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February 19, 2024


Sample Essay: Unveiling the Essence of Writing a Winning College Essay

 Person writing on a notepad with pen Embarking on the journey of college applications is akin to painting a self-portrait where every brushstroke represents a fragment of your life's canvas. This series delves into the artistry behind crafting essays that resonate - the why. These essays have not only succeeded but have done so by telling a story that is deeply personal and profoundly human. Through the lens of winning essays, we aim to unravel the intricacies and strategies that transform ordinary narratives into gateways of opportunity. Each essay in our series is a testament to the power of authentic expression, serving as a beacon for aspiring applicants. Join us as we explore these exemplary narratives, dissecting the elements that elevate them from mere submissions to reflections of individuality and purpose.

Essay by Isabella Mendez-Figueroa for a scholarship at Change a Life Foundation Scholarship

Essay Prompt: Please explain a personal hardship or catastrophic life event that you have experienced. How did you manage to overcome this obstacle? What did you learn, and how did you grow from it? This answer is critical to your application as Change a Life Foundation’s vision is to assist individuals who have persevered and overcome a hardship/catastrophic life event.

Essay: Filling out this application and my college applications has forced me to face head-on the realities I've grown up in. Looking back and describing my life, I see all of how I am disadvantaged due to my socioeconomic status. But it's important to note that I wasn't fully aware of it growing up. I knew that my parents couldn't buy me everything, but I also knew that they hardly ever said no. I was a very average child, asking for chicken nuggets and looking at Mom and Dad whenever I was scared or unsure. As I've grown, I've learned to fight my monsters, but I now also battle the ones that frighten my parents, the monsters of a world they weren't born into. Monsters of doubt and disadvantage that try to keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty, thriving in a world that casts them to the side and a society that, with its current political climate, doesn't welcome them with the warmest hello.

My dad has worked as a babysitter, a housekeeper, and a driver over the past ten years, including many night shifts, to attain financial stability and become an asset to his workplace. He's been one of the millions laid off in the last couple of decades and has had to start over multiple times. But each time, he's rebuilt himself with more resilience. I grew up living in Section 8 housing because my parents often lived paycheck to paycheck, not by choice, but by circumstance. They've endured bankruptcy over credit card debt, have never owned a home, or have had access to resources that allow them to save. Every time we've readapted, we get struck by a new change. I live in Manchester Square, a ghost town, a byproduct of the Los Angeles Airport expansion project. My neighbors are empty lots enclosed by fences. Homeless people pitch tents under the roar of airplanes. My home will quickly become an airport accommodation, soon to be nonexistent. Knowing that my family has to relocate as I'm applying to college makes me feel guilty because of my lack of resources. I fear it will become a barrier to my transition to college. My parents' finances are not a secret; I know their struggles as I hear about them day after day. My parents now deal with the burden of relocating, no longer having subsidized housing, and again, struck by another need to readjust and reassemble. Relocating a family of 5 in an area plagued by gentrification of stadiums and demolition is no simple task as rent prices are as high as mortgages. Oddly, they don't want me to stress or have it become my problem, but I know it is, and I want to do whatever I can to help.

My older sister is the first in my family to go to college. I was always the shyer one. She's taught me through her efforts that the only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself. With my sister's example, I have followed in the footsteps of never letting money become a reason why I can't or won't do something. If my sister can do it, I can do it. The leadership characteristic is genetic, and it runs in my entire family. I witnessed my parents be leaders every day as they tackled cultural obstacles in a country that wasn't the one they were born into, speaking a language that was not their own, and raising children to succeed in a system of higher education; one they never had the privilege to be part of. My family and I are one. We stack our efforts and obstacles on top of each other to further our successes. When I think back to my family's story, I'm amazed that my grandpa came to the US amid WW2, a bracero, leaving his family to help feed millions of Americans during the war. My grandpa, a man of the fields, paved the way so I could defy the odds with my prosperity.

At home, the teacher role often switches within my family. I translate documents to my parents and explain procedures and concepts as I learn them. I have had the responsibility of helping assist my younger sister, who has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. Due to her pre-existing condition, she is a slow learner. I have dedicated a lot of time this past year to helping her transition from elementary to middle school and helping her adapt to such a drastic change.

Sometimes, I only sleep 4 hours as I wake up and rush out the door to make it to 6 am tutoring. Managing my schoolwork and home responsibilities has been challenging, but I've managed to maintain high academic achievement by working my time correctly and being persistent. If I genuinely want something, I need to go after it, and I will get it done. Sometimes, being tired isn't an option.

What makes this essay successful?

A man holding an ipad sitting on bench

This essay effectively communicates the author's experience of overcoming significant socioeconomic challenges, showcasing several strengths that contribute to its success:

  • Authentic and Impactful Storytelling: The author presents a genuine and compelling narrative of their family's struggles with poverty, relocation, and adaptation to a new country. The detailed account of living in Section 8 housing, dealing with the threat of homelessness, and supporting a family member with special needs adds depth and authenticity to the story. This approach captivates the reader and vividly portrays the challenges faced.
  • Demonstration of Resilience and Leadership: The essay powerfully illustrates the theme of resilience, highlighting the author's ability to persevere through hardships. The narrative showcases how the author, inspired by their family's example, adopts a leadership role within their household and community, demonstrating the applicant's strong character, determination, and capacity to overcome obstacles, aligning with the values of the Change a Life Foundation.
  • Personal Growth and Learning: The author reflects on their journey of personal growth, learning to manage and overcome the limitations imposed by their socioeconomic status. The essay explores how these experiences have taught the author the importance of hard work, responsibility, and the pursuit of education to break the cycle of poverty. This reflection indicates a mature understanding of their situation and a proactive approach to shaping their future.
  • Contribution to Community and Family: The essay details the author's contributions to their family, from assisting with translations to supporting a younger sibling with Cerebral Palsy. These actions highlight the author's sense of responsibility, empathy, and willingness to help others. This commitment to family and community service speaks volumes about the author's character and values.
  • Clear Connection to the Foundation’s Vision: The author effectively aligns their story with the Change a Life Foundation's mission by demonstrating how they persevered and overcame hardships. The essay articulates a clear understanding of the foundation's vision, making a compelling case for how the author embodies the qualities and experiences the foundation aims to support.

Overall, the essay conveys a powerful message of resilience, family unity, and the transformative power of education and personal effort. It presents a coherent narrative that details the author's hardships and celebrates their achievements and aspirations, making a solid argument for their selection by the Change a Life Foundation.

Empowering Your Journey with GoodGoblin

As we dissect the components that contribute to a successful essay, it's evident that the journey of crafting such a narrative is both personal and complex. However, there are others on this path. GoodGoblin is a pioneering ally, offering personalized guidance and innovative tools to illuminate your college application journey. Our platform harnesses the latest AI technology to provide real-time, tailored feedback on your essays, ensuring your unique voice resonates with clarity and impact.

GoodGoblin's AI-driven insights draw from a rich tapestry of successful applications, offering you a compass as you navigate the intricate college admissions process. From generating essay outlines to refining drafts with granular feedback, GoodGoblin is designed to elevate your narrative, ensuring that your application speaks to who you are and the potential you bring to your dream colleges.

In the spirit of the essays we've explored, your story deserves to be told with authenticity and elegance. Let GoodGoblin be your guide, empowering you to craft narratives that are not just successful but genuinely your own. Discover how our platform can transform your college application experience by visiting us at Let's turn the page to the next chapter of your academic journey, where your voice is heard, and your dreams are within reach.