My Personal Statement: University of Pennsylvania & UCLA - Chris Z.

02 DEC 2020

Chris was accepted to UPenn, UCLA and other top universities in the US. In his personal statement, he wrote about how unanswerable questions and impossibly big ideas enticed him to apply for admission to colleges abroad.

This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go...


"So, how is your brother’s girlfriend going...?” My dad dropped this bomb nonchalantly. The tarred road zoomed alongside us. Locked Doors. No cars for miles. This was code red. Searching for any and all signs of egress, I was in full panic mode over the impending inquisition.

Two hours into our drive to a rowing camp in Taree— a hamlet north of Sydney—we had already exhausted all the polite conversation. Each passing second became another potential opportunity for an awkward ‘parent’ question to open a treasure trove of personal embarrassment. I attempted a musical diversion. However, the cycle of the radio tuning wheel groaned as the paucity of stations gradually depleted from thirty options to now only two - static or Country. I chose static. Palms sweaty, I struggled to circumnavigate the wheel, but my swelling anxiety betrayed my incipience as a driver. Dad was not one to easily give up on a hunt for information. I needed to take the reins and steer us away from danger if I did not want to be next.

“Dad, have you ever considered what would happen if we could travel as fast as the speed of light?”

“Never crossed my mind.”

“Theoretically speaking, time would slow down, distance between objects would shorten, and if this speed were maintained, our mass would increase exponentially. The most interesting part of it all is that we will never know if all these things even happened. It is logistically impossible to recreate.”

“Great. What was your fastest rowing time last week?” Dad only cared about the possible. “Not quite the speed of light.”

As Dad talked about rowing techniques, I zoned out. With my foot gently on the accelerator, I imagined the car gaining speed as we drove north. I thought about the earth moving, about the car zooming into space. If we reached the speed of light would everything stand still?

I hit the brakes! Inertia jolted us forward as the seat belts pulled us back to Earth.

"What’s that about?”

“Sorry, Dad, I got distracted.”

Settling in again, he asked: “So what will it take for your team to win this year?”

“Well, if all 8 of us each put our blades into the water at perfect 90° angles at exactly the same time, pull with the same force and exit the water in perfect unison, we would win.

He chuckled. “Even I know the chances of that happening are zero.”

Yes, it is impossible, but the excitement is in trying to. Whether it is what happens to time at the speed of light or imagining how to calculate the perfect rowing technique, I am excited by the potential secrets and hidden possibilities lurking in deep thinking on big ideas and debates over detail.

I love to dwell in the hypothetical: to investigate, question, and debate the unknowable, even if, my pursuit is futile—that I will ultimately fail. My salsa with the unanswerable delights me because the mystery of dancing with a phantom energises my mind and ignites my imagination.

As a prospective university student in Australia I’d been pigeonholed into Commerce, Engineering, Science or Art without being able to explore the intersections between disciplines. However, in a future where career paths are unknown, broader perspectives are crucial to facilitating greater innovation and more flexible thinking. Entwining a study of philosophy with language, computer studies and math will allow me a multifaceted pursuit of unanswerable questions that energize and excite me, such as the Collatz Conjecture and whether it has potential for Artificial Intelligence.

As a prospective university student, I want to experience intellectual rigor as engagements with potential information rather than just facts to be memorized. I want to wonder with teachers and students who can pull with me, who want to drop blades in the water at perfect angles in perfect unison, all the while knowing that to do so is impossible.

NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Jill C. into Oxford!


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