This is an essay written for the Harvard supplement to the Common Application. No specific prompt was given.
I sometimes wonder whether I’ve ever made any personal decisions. I think my parents have shaped my life to their liking: I attended Exeter in the footsteps of my father, and now I find myself in Rennes, where he studied thirty years ago. I do not regret the decisions that they have made for me-instead, I have enjoyed and appreciated the education I am so lucky to receive. But, as I stand on the threshold between high school and college, I feel like it’s time to think for myself. Many connections pull me towards Harvard. Indeed, there are so many that some people take it for granted that I will attend Harvard. “Your parents went to Harvard, your cousin goes to Harvard, you speak four languages, you go to Exeter and. . . your father has just been offered a chaired professorship there? Of course you’ll get in.” All it takes is a mention of the revered name. Rarely do people ask me why I want to attend Harvard. I can’t blame them, because I myself sometimes feel as if Harvard is, naturally and inexplicably, the next bend in the road to follow. But when I reflect on the path that I have taken-and try to distinguish my own personal course-I wonder why I am applying. I wonder if I am not merely influenced by my parents who, all my life, have been gently pushing me toward the venerable institution. In many ways, the university suits me perfectly. Its East Asian studies program is wonderful, as is its large array of foreign languages. My father knows many of the faculty, and he says that they are simply the best. I have many close friends, currently students, who tell me how much they enjoy the school. But what are my truly personal reasons for wanting to attend Harvard, if any–or, if there are none, why apply? I found the answer in a recent e-mail from Robbie, a friend from Exeter. In his letter, he spoke about a variety of subjects, which, in an oddly logical sequence, progressed from a call to save the estuaries to a report on his first Harvard classes. I was reminded of Robbie’s remarkable character and talent-among other things, he is a gifted flautist and a varsity football kicker. I realized, then, my desire to attend a university where I could interact with equally interesting students. For it was, above all, from exceptional classmates that I learned most at Exeter. I know from direct experience that I would find such classmates at Harvard. Three years ago, when my father was a visiting scholar, I lived in Dunster House for three months. I remember spending endless hours at the dinner tables, fascinated by the stimulating conversations. What wonderful place was this, where a man who studied monkey brains and a woman who spoke Swahili could discuss the fine points of Japanese cuisine over dinner? Although I was only fourteen, I perceived the astonishing quality of the student body: every individual was so intelligent, yet unique in opinion, character, and perspectives… Now, I no longer march on the track that has been laid down for me. I have found my personal course in life. In the distance, I descry a university. Its color is crimson and its motto Veritas. I will follow the path that leads to it; and if no such path exists, I aspire to create one. I want to go to Harvard.