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College Admission Essays for Athletes

It struck me tonight- watching my young son playing basketball- how much we human beings love to cheer. We enjoy watching two teams battle over a ball, racing back and forth across a court, or field, or rink, or whatever, scrapping to score and win. And when we are personally involved- when it is our team and our players with the outcome on the line, we cheer until we are hoarse.

Whether you are a star sprinter, or one who has never won a single race but runs for the sheer joy of it, athletic experiences can provide fodder for powerful, compelling essays. The trick is to win over the reader to your team, to set the scene and make him/her cheer, and finally to relate how the experience has prepared you for college.

Make Your Reader a Fan
What’s a sure fire way to turn off an admission officer? Coming across as proud or arrogant. You need to describe your athletic accomplishments without bragging. Students find this much harder than it sounds. You want to impress those admission officers so you come out swinging. “I’ve been playing football since I was seven, and last year I led my high school team to a State title!” Or, “It isn’t easy to balance five IB classes and my role as soccer captain, yet somehow I manage.”

Remember that your reader has the list of achievements or résumé you’ve submitted as part of your application already. Your essay should not be a relisting of athletic accomplishments. Instead, you should focus on telling a story about a specific experience as an athlete and how it shaped, matured, and prepared you for college. You make your reader a fan by setting a scene and getting him cheering for you.

“It Was the Bottom of the Ninth, Tie Game…”
Athletic events and competitions makes great fodder for telling a story with sensory details. Take your reader to that championship game, put him right there in the stands or on the field, by describing all of the sights, smells, and sounds.

Poised and ready in my blocks, mind focused and clear, family and friends shouting my name… Pop! At the sound of the gun, my body springs into action as my brain wills it: run, run, jump. Run, run, jump. During these fourteen seconds only one thing maters- finishing the race in first place!

Imagine a stadium packed with hundreds of rowdy crowds, eagerly awaiting the championship game for the Orlando Baseball Classic. Picture, two high school baseball teams warming up on the field, nervously preparing for the final showdown after a grueling tournament to win the chance to play in this final game.

Take your reader there and tell him/her what was at stake to win a fan. Make the admission officer want to cheer for you!

Remember the Bigger Picture
Athletic experiences have wonderful parallels to the challenges of college:

You have to demonstrate discipline as you work toward a goal.
You must get along well with others and work as a team.
Competing in physical tests of strength challenge you mentally as well.
You may be pushed physically beyond what you thought you could handle, only to emerge stronger (hello, Finals week!)

I encourage students to write about a time they suffered loss or defeat- sometimes these experiences teach us more than winning. You don’t have to be team captain or state champ to write about your experiences as an athlete. Check out this essay conclusion by a student who made the very difficult decision to quit water polo after his grades began to suffer.

Last semester, with my grades falling, I made the decision to pull myself off the water polo roster for the rest of the season. I could not stand myself failing in an important area in my life and I knew, though I hated to admit it, hated to walk into my coach’s office, hated to say that I would not be able to practice, that I needed to make this decision because no one else would make me. I traded in the swimming pool, devising match strategy with my coach, and game I have loved and excelled in since middle school for long hours at the school library, after class tutoring sessions, and late night study sessions, all for the academic career that I valued even more.

Whether you write about your athletic victories or defeats, be certain to relate how the experiences have shaped your character.
Heather Tomasello