We asked recent IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduates from around the world to submit essays that played a role in their admissions process to the university of their choice. As a student in the DP or Career-related Programme (CP), university admissions teams want to know what you are passionate about, show how you will become a part of their community, and demonstrate that you are ready for university-level work.
Though not always required, telling your story in an essay gives you a unique opportunity to show universities who you are. We selected excerpts from four unique essays, each with a different approach. Thanks to IB graduates Esha Indani, Kamila Janmohamed, Kardeisha Provo, and Ryan Lam for allowing us to share excerpts from their essays and personal statements.
1. When your interests are the perfect match
Esha Indani — Why Penn?
Can you use your dream school as inspiration? Esha Indani did when she chose to show how the fundamental values she developed as a student at the International School of Geneva – La Châtaigneraie in Switzerland were a strong match for the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She approached her personal essay by linking her research interests to the university’s existing programs.
“My essay primarily focuses on my passion and interest for sustainability and renewable energy sources and technologies” she explained, “but at a deeper level it looks at how my experiences … have shaped this interest and have provided me with the motivation and direction … knowledge for action is the motto of the Wharton School and in my opinion, I think this is what my IB education prepared me for.”
“Saturday mornings in Switzerland in September are unusually cold. I observed this as I hurried off with large bags of trash to be recycled at the local déchetterie. Having been brought up in a country that remains diligently protective over its environment, I gradually developed an appreciation and interest in the use and applications of green technology and sustainability … so when choosing where I wanted to study, I knew for sure that my institute would have to be as passionate as I am about both business and sustainable development.”
“The school’s association with the Penn Green Campus Partnership through IGEL [the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership] allows me to combine my two passions into one academic and social experience. As editor-in-chief of the school newspaper … I strived to combine the manufacturing of a product with my interest in sustainability by switching to using recycled paper … I was able to not only incorporate aspects of sustainability in its production process, but also express my thoughts as well as those of the students on the three Ecolint campuses on a green future for the world.”
“At Wharton, I hope to take advantage of the flexibility of its inter-disciplinary curriculum to combine a business education with one in sustainable development … I would be most interested in researching the development of cheap clean energy, which fundamentally holds the key to a sustainable future. To me, business and international trade are more than careers – they are media through which I can serve my local and international communities.”
2. The one thing that makes you most unique
Kamila Janmohamed — Flat
It’s a personal essay, so make it uniquely you. Kamila Janmohamed focused her essay on something that makes her stand out and coincidentally caused her to stumble on her passion. She completed her essay as a part of the common application while she was a student at the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa in Kenya. It earned her admission to Yale University in Connecticut, USA.
“There are three things that must never, ever be flat: tires, bubble wrap, and feet. For the first decade of my existence, it seemed as though my extremities were blissfully unaware of their offensive lack of an arch. I’d spent my entire life stubbing toes on table legs and impaling myself on Lego bricks. It wasn’t until someone pointed out that my feet were different, that I actually began to see them that way.”
“Armed with warnings of how I would never be able to wear heels, my mother drove me to a public hospital, where, rumour had it, an orthopeadic surgeon worked wonders. Thinking cosmetic concerns pretentious, I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to these threats as I did the portent of a life riddled with crippling back pain. Yet, I was apprehensive about the quality of care I would receive…”
“… as I sat in that courtyard with its peeling walls, waiting alongside crying babies and watching solemn-looking adults, most of whom queued for hours on end to see a doctor who would probably be gone by their next visit, I became painfully aware of the privilege I was accustomed to. With that sinking sense of apologetic guilt one feels at realizing how trivial their grievances have been, I began to feel more appreciative of the opportunities I had been afforded. In quickly judging my surroundings based on what I had been conditioned to expect, I had denied the hospital that same chance.”
“… I wouldn’t be able to make the institution less dependent on aid, or increase its permanent staff as a doctor, but I could by working in health administration and education. So, I presented my own field of interest: public health.”
“As much irritation as my ‘abnormal’ feet have caused me, I owe them a lot. From learning about the importance of having your facts right, to not being judgmental, I have come to realize, and appreciate, just how chameleonic we are. Our acuities are not resistant to change, and being open to these changes encourages that self-instigated growth that comes from having our conceptions challenged, which, in my opinion, is the most enduring kind out there. While my feet might remain unrelentingly flat, I know from my experience with them, that my perceptions will always be far more pliable, and that is compensation enough.
3. Your personal history and sense of community
Kardeisha Provo — My people
Sometimes to get to the future, you need to use the past. Kardeisha Provo’s personal essay prompt for Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, asked her to “discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” Coming from Cole Harbour District High School, located in the far northeast of Canada in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia — she approached the essay through her personal identity and the history of her community.
“Originating from ancestors who fled North on the Underground Railroad, Black Loyalists from the American Civil War, Refugees from the War of 1812 and Jamaican Maroon, I know we are people of resilience and strength. North Preston, Nova Scotia is the largest and oldest Indigenous Black community in Canada and the place I call home. My ancestors consist of people who settled on unceded Mi’kmaq Territory and became stewards of the land while living alongside Indigenous people present.”
“More recently, I realized the media and outside platforms were continuing to paint an inaccurate image of my community … I chose to change the narrative. After hours of filming and editing videos I created my own YouTube Channel that is dedicated to who we are, my personal journey being from North Preston and the realities we face being the largest Black Community in Canada.”
“I created the YouTube channel in January 2017. Over the year, my content grew from 10 viewers to 4.4k views and continues to build each day. Through this journey, I’ve realized the only important viewers are the members of our community. The only view that truly matters is how we view ourselves …the experience I’ve had has made me realize I must continue on this path of growing into a leader that is needed in the world.”
4. Thinking outside of the box
Ryan Lam — Flushing the toilet
Is humor a good idea to use in a personal essay? It’s something to consider carefully, but not to overlook if it is part of your approach to the world. Ryan Lam used a surprising situation to demonstrate the thought process he uses to solve a real-world problem. This essay was submitted as part of the common application and supported admission to the Universeity of Pennsylvania after graduating from Seminole High School, Florida, USA.
“What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The toilet flushes … it was the third week of the Science Student Training Program at the University of Florida, and I was finally residing in a dormitory room with three males who shared my passion for Star Trek … I went about emptying the contents of my bladder into our seemingly innocuous toilet. Upon flushing, Poseidon’s stormy surge of at least a thousand years of backlogged fecal matter rose up to greet me … we had four of the greatest budding scientific minds in the state and we could surely fix this seemingly trivial problem.”
“In short, we lacked the materials to properly approach the problem in any sort of conventional manner. I proposed that a curved rod of condensed aluminum foil may be able to dislodge the clogging bodies, but invoking the scientific method quickly demonstrated that we were unable to engineer a device of sufficient sturdiness to achieve our goal.”
“…we decided to sleep on the problem, but the next morning, duty was still calling, science was still failing, and morale was at an all-time low. There was talk among us of sneaking out to buy a plunger, but there was no getting around it; we were all out of realistic ideas … Like a harpooning fisherman, I plunged my bare fist into the saccharine mess and wrangled a sopping beast out of its ocean home.”
“While I can appreciate a sense of reservation, being obsessively hoity toity about everything is such a drag. At the end of the day, stepping up to do something practical is always a necessary step. Don’t get me wrong; it can be a lot of fun to take the time to play around with creative approaches to a problem, but sometimes someone just needs to take the initiative to do what nobody else is willing to do. Whether that’s quickly ripping off a bandage or boldly shoving my hand into a toilet, once the challenge is overcome, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. And to me, helping as many people as possible overcome their own challenges will always be more important than any mental barriers to getting something done.”