounds, and if we can create favorable impressions of our cultures with others, we can help reduce the racial tension that plagues some areas of the US.
Running for president, I gave some short speeches and presentations, and my fellow club members seemed impressed. And then I launched my big plan: Pull off an event that the whole school would talk about.
We had dozens of suggestions, from a talent show to a “Cultural Awareness Day” to a flash mob-style performance in the cafeteria of a fusion of hiphop and Latino music. But in the end, we decided on a food festival with music; after all, if there’s anything that brings people together, it’s delicious food.
For several months, we planned and marketed. To create excitement for the event, we announced that we’d be giving out prizes for students who arrived early and for those who visited every table at the festival. I believe that any good leader is also in the trenches, so in addition to overseeing preparations, I was also planning for my table, which would showcase the Brazilian snack “kibe” (a Middle East-inspired mixture of beef and bulgar wheat that is fried and served with hot sauce). I decided to play “baile funk,” a style of dance music popular in clubs in Rio de Janeiro.
We encountered a number of obstacles and disagreements along the way, but nothing that logical discussion and decision-making couldn’t overcome. In the end, I couldn’t have been happier with the result—for the four hours of the event, I heard the laughter of the attendees amid the various types of music being played. While I cannot state with 100% certainty that our club succeeded in creating a positive image of Latino culture at our school, I can say without any hesitation that everybody who attended had a good time and left with tummy full of delicious food, all homemade and provided by us.
See the difference between the two examples? Although nearly the same events happen in both essays, the student in the second essay sounds much more impressive. Many students believe that they must encounter some completely unique hardship or invent the cure for some disease in order to "have something interesting to write about," but really, the events themselves are only half of the puzzle. As these essay examples have shown, the other half of an interesting essay lies in how well the essay is written. Good writing can make a conventionally boring event come alive, just as bad writing can make a dramatically gripping event seem dull.
The takeaway from all of this:
If you think you have a "boring" story, don't worry! You'll do fine as long as you are descriptive and really show your passion.
If you think you have a good story, that's great! But make sure you don't get complacent! A stellar writer with an everyday story easily outshines a mediocre writer with a "good" story.
Best of luck with your college admissions!
I always tell my students that one of the best ways to find great topic ideas is to read the essays of other students.
One great idea often triggers another! Reading other student’s essays also can give you an idea of the narrative style or voice of these essays, which is looser and more conversational than your typical academic essay.
I recommend several book collections of sample essays in this post, but if you can’t get your hands on those, here are a few I found online:
*Note: If you want to read an introduction that uses the dreaded English-ese (see definition below) check out the second essay, by a student named Olivia Rabbitt, on Connecticut College’s essay page.
Her first paragraph is so stuffy and over-written I could barely force myself through it! Great example of adjective abuse. After that first paragraph, though, Olivia shifts into more direct language and the rest is great!
Read her entire essay HERE.
English-ese: This is a word I just made up to define that bizarre “language” that students (and a lot of adults) use because they think that’s what readers (their English teachers, parents, bosses…) want and what makes them sound smart. I’m sure you would recognize it if you read or heard it.
Here’s an example: “As the cacophony of sounds from the child’s crying wafted into my ears, I felt that my depiction of a clown was an injudicious idea. My reaction sprouted from my ability to be sensitive, and as my mind told me I had upset the child, I apologetically took my exit from the room.”
(Re-write in plain English: “When I heard the child crying, I realized my clown act was a bad idea. My only choice was to leave the room.”)
This is an exaggeration, but don’t you recognize that sluggish, smug tone?
Maybe people apparently like it because it sounds intellectual and ponderous, as if you were talking from an oversized armchair smoking a pipe. But doesn’t listening to those types of pompous blowhards bore you to death?
(That’s how college admissions folks feel when they have to read stiff, over-written college essays!)
Read whole post HERE.