Your Voice College Essay Samples
Sam (Williams College)
Outwardly, I am the captain of the swim team, president of McLean High School student council, and honor roll student. Inside, however, I am Aeris Valerian, an Elven ranger, son of the great Elven knight, Damien Valerian, vanquisher of the great dragon Rath.
I first played Dungeons and Dragons when I was eight-years-old in my best friend’s garage. The game has no board, few instructions, and the world you create is limited only by your imagination. I got to choose my own character from a variety of races: Elf, Dwarf, Human, Fairy, Halfling, or Gnome.
I chose Elf.
I next chose a class for this character—ranger. A ranger is a guardian of the forest and a versatile fighter, who utilizes speed over strength.
I am a swimmer, incredibly graceful in the water, but not so much on land. My eight-year-old self wanted to experience life as an agile and stealthy warrior.
The game always starts in a tavern where you and your fellow adventurers are offered a quest. The Dungeon Master creates quests that can range from liberating a town from marauding bandits to venturing into the dungeons to uncover a lost medallion from a dragon’s lair. While most of my friends play video games, I spend my time battling evil.
I have developed many skills playing this game, including problem solving. Oftentimes, in the dungeons, we find ourselves trapped in a room with no way out. One of us inevitably tries to smash down the walls to escape. However, this solution rarely works. The answer is almost always one that counts on brains, not brawn. Simply, if we have managed to get in, there is way out.
Whenever I find myself facing new challenges in school and life, I draw upon these skills to evaluate obvious and not-so obvious solutions.
Another skill I honed while playing was leadership. It has happened that while one player is casting a deadly paralyzing spell, another player is charging into battle. This reflects a catastrophic lack of organization and leadership. Also, characters die. Never the goal.
Because of this, I was chosen our group’s leader. I organize our adventuring party and have final say in how to fight a battle. And trust me, leading a group made up of a Dwarven Barbarian, Elven Mage, Halfling Thief, and Crazed Human Berserker is challenging. As student council president, I have met similar challenges in organizing the leadership team’s priorities. I listen to everyone’s input, decide our goals and then assign tasks.
I learned to see a world in front of me that exists only in the shared imaginations of me and the other players. When I read a book, I am someone who sees the world painted by the words. When I am presented with a challenge, I feel my heart start pumping faster. I love a challenge. When I lose a race or do poorly on a test, I bounce back and try twice as hard. After all, I’ve been killed by Orcs, captured by dragons, and been bitten by vampires and survived to tell the tale.
Dungeons and Dragons has helped form the part of me that wants to make a difference in the world. I know that I will use my degree in Sociocultural Anthropology to fight for human rights. I am not yet sure if I will be a journalist, politician or work for a nonprofit, but I know I will use this degree to be Sam Gollob full-human, defender of the disenfranchised, protector of children and vanquisher of the unjust.
I won’t show up on orientation day dressed as my Half Elven self. I won’t sign my documents with a wand. These are promises. I will, though, bring my imagination, as well as my desire to make the world a better place, to college with me.
Isabella (Washington College)
The words mumble into phrases.
I catch a word, maybe two, sometimes three or four,
I piece together the meaning.
Sometimes I am completely right…
Sometimes I am completely wrong…
It’s easy to misunderstand someone, when I can’t hear all the words. If you look straight at me, I can read your lips and know which words are being said. In the past, there have been teachers who have said, “You’re not listening.” But in fact, I was listening, harder than anyone else. I just wasn’t always hearing.
My voice booms, they say.
I only hear a soft echo of that boom.
Loud, bombastic, and “Please keep it down, Isabella!”
Keep what down? I start whispering.
I stop talking.
The truth is that I don’t hear myself well. I think I am speaking in a normal voice, but often I am told to “Lower your voice,” to “Keep it down,” to “Stop yelling.” I am apparently loud, but only because others say I am. I hear a softness, even a quietness, sometimes, coming out of my mouth. I think I am the only one who does. That is not to say I am not an enthusiastic talker. Oh, I am. But I never hear the loud Isabella.
“What did you say?”
“Are you talking to me?”
“Did you say questions 1-5 or 21-35?”
I am listening.
Why do you look so angry?
Sometimes I can see annoyance on your face when I am asking for clarity. The truth is, I am not trying to be annoying. The truth is, I feel anxious when I think that people are bothered by my questions. My heart starts to race. But I still ask because I need to know my homework assignments! Or I need to understand the concept being taught, and I miss a bunch of words because the teacher turned to face the board. I hate rolling eyes or hands up in an “Are you kidding me?” gesture. My heart races even more, but I’m not kidding. I need to know. Rolling eyes will not stop me from asking.
Obtuse. Loud. Irresponsible.
The hurtfulness of being thought less than,
Rather than being seen as complete.
Yet my lack of hearing comes with gifts.
Being hard of hearing comes with gifts that I otherwise might never have discovered: compassion and an intuitiveness about others. I see on people’s faces words they cannot say out loud. I sense feelings sometimes people don’t express. I see the hidden side of people because I know it is there. I may not always hear as well, but I feel gifted in so many other ways.
I pump gas during the summers at the local Liberty gas station. Eight pumps, three auto service bays, and one large American flag.
At the end of my first summer, the owner, Shawn, assigned me a trainee, Benjamin.
From Togo, Africa, Benjamin’s skin shines blue-black, his mouth stretches wide across his face, his eyes and teeth are yellowish, and his body resembles a fireplug—short, stocky and strong.
We stood together at the pumps, I his trainer, and he, my 39-year-old trainee.
I imparted key points in how to make the most tip money: checking the tire pressures, the oil and the windshield washer fluid, and offering to scrape sap off of windshields.
Soon after, I headed back to school.
I returned the next summer to find Benjamin still there.
And here is where my journey into adulthood began.
“What’s back home like in Togo?” I remember asking. A simple question.
“It’s nice, but there’s not much money to be made there,” he shared. “There, I was a carpenter and a dentist, but still, I made very little money.”
A dentist! He had gone to dental school. I also learned he has a wife and a son. I realized my summer job to earn extra cash is his only way of supporting himself in America, while also sending money back home to his wife and son.
Instead of complaining about pumping gas, Benjamin sees pumping gas in America as an opportunity to build a better life for him and his family. Pumping gas in America means his son will have “opportunities,” opportunities I take for granted.
I wanted to do something for Benjamin, but Benjamin wouldn’t let me give him my tip money or buy him lunch. He is here making money and he is proud.
But there was something I could do. I could make him laugh.
Making Benjamin laugh became my first priority at work--helping him get through the day with a real smile.
I sang We Don’t Talk Anymore, I taught him the Whip (great dance move), Dab (another dance move), I made our station’s paper towels disappear (yes magic), and if our shifts ended at the same time, I always waited for his bus with him.
In July, I took a wet squeegee and pressed on the pavement, in block letters, TOM + BENJAMIN. I knew it would make him laugh and the names would evaporate like magic.
This time he didn’t laugh. He turned to look at me and said, “Tom Tom, you are my best friend.”
I never could have imagined that a man two-decades older than I would become my best friend. I stood stunned. Deeply moved, I hugged him. Benjamin and my backgrounds are about as far apart as our places of birth, but during our friendship I have learned that I can make a real difference in someone’s life. That alone is a major gift to me.
While I thought I was helping him on his path to a better life– it was actually he who was helping me. My part-time job allowed me to witness someone who was willing to give up everything to help his family. I will never again look the same way at the person who bags my groceries or pumps my gas. In their countries of origin, they may be dentists, doctors, teachers, lawyers working towards the survival of their families or working towards the next of great things. What a person does for a living is not what defines him. What defines a person is what he is willing to do for those he loves. That realization is what brought me to adulthood.
Sam and I always used to say we had twin powers—very special powers. We couldn’t really read each other’s minds, but we used to tell people we could. We did everything together, as twins do, and it got to the point that you couldn’t mention one of us in conversation without the other’s name popping up. So, when one Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2005, I got a haircut and my twin brother, Sam, didn’t—well, I had to help him out.
As soon as I had stepped through the revolving door of the Eclipse Kids Hair Salon in downtown McLean, Virginia, my five-year-old brain knew right then and there that I’d found my calling in life. I wanted to be a hair cutter—a cutter of hair. The whirring sound of the blow dryers coupled with the snip-snip of hair being trimmed created a sound unlike any other I’d ever heard. The smell of coconut wafted through the air and blonde, brown and red hair lined the floor. But my favorite part was the sound of the scissors.
My twin brother, Sam, told me he wanted a haircut, a special cut, with a smiley face on top of his head. I knew I was up for the challenge.
It was a happy coincidence that that very day we found scissors lying on the kitchen table. Sam’s brown straight hair beckoned. He and I went into the bathroom. I filled up the yellow spray bottle with water. I laid the comb and the brush next to each other, just as I’d seen the hair cutters do. I had Sam sit on the toilet seat. I sprayed his hair with water and, next thing I knew, the snip-snip sounds of the salon filled the air and brown hair littered the floor.
When there was nothing left to cut, I stepped back. Yes, I had created a masterpiece on Sam’s head. Yes. No Parisian, professional hair stylist could have done better.
Sam looked in the mirror and he, too, saw its magnificence.
We’d decided we had to go show my dad. He was on a conference call. I pointed to Sam’s head and Dad gave us a THUMBS UP. Parental Stamp of Approval. Yes, I was the best hair cutter ever, hands down. How great is that? I was so excited. So was Sam.
Then my mother came home. Carrying groceries. As soon as her eyes fell on Sam’s designer haircut, her mouth gaped open.
The groceries bags hit the kitchen’s hardwood floor. Oranges bounced. Apples rolled. The glass bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Pineapple juice broke into a million pieces.
“Bald Spots,” she murmured as she reached over to touch Sam’s scalp.
Bald spots? I didn’t see any. Yes, I designed a smiley face on the top of his head, but, honestly, that’s what he’d ask for.
“Dad gave us a thumbs up,” I told her. “You like it?”
“What have you done?” she cried, still feeling the smiley face on Sam’s head.
“I wanted it,” Sam said, as he looked at me and smiled.
And that’s my brother and me. To know me is to know I have a twin. Sam always says we are best buds forever—something a bit more than best friends. I have best friends and so does he. We go to different schools, we want to do different things in life but we support and strengthen each other in ways no one else can. I always appreciate the time we have together. I don’t cut his hair anymore, but we share really special bond. I’ve always been able to be myself with him. That’s an incredible gift to have since birth. He makes me more willing to take risks and also more willing to try adventures on my own, like he says, we are best buds.
Faith (William and Mary)
I swim on varsity. You know that dream that swimmers have that one day they will find themselves standing on the podium holding up a gold medal? That dream that they will suddenly swim faster than Michael Phelps? Well, let me just say that if you swim every practice with Katie Ledecky, you don’t have that dream. You know your limitations.
Compared to other swimmers, I’m not a bad swimmer. I’m actually pretty good. I’m number one in the hundred breaststroke on my team. Still, compared to Katie, I’m a fish missing a fin.
For example, even though Katie is a long distance freestyle swimmer and I am a sprint breaststroker, she can beat me in my own race. She does not practice breaststroke, ever. She does not swim breaststroke competitively. Yet, the truth is, if they decide to cross-train her and have her swim breaststroke for practice, she beats me by over ten seconds in a short race that I specialize in.
So, competing against Katie is ridiculous. Comparing myself to the Stanford bound Katie could make for years in therapy. I have to say, it is not easy to be next to and close to a force of nature.
And then there was the day I beat my own record. Katie stood in my lane and when I came out of the water, she said, “Faith, that was amazing. I am so proud of you.”
Ummm… Amazing? Katie just broke her ninth world record.
But then I realized something crucial. A turning point for me that has shaped me in the last couple years. Katie swims against herself and tries for her personal best--every time she swims. That what Katie values. That’s how she “accidentally” beats world records.
My obligation to myself and my community? To keep getting better and continuously strive to beat my own personal record. To race against myself and be my own motivator. And this isn’t just in swimming. I strive for my best in every aspect of my life: in academics, in service, in being a good sister or friend. I know that if I compare myself to other people, I will never be able to achieve a new personal best. I will never be able to revel in my achievements, because someone will always be naturally smarter, more dedicated, prettier, nicer, more talented.
There will always be Katies in the world, and the world is a better place because of them. She taught me one of life’s most important lessons: to look inward, not outward, to become the best version of my authentic self, even if that means not breaking a world record.
I love words.
Their shapes, their sounds, their meanings. Unlike math, where two plus two is always four, words are never that simplistic. Red, the three-letter-word red, has a host of meanings and connotations. It can signal danger or passion or love or heartbreak or even embarrassment. It can simply be a color on a wall. Words require examination, introspection, and sometimes intuition.
Words can change the world.
Malala, an 11-year-old Middle Eastern girl, uses words on a blog to protest against the lack of girls’ education and, at 15, is shot for it. She still writes and because she refuses to quiet her words, she starts a worldwide protest through the United Nations.
Their slogan: I am Malala. Three words that now mean much more than just an introduction.
I am not a Malala, but I love what she stands for and what she’s accomplished, at only 16 years old, with her words.
I write blogs and letters to the editor and countless stories. I jot down poems on napkins in the coffee shop when I forget my notebook. My journals line up side by side on my bookshelf.
Last school year, while all my other friends signed up for sports camps, science camps, and acting camps, I applied to Sewanee’s Young Adult Conference in the Tennessee foothills.
My acceptance letter came in March. I had to wait four months before I left. When I finally boarded the place for the conference, I felt beyond excited.
The two weeks I attended the conference were spent with other students who also felt a deep love of words and with conference leaders who were published veterans of the writing world.
These Literary Guides set about unteaching us much of what we had learned constitutes good writing in high school. One threw a book on the table, exclaiming, “Throw out everything you’ve learned from your high school rule book of writing. Incredibly few life changing essays are written in five-paragraph form with an intro and conclusion. Great writing is always about truth and there are no rules.”
And here is the moment I fell even more deeply in love with writing and words. These Guides said, “Go and play with words. Make run-on sentences, short one-word sentences, skip lines, make a chapter of a single word. Move us with your words. Play.” And I did.
I wrote parodies of famous Disney songs, I wrote poems about losing my grandfather, I wrote essays concerning the Chesapeake Bay’s decreasing oyster population, and I wrote humorous haikus on rainy Fourth of Julys. And in playing, I learned more than I ever had before about writing in that all-too-short two weeks.
Writing is so much more than pen and paper. Writing is about taking in the world around you: the people, the places, the conversations.
Writing is about truth.
My truth? I don’t know where my words will take me, whether I will be writing policies for the environment or speeches for politicians or articles for newspapers. Maybe I will travel the world writing about the current state of affairs or I will write short stories for literary magazines. Or maybe I will write Malala’s biography.
What essential part of me do you need to know to understand who I am?
I love words.