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Essay Significant Influence Definition

Significant Influence: Ms Smith

I would imagine that, when asked to recall someone who greatly influenced their lives, many people would single out a particular teacher. This is my case, certainly, and I must say that my feelings about this individual are in no way diminished by the common aspect of the occupation. Children are highly impressionable, after all, and all it requires is one, distinctly impressive teacher to stamp a character for life.

A teacher named Ms Smith had influences on me, I believe, that I can never fully appreciate. This has as much to do with my being at the time as it does with her essence, her character, and her skills. I was nine years old when Ms Smith was my teacher, and in the fourth grade. I am aware that every year in a child's life is a milestone of some kind; we are growing in exponential ways, and each new age brings with it a multitude of experiences completely new to the child, as the world itself is just beginning to be revealed. At the same time, the beginnings of a kind of self-knowledge occur. That particular age, however, seems to me one especially important, for actual childhood is then being left behind, and the adolescent years are coming fast. I will always be grateful that, at this juncture, I was in the care of Ms Smith.

If I wished to romanticize the past, I would claim that she opened my eyes to the richness of learning, and to all the advantages to be had through a basic willingness to take in everything the world had to offer. I would relate how her own passion for learning took hold of me. The reality is somewhat different, however, and honesty demands that I recall Ms Smith as she was: a young woman, moderately attractive, well-educated, and a good and caring teacher. There was nothing striking or exceptional about her, really, and she most certainly did not invest me with a lifelong dedication to any pursuit in particular, or an endless craving to better educate myself.

What she did, however, was more meaningful to me because it was more subtle. With Ms Smith, I became aware for the first time in my young life that learning and a full, happy life could, and should, exist together. It was not that she made education “fun”; rather, because of her approach, I began to feel that any education was nothing more or less than what I would put into, and take from, it. She made me understand, and through no other means than her own expressions of her own nature and character, the scope of what learning could be in anyone's life. Most importantly, and unusual for teachers at this grade level, she reinforced to me that caring was crucial for real learning to be achieved. For example, I had some problems with math; it never came easily to me and, like most children, I resented and resisted the subject more because of this. Ms Smith let me know, through a relaxed and interested manner, that, even though I did need to get by in this area, it would not haunt me all my life, and that advancing years would give me increased freedom to focus on what I preferred. For the nine year-old girl that I was, this was a vista I had not expected. Suddenly, I had a sense that I would grow to make all these choices for myself, and I will never forget how empowering that felt.

“Ms Smith” is not, of course, her real name, nor do I know what became of her. I am convinced, however, that she gave something to her class most teachers of that grade do not: an awareness of the possibilities of life, and an idea that these possibilities were as boundless as the directions any of us might take. Ms Smith never invested me with a passion for any subject or field, but she gave me something much greater. In essence, she revealed to me that the school then, and the time then, were only components in the journey of a life. For the first time, I saw my class as a part of a temporary whole, and not as a ruling factor of existence, and this influence would allow me to expand my ambitions and my desires in years to come.

A teacher at one of my recent college essay workshops asked,

“What are some good ways for kids to approach the Common Application essay prompt about a person who’s influenced them?"

Here a few tips.

1.  Remember what “influence” means.

Influence is defined as, “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another…”  The fact that you admire someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve influenced you.  There needs to be some action or change in your actions, behavior or opinions.   That means you'll need to give specific examples of those things.  Deciding to improve your behavior in school, visiting a particular college you previously refused to see, spending more time volunteering at the soup kitchen—if you did those things because of someone else, that’s influence. 

2. Don’t choose this prompt to try to sound impressive.

The Common Application actually gives you five choices of essay prompts.  A lot of students who choose this one write about a famous activist, politician, or someone else notable in an effort to sound impressive.  Again, you have to remember what “influence” means.  The admissions committee doesn’t need to be convinced that Martin Luther King or Gandhi are admirable.  Unless you can point to specific examples of how someone famous really has affected your actions, behavior or opinions, choose someone else (or chose a different topic). 

3. Focus on the influence, not the person.

The exact wording of the question is, “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”  The subtext there is that you shouldn’t spend the entire essay describing why this person is so wonderful.  Spend the essay talking about you—your behavior, actions and beliefs—and how those have changed or strengthened as a result of this person’s influence. 

4.    Write an essay nobody else could write.

An essay about how your mother has inspired you to work hard is a nice essay.  But it will read exactly like hundreds of other students’ essays.  Instead, be specific.  Give details.   Write an essay that no other student could write.  And if it’s about your mom, give enough specific examples so that nobody else’s essay about their own mother will be quite like yours.

You can find even more advice in our video, “How to Write Great College Essays.”  It’s $12.99 and available as a streaming download.

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