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College Essay Travel Examples

When I was 16, I lived with the Watkins family in Wichita, Kansas. Mrs. Watkins was the coordinator of the foreign exchange student program I was enrolled in. She had a nine year old son named Cody. I would babysit Cody every day after school for at least two to three hours. We would play Scrabble or he would read to me from Charlotte’s Web or The Ugly Duckling. He would talk a lot about his friends and school life, and I would listen to him and ask him the meanings of certain words. He was my first friend in the New World.

My second family was the Martinez family, who were friends of the Watkins’s. The host dad Michael was a high school English teacher and the host mom Jennifer (who had me call her “Jen”) taught elementary school. She had recently delivered a baby, so she was still in the hospital when I moved into their house. The Martinez family did almost everything together. We made pizza together, watched Shrek on their cozy couch together, and went fishing on Sunday together. On rainy days, Michael, Jen and I would sit on the porch and listen to the rain, talking about our dreams and thoughts. Within two months I was calling them mom and dad.

After I finished the exchange student program, I had the option of returning to Korea but I decided to stay in America. I wanted to see new places and meet different people. Since I wasn’t an exchange student anymore, I had the freedom--and burden--of finding a new school and host family on my own. After a few days of thorough investigation, I found the Struiksma family in California. They were a unique group.

The host mom Shellie was a single mom who had two of her own sons and two Russian daughters that she had adopted. The kids always had something warm to eat, and were always on their best behavior at home and in school. It would be fair to say that this was all due to Shellie’s upbringing. My room was on the first floor, right in front of Shellie’s hair salon, a small business that she ran out of her home. In the living room were six or seven huge amplifiers and a gigantic chandelier hung from the high ceiling. The kitchen had a bar. At first, the non-stop visits from strangers made me nervous, but soon I got used to them. I remember one night, a couple barged into my room while I was sleeping. It was awkward.

After a few months I realized we weren’t the best fit. In the nicest way possible, I told them I had to leave. They understood.

The Ortiz family was my fourth family. Kimberly, the host mom, treated me the same way she treated her own son. She made me do chores: I fixed dinner, fed their two dogs Sassy and Lady, and once a week I cleaned the bathroom. I also had to follow some rules: No food in my room, no using the family computer, no lights on after midnight, and no ride unless it was an emergency. The first couple of months were really hard to get used to, but eventually I adjusted.

I lived with the Ortiz family for seven months like a monk in the deep forest. However, the host dad Greg’s asthma got worse after winter, so he wanted to move to the countryside. It was unexpected and I only had a week to find a new host family. I asked my friend Danielle if I could live with her until I found a new home. That’s how I met the Dirksen family, my fifth family.

The Dirksen family had three kids. They were all different. Danielle liked bitter black coffee, Christian liked energy drinks, and Becca liked sweet lemon tea. Dawn, the host mom didn’t like winter, and Mark, the host dad, didn’t like summer. After dinner, we would all play Wii Sports together. I was the king of bowling, and Dawn was the queen of tennis. I don’t remember a single time that they argued about the games. Afterward, we would gather in the living room and Danielle would play the piano while the rest of us sang hymns.

Of course, those 28 months were too short to fully understand all five families, but I learned from and was shaped by each of them. By teaching me English, nine year-old Cody taught me the importance of being able to learn from anyone; the Martinez family showed me the value of spending time together as a family; the Struiksma family taught me to reserve judgment about divorced women and adopted children; Mrs. Ortiz taught me the value of discipline and the Dirksen family taught me the importance of appreciating one another’s different qualities.

Getting along with other people is necessary for anyone and living with five families has made me more sensitive to others’ needs: I have learned how to recognize when someone needs to talk, when I should give advice and when to simply listen, and when someone needs to be left alone; in the process, I have become much more adaptable. I’m ready to change, learn, and be shaped by my future families.

ANALYSIS OF THE "FIVE FAMILIES" ESSAY

Remember that movie “The Sixth Sense”?

I won't ruin it for you, but I will tell you that there’s a moment toward the end when a crucial piece of information is revealed that triggers in the mind of the audience a series of realizations that have been leading up to this Big Revelation.

That’s kind of what this writer does: he buries a series of hints (one in each paragraph) that he “explodes” in the final paragraph. In short:

  1. He buries a series of essence images in his first paragraphs (one per family).
  2. He doesn’t tell us what they mean until the end of the essay, when he writes “I learned and was shaped by each of them.” Note that each essence image is actually a lesson--something he learned from each family.
  3. When he reveals each lesson at the end, one after the other, we sense how all these seemingly random events are connected. We realize this writer has been carefully constructing this piece all along; we see the underlying structure. And it’s a pretty neat one.

Also note:

  • Each of the first five paragraphs works to SHOW. (He waits to TELL us what they mean ‘til that second to last paragraph.)
  • See how distinct each family is? He does this through specific images and objects.
  • The second to last paragraph answers the “So what?” question. (Q: Why did he just show us all these details? A: To demonstrate what each family has taught him.)
  • He also goes one step further. He answers the “So what?” question once more in the final paragraph. (Q: So what am I going to do with all these lessons? A: I’m going to use them to adapt to my next family--in college.)
  • The beauty of this is that he’s demonstrating (showing not telling) that he has an extremely valuable quality that will be useful for doing well at any college: adaptability.

TIP: And that’s one more way to write your essay. Identify your single greatest strength (in this case, it was his ability to adapt to whatever life gave him). Ask: how did I learn this? How can I SHOW that I’m good at this?

Here are all the “Show” and “Tell” moments clearly marked:

When I was 16, I lived with the Watkins family in Wichita, Kansas. Mrs. Watkins was the coordinator of the foreign exchange student program I was enrolled in. She had a nine year old son named Cody. I would babysit Cody every day after school for at least two to three hours. We would play Scrabble or he would read to me from Charlotte’s Web or The Ugly Duckling. He would talk a lot about his friends and school life, and I would listen to him and ask him the meanings of certain words. He was my first friend in the New World.

Show 1: "By teaching me English, nine year-old Cody taught me the importance of being able to learn from anyone."

My second family was the Martinez family, who were friends of the Watkins’s. The host dad Michael was a high school English teacher and the host mom Jennifer (who had me call her “Jen”) taught elementary school. She had recently delivered a baby, so she was still in the hospital when I moved into their house. The Martinez family did almost everything together. We made pizza together, watched Shrek on their cozy couch together, and went fishing on Sunday together. On rainy days, Michael, Jen and I would sit on the porch and listen to the rain, talking about our dreams and thoughts. Within two months I was calling them mom and dad.

Show 2: "the Martinez family showed me the value of spending time together as a family" (implication: he doesn't have this with his own family)

After I finished the exchange student program, I had the option of returning to Korea but I decided to stay in America. I wanted to see new places and meet different people. Since I wasn’t an exchange student anymore, I had the freedom--and burden--of finding a new school and host family on my own. After a few days of thorough investigation, I found the Struiksma family in California. They were a unique group.

The host mom Shellie was a single mom who had two of her own sons and two Russian daughters that she had adopted. The kids always had something warm to eat, and were always on their best behavior at home and in school. It would be fair to say that this was all due to Shellie’s upbringing. My room was on the first floor, right in front of Shellie’s hair salon, a small business that she ran out of her home. In the living room were six or seven huge amplifiers and a gigantic chandelier hung from the high ceiling. The kitchen had a bar. At first, the non-stop visits from strangers made me nervous, but soon I got used to them. I remember one night, a couple barged into my room while I was sleeping. It was awkward.

Show 3: "the Struiksma family taught me to reserve judgment about divorced women and adopted children."

After a few months I realized we weren’t the best fit. In the nicest way possible, I told them I had to leave. They understood.

The Ortiz family was my fourth family. Kimberly, the host mom, treated me the same way she treated her own son. She made me do chores: I fixed dinner, fed their two dogs Sassy and Lady, and once a week I cleaned the bathroom. I also had to follow some rules: No food in my room, no using the family computer, no lights on after midnight, and no ride unless it was an emergency. The first couple of months were really hard to get used to, but eventually I adjusted.

I lived with the Ortiz family for seven months like a monk in the deep forest. However, the host dad Greg’s asthma got worse after winter, so he wanted to move to the countryside. It was unexpected and I only had a week to find a new host family. I asked my friend Danielle if I could live with her until I found a new home. That’s how I met the Dirksen family, my fifth family.

Show 4: "Mrs. Ortiz taught me the value of discipline."

The Dirksen family had three kids. They were all different. Danielle liked bitter black coffee, Christian liked energy drinks, and Becca liked sweet lemon tea. Dawn, the host mom didn’t like winter, and Mark, the host dad, didn’t like summer. After dinner, we would all play Wii Sports together. I was the king of bowling, and Dawn was the queen of tennis. I don’t remember a single time that they argued about the games. Afterward, we would gather in the living room and Danielle would play the piano while the rest of us sang hymns.

Show 5: "and the Dirksen family taught me the importance of appreciating one another’s different qualities."

Of course, those 28 months were too short to fully understand all five families, but I learned from and was shaped by each of them. By teaching me English, nine year-old Cody taught me the importance of being able to learn from anyone; the Martinez family showed me the value of spending time together as a family; the Struiksma family taught me to reserve judgment about divorced women and adopted children; Mrs. Ortiz taught me the value of discipline and the Dirksen family taught me the importance of appreciating one another’s different qualities.

The "Tell" / "So What"

Getting along with other people is necessary for anyone and living with five families has made me more sensitive to others’ needs: I have learned how to recognize when someone needs to talk, when I should give advice and when to simply listen, and when someone needs to be left alone; in the process, I have become much more adaptable. I’m ready to change, learn, and be shaped by my future families.

This month we are offering advice on the “perfect” college essay.  We have covered the importance of searching for the right topic by making sure the essay focuses on YOU,  and by digging deep so that your essay is personal.  We also discussed the importance of telling a good story and what to do if you are just stuck.

While choosing the right topic is an important first step in writing the “perfect” essay, it is always the first line of the essay that will draw the admissions officer in.  Usually by the end of the first paragraph, they will form an opinion of whether or not the essay is a winner or a dud.

A few years ago, Stanford University published sample first lines of college essay of admitted students for the Class of 2012. These are great examples of unique and captivating ways to begin and essay. Here are some examples:

I almost didn’t live through September 11th, 2001.

When I was 8 years old, I shocked my family and a local archaeologist by discovering artifacts dating back almost 3,500 years.

When I was in eighth grade I couldn’t read.

While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?

The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.

I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.

Cancer tried to defeat me, and it failed.

I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy—instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.

I have old hands.

Flying over enemy territory, I took in Beirut’s beautiful skyline and wondered if under different circumstances I would have hopped on a bus and come here for my vacation. Instead, I saw the city from the window of a helicopter, in military uniform, my face camouflaged, on my way to a special operation deep behind enemy lines.

My younger sister, Jessica, arrived home one day reeling about the shirt that her friend had worn to school. It had simply read, “Genocide, Homicide, Suicide, Riverside.”

I’ll never forget the day when my childhood nightmares about fighting gigantic trolls in the Lord of the Rings series became a reality. Sword in hand and clad in medieval samurai armor, I dragged myself into the battleground as I faced my opponent, a warmongering giant.

Good Grief! You never would have guessed that an unassuming meek lovable loser like Charlie Brown would have an influence on anyone; but indeed he has.

Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.

I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever crossed my mind.

As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.

Journey to Gulu’s outskirts and you will uncover the scene where education was raped 11 years ago; some Ugandan teens also lost their innocence in exchange for their lives.

I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.

On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.

I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.

Make Them Want More

Don’t you want to read more?  Didn’t these first lines make you curious?  So how do you get that stellar first line?  How do you get started with your essay in the first place?  Here are some examples from essays that some of my students have developed and how they found their first line.

Example 1:  The Good Story

“Here comes a puff!” my dad shouted back to me over the howling wind. Three seconds later the wind lifted and tipped the boat and as I stretched my body over the side, I knew the feeling of the osprey soaring overhead; pure freedom!

Crafting this first line:  This student wrote about one of his greatest passions, sailing.  He did a great job of creating a visual picture right at the beginning of his essay.  You can picture him leaning over the side, the howling wind, the smile on his face.  The instant picture creates a connection for the reader and they want to read more.

Example 2:  Be funny (but appropriate)

Crouching in the grass, the tiger parents spot their prey. They slowly approach her, watching for any distractions. At the first sign of laziness, they pounce, surprising the girl back into doing her homework.  The recent Tiger Mom controversy has brought a new perspective into American culture.

Crafting this first line:  This student uses a bit of humor to hook the admissions officer in.  She is writing about a relatively serious topic, but by poking fun at the it, she has made it even more interesting.

Example 3:  Think Outside Box

Sometimes I really wish I could write in cursive, not the semi-connected scrawl I normally use. When I see people who write in perfect cursive, I can’t help but be overcome by jealousy at the graceful, fluid movements creating equally inspiring marks on the page. 

Crafting this first line:  This student had the advantage of having a really different topic to draw her first line from.  Who would think of writing her college essay about handwriting?  Having an “outside of the box” topic can automatically hook an admissions officer and  make them wonder where you are going with your idea.

The perfect first line of your essay may not be easy to come by, but don’t focus on that first.  Sometimes it is easier to write the entire essay, then think of the appropriate introduction.  Also think about what is the part of your essay that stands out the most.  What is the most unusual aspect? What is the part that most people can relate to?  There is a creative first line in your essay somewhere!

Remember that admissions officers, read hundreds of essays a year, most will read over 50 in a day.  The reality is that after a while they all begin to blur together. By crafting the perfect first line, you will not only hook them into your essay, but this will also ensure that you can reel them in!

Make sure and check back for our last post in our essay series which is all about editing.

Katherine Price

Senior Associate

Image credit:  Ulster County

 

 

 

 

Filed Under: Application TipsTagged With: CO, college essay, college essay tips, Educational consultant in Littleton, Personal Statement, personal statement tips

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