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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
What are colleges looking for in your application essay?
Colleges look for three things in your admission essay: a unique perspective, strong writing, and an authentic voice. People in admissions often say that a great essay is one where it feels like the student is right there in the room, talking authentically to the admissions committee!
Admission essays are very different from the 5-paragraph essays you write in English or history class! Great essays are built around stories, not arguments. They reveal your character, not rehash your achievements . The best essays focus on moments when you changed, learned, or grew as a person.
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How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples
The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.
A standout essay has a few key ingredients:
- A unique, personal topic
- A compelling, well-structured narrative
- A clear, creative writing style
- Evidence of self-reflection and insight
To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.
Table of contents
Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.
While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.
Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
What do colleges look for in an essay?
Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :
- Demonstrated values and qualities
- Vulnerability and authenticity
- Self-reflection and insight
- Creative, clear, and concise writing skills
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It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.
Create an essay tracker sheet
If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:
- Deadlines and number of essays needed
- Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts
You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.
College essay tracker template
Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.
If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.
What makes a good topic?
- Meaningful and personal to you
- Uncommon or has an unusual angle
- Reveals something different from the rest of your application
You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:
- What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
- What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
- What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
- What makes you different from your classmates?
- What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
- Whom do you admire most? Why?
- What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?
How to identify your topic
Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:
- Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
- Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.
After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.
Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.
The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.
This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.
Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences
- Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
- Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
- Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
- Story: Broadway musical interests
- Lesson: Finding my voice
- Story: Smells from family dinner table
- Lesson: Appreciating home and family
- Story: Washing dishes
- Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
- Story: Biking with Ava
- Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
- Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.
Single story structure
The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.
Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.
Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person
- Situation: Football injury
- Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
- Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
- My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
- Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game
Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs
Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.
Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..
Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).
While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.
Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.
Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook
Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.
Option 2: Start with vivid imagery
Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.
A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .
Show, don’t tell
“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”
First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.
- What are the most prominent images?
- Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
- What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?
Be vulnerable to create an emotional response
You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.
Use appropriate style and tone
Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:
- Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
- Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
- Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
- Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
- Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).
You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:
- Summarizing what you already wrote
- Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
- Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”
Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.
Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure
The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.
In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.
Option 2: Revealing your insight
You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.
Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.
It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.
Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.
Respect the word count
Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.
Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.
Check your content, style, and grammar
- First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
- Then, check for style and tone issues.
- Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.
Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.
- Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
- Friends and family can check for authenticity.
- An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.
The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.
College admissions essay checklist
I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.
I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.
I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.
I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.
I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.
I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.
I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.
I’ve used appropriate style and tone .
I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.
I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.
I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.
It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.
Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.
Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.
A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
- A unique, personally meaningful topic
- A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
- Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
- Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
- Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
- A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending
While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.
You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.
Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.
You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.
If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.
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College Essays That Worked: See Examples
Experts say a good college essay features a student's voice and personality.
Students should know themselves and write authoritatively so they can share a sense of their lives with admissions officers. (Getty Images)
Many college applications require a personal essay, which can be daunting for students to write.
But a few simple tips, some introspection and insight into what admissions officers are looking for can help ease the pressure. U.S. News has compiled several college essay examples that helped students get into school. Shared by admissions staff or referenced from admissions websites, these essays stand out, they say, because the student voices shine, helping the school get to know the applicants.
"Students can get caught in the trap of overthinking it and write the essay that's going to impress the admissions committee," says Andrew Strickler, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College . "The best essays, the ones that really pop, are the ones that come across as authentic and you really hear the student's voice."
The essay gives schools a feel for how a student writes, but it's the content of the essay that matters most, admissions professionals say. In other words, while it's important to showcase sound grammar and writing, it's even more important to showcase your character and personality.
"I care more about their stories than if it is a perfect five paragraph essay," David Graves, interim director of admissions at the University of Georgia , wrote in an email.
Many schools give students a wide range of topics to choose from, which experts say can be beneficial in helping students find their voice.
While you want your voice to be apparent, it's wise to be aware of your tone, says Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an admissions consulting company that works with students to craft and revise their college essays. The goal of the essay is to make a strong case for why you’re different from all the other applicants, not necessarily why you’re better, he adds.
"You have to pass the genuine likability test. Sometimes kids are so busy trying to brag or tell their story that they’re forgetting they have to sound like a likable person. That’s a very simple test, but it’s really important."
Good essays tend to be "positively emotional," he says. It's best to avoid using sarcasm because it tends to fail on college essays.
Any humor used "really has to be a very positive, witty humor, not sarcastic," which he says can be hard to pick up on in an essay.
The Perils of Using AI for Essays
Choosing the right tone can be a challenge for many students, but admissions pros encourage them not to take shortcuts to completing their essay.
Though some college professors have embraced artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT in their classrooms, Strickler says he's begun to stress in recent talks with high school audiences the importance of original work and avoiding the use of AI tools like ChatGPT to craft college essays. While it might produce a technically well-written essay and save time, your unique voice will be stripped away, and it may leave a bad impression on admissions offices as well as prevent them from truly getting to know you, he says.
Instead, Graves says, start early and take time to write it yourself, then "actually read it out loud to someone ... to listen to the rhythm and words as they are 'read.'"
Each spring on his admissions blog , Graves shares an enrolling student's essay and why it was strong. The essay excerpted below, shared with the permission of the University of Georgia, uses descriptive word choice and gives the admissions office deep insight into the student's life, their love for writing and their connection to their family, Graves says.
It was chosen as an example "to show our applicant pool how to express themselves through similes, sensory language (words that capture the senses of the reader), and emotion," Graves wrote on the blog.
Here's how the essay opened:
If you asked me what object I’d save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook. My notebook isn’t just any notebook, it’s bubble gum pink with purple tie dye swirls, and has gold coil binding it together. But more importantly, it’s the key that unlocked my superpower, sending me soaring into the sky, flying high above any problems that could ever catch me. However, my notebook is simply the key. My real power rests in the depths of my mind, in my passion for writing. But to know how my powers came to be (not from a spider or a special rock), I must travel back to the first spark.
Four years ago, I wrote my first 6-word memoir in my eighth-grade rhetoric class. Inspired by my father’s recently diagnosed terminal illness, I wrote “Take his words, don’t take him”. It was as if all the energy of my powers surged into six meaningful words meant to honor the man that I would soon lose to a villain known as ALS. This was the first time I felt my writing. Three years ago, my dad’s disease severely progressed. The ALS seized his ability to speak and locked it in a tower with no key. The only way we could communicate was with an old spiral notebook. ...
The essay counted down each year ("three years ago," "two years ago," etc.) and concluded with this paragraph:
One month ago, I needed my powers more than ever before. I needed them to convey who I truly am for the chance at the future of my dreams as a writer. Except this time, I didn’t need the key because my powers grew into fruition. Instead, I opened my laptop only to type out one sentence… “If you asked me what object to save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook.”
This style of storytelling, which shows not just the triumph at the end but also the conflict, struggle and evolution in between, makes for great essays, Koh says.
"The student also used an intriguing timeline (counting down years and month) to tell their story, and showed how she had grown," Graves says.
This next essay, by an anonymous writer and shared on Connecticut College 's admissions page , "manages to capture multiple aspects of the writer's personality, while not becoming overly cluttered or confusing," writes Susanna Matthews, associate director of admission at the school.
Every person who truly knows me believes that I was born in the wrong century. They call me "an old soul" because I'm a collector, attracted to books, antiques, vinyl records and anything from the 80's. But they also think I am unique in other ways. I believe it is because of the meaningful connections to my two languages and two cultures.
When we moved into our first American house, I was excited to decorate my new room. The first thing I knew I needed was a place to organize my most cherished possessions I have collected throughout my life. I searched and finally found a bookshelf with twenty-five thick sections that I could build and organize alphabetically ... Each shelf holds important objects from different parts of my life. ...
These books are a strong connection to my Brazilian heritage. They also remind me of the time when I was growing up in Brazil, as a member of a large Italian-Brazilian family.
The writer continues on, describing the types of books on each shelf, from Harry Potter to books used to learn English. They describe the bottom of the bookshelf housing some of their most prized possessions, like an old typewriter their grandfather gave them. They wonder about the words it has crafted and stories it has told.
As I grab my favorite Elvis vinyl to play, I can only wonder about the next chapter of my life. I look forward to adding new books, new friends, and a wide variety of experiences to my bookshelf.
"By placing one subject (the bookshelf) at the center of the piece, it lends some flexibility to layer in much more detail than if they had tried to discuss a few different interests in the essay," Matthews writes. "You learn a lot about the person, in a way that isn't in your face – a great thing when trying to write a personal essay."
Some colleges require a supplemental essay in addition to the personal statement. Typically, admissions pros note, these essays are shorter and focus on answering a specific question posed by the college.
The University of Chicago in Illinois allows students to submit essay prompts as inspiration for the admissions office and gives students some latitude in how they answer them. Essay prompts range from questions about the school itself to asking students to pick a question from a song title or lyric and give their best shot at answering it.
"We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions," the school's admissions website reads. "They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between."
While the University of Chicago says there is no strict word limit on its supplemental essays, other schools prefer brevity. For example, Stanford University in California asks students to answer several short questions, with a 50-word limit, in addition to answering three essay questions in 100 to 250 words.
Georgia asks for a school-specific supplemental essay that's 200-300 words in addition to a 250- to 650-word personal essay.
"Sometimes a shorter essay response is not as polished an essay, but instead is a more casual, more relaxed essay," Graves says. "In addition, sometimes a student needs to get to the point or be concise, and this helps see if they can give us their story without overdoing it."
Other schools allow for a little more creativity in how the supplemental essay questions are answered. Babson College in Massachusetts, for example, gives students a 500-word limit to answer a prompt, or they can choose to submit a one-minute video about why they chose to apply to the school.
One student, Gabrielle Alias, chose to film a "day-in-the-life" video , which she narrated to answer the prompt, "Who Am I?"
"Visiting campus twice, I know I could see myself as one of the many interesting, innovative, and enticing students that come out of Babson," she says in the video. "But who am I you ask? I am a student. I am a reader. I am a researcher. I am a music lover. ... I am Gabrielle Alias and I am excited for who I will be as a graduate of Babson."
An essay by Babson student Bessie Shiroki, seen below, describes her experience in the school's admissions office and how she immediately felt comfortable.
I immediately smiled at the sight of my favorite board game. Babsonopoly. I love the combination of strategy and luck in this traditional family pastime. Seeing this on the wall in the admissions office gave me immediate comfort; I knew I was home.
Shiroki describes what she felt set Babson College apart from other schools, such as being surrounded by "sophisticated and mature individuals" and a tight-knit, entrepreneurial environment that would help her reach her career goals.
It is natural for me to be in a small class where more than one language is spoken. I am accustomed to discussions with diverse viewpoints, open minds, and where differences are seen as advantages. I embrace my cultural uniqueness, and I will add my voice to the community. I can’t imagine not continuing this in college.
She notes that as she toured the campus and saw students studying, she could see herself as one of them, feeding off of their studious and entrepreneurial energy. She mentions that Babson's Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship class got her attention immediately and she saw it as a launch pad for a future that included running a business.
Babson recognizes the potential of their students, and FME is a great way for young entrepreneurs like me to find our place in the business world and learn from our mistakes. I am capable of this challenge and will conquer it with tenacity. I will bring my dedication, commitment, and innovative skills to Babson College.
Now it’s my turn to pass go and collect my Babson acceptance letter. I’ve found my next challenge.
Babson College offers several tips for what make good essays, including a strong "hook" to engage the reader from the start and a topic that allows you to share something that's not as obvious on your application.
When it comes to writing a college admissions essay – whether personal or supplemental – experts advise students to follow these rules:
- Find your voice.
- Write about a topic that matters to you.
- Share your personality.
- Express yourself.
- Proofread extensively.
With both traditional essays and supplemental essays, Koh says it's best to write long and work with someone you trust to edit it down. Teachers, friends and parents can all be helpful proofreaders, but experts note that the student voice should remain intact.
A good editor can help edit a long essay to keep the main message but with fewer words. “If I see 400 words, I know I’m a dozen drafts away from getting it to 650,” he says. “If I see 1200 words, we might just be one or two away. It’s at least going to be a shorter haul.”
Strickler encourages students not to stress too much over the essay or put unnecessary weight on it as part of their college application . While a strong essay helps, he says, it doesn't make or break an application.
"There's this sense that you write the most amazing essay and it gets you over the top because it opens the door to the pathway to the Magic Kingdom," he says. "But it's just one piece of a myriad of pieces that allow us to get to know a particular student and help us figure out if they're a good fit and how they're going to contribute to our community."
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18 Tips for Incoming College Freshmen
- See College Essay Examples
- How to Write a College Essay
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- Use the Common App to Apply to College
- College Application Essay Grammar Tips
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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
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Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.
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About the Author
Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
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College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked
CollegeAdvisor’s 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked
The college essay is one of the most important parts of the college admissions process—and it’s also one of the hardest to complete. If you’re struggling to find the right college essay topics, you’re not alone. In this guide, we’ll break down some of the best college essays to help you write a personal statement for college that will stand out .
You’ve likely written many essays over the course of your high school career. However, your personal statement for college may be the first time you’ve been asked to write about yourself . That’s where our sample college essays can help.
The best college essays will reflect who you are, what matters to you, and why you’ll enrich any college community you join. That’s a tall order, but looking at examples of college essays can help you as you begin the writing process. But before we dive into our sample college essays, let’s start with some basics.
What is a college essay?
A college essay is a piece of writing that responds to a given prompt, either on the Common App lication , Coalition Application , or on a school’s individual application. College essays can range anywhere from 50 to 800 words. There are two main types of college essays: personal statements and supplemental essays. In general, you will write one personal statement and submit it to every school you apply to. By contrast, you’ll submit a different set of supplemental essays to each school.
Why do college essays matter in the admissions process?
Your college essays reflect parts of your identity that aren’t clear from the rest of your application. While two students might have similar grades and extracurriculars, they won’t have the same college essays. That means that your college essays can make you stand out from the crowd. Our sample college essays can help you do just that.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through sample college essays that address a wide variety of college essay topics. We’ll break down examples of college essays from every category so that you feel prepared to write your own. Each sample college essay we’ve included in our college essay examples shows how you can use strong, intentional writing to approach a variety of college essay topics. By looking at these college essay examples, we hope you learn a lot about how to approach essay-writing.
Each school approaches college essay prompts differently. Each school may provide both required and optional college essay prompts. Most selective colleges will require you to write some kind of personal statement. Many also have school-specific supplemental college essay prompts and short answer questions. Below, sample college essays that worked show how students like you approached these prompts and impressed top schools.
For more tips about how to approach college essay topics and the writing process, check out our Essay Guides FAQ .
In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at some examples of college essays and talk about why they succeeded. Our analysis will explain why these are a few of the best college essays that worked.
This includes a variety of essay types such as:
- Short essay examples
- Common App essay examples
- Examples of personal essays
- Supplemental essay examples (including why this college essay examples and why this major essay examples), and more.
Soon, we’ll dive into our college essays examples and break down some examples of personal essays. But first, let’s talk about what makes a good college essay and how you can make sure your college essays stand out . As you’ll see from our examples of college essays, there is no one right way to approach college essay prompts or one specific formula for writing the best college essays. However, as you’ll learn from these sample college essays, there are still plenty of useful tips that can make your essays shine.
Good college essays and the college admissions process
As you start reviewing college essay prompts and looking at examples of college essays, you might find yourself wondering, “What are the common characteristics of good college essays?”
Each of our college application essay examples, from our Common App essay examples to our short essay examples, offer key insights into an applicant’s character. These sample college essays did a great job of answering their respective college essay prompts. As such, they each stood out to admissions teams as strong college application essay examples.
Later in this guide to college essay examples, we’ll break down the best college essays in detail. But first, let’s look at a few sample college essays to help you get an idea of what to think about as you learn how to write good college essays. These college essay examples provide valuable insight into how you can craft one of the best college essays admissions teams have ever seen.
Below is an excerpt from one of our successful personal essay examples:
One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels.
Below is an excerpt from one of our successful why NYU essay examples:
The Bachelor of Science in Business Program excites me, as it entails a well rounded yet intensive study in core business disciplines. However, what draws me to Stern is the emphasis on gaining a global perspective, which is crucial in today’s rapidly changing world economy. Through the International Business Exchange Program, I will be able to gain a first-hand cultural experience that will mold me into a global citizen and business leader. Not only will I be taking courses in the most prestigious business schools across the globe, but I will also have new doors opened for me to network with alumni.
As you can see, examples of college essays can look very different . What matters is that they are detailed, specific, and show the admissions team at any school why the writer would enrich campus life—all while answering the college essay prompts. When we look at more examples of college essays, we’ll discuss why these essays—and other college essay examples—worked so well.
We’ll break down:
- How they addressed their college essay prompts
- What kind of structure they followed
- What their unique strengths are
- Tips and tricks to use while writing your own college essays
As you start looking at examples of college essays, you may wonder how important they are to your application. The answer is: extremely.
Many top colleges and universities use a holistic process when reviewing applications. That means they evaluate your essays alongside your academic history, extracurriculars, and test scores to learn who you are, what has made you the person you are today, and what you might bring to a college campus.
As you will see from our Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, the best college essays give applicants a chance to teach a school about the writer. Good college essays give schools a more complete idea of the person they will be inviting to join their student body—and they are the only chance a school has to learn who you are in your own words.
Providing details and telling your story
As you’ll see from our college essay examples, good college essays discuss important details that might not be clear from the rest of your application. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a specific story. Other college essay prompts, like the Stanford roommate essay, for instance, ask applicants to reflect on parts of their identity beyond their grades and test scores.
Many colleges have also tried to demystify the college application process and provide helpful resources. Some schools, like Johns Hopkins and Hamilton , even provide their own examples of college essays that worked, including Common App essay examples. This can give you a sense of what their admissions team looks for.
You’ll encounter many different college essay topics. Each of these will ask you to write about your experiences in a slightly different way. So, looking at different college essay samples (like a why this college essay example or a why this major essay example) can help you approach different college essay topics. Also, since the Common App essay is a crucial part of your application, you’ll benefit from reading our Common App essay examples.
Later in this guide, we’ll provide full sample college essays for you. This will include both Common App essay examples and short essay examples.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of college essay topics. Then, we’ll talk about the examples of college essays you’ll find later in our college essay examples guide.
Types of college essay prompts you’ll encounter
All college essay prompts will require your best writing and ideas. Understanding the differences between the types of college essay samples can help you learn how to approach your college essay prompts.
Our examples of college essays fall into two main categories:
- Personal Essay Examples (Common App essay examples/Coalition App essay examples/Personal essay examples)
- Supplemental Essay Examples (short essay examples)
Our different types of college essay examples will show how you might approach different topics and what your final essays may look like. For example, when comparing Common App essay examples and supplemental short essay examples, one significant difference between the two is the word count. When looking at short essay examples, you’ll notice that the details you find in Common App essay examples don’t fit within the short 150 word or 250 word limit. As you’ll see in our short essay examples, short-form supplemental essays require you to make the most out of a limited number of words.
Exploring a variety of college essay samples will help prepare you to write your own. If you haven’t narrowed down your school selection yet, you might not know what kinds of supplemental essays you will write or what examples of college essays you should read. In this case, start with our personal essay examples—that is, our Common App essay examples.
The Personal Statement
The most common type of essay you’ll encounter is a personal statement for college. For most applications, you’ll choose from a selection of prompts and write a longer essay (500 – 800 words) that speaks to your experiences, identity, and goals. Your personal statement for college tends to be the longest essay in your application. This means it may require more work to edit into a focused and compelling story. For inspiration, take a look at our Common App essay examples. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a story that the admissions team otherwise wouldn’t know.
You will apply to colleges using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or a school-specific portal. Each of these application portals will have their own unique prompts and specific word counts. However, all of our examples of personal essays serve a similar purpose and require a similar writing process.
Beyond your personal statement for college, many schools ask you to write school-specific supplemental essays. Our college application essay examples will cover a range of supplemental essay prompts, including why you are interested in a particular school or a particular major.
Some schools also offer a section where you can provide additional information that may have affected your grades or overall profile. This might include details about your home life or any special circumstances that created challenges for you.
In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at Common App essay examples to help you craft your personal statement.
The school-specific college essays that worked, we will review below include:
- Harvard essay examples
- Stanford essay examples
- UPenn supplemental essays
- Dartmouth essay examples
- Why NYU essay examples
- Why UChicago essay examples
This collection of college essays that worked will include short essay examples, including a why this college essay example and a why this major essay example. Before we break down these sample college essays, let’s look at what exactly makes the best college essays the best.
What makes the best college essays?
When looking at college essays that worked, whether personal essay examples or short essay examples, it may be challenging to discern exactly what makes a great sample college essay great. In our college essay examples guide, our examples of college essays (in addition to being correctly formatted ) have succeeded across a few criteria.
The criteria to keep in mind while you are considering how to write a successful essay are:
You can apply these criteria to all of our college application essay examples, including our Common App essay examples, examples of personal essays, and short essay examples. A strong sample college essay, no matter the length, will use these three elements to create a compelling story that will show a school how you would enrich their campus.
In our examples of college essays, you’ll see that good college essays follow a thoughtfully composed structure. Since college essay prompts often have strict word limits, it is important to follow these examples of college essays and make sure your college essay flows. Strong personal essay examples usually tell a story that leaves the reader with a lasting impression.
Like our example college essays, your college essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. As you’ll see in our college essay examples, particularly our examples of personal essays, there isn’t one right way to structure your essay. Your structure could be chronological, funnel down from broad to specific, or start with a particular memory or experience and then expand out towards a greater perspective. No matter how you structure your essay, make sure your narrative remains clear.
Not all essays have to look the same
As you will see from our examples of college essays, your college essay can look any number of ways. The best college essays can take many forms — what’s important is that your college essay shows the admissions team who you are . Even as you look at college application essay examples inspired by a singular prompt, you’ll find the topics they cover to be very different. However, one thing our college essay examples have in common is that they all showcase who the writer is while still answering the essay prompt.
As you read our examples of college essays and start writing your own, try to emphasize your own identity. Think about what is important to you, experiences that made you grow or changed you, times where you were challenged, or an a-ha moment that solidified a piece of who you are. Then, once you’ve found a topic to write about, make sure it connects back to the original prompt. Even if you tell a fantastic story, if it doesn’t answer the question in the prompt, you’ll have missed the goal of the essay. If you’re still having trouble coming up with an essay topic, try this reflection exercise to help you brainstorm.
We’ve chosen these college essay samples because they stood out in the admissions process. Besides being well-crafted, what makes a sample college essay stand out is personality. In this college essay examples guide, we’ve included a range of Common App essay examples and short essay examples that embody different voices, tones, and styles.
As you read through our examples of college essays, you may get stuck on trying to pick a topic that is 100% unique or obviously impressive. Instead of worrying about what makes you unique from other applicants, focus on being honest and being true to yourself. Remember, no one is exactly like you. So, follow the blueprint our sample college essays provide, but stay true to who you are.
For example, if humor is a key part of your personality, let that side of you shine through in your essays! However, if you read a hilarious college essay example but don’t naturally use humor yourself, don’t try to replicate someone else’s voice. The best college essay examples reflect students who knew who they were, what they wanted to say, and how they wanted to say it.
Our sample college essays show why it’s important to take care as you craft your personal statement and supplemental essays. But what exactly made these examples of college essays work, and how can you replicate these sample college essays in your own admissions process?
How to use these college essay examples
Wondering how to use these essays to write your own college admission essay examples about yourself?
We’ve given some background on why we’ve included certain college application essay examples. We’ve also discussed what you can learn from the different types of college essay samples. Now, you might ask yourself, “How should I use these college application essay examples to start writing my own?”
Each college essay example addresses a unique prompt within a specific word count. So, our Common App essay examples may be more helpful to reference when writing your personal statement. Our short essay examples, by contrast, may be more helpful as you tackle your supplemental essays.
Think of these college essay examples, including Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, as a resource. We know the college admissions process can be overwhelming . That’s why we are committed to providing you with resources and essay tips to help you navigate your college applications.
These college essays that worked should inspire you. As you read over these college essay samples, use these examples of college essays as a guide, not a blueprint. Your college essay should be original and entirely your own work. However, by looking at these sample college essays, you’ll get an idea of what to highlight as you tell your authentic story .
Coming up: college admission essay examples about yourself
So far, we’ve taken a peek at some examples of college essays. We hope these college essay samples will help you jumpstart your writing process. Now, you know a little bit about what goes into selecting a college essay example and why these college essay samples work. It’s time to take a deep dive into writing college admission essay examples about yourself.
Next, we’ll dig into some examples of college essays and think about how to write college admission essay examples about yourself. First, we’ll look at some Common App essay examples to help you write your personal statement. As you read through our examples of personal essays, we will break down why these Common App essay examples work and how you can craft your own effective personal statement.
Common App Essay Examples–How to approach your personal statement for college
Are you furiously googling “college admission essay examples about yourself”? You’re not alone. Writing good responses to college essay topics is one of the most difficult parts of the application process. With so many college essay prompts and college essay samples out there, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve provided the following examples of personal essays based on a variety of college essay topics.
This section will focus on Common App essay examples—that is, college admission essay examples about yourself. We’ll unpack two examples of college essays that worked and analyze what made them effective. The Common App essay will be a crucial part of your application to nearly every school on your list. Reviewing other college application essay examples is a great way to improve your own writing.
Each of these examples of college essays comes from our advisor network. Moreover, every sample college essay helped its writer get into a top school. So, they are all good examples of personal essays to use as you start your writing process.
Getting started with examples of college essays
Writing a personal statement for college isn’t easy. It’s natural to look for college admission essay examples about yourself to help. However, if you want to be competitive at top schools, you need to make sure that your Common App essay—like these Common App essay examples—is the best it can be. Many examples of college essays struggle to leave a lasting impression on readers. Also, many students struggle to choose the right college essay topics. These Common App essay examples will teach you how to do just that.
Let’s dig into some personal essay examples—or college admission essay examples about yourself. Each of these college essay samples relates to one of the Common App essay prompts. These examples of personal essays each tell stories about the writers that aren’t clear from the rest of their application; that’s why our college essay examples were successful at top schools.
Our guide will walk you through these examples of college essays and show you how to write one of the best college essays you can. Later on, we break down why these sample college essays were successful and show you how you can replicate that success in your own personal statement for college.
Common App Essay–Example 1: Elinor
The first of our Common App essay examples comes from a student named Elinor. In the first of our personal essay examples, she highlights her involvement in a club in an innovative and exciting way. Her tone, structure, and style each help her essay stand out from other examples of college essays.
Below is the full text for the first of our examples of college essays. Later, we’ll discuss what makes this sample college essay one of the best college essay samples to look at.
Elinor’s Common App Essay:
One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels. Cold bagels were not the only thing weighing heavily on my mind that morning. As I walked from classroom to classroom helping set up committees, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Our conference wasn’t going to be like those of the private schools- there were no engraved pens or stylish water bottles. Instead, people got post-it notes and whatever pens we could steal from the supply closet. Forcing myself to stop worrying, I chose instead to think of why we made that choice. Since most of the food was donated, and all of the supplies had been “borrowed” from the supply closet, we could afford to charge only a nominal fee to everyone attending. Making Model UN accessible was one of my top priorities as Secretary-General; the same desire motivated me to begin including middle school students in the club. I hurried back down to the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that all the bagels looked warm and ready to eat. The bagels would not be the sole crisis that day. As debates were about to start, one of the Chairs sent me a panic stricken text: “We only have 5 people in our committee! We can’t reenact the creation of the Treaty of Versailles!” I hurried to where his debate was taking place, and sure enough, only five people were there. I quickly considered my options- cancel the committee? Convince some delegates to switch into this debate through bagel bribery? Or maybe, come up with a completely new topic? I settled on idea number three. But what topic could a committee of only five people spend a day discussing? I mulled it over until an idea began to form. I explained to the room, “Each one of you will represent one of the five major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The chair will guide you as you tweet, make campaign videos, and debate the most important political issues.” I spent a few minutes figuring out how to go about moderating such an unconventional committee, before heading off to check in on the other debates. As I walked from committee to committee, fixing problems and helping move debates along, I felt a sense of pride. I had spent months working on this conference, along with the other members of my team. At times, I worried I could never pull it off. A part of me had wished our faculty advisor would just organize the whole thing for us. After all, I’m just a high schooler, how could I put together such a big event? But as the day went by, I realized that with the help of my peers, I had done it. All the little crises that cropped up weren’t because I was doing a bad job; they were inevitable. The fact that I could find solutions to such a wide variety of problems was a testament to my leadership skills, and my level-headedness. I didn’t just feel like a leader—I felt like an adult. As I look towards my future in college and later the workforce, I know that I can succeed, even if my obstacles seem as insurmountable as a mountain of frozen bagels.
Reflecting on this sample college essay
The first of our college essay examples certainly deserves its spot among the best college essays. This sample college essay works in large part because of its opening. The first sentence of Elinor’s Common App essay makes the reader want to continue—what happened to the bagels? How will Elinor solve this problem? Examples of college essays with strong introductions draw the reader in. In addition, an inspiring first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the essay. The frozen bagels in this college essay example create tension that draws the reader in.
Often, good examples of college essays also read like short stories in which the writer is the main character. While Elinor does mention other people in her Common App essay, she remains focused on her own actions and emotional state. In the third paragraph, she describes in detail how she responded to a crisis. She first explains her thought process, then she tells us what action she took to address the crisis.
As you comb through various college admission essay examples about yourself, you should keep your own identity in mind. Strong examples of personal essays should contain personal details about the writer. College essay topics are designed to get to know you on a personal level. Strong examples of college essays use every chance to showcase the writer’s positive qualities.
Tell YOUR story
The best Common App essay examples tell a story about the author. These college essay examples are no exception. Often, strong sample college essays use a story to show who a student is. Elinor uses the story of her model UN conference to show her leadership , maturity, and problem-solving skills. Like any good story, Elinor’s personal statement for college contains obstacles for her to overcome and challenges to face. By presenting these examples and discussing her responses, Elinor’s Common App essay shows that she is ready for the challenges ahead.
The best college essays show information rather than just telling it. It’s one thing to tell readers you are a proactive leader in college admission essay examples about yourself; it’s another to show it through your actions. In the second paragraph of her personal statement for college, Elinor states that she wanted to make model UN accessible as Secretary General. She then goes into detail about how she accomplished that goal by organizing food donations and only charging a small fee for attending the conference. In these Common App essay examples, the writers use details and evidence to showcase their best qualities.
Elinor’s sample college essay also contains a strong conclusion. She illustrates what she has learned about herself from this experience and in doing so, helps the admissions team learn more about her. In this college essay example, Elinor clearly shows the kind of student she would be and how she would enrich campus life. The best college application essay examples show readers why students should be admitted through evidence and storytelling. Our Common App essay examples each accomplish that goal.
Common App Essay–Example 2: Arham
The second of our Common App essay examples uses a different strategy to the first. However, it is still one of the top examples of personal essays. The next author of our college essay examples, Arham, starts with a very specific moment from his fifth grade class. He then explains how that moment has affected his life.
While some examples of personal essays are about a recent event, other personal essay examples show the author’s development over a longer period of time. To understand why this is among the best college application essay examples, let’s look at the essay itself and how it employs techniques often found in the best college essay examples.
Arham’s Common App Essay:
An hour into President Obama’s inauguration, I stifled a yawn and raised my hand. “Ms. Edgell, who did you vote for?” Instantly, nineteen fifth-graders shattered the silence: “Of course she voted Republican!” “No, she’s a Democrat!” “Obama was born in Kenya!” “Don’t ask people about their politics,” she chided. “So . . . you’re a Republican!” “Arham. Outside.” As Ms. Edgell fruitlessly tried to explain that politics didn’t belong in the classroom, I struggled to suppress a smile–I couldn’t help it. For a few moments, fifth grade’s single-variable algebra and spelling tests had been replaced by a more intriguing conversation: one without a definitive answer. Snippets of boisterous debate continued to drift through the closed door, and I was eager to rejoin the conversation–that day, I learned disagreements were fascinating. Eager to understand the “why” of each and every belief, I turned to my living room: a constant cacophony of political commentary, occasionally punctuated by my father’s frustrated jabs at the pause button and exasperated interjections. In my quest to decipher the cryptic nightly news, my parents became my personal dictionary, fielding a nightly barrage of questions. Forget just explaining where babies come from–over the next four years, I asked them to articulate almost every conceivable stance on gun control, abortion, and the death penalty. Through that television screen, I first encountered the full diversity of human opinions, and I was enthralled; I wanted to triumph in every dispute. Dodging my parents’ dinnertime queries of how my day went, I delved into new lines of questioning: the viability of Medicare for All, the feasibility of 100% green energy, the merits of chicken tikka masala mac & cheese fusion. After watching the 2016 Presidential Debate, I spent hours pondering the economic consequences of a more cohesive border–sadly, the living room walls didn’t offer much feedback on my ideas. Soon, I realized that some of my “solutions” were a bit near-sighted; eliminating poverty by printing money wasn’t exactly the modern-day Wealth of Nations, and the solution to global warming was a tad more nuanced than planting trees. I learned that I wouldn’t always be right–instead, the desire to win was slowly replaced by a yearning to understand. With every discussion, I synthesized new information, pinpointed gaps in my knowledge, and reevaluated my views; then, aided by the latest edition of The Economist and a plethora of Google searches, I’d unearth the next set of questions. Late nights in my living room have defined a lifelong passion: using disagreements as a lens to explore, understand, and influence the world. In Congressman DeSaulnier’s office—where interns were instructed to hang up on adversarial callers—I instead found myself engrossed in half-hour conversations with frustrated constituents. There, I delved beneath the partisan rhetoric to truly understand why people support a wall, desire nationalized healthcare, or champion coal–and, in return, I offered a bit of my own worldview. On elevators, I’ve been known to strike conversation on the whimsical (Should gyms offer a package where you pay for every day you don’t go?); overseas, I invite teams from Germany, Singapore, and Mexico to opine on whether or not Amazon should be considered a monopoly. Whether it’s discussing capitalism or everyday life, the resulting conversations shed light on our culture, upbringing, and aspirations–the willingness to disagree is what builds rapport. In recognition of that, I beckon for dialogue; I constantly invite the world to teach me more. In fifth grade, I learned that we fear disagreement–feigning unity will always be more comfortable. But, through ignoring each other’s most fundamental beliefs, we simultaneously abandon our ability to understand our peers. In my living room, disagreements provided a venue for questioning and navigating a world of conflicting perspectives: though I didn’t know it at the time, they set the stage for a lifetime of questioning. So, be it in the classroom, through a phone call, or on stage, I continue to raise my hand.”
Why is this a college essay that works
As we saw in the first of our college essay examples, one reason this sample college essay is effective is that it engages the reader from the very first sentence. The author uses the technique of in medias res , which is often found in strong personal essay examples. Instead of beginning the essay with exposition, the author begins with a quote that places the reader in the middle of a riveting conversation. This strategy makes the best Common App essay examples interesting to read and helps the best college essays stand out from the rest.
Another feature that characterizes the best college essay examples is varied and interesting word choice. This doesn’t mean you need to use words in your writing that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. In our examples of college essays, the writers don’t just throw around SAT words. Instead, these successful examples of college essays use carefully chosen words to elevate the quality of the writing and heighten emotional tension. The phrase “shattered the silence” from the second paragraph is a perfect example of how a vivid word can instantly improve a sentence. In addition, the phrase “constant cacophony of political commentary” shows how employing poetic devices—in this case, alliteration—can make college essay examples more fun to read.
So, what makes the second of our college essay examples shine? This personal statement for college works because it presents a compelling story about a young boy slowly learning how to express his opinions and refining his beliefs. Many of the best examples of college essays show a process of growth or transformation. These transformations require struggle, and good college essays embrace that struggle and present it openly to readers.
The value of authenticity
This brings us to another key feature of our college essay examples: authenticity. Some students have the misconception that the best college essays should only portray your good qualities. However, this is not the case. Instead, the most successful personal essay examples address their authors’ shortcomings and explain how they have worked to overcome them.
Honesty and authenticity permeate these college essay samples. Arham’s example college essay reveals his genuine passion for debate. He provides several examples, both personal and academic, that demonstrate his interest in that topic. Importantly, successful Common App essay examples include details not present in other areas of your application. This gives readers a more personal look into your values. These examples of college essays reveal the quirks and obsessions that round out the author’s personality and set him apart from his peers.
Both of these successful examples of college essays contain strong conclusions that look ahead to the future. These personal essay examples provide insight into how the writers will contribute to a college community. Arham uses the phrase “lifetime of questioning” to show that he will bring his curiosity and thirst for knowledge to whatever college he attends. Good college application essay examples show readers why they should accept you and what you will bring to their campus.
Although these examples of college essays are different from each other, they were both successful for a variety of reasons. Now let’s look at how to replicate these examples of college essays in your own writing!
Personal Essay Examples–How to get started writing your own college essays that work
Do you feel ready to sit down and write your own personal statement for college? Let’s break down some tips to help you use our sample college essays to write your own. Be aware that every writer has their own personal style. So, try to find ways to make these tips work for your own college admission essay examples about yourself!
So, what can we learn from these college application essay examples? Reflecting on these two Common App essay examples, there are several steps you can take in your own writing process to craft a college essay that works for top schools.
In addition to reviewing other examples of college essays, we recommend that you do some prewriting exercises to help you write the best college essays you can. First, take a moment to review your candidate profile. Then, decide on what 3-5 adjectives you would use to describe yourself. After you’ve reviewed our college essay examples, click here for a list of strong adjectives you might use.
Consider the word count
This exercise helps focus your essay on the most important themes. Because college essay topics are so broad, students want to cover as much ground as possible. However, the best Common App essay examples recognize the limits set by the word count. With this in mind, these examples of college essays use specific details to illustrate broad concepts. You may have a lot to share, but the best college essays highlight qualities not found elsewhere in your application. Reflect on our personal essay examples as you write. Instead of rehashing your extracurricular achievements, follow the lead of our Common App essay examples. Tell a story the admissions team hasn’t heard.
After you have your five adjectives, look over the Common Application’s college essay prompts. Then, choose one that lets you showcase the qualities you selected earlier. When writing college admission essay examples about yourself, it’s better to tell a single story in vivid detail than to write a broad survey of all your accomplishments. The first of our Common App essay examples focused on a single day of Elinor’s high school career. She then uses this anecdote to make a larger claim about her ability to solve problems. The second of the college essay samples starts with the story of a single fifth grade class before broadening out to other topics. As you choose your college essay topics, keep specificity in mind.
Expect to write multiple drafts
The best college essays take multiple drafts. So, make sure you allow yourself enough time to write your personal statement for college. The college application essay examples in this guide weren’t written in a day. Rather, these college essay examples each went through several drafts to become good college essays. So, take a cue from our examples of personal essays. After you write the first draft of your Common App essay, review it after a day or two. This will help you approach it with a fresh perspective. Having others review your writing can also help transform good college essays into the best college essays.
There is no single formula for writing good college essays. However, you can learn to develop your own voice by reading articles and reviewing sample college essays written by other students. As we’ve stated, examples of personal essays can help you find your own voice and narrative as you start the writing process. This article from U.S. News contains more college essay examples along with short essay examples of supplemental prompts. It also provides advice from admissions counselors about how to write college application essay examples that stand out from other examples of personal essays. Top colleges like Tufts , Johns Hopkins , and Connecticut College often post examples of college essays that worked for their schools. Reading Harvard essay examples along with other college essay samples from top schools gives you a sense of what it takes to get into top schools.
Showing vs. telling
With the above Common App essay examples, we’ve presented two college essays that worked. Both of these college application essay examples show—rather than tell—the reader important details about the applicant’s identity. These college essay examples show what kinds of students these writers would be on campus. Based on these sample college essays, top schools could imagine these students in their communities. That’s why these examples of college essays stand out.
Beyond the Common App Essay
These Common App essay examples are not the only personal essay examples we will look at in this guide. Next, we’ll discuss supplemental college essay examples—short essay examples that usually range between one hundred and four hundred words.
These college essay prompts are unique to the schools that assign them. However, looking at many different short essay examples will help you prepare for the variety of college essay prompts you may encounter. Let’s take a look at these examples of college essays!
Short essay examples: What types of college essay topics will you see?
Now that you have some useful Common App essay examples to use as you write your personal statement for college, let’s look at some other examples of college essays. As we mentioned, there are several types of college essays .
The short essay examples we’ll discuss effectively and efficiently answer the prompt. Keep in mind that you will often work within the constraints of a word limit. Reading examples of college essays will help you learn this writing style. Still, remember that the best college essays will reflect your own voice. Once again, use our examples of college essays as a guide—don’t try to be someone you’re not.
In this section, we’ll focus on four main types of supplemental college essay samples. These include why this college essay examples, why this major essay examples, other less typical supplemental essay examples, and “additional information” essay examples. As we look at these examples of college essays, we’ll focus on what made these some of the best college essays out there. We’ll talk about what makes each of these college essay examples unique—and how you can use them as you craft your own college essays.
Our college essay examples shouldn’t hold you back. Don’t feel limited to the same or similar college essay topics that you read in our college essay examples. Reading some short essay samples or Common App essay samples may help you brainstorm, but the stories you tell should be uniquely yours. When reading college application essay examples, keep in mind that authenticity will impress colleges the most.
‘Why this college’ essay
First, let’s break down some why this college essay examples. As you’ll see from our examples of successful essays, your why this college essay should discuss in detail what attracts you to that particular school.
Many colleges will require you to write an essay about why you want to attend that particular school. Good college essays that answer these prompts will reflect a given school’s mission, opportunities, and personality. When you read successful why NYU essay examples, why Stanford essay examples, or why UPenn supplemental essays, you’ll notice that the writer isn’t afraid to be specific.
Questions to consider
What classes will you take? Is there a professor whose work inspires you? What clubs will you join? The best examples of college essays are detailed and convincing . When reading short essay examples, notice how many details the writers include. Then, think about how you can include details with the same specificity—but ones that are applicable to your life, plans, and interests.
Most schools will have their own supplemental essays. This is one area where Common App essay examples and supplemental college essay examples will differ. Our Common App essay samples were submitted to all colleges, while these short essay examples were submitted to individual colleges.
As our example why this college essays show, it’s important to research the schools on your list before you complete any college essay prompts. Why this college essays that work establish three things—a personal anecdote, details about the college’s offerings, and the connection between a writer’s personal story and the college. Essentially, the best college essays help the reader visualize how a student will succeed at that school.
A ‘Why Dartmouth’ essay that worked
Why this college essay examples are a useful tool as you prepare your application for any top school. When reading this Dartmouth essay, pay attention to the clearly articulated and cohesive details. The best college essay examples will be easy to read and convey lots of information in a limited number of words.
I always had a keen interest in numbers, probability, and finance. Early on, I could quickly calculate sales tax, analyze probabilities, and visualize complex mathematical models. After taking AP classes in economics and statistics, I became intrigued with mathematical representations for economic markets and statistical models. This sparked my desire to pursue an actuarial career to utilize my talents in quantitative reasoning. The Major in Mathematical Data Science will provide me the skills to apply abstract mathematical and statistical theories to the concrete world. I will also have the opportunity to stimulate my academic intrigue through an intensive research project.
Good college essays do more than discuss why the applicant wants to study their major. They also go beyond why that school would be a good fit for their interests. College essays that worked also show why the applicant would make that school a better place.
As this Dartmouth essay shows , the best college essays illustrate a track record of involvement to support the applicant’s proposed path forward. In this Dartmouth essay, the applicant plans to become an actuary. Given this student’s background, this feels like an attainable and sincere goal.
Something else to note about this Dartmouth essay is that the writer doesn’t use big fancy words or elaborate sentence structure. Good college essays are well-planned, written intentionally, and free from errors. However, they still sound like high schoolers wrote them! Like our examples of college essays, your short essays should feel natural and authentic.
‘Why UChicago’ essay examples
Why UChicago essay examples provide useful insight into what UChicago —and other top schools —look for when evaluating applicants. These Why UChicago essay examples also have qualities that you can think about when looking at Stanford essay examples, why NYU essay examples, or others!
Ex. 1: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example
When I visited UChicago, a friend invited me to step into her Comparative Literature class: Monstrosity and the Monstrous. Desperate for refuge from the cold (as a Bay Area resident, I hadn’t packed for the Chicago winter), I quickly obliged. I expected to silently observe, but when I mentioned that I’d read Antigone, her professor was thrilled–he immediately invited me into the discussion. For an hour and a half, we weighed the pros and cons of civil disobedience: did Antigone’s actions permanently destabilize Thebes, and in the modern day, when does protesting against a government cross the line? Was Antigone justified in interpreting the will of the gods? And, if so, would Sophocles support pardoning well-intentioned criminals? Beyond the enthralling analysis of the play, I was captivated by the spirit of UChicago: a campus that invites everyone (including a loitering high school student) to contribute and develop their ideas.
In this first section of our UChicago short essay examples, notice that the writer shows a knowledge of campus based on their campus visit and research. Though UChicago does not track demonstrated interest , the best college essay examples include references to visits, school-specific events, and specific details about the school’s offer. This establishes a connection between the reader and the writer. Strong college essay samples will show genuine interest.
When reading examples of college essays, you should also think about the tone. In the first excerpt of these college application essay examples, the tone is passionate and enthusiastic. The tone of this sample college essay conveys excitement, and the reader can almost see the applicant walking around campus. Let’s read more UChicago essay examples:
Ex. 2: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example
Now, it’s surreal to imagine taking “The Economics of Crime” from someone as renowned as Professor Levitt (I’ve been a fan since reading Freakonomics) and staying after class to clarify the finer points of the latest Freakonomics podcast (I particularly enjoyed “Speak Softly and Carry Big Data,” on using data analysis to perfect foreign policy decisions). I hope to add to UChicago’s legacy of pushing the boundaries of our economic understanding by participating in undergraduate research, and perhaps put my findings to use through crafting social policy for the Harris School’s Public Policy Practicum. Prior to graduating, I’ll sample tastes of future careers through the Fried Public Policy and Service Program or the Trott Business Program. Simultaneously, as someone who enjoys conversing and respectfully challenging ideas, I look forward to immersing myself in the Core Curriculum and obtaining a strong foundation of knowledge. Above all, I appreciate that UChicago teaches students how to think, encourages dialogue, and prompts students to question norms.
Showcase your various interests
In this sample college essay excerpt, the author reveals a strong passion for learning. In this and many other why this college essay samples, the writer doesn’t focus solely on one academic area. Instead, the best college essays reveal qualities and traits of someone who is eager to explore a variety of interests.
Another strength of this sample college essay excerpt is that it sticks to the facts. The best college essays limit overly emotional appeals, avoid cliché phrases, and don’t make vague statements about the future. You’ll see many examples of college essays that acknowledge a degree of uncertainty about what the author will study—and that’s okay! As our examples of college essays show, you don’t need to have everything figured out.
Note too, that both excerpts of UChicago college application essay examples are part of a much longer essay. The UChicago supplement is closer in length to Common App essay examples. Though the college essay topics are different for UChicago, you can learn from reading Common App essay examples, too!
For more examples of college essays from UChicago, check out this article!
‘Why this college’ essays—Additional tips
There are a few more tips to learn from reading these examples of college essays. First, notice that you have a lot of freedom to choose your college essay topics. All that matters is that you discuss why you want to go to that particular college. Perhaps you are attracted to a niche academic program, or maybe you want to combine two of your interests and engage with an institute on campus.
Also, choose your college essay topics and words carefully. Effective college essay samples avoid “spending” words complimenting colleges, telling them information they already know, or regurgitating marketing materials. Strong examples of college essays don’t focus on rankings, acceptance rates, or prestige. Writing about the beautiful buildings, the weather, or the student body size will seldom effectively answer college essay prompts.
Dig deep and make connections
The most effective college essay examples mention major-specific electives or particular clubs. Most importantly, they’ll explain why these programs matter to the writer. You will notice that college application essay examples often describe how college will be an extension of existing passions, interests, and activities.
In these why this college essay examples, the writers each point to specific reasons why they would like to attend their respective schools. These why this college essays are detailed and specific. Both of these sample essays showcase what their writers would bring to a college campus and how they would benefit from attending their respective schools.
As you start writing, think about our college admission essay examples about yourself. Stay true to your identity, be specific, and tell a story—then, you have a great chance of writing the best college essays you can.
‘Why this major’ essay examples
Next, let’s discuss some why this major college essay prompts. A why this major essay tells the admissions team what inspires you about your chosen field. By reading our why this major essay examples, you can understand how to discuss your academic interests in an engaging way that tells the admissions team more about your identity and passions. Let’s read some sample college essays.
Ex.1: UPenn ‘Why this major’ essay
The University of Pennsylvania, with its strong emphasis on pre-professional learning is ideal as a learning environment. That focus is what drives many students with an eye to the future — we hope to apply our learning, impact the real world in ways that inspire change. I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing. As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally draws upon various fields that showcase various perspectives on the meanings of language. It’s fascinating that despite the various languages and cultures there can be a biological scientific breakdown explaining the complex processes underlying syntax and semantics.
Ex. 2: Brown University ‘Why this major’ essay
As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally fits my ideal of using interdisciplinary methods to study human behavior holistically. I am also concerned with quantitative methods. For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology. I had read about the Asch conformity tests. But when my teacher set up the experiment with three classmates as subjects and the rest of us as confederates, two subjects did not conform; our ratio of nonconformity was lower than Asch had found. Could it be a trait of the magnet population and experience? Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.
Express your passion and curiosity
Each of these why this major essay examples gives the reader a sense of the writer’s intellectual passions. These why this major essay examples are clearly written, specific, and personal. When reading these examples of college essays, notice how detailed they are. For example, “I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing.” Good college essays dig underneath the surface. Winning essays will identify how and why a student connects with their identified major or program.
Note too, that the author of the Brown sample college essay build a clear connection between their past experiences in high school (“For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology”) and future goals in college (“Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.”)
Content comes first
As you can see in these examples of college essays, it’s crucial to focus on the content of the essay. So, when you write, complete all college essay prompts with specific details about why you want to attend that college. This will improve your overall application narrative. And, don’t forget to make that narrative cohesive. Strong college application essay examples tie extracurriculars, background , and identity together with future plans.
Whether you’re writing UPenn supplemental essays or Brown supplemental essays, try to write about interdisciplinary interests if possible. You’re likely interested in more than one area, and many schools offer majors, minors, and certifications with unique combinations. Many short essay examples will go beyond the surface to discuss how the applicant’s seemingly disparate interests mesh.
These college admission essay examples about yourself might raise some questions. Inevitably, some of you reading college essay samples are asking, “what if I don’t know what major I want to study?” Of course, college essays that worked can come from students who are certain of their future career. However, they can also come from students who change their major multiple times.
So, don’t panic if you haven’t chosen a major. Instead, look at how you spend your time. What excites you now? College essay prompts give you the flexibility to expand on your reasoning.
Unconventional college essay topics
Some supplemental essay prompts aren’t as straightforward as the why this major or why this college essay examples. For instance, Stanford has some unconventional college essay prompts that help the admissions team learn more about each student. Stanford asks students to write letters to their future roommate. So, let’s look at some Stanford roommate essay examples.
Stanford roommate essay
Stanford roommate essay examples—like any college essay examples—can be helpful as you craft your application for Stanford or any other top school. Unlike some examples of college essays, the question these Stanford roommate essay examples answer is a bit more personal. College essay prompts like these give you the chance to show off what makes you unique. The best college essays for these types of prompts will show off your unique character.
When tasked with writing an unconventional essay like the Stanford roommate essay, it’s helpful to look at a few examples of college essays. These will help give you a feel for college essays that worked. Let’s read two sample college essays.
Ex.1: Stanford Roommate Essay
In the spirit of inaugurating the life-long relationship I hope we’ll build this year, let me tell you a little about myself. Hi, I’m Allison. I’m the second child of a comically over-optimistic refugee mother (my Vietnamese name translates, literally, to “celestial being”) and a proud Kentuckian with a deep passion for student-driven advocacy. I have two parents, two stepparents, a nineteen-year-old sister (a junior in Product Design, here, at Stanford), a three-year-old half-sister, two cats, one dog, and a complicated life that spans two households. So, I’m used to sharing space and managing shifting schedules. I’ve also always been the “Mom” friend. To me, the little things—a chocolate chip cookie when I know a friend has a rough day ahead, words of encouragement before a big presentation, or staying up late to explain a tough physics problem—mean the most. I’ll be there when you need me—be it studying for tests or navigating personal challenges. I recycle incessantly and am known to snatch cans out of the trash, wash them, and relocate them to neighboring blue bins. I keep a regular sleep schedule, rarely going to bed past midnight or waking up later than 8:30. I’m averse to gyms, opting instead to go for runs in the morning or follow along to a YouTube workout in the afternoon. I’m passionate, but also even-keeled. I think life is best taken in stride—worrying has never gotten me anywhere, but flexibility has taken me everywhere. I look forward to an awesome year!
Ex.2: Stanford Roommate Essay
Hey Roomie! Yesterday was insane. I still can’t quite get over the energy in that stadium after that final play. I guess Berkeley couldn’t take back the axe to cut down these Trees! I’m writing you this since I have an 8:30 Syntax and Morphology with Dr. Gribanov. I know, it’s early, but that class is honestly worth waking up for. Last Friday, he spent the entire period rambling about why regardless and irregardless are the same thing, but responsible and irresponsible aren’t. Just a fun little thought to start your day. I’m also writing you this as a quick apology. I won’t be back from Mock Trial until late evening, and then I’ll be practicing for Stanford Symphony auditions. So, if you hear cacophonous noises in your sleep, it’s most likely me. Plus, it’s Mahler Symphony No. 1, so you might not sleep much anyway. Kidding. These next few days are jam-packed, but I’m craving some much-needed bonding time! I have a proposal: how does a jam session this Friday at Terman Fountain sound? I’ll bring the guitar and plenty of oldies sheet music, you just gotta bring a snack and the desire to sing! I’ve sold a few people already. Join us? Well, I’m headed to breakfast now. Text me if you want me to grab you anything.
Casual tone and style
These examples of college essays have a more casual tone and style. This works because it fits the prompt for the Stanford roommate essay. Writing a formal styled response in this case would be inappropriate. Instead, in these college application essay examples, both authors discuss their quirks, interests, habits, and personalities . Try to replicate this in your own Stanford roommate essay. Reading a variety of examples of college essays can help you brainstorm your own, but your ideas should still be original!
You and your freshman roommate will come to know each other well, so respond to this prompt with openness and honesty. While they aren’t as prevalent in Common App essay examples or supplemental college essay examples, jokes and humor are more common in these letters.
Examples of college essays that are a letter to your freshman roommate are less formal. However, they should still be specific and vivid. Include details and stories to show the reader who you are. The strongest college application essay examples for Stanford will illustrate your identity through vivid stories and specifics details.
Your letter to your Stanford roommate is a great opportunity to show the admissions committee another aspect of who you are. Take advantage of it!
The “Additional Information” essay
Finally, let’s turn to one last set of examples of college essays. One of the college essay prompts you’ll encounter is the “additional information” section of the Common App. This also appears as an optional supplement for some schools. Not all students should write this college essay. However, if you have something important to share about your background or experiences, the “additional information” section can be helpful.
Let’s look at some college essay examples for this prompt. Keep in mind when reading college essay examples for this prompt that the content will differ from applicant to applicant. So, use this space in whatever way feels natural to you.
Ex. 1: Harvard University Additional Information essay
I would like the Harvard Admissions Committee to know that my life circumstances are far from typical. I was born at twenty-four weeks gestation, which eighteen years ago was on the cusp of viability. Even if I was born today, under those same circumstances, my prospects for leading a normal life would be grim. Eighteen years ago, those odds were worse, and I was given a less than 5% chance of survival without suffering major cognitive and physical deficits. The first six months of my life were spent in a large neonatal ICU in Canada. I spent most of that time in an incubator, kept breathing by a ventilator. When I was finally discharged home, it was with a feeding tube and oxygen, and it would be several more months before I was able to survive without the extra tubes connected to me. At the age of two, I was still unable to walk. I engaged in every conventional and non-conventional therapy available to me, including physical and speech therapy, massage therapy, gymnastics, and several nutritional plans, to try to remedy this. Slowly, I began to make progress in what would be a long and arduous journey towards recovery.
This short essay example shares critical information about the writer. In doing so, this sample college essay excerpt helps the reader learn more about how medical circumstances have shaped the student’s perspective. It is factual—and so are many “additional information” short essay examples you will read.
The best examples of college essays covering additional information are concrete. They often detail special circumstances, background information, or ways your life has been impacted. If you don’t have important information to write about, then don’t feel like you have to write something. Many students leave this section blank!
Focus on impact
You’ll notice that examples of college essays for the additional information prompt could also include details about your extracurriculars . You might use this area to detail additional extracurriculars and awards that would not fit in that section. These short essay examples typically take the form of a list rather than an essay. These short essay samples should focus on impact; don’t include unimpressive extracurriculars just to put something in the box. Examples of college essays come in all shapes and sizes.
You don’t need to include any additional information on the Common App if you have nothing more to share. However, as you can see from our college essay examples, this section can be useful in some cases. So, use our sample college essays to help you determine whether you should include any additional information in your own applications.
Final Thoughts—Examples of College Essays & College Essays That Worked
In this guide to college essay examples, we’ve walked you through several different kinds of college essays prompts. We’ve also provided details on why these sample college essays impressed admissions officers at top schools. Reading and analyzing college essay examples can be an excellent part of the brainstorming process.
Colleges admit you based on your potential. So, when reading college essay samples, note the key qualities that the writer reveals. Each of the college essay samples is original and authentic. This should be one of your primary goals when writing your own college essays.
As you write your college essays, keep these college essay examples in mind. Think about how these short essay examples show impact and character. Then, use your voice to tell your unique story. Good luck!
This guide to college essay examples was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘22, Alex Baggott-Rowe , Davidson ’16, and Stefanie Tedards. At CollegeAdvisor, we have built our reputation by providing comprehensive information that offers real assistance to students. If you want to get help with your college applications from Alex or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts , click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 53 stellar college essay topics to inspire you.
Most colleges and universities in the United States require applicants to submit at least one essay as part of their application. But trying to figure out what college essay topics you should choose is a tricky process. There are so many potential things you could write about!
In this guide, we go over the essential qualities that make for a great college essay topic and give you 50+ college essay topics you can use for your own statement . In addition, we provide you with helpful tips for turning your college essay topic into a stellar college essay.
What Qualities Make for a Good College Essay Topic?
Regardless of what you write about in your personal statement for college , there are key features that will always make for a stand-out college essay topic.
#1: It’s Specific
First off, good college essay topics are extremely specific : you should know all the pertinent facts that have to do with the topic and be able to see how the entire essay comes together.
Specificity is essential because it’ll not only make your essay stand out from other statements, but it'll also recreate the experience for admissions officers through its realism, detail, and raw power. You want to tell a story after all, and specificity is the way to do so. Nobody wants to read a vague, bland, or boring story — not even admissions officers!
For example, an OK topic would be your experience volunteering at a cat shelter over the summer. But a better, more specific college essay topic would be how you deeply connected with an elderly cat there named Marty, and how your bond with him made you realize that you want to work with animals in the future.
Remember that specificity in your topic is what will make your essay unique and memorable . It truly is the key to making a strong statement (pun intended)!
#2: It Shows Who You Are
In addition to being specific, good college essay topics reveal to admissions officers who you are: your passions and interests, what is important to you, your best (or possibly even worst) qualities, what drives you, and so on.
The personal statement is critical because it gives schools more insight into who you are as a person and not just who you are as a student in terms of grades and classes.
By coming up with a real, honest topic, you’ll leave an unforgettable mark on admissions officers.
#3: It’s Meaningful to You
The very best college essay topics are those that hold deep meaning to their writers and have truly influenced them in some significant way.
For instance, maybe you plan to write about the first time you played Skyrim to explain how this video game revealed to you the potentially limitless worlds you could create, thereby furthering your interest in game design.
Even if the topic seems trivial, it’s OK to use it — just as long as you can effectively go into detail about why this experience or idea had such an impact on you .
Don’t give in to the temptation to choose a topic that sounds impressive but doesn’t actually hold any deep meaning for you. Admissions officers will see right through this!
Similarly, don’t try to exaggerate some event or experience from your life if it’s not all that important to you or didn’t have a substantial influence on your sense of self.
#4: It’s Unique
College essay topics that are unique are also typically the most memorable, and if there’s anything you want to be during the college application process, it’s that! Admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications, and the essay is one of the only parts that allows them to really get a sense of who you are and what you value in life.
If your essay is trite or boring, it won’t leave much of an impression , and your application will likely get immediately tossed to the side with little chance of seeing admission.
But if your essay topic is very original and different, you’re more likely to earn that coveted second glance at your application.
What does being unique mean exactly, though? Many students assume that they must choose an extremely rare or crazy experience to talk about in their essays —but that's not necessarily what I mean by "unique." Good college essay topics can be unusual and different, yes, but they can also be unique takes on more mundane or common activities and experiences .
For instance, say you want to write an essay about the first time you went snowboarding. Instead of just describing the details of the experience and how you felt during it, you could juxtapose your emotions with a creative and humorous perspective from the snowboard itself. Or you could compare your first attempt at snowboarding with your most recent experience in a snowboarding competition. The possibilities are endless!
#5: It Clearly Answers the Question
Finally, good college essay topics will clearly and fully answer the question(s) in the prompt.
You might fail to directly answer a prompt by misinterpreting what it’s asking you to do, or by answering only part of it (e.g., answering just one out of three questions).
Therefore, make sure you take the time to come up with an essay topic that is in direct response to every question in the prompt .
Take this Coalition Application prompt as an example:
What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
For this prompt, you’d need to answer all three questions (though it’s totally fine to focus more on one or two of them) to write a compelling and appropriate essay.
This is why we recommend reading and rereading the essay prompt ; you should know exactly what it’s asking you to do, well before you start brainstorming possible college application essay topics.
53 College Essay Topics to Get Your Brain Moving
In this section, we give you a list of 53 examples of college essay topics. Use these as jumping-off points to help you get started on your college essay and to ensure that you’re on track to coming up with a relevant and effective topic.
All college application essay topics below are categorized by essay prompt type. We’ve identified six general types of college essay prompts:
Why This College?
Change and personal growth, passions, interests, and goals, overcoming a challenge, diversity and community, solving a problem.
Note that these prompt types could overlap with one another, so you’re not necessarily limited to just one college essay topic in a single personal statement.
- How a particular major or program will help you achieve your academic or professional goals
- A memorable and positive interaction you had with a professor or student at the school
- Something good that happened to you while visiting the campus or while on a campus tour
- A certain class you want to take or a certain professor you’re excited to work with
- Some piece of on-campus equipment or facility that you’re looking forward to using
- Your plans to start a club at the school, possibly to raise awareness of a major issue
- A study abroad or other unique program that you can’t wait to participate in
- How and where you plan to volunteer in the community around the school
- An incredible teacher you studied under and the positive impact they had on you
- How you went from really liking something, such as a particular movie star or TV show, to not liking it at all (or vice versa)
- How yours or someone else’s (change in) socioeconomic status made you more aware of poverty
- A time someone said something to you that made you realize you were wrong
- How your opinion on a controversial topic, such as gay marriage or DACA, has shifted over time
- A documentary that made you aware of a particular social, economic, or political issue going on in the country or world
- Advice you would give to your younger self about friendship, motivation, school, etc.
- The steps you took in order to kick a bad or self-sabotaging habit
- A juxtaposition of the first and most recent time you did something, such as dance onstage
- A book you read that you credit with sparking your love of literature and/or writing
- A school assignment or project that introduced you to your chosen major
- A glimpse of your everyday routine and how your biggest hobby or interest fits into it
- The career and (positive) impact you envision yourself having as a college graduate
- A teacher or mentor who encouraged you to pursue a specific interest you had
- How moving around a lot helped you develop a love of international exchange or learning languages
- A special skill or talent you’ve had since you were young and that relates to your chosen major in some way, such as designing buildings with LEGO bricks
- Where you see yourself in 10 or 20 years
- Your biggest accomplishment so far relating to your passion (e.g., winning a gold medal for your invention at a national science competition)
- A time you lost a game or competition that was really important to you
- How you dealt with the loss or death of someone close to you
- A time you did poorly in a class that you expected to do well in
- How moving to a new school impacted your self-esteem and social life
- A chronic illness you battled or are still battling
- Your healing process after having your heart broken for the first time
- A time you caved under peer pressure and the steps you took so that it won't happen again
- How you almost gave up on learning a foreign language but stuck with it
- Why you decided to become a vegetarian or vegan, and how you navigate living with a meat-eating family
- What you did to overcome a particular anxiety or phobia you had (e.g., stage fright)
- A history of a failed experiment you did over and over, and how you finally found a way to make it work successfully
- Someone within your community whom you aspire to emulate
- A family tradition you used to be embarrassed about but are now proud of
- Your experience with learning English upon moving to the United States
- A close friend in the LGBTQ+ community who supported you when you came out
- A time you were discriminated against, how you reacted, and what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again
- How you navigate your identity as a multiracial, multiethnic, and/or multilingual person
- A project or volunteer effort you led to help or improve your community
- A particular celebrity or role model who inspired you to come out as LGBTQ+
- Your biggest challenge (and how you plan to tackle it) as a female in a male-dominated field
- How you used to discriminate against your own community, and what made you change your mind and eventually take pride in who you are and/or where you come from
- A program you implemented at your school in response to a known problem, such as a lack of recycling cans in the cafeteria
- A time you stepped in to mediate an argument or fight between two people
- An app or other tool you developed to make people’s lives easier in some way
- A time you proposed a solution that worked to an ongoing problem at school, an internship, or a part-time job
- The steps you took to identify and fix an error in coding for a website or program
- An important social or political issue that you would fix if you had the means
How to Build a College Essay in 6 Easy Steps
Once you’ve decided on a college essay topic you want to use, it’s time to buckle down and start fleshing out your essay. These six steps will help you transform a simple college essay topic into a full-fledged personal statement.
Step 1: Write Down All the Details
Once you’ve chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay . These could be things such as the following:
- Emotions you felt at the time
- Names, places, and/or numbers
- Dialogue, or what you or someone else said
- A specific anecdote, example, or experience
- Descriptions of how things looked, felt, or seemed
If you can only come up with a few details, then it’s probably best to revisit the list of college essay topics above and choose a different one that you can write more extensively on.
Good college essay topics are typically those that:
- You remember well (so nothing that happened when you were really young)
- You're excited to write about
- You're not embarrassed or uncomfortable to share with others
- You believe will make you positively stand out from other applicants
Step 2: Figure Out Your Focus and Approach
Once you have all your major details laid out, start to figure out how you could arrange them in a way that makes sense and will be most effective.
It’s important here to really narrow your focus: you don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) discuss every single aspect of your trip to visit family in Indonesia when you were 16. Rather, zero in on a particular anecdote or experience and explain why and how it impacted you.
Alternatively, you could write about multiple experiences while weaving them together with a clear, meaningful theme or concept , such as how your math teacher helped you overcome your struggle with geometry over the course of an entire school year. In this case, you could mention a few specific times she tutored you and most strongly supported you in your studies.
There’s no one right way to approach your college essay, so play around to see what approaches might work well for the topic you’ve chosen.
If you’re really unsure about how to approach your essay, think about what part of your topic was or is most meaningful and memorable to you, and go from there.
Step 3: Structure Your Narrative
- Beginning: Don’t just spout off a ton of background information here—you want to hook your reader, so try to start in the middle of the action , such as with a meaningful conversation you had or a strong emotion you felt. It could also be a single anecdote if you plan to center your essay around a specific theme or idea.
- Middle: Here’s where you start to flesh out what you’ve established in the opening. Provide more details about the experience (if a single anecdote) or delve into the various times your theme or idea became most important to you. Use imagery and sensory details to put the reader in your shoes.
- End: It’s time to bring it all together. Finish describing the anecdote or theme your essay centers around and explain how it relates to you now , what you’ve learned or gained from it, and how it has influenced your goals.
Step 4: Write a Rough Draft
By now you should have all your major details and an outline for your essay written down; these two things will make it easy for you to convert your notes into a rough draft.
At this stage of the writing process, don’t worry too much about vocabulary or grammar and just focus on getting out all your ideas so that they form the general shape of an essay . It’s OK if you’re a little over the essay's word limit — as you edit, you’ll most likely make some cuts to irrelevant and ineffective parts anyway.
If at any point you get stuck and have no idea what to write, revisit steps 1-3 to see whether there are any important details or ideas you might be omitting or not elaborating on enough to get your overall point across to admissions officers.
Step 5: Edit, Revise, and Proofread
- Sections that are too wordy and don’t say anything important
- Irrelevant details that don’t enhance your essay or the point you're trying to make
- Parts that seem to drag or that feel incredibly boring or redundant
- Areas that are vague and unclear and would benefit from more detail
- Phrases or sections that are awkwardly placed and should be moved around
- Areas that feel unconvincing, inauthentic, or exaggerated
Start paying closer attention to your word choice/vocabulary and grammar at this time, too. It’s perfectly normal to edit and revise your college essay several times before asking for feedback, so keep working with it until you feel it’s pretty close to its final iteration.
This step will likely take the longest amount of time — at least several weeks, if not months — so really put effort into fixing up your essay. Once you’re satisfied, do a final proofread to ensure that it’s technically correct.
Step 6: Get Feedback and Tweak as Needed
After you’ve overhauled your rough draft and made it into a near-final draft, give your essay to somebody you trust , such as a teacher or parent, and have them look it over for technical errors and offer you feedback on its content and overall structure.
Use this feedback to make any last-minute changes or edits. If necessary, repeat steps 5 and 6. You want to be extra sure that your essay is perfect before you submit it to colleges!
Recap: From College Essay Topics to Great College Essays
Many different kinds of college application essay topics can get you into a great college. But this doesn’t make it any easier to choose the best topic for you .
In general, the best college essay topics have the following qualities :
- They’re specific
- They show who you are
- They’re meaningful to you
- They’re unique
- They clearly answer the question
If you ever need help coming up with an idea of what to write for your essay, just refer to the list of 53 examples of college essay topics above to get your brain juices flowing.
Once you’ve got an essay topic picked out, follow these six steps for turning your topic into an unforgettable personal statement :
- Write down all the details
- Figure out your focus and approach
- Structure your narrative
- Write a rough draft
- Edit, revise, and proofread
- Get feedback and tweak as needed
And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your college essays!
Writing a college essay is no simple task. Get expert college essay tips with our guides on how to come up with great college essay ideas and how to write a college essay, step by step .
You can also check out this huge list of college essay prompts to get a feel for what types of questions you'll be expected to answer on your applications.
Want to see examples of college essays that absolutely rocked? You're in luck because we've got a collection of 100+ real college essay examples right here on our blog!
Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.
Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now :
Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.
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What Do Colleges Look for in an Essay? Examples & Tips
What is a College Essay?
The college essay is an essential element of the college application process. It presents an opportunity for students to personalize their college application, beyond grades and scores. It can also be one of the more nerve-wracking parts of the application process.
If you are reading this article, you are like applying to college and taking the process seriously. The quality of the college you attend will have a big effect on your entire life, and taking a few hours to make your application the best it can possibly be may be the most lucrative time investment you will ever make.
What do colleges look for in an essay from applicants?
So, what do colleges look for in an essay? The answer is similar to what colleges look for in an applicant. To hit the right notes, you need to consider the perspective and even the mission statement of the college, which of course values intelligence, a good work ethic, and the type of personality that will represent the school.
Therefore, the core aspects that admissions officials at any institution look for in an essay are:
· Strong communication skills
· Ambition and goals
· Proactivity and self-direction
· Interest in education and self-betterment
These elements are not based on any abstract moral consideration–colleges want students who will make their institution stronger. They will look for evidence of these traits in your personal essay, as grades only reflect a few of these core aspects and abilities.
Beyond these considerations, remember that an admissions officer (an actual human being) will read your essay and respond to it both rationally and emotionally. In many cases, that emotion is boredom. Keep in mind that these officials read hundreds of application essays each admissions season. But if your essay can successfully win them over, then you’ll be getting a letter that begins with a “We are delighted to announce…”
Qualities Colleges Look for to Include in Your Essay
Most achievements that colleges are looking for will be reflected in your college application, and therefore, these have been left off of the list below. The achievements showing your passion and drive, as well as your internal and external motivations, will be the ones to include in your application essay.
Challenging extracurricular activities
Colleges want to see students who stretch themselves beyond the limits of the classroom. The kinds of activities you choose say a lot about your personality and even your morals. Whether or not you stick with your chosen undertakings exhibits your ability to commit to important projects in the long term.
Volunteer and work experience
Any experience you have that shows true commitment, leadership qualities and an interest in community is beneficial to your application. Include the organizations or companies you worked for and what your responsibilities were at each one. If you received any promotions or special recognitions, be sure to mention those as well.
Talents and passions
More colleges are moving away from accepting students who did the most “stuff” to looking for those who focus their energy in specific areas that they’re passionate about. Schools want to see what makes you special and how hard you’re willing to work at the things you care about.
Obstacles or challenges you have overcome
One of the most important aspects of a good college student is their ability to learn from mistakes and overcome challenges in order to achieve success. This is especially true for Common App Essay prompts . In your essay, focus on what exact difficulties or challenges you faced, how you overcame them, and what you learned from this experience. After all, admissions officials are more impressed by a student who came from an adverse situation and still achieved success than they are with a student who had every advantage handed to them and skated by on position and intelligence.
What is a well-written essay?
Admissions officers read a lot of essays, and a well-written one can make a refreshing change. Students should check their essays to make sure they clearly meet these criteria:
- Does the essay provide a direct answer to the essay question?
- Does it have a strong opening paragraph that captures the reader’s interest?
- Does it put forth a comprehensive argument or narrative? Does the student make a point and stick to it?
- Does it have a natural style that’s comfortable for the student and appropriate for the subject matter?
- Did the student use effective word choice, syntax, and structure?
- Does it contain correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
- Is it succinct? Did the student pay attention to the recommended length?
How to Write About Positive Qualities in an Application Essay
The rule of thumb here is always “Show–don’t tell.” When writing a college essay, skip generalized information. Instead, provide real, specific examples to support your statements. Your attention to detail will help make you more memorable to an admissions officer who has to read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays.
For example, instead of “I love hiking,” you could say, “After reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I decided my next adventure would be climbing Mt. Everest.” What’s the difference between these two sentences? The first says you like something, while the second one illustrates that you do—but not only that, it also shows your level of commitment and your desire for challenge. Of the two example sentences, which do you think maximizes your use of words and would be more interesting to admissions officers?
Bad example: Claim without proof My teacher once told me that I was the most skilled and intelligent student she’s ever taught, and I believed her. When I set a goal, there’s no stopping me. I’ll work at it until it’s achieved—even if it’s to my own detriment.
Good example: Showing with concrete evidence In sophomore year, I decided to set a goal to raise more money for Relay for Life than any other student involved. I asked my neighbors, family, teachers, and even my paster, who sat through my 20-minute prepared speech about why donating to this campaign would be the best use of his money. I spoke to community groups. I did three straight weekends of door-to-door fundraising. And in the end, my efforts paid off—I succeeded in raising over $500 more than any other student.
Showing initiative and ambition
Initiative and ambition are top qualities that colleges look for in an applicant. Students who exhibit these traits will bring a positive and driven attitude with them to college, where it will help them contribute to the campus and succeed in their academic endeavors.
The college essay should always show how you took some kind of action—it shouldn’t just include things that happened to you as a passive individual. For example, rather than simply writing about how it was emotionally difficult when your older sibling got sick, discuss specific coping strategies you developed during that time or ways that you contributed to helping your sibling and family.
Showing self-reflection and growth
Personal growth is one of the most popular topics to write about since it represents what the admissions essay is all about: helping the college gain better insight into your personality and character. Some schools ask targeted questions — “What was the most challenging event you have ever faced, and how have you grown from it?” — while others leave the topic open: “Describe an event that has had great meaning for you. Explain why and how it has affected you.”
One of the most successful strategies is to use a past event as a lens through which you can assess who you were and the person you became, how you have grown and changed, and your transformation. Most children are curious, but were you the one who asked your teacher what caused the change of seasons of the year and then created a solar system model and explained the concept to your classmates? Though you may think that your topic needs to be bold and unique, this is not necessary to craft an effective essay. Instead, success lies in painting an accurate and vivid picture of yourself — one that will show admissions officers that you have much to offer their school.
Structure your essay with a clear beginning, middle, and end
When you include the basic plot elements of setting, introduction, conflict, and resolution, not only will your essay be more fun to read, it will be easier to write. And when writing is easier, you are usually having more fun and pouring more of yourself into your writing. You will find that this often translates into a more compelling story as well since passion and interest are hallmarks of any good story told to a friend or included on the page of an adventure or romance novel. When structuring your narrative arc, include the lessons you have learned from these experiences: How did you change? What did you learn? What did/do you plan to do differently because of these experiences? Anyone can write about how they won first place in a competition or spent a fantastic vacation in Europe. The important stuff is not in the itinerary, but rather in the diary–what you learned from the experience and how it impacted you.
Essay Introduction #1: Focus on Your Personal Qualities
One approach when beginning your application essay is to start by describing positive character traits you possess and then showing examples of times you demonstrated those traits.
Starting with your qualities A student wants to show that he is determined and tenacious. He thinks about times when he went above and beyond what was necessary to succeed in high school. He thinks of how he became the only student at his school to participate in three or more AP classes while also being involved in multiple sports and extracurricular activities. He also thinks of his volunteer work with his church at a local homeless shelter, where he made friends and connections with shelter guests and high-profile members of the community. These are the qualities around which his essay is focused.
Essay Introduction #2: Focus on a Personal Story
Another way to approach your essay topic is to start with a story and then work show examples that demonstrative your positive qualities.
Starting with a story A student’s sibling has been fighting cancer for the past three years, and he feels that this is an important experience that has shaped who he is today. He considers how the difficulties of this experience have changed him and help distinguish him from other applicants.
From introducing his story at the beginning of his essay, this applicant can tie in the positive qualities he exhibits with the finer details of his personal story:
- He is independent, as he needed to deal with taking care of a loved one in a serious and sustained way that his peers did not need to deal with.
- He is focused, as dealing with regular medical emergencies has not deterred him from achieving good grades and being part of his community.
- He is empathetic, as he understands personally how hard times can impact people.
Whatever essay topic you choose, your essay should provide admissions officers concrete evidence that you are an ideal candidate for their school. Your essay should have a memorable introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and guides the rest of your essay.
Repeat Your Qualities in the Essay Conclusion
Although your essay introduction is crucial in starting your essay off in a clear and impactful direction, how you end your essay is also important as it is the last thing that will remain in the reader’s mind. One surefire way to write a strong essay conclusion is to repeat the important qualities you discussed earlier. Recall details about your personal story or repeat the qualities you introduced at the beginning of the essay. Here is an example of what a good conclusion can capture what colleges are looking for in an essay:
Concluding your essay by repeating your qualities During my high school years, my qualities of leadership, initiative, and hard work have help shape me to become the strong student I am today. As the head of our school’s volunteer group, I showed that even a teenager can make a big impact. As a student achieving high grades in all three of my AP courses, I demonstrated my dedication to education about all. Finally, as a daughter of working-class immigrant parents, I have used my value of hard work to achieve things my parents never thought possible. These values have contributed to making me the conscientious and successful student and person I am now, and they will surely continue to assist and guide me in my academic and professional career.
Interesting Essay Topics to Write About
There are hundreds of resources available online about writing college essays (including How to Write the Common App Essay ). And while you can find dozens of interesting and fruitful essay topics that have worked, here are just a few more that are not too specific and can be molded to fit your unique profile and personal story.
1. A unique extracurricular activity or passion
2. An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile
3. A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life
4. Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality
5. An in-the-moment narrative that tells the story of an important moment in your life
Additional Tips for Writing an Essay Colleges Will Love
Choose a strong essay topic.
First, whichever structure you will use, you need to ask yourself what you actually want to accomplish in life (esp. in terms of career) . This gives you your goals. You need to choose a program that helps you reach these goals—otherwise, you should seriously reconsider whether you should even be applying!
If you are using the “Story” structure…
The story is going to be your topic, so make it an engaging tale… but remember you are not here to show that you are the next Shakespeare. There are three ways to go here: a story/description about yourself that shaped who you are and shows who you are. A story/description of something completely different that inspires you or is a metaphor for who you are.
If you are using the “Conveying passion for a subject” structure…
In this case, you have your topic (the subject you are passionate about), but remember the essay should be about what it means to you (don’t get bogged down in describing the subject itself). Use each subsequent paragraph to illustrate how you show passion for the subject or topic you have chosen. Be sure to use concrete details within the paragraph, but begin each paragraph with a “mini-thesis statement” that gives the reader a clear and concise summary of how you demonstrate your passion in a particular way.
Engage the Reader with Your Essay’s Narrative
The admissions officer will not be interested in a mere list of your personal qualities, extracurriculars, or accomplishments. This information is included elsewhere in your application. Instead, focus on showing who you are in your essay through a narrative that includes concrete details.
But how can you plan the topics included in your narrative essay? First, grab a pen and jot down important experiences that spring to mind. Your experience could be something negative that eventually turns out to be positive or vice-versa. The most intriguing part of a negative experience is how you handled it and, hopefully, came out on top. Give your reader a setting to help them feel like they’re a part of your story and experience this moment of change with you.
Focus on what you care about most
Consider this a kind of brainstorming exercise. Close your eyes and imagine what drives you, motivates you, excites you, and inspires you to pursue great things (or at least fantasize about doing them). This might include a hobby, a genre of music, an important person in your life, a pivotal memory or experience, a book—anything meaningful that you consider part of your identity or that defines you.
Start by listing these items and creating a word web of other relevant or secondary aspects of this one idea, person, object, or experience. Write some brief sentences about exactly why it is important to you. Once you have your list and a few sentences written, it should be a bit easier to narrow your topic to just one or two things at most.
Essay Editing for College Application Essays
One thing all schools look for in an essay is a document that is free of errors in grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and style. Admissions essay editing services are ideal for international students who struggle with English or simply want to take their essays to the next level. Students should take care to choose a company that’s reputable and employs highly qualified editors .
Check out Wordvice’s array of professional English editing services and proofreading services , including essay editing services, to learn how our editors can improve your essays and help you get into your dream school.
What are colleges looking for in an applicant?
I'm trying to figure out what colleges are looking for in their applicants. What qualities or traits do they value the most? Any insights would be helpful!
Hi there! Each college has its own more specific criteria, but there are some qualities that most colleges generally look for in prospective students. Here are a few:
1. Academic achievements: Colleges evaluate applicants' academic performance, including GPA, class rank, and standardized test scores. They're particularly interested in seeing a strong performance in challenging courses and growth over time, as those things speak to your ability to both hit the ground running and take full advantage of the new opportunities that will be available to you in college.
2. Extracurricular involvement: Admissions officers want to see that you're a well-rounded individual who's engaged in activities outside the classroom, such as clubs, sports, community service, or leadership roles. The whole point of the residential college experience is that you learn from living with your peers, not just in class, so admissions officers want to see that you're ready to contribute to your freshman floor, dining hall discussions, and club meetings, as well as in the classroom
3. Personal qualities: Admissions officers look for traits that speak to your potential to be an engaged, considerate member of their campus community, such as resilience, curiosity, and the ability to work well in diverse teams. Your essays and recommendation letters can help you showcase these qualities.
4. Interest in the college: Many colleges look for demonstrated interest, which shows that you've done your research and have a genuine connection to their campus. Attending college visits, engaging with admissions officers, and writing strong 'Why This College?' essays can help demonstrate your interest.
Every college is different, so keep in mind that individual institutions may prioritize some qualities more than others, but hopefully this list gives you an initial sense of what schools are looking for. Good luck with your applications!
What Are Colleges Looking for in Application Essays?
After four years of classes and multiple Saturdays spent taking the SAT or ACT , the college application essay may seem like a big drag. But don’t give up now. Essays are a very important factor in the college admissions process, as they are your opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd and show college admissions committees what you are truly passionate about.
Grades, strength of curriculum, and admissions test scores still take the cake as the most important factors in college admissions , but application essays are not to be dismissed or downplayed.
If you’re a middle-of-the-road applicant, your college essay can make or break you.
But we at The University Network (TUN) understand how stressful and difficult it can be to put together a powerful, unique essay. So, to help you out, we spoke with an admissions expert and conducted extensive research.
Here is what we gathered:
#1 — There are 4 different types of essays
Throughout the application process, you will likely come across many different essay questions. But, typically, they can be boiled down into four categories: the “ who are you? ” essay, the “ personal growth ” essay, the “ what inspires you? ” essay, and the “ why this school? ” essay.
1. The “ who are you? ” essay
With good reason, the “ who are you? ” essay is one of the most common. Grades and test scores can only tell so much about an applicant. The “ who are you? ” essay gives admissions officers the opportunity to learn something unique and personal about the students applying. Generally, these types of essays encourage students to spotlight their academic or personal interests.
Here are some past example essay questions from the Common App and Brown University :
The Common App essay prompt
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Brown University essay prompt
Tell us about the place, or places, you call home. These can be physical places where you have lived, or a community or group that is important to you.
What you should consider when writing “ who are you? ” essays
It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t explain your life story in these types of essays, for that could cause you to ramble and fail to ever get to the meat of your essay. It is better to take a deep dive into one specific event, idea or thing and explain how that has shaped or influenced you.
2. The “ personal growth ” essay
Colleges and universities use the “ personal growth ” essay to gauge how resilient and driven applicants are. Generally, by way of these questions, applicants will have to recall a time where they overcame adversity or faced a fear. College isn’t easy, and schools want to guarantee that the students they admit have the mental strength to graduate.
Here are some past example essay questions from the Common App and Stony Brook University :
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Stony Brook University essay prompt
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
What you should consider when writing “ personal growth ” essays
Students who choose to write a “ personal growth ” essay should remember to be honest and modest. Don’t spend your entire essay giving background information or boasting. The meat of your “ personal growth ” should come from explaining what effect a specific event or challenge had on you.
3. The “ what inspires you? ” essay
The “ what inspires you? ” essay is a college admission department’s attempt at seeing the intellectual and creative aspirations of applicants. Generally, these questions are best fit for students who already have an idea of what they want to study in college and pursue after graduation.
Here are some past example essay questions from the Common App and Yale University :
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Yale University essay prompt
What inspires you?
What you should consider when writing “ what inspires you? ” essays
When answering “ what inspires you? ” it is easy to get sidetracked and bounce around to moments throughout your life. But, again, the best essays are stories about one specific event, person, place, or thing that had a deep, lasting impact on your life.
4. The “why this school?” essay
Many colleges and universities want to know why each applicant wants to attend their school. Each school has a unique culture and focus, so they want to make sure applicants will fit in and excel once admitted. Additionally, many prestigious schools want to guarantee that they only admit students who are deeply committed and eager to attend.
Here are some past example essay questions from Columbia University and Yale University :
Columbia University essay prompt
Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.
What is it about Yale that has led you to apply?
What to consider when writing “ why this school? ” essays
When writing “ why this school? ” essays, it’s important to be sincere. Don’t just ramble on about how great a school is. Instead, tell an honest story about what motivated you to apply. And if you are just applying for the sake of applying, maybe think again. College is expensive, and can be difficult. Don’t waste four years of your life at a school you aren’t passionate about attending.
#2 — Past essays can shed some light on what works
Sometimes the best way for applicants to gauge what makes a good college application essay is to take a look at what worked in the past.
Students don’t always have to follow a set path, but the essays below, which were written by students in the past, can give today’s applicants a good idea of what a successful essay looks like.
Johns Hopkins essay examples
- Essays written by the Johns Hopkins Class of 2021
- Essays written by the Johns Hopkins Class of 2020
- Essays written by the Johns Hopkins Class of 2019
- Essays written by the Johns Hopkins Class of 2018
Connecticut College essay examples
- Essays written by the Connecticut College Classes of 2017–2020
Hamilton College essay examples
- Essays written by the Hamilton College Class of 2018
#3 — Some universal tips to apply when drafting any type of application essay
Schools differ in the questions they ask applicants to answer. But, generally, they all look for similar aspects in responses. Here are some universal tips that you should apply, so you can draft the perfect essay.
1. Write about yourself
Application essay questions may vary in wording and topics, but nearly every question you encounter is centered around the theme of individual interest, passion and drive.
“Schools are really trying to gain insights into what the passions and interests of a student are,” said Rodney Morrison , the Associate Provost for Enrollment and Retention Management at Stony Brook University.
So, before drafting an application essay, it’s very important to self-reflect and consider who you are, what you care about, and what separates you from your peers.
You don’t need to have gone through a life-shattering experience or have a burning desire for change in order to write a compelling essay. Even those who consider themselves a “typical high school student” likely have an intriguing story to tell.
Passion — no matter how deep it may be buried — exists in everyone. Take an honest look into yourself and find out what you care about the most.
2. Write about what is important to you
Students will commonly make the mistake of catering their writing to admissions officers, instead of writing from the heart. Disingenuous writing is easy for admissions officers to see through. After all, they read thousands of essays.
“Don’t write about what you think the admissions office wants to hear. Really write about the things that are important to you,” said Morrison. “That’s really what (admissions officers) want to get out of it . . . the things that are important to the students, not what the student thinks the admissions officers want to hear.”
3. Don’t use humor if you aren’t funny
Students shouldn’t stray from their stylistic comfort zone when writing their application essays. Just because you heard somewhere that admissions officers like humor in the essays they read doesn’t mean you should squeeze an awkward joke in your writing.
Plus, you never know how an admissions officer will receive a joke. It could be perceived as confusing or even offensive.
“If you’re not a humorous writer . . . now is probably not the best time to try it,” said Morrison.
Forced writing is easy to recognize. Don’t make someone wince while reviewing your entry.
4. Don’t fake a sophisticated vocabulary
“Don’t try to use really big SAT words if you don’t typically use them,” Morrison said. “You really want it to sound like it’s coming from you.”
Even more so than failed humor, a forced vocabulary can kill an application essay. Synonyms aren’t interchangeable; every word has a distinct nuance to its meaning — and there is a time and place for every word.
Application officers have read enough essays to know when writing is organic and when it isn’t. Big words don’t impress admissions officers, but deep thoughts do.
5. Answer the question
Although this may seem obvious, according to Morrison, one of the biggest mistakes students can make while writing their application essay is failing to answer the question.
Commonly, students will receive an essay question, dive into it, and submit it without answering it fully. Incomplete answers are detrimental to a student’s response, because essay questions are carefully worded and intended to encourage students to explore and explain a specific thought or belief.
Answering only part of the question is essentially like missing the boat, and good writing will likely not be able to save you.
Take this Common App question for example: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
The meat of this question lies in the second half. If you spend the entire time giving background, you may get sidetracked and miss out on explaining what you learned — the most important part of the question.
6. Be unique, not generic
You should view your application essay as your opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
“Most schools — particularly competitive schools — they are really trying to pick and choose between a lot of qualified applicants,” Morrison said. “If you’re generic and (admissions officers) can’t tell the difference between you, someone else, and the other thousands of applicants, it doesn’t do you a good service.”
Again, you don’t need to have endured a traumatic or life-altering experience to draft a unique essay. You should consider your application essay as a time to explain what makes you special and worthy of being accepted — something that the numbers in your transcript can’t describe.
7. Use your space wisely
Typically, application essays shouldn’t exceed 650 words. And some schools, including Yale , ask applicants to answer questions in as few as 35 words.
Application officers are busy people with mountains of essays to read through, so it is important you are concise in your writing. Your application essay isn’t the time to explain your life story. Instead, maybe explain one specific moment that had a huge impact on you.
Additionally, it is pivotal that you use your space wisely. Don’t use up too many words on background or wait too long to get to the meat of your essay. This can be done by acknowledging your most compelling point during the brainstorming period prior to writing.
8. Don’t let proofreaders change your tone or theme
Proofreaders are great. And, in fact, Morrison even encourages them. However, peers, teachers — whoever it may be proofreading — should not alter or suggest any changes other than punctuation and grammar.
“In other words, the parents shouldn’t be writing it, the friends shouldn’t be writing it, it should really come from that person,” Morrison said.
There is a lot to consider before writing your application essay(s), so don’t wait until the last minute. To the procrastinators out there, don’t ignore this advice. Application essays are not like a nightly homework assignment, and they shouldn’t be treated as one. You need time to brainstorm, write, make edits, and have a peer or teacher review. Plus, the more time you allot yourself to draft your essay(s), the more relaxed you will be when it’s time to write.
For more college application advice, check here .
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What Do Colleges Look For In Essays?
When it comes to college admissions, the essay can often be the deciding factor that sets one applicant apart from another. It’s important to understand what colleges look for in essays and how to effectively convey your personal qualities and writing skills. In this article, we will discuss the role of essays in the admissions process, and provide tips and strategies for conveying key qualities such as originality, creativity, authenticity, and passion in your own essay.
It’s important to keep in mind what should not be included in your essay, such as cliches, overused phrases, or controversial topics that may offend or alienate the admissions officers. While it may be tempting to have someone else “ do my essay “, it’s important to remember that the essay is an opportunity for you to showcase your unique voice and perspective. By understanding what colleges look for in essays and following some basic guidelines, you can create a compelling and effective essay that helps you stand out in the admissions process.
Table of Contents
Understanding The Admissions Process
The college admissions process can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for students and their families. It involves a series of steps that determine whether or not an applicant will be accepted into a particular college or university. Understanding the admissions process is essential for anyone who wants to have the best chance of success.
One of the most important pieces of the application puzzle is the college essay. This essay is typically required as part of the application package and provides students with an opportunity to showcase their writing skills, creativity, and personality. It’s also a chance to explain any unique circumstances or challenges that may have impacted academic performance or other aspects of the student’s life.
While grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation are all important factors in determining admission, the college essay can often make or break an applicant’s chances.
Purpose Of College Admissions
College Admissions Serve Several Purposes, Including:
- Identifying the most qualified and motivated applicants for admission to the institution.
- Ensuring that the student body reflects a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
- Evaluating applicants for scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid.
- Ensuring that the institution has sufficient resources to support the academic and extracurricular needs of its students.
Criteria Admissions Officers Considers
Admissions officers consider a range of criteria when evaluating applicants, including:
- Academic achievement: This includes factors such as high school grades, standardized test scores, and the rigor of the applicant’s course load.
- Extracurricular activities: Admissions officers look for applicants who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and commitment through their involvement in clubs, sports, volunteer work, or other activities.
- Personal qualities: Admissions officers evaluate applicants’ personal qualities such as integrity, creativity, curiosity, and resilience. They also look for evidence of the applicant’s character, such as letters of recommendation, essays, and interviews.
- Diversity: Admissions officers seek to admit students who will contribute to a diverse and inclusive campus community, including students from underrepresented groups, students with unique backgrounds or experiences, and international students.
- Fit: Admissions officers consider how well an applicant’s goals and interests align with the mission and values of the institution.
What Not To Write In An Essay
When writing your college essay, there are some things you should avoid, such as:
- Plagiarism: Do not use someone else’s work or ideas without giving proper credit.
- Cliches: Avoid overused phrases or ideas that lack originality or depth.
- Generic language: Use specific and descriptive language rather than vague or generic phrases.
- Controversial or offensive content: Avoid topics that may be offensive, controversial, or potentially damaging to your application.
- Complaints or negativity: Avoid writing about negative experiences or complaining about things you don’t like. Instead, focus on positive experiences and what you have learned from challenges you’ve faced.
In summary, college admissions serve several purposes, and admissions officers consider a range of criteria when evaluating applicants. When writing your college essay, it is important to avoid certain pitfalls such as plagiarism, cliches, generic language, controversial or offensive content, and complaints or negativity. By presenting a compelling and authentic story that demonstrates your personal qualities, achievements, and fit with the institution, you can increase your chances of being admitted to your desired college or university.
Role Of Essays In The Admissions Process
Essays play a significant role in the college admissions process, as they provide a way for admissions officers to evaluate applicants’ personal qualities and writing skills. Some of the specific ways in which essays are used in the admissions process include:
- Assessing writing ability: Essays provide an opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their writing ability and their ability to communicate their thoughts clearly and effectively.
- Evaluating personal qualities: Essays allow applicants to showcase their personal qualities, such as creativity, critical thinking, and self-awareness. Admissions officers use these essays to assess applicants’ potential to contribute to the college community.
- Gauging fit: Essays also help admissions officers to evaluate whether an applicant is a good fit for the institution by assessing how well their goals, values, and experiences align with the college’s mission and culture.
Essay Basics To Follow
There are several essay basics that you should follow when writing an essay, regardless of the topic or purpose. Here are some of the key elements to keep in mind:
- Introduction: Your essay should begin with an introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and clearly outlines the purpose and scope of your essay.
- Thesis statement: Your thesis statement should be a concise and clear statement that summarizes the main argument or point of your essay.
- Body paragraphs: The body of your essay should contain several paragraphs that support and expand upon your thesis statement. Each paragraph should focus on a single idea or topic and should include evidence and examples to support your argument.
- Transitions: Transitions are words or phrases that connect your ideas and help your essay flow smoothly. Use transition words and phrases such as “however,” “in addition,” “furthermore,” and “on the other hand” to link your ideas and create a cohesive essay.
- Conclusion: Your essay should end with a conclusion that restates your thesis statement and summarizes the main points of your essay. Avoid introducing new information or arguments in your conclusion.
- Proofreading: After you have finished writing your essay, be sure to proofread it carefully for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You may also want to have someone else read your essay to provide feedback and catch any mistakes you may have missed.
By following these essay basics, you can create a well-organized and effective essay that effectively communicates your ideas and arguments to your reader.
How Essays Assess Applicants’ Personal Qualities and Writing Skills
Essays are used to assess applicants’ personal qualities and writing skills in a number of ways, including:
- Tone and style: Admissions officers evaluate the tone and style of an applicant’s writing to assess their ability to communicate effectively and persuasively.
- Originality and creativity: Admissions officers look for essays that demonstrate originality and creativity, as these qualities can help an applicant stand out from the crowd and demonstrate their potential to contribute to the college community.
- Coherence and organization: Admissions officers evaluate an applicant’s ability to organize their thoughts and present them in a clear and coherent manner.
- Authenticity: Admissions officers look for essays that are authentic and genuine, as these essays can provide insight into an applicant’s personality and character.
Key Qualities Colleges Look For In An Essay
As you prepare to apply for colleges, one of the most important components of your application will be your essay. This is your chance to showcase your personality, writing skills, and unique perspective. But what exactly are colleges looking for when they read your essay? Here are some key qualities that admissions officers consider when evaluating essays.
Originality refers to the ability of an applicant to present new and innovative ideas in their essay. Admissions officers are looking for unique perspectives and ideas that demonstrate the applicant’s creativity and ability to think critically. To achieve originality, applicants should avoid cliches and overused topics, and instead focus on highlighting their own unique experiences, perspectives, and ideas.
If you ever think about how to “ do my essay ?”Creativity is another key quality that colleges typically look for in essays. Admissions officers want to see applicants who can think outside the box and present their ideas in a compelling and imaginative way. Creativity can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, such as using storytelling techniques, incorporating humor, or using vivid descriptions and imagery.
Authenticity refers to the ability of an applicant to present a genuine and honest portrayal of themselves in their essay. Admissions officers want to see applicants who are true to themselves and are not trying to present a false image. To achieve authenticity, applicants should focus on writing about experiences and topics that are meaningful to them and that showcase their unique perspective and personality.
Passion is another key quality that colleges look for in essays. Admissions officers want to see applicants who are passionate about their interests and goals, and who demonstrate a strong commitment to their pursuits. To showcase passion, applicants should focus on writing about topics that they are truly interested in and that demonstrate their dedication to their goals.
“ Do my essay ” is a request for someone to write an essay on behalf of the requester. While it may be tempting to ask someone else to write your essay for you, it is important to remember that colleges are looking for essays that are written by the applicant themselves. Admissions officers want to see the applicant’s own unique voice and perspective, and outsourcing your essay to someone else can jeopardize your chances of being admitted. It is best to take the time to write your essay yourself and showcase your own unique qualities and abilities.
Tips And Strategies For Conveying Good Qualities In Your Own Essay
As a writer, it’s essential to convey your message effectively. In an essay setting, the way you communicate can make or break your chances of achieving success. Therefore, it’s crucial that you focus on conveying specific qualities in your writing. If you wonder how to “ do my essay ” follow this strategy:
Originality To Convey Originality In Your Essay, Try The Following Strategies:
- Choose a unique topic or angle on a common topic.
- Use specific examples and personal anecdotes to illustrate your points.
- Use language that is precise and descriptive.
- Avoid cliches and overused phrases.
Creativity To Convey Creativity In Your Essay, Try The Following Strategies:
- Use storytelling techniques to engage the reader.
- Incorporate humor, if appropriate, to add a touch of lightheartedness to your essay.
- Use vivid descriptions and imagery to create a visual picture for the reader.
- Experiment with different structures or formats, such as using a dialogue or letter format.
Authenticity To Convey Authenticity In Your Essay, Try The Following Strategies:
- Write about a topic that is meaningful and personal to you.
- Use your own voice and style of writing.
- Be honest and genuine in your reflections and experiences.
- Avoid writing what you think the admissions officers want to hear and focus on writing what is true to yourself.
Passion To Convey Passion In Your Essay, Try The Following Strategies:
- Choose a topic that you are truly interested in and passionate about.
- Use language that conveys enthusiasm and excitement.
- Share specific examples that demonstrate your commitment to your interests and goals.
- Avoid writing about topics that you think will impress the admissions officers, and instead focus on writing about what truly drives and inspires you.
While it may be tempting to ask someone else to “ do my essay ” for you, it is important to remember that the essay is an opportunity for you to showcase your unique voice and perspective. Admissions officers are looking for essays that are written by the applicant themselves, so it is best to take the time to write your essay yourself and use these tips and strategies to convey your unique qualities and abilities.
In conclusion, the college essay is a crucial component of the admissions process that can make all the difference in the decision-making process. It provides a window into the applicant’s personal qualities, writing skills, and overall fit for the college. Understanding what colleges look for in essays is essential to creating a successful essay that effectively conveys your unique qualities and experiences.
When writing your essay, it’s important to avoid common pitfalls and cliches, such as overused phrases and controversial topics. Instead, focus on showcasing your creativity, authenticity, and passion in a way that resonates with the admissions officers.
If you are struggling to write your essay or need assistance with the writing process, there are resources available to help. Services like Edu jungles provide expert guidance and support to help you craft a compelling and effective essay that showcases your strengths and helps you stand out in the admissions process.
In summary, writing a successful college essay takes time, effort, and careful consideration. By following the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can create a standout essay that effectively communicates your personal qualities and sets you on the path to success.
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16 Strong College Essay Examples from Top Schools
- Common App Essays
- Why This College Essays
- Why This Major Essays
- Extracurricular Essays
- Overcoming Challenges Essays
- Community Service Essays
- Diversity Essays
- Political/Global Issues Essays
- Where to Get Feedback on Your Essays
Most high school students don’t get a lot of experience with creative writing, so the college essay can be especially daunting. Reading examples of successful essays, however, can help you understand what admissions officers are looking for.
In this post, we’ll share 16 college essay examples of many different topics. Most of the essay prompts fall into 8 different archetypes, and you can approach each prompt under that archetype in a similar way. We’ve grouped these examples by archetype so you can better structure your approach to college essays.
If you’re looking for school-specific guides, check out our 2022-2023 essay breakdowns .
Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Note: the essays are titled in this post for navigation purposes, but they were not originally titled. We also include the original prompt where possible.
The Common App essay goes to all of the schools on your list, unless those schools use a separate application platform. Because of this, it’s the most important essay in your portfolio, and likely the longest essay you’ll need to write (you get up to 650 words).
The goal of this essay is to share a glimpse into who you are, what matters to you, and what you hope to achieve. It’s a chance to share your story.
Learn more about how to write the Common App essay in our complete guide.
The Multiple Meanings of Point
Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (250-650 words)
Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger.
There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual.
Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous.
The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée, while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.
There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers.
But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet.
The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable.
The first obvious strength of this essay is the introduction—it is interesting and snappy and uses enough technical language that we want to figure out what the student is discussing. When writing introductions, students tend to walk the line between intriguing and confusing. It is important that your essay ends up on the intentionally intriguing side of that line—like this student does! We are a little confused at first, but by then introducing the idea of “sparring,” the student grounds their essay.
People often advise young writers to “show, not tell.” This student takes that advice a step further and makes the reader do a bit of work to figure out what they are telling us. Nowhere in this essay does it say “After years of Taekwondo, I made the difficult decision to switch over to ballet.” Rather, the student says “It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers.” How powerful!
After a lot of emotional language and imagery, this student finishes off their essay with very valuable (and necessary!) reflection. They show admissions officers that they are more than just a good writer—they are a mature and self-aware individual who would be beneficial to a college campus. Self-awareness comes through with statements like “surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become” and maturity can be seen through the student’s discussion of values: “honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet.”
Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (250-650 words)
Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire.
Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family.
Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt.
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame.
In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him.
Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses.
That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.
First things first, this Common App essay is well-written. This student is definitely showing the admissions officers her ability to articulate her points beautifully and creatively. It starts with vivid images like that of the “rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free.” And because the prose is flowery (and beautiful!), the writer can get away with metaphors like “I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms” that might sound cheesy without the clear command of the English language that the writer quickly establishes.
In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.
While dialogue often comes off as cliche or trite, this student effectively incorporates her family members saying “Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” This is achieved through the apt use of the verb “taunted” to characterize the questioning and through the question’s thematic connection to the earlier image of the student as a rustic princess. Similarly, rhetorical questions can feel randomly placed in essays, but this student’s inclusion of the questions “Was I so dainty?” and “Was I that incapable?” feel perfectly justified after she establishes that she was pondering her failure.
Quite simply, this essay shows how quality writing can make a simple story outstandingly compelling.
Why This College?
“Why This College?” is one of the most common essay prompts, likely because schools want to understand whether you’d be a good fit and how you’d use their resources.
This essay is one of the more straightforward ones you’ll write for college applications, but you still can and should allow your voice to shine through.
Learn more about how to write the “Why This College?” essay in our guide.
Prompt: How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying (650 words).
Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics, said, “caring is the human mode of being.” I have long been inspired by Sister Roach’s Five C’s of Caring: commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence. Penn both embraces and fosters these values through a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum and unmatched access to service and volunteer opportunities.
COMMITMENT. Reading through the activities that Penn Quakers devote their time to (in addition to academics!) felt like drinking from a firehose in the best possible way. As a prospective nursing student with interests outside of my major, I value this level of flexibility. I plan to leverage Penn’s liberal arts curriculum to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges LGBT people face, especially regarding healthcare access. Through courses like “Interactional Processes with LGBT Individuals” and volunteering at the Mazzoni Center for outreach, I hope to learn how to better support the Penn LGBT community as well as my family and friends, including my cousin, who came out as trans last year.
CONSCIENCE. As one of the first people in my family to attend a four-year university, I wanted a school that promoted a sense of moral responsibility among its students. At Penn, professors challenge their students to question and recreate their own set of morals by sparking thought- provoking, open-minded discussions. I can imagine myself advocating for universal healthcare in courses such as “Health Care Reform & Future of American Health System” and debating its merits with my peers. Studying in an environment where students confidently voice their opinions – conservative or liberal – will push me to question and strengthen my value system.
COMPETENCE. Two aspects that drew my attention to Penn’s BSN program were its high-quality research opportunities and hands-on nursing projects. Through its Office of Nursing Research, Penn connects students to faculty members who share similar research interests. As I volunteered at a nursing home in high school, I hope to work with Dr. Carthon to improve the quality of care for senior citizens. Seniors, especially minorities, face serious barriers to healthcare that I want to resolve. Additionally, Penn’s unique use of simulations to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application impressed me. Using computerized manikins that mimic human responses, classes in Penn’s nursing program allow students to apply their emergency medical skills in a mass casualty simulation and monitor their actions afterward through a video system. Participating in this activity will help me identify my strengths and areas for improvement regarding crisis management and medical care in a controlled yet realistic setting. Research opportunities and simulations will develop my skills even before I interact with patients.
COMPASSION. I value giving back through community service, and I have a particular interest in Penn’s Community Champions and Nursing Students For Sexual & Reproductive Health (NSRH). As a four-year volunteer health educator, I hope to continue this work as a Community Champions member. I am excited to collaborate with medical students to teach fourth and fifth graders in the city about cardiology or lead a chair dance class for the elders at the LIFE Center. Furthermore, as a feminist who firmly believes in women’s abortion rights, I’d like to join NSRH in order to advocate for women’s health on campus. At Penn, I can work with like-minded people to make a meaningful difference.
CONFIDENCE. All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence. Each student summarized their experiences at Penn as challenging but fulfilling. Although I expect my coursework to push me, from my conversations with current Quakers I know it will help me to be far more effective in my career.
The Five C’s of Caring are important heuristics for nursing, but they also provide insight into how I want to approach my time in college. I am eager to engage with these principles both as a nurse and as a Penn Quaker, and I can’t wait to start.
This prompt from Penn asks students to tailor their answer to their specific field of study. One great thing that this student does is identify their undergraduate school early, by mentioning “Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics.” You don’t want readers confused or searching through other parts of your application to figure out your major.
With a longer essay like this, it is important to establish structure. Some students organize their essay in a narrative form, using an anecdote from their past or predicting their future at a school. This student uses Roach’s 5 C’s of Caring as a framing device that organizes their essay around values. This works well!
While this essay occasionally loses voice, there are distinct moments where the student’s personality shines through. We see this with phrases like “felt like drinking from a fire hose in the best possible way” and “All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence.” It is important to show off your personality to make your essay stand out.
Finally, this student does a great job of referencing specific resources about Penn. It’s clear that they have done their research (they’ve even talked to current Quakers). They have dreams and ambitions that can only exist at Penn.
Prompt: What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
Coin collector and swimmer. Hungarian and Romanian. Critical and creative thinker. I was drawn to Yale because they don’t limit one’s mind with “or” but rather embrace unison with “and.”
Wandering through the Beinecke Library, I prepare for my multidisciplinary Energy Studies capstone about the correlation between hedonism and climate change, making it my goal to find implications in environmental sociology. Under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Arielle Baskin-Sommers, I explore the emotional deficits of depression, utilizing neuroimaging to scrutinize my favorite branch of psychology: human perception. At Walden Peer Counseling, I integrate my peer support and active listening skills to foster an empathetic environment for the Yale community. Combining my interests in psychological and environmental studies is why I’m proud to be a Bulldog.
This answer to the “Why This College” question is great because 1) the student shows their excitement about attending Yale 2) we learn the ways in which attending Yale will help them achieve their goals and 3) we learn their interests and identities.
In this response, you can find a prime example of the “Image of the Future” approach, as the student flashes forward and envisions their life at Yale, using present tense (“I explore,” “I integrate,” “I’m proud”). This approach is valuable if you are trying to emphasize your dedication to a specific school. Readers get the feeling that this student is constantly imagining themselves on campus—it feels like Yale really matters to them.
Starting this image with the Beinecke Library is great because the Beinecke Library only exists at Yale. It is important to tailor “Why This College” responses to each specific school. This student references a program of study, a professor, and an extracurricular that only exist at Yale. Additionally, they connect these unique resources to their interests—psychological and environmental studies.
Finally, we learn about the student (independent of academics) through this response. By the end of their 125 words, we know their hobbies, ethnicities, and social desires, in addition to their academic interests. It can be hard to tackle a 125-word response, but this student shows that it’s possible.
Why This Major?
The goal of this prompt is to understand how you came to be interested in your major and what you plan to do with it. For competitive programs like engineering, this essay helps admissions officers distinguish students who have a genuine passion and are most likely to succeed in the program. This is another more straightforward essay, but you do have a bit more freedom to include relevant anecdotes.
Learn more about how to write the “Why This Major?” essay in our guide.
Why Duke Engineering
Prompt: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke (250 words).
One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.
Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.
This prompt calls for a complex answer. Students must explain both why they want to study engineering and why Duke is the best place for them to study engineering.
This student begins with a nice hook—a simple anecdote about a simple present with profound consequences. They do not fluff up their anecdote with flowery images or emotionally-loaded language; it is what it is, and it is compelling and sweet. As their response continues, they express a particular interest in problem-solving. They position problem-solving as a fundamental part of their interest in engineering (and a fundamental part of their fascination with their childhood toy). This helps readers to learn about the student!
Problem-solving is also the avenue by which they introduce Duke’s resources—DUhatch, The Foundry, and Duke’s Bass Connections program. It is important to notice that the student explains how these resources can help them achieve their future goals—it is not enough to simply identify the resources!
This response is interesting and focused. It clearly answers the prompt, and it feels honest and authentic.
Why Georgia Tech CompSci
Prompt: Why do you want to study your chosen major specifically at Georgia Tech? (300 words max)
I held my breath and hit RUN. Yes! A plump white cat jumped out and began to catch the falling pizzas. Although my Fat Cat project seems simple now, it was the beginning of an enthusiastic passion for computer science. Four years and thousands of hours of programming later, that passion has grown into an intense desire to explore how computer science can serve society. Every day, surrounded by technology that can recognize my face and recommend scarily-specific ads, I’m reminded of Uncle Ben’s advice to a young Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility”. Likewise, the need to ensure digital equality has skyrocketed with AI’s far-reaching presence in society; and I believe that digital fairness starts with equality in education.
The unique use of threads at the College of Computing perfectly matches my interests in AI and its potential use in education; the path of combined threads on Intelligence and People gives me the rare opportunity to delve deep into both areas. I’m particularly intrigued by the rich sets of both knowledge-based and data-driven intelligence courses, as I believe AI should not only show correlation of events, but also provide insight for why they occur.
In my four years as an enthusiastic online English tutor, I’ve worked hard to help students overcome both financial and technological obstacles in hopes of bringing quality education to people from diverse backgrounds. For this reason, I’m extremely excited by the many courses in the People thread that focus on education and human-centered technology. I’d love to explore how to integrate AI technology into the teaching process to make education more available, affordable, and effective for people everywhere. And with the innumerable opportunities that Georgia Tech has to offer, I know that I will be able to go further here than anywhere else.
With a “Why This Major” essay, you want to avoid using all of your words to tell a story. That being said, stories are a great way to show your personality and make your essay stand out. This student’s story takes up only their first 21 words, but it positions the student as fun and funny and provides an endearing image of cats and pizzas—who doesn’t love cats and pizzas? There are other moments when the student’s personality shines through also, like the Spiderman reference.
While this pop culture reference adds color, it also is important for what the student is getting at: their passion. They want to go into computer science to address the issues of security and equity that are on the industry’s mind, and they acknowledge these concerns with their comments about “scarily-specific ads” and their statement that “the need to ensure digital equality has skyrocketed.” This student is self-aware and aware of the state of the industry. This aptitude will be appealing for admissions officers.
The conversation around “threads” is essential for this student’s response because the prompt asks specifically about the major at Georgia Tech and it is the only thing they reference that is specific to Georgia Tech. Threads are great, but this student would have benefitted from expanding on other opportunities specific to Georgia Tech later in the essay, instead of simply inserting “innumerable opportunities.”
Overall, this student shows personality, passion, and aptitude—precisely what admissions officers want to see!
You’re asked to describe your activities on the Common App, but chances are, you have at least one extracurricular that’s impacted you in a way you can’t explain in 150 characters.
This essay archetype allows you to share how your most important activity shaped you and how you might use those lessons learned in the future. You are definitely welcome to share anecdotes and use a narrative approach, but remember to include some reflection. A common mistake students make is to only describe the activity without sharing how it impacted them.
Learn more about how to write the Extracurricular Essay in our guide.
A Dedicated Musician
My fingers raced across the keys, rapidly striking one after another. My body swayed with the music as my hands raced across the piano. Crashing onto the final chord, it was over as quickly as it had begun. My shoulders relaxed and I couldn’t help but break into a satisfied grin. I had just played the Moonlight Sonata’s third movement, a longtime dream of mine.
Four short months ago, though, I had considered it impossible. The piece’s tempo was impossibly fast, its notes stretching between each end of the piano, forcing me to reach farther than I had ever dared. It was 17 pages of the most fragile and intricate melodies I had ever encountered.
But that summer, I found myself ready to take on the challenge. With the end of the school year, I was released from my commitment to practicing for band and solo performances. I was now free to determine my own musical path: either succeed in learning the piece, or let it defeat me for the third summer in a row.
Over those few months, I spent countless hours practicing the same notes until they burned a permanent place in my memory, creating a soundtrack for even my dreams. Some would say I’ve mastered the piece, but as a musician I know better. Now that I can play it, I am eager to take the next step and add in layers of musicality and expression to make the once-impossible piece even more beautiful.
In this response, the student uses their extracurricular, piano, as a way to emphasize their positive qualities. At the beginning, readers are invited on a journey with the student where we feel their struggle, their intensity, and ultimately their satisfaction. With this descriptive image, we form a valuable connection with the student.
Then, we get to learn about what makes this student special: their dedication and work ethic. The fact that this student describes their desire to be productive during the summer shows an intensity that is appealing to admissions officers. Additionally, the growth mindset that this student emphasizes in their conclusion is appealing to admissions officers.
The Extracurricular Essay can be seen as an opportunity to characterize yourself. This student clearly identified their positive qualities, then used the Extracurricular Essay as a way to articulate them.
A Complicated Relationship with the School Newspaper
My school’s newspaper and I have a typical love-hate relationship; some days I want nothing more than to pass two hours writing and formatting articles, while on others the mere thought of student journalism makes me shiver. Still, as we’re entering our fourth year together, you could consider us relatively stable. We’ve learned to accept each other’s differences; at this point I’ve become comfortable spending an entire Friday night preparing for an upcoming issue, and I hardly even notice the snail-like speed of our computers. I’ve even benefitted from the polygamous nature of our relationship—with twelve other editors, there’s a lot of cooperation involved. Perverse as it may be, from that teamwork I’ve both gained some of my closest friends and improved my organizational and time-management skills. And though leaving it in the hands of new editors next year will be difficult, I know our time together has only better prepared me for future relationships.
This response is great. It’s cute and endearing and, importantly, tells readers a lot about the student who wrote it. Framing this essay in the context of a “love-hate relationship,” then supplementing with comments like “We’ve learned to accept each other’s differences” allows this student to advertise their maturity in a unique and engaging way.
While Extracurricular Essays can be a place to show how you’ve grown within an activity, they can also be a place to show how you’ve grown through an activity. At the end of this essay, readers think that this student is mature and enjoyable, and we think that their experience with the school newspaper helped make them that way.
Participating in Democracy
Prompt: Research shows that an ability to learn from experiences outside the classroom correlates with success in college. What was your greatest learning experience over the past 4 years that took place outside of the traditional classroom? (250 words)
The cool, white halls of the Rayburn House office building contrasted with the bustling energy of interns entertaining tourists, staffers rushing to cover committee meetings, and my fellow conference attendees separating to meet with our respective congresspeople. Through civics and US history classes, I had learned about our government, but simply hearing the legislative process outlined didn’t prepare me to navigate it. It was my first political conference, and, after learning about congressional mechanics during breakout sessions, I was lobbying my representative about an upcoming vote crucial to the US-Middle East relationship. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, my whole life had led me to the moment when I could speak on behalf of the family members who had not emigrated with my parents.
As I sat down with my congresswoman’s chief of staff, I truly felt like a participant in democracy; I was exercising my right to be heard as a young American. Through this educational conference, I developed a plan of action to raise my voice. When I returned home, I signed up to volunteer with the state chapter of the Democratic Party. I sponsored letter-writing campaigns, canvassed for local elections, and even pursued an internship with a state senate campaign. I know that I don’t need to be old enough to vote to effect change. Most importantly, I also know that I want to study government—I want to make a difference for my communities in the United States and the Middle East throughout my career.
While this prompt is about extracurricular activities, it specifically references the idea that the extracurricular should support the curricular. It is focused on experiential learning for future career success. This student wants to study government, so they chose to describe an experience of hands-on learning within their field—an apt choice!
As this student discusses their extracurricular experience, they also clue readers into their future goals—they want to help Middle Eastern communities. Admissions officers love when students mention concrete plans with a solid foundation. Here, the foundation comes from this student’s ethnicity. With lines like “my whole life had led me to the moment when I could speak on behalf of the family members who had not emigrated with my parents,” the student assures admissions officers of their emotional connection to their future field.
The strength of this essay comes from its connections. It connects the student’s extracurricular activity to their studies and connects theirs studies to their personal history.
You’re going to face a lot of setbacks in college, so admissions officers want to make you’re you have the resilience and resolve to overcome them. This essay is your chance to be vulnerable and connect to admissions officers on an emotional level.
Learn more about how to write the Overcoming Challenges Essay in our guide.
The Student Becomes the Master
”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.
Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.
Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.
Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.
I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.
At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.
Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.
Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.
Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.
Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.
This essay is great because it has a strong introduction and conclusion. The introduction is notably suspenseful and draws readers into the story. Because we know it is a college essay, we can assume that the student is one of the competitors, but at the same time, this introduction feels intentionally ambiguous as if the writer could be a competitor, a coach, a sibling of a competitor, or anyone else in the situation.
As we continue reading the essay, we learn that the writer is, in fact, the competitor. Readers also learn a lot about the student’s values as we hear their thoughts: “I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was.” Ultimately, the conflict and inner and outer turmoil is resolved through the “Same, but Different” ending technique as the student places themself in the same environment that we saw in the intro, but experiencing it differently due to their actions throughout the narrative. This is a very compelling strategy!
Growing Sensitivity to Struggles
Prompt: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (650 words)
“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.
Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.
When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.
As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.
Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.
We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.
We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.
My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.
Here you can find a prime example that you don’t have to have fabulous imagery or flowery prose to write a successful essay. You just have to be clear and say something that matters. This essay is simple and beautiful. It almost feels like having a conversation with a friend and learning that they are an even better person than you already thought they were.
Through this narrative, readers learn a lot about the writer—where they’re from, what their family life is like, what their challenges were as a kid, and even their sexuality. We also learn a lot about their values—notably, the value they place on awareness, improvement, and consideration of others. Though they never explicitly state it (which is great because it is still crystal clear!), this student’s ending of “I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story” shows that they are constantly striving for improvement and finding lessons anywhere they can get them in life.
Community Service/Impact on the Community
Colleges want students who will positively impact the campus community and go on to make change in the world after they graduate. This essay is similar to the Extracurricular Essay, but you need to focus on a situation where you impacted others.
Learn more about how to write the Community Service Essay in our guide.
Academic Signing Day
Prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
The scent of eucalyptus caressed my nose in a gentle breeze. Spring had arrived. Senior class activities were here. As a sophomore, I noticed a difference between athletic and academic seniors at my high school; one received recognition while the other received silence. I wanted to create an event celebrating students academically-committed to four-years, community colleges, trades schools, and military programs. This event was Academic Signing Day.
The leadership label, “Events Coordinator,” felt heavy on my introverted mind. I usually was setting up for rallies and spirit weeks, being overlooked around the exuberant nature of my peers.
I knew a change of mind was needed; I designed flyers, painted posters, presented powerpoints, created student-led committees, and practiced countless hours for my introductory speech. Each committee would play a vital role on event day: one dedicated to refreshments, another to technology, and one for decorations. The fourth-month planning was a laborious joy, but I was still fearful of being in the spotlight. Being acknowledged by hundreds of people was new to me.
The day was here. Parents filled the stands of the multi-purpose room. The atmosphere was tense; I could feel the angst building in my throat, worried about the impression I would leave. Applause followed each of the 400 students as they walked to their college table, indicating my time to speak.
I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets; instead, smiles lit up the stands, realizing my voice shone through my actions. I was finally coming out of my shell. The floor was met by confetti as I was met by the sincerity of staff, students, and parents, solidifying the event for years to come.
Academic students were no longer overshadowed. Their accomplishments were equally recognized to their athletic counterparts. The school culture of athletics over academics was no longer imbalanced. Now, every time I smell eucalyptus, it is a friendly reminder that on Academic Signing Day, not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.
This essay answers the prompt nicely because the student describes a contribution with a lasting legacy. Academic Signing Day will affect this high school in the future and it affected this student’s self-development—an idea summed up nicely with their last phrase “not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.”
With Community Service essays, students sometimes take small contributions and stretch them. And, oftentimes, the stretch is very obvious. Here, the student shows us that Academic Signing Day actually mattered by mentioning four months of planning and hundreds of students and parents. They also make their involvement in Academic Signing Day clear—it was their idea and they were in charge, and that’s why they gave the introductory speech.
Use this response as an example of the type of focused contribution that makes for a convincing Community Service Essay.
Climate Change Rally
Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (technically not community service, but the response works)
Let’s fast-forward time. Strides were made toward racial equality. Healthcare is accessible to all; however, one issue remains. Our aquatic ecosystems are parched with dead coral from ocean acidification. Climate change has prevailed.
Rewind to the present day.
My activism skills are how I express my concerns for the environment. Whether I play on sandy beaches or rest under forest treetops, nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world. When my body is met by trash in the ocean or my nose is met by harmful pollutants, Earth’s pain becomes my own.
Substituting coffee grinds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale. I often found performative activism to be ineffective when communicating climate concerns. My days of reposting awareness graphics on social media never filled the ambition I had left to put my activism skills to greater use. I decided to share my ecocentric worldview with a coalition of environmentalists and host a climate change rally outside my high school.
Meetings were scheduled where I informed students about the unseen impact they have on the oceans and local habitual communities. My fingers were cramped from all the constant typing and investigating of micro causes of the Pacific Waste Patch, creating reusable flyers, displaying steps people could take from home in reducing their carbon footprint. I aided my fellow environmentalists in translating these flyers into other languages, repeating this process hourly, for five days, up until rally day.
It was 7:00 AM. The faces of 100 students were shouting, “The climate is changing, why can’t we?” I proudly walked on the dewy grass, grabbing the microphone, repeating those same words. The rally not only taught me efficient methods of communication but it echoed my environmental activism to the masses. The City of Corona would be the first of many cities to see my activism, as more rallies were planned for various parts of SoCal. My once unfulfilled ambition was fueled by my tangible activism, understanding that it takes more than one person to make an environmental impact.
Like with the last example, this student describes a focused event with a lasting legacy. That’s a perfect place to start! By the end of this essay, we have an image of the cause of this student’s passion and the effect of this student’s passion. There are no unanswered questions.
This student supplements their focused topic with engaging and exciting writing to make for an easy-to-read and enjoyable essay. One of the largest strengths of this response is its pace. From the very beginning, we are invited to “fast-forward” and “rewind” with the writer. Then, after we center ourselves in real-time, this writer keeps their quick pace with sentences like “Substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale.” Community Service essays run the risk of turning boring, but this unique pacing keeps things interesting.
Having a diverse class provides a richness of different perspectives and encourages open-mindedness among the student body. The Diversity Essay is also somewhat similar to the Extracurricular and Community Service Essays, but it focuses more on what you might bring to the campus community because of your unique experiences or identities.
Learn more about how to write the Diversity Essay in our guide.
A Story of a Young Skater
“Everyone follow me!” I smiled at five wide-eyed skaters before pushing off into a spiral. I glanced behind me hopefully, only to see my students standing frozen like statues, the fear in their eyes as clear as the ice they swayed on. “Come on!” I said encouragingly, but the only response I elicited was the slow shake of their heads. My first day as a Learn-to-Skate coach was not going as planned.
But amid my frustration, I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater. At seven, I had been fascinated by Olympic performers who executed thrilling high jumps and dizzying spins with apparent ease, and I dreamed to one day do the same. My first few months on skates, however, sent these hopes crashing down: my attempts at slaloms and toe-loops were shadowed by a stubborn fear of falling, which even the helmet, elbow pads, and two pairs of mittens I had armed myself with couldn’t mitigate. Nonetheless, my coach remained unfailingly optimistic, motivating me through my worst spills and teaching me to find opportunities in failures. With his encouragement, I learned to push aside my fears and attack each jump with calm and confidence; it’s the hope that I can help others do the same that now inspires me to coach.
I remember the day a frustrated staff member directed Oliver, a particularly hesitant young skater, toward me, hoping that my patience and steady encouragement might help him improve. Having stood in Oliver’s skates not much earlier myself, I completely empathized with his worries but also saw within him the potential to overcome his fears and succeed.
To alleviate his anxiety, I held Oliver’s hand as we inched around the rink, cheering him on at every turn. I soon found though, that this only increased his fear of gliding on his own, so I changed my approach, making lessons as exciting as possible in hopes that he would catch the skating bug and take off. In the weeks that followed, we held relay races, played “freeze-skate” and “ice-potato”, and raced through obstacle courses; gradually, with each slip and subsequent success, his fear began to abate. I watched Oliver’s eyes widen in excitement with every skill he learned, and not long after, he earned his first skating badge. Together we celebrated this milestone, his ecstasy fueling my excitement and his pride mirroring my own. At that moment, I was both teacher and student, his progress instilling in me the importance of patience and a positive attitude.
It’s been more than ten years since I bundled up and stepped onto the ice for the first time. Since then, my tolerance for the cold has remained stubbornly low, but the rest of me has certainly changed. In sharing my passion for skating, I have found a wonderful community of eager athletes, loving parents, and dedicated coaches from whom I have learned invaluable lessons and wisdom. My fellow staffers have been with me, both as friends and colleagues, and the relationships I’ve formed have given me far more poise, confidence, and appreciation for others. Likewise, my relationships with parents have given me an even greater gratitude for the role they play: no one goes to the rink without a parent behind the wheel!
Since that first lesson, I have mentored dozens of children, and over the years, witnessed tentative steps transform into powerful glides and tears give way to delighted grins. What I have shared with my students has been among the greatest joys of my life, something I will cherish forever. It’s funny: when I began skating, what pushed me through the early morning practices was the prospect of winning an Olympic medal. Now, what excites me is the chance to work with my students, to help them grow, and to give back to the sport that has brought me so much happiness.
This response is a great example of how Diversity doesn’t have to mean race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, or ability. Diversity can mean whatever you want it to mean—whatever unique experience(s) you have to bring to the table!
A major strength of this essay comes in its narrative organization. When reading this first paragraph, we feel for the young skaters and understand their fear—skating sounds scary! Then, because the writer sets us up to feel this empathy, the transition to the second paragraph where the student describes their empathy for the young skaters is particularly powerful. It’s like we are all in it together! The student’s empathy for the young skaters also serves as an outstanding, seamless transition to the applicant discussing their personal journey with skating: “I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater.”
This essay positions the applicant as a grounded and caring individual. They are caring towards the young skaters—changing their teaching style to try to help the young skaters and feeling the young skaters’ emotions with them—but they are also appreciative to those who helped them as they reference their fellow staffers and parents. This shows great maturity—a favorable quality in the eyes of an admissions officer.
At the end of the essay, we know a lot about this student and are convinced that they would be a good addition to a college campus!
Finding Community in the Rainforest
Prompt: Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke (250 words).
I never understood the power of community until I left home to join seven strangers in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Although we flew in from distant corners of the U.S., we shared a common purpose: immersing ourselves in our passion for protecting the natural world.
Back home in my predominantly conservative suburb, my neighbors had brushed off environmental concerns. My classmates debated the feasibility of Trump’s wall, not the deteriorating state of our planet. Contrastingly, these seven strangers delighted in bird-watching, brightened at the mention of medicinal tree sap, and understood why I once ran across a four-lane highway to retrieve discarded beer cans. Their histories barely resembled mine, yet our values aligned intimately. We did not hesitate to joke about bullet ants, gush about the versatility of tree bark, or discuss the destructive consequences of materialism. Together, we let our inner tree huggers run free.
In the short life of our little community, we did what we thought was impossible. By feeding on each other’s infectious tenacity, we cultivated an atmosphere that deepened our commitment to our values and empowered us to speak out on behalf of the environment. After a week of stimulating conversations and introspective revelations about engaging people from our hometowns in environmental advocacy, we developed a shared determination to devote our lives to this cause.
As we shared a goodbye hug, my new friend whispered, “The world needs saving. Someone’s gotta do it.” For the first time, I believed that someone could be me.
This response is so wholesome and relatable. We all have things that we just need to geek out over and this student expresses the joy that came when they found a community where they could geek out about the environment. Passion is fundamental to university life and should find its way into successful applications.
Like the last response, this essay finds strength in the fact that readers feel for the student. We get a little bit of backstory about where they come from and how they felt silenced—“Back home in my predominantly conservative suburb, my neighbors had brushed off environmental concerns”—, so it’s easy to feel joy for them when they get set free.
This student displays clear values: community, ecoconsciousness, dedication, and compassion. An admissions officer who reads Diversity essays is looking for students with strong values and a desire to contribute to a university community—sounds like this student!
Colleges want to build engaged citizens, and the Political/Global Issues Essay allows them to better understand what you care about and whether your values align with theirs. In this essay, you’re most commonly asked to describe an issue, why you care about it, and what you’ve done or hope to do to address it.
Learn more about how to write the Political/Global Issues Essay in our guide.
Note: this prompt is not a typical political/global issues essay, but the essay itself would be a strong response to a political/global issues prompt.
Fighting Violence Against Women
Prompt: Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay. (250-650 words)
“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.”
– Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus.
My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert.
At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities.
Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency.
Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.
As this student addresses an important social issue, she makes the reasons for her passion clear—personal experiences. Because she begins with an extended anecdote, readers are able to feel connected to the student and become invested in what she has to say.
Additionally, through her powerful ending—“I, too, deserve the night sky”—which connects back to her beginning— “as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky”—this student illustrates a mastery of language. Her engagement with other writing techniques that further her argument, like the emphasis on time—“gifted to me for my sixteenth birthday,” “when I was thirteen,” “when I was fourteen,” etc.—also illustrates her mastery of language.
While this student proves herself a good writer, she also positions herself as motivated and ambitious. She turns her passions into action and fights for them. That is just what admissions officers want to see in a Political/Global issues essay!
Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays
Once you’ve written your college essays, you’ll want to get feedback on them. Since these essays are important to your chances of acceptance, you should prepare to go through several rounds of edits.
Not sure who to ask for feedback? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review resource. You can get comments from another student going through the process and also edit other students’ essays to improve your own writing.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
Ideas for you
- Campus Life
Hey there, future college student! We know you’re busy worrying about grades and test scores, but have you ever wondered what do colleges look for beyond numbers? It turns out, a lot! 😨
So, don’t just focus on getting straight As . Take a break from studying, learn the secrets to impressing admissions committees , and check out these 11 insider tips that will help you stand out from the crowd.
1. A High GPA and Class Rank
2. ap and honors classes, 3. strong sat/act scores, 4. commitment to extracurricular activities, 5. compelling letters of recommendation , 6. an excellent personal essay, 7. volunteer and work experience, 8. special talents or abilities, 9. passion for personal interests , 10. diversity, 11. a genuine interest in the college’s offering, what’s next when applying to colleges, what do colleges look for 11 ways to stand out to admissions committees: frequently asked questions .
Like it or not, getting into college is mostly a numbers game. In the eyes of the admissions committee, your high school grades predict your future academic performance.
It’s likely that your transcript (a document listing your courses, grades, and honors) will be carefully reviewed . 🧐
Consistently high grades are important because they demonstrate your persistence to excel academically . But don’t panic; selection committees won’t expect perfection.
You may not have straight As , but if you took challenging classes and did well, that may be just as impressive to the admissions officer — a B+ in calculus will say more than an A in Algebra 1. ✅
Plus, college admissions committees want to know how you stack up against your peers, and a high-class rank can help you a great deal in that aspect .
READ MORE: Weighted GPA vs. Unweighted GPA: Which Do Colleges Look At?
While these college-level courses may require extra time and effort, taking Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes showcases your dedication to tackling advanced subjects with a more rigorous curriculum.
Through AP classes, you can explore complex topics, develop critical thinking skills, and demonstrate academic excellence — which is what colleges look for in applicants. 🧠
The cherry on top is that you can save thousands of dollars in tuition when you earn college credit through AP exams. 🍒
Aside from boosting your GPA, this means that you might be able to skip introductory-level classes in college, thus reducing the number of courses you need to take .
The mere mention of the SAT or ACT makes most high school students groan. But the reality is that your scores on these standardized tests can make a difference when it comes to impressing college admissions committees. 💯
It may not be the most exciting part of the application process, but investing time and effort into mastering these tests can pay off in a big way.
Students who perform well on the SAT or ACT exams have a better chance of getting into college , as well as earning prospective scholarships , early decision admission options, and college course credits. ✅
While several colleges have moved towards test-optional policies in recent years, submitting a strong test score is still on the list of things higher educational institutions look for in applicants and can give you an edge over your peers.
TIP: Over 80 percent of US colleges no longer mandate standardized tests for applicants. While test-optional colleges claim no bias, submitting SAT/ACT scores can boost your application, according to admissions experts.
READ MORE: SAT Dates and Deadlines: Quick Guide and Tips [2023-2024]
From volunteering at animal shelters and starting environmental clubs to showcasing your mad guitar skills in a school band, extracurricular activities can be the golden ticket to your dream college!
By dipping your toes in any of these side gigs, you’re demonstrating how well-rounded, curious, and engaged you are as a learner . 🏀
Admissions officers are interested in the impact of your work and the lessons you’ve learned along the way. So when filling out your application, make sure to highlight how you’ve grown and the challenges you’ve overcome .
READ MORE: How to Get Involved on Campus
When considering what colleges look for in applicants, most students think about a high GPA, test scores, and essays. What many overlook is the significance of strong letters of recommendation . 🤔
A well-written letter from a credible teacher or counselor can highlight your strengths and contributions to your school or community. It can also provide insights into your personality and character that your grades and test scores can’t capture.
Colleges typically require one to three recommendation letters from high school teachers or counselors so choose wisely! 🧑🏫
Pick people who know you well and ensure they can attest to your strengths. Share your achievements, goals, and interests with them to help them write a personalized and compelling letter.
A killer personal essay is your ticket to grabbing college admissions officers’ attention , allowing you to showcase your unique personality and stand out from the crowd. ✍️
What do colleges look for in essays? Select a topic that emphasizes your strengths and reveals your character . They want to see the real you shine through. So, begin with an engaging introduction that grabs the reader’s interest right away.
Connect this experience to your intended field of study or future aspirations. Remember to stay true to your authentic voice to captivate the readers — illustrate how you can make a valuable contribution to your desired college community . ✉️
Volunteer opportunities go beyond impressing colleges — they offer college students skill development and career exploration.
When you detail the responsibilities and accomplishments you’ve handled, these can provide insight into your personal growth, work ethic, and leadership abilities . 🙋
Whether you worked for local mom-and-pop shops, community centers, or big businesses as interns , collect soft skills and practical experience (and a few connections along the way) to set the stage for future success. 🤝
Let your personality shine through and let admissions officers see the awesome person you’ve become through these experiences.
If you excel in music, sports, or writing, highlight your accomplishments when applying to college. Mention any outside achievements, like winning local contests or performing at community events — this can illustrate your commitment and skills beyond academics. 🎶
Take, for instance, James Austin , who earned a full scholarship to the University of Arizona because of his musical talent.
Remember, expressing your genuine enthusiasm for your hobbies and talents can make a strong impression and demonstrate your dedication to personal growth beyond the classroom. 👏
TIP : You’ll stand out even more if you go that extra mile and add a portfolio or a self-tape video that exhibits your abilities when submitting your application.
Passion goes hand in hand with motivation and drive, and it’s exactly what colleges look for besides grades. Students who are passionate about an activity or skill are more likely to go the extra mile , pushing themselves to excel and make a positive impact.
That’s why colleges want students who are excited to be there, so make it clear why you’re drawn to the particular school while applying. ✨
Let’s say you’re an aspiring literature student, talk about how the college’s literature program is top-notch or how a particular professor’s published work impressed you. 📚
You can also prove your interest by scheduling a campus visit early on , actively reaching out to the admissions officers, and applying for early action or early decision enrollment.
READ MORE: How to Apply to College: 9 Steps to Application Success
Having a diverse student body is incredibly important for college authorities because it creates a vibrant and inclusive community where people from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives can come together to learn and grow.
Maybe you’re a first-generation college student or an international candidate pursuing higher education in the country? Or perhaps you are not a legal US resident and are considering applying as an undocumented student ?
If you have a unique background or an unconventional story to tell, don’t be afraid to let your diversity shine through in your application . In fact, that’s exactly what colleges look for in high school students.
Who knows? It could be the very thing that catches the eye of admissions officers! 🤩
Want to follow in the footsteps of legendary athletes like Michael Phelps and Serena Williams? Imagine honing your extracurricular skills in the state-of-the-art athletics facilities of your dream college. 🏫
When you’re writing your application, don’t just list generic reasons for why you want to attend that school . It’s essential to understand what do colleges look for in prospective students so you can be specific and talk about what sets that college apart from the rest .
Remember, colleges want students who are genuinely interested in their programs . So, if you want to impress admissions officers, let your commitment shine through in your application.
First, figure out what type of education is the best fit for you . Are you aiming for a trade school , a community college, or a public or private college ? Then determine how many colleges you’re applying to before figuring out a plan on how you’ll pay for college .
Sure, you can apply for federal student aid and scholarships to reduce the cost of attendance. But did you know that affordable four-year universities and free community colleges exist? Some schools even forgo application fees for low-income families. 🆓
Next, take a good look at your college resume and think about areas that could use a little sprucing up. Does it address what colleges look for in applicants?
You might wanna think about boosting your volunteer gig or getting more involved in fun stuff outside class. And hey, don’t sweat it — you can totally start rounding up those recommendation letters and tossing around essay ideas whenever you’re up for it .
Finally, before you start sending out applications left and right, proofread your materials for any typos , grammatical errors, or inconsistencies. It’s crucial to present a polished and professional application to make a strong impression on admissions officers. 🔍
College admissions committees read through thousands of applications. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t showcase what they want to see. 📋
You don’t have to be the next Einstein or Picasso to impress admissions committees. By pairing hard work, determination with these insider tips, you can stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of getting into your dream school . 💡
What do colleges care about most?
Getting good grades consistently is an obvious answer, but your chances will improve if you prove that you can excel in challenging classes.
College admissions officers also evaluate your curriculum, standardized test scores, and personal essay.
What makes you stand out to colleges?
Concentrate on doing well in school and enrolling in challenging classes if you want to stand out in college.
Display a variety of character traits, take part in meaningful activities outside of school, and gain unique work experience.
What classes do colleges look for?
While individual institutions may have varying standards and preferences for high school coursework, generally speaking, they are looking for applicants who have completed an extensive and well-rounded course load .
English, math, science, and social studies are all required subjects. Colleges also check for students who have completed honors, AP, or IB courses since these courses show academic potential and aptitude for college-level work.
What do colleges look for besides grades?
Colleges evaluate extracurricular activities, essays, test scores, and recommendations to ensure candidates have pursued their passions even outside the classroom.
What do colleges look for in essays?
Colleges look for an applicant’s distinct perspective, competitive writing skills, and an authentic voice.
Your unique perspective allows you to stand out from the crowd, show off your ability to articulate your thoughts clearly, concisely, and effectively, and and let your true personality shine through in your writing.
What do colleges look for in recommendation letters?
Colleges look for sincere letters of recommendation that reflect the applicant’s accomplishments and abilities. It’s a chance for them to showcase their character, abilities, and potential for college success.
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Yes, ChatGPT can help with your college admissions essay. Here's what you need to do to stay within the rules.
Posted: October 31, 2023 | Last updated: October 31, 2023
- Students who use tools like ChatGPT to write their college essays need to walk a fine line.
- Colleges will likely penalize students who submit completely AI-generated applications.
- Using AI to edit or draft the essays may be acceptable though, a tutoring company founder says.
The education sector has had a rough ride with generative AI.
After the release of ChatGPT, some colleges and schools were quick to put a blanket ban on the bot when students began using it to write their essays. Professors and teachers were left with the difficult task of navigating the new concept of AI plagiarism.
Now, several colleges have changed their tune and are encouraging students and staff to use generative AI as a tool — as long as they don't use it to cheat. However, the guidance is still pretty vague, especially when it comes to admissions and college essays.
"The landscape is shifting, but colleges are not unified in their approach to GPT," Adam Nguyen, founder of tutoring company Ivy Link , told Insider. "If you look across the landscape of college admissions, especially elite college admissions, there are no clear rules on whether you could use GPT or not."
In February, I tested the chatbot's ability to write college application essays . The results were relatively successful , with two private admissions tutors agreeing the essays definitely passed for ones written by a real student and probably would have had a shot at most colleges, but probably not the most selective institutions.
There are telltale signs when an entire essay is AI-generated, Nguyen said. For example, there tends to be a lot of repetition, and the essays are generally mediocre.
"If an essay is clearly written by AI, I think they will penalize the student and that application," Nguyen said.
While it's clear students should be writing their own work, it's less clear if students are allowed to use the tech to help them draft or edit essays.
As colleges grudgingly accept that AI is not going anyway, Nguyen said there's a fine line for students to walk.
"If you fill in the details, restructure the essay, and provide the specific language and sentences, that will make the essay your own," he said. "I think many colleges would be fine with that."
He continued, "I would suggest not using it as a default. If you're really stuck, you could use it to start." He suggested that, as a general rule, at least 80% of the essays needed to be edited and changed to be on the safe side.
"If an essay's really good, it won't raise any suspicion, and I don't think most colleges will care that you use GPT to start, as long as they can't tell either," he added.
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A look into changes in Duke Law School's admissions process in response to affirmative action ruling
The Duke Law School.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning race-based affirmative action, law schools across the country, including Duke, have made several changes to their application components for the 2023-24 admissions cycle.
The court’s June decision came only two months before Sept. 1, the most popular date to open applications for law schools. Some of the essay prompt changes were therefore announced on short notice.
Duke Law School previously required a personal statement and offered applicants two optional essay prompts: a diversity statement and a statement of interest. After the Supreme Court’s decision, Duke Law School kept the personal statement and the optional statement of interest, but replaced the diversity statement with short essays.
Applicants are now required to submit one or two essays from a list of six prompts. Some of the new essay prompts invite applicants to share their “exposure to a diversity of perspectives and experiences” or their “special background,” while others center on applicants’ thoughts on equal justice, interest in public service, commitment to free expression and understanding of ethical leadership.
In previous years, many law schools required a personal statement and offered an optional diversity statement. For the 2023-24 admissions cycle, Harvard Law School has replaced the prompts with two new required essays, a statement of purpose and a statement of perspective. Several other law schools have also changed their application essay prompts, including Yale Law School .
“What they have out of this cycle is kind of testing the waters, if you will, to see if it's going to produce the kind of information they want with applicants,” pre-law advisor Patrice Barley said.
According to Barley, the lack of uniformity among law school essay prompts means applicants will have to spend more time tailoring their essays to every law school they apply to.
“Since the pivot was so late in the application cycle, I think that law schools will be granting quite a bit of grace in the essay reading process this year, because applicants didn't have a lot of time to grapple with them,” Barley said.
Revamped essay prompts are not the only change coming to law school admissions. The logic games section of the Law School Admission Test will be replaced by either a reading comprehension or logical reasoning section beginning in August 2024. The changes will not affect the current admissions cycle.
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College of Law
Iowa law announcements.
This page will be used to share announcements for the College of Law community. If you have an announcement to add to the page, please contact [email protected] .
Announcements by Department
Admissions office, courses and curriculum.
- For fall 2023 information, please check out Exam Information on the Current Students page.
Max by accesslex®.
- 1L Students – Financial Foundations
- 2L Students – Crafting Your Legal Career
- 3L Students – Life After Law School
- And don’t forget to attend any MAX personal finance webinars that look interesting to you for additional entries. Good luck in the upcoming drawing!
Outside Scholarship Opportunities
The $10,000 Mark T. Banner Scholarship
- This scholarship is part of The Richard Linn American Inn of Court's commitment to fostering the development of intellectual property lawyers of high ethics, civility and professionalism, and especially those from diverse backgrounds.
- The recipient of the scholarship receives $10,000 to be applied to their legal education. This scholarship is available to law students who have entered into a JD program at an ABA-accredited law school in the United States and who will continue in that program through at least the Fall 2024 semester. For more information about the criteria, see their website: https://www.linninn.org/Pages/scholarship.shtml
- Applications need to be submitted by December 1, 2023 . The application is available on the Linn Inn of Court’s website at https://www.linninn.org/Pages/scholarship.shtml
Field placement program.
The Field Placement Program offers students the opportunity to earn 6-14 credits (experiential) by working in nonprofit organizations, government offices, judicial chambers, and certain corporate counsel offices. During the school year, students must complete at least 14 hours per week of field work during the semester and participate in a field placement seminar course. The law school has pre-arranged field placements with various partners in Iowa; students may also apply for legal internships away from the law school. Local, pre-approved placements are currently on 12Twenty and more are coming. First round deadlines were Tuesday, October 24, 2023, but placements will continue to accept applications on a rolling basis . Students must secure and enroll in the Field Placement Program by January 3 . Before submitting applications, make an appointment ( https://calendly.com/jttai ) and meet with Prof. June Tai to discuss your goals, interests, and proposed class schedule. Prof. Tai reviews and approves all placements prior to enrollment and enrollment is done by the Registrar (not by the student through MyUI).
🍳 submit your recipe for the law school collaborative cookbook 🍜.
- Submission Deadline: November 15
- Send Recipes To: [email protected]
- Interested or Have Questions? Reach out to any of the listed organizations.
- Tuesday Talk About It: Tuesday, November 7 , at 12:35 p.m. The topic is Tackling an Essay Exam for a Touchdown. Lunch this week is Z’Marik’s. Click here to RSVP to guarantee there will be enough lunch for everyone: https://tinyurl.com/NovTuesTalk
- Writing Workshop: You might be thinking about how to finish your final memo assignment. We’re here to help! We are sponsoring a writing workshop on November 8 from 6-9 p.m. in the Student Lounge. Come for the camaraderie; short, fun, legal writing presentations; dinner; and to have your questions answered. Fun!
- Schedule a tutoring appointment
- Contact [email protected] with any questions.
Food Pantry at Iowa
- The Food Pantry at Iowa (located in the Iowa Memorial Union) provides free, nutritious food and basic necessities for University of Iowa students, graduate and professional students, postdocs, staff, and faculty. Food accessibility and affordability is important for college students to survive, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to concentrate in classes. See our FAQs .
Holiday Food Pantry Hours: