We’re sharing exceptional personal statements from last year’s applicants in hopes of illustrating that a good personal statement can cover a wide range of topics, but ultimately, showcases the student’s character, curiosity, and voice. These statements, written by students now enrolled at Emory University, were selected for a multitude of reasons, and we asked our admission staff to share what made each statement stand out.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Ocean waves of panic perspired in my palms and a 6.3 magnitude earthquake trembled in my hands. I was afraid but spoke deliberately; fear would not stop me from sharing my first vulnerable poem:
…I want my insides—dry, dead wood—to be lit with a match,
and no water could ever put me out,
no hurricane of sadness, no gentle rainstorm of doubt
could stop the heat inside…
When finished, I looked up to see unblinking eyes and tears running down my teacher’s face. In that moment, I became a writer.
I recited the poem near the end of my creative writing class my sophomore year. Throughout the class, students focused on one genre, and choosing to stay on the safe path, I focused on fiction, which I had written since I could hold a pencil. Although I admired poetry and the way a poet in a few lines could convey the feelings expressed in 300 pages of a novel, it intimidated me. I feared I did not have the skill to craft with such imagery, detail, and purpose.
When a poet in my class shared her work, I was taken aback by her striking metaphors and cryptic imagery. But what shocked me most was that she got her message across. Suddenly, I had an epiphany: writing didn’t have to follow all the rules. A writer could take a feeling and express it through unique images. It’s not about the picture on the page, but what the picture makes the reader feel.
With zeal and inspiration, I began to use literary devices and images with purpose. I aimed to convey emotion through images. Most of my writing before told the stories of fictional characters, but in my poem, I channeled all my confusion and stress. I poured my soul onto the page.
When I read my poem out load, several changes occurred in me. I freed myself from the fear of taking risks. My poem gave me the courage to transfer to a new school, a decision which continued to build my confidence and creativity. Before, I had always written as a means of escape, as a way to create distractions by hiding in a world that was not my own. But in writing the poem, I confronted my problems and answered questions. Poetry taught me how to be brave, how to get right up to the edge of a cliff and embrace vulnerability and the fear of the fall.
I also realized the impact my writing could have on others. Before, I did not enjoy sharing my writing because I created stories for my own amusement and pleasure. Now my eyes are open to the power of words. I do not view a story or poem as an individual experience, but as a unifying tie amongst people.
Writing is about observing the world and using my life stories and emotions to help listeners and readers feel less lost and alone. The tears which fell down my teacher’s face and the wide eyes of my peers were not because they had the same experience as me, but because they paralleled the feeling I created with their own life stories. In revealing the deepest parts of myself, the class contemplated their own deeper thoughts.
Now I write to examine; now I write to understand; now I write to comfort the chaos. Etching pieces of myself into the grooves and curves of each sentence. I do not expect others to connect with the story but rather connect with the emotion. I now know each story or poem is a heart, beating and alive, raw and utterly vulnerable, but also stretching out in a network of veins drawing readers back to the center, unifying one another.
Feedback from Admission Staff
As we read applications, each student has a team of admission staff assigned to their file to review it and assess the student’s potential. The staff responsible for this student’s file had this to say about the personal statement:
What makes this essay strong to me is how it ties the rest of the application together. The student’s letters of recommendations talked about their extraordinary writing ability. Many of the student’s activities focused on journalism and creative writing, and the student took advantage of the writing classes offered in their school. Everything I read in the application pointed to their exemplary writing skills, and by the time that I got to the essay, I couldn’t wait to read it.
Not only does the author speak about their discovery of poetry, but also they demonstrates their craft. The student pinpoints exactly what draws them to poetry: “I admired poetry and the way a poet in a few lines could convey the feelings expressed in a 300 pages of a novel.” Admitting they are fearful of this craft, but then continues to explore. The student learns that poetry is not about what you see, but it is about what you feel. You can see the determination in this essay and even the drafts of poems discarded in search of the perfect prose.
There is a clarity to the writing style. Poetry is where the student finds strength, and whenever they waiver, they know where to go to find stability. I want this student to bring their skills to our campus. I could image this student engaging with the arts here and being a loud and strong advocate for new arts initiatives and programing.