500 words or less, p.1

  500 Words or Less, p.1

500 Words or Less

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500 Words or Less
 This book is dedicated to our fellow classmates who have shown strength and grace through tough times.


  I’ve been sloshing through personal statements for over a decade now. Each fall, my students stumble in from summer with a subtle terror that has been building for years. It’s time to fill out the dreaded college applications. While I can’t help them with much, they do crave advice on the essay.

  In class, we read professional and exceptional sample essays, write drafts, revise, etc. in hopes that they will be able to convey an accurate and richly-written depiction of themselves. It is the personal element of the application and so a great opportunity to humanize oneself to an admissions officer (much harder to reject someone you feel like you know than someone who is dehumanized in vague answers).

  This compilation came about many months after the initial assignment, though. While trying to figure out what to do as a capstone project for their English careers, my students decided to jump into the emerging wild frontier of the literary world: e-publishing.

  After pondering what they could give to that market, they decided that they wanted to give others a chance to look behind the curtain of an admissions officer reading stacks of essays so the writers could determine for themselves what works well. They gave their own essays exactly as they were turned in to the schools, and have also listed the schools to which they were admitted and where they will be attending.

  My students hope that by allowing future applicants to see their what their “competition”looks like ahead of time, applicants will rise up and create better essays. My students have also chosen to give the book away for free in hopes that students from less-privileged backgrounds (and perhaps from other nations) will also be able to have the mystery of the essay removed.

  I think it goes without saying that I am very proud of them.

  --Lauren Monahan

  English Teacher

  La Costa Canyon High School


  At La Costa Canyon High School each year, high school seniors begin the college application process, a highly anticipated and rather daunting landmark in any teenager’s life. After seeking out potential college options, seniors must submit transcripts, standardized test scores, lists of extracurricular activities and accomplishments, alongside a personal statement-- otherwise known as “the college essay.”

  Despite its horrid reputation, the personal statement is simply the opportunity for students to show who they are, what they’ve done, what they can do in words beyond their GPAs and SAT scores. The personal statement is meant to be a self-reflective, creative masterpiece that a student is truly proud to send to universities. Essentially, the personal statement is a chance to dig deep and brag about what makes you you without judgement.

  However, to many seniors’ dismay, each college has its own unique prompt and requirements for their personal statement ranging from very specific to “write whatever you want.” This means that many students end up writing two, three, even four or more essays sent to various schools.

  500 Words or Less compiles a collection of personal statements for college applications, reflecting upon the multi-dimensional lives of the seniors in Miss Monahan’s AP English Literature classes from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California. Each essay is

  accompanied by the students college of choice as well as the schools he/she was admitted to. In hopes to aid future college applicants, we have included in our book tips on writing personal statements as well as insight from our teacher, Miss Monahan.

  As a class, we hope that future college-bound seniors will be able to learn from techniques used in our essays and will enable the student to have a clearer prospect of what each school is specifically looking for.

  Best of luck with your college admissions process!


  Daphne Delgado and Brenna Lyles

  Co-Editor-in-Chiefs of 500 Words or Less

  500 Words or Less: What We’re All About

  Trying to write your college essay? Don’t really know where to begin? You definitely have the right book in your hands. So congratulations, you did one thing right!

  Greetings from Ms. Monahan’s 4th and 6th period classes at La Costa Canyon High School. During our last month of senior year, we 54 students compiled our college essays into one fabulous book for your convenience. 500 Words or Less is a collection of example essays that got the average student into college. From everyone’s favorite prompt, personal choice, to the awkwardly specific “What unique attributes would you bring to our college community,” an example of every prompt is represented. At the end of each essay is a list of the colleges that the student got into, along with the college that they decided to grace with their presence. We did this for you, to help and guide you along the path to a higher education. So feel free to criticize the clichés or the mistakes that you have found, but in the end, we got into college.

  Good Luck!

  Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.


  Analyssa Quaranta

  Applied: University of Southern California, Oregon State University, California State University Northridge, San Diego State University, University of California Irvine, and University of California Berkeley.

  Attending: Oregon State University

  My World

  Ah, I can smell the deep fried bread dough stuffed with tomato, mozzarella cheese, and basil that fill the air with wonderful aromas. Savory, sweet, and salty flavors blend together. These folded over pizzas that my family makes taste more like a deep fried Calzone. We call this Italian creation Panzerotti. They are extremely popular with my family around the holidays and special occasions, but we don’t prepare them more often because it takes half the day to make these splendiferous treats. The dough must be made from scratch and rolled out to six-inch long circles; the inside toppings must be mixed together with the perfect amounts of tomato, basil, mozzarella cheese, and other secret ingredients. Then the dough must be folded over and closed. Making Panzerotti is a complex process one must strive to master.

  The recipe has been passed down from generation to generation. Making Panzerotti is only one of the many types of food my family enjoys making together. We even make our own pasta from scratch. I have spent many hours in the kitchen watching my grandparents and parents create works of art in how they cook their food. The food they make has to be just right before served. Just watching was enough to inspire me, and I began participating. Now these habits are a part of how I cook or bake anything. When I bake cookies, they have to be perfectly browned in order for me to allow anyone to eat them. My family and I take pride in how we cook or bake food. Our motto is, “if you take the time to make an excellent meal for your family, then that’s how you show them you love them.”

  Along with cooking and perfecting the food that is to be served, we love having dinner or lunch with the whole family at every meal. No one is allowed to eat alone. This is important to my family because eating together means we can all catch up on each other’s day and, just talk. There have been very few times when I have sat by myself at the dinner table, especially during dinner-time.

  Being Italian, food is the way my family and I connect with each other and show each other how much we enjoy and love one another. It has always been my instinct to heal someone in my family by baking cookies for them, when they are sick. My future goal is to become an Epidemiologist. Epidemiologists deal with containing outbreaks of diseases and developing vaccinations for the infected people. Since this is a service career that involves caring for people, my intuition and desi
re to help others make this a perfect profession for me.

  Aiden Moran

  Applied to: UC Berkeley, UCSB, Cal Poly, San Diego State University

  Attending: San Diego State University

  Taking My Place

  “I need you to get them fired up. You’re the team leader,” my lacrosse coach told me, his calm tone managing to convey an intensity that sparked a fire within me. “Just make sure they are ready to go.” Coach Foss is all business, so as a La Costa Canyon High School lacrosse team captain, I’m charged with helping keep my teammates focused and motivated.

  Entering high school, I had always been a team player but lacked leadership skills. To me, staying in line and following was much easier than having to step up and be vocal. Freshman year, I was called up to play varsity football. There I experienced many locker room speeches and pregame huddle rallies. I listened intently to the words and the tone of the messages and remember the feeling of being completely immersed in the team’s rising energy, one unit with a common goal. Admittedly, at times I also felt intimidated, being one of the youngest there. Yet, even then, I knew in the back of my mind that one day I would be electrifying my teammates with the emotional impact of my words.

  For the next couple of years, I would quietly sit back and observe certain techniques that various team captains used, noting if they were successful or not. I went as far as remembering one-liners that I knew I would incorporate into future speeches, such as, “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.” I knew that once I paid my dues and laid the foundation of persistent hard work, I would one day be appointed a team captain.

  I saw that different kids responded to various styles. Respecting these differences while managing to unify the team could be a tricky balance. One kid needed to have his confidence built up. Another kid needed to hear how his opponent belittled his skills in order to get motivated, and so on. As a team captain, understanding such nuances of personality would allow me to better serve my teammates and carry out the tasks the coach had placed on me.

  I’ve even had to hone my diplomacy skills in my team captain role. When Coach Foss recently berated some younger players during a game, I saw that they were unused to his style. While his intention was to propel their skills to the next level, they started playing even sloppier, which I realized was caused by their fear of failing. I pulled them aside first chance I got, and enlightened them regarding our coach’s intensity, letting them know not to take his words personally.

  “He believes in you and your ability to play at a higher level,” I explained. “If he didn’t, he wouldn’t even bother.” To my relief, the boys seemed to understand and settled down and performed to our coach’s expectations.

  Sometimes, it takes seeing and understanding what someone is experiencing and respecting the differences in personality to truly be an effective team captain, able to unify a diverse group of players into one cohesive family.

  Ben Garcia

  Attending: Palomar

  A Second Chance

  Many people have agreed that I am overly confident and proud. Some have even gone as far as to call me egotistical. This is mainly because I’m not afraid of standing out or making a fool out of myself. But what makes me unique is that I have a reason to be egotistical.

  The ability to think properly is a gift that is convenient for us. We as human beings often take this gift for granted. Many children are simply handed opportunities and chances from their parents since the day they were born. I remember that, growing up as a young child, I did not have that luxury. I was born into the world without hope and without a clue, yet I found a way to deal with it.

  I grew up in the beautiful town of Encinitas, California, as the son of two loving parents. I remember starting school that I was never the brightest social butterfly in the class. My mother often worried about me as I played by myself and I didn’t interact with anyone. I talked to imaginary friends, a new one each and every day, not feeling brave enough to talk to other children. It was in Preschool where I was first diagnosed with Type A Autism. I was fortunate enough to have a weak form of the disorder, (enough so that I could still receive a normal education), however it was not enough for me to live a normal life. I still remember the seemingly thousands of tutors that showed up in my room. I remember the shame of having to be pulled out of class for special treatment during elementary school. However the worst pain for me to even think about now is having my mom go through with it.

  Having Autism was a lot to deal with for me, but for me to watch my mom go through it with me was too much. My mom was the primary reason that I am no longer diagnosed with Autism and why I live a normal and happy life today. I had gone through many counselors and gone through many mental training exercises before I could rightfully say Autism no longer affected me. It was because of her that I was given a second chance. I am proud because I know what I have gone through and I know what I can do. I devote my life to helping others everyday as my mother helped me.

  Brenna Lyles

  Attending College: UC Davis

  Accepted to: UC Davis, Point Loma Nazarene University, Cal Lutheran University , The King’s College, Colorado State University, University of Utah, Westmont College, Texas Christian University, Baylor University

  Beating the Boys

  Standing at four feet five inches, dressed in worn-out Sketchers and lime green Gymboree capris, I crouched into the starter’s position, fixated on the chalk finish line before me. The adults watched in awe as I-- then just nine years old-- out-sprinted the seventh grade, neighborhood boys who challenged me to race. “Rematch, rematch! You cheated,” they’d claim until they were too exhausted to continue running.

  Although the day came when I could not longer beat the boys, my lust for running remained. I’ve ran on the track team since seventh grade, competing in events from the 200 meter dash to the mile. As a junior, I made the whimsical decision to take up longer distance running and join the cross-country team. Despite defining myself as a sprinter, the sudden spike in mileage seemed to fare well as I began to train and race with Varsity. I gleamed with a newfound self-confidence as I discovered the strength and beauty in an eight mile trail run.

  However, the cross-country season of my senior year was plagued with disappointment as my times were not on par with the prior season’s. I constantly felt physically drained. I battled with the idea of quitting, yet with the support of my reassuring teammates and coaches, continued to push through difficult workouts and meets. With an optimistic outlook, I suspected that circumstances would improve and I’d soon have a breakthrough race. That race never came, and with just weeks left of the season, a sharp, unrelenting pain developed in my left foot.

  “Maybe you’re tying your shoe too tight,” my coach offered as I explained my discomfort. Although I had enough knowledge to reason that this wasn’t the case, I graciously accepted his advice and continued to run, in fear of a doctor’s sentence to discontinue running. The pain worsened and I was soon diagnosed with a stress fracture in my second metatarsal, subsequently banished to a clunky orthopedic boot. My season ended just as it had started, disappointing.

  After struggling through both burnout and injury, I recognized many similar setbacks that my teammates had also been facing. After analyzing each week’s training, it became evident that I had been over-training-- and many of my injured peers probably had been as well. While I have always been interested in pursuing a career in exercise science, I now recognize a summoning to inform high school and collegiate-- specifically female-- runners how to reach peak performance. Who knows how many runners had been wrongly informed by a parent or coach just as I had been.

  In the future, I aspire to fuse my love for running and my ability to write to become a health and fitness journalist. Through a degree in Exercise Biology and minor in Journalism, I believe I can reach a generation of athletes who will subsequently eat healthier, train smarter, and perform better. By reaching out to runners thr
ough journalism, perhaps more girls will be able to keep up with the boys.

  Brianna Haeckl

  Accepted to: San Diego State University, University of California, Santa Barbara

  Attending College: San Diego State University


  Dirt, leather, hoof black, fly spray, hair spray, sparkles and spurs. The chemicals to which I have been exposed all of my life have definitely built up my immune system, but more importantly, they have strengthened my personality. The sound of horse snorts soothes me; my seat of choice is a saddle; my favorite view is looking down at those fuzzy ears and unruly mane; the last boy I kissed was a horse. When I am at the barn, I am in a separate world. Rodney Atkins blares from the speakers of my F250 diesel truck. My boots are my favorite pair of heels. The jingle of my spurs puts a huge smile on my face. There is love all over my clothes in the form of horse snot. I frequently sit in the dirt when there is no chair available. My jeans often serve as a napkin. My friends at school do not know much about this part of my life, but without it, I would not be the person I am today.

  I was born a cowgirl. I would attend my older brother’s horse shows and wail, “My turn-a-horsey!” from my mother’s arms. I was two years old at the time. The young one, the baby, the little girl; I was often the youngest in everything I did, and was hardly taken seriously. Pushed aside and ignored, I matured in order to assimilate and become friends with my fellow horseback riders. I constantly wanted to prove to the big kids that I was not just some little girl. As a toddler, I was expected to do the same things as people five years older than me, which promoted my self-sufficiency, stubbornness, and strong work ethic. My mother would often come up by my side and offer to help and my response was always, “I can do it myself!” my way of showing off to the big kids.

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