The Power of Synthesis
By Ashika Srivastava
This piece is my Common App personal statement that I submitted as part of my college applications. It shows colleges more about my ability to synthesize and share information effectively.
“Three hours on the clock… and go!”
The Climate Science Olympiad moderator starts the timer. Scrolling through the topics, I think of my ten-page AP Biology notes on ecology and choose seagrass destruction.
Then I take a deep breath, take a swig of orange juice, and begin.
I scour the internet for information on the benefits of restoring seagrasses and how protecting them could impact Indonesia’s ecosystem. Carefully checking the credibility of each source (no direct Wikipedia citations allowed!), I color-code and organize information with sources under question one a deep shade of blue and quick statistics boasting a beautiful pink. Next, I select the meatiest quotations from a variety of sources and arrange them in bulleted lists under their originating sources. With my evidence prepared, I breathe a sigh of relief.
Only an hour and a half remaining, I quickly weave quotations together with clauses, punctuation, and in-text citations to craft beautiful sentences and gorgeous paragraphs. Soon I will have created a three-step plan to restore seagrasses in Indonesia, addressed its advantages and limitations, and determined any societal impacts that would result from the plan’s implementation. And I’ve finished with about ten minutes to spare!
Contemplating another glass of orange juice, I rise from my desk for a much-needed break when I freeze. I had missed the 500-word summary question at the very top of the page.
Not one to leave a task unfinished, I set to work taking the most important parts of my finished responses and connecting them smoothly. Then, I sprinkle my own reflections with carefully selected transition words. Now I was finished.
During this competition I signed up for on a whim, I learned a lot more about seagrasses than I anticipated there was to know. More importantly, I had found a hidden superpower—my ability to clearly and efficiently synthesize information.
Being an unnaturally curious kid, there are never enough sources on the works cited page of my life. I spend hours browsing dozens of websites for school projects, presentations, or personal interest. I enjoy discovering different viewpoints and how they can be put into conversation with each other. After all, the more information I have at my disposal, the more ways I can use it.
However, I eventually found that just absorbing information was the least I could do. I needed to present it in a way for others to easily access.
So I engage in research, tunneling through hundreds of websites and academic journals, picking the cream of the crop to support my findings. Several months go into planning and executing my research projects, yet my heart flutters with excitement as I look down at the twenty-page paper I’ve created through the power of synthesis.
As a journalist, I spend late nights combing through interview transcripts looking for that witty one-liner to round out a COVID commentary or emotional note to deepen my feature piece on the Black Lives Matter movement. My stories provide my readers with just enough nitty-gritty details to grasp local and national matters. Now as an editor, I train my writers to do the same.
When my hands cramp up after hours of typing, I put them to rest as I tune in to my next national council meeting to discuss mental health curriculum ideas with Work2BeWell or impromptu gathering with VOX ATL to plan our next talk show segment. Whether it’s advising teenagers on coping with anxiety during the pandemic with Instagram graphics or compiling a list of fun stress-relieving activities through public presentations, I synthesize important information to encourage and inspire others around me.
And in the process, I’ve become more observant, informed, and understanding. I no longer ponder the little things, but instead, I enjoy life’s great summary while engaging and educating as many people as I can.
And it turns out to be the greatest superpower of them all.
This was a very reflective piece for me as it was meant to tell the colleges I was applying to a little more about my personality. Therefore, the topic came to me after a couple months of self-reflection. I would brainstorm all the different characteristics that I would want colleges to know about me along with personal anecdotes to enhance each characteristic and really a tell a story. I finally decided on a topic after consulting with my mentors and peers. The process taught me so much more about myself and how much I had grown over my high school years.
Ashika Srivastava is a high school senior from Atlanta, Georgia with interests in psychology, life sciences, creative writing and journalism. She enjoys writing mostly fiction pieces like short stories, screenplays and poetry. In the future, she hopes to work in the biopsychology field and pursue a career as a young adult author. In her free time, she likes to spend time with family, read romance novels and try new desserts.