Princeton University Admission Essay Sample on Family and Relationships

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College Application Essay on Family and Relationships

Essay by Amy Hollinger

I should not have dressed up. Apparently, no other fifth grader had felt driven to celebrate the first day of school via fancy clothing, and so I stood out not just as a newcomer, but as an awkwardly dressed one. Scratching at grainy black tights with the toe of my sneaker, I paused uncertainly in the doorway of the Writing room.

Pausing uncertainly, however, was not the way of the world of Mr. Matthews. This red-haired, red-bearded, red-faced man beckoned wildly at me to enter. I scuttled over to a seat, and in three minutes of casual observation was convinced that I had never known an adult like him. He laughed from his belly, wiggled his ears on request, and then blushed an embarrassed shade redder. His students loved him; it was evident from the way they greeted him to the way they relaxed when they entered his room.

On the contrary, I was not relaxed. I was nervous, I was in a room full of strangers, and I was, at best, apathetic towards writing. My only previous writing experience had been in cloth-covered books with more room for illustrations than print. I had no idea what to expect from a class that was just called "Writing," but I was certain I wasn't going to like it.

Yet Mr. M spent that first class entertaining us. He told stories, cracked jokes, and then dismissed us early for recess. Our assignment to write about the best part of summer seemed almost an afterthought for him.

Nevertheless, I was seized by an unprecedented and inexplicable desire to do my homework. It wasn't anything specific he had said in class that day, but the way he had acted. I wanted this crazy, charismatic, exuberant man to like and approve of me, and the quickest way to earn this was through my writing.


That night, despite having dealt with a word processor all of twice in my life, despite spending more time on this single homework assignment than any other night's combined, and despite an embarrassingly trite roller-coaster-ride topic, I wrote with fiery passion. Triumphantly handing it in the next morning, I was sure it was the best thing I'd ever written.

For the rest of the year, I worked to relive, again and again, that feeling of accomplishment. I challenged myself to write well, as much for myself as for Mr. M. This one-man audience inspired me to constantly strive to improve and impress, and in the process I discovered that I, shockingly, liked to write. The aforementioned, overdressed fifth grader would never have guessed that, six years later, writing would become a voluntary, daily activity, flowing from journals to emails to poetry workshops to newspapers.

Mr. M left our school at the end of that year. At his goodbye party, he thumped me on the shoulder and said, "You've got a good head on your shoulders, kid. Use it well." It was only in looking back that I realized this was the moment I had been waiting for all year.

Over time, Mr. M.'s approval and guidance has grown with me; it is my mantra to push myself further, to think before acting. He believed in me as a writer, and in some ways as a person, before I did, and these high expectations have carried me further than anything else could have. Today, I am still curious about what he saw in me, and I think I am still growing into the person he might have predicted. But I also still am, and always will be, striving to surprise him by becoming even more.

Amy Hollinger attends Princeton University.

Essay Review

a red-haired, red-bearded, red-faced man

The impulse to write about a favorite teacher is relatively common—and often a recipe for a mediocre essay. The problem, as we have noted elsewhere, is that the essay turns out to be about the teacher, not about you. The following essay shows how you can avoid that fate. It has plenty of vivid description of Mr. Matthews, but even more about how the author thinks and feels. The author has a strong grasp of how Mr. M. shaped her as a student, and also a well-developed sense of her own motivation. As the essay ends, she shows awareness that she is still learning and growing—just the sort of awareness that colleges love to see.

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