CommonApp Essay – To Dare

The essay below, which was required by The Common Application, successfully got Lim Sheau Yun admitted into Yale University, Stanford University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Brown University, University of Chicago, Duke University, Barnard College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. 

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. Share your story.

To Dare

“Chinese girls don’t shave their hair.”

Or at least, that’s what my grandfather, traditional man and Feng Shui enthusiast, told me.

“The only people who willingly shave their heads are true believers in Buddha. Others are being punished or are psychotic. You are none of the above.”

“And to top it all off, you’re a girl.”

So imagine his expression on the 22nd of May 2010, when this eighth grade girl went bald. To him, it didn’t matter if it was to raise money for a local cancer hospital in need of repaying a loan.

Understandably, my grandfather felt betrayed. Years ago, he and his father fled Mao’s China, choosing to preserve their Confucian legacy in Malaysia. My actions were against everything he fought to maintain: tradition, order and filial piety.

Chinese culture is a difficult environment to dare in. The primary school I used to attend had a strict rule: your hair had to be between three and five centimetres below your ear. Not one, not two, but between three and five, to be measured every two weeks or so. I was one of those in-betweeners caught between the paralysing boundaries of a ruler: a statistic, a short-haired bob in the midst of other girls who were taught to look and act the same. Feminine, but not too feminine. Intelligent, but not too bold, not too original. We were taught to be bright, but not to have a spark.

I don’t dwell too much on the why I shaved. It was mostly a blur of forms and raising money. What I do remember is that I cried a total of five times after. I was an outsider in my own home, at the mercy of my grandfather’s disapproval. After all, I was an absurd sight to see with my buzz cut, and my chin held so far high you couldn’t see the tears in my eyes.

But what I didn’t expect was the eventual respect my grandfather had for me. The ridicule stopped, and he started taking an interest in my academic and extracurricular pursuits. I think he had to begrudgingly acknowledge the courage it took to dare. As my mother once said: “If it’s one thing Chinese admire more than anything else, it’s strength.”

In some sense, it took a drastic act of rejection of tradition for my grandfather to realise that I was beyond a child, beyond another granddaughter he could safely protect in his anachronistic bubble which forbade risks. Certainly, my head shaving wasn’t the only event that spawned his change in perspective, but I like to think it helped.

The day I shaved my head was the day I discovered that a ruler could not define me and tradition would not hold me back. Fear used to be my breakfast, lunch, dinner. Fear of consequences, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of losing family, friends. I feared to venture outside the age-old path traipsed by countless Chinese women before me. But I did. And my grandfather’s mindset for his remaining two years on Earth also diverged from a path I once thought was concrete: he came to respect me not only as his granddaughter, but also as an independent woman who was free to make her own choices.

And I continue that legacy today. I’m certainly not fearless yet, but with each day, I grow a little bolder and a little more willing to dare, changing perspectives and destroying boundaries like the twenty-first century hybrid I am.

DISCLAIMER: The essays on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful essays look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good essays. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. Plagiarism can have serious consequences so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

Essays for Applications to University of California

The essays below, which are required by the University of California (UC) application system, successfully got him admitted into UC San Diego, UC Los Angeles, and wait-listed at UC Berkeley.

All identifying names have been removed as the owner would prefer to be anonymous

Prompt #1

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

A crowd slowly gathered beneath me as I mounted the last few steps. Despite their shouts, I’ve made up my mind clearly. Next thing I knew, I was free falling from this towering height.


When I was 5, my dad gave me a dull, aged coin. I would grip that magical metal in my tiny hands wherever I went, even to the washroom. Once, sitting on the toilet bowl, I stretched out my fingers to once again admire its glimmer. Suddenly, it slipped through my hand – “Ploop”. It sank to the bottom of the toilet bowl. Although it was just a 1 Ringgit Malaysia coin, I remembered how dad still insisted on fishing it out.

Since young, my dad has taught me to appreciate every cent the universe offers. He sent me to various financial management courses and trainings that only adults would join. Because of this, I was exposed to quite a bit of financial knowledge relatively earlier than my peers. There, I made friends who are even older than my dad. I learned my basics in stocks trading and multi level marketing through them. They gave me encouragement when I felt unconfident and would give me advice before I proposed my business ideas to my college societies.

Under their guidance and influence, I began to realize my dream for the future.


Jumping down from the tree house was an activity in one of the financial management camps. I was instructed to declare my financial goal to the universe before the jump.

As my feet left the platform, I knew exactly what I was going to say.
“I, [NAME], will be financially free in 17 years, 2035”

Prompt #2

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

“Can I do this?” I asked myself. It was already challenging for the 16 year-old me to talk to strangers, but now, I have to bargain prices and close deals!

I started my own business when I was 16; it was named by extracting the first and the last 2 letters from my name – [COMPANY NAME].

Business Guru’s advice 1: Make obstacles into opportunities. (CHECK)
After receiving instructions from my experienced venture partner, I spent countless nights staring at the computer screen to produce a webpage. Back then, I didn’t know what Photoshop was, so most of the graphics were designed and edited using my childhood-doodling program – Paint. It took me one whole week to complete all the tasks that my venture partner had assigned. However, she told me that due to her overwhelming schedule, she wanted to quit. With little knowledge of the tricks and trades of doing a business and with no prior experience, I was left with nothing but a short sorry note and a 10-digit supplier’s phone number. I trembled during my first call to the supplier. Somehow, out of sheer luck, I manage to get a good price. Soon before I realized, I became friends with the supplier. The following deals were never had been easier.

Business Guru’s advice 2: Take one step at a time. (CHECK)
I learned the ways to attract customers through shadowing other competitor’s blog pages – the font they use, the system, and the psychology behind every detail. In one month, the RM22 Malaysian Ringgit bill from my first sale lied comfortably on my hand. Before this, I would not have believed that a high school student could generate money by starting his or her own business. Although RM22 is not a generous amount of money, it certainly has boosted my confidence and fueled the momentum for the second, third, more future sales.

Business Guru’s advice 3: Complete what you have started. (                )
[COMPANY NAME] Blogshop grew from bringing me a few ringgit to a few hundred in 5 months. It became a routine for me to constantly check my messages. Sometimes, I would even withstand my mother’s nagging and skip meals just to reply the emails and confirm the delivery statuses. The time I spent with [COMPANY NAME] was so ample to the extent that my younger brother was getting a little bit jealous. [COMPANY NAME] became the main focus in my life. From time to time, I would proudly share my happiness with my best friend, telling him stories behind [COMPANY NAME]’s “success”.

However, the “success” did not last long. With my parents demanding me to prioritize my studies and friends around me starting to revise intensely for high school examination (SPM), I chose to give up on [COMPANY NAME]. I thought that I could always go back to [COMPANY NAME] whenever I choose to, but it’d been 2 years now, and I haven’t.

[COMPANY NAME] was more like a friend than a business that I owned. Through knowing him, I learned to reflect on my mistakes – there were times when customers were not satisfied with my product, but [COMPANY NAME] taught me to respect every customer’s feedback and make every possible amendment that I can. Besides, through knowing him, I became a better negotiator, a better marketer and certainty, a better businessman. He taught me interpersonal values that were far greater than any of the business guru’s advices.

Even leaving him made me more conscious of my choices. I realize how inconsistent I was in handling matters in my life. He would still be here if I had say “one more step..” when I was on the verge of giving up. No matter what, I’ll make this an anecdote that I hold close and dear to when I start a new business in the future. Giving up is no longer an option. Till then, allow me to leave Business Guru’s advice 3 unchecked.

I would ask myself again. “Can I do this?”

Yes. Yes I can.

Links which you might find useful:

  1. More about University of California essays here

DISCLAIMER: The essays on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful essays look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good essays. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. Plagiarism can have serious consequences so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.