Anmol Gupta is currently a fourth-year student at Harvard, where he is pursuing a B.S. in statistics. To get there, he wrote a standout essay.

When I applied to Harvard, I knew I needed to stand out. I also knew every potential Harvard student had an impressive academic record. The one thing the admissions board would use to figure out who I was as a person was my personal essay. It was my chance to really express myself.

The essay prompt asked about a moment in my life that was vital to shaping my identity. I immediately thought of my dad, who had passed away two years before. My dad played such an important part in my life — we shared the same goofy sense of humor and he taught me always to be positive, appreciate life’s absurdities and never take myself too seriously. Anyone who ever met the two of us said I was an exact replica of him. The best way to describe myself, I thought, would be to explain how my dad now lives on through me.

But I didn’t want to write a sob story. Instead, I wanted to say something positive about myself as an individual — about how I’ve chosen to celebrate my dad’s life and live mine the way he taught me, rather than dwell on the end of his. So I started the essay with a happy memory that illustrates who my dad was and the silly things he did. I figured this would make clear to the reader right off the bat that I’m a mature person who tries to approach unfortunate circumstances with positivity.

As I struggled to understand the theory of relativity, the opening of my door startled me. No one was there. Then … BAM! In came a dancing fool, wearing only a pair of tighty-whities, high socks, a vest of chest hair and a thick coat of shaving cream covering his face (except his prized mustache, of course). It was my papa! But then he realized I was over-preparing once again, so he stopped in his tracks and, on cue, shouted his famous phrase: “Just get a zero!”

The more I wrote, the more I knew I wanted those who read my essay to also feel gratitude for the life my dad lived. So I segued into the eulogy I gave at his wake, which I’d hoped would also show the positivity I learned from my dad and that I try to apply to my own life. I included some quotes:

I cannot be more proud to have been the son of Sanjiv Gupta. He was my role model and my biggest supporter. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to replace his presence in my heart. But even more so, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to replace his presence at the ping-pong table!

While the essay is all my original thoughts, having others share their insights and feedback definitely helped it turn out the way it did.

I included a bit on the audience’s reaction too:

Through my words, they could see glimpses of my father. They couldn’t help but smile.

There were a lot of iterations of the essay before I settled on a final version. I had my brother and my AP English teacher read it over and give me their opinions, because when you’re writing something, you often get stuck and repeat the same ideas. While the essay is all my original thoughts, having others share their insights and feedback definitely helped it turn out the way it did.  

Now, in my final year of studying statistics at Harvard, I look back at that essay and realize writing it taught me a lot. Particularly, that relationships are the most important thing in this world — certainly more important than your career or how much money you might make. I’m grateful to have learned that at an early age.

The reason my essay made an impression, I think, is that I was genuine and true to myself. I didn’t try to anticipate what the admissions board wanted to see; I thought about what I wanted to express. That made me passionate about telling my story — and it stood out.  

Read Anmol Gupta’s full essay at Admitsee or peruse other college applications from real students.