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Swimming: My Extra-curricular Activity--with A Free Essay Review

When I turned 6, I joined my first swim team. In the eleven years that I have been swimming I have never lost my drive to win and to be the best. I’m always trying to learn new things to improve my stroke and I try to eat the right things in order to stay at the top of my game. I follow what the Olympians are doing to stay focused. To me swimming is more than just a sport or an extracurricular activity, it really is my life.

The first swim team I joined was my neighborhood’s summer league, the Balcones Wood’s Blue Waves in Austin. I was a little shy, but after the first trial race, I couldn’t be stopped. I went to practice every day and had fun at every meet. But I noticed that the fastest swimmers were all club swimmers. So my mom found a nearby club team that practiced year round. That’s when I joined Texas Gold, my first USA swim team, hoping to get faster before the next summer. At first, it began as something I would do with my older sister a few times a week. And by the time summer league season started my second year, I could already see the improvements that joining a club could bring. I decided to continue swimming because it was exciting to see my times improve and, of course, winning all blue ribbons was a good incentive too. My hobby was turning into a passion and I began seeing the potential not only the sport had, but the potential I saw in myself. I was interested in improving myself, my technique and my times

After that second summer, I started practicing every day after school and by the time I was 10, I was practicing six days a week with some of the top girls in my age group. I was swimming with fast swimmers every day at practice, and it pushed me to do better. I was still taking home blue ribbons over summer league, but now I was looking forward to swimming with my club team, just as much or more. It was thanks to a great club coach and my team mates, that we took first place in the 11&under 200 medley relay at the Texas State Championships and even ended up breaking a national record. When I was 14, my family moved to Cedar Park. That’s when I joined Nitro, a newer team that practiced much closer to our new home. I moved away from my neighborhood summer team, and I was very sad to leave my club team, my coach and my friends, but my mom said I could just try it for the summer. It was with the help of this team and another great coach, that I placed first in the 14 year old girls 400IM at TAGS in 2008 which was our Texas Age Group State Championship. I also became a NSCA Junior National qualifier. This was a very exciting time in my life and I started training with the National team at Nitro.

At the age of 16, I was invited to participate in the 2010 National Diversity Select Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Only 32 swimmers were selected from 400 swimmers in the United States because of their times and their diversity. My dad is from Iran so I was chosen for my Persian ethnicity. I learned a lot about the swimming world, made new friends from different backgrounds, and from all over the country. As a sophomore in high school, I also became a USA Swimming Scholastic All American in 2010 because of my swimming times and my grades.

Now that I am 17, I practice nine times a week, plus dryland and strength training. But it all paid off this summer. At the 2011 Long Course Sectionals swim meet at The Woodlands, I swam in the “A” finals for every event I swam. I qualified for the USA Jr. National meet in the 400im, 200fly and 100fly and made a bonus cut in the 200im. Our girl’s medley relay also took 1st place. So, I got to travel to Palo Alto, California to visit and swim at Stanford University for the 2011 Jr. National’s swim meet. I am fortunate to be swimming with Nitro and to experience swimming at many different universities throughout the country. Swimming at Jr. Nationals opened many new doors for me and helped me so much in my college search. From a very young age I wanted to swim in college. And now as a senior, my goal is to swim with a Division 1 college and my dream is becoming a reality.

In my eleven years of swimming there have been ups and downs, but it has definitely paid off. Swimming has allowed me to explore and achieve goals with a dedication and drive that not many of my piers understand. I have created amazing friendships and gotten the chance to swim at some of the top pools in the nation. I am trying to make improvements in my choices every day so that I can be a better swimmer and a better person. With swimming there are many sacrifices that I have had to make like birthday parties, sleepovers, family vacations, holidays and just sleeping in. But I understand that the sacrifice I made was for my passion, and I would do it all over again. Through all these changes I still love swimming just as much the day I started my first swim team and the day I won my first blue ribbon. Swimming will always be part of my life.


Another one! Great. Well, assuming that the only goal here is to give an account of an extracurricular activity (i.e., assuming this will be submitted along with, rather than as, an essay application) then it is probably fine as it is, with exception of a few language issues noted below. If it is to constitute an application essay in its own right, however, or if you just want to make it generally more interesting and readable regardless of its purpose, then you probably should clarify and develop the connections between your life as a swimmer and your character as a person and aspiring college student. At present, the only thing you say in this regard is that swimming is your life, and you have long wanted to swim with a Division 1 college. The first point is vague and presumably not altogether true, but it might be worth elaborating the sense in which it is true and the sense in which, even so, it will not interfere with your ability successfully to pursue a college degree. You mention the sacrifices you've made in order to train as a swimmer, and you allude in passing to the fact that you have maintained a good academic record, with your bit about becoming "a USA Swimming Scholastic All American in 2010 because of my swimming times and my grades" (congratulations, by the way). But anyone interested in your academic career will likely want to know how you manage to balance studies and swimming and whether you will be able to continue to do so in college, where the demands on your time will be all the greater. There are a couple of other places in your essay where you could also elaborate on the way in which you have integrated your activity and aspirations as a swimmer into your concept of your life or your very being (which is what you do when you say "swimming is my life."). For example, take the following passage:

"My hobby was turning into a passion and I began seeing the potential not only the sport had, but the potential I saw in myself. I was interested in improving myself, my technique and my times."

Here, the phrase "the potential I saw in myself" is a bit ambiguous (and the “I saw” is redundant): The rest of that sentence suggests you are talking about your potential as a swimmer. The next sentence speaks generally of "improving myself," however, so you may be talking about your potential as a person. Or, having said that swimming "really is" your "life," you may not be making a distinction between your identity as a swimmer and plain old you.

But then later you say, "I am trying to make improvements in my choices every day so that I can be a better swimmer and a better person." Here there is a definite difference presupposed between you as swimmer and you as person.

Finally, you end with "swimming will always be part of my life" which is significantly different from "it really is my life."

So far, I've just isolated a few snippets of your essay that are suggestive to me of your wanting to address, however vaguely and obliquely, the question of how your life as a swimmer has shaped your identity. I'm not sure that question was in the foreground of your mind as you began the essay, but I think it should be as you revise it. I think your essay should aim to accomplish more than a list of your many, admirable accomplishments. Specifically, as part of a college application, I think you should aim to communicate (1) that and why you are passionate about swimming (2) that being a swimmer is an essential part of who you are, but is not simply who you are, and (3) that while you have sacrificed some of the normal fun and games of life, you have not sacrificed your commitment to other important things like, say, your education. You have already accomplished half of the first part, your ambiguous about the second, and say practically nothing about the third, except indirectly through reference to the All American award.

So, with regard to (1), you let us know that you are passionate, but not really why. Of course that is the difficult part, and perhaps you don't fully understand it yourself. Fortunately, you don't need here to intellectualize your passions or your desires; it might be enough, for instance, to say a little about just what it feels like to get in the water, to swim at pace, to train relentlessly, and to compete.

With regard to (2), I know from your other essays that, like everyone else, you're a complex human being. Allow a little bit of that complexity to come out here too. And instead of just saying that you try to become a better person, explain what a "better person" is to you, and what you do and plan to do outside the pool to become that. I think its obvious that you can do this in such a way that when you are done you will also have fully addressed the third point.

I've gone on too much already, but I'll say a few final words about language. Generally, your prose is clear, if a little pedestrian and, in a few places (including, unforgivably, the first paragraph!) a bit trite. Concerning the first paragraph, I would take the concrete stuff about eating right and following Olympians (but how does that help you stay focused? and if your focused on being an Olympian, for the love of the Zeus, tell us that) and put someplace else where you talk about working to improve. I would delete the rest of the opening paragraph and begin with the less stilted second paragraph. The last sentence of that second paragraph ("I was interested in improving myself, my technique and my times") a bit awkwardly juxtaposes your interest in improving something as general as yourself with something as particular as your technique or your times.

"I placed first in the": Presumably that's pool talk, or athlete talk. In might also be horse-track talk. In the rest of the English-speaking world, "I won the race" works nicely.

"... because of my swimming times and my grades:" That's vague. Use "because" with a clause, instead of the prepositional phrase (i.e., "because I had achieved or earned or something").

“I practice nine times a week, plus dryland and strength training”: You don't predicate anything here about "dryland and strength training" (Do you do it, or avoid it? You need a verb) "Plus" is an ugly substitute for "and."

Generally, try to add a little life, a (very) little color and lyricism, to your prose. Most go overboard in this direction, but you don't go in this direction at all. That's a lot better than going overboard, but it leaves your writing a bit dry, so to speak. You might also see whether you can leave out one or two or all of the references to the age at which you did various things (because such references become a bit dull and repetitious) while still otherwise communicating the chronology.

Best, EJ

Submitted by: staylor

Tagged...college essay help, writing help

Writing college applications can be fun. Stop laughing.

Think about it: in the next few months, we are asking you to write about  only things that you already love! That can be fun! Here’s the thing: “fun” doesn’t mean “easy.” It can be very tricky to write a combination of essays (for Tufts it’s four, including the supplement and the Common App’s Personal Statement) that you feel describe you perfectly and authentically. These essays need to be informative, concise, and written totally in your 17-year-old voice. That’s hard. So every year my colleagues and I collect a handful of essays written by last year’s applicants that worked really well (meaning they’re now Jumbos) and we publish them on our site for you to read! We then choose a few and talk about why they worked so well. Here are the resulting videos. Watch and learn, my friends: 


Read this Essay Below                                                          Read this Essay Below



Read this Essay Below                                                          Read this Essay Below


Read this Essay Below


Shaan Merchant '19
Nashville, TN
Common App Essay

“Biogeochemical. It's a word, I promise!” There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother's famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out. And then, I am crowned the victor, a true success in the Merchant household. But it is fleeting, as the small, glossy, plastic tiles, perfectly connected to form my winning word, are snatched out from under me and thrown in a pile with all the disgraced, “unwinning” tiles as we mix for our next game of Bananagrams. It's a similar donnybrook, this time ending with my father arguing that it is okay to use “Rambo” as a word (it totally is not).

Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life: from silly games like Bananagrams and our road-trip favorite “word game,” to stunted communication between opposing grandparents, each speaking a different Indian language; from trying to understand the cheesemonger behind the counter with a deep southern drawl (I just want some Camembert!), to shaping a script to make people laugh.

Words are moving and changing; they have influence and substance. Words, as I like them, create powerful flavor combinations in a recipe or (hopefully) powerful guffaws from a stand-up joke. They make people laugh with unexpected storylines at an improv show and make people cry with mouthwatering descriptions of crisp green beans lathered with potently salty and delightfully creamy fish sauce vinaigrette at Girl and the Goat. Words create everything I love (except maybe my dog and my mom, but you know, the ideas). The thought that something this small, a word, can combine to create a huge concept, just like each small reaction that makes up different biogeochemical cycles (it's a stretch, I know), is truly amazing.

After those aggressive games, my family is quickly able to, in the words of a fellow Nashvillian, “shake it off.” We gather around bowls of my grandmother's steaming rice and cumin-spiced chicken (food is always, always at the center of it), and enjoy. By the end of the meal, our words have changed, changed from the belligerent razzle dazzle of moments before to fart jokes and grandparental concern over the state of our bowels.

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Ray Parker '19
Waitsfield, VT
Let Your Life Speak

All my life I have been surrounded by science, filled with science, covered in science. I grew up with an electron microscope in the house, a holography lab and darkroom in the basement, and a cleanroom next door. While my friends were playing in sandboxes I was playing with dry ice in the sink. It is not impossible that I may have been influenced by this. I grew up with an interesting mix of science and art, which comes from my parents. My mother is a photographer and holographer, as well as an optical engineer; my father is an entrepreneur and the creator of the plasma ball light sculpture. They embrace both science and art and have taught me to embrace both as well. When I was young my mother taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and at about the same time my father introduced me to BASIC programming. This laid the seeds for nearly everything that has come after. I kept much of my childlike creativity, and infused it with technology. Nearly all of my school projects have had an extra element that made them much more interesting; a book project on Cities in Flight was a magnetically levitating model of a city, a tectonic map project became a Blender animation, an English class final project was a trio of holograms.

My family has taught me to do interesting things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, and fun. 

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Evana Wilson '19
Philadelphia, PA
Let Your Life Speak

After a long day of school, a strenuous practice, and a long ride home on SEPTA, I walk into a noisy house. Balls flying, TV loud, dogs barking, food cooking. A two-bedroom house with seven occupants. My mother in the kitchen cooking; the dining room table cluttered with paper. The living room is filled with animals and a few humans. I go upstairs and the bathroom is occupied while the children play in the bedroom I am designated to sleep in. My younger brother runs in and out of my mom's room sneakily playing the Playstation, although no one is patrolling. Where in this two story house can I do my homework? The basement? I like to have spider web-free hair. The bathroom? Occupied. My bedroom? Occupied. My mom's room? Inconsistently occupied. The closet? The closet!

On roughly a 6-foot by 4-foot shelf I sit with my books and papers spread out in front of me. Garments hanging from above and footwear resting below. Trying to ignore the clamor around me, I indulge in my homework. The most peaceful place in the house, although it is quite uncomfortable. No one notices I'm gone so they don't bother to look for me-except for the cat. I successfully avoid all humans, but when the cat prances in and finds me he stops at the doorway and stares. I stole his hiding place.

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Celeste Teng '19
Why Tufts?

Tufts' ILVS major drew me instantly. I wanted to explore both film and literature as vehicles of social and cultural significance, to discuss the parallels of transnationalism in cinema and literature, to compare the auteur theory across cultures and media; I'd already noticed common threads of cynicism and anti-establishment sentiments that influenced this generation of Singaporean writers and filmmakers, and I found this intersection a rich, fascinating one. The ILVS is uniquely Tufts; the fact that this major exists at all speaks volumes - this is a community that embraces diversity, and uses it to enrich the way students learn.

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Tessa Garces '19
Larchmont, NY
Celebrate the Role of Sports in Your Life

My first vivid memory of swim practice is of being yanked by the ankles from underneath the kitchen table, my nails scratching against the wood floor and my screams loud enough to elicit the neighbors' concern.

Clearly, I hadn't “gotten” swimming yet. As a first grader, I simply couldn't understand how shoving my hair into a cap, wearing goggles that almost pressed my eyes out of their sockets, and flailing my limbs in freezing liquid for an hour could possibly be worth my while.

However, as I came to understand the mechanics and elegance of the sport, my attitude started to change. It really changed in 4th grade, when I began to win races. The little gold medals gave me a confidence that was addicting. More than that, they motivated me to cultivate good habits before I learned that discipline, daily practice, and just being part of a team are rewards in and of themselves.

Swimming has definitely influenced the way I move through the world. To avoid head-on collisions with lane mates, swimmers are taught from the beginning to always stay to the right of the lane, called circle swimming. Sometimes I feel as though I “circle-live”-walking on the right, driving on the right (naturally), even sleeping on the right. Yet, thinking of how focused and alive I feel after swimming, I think it's more accurate to say that my time in the pool keeps me centered.

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