Here’s a college admissions essay example from a friend of Winning Ivy Prep who was accepted to University of Pennsylvania!

UPenn Common App Essay Example

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Aspire, to reach for [an ambition], from Latin aspiro (ad + spiro), to breathe for [a purpose], a derivative of spiro, to breathe. Aspiration drove Bill Gates to found Microsoft, led Einstein to the theories of relativity, and brought me to the study of language.

Aspirate, to create a strong burst of air, used in a linguistic sense, also from Latin spiro, to breathe. In English, aspiration turns B’s into P’s, D’s into T’s and G’s into K’s. Most languages have aspirated consonants, including both Ancient Greek and Korean. Though you’d never think that Ancient Greek and Korean were in any way related, being on different sides of Asia, the two surprisingly have a lot in common.

When I was still in diapers, my working mom hired a nanny who, like my mother, was Korean in order to give me early exposure to her language. My English blossomed when I started preschool. In kindergarten my Chinese dad introduced me to his language through children’s television. Elementary school brought me French, and middle school ushered in my interest in Latin. Hotchkiss let me study Chinese and Ancient Greek while continuing my Latin. This past summer, I went back to my roots and worked on my childhood Korean. All told, I am learning three living languages – English, Chinese and Korean – and two dead ones, Latin and Ancient Greek.

I get some odd looks when people find out how many and what languages I study. I have a reason to study Korean and Chinese because they are the languages of my heritage, but how do I explain Latin and Ancient Greek? They’re dead languages, now only home to school crests and old philosophers. I fit as many as I could into my school schedule and studied them over break, but it seemed as if I couldn’t stop learning languages. In English, I traced etymologies as far back as anyone had researched. I learned the concept of nasal vowels from my Navajo friend. But through all this, I never figured out the why factor. What was it about language that drove me to it? 

The answer struck me in the form of a Korean cell phone. When I studied Korean last summer, I couldn’t figure out why the Korean ㄷ, a soft T, was pronounced ㅌ, a hard T, when it was next to ㅎ (H). There was no English equivalent, and I couldn’t rationalize the sound change to myself. Frustrated, I took a break for the day and went out to the movies with a friend. When I borrowed her cell phone to make a call and looked at the arrangement of the Korean alphabet on the number keypad, everything clicked. In contrast to the English keypad, where letters are arranged alphabetically, Korean maps its letters onto the keypad according to how they are sounded. Specifically, consonants that are formed with the same mouth movements all map to one number.

For example, if English number keypads had this system, M, B and P would be together because they are bilabial consonants, formed by placing both lips together. In this consonant group, M is the sonorant, a consonant that can be continually sounded. Because Korean keypads place all similar sounds together, I realized that plosives and aspirates were closely linked. I quickly deduced that since ㅎ (H) was just the burst of air required for aspiration, it would easily combine with a plosive to create the equivalent aspirate consonant. If English had a similar sound change (or, in linguist-speak, “a corresponding morphophonemic phenomenon”), B would change to P, D to T, and G to K in the presence of an aspirate.

I had known from my first day of Ancient Greek that it, along with Korean, was an inflected language, where the endings of words determine their grammatical function. When I noted that Korean once had pitch accent (where one syllable of a word has emphasis and a pitch), just as Ancient Greek does, I couldn’t sit still. I turned to my friend and exclaimed that Korean was a lot like Ancient Greek. I think she was more interested in Johnny Depp than phonic aspiration, though: she told me to give her phone back, stop talking so loudly and just watch Pirates of the Caribbean. But even as I eased myself into the sword fights and special effects, I couldn’t help but think, “Why can’t I aspire further in a movie theater? Maybe I’ll learn Haitian creole.”


Analysis & Comments

In this essay, the author made me feel:

  • Intrigued. This author has a super unique interest in languages
  • Invested. The author’s passion is really evident in his writing, and I’m hooked. I want to learn more about how he ties it everything together in the end.

In this essay, the author exhibits these personality traits:

  • Passion for languages
  • Detail oriented mindset
  • Creativity of thought

College Essay Strengths:

This essay is pretty long – it’s about 1100 words. We can definitely cut out a large portion of the words and keep the essays’ spirit intact. I definitely don’t advocate writing more than the recommended word count. Let’s put that aside for now and talk about the message of the essay.

The author chose a very unique topic — his love of languages — and his passion is crystal clear in his writing. He goes into great detail about why he finds language so enticing and intellectually challenging. It’s fun to learn about what goes on in his mind when he learns a new language and connects the dots between the languages he’s learning.
The introduction and conclusion are other very strong points of this essay. In the introduction, the author uses definitions to hook us right from the get-go. At the end, he adds a little humor to an otherwise esoteric topic, and he does a nice job tying the conclusion back to the intro about being at the movies with his friend. We walk away a little more educated and with a newfound respect for the complexities of languages.

College Essay Weaknesses:

This essay is overall very strong — it showcases bite-sized bits of the author: his culture, his environment in which he grew up, his passions, his humorous side. However, we pointed this out before: The essay is supppper long. He could’ve cut out tons of words to keep the essay within reasonable limits and still preserve the message and show his personality.

PS. Check out this post if you want to know how to answer UPenn’s supplemental essay questions.


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