College Admission Essays :
Nenhan Zhang - San Mateo - California
Nenhan is the persistent type. When he immigrated to the United
States, he mastered the language to become an outstanding student. In
swimming, he progressed from most improved swimmer his sophomore
year to most valuable his junior year to team captain his senior year.
While a student at Burlingame High School, he also participated in the
math club and volunteered at the Coyote Point Museum. After college
he plans to become an architect.
From Struggle to Success - U.C. – Berkeley
As I draw my red photo album from the bookcase, wiping away the thin
layer of dust that has obscured its cover, I pause to heighten the anticipation.
This album has been my treasure box, its covers storing memories of
my childhood in my native China. Opening up my album, I see a photograph
of my father. I hear his wise reminder on the key to success: “If you
want to survive, you have to put in twice as much effort as anybody else.”
Attending an American high school has added new images to my autobiography.
The moment I walked into the English as a Second Language
classroom of Burlingame High School, I saw what my father meant by “survival.”
I have a mental photograph of myself at that classroom doorway,
stopped by the fear and turmoil within my mind, wondering what I would
do if someone spoke to me. Would I use my limited English, or would I rely
on hand gestures to get my point across?
I did, however, survive. I knew that giving into intimidation was useless; I
had to confront this challenge to understand and to be understood by others.
When I tired of fl ipping through my English-Chinese dictionary, reflecting
on this goal reminded me how much I still needed to learn in order to
catch up with the people who sat next to me in my classes, and I worked
harder. At the end of my freshman year, my work earned me both a satisfying
grade and an acceptance into the next level of College Prep English.
The following year, I had the opportunity to enter the Honors English class,
an opportunity that would test my desire to take a chance and to put in
the extra effort to succeed. Although my work in sophomore College Prep
English had been vigorous and substantial, I doubted my ability to face the
most challenging English class available. I consulted two teachers, and they
both warned me that my grade would probably suffer in the honors class.
Hearing the challenge in their words, I decided to take the risk in order
to learn more, and I made the leap to the next level. After six weeks of
devoted frustration, I received a C minus. My parents were worried that I
was exceedingly burdened, but I was content with the level of competition
and with the information and skills I was learning. In spite of—or perhaps
because of—that initial grade, I wanted to show that I could not only survive,
On the day of our last in-class essay, the speed with which my pen covered
my originally blank piece of paper fl ashes in my mind like another mental
photograph. I finished my essay in the time given. After countless nights
of little sleep, I had caught up with the class, and I finally prevailed with an
A minus. More importantly, I proved that challenging myself had been the
My struggle to succeed in high school was like trying to climb a very tall
mountain, and my steep and difficult climb has brought me a great sense
of accomplishment. Each minor accomplishment was like surmounting a
smaller peak; one of those more frightening peaks to conquer was a 10-
minute solo presentation on civil rights for Honors English. Keenly aware of
my accent on certain words, I was clearly not born for public speaking. As
the girl speaking before me finished her last words, I could feel my heart
crashing against my chest, and the temperature of my hands dropped to
absolute zero. I stood in front of my class, and 70 staring eyes pinned me
as I tried to utter my first word. As I continued to speak, however, my frustration
and discomfort abated. When I heard applause and saw smiles on
my classmates’ supportive faces, I was overwhelmed by pride and satisfaction.
The intense effort had been worth the reward.
This triumphant image stays with me as I fl ip my photo album closed. “If
you want to survive, you have to put in twice as much effort as anybody
else.” While I find that my father’s words still echo truth, I have also found
that with effort I can not only survive, but thrive. During this seemingly
short period of time studying in Burlingame High School, I have found the
confidence and the strength to take on any challenge that life may offer
Why This Essay Succeeded
Nenhan’s essay really takes you inside his head to share his thoughts,
fears and emotions as he faced each new trial. He helps you understand
how he could become motivated enough to raise his grade from a C
to an A. This is also a very good decision since the admission officers
might wonder about his low grades early on in high school. But after
reading his essay they would not only understand his transcript better
but would be even more impressed at his turnaround. Nenhan’s essay
fulfills two goals: it provides context for his achievements and shows his
ability to overcome challenges. Both are highly desirable by colleges
looking for good students.
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