Common Application Personal Statement
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Emma Stout '23
M7652-000. Or at least that's how my bike-tire-greased, highlight-yellow, heel-cap-ripping-at-the-seams Chuck-Taylors are supposed to be colored. Freshman year, I tried so hard to keep them that pristine, popular M7652-000 color. Time progressed, however, and dirt, guitar chords, and conversations eventually covered the canvas of the shoes. When I first moved to Houston in eighth grade, I tried to follow the status quo and keep my shoes white. But as various conflicting influences crept into my life--Liberal vs. Conservative; Portland, OR vs. Houston, TX; LCD Sound system vs. Ed Sheeran--I began to realize how important it is to listen to the other side and to maintain the confidence to pursue my passions while inspiring others to do the same. I needed to appreciate Houston's voice and learn from its stories as much as it needed to hear mine, and my shoes grew dirtier every day as each person's testimony helped solidify and expand my own.
As I walk, one can first make out "Cheyenne yo yo" engulfing the right inner canvas, weaving through clasps and eventually boarding "PORTLAND!!!" I met Cheyenne through Freshman year volleyball and we were friends because I tried; I borrowed cowboy boots for football games, didn't discuss my quirky music, and washed my shoes. As I grew, however, it was our differences that brought us together. She forced me to see the other side, forced me to make my own conclusions without the influence of my background or parents.
In Portland, opinions are liberally voiced, and it's similar in my community in Houston, except rather than an abundance of Lizzie Fletcher stickers it's "Come and Take It". When I moved, I was bombarded by a completely foreign culture. By sophomore year, however, I realized that compromising myself in order to fit in was a mistake. I began vocally expressing my sentiments towards the world to my friends as I learned from theirs. While I introduced my friends to thrift-shopping and wrote articles about more environmentally friendly methods of transportation, they took me to my first line-dance and helped me examine the other side of gun-control in `Agora Coffee House'. As I grew more comfortable with expressing my beliefs, I began heading projects to install a bike rack around campus and took to writing more iconoclastic political pieces in English class.
My left shoe houses various meme references, chords from songs I have written, sketches of the latest NASA star cluster discoveries, practice lines of Italian greetings from when I was set on learning it, and "Lorrie Lake Ln." in small cursive letters. Sandalwood, my friends and I call it--a late-night, post-fast food, teen-angst polluted lake. Sandalwood is the cosmos and the meaning of God and the Sisyphus-like emotions that we discuss there. I never knew that Mormons couldn't drink coffee or that Romanians gut an entire pig to feast on for all of winter. Their philosophies, although often dissonating from my own, taught me that it's often beneficial to disagree.
When I was hurled into Texas, I was miserable when I didn't express myself within the Kinkaid-bubble. However, I quickly began to realize that I didn't have to like Ed Sheeran or keep my shoes M7652-000 to enjoy life. Learning to embrace and assess so many dissonating ideas has enabled to grow more into myself--it makes me more nonpartisan and has educated me on what it truly means to listen to the other side. Now, whether it's Texas or Oregon, Republican or Democrat, my life is a playlist of contradictions. In college, where everyone works on discovering "who they are" or what their place is in the world, I know I can provide not only diversity of thought, but can educate people through my own stories on how crucial it is to maintain an open-minded ideology towards the world and an individual's power to change it.
Kaycee Conover '23
On one hot night in a dark room at the heart of Boston, I became friends with 19,580 people in one single moment. We had all journeyed to the TD Garden from wherever we were in our lives to see Tom Petty perform. I knew his music because my mother had shared it with me. It meant something to her and it meant something to me. His music meant something different to every person in that room and all those meanings, all infinite number of them, wrapped around the music notes and existed in harmony on that July night. I had to close my eyes. It was as if I could hear the heartbeats of every person in that room, pulsing along with the rhythm of the music. By sharing his music, Tom Petty gave me a striking awareness of 19,580 people that live and feel alongside each other. Tom Petty will live as long as people feel.
Lights flashing beyond my eyelids, I could feel what it was like to live more lives than just my own. Tom Petty's art described his life, but it has weaved its way into those of so many others. My own, my mother's then and when she was my age, and all the strangers around me who didn't seem so strange anymore. We all have to go through our own lives and our own challenges, but just because we have our own lessons to learn doesn't mean we are alone. I looked into the smiles of the crowd, the dancing arms and carefree yes, and realised we were all feeling something of our own. But we were feeling it all together.
With the shared heart of others, I can travel vertically through time and horizontally through space. I long to make connections and there are no boundaries that limit how this can be done, not even time and not even space. Imagine trying to count how many people have ever been inspired by the Beatles! Music is an honesty that you embrace more than escape. I sit in front of my piano for hours, copying the rhythm of until it feels right. I'll never tire of hearing another tell me how they're feeling without using any words at all and letting it become part of me. You can't hide from your feelings when someone else is telling them to you.
And so I have become a curator of feeling. I am always listening, collecting the art of others. I have stared at paintings until they stared back at me. I cry while I watch almost every film, sometimes just because the characters are nice to each other. I'm as moved by the narrative of my old American Girl Doll books as I am by Dickens. It's all swirls of feelings, of lessons from others that mirror those you need to learn yourself. Art embodies empathy and empathy has become too easy to lose touch with. Art is the same world seen from a different heart. I look at characters or creators and think, "How did you become the way you are?" I can look at others and think the same thing. And I have the chance the ask them.
Tom Petty did not write "Breakdown" just for me. Hard Promises comforts more than just me. I cannot live life from just my own perspective. Art exists in everyone. I embrace my hour-long commute to school as a chance to start conversations through the life that flows from my speakers, using old tunes to understand the world through my neighbors as we talk of our favourite colours or the abstract nature of time. My dad doesn't seem so distant when we talk about our mutual love for The Band. This is how our moments are made. This is how we find the music that surrounds all of us, all in each other.
Renner Kwittken '23
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors,produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.
Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.
I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.
In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).
I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.
A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.
It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.
Sophia Scherlis '21
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I sit in soil pulling crab grass and borage. I've been a farmer since sophomore year. The farm--managed by my school--is a one-acre plot more accurately described as a garden with chickens.
My task today is to pick cherry tomatoes, most of which have ripened. I grab a tray from the shed and walk across pathways to the vine. I created these pathways during junior year, shoveling large heaps of wood-chips into a wheelbarrow, then raking these chips onto the pathways between beds. Our two tomato vines stand three feet tall and extend horizontally at least six feet; they are heavy with small red and orange glistening spheres.
I fall into a rhythm, plucking and setting tomatoes in the container, eating several here and there. I recall when I was six, my Mom would send my twin brother and me to the backyard to weed dandelions. We would get distracted and play with our dog or climb the dogwood tree. I recall the awe I felt last week when I harvested a giant sunflower, discovering at least ten potatoes growing in its roots, or when I found a sweet potato the size of a football. I had planted the seed potato pieces last year. I think about jalapenos, how scratches on their skin indicate spiciness level. The satisfaction I felt the first time I ate a piece of food I grew at the farm, a raw green-bean. The pleasure I feel knowing friends and teachers also eat the food I grow; we donate the farm's produce to our school's dining hall and sell it at the weekly farmer's market in the parking lot.
After farm, I will work a shift at the Farmer's Market. I will sit, perhaps eating Thai iced-tea-flavored ice cream from another stand, ready to explain where the farm is located, who works it, what we do with unsold food, and, finally, whether the price for a head of lettuce is negotiable (it is). Sometimes, I remember farmers I met during an exchange trip to Yangshuo, China, who were selling pomelos and bamboo shoots. I think about how to me, the difference between one-versus-two dollars for pomelos seems miniscule, but for those farmers, it means a lot. They rely solely on farming to feed their families; I farm for the pleasure of learning what they do out of necessity.
As I carry my share of tomatoes to the shed - tomatoes I nurtured from seeds into sprouts into fruits – I contemplate how much farm has done for me. I can't sit down to a meal without imagining the plants on my plate as seeds and then sprouts, without wondering about the many hands that brought them to my table. Education, to me, means understanding the hidden processes that make up daily life. Playing with the farm chickens - Pablo, Claude, Vincent, Leonardo - and knowing how the coating around an egg works as a natural preservative makes me appreciate my omelet a tad more. Watching weeds that I pulled from various beds slowly decompose into fertilizer in the compost pile makes me consider the roles carbon and nitrogen cycles play in that process.
Although I initially joined farm because I wanted to try something new, I quickly found that the work offers a balance with the intellectual work of the rest of my day. The farm connects education with experience; teaching me to see the application of my classroom learning in a real setting. Being able to see the relevance of what I am studying piques my curiosity. I aspire to maintain this connection between education and experience throughout my life, and will always find ways to contribute to my community, locally or globally. I will look for soil to cultivate, using my learning to see and understand more of the world, whether it be the natural environment or the way people live.
Michael O'Donovan '21
The heavy front door opened, then shut. He was later today than usual. As I sat there, finishing up my second grade math homework, he greeted me with his trademark whimsical, yet tired, smile. His appearance: a faded, worn-out shirt and durable, dusty jeans; his hands, caked with the grime and dirt that come with his line of work; his hair, on the verge of being assaulted with grey, covered in dust. After washing his hands, his greatest tools for his trade, he sat down with his reheated dinner, prepared by his loving wife forty minutes earlier. Without a word, he began to eat, aching for food after a long day of work. My second grade self couldn't help but notice the juxtaposition in play: a man in old, well-worn clothes, with dusty hair and hands not completely cleaned, dining in a room meticulously and somewhat ornately furnished, the fruit of his labor. We both sat there in silence. I could not help but look at my father the car mechanic in awe, considering where I myself might end up when I am his age.
"Cessi, et sublato montes genitore petivi." I just have one final line in book two of Vergil's Aeneid, line 804. I gaze at the line for a moment before attacking it. I note how both "sublato" and "genitore" are ablative; they go together. I spot "cessi," the verb meaning "I yielded", and "petivi," which means "I sought". "Montes" in this scenario is in the accusative case, which means it is the direct object. I translate the line to, "I yielded, and lifting my father I sought the mountains." I sat back, pleased with myself for finishing the second book of the renowned epic poem. Just then, my own father opened the door. Over dinner that night, we had another rousing talk regarding my looming college process. This talk was different, however; this was the night when I finally inform my dad of my intention to major in my favorite school topic, the classics. Upon hearing this news, my father's countenance was obscure, untranslatable.
When my parents were growing up in Ireland, an apprenticeship was far more valuable than college education. My parents did not attend college because apprentices got jobs sooner than those who went to college. Through apprenticeship my father got his first job. I realize the vast differences between my father's work and what I want to make my life's work. His is a realistic one: a job that was needed back then and is needed even more so today. It is a grueling work, in which one must use their hands and bodies to complete. Mine is perhaps less realistic. The classics once thrived; it was required curriculum at many private schools. The industry has only gone downhill since then, with fewer and fewer students taking the risk to learn the subject. It demands a high level of thinking, with much less physical requirements. Ultimately, I am grateful for my opportunity. My dad worked hard his entire life so that his own children got the chance to attend college to study and become what they want to be, and not what they needed to be for monetary reasons. My father is my hero for working hard, succeeding, and allowing me such a chance.
Despite his early doubt, when he soon learned that I did have a plan, which was that I wanted to teach the classics, my dad was at ease. That was all he needed to know. In my father's words, he said that if I had a plan that I was serious about, he would always fully support me. I was overjoyed by the fact that I, much like the pious hero Aeneas, would be able to carry my father, my past, with me toward my unknown future, rather than leave him behind, forever stuck in my past, a memory.
Jillian Impastato '21
My math teacher turns around to write an equation on the board and a sun pokes out from the collar of her shirt. A Starbucks barista hands me my drink with a hand adorned by a small music note. Where I work, a customer hands me her credit card wearing a permanent flower bracelet. Every day, I am on a scavenger hunt to find women with this kind of permanent art. I'm intrigued by the quotes, dates, symbols, and abstract shapes I see on people that I interact with daily. I've started to ask them questions, an informal interview, as an excuse to talk with these diverse women whose individuality continually inspires me. You can't usually ask the sorts of questions I have been asking and have the sorts of conversations I have been having, so I've created this project to make these kinds of encounters a bit more possible and acceptable.
There is no school assignment, no teacher to give me a grade, and no deadline. I don't have a concrete outcome in mind besides talking with a mix of interesting women with interesting tattoos. So far I've conducted fifteen interviews with a range of women from my hometown to Hawaii, teenagers to senior citizens, teachers to spiritual healers. The same set of questions has prompted interviews lasting less than twenty minutes and over two hours. I'm being told stories about deaths of a parent, struggles with cancer, coming out experiences, sexual assaults, and mental illnesses. All of these things that may be taboo in today's society, these women are quite literally wearing on their sleeves. I'm eager to continue these interviews in college and use all of the material I've gathered to show the world the strength and creativity of these wonderful women I've encountered.
I want to explore the art and stories behind the permanent transformations of personal landscapes. I attempt this by asking questions about why they decided to get their tattoos, how they were received in the workplace, the reactions from family and friends, and the tattoo's impact on their own femininity.
Through these simple questions, I happened upon much greater lessons regarding human interaction, diversity, and connectedness. In my first interview, a local businesswoman told me about her rocky relationship with her mother, her struggles with mental illness, and her friend in jail, within 45 minutes of meeting her and in the middle of a busy Starbucks. An artist educator I worked with told me that getting a tattoo "was like claiming a part of yourself and making it more visible and unavoidable." A model/homeopath said that having a tattoo is like "giving people a little clue about you." A psychologist shared how she wishes that she could turn her tattoos "on or off like a light switch to match different outfits and occasions." I've realized that tattoos show the complex relationship between the personal and the public (and how funny that can be when a Matisse cutout is thought to be phallic, or how a social worker's abstract doodle is interpreted as a tsunami of sticks, alien spaceship, and a billion other things by the children she works with).
I've learned so much about the art of storytelling and storytelling through art. I've strengthened relationships with people that had conventional roles in my life and created friendships with some unconventional characters. Most importantly, I've realized that with the willingness to explore a topic and the willingness to accept not knowing where it will go, an idea can become a substantive reality.