Common Application Essay
The pungent yet strangely welcoming odor of acetone permeated my senses as I entered the familiar lab environment. All around me, white-clad students hurriedly gathered chemicals and watched their flasks intensely as the solvent simultaneously boiled and condensed. Foggy safety goggles and furrowed eyebrows revealed the immense concentration of everyone in the room as they tackled various challenges. From my vantage point, I watched as a captivating transformation evolved at each station. Striking shades of green and orange contrasted with dull strokes of brown and grey in flasks around the room; soft, white powder stood out from needle-like blue crystals as both slowly dissolved into beakers of water. The randomness of each adventure added to my excitement as I impatiently waited to begin.
I didn’t always feel so energized when walking into the lab. I can still recall my apprehension and dread last summer when I entered an organic chemistry lab for the first time. All the other students at the Olympiad National Camp were so experienced, and it was embarrassing when I had to ask how to weigh my reactants. Whenever someone looked at my station, I was convinced that they were silently ridiculing my incompetence and I felt my face burn with self-consciousness. In the end I submitted a murky brown solid, a noticeable blemish among the other bright orange crystals. I expected my mentor to be disappointed, but he just gave me new reactants to try the experiment again.
When I returned to the same national camp a year later, I was far better prepared. An additional year of lab experience and countless hours of studying had given me confidence, and stepping into the lab was fascinating instead of intimidating. As I stared with wonder at the thick orange liquid swirling in my flask, I became mesmerized by the idea of tiny molecules flying around, destroying old solids and forming new ones. In that instant, infinitesimal electrons were zipping through space, guided by surrounding forces, to form new molecules. Yet on the macroscopic level, a solid seemed to materialize out of nothing. The reaction appeared more magical than scientific, but because I understood what was happening at the molecular level, I could finally appreciate the full splendor that was unfolding in my hands. My precipitate turned out orange instead of yellow, but it didn’t matter this time. The important part was that I had taken a white powder, heated it in a mixture of liquids, and created something completely different in color and texture. I finally understood what every science teacher tries to instill into their students – science isn’t about following a procedure to make a certain product, but rather learning from the inevitable mistakes to make new discoveries.
As I sat on the stool overlooking my three experiments as a competitor at the 46th International Chemistry Olympiad in Hanoi, Vietnam, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I reminisced over the journey that had brought me there. My beautifully colored titration flasks sat in a corner next to my flaky white solid. To anyone walking by, it was an ordinary sight, but to me it was a reminder of my intense passion for chemistry and what I had accomplished in the past year. Suddenly realizing that there were only five minutes left, I snapped out of my trance and began working furiously to finish the remaining questions. I felt a surge of exhilaration within me, but I embraced the thrill of the moment instead of letting it turn to apprehension. This time, I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
Harvard Supplement Essay: The Essence of Music
Music has always been a dominant force in my life, inspiring and motivating me to challenge myself. With music, I could work towards mastering increasingly demanding passages while releasing my emotions through the melodies. For many years, the desire for acclamation drove me to practice and perform. I yearned for acknowledgement of my talent and the assurance that my playing was unparalleled; I wanted people to be astonished by my technical abilities and stylistic interpretations.
Even when I played at volunteer concerts for seniors, my focus was on displaying my technical capability and receiving compliments after the performance. I chose difficult pieces with virtuosic passages and wide spectrums of dynamic expression. As the final chords resounded, I would lift my fingers from the keys with a flourish and then watch the reaction from the audience. The seniors always clapped politely, but I was left unfulfilled. I mused over how I could provoke more enthusiasm — perhaps I could add more glissandos or speed up the arpeggios.
After one of our concerts, I was asked to play an additional piece as an encore for the seniors. I was thrilled at the request until I realized that I had already performed all the pieces that I prepared. Everyone was looking at me with anticipation, so I reached for the sheet music that was on top of the piano: Imagine by John Lennon. The notes seemed easy enough and I trusted my sight-reading ability. Taking a moment to skim through the pages, I delved into the famous introduction.
When the verses came in, many of the seniors started to hum the melody. Some of them even began singing the tune while swaying with the piano chords. I was taken aback by the response and glanced distractedly at the audience until my fingers slipped on the keys. Turning my attention back to the piano, I poured my wonder into the progressions and the chorus. The room swelled with a medley of chords and voices that were slightly offbeat but somehow blended seamlessly with the music. Touched by the inspiration in the room, I joined my audience in singing the words of the timeless ballad.
When the final notes of the song faded, the response was overwhelming, not in applause but in emotion. I watched as the seniors turned to each other, all smiles, forming connections and exchanging memories, and I could feel the warmth and happiness emanating from the crowd. In an instant, I realized that all my preconceptions about performing were wrong; I had been focusing too much on my ability and not on what actually mattered. I may have been the person at the piano, but the concert wasn’t about me at all. It was about the people listening — what they wanted to hear, what they enjoyed — not what I wanted to show them. It was a life-changing moment for me, a startling realization of what I had been missing. As I walked out of the senior home that day, I knew I had created more than a melody; I had created a memory.
Standardized Test Scores:
- Sat Composite-2300
- SAT Subject Tests
- Math 2: 800
- Physics 2: 800
- Chemistry: 800
School Record and Class Ranking:
- GPA: 4.0
- Class Ranking: Unprovided/Not Ranked
- 12 5 Level APs
- International Chemistry Olympiad Top Silver Medalist
- International Chemistry Olympiad Bronze Medalist
- Ranked 5th on National Biology Competition
- National Winner of Canadian Music Competition
International Chemistry Olympiads
- Bronze Medallion at the 46th International Chemistry Olympiad in Hanoi, Vietnam
- Silver Medallion at the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan
- Founder of We Youth Help: a volunteer organization which performs weekly music concerts at senior homes and hospitals