Write An Essay About Someone Who Influenced You

Violent staccatos of the jackhammer coupled with rhythmic pounding of nails and muffled obscenities comprise the symphony of the construction site that has been my father’s accompaniment more than half of his life. While initially a position as a laborer seemed appealing to a junior in high school, strenuous physical labor loses its glamour to a man eclipsing fifty with a son about to enter college. As I battled through high school, I always found myself using my father as a blueprint to build me into the person I am today. If I could have only one friend for the rest of my life, I would choose my father; he has taught me lessons that I will never forget as long as I live. 

My father will be the first one to admit that he regrets postponing college and has always instilled in me the importance of education. I see the importance of education every night in the scratches and calluses on his hands and the ache in his knees. After every scholarship or award I receive, my father firmly shakes my hand and I tacitly promise to ease his pain. As I fill out my college applications, I officially become the first member of my family to apply to college immediately after high school. I broke the chain because while my friends spent summer at the beach, I worked to save money for my future. While my friends honed their wakeboarding skills, I discovered my passion for politics on the campaign trail. I never faltered because every night I gazed into a set of the proudest eyes before I went to bed. 

I remember that several weeks after my parents attended my middle school graduation, I had the enormous honor of congratulating my father after he realized his dream and got a college diploma, albeit 30 years overdue. My father’s college diploma reminds me that, no matter how bleak a situation may appear, I have the power to better it through diligence. As a freshman, my school resembled more accurately a 3 year-old construction site with tradition and identity yet to be established. However, rather than become discouraged, I took the initiative to pioneer Mock Trial, Speech and Debate and Junior State of America—things of which my father nor my school had never heard. In a school stained with prejudice, I co-founded Unity Through Diversity to advocate tolerance of all races, sexual orientations and faiths. In a community bitterly divided by political affiliation and marred by apathy, I spearheaded the Junior State of America to promote intelligent political discourse and activism. In a school with zero football victories, our freshman Mock Trial team gave the school championship trophies and pride.

My father is not only a member of my family; he is a friend who I can talk to after a tough day. With the clock ticking down until I leave home for college and my father working longer days and weeks, I relish every moment with him. However, I also realize that I must stand on my own. It is not my father’s responsibility to make sure that I get what I want out of life; I must do this independently. As I say my final farewell to my father, I will forever remember that he has given me tools, but it is my job to use them to craft my future.

Huber, Nick. "Describe a Person Who’s Had an Influence on You - "Dad"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 07 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/harvard/dad/>.

A teacher at one of my recent college essay workshops asked,

“What are some good ways for kids to approach the Common Application essay prompt about a person who’s influenced them?"

Here a few tips.

1.  Remember what “influence” means.

Influence is defined as, “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another…”  The fact that you admire someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve influenced you.  There needs to be some action or change in your actions, behavior or opinions.   That means you'll need to give specific examples of those things.  Deciding to improve your behavior in school, visiting a particular college you previously refused to see, spending more time volunteering at the soup kitchen—if you did those things because of someone else, that’s influence. 

2. Don’t choose this prompt to try to sound impressive.

The Common Application actually gives you five choices of essay prompts.  A lot of students who choose this one write about a famous activist, politician, or someone else notable in an effort to sound impressive.  Again, you have to remember what “influence” means.  The admissions committee doesn’t need to be convinced that Martin Luther King or Gandhi are admirable.  Unless you can point to specific examples of how someone famous really has affected your actions, behavior or opinions, choose someone else (or chose a different topic). 

3. Focus on the influence, not the person.

The exact wording of the question is, “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”  The subtext there is that you shouldn’t spend the entire essay describing why this person is so wonderful.  Spend the essay talking about you—your behavior, actions and beliefs—and how those have changed or strengthened as a result of this person’s influence. 

4.    Write an essay nobody else could write.

An essay about how your mother has inspired you to work hard is a nice essay.  But it will read exactly like hundreds of other students’ essays.  Instead, be specific.  Give details.   Write an essay that no other student could write.  And if it’s about your mom, give enough specific examples so that nobody else’s essay about their own mother will be quite like yours.

You can find even more advice in our video, “How to Write Great College Essays.”  It’s $12.99 and available as a streaming download.

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