Below is an example of a great Harvard long supplemental essay. I’m including the personal statement this student wrote first so you can see how these essays show two different sides of this student. Note that they also differ in content, structure, and tone.
Common App Personal Statement Example (that complements the example supplemental essay for Harvard for Prompt #1 below)
My mom has the coolest eyes you will ever see. Resembling somewhere between the ocean surrounding a Caribbean island and the “share” button on a Google Doc., her eyes, and thus her genes, spell out very clearly that the OCA2 promoter should not produce melanin in her iris. My dad, albeit with significantly less cool eyes that look more similar to a cloudy day, has fallen victim to the same mutation. Recessively inherited, our eyes are unique, a marking of an increased susceptibility to certain forms of ocular disease but still cool enough to warrant the stares of people on busy New York City streets. To us, on a less scientific note, they represent a shared upbringing: a shared hatred of honey mustard, a shared memory of my sister lighting her hair on fire on her birthday (she was fine), and a shared need to question the unknown.
Growing up at 10 West Deerhaven, where bears would lazily trek across my lawn and the rocks probably had diamonds in them if you hit them just the right way, it was not long before a lab coat and microscope were placed on my Amazon wishlist. My sister would accompany me on my missions, hiking and hiding with me to get a closer look (because every scientist needs a lab partner). More often than not, she was left holding the snacks or carrying my samples back up the hill. But when my microscope finally came, I’d let her look at what we found (sometimes).
Not long after would come the train rides to Kean University, my dad happily (and sleepily) waking up with me for 5 AM breakfasts before my two hour commute. He makes me waffles and asks me about my research, nodding and pretending to understand. I tell him about using RT-PCR to move from the 5’ to the 3’ end of mRNA coding for CAHS1 and about electron microscopes too expensive to be asked for on an Amazon wishlist. He hands me my lunch (6 chicken nuggets) and reminds me to say goodbye to my brother before I leave.
Then would come the bus rides, taking the (totally strenuous) trip into New York City to intern at Columbia University Medical Center. I work with researchers to help determine the genetic basis of epilepsy by studying population models and using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to create petri-dish brains with the mutation of interest. I might get lost in the city or forget which subway to take. My dad may have to come rescue me, joking about how I can microinject in the perfect spot but get lost in a city with numbered streets.
Then would come the car rides, mom in the passenger seat as I drive us to the New York Psychoanalytic Institute to attend lectures on the gut microbiome and the link to autism-spectrum disorders. She shoves the microphone into my hands when I whisper a question to her, encouraging me to speak up in a room full of psychoanalysts who got their degrees long before I was born. I speak, voice quivering, and get a response as if I were no different.
Then would come the walks into our kitchen, sitting with my mother analyzing psychological statistics to aid in making treatment more efficient in her clinic. I laugh at her when she misspells words and she laughs at me for not knowing the difference between affective disorders and mood disorders (trick question: they’re the same).
Living in a household of explorers comes with its challenges: sometimes we neglect to dust and sometimes we forget to order groceries until there is only a stale box of pasta in our cupboard. But my absent-minded family of best friends, with eyes like Cu(C7H5O2)2 and CoCl2, cracking open rocks and insisting that CRISPR cuts are just like deleting sections of code on a computer, are always up for an adventure.
Harvard Supplemental Essay Prompt #1 Example
אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם? הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם
Eizehu chachâm? Ha’lomed mi’kol adâm
Who is wise? He who learns from all people.
It was the first nice day we’d had all winter, the wind just calm enough that we could convince our parents to allow our newly-licensed friends to drive us to the diner so long as we promised to be home before curfew. I was bundled up in a coat that was probably too light and sitting in the passenger seat of a bright red Jeep as we left my driveway, the three of us excited about our newfound freedom and discussing all the places we would go as soon as the temperature went above freezing. For now, though, we were going to Stateline Diner, home of the Best French Fries Known to Man.
“How do you feel about the Yids?”
I was caught off guard as the girl driving began with what had become a popular conversation topic after the lawsuit had ended. Whenever I heard someone mention it I felt my stomach drop, the provocation toward a debate I often did not feel like having.
“Well,” I started, pictures flashing through my mind of pennies thrown at me on public transportation and my brother coming home from school in tears because he had been bullied for being Jewish. Treading lightly, I flipped the question, asking instead, “How do you feel?”
“Hate them,” she replied, disgust evident by the eye roll I could barely see in the reflection of the streetlights. “I mean, you’re a good one. But the ones with the big coats and hats? They don’t belong here.”
For many of us, those whose voices would be listened to at courthouse meetings, there was little distinction between ourselves and our Orthodox brothers and sisters. For others, those who were with the opposition, we were worlds apart because our Judaism was quieter, less noticeable. To them, we were the tolerable version of a group that was ruining their community.
The lawsuit had begun sometime the summer before, over zoning conflicts and the rights of people in nearby towns to enter our parks. Of course, no such arguments had arisen previously, when the visitors in Mahwah, New Jersey had been indistinguishable from local residents. The conflict soon escalated, people claiming that Jewish influence would lower property values and dissolve community structure. Even though the anti-semites lost and we helped the good guys win, the remnants of it all can be found in the attitudes of the people I grew up with who drive me to diners and remind me that even though I may be welcome, the rest of my people are not.
Finally pulling up to Stateline Diner, I hopped out of the passenger seat, careful to note the #MahwahStrong bumper sticker I had previously missed. The battle call for anti-semites in the area, whether or not they’d agree to that label, was quick and catchy to hide the dark meaning. Printed in red, white, and blue, it was easy to draw connections between the nationalism that was being propagated by the Oval Office and the hatred burrowing deep below the neighborhoods where we were raised.
Over french fries and milkshakes, I was reminded that children and adults are both constantly forming and reforming their views on the world, and that it is a scary thing to question what you have been taught. I forgive the driver of the red Jeep for her words, for her sticker, for her intolerance. No longer do I let words and actions and lawsuits become carved into my being. I know that they are merely stones formed of claims without basis. They are just ghosts, and they cannot hurt me if I do not let them.
Maybe Mahwah is strong. But we, my family, the Jewish community, are stronger.