Sunday, November 16, 2008

College Essay: What is my potential? - First Draft

This is the first draft of what is to be my college essay. I got some very good feedback from a selected few, and now I want to hear what you all think. Leave some constructive criticism and whatnot.

For the past few years, that has been the question I’ve always asked myself. In everything I did, that question loomed over head - at times out of sight, but never out of mind. Then, when I’d finally sit down to take a break from school, work, or whatever was going on, it would come out of hiding to taunt me with its inquiries of limitation. And so, now that I’m at the threshold of college - a series of decisions that will not only impact the next four years of my life, but ripple out into the rest of my adult career - I can’t help but be consumed by the nuances the word ‘potential’ carries upon its back.

Unfortunately, the dilemma of fulfilling personal potential is one that is not easily solved. And setting out to find it has been a journey - much like walking onto a new, never before seen college campus. The surroundings are frankly intimidating, but not because they are scary. Rather it is because they symbolize possibilities around every turn. Every imaginable what-if converges all around me, and I just simply feel lost. And at the same time there is an urge to sort through as much I can. An urge that keeps me moving in order to find that one embodiment of potential as well as that one college that would allow me to reach whatever the peek of my abilities may be.

After this past year of visiting universities and hunting for my potential as if it was a tangible object that could be somehow worn like a pin on my shirt, I believe that I’ve found my answer. My response to this uncertainty is a resounding ‘yes’. Yes, I have grasped the potential of my high school self. And yes, I believe that I am indeed ready for college along with all of its ups and downs. I see this now through everything that I’ve done - from my normal school workload that has forced me to seriously develop my writing and literature capabilities by dabbling me in a little of everything; from my classes at Hunter College which gave me a more in depth look into the field of sociology, a subject that I can’t wait to pursue once I walk past my college of choice’s door; from all my tinkering with computers such as the XO laptop for children that led me to understanding the rift that divides levels of education around the world and what is being done to dispel it.

Yet, despite all of that and countless more experiences, I’ve learned some thing about the idea of potential. Potential is not a fixed value that once its reached can then be shelved and forgotten. Instead it behaves more like that of a variable, and it is with that new found knowledge that I must answer with an equally resounding ‘no’. As I chased after my potential, I saw that the more I did - the more that my accomplishments stacked up - my potential shifted and morphed itself into something grander than what I was originally capable of just days before. I see that it was the driving force behind my own development and why it couldn’t have just kept still. If it did, I wouldn’t be ready for what is to come.

And perhaps, this is what it means to attain my potential. Knowing that now that I’ve grown to the best of high school self and it is only through college that I’ll discover an older and wiser me. That the bar of accomplishment will also rise and it is my job, not only as a student but as a human being, to always keep up with it. This is my potential, and while its not the pin I first thought I was after, it is something that I am much more proud of.


  1. A couple minor corrections:

    peek --> peak

    once its reached --> once it's reached

    I have to go to work now, so I'll get back to you with some thoughts on the substance when I get the chance.

  2. Hi, Ryan. This is well-written and shows your philosophical nature, but I think you may be missing an opportunity because of how you've framed the question of potential. You've focused on what potential means to you instead of using this question as an opportunity to sell your strengths.

    Imagine Steve Jobs at MacWorld announcing that Apple's next big thing is Ryan Mason, college student. What would he say about your potential if the future of Apple depended on you getting into the college of your choice?

    I think you should also think about who might be reading this. I imagine each school has an admissions committee, and each member probably reads hundreds of these papers until it all blurs into one in their mind, except for the one by Suzie who spent a summer with shamans in an Amazon tribe in search of herbs which could cure cancer, and Bobby, who saved his neighbor's pet terrier by performing CPR... :-)

    One of these readers may be an advocate for you. Someone else will be an advocate for Bobby, and your advocate will say "I think Ryan should get this spot instead of Bobby because..." and then he'll think about the ammunition you give him in this paper.

    Anyway, in this essay I'm seeing only vague hints at what excites and ignites you, or of how you've already fulfilled a lot of potential for someone your age. The more concrete you can make things - the more visceral, graphic, emotional, personal - the more this essay will stand out. For example, you said the XO helped you understand the world education rift - did you forge a personal connection with anyone on the other side of that rift, or were you inspired to take specific action against that rift or to learn specific skills in preparation for future action? And you say that exposure to sociology at Hunter College made you want to study further. What set off that spark in you? Can you make the reader excited about sociology, too?

    I think there are also some things you could add. You have a contagious enthusiasm for learning and sharing ideas. You've learned foreign languages and made connections around the world and contributed to meaningful projects. That's the sort of thing your advocate in the admissions committee will need to convey, not just in the abstract, but with concrete examples.

  3. Thanks Oops. You've given me a lot of good ideas to work with - many I hope to reflect in my paper. I'm about to post a second draft - tell me if it gets closer or farther away from your points.

  4. That was a probably a great draft of college essay. It's nice to write your essay a year or months ahead so you could ask for opinion and revise all the things needed to be change.

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