Starting your application for the University of Chicago? Learn how Max tackled his personal statement and gained admission to one of the world's top colleges
The personal statement was for me the greatest source of both stress during the application process and satisfaction afterwards. I have no doubt that the essay component of applications is the most strenuous—it requires skills and a style of writing that you will never have had to apply during high school, drafts ad nauseum, and a goal as defined as to ‘communicate yourself’.
All of this compacted with my tight schedule during my final year of high school was very stressful and the one part of the applications that I couldn’t just do the week (or night) before.
Yet while the uniqueness of the personal essay component made it the most difficult section, it also made it the most rewarding. There are very few, if any, opportunities at school where you are afforded total freedom to write about really whatever you want. And, like any lengthy piece of work, you gain a sense of satisfaction looking back on such a huge task—especially if it was one component of a successful application.
I started off the essay writing process I’m sure where everyone does: with no clue what to write about.
After a week or two I had gotten nowhere — getting my first four ideas shot down by my essay mentor (with one even being called “a bit… neo-colonialist.” Thanks!). It wasn’t until I offhandedly mentioned a story from my maths class during a conversation with my essay mentor that I finally had a topic.
Over the next months the drafting process was relatively stable: a cycle of changes varying from major rewrites to minor changes in word choice—hours before the common app was due I was feverishly debating whether I should change all the “maths” to “math” because that's how the Americans spell it. I think the amount of deliberation that went into one letter showcases how obsessed I had become with my essay in the final few days I had to work on it.
The inspiration for my supplemental essays, however, namely UChicago’s “who is your arch-nemesis?” question, came to me a lot easier. Jason, my essay mentor, asked me, “what’s something you’re passionate about?” and in my middle-of-the-hsc fried brain all I could think to answer was the first thing that came to my mind: Kanye West.
So it stuck. To me, that essay encapsulated the satisfaction of the essay writing process, to think that I could get into a top 10 Uni by writing about how Kanye West was my arch nemesis.
Ultimately, your personal essay and supplemental essays are a unique opportunity to condense yourself into one short story or idea—a task as rewarding as it is challenging. While the process was, at times, to me a paradox of endless drafts and a deadline that constantly raced towards me, I’m thankful now to be able to look back on it and forward to where it is soon to take me.
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