SAMPLE SHORT ESSAY SET 4:
Harvard, Favorite Books
The novel Black Like Me was the most stimulating book I have recently
read. I was taken aback by the cruelty the narrator experienced when he
was black compared to the hospitality he found as a white man. Possessing
the same occupation, clothing, wealth, speech, and identity did not matter
when his skin was another color. Given that this was a non-fictional
piece, my reaction was even stronger. The book made me favor equality of
opportunity for all in every endeavor so others’ opinions of them are
based on performance, not preconceptions.
Harvard, Favorite Teacher
I selected Mr. (name) because he taught me more than U.S. History; he
taught me how to think independently. This wasn’t done only to prepare
me for the free-response section of the A.P. test, either. I know he did
it to make his students responsible citizens and responsible adults. From
the outset, he wanted to make sure that we knew how we stood in our
political philosophy: strict constructionists or loose constructionists.
He wanted to make sure that we didn’t gravitate towards empty categories
like liberal or conservative, but rather focused on issues separately
whenever we needed to take a stand on them. Imagine my surprise when I,
the son of two very conservative parents who constantly bombarded me with
their rhetoric, discovered that I had strong liberal tendencies on some
issues. Aside from political affiliations, Mr. (name) taught us how to
make sense out of history by trying to understand the personal motives
that went in to any chain of historical occurrences. In his class, I came
to the realization that history isn’t only a series of names and dates
printed in a textbook, but a more complex subject that requires deep
thought and analysis for full comprehension. Because of Mr. (name),
history is now my favorite subject. He has also been a motivating force
outside of the classroom. He always had faith in my ability and constantly
encouraged me to do my best. I believe he respected my abilities and
wanted to see them developed further. In fact, had it not been for his
faith in me, I would have never applied to Harvard, the school I plan to
attend in the fall.
Harvard, Unnoticed Accomplishment
It’s not that I’m a weak guy, just that I had been somewhat
self-conscious about my strength early on in my high school career. My gym
class didn’t help too much, either. Thanks to a demeaning test of
strength appropriately dubbed the “Grip Test,” once each quarter I was
provided the opportunity to squeeze a gadget, get a score, and have my
teacher announce it out loud, no matter how high or (as in my case) how
low it was. No matter how hard I tried, the cruel and callous scale never
registered above 40. Almost every other male in the class could boast of a
high-40’s or mid-50’s score. I hated that test with a passion. Until
recently. When this semester rolled around and I had the gripper placed in
my palm, I was prepared for the same old same old. I had been improving
slightly from quarter to quarter, but nothing impressive ever happened. I
drew in a deep breath, squeezed, looked at the scale, and almost fainted.
Sixty-six! In a way only a teenager can appreciate, for an accomplishment
only a teenager would find meaningful, I thought I was in heaven. My
success was even sweeter as I watched jocks pale in comparison when they
took the test. Sure, to some people my academic accomplishments seem
fairly impressive, and I would agree. Yet the grip test situation was much
more personal and represented success in an area I normally don’t pay
attention to. Plus I learned two things. One: I can pride myself on the
smallest triviality. Two: I’m glad we don’t measure strength in our
gym classes with the bench press.
Harvard, Leadership through Dedication
To me, leadership does not necessarily mean accumulating as many titles
as possible in school activities; I feel one leads through his dedication,
actions, and contributions. I have always tried to lead in almost
everything I set out to do. I feel I have been successful at that.
Superficially, I have earned such titles as president of the National
Honor Society chapter at my school, Editor-in-Chief, columnist,
Investigative Editor, and Editorial Editor of the school newspaper, senior
varsity leader in debate, and a Class Representative for Student Council.
However, those titles don’t begin to tell the story of my abilities as a
leader. They don’t reveal how I volunteered to help out at a handicapped
lock-in at an unfamiliar youth center when no one else wanted to, they
don’t reveal how I always sought to be on time for work and to avoid
boondoggling, they don’t reveal how I aided younger debaters with their
argumentation so they can have the same success I was lucky enough to
enjoy, they don’t reveal how I became a role model for the JETS squad by
studying my material often, eventually becoming the most medaled member on
the team, and they don’t reveal all the effort I put into learning my
lines and acquiring a good stage presence for Images, my first stage
production ever, so I wouldn’t single-handedly jeopardize the whole show
with my lack of experience. All those actions stress the quality I feel is
most important in a leader, dedication. With dedication comes hard work
and the ability to seek out solutions when problems get in the way,
whether they are with a news page layout or in a student’s diction.
Because of this dedication, taking charge is second nature for me. People
are always willing to follow one with a clear sense of direction.
Harvard, Close-knit family
I don’t view my important characteristics as different from those my family has imparted on me throughout the years. The pride, care, dedication, effort, and hard-working attitude that I view as critical to any success I may achieve have all descended upon me courtesy of my close-knit, Italian family.
Born the child of two immigrants who came here with nothing, only one possessing a college degree, the importance of a good work ethic was stressed by my parents from day one. Through their actions in their jobs and through the verbal lessons on life I began to get from the moment I could communicate, they set an example for me to follow, one of being proud of what I do, no matter what it was, and above all, to care about everything I do as if everything had a big impact. This meant that everything had to be done right and be done well. Undoubtedly, following their own advice carried my parents from their status as blue-collar immigrants who labored as a factory workers to white-collar citizens, one of whom owns his own business while the other works as a bank officer. Those ascensions from nothing only served as other examples for me to follow, examples that delineated the ability for a person to improve through effort.
Another quotation from my father propelled me from the time I started school to today: “No matter what you do, you have to be the best.” This set up the inner drive that motivates all my actions. It was what forced me to try hard in school although I didn’t know English well enough to always understand the teacher. It’s the reason why I have developed my skills. It accounts for my dedication to all activities, and to the hard work I put into all of them as I strive to lead both in class and out. Essentially, my parentage was the first quality that distinguished me as a leader.
Despite all the talk of being a leader, I have never lost sight of the
importance of my family. I know I owe my family everything, and as a
result, I’ll always be close with it.
I pursue a variety of activities for fun and relaxation. I enjoy
reading books and magazines (my tastes range from Time to Gentlemen’s
Quarterly) on a regular basis, imitating Beavis and Butt-head, and most of
all, spending time with my friends. Although I am fan of playing pick-up
games of basketball, football, and roller hockey, the phrase “doing
nothing with my time” doesn’t bother me since I can have a good time
just hanging around. I think people, not places, make for a good time.
Harvard, Social Concerns
My major social concerns all revolve around the future. In other words, I’m concerned about what prevents people from rising above their disadvantages. Specifically, I am most concerned with the handicapped, education, and crime.
I feel society’s response to handicaps is what really hampers the potential of the disabled. It is important for the disabled to get a better sense of worth and to be able to adapt to, and survive in, today’s world. Through National Honor Society (NHS), I have done just that. I have helped out at a lock-in that was designed to foster interaction among the children of the organization, as well as at Special Olympics, where the children participate in sports on a competitive basis so their talents and abilities can be recognized. Whenever the disabled can be successful at an activity, the barrier between them and the rest of society is drastically reduced.
Education is key to other problems such as gangs, drugs, and crime because it can prevent and eliminate them. I try to get students in our school to maximize their opportunities by using the educational resources available. By setting up a tutoring program through NHS, I have matched up needy students with other students who can assist them with their problems in classes. More directly, I help students out with English and show them how to use the Writing Center Lab, an indispensable resource for English students at any level. The more educated a person is, I believe, the more able he is to be successful in the future.
I have dealt with criminal problems in my school by discussing solutions to gangs and other crime in the Student Advisory Committee. We have drafted several proposals to help reduce those problems in our school.
Educating people about such social concerns is also very crucial
because they won’t fix what they don’t think is broken. That is one
objective of our newspaper, in which we have written various editorials
and news stories to educate the student body on social topics. Through
debate, I myself have become knowledgeable on such topics as the homeless,
poverty, health care, and the environment. That way I can practice what I
Harvard is notorious for its long list of essay questions, as you can see from the seven essays this applicant had to write. The first essay is a standard favorite book essay. His second, about his favorite teacher, goes into more depth and reveals more about the candidate, that he enjoys learning, admires independent thought, and plans to study history.
The third essay in this set stands out from the rest. Had the panel who
were grading the compositions understood the context of this essay in
light of the six others in the set, they probably would have given it more
credit. Its strength lies in its funny, lighthearted approach-it shows a
completely different aspect of the candidate’s personality. Without it,
he would have appeared deadpan serious and probably a bit dull. However,
showing the wittier side of himself strengthens the set considerably. It
is a good example of allowing yourself to take a risk in one essay, as
long as more serious approaches in the others balance it.