Past Common App Essay Samples (Courtesy: Tufts University)

Credit: Tufts University (reprint)

  1. Written by Emma Stout (Class of 2023)

M7652-000. Or at least that's how my bike-tire-greased, highlight-yellow, heel-cap-ripping-at-the-seams Chuck-Taylors are supposed to be colored. Freshman year, I tried so hard to keep them that pristine, popular M7652-000 color. Time progressed, however, and dirt, guitar chords, and conversations eventually covered the canvas of the shoes. When I first moved to Houston in eighth grade, I tried to follow the status quo and keep my shoes white. But as various conflicting influences crept into my life--Liberal vs. Conservative; Portland, OR vs. Houston, TX; LCD Sound system vs. Ed Sheeran--I began to realize how important it is to listen to the other side and to maintain the confidence to pursue my passions while inspiring others to do the same. I needed to appreciate Houston's voice and learn from its stories as much as it needed to hear mine, and my shoes grew dirtier every day as each person's testimony helped solidify and expand my own.

As I walk, one can first make out "Cheyenne yo yo" engulfing the right inner canvas, weaving through clasps and eventually boarding "PORTLAND!!!" I met Cheyenne through Freshman year volleyball and we were friends because I tried; I borrowed cowboy boots for football games, didn't discuss my quirky music, and washed my shoes. As I grew, however, it was our differences that brought us together. She forced me to see the other side, forced me to make my own conclusions without the influence of my background or parents.

In Portland, opinions are liberally voiced, and it's similar in my community in Houston, except rather than an abundance of Lizzie Fletcher stickers it's "Come and Take It". When I moved, I was bombarded by a completely foreign culture. By sophomore year, however, I realized that compromising myself in order to fit in was a mistake. I began vocally expressing my sentiments towards the world to my friends as I learned from theirs. While I introduced my friends to thrift-shopping and wrote articles about more environmentally friendly methods of transportation, they took me to my first line-dance and helped me examine the other side of gun-control in `Agora Coffee House'. As I grew more comfortable with expressing my beliefs, I began heading projects to install a bike rack around campus and took to writing more iconoclastic political pieces in English class.

My left shoe houses various meme references, chords from songs I have written, sketches of the latest NASA star cluster discoveries, practice lines of Italian greetings from when I was set on learning it, and "Lorrie Lake Ln." in small cursive letters. Sandalwood, my friends and I call it--a late-night, post-fast food, teen-angst polluted lake. Sandalwood is the cosmos and the meaning of God and the Sisyphus-like emotions that we discuss there. I never knew that Mormons couldn't drink coffee or that Romanians gut an entire pig to feast on for all of winter. Their philosophies, although often dissonating from my own, taught me that it's often beneficial to disagree.

When I was hurled into Texas, I was miserable when I didn't express myself within the Kinkaid-bubble. However, I quickly began to realize that I didn't have to like Ed Sheeran or keep my shoes M7652-000 to enjoy life. Learning to embrace and assess so many dissonating ideas has enabled to grow more into myself--it makes me more nonpartisan and has educated me on what it truly means to listen to the other side. Now, whether it's Texas or Oregon, Republican or Democrat, my life is a playlist of contradictions. In college, where everyone works on discovering "who they are" or what their place is in the world, I know I can provide not only diversity of thought, but can educate people through my own stories on how crucial it is to maintain an open-minded ideology towards the world and an individual's power to change it.


2. Written by Renner Kwitken (Class of 2023)


My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors,produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

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