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College Application Essay-- It is a Wonderful Thing to Want
Michael Matheny, 3/17/2010

Michael Matheny is a homeschooling senior from Delaware, and has been homeschooling since 2nd grade. He's also the son of our wonderful AP Statistics teacher, Carole Matheny, who shared in the previous post about the process Michael went through in crafting this marvelous personal essay for his college applications. As you read the essay, try to imagine yourself as a college admissions staffer-- and see what sense you get about Michael's ability to take on challenging tasks and contribute unique skills.

Most colleges do have at least one question that basically asks, "Tell us about yourself" Here's what the current Common Application (www.commonapp.org ) has as the essay guidelines and options:

Personal Essay Please write an essay (250 words minimum) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below, and attach it to your application before submission. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  • Topic of your choice.

As so many colleges do use the Common Application, students really can get started on thinking about their application essays well in advance. And if you start feeling overwhelmed just thinking about college admissions, check this page on the Common Application website, for some perhaps much needed perspective and common sense advice: http://www.educationconservancy.org/we_admit.pdf And, again, if your student has written a memorable college application essay that might inspire others to really reflect in a meaningful way on any of these Common Application questions above, do either email the essays on to richmans@pahomeschoolers.com for posting on this site, or post as a 'comment' to Michael's terrific essay.

Michaelmatheny.jpg

It's a Wonderful Thing to Want...

            It started on a trip to the Adirondacks St. Regis Lake region with some borrowed kayaks. It was not my first time in a boat, but it left a lasting impression that nagged at me for months afterwards. I started surfing the web, constantly, looking at kayaks, trying to figure out how to get my own. I become obsessed easily, not over ideas or TV shows, but over projects. This tendency makes me do weird things like unconsciously memorizing the price of forty or so different speed skate wheel brands or making schematics for my Science Olympiad project a year ahead. My kayak is one of those things that began this way. I wanted a sleek, light-weight sea kayak; however, because of the expense the only way I was going to get it was if I made it. So I poured over websites full of wood strip kayaks with beautiful clean lines, glossy finishes, complex artwork, and flawless stripping. I studied the plans and pictures until I could see my completed boat in all its glory.
 
            I began the complex and intricate art of convincing the parents, which is best known by the young. My parents would probably have described me at the time as “insistent” and “tireless” while my brother would add “annoying” and “crazy,” but I was successful. My dad, a consummate wood worker in his spare time and also somewhat of a perfectionist, agreed to the project on two conditions: that it would occur only after his new garage was built and that I would provide him with constant assistance in building said garage.
 
            Two years later, with the garage close to being finished, the boat plans arrived. We had a party the same day and I remember showing the plans to everyone. One woman commented that a friend had built a canoe and that it had taken him two years. The idea of waiting two years to paddle my beautiful boat scared me. Nick Schade, from whom I had bought my plans, could build a boat in about eight months, so why couldn’t I build one in a year? I could not wait to get on the water.
 
            The kayak would be constructed by setting up forms placed to act as a mold and then stripping over the forms to create a hull and deck which would then be coated with a transparent layer of fiber glass and resin. This method usually uses staples to temporarily connect the strips to the forms allowing you to glue several consecutive strips at a time. I decided to build it using a staple-less method so as not to have rows of pinholes to detract from its looks. This method increases construction time as you have to wait for each glued strip to dry before attaching the next strip.
 
            The forms and strong back were erected within the first month and the first few strips put in place. The kayak’s beautiful lines took shape at that point. The work went slowly as I had to wait for the glue to dry after every strip, and having no prior woodworking experience I had to think my way through every step. It took about a year to strip the hull. The strips were uneven; there were shallow spots, and other mistakes. Every error seemed to scream out declaring its presence. None of the errors would affect how the kayak would act in the water, but to me that was little consolation. The boat was no longer a vision of perfection in my imagination, and instead was a blemished reality. I began work on the deck, but without the motivation that I had had on the hull.
 
            The deck has some very tight curves and twists around the cockpit. I cracked strips around the twists and the strips that made it would not stay flat. I glued some of them anyway and they came out so badly I thought about burning it all. It was horrible. I was discouraged. I stopped working altogether. I had wanted a boat originally, but I had expected to be able to make a piece of art. Now that fantasy was gone; the boat would never look as good as the boats on the boat builder web sites. But a kayak is for kayaking, not looking at. I decided I needed to finish it.
 
            I figured out my deck strip twisting problem through a combination of steam and the proper application of straps. With the deck finished and put to the side, the hull was faired and dyed. The stems were then built and attached, leaving only the cockpit recess to complete before the boat is ready to be fiber glassed. Then it will be only a hop, a skip, and some varnish from being seaworthy.
 
            The most humbling part when you are working on one of these kayaks is fairing the deck and hull. You fill any cracks between strips and then you sand and plane the strips until your hand can’t find any irregularities in the surface. Every imperfection that you had ignored up to that point is exposed when you fair. You can tell where you did a good job and where you did a poor job. Fairing the deck was much more pleasant than fairing the hull because I was happy with most of my work. I have improved as a woodworker and maybe if I started a boat now I would be able to make one of those perfect internet boats. The boat itself has changed from something that stresses me to something that I enjoy doing. When I feel mind-numbed from school or frustrated I go to work on the kayak. I was impatient to finish it, then ready to quit altogether and now I find that I will miss working on it.


Comment by Carole Matheny, 3/29/2010:

Michael was accepted to all 9 of the schools he applied to with a merit scholarship from each:

University of Delaware - Honors College, Chemical Engineering program

Case Western Reserve(OH)

CO School of Mines(CO)

Drexel (PA) - Pennoni Honors College

Lehigh University(PA)

Rose-Hulman (IN)

Tulane Universiy - Founders Scholar / Honors Program (LA)

RPI (NY)

Stony Brook University(NY)


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