A Personal Statement: Military, Culture, and Geology


This is the fifth edition of Indonesia Mengglobal Essay Clinic, our effort to provide tangible help for Indonesian applicants to US colleges. This essay clinic is not meant to showcase ‘the perfect essay’, but by analyzing other people’s essays (what works, what does not work, what’s good, what’s bad), we hope you can learn how to write an effective application essay and how to continuously improve your own essay. We also accept essay submissions. Click here to learn how to participate.

Note on the Essay

This essay was submitted to Indonesia Mengglobal through this form, by Rio Rinaldi. This essay is part of an application to a scholarship provider called the Korean Ancestry Grant, which focuses on  mainly Koreans, but provides 20 – 30% of its scholarship to other Asian students. His application is due in mid-February.


The Essay

 Prompt:  “A well written statement in support of the applicant’s application.”

Growing up with a mixture of the Western and Eastern way of living made my childhood an interesting adventure. I was born in Indonesia and moved to Australia when I could barely speak because my dad got a scholarship to study for his postgraduate degree in Melbourne University. I lived in Australia until I was 10 years old, then I spent most of my teenage years in Indonesia. This collision of thoughts has made my life challenging at many times, having fights with family and friends because of different perspectives. However, this paradigm has also enriched my life in many ways, and has also allowed me to achieve great things. An achievement I will never forget is having the dream to pursue the best education in an English-speaking country. It was a long journey to find the right countries and colleges that were within my family’s financial status, but on that November night I knew my dad struggled hard to come with the right choice and right opportunity that would fit my dreams perfectly.

My biggest leap of faith was deciding to study in America, in a desert setting with no family to rely on within a 3000-mile radius. This is an attempt I will never regret, for it has shaped my thoughts to become an independent and responsible person. Moreover, it has opened many opportunities that would have been unavailable to me if I stayed in the warm comfort of home.

Through this adventure I have learnt the rigorous life of the military and the daily challenges it brings. My initial motivation to attend this military school was to learn discipline and survive in the stressful and harsh environment of the military life. I was also very interested to obtain leadership positions after I got an early promotion to the rank of Private because of my good deportment and grades. The extreme discipline kept during formations and the continuous physical training was a big challenge for me to overcome. Through personal motivation, I managed to gather enough courage to stay and swallow the searing pain from physical and mental games.

In this college I have learnt the true meaning of distance, friends, and my own capabilities. The limited mind I once possessed is now gone, and the liberal life I now lead in America has given me the grit to aim for dreams that were once far beyond my reaches. I set a bar to obtain a 3.5 GPA and contributed every single action so that I could get accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

With these dreams in my head I put my work into full throttle. I managed my time very well, balancing my activities for studying, working out, and work study. During the first few weeks it was common that I would feel frustrated and productivity came to a standstill. However, my desktop screen collage that displayed my faraway friends and dear family would not let me take a break. Through this period of pushing myself beyond my limits, I discovered efficient ways of learning, organizing, and managing time.

Finally, as the final grades came and transcripts were distributed to families did I receive the news that still makes me smile every time I take a glimpse. I got a 4.0 GPA, I was accepted into the National Honor’s Society, placed on the President’s list, and was invited to an Academic Excellence Awards Dinner. Every time I look at these achievements I am still astonished. I made my enthusiastic dreams come true, part of it at the very least.

Through my life in a military school I successfully finalized my life’s aspiration, geology. My content at seeing large volumes of protruding rocks in national parks and the interesting processes chemistry offers to extract minerals from rocks has fulfilled my once troubling question. The idea of travelling around the world and being fascinated by colorful rocks and minerals are interesting activities I would like to do in my life. In an attempt to reach this dream, I currently take all science classes that are prerequisites to geology major, which are chemistry, math, physics, and geology itself.

However, to uncover my main reason for studying geology, it is essential to see the numbers exhibited in my homeland, Indonesia. Although Indonesia is very rich in resources, the vast majority (about 80%) of the mining sector is owned by foreign investors and this industry only contributes to 10% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. To make a life-changing decision for myself at this early stage of my life is futile, as many obstacles and other interests will certainly come. Nonetheless, I would like to use this precious experience to study in America for my own benefit and for the environment. My greatest interest is to work in a large multinational company where I can play a role in exploiting resources as well as helping countries manage their resources more efficiently and save their environment at the same time.

Being a geologist will truly allow me to achieve many things I want in life. I will be able to fulfill my aspiration to travel around the world and also visit remote places and understand other cultures. I will join Geoscientists Without Borders and help with projects all across the world and expand my network with other geologists as I continuously learn new knowledge.

In my spare time, I love to take full advantage of my large mirror and dance to choreography made by famous dancers. I also enjoy videography where I was once responsible for filming a school drama and also an exclusive video of a troop’s 1st Sergeant. Another activity I like to do is visit museums that have an extensive range of natural science exhibitions.

With these ambitions and countless possibilities, I will continuously work hard to maintain my good GPA and immerse myself with many more activities, while hoping that my dream school, MIT, will always remain an option.


Feedback from Noor Titan Hartono


  1. You have a unique background: growing up in two different cultures, and attending a military school –not everyone has that. In addition, the combination of your passion in geology, and your unique background, makes you stand out more than the other applicants. You need to show all personal qualities you possess on your essay in a smart way, so that the readers will be impressed and believe that they need to admit you.


  1. I believe you have a separate section in your application to explain your achievements and awards. GPA is an important thing, but you don’t need to show it on your essay; your transcript can speak by itself.
  1. The chronological order might be good for your readers to follow through your essay. However, you need a ‘hook’ in the introduction, so that your readers want to keep reading your essay (especially considering that you have 1,000 word limit). Your ‘hook’ can be a milestone in your journey as a person. I see that your experience in military academy (challenging daily life?) can be a potential intro. In addition, a description (without making it too descriptive) of a specific event will enhance your essay, because your readers can imagine how this experience affects you and if your way of resolving this problem shows the readers who you are.*Example: a short essay that I wrote for MIT application, about my high school experience. I woke up at 4:30 AM every morning to catch the 5:30 AM bus. Prompt: Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

The rooster crowed, without accompanied by the sunrise. In my garden, although the chill rainy season had come, the banana had just ripened, and the dew fell from it. My scratched watch told me that it was already 5:30 am, but the bus that would bring me to the school had not come yet. While I was waiting, I saw some farmers just started plowing their paddy field. A quick wave of my hand was replied by their big smiles. Airy, tranquil feeling filled my heart, although sometimes I thought, “Why do people need to work so hard to get only a spoonful of rice for a meal, a piece of clothing that keeps them warm during rainy season, and a layer of plywood that protects them from the weather?”

  1. Stop explaining, and show what you have done/ been doing. Your explanation of how you are passionate in geology does not mean anything to your readers unless you show the evidence. You have tried to approach it by writing, “The idea of travelling around the world and being fascinated by colorful rocks and minerals are interesting activities I would like to do in my life.” What is so fascinating about colorful rocks and minerals? Why do you want to travel around the world so badly? Saying, “…visit remote places and understand other cultures…” is not enough. Another thing: the paragraph about Indonesia is too long and unnecessary. Your statement, “To make a life-changing decision for myself at this early stage of my life is futile, as many obstacles and other interests will certainly come…” might hurt your chance. The readers can interpret it as something negative (you aren’t prepared to make a decision in your life).Your background: tell the readers something witty about the clash of Western and Eastern culture that you’ve experienced. Remember: describing a specific event is the key.
  1. The proportion on your essay needs to be improved; you need to balance your military academy experience, passion in geology, love in dancing, and background. Your love in dancing, for instance, only gets one paragraph on your essay, which does not reflect your actual love for it.

Feedback from Kevin Soedyatmiko

I prefer to put content on geology at the beginning of essay. Create a story around it. Put your background story somewhere in the story. I think it will be better than a time-based historical story. When you tell your background, try to relate it with why you choose geology.

Elaborate a bit more why geology? Talking about Indonesia is nice, but you should add more about the subject itself. For example, (if I were you I will write) I choose finance because finance is a world that is built based on creativity. I love the derivative products, etc, etc.

MIT doesn’t have a department in Geology. We have EAPS (Earth Atmospheric Planetary Science) department. I think you can write more about things you aim or like in MIT, maybe a research group. In addition, from my experience working in MIT’s EAPS department (my research group maps the surface of Titan), University of Arizona has a better EAPS department and has much better resources than MIT – so why do you choose MIT? Be clearer and more specific about what you would want to achieve and earn at MIT.


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