Essay Sample: Common App Main Essay

Almost all students apply using the Common App, and the Common App main essay is always the first essay students write. The Common App released new questions before the summer, providing ample time for students to get their creative juices flowing. While there is no longer a "choose your own topic" option, many would agree that the topics are still open-ended enough to provide the possibility of writing on almost any topic. While you may be several drafts in by now, it's always helpful to read a really strong sample essay filled with heart and authenticity where you get a real feel for a person's character, hopes and dreams. We think this one does the job nicely.

At age 12, Nosibusiso lost nearly her entire family to AIDS. She had no money, no home, and no food, yet had to somehow care for her two younger brothers. I listened intently as she told me of how she lived on the streets of Swaziland and how she no longer had a fear of death. The familiar has a way of losing its power.

Then 15, I went back to my place, a dilapidated mud barn strewn with 16 straw mattresses, and wept. I thought about how my life’s path had displaced me from my own home and family for the preceding few years. In that moment, I felt a deep and basic connection to Nosibusiso. Though we came from different worlds and I had much more security and comfort in my life, we were both young kids who desperately wanted guidance and help while growing up, but felt lost.

My journey to Swaziland began when I met Josh Brazier, the head of Kaiizen, a non-profit organization that works globally with underprivileged kids. He was affiliated with Telos, my therapeutic boarding school. I became involved with Kaiizen and was soon offered the opportunity to go on a three-week service trip to South Africa and Swaziland. I eagerly jumped at the opportunity and began the process of raising money right away. Fundraising was vital to the success of Kaiizen, for this was no “teen tour” that collected several thousand dollars from parents eager to send their children hopscotching through Europe on coach buses and sleeping at high-end hotels. After we reached our goal of $50,000, which funded our own travels and the support we intended to provide, we left.

We arrived in Johannesburg two days later, navigated to Mlilwane, Swaziland, settled into our hut, and then went to work. Our main projects centered on improving a day care center for children whose families had been affected by HIV. We played with kids and educated them about the disease, and also traveled to nearby villages, providing food, basic medical support, and building supplies for dozens of homes and shelters.

The work lit a fire under me, and it wasn’t long before Josh acknowledged my enthusiasm and dedication. He asked me to come on another trip with him, and I, of course, said yes. However, my role on this next trip would be different for he raised the stakes and proposed that I spearhead its planning, saying, “Ethan, you take the reigns, and I’ll provide the infrastructure.”

Little did I know I would spend the next year of my life researching and collaborating with Josh on a program to improve an orphanage in India. As my role shifted from participant to architect, I conceptualized and micromanaged nearly every aspect: finding the orphanage, coordinating dates, and exploring service opportunities. In the process, I grew fascinated with the leprosy epidemic, and arranged for us to provide food and supplies to three separate leprosy colonies in Chennai and to work with an afterschool program that supported kids whose parents had been affected by the disease. Ultimately, we became companions to these children. We made them feel like they mattered. They had no one; they were separated from their families, and had lost touch with what it’s like to be loved. We reminded them.

As the trip came to a close, I remembered how years earlier I had heard Margaret Mead’s quote about a small group of thoughtful citizens changing the world. At the time I thought it was naïve, but now I see just how true it is. I thought of how many lives we had touched during our short time in India. When I got home, I thought of my first encounter with Nosibusiso and hoped I would see her again. I know my kindness helped her at least that summer, but I wanted to tell her how her inspirational strength had changed me for a lifetime.

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