Morgan’s Sample Common App College Admissions Essay — with my commentary
Morgan’s advice to applicants: “You’ve got to be vulnerable, or it’s not going to work.”
Believe In Yourself Harder
Your lowest point can be your turning point. I learned this in 10th grade when I told my mom about my reading problems. She didn’t believe me. Wasn’t she supposed to be my biggest supporter? I was scared. Were my feelings accurate or imagined? Was I just “a slow reader” or was it something else? Either way, I could not go on like this.
I knew I hadn’t performed well on my first test of the year. When the grade was posted as 63, I was speechless, painfully holding back tears. My parents seemed furious (in reality, probably just confused). “Did you study?” I thought they’d be understanding, but “D” was a new game. I knew I’d have to work even harder to believe the affirmations I repeated daily, “I am smart, I am capable,” – reminders that my intelligence wasn’t determined by grades alone.
Raised to have agency, one of my greatest fears is turning into someone who looks for pity or sees myself as a victim. To avoid this, I’d study 10+ hours for one test– unsustainable. Would overdrive improve my performance? My grades slipped; my anxiety climbed. As my education and future depended on my actions, I admitted to my advisor there was a problem, advocating for her to speak to my mom. This paid off: we learned I wasn’t “just” a slow reader, but there was a bigger problem that I received help to address.
Aware there would be a day when I’d have to stand up for myself, I never imagined it would be at home. My parents had always encouraged positive self-talk, emphasizing the importance of feeling confident in our skin and having pride in our heritage. They taught us always to give 100% effort, never quit, and find paths forward. These beliefs were pivotal to the development of my self-esteem, my crown jewel.
Now, when seemingly no one validated my perspective, I was forced to believe even harder in myself. I realized you always need to be your biggest supporter, especially as a black woman, because people won’t always believe that I am capable of doing the job or smart enough to succeed. This can not prevent me from trying in the first place or succeeding in the end.
Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in my school’s first black hair care workshop series, where upper school students teach K-8 students about black hair and self-empowerment. This includes sharing the benefits of positive affirmations to remind ourselves of our strength and beauty as we navigate predominantly white environments. I’ve learned that students who speak up for themselves when their natural beauty is demeaned are the ones who can vocalize affirmations without hesitation. Saying simple phrases, such as “I am beautiful” every morning, “I am capable” before a test, or “I can do this” before challenging events, can make a significant impact on your performance.
This summer, in Ghana, I worked as a teacher’s assistant in a culture where intimidation usually ensures academic success. Conversely, I functioned on compassion and insistence: they can, they are capable, passing on the power of mindset. After giving my students extra help, I would have them repeat positive affirmations. In one session, six-year-old Farida and I tackled arithmetic. I coached her in confidence first, then problem sets, so she could see that she was capable. She repeated, “I can do addition and subtraction,” “I am good at math,” “I am smart.” Later, I saw her telling friends, “I know how to do this.”
Going to Ghana, I never would’ve thought that my greatest impact on young people would come not just from building their academic skills, but from the blessings of self-discovery. I am grateful for the lessons that allowed me to share the power of believing in yourself, courage, and self-empowerment. These gifts can change a person’s ability to do simple tasks or even change their future.
This draft took Morgan months. (In the process, she won a separate national writing contest focused on mental health solutions.) Like many writers, and as someone who generally enjoys journaling, she found extensive connective tissue between her values and experiences and challenges. The more she explored, the more it seemed everything was connected to everything. The essay is egalitarian, however: every applicant gets only 650 words. Her essay grew to many detailed pages, then she slowly excavated the version you see here.
Morgan pinpoints formative aspects of her identity and values, has authentic insights, and constructs effective examples. She looks directly at her own pain in the process. Most importantly, she remains human the whole time, and affirms herself. She connects her struggle and self worth to our collective struggle and worthiness. Already paying it forward, she feels like a good friend and citizen. As an admissions reader, I’d definitely want to hang out with her, and trust she’ll bring proactive thoughtfulness to our campus.
Morgan was accepted early decision to Pomona, class of 2027.
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