Common application question: write about an experience that had an impact on you / topic of your choice.

It was hours before dawn when I awoke, but I was not tired. There was an almost palpable sense of apprehension and excitement spreading throughout the country, and I felt a wave of it hit me as I stepped out the door. It was dark, but the streetlights cast a yellow glow over the city, making it feel as bright as day.

That was November 4, 2008 – the day of the presidential election. I had signed up months before to work as an election judge at the polling station in my precinct. My responsibilities, I knew, would include working a fifteen-hour day, posting signs and setting up equipment, helping voters, sending in votes, and signing dozens of forms. I had already been to several hours worth of training to prepare for that day. At that point, I knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience, but I had no idea how much it would influence my thoughts and interests.

I arrived just before five in the morning. Several old women who had been working at elections for years were already there, grumbling about the time, but still excited. I ran around the hall taping up signs and unfolding heavy voting booths. Just before seven, all of us sat down at our tables and waited for the doors to open. As soon as the clock ticked to seven, the...

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