Lesson 4: Looking at Sample College Essays Date



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Lesson 4: Looking at Sample College Essays

Date: Mon 4/23

Creator: E. Quigley




Overview

Pairs of students will read a different essay, use the Personal Statement rubric to record what makes it strong, and share out to the whole class.

Objectives

  • By investigating a range of different essays, students will develop their ability to identify unique characteristics of strong essays and how they relate to the rubric. They will revisit these exemplar essays throughout the unit.

  • Students will know the 2012-2013 Common Application essay prompts and will understand the range of possibilities in answering the prompt.

Materials:

  • Morning check-in question (either posted or on handouts).

  • College Binders.

  • Class set of “12 Exemplar Essays” (they’ll use these throughout the unit).

  • Class set of “Personal Statement Rubric” (to refer to)




Set Up

  • Have prepared some excerpts of last week’s pre-assessment to share out verbally.

  • Hole punch packets so they can be stored in binders

  • Know which students will be paired (or in threes). You need 6 groups. Create semi-homogenous (Med. w/ High; Low w/ Med.) groupings based on reading level.

LESSON PLAN

Materials

Morning Check-in
10 min.

  • Distribute warm-up question. Students have 3 min. to complete:


Warm-up question: The 2012-2013 Common Application currently has the following essay choices:

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have.

  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to.

  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

  • Topic of your choice.

Come up with an additional essay topic. Remember it needs to give the applicant an opportunity to offer some insight about him/herself.



  • Share out and ask students to evaluate topics.

  • Morning check-in question




Quick Warm-up

2-3 min.




  • Read a couple of notable entries from last week’s preassessment/reflection.

  • Ask for feedback, new thoughts, concerns, or questions

  • Students’ reflection from last week.

Setting up/conducting reading
3 min.


  • Review objectives for class

  • Pair students up. (you need 6 pairings)

  • Distribute packet of Exemplars and read outloud the top of the first page.

  • Assign each pair one of the first six essays. Each pair should look at a different essay. (Longer essays should go to higher-level readers. Essay 4 is appropriate for lower-level readers).

  • Give Directions:

    • Read silently the entire piece.

    • As you read, make one text-to-self connection in the “notes” area next to the area where you made the connection.

    • If you finish early, underline the five words in the piece that do the best job of helping you visualize what the writer is saying.

  • Students read and write silently for 3-4 min.

  • Packets of 12 Exemplar Essays

  • Pen/pencil

Pair work
7 min.

  • Have students retrieve the “Personal Statement Rubric”

  • Give directions (one at a time, as each task is completed):

    • In pairs, share out your text-to-self connection.

    • Figure out which essay topic the writer chose to follow. Choose from the six topics listed at the top of the first page of the packet.

    • As a pair, use the “Personal statement rubric” to figure out the strongest elements of the essay. In the table at the end of the essay, write the three strongest dimensions and one specific characteristic for each dimension. (Do NOT focus on “Conventions” or “Formatting”)

“Personal Statement Rubric”

Whole advisory share
15 min.

  • Each pair presents the following:

    • A summary of what the writer wrote about.

    • The topic he/she probably followed.

    • The 3 characteristics that made the essay so successful.

  • As each pair presents, students fill out the table at the end of each essay with what the presenters decided.




Closing

2 min.


  • Discuss: What dimension(s) on the rubric was mentioned the most? Why? Which was mentioned the least? Why?




12 College Essays that Made an Impact!

Admissions officers deemed the following essays (written by real high school students) as noteworthy.

Exemplars 1-6 were written for the prompt from the Common Application:

Please write an essay of 250 – 500 words on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below:


  1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have.

  2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to.

  3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

  4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

  5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

  6. Topic of your choice.

Exemplar Essay 1

By Sophia Mitrokostas

Sturgis Charter Public School, Hyannis, MA

Connecticut College, Class of 2015 
From “Essays that Worked!” © 2012 Connecticut College. http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-that-workded.htm. Retrieved 17 Apr. 2012.


Notes

Homecoming

Three hours rumbling up what seemed little more than glorified goat paths had left me tetchy and with a revolting stickiness behind my knees and neck. The heat was indecent, and I was one of twenty or so family members hiking up the side of a Greek mountain where my great grandmother’s ancestral home still stood. I was sixteen, and lost in the tragedy of having worn long sleeves that day. The village we were aiming for was Krapsi. It is situated too many miles from the city of Ioannina, where I had spent the preceding two months languishing in perpetual boredom and heatstroke. An inconsiderately placed thorn bush compounded my foul mood, and I resigned myself to a dull day of overbearing relatives and slapping away insects of primordial proportions.

Our weary party arrived just past blistering noon, collapsing into cracking plastic deck chairs sheltered from the sun by a canopy of grapevines, droopy with fruit and heat. The women retreated into the kitchen, and soon there came the muffled sounds of rolling pins against the pine boards, the spitting and cackling of olive oil in old pans and children’s hands being swatted away from open bags of sugar. The men minded the toddling little ones and produced backgammon boards out of the thin air.

I began disinterestedly wandering through the house, perhaps questing for something cool to press my cheek against. Thrusting out from a verdant cliff ledge, the house had a stone porch, of sorts, which wound like a necklace around the structure until it met a large courtyard shaded by walnut trees to the west. The rooms were plaster-walled and cool, the bedrooms sparingly furnished. There were no mirrors in the house, nor were there doors. I considered the mountainous vista with the curious sensation of being considered by mountains.

I thumbed through the deck of cards discovered in drawers along with bits of twine and bent nails. Their stiffness was long played away, and they folded like dollar bills in my hands. I imagined countless afternoons out in the courtyard, the kings and queens and aces laid flat against a burning table where small change was jovially won and lost through a haze of pipe-smoke.

I discovered a perplexing hole at the center of the courtyard’s flagstones. My uncle taught me about the pole that once grew out of that hole, and about the sleepy donkey that turned around and around the pole for hours, crushing the grain strewn all about the stone underfoot. I wondered at this, silent with respect for donkey and grain-strewer alike.

My grandfather’s faded sketches of great trees in the courtyard, brittle and humble as moth wings between my fingers. My grandmother’s half mended apron, stuffed between a wall and headboard when she was a broody sixteen and mourned afternoons spent out of the sun. The charcoal trees in my grandfather’s artwork were a little less great than the ones now hosting my clambering cousins, and my grandmother has long ago forgone aprons, cleaning her floury hands on the cheeks and noses of squirming grandchildren. Nonetheless, I handled both with the reverence accorded to captured ladybugs and a mother’s jewelry.

I met with a heavy wooden door in the foundations of the house, quite suspect and frowning. It gave way to a lightless, stale room choked with old farming equipment, dusty looms and barrels, and a section of bare wall that my grandmother revealed to be false. We pushed it aside, and I beheld the airless, breathless space where she and my family (my family?) had hidden from foreign soldiers looking to take her brothers into their war.

The house has since fallen into the mountainside below, the result of the frequent earthquakes that rock the region. I’m told all that remains is one wall and a handful of indomitable walnut trees. More than three-hundred years of Sunday mornings, new grand-children, and evenings silent save for the sounds of stars and crickets: now swallowed by ivy and the slow crush of tree roots.

Old houses are polite. They stand quite impartial and unblinking, however you might scuttle about in their bellies and tap their ribs and listen to their hearts. They do not insist. This was not merely an old house in the mountains, but home distilled, eternally new and alive and breathing great breaths. These people could not bear the stern, sterile title of “relatives” any longer. I had seen their lives undressed. In that place I lived, through things forgotten and left behind by other, a life I could not understand, and met again and again people I could never know. My people, my mountains, my walnut shells cracking like exclamation points beneath heels stained by their juices.

A place made of faded Turkish cushions and the strength of mountains taught me what it means to truly be home, and that plumbing is sometimes a matter of faith.






Look at the “Personal Statement Rubric”. In what three dimensions is this essay the strongest? For each, what specific characteristic makes this essay strong? (Please do not discuss “Conventions” or “Formatting”.)

Dimension

1 Specific Characteristic

















Exemplar Essay 2

By James Walsh
Massabesic High School, Waterboro, ME

Connecticut College, Class of 2015 



From “Essays that Worked!” © 2012 Connecticut College. http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-that-workded.htm. Retrieved 17 Apr. 2012.

Notes

The lights went out. A momentary lapse into darkness made me come to my senses. A jolt in the floor caused the lights to flicker back to life. Dim bulbs cast a sickly pallor over the metallic seats of the dingy floors. The train wheels screeched on a curve, and a station came into view through the slightly-tinted windows. I momentarily forgot that I was nearly four thousand miles away from home, alone, and on a rickety subway. I had never before been away from my family for more than one night, yet here I was, approaching night seven.

No one around me spoke a word of English; even the station signs and maps were jibberish. The doors slid open. An old woman entered and slid onto the red plastic seat next to me. She was eating french fries out of a greased-stained paper bag. The smell of salt and ketchup made me instantly crave some chicken nuggets, my favorite guilty pleasure. I sat in silence as the train shot into the tunnel at the end of the station and was once again engulfed in darkness.

Light cannot be taken for granted in subway systems; there are places where darkness takes center stage. The bag she was eating out of began to drip with a slow, disgusting regularity. Flies buzzed against the window panes. I wondered how they had decided, or been able to make the journey down the escalator passages all the way underground, into this particular subway car.

I studied the sweat-stained piece of paper I held, reading the station name over and over again. I also reviewed the intricate map that I had been given. The colors of the many different metro lines blurred together, as for a moment I was lost in my own world. The train slowed once again and came to a stop. I stooped awkwardly out of my seat, and edged past the old woman, smiling broadly to avoid any hard feelings about my silence. She simply continued to eat her french fries in an almost robotic manner. I had arrived at Ostbahnhof, the station where I had been instructed to switch from the S4 line to the U2 line, red line to brown line. Walking through the cavernous underpass that the trains rattled through, I was reminded of an auditorium. It was a space filled with the echoes of nothingness, a place where I was, for the first time in my life, a complete foreigner. In the United States, foreigners seemed to come almost from another planet, with their interesting clothes, wide eyes, and flowing words. Now I realized for the first time that I was the one who was dressed “strangely”, was wide eyed, and spoke in a “funny” way. This feeling caught me off guard… James Walsh had just become global.

I grinned as I stepped onto the U2 line, now confident that I would find my way back home to my unfamiliar starting point. I had four more stations to go to reach Nuperlach Zentrum, my destination on that particular evening. There I would disembark to find a stranger waiting to take me home to an even stranger residence, where I would eat things I didn’t recognize and whose names I couldn’t even pronounce, where I would struggle to be comprehended, where my language would be the one that was hard to understand and to learn. Yet, I was having the time of my life; traveling abroad had always been one of my dreams. I embraced ever single bump along the ride and committed to every flickering of the lights to memory. Even if I appeared to be the only optimistic person on this train, I had no shame in looking strange, seeming to smile at nothing. I was living the dream.







Look at the “Personal Statement Rubric”. In what three dimensions is this essay the strongest? For each, what specific characteristic makes this essay strong? (Please do not discuss “Conventions” or “Formatting”.)

Dimension

1 Specific Characteristic

















Exemplar Essay 3

By Justin R. Anderson
Trinity School, New York, NY

Connecticut College, Class of 2014 



From “Essays that Worked!” © 2012 Connecticut College. http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-that-workded.htm. Retrieved 17 Apr. 2012.

Notes


How I Stopped Being a Ghost and Started Eating Sambal

Julian, my ten-year old brother, has an irrational dislike of cheese. He will not knowingly eat anything that has cheese, and in fact the simple mention of cheese may very well throw him into a fit. Bizarrely, one of his favorite foods is pizza and he will quite happily eat any dish so long as no one mentions it contains cheese. Julian’s predilection annoys me not only because my favorite thing to eat is cheesecake, but also because it reminds me that as a kid I had an even stranger quirk: I refused to eat Asian food. 

A word of background is in order. My mother is Chinese, originally from Malaysia. I straddle two cultures because I am half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. As a child, I would go to Malaysia each summer with my family to see my mother’s relatives. As a child, I did not understand why my Dad would turn heads on the street or how he had the ability to stop people in their tracks. My mother had married a foreigner and in her small hometown of Bahau, an “Orang Puteh,” (white person in Malay), was few and far between. I did not make blending in any easier by refusing to eat Asian food. 

One of the most notable aspects of Malaysia is the various cuisines to be found there: Chinese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Malay, and Indian foods are all to be had in great and glorious quantity. As my mother says, Malaysian food was fusion cuisine before fusion was cool. However, while everybody in the family was eating more and more exotic dishes, I would insist on Kentucky Fried Chicken or Happy Meals, no matter how difficult or inconvenient they were to obtain. The irony is that nowadays I actively seek out hotter and spicier dishes. 

What caused this change of heart? I suppose a psychologist might say that I had an epiphany one day that my refusal to eat Asian foods reflected some internal subconscious conflict or denial of my true nature. After all, this was not about happily trying to “Super Size” myself, as I played hockey and baseball, sports where speed is essential. Perhaps the true story is more prosaic; the jury is still out. One of my uncles – ironically the biggest foodie in the family – became a very devout Buddhist and a strict vegetarian. So when we stayed with him in Kuala Lumpur, we then needed to find a place that could satisfy the many different tastes and dietary requirements of twenty to thirty relatives. That was when I discovered the food court. 

The food court closest to my uncle’s house was literally the size of a football field, with the sidelines and end zones packed with vendors creating every conceivable form of cuisine. This place was wild. Indians were eating


next to Malays, Chinese next to Australian ex-pats. Who or what you were mattered little; what was important was what you were ordering. There were stalls serving chicken and rice, seafood, noodles, soups, pastries, vegetables, satay, and even “French” crepes. I got to know the crepes vendor well and he would even start one up as soon as he saw me approach. After two weeks, I finally started sampling small bits of all the dishes being passed around. I was not really eating Asian food, I thought – I was eating French food with a few nibbles on the side.

One summer later, the nibbles got bigger and the crepes smaller until I was finally through the looking glass. 

One Chinese expression for white people is "Gwai Lo," which means “ghost man.” I am part ghost; I am part Han Chinese. In many ways, I have been caught between two worlds, American and Asian, New York and Malaysia, listening carefully always but not always understanding where I fit in. However, food has become a bridge between these two parts of myself. In food, I have come to understand myself and am now one of the family’s more adventurous eaters. Crabs in sambal (chili and shrimp paste)? Send them right in. 

Yet, for some reason I still cannot get Julian to eat cheese.









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