When it comes to US university applications, your personal statement is not only key when it comes to shedding light on who you are beyond your grades and extracurriculars, it also provides admissions officers with a priceless opportunity as to what you value as important.
While life-long relationships and heartfelt passions are obviously great foundations for a strong personal essay, sometimes the most memorable of statements are built around the smaller things - the little observations, the details that have resonated, and the people who have passed through your life if only for a minute.
Needless to say this sometimes leads to some rather unusual personal statement topics - but when admissions officers are reading tens of thousands of such essays, it is understandable that the statements with a rather unique subject matter tend to stand out.
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Here are 10 examples of some incredibly successful ‘out of the box’ essays that gained their writers acceptance to some of the world’s most competitive universities.
- An essay about the student’s fascination and her family’s love of the TV Game Show Wheel of Fortune. This spoke a lot about the students’ love of literature and her fascination with sciences like biology, where non-literary words had such great significance. (John Hopkins)
- A student wrote of his childhood love for his 202 Hot Wheel toy cars and how he would ‘drive them around the house’ even when his mother urged to go play outside. This essay spoke of the student’s resilience after his family was evicted and he lost his 202 cars - but also what he learned about the power of family. (Harvard)
- Punk Rock! A student wrote about her coming of age fascination with the ‘raw chaotic beauty’ of punk while all else her age were listening to Taylor Swift. This signified the student’s determination to find her own truth rather than bend to conformist ideas and popularism. (Harvard)
- A girl’s memories of her trips to the supermarket chain Costco with her mother and how they incited her imagination as she: examined the contents of other shopper’s trolleys, noted the products on the shelves and used her observations as foundations as to how she now approached the wonders of the ‘warehouse of the world’. (Yale, Columbia, Penn).
- Attempting to master the art of tying strings around cake boxes at a new job at a bakery. This story showed the student’s resilience and determination as she expressed her frustration at being able to understand string theory in science class on one hand, but not being able to tie a string around a cardboard box on another. Her persistence won the heart of admissions offers at Duke University where she was granted admission.
- Folding paper cranes. This student talked about how she set herself a goal to fold 1000 paper cranes and ended up doing so - using every piece of paper she could get her hands on - including post-it notes and candy wrappers. It took her a long time but she persisted and learned how each crane was different - symbolic of a specific thought or memory. It showed her imagination, determination and compassion. (Johns Hopkins).
- Applying make-up. This student examined the artistic detail of applying eyeliner and mascara - the sweeping brush, the linear precision - and applied it to her love of symmetry and creative design. (MIT).
- A love for pizza. This student wrote about how, as a child, she felt ‘grown up’ ordering pizza at her local pizza store and fulfilled her dream of working there as a teenger - she explained how the slices evoked feelings of ‘independence and joy’. The essay focused on setting personal goals and realising them and finding joy in life’s small details. (Yale).
- This student wrote about a bowl of candy - and if she were a piece of candy in the bowl she would be the mint - not the popular chocolate or the colourful fruit drop - but the refreshing afterthought who hoped to make a lasting impression. (Stanford).
- An appreciation for the movie “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. This student used the film to question if man has done justice to his innovative ‘ape’ ancestors. It talked about the value of the human cell over the cell phone and showcased the student’s appreciation for our responsibility to care for the world we inherited. (Stanford).
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