This personal statement helps adcomms become acquainted with you in ways different from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will demonstrate your ability to organize thoughts and express yourself. The are looking for an essay that will help them know you better as a person and as a student.
Shruti Dusaj (Georgetown) checked "Topic of your choice" for this essay and titled it "Words that Shaped Me"
Here's what she wrote:
Always the quiet, studious child, I remained content in the background as long as my grades remained perfect. I was afraid to look beyond textbooks because I feared that I would be unable to achieve success in any sphere other than academics.
In our tenth grade English textbook, there was a poem entitled ‘The Mirror’. This poem, which spoke of the insecurities of a woman losing of her youth, introduced me to Sylvia Plath. As I went on to read more of her work, I was captivated by Sylvia since I could see myself reflected in her- the insecurities, the image of perfection that hid a less than perfect interior. Often, I did not much like what I saw, but it intrigued me all the same. I found it peculiar that the seven decades separating our teenage years could not prevent the strange, almost preternatural, connection I felt to her personality.
Reading her prose collection, ‘Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams’, I had a ‘je ne sais quoi moment’ when I came across this note she wrote:
“Winning or losing an argument, receiving an acceptance or rejection, is no proof of the validity or value of personal identity. One maybe wrong, mistaken, a poor craftsman, or just ignorant- but this is no indicator of the true worth of one’s total human identity: past, present and future.”
Perhaps it is ironic that the talented young woman who wrote these sentences committed suicide. On the other hand, her discontent with life despite success as a poet may be a reflection of what she wrote here. Whichever it may have been for Sylvia, for me it was an indication that I should attempt to overcome my fear of failure. I realized I needed to let go of my inhibitions and allow myself to discover aspects of me that lay dormant. I resolved that even if I did not always succeed, the experience would at least teach me something about myself.
Not a sports enthusiast, I still decided to attend a rigorous week-long trekking camp in the Himalayas. Successfully climbing, literally, to great heights, gave me a sense of satisfaction much more fulfilling than achieving straight As. Besides, lying under the clear starry night-sky, or just sitting by the river, watching the water flow by, awakened me to some of the simple joys I had missed out on as a city girl.
I threw myself headfirst into other activities, such as conventions and exchanges. I discovered that not only could I think logically and analytically, I was also capable of holding the attention of an audience. I became surer of myself, allowing myself to express my opinions. I started reading prolifically- from classics to news magazines, to poetry. I fell in love, several times over- with Shelley’s poetry, Chomsky’s political critiques, Dostoevsky’s powerful stories, and Tolkien’s epic fantasies.
Sylvia’s words acted as catalyst to bring forth the passionate young girl that lay hidden inside me. They allowed me to discover aspects of me I did not know existed.
Wow, this is just awful. The thing is, it’s getting at who I am, certainly, but in a very ineffective, perhaps even counterproductive way.
The first thought I had on re-reading this was “the clichés, oh heavens, the clichés!” I think just getting rid of the clichés and contrite phrases would have helped this essay a great deal (clear starry nights, “awakened me”, “passionate”, “threw myself headfirst”). Besides, the entire personal growth premise of this essay is such a college application essay in itself, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with writing in that genre: I’ve read some very compelling personal statements about personal growth. I do like the slightly self-deprecating beginning, but I feel like it builds up to the point where I am just bragging about how much I have changed by saying that I have but not really building upon it.
It would’ve done this essay well to have gotten rid of Sylvia Plath – she really had nothing to do with my personal growth anyway – and focusing on me, and the factors that really led to my personal growth. However, I still know how hard that really is (cue, panic attacks as I am still trying to write grad school personal statements), but that just means I needed to put in a lot more work (hint: do not start on December 15 for December 30th deadlines).
I don’t really know what else to say about this essay other than I wish any of the people who helped me edit it had been more honest/brutal and told me to can it and start over (or that I’d at least gotten rid of the clichés).
Oh well, live and learn. Learn from my mistakes, classes of 2015 and beyond (proclaim I in my sagacious wisdom of many, many years)!
Yeah, this essay fell right in the trap of trying too hard to include all people and things that inspired you or experiences that shaped you. The reader is left wishing that s/he got to know you better only through one shared experience (say, reading Slyvia Plath - a writer who influenced you). I guess you chose "topic of your choice" because you wanted to include all aspects of your "personal-brand" in one essay instead of using different parts of the application (activity short answers, supplement essays and your resume) in a strategic way to emphasis different aspects of your personality, strengths, and experiences.
Here's a side note, I met with Shruti when she had already submitted her applications and was wait-list at Princeton and Swarthmore. I must have pointed out the problem with her essay but I guess it was too late to change anything. We worked briefly to send out appeal letters to these schools. I must admit that I was impressed by her overall candidature back then and more so now. All the best with your Grad school applications Shruti. I am sure you’ll shine as a writer and I am glad this exercise of contributing to this blog is helping you sort good writing from bad.