Walking the Plank

by Kristen Overholt
(Erie, Pennsylvania, USA)

Outstanding College Admission Essay 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.”

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Kristen for sharing your outstanding college admission essay and passion and challenge with diving. Congratulations on your essay and gaining admission to the University of Pittsburgh.

The Quiet Cheerleader

Nicole, Maryland

College Admission Essay – Overcoming Fear - 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.

Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Nicole for sharing your essay about overcoming fear to include in our college admission essay collection. Good luck to your in college.

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