“Birthing a Business” by Jason Y. S hah - Leadership

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays - Tanabe Gen, Tanabe Kelly 2009

“Birthing a Business” by Jason Y. S hah

Harvard University

At my age, few people can genuinely claim that they have had a life-changing experience. After attending Leadership in the Business World (LBW) at the Wharton School last summer, I became one of those fortunate people to have experienced a life-changing academic program. Four weeks of meeting business executives, working with teammates through the night perfecting our professional business plan, experiencing the independence and responsibility that will come with college . . . none of this was advertised in the brochure for LBW, but all of this is what made it uniquely meaningful to me.

The business leadership program centered on one culminating activity: the prestigious LBW Business Plan Competition. As we prepared for this, we heard from Wharton faculty members and many corporate heavyweights including Brian roberts, CEO of Comcast Corporation.

Meeting educators, executives and entrepreneurs broadened my knowledge of business, created a strategic network of connections and proved profoundly inspiring; nothing motivates me more than seeing hard work and sharp thinking reach fruition. I vividly remember when a managing director of a venture capital firm singled me out for a networking demonstration. Expecting me merely to pretend to hand him a fake business card, he was dumbfounded by impressed when he glanced back as he accepted an actual business card from my tutoring business. As my business card now rested in Mr. Kimmel’s rolodex next to elegant cards from established businesspeople, a lesson was ingrained in my mind about acting uniquely in order to distinguish myself in a field of equally qualified and eager peers.

Despite the inherently competitive nature of LBW, I established enduring friendships with students from far-reaching places, such as Shanghai and Accra. We shared stories over meals in Houston Hall about life at home and engaged in heated discussions about business ethics. regardless of the origin of our passports, we became a family while learning about each other’s cultures and future business aspirations. The lessons of compassion and hard work from the business plan competition also heightened my experience. Once when a fellow marketing officer was struggling with determining channels of distribution for our product, I disregarded trying to seem individually superior, and we cooperatively tackled the problem. Putting the team before the individual was a concept that materialized itself during my experience.

The bonds between all of the students and advisors spurred my entrepreneurial spirit as I experienced how friendship supports business.

I knew this experience had changed me forever when I triumphant-ly concluded our team’s business presentation, confidently promoting our product and connecting with a crowd of peers and venture capital-ists. During the evening following the presentations, my fellow teammates and I beamed with boundless relief and pride when the vCs announced our team, EnTECH LLC, as the first place winners of the competition. Exploring and honing my business and entrepreneurial skills was intimidating initially, yet with creativity, hard work and an unparalleled group dynamic of cooperation, this experience cemented my passion for business and opened grand doors of opportunity.


This essay of Jason’s helps us appreciate the “entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors” that Jason refers to at the end of his Common Application personal essay “Hurricane Transformations,” (Chapter 15). This type of cross-referencing or linking can be an excellent strategy for presenting yourself as well rounded without trying to cram too much information into a single essay. After reading “Hurricane Transformations,” college admissions officers are likely to be curious about what Jason’s projects as a community leader are; and this essay is the perfect answer to that question.

While the first sentence of this essay, “At my age, few people can genuinely claim that they have had a life-changing experience” may sound slightly patronizing and condescending, it does succeed in piquing our curiosity as readers and hints at Jason’s maturity and confidence. It is important to think about the tone that the overall essay communicates. Jason conveys a confident tone in his writing by telling us about the “uniquely meaningful” experience he had through the LBW program, one he clearly fashioned for himself. This contrasts to the more contemplative tone in “Hurricane Transformations.” Varying the tone between essays is a method to show different sides of your personality.

Jason gave a brief description of the highlights of LBW’s event-packed four weeks (“meeting business executives, working with teammates through the night perfecting our professional business plan, experiencing the independence and responsibility that will come with college”) without reading like a brochure. Then he wisely chose to focus on the culminating activity. Indeed, Jason shares how he learned the lesson to act “uniquely in order to distinguish [him]self in a field of equally qualified and eager peers.” This sentence shows us that Jason is willing to go above and beyond what is expected and to leave his comfort zone in the process, yet also demonstrates consideration and respect for his peers. The anecdote about meeting Mr. Kimmel is also an artful way to let us know that Jason has started a tutoring business for which he even has a business card, a testament to his thoughtful-ness and professionalism.

This mix of pride and humility is particularly fitting in the team-work that Jason describes: “we became a family,” “we cooperatively tackled the problem.” Jason is probably interested in studying business and entrepreneurship in college, and the story of EnTECH LLC’s creation through dedicated hard work demonstrates his ability to be both a leader and a team member, highly valued traits when working on a business team. What is striking about Jason’s essay is that it lets us in on the journey that created EnTECH; indeed, even if his team hadn’t won first place in the competition, we would still be impressed.

Jason’s story could have looked like “1st place in LBW business competition” and “works well on a team” in a resume; but the tone of the essay helped the award/trait come alive and stick vividly in the reader’s mind.

Jason Y. Shah is the founder of INeedAPencil.com, a free online SAT preparation program. The site has 60 lessons and two free practice tests.