Thursday, December 4, 2008

College Essay: What is my potential? - Third Draft

Have I reached my potential?

For the past four years, that has been the question I’ve always asked myself. In everything I did, that question loomed overhead - 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.

This past year as been full 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; Of seeing all these different possibilities around every corner. All of this wonder, while at first making me feel lost, has allowed me to find an answer to this question.
Simply put, yes I have reached my potential – the potential of my high school self and the potential to stand out and excel on whatever campus I may be going to in a few month’s time. My potential has been deeply correlated within everything I’ve put myself out in the mix to do.
Take my normal school workload - something that has forced me to seriously develop my writing and literature capabilities by dabbling in a little of everything and at the same time ended up creating the bedrock on which I’ve stood -- academically and mentally - and will continue to stand on as I reach out to redefine myself many more times to come.

Take my classes at Hunter College which gave me a more in depth look into the field of sociology and consequently psychology, subjects that I can’t wait to pursue once I walk past my college of choice’s door. Observing not only the structure of human society, but being able to look at the individual units which form the very fabric of the framework is something that can’t and shouldn’t be neglected. After all, this is where the question of potential within us mortals as a whole takes center stage and manifests into exceptional constructions, evil and good alike.

Take my work with computers, especially with the XO machine used in the One Laptop Per Child Project - an experience that led me to understanding the rift that divides levels of education around the world and what is being done to dispel it. This of course lent itself to the graver issues world poverty contains for me to expose myself to. I’m still amazed because of how it truly holds the potential of solving an issue larger than itself and manage to cross into some many different areas of interest. Its own prospects can’t be limited to merely one sphere of importance.

Yet, despite all of that and countless more experiences that have made me more than capable of adding charisma and worldliness to any college student body, I’ve learned some thing about the very nature of potential. Potential is not a fixed value that once it’s 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’ – I haven’t reached my potential. 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 and why it became a complete and utter hunger to learn. If it did come to a halt, I wouldn’t be ready for what is to come. It is that determination that has gotten me to this point.

It is also here where I see goals that I’ve yet to fully grasp, but am still hard at work towards - my journey to learn French and Japanese deserving of special attention here. I have definitely made strides on the long path that encompasses learning languages; this is still something that I have ways to go before obtaining a mastery of them. This is but another aim for my college years.

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 – something that will no doubt manifest itself and flourish within the walls of your classrooms and impact your school at large.


  1. Hi, Ryan. I see some improvements here, but there's more work ahead.

    To shorten things, I suggest cutting out the whole first paragraph.

    Also, I think you use passive voice in some places where you could save words by using more direct, active language and minimizing qualifying statements. For example "This of course lent itself to the graver issues world poverty contains for me to expose myself to." could become something like "This exposed me to other, graver issues of world poverty." From 18 words to 10 to express basically the same idea.

    I like the fact that you've added a bold claim to the essay - that you'll add charisma and worldliness to the college. But when you make a bold claim you should follow it up immediately with facts to back it up. I think the worldliness claim is backed up later on when you talk about French and Japanese, though it would be better to back it up sooner and more explicitly. The charisma claim is not backed up. I would expect examples of how you persuaded people to do things, created groups, or won a student election or something.

    There's a saying in communication: "Show, don't tell." Obviously in writing you can't literally show, but an example of something you did is more engaging, believable, and persuasive than a generalization.

    About the re-framing of the question, I think I see clearer what you're trying to express with the yes/no dichotomy. I'm not sure you need to explicitly change the question from the one they asked ("What is your potential?") to the one you want to answer ("Have I reached my potential?"). Donald Rumsfeld was a master of this tactic, and Sarah Palin mostly got away with it, but I think you can replace the new question with a sentence (maybe at the end of the paragraph before you begin the "yes" part) about how potential is a paradox, because it's something you have reached and yet something which jumps ahead of you as you reach it.

  2. I wouldn't worry about the question itself. They said I could write about a matter of my choice and so I picked my potential.

    Anyways, I see where you're going with the 'show don't tell' examples, and I hope the next draft address that but my main concern is if I'm adding too much.

    Given the fact that whoever is reading this will be reading tons of others, do you think I may be giving them too much to digest? I have an idea of how to show worldliness and charisma with the OLPC, so that would help for me to cut the french and Japanese part (there are other areas in the applications in which I have to talk about other things I've done, and I think the languages would do nicely there).

  3. That's some context I was missing. If yours is the only essay they'll read about the subject of potential, you have more freedom to explore the subject. If there are other areas to write about what you've done, that gives you more freedom to leave things out, though I don't think it hurts to mention something impressive in two different essays.

    I think you might be able to consolidate without losing key ideas just by shortening and tightening some sentences.

    I still think you can drop the first paragraph, though. Try covering the first paragraph and begin reading the essay starting from "This past year". Is there a key idea missing from the paper when read this way? If so, can it be inserted briefly somewhere? If after that exercise you still want to keep the first paragraph, then maybe it will then be easier to cut something else instead.