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"I used to think life was different" - Harvard supplemental essay for fall admissions

eduardo8 2 / 2  
May 22, 2011   #1
I will be applying to Harvard this fall and I was hoping to receive some feedback on my rough draft. Any criticism is more than welcome. The essay is meant to inform the school of my hardships or "unusual circumstances in my life." It is approximately 880 words, which I thought was a little lengthy. I do not see how I can shorten it. PLEASE help me out here!

"Yo pensaba que la vida era distinta. Cuando estaba pequeńito, yo creía que las cosas eran fácil como ayer." (I used to think life was different. When I was small, I believed things were as easy as yesterday). This quote from the song "Los Caminos de la Vida" (The trails of life) has never failed to make me bawl. The hardships that I have come cross and continue to endure make my early infancy days seem impeccable.

When I look back upon my situation, it seems like everything collapsed within itself in a matter of seconds. It all started in Colombia when I was eight years old. My parents were supporting my maternal family with politics related affairs. The "guerrilla" warned my parents to stop the support of my uncle's campaign for mayor of Pivijay, a small town in Colombia. My parents failed to react, causing death threats to infiltrate our home. The decision made was for my dad to leave the country as soon as possible. He decided to move to Elizabeth, NJ, where he had a couple of friends. My mom and I kept a low profile in Colombia until meeting up with my dad in the states less than a year later. My sister, Melissa, remained in Colombia to finish her undergraduate degree before fleeting the country to France. How much it would have hurt me to know that I would not be seeing her until seven years later. I left everything I knew and loved for an unfamiliar abyss.

As an innocent eight year old, I was making the best out of the opportunity to come to the states. I enjoyed the trajectory until we got to JFK International Airport. When I finally got to see my father, he looked disheveled and weak. I thought things were going to get better since he had us now. My mom promptly started working night shifts cleaning airplanes in Newark. The surveillance that my parents always kept on me would be removed for an undefined amount of time. I was starting third grade in a new school with no friends or a common language. The financial situation was rough so we resorted to renting out rooms in our rented apartment. The apartment had four rooms; three of which were occupied by couples. I had to share a room with my parents, who I barely came across with, until the unexpected occurred. One day after school, a group of reporters crowded the front of the apartment's door. It turns that one of the couples had passed away after an inebriated off duty cop collided with them on route 1-9. My parents had to work even longer now that there was a new deficit in the household budget. As time passed, it seemed like I was making more wrong decisions. At the end of sixth grade's first semester I had skipped ten days of school. I also started hanging out with the wrong kids and made a habit out of smoking cigarettes, or bogies as we used to call them. On the average day, I used to return home at ten o'clock. My parents would not suspect a thing due to their lack of presence. At the end of sixth grade, my parents became aware of the situation and chose to move to Georgia where they hoped to start fresh.

My dad remained working in New Jersey while my mom and I settled in our newly purchased house. When my dad joined us, he immediately enrolled himself in a full-time and part-time job. We were still not able to make ends meet and decided to rent one of the rooms of the house. I saw that my parents were making this sacrifice for me. During my seventh and eight grade years, I helped my dad every night cleaning the local Ford dealership. Despite how tired I was, I would work as fast as I could knowing that the faster we finished, the longer he would get to sleep before his full-time job. The recession would create a new struggle for us. The renter moved out of our house and my dad lost his part-time job. The mortgage payments were being neglected and we soon went into foreclosure. My dad used our savings and hired a lawyer to appeal. Luckily for us, we qualified under Obama's plan for mortgage bailouts. I shortly got a job in order to buy necessities and commodities such as leisure books, test preparation books, and to pay for club membership fees. Today, my dad holds two full-time jobs and my mom work six days a week. We also recently took in another renter to try to make the finances breakeven.

All I want to do is make my parents proud. I hate walking in my mom's room after work and hearing her crying about the overwhelming pain in her hands. I hate knowing that my dad has to work sixteen hours straight just to get us by. I hate being aware that my parents are in their mid-fifties and will not be able to handle the factory life for much longer. I see them falling apart under my own eyes every single day. I cannot do anything about it and it kills me little by little.
Notoman 20 / 419  
May 23, 2011   #2
Using active voice instead of passive will make the biggest impact on your essay.

I am not trying to burst your bubble here, but this essay needs a lot of work to be persuasive.

The introduction falters. It doesn't act as that strong "hook" that you need.

Some of the details are very compelling while others are extraneous (especially if you are looking to cut the word count). A personal essay doesn't have to include every little chronological detail. You could omit the details that round out your family's story, but don't add to your own (your sister's undergraduate degree, the timing of your father's departure, the deaths of the renters, Obama's bailout).

Keep in mind the purpose of the essay ... it isn't a personal biography as much as a billboard. It should say, "Look at me. I have overcome this adversity, I bring diversity, and I can succeed at your university." At this point, I don't see enough of that in your essay. If I were a Harvard admissions counselor, I would worry that you have not truly overcome your adversity. I'd fear that you would have to quit school to go home and help take care of your parents. Your Colombian heritage and economic status brings diversity to a school rife with upper-crust, white-Anglo-Saxon protestants, but that is not enough. Schools have myriad ways of increasing diversity, and are not going to want to take a risk on someone who doesn't appear ready for success. Which leads me to the last point ... how have your prepared yourself for success at Harvard? Perhaps you could tie that into hard work you put into cleaning car dealerships. I wouldn't talk about being sidetracked in middle school or a lack of parental supervision because it doesn't add to your case. I am assuming that your high-school grades (at least in the top 10% of your class) and SAT scores are high enough for Harvard consideration ... tell the admissions counselors about how you took advantages of all the school system had to offer, challenged yourself with AP courses, became a fixture of the library, how you studied, worked hard, and built yourself into the type of person an Ivy-League school would consider.

Here's a brief sample of how you might be able to word things differently: When I was eight years old, a heavily-armed guerrilla threatened my family because of my father's politics. Afraid for our lives, we fled our beloved and familiar Colombia and settled in the United States. School proved challenging. Without a common language, understanding lessons and making friends was difficult. My parents worked hard to make ends meet. My dad toiled at two full-time jobs and my mom cleaned airplanes at night to make ends meet. The wages didn't always cover the expenses, and we sometimes resorted to renting out rooms in our tiny, overcrowded apartment. As a middle school student, I worked alongside my dad cleaning local car dealerships after they closed for the night. I scrubbed the toilets and washed the cars' windows as fast as I could so my dad and I would be able to get a little sleep before work and school the next day.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 23, 2011   #3
but this essay needs a lot of work to be persuasive.

The introduction falters. It doesn't act as that strong "hook" that you need.

Wow, I don't know, man... I was pretty hooked!

Use hyphens for "year-old":
As an innocent eight year-old, I was making the best out of the opportunity to come

All I want to do is make my parents proud. ---- What a powerful sentence, here...
This essay really is persuasive. I don't know what Noto is talking about! ;-) Obviously, that is some great writing advice that Noto offered, though...

If you need to shorten the essay, you'll have to cut some of the details and story in the middle of the essay. Taking a chunk of story out of the middle will be regrettable, because you write so well, but it will focus the essay more on the main idea that Noto was discussing.


It turns that one of the couples had passed away after an inebriated, off- duty cop collided with them on route 1-9.
OP eduardo8 2 / 2  
May 23, 2011   #4
@Notoman- Thank you so much for your input. I really needed constructive criticism rather than a superficial comment.

This is my supplemental essay. I was just addressing the adversity aspect of my life. I was hoping to use the required essays to expose why I am a strong candidate for Harvard college. It was just a way of stating a situation that would have been left out. I will include those facts and my commitment to learning in the other parts of my application (top 10% based on unweighted GPA, 12 AP classes before graduation, Average SAT scores, great SAT subject tests, extracurricular activities, etc.) I truly appreciate your feedback and will take it under serious consideration. If you any more advice, please let me know!

Thank you!!

@EF_Kevin- Thanks for the grammatical help. I was hoping someone would correct that since is not one of my fortes. I appreciate the complements! I will be revising and editing the prompt before regular decision submission this fall. Once again, thanks for the heads up!

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