An Anti-“Common Application Essays” Common Application Essay

I’m a senior, which means I’m currently writing a lot (I mean, a lot) of supplemental and Common Application essays about myself. This is difficult because I, like I’m sure many of you, don’t quite know exactly who that is just yet.

Amidst this process, a few weeks ago, trying to get myself out of a spell of writer’s block, I ended up writing a Common Application essay I will never submit. It is my writ of rebellion against personal essays. In it, I explain why the task of describing oneself in 650 words is so challenging, if not impossible. In particular, I rail against the dreaded “transformative essay” prompt.


I am a product of seemingly insignificant choices. When given the liberty of painting my room in the fifth grade, I settled upon an obnoxiously bright shade of blue (to my mother’s dismay). I chose to go to Hanover High School, rather than St. Johnsbury, or Thetford, or elsewhere, when awarded the opportunity as an eighth grader. At Hanover, I decided to join my school’s newspaper, suicide awareness club, and volleyball team. Yet, many of the choices that have most impacted me have been out of my control. For instance, after two blue-eyed girls, my parents chose to have a third child, and, for some reason, they decided to settle down in a tiny town no one outside of the Upper Valley has ever heard of. Had any one of these resolutions been made differently, I would likely not be who I am today. These forces—in and out of my control—have formed me. Like a mound of clay on a pottery wheel, I have been molded by these hands: the people I have met, the places I have been, and the things I have done.

Throughout my life, external and internal forces have altered me, but to say I have been “transformed” would suggest I am an entirely different person than I once was. To claim that I have undergone such a transformation would be dishonest; if anything, I am now more myself than I have ever been. Additionally, I cannot attribute who I am to just one major circumstance; I believe we are worth more than that. I am the people around me and the sights I’ve seen; I am my concerns and my passions; I am my choices and the choices of my parents, sisters, friends, teachers, peers, and people I do not even know.

One could argue that the event that most affected me occurred when the Homo Neanderthalensis first made the genetic leap to Homosapien. After all, from this occurence came the origin of my DNA, and what could have influenced my life more than that? One might say that my great great great grandfather’s migration to the United States from Germany generations ago has had the greatest impact on my life. My parents might suggest that I have been most influenced by them first meeting at a wedding in their mid 20s. My friends would perhaps say I have been most altered by attending a freshman English class, in which I met a number of them. My volleyball teammates might claim it was when I joined the team. I could say I have been most impacted by learning to read, discovering journalism, or participating in the Women’s March. The fact that none of these arguments are “wrong”, per se, goes to show that I am the result of all of them combined. I cannot point to any singular event and say, “Aha! That is why I am who I am”. No one can. The factors around (and within) us shape us each day. We are constantly changing, metamorphosing. This is how we grow. 

Some are truly miniscule factors, but one could argue that had I not picked that ugly blue hue to paint my walls with, or had I never taken that particular english class, I would be completely a different person. Or not, I suppose. Perhaps I would still be me—or a very similar version of myself—but, alas, I will never know. Though we can never be sure of who we would be had we made different choices, we can (and will) discover who we will become. As we are shaped throughout our lives, we learn who we are. By forces in and out of our control, we are chiseled into beautiful pieces of pottery—works of art—which, eventually, are left as artifacts, mere reminders of our lives on earth; of the people who touched us, the experiences that carved us, and all that had made us who we once were. 


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