Approaching the personal statement portion of the college application process is definitely overwhelming. There is no set method to follow when tasked with trying to express who you are authentically while also appealing to college admissions officers. I selected the seventh essay prompt on the Common App, which was free reign to write about any topic of your choice. The brainstorming part was definitely the most challenging for me. I didn’t know what to focus on about myself! I ultimately decided on the theme of community and how my experiences have made building community around me a core value of mine.
Having grown up overseas, creating community was an important part of my upbringing. I was able to make connections from those childhood experiences to my more recent high school ones.
I ended up utilizing a college essay coach through a company called Prompt to help me create a plan to execute my topic and to provide an outside source of editing and revising. While definitely not necessary, I found this to be a really helpful way to get my thoughts organized. My coach helped me to separate out the sections of my essay to create a nice flow. I had to meet deadlines for editing, which kept me motivated. Creating a clear outline made the writing process a lot easier too.
A big portion of the time I spent on my essay was on editing, including refining word choices, experimenting with sentence style, and cutting down word count. I definitely recommend getting as much outside feedback as possible when editing. For me that came from my essay coach, family, and my English teacher. At the end of the day it is your opinion on your own writing that matters, but it is nice to get suggestions from others to consider as well.
I also looked intensively at example essays online. This was helpful to get a general idea of the types of things to consider conveying in my own essay, but I will say it was a bit intimidating to read some really creative and abstract essays when I couldn’t see myself writing something that would compare. With that in mind, my advice is to try not to get too caught up in what essays are out there already because it distracts from the authenticity of your writing if you are trying to imitate someone else.
If getting started with your essay feels daunting, try compiling a list of your favorite hobbies, most important life lessons learned, or defining character moments. Looking back, I definitely recommend beginning this part of the application process as early as possible. The summer before senior year is a great time to get a head start. It’s a lot less stressful to fill out applications in the Fall if you’re already done with your main essay.
There really is no wrong way to go about writing your college essay, because colleges really just want to get a better idea of who you are, how your life experiences have influenced you, and your goals for the future. My number one piece of advice is to try not to get too in your head about your college essay. Just open up a blank document, take a deep breath, and write about whatever feels most natural and true to yourself.
“What’s the big deal? There are people here just like us,” I remarked as my family and I stepped off the plane and into the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. My excitement overshadowed any initial culture shock I would experience, and four-year old me was eager to explore this foreign land and meet new people along the way.
That single memory has been a north star throughout my life because no matter where I am in the world, I've learned to build communities with the people around me.
Fast forward to the start of school a few years and moves later. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was one of few Americans amongst my Taiwanese classmates. At lunch, in the halls, on the playground, conversations in Mandarin surrounded me. And so, every day as I sat in my beginner Mandarin class, I focused on grasping the language separating me from my classmates. My hard work certainly paid off, as I gained a newfound confidence to approach my peers without a fluent vocabulary. It wasn’t long before I realized that my classmates were facing the same barrier as me; all it took was that single moment of reaching out to them for the feelings of isolation to dissipate. Through this, not only did I challenge myself intellectually by embracing a brand new language, but I also began to understand that a language barrier couldn’t hold me back from forming friendships.
After returning to the U.S., I became passionate about volunteering. Joining the National Charity League led me to explore numerous philanthropic events. The Special Olympics non-profit especially sparked my engagement. I was able to play sports alongside other children and adults with intellectual disabilities which opened my eyes to the possibility of connecting beyond surface-level interactions. My involvement with the Special Olympics translated into my participation in Best Buddies at my school as the Publicity Manager, with which I have been devoted to holding fundraisers, spreading awareness, and most importantly spending time with our buddies. Despite our developmental differences, the connections we’ve made have been long lasting.
Going into my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to do something to make an impact on my school’s community. I joined student government and became a Knight's Connection Program Manager within Link Crew. Through both programs, I’ve been able to hone my leadership skills and take more initiative to set an example at my school. Over the summer leading up to the start of school, I dedicated time to planning events for the new school year as we transitioned into a new campus. With that, I began mentoring a group of incoming freshmen. From giving them tours of the new campus to advice on making the most of high school while being successful, I created bonds within my group that have only grown since. I meet with my mentees once a month so we can catch up, but even the texts we exchange have been monumental in strengthening our friendships. It can be daunting to bridge an age gap, but I’ve come to learn that all it takes is a little bit of effort and willingness to get to know someone. It’s one thing to make connections, but to keep those is something invaluable to me. In addition, by being a leader on campus, I have dedicated my time and efforts to not only creating interpersonal relationships, but also to establishing a school culture that emphasizes community.
Today, every time I approach a new experience, I remind myself of that day stepping off the airplane in Shanghai. Regardless of where I may be in the world, I look forward to building bridges with those around me. With that said, there is no doubt that I will continue to carry that sentiment with me as I disembark into college, my career, and every other opportunity that presents itself.
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