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.
Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. Share your story.
“GIVE ME MY CHICKEN!” screams the rebel child. My hands strangle the blue and red chicken, and I sprint out of the safe box. “Catch me if you can,” I yell as an onslaught of children run after me. Always the chivalrous staff member, I slow down and let them catch me. But as the rival red team will soon discover, I am a mere diversion so that my teammates can steal the enemy’s remaining two fowl hostages. I walk myself back to the “jail,” where I proceed to bawk like a chicken until one of my teammates rescues me. Success! Our raid is triumphant. The bell rings, and the blue team finishes the game with six chickens to the red team’s two.
The game is called "Bawk Bawk Chicken." Its rules mimic Capture the Flag, but with a twist: instead of flags we use rubber chickens, and instead of each team having one chicken, they have four. I invented this game to reinvigorate our typically subdued evening activities. My invention is a hit in the eyes of the 214 nine-to-fourteen-year-old campers and fellow staff members responsible for their entertainment.
Six years ago at the age of 11, I was not the vocal, charismatic character I am today. Introverted and skeptical, I dreaded my first day of summer camp.
I had just endured a five-hour car ride followed by a three-hour ferry ride from Portland, Oregon to remote Orcas Island. At first glimpse, I realized this was no ordinary summer camp. All the girls wore middies and bloomers. The boys wore navy polos with matching shorts. A strange man hollered my name and hugged me as if I were his long-lost brother. As he walked with me and four other equally confused tweens, he revealed that in addition to having to give up our clothing, we would also be turning in all electronics and candy. What had I gotten myself into? Upon arrival at my home for the next month, my faith in this place reached rock bottom. A 30-year-old, dilapidated elk tent resting on a splintering wooden platform loomed before me. No way was this going to work.
That day six years ago offered me a snapshot of what every first year camper goes through: fear. I thought that my clothes and belongings constituted my identity, and I feared there would be nothing now to distinguish me from my peers. That month forced me to be introspective and figure out who I was without the trappings of “stuff.” Now in my sixth year at camp, my role has flipped. As a counselor, I guide campers past fear to a place where they can safely demonstrate their unique self.
After the rousing game of “Bawk Bawk Chicken,” my five-camper power squad silently walks back from the lodge to prepare for bed. When Alex finally gets back from tooth brushing, we start our nightly reflection process of Rose, Thorn, Bud. Each camper emphasizes an event from the day they enjoyed (rose), deemed unpleasant (thorn), and something they look forward to (bud). Gavin is happy that his tent was able to prank their rival tent at dinner, Jimmy is embarrassed he fell off a donkey, and Ryan looks forward to the folk dance tomorrow night. My rose: everyone got goofy and had fun playing my game—success. My thorn: a group of children stepped on a hornet’s nest—terrible. My bud: we get to spend two more weeks together—can't wait. (Cole J., University of Notre Dame, Class of 2018)
Charlie’s feedback: Wonderfully written, creative, and clearly relates overcoming fear and growing up. The author wraps his journey of confronting personal angst with wanting to help others. Pleasure to read.
Andrea’s feedback: This student is clearly self-aware, creative, has already blossomed (ha!) a great deal, and is not afraid to grow some more. All of these attributes bode well for the college experience because you will be challenged over and over again to examine who you are. Camp counseling is one of the handful of oft-used essay topics, and it’s difficult for students to make that fresh; the chicken does it.
Jodi’s feedback: Wow! This student is really a creative thinker, charismatic and works to build relationships and community. I’d want him in my dorm or class.
Charles S. Nolan, Ph.D. is the Vice President and Dean of Admission at Olin College ofEngineering . He previously served in similar roles at BostonCollege , Santa Clara University and Washington University in St. Louis .
Andrea Hendrickson is Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at Reed College , and previously worked in admissions at LawrenceUniversity .
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. Contact her at: jodi.walder@comcast.