Twelve Amazing Personal Statement Examples for College Applications 2018

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Everyone needs to write a personal statement for their college application. It’s the main essay on the Common Application, and many schools require you to answer some version of the question “who are you, and what do you value?” And in recent years, the Common Application Essay has become more and more important.

When learning to write an amazing personal statement, it can help to read some amazing personal statement examples. Below are some of my favorite student personal statements from the past few years.

Be warned: some of these personal statement examples may inspire you.

Note that almost none of these students actually titled their essays; for the Table of Contents, I’ve simply titled them based on their first line or general topic.

Personal Statement Example #1
Religion and Science

“Dev, what’s your religion?”

I felt hot; my heart quickened. I tensed with apprehension while hurriedly reviewing possible answer choices in my head—atheist, agnostic? Lurking much farther down the list—Muslim? Although my family is Ismaili, part of a small sect in the Shia branch of Islam, I couldn’t identify myself as such. Not only did I fear that doing so would alienate me from my friends, but I also struggled to truly buy into the faith.

What I’d heard of my religion from the outside world seemed to stand in stark opposition to what I had seen at home and at the mosque: that Islam cherishes peace and pluralism, charity, and compassion. Teachers and friends denounced it as a religion rooted in violence; nightly news anchors reported on a seemingly unending avalanche of terrorist attacks, supposedly affirmed by messages of hate in the Quran. Left with scant parental guidance, I wondered if they were right. I wondered if extremist groups really did represent the religion of my parents and grandparents, if their religion really was one of intolerance.

As I tried to fit into my largely Judeo-Christian community, my disenchantment towards my family’s faith evolved into increasing self-consciousness about my heritage. When asked about my background, I wouldn’t say that my father’s family is Ugandan, but that they were expelled from the country by the dictator Idi Amin. I wouldn’t say that my mother’s family has links to both India and Pakistan. I would instead say that I’m British, a true statement to be certain, but also one more easily digested by my American friends.

Somewhat detached from my religion and heritage, I searched for other philosophies to make up for what I had lost, eventually finding that faith in math and the sciences. I learned of the computational complexity of the human mind, discovered the simple elegance of calculus, and found myself awestruck by the grand scale of the cosmos. I investigated the inner workings and processes of the internet, sparking my fascination with computer science.

Yet, my notion of science and religion as opposing forces was challenged by a TED Talk in the winter of my junior year. As the speaker discussed potential consequences of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I was struck by his belief that A.I. might be the last truly human invention as the technology itself diminishes the contributions of our species. The troubling assertion that humans have little intrinsic value made me wonder—What does it mean to be human? What, if anything, makes us valuable? These were questions to which science did not have the answer.

I then realized that the belief that humankind is unique and extraordinary is rooted not in science, but rather in faith. I now approach my faith differently from my parents and grandparents, centered on the conviction that the human soul, and the innate sense of ethics and justice it provides, is ultimately what endows us with worth. But that’s not all religion has given me.

When asked about my faith now, I still feel hot; my heart still quickens. Yet, now I’m able to recognize why I find my faith valuable. It has helped me to connect with my heritage, foster my sense of charity and civic duty, and better appreciate the unique importance of human values. It is with faith in those human values that I look towards a future in which the abilities of machines far outstrip my own and remain resolved to realize a future that is not only technologically advanced, but also morally sound.

Personal Statement Example #2
The Tally on My Uniform

Day 19: I am using my school uniform as a slate to tally the days. As the ink slowly seeps through the fabric of my shirt, I begin to understand that being a conscious Arab comes with a cost.

Flashback.

Day 7: I come across a live stream on social media, 1,200 Palestinian political prisoners are on their seventh day of a hunger strike against the Israeli occupation. It is the first I have heard of its occurrence. I allow myself to follow the news daily through social media while regional mainstream media and our local news channels refrain from reporting any news of the strike.

Day 13: I am engulfed by the cry for justice. I feel helplessly overwhelmed, not wanting to confront reality, but I force myself to anyway; actively searching, refreshing my phone to tune into live streams from protests, plugging in “Palestinian hunger strike” on the search engine to stay connected to the cause.

Day 18: No one else seems to know anything about what is going on. I am compelled to find a way to embody the struggle. In my first period class, I see a marker beside the whiteboard. I pick it up, not sure what I’m going to do, but then hear myself asking my classmates to each draw a vertical line on my shirt. It seems funny at first--they laugh, confused. But each time the marker touches the fabric it tells a story. It is a story of occupied countries, a story in which resisting apartheid becomes synonymous with criminality, a story we refuse to address because we have grown too apathetic to value life beyond our borders. As my classmates draw the tally, together we tell the story of the hunger strike and mourn the distance human beings have created between each other.

Day 20: My uniform has become a subject of question. Each pair of eyes that fix their gaze on the ink, I share the story of our Palestinian compatriots. The initial responses are the same: disbelief, followed by productive conversation on our moral responsibility to educate ourselves on the conflict.

Day 28: Each day the strike continues, I have asked my classmates to draw another line on the tally. While it still comes across as unsettling, it seems to no longer represent the reality of the hunger strike. My classmates are no longer interested in what it means. I am supposed to move on already. I am called in to the principal’s office. After being instructed to get a new shirt, I choose to challenge the order. As long as the hunger strike lasts, I will continue to voice the reality of the hundreds of prisoners, in hopes of recreating the sense of responsibility I originally sensed in my peers.

Day 41: A compromise deal is offered to the political prisoners and they suspend their hunger strike. I walk out of school with a clean uniform and feel whole again, but unnaturally so. I was left feeling an unspoken kind of weakness where I broke under the realisation that not all sorrows could resonate with people enough for me to expect them to lead movements.

I would need to be the one to lead, to recreate the energy that the tally once inspired. I decided to found a political streetwear brand, Silla, where fashion choices transcend superficial aesthetics by spreading a substantial message of equality and donating the profits to NGOs that advocate for social change. Through Silla, I am able to stay in touch with my generation, keeping them engaged with issues because of how they can now spend their money Silla has mobilized people to voice their opinions that align with equity and equality. Because of my adherence to justice, I was elected student government president and I use it as a platform to be vigilant in reminding my peers of their potential, inspiring them to take action and be outspoken about their beliefs. When the ink seeped through the fabric of my uniform it also stained my moral fibres, and will forever remind me that I am an agent of change.

Personal Statement Example #3
Quattro Lingue

Day 1: “Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk. Labbayk Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk,” we chant, sweat dripping onto the wispy sand in brutal Arabian heat, as millions of us prepare to march from the rocky desert hills of Mount Arafat to the cool, flat valleys of Muzdalifa. As we make our way into the Haram, my heart shakes. Tears rolling down my cheeks, we circumvent the Ka’ba one last time before embarking on Hajj, the compulsory pilgrimage of Islam. It became the spiritual, visceral, and linguistic journey of a lifetime.

Day 3:

“Ureed an Aśhtareę Hijab.”

“Al-harir aw al-Qathan?”

“Ķhilaahuma.”

“Kham ťhamanu-huma?”

“Mi’at Riyal.”

“La. Khizth sab’een.”

“Sa’uethikhá Sab’een.”

“Shukran laķ.”

“Show me hijabs.”

“Silk or cotton?”

“Both.”

“How much do these cost?”

“100 Riyal.”

“No. Take 70.”

“Fine. Thanks Hajjah.”

In Makkah, I quickly learn shopkeepers rip off foreigners, so exchanges like this, where I only have to say a few Arabic words, make me appear local. It also connects me with real locals: the Saudi Arabian pharmacist who sells me cough syrup, the Egyptian grandmother seeking directions to the restroom, the Moroccan family who educates me on the Algerian conflict. As the sounds of Arabic swirl around me like the fluttering sands (Jamal, Naqah, Ibl, Ba’eer…), I’m reconnecting with an old friend: we’d first met when I decided to add a third language to English and Bengali.

Day 6: The tents of Mina. Temperature blazing. Humidity high. I sleep next to an old woman who just embarked on her twentieth Hajj. When I discover she’s Pakistani, I speak to her in Urdu. Her ninety-year old energy--grounded, spiritual, and non-materialistic--inspires me. So far, every day has been a new discovery of my courage, spirit, and faith, and I see myself going on this journey many more times in my life. My new friend is curious where I, a Bengali, learned Urdu. I explain that as a Muslim living in America’s divided political climate, I wanted to understand my religion better by reading an ancient account of the life of Prophet Muhammad, but Seerat-un-Nabi is only in Urdu, so I learned to read it. I was delighted to discover the resonances: Qi-yaa-mah in Arabic becomes Qi-ya-mat in Urdu, Dh-a-lim becomes Zaa-lim… Urdu, which I had previously only understood academically, was the key to developing a personal connection with a generation different from mine.

Day 8: “Fix your hair. You look silly,” my mom says in Bengali. When my parents want to speak privately, they speak our native tongue. Phrases like, “Can you grab some guava juice?” draw us closer together. My parents taught me to look out for myself from a young age, so Hajj is one of the only times we experienced something formative together. Our “secret” language made me see Bengali, which I’ve spoken all my life, as beautiful. It also made me aware of how important shared traditions are.

As I think back to those sweltering, eclectic days, the stories and spiritual connections linger. No matter what languages we spoke, we are all Muslims in a Muslim country, the first time I’d ever experienced that. I came out of my American bubble and discovered I was someone to be looked up to. Having studied Islam my whole life, I knew the ins and outs of Hajj. This, along with my love for language, made me, the youngest, the sage of our group. Whether at the Al-Baik store in our camp or the Jamarat where Satan is stoned, people asked me about standards for wearing hijab or to read the Quran out loud. I left the journey feeling fearless. Throughout my life, I’ll continue to seek opportunities where I’m respected, proud to be Muslim, and strong enough to stand up for others. The next time I go to Hajj, I want to speak two more languages: donc je peux parler à plus de gens and quiero escuchar más historias.

Personal Statement Example #4
12

12 is the number of my idol, Tom Brady. It’s the sum of all the letters in my name. It’s also how old I was when I started high school.

In short, I skipped two grades: first and sixth. Between kindergarten and eighth grade, I attended five schools, including two different styles of homeschooling (three years at a co-op and one in my kitchen). Before skipping, I was perennially bored.

But when I began homeschooling, everything changed. Free to move as fast as I wanted, I devoured tomes from Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison to London, Kipling, and Twain. I wrote 10-page papers on subjects from Ancient Sparta and military history to the founding of the United States and the resounding impact of slavery. I discovered more than I ever had, kindling a lifelong joy for learning.

While high school offered welcome academic opportunities--studying two languages and taking early science APs chief among them--the social environment was a different beast. Many classmates considered me more a little brother than a true friend, and my age and laser focus on academics initially made me socially inept. I joined sports teams in spring and built better relationships, but my lack of size (5’1”) and strength relegated me to the end of the bench. Oftentimes, I secretly wished I was normal age.

That secret desire manifested itself in different ways. While I’ve loved football since I was a little kid, I soon became obsessed with personal success on the gridiron--the key, I figured, to social acceptance and the solution to my age problem. I had grown up obsessively tracking my New England Patriots. Now, instead of armchair quarterbacking, I poured hours into throwing mechanics and studying film after my homework each night. Itching to grow, I adopted Brady’s diet, cutting dairy, white flour, and processed sugar. But in the rush to change, my attitude towards academics shifted; I came to regard learning as more a job than a joy. No matter what talents I possessed, I viewed myself as a failure because I couldn’t play.

That view held sway until a conversation with my friend Alex, the fastest receiver on the team. As I told him I wished we could switch places so I could succeed on the gridiron, he stared incredulously. “Dude,” he exclaimed, “I wish I was you!” Hearing my friends voice their confidence in my abilities prompted me to reflect: I quickly realized I was discounting my academic talents to fit a social construct. Instead of pushing myself to be something I wasn’t, I needed to meld my talents and my passions. Instead of playing sports, I recognized, I should coach them.

My goal to coach professionally has already helped me embrace the academic side of the game--my side--rather than sidelining it. I have devoured scouting tomes, analyzed NFL game film, spoken with pros like Dante Scarnecchia, and even joined the American Football Coaches Association. Translating that coach’s mentality into practice, I began explaining the concepts behind different plays to my teammates, helping them see the subtleties of strategy (despite Coach Whitcher’s complaints that I was trying to steal his job). And I discovered that my intellectual understanding of the game is far more important in determining my success than my athletic tools: with the discipline, adaptability, and drive I had already developed, I’ve become a better player, student, and friend.

Physically and mentally, I’ve changed a lot since freshman year, growing 11 inches and gaining newfound confidence in myself and my abilities. Instead of fighting for social acceptance, I’m free to focus on the things I love. Academically, that change re-inspired me. Able to express my full personality without social pressure, I rededicated myself in the classroom and my community. I still secretly wish to be Tom Brady. But now, I’m happy to settle for Bill Belichick.

Personal Statement Example #5
Flying

As a young child, I was obsessed with flying. I spent hours watching birds fly, noting how the angle of their wings affected the trajectory of their flight. I would then waste tons of fresh printer paper, much to the dismay of my parents, to test out various wing types by constructing paper airplanes.

One day, this obsession reached its fever pitch.

I decided to fly.

I built a plane out of a wooden clothes rack and blankets, with trash bags as precautionary parachutes. As you can imagine, the maiden flight didn’t go so well. After being in the air for a solid second, the world came crashing around me as I slammed onto the bed, sending shards of wood flying everywhere.

Yet, even as a five-year-old, my first thoughts weren’t about the bleeding scratches that covered my body. Why didn’t the wings function like a bird’s wings? Why did hitting something soft break my frame? Why hadn’t the parachutes deployed correctly? Above all, why didn’t I fly?

As I grew older, my intrinsic drive to discover why stimulated a desire to solve problems, allowing my singular passion of flying to evolve into a deep-seated love of engineering.

I began to challenge myself academically, taking the hardest STEM classes offered. Not only did this allow me to complete all possible science and math courses by the end of my junior year, but it also surrounded me with the smartest kids of the grades above me, allowing me access to the advanced research they were working on. As such, I developed an innate understanding of topics such as protein function in the brain and differential equation modeling early in high school, helping me develop a strong science and math foundation to supplement my passion for engineering.

I also elected to participate in my school’s engineering pathway. As a team leader, I was able to develop my leadership skills as I identified and utilized each member’s strength to produce the best product. I sought to make design collaborative, not limited to the ideas of one person. In major group projects, such as building a hovercraft, I served as both president and devil’s advocate, constantly questioning if each design decision was the best option, ultimately resulting in a more efficient model that performed significantly better than our initial prototype.

Most of all, I sought to solve problems that impact the real world. Inspired by the water crisis in India, I developed a water purification system that combines carbon nanotube filters with shock electrodialysis to both desalinate and purify water more efficiently and cost-effectively than conventional plants. The following year, I ventured into disease detection, designing a piezoresistive microcantilever that detected the concentration of beta-amyloid protein to medically diagnose a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, a use for cantilevers that hadn’t yet been discovered. The project received 1st Honors at the Georgia Science Fair.

Working on these two projects, I saw the raw power of engineering – an abstract idea gradually becoming reality. I was spending most of my days understanding the why behind things, while also discovering solutions to prevalent issues. In a world that increasingly prioritizes a singular solution, I am captivated by engineering’s ability to continuously offer better answers to each problem.

Thirteen years have passed since that maiden flight, and I have yet to crack physical human flight. My five-year-old self would have seen this as a colossal failure. But the intense curiosity that I found in myself that day is still with me. It has continued to push me, forcing me to challenge myself to tackle ever more complex problems, engrossed by the promise and applicability of engineering.

I may never achieve human flight. However, now I see what once seemed like a crash landing as a runway, the platform off of which my love of engineering first took flight.

Personal Statement Example #6
Arab Spring in Bahrain

February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain.

I learned to be alert to the rancid smell of tear gas. Its stench would waft through the air before it invaded my eyes, urging me inside before they started to sting. Newspaper front pages constantly showed images of bloodied clashes, made worse by Molotov cocktails. Martial Law was implemented; roaming tanks became a common sight. On my way to school, I nervously passed burning tires and angry protesters shouting “Yaskut Hamad! “ [“Down with King Hamad!”]. Bahrain, known for its palm trees and pearls, was waking up from a slumber. The only home I had known was now a place where I learned to fear.

September 2013– Two and a half years after the uprisings, the events were still not a distant memory. I decided the answer to fear was understanding. I began to analyze the events and actions that led to the upheaval of the Arab Springs. In my country, religious and political tensions were brought to light as Shias, who felt underrepresented and neglected within the government, challenged the Sunnis, who were thought to be favored for positions of power. I wanted equality and social justice; I did not want the violence to escalate any further and for my country to descend into the nightmare that is Libya and Syria.

September 2014– Pursuing understanding helped allay my fears, but I also wanted to contribute to Bahrain in a positive way. I participated in student government as a student representative and later as President, became a member of Model United Nations (MUN), and was elected President of the Heritage Club, a charity-focused club supporting refugees and the poor.

As an MUN delegate, I saw global problems from perspectives other than my own and used my insight to push for compromise. I debated human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an Israeli perspective, argued whether Syrian refugees should be allowed entry into neighboring European countries, and then created resolutions for each problem. In the Heritage Club, I raised funds and ran food drives so that my team could provide support for less fortunate Bahrainis. We regularly distributed boxed lunches to migrant workers, bags of rice to refugees and air conditioners to the poor.

April 2016 – The Crown Prince International Scholarship Program (CPISP) is an intensive leadership training program where participants are chosen on merit, not political ideologies. Both Shia and Sunni candidates are selected, helping to diversify the future leadership of my country. I was shortlisted to attend the training during that summer.

July 2016 – The CPISP reaffirmed for me the importance of cooperation. At first, building chairs out of balloons and skyscrapers out of sticks didn’t seem meaningful. But as I learned to apply different types of leadership styles to real-life situations and honed my communication skills to lead my team, I began to see what my country was missing: harmony based on trust. Bringing people together from different backgrounds and successfully completing goals—any goal—builds trust. And trust is the first step to lasting peace.

October 2016 – I have only begun to understand my people and my history, but I no longer live in fear. Instead, I have found purpose. I plan to study political science and economics to find answers for the issues that remain unresolved in my country. Bahrain can be known for something more than pearl diving, palm trees, and the Arab Spring; it can be known for the understanding of its people, including me.

Personal Statement Example #7
Poop, Animals and the Environment

I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays.

I don’t mind it, either. For that matter, I also don’t mind being pecked at, hissed at, scratched and bitten—and believe me, I have experienced them all.

I don’t mind having to skin dead mice, feeding the remaining red embryonic mass to baby owls. (Actually, that I do mind a little.)

I don’t mind all this because when I’m working with animals, I know that even though they probably hate me as I patch them up, their health and welfare is completely in my hands. Their chances of going back to the wild, going back to their homes, rely on my attention to their needs and behaviors.

My enduring interest in animals and habitat loss led me to intern at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley over the summer, and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet those opossum joeys that defecated on my shoes whenever I picked them up (forcing me to designate my favorite pair of shoes as animal hospital shoes, never to be worn elsewhere again). It was there that a juvenile squirrel decided my finger looked fit to suckle, and that many an angry pigeon tried to peck off my hands.

And yet, when the internship ended, I found myself hesitant to leave. That hesitation didn’t simply stem from my inherent love of animals. It was from the sense of responsibility that I developed while working with orphaned and injured wildlife. After all, most of the animals are there because of us—the baby opossums and squirrels are there because we hit their mothers with our cars, raptors and coyotes end up there due to secondary rodenticide poisoning and illegal traps. We are responsible for the damage, so I believe we are responsible for doing what we can to help. And of course, there is empathy—empathy for the animals who lost their mothers, their homes, their sight and smell, their ability to fly or swim. I couldn’t just abandon them.

I couldn’t just abandon them the same way I couldn’t let big oil companies completely devastate the Arctic, earth’s air conditioner. The same way I couldn’t ignore the oceans, where destructive fishing practices have been wiping out ocean life.

These are not jobs that can be avoided or left half-finished. For some, the Arctic is simply too far away, and the oceans will always teem with life, while for others these problems seem too great to ever conquer. And while I have had these same feelings many times over, I organized letter-writing campaigns, protested, and petitioned the oil companies to withdraw. I campaigned in local parks to educate people on sustaining the seas. I hold on to the hope that persistent efforts will prevent further damage.

I sometimes wonder if my preoccupation with social and environmental causes just makes me feel less guilty. Maybe I do it just to ease my own conscience, so I can tell people “At least I did something.” I hope that it’s not just that. I hope it’s because my mother always told me to treat others as I want to be treated, even if I sometimes took this to its logical extreme, moving roadkill to the bushes along the side of the road because “Ma, if I was hit by a car I would want someone to move me off the road, too.”

The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it. I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others.

Personal Statement Example #8
Entoptic Phenomena

I subscribe to what the New York Times dubs “the most welcomed piece of daily e-mail in cyberspace.” Cat pictures? Kardashian updates? Nope: A Word A Day.

Out of the collection of diverse words I received, one word stuck out to me in particular.

Entoptic: relating to images that originate within the eye (as opposed to from light entering the eye). Examples of entoptic phenomena: floaters, thread-like fragments that appear to float in front of the eye but are caused by matter within the eye. (for a picture: https://wordsmith.org/words/entoptic.html)

As I read through this entry, I was suddenly transported back to the first grade, when I was playing Pokémon Go one day with my friends during recess. Our version was epic: we escaped into virtual reality with our imagination rather than our phone screens, morphing into different Pokémon to do battle.

My friend Ryan had just transformed into an invisible ghost-type Pokémon capable of evading my attacks. Flustered, I was attempting to evolve my abilities to learn to see the invisible. Between rubbing my eyes and squinting, I began to make out subtle specks in the air that drifted from place to place. Aha—the traces of the ghost Pokémon! I launched a thunderbolt straight through the air and declared a super-effective knockout.

...Of course, I never was able to explain what I was seeing to my bewildered friends that day in first grade. But after learning about entoptic phenomena, I realized that my entoptic adventure was not a hallucination but, in fact, one of my first intellectual milestones, when I was first able to connect meticulous observation of my environment to my imagination.

Nowadays, I don’t just see minuscule entoptic phenomena: I see ghosts, too. Two of their names are Larry and Kailan, and they are the top-ranked players in the Exynos League.

Exynos is the name of the elaborate basketball league I have created in my imagination over the last ten years of playing basketball on the neighborhood court in the evenings. As I play, I envision Larry and Kailan right there with me: reaching, stealing, and blocking. Undoubtedly, I might look a little silly when I throw the ball backwards as if Larry blocked my layup attempt—but imagining competitors defending me drives me to be precise in my execution of different moves and maneuvers. More than that, it is a constant motivator for all my endeavors: whether I’m researching for debate or studying for the next math contest, I am inventing and personifying new competitive ghosts that are hard at work every minute I’m off task.

But I perceive perhaps the most vivid images through music, as I tell a different story with each piece I play on the violin. When I play Bach’s lively Prelude in E Major, for example, I visualize a mouse dashing up and down hills and through mazes to escape from an evil cat (à la Tom and Jerry). But when I play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, I describe a relationship plagued by unrequited love. I revel in the intellectual challenge of coming up with a story that is not only consistent with the composer’s annotations but also resonates with my own experiences.

Between re-living Tom and Jerry episodes and shooting fadeaway three-pointers against ghosts, then, perhaps entoptic phenomena don’t tell my whole story. So, here’s my attempt—in the form of a word of the day, of course:

Pokémon Boom: a legendary form of augmented reality so pure that it is commonly mistaken for hallucination. Denizens of this world are rumored to watch Netflix re-runs without WiFi and catch many a Pikachu via psychokinesis.

Personal Statement Example #9
The Listmaker

Current inventory: thirty-two note pads, ten packs of Pilot G-2 pens, and pure willpower.

I come from a long line of list-makers. It shows up on both sides of my family, so by the time this trait reached my generation, it hit a peak. I’m a first-rate lister.

My chronic list-making tendencies began in fourth grade when I begged for a white board and a set of Expo markers for Christmas. I started creating daily color-coordinated to-do lists replete with little checkmark boxes, and fun facts for my family to enjoy—perhaps to compensate for the fact that my large white board reigned over the kitchen space.

And, while I’ve retired the white board, I still stick with a note pad. I keep a note pad by the telephone, one on the counter, and of course, one in my backpack—some of them have new app ideas, some of them have new book ideas, maybe there’s even a revolution in there somewhere.

As far as habits go, it’s not a bad one to have.

A list is the keeper of spontaneous expression. With every contraction of my brain, every output of overflowing postulations, every idea my imagination rapidly hurls at me, those thoughts that had been unconscious suddenly surface at the touch of pen to paper. A thought, which is in so many ways intangible, is absolutely tangible on paper. And I like that thought—that our words can have resonance.

Because I’m not just a list-maker. Words and how they shape our reality have been a driving force in my life…                      

As a writer, I am constantly constructing reality. Writing on a page has a physicality: each word by itself could seem mundane and even unimaginative, but the way I choose to arrange them on the page makes them meaningful. Someone reads them, and now my words exist in the world as their own object.

As a debater, I edit on paper, I write on paper, I read on paper. And when I voice the words, and put them into the world, someone’s perception is changed, for better or for worse.

As an artist, I spin my words into portraits of people, landscapes of nature, even cartoons of fantastical polka dotted critters. My loose-leaf pages are a sanctuary from the rigors of “productivity,” and each doodle represents the language of my dreams and imagination.

Words build bridges. But the words that make up my lists aren’t just any words—they’re filled with “do, complete, finish, be.” They harness energy and incite action, give me answers and direction. They serve to connect the me I am—a tad disorganized, spontaneous, a little confused, and very overwhelmed—with the me I aspire to be. I can rely on them. Although the course of my life is most likely going to be transient, jumbled, and complex, covered in a tangle of corrections, with contradicting figures sprawled all over, lists will always keep me grounded.

There is something wonderful about a physical pen with graceful ink in my control that a handwritten list can solely provide, and that I will not grow out of. Lists go hand in hand with refreshing walks and a cup of hot chocolate in the morning: they are always there for me, to be read or put away or kept tucked away in a drawer or pocket—within reach.

Best of all, lists have a way of clarifying things: You can’t really mess around with a 3 by 5 note pad; you have to get to the absolute essence of an idea. In that moment between thinking a thing and writing it down, a shift takes place. Once I’ve got it down on paper, it’s going to happen.

Personal Statement Example #10
The Builder & Problem Solver

Since childhood, I have been an obsessive builder and problem solver. When I was 6, I spent two months digging a hole in my backyard, ruining the grass lawn, determined to make a giant koi pond after watching a show on HGTV. After watching Castaway when I was 7, I started a fire in my backyard--to my mother's horror--using bark and kindling like Tom Hanks did. I neglected chores and spent nights locked in my room drawing pictures and diagrams or learning rubik's cube algorithms while my mother yelled at me through the door to go to sleep. I've always been compulsive about the things I set my mind to. The satisfaction of solving problems and executing my visions is all-consuming.

But my obsessive personality has helped me solve other problems, too.

When I was 8, I taught myself how to pick locks. I always dreamed of how cool it must have been inside my brother’s locked bedroom. So I didn't eat at school for two weeks and saved up enough lunch money to buy a lockpicking set from Home Depot. After I wiggled the tension wrench into the keyhole and twisted it counterclockwise, I began manipulating the tumblers in the keyhole with the pick until I heard the satisfying click of the lock and entered the room. Devouring his stash of Lemonheads was awesome, but not as gratifying as finally getting inside his room.

As the projects I tackled got bigger, I had to be more resourceful. One day in history class after reading about early American inventions, I decided to learn how to use a Spinning Jenny. When my parents unsurprisingly refused to waste $500 on an 18th century spinning wheel, I got to work visiting DIY websites to construct my own by disassembling my bike and removing the inner tube from the wheel, gathering string and nails, and cutting scrap wood. For weeks, I brushed my two cats everyday until I had gathered enough fur. I washed and soaked it, carded it with paddle brushes to align the fibers, and then spun it into yarn, which I then used to crochet a clutch purse for my grandmother on mother's day. She still uses it to this day.

In high school, my obsessive nature found a new outlet in art. Being a perfectionist, I often tore up my work in frustration at the slightest hint of imperfection. As a result, I was slowly falling behind in my art class, so I had to seek out alternate solutions to actualize the ideas I had in my head. Often times that meant using mixed media or experimenting with unconventional materials like newspaper or cardboard. Eventually I went on to win several awards, showcased my art in numerous galleries and magazines, and became President of National Art Honors Society. Taking four years of art hasn't just taught me to be creative, it’s taught me that there are multiple solutions to a problem.

After high school I began to work on more difficult projects and I channeled my creativity into a different form of art - programming. I’m currently working on an individual project at the Schepens Institute at Harvard University. I'm writing a program in Matlab that can measure visual acuity and determine what prescription glasses someone would need. I ultimately plan to turn this into a smartphone app to be released to the general public.

The fact is that computer coding is in many ways similar to the talents and hobbies I enjoyed as a child--they all require finding creative ways to solve problems. While my motivation to solve these problems might have been a childlike sense of satisfaction in creating new things, I have developed a new and profound sense of purpose and desire to put my problem solving skills to better our world.

Personal Statement Example #11
The Little Porch and a Dog

It was the first Sunday of April. My siblings and I were sitting at the dinner table giggling and spelling out words in our alphabet soup. The phone rang and my mother answered. It was

my father; he was calling from prison in Oregon.

My father had been stopped by immigration on his way to Yakima, Washington, where he’d gone in search of work. He wanted to fulfill a promise he’d made to my family of owning our own house with a nice little porch and a dog.

Fortunately, my father was bailed out of prison by a family friend in Yakima. Unfortunately, though, most of our life savings was spent on his bail. We moved into a rented house, and though we did have a porch, it wasn’t ours. My father went from being a costurero (sewing worker) to being a water-filter salesman, mosaic tile maker, lemon deliverer, and butcher.

Money became an issue at home, so I started helping out more. After school I’d rush home to clean up and make dinner. My parents refused to let me have a “real” job, so on Saturday afternoons I’d go to the park with my older brother to collect soda cans. Sundays and summertime were spent cleaning houses with my mother.

I worked twice as hard in school. I helped clean my church, joined the choir, and tutored my younger sister in math. As tensions eased at home, I returned to cheerleading, joined a school club called Step Up, and got involved in my school’s urban farm, where I learned the value of healthy eating. Slowly, life improved. Then I received some life-changing news.

My father’s case was still pending and, due to a form he’d signed when he was released in Yakima, it was not only him that was now in danger of being deported, it was my entire family. My father’s lawyer informed me that I’d have to testify in court and in fact our stay in the US was now dependent on my testimony.

The lawyer had an idea: I had outstanding grades and recommendation letters. If we could show the judge the importance of my family remaining here to support my education, perhaps we had a chance. So I testified.

My father won his case and was granted residency.

Living in a low-income immigrant household has taught me to appreciate all I’ve been given.  Testifying in court helped me grow as a person, has made me more open-minded and aware of the problems facing my community. And my involvement in the urban farm has led me to consider a career as a nutritionist.

Though neither of my parents attended college, they understand that college is a key factor to a bright future and therefore have been very supportive. And though we don't yet have the house with the small porch and the dog, we're still holding out hope.

I believe college can help.

Spanish Translation:

Era el primer domingo de abril. Mis hermanos y yo estábamos sentados en la mesa del comedor riendonos y deletreando palabras en nuestra sopa de letras. El teléfono sonó y mi madre respondió. Era mi padre. El estaba llamando desde la cárcel en Oregon.

Mi padre había sido detenido por inmigración en su camino a Yakima, Washington, donde había ido en busca de trabajo. Quería cumplir una promesa que le había hecho a mi familia de tener nuestra propia casa con un pequeño y agradable porche y un perro.

Afortunadamente, mi padre fue rescatado de la cárcel por un amigo de la familia en Yakima. Pero lamentablemente la mayor parte de nuestros ahorros se gastó en su fianza . Nos mudamos a una casa alquilada, y aunque teníamos un porche, no era nuestra. Mi padre pasó de ser un costurero (trabajador de coser) de ser un vendedor de filtros de agua, fabricante de baldosas de mosaicos, libertador de limones, y carnicero.

El dinero se convirtió en un problema en casa, así que comencé a ayudar más. Después de la escuela llegaba temprano a mi hogar para limpiar y preparar la cena. Mis padres se negaron a dejarme tener un trabajo "real.” Por lo tanto, los sábados por la tarde me iba al parque con mi hermano mayor para recoger latas de refrescos. En domingos y en el verano limpiaba casas con mi madre.

Trabajé dos veces más duro en la escuela. Ayudé a limpiar mi iglesia, me uní al coro, y dí clases particulares a mi hermana menor en las matemáticas. Mientras las tensiones disminuyeron en casa, volví al grupo de porristas, me uní a un club escolar llamado Step Up, y me involucré en la granja urbana de mi escuela, donde aprendí el valor de la alimentación saludable. Poco a poco, la vida mejoraba. Luego recibí una noticia que cambia la vida.

El caso de mi padre todavía estaba pendiente, y debido a una forma que había firmado cuando fue liberado en Yakima, no sólo era él que estaba ahora en peligro de ser deportado, era toda mi familia. El abogado de mi padre me informó  que yo tendría que declarar ante los tribunales, y de hecho, nuestra estancia en los EE.UU. ahora dependia de mi testimonio.

El abogado tuvo una idea: yo tenía sobresalientes calificaciones y cartas de recomendaciones. Si pudiéramos demostrar a la juez la importancia de que mi familia se quedará aquí para apoyar a mi educación, tal vez tuviéramos una oportunidad. Así que di mi testimonio.

Mi padre ganó su caso y se le concedió la residencia.

Vivir en un hogar de inmigrantes de bajos ingresos me ha enseñado a apreciar todo lo que se me ha dado . Dar mi testimonio en el tribunal me ha ayudado a crecer como persona y  me ha hecho más consciente de los problemas que se enfrentan en mi comunidad. Y mi implicación en la granja urbana me ha llevado a considerar una carrera como nutricionista .

Aunque ninguno de mis padres asistieron a la universidad, ellos entienden que la universidad es un factor clave para un futuro brillante, y por lo tanto, han sido un gran apoyo . Y aunque todavía no tenemos la casa con el pequeño porche y el perro, todavía estamos tendiendo la esperanza.

Creo que la universidad puede ayudar.

Personal Statement Example #12
Life As an Undocumented Student

At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. I held tightly to a tube of toothpaste because I’d been sent to brush my teeth to distract me from the commotion. Regardless, I knew what was happening: my dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.

Living without a father meant money was tight, mom worked two jobs, and my brother and I took care of each other when she worked. For a brief period of time the quality of our lives slowly started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became an integral part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me. But our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more and more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, my mom continued working, and Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.

As undocumented immigrants and with little to no family around us, we had to rely on each other. Fearing that any disclosure of our status would risk deportation, we kept to ourselves when dealing with any financial and medical issues. I avoided going on certain school trips, and at times I was discouraged to even meet new people. I felt isolated and at times disillusioned; my grades started to slip.

Over time, however, I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.

Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix a bike, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I became resourceful, fixing shoes with strips of duct tape, and I even found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.

I also worked to apply myself constructively in other ways. I worked hard and took my grades from Bs and Cs to consecutive straight A’s. I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and learned how to play the clarinet, saxophone, and the oboe. Plus, I not only became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam, I’m currently pioneering my school’s first AP Physics 2 course ever.

These changes inspired me to help others. I became president of the California Scholarship Federation, providing students with information to prepare them for college, while creating opportunities for my peers to play a bigger part in our community. I began tutoring kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices crafted to individually push my comrades to their limits, and I’ve counseled friends through circumstances similar to mine. I’ve done tons, and I can finally say I’m proud of that.

But I’m excited to say that there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, explored how perpetual motion might fuel space exploration, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see the person that Fernando will become.  

I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to. Because I choose to.


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