Computer science degree personal statement example (1z) with philosophy, Oxford offer, international applicant

This is a real personal statement written by a student for their university application. It might help you decide what to include in your own. There are lots more examples in our collection of sample personal statements. 


I am fascinated by the efficiency and power of computers: we route ourselves through traffic using mapping programs in our pockets; postal offices route mail via handwriting recognition programs in their mainframes. I am, however, also intrigued by the underlying theory: computing shortest paths given graphs, and recognizing handwritten digits given examples. My desire to build tools capable of efficiently helping others, and my curiosity and aptitude for technical details draw me to study computer science.

Because computer science classes are lacking at my high school, I am taking university classes online via Coursera and physically at Stanford. Far from sating my desire for more knowledge, these classes have instead piqued my curiosity further. While taking *Machine Learning*, a high-level, practical, course, I implemented a neural network which recognized handwritten digits; it has since achieved an accuracy of 97.49 on the MNIST testset.

This success motivated me to take *Neural Networks*, where I am using mathematics to study neural networks: I recently used calculus to derive the backpropagation learning algorithm, as well as explored how, because single-layered perceptrons have linear decision boundaries, they are unable to model the XOR function.

Similarly, in *Algorithms*, I used mathematics to prove upper bounds for hash table operations and to study the probability of false-positives in Bloom filters. In a test question, I also reasoned why Dijkstra's is inapplicable to graphs with negative edge weights (even after adding a positive constant). *Compilers* is also very interesting: I am building a compiler for the COOL language, and have recently completed the parser with Flex; while doing so, I learned how to convert between regular expressions, NFAs, and DFAs.

Being an imperative programmer, *Functional Programming* via Scala and SICP has been a mind-boggling experience thus far: I recently played around with implementing integer sets as functions (Int to Boolean), instead of as data structures. These classes have shown me both the fun and rigor in real university-level computer science, and have firmly verified my decision to study it.

Much of my time has also been spent on pondering philosophical questions. While unable to fall asleep, I independently 'discovered' P(universe supports life | we're alive) = 1; only years later did I stumble across an article about the anthropic principle in "Harpers". While reading "Godel, Escher, Bach", I was excited by the Hofstadter's theories on the location of meaning in formal systems, as well as how humans, seemingly creative beings, are built atop of neurons which operate according to a rigid set of rules, rather reminiscent of a computer.

This line between humans and computers was further blurred in Turing's "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", which I found captivating. Lately, I have been troubled by Searle's Chinese Room argument, and have therefore been discussing the problem with undergraduates in Stanford's Symbolic Systems program, whose forums I regularly attend.

Everything above has been acquired via self-tuition; I believe this demonstrates genuine passion and curiosity in the material. This is further evinced in my self-study of AP Calculus BC, AP English Composition two years early, and AP Chinese four years early, all three of which I scored the maximum on.

Interest also prompted me to play the cello and piano, both of which I have completed the highest (10) Certificate of Merit levels for. I have also won first in a scholastic math competition, second in a county one, been accepted to Y Combinator's Startup School, and been invited to the Leadership Forum on National Security.

Computer science has great potential for the future, and I hope to combine my curiosity, and verve with a university education to advance both.

Universities Applied to:

  • University of Oxford (Computer Science and Philosophy) - Unconditional Offer, Firmed
  • University College London (Computer Science) - Unconditional Offer
  • King's College London (Computer Science with Intelligent Systems) - Unconditional Offer
  • Imperial College London (Computing, Artificial Intelligence) - Conditional Offer: Merit in AEA Mathematics or Grade 2 in Mathematics STEP Paper 1

Grades Achieved:

  • AP Calculus BC: 5
  • AP Chinese: 5
  • AP Computer Science: 5
  • AP English Language and Composition: 5
  • AP Physics B: 5
  • AP US History: 5
  • AP Statistics: Pending (I ended up canceling this exam, since Oxford didn't require it after the unconditional offer).
  • SAT II Mathematics: 800
  • SAT II Physics: 800
  • Average MAT score: ~80.

Reviewer comment:

  • Second paragraph is excellent with impactful sentences to indicate the dedication and explain why the candidate is interested in different areas of computer science. Many examples of outside learning are mentioned and this really strengthens this section.
  • Next paragraph is also great with links to multiple different resources and also shows and explains the interest of the applicant in the subject through these.
  • Tone of statement is spot on
  • Extra-curricular section is quite academic, could include more other more personal activities since these would be covered in the school’s reference.
  • First paragraph is a bit cliched