All about college essays: Tips on how to answer the “Person who has had significant influence on you and describe that influence” question

Post By: COYD Staff

college applications essaysAs we get closer to the application deadlines, the most asked college admissions questions concern the infamous college essays. Less than a month ago, we dedicated a week to just college essays, but it didn’t seem like it was enough for the students out there. So for the next couple of weeks, we will discuss the five Common Application essay questions individually and go over the following things in regards to each essay question:

-Purpose of asking the question

-Most common answers to this question

-How to figure out the answer to the question from your library of experiences and relationships

-Extra tips on this specific question

Today we are going to discuss essay #3: Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Purpose of the question

The admissions officers are looking for 2 things when asking this question: 1) What are your values? What qualities and attributes do you value in others and strive to attain? 2) How the person has influenced you, shown on the rest of your application.

Describing the person that influenced you will either show the attributes you value or the ones you don’t value depending on if this person positively influenced you or negatively influenced you. Either way, this question will reveal a lot about your values and what you strive to become in your life.

Some of the values that admissions officers are looking for are: Ability to learn from mistakes, Accountability, Concern for others, Creativity, Defined goals, Dignity, Discipline, Ethics, Goal-oriented person, Honesty, Humility, Introspection, Leadership, Lucidity, Maturity, Positivity, Self-awareness, Team-oriented, Uniqueness, and Vision.

Qualities that they aren’t looking for are: Anger, Arrogance, Bad writing, Blind Ambition, Ego, Entitlement, Immaturity, Mediocrity, Perfectionism, Poor judgment, Prejudice against race/gender, and Vanity.

The second purpose often gets overlooked. Students spend so much time describing the person, they forget to describe how this person has had an influence on them. Admissions officers want to see that this person has actually had an influence on your life, so that influence should reflect within your application. Show concrete examples of how their influence translated to some action on your part, whether it be joining an organization, playing an instrument, running for a leadership position…etc.

Most common answers to this question

Mom and Dad. It’s great to see that high school students value their parents, but unless you have an extraordinary story, try to stay away from writing about Mom or Dad. I’m not saying that they didn’t have the most influence on you. For most of us (including me), they did. It’s just that so many people mention their Mom or Dad, and I don’t want your essay to get lost in the crowd. If you absolutely have to write about your Mom or Dad, there are a few ways to avoid your essay getting lost in the pile of similar answers: write an extremely compelling introduction, write the nicknames of your Mom or Dad, tell an extraordinary story about your Mom or Dad. The more details you put into your essay the better. Use more examples and less adjectives.

Remember, the individual who has deeply influenced you does not always have to be someone you admire. However, if you do answer this question with someone whom you don’t admire, try not to sound hateful and angry.

How to figure out the answer to the question from your library of experiences and relationships

– Think of a time where you had a strong emotional reaction to an experience or conversation. Who was involved in that experience?
– Who has influenced you to change something about yourself?
– Who has influenced you to take a risk in your life, leave your comfort zone, or challenged you?
– Who has influenced you to believe in yourself?
– Who do you think of immediately when you are asked the essay question?

– What experience are you most proud of, and who was involved in that experience?

Extra tips on this specific question

If the university allows, add a picture. The picture should add to the text of the essay. If the picture doesn’t add much, don’t include it, but if it reveals a part of that person that you can’t fully explain in words, attach a picture.

I read an amazing essay that was written about a student’s grandmother. She attached her grandmother’s photograph. The photograph was a close-up picture of her grandma with her hands folded. The focus of the picture was on the hands and she wrote about how her grandma’s hands revealed her grandma’s life. The picture was profound and gut wrenching. The picture spoke a thousand words, and it made the words in her essay even more powerful.

Note: Check with your university first to see if you can attach a picture to an essay question.


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  1. How to write the Significant experience essay, one of the common application essay questions | College Admission | College Of Your Dreams Blog - Aug 17., 2010

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