Sample College Admissions Essay - Student Teacher

Max Discusses a Summer Camp Challenge in This Essay for the Common Application

A Boy with a Model Rocket
A Boy with a Model Rocket. Brooke Pennington / Moment / Getty Images

More Model Essays: an ethical dilemma | an important issue | an influential person | a fictional character | diversity | the open topic | a supplemental essay

This sample application essay was written by Max for personal essay option #3 of the pre-2013 Common Application: "Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence."

Be sure to go to page 2 of this article to read a critique of Max's essay.

Note: Max wrote this essay before the Common Application implemented the current 650-word length limit.

Student Teacher

Anthony was neither a leader nor a role model. In fact, his teachers and his parents were constantly chastising him because he was disruptive, ate too much, and had a hard time staying focused on a task. I met Anthony when I was a counselor at a local summer camp. The counselors had the usual duties of keeping kids from smoking, drowning, and killing each other. We made God’s eyes, friendship bracelets, collages, and other clichés. We rode horses, sailed boats, and hunted snipe.

Each counselor also had to teach a three-week course that was supposed to be a little more “academic” than the usual camp fare. I created a class called “Things that Fly.” I met with fifteen students for an hour a day as we designed, built, and flew kites, model rockets, and balsawood airplanes.

Anthony signed up for my class.

Anthony stood out from my other students for many reasons. He was larger and louder than the other middle school kids. He was also the only African American in the class. The camp was located in a well-to-do and predominately white neighborhood. In a questionable effort to promote economic and racial diversity, the camp organizers developed a strategy of busing inner-city kids out to the burbs.

But despite the best efforts of the organizers and counselors, the inner-city kids and suburbanites tended to stick to their own groups during most activities and meals.

Anthony was not a good student. He had been kept back a year at his school. He talked out of turn and lost interest when others were talking. In my class, Anthony got some good laughs when he smashed his kite and threw the pieces into the wind. His rocket never made it to the launch pad because he crumpled it in a fit of frustration when he couldn’t get the fins to stay on.

In the final week, when we were making airplanes, Anthony surprised me when he drew a sketch of a sweep-wing jet and told me he wanted to make a “really cool plane.” Like many of Anthony’s teachers, and perhaps even his parents, I had largely given up on him. Now he suddenly showed a spark of interest. I didn’t think the interest would last, but I helped Anthony get started on a scale blueprint for his plane. I worked one-on-one with Anthony and had him use his project to demonstrate to his classmates how to cut, glue and mount the balsawood framework. When the frames were complete, we covered them with tissue paper. We mounted propellers and rubber bands.

Anthony, with all his thumbs, created something that looked a bit like his original drawing despite some wrinkles and extra glue.

Our first test flight saw Anthony’s plane nose-dive straight into the ground. His plane had a lot of wing area in the back and too much weight in the front. I expected Anthony to grind his plane into the earth with his boot. He didn’t. He wanted to make his creation work. The class returned to the classroom to make adjustments, and Anthony added some big flaps to the wings. Our second test flight surprised the whole class. As many of the planes stalled, twisted, and nose-dived, Anthony’s flew straight out from the hillside and landed gently a good 50 yards away.

I’m not writing about Anthony to suggest that I was a good teacher. I wasn’t. In fact, I had quickly dismissed Anthony like many of his teachers before me.

At best, I had viewed him as a distraction in my class, and I felt my job was to keep him from sabotaging the experience for the other students. Anthony’s ultimate success was a result of his own motivation, not my instruction.

Anthony’s success wasn’t just his plane. He had succeeded in making me aware of my own failures. Here was a student who was never taken seriously and had developed a bunch of behavioral issues as a result. I never stopped to look for his potential, discover his interests, or get to know the kid beneath the facade. I had grossly underestimated Anthony, and I am grateful that he was able to disillusion me.

I like to think that I’m an open-minded, liberal, and non-judgmental person. Anthony taught me that I’m not there yet.

More Essay Essentials: Lora's Essay | Sophie's Essay | Felicity's Essay | The Common Application | Essay Tips

Here I'll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Max's college admissions essay, Student Teacher.

The Topic

This sample college admissions essay was written by Max for personal essay option #3 of the Common Application: "Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence." This option tends to lead rather predictable essays that focus on the typical heroes of high school students: a parent, a brother or sister, a coach, a teacher.

From the first sentence, we know that Max's essay is going to be different: "Anthony was neither a leader nor a role model." Max's strategy is a good one, and the admissions folks who read the essay will most likely be pleased to read an essay that isn't about how Dad is the greatest role model or Coach is the greatest mentor.

Also, essays on influential people often conclude with the writers explaining how they've become a better people or owe all of their success to the mentor. Max takes the idea in a different direction--Anthony has made Max realize that he isn't as good of a person as he had thought, that he still has much to learn. The humility and self-critique is refreshing.

The Title

Max's title is perhaps a little too clever. "Student Teacher" immediately suggests a student who is teaching (something that Max is doing in his narrative), but the true meaning is that Max's student taught him an important lesson.

Thus, both Anthony and Max are "student teachers."

However, that double meaning is not apparent until after one has read the essay. The title by itself does not immediately grab our attention, nor does it clearly tell use what the essay will be about.

The Tone

For the most part, Max maintains a pretty serious tone throughout the essay.

The first paragraph does have a nice touch in the way that it pokes fun at all the cliché activities that are typical of summer camp.

The real strength of the essay, however, is that Max manages the tone to avoid sounding like he is bragging about his accomplishments. The self-criticism of the essay's conclusion may seem like a risk, but I'd argue it works to Max's advantage. The admissions counselors know that no student is perfect, so Max's awareness of his own short-comings will probably be interpreted as a sign of maturity, not as red flag highlighting a defect in character.

The Writing

At just a little over 700 words, Max's essay is too long for the current guidelines of 250 to 500 words. When Max wrote the essay, however, the Common Application did not have a length limit and 700 words would not have been a problem. This is particularly true because the prose is never wordy, flowery, or excessive. The sentences tend to be short and clear, so the overall reading experience isn't labored.

The opening sentence grabs our attention because it isn't what we expect for this essay option. The conclusion is also pleasingly surprising. Many students would be tempted to make themselves the hero of the essay and state what a profound impact they had on Anthony.

Max turns it around, highlights his own failures, and gives the credit to Anthony.

The balance of the essay isn't perfect. The prompt on the Common Application tells us to "indicate a person who has had an significant influence" on us, and then "describe that influence." Max's essay spends far more time describing Anthony than it does describing Anthony's influence. Ideally, Max could cut a couple sentences from the middle of the essay and then develop a little further the two short concluding paragraphs.

Final Thoughts

Max's essay, like Felicity's essay, takes some risks. It's possible an admissions officer would judge Max negatively for exposing his biases. Also, Max skirts some touchy issues when he talks about race. The essay could easily stray into a rather uncomfortable display of hierarchical racial positioning if Max were to present himself as the white kid from the suburbs who became the mentor of the poor minority kid from the inner city.

I believe Max avoids these traps and writes an effective and compelling essay. In the end, Max presents himself as someone who is a leader (he is designing and teaching a class, after all) and as someone who is aware that he still has much to learn. These are qualities that should be attractive to most college admissions folks.

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Grove, Allen. "Sample College Admissions Essay - Student Teacher." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2016, thoughtco.com/sample-college-admissions-essay-student-teacher-788389. Grove, Allen. (2016, February 28). Sample College Admissions Essay - Student Teacher. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sample-college-admissions-essay-student-teacher-788389 Grove, Allen. "Sample College Admissions Essay - Student Teacher." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sample-college-admissions-essay-student-teacher-788389 (accessed October 20, 2017).