2017 College Essay Boot Camp: Powerful stories

Students from St. Paul Harding and Minneapolis Roosevelt high schools pose for a photo with staff and volunteers after competing ThreeSixty Journalism's College Essay Boot Camp on April 7 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. (Photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas)

Take 41 terrific high school students – students who were born in the United States, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo, Mexico, Gambia, Burma, Thailand and South Africa – 16 volunteer writing coaches and three ThreeSixty staff, put them together in a couple rooms over spring break, add some pizza and Subway, and charge everyone with one monumental task: Complete a polished, adaptable college essay by week’s end.

That’s College Essay Boot Camp. It’s tough, emotional and meaningful. In early April, students from Roosevelt High School in south Minneapolis and Harding Senior High School on the East Side of St. Paul sat down to share and transform their diverse life stories. The completed essays will help land these students in colleges and universities from coast to coast. They’ll also show you why College Essay Boot Camp is our favorite week of the year.

College Essay: On the right path, after tragedy and turmoil

Bam! Bam! I heard this sound early in the morning. People screaming, “Mungu nisaidie” (God help me). My body shaking and numb. My face hot. I knew how to run at the age of 3.

College Essay: ‘Changing the world, one girl at a time’

When Hooyo (“Mother” in Somali) picked me up from school in our Ethiopian refugee camp, we’d walk the long way home so people wouldn’t know that I went to school.

College Essay: Determination and optimism from ‘Mama’

Blood ran from Mama’s—my grandmother’s—arm and through the IV as the nurse said, “We will have the results in a couple of weeks and have you stop by then.”

College Essay: Grappling with – and overcoming – a tough decision on the mat

Class starts at 8 a.m. But I have been at school since 6 a.m.—running stairs over a puddle of my own sweat and pushing my limits in the weight room.

College Essay: Full speed ahead

Bang! The gun goes off! I thrust out of the starting blocks with full force and accelerate forward. As I run, my breaths become shallow, my chest tightens and I hear myself breathing loudly.

College Essay: A visit to Thailand and a new outlook on life

I stared at the red dirt stain on my Nike shoes. My throat dried up and sweat trailed down the side of my face. Despite the musty heat and my sore foot, I kept walking.

College Essay: A Mexican education system teaches a valuable lesson

When I arrived in Mexico City from my home, Minnesota, two years ago, I was petrified when I saw a place that looked hopeless.

College Essay: ‘Hard work does pay off’

Sweat dripped down the faces and bodies of the 14 exhausted teen dancers and scattered onto the slippery hardwood floor. Several stifled yawns.

College Essay: Conquering a new language and a new home

Fear and happiness hit my face.

I was “home.”


College Essay: ‘Your shield, protector and defense’

While I was cleaning the living room at the age of 10 years old in South Africa, my sister, Halima, ran up to me and said, “Brother, brother, brother! Our brother is in danger!”

College Essay: Overcoming homelessness

Homelessness can happen to anyone. I know because I experienced it. One day in fifth grade, my parents sat my siblings and me down together in our tiny apartment.