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Strong Personal Statements: Use Characterization to Display your Writing Skill

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 Part 5 of a 6-part series on application writing; read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 6 here.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

I have to admit, when I first read the song title “Moanin'”, I thought it had certain innuendos.

“Are you serious right now?” I stare across the table at Parker, a six foot five eleventh grader with long red hair that cascades down his shoulders, a spoon in one hand and phone in the other, diligently playing World of Warcraft. He reminds me of a princess, in the weirdest way, he’s so…dainty. I always laugh thinking about the juxtaposition between his looks and his personality.

He rolls his eyes, delicately rests his spoon on the bowl of mac and cheese, places both of his hands on the table, and looks at me pointedly in exasperation.

Yes. You have to listen to it. ‘Moanin” is the greatest jazz song to ever exist.” A piece of cheese flies off his lip and hits my face. I flinch internally.

“As if. Not that kind of song. I’m honestly disgusted, Parker.” He gasps in feigned shock, like we haven’t had this conversation 200 times before this moment and I try not to laugh.

“First of all, it’s not even about that. Second, you’re listening to it.” As he goes back to playing his game, I am left to ponder: How great could this song possibly be?

I know now that “Moanin'” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers might just be the greatest jazz record to ever exist. When those drums hit after the first chorus, they hit different.

I’ve always known that I love jazz. However, it never occurred to me how difficult it was to explain until I was attacked with the question: “What’s so great about jazz?” Suddenly, I was speechless. Why am I so drawn to jazz? After all, I am originally a classically trained musician. But once jazz entered my life (in the form of the godlike, ethereal Kenny G), I’ve never been the same.

In an attempt to answer this question that plagued me, I began listing out all the traits about jazz that I love: its vibrance, unpredictability, ever-changing nature, spontaneity, and yet its ability to be soul wrenchingly emotional. Suddenly, the answer hit me like Art Blakey’s drum set on the opening chorus of “Moanin'”: I love jazz because jazz is me.

When I think of jazz, I think of colors. So many colors, like a thousand rainbows were poured into a blender, showered onto a page, and translated into music. I see that color in my personality. I’m vibrant and colorful, and sometimes expressive to the point where there are so many things happening at once it’s hard to take in. That’s how jazz is. I often find myself listening to the same jazz records over and over, discovering something new every time. I’m passionate and bold, I’m sassy like Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo on “‘Moanin'”. Jazz doesn’t apologize for what it is, it just is. Likewise, I’ve learned to be unapologetic in who I am.

Jazz is unpredictable and spontaneous. When flashes of inspiration come to me, I dance in my room until 2 AM on a school night, the adrenaline of doing something so extemporaneous is enough to keep me awake. Furthermore, as a jazz musician, I have developed a remarkable ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

But my favorite thing about jazz, and my favorite thing about myself, is that it is ever changing. I’ve always said that in jazz, you never play the same song twice. Who I am today is a product of years of changing, learning, growing and evolution. Like jazz, I don’t strive to be perfect, I just strive to be my most authentic self.

So why am I so drawn to jazz? I guess because I see it in myself, I hear myself in the way it’s played. That’s the beauty of finding music that fits you so well, it becomes you.


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:

As we spend months reading applications, our team seeks to find humanity within the digital pages of each file. We want to get to know our applicants, and the writing sections of the application are frequently where we can do that the best. As the author writes about jazz, a topic clearly of genuine interest, we are able to pull personality from these pages. The author writes in a personable and telling manner, and through the vivid, lively introduction, we can imagine this student in our campus community. Moreover, throughout the whole essay, the author’s writing is refined and mature, but still candid and down to earth. The essay reads like this student is talking to us, sharing a story about a conversation with a peer.

In the latter portion of the essay, the author blends their love of jazz with anecdotes about their life. Sometimes, analogies between a student’s topic and their personalities can feel like a stretch. However, here, the author’s comparisons provide additional insight into their habits and thoughts. The author shares information that is not found elsewhere in the application, such as their spontaneity and authenticity, not to mention their interest in jazz music itself. We uncover this applicant’s interests in the essay, and in doing so, are able to get to know this applicant even more fully.



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



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I’m so glad I had such an impact on you. Honestly, it was such a small conversation, but I remember it in so much detail (not as much as you wrote though).

    I’m so proud of you! We should meet up again soon, honestly.

    This sounds like a book and I would read it!

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