College Admission Essays

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Erica Laethem – Caro – Michigan

Erica overcame a speech impediment to become a theatrical performer and debater. She wrote about this challenge in her essay. She says, “I believe that those frustrating years helped mold me into the person I am today.” At Caro High School, she was also the band drum major, homecoming queen and a varsity swimmer and soccer player. Erica plans to enter the field of medicine to help others overcome difficulties as she did.

A Personal Challenge - University of Michigan

“I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it,” Charles Swindoll lectured in his famous speech entitled “Attitude.” By overcoming a tormenting affliction, I have developed one of my most treasured gifts.

When I was in second grade, my teacher expressed concern about the way I stumbled on words in a conversation. At the beginning of the year, my stuttering was only a minor impairment, but by January, it had grown into a full-blown predicament. I was so difficult to understand that listeners would either interrupt me by telling me to “spit it out!” o r they would simply tire from trying to comprehend my “foreign dialect” and give up conversing with me altogether. My teacher recommended that I see the speech therapist who visited the elementary school regularly. Each time I would leave the classroom for my session with the “therapist,” a name that denoted “psychoanalyst” to my classmates, my farewell was addressed with young voices echoing my impediment, “Buh-buh-buh-bye, Erica!”

The mockery projected from the mouths of classmates was humiliating, but the pain incurred from an adult was even more agonizing. In the spring of my second grade year, Sister Loretta asked my Sunday school class if anyone was interested in reading a gospel selection for our congregation for our First Communion ceremony. When I eagerly raised my hand, my Sunday school teacher argued, “Oh, Sister, don’t pick her...she stutters!” I felt ashamed and incompetent as my classmates nodded their heads to endorse my teacher’s assertion. Sister kindly replied, “I think she’ll do just fine.”

On the way home in the car, I burst into tears. I was so hurt by my Sunday school teacher’s discouragement that I wanted to resign from my newly appointed position. My mother, who was as upset as I, lifted my chin and said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to prove her wrong, won’t we?” As soon as we returned home, I began practicing that reading. I practiced that single piece for at least 30 minutes a day, every single day. Soon, the repetition from solitary studying and speech therapy began to show results. On that First Communion Sunday, I spoke with clarity and enunciation, with enthusiasm and confidence. I had transformed my teacher’s devastating statement into the motivation that powered my vigorous training of repetition.

My First Communion was only the beginning of a whole-hearted struggle to overcome my impediment. I continued to practice with the speech therapist and at home with my parents. The struggle was not brief, but the process improved my senses of perseverance and dedication. If I hadn’t been faced with the challenge to surmount my speech impediment, I would have never developed the enthusiasm to excel in communication arts. In the seventh grade, I auditioned for our community theater’s musical production of “The Secret Garden,” and was cast as the leading role of Mary Lennox. The call informing me of my acceptance at the Thumb Area Center for the Arts confirmed that I really had won the battle. Overcoming my speech impediment has opened doors that never would have been opened if I hadn’t been “blessed with that given 10 percent” to conquer.

I have been asked, “Erica, if you could change one part of your life what would it be?” Most people who knew me when I was younger assume that I would love to omit the part of my life when I was tormented because of my severe stuttering problem. I usually surprise them when I say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” That time of my life taught me how to overcome life’s adversities. Most importantly, it taught me the importance of encouragement, sensitivity and kindness.

I wish to extend the fulfillment of overcoming challenges with a University of Michigan education. The standard of academic excellence that the University provides will serve as a superior foundation to build my future upon. My dream is to pursue a career in medicine where my work will propel my patients to experience the joy of conquering adversity.

Why This Essay Succeeded

When writing about a challenge, it’s best not to spend too much space describing it but to focus more on how you have overcome it. Erica explains her test, the torment she faced from classmates and the determination she had to ultimately triumph. Through her selection of examples, she doesn’t trivialize her efforts but instead explains how much work it took. The essay is both uplifting and inspiring and speaks volumes about her determination and commitment.

Success does not have to be earth shattering—in Erica’s case her first victory is simply reading a gospel without stuttering. But success of any magnitude is impressive if you overcome tough obstacles to achieve it. And admission officers respect that. Using your essay to explain how you overcame a difficulty—rather than describing the challenge itself—will make for a much more powerful essay.

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