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"Ut Italiam laeti Latiumque petamus"
"Sandra, would you mind reading the next few lines and translating them for us?"
The professor glanced at me, a kind glimmer in his bespectacled eyes. I gulped. I was in a classroom of eighteen, five of whom were high school Latin teachers. And I was supposed to recite and translate Livy's Ab Urbe condita — with elisions! After fumbling through a few words and mistaking a verb for a noun, I finished the first sentence. I skimmed the second line, looking for the main verb. Singular. I searched for a singular noun and pieced the two together. Then, I noticed an accusative and added it as a direct object. As I continued, a burst of exhilaration shot through my body. My eyes darted across the page, finding a verb, a noun, and objects. I reached the end of the passage and grinned, relief pulsing in my veins.
"Very good!" The professor beamed at me before selecting his next victim.
A few months ago, I never would have imagined myself sitting in Harvard's Boylston Hall this summer for six hours a week, cherishing the ancient literature of Rome. Even though the professor decided I was eligible for the course despite not taking the prerequisite, I was still nervous. I worked hard in the class, and it reminded me just how much I love the language.
A few months ago, I never would have imagined myself sitting in Harvard's Boylston Hall this summer for six hours a week, cherishing the ancient literature of Rome.
Translating has always given me great pleasure and great pain. It is much like completing a jigsaw puzzle. Next, I look for phrases that connect the entire clause — does this adjective match this noun? Does this puzzle piece have the right shape? The middle of the sentence is the trickiest, full of convoluted dependent clauses, pieces colored ambiguously and with curves and edges on all four sides. I am sometimes tangled in the syntax, one of the worst feelings in the world. After analyzing every word, I try to rearrange the pieces so they fit together. When they finally do, I am filled with a satisfaction like no other. Translating forces me to rattle my brain, looking for grammatical rules hidden in my mind's nooks and crannies. It pushes my intellectual boundaries. No other language is as precise, using inflection to express gender, number, and case in just one word. When I pull apart a sentence, I am simultaneously divulging the secrets of an ancient civilization. Renowned scholars are telling the stories of their time through these words! No other language is as meticulous. Every line follows the same meter and the arrangement of every word is with a purpose. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe includes a sentence where the word "wall" is places between the words "Pyramus" and "Thisbe" to visually show the lovers' separation. Translating is like life itself; the words are not in logical order. One cannot expect the subject of a sentence to appear at the beginning of a clause, just like one cannot plan the chronology of life. Like the delayed verb, we do not always know what is happening in our lives; we just know it is happening.
When translating we notice the nouns, the adjectives, and the conjunctions just like we see the people, senses, and connections of our lives. However, we often do not know what we are doing and ask ourselves the age-old question: Why are we here? Perhaps we are here to learn, to teach, to help, to serve, to lead, or just to live. We travel through life to decide what our purpose is, and it is that suspense and our unknown destinies that make the journey so irresistibly beautiful. I feel that same suspense and unknown when I translate, because I am beautifully struggling to unlock a past I know very little of. It is unbelievably exhilarating.
Thus, I question why others consider Latin a dead language. It is alive in all of the Western world. The Romance languages of French, Spanish, and Italian all have Latin origins. Without Latin, I would not be able to write this essay! It is alive in the stories it tells. You may see an apple and associate it with orchards, juice, pie, and fall. When I see an apple, I think of the apple of discord thrown by Eris that ultimately caused the Trojan War. This event, albeit destructive and terrifying, leads to the flight of Aeneas and eventually, his founding of Rome.
I study Latin for its rewarding return, incredible precision, intellectual challenge, rich history and culture, and deep influence on our world. I study Latin to show others how beautiful it is, to encourage the world that it should be valued. I study Latin to lead our society, like Aeneas did, toward a new city, a new dawn where everyone appreciates a mental trial of wits, everyone marvels at a vibrant past, and no one wonders whether Latin is dead or not.
What is most striking about Sandra's essay was not the fact that she was taking a class alongside high school Latin teachers, or that she was taking a summer class at Harvard. Rather, it was how in-depth Sandra went into her thought process when translating Latin. It became clear from the vivid detail with which she described her translating process that she takes it rather seriously, and it is always a pleasure to read application essays that make such passion clear.
It became clear from the vivid detail with which she described her translating process that she takes it rather seriously, and it is always a pleasure to read application essays that make such passion clear.
That said, there are times where Sandra's writing appears to deliberately make something engaging when there is no need. For example, “One cannot expect the subject of a sentence to appear at the beginning of a clause, just like one cannot plan the chronology of life” seemed to be an intentionally poetic sentence made to fit Sandra's claim that “translating is like life itself.” Overall, the simile works, but you should not feel forced to make dramatic claims in your essay. If you write about something that you are passionate about, that should naturally become clear in the way you write.
Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.
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Language is not the sole domain of humans. Animals also talk, and over the last few years I have been fascinated by learning two new languages that even foreign language school students have never heard of. Studying animal languages is very different from learning Korean, Chinese, or Spanish. There are always dictionaries to refer to when I learn human languages, but when learning animal languages I don't have a Google translator to spit out satisfactory answers. In fact, I have to use my own judgment, which combines my mind, heart, and instinct to interpret what I hear.
Tree frogs, specifically Japanese tree frogs and Suweon tree frogs, use songs not just to express their amorous intentions but to survive. While these two species may look physically identical, they are sexually incompatible. So in order to lure the right female, male frogs sing serenades that are distinguishable from other species. Analyzing these serenades at an ecology lab with spectrograms and waveforms, I decoded every pulse of sounds emitted by these ravenous tree frogs into the patterns of numbers to let humans understand their lyrics.
Unlike frogs' mating songs, bats use language not only to communicate but also to navigate and locate insects at night. While flying, bats shoot out biosonar sounds and listen to the echoes that bounce off obstacles to grasp the world around them. Visualizing a world just with sound, I was enchanted by their invisible language when I studied the Greater Horseshoe bat's supersonic echolocation at a wildlife conservation lab. When bats cast nets of invisible words every millisecond during free flight and ziplining experiments, we captured and revealed their dialogue that had neither conjugations nor grammar.
After eavesdropping on tree frogs' and bats' conversations, I discovered that they use languages for survival. The language of the frogs exemplifies power — the stronger and bigger a frog is, the louder it can sing, scaring off all its prey and bravely exposing itself to predators. And for bats, their invisible language is their vision. They silently scream out for help and listen carefully as nature's echoes guide their path. In a sense, animals communicate with other species and with nature.
On the other hand, humans have developed esoteric words, convoluted sentences, and dialects to express their sophisticated ideas and feelings. This amazing evolution has, I believe, isolated us from nature. Now we prefer to live away from wildlife, tending to communicate only among other Homo sapiens sapiens through texts, tweets, and e-mails. Taking a page from Dr. Dolittle's pocket diction, I hope that my work helps us broaden our anthropocentric minds and understand animals who also share our biosphere. If our souls are reconnected with nature, maybe we could hear Mother Nature whisper some secrets about her mysteries that we are too wired or unaware to heed.
In the same way, I want to take risks in learning to communicate with other species beyond human beings and become a multilingual biologist who connects human and animal realms.
Early explorers boldly left the comforts of their homeland to learn the languages and traditions of other cultures. Due to their dedication, these self-taught bilinguals were able to bridge cultures and share values between different communities. In the same way, I want to take risks in learning to communicate with other species beyond human beings and become a multilingual biologist who connects human and animal realms. I wish to venture into the animal kingdom and become a pioneer in mastering and sharing nature's occult dialects with our species. When we finally learn to comprehend and harmonize with nature, we humans might become more humane.
Describing her study of animal languages was likely quite difficult for Samantha express through other components of her application. Her essay brings to light this extremely unique academic interest while also depicting the relations and insight she draws between animal and human language.
Instead of writing about her interest in science or biology, she writes about a very specific scientific niche in which academic context is needed; similarly, she focused on providing just as much insight about the topic as she did about the academic details of the topic itself.
Because it isn't a good idea to scholastically ramble in a college essay, Samantha instead weaves a story with a mixture of academic knowledge and self-reflection. Additionally, instead of writing about her interest in science or biology, she writes about a very specific scientific niche in which academic context is needed; similarly, she focused on providing just as much insight about the topic as she did about the academic details of the topic itself.
Samantha’s powerful and articulate description of her interest captivates the reader. Her framing of animal language in humanistic terms, such as when she talks about bats' languages in terms of "conjunctions and grammar," makes the essay exceptional. She develops this comparison further near the end of the essay when she presents her insight about the disconnect between humans and animals and her future desires to reconnect the two. While the unique topic in itself was likely to grasp the audience's attention, Samantha’s expressive reflections and explicit desire to continue studying the topic mesmerizes the reader even further.
Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.
I stood frozen in the produce aisle at ShopRite, wondering which of the five varieties of oranges to buy. Valencia, blood orange, organic, Florida navel – what were the differences? When I asked my mom which variety she was looking for, she responded curtly, “It’s your choice. Pick what you want.” The thing was, I didn’t know what I wanted.
For my parents, this level of freedom – even in the orange section of the grocery store — is somewhat unique to the United States. The lingering policies of the Cultural Revolution in 1970s China dictated life choices for my parents; growing up in poverty, their families’ sole concern was putting food on the table. As a result of economic disadvantage, higher education became my parents’ life goal. “If I didn’t make it to college,” my dad told me, “I would have been trapped in that godforsaken village for the rest of my life” (only one-tenth of his high school ever made it). My parents didn’t have a choice: my mom’s entire life revolved around studying, and my dad was spanked into shape at home. Sports, music, or entertainment were out of the question – my parents’ only option was to work hard and dream of a choice in America.
The miraculous thing is that my parents, having no freedom of choice for the better part of twenty years, still had the vision to grant me choice in the United States. Unfortunately, this is not common, even in our beloved land of opportunity. All I have to do is talk to my closest childhood friends - children of other Asian-American immigrants – to see the glass walls that cultural and familial expectation have erected around their lives. For some of them, playing the piano is an obligation, not a hobby, and medical school is the only career option.
The miraculous thing is that my parents, having no freedom of choice for the better part of twenty years, still had the vision to grant me choice in the United States.
Oddly enough, I had always felt a bit left out when I was younger – why weren’t my parents signing me up for American Math Competitions and middle school summer research programs, when all my friends were doing them? I’ve come to realize, though, that having the choice to do the things I’m interested in brings out an enthusiasm I can explore passionately and fully. My many hobbies – playing soccer with our neighbor in my backyard, fiddling around with Mendelssohn on my violin, or even talking to my friend about our latest stock picks – all have come from me, and I’m forever grateful to my parents for that.
The contrast between my parents’ lives and mine is shocking. In the United States, I have so many paths available to me that I sometimes can’t even choose. I don’t even know what kind of oranges to buy, yet oranges – or any other fruit - were precious delicacies to my dad as a child. I can dream of attending a school like Harvard and studying whatever I want, whether it be math, economics, or even philosophy or biochemistry – a non-existent choice for my parents, who were assigned majors by their universities. I can even dream of becoming an entrepreneur, which I see as exploration and self-destiny in its purest form. I can be sure that wherever my true passions take me, my parents will support the choices that I make, as they have for seventeen years.
Most importantly, though, I value that Harvard, with its centuries-long devotion to educating the full person, fosters the same sense of choice for its students that I have come to so deeply appreciate in my parents. I am exhilarated to have the freedom to define my own academic journey and, looking forward, for this upcoming four-year odyssey to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of exploration. For me, thankfully, it’s all possible - but only because of the sacrifice and vision of my parents.
Kevin begins his essay with an anecdote, a tried and true method of grabbing readers’ attention. Through the colorful imagery of choosing oranges in the store, Kevin begins to construct a theme of self-direction.
Through the colorful imagery of choosing oranges in the store, Kevin begins to construct a theme of self-direction.
References to his parents' past show Kevin’s appreciation for their struggles as well as his broader awareness of global issues. This contextualizes not only his application, but also his mindset. We see Kevin reflect on his childhood, his initial mental perturbation about not being like other children finally reconciled with his understanding of his unique opportunity. Kevin further shows his self-awareness of his freedom to pursue his own interests — a strong choice, as many colleges desire intellectually curious students.
Kevin closes his essay with a return to his anecdote about choosing images in the store, a full-circle imagery method which helps to underscore his essay's theme. He makes clear that he would make the most of his college education, and just as importantly, that he appreciates the values of the school to which he's applying. Kevin ends his essay on an uplifting, mature note, reflecting what kind of student he would be on campus.
Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.
I am African-American, Caucasian, Jewish, and gay, and narrowly escaping the degradation of my ancestors: my great-great-great grandfather's slavery, my grandmother's persecution in the Holocaust, and the denial of gay identity. I am the personification of the culture and struggles of each of these groups. As I walk through life with this mix, I must be able to respect and love all different walks of life. Furthermore, during those times that I stereotype people, I assume roles onto their identity. I am able to stop myself and realize that they hold the wisdom from experiences that I do not, and that I am actually hurting myself. Judging a book by its cover really does make you miss out. Some people I know acknowledge me as the gay guy, a member of that small minority that is stricken with bullying and identity crisis, seldom as a Jew or black. It has always been important to me for people to recognize me by my radiant personality and not by my superficial sexuality or race. My ethnicity and orientation do not define me: they are the tools my ancestors have granted so that I can pursue my destiny, and I have my individual spirit to color my path. I am an independent, positive person.
My ethnicity and orientation do not define me: they are the tools my ancestors have granted so that I can pursue my destiny, and I have my individual spirit to color my path.
In this essay, Aiden immediately captures the reader's attention with a blunt confession of his complex identity before delving more deeply into how his identity has shaped his outlook on life.
This essay emphasizes the importance of struggles and challenges the narrowness of identity. Perhaps the most poignant strength of Aiden’s piece is its message: that superficial aspects of identity do not define a person; rather, one's identity affects how one pursues his or her destiny. One aspect which could have improved this essay is to break the thoughts into more than one paragraph as to give the reader a chance to breathe and pace him or herself. Despite this, Aiden’s thoughts flow gracefully and logically throughout his writing, and the content pulls the reader in so it is barely noticeable that his essay functioned as one large paragraph.
Aiden shows his insightfulness and maturity both by acknowledging the strife his ancestors went through, but also by taking his acknowledgment and great respect for them and applying them to his own life.
Aiden shows his insightfulness and maturity both by acknowledging the strife his ancestors went through, but also by taking his acknowledgment and great respect for them and applying them to his own life. His writing is wise, powerful, and greatly moving, and the depth of his wisdom and maturity clearly impressed those who read it.
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I’m a bit of a grandma. I don't wear horn rimmed spectacles, nor perch on a rocking chair, and I certainly wish I carried hard candies in my backpack. However, I do enjoy baking: butter sizzling as it glides across heated metal like a canoe across a glassy lake; powdered sugar fluttering through the air like glitter from a confetti cannon. Some consider themselves math, literature, or history nerds. I rifle through cookbooks, browse the internet for ingenious new recipes, and revel in this year’s birthday gift: a copy of “Bread Illustrated.”
My greatest achievement in elementary school was not the perfect score on a spelling test, but the first time I mastered a batch of cookies that didn’t bear a rigidity comparable to steel. To my parents’ bewilderment, I dismissed Barbies, yo-yo’s, and jump ropes in favor of a wire whisk: It was love at first sight.
Why do I bake? Sometimes it’s to thank a friend or reconnect with former colleagues, employers, and teachers. Just as often, it’s the intricate processes involved. Creating the exacting liaison between eggs and flour to create a pâte à choux is, for me, a form of meditation. And sometimes I bake to reflect and even gain insight into my other interests.
Baking pastries for my next Junior Commission meeting, I ruminated on my interviews with officers and local homeless regarding their direct experiences with human trafficking in my own community. I recalled a police detective telling me, “For a youth isolated from family and friends, it doesn’t take much to accept the exploitation because he believes trafficking is his only chance of survival. I remember thinking, “Except that your body has to be sold like a box of cereal at Safeway?” This inspired my exhibit that was presented at high schools in my county, in which a figure, made up of barcodes, stands silhouetted against a black background.
Creating the exacting liaison between eggs and flour to create a pâte à choux is, for me, a form of meditation. And sometimes I bake to reflect and even gain insight into my other interests.
Then there was the time my political interests literally gave me food for thought. As a Senate page, I welcomed Senators and staff back from their Independence Day recess with choux à la crème, that perfect French amalgam of wheat, egg, butter and air we call cream puffs. I had cherry-picked the ingredients from a local farmer’s market, because local and organic is more than just a trend for me; it means contributing to the reduction of food miles and supporting small businesses rather than Big Agra. Ironically, activists that day chose to protest an aggressively lobbied pro-GMO bill by showering the Senate floor with dollar bills. Senators and staff brushed them off of their jackets while gingerly stepping around them to navigate the room.
But the elephant in the room wasn’t the litter of currency, but the senators who paid more attention to corporate lobbyists than the protesters exposing their corruption. It deepened my perspective on how politics intersects our lives, farm to table. Yet, I’ve realized that when I feel empowered to advocate for a cause, I need to remember how the audience — legislators, for example — might view both my side and the opposing side. Sometimes they see us both as intruding groups. Other times, there are unseen advantages to acting in agreement with one side over the other or coming to a compromise.
If, as M.F.K Fisher said, “First we eat, then we do everything else,” then baking is an avenue through which I have connected with people, causes and even intellectual pursuits. But the greatest gift that baking offers me is the responsibility to share. With this, I have realized an innate priority: to turn my talents, whether in the kitchen or an advocacy meeting, into tools to improve the welfare of others. My goal is to employ my compassion, intellect, and creativity into a career in public service. As much as I sometimes feel like a grandma, I also know a lot of grandmothers who happen to run our political system.
Laura opens with a unique opening line, sure to catch the eye of an admissions officer. She proceeds to draw upon compelling and specific imagery, which grounds the reader in her life while adding authenticity and depth to her interest in baking. Referring to her first successful batch of cookies as a moment of pride in her childhood, Laura sets herself apart from peers who may have chosen to focus on other interests.
Through citing baking as a way to connect with others, Laura shows that she sees herself as part of a greater community — something which admissions officers appreciate seeing. Further, Laura sets the stage for an exploration of baking as a form of meditation, showcasing her thoughtful nature, as she writes that “creating the exact liaison between eggs and flour... is a form of meditation.”
Through citing baking as a way to connect with others, Laura shows that she sees herself as part of a greater community — something which admissions officers appreciate seeing.
Writing that baking is a way to “gain insight into my other interests” is a segue into fleshing out her other interests — something which done poorly can read as artificial, but here naturally flows with the essay. We see Laura consider the less fortunate in her community as she bakes, showing rather than telling how she sees baking as a form of meditation. While the second to last paragraph walks the line between reciting a resume and maintaining the momentum of her story, the line "how politics intersects our lives, farm to table," clinches its greater point as a reflection on the impact of politics on everyone's daily lives.
Laura closes with a quote, a tactic which could read as artificial with a cliche choice. However, her quote speaks to the specific intersection of food and a greater purpose, elevating the themes of her essay. She concludes by connecting her passion for baking with the greater world, underscoring how her passion for baking unifies her mindset, compassion for others, and goals for the future.
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When I broke the news to my volunteer team, we were in a church basement, cleaning up after the final event of the summer. I tried to downplay it. I nudged Ms. Diana, the neighborhood leader, in the shoulder, and said, "Guess what I'll be doing next Wednesday — having lunch with the president." Her face blazed with a kilowatt smile. Before I could slow her down, she shouted, "Christopher's meeting President Obama next week."
Eldred dropped his broom, Ms. Sheila left the cups scattered on the floor, and all the others came running over and fusilladed me with questions. Yes, the campaign had chosen me from all the other summer organizers. Yes, I would bring photos for everyone. And yes, we had the strongest team by the numbers — total calls, knocks, voters registered, and events — in the country.
I felt guilty that only I could go and told them so. "I wish that I could bring you all with me. You made nearly all of the calls, brought your friends and family along, and made this what it is. I've just been here to facilitate." The others good-naturedly shouted me down. Then Ms. Melva spoke up. Her words were pressed out against the heaving of her respirator. "Christopher, don't feel bad. You'll bring us wherever you go in your pocket. Just pull us out when you meet Barack."
For a long time, I was perplexed by her advice. Then I thought back to the exercise that we employed before any volunteer activity. We sat in a circle and gave our reasons for being in the room, willing to work with the campaign. That way, when it came time to make our "hard ask" on the phones, we would be supported by personal conviction and shared purpose. The "hard ask" is the Obama campaign's tactic for garnering support or a commitment to volunteer, moving from values to idealism to specific action.
In my work on the campaign, I am reminded of my cross-country coach, Rob. Before every single race, from petty league meets to national championships, Rob taps the spot on his thigh where a pocket would be. We look at our teammates who are lining up with us and tap the same spot. Coach Rob is reminding us, and we're reminding each other, that we carry "the bastard" in our pockets with us throughout the race.
I want an education that fills my pockets. And, perhaps more importantly, an education that prompts hard asks, that demands us to use the
"The bastard in your pocket" is a metaphor for the sum of our efforts to succeed as runners. "The bastard" exists as a sort of Platonic ideal form of the high school cross-country runner, melded from accrued mileage and mental conditioning. My goal in a race is to take this ideal form and to transform it into a reality that lives on the course.
I want an education that fills my pockets. And, perhaps more importantly, an education that prompts hard asks, that demands us to use "the bastard" and that uses the compounded experiences of a group for a single purpose.
Through the two examples of his volunteer work and cross-country experience, Christopher is able to depict a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of leadership and a profound dedication to teamwork.
In the opening paragraphs, he describes the moment in which he related news of an invitation to meet the president to his volunteer team. The moment is shown as the culmination of Christopher’s efforts as a summer organizer for the Obama campaign. The mention of the invitation serves as a validation of demonstrable and impressive leadership; further, the reference to members of his team by name displays that his work was meaningful and personal.
The last paragraph in Christopher's essay serves as a succinct but powerful conclusion, one that links the kind of educational experience he seeks with his determined, goal-actualizing mentality.
Throughout the essay, Christopher reveals his passion for forming and being a part of a community as both a goal in itself and as a way to achieve success for the team. This is a point he elaborates upon in his reference to "the bastard in your pocket," which he presents as an ideal that can be transformed into action in order to achieve examples of his volunteer work and cross-country success. An allusion to the words of his cross-country coach, he uses this example to expand upon his views toward community and lived experience. He talks about both action and intention, emphasizing his own success in transforming beliefs and ideas into tangible results. The last paragraph in Christopher’s essay serves as a succinct but powerful conclusion, one that links the kind of educational experience he seeks with his determined, goal-actualizing mentality.
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As the first texts came in — “Where are you? The game’s over.” — I grinned, my feet propped up against the trunk and my back relaxed along the incline of the thickest arm of the tree. I swung off the branch and clambered down. The satisfaction on my face a little too apparent, I walked back to my friends, who sat out of sight on a swing set. The competition of the night was manhunt, a combination of hide-and-seek and tag renamed to suit the “dignity” of kids our age.
As I approached the swings, Marc called out, “You won. Where’d you hide?” “That tree over there,” I replied. “You climbed a tree?” Jack laughed, the surprise clear on his face. As manhunt novices, we had previously confined our gameplay to the ground. They were intrigued, recognizing I had taken our sport to new heights, literally.
As absurd as perching on a tree may be, there’s an undeniable thrill to discovering a new hiding spot and changing the game. In that way, manhunt simultaneously fuels my desire to innovate and my love of competition — passions I transfer from my musical, academic, and athletic pursuits to the boundaries of Jack’s backyard.
I search for new perspectives, new trees to climb, in all my endeavors. When I improvise in jazz band, I enjoy sharing original musical riffs and runs. My bandmates and I persist in the hunt for a “perfect solo.” While we know there's no such thing, we look for the next moment of musical insight that will change the complexion of our improvisation. And though we improve as a group, each of us takes pride in our own unique, musical style. The challenge of blending these varying shades of jazz into a cohesive performance is the reason I love being a part of the band.
In that way, manhunt simultaneously fuels my desire to innovate and my love of competition — passions I transfer from my musical, academic, and athletic pursuits to the boundaries of Jack's backyard.
The classroom brings new perspectives as well. Each day’s lesson engages my curiosity as I consider the world from a different physical, historical, or political point of view. It’s the excitement in my Physics teacher’s voice as he tells us that lightning strikes from the ground up and that Zeus is a lie, or the tightly bound silence in the room as a classmate reads aloud a letter home from an American soldier in Vietnam, that captures my interest.
My competitive drive, meanwhile, kicks in whenever I hear a countdown, whether it’s the measure before a jazz solo or the seconds before a sailing race. When I’m out on the water, the urgent beep of my watch preceding the start refocuses my attention to the wind and waves before me. I envision the race ahead, visualizing the changes in wind patterns and the movement of the fleet of boats. When the pounding of my heart drowns out my thoughts and I fall into the rhythm of maneuvering the boat, that’s when I know I’m at my competitive peak.
Similarly, my drive comes to life during soccer games, when a desire to win embodied in a slide tackle is all that defends our net. Though the steely looks in my opponents’ eyes and the chants from the stands threaten to distract me, my ambition and pride in representing my high school harden my nerves on the game field and fuel my resolve in practice.
As much as I love to compete and innovate, the thrill of achievement is matched by the camaraderie among the friends, bandmates, and teammates with whom I share the journey. The determination to push my limits and reach for the next branch is at the root of my athletic ambitions and musical interests, but the personal relationships and shared experiences along the way make the process all the more rewarding. Even in a casual game of hide-and-seek and tag, I compete, innovate, and develop lasting bonds and memories that make a good-natured competition more than a zero-sum game. That’s what delivers the real joy of manhunt.
Opening in the middle of the action with incoming texts and the imagery "my feet propped up against the trunk and my back relaxed along the incline of the thickest arm of the tree," Reginald immediately grounds the reader in his surroundings. The writing has a clear voice, lighthearted yet confident, exemplified through its easy rhythm.
Reginald's choice of details to set the stage — grinning, clambering down the tree, and explaining manhunt in a tongue-in-cheek manner — serves doubly as a portrait of his personality. Reginald shows, not tells, his innovative nature through recounting how he won a game of manhunt. As his opening anecdote has completed its purpose of humanizing Reginald, he connects the values inherent to the game to his broader interests in "musical, academic, and athletic pursuits." Tales of improvising jazz not only reflect Reginald's appreciation for the arts, but also his ability to collaborate with others and appreciate others' hard work.
Tales of improvising jazz not only reflect Reginald's appreciation for the arts, but also his ability to collaborate with others and appreciate others' hard work.
The details in his paragraph on his academic curiosity add a layer of authenticity, strengthening his essay more than a simple statement of his curiosity. Similarly, because the imagery in Reginald's discussions of sailing and soccer captures readers' attention, we can be sure that it is a deep interest of Reginald's which he is pursuing for far more than just another accolade to add to his resume.
To balance out his emphasis on competition, Reginald closes with appreciation for all of his friends and teammates. We see that his pursuit of competition stems from a desire for constant self-improvement. Returning to the imagery of hide-and-seek, Reginald lands his full-circle theme.
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My father said I didn’t cry when I was born. Instead, I popped out of the womb with a furrowed brow, looking up at him almost accusatorially, as if to say “Who are you? What am I doing here?” While I can’t speak to the biological accuracy of his story — How did I survive, then? How did I bring air into my lungs? — it’s certainly true that I feel like I came preprogrammed with the compulsion to ask questions.
I received my first journal in preschool, probably because my parents were sick of cleaning my crayon drawings off my bedroom wall. Growing up, my notebooks became the places where I explored ideas through actions in addition to words. If the face I was sketching looked broody, I began to wonder what in her life made her that way. Was she a spy? Did she just come in from the cold? Graduating from crayons to markers to colored pencils, I layered color upon color, testing out the effects of different combinations, wondering why the layering of notes in music filled me with the very same happiness as the sight of the explosion of paired colors beneath my hands.
I began to take notes, on anything and everything. Reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, I took away lessons on presentations, of maintaining a rhythm and allowing crescendos of energy to release every so often. While watching a documentary on people preparing for a sommelier exam, I made note of the importance of an enriching environment where most everything points you to your goals. Flipping through my old journal, I see that even an article about trouble in the South China Sea inspired notes on precedent and maintaining tradition lest you provoke the unknown. I was looking for the rules of the world.
More than just a place to catalogue my observations about the world, my notebooks are places to synthesize, to course-correct, to pinpoint areas for iterative improvement.
More than just a place to catalogue my observations about the world, my notebooks are places to synthesize, to course-correct, to pinpoint areas for iterative improvement. When the words are down on paper, I see my patterns of thought and the holes in my logic stark against the white page. If I have a day of insecurity that leads to a sudden rush of journaling characteristic of that in a teen movie, looking down at the angsty scribbles, I'll recognize my repeated thoughts and actions and look for pressure points in that system of behavior where I can improve.
Now my 2016 notebook returns to exploring the world through actions and experiments. Dozens of doughnut-shaped sketches dot pages that ask “how would you play tic-tac-toe on a torus?” Another page containing bubble letters answers the simpler question of the result of sorting these figures into groups of topological equivalences. Not two pages later are the results of a research binge on Mersenne primes that took me through perfect numbers and somehow deposited me at a Wikipedia page detailing the mathematical properties of the number 127. Once again, I look for the rules of the world.
Whenever I feel discouraged, I look to my stack of notebooks, shelved neatly by my desk. In those pages I’ve learned that I have room to fail and grow, to literally turn over a new leaf if a problem is particularly tricky. Through years of scribbling away, I’ve learned that the most fundamental part of my development has been giving myself the space to try: to sketch mangled faces, to draw the wrong conclusions, to answer a question incorrectly, and to learn from my mistakes without shame. I look to that mass of notebooks filled with my ideas, my mistakes, and my questions, and I'm reminded that I’ve grown before, and that I’ll grow again, all the while asking questions.
Marina’s opening line catches readers' attention, although it’s not immediately clear how it relates to the theme until Marina's reflection on her initial anecdote shows, rather than tells, her predilection for asking questions. Marina stakes her interest in keeping notebooks through anecdotes relating even back to preschool. Although her imagery borders on purple prose, the momentum of the essay keeps the writing from dragging too much.
Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks. While the examples of notes taken, in paragraph three, walk the line between adding detail and being repetitive, they deepen the reader's understanding of her notebooks. We see her exhibit a growth mindset, as she notes that she uses her notebooks as a space to process thoughts and find areas for improvement.
Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks.
The second-to-last paragraph also walks the line between deepening Marina's interests and adding redundant details. However, it broadens Marina's interests to not only cover pop culture and world events, but also math. This also exemplifies the paragraph's purpose, of the notebooks as a way to explore the world through experimentation.
Marina closes her essay on a positive, grounded note that brings the content of the essay one step further to show her mindset of iterative growth. With a closing sentence returning to "asking questions," she exhibits full-circle imagery which underscores the essay's theme.
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Languages have played a central role in my life. I have studied a variety of languages, to varying degrees — but always in the name of my greater goal, which is to understand people — to truly comprehend what lies beneath the surface: How does a culture conceive of itself? what can we learn about how the Japanese based on formality of address? What can be said about the Germans, whose language requires the verb appear at the end of a sentence? Maybe not much, but without the knowledge of the language, the possibility of real understanding is impaired. My interest in linguistics — psychology as well — derives from this belief: there is an underlying structure to all language, and through the study and comprehension of this structure, there can be a mutual understanding.
My interest in linguistics — psychology as well — derives from this belief: there is an underlying structure to all language, and through the study and comprehension of this structure, there can be a mutual understanding.
Beyond the underlying structure, words themselves have a deep and rich history, and their usage is a form of beauty in itself. It was my father who opened my eye to this truth — who taught me to love words for their stories and to appreciate etymology. It began as a friendly contest between us, but for me, appreciation soon became full-fledged adoration that was only encouraged by my study of Latin. I began drawing connections I had previously missed between words I use every day, and I found myself spending hours in front of the computer looking for sites to aid me in my discoveries. One of my favorite discoveries (and an apt one to share with you) is the word hedera.
I happened upon hedera when I noticed the similarity among the words apprehend, aprender, and apprendre, in Spanish and French, respectively. It was clear, judging by the orthography and definitions, that these words shared a Latin root, but in my studies, never had I come across such a word. Next thing I knew, I had the following on my hands: apprentice, comprehend, prehensile, apprehensive. What relationship exists between one who is learning a trade and a sense of foreboding? The answer lay within the etymologies, which led to hedera, the Latin word for ivy. Once suffixes had been stripped away, the remaining word was always -hendere. Alone, the word means virtually nothing; it was contrived from hedera as a verb form to convey a sense of grasping. What better to do so than ivy, a plant known for its tenacity? I could not help but admire the ivy which had embedded itself into the foundations of language.
Language is all about meaning and understanding, but to grasp the true meaning of language, one must look beyond the surface of the sentence to the structure, and even beyond that to the meaning and histories of the words themselves. Language, therefore, is my passion because it is the study of understanding.
The strength of Valerie’s essay lies, unsurprisingly, in her adept use of language to string together sentences as well written as they are communicative. Valerie’s writing is uncharacteristically advanced for her age: It is free of the attempts at poetic flourish that often appear in personal statements and manages to showcase her extensive vocabulary without using ten-dollar words. As Valerie’s puts forward, words and language are the tools she commands best; her essay is proof of this.
As for its content, this essay successfully exhibits its author's intellectual curiosity by parsing through the reasons why she loves linguistics and then demonstrating her learning process by parsing an actual word. And yet, this exercise causes the writer to stray from her initial discussion of how linguistics helps her better understand cultures and people, a wildly intriguing concept that ultimately doesn't get much airtime here.
This essay successfully exhibits its author's intellectual curiosity by parsing through the reasons why she loves linguistics and then demonstrating her learning process by parsing an actual word.
Beyond that, this essay could exhibit more about its author as an individual. Though Valerie’s alludes to a playful relationship with her father, this is all we get in the way of a glimpse into her personality. At 475 words, this essay is well under the 650-word limit. A more colorful introduction, some insight into how Valerie’s love of linguistics shapes her interactions with others, or a more personal conclusion could liven up what is already a sound argument for the writer's keen intellect.
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I was in 9th grade the first time I stumbled upon a copy of Newsweek. What caught my eye was its trademark title: white type, red highlight, a connotation that stories of great consequence lay beneath. Such bold lettering gave me a moment's pause, and I was prompted to leaf through its glossy pages.
To my surprise, I was instantly hooked.
A new world unfolded before me. Biting social commentary. World conflicts that weren't dumbed down. Piquant reviews of best-selling books, controversial exposés of political figures, tantalizing tidbits on pop culture, full-page spreads of photographs.
And the prose was elegant, sharp, mesmerizing. It radiated sophistication and IQ. As I scanned the credentials of the authors, my only thought was, wow. The articles were written by worldly, ambitious people who were experts in their fields, people with PhDs and MBAS from world-class institutions, people who could write brilliantly, who got paid to give their opinions, who walked with a purpose and ran in the direction of their dreams. People I knew — then and there — I’d like to one day become.
This is what education looks like, I told myself. I was young, I was impressionable. Like a child standing on the outside of a candy store, nose pressed against the glass, I hungered to be a part of that cerebral adult world. So I read that magazine from cover to cover. Twice. And with each turn of the page I felt my small-town naïveté break into smaller and smaller pieces. I remember that day as an incredibly humbling experience. I had an awkward, self-conscious epiphany: that I actually knew next to nothing about the world. There I was, cream of the crop of my middle school, fourteen years of "smart" outwitted by a thin volume of paper. I was used to feeling gifted, to getting gold stickers and good grades, to acing every elementary examination placed in front of my cocky #2 pencil.
I wasn't used to feeling like I'd been living in the Dark Ages.
At the same time, however, I struggled with another realization, one that was difficult for me to define. I felt. . . liberated. I felt as though I had taken a breath of fresh air and found it to be bracing and delicious, like it was the first breath I'd ever taken, and I'd never known that air was so sweet.
I wasn't used to feeling like I'd been living in the Dark Ages.
Talk about a paradigm shift: somehow, reading Newsweek had re-kindled my natural intellectual curiosity; it had, briefly, filled a hole in my soul that I didn't know existed. It had also sparked something within me-a hint of defiance, a refusal to accept complacency. One taste of forbidden fruit, and I knew I could never go back.
Although reading a news magazine seemed like a nonevent at the time, in retrospect it was one of the defining moments of my adolescence. That seemingly unextraordinary day set a lot of subsequent days in motion-days when I would push my limitations, jump a little higher, venture out of my comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, days when I would fail over and over again only to succeed when I least expected it, days when I would build my dreams from scratch, watch them fall down, then build them back up again, and before I knew it, the days bled into years, and this was my life.
At 14, I'd caught a glimpse of where the bar was set. It always seemed astronomically high, until it became just out of my grasp.
Sadly, Newsweek magazine went out of print on January 1, 2013. Odd as it may sound, I'll always be indebted to an out-of-print magazine for helping me become the person I am today.
Julia’s strongest skill here is her powerful language and poetic use of metaphors. One of the highlights of the essay is her description of how reading Newsweek humbled her, remarking that she was used to feeling "gifted" but now felt like she had been living in the Dark Ages. Her answer of the prompt is spot-on, expressing precisely how the experience marked a transition from childhood to adulthood.
Her answer of the prompt is spot-on, expressing precisely how the experience marked a transition from childhood to adulthood.
Julia could have elaborated on why being interested in Newsweek was such a surprise for her. She also could have chosen a more reflective and thoughtful conclusion to end an otherwise very strong piece of writing. There is definitely an irony between what was at the time an "out-of-print magazine" and her "natural intellectual curiosity" that could have been teased out further.