College Essay Organizer's Essay Contest Honorable Mentions

Today we announce the four honorable mention winners of the College Essay Organizer contest. Each will receive a $50 prize.

As we mentioned yesterday, we received thousands of terrific submissions from college applicants throughout the world, and enjoyed reading through them all. We're grateful to all who submitted and wish congratulations to those who let us know about your recent college acceptances!

Our decisions were made as a group, and we learned quickly that such decisions are inherently subjective. Each of us responded to different material, and choosing among the best submissions led to lively debates about the merits of each. We discussed what each essay said about the applicant's character and what that applicant would be capable of later in life - the ultimate measure of any college essay.

So without further ado, here are our four honorable mention essays.

Home Is Where The Heart Is - This contest winner chose to remain anonymous:

“No, I do not live in a hut or tree house,” I’d have to explain, “nor do I wear clogs on a daily basis, go to school on a camel, or wear skirts (which are actually called kilts) to school.” The phrase “Third Culture Kid” would be putting it lightly – I have never lived in my own country.

“Where is home?” has been one question I have never been able to answer easily. While attempting to provide an answer, I quickly discovered that “Muscat, Oman” could easily be mistaken for “Muscrat, Vermont” and that there is not only a “Scotland” in Pennsylvania, but also an “Aberdeen” in New Jersey. To keep it simple, I remind myself of what my mother says, “Home is where the heart is.”

My dad’s job has always had us on good terms with the moving company. That is, we’ve been moving ever since I was a baby when oil exploration went global (We’ve lived in Malaysia, The Netherlands, Oman, and Scotland). On the eve of my high-school junior year, my dad was transferred to Nigeria, a dangerous place for families. Needless to say, I was not to go with my parents this time. Instead, I was going to the place I knew the least, a place I was actually terrified to go to – the place my passport says is “home.”

The expression “culture shocked” would be an understatement for how I felt. I had read so many culture shock pamphlets I could practically recite them by heart, but it was still so new. Worst of all, there certainly weren’t any pamphlets on how to repatriate to your home country because you would think that being a U.S. citizen, I would know it all already.

There were moments in my childhood when I knew I was different; but in my home country, I was a different kind of different. Moving back to the United States and being part of the majority was the hardest concept for me to grasp. I suppose what frightened me the most was the anticipation of going to a place I had only really experienced in movies, a place where I expected I was going to be just like everyone else. I remember moments overseas where the whole church knew when we skipped a Sunday service – our family managed to increase the white population in the church to a shocking total of five. I remember being threatened to be beaten up by one of my Iraqi friends because I wanted to do a school project on the United States. I remember people stroking my hair and calling me “habibi” (Arabic for “sweetheart”) because I was the only blonde girl they had ever seen. To me, all of this was just a social norm.

And now that I’m in my home country? Well, I may be here, but my heart belongs to the monsoon season in South East Asia and to floating make-shift boats from orange peels down the river. It belongs to pancakes smothered in powdered sugar at Dutch Poffertjes Stands and to biking lanes next to the highways. It belongs to 100 degree weather year-round and to explaining to passport control that I’m not a terrorist. It belongs to ceilidhs (A Gaelic term for Scottish Folk Dancing and pronounced like kay-lee) with lively drunken Scotsmen and to stomach aches from too much fish and chips. It belongs to Nigeria with my loving parents, to George School with my friends and classmates, and to my United States passport for reminding me that I really do come from somewhere. I may not have it all sorted out, but my heart belongs to an international culture that has made me who I am.

My mother always told us that because we are flexpats (a phrase coined by the international community meaning “flexible expatriates”), we need to make an effort to make everywhere we go feel like home, no matter how temporary. So, “Where is home?” That’s easy. I am a citizen of the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This essay is by Maia Shoham:

A good reflection of a person’s nature, I think, is their choice in cereal. One morning in the dining hall, I found myself the solitary occupant. I basked in the silence as steam wafted off my coffee.  A bit mentally feeble at such an hour, I waited for the grogginess to lift so I could don my witty personality for yet another day. I traced the circumference of the mug with a fingertip and gazed, unfocused, at the tablecloth.

Someone shuffled in. His comically pointed hood bobbed around the cereal dispensers as he darted around. Noticing me observing him, he broke off eye contact. I lowered my gaze. When I looked up again he had silently seated himself across from me, but seemed uncomfortable, poking nervously at his food.

He offered me a raise of his prominent eyebrows in greeting. I did not begrudge him this lack of propriety; we were not acquainted and had thus no reason to exchange pleasantries at such an hour.  I nodded in response. His large eyes shifted sideways to my breakfast – a cup of black coffee, a bowl of cereal. He smirked a bit.

“Raisin Bran, huh?”

He ate Cheerios - oaten particles that abandon their resolve to crunch after an average of 5.4 seconds of milk exposure, with a distinctive aftertaste that lingers for hours. He placed his elbows on the table, seeming to shield his little white bowl. It was somewhat symbolic, I noted, as he had a reputation for being one of the most impenetrable personalities of the student body. Yet the small gesture indicated that perhaps he just had an exoskeleton that masked something softer or different – I was intrigued. I sensed that it was time for me to respond.


I raised another spoonful of my cereal to my lips and enjoyed the juxtaposition of earthy grains and sweet chewiness for a brief moment.

“Ultimately, it’s just breakfast, right?” I shrugged.

“I think that cereal says a lot about a person,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes.

With that simple line, he substantiated our tentative interaction. I wanted to continue the line of conversation, but was uncomfortable doing so. It was early, he was a stranger; I was too tired to break social barriers in the name of intellectual curiosity.

Twenty-three hours and seven minutes later, it was déjà vu. I sat listlessly at the table, fighting to keep my eyelids open. I looked down at my food, and wondered why on earth I had chosen Cheerios today. They were soggy. I swirled my spoon around and some of them stuck to the convex part of it, like barnacles on a ship’s hull.

A bowl of Raisin Bran seemed to conjure itself before me as he sat down. He picked up his spoon with calculated nonchalance and sighed. Then, he noticed what I was eating. I was tickled by the irony. He smiled, bent his head over the nearly overflowing brim, and ate a spoonful.

Disobedience is Progression by Marlene Chasolen:

Already, by conventional standards, this essay is entirely wrong. The topic is to describe myself, and nowhere have I included the phrase “I am”. I have not provided you, the reader, with a list of qualities that make me both academically and personally suitable for your liking. You don’t know my favorite color, my favorite movie, or my favorite book. According to this essay, you don’t even know my name. I even capitalized Progression, which in itself challenges the pre-conceived notion that writing must adhere to strict and structured guidelines. But, humor me. Grant me some poetic license.

In a course of seventeen years, I have never once been asked to describe myself; instead, I have been confined to a list of questions. What is your favorite color? Favorite movie? Book? Well, if you must know. The color green resonates with me. I have seen Requiem For A Dream more times than I can count, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is, for the time being, my favorite novel. But in no way do these personify all attributes of my personality. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that I am, in partial, a manifestation of my likes and dislikes, but I will not attest to say that these determine my entire psyche.

For sake of coherence, allow me to clarify. Society and popular culture have molded people into nothing more than this conglomeration. No one asks more than a few trivial questions before deriving further conclusions on who a person may (or may not) be. They’ve heard all they need to hear, and just by examining a person’s outer appearance, they’ve seen it all.


As explored by Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”, it is only when one goes against the norm, can anything new be discovered. Hence, disobedience is in fact, Progression. How else would society today have become more liberal than its conservative disposition of centuries prior? Someone had to step out of place.


I deviated from the path.  I exposed my latent ingenuity. I embraced obscurities and I created a name for myself. I uncensored the stories I had written and shared with my English class. I spoke out about my (lack of) religious beliefs. I spent my lunch period with the photography teacher whom no student respected and my afternoons at Barnes and Noble writing. I put on my thick-rimmed glasses, corduroy button-up shirt, and pocket watch necklace, then preceded to walk down a hallway overflowing with students uniformly dressed. I never craved any admiration or attention. In fact, I desired the exact opposite. The art of my own being was illustrated by absolutely and honestly myself. I ostracized myself from an orthodox way of thinking. I ripped the rules of society to pieces. I became disobedient. How did I manage such a self-awakening? I discovered the power embedded in three simple words. Disobedience is Progression.

So, who am I?

I am Marlene Chasolen. I am Disobedience. I am Progression.

This essay is by Gabriela Grskovic:

Grskovic. G-R-S-K…Four consonants in a row?  It goes against every rule in the English language. But, I am not an ordinary American. I am first generation, one-hundred percent Croatian. Ever since I was little, I knew I was different than everyone else. I used to ask new friends, “What are you?”—Hoping to find a cultural connection. But I was always disappointed when they would answer back, “I’m a girl”, or “I’m a princess”.

As I got older, I was constantly afraid to invite my friends over, in fear of what they would think of the Croatian music my parents would sing to on the radio, or how they would react to me calling my father, “Tata”. In school, my peers would share amusing stories from their CCD classes, or discuss what they had learned in Hebrew school, and I would sit there silently—saddened by my parents’ decision to take me to a different church, which was conducted in a different language.

The summer of 6th grade my parents took us on our first trip to Croatia. I was awed by the bluest oceans and the cleanest beaches that I had ever seen; not to mention the least amount of clothing! The houses were all built into the mountainsides, overlooking beautiful sunrises, and majestic sunsets. There, I thought I would finally be able to fit in. I assumed that no one would question me about why I never was able to partake in sleepovers, or why my dad cooked dinner every single night of the week, (after all, dinner on a normal day included more courses than Americans have for Christmas or Thanksgiving). But I was wrong. I stood out like a sore thumb.

That summer I was disappointed to find that I was labeled an “Amerikanac”, an American. I was teased because I couldn’t pronounce certain words the way my Croatian friends did, and could not fully follow their conversations. Further, I could not dribble a soccer ball like Pele, and I most certainly could not catch fish using a spear. It seemed like I was a Croatian failing to be American in one country, yet an American failing to be Croatian in the other.

Where did I fit in?

I returned that summer feeling confused and defeated. But that didn’t last for long. A couple of weeks after my return from vacation, I was finding hope whilst taking a fashion design class. I was surprised to find the amount of international students involved in the program. When the professor asked everyone to design an outfit that showed who they were, a girl sitting next to me drew ripped jeans, and a t-shirt with some peculiar character on the front. She later explained that the character on the shirt was her favorite character from a Chinese comic book her cousin had given her. No one made fun of her, laughed at her, or judged her. In fact, my classmates wanted to know about the comic book series.  In just five minutes, she had showed me I had nothing to be afraid of. I could be American and Croatian. Instead of avoiding the questions my friends asked, I realized that I should take the opportunity to teach them about my culture.

My ability to integrate Croatian and American culture has helped me in all aspects of my life. Overcoming this challenge has led me to be much more tolerant of diversity because I know what it feels like to not fit in. No matter the college I attend, I will be with people of all different ethnicities, cultural experiences and opinions. My experiences will allow me not only to fully integrate into the community, but use those interactions in the classroom.   Not only will the location of a school broaden my horizons, but the diverse student population will as well. I look forward to being involved in an environment where students and teachers feed off of each other’s life-long interactions. Someone once said, “Perception is reality”. My unique perceptions of the events around me, like my embracement of new people, cultures and environments, allow me to create a new reality which will pave my way to success.

Those are our four honorable mentions. Congrats to all the winners, and thanks again for taking part!

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