Where do you even start when you’re brainstorming possible essay topics for your college application essays? Some go for a walk to get inspired, and others look back on their own experiences. Here are 5 college students who decided to talk about their athletic achievements, or used sports as a metaphor:
Amherst College ‘20
The lessons I have learned in tennis can apply to everybody’s life. When someone begins learning tennis, the main focus is to keep the ball in play. Keep the ball going back and forth until you win the point. I honestly struggled keeping up my motivation in high school. However once I finally found a very steady source, it made life much easier and it kept me going much longer. Keep reading.
University of Pennsylvania ‘18
Numerous times I felt like giving up on my basketball dreams yet I didn’t want to be labeled a quitter. Instead, I wanted to one day tell a story just like Michael Jordan’s and how he was initially cut from the varsity team only to end up becoming the best player in the world; this became the driving force of my basketball obsession after I didn’t make the varsity team during my freshman year. View full profile.
Dartmouth College ‘18
Gliding above the liquid glass, I take deep breathes, setting a rhythm for my crew to act together with one mind. Putrid green bubbles can be seen, rising to the water’s surface to gently greet the most crimson-colored sunset found in the Sacramento Valley, only to be crushed by the blade found at the end of my Yao Ming-sized sweeping oar. Each stroke, I pull harder than I did on the one that came before it; each stroke I tear skin from the blisters found on the joints of my fingers that grasp my oar; each stroke I carry my weapon of bubble destruction with more and more confidence. In the long haul of a two-thousand meter race I remember that the pain I feel is temporary and that I am fully capable of pulling my way past the finish line. Read more.
Harvard University ‘17
It all happened within a split second. I held the orange leather ball firmly between my hands as steaming droplets of sweat ran from my forehead to the tips of my fingers. My lungs desperately begged for oxygen as I stood right before the maroon line fifteen feet away from the basket, crouched into my shooting stance that had been perfected through the hours of repetition spent on this very spot. Despite the meticulous preparation, my knees trembled out of fear and anxiety. All eyes within the gymnasium were placed on me—the shortest of the ten in uniform on the hardwood floor. Tightly shutting my eyes and stiffening my lips, I deeply meditated on the foul shot that was about to be taken. As the cheers filled my ears, I recalled the days in the past when all of this was a brand new experience; slowly, the roar of the crowd faded to a low murmur then to an utter silence. Continue reading.
University of Pennsylvania ‘19
“The 50m freestyle is next. Swimmers, take your positions.” I stepped onto the diving platform as the announcer’s voice echoed through the natatorium and tightened my goggles, not too tight, but just right, like Goldilocks’ porridge. This was my debut since my hiatus from the U10 YMCA Sharks. Standing on the diving board, I could feel the power of the room engulf my being; energy filled my body while my fingers began to tingle. “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis began to play in my ears. View full profile.
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Have you started brainstorming what you should write for your college application essay? If you’re interested in writing about it on sports, unlock the one of the above profiles for free to read the full essay for inspiration!
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.
This week, The Choice has invited Janet Lavin Rapelye, the dean of admission at Princeton University, to stop by our virtual Guidance Office and answer your questions about college admissions. Ms. Rapelye, who received a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and a master’s degree from Stanford University, has 30 years’ experience in college admissions.
Her responses, which began on Monday, conclude with this fifth installment of answers. In this final post, Ms. Rapelye provides advice about academic preparation, SAT subject tests, extracurricular activities and athletics.
Some questions and answers have been edited for length and style. — Tanya Abrams
High School Curriculum and Extracurricular Activities
What should a ninth grader be thinking about, other than taking a challenging course load and doing well, in terms of applying for college in three years? How should a future college application factor into decisions about courses, extracurriculars, etc.?
— Liz P.
As students begin high school, they should focus primarily on their high school experience rather than just the preparation for college. These are important years not only for academic growth, but also for personal development.
We hear about students who go off to summer camp and fill their spare hours with standardized test preparation after spending many of their after-school hours during the regular school year with academic tutors. That is not what we wish for students, and I hope sincerely that high school students will enjoy the richness of life as it presents itself.
And while we are on the subject of summer camps: If you have gone to a summer camp that you love, please return to it in the next few summers. Being a senior leader at camp or working as a counselor can be a rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful experience.
A number of my colleagues at selective institutions have noted the problem of student burnout. For some students, the dash begins as early as kindergarten or prekindergarten. We recognize that the growing competitiveness of getting into top-tier institutions is a primary driver of student burnout, and for that reason it is even more important to convey this note to parents: Let your children enjoy their youth.
Keeping an eye to the future is probably how I would frame this notion of preparation, rather than focusing exclusively on it. To that end, I would advise a healthy mix of rigorous courses and extracurricular activities.
Many selective liberal arts colleges and universities have a recommended but not required list of high school courses, in part because we know that not all schools offer the same academic opportunities.
If the courses are offered, we expect students will avail themselves of the opportunities. These usually include four years of English with a curriculum that gives students continued practice in writing. We hope students will take four years of mathematics, including calculus for students interested in engineering. If a high school offers four years of a single foreign language, students would be wise to take four years of a language. In addition, we hope that students can take at least two years of laboratory science, including physics and chemistry for students interested in engineering, and at least two years of history.
Students should consider taking the most advanced and rigorous course load offered at their school. Students who have taken advantage of these opportunities will not only improve their chances of admission to selective schools, but they will be better prepared to handle the challenging course work required at the college level. At some colleges, advanced standing and credit are granted for students who have scored well on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or A level results. Each college and university has a different policy about this, so students should check with their college counselors and the admission officers at particular schools for more information.
As for extracurricular activities, we recommend that students follow their individual interests in the special talents they want to develop in the visual and performing arts, athletics, leadership activities, and that they engage themselves civically. But they should choose these activities judiciously. Don’t overload. If students need to have a job during the year, they can learn valuable life lessons in these endeavors.
Use the criterion of interest when selecting extracurricular activities, rather than how a list of activities might appear to a college admission office.
Common App Confidentiality
Will colleges on the Common App know what other colleges the student is applying to? Thanks in advance.
Students should think of the Common Application as a process that is confidential in every way. Admission officers at participating schools only know that you are applying to their own school. They have no knowledge of where else you may be applying through the Common Application.
The schools that have decided to participate in the Common Application did so because they recognized that much of the information they require is similar. These include high school records, test scores, an essay, and teacher and guidance counselor recommendations. Some schools, such as Princeton, require supplemental sections that seek additional information.
The Common Application was created as a convenience for the student. By allowing students to answer questions that are common to the applications of all participating schools does not mean that the schools get to share information about who has applied to what schools. This information is held strictly confidential by the Common Application organization.
SAT Subject Tests
My daughter plans to apply to Princeton for fall 2013. She decided late in August to do so after visiting family and the school. Because her other school choices did not require SAT subject exams, she had not taken any. She therefore registered for two SAT subject exams in October 2012. Will Princeton accept the scores or will it be too late?
Yes, we will accept SAT subject tests taken in October. Most colleges and universities will post their deadlines and their policies on their Web site.
Princeton has two admission cycles: single-choice early action and regular decision. For the early action cycle, we strongly recommended that you send us by Nov. 1 the two SAT subject tests that we require of applicants. If you take the tests in the month of November, we suggest that you tell the testing agency to send the scores directly to Princeton.
For the regular decision cycle, we strongly recommend that you send test results by Jan. 1. If you take the tests in January, and the admissions office said it will process the results, please send the scores directly to the college to which you are applying. You can find most of the answers to questions like these in admissions materials distributed by each college. It is wise to check these deadlines with every school, since each institution has its own guidelines.
If you have other questions about deadlines or the application process, you should check with your college counselor.
How much importance is given to a student’s participation in team-oriented extracurricular activities (as in most sports) as opposed to those requiring individual participation (as in music- or arts-related activities)? I ask this since a child’s social skills in a team may not be very obvious if she has spent most of her life pursuing her interest in music or arts.
Sports. How important is participation in athletics to the admission staff at an elite college or university? Is merely being on a school team enough to help admission, or must the student be a star player? Does it only help if he or she may be good enough to play at the college level? Does pursuing physical activity as a hobby (say running or cycling) help at all? And dare I ask why sports are important at institutions that are leaders in intellectual achievement?
We’ve received many questions about the value of athletics and the arts in our admission process. The two questions above pose the subject a little bit differently, asking if we place more emphasis on one than the other, and why sports should even be part of the equation in an intellectual environment.
We do not emphasize one activity over the other; athletics as well as artistic endeavors are equally regarded. They both present students with opportunities to show and develop character. In both, students are likely to show such character traits as motivation, creativity and independence, and to learn such life lessons as overcoming adversity, demonstrating empathy or learning the importance of hard work and perseverance.
I’m not sure I would describe athletics as only being team-oriented and music as only being individually oriented. We may think of musicians, dancers or actors as people who spend most of their time practicing alone, but many will play in a band or orchestra, participate in a choreographed production or act in a play. And runners and swimmers, for example, can spend long hours alone in their training. In both the arts and athletics, there are opportunities for soloists and supporting actors, stars or team players, and both kinds of players bring equal value to their endeavor.
As I’ve also mentioned previously, we see students who have honed an interest in a particular skill and students who are well rounded and have excelled in a number of different activities. We want both of these kinds of students on our campuses. We have students who have worked their whole lives developing their skills as high jumpers, rowers, speed skaters or marksmen, some of whom have gone on to compete in the Olympics. We also have students who have spent their lives perfecting their piano or singing technique and who have gone on to win international competitions or to sing opera on the world stage. In any admission cycle, we also are likely to see the student who is both a skilled athlete and a talented musician. We also have students applying who have participated in athletics and music, and while they love the activity, they may not be the stars. There is a place for these students in our colleges.
We value students with all kinds of talents because we know they will enrich the university environment. On a residential campus such as Princeton’s, we want to see students whose enthusiasm will be infectious. When we see, for example, a student who comes here with a strong interest in cello who later joins the cycling team, we consider that a win for the individual as well as the campus. We also know that the arts on our campus can be both a curricular and an extracurricular focus.
For all these reasons, American colleges and universities have historically stressed the importance of extracurricular activities in the admission process – everything from participation in the arts and athletics to feeding the homeless or taking care of a relative. It is our mission to educate a student in every way possible. It is our duty to expand their intellectual horizons and to nurture them in ways that will prepare them ultimately to be leaders in whatever field they choose.
Ms. Rapelye is no longer taking questions. However, if you would like to further discuss college admissions, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below.