Strong Personal Statements, Part 2: Show How You’ve Grown Through Experience

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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 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Good things happen to those who wait.

When my sister and I took baths together at ages four and six, we needed toys. We had the dream collection of wind up boats and rubber ducks, but only one waterproof Barbie doll with color changing hair. Controversy was inevitable. We took turns as Barbie’s loyal caregiver, but unfortunately the story never ended simply. My aggressive sister would prove her dominance and steal Barbie. To win her back, I would patiently count three Mississippis before swiftly flailing my limbs in the tub. No parent is willing to discipline a child who has the splashing power of a Super Soaker 2000, so Barbie was returned to her rightful owner. As for my sister? She lost her Barbie privileges for the remainder of the bath. Good things happen to those who wait.

My knack for patience continued. At high school orientation, Ms. Ainsworth described the people who make things happen, watch what happens, and wonder what happened. She urged us to make things happen, but like my peers, I condescendingly rolled my eyes and continued to text. I was already too busy watching my life happen to listen. I relied on others for my identity. I looked like my friends, acted like my friends, and tried to fill myself with empty self-importance. I waited to note their fashion trends, outside interests, and catch-phrases before mirroring them. I was not alone: we all wanted to be the same…or rather needed to. It was a complex net of fragile insecurities that somehow never unraveled. With this carefully edited group, individuality was an impossibility. As I developed my own interests, I attempted to cover anything that made me different. These friendships indirectly created a division between who I was and who I wanted to be. My days were loaded with gossip, hostility, and tears when I craved encouragement, kindness, and happiness. But why change my life so dramatically when it meant risking my “perfect” persona? I did nothing because good things always seemed to happen to those who waited.

At the start of junior year, some switch flipped. I no longer wanted to patiently wait and watch my life happen. I wanted to be myself rather than the flawless reflection of these habitual friendships. I realized that I needed to fracture all my relationships and, thus, my identity. Shockingly, high school does not react well to drastic social change. Nevertheless, I found the courage to dump my status-conscious boyfriend. Over the next several weeks, I distanced myself from my friends. My attendance declined at social gatherings (which evolved from Disney movie nights to “wine & mac & cheese” nights). I skipped the annual Halloween party and ignored them at lunch to do homework. After a semester of awkward encounters, I pulled the plug on a whim and left the group text. I felt scared, anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable; countless tears nearly blurred the happiness I gained from my freedom. I had no close friends for support, so I indulged in the unique passions of which I was once embarrassed. I got to know the people alongside me in clubs and activities more deeply and — without my old mask — discovered the value of authenticity. My friend group shifted from a predictable clique to a vibrant collection of individuals. My new friends and I didn’t all dress alike or participate in all the same activities, but that was okay.

They accepted me for me, and I did too. Good things must not happen only to those who wait.

I noted the difference between patience and effort. I stopped watching things happen and started making things happen. Unlike my passive strategy with Barbie, I learned to actively fight for myself. I worked hard to be me and saw an overwhelmingly fulfilling result. So, maybe good things happen to those who wait…but great things happen to those who work.

 

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:

More often than not, students feel pressure to come up with the most unique and original essay topic to show admission officers they are different and special. However, the best essays always have the same topic, the student. In reading this specific application, we know this student is an excellent athlete, she has committed herself to a philanthropic cause, and her teachers hold her in high regard. The essay is her opportunity to tell us a little bit more about herself, not how she spends her time but rather how she approaches her life.

I think my favorite part about this essay is that it feels so high school. Which is perfect because this student is in high school. There is an honesty here that avoids cliché but also captures the moments of high school. The eyes roll, there’s pressure to fit in, insecurities and around every corner and gossip abound. While I don’t miss these days, I certainly remember them. These are normal high school struggles and, in some ways, make this student seem, well, ordinary. However she is on a journey of self-discovery, recognizing what she values in her friendships, and what she does not. While so much of her essay describes her traditional high school experience, the essay mirrors her life and takes a turn for the unexpected. She is taking an active role in her life and while it is a challenge at first, she offers a fresh perspective. Her “great things happen to those who work” left the admission committee contemplating our own lives a bit and is advice that resonates.

 

 

Don’t hesitate to connect with us by posting a comment to this blog, tweeting us @emoryadmission, or emailing us at admission@emory.edu. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

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Comments

  1. Nisha Oruganti

    I am thinking of writing an essay similar to this that describes my personal growth. However, I’m having a hard time anchoring my growth to a single accomplishment, event, or realization; I feel like a lot of my growth has been internal and doesn’t translate directly to any of my outside accomplishments/actions. Would anyone have any advice?

    1. Nobody

      Hi Nisha,

      I think you are probably overthinking it. Maybe there’s so much for you to consider that you can’t really select any effective Info. I would first write down anything that comes to my mind when it comes to my growth. It doesn’t have to be accomplishments. It could be daily life stories and details. Then I would talk about with my friends and families and ponder these materials to see how these things affected/encouraged/enlightened me. Capture your moments and be yourself, Nisha! You can do this!!!

      Good luck,
      Ms. Nobody

  2. Katie Baldwin

    It seems to me like the first blurb written by the admissions officer was written in response to a different essay, given that it talks about athletics and philanthropy, while the essay talks about making things happen and individuality.

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