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.
Filed Under: College essays
Since I am applying for the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Iowa University, I thought I should talk about my creative writing teacher Michael Dylan Welch. Besides being an award-winning poet, the Poet Laureate of Redmond two times, and a highly-anthologized author in popular poetry books, his main contribution to writing, I believe, is being an exceptional teacher to many aspiring poets.
After my father passed away, who was a poet and essayist, I had a few other writing teachers that helped me realize more of my potential, but I had no teachers like Mr. Welch. His selfless and tireless assistance in person and by email not only raised my level of skill in writing, but also made me realize my own altruistic self. After about two years of his lessons and reading his essays, I got invited to mentor other poets in a large online community of over 8000 people, specifically in haiku and tanka. For me, this proves how much impact Mr. Welch has been on my writing.
I met him a few times at haiku meetings in the Northwest, and knew him as a friend of my father. A few years later after meeting him those times, living in Ukraine, I emailed him about a poetry book I had written. It was made up of lyrical poetry and haiku—connecting the forms and styles by themes. The comments I received back from him shocked me: it seemed after years of writing haiku, I still had not grasped what a haiku truly was. He made me realize I had to start from the beginning, and he cleared the misconceptions I had about the genre.
In the coming months, we sent emails back and forth, answering any questions I had. I also read almost all his essays on haiku and related forms. Out of the blue, I got an acceptance from Frogpond journal, the publication of the Haiku Society of America—which is one of the top journals in the world for haiku, in any language. I was overjoyed and surprised: I had been trying to get published in Frogpond for many years without success, and after taking lessons from Mr. Welch, I had gotten accepted by them.
This acceptance into Frogpond gave me complete confidence in Mr. Welch’s teachings. It also made me realize that I had a talent in writing haiku, or at least had worked hard and humbly enough to get published in a top journal. I continued to take lessons from Mr. Welch regularly and started to submit to journals every week. After getting accepted by top journal after top journal in haiku and tanka, I feel now settled in being a published poet.
Mr. Welch never asked for payments for his lessons, nor did he ask for personal favors. He always got back to me promptly and gave all the information he could about my questions. When I had written my second book of haiku, Zen and Son, which is a compilation of my father’s haiku and my own haiku, Mr. Welch read through the full book and wrote countless constructive comments. After helping me edit my book, he also directed me to a publisher, Red Moon Press.
Through his selfless teaching, I got inspired to create an online journal named Haiku Commentary, which presents analysis on submitted haiku and related forms of poetry. I created it to spread the word of haiku and teach others what I have learned and continue to learn from Mr. Welch. No money is involved—it was created for the love of haiku and to educate others about it.
In the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Iowa University, I want to focus on the advancement and analysis of haiku in academic settings. My goal is to make haiku a serious and essential part of the American collegiate curriculum in creative writing classes and English courses. I hope with my master’s degree, I can be better equipped and better placed to make these fundamental changes in American education involving poetry.
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