Stanford Admissions Essays

Common App Prompt 1: “You’re not going to school today”


Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Six a.m. and my mom’s shaking me awake. I open my crusty eyes and stare at her, bleary-eyed. My eleven year old eyes struggle to focus, in need of glasses and lacking the money to purchase them. She’s dressed in sweats and a ratty T-shirt, and it’s obvious where she needs to be.

“You’re not going to school today.”

I groan and throw myself back on my bed.

“I have to work. Labor Ready.”

“Where’s Ted?” I ask.

No answer. I still understand. He’s away. Away, with his bloodshot eyes and strange skunk smell. Away, with his hateful words and hard hands.

“Get up. Josh and Jeremy are still asleep. You can go tomorrow.”

I stretch and stumble downstairs, a big empty house that would be abandoned in two months. My four- and one- year old brothers are sleeping on a couch with “Dora the Explorer” blaring on the TV in front of them. I spend the day cooking, ignoring calls from tax collectors, cleaning, changing diapers, playing games as we pack up our belongings. We ignore the ash burns on the carpets, the holes punched in the walls, the pornographic magazines hidden in kitchen cupboards.

After a bout of homelessness, we are holed up in a two bedroom apartment with our pregnant Mom and our loving aunt. He’s away, and only I know that it’s going to be a very long time before he comes back. The four year old, Joshua, looks at me with inquisitive eyes as I struggle to finish my homework at midnight and asks me, “When’s Dad coming back from work?” 

I give him a tired smile and say, “I don’t know.” 

Within the years that follow, I become happy and self-assured. My passions grow as I enter middle school and join the marching band, adding on to the love for clarinet I discovered in fourth grade. My sister is born, adding one more to my responsibility list when my aunt left and my mom obtained a full-time job at Motel 6. As I gaze into the eyes of the three people who mean the most to me, I marvel at how something so hateful, so disgustingly abhorrent, could create such beautiful, joyful epitomes of innocence. 

He comes back, and she goes back to him. He meets the little girl for the first time. They all fall in love with him. I guess that’s the gift of childhood; you forgive so easily.

At 13 years old, I was no longer a child, and I hadn’t been for quite some time. Naturally, I did not forgive. Emotionally scarred and impressionable, his hateful comments stabbed me repeatedly; but now I pull them out, cast them aside, and hold my head up high. I push myself to succeed, to be better, to inspire my siblings. To show them that they can be so much more than what their idol of a man is. To show them that they can succeed and they can do so without hurting anyone. To show them that they can be strong and happy and brilliant even with someone yelling insults at them from the sidelines.

But how did this experience shape me?

Despite all the emotional abuse I dealt with, despite all the times I wanted to slit my wrists and end it all, despite all the times I was forced to miss school because I had to babysit or clean or both, I grew into a self-assured, responsible, caring, and intelligent woman who refused to let a junkie control her life. I learned to be the bigger person, to not swing back when provoked, to not let hateful comments destroy my self-perception. I learned to appreciate the little things, like when my mother decides to smile and not to scowl. I learned that I controlled my future, and that I must do all in my power to make it better and brighter than anything I have ever seen before, and that I can make it that way.

I gained an ultimate goal; a goal to succeed. A drive to push me farther than anything ever has and ever will. A love and appreciation for my family, and a respect for the hardships of life. 

If I could take away one lesson from my life, it’s that yes, hardships hurt. Yes, people want perfection and ease. But where is the reward? What is the purpose of life if you just float around through clear water, never having to avoid reefs and sharks? Yes, life can be painful and heart-breaking, but you need to shark bites to actively, physically live.

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Anonymous Student. "Common App Prompt 1: “You’re not going to school today”" Study Notes, LLC., 08 Nov. 2015. Web. 26 May. 2024. <>.