Sample Personal Statement Essay
(Refer to Essay 10 in the “How They Got into the Ivy League” booklet)
What I most remember about my arrival in California is the ubiquity of the color yellow. It was mid-autumn, and golden leaves piled on the side of the road, crackling when I jumped on them. I quickly became close friends with a blonde German girl named Pauline in my elementary class, who invited me to pick ripe lemons from her family’s lemon tree. I remember holding a plump fruit under the sun, admiring how it glistened in the yellow light. The first English song that I completely understood was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.” The song told the story of a man returning home from prison, hoping with all his heart that his wife still loved him; the yellow ribbon symbolized her positive response. Yellow was the color of hope, anticipation, and joy.
Two years later, I returned to China, and my world was red. Every day I wore a red scarf, the fashion item that all of my peers were donning to symbolize our country. The outer casing of scholarship medals was bright red, and they had a fuzzy texture. In Chinese celebrations, crimson lanterns hang on doorknobs, each with a candle glowing inside, lighting the streets with warm glows. During Chinese New Year, I received red envelopes containing “lucky money” from my parents and elder relatives that carried their best wishes to me. Red was the color of prosperity, happiness, and tradition.
Every color had its own characteristic and emotion that linked to my memory in some way. I started to think more about colors and the emotions that they carry in my artworks. If I’m in a joyous mood, my paintings will be full of orange, red, and yellow colors; if I’m in a foul mood, they will be full of blues, greys, and darker or more muted hues. At that point in my life, I was satisfied using different shades of the same color in my paintings.
However, I started to feel that my paintings lacked authenticity. There didn’t seem to be connections in my works: the colors were singled out with clear, sharp boundaries around the outlines. My emotions are not sheer blue or complete green with straight lines surrounding them. No one color dominates me; my emotions are the result of a mixture of colors—all of equal importance—that synthesize, connect with, and interact with each other. Realizing this, I embarked on my search for a new way of painting that resembles the way my emotions are formed.
I found the answer in watercolor. When my paintbrush touches the paper, the color diffuses on the page, another tint of a different color touches the first color, and a connection is created. The colors seep into each other slowly and then stop, almost like water seeping into soil. When the colors dry, an irregular edge forms between them; this random, spontaneous natural interfusion is what makes watercolor breathtaking. The colors take on a life of their own.
Watercolor is now more than a reflection of my emotions—it has inspired me to become a person who can effectively interact with those around me. In the end, life is about interacting with others, as humans are by definition social beings. Connections are vital to building relationships; in a society, different roles are of equal importance, and we need different elements to form a community. Just like how watercolor depicts emotions, the roles in our communities are not defined in straight, rigid lines. Rather, through interactions and communication, people can flux between roles and groups, creating a fluid society. Thanks to watercolor, the way I interact with others will enable me to self-reflect more deeply and to lead a more colorful life.
This essay tells the story of a student’s fascination with watercolor, but again in a memorable and enjoyable manner. The story starts off with a dreamy narration of the student’s memory of her first trip to California, where what stood out was surprisingly a color: yellow. She poetically describes all of the yellow things she associates with that time of her life, and in the following paragraph, she fast-forwards two years in time to her return to China, where what stood out was also a color: red. In each paragraph, the student links memories with emotions to create her own color symbolism.
In the third paragraph, we finally realize that this essay is going to be about art. The student recounts how she used to simplistically attribute a color to a corresponding mood. (For another example of color symbolism, see the Taylor Swift song “Red.”) However, she eventually realizes the superficiality and single-mindedness of such a view: rarely are emotions so clear-cut, the borders so distinct. It gradually dawns upon her that “no one color dominates me; my emotions are the result of a mixture of colors—all of equal importance—that synthesize, connect with, and interact with each other.” She takes this realization and decides to apply it to her own artwork, specifically through watercolor, where the paints naturally blend in with each other, sometimes randomly but always naturally.
In the conclusion of the essay, the student extends this realization regarding the fluidity of emotions beyond art, to society. She decides that she will also start to act more fluidly in her communities, “fluxing between roles and groups,” in other words, broadening her social horizons and positions in social groups, in order to lead a more colorful life. The double-meaning of “colorful” completes the extended metaphor in the essay and also ends the essay on a light, memorable note.