Feature image from 9bridges.org.


I’m not a smart person. I don’t consider myself one, because I do dumb things all the time. Like telling the waitress “you too” after she says to enjoy your meal, or throwing away the plastic stick and keeping the cardboard tube when changing a roll of toilet paper.

(Don’t have me hold two things when you want me to only throw one away. There’s a 90% chance I’ll toss the wrong one.)

But the line between idiocy and genius is a really fine one, and sometimes the dumb stuff I do…actually happens to work. I tried a million and one things — some more stupid than others — when I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to write about myself for my college personal statements, and here are the four that actually inspired me.

I. Shuffle things around.

The fastest way to understand who I am as a person is probably through my Spotify account. Every song that I’ve saved has some personal connection to me — whether it’s relatable lyrics or a key signature that takes me back to a good time. Sometimes I’ll like something and not immediately know why, only to listen to the song again a few years later and be able to pinpoint it perfectly. In a way, my taste in music tells me things about myself that I might not even consciously know.

What I'd like to think I look like when I'm listening to music. (huffingtonpost.com)

What I’d like to think I look like when I’m listening to music. (huffingtonpost.com)

Yeah — high school me didn’t know to think that hard about my taste in music. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and if Panic! at the Disco was going to help me write my personal statement, then so be it.

I took the top 5 most played songs in my iTunes library and looked up their lyrics on Genius. I read through the annotations for my favorite lyrics — it was even better when the original songwriters would comment, because then I could see just exactly when and why they wrote the song.

And sometimes these annotations and mini-stories spoke to me. It was bizarre; a lyric about heartbreak will remind me of that one time I forgot my music in the middle of a recital. A pre-chorus about chasing your dreams will take me back to a conversation I had with my parents about their expectations of me. Both integral moments that shaped my personality, but not moments I was able to think of off the top of my head.

One of my successful personal statements did end up being about the time I screwed up at recital, and I wouldn’t have gotten that one without a little help from OneRepublic. So, who knows? Music might just be enough to jog your memory to bring up the bits and pieces you may have missed.

II. Play yourself.

I hate icebreakers as much as the next person. I’ve had ample experience being both the subject of icebreakers and the person actually asking the awkward questions, so I definitely and thoroughly appreciate why people don’t like them.

But I also don’t like writer’s block. And if I had to pick the lesser of two evils, I’d pick icebreakers over writer’s block any day.

You saw this coming: another thing that helped inspire me was to play icebreakers with myself.

Unfortunately, thinking of an interesting fact about myself never gets any easier. (huffingtonpost.com)

Unfortunately, thinking of an interesting fact about myself never gets any easier. (brianandfeliciawhite.com)

If I had to play two truths and a lie, what would my two truths be? Why would I pick those two specific truths? What would the lie be? Why would I pick that lie — and why would I expect people to think that the lie was a truth?

Play would you rather; what are the reasons behind your decisions? Most of mine were a little arbitrary, but once in a while I’d come across something substantial.

For instance, I’d rather be the only dumb person in a world of intelligent people rather than the only genius in a world of dumb people. I picked that because in the second case, being the only smart person means that there’s nobody else you can share ideas with, nobody else that can help you improve. And I really don’t like the idea of that. At least, if you’re the only dumb person, you’ll have something to learn from everyone.

From this, I learned that as a person, I crave improvement and constant change. I don’t want to stagnate.

Granted — most of my life decisions seem arbitrary to me, but I found that there was method behind the madness if I was willing to look closely enough. My love for change would become a supplement that I was ultimately pretty happy with; who knows what you might uncover if you ask the right questions?

III. Buzzfeed

Okay, this one sounds like cheating, and I wouldn’t call you wrong if you said it was. I wasn’t actually trying to think of personal statement topics when I was taking personality quizzes.

But I procrastinated while writing my stuff — a lot. And hey, if you do anything long enough, something good might come out of it, right?

Two of my favorite things in this picture: Internet and cats. (twodifferentgirls.com)

Two of my favorite things in this picture: Internet and cats. (twodifferentgirls.com)

They’re especially helpful for that infamous question that asks you to describe yourself in three words (“lighthearted,” “expressive,” and “focused” — like a pencil apparently, thanks Buzzfeed). The words might not always be accurate (I am anything but focused), but it’s enough of a random word generator that you could pick and choose the ones that you think are most you.

Inspiration comes from the weirdest places at the oddest times. Maybe the fact that your hybrid Hogwarts house is “Gryffinclaw” might help you answer a supplement about your personality — I got a lot of mileage out of that one — so a little procrastination once in a while might not be such a bad thing after all.

IV. Phone a friend (or family member)

…but don’t just phone them. Ask them to do a very specific favor for you.

Another one of my Hail Marys when I was really stuck in a rut was asking my friends to talk about me as if they were introducing me to one of their friends that I didn’t already know. It’s really weird seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes, because more often than not, they notice things about you that you don’t always catch on to.

Although I'd caution against doing this with moms; mine was brutally honest with me. (huffingtonpost.com)

Although I’d caution against doing this with moms; mine was brutally honest with me. (huffingtonpost.com)

For instance, I had no idea that I was “snarky” or “witty” until some people actually described me that way. I still don’t think I am, but apparently there is something in my personality that made these people think so. I was also surprised by the amount of people who thought I was “goofy” — up until a certain point I had thought that I was pretty normal on the outside, but now I know I’m definitely not. And both of those are traits that can be spun positively into any personal statement.

Another thing that could be brought to light (especially if you ask family members) are experiences that you might have missed when you were brainstorming by yourself. My grandma, for example, brought up a time when I had memorized the names of vitamins that were in vegetables because I wanted to know all the “superpowers” that each vegetable would give me after I ate it. She had said that was when she thought I’d grow up to be a scientist just like her because of how curious I was as a child.

To high school me, who had been aiming to be an English major, this seemed like I had undergone a total 180 in academic interest. So I further expanded upon this dissonance, and eventually morphed it into my Common App personal statement: a story about how I became the humanities black sheep in a STEM family.


In conclusion?

Inspiration is fickle. Don’t force it out of yourself — sometimes the most unlikely sources can be the most inspiring. Who knows? Maybe your favorite way to procrastinate can actually tell you something surprisingly poignant about who you are.

Jeanette Si

Jeanette is part of the class of 2018 at Cornell University, double majoring in Information Science and China Studies. She hails from a public high school in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and enjoys geocaching, skiing, and gaming in her spare time. Admissions season has given her humility, resilience, and the ability to answer ten different prompts with one personal statement.