State: New Jersey, USA

High School: Private day school, 130 students in graduating class

Ethnicity: Asian / Gender: Male

GPA: 4.0 out of 4.0

SAT / ACT: R: 770, W: 750, Math 800

Extracurriculars: Varsity Soccer, Orchestra, Finance organization

Awards: Cum Laude

Major: Applied Math


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.

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.

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.