College Essays about Personal Growth

Get inspired with these college essays about personal growth. The stories are interesting, and can provide ideas as you write about your own personal growth experience in your college essay. Have you faced a challenge? Overcome fear? Write about it.

Last updated on July 17, 2024 by College Financial Aid Advice.

Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning

Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

Walking the Plank

College Essays about Personal Growth

Outstanding College Admission Essay written by Kristen Overholt
of Pennsylvania, USA. This essay helped me gain admission to the University of Pittsburgh. Admissions later sent me an email saying that although they receive thousands of GOOD essays each year, few are as outstanding as mine.

I was shaking, not only from nerves but from the deep chill piercing my skin and rattling my bones. It clung to me like doom. More pressing still were the figures surrounding me.

The short man on my right seemed to be in charge. He had a peg where there should have been a left leg and on his head sat a dark three-cornered hat. Slowly he gave a vicious smile, revealing yellowed and decaying teeth. “Move it,” he growled. “We ain’t got all day!”

My captors surrounding me jeered more maliciously: “Walk the plank.”

I gulped and examined the cavernous pirate ship, its decks slick with blood. How did I get here? I had no answer. Regardless, I stumbled up the steps to the wooden board protruding from the vessel, gripped by paralyzing fear. Staring down the plank, I knew this jump would be my last.

Sudden flashes of lightning distracted me. But where was the thunder? As I gazed into the ocean, it morphed from steel gray to unnatural bright blue. Before me now lay a rectangular pool instead of the ominous ocean, so real just a moment before. Seeing my reflection, I realized the blood was merely a puddle on the tiled deck. I was not being sentenced to my death on a pirate ship; I was at diving practice.

But that did not stop me from panicking.

The last time I had attempted this dive I had crashed my head into the board. I ended up in the hospital with a concussion and was forbidden to dive for two weeks. So many doubts now plagued me. I couldn’t let it happen again; jumping was against all my instincts.
So I stood there. Not taking the chance was the only way I knew to stay safe.

The short man piped up— no longer a snarling pirate, but in fact now recognizable as my coach. His tone changed to calm, reassuring: “Be smart. You’ve got this. Don’t over-think it.”

Freezing, trembling, I placed my feet at the end of the “plank.” However, I couldn’t shake the thought that this fiberglass board was uncomfortably like the wooden instrument of death that seemed its original design. There were so many things that could go wrong. How could I trust in those words of encouragement?

Pulling me out of this frightening daze were the many cheers from the former villains around the board– now of course my teammates. They were not eager to see me die! They only wanted me to succeed and believed I could. This realization brought the confidence I needed to make my dreaded jump. I drew my arms above my head and, rising up on my toes, I exhaled– expelling the nagging remnants of fear. The next thing I knew I was soaring, spinning. To my astonishment I entered the water unharmed, washing away my anxiety and converting it to total elation that brought courage for that next daunting dive.

Even after six years of diving– four on the varsity team– I am continually challenged in different ways, from surpassing fear to a new and even greater challenge in my leadership role as a captain of the McDowell High School swimming and diving team. This role enables me to help my teammates defeat their own “pirates.”


The Quiet Cheerleader

College Essays about Personal Growth

This college admission essay about overcoming fear was written by Nicole from Maryland.

Public speaking has never been my thing. I have always been on the quiet side when in class or around people I do not know and talking in front of a crowd terrified me. However, I have also loved to cheerlead since the second grade. Cheerleaders are supposed to be loud and lead others in team spirit. How could I lead others when I could not get in front of a crowd and talk to them?

I knew I needed to overcome my fear of public speaking, so I used my passion, cheerleading, to help me be more comfortable in front

of a crowd of strangers. First, I practiced performing in front of a crowd with my team by my side to make me feel more comfortable. Then, I started pushing myself to take opportunities where I had to cheer by myself in front of a crowd. I tried out for an All-American cheerleading team in front of 300 strangers doing a cheer and dance all by myself. I was only given a day to memorize these two routines. My teammates cheered me on and helped me learn this routine so well you would think I could do it in my sleep. Although I was still scared of failing to do the dance correctly and the crowd laughing at me, I told myself cheerleading is something I am excellent at, so showing off my skills should be a breeze. I put my worries aside and cheered the best I ever had in my life. That was when I realized I could overcome my fear of public speaking. If I became excellent at giving a speech, the same way I was excellent at cheerleading, than public speaking should be a breeze too.

I now had to overcome my fear of giving a speech in front of a crowd. Cheerleading in front of a crowd was easy -- I love to cheer and I knew I was good at it. Giving speeches was harder -- I was scared of speaking in front of a crowd, and I avoided public speaking opportunities. Then, after going on a retreat my junior year in high school, I decided to become a leader for the next year’s retreat. During my first retreat, the leaders who had confidently led me through various exercises and experiences inspired me. One leader, Maris Howell, her story really hit me. She is in my carpool to school so I see her every morning, all year long. When she opened up and told us her story it was like she was a total different person I had never met before. She made me realize that everyone even I have a story to share and inspire others with. Not only Maris but all the other leaders helped me learn more about myself and my relationship with God. At the end of my first retreat, I knew I wanted to be a leader for the next year, so I could inspire others the same way my retreat leaders inspired me.

During the retreat, each leader gives a 15-minute speech explaining something that had enriched the leader’s life and made the leader a stronger person. This speech is not just talking in front of others, but opening up to strangers about an important, personal event. While writing my speech, the thought of giving such a personal speech to a crowd of strangers terrified me. However, like with cheerleading, I worked hard to make my speech excellent so that I was more confident and practiced in front of others so that I was more comfortable. First, I read my speech to the other leaders on the retreat. Once I could do that comfortably, I pushed myself to give my speech in front of a crowd of 20 people. Yet again, I was scared of forgetting the words and the crowd laughing at me, but I told myself that I was proud of my speech and proud of myself for becoming a leader like the ones who inspired me the year before. I put my worries aside and opened up to my retreat group. Now, I am more comfortable with public speaking and opening up about my life to strangers.

Public speaking had been my fear for many years. Through my hard work and dedication to overcoming this fear, I realized that I could accomplish anything as long as I practice hard enough to be comfortable and confident in my ability. I know now that I need to take advantage of new experiences to push myself, the same way I pushed myself to become an All-American Cheerleader or a retreat leader, in order to grow, overcome fears, and gain new skills,. At your college, I hope to continue to grow and push myself through the new experiences you offer.


I Never Went to School in my Pajamas!

College Essays about Personal Growth

College Essay by homeschooled Savannah from Ohio.

Bright lights, loud bells, long hallways lined with blue lockers, though you couldn’t see them most of the time through the hordes of people scattering in different directions because they only had one minute left to get to class on time. This is a new world.

As I make my way tentatively through the first confusing days of my junior year, every person I meet asks me where I had moved from. They are fascinated to hear the answer: homeschool. The most frequent reaction to the idea of homeschool, however, surprises me. So you got to, like, sleep in and wear your pajamas all day! I wish I could do that, John said to me in chem. And I laughed and said, “I never did that!”

The thing about my homeschool experience that seems to surprise people the most is that I never got to pretend school involved watching TV in my pajamas. The primary difference is that our classroom is never left behind us at 2:35 in the afternoon (out of sight and mind until the lumbering and creaking school buses pick us up again the next day). Homeschool can last late into the afternoon, six or seven days a week, into or through summer. You always get your homework done if you live at your school.

Why did you decide to come to public school? How hard was your transition? These are questions I am still asked frequently. I just wanted to try something new I also wanted to see if I could handle it. I wondered -worried- how I compared to other students in my grade.

My biggest fear going into public school was taking precalc. My math capabilities had improved in the past couple of years, but I freaked out that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. (The other fear that I didn’t really consider until the moment arrived was, where are you supposed to sit in a cafeteria filled with two hundred people you have never seen in your life???!)

There was no going back from my decision. I had to just lurch forward and pretend I knew what I was doing. Learn the bell schedule (never had one), find my way around (why does every subject have to be in a separate part of the building?), learn how to open my locker (it sounds easier than it is ok?), learn a million people’s names (still working on that one).

Even with all the newness of surroundings, my transition to public school was easier than people might expect. My saving grace appeared when the athletics director asked for volunteers interested in helping out the sports trainers. I have always wanted to become a doctor, so I volunteered. It was the best thing I could have done. I learned that I don’t faint at the mere sight of blood, and I also became good friends with many of the players. One of them is now my boyfriend, and his jersey has become part of my Friday uniform.

I discovered that I could conquer and succeed in a new kind of learning environment. Homeschooling prepares you taking on new challenges. It teaches you adaptability as part of your core curriculum. I got a yearlong A in precalc.

Another question I am asked frequently is: which school do you like better? And I can’t pick. It would be like comparing a tictac to a junior mint. They have the same purpose, but are nothing like the other. But they are both the same in that I never wore pajamas to either one.


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Thank you readers for submitting your these college essays about personal growth experiences. Check out the links below for more examples of good college essays. 

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