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This is another in a series of posts about some memorable applicants, their essays, and how we found them together.

Mariana cold-called me late one night, a hint of desperation in her voice. She had tried for months to write her personal statement. Draft after draft, she felt she was just spinning her wheels with her story. I asked her to send her essay, and she shared it with me, along with her resume.

The following day after reading her essay I gave her news she didn’t want to hear: That her personal statement was one I had seen many times before. The story she told was about how she used to be shy, unable to speak up in class or in her extra curriculars. One day, on a whim, she signed up for speech & debate. Over the course of a few months, her confidence grew and she got more comfortable standing behind a podium and speaking to a large group of people. I just couldn’t let her submit that essay, as I knew admissions officers had seen it often. But something on her resume jumped out at me. Buried at the bottom of her resume was, “family interpreter.” I asked what that meant and she told me that she was the only member of her family who spoke English, and that from a very young age she had to interpret for her family members. When her uncle had to go to the Social Security Administration, Marian accompanied him. If there was an issue with her mom’s landlord, Marianne had to take care of it. As the only Spanish speaking kid in her school, Mariana was tasked with giving the custodian his cleaning instructions. Some of her anecdotes were sweet and funny,. then they turned more serious. As she grew older, when studying at night she would often have to translate phone calls from her family back home. This took time away from studying. Suddenly, being the family translator wasn’t all fun and games. I asked her what was the hardest thing she ever had to translate. When she was 12, she accompanied her great uncle to the doctor and had to translate that he had a serious heart issue. That’s a lot to ask of a 12 year old.

Suddenly, I “saw” the essay. It would be about these experiences and how they impacted her, make her stronger, more mature. I helped her structure the essay in such a way that it read like a wonderful narrative. Her drafts got better and better and what was produced was a personal statement that I knew admissions officers would flip for, and they did!

Mariana, Brown University, Class of 2025!