Posts Tagged ‘growth’

Growth revisited

Colleges will expect you to discuss not just any incidence of growth, but one that is due to conscious effort and has influenced you beyond the immediate. Now that we have had fun with personal inventories and sharing anecdotes, let’s sift through our material to identify changes which:

are propelled by your conscious effort


have had a “universal” effect on you, i.e. colored your whole life


Failure = Growth

Some students believe that they have nothing significant to boast. Well, if you have never reached resounding success, why not write about failure? Isn’t overcoming failure a kind of success?

Wasn’t it you who wrote an essay trying to prove that in the trying moments of our lives we find out who we are? How we cope with our limitations and deal with disappointment are at the core of out human experience, so such moments might make great essay topics.

Have you seen “Babe”, the movie about the pig who wanted to be a sheepdog, or “Ratatuoille”, the cartoon about the mouse who wanted to be a fancy restaurant chef?

Failure might have inspired you to stretch yourself beyond your limits; it might have led you to a rude awakening and helped you give up a vain, hollow ambition.

Essay ≠ List

When asked to write essays on topics related to growth / achievement, students are usually tempted to write a list of their achievements, high exams scores and academic competition awards usually topping the list.

You should truly realize that an essay is NOT a list. You’ll be asked to list your achievements on the pages of your application form, so you don’t need to offer the same information in your essay. Don’t worry, college admissions officers will see all your grades, scores and awards; some of your teachers will probably elaborate on the most significant ones in their reference letters. To discuss these again in the essay will be labouring the point. Besides, it ill show colleges that you’re not more than a file of statistics, and what they are really interested in is accepting persons, not numbers.

An essay might be your only real chance to stand out as a person and be remembered.

Don’t you need to fit in, to match the profile of the average Dream College student? Well there’s no such a clear-cut thing as “the average College X student”, but that’s what we should discuss later. And then … I cannot emphasize enough how much you have to stand out.

I know it’s hard to get used to the concept after having lived for 18 years in our country and studied at our schools, which do their best to make you fit in, and if you don’t, you’re in trouble, man!

If you’re deeply interested in success, you could research topics like branding (especially personal branding). Now I’ll focus only on college context.

Imagine a college admissions officer. For 2-3 months he is busy reading applications – from dawn to dusk. He has a huge pile for the day, and he has to sift through it, so that he keeps and submits just a few applications to the next committee.

He will surely keep the few applications that have impressed him. Can you impress anyone by being so much like everyone else?

People have limited memories, so they can remember just a couple of items at a time (a couple of students a day), and what they remember best is the extraordinary.

If you list too many items in your essay, chances are none (or probably not the most important) will be remembered, so what you have to do is focus and paint a memorable picture, focusing on a single episode or trait.

An application essay should be like a haiku poem – telling little, and thus showing a whole unique universe. To get the metaphor, do try reading a bit of haiku, and you’ll feel that every little (three-line) poem places you in a wildly different universe.

If you write a list of 15 awards from math competitions, an admissions officer will know that you’re good at math, and as you’ll probably have good math grades and SAT Math scores, and a recommendation from your math teacher, he’ll be sick and tired of math.

Well, if you can show him your special relationship with math through a fascinating story, he’ll be impressed, and he’ll remember you, and, hopefully, pass your file on to the next committee. You cannot possibly write a fascinating story about math? Well, why not try some other topic for a change?

essays on Growth

Growth = change

If you feel intimidated by the word “Growth”, think of a substitute. I suggest “change”. Well it may turn out to be inappropriate to include in a college essay later, but might turn out to be your rite of passage into personal writing. Indulge in some “useless” exploration of your personality. Here we go:

Remember times in which you were different from what you are now – in any little respect.

It does not have to be a revolutionary change, for it is rarely possible to have undergone any of the kind at this tender age. Any little one counts. It could be a change in habits, looks, outlooks, values, style, etc.

Describe the difference between what you are and what you used to be.

It is always a good idea to stay focused and avoid digression. However, if you feel that the change has somehow colored aspects of your life which are hard to immediately relate to the issue, don’t hesitate to discuss them. A thoughtful and observant person can see beneath the surface and beyond the horizon.

Try do identify the factors instrumental in the change.

It could have been all your decision and implementation. Still, you might have been inspired, supported, assisted by something or someone. Try to do justice to everyone and everything, including yourself. You don’t need to be neither too modest nor too self-promoting. Honesty is the best policy.

The acorn

An acorn shoots and grows into a mighty oak – that’s the logo of the US department of education. I was amazed: 1) I have always perceived an acorn as something magical 2) the logo stands for growing up into what you were meant to be – you see, it’s not an acorn growing up into a tomato or a pine tree, but an acorn growing up into an oak.

What’s so special about that? Well, let ME ask you several questions:

  1. Have you ever thought that YOU were meant to be something special – a unique person who will make his unique difference in the world?
  2. Have you ever tried to find out what your unique purpose is?
  3. Have your parents ever encouraged you to be yourself?
  4. Has your school ever catered for your unique individuality?


It seems that most of us perceive themselves as average, mediocre people who were not meant to make a difference in the world. We strive to survive by being “normal”, by keeping a low profile, by taking up the most popular majors. We grow up to believe there is just one way to be happy, and we have this model reinforced in our minds through soap-operas, Barbie magazines, Big Brother, tabloids, mom’s advice, neighbors’ example, commercials – millions of people cannot be wrong, right?


Trying to find out what your unique purpose is could be painful swimming against the tide. You know, nobody has ever become the prophet of his native village. As we are “only” human, most of us try to avoid any kind of discomfort. Well, I don’t mean sitting down and thinking of what occupation or lifestyle will make you happy is necessarily painful. NO! However, it might take effort to use your own brain; it might give you guilty conscience for you believe daydreaming is a waste of time; it might leave you embarrassed to find out you do not wish for a realistic secure mature life, and you’ve always avoided being a pink elephant, haven’t you?


Some parents do admire their child’s uniqueness, but for the sake of their offspring’s well-being, they try to kill it softly, to suppress it gently, or lead their child to believe that it’s something he should take as a hobby.

To tell you the truth, I personally know just one mom who has been consistent in encouraging her children to be what they feel they should be. She is one of my friends’ mom – she has been a cleaning woman for most of her adult years; she was a young mother of three when her husband died. My friend is a professional artist, and I think he’ll always be what he feels like being, despite the fact that he has his downs in income as artists do not get a monthly salary, you know.

When I first went to their place, his mom was eager and proud to show me a pile of drawings – she had kept EVERYTHING he had drawn since the day he had got hold of a pen. When he was leaving for Vienna several years ago, she was a bit worried. I told her, “Don’t worry. He’ll survive. He can always take any job.” “Why should he take ANY job?”, his mom asked, “He is an artist. He has talent. That’s what he should do.”

Since then I have been trying to be like my friend’s mom to my son, who, coincidentally, has the same name as my friend’s. I don’t know what is to become of him,. Few people were born with such conspicuous talent as my friend’s or Mozart’s. So I just keep showing my son all the opportunities I know of, encouraging him to believe that he can also invent opportunities. I hope some day he finds out what his “acorn” is like and lets it grow, and I would not be crushed if he turns out to be a gay artist, for example.

As for my own parents, they did not worry much about my vocational choices. They believed I should become what I am capable of and feel happy about my choice. I am not sure if they believed I was special, but they did not relate my vocational choices to survival as it was communism back then, and everybody was guaranteed physical survival through a job and a salary. Well, they knew teaching would not bring me much money or prestige, but they did not yield to their friend’s pressure “A teacher? She is so bright! She could have been accepted anywhere. Why didn’t she take up international business? She’ll be satisfied with teaching?!?”


When I was a student, I was lucky to have teachers who liked me for what I was, who believed it was cute to be different, to be oneself. They believed in me and encouraged my individuality – most of them. I was lucky not to be taught by the scared people obsessed with survival who teach my son and students today. That mattered a lot.

It’s not easy being oneself today. People around us are so obsessed with physical survival that their idea of success and happiness is buying an apartment and a car, and all the fancy trinkets that are believed to exude prestige. Most kids today grow up seeing only what their parents and neighbors can see. What most of them can see is misery. How sad.

How about you? Do you care about letting your acorn grow?