Strong Personal Statements, Part 3: Extended Metaphors Add Cohesion

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We’re sharing exceptional personal statements from last year’s applicants to illustrate that a good personal statement can be on a variety 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.

This is one of a 5-part series on application writing; read Part 1 herePart 2 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

“It’ll die.”

“No it won’t, I’ll be careful, I promise!”

“Let it go, Chul-Soo”

“But mom!”

Twelve years ago, my dad’s studies moved my family across the Pacific to a small university in the quiet New Jersey suburbs. That first night, my parents and I were exploring the campus grounds when I spotted lights sleepily blinking amidst the trees like stars. These stars I could run through, reach out and touch, gaze at up close, they were fireflies. Growing up in the hustle and bustle of the largest city in Korea, I’d never seen these luminous creatures before. Their beauty sparked curiosity and wonder in my five-year old imagination. One drifted near, and I tiptoed towards it, heart beating a little faster with giddy excitement. “Gotcha!” I breathlessly watched my cupped hands flicker. “Mom! Can I keep it?”

“Sorry honey, you can’t.”

“Please?”

I was devastated to let the lightning bug go. It had been my first companion in America, where everything and everyone was unknown to me. I’d wanted so badly for it to stay…

I hold a lightning bug in my palms again for the first time in a long while. A high school senior now, I understand the firefly’s chemical secret: bioluminescence. And yet I find the same old captivation with its beauty, its way of whispering “let there be light” into the darkness. I now comprehend why my mother had insisted I let the firefly go – to preserve its fragile beauty. To protect its gift of light, not in an empty plastic water bottle where I alone could sit entranced by it, but rather somewhere it was free to inspire the rest of the world.

I see myself in this small glowing beetle – so miniscule in a large world yet still striving to find my own light. But rather than a self-made product of reactions between oxygen, adenosine triphosphate and luciferin, my lights come from the people in my life.

I stare at a blank canvas during the entire 40 minutes of class. I’m afraid…of paint. Afraid to mess up. In moments of doubt, my high school art teacher provided me with more than instruction. She asked me questions about the things in my life that made me distinctive: how was my sports team doing? What goals did I have for the future? She reminded me that my work gained meaning not only by way of craft and composition but each weight of line and shade of color that spoke true to my individuality, my own unique light.

My fingers stiffly play through the Beethoven piano sonata once, twice… after the fifth time, I stop. I have completed my finger exercises. While I was merely reading notes, my piano teacher gently swayed my body, demonstrating how to lean into stormy moments of appassionato and recline back in delicate moments of espressivo. She gave my emotions a voice, one that transcended notes and allowed my light to illuminate the entire stage.

A long day of shy class introductions as the new kid. The phone rings- a familiar name from my old area code. Though the amount of time I spent with some were short and the distance between us now great, the friends I made in New Jersey, in Michigan, and finally in Ohio opened my eyes to the light we all have in common. I still smile at their homecoming social media posts, laugh over the phone at the new drama updates, and cry with them at their struggles with high school pressures. These lifelong friends taught me how to find happiness in the memories we still share.

Confidence, passion, love… As I encounter more people, I continue to add reactants to the secret equation for my own bioluminescence. As I share energy and curiosity with others, together we make our light stronger and the world a little bit brighter.

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:

This essay starts out as a simple encounter with a firefly and evolves into story of growth, reflection, and connection. This student writes about first noticing the beauty of the firefly, then as they get older, learning more about how and why the firefly glows. They compare themselves to the firefly and discuss the people and experiences in their life that explain how and why they shine. This essay is textured, authentic, and beautifully written.

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