Application Essay Example #1: Playing Dress Up

This is the actual essay a student submitted with her application to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and it helped her gain admission there. Check out the essay, then make sure you read our tips below!

Morganne Wheeler, Personal Essay

St. Lawrence University

“Where the heck is it?” I asked aloud as I ripped through every drawer and closet.

“Mom!” I screamed, as I pulled the rumpled, size 6-8 Cinderella dress from the overstuffed Hefty bag in the center of my floor. How could my mother callously have cast aside the dress that served as my cousin Bradley’s trademark costume for my annual family Christmas production?

I pounded down the stairs and found my mother innocently making dinner. I put on my most terrifying eight-year-old face and held up the crinkled Disney creation. “Just what do you think Brad is gonna wear this year?” My mother would learn the extreme sentimental value of this dress and how it would serve to remind us of Bradley and our innocence.

Kindred spirits, both left-handed and white-haired and born only weeks apart, Brad and I spent every preschool day together in mutual adoration. After all, he had what appeared to be two belly buttons and his scars were much more impressive than mine. Thankfully, I did not understand the correlation between those holes and scars and his having been deprived of oxygen at birth due to a badly malformed heart, a birth defect that would severely impair his ability to learn. Brad and I, sporting plastic sunglasses, spent our early years cruising the yard in my pink Barbie Beach Buggy, from which I had diligently scraped the Barbie sticker to make it look less like an embarrassing “girlie” car. We romped around the house, ripping heads off dolls, sneaking sugary items, and whipping ourselves off the swings in an effort to land on the paved driveway. It is the laughter I remember when I think of these days, not Brad’s disability.

My perception drastically altered when I entered fourth grade. “Hey, retard!” one boy shouted at recess as one of his henchmen chucked the ball at Brad’s head. I was not sure what a retard was, but the sound of it made me wince. I launched myself at the ringleader, swinging and crying. I chased them off, the buttons hanging from my now-muddy jumper. I was baffled, and the pain I felt had nothing to do with my bleeding knees. I looked at Bradley and he was smiling at me, not understanding what had just happened, and I was grateful, and forever changed.

As we grew older, our paths diverged. Brad took the path that so many look on with pity as “slow” and “unfortunate.” Initially, I felt guilty for growing up without him. As I write my essays for college and complain about the work involved in applications, I think about Brad, who gets pumped to take his permit test and fails every time, but will persevere. He will never fit the societal ideal of a “normal” person or a “successful” person and I abhor the elitist thinking that insists that my life must have more meaning than his. Watching him grow up has helped me to overcome what could have been my handicap. He is compassionate and determined in spite of thousands of setbacks. And when we all grumble about the burdens of life, I think of Brad and wonder, who is the happier person? He finds joy in things like putting aside money from his grocery store job to buy me a Christmas gift, or saving me all the red gummy bears. He does not lament how few friends he has, but is glad to be with the few who know and appreciate him. I do not feel lucky for being different than Brad. I feel lucky for knowing him. He has taught me that more intelligent does not equal better, and it certainly does not equal happier. What does mark the superior person is the nature of his heart and soul, and Brad’s are pure and joyful and suffused with love.

“Scene two, take one.” Bradley enters, surrounded by a chorus of characters consisting of my brother and cousins. He is wearing the tattered, size 6-8 Cinderella dress. “Kung Fu Fighting” comes on, and that’s his cue. He throws himself into my meticulously choreographed dance, and when the song ends, executes his grand finale, standing on one slightly bent leg. And in the silence between the end of the song and the applause, you can hear the dress ripping a little more.

What Makes This a Good Essay?

  • This essay isn’t just on time; it’s well before the Early Decision deadline. Meeting deadlines is crucial in the college application process, especially if you are applying Early Decision or Early Action.
  • The essay begins with a story that grabs the reader’s attention immediately. Make it interesting. Admission counselors read hundreds and sometimes thousands of essays, so yours needs to stand out.
  • Morganne uses enough details and dialogue to paint a vivid picture. Because she has chosen very specific moments, she can make the scenes come to life without writing a novel.
  • She introduces Bradley’s condition in a thoughtful, straightforward manner. His life and their experiences together are inspiring, so her story does not need to be exaggerated.
  • The essay has a focused, clear topic; it does not stray from Bradley, his life, and how Morganne finds him inspiring.
  • Morganne lists specific reasons why she finds Bradley inspirational and what she has learned from him.
  • Her essay is about appreciating what you have, who you are, and what truly matters in life. Instead of saying that outright, she tells a story that illustrates her point. A memorable essay is more show than tell.
  • Morganne ends her story where it began, with the Cinderella dress, bringing the essay full-circle.

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