Special Olympics College Essay

I spend a lot of time talking to 17-year-olds about what is valuable in life and what is worth aspiring to. With the Rio games in motion, I thought, who better to look to than Olympic athletes for lessons on motivation, ambition, and expression of your greatest self? It turns out this event that captures the attention of the entire world holds some very specific clues for answering the Common Application's 2016-17 essay prompts.

1. Common App Prompt #1 on Your Background Story: In the breaks between Olympic events, in addition to seeing 40,000 commercials for McDonalds (the breakfast of champion athletes, to be sure) viewers are also treated to the extended back stories of their favorite Olympians. But why? We care about an athlete's history because how a person got to the Olympics - the challenges they faced and events that shaped their destinies - is just as interesting, if not more so, than the Olympic events themselves. No one wants to watch robots race -- we want to root for real, relatable humans. This is why your background story can be so important to your application. Show Admissions the humanity behind applicant #258.

2. Common App Prompt #2 on Turning Failure Into Success: There is a video going around the internet in which sprinter Derek Redmond, who had qualified for the 400-meter semifinal with the fastest time in his heat during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, tears his hamstring about five seconds into his race. You watch him stumble in pain, and then, miraculously, he keeps going. Not only does he not give up, but he manages to completes a full lap on the track, ultimately with the help of his father, who runs down from the stands (even telling off a few officials along the way) to support his son. Redmond's commitment in the face of adversity showcases determination (he continues when he has no chance of winning), vulnerability (he is crying throughout during a worldwide broadcast) and the ability to accept help when he needs it (thanks, Dad). These are the kinds of qualities an applicant should aim to highlight in an essay about failure. How can you communicate to Admissions that even in the face of obstacles, nothing can stop you?

3. Common App Prompt #3 on Challenging a Belief or Idea:Jesse Owens was an American track and field athlete who competed, and won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. Owens was also an African American athlete, competing in a country that was, at the time, under the rule and influence of none other that Adolf Hitler. What better way to fight back against unbridled hatred and crush the myth of "Aryan racial superiority" than to show up where you're not wanted and dominate your sport? Owens was also the first African American to secure an athletic sponsorship (offered by the founder of Adidas). While admissions officers are not going to expect you to have challenged the racist leader of a national movement, they are interested in hearing about ways you shook up the status quo, whether you did it quietly and privately or on a public stage.

4. Common App Prompt #4 on Describing a Problem You've Solved or Would Like to Solve: Imagine training for an Olympic bobsled race -- without snow. The problem solving skills of the first Jamaican Bobsled Team were so mind-blowing that Disney even made a movie about their journey to the Olympics. Just because you don't have the tools everyone else has at their disposal doesn't mean you can't have the same (or bigger!) goals and dreams and unorthodox methods for achieving them. How have you used creative thinking to get what you were after? How has problem solving helped you achieve your goals?

5. Common App Prompt #5 on a Transition from Childhood to Adulthood: One of my personal all-time favorite Olympic moments is the Kerry Strug vault - the one where, against all odds, she sticks the landing on an injured leg to secure her team the gold medal. And one of the most iconic images in Olympic history is one of Strug is being carried, post vault, by Béla Károlyi, her beloved coach. That pose has always been so striking to me because that magic landing was clearly a defining moment in Strug's life - and the image of being carried like a child always seemed like a symbolic representation of a childhood about to be replaced by endless TV interviews and cereal endorsements. You do not have to be an Olympian to have a moment that clearly stands out for you as one in which you felt like something shifted and your responsibilities and experience of the world changed. When did you start to feel like your life held the possibility for a new level of responsibility and accomplishment? When did you do something that finally made you feel like you had really, truly grown up? These are the things Admissions wants to know.

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The spirit of service? It reminds us to give back to others and it’s great for your college applications or to add on to your resume.

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Volunteer & Community Service Scholarships

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Available to: High School Seniors
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Bonner Scholars Award

Deadline: Varies
Available to: Ages 17-18
Award Amount: Varies

The Bonner Scholars Award is available to entering first-year students at participating colleges (a complete list of participating schools is located on the Bonner Foundation Web site).

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Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association Scholarship

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Morton A. Gibson Memorial Scholarship

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Available to: Entering College Freshmen
Award Amount: $2,500

Provided by the Jewish Social Service Agency of Metropolitan Washington, the Morton A. Gibson Memorial Scholarship is available to Jewish high school seniors from the Washington metropolitan area.

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PIRG Fellowship

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Volunteer & Community Service Internships

Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly: Program Assistant Internship

Deadline: Varies
Available to: College Freshmen through College Seniors

Provided by Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, the Program Assistant Internship is available to students at Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly. Interns will help coordinate friendship visits with volunteers and the elderly.

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Children’s Oncology Services, Inc.: Programmatic Internships

Deadline: Varies
Available to: College Freshmen through College Seniors

Provided by Children’s Oncology Services, Inc., the Programmatic Internships are available to students who are interested in learning what it takes to operate a camp for kids with cancer, volunteer management, and community outreach.

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PETA: General Office Internship

Deadline: Varies
Available to: College Freshmen through Graduate Students, Year 5

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) General Office Internship is available to students who are at least 18 years old. You must be signed up for PETA’s Action Team and have at least one year of work or volunteer experience to qualify for this award.

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Get more information on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) General Office Internship.

Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly: Intergenerational Visiting Program Internship

Deadline: Varies
Available to: College Freshmen through College Seniors

Provided by Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, the Intergenerational Visiting Program Internship is available to students at Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly Chicago Chapter.

Interns help coordinate friendship visits with volunteers and the elderly. Interns will also gain experience the field of aging and meet new friends by participating in social activities for elderly and volunteers.

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New England Aquarium: Volunteer Programming Internship

Deadline: Varies
Available to: College Junior through Graduate Students, Year 5

Provided by the New England Aquarium, the Volunteer Programming Internship is available to students with an interest in civic engagement, volunteer administration, communications, adult development, human resources, education, psychology and other social sciences.

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Patagonia Enviro Internship

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Patagonia provides up to two months of paid time off for employees to pursue their environmental interests.

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