Common Application Essay Prompt #2 (2018-2020)

“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.  How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

From Childhood to Adulthood

            “Freeze, get your hands in the air!” These are the words that I heard when twenty of the town’s finest swat team members charged into my house on a cold December day last year. Seconds later I sat handcuffed and perplexed in my living room next to my crying mother. As they searched everything in the house, including a coffee can, I felt violated. My body was overcome with numbness from the anger I felt, not toward the police but toward my so-called “cousin” who was unscathed in Columbia. My father had been especially close to this cousin who shared the same interest in computers as my Dad. My cousin continually sent my Dad computer equipment from Columbia, but the last time he sent a package, he said, “Oh, I am also sending something for my friends, but don’t worry, they’ll come by and pick it up.” What my father didn’t know is that my cousin included drugs disguised as candy. However, because of his message, my father became suspicious, opened one of the candies and realized he had been used to deal drugs. His plan was to call my cousin in Columbia to get the culprits to come to the house and have the police catch them red handed. However, since the police had been tracking the package, they arrived at our home earlier than my cousin’s friends. We convinced the police to wait a few hours for my Dad to come home. While they waited, we called the police, gave them a description of the car of the culprits, and they arrested them and my Dad in front of our house. The week that followed was very traumatic, for it included visits to the prison, where they had placed my Dad, and many interviews with the police. Finally the Columbians confessed that my father had no part in the drug trafficking, and that led to his release from prison. However, the damage was already done. We felt like second-class citizens, all because of a family member who tried to take advantage of us.

            This event affected us so adversely because the accusations of being part of a crime went against my family’s strong work ethic and values. My parents migrated to the States from Columbia to start a new and better life and to ultimately achieve the American Dream. When they first arrived, they worked at any job they could find, such as cleaning bathrooms and offices, and lived with relatives until they earned enough money to rent their own apartment. After two years and many lessons in the English language, my father secured a position as a computer assistant at a local hospital, attended college at night, and eventually earned a degree from New York University. Today he has an important position in network support at a large publication firm. My mother, on the other hand, is still working as a cleaning lady and not complaining. Rather, she finds time to take care of her own home and devote herself to her family. They are both role models of people who work hard to accomplish their goals, and they have taught me to respect and value the life I have. Since I was fourteen, I have been working, and today I have three jobs as well as play on two varsity teams, one of which I am a captain.

            Therefore, seeing and feeling what my family experienced from this trauma gave me an adult view of the world: it made me realize that innocent people are victimized daily. Such realization has led me into pursuing a career in the field of law enforcement, to prevent situations like the one described from occurring and to ensure that justice goes to those responsible for the crimes. By attending your university, I will be able to make the dream of being a detective, a reality.


Marion’s Analysis of From Childhood to Adulthood

Choice of Topic

Mistreatment by local police because of a family member in Columbia is not the usual topic for a college essay. However, since it had such a negative impact upon the normally righteous Columbian student, it lends itself to a provocative rendition of an occurrence that changed his life.


The phrase “Freeze, get your hands in the air” certainly grabs the reader’s attention, places him in the heart of the action, and lures him into the prospect of reading either an interesting murder mystery and/or a crime investigation.


The author uses words that are appropriate for his age, his mental state and the demeaning incident itself, thereby giving “voice” to an angry, frustrated individual. Words such as “perplexed,” “violated,” “overcome with numbness,” “anger,” “trauma” and “damage” give credence to his feelings of being “a second-class citizen.”

In the second paragraph, the tone changes from one of disparagement to pride. In describing his parents, the author uses words such as “migrated to start a new and better life,” “strong work ethic,” “work hard to accomplish their goals,” “taught me to respect and value the life I have.” Such phrases help to portray the voice of an individual who cares deeply about his family and the values they have instilled in him.

Specificity and Coherence

The essay is filled with specific details that make the incident credible. The reader can visualize the “handcuffed boy sitting next to his crying mother,” the candy in the computer package, the arrest of his father and the “felons … in front of the house” – all of which make the piece come alive.

And the specifics about the mother and father shed significant light on the author’s background. Describing them cleaning bathrooms and offices when they first arrived in America, having no place to live except with relatives, surmounting the language barrier; the father, working as a computer assistant, earning a college degree; the mother, working as a “cleaning lady, not complaining, but devoting herself to family” With these words, images of two hard working individuals emerge, individuals who were able to overcome hardship and instill in their son ,the author, a sense of loyalty and a moral fiber that precipitated anger at their apparent victimization. Such an individual who, as the essay states, holds three jobs, is involved in sports, and soars academically is certainly a viable candidate for any college.

Style and Mechanics

The essay includes a variety of sentence structures which adds to the interest of the piece.  In addition, the inclusion of quotes from the police and uncle adds to its veracity.


The last words of the essay bring the reader back to its focus and the essay prompt. It clearly explains how the “traumatic” experience changed the writer’s view of the world by giving him new insight into the concept of justice and thereby paving the way for his future career.