Common App Essay Example #13

Topic #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I grew up tinkering with anything I could get my hands on.  At a young age, I took apart radios, toasters, and other household items to learn how they worked.  As I got older, I moved on to small motors and engines, and rebuilt our lawn mower.  But, at fourteen, I received my greatest challenge that not only taught me how to solve some complex problems, but helped me understand what I want to do for a career.

We did not have a lot of money and my father wanted to continue to encourage my fascination with machines and working with my hands.  For my fourteenth birthday, he drove me to the local junk yard and bought me a 1980 Jeep CJ-7.   We made sure the chassis was in good shape, but most of the rest of the vehicle needed to be replaced or seriously rebuilt.  My father told me that this would be our project for the next two years.  He would pay for half of the rebuilding costs and contribute half of the labor, but I had to earn the money to cover the rest and was responsible for learning what needed to be done to the vehicle.

I eagerly accepted the challenge and went to work.  I bought every manual I could find and took a job stocking shelves at a local auto parts store – from which I also received a discount on the parts I needed for my Jeep.  My father and I first stripped down the Jeep, worked on the suspension, moved to the drivetrain, and so forth.  Some weekends we worked for hours and other times it took weeks before I had the money to move to the next step.  At one point, I agreed to work for a local mechnicanic for a month in exchange for the shop doing the most complicated element of the engine rebuild that required the skill and equipment of a master mechanic.

I grew significantly from this experience.  I learned how to plan a multi-year project and how to persevere until I completed my goal.  At the end of the two years, my father surprised me by offering to pay for the final painting of the Jeep.  When I picked it up from the shop, I was overtaken by pride in my work and a realization that all the sacrifices were worth it.  I also bonded with my father to an extent I had not thought possible.  I came to more deeply appreciate the importance of personal relationships, and the type of relationship I want to have with my children.  My father created a legacy that I want to continue.

This project also solidified my desire to be a mechanical engineer.  Some people find their personal “high” playing a sport or an instrument, doing volunteer work, or from a certain subject in school.  I came to understand that I get my biggest thrill from the intellectual experience of planning out and constructing machines with my hands.  Therefore, I want to continue to build on these skills and work on more complex machines, designs, and problems.  I do not know exactly what type of machines I want to work on – whether it is helping to design and build a self-driving car or a more efficient process in a factory – but I look forward to learning about all of these options in college and tackling each task in the same way my father and I approached my Jeep CJ-7.