The following drafts and college essay examples are written by Shania Khoo for her 2018 Common App college essay and shared as a part of her guest post for the Get Into Ivy Seniors Stories series. By sharing her experiences and giving you an inside view into her essay drafts, notes, and college essay examples, Shania hopes to shed light on the writing process to help future college applicants navigate the process of writing college essays:
- College Essay Examples – Draft 1
- College Essay Examples – Draft 2 planning notes
- College Essay Examples – Draft 2
- College Essay Examples – Final draft
College Essay Examples – Prompts
The 1st two college essay example drafts are written in response to the prompt:
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
For her final essay in her college essay examples, Shania recognized her challenges with the initial prompt and pivoted to address a different essay prompt:
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
For additional information on her writing process, check out her guest post on How to Write a College Application Essay.
Common App College Essay Examples – Draft 1
Once, I told a story about growing up as an Asian immigrant in the American South. I told the story about how I hated the tint of my skin and shape of eyes and the color of my hair. I was proud that that I didn’t throw on a qipao and call myself Mulan every Halloween, but I still remember the girl who exclaimed, “You can’t be a fairy!?!” And when I asked her why, she said, “You’re Chinese.” I winced as my “friends” pinched their noses when I opened my lunchbox that my mother layered with coconut rice, little anchovies, and sambal. I would wrap it up and chuck it into the garbage can, hearing the “chink” as it hits the bottom. I denounced my given name and heritage for the “American” Shania. I got lost between Chinese and English, my tongue unable to decide and instead settling on the embarrassing remnants of a product of Malaysia and the South.
I told my story. Everyone agreed.
It seems that the generation with two names (the “Asian” and the “American”) all share this story. It begins with a rosy-cheeked five-year-old that landed in America on a snowy night, rubbing her eyes in awe of the whiteness that covered the new world. Then, an excited six-year-old entering Kindergarten became self-conscious of how different she was when an intrepid boy welcomed her, saying “Hi Ching Chong.” When she’s eleven and receives a 100 on a math test in middle school, her pride is stomped on by her classmates exclaiming, “It’s because you’re Asian!” At age thirteen, she finds herself caught between her Peranakan (Malaysian) roots and American upbringing, unable to understand the idea of being both Asian and American. After a decade of living in America, the fifteen-year-old girl is confused at why she’s still a foreigner.
But my story is different.
My story is the one that tells of a seventeen-year-old young woman who got sick of hearing the same stories, who grew tired of being the “model minority,” and who couldn’t stand biting her tongue. If everyone has the same story, why do all of us remain silent?
At the North Carolina Governor’s School, I attended Area III, a class of facilitated discussions that provoked us to think about our world from different perspectives. I loved every moment of it, but I couldn’t help but feel that during conversations about race and ethnicity in America, my voice was drowned out by “bigger” issues. I watched as my peers shifted uncomfortably when I spoke out about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues. So, at the closing convocation, in which select students ask “unanswerable” questions, I asked, “I feel left out. I want to contribute. I want my voice to be heard without taking away from the struggles of others. As an ethnic minority in the United States, where do I lie in this dichotomous racial divide between black and white?”
Trying to find my answer, I founded the Triangle Area Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union to start an important conversation about AAPI issues and to understand our unique role as the simultaneous yellow peril and model minority in America’s racial divide. I organize workshops and discussions, hoping others will tell their stories, inspiring them by telling mine. At Project Uplift, a program for high-achieving juniors to experience University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I sliced through the uncomfortable silence of the wellness group titled “Land of the Rising Sun,” aimed for Asian and Pacific Americans. I spoke when no one else dared to, encouraging others to do the same.
I refuse to be silenced. I refuse for my identity to be replaced by a caricature of cultural stereotypes, because there are two sides to my story: Forks and chopsticks. Ramen and Spaghetti. Bruce Lee and Springsteen. Asian and American.
So with my chin held high, I tell my story.
Common App College Essay Examples – Draft 2 Notes
IDEA: Contrast the Area III Blindfold thing to labelling in real life. the hatred of stereotypes and love of culture
I can’t see. Taken by my shoulders, I’m led to sit in a hard wooden chair. Everything seems unfamiliar as I’m left to only four of my senses, but it’s Governor’s School,
And they can’t either. It’s the second day of Governor’s School, a ________, and after walking into the wrong room twice as I tried to navigate my way through maze-like hallways dimly lit by old, fluorescent lights to my Area III class, I found myself blindfolded.
***uhhh describing activity???****
“What does everyone look like?” “Strawberry blonde.” “Hazel eyes.” “Short-ish, I guess.”
There was no mention of the five-letter word that had come to define me: Asian.
Born in Singapore to Peranakan (Malaysian) parents, I was another 2AM arrival at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, joining the millions of Asian immigrants taking on the American Dream. It didn’t take me long to realize that wherever I went and whoever I met, my Asianness became my defining trait, and my long neck and questionable dimples and straight-sometimes-wavy hair went seemingly unnoticed by everyone.
***introduce idea of being defined by stereotypes here***
- School lunches, kids pinched nose.
- Placed in ESL, even tho English was first language.
When I first arrived, I found myself caught at a crossroads between two cultures. I became self-conscious of my too-thick Singaporean accent, ashamed of my lunches that made other kids pinch their noses, and aware that I was different. I began asking my mom to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or to let me buy school lunches so I could “be like the other kids” and wishing my hair was actually strawberry blonde instead of jet black.
It was a foreign concept to me to be two cultures at once; either I was American or I was Peranakan, and assimilating to be like everyone else seemed so much easier than embracing my ethnicity and culture.
But I slowly realized, after too many PB&J sandwiches and square pizzas with square pepperoni cubes, I missed nasi lemak and Hainanese chicken rice. I realized that that assimilating and forgetting where I come from made me lose myself in the process.
Please see me in a non-stereotypical light that doesn’t strip me of my Asianness.
***tie ending/middle back to blindfold activity somehow***
- Blindfold activity: for once in my life i was viewed first as not asian, but made me realize that it did an injustice to my culture and where i came from; in the way that me eating pb and j sandwiches and square pizzas is also an injustice to my culture.
- Learning to be proud of both????
Common App College Essay Examples – Draft 2
I can’t see. Taken by my shoulders, I’m led to sit in a hard wooden chair. It’s only the second day of Governor’s School, a residential summer program for intellectually gifted high school students in the state of North Carolina, in a class mysteriously titled “Area III,” and I could not be more disoriented. My confusion is paralleled by four voices coming from around me. “What’s happening?” “Is this Area III?” “Uhhh…” “Does anyone know why we’re blindfolded?”
Suddenly, we are silenced by a low, gravelly voice who introduces himself as Randall.
“Let’s start off with your names.” “Shania.” “Andrew.” “Sarah.” “Elizabeth.” “Lorin, like the girl name, but not.”
The questions continued as Randall asked us to describe our passions, favorite tangible gifts, opinions on God, and various other personal things I’d never thought to tell strangers. It’s revealed that Elizabeth is from an extremely devout family, Andrew is a soccer fanatic, Sarah is beyond obsessed with the musical “Rent,” and Lorin is adopted by a single parent. It feels like that in less than an hour, I felt like I already knew more about these strangers than my friends at school.
Then came the final question: “Try to guess what everyone looks like; let’s start with Shania.” “Strawberry blonde.” “Hazel eyes.” “Short-ish, I guess.”
There was no mention of the five-letter word that has come to define me: Asian.
Born in Singapore to Peranakan (Malaysian) parents, I was another 2AM arrival at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, joining the millions of Asian immigrants taking on the American Dream. It didn’t take me long to realize that wherever I went and whoever I met, my Asianness became my defining trait, and my long neck and questionable dimples and straight-sometimes-wavy hair went seemingly unnoticed by everyone. The rich culture and identity that my parents grew up with in Penang, Malaysia had been covered up by a slew of Asian stereotypes.
I first discovered what “Asian” meant when I was in kindergarten, a child’s paradise of apple sauce, alphabet books, and…other kids. One intrepid boy finally gathered the courage to welcome the new alien in their midst, coming up to me and saying, “Ching chang ching chong choo.” That was my ever crude introduction to the Asian misnomer. Soon after this, I was exposed to all the stereotypes which often lump Asians together. Other children would pinch their noses at the smell of my mother’s home cooked lunches; I begged my mother to pack me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or to let me buy school lunches. I was placed in an English as a Second Language program because my Singaporean accent was just slightly too thick for Americans to understand; English was my first language. I became self-conscious that my hair was jet black, wishing that it was actually strawberry blonde like my blindfolded partners had thought. Being Asian felt like a curse, and I hated being burdened by the expectations to be smart, the bullying of ignorant children, and constantly being misidentified as Chinese. When the blindfolds took away my Asianness, I was ecstatic to be momentarily lifted of such a burden.
However, as the summer marched on and we delved into questions regarding race and identity in Area III, a class where we openly and respectfully discuss important but difficult issues, I realized that to remove myself of my Asianness denied me of my identity. Growing up with Peranakan culture means that I am from parents who taught me the value of diligence and hard work, that I am from a pantry filled with bean sprouts, coconut milk, and an endless amount of rice, and that I am from the “lah” and “kiasu” of Singlish, the mixture of English, Chinese dialects, Tamil, and Malay, that I grew up speaking in Singapore. I want to be seen in a non-stereotypical light that doesn’t strip me of this culture, of my Asianness. I play the violin because I love music, not because I am Asian. I excel academically because I have worked hard, not because I am Asian. [insert third for repetition sake] And at the same time, I should not and am not limited by the shape of my eyes or tint of my skin as I paint faces for Key Club, explore social sciences, and take photos to tell stories. I am learning to love my life in pairs: Forks and chopsticks. Ramen and Spaghetti. Bruce Lee and Springsteen. Blindfolded or not, I am Asian and American.
Common App College Essay Examples – Final Draft
Wiggling my toes, I fought to keep my thoughts from spiraling away from me. Signing up to perform slam poetry at Governor’s School was not at the top of the list of risky decisions I have made, but it came close. Earthquakes rumbled beneath my feet and wasps buzzed in my stomach as stagefright enveloped me. The eyes of a hundred audience members burned into me, coloring me crimson red. The audience’s anticipation surrounded me like smoke, making my eyes water and lodging words in my throat.
As the minutes crawled by, I debated whether I should make a run for it.
Too late. My name was called, cueing me to face my fears and bare my soul.
My poem told my story, beginning with rosy-cheeked five-year-old me landing in America on a snowy night and rubbing my eyes in awe of the whiteness covering the new world. Then, as an excited six-year-old starting school, I became self-conscious of how different I was when an intrepid boy welcomed me, “Ni Hao,” his butchered pronunciation tinged with contempt. When I was eleven and received a 100 on a math test, my pride and hard work were stomped on by my classmates exclaiming, “It’s because you’re Asian!” At thirteen, I was caught between my Peranakan (Malaysian) roots and American upbringing, unable to understand the idea of being both Asian and American. After a decade of living in America, I don’t understand why I’m still a foreigner.
Despite immigrating from Singapore twelve years ago, I was scared that I would trip over words and pronunciations. I was afraid of speaking too fast, of crying, of not being able to form a coherent thought. Yet, performing my poem, I did not stutter or falter. I was fueled by the resilience of my parents who studied their way out of Penang to raise me with hopes instead of struggles, and by the restlessness building within me from constantly being expected to live up to the “model minority.”
I finished and breathed a sigh of relief. The auditorium filled with a deafening silence. But then, one clap led to another, and another, and soon the entire audience was on their feet as cheers and applause echoed off every corner.
When I sat back down, one boy whispered to me, “I had no idea that, like, Asians had such experiences.”
Afterwards, countless Asian-American students, many of whom I had only ever exchanged small smiles with, approached me to say, “I really related” and “I’ve had the same experiences.” It was then that I realized that in my brief moment of bravery, I told a story that many Asian-Americans shared, but few were willing to tell. It was then that I decided to no longer bite my tongue.
To start important and complex conversations to understand the role that Asian-Americans play in America’s racial divide as the simultaneous “yellow peril” and “model minority,” I founded the Triangle Area Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union. Working with organizations such as the East Coast Asian American Student Union, I led workshops and facilitated discussions on difficult topics such as mental health, racial triangulation, and identity, encouraging others to tell their stories, inspiring them by telling mine. Through Misidentific[Asian], a photo campaign I started to encourage students to share how their identity has affected their lives, and Humans of Green Hope, I interview and learn from people from all walks of life, sharing their stories and lending my voice to those who too often remain ignored.
I refuse to stay silent. I refuse for my identity to be replaced by a caricature of cultural stereotypes because there are two sides to my story: Forks and chopsticks. Ramen and spaghetti. Bruce Lee and Springsteen. Asian and American.
With my chin held high, I no longer feel the wasps within me or the earthquake beneath me, and I tell my story.
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