This lesson will... be most relevant to students who have been through significant challenges and do know what they want to study.
By the end you should... understand how narrative structure can help you connect your struggles to your dreams and aspirations.
Time 7 minutes

Sample Essay A: “With Debate” Essay

Written by a student who has faced significant challenges and did know what she wanted to study.

The clock was remarkably slow as I sat, legs tightly crossed, squirming at my desk. “Just raise your hand,” my mind pleaded, “ask.” But despite my urgent need to visit the restroom, I remained seated, begging time to move faster. You see, I was that type of kid to eat French Fries dry because I couldn’t confront the McDonalds cashier for some Heinz packets. I was also the type to sit crying in front of school instead of asking the office if it could check on my late ride. Essentially, I chose to struggle through a problem if the solution involved speaking out against it.

My diffidence was frustrating. My parents relied on me, the only one able to speak English, to guide them, and always anticipated the best from me. However, as calls for help grew, the more defunct I became. I felt that every move I made, it was a gamble between success and failure. For me, the fear of failure and disappointment far outweighed the possibility of triumph, so I took no action and chose to silently suffer under pressure.

Near meltdown, I knew something needed to be done. Mustering up the little courage I had, I sought ways to break out of my shell—without luck. Recreational art classes ended in three boring months. I gave up Self Defense after embarrassing myself in class. After-school band, library volunteering, and book clubs ended similarly. Continued effort yielded nothing. 

Disillusioned and wrung dry of ideas, I followed my mom’s advice and joined a debate club. As expected, the club only reaffirmed my self-doubt. Eye contact? Greater volume? No thanks.

But soon, the club moved on from “how to make a speech” lessons to the exploration of argumentation. We were taught to speak the language of Persuasion, and play the game of Debate. Eventually, I fell in love with it all.

By high school, I joined the school debate team, began socializing, and was even elected to head several clubs. I developed critical and analytical thinking skills, and learned how to think and speak spontaneously.

I became proud and confident. Moreover, I became eager to play my role in the family, and family relations strengthened. In fact, nowadays, my parents are interested in my school’s newest gossip.

Four years with debate, and now I’m the kid up at the white board; the kid leading discussions; and the kid standing up for her beliefs.

More importantly, I now confront issues instead of avoiding them. It is exciting to discover solutions to problems that affect others, as I was able to do as part of the 1st Place team for the 2010 United Nations Global Debates Program on climate change and poverty. I take a natural interest in global issues, and plan to become a foreign affairs analyst or diplomat by studying international affairs with a focus on national identity.

In particular, I am interested in the North-South Korean tension. What irreconcilable differences have prompted a civilization to separate? Policy implications remain vague, and sovereignty theories have their limits—how do we determine what compromises are to be made? And on a personal level, why did my grandfather have to flee from his destroyed North Korean hometown--and why does it matter?

I see a reflection of myself in the divide at the 38th parallel because I see one part isolating itself in defense to outside threats, and another part coming out to face the world as one of the fastest- developing nations. Just as my shy persona before debate and extroverted character after debate are both part of who I am, the Korean civilization is also one. And just as my parents expect much from me, the first of my family to attend college, I have grand expectations for this field of study.

(Word count: 630)

The Type A Essay: Connecting Your Challenges to Your Future Career

Note that this essay employs the Narrative Structure.

If you’ve experienced some difficult things in life and you know what you want to study, you’re in good shape. Your challenge is this: how do you connect the challenges you’ve been through to the career you’d like to pursue?

The answer: through their common values.

Here’s how to write the Type A essay:

  1. Go to the “Values” worksheet at the end of this document.
  2. Put a star beside ten values you developed as a result of the challenges you faced in life. 
  3. What are the values of an excellent [your career here]? Put a check mark beside ten of those.
  4. Circle those that are in common.
  5. Ask yourself: what experiences in my life led me to develop that value? That’s what you’ll write about. If it feels like they should be told in a linear, narrative way (X happened, then Y, then Z), use the Narrative Structure. Chances are this will be the easiest way to tell your story.

    But if the events of your story aren’t connected in a linear way and you’d like a little more freedom to jump around, try the Montage Structure.