We have selected several successful application essays from Harvard, and have organized them into four categories from which to glean insight into techniques to write a good application essay. The four types of essays we found most common were: essays that show an applicant overcoming adversity, essays which present the uniqueness of an applicant, essays which tell a particular story, and essays that emulate an influential person through the applicant’s eyes. Today we will have a look at the influential person essay.
Essays about an influential person are almost always written about family members. They typically demonstrate characteristics of a person who has influenced the writer and demonstrate how the writer has grown from, or taken on these traits.
The stories that often show up in these essays are commonplace, everyday occurrences, but what makes them special is what they mean to the writer. How the writer demonstrates these characteristics, and paints a picture for the reader is what makes this type of essay stand out. Repetition, or showing a characteristic of the influential person, and then later showing it in the writer is a nice technique of making this type of essay come full circle.
This essay also gives the reader a chance to peer into the writer’s childhood and to gain some insight into their influences and how these have grown into more measurable personality traits as they have grown up.
Tyler Logigian’s essay entitled “Minga” is about his grandma. His essay eloquently describes the loving relationship he has with her and shows how she has impacted his childhood as well as his adulthood.
By Tyler Logigian
For as long as I can remember, I’ve called my grandmother “Minga.” Friends often ask if the derivation of this name is Polish, because Minga’s ancestors all hail from Poland, but I end up comically explaining to them that somehow in the process of trying to say “Grandma” as a toddler, “Minga” was the best I could muster. There’s much more to Minga than her unique name: She’s been a fixture through every stage of my life, from pushing the name “Tyler” ahead of my mom’s preferred choices to accompanying me on college visits.
Growing up as Minga’s grandson has been quite the learning experience; I’ve helped her make pierogies and other Polish dishes and accompanied her to Bingo at her church. For years, I’d spend part of every weekend at her house. I’d crown myself king of castles that I’d built in her living room, shoot basketballs on her dead-end street, and play poker with her as I dreamed of becoming the clever, fun-loving, risk-taking card shark that I saw in her. These weekend adventures allowed me to develop into the imaginative, “dream big” kind of guy that I am today. In those days, my dreams consisted of building a fort or castle so gigantic that it blocked Minga’s front door; today, my dreams consist of constructing a school playground and a basketball field in an impoverished community in Nicaragua.
A large part of my personal philosophy has been formed by Minga’s constant reminder: “God never closes a door without opening a window.” Although I’ve learned that squeezing through an open window might not be as easy as strolling through an open door, I’ve always found windows large enough to squeeze through in the midst of personal challenges: my mom’s struggle with cancer, my parents’ pending divorce, and my adjustment to a new school district just before starting high school.
Thanks to Minga’s tales of growing up poor, I have a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the privileges I enjoy. Minga’s emphasis on the importance of compassion helped me develop a personal need to get out into the community. When I came home from my first trip to a local orphanage, Minga was waiting with a hot meal and questions. I passionately explained how I thought I had stumbled across a personal gold mine: self-fulfillment and a place to actualize my passion.
These initial thoughts were quickly confirmed, and I cannot imagine my life without defining myself as a humanitarian. Whenever I return from a trip to Nicaragua, I sit down with Minga and enjoy a precious exchange. As I discuss the needs of the underprivileged with her, I appreciate the connection between her experiences growing up as one of ten kids in Brooklyn during the Depression and the lives of those I help in rural Nicaraguan villages.
Today, I find myself reflecting on my development as an individual and as a student, realizing that my Minga has humbled me. She has mentored me throughout my life with her serious advice and nurtured me through daily signs of support, such as her knocking on her ceiling (my floor) with a broom handle every morning to wake me up or her insistence on packing me a sandwich and a half with my lunch every day. Minga is a major influence in my life, and as I continue to pursue my interests in the academic world and beyond, I strive to be some type of “Minga” for others. Luckily, my initial inability to say “Grandma” hasn’t held me back.
This essay is a good template for the influential person essay. It gets straight to the point with a bit of humor and clever raconteuring along the way.
Nicknames always stand out, especially when accompanied by a story. I like how Tyler’s grandma has a nickname. This can be a clever way to stand out in your essay.
His anecdotes of spending time with his grandma; her being a good poker player, a cook, a bingo-player, and a touch spiritual are effective and bring the reader closer to the writer.
Tyler effectively used the limited words to maximally paint a whole picture of what happened between his grandma and him. It all feels very natural and candid.
Tyler presents humorous imagery of him squeezing through windows. Using a humorous style can help one to stand out among many application essays.
This essay is simple and sweet. It is a story that can easily be related-to and retold. However, since it is easy-to-read and doesn’t ask much of its reader, it doesn’t stand out as extraordinary in any way. While it is skilfully written, it is almost too simple.