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Cracking College Admissions: Tips, Tricks, and The Essay that Showed who I am.

Every year that passes, the race for college admissions becomes more and more competitive. High school students are required to do more and more to be a “poster” applicant. The bar, having already been considerably raised, continues to rise as students chase a name-brand college. Students are forced to balance academics, extracurriculars, family life, social lives, and countless other domains to lead a healthy lifestyle while preparing for college applications. During the brunt of the process, high schoolers from around US present their entire lives, personalities, and intangible qualities all on a sheet of paper. Arguably the most crucial component, the personal statement, or essay, is the students' chance to display their individuality as well as create an argument as to why they should be accepted. Here, I put my essay, in hopes it inspires other students who are in the position I was in just 8 short months ago.

Last fall, my days were jam-packed. It came to a point where I would awaken at 4am every morning to study and get work done before school, which was followed by orchestra rehearsals, football practices, running clubs, and hours in the lab. One day at the lab, a revelation struck me and from there, my application essay unfolded. This fall, I’ll be studying at Washington University in St. Louis, pursuing Biology and Finance on a Pre-Med track. This is my story — and the one I told college admissions counselors.

— — — —

My Common Application Essay:

I peer into a translucent amber shard encasing fossil-ants in my grimy and soiled football-tights, envisaging the culture of once-flourishing ants. With over 12,000 species, ants are underappreciated. Cramped in tight quarters, these worker-ants perpetually work and liaise wordlessly by secreting noxious pheromones. Shifting the fossil, I spot the queen — she gets the warmest cuddles and praise from her colony. The worker-ant, on the other hand, gets no praise, and certainly no cuddles. However, without each worker-ant collaborating in harmony with other worker-ants, the colony fails.

I am a worker-ant. I enjoy being the worker — the cog in the engine that relentlessly perseveres.

My life as a cog begins on the football field. Quarterbacks get stats, flashy highlights, and interviews. I’m not a quarterback though: I’m the offensive-lineman. Like the worker-ant, I’m expected to do my job well without personal accolades. Every time I crouch in my stance and take off on the hike, my only objective is spurring collaboration with the offense, and this brotherhood ushers euphoria.

Just an hour ago, fingers sunk into the worn dirt, I worked toward this synergy.

Down!” I’m unwavering in my stance, patiently sucking on the residual Gatorade on my mouthpiece.

My running back darts past behind me. Montclair’s inside-linebacker shifts. I tense.

I signal to my partner, “combo.” The field is silent.

Set, go!” Pandemonium ensues. I must shield my quarterback with the tenacity and vigor with which an ant defends her colony.

Whether I’m carrying my pads or carrying my cello, I remain a worker-ant. Violinists, the queens of the orchestra, rejoice in colorful melodies while most cellists, the worker-ants, wallow in our rudimentary progressions. Yet it is clear to me on each pass of my bow that our repetitive and monotonous harmonies are essential to the beauty of the whole, just as every worker-ant understands her duty to the colony. From this stems a tacit conversation amongst the instruments, mimicking the wordless chemical communication between ants. Enraptured by the mesh of each violin, viola, cello, and bass, I practice with my section or alone for countless hours to augment the stunning polyphony.

While worker-ants do toil away at their tedious crafts, they can also adapt to the needs of the colony. At times, I metamorphose from an accompanist in the shadows to a soloist in the spotlight. My mind rewires, the harmonizing cellist replaced by the virtuoso within. My barbarian hands designed for football morph to nimble and dexterous for the cello.

That evening, after rushing out of the lab to the town hall, I open a reception with an orchestra. The hall is silent. Then — a shrug of my shoulders and a collective breath preludes the downbeat. As I run my hands over the polished and curved grain of my cello, I lose myself to Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. The elaborate and subtle melancholy enables me to pour emotions as my voice manifests itself through the cello: I transform into the queen ant.

My calloused fingers, whether from the scorching turf or thick cello strings, dance a silky vibrato that caresses me. I change the intensity in the voice of my cello, and my orchestra responds, softening theirs, allowing mine to shine through. It’s a wordless, yet powerful understanding yielding exquisite harmony — elevating each voice to euphony.

Ruminating upon these reflections in the dead silent lab, I examine the fossils. I’m never in it for the cuddles or adulation; I realize I derive the greatest satisfaction when contributing to the harmony in the niche I am needed in. Likewise, these ant survivors highlight the value of harmony. Every voice must feel the pleasure of contributing to the whole, whether as a worker or queen, offensive-lineman or quarterback, accompanist or soloist.

I finish the day by delivering my scientific findings to my adviser. On my way out, I recall my other findings: “Dr. Barden, I discovered something else along the way.”

— — — —

Would there be any tips I would recommend?

It’s beautifully simple yet paradoxically complex: Write about yourself. Don’t feel the need to conform your essay to a mold. I literally read no online guides or examples: I simply wrote a draft and whittled it down from there to an essay that I was personally happy with, not what everyone else was happy with. After all, the process is about you. Tell your story.

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