Stanford Common App Essay: Math Competitions

Stanford Common App Essay: Math Competitions


Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Once the lyrics started, my eyes had no chance of holding back the eager river of tears. B.o.B’s song “Don’t Let Me Fall” spoke to me deeply and immediately. It was the same morning I left the 2013 Mu Alpha Theta National Convention (the largest nationwide math competition), and upon the suggestion of my best friend Andrew, I listened to what he claimed would summarize our experience in a song. Every friend I made, every trophy I won, every game I played, all coalesced in my mind as I reminisced about what I instantly realized was the most jubilant week of my life. Never before had I experienced such a sharp pang of nostalgia, feeling just as blissful as I did melancholy.

Math chose me. Around the age of nine, I grasped the concept of special right triangles while staring at shower tiles. To this day, I habitually multiply numbers in my head, even when I sprint in a track meet or write an English essay. Independent of my math instinct, I possess a healthy competitive energy. Whether I dash down the Ultimate Frisbee field or race through Mario Kart courses, winning becomes more important than breathing. For me, the math competition is the perfect game. It satisfies my craving for challenge while encompassing my most natural instinct.

As intense as my zeal for math was, a more vibrant humanizing aspect slowly seeped into the experience. I noticed a steady change in how I spent my time at math competitions. I spent less time rechecking problems after the tests ended, and more time making sure I got to meet up with every friend I would otherwise never see. Math never decreased in importance, but became gradually overshadowed by the growing need to organize pick-up basketball and football games with other students in my free time. At the National Convention, I can always count on finding Hawaii’s Ka’iulani gossiping about her YouTube obsession, Tallahassee’s Jessie exuding her unmatched appetite for sports talk, and Seattle’s Tim enjoying crazy card games until the brink of curfew, all under one roof. Undoubtedly, many people enjoy the company of friends they seldom see. There are plenty I have not talked to in years, but here something different motivated me.

Maybe it was the camaraderie of spending time with people who inexplicably subjected their brains to more thinking on the weekends, or simply the fact that seeing each other was rare. Perhaps, though, our community most profoundly resonates from the unconscious thought that deep down, we shared some mathematical enlightenment. They, too, have seen the Pythagorean theorem’s relevance in the distance formula, and they, too, have comprehended the logic behind otherwise mindless area equations. Somehow, it felt as though we were all connected long before we met.

San Diego’s National Convention perfected my recipe for happiness: doubling the number of States I had friends in, threatening to overflow my trophy shelf (the family piano), and teaching me that math had far deeper implications than all the awards eventually only I would remember. My high school years have taught me to befriend my competitors, rather than alienate them. The tools and opportunities I have been blessed with, along with this lesson, have helped me build a confident identity for my adventures on the horizon.

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