Poorly Done "Personal Growth" Essay

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I want to learn to take risks. I want to change my attitude about taking chances. Assessing my academic and extracurricular achievements, I am proud of my accomplishments. I see myself as an open-minded, goal-oriented person who achieves and succeeds through hard work and determination. How much of that success is a result of staying on comfortable ground?

I began wondering about the range of my abilities when I attended Northwestern University's Theater Arts Program last summer. The theme of the institute, announced by the director, was: "Dare to fail gloriously." This idea encouraged participants to take bold risks on the stage. Over time I applied this philosophy to my acting and my life. I began the Northwestern program as a quasi-accomplished actress with a hunger to absorb all I could about acting. I emerged not only a well-rounded thespian, but also a more secure person with a new outlook. I knew that there was something about my life that I wanted to change and could change. Now, as I approach college, I am committed to continuing successes and occasional glorious failures.

The first day at Northwestern I was asked to choose among three subjects in technical theater, ranking them in order of preference. Set Design was my first choice, followed by Costumes, and finally Stage Lighting. Much to my dismay, I was assigned to the lighting crew. Though disappointed, I tried to stay open-minded. I knew nothing about lighting, but followed the slogan which kept repeating in my head: "Dare to fail. . . ."

By the third lighting session, I had discovered a new passion: I was eager to learn everything I could about lights. Having always been a performer who enjoyed the limelight, I had never realized the skill required to create it properly. In my free time I climbed the catwalks, memorized cues, circuited lamps, and changed gels. My competence was recognized when I was selected head light board operator for the final production of the summer.

If the choice to study lighting had not been made for me, I would have missed an enriching opportunity. The experience taught me to take more risks, rather than to follow the most certain path to success. The exposure made me realize how limited my perspective had been in approaching new situations. The choice that was made for me, undesirable as it seemed at the outset, taught me to embrace new experiences and ideas.

I believe that "the past is prologue." In college I will take more risks, convinced that the potential rewards outweigh my fear of failure. I have stopped trying to select a major and am now committed to studying many academic disciplines before deciding on a field of concentration.

Accepting the possibility of failure is a new concept for me. While I have had recognition for academics, performing arts, community service, and athletic achievements, perhaps I have missed some enriching experiences because my certainty of success was doubtful. I will not avoid such opportunities in the future since I am changing my philosophy of life: I am learning to take risks.

Comments

Though this applicant has made a valiant effort at being personal, her essay lacks power because it is riddled with clichéd constructions. She even opens with one: "I want to learn to take risks." Though clichés are helpful in our daily lives (imagine trying to make completely original statements for the rest of your life), they are serious deficiencies in admissions essays. Admissions officers do not want to read the same hackneyed ideas over and over, since they give little insight into the particular applicant's character and personality.

Another major error is that the writer tells the reader early on how she changed, thus removing the element of suspense and reducing the reader's attention: "I emerged not only a well-rounded thespian, but also a more secure person with a new outlook." Also, successful essays show the reader, rather than tell him or her things about the applicant. This student, however, comes right out and states her qualities, almost in a tone that could be construed as haughty: "I see myself as an open-minded, goal-oriented person who achieves and succeeds through hard work and determination." What is more frustrating is that the writer also relies on clichéd rhetoric in such points, further lessening their power. Though there are some precise details during the discussion of the lighting experience, the applicant leaves much room for improvement. Stating, "In college I will take more risks, convinced that the potential rewards outweigh my fear of failure," is not enough. The applicant needs to state how specifically: Will she engage in new extracurricular activities? Will she study abroad? Will she discover a love of community service? Finally, ending with yet another cliché, the applicant leaves the reader without much useful material to assess her candidacy—a problem no applicant wants to create for her or his reader.