Adaptability is an old friend of mine
This is my common app essay for the fall 2022 freshman year. I know its early, but I'm an international and likely won't have time to write long essays during my senior year. Also I'm somewhat unfamiliar with writing essays in general since its not something taught here in depth so I'm open to super-critical feedback and maybe even a complete restructuring. 641 words as of now:
I nervously glanced at the clock. Three more hours. Looking back at the geometry problem I was trying to solve, the peculiar collection of harmonic bundles looked utterly confuddling. I had an arsenal of theorems and lemmas, ready to fire them away in a flashy proof, and yet nothing seemed forthcoming. In my mind, the erudite phrases of my math teacher rang out. Though he was rather infamous for waxing philosophically, they seemed of some value now:
"The key is to keep adapting. Fixating on a particular approach too early in the game can be disastrous."
Adaptability is an old friend of mine. When I was a kid I found SnapCircuits fascinating. How each component adapted in tandem to yield a satisfying result, and different arrangements produced different surprises. Moving to India from the windy winters of Chicago halfway through middle school was never something I considered easy, but I adapted, and made the most of it. I learnt to play Cricket, met new friends, and acquired that distinctive drawl when speaking English.
"However, adaptability is always complemented by persistence. Spending too little time on an approach to the problem risks giving up the right idea too quickly."
When I entered highschool I never stopped adapting. I dove headfirst into the same race as millions of other Indian students. Preparing for the dreaded undergraduate entrance exams was my first exposure to the world of competitive problem solving. The goal was to solve the most questions in the shortest time possible, the whys and hows were left to rout. Quite the rebel, I often spent entire days on a single intriguing problem, refusing to rest until a satisfying conclusion was reached.
"It is important to conjecture creatively and look for clues in the constraints given in the problem."
In my case, the constraints were the problem, but I always tried to transcend those constraints. Organising a Science Fair in my school, staying afloat during a global pandemic, or helping out when my family faced unemployment, these challenges were just different problems that required creativity to overcome. It was the journey that I relished; the initial tedium of arranging facts, the addictive intellectual stimulation of figuring out a way to proceed, the anti-climatic dejection of failing at first, and the slow unravelling of the solution climaxing in the sheer, undiluted mirth of unearthing the final result.
"Try to test for smaller cases, and reinstate the problem in different ways"
As I grew, I developed my own way of idle mathematical internalization, which involved spending more time exploring other interests. I undertook an internship for an enterprise providing living services to the aged relatives of Indian expatriates, and even volunteered for a rural development initiative. In a quaint village far out of the city, we helped resolve local issues involving sanitation, waste management, and sustainability. Fascinatingly, I found that I was able to employ the same tools I had picked up in my mathematical venturings to devise solutions for problems in finance and business operations, to efficient waste disposal, and even SnapCircuit design. I surmised that most global issues can be rephrased in terms of simple mathematical problems.
"Know your technique. There is no substitute for constant practice."
Whether it was adapting to a new country or persevering through competitive exams, my experiences in the last few years have allowed me to understand my goals better. Mathematics provides me with the noble pursuit of seeing the world through the lens of mathematical understanding, and using intuition and rigour to unravel the solutions to mankind's problems. I was snapped back once again to reality, to the puzzling geometric conundrum I was stuck on. Armed with a renewed sense of purpose and perspective, the question now seemed inanely trivial. I picked up my pen, scratched out the solution and moved forth. One down, twenty-nine to go.