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Master the Five-Paragraph Essay
The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.
Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.
Components of a Good Essay
The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.
Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.
Keys to Introductory Paragraphs
Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.
What Makes a Thesis Statement
The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.
Content of Supporting Paragraphs
Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.
The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.
Concluding Paragraph Tips
Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.
Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.
A Note on Compare and Contrast
Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.
Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?
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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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College Essay Introduction Examples in
Reading some college essay introduction examples is a great place to start if you’re struggling to begin writing your college essay. The college essay is a significant hurdle for many college applicants but reading sample college essays can help inspire your writing. Knowing how to write a killer introduction, though, is the first step, as the introduction of your essay can make or break your entire essay. In this blog, we’ll learn why the college essay introduction is so important, how to structure it and a step-by-step guide on how to write a killer essay introduction. We’ve also included some college essay introduction examples to guide you!
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Article Contents 7 min read
Why the college essay introduction is so important.
Your college essay can be vital to your admission to your top school, and the introduction of your college essay can make it or break it. The introduction of your college admissions essay, or common app essay , is often overlooked, but it is a crucial part of the overall essay. Why? Because your introduction is quite literally the first opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions committee, and you need to make an impression. Getting into college requires more than high grades and good test scores nowadays. You need a well-rounded and impressive application. And to do this you need to know how to write a college essay . To write an essay that stands out from the crowd and makes you a memorable candidate for admission, you’ll need to know how to write an excellent college essay introduction.
The introduction of your college essay is so crucial because it is what first grabs your reader’s attention. Like any good piece of writing, if you don’t snag your reader’s interest in the first sentence, they won’t be inclined to read the rest of your essay. And you need them to be interested and engaged so you can make your point. A college essay counts for a significant portion of your overall candidacy as a college applicant. It can even be your secret to how to get into college with a low GPA . But writing essays is not easy, and introductions can be especially tricky for students to write. This is why plenty of college applicants hire college essay advisors to help them write their common app essays or supplemental college essays .
If you plan to apply to any of the schools which use the common app essay, you’ll be somewhat familiar with the required short essay format and structure. Your college essay will be around 250-650 words maximum, so your introduction needs to be fairly concise. It’s best to keep your introduction just a few sentences long, so you’ll need to be very wise with your words and make the most of each one. You may also want to add a title to your essay. This is not a requirement and should only be included if you think the title adds something significant. Otherwise, leave it out.
Here’s a list of what to include in your college essay introduction:
A college essay needs to have good flow, and this starts in the introduction. This means your \u201chook\u201d sentence needs to connect to the rest of your introduction, and then needs to connect seamlessly to your body paragraphs. Your writing should follow a clear path from your hook to your conclusion. One way to keep good flow is to use a strong transition sentence, but another way is to guide your reader. The second sentence, after your hook, shouldn\u2019t be unrelated or step away from your point, it should lead your reader to the reason why you are writing this essay. ","label":"Good flow","title":"Good flow"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">
Before any writing can begin, we’ll need to start the brainstorming process. This is essentially gathering and writing down the key experiences, significant moments and important lessons you have learned throughout your life. Everyone’s experiences are unique, and the ideas you write down may vary depending on your situation. If you’re a non-traditional college applicant, you might write about the gap year you took after high school, or why you’re going back to college after years of working in your field. International students might write about their decision to study overseas or their experience with culture shock. First time college applicants may draw on their experiences with summer programs for high school students or the work experiences they’ve included in their high school resume .
Your choice of essay topic or the personal experiences you choose to highlight in your essay may also be influenced by the essay prompt or essay question, if the school provides one. If this is the case, you can reflect on which prompt or question resonates most with you or choose to write more than one essay if more than one prompt resonates. For schools that do not provide a question or essay prompt, you can reflect on your future career goals, personal goals or the reasons why you are applying to college.
Whatever your situation or your story, gather all of the personal experiences you can think of and jot them down. Brainstorming is an important process, but they key is to write down absolutely every idea you can think of to start.
Some personal experiences you might draw from for your brainstorming session could be:
- What sparked your interest in applying to college
- What life experiences sparked your interest in a particular field of study
- What made you interested in a career in this field of study
- What activities did you partake in growing up that grew your interest in this field
- What activities did you pursue during high school that grew your interest in this field
- What solidified your decision to apply to college
Your college essay is at heart a narrative that either answers the essay question or answers the question “why are you applying to this school?” Your essay should take the reader through each stage of your decision, but your introduction’s primary role is to grab the reader’s interest and set the stage. And just like an excellent stage play seizes the audience’s attention from the moment the lights turn on the stage, your essay needs to do the same. Be the narrator of your narrative and share with the audience what will be learned about you from reading your essay.
Want more tips for writing a college essay? Watch this video!
Here’s a quick guide to brainstorming and writing your college essay introduction
Once your essay is fully outlined, or even drafted, you might write your introduction last. This way you already know what your essay is about and just need to introduce it to the reader. "}]">
Once you’ve drafted your introduction, give it a read. Does the hook sentence grab you? Try reading it aloud and see how it flows into the body of your essay. If it doesn’t pique your own interest, it won’t hold your reader’s! Ask a friend, family member, college advisor or acquaintance to read it and give you feedback on your intro. Try a few different versions of your hook sentence or refine your transition sentence. Make sure your introduction is as strong as can be.
For our college essay introduction examples, we’ve used a few of the common app essay prompts you might see on your application. We’ve included sample introductions for essays from students of various different life experiences and situations to help you!
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?
My love affair with painting started late in life. After 25 years of working as a science teacher, I never expected my hunt for a pre-retirement hobby to turn into a shift in career path. Painting has become a daily solace for me, and my involvement in my local arts community has opened up career opportunities I never dreamed of. And it has sparked a fascination with the arts and what it can add to my life. This fascination first started when I accepted an invitation from a friend to see her work on display at a local Art Walk.
Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
I thought I would spend my gap year after high school laying on a beach and getting tan. Instead, I experienced a profound transformation within myself as I immersed myself in a new culture and a new people. A month after my graduation, I was on a plane on my way to Thailand, nothing on my mind except sun and sad. A year after, Thailand sent me home with an entirely new perspective and appreciation for life. When I left home, I was still unsure what I wanted from my life and whether I would apply for college. My wavering feelings were solidified after working with an amazing not-for-profit in some of Thailand’s remote villages, which also lead to the most impactful friendship of my life.
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?
What I remember most from the night my entire life collapsed was the brightness of the stadium lights overhead. Not the chaos of the crowd or the faces staring down at me, talking over me. I was deaf to all that. The lights were so blinding, so distracting. And I kept thinking, over and over, ‘don’t take me out of the game’. Thoughts that would be strangely prophetic later, in the hospital, when they told me I wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the season, or maybe ever again. My entire life, my expected future, flew off a cliff. In those coming months, I would learn what it really means to start over, to pick yourself back up and keep playing the game.
To write a killer opening to your college essay, focus on the very first sentence, your “hook”. It should be unique, interesting and “hook” the reader’s attention. It’s the “big idea” or main lesson learned from your college essay. Play around with the sentence length and structure to see what works and try reading the introduction aloud to hear how it sounds to your ear.
Try not to start your college essay introduction with a cliché or a quote. Cliches have been read thousands of times by admissions officers, and they want to see something unique and interesting, not the same old things. And using a quote to start your essay isn’t a good idea, since it is meant to be written in your own words, not someone else’s.
Writing a good hook takes some work. Try to think of how you would summarize your essay or the personal experience you are highlighting. What was the key lesson you learned? What is at the centre of your motivations? Try writing this topic sentence a few different ways and read it aloud to see how it sounds.
The introduction of your essay needs to grab your reader’s attention right away. If it doesn’t, the admissions committee won’t want to read the rest of your essay and you’ll have lost them already. As the college essay counts for a significant part of your overall application, the introduction is crucial for your success.
It’s best not to do this, even if the quote is inspirational for you. College admission committees want to hear what you have to say, not someone else.
You can include a title if you choose, but it’s best to leave it out unless the title adds something important to your overall essay.
The introduction of a college essay needs to include a “hook” sentence, a transition sentence, an introduction of your essay content and good flow.
It’s advisable to keep your college essay introduction short and concise. It should make up about 10% of your essay’s word count, so in some cases this is quite short!
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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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How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction | Examples
Published on October 4, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on August 14, 2023 by Kirsten Courault.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays each application season, and they may devote as little as five minutes to reviewing a student’s entire application. That means it’s critical to have a well-structured essay with a compelling introduction. As you write and revise your essay , look for opportunities to make your introduction more engaging.
There’s one golden rule for a great introduction: don’t give too much away . Your reader shouldn’t be able to guess the entire trajectory of the essay after reading the first sentence. A striking or unexpected opening captures the reader’s attention, raises questions, and makes them want to keep reading to the end .
Table of contents
Start with a surprise, start with a vivid, specific image, avoid clichés, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.
A great introduction often has an element of mystery. Consider the following opening statement.
This opener is unexpected, even bizarre—what could this student be getting at? How can you be bad at breathing?
The student goes on to describe her experience with asthma and how it has affected her life. It’s not a strange topic, but the introduction is certainly intriguing. This sentence keeps the admissions officer reading, giving the student more of an opportunity to keep their attention and make her point.
In a sea of essays with standard openings such as “One life-changing experience for me was …” or “I overcame an obstacle when …,” this introduction stands out. The student could have used either of those more generic introductions, but neither would have been as successful.
This type of introduction is a true “hook”—it’s highly attention-grabbing, and the reader has to keep reading to understand.
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If your topic doesn’t lend itself to such a surprising opener, you can also start with a vivid, specific description.
Many essays focus on a particular experience, and describing one moment from that experience can draw the reader in. You could focus on small details of what you could see and feel, or drop the reader right into the middle of the story with dialogue or action.
Some students choose to write more broadly about themselves and use some sort of object or metaphor as the focus. If that’s the type of essay you’d like to write, you can describe that object in vivid detail, encouraging the reader to imagine it.
Cliché essay introductions express ideas that are stereotypical or generally thought of as conventional wisdom. Ideas like “My family made me who I am today” or “I accomplished my goals through hard work and determination” may genuinely reflect your life experience, but they aren’t unique or particularly insightful.
Unoriginal essay introductions are easily forgotten and don’t demonstrate a high level of creative thinking. A college essay is intended to give insight into the personality and background of an applicant, so a standard, one-size-fits-all introduction may lead admissions officers to think they are dealing with a standard, unremarkable applicant.
Quotes can often fall into the category of cliché essay openers. There are some circumstances in which using a quote might make sense—for example, you could quote an important piece of advice or insight from someone important in your life. But for most essays, quotes aren’t necessary, and they may make your essay seem uninspired.
If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Writing process
- Transition words
- Passive voice
- How to end an email
- Ms, mrs, miss
- How to start an email
- I hope this email finds you well
- Hope you are doing well
Parts of speech
- Personal pronouns
The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.
The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.
Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.
In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.
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20 Successful College Essay Examples + Why They Worked (2023)
Today I'm going to show you 20 essays that worked that will help inspire you and start you on your way to writing your own successful essays.
In this post, I've included:
- Personal Statement examples
- Supplemental essay examples
- University of California essays
- Links to hundreds more essay examples
If you're looking for college essay examples, you've found the right place.
Let's get started.
Writing your college essays can be challenging.
And in 2023, with many schools dropping test scores from their application, your college essays are one of the most important parts of your application if you want to get accepted.
That means there's a whole lot more opportunity for students without the best SAT or ACT scores to boost their chances of admission by writing outstanding essays.
20 of My Favorite EssaysThatWorked
One of the best ways to write your own successful essays is to read and learn from past essays that worked.
Here's 20 of our favorite college essays examples. From Personal Statement examples to "Why this college?" supplements, find any type of essay you're looking for.
I've chosen these examples because they represent almost every type of essay you'll need to write.
Plus, they are all high-quality examples that have an authentic voice , one of the most important parts of a great essay.
Table of Contents
Personal statement essay examples.
- 1. The Itch
- 2. Paint Dance
- 3. Football Manager
- 4. Restaurant Job
Additional Personal Statement Examples
Additional Common App Essay Examples
University of California Essay Examples
- 5. Summer Counselor
- 6. Teaching Talent
- 7. Linguistics
- 8. Linguistics Society
- 9. New Perspectives
Supplemental Essay Examples
- 10. Fermat's Last Theorem
- 11. Bug Fixing
- 12. Why UPenn?
- 13. Story of My Name
- 14. Ideal College Community
- 15. Why Computer Science
- 16. Volunteering at Hospital
- 17. Why Carnegie Mellon
- 18. Why NYU?
- 19. Moving Places
- 20. Double Major
Ready to get inspired to write the next great admissions essays?
Let's jump right in.
Part 1: Personal Statements That Stand Out
Your Personal Statement essay is arguably the most important essay you'll write.
Since it's sent to every college you apply to, you need to carefully choose how you use your 650 words.
In this section, I'll show you several examples of successful Common App essays accepted into the most selective colleges.
Let’s dive right in.
Most students write their personal statement essay on their Common Application.
That's why it's called your Common App essay .
If you're having trouble starting your essay, be sure to check out some Common App inspiration .
Here are some of the best Common App essay examples that have gotten students into top colleges.
Below are some of our favorite personal statement essay examples from the Ivy League and other top-20 colleges.
College Essay Example #1: The Itch
This Common App personal statement was accepted into Stanford University .
Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (250-650 words)
For my entire life, I have had the itch: the itch to understand.
As a kid I was obsessed with a universe I knew nothing about. In elementary school, my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums for kids. Like the Pythagoreans who had marveled at the perfect ratios of musical notes, I was enamored with the mathematical symmetries of fulcrums. The book inflamed my itch but I had no means to scratch it.
I was raised a San Francisco Hippie by musicians and artists. I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words I used. Without guidance from any scientific role models, I never learned what it meant to do science, let alone differentiate science from science-fiction. As a kid, it was obvious to me a flying car was equally as plausible as a man on the moon. When my parents told me my design for a helium filled broomstick would not fly , they could not explain why, they just knew it wouldn’t. My curiosity went unrewarded and I learned to silence my scientific mind to avoid the torture of my inability to scratch the itch.
Then, in Sophomore year , I met Kikki. Before Kikki, “passion” was an intangible vocab term I had memorized. Ever since she lost her best friend to cancer in middle school, she had been using her pain to fuel her passion for fighting cancer. When you spoke to her about oncology , her eyes lit up, she bounced like a child, her voice raised an octave. She emanated raw, overwhelming passion.
I wanted it. I was enviously watching another person scratch an itch I couldn’t.
I was so desperate to feel the way Kikki did that I faked feeling passionate ; AP Physics 1 with Mr. Prothro had sparked my old Pythagorean wonder in mathematics so I latched on to physics as my new passion and whenever I talked about it, I made my eyes light up, made myself bounce like a child, purposefully raised my voice an octave.
Slowly, my passion emerged from pretense and envy into reality.
Without prompting, my eyes would light up, my heart would swell, and my mind would clear. One night, I was so exhilarated to start that night's problem set that I jumped out of my seat. I forgot to sit back down. I spent that night bent over at my desk, occasionally straightening out, walking around and visualising problems in my head. Five whiteboards now cover my walls and every night, I do my homework standing up.
Once learning became my passion, my life changed. Old concepts gained new beauty, the blues became a powerful medium of expression. Mathematics became a language rather than a subject. I rocketed from the kid who cried in class while learning about negative numbers to one of two juniors in an 800-person class to skip directly into AP Physics C and AP Calculus BC. I founded [School] Physics Club, which became one of the largest clubs in the school. Over the summer at Stanford, I earned perfect marks in Ordinary Differential Equations, Energy Resources, an Introduction to MATLAB, and an environmental seminar, all the while completing the Summer Environment and Water Studies Intensive. Now in my senior year, I am earning my AS in Mathematics and Physics at the City College of San Francisco.
As I enter college, the applicability of my field of physics offers me a broad array of high-impact careers. Given that by 2050, 17% of Bangladesh's land will be underwater displacing twenty million people , I have settled on energy resources engineering.
All of this is natural progression from one development - I learned to scratch my itch.
Why This Essay Works:
This essay is all based upon the metaphor of "the itch" representing a desire to understand the world. By using a central theme, such as a metaphor, you can create a thread of ideas that run throughout your essay. If you want to use a metaphor, make sure it clearly relates to the idea you're trying to express, rather than choosing one just because it is a creative or unique approach. In this case, there is perhaps no better metaphor than "the itch" which would capture their main idea, so it works well.
Instead of "telling" their ideas, this essay does a lot of fantastic "showing" through specific anecdotes. Sentences like "I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words..." capture a lot about the author's character and background without having to say it outright. By showing the reader, you allow them to draw their own conclusions rather than just having to accept what you're telling them. Using specific language also creates a more vibrant and interesting essay. Rather than saying "I loved learning as a kid," this student shows it using a concrete example: "my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums".
Writing about other people in your essay can be a great way to tell things about yourself. Known as a literary "foil," by describing other people you can show your own values without stating them plainly. In this essay, the author shows their value (of being passionate about learning) by first recognizing that value in somebody else, "Kikki" in this case. By writing about people in your life, you can also create a sense of humility and humanity. Nobody is an "island," meaning that everyone is influenced by those around us. Showing how you draw inspiration, values, or lessons from others will show more about your character than simply telling admissions would.
In general, listing activities in your essay is a bad strategy, because it is repetitive of your activities list and comes across boring. However, this essay manages to list their activities in the 3rd-to-last paragraph by connecting them to a central idea: how their newfound passion for learning sparked all these new engagements. Listing activities can be okay, but only if they have a clear purpose in doing so. In this case, the purpose is to show how these activities are representative of their new passion for learning. But the purpose for listing activities could also be to show a specific value, provide examples for your idea, demonstrate your new perspective, etc.
College Essay Example #2: Paint Dance
This Common App personal statement was accepted into Williams College .
Common App Prompt #2: 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)
“And you thought you could paint,” whispered the indistinguishable mass of colors in front of me, which was meant to represent a window. I looked down at the paint-stained printed image that I held with my trembling hand and back again to the unsuccessful attempts I had made to capture it on the canvas. My eyes scanned the wet paint avidly, attempting to find a solution to a problem I didn’t, couldn’t, solve. The more I looked at it, the more my mind wandered, focusing on the imperfections and confusion that the task of creating my first oil painting caused. Thoughts dashed through my brain like bullets, creating a knot of insecurity so tight that all of the pressure seemed to accumulate until I couldn’t hold it any longer. The pressure exploded, followed by several fat tears that spurted from my eyes. “Why would you do something you’re clearly not good at?” yelled my thoughts. I dropped my paintbrush on the floor, the paint splattering around me along with my tears.
I had never encountered anything like the painting that lay in front of me. My little projects were generally characterized by the quick learning of new skills, after which I would easily succeed at achieving in the activity. Never had I struggled solving math problems, never had my words faltered while conjuring up a last minute essay. It was this previous success and my ability to learn things quickly that made this encounter with a challenge so difficult. When looking at an obstacle in the eyes, I was a coward. I was unable to face difficulty in the fear that I’d be unable to succeed. I turned around and walked away, the smell of wet paint fading along with the determination my eyes had once held.
The colors would remain alone for the next few weeks, calling to me from the corner of my bedroom where they lay, discarded. It was not until that cloudy Sunday afternoon, common during rainy season, when the voices would finally reach my ears and guide my hands back to the paintbrush. It would take, however, 3 weeks and the development of a new friendship.
I met Mirjana through an exchange programme between my school and a school hidden amongst the mountains of Panama, which aimed at providing a better education to teens from poor areas. She was pretty and soft-spoken, with white teeth and sparkling, brown eyes. She liked to read, and we hit it off right away. Her stay with us was filled with laughter and discussions about latin-american novelists, and it was amongst these that we grew to become the best of friends. Mirjana told me about her hobbies, her friends from back home, her dreams, but most of all, her fears.
We spent long afternoons in bed, the soft breeze outside creating twists in our hair as it crawled through the window and listened to our conversations , the rain’s silent messenger during April. Mirjana told me about her fear of not being able to provide for her family and her homesickness while being at boarding school. It was during these conversations about fear that I began to look back at my painting attempts. Fear, that little whisper on the back of my ear, the fear of failure, had stopped me in my tracks when I had encountered a setback.
Our conversations during these calm afternoons continued, and my thoughts about the fear of failure intensified. Why was failure so scary to me? Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered? These thoughts would reach a climax that cloudy Sunday afternoon, where my hands would find the paintbrush and dip it into the creamy mixture of oil paint. And although I did learn how to paint, my biggest achievement was learning how to push fear out of the way to let the water flow and the paint dance.
This student uses figurative language, particularly personification, which makes their writing more engaging. Rather simply telling a story plainly, implementing aspects of creative writing such as metaphors, personification, and symbolism, can engage the reader in your story.
This essay deals with their struggles—particularly in overcoming fear of failure while painting. By showcasing your challenges, you not only create a more relatable persona, but it makes your successes far more impactful. Everyone has struggles, and reflecting upon those challenges is what will help you convey self-growth.
What They Might Improve:
Although this student reflects on the concept of fear, they don't go much deeper than surface-level reflections. This essay does pose some interesting questions, like "Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered?" but these questions are cut short and not satisfyingly explored. Admissions officers are impressed with genuine, deep reflection. To get there, you need to push past surface-level takeaways and try taking your ideas always one step further.
"Fear" is a central theme of this essay, but the main idea of overcoming fear is repeated excessively, without adding new ideas. It is important that your essay "goes somewhere" and doesn't stay stuck at the surface of your ideas. You want to go deep into your ideas, which means avoiding repetition at all costs, and only referencing a previous idea if you're adding something new: a new perspective, context, nuance, broader application, etc.
College Essay Example #3: Football Manager
This Common App personal statement was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania .
Common App Prompt #1: 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)
When I watched the Patriots and Falcons play in the Super Bowl in February of [Date] , I had no idea that the next time I watched a football game I would be on the sidelines, right in the middle of all the action. However, that’s exactly what happened, and my experience as a football manager is not one that I will ever forget.
At the end of my junior year, the head football coach, Coach Cotter (who was also my AP Government teacher), asked me if I wanted to be a manager for the football team. He told me I would have to be at all the practices and games during the summer and throughout the school year. He made a compelling offer, but I turned him down because I didn't think I would have enough time during the summer with my classes, work, and vacation. One of my friends, however, took him up on his offer. In the middle of July, after hearing her talk about how much she enjoyed it, I asked her if she thought I would be able to join. After we spent a little bit talking about it , she asked if I wanted to go with her and see what it was like. I agreed, and I loved it. I asked Coach Cotter if he would mind if I joined, and I can still hear him saying, "Absolutely, the more the merrier!" in my head. The weeks of practice that followed, and then eventually the long Friday nights, proved to be an unforgettable experience.
The job of a football manager does not sound glamorous. Being at football practice for six hours every day during the summer and then three hours after school, surrounded by 47 sweaty football players and seven coaches who are constantly shouting is not how I planned to spend my summer and the fall of my senior year. But there was no way for me to know that this experience would teach me valuable lessons about life, regarding teamwork, hard work, and discipline.
In late July it was evident that some of the players were new and unsure of what to do. I watched as day after day the upperclassmen helped them learn their positions and become better players. This demonstration of teamwork impressed me, because instead of laughing at the younger players for not knowing what to do, they helped them become the best players they could be to make the team stronger. Once, three of our seniors got in trouble for some off field activities, and they had to sit out the first game, along with losing their helmet stickers that are given out for exceptional performances. I witnessed the effect that the consequences had on these players, and I heard one of our coaches after we lost the game tell them “Now you see how the consequences of your actions affected the entire team. Don't ever underestimate your importance to this team.” After that game, I saw the hard work that those boys put in to earn back their reputations and their helmet stickers. They taught me that even if I make mistakes, I will always learn from them no matter how much hard work it takes.
We managers go by many names: watergirls, team managers, hydration specialists. But none of these monikers can capture the rush of emotion I feel after a hard fought game, or the feeling of connectedness that comes every time we celebrate as a team after a victory, ringing our bell and blasting “Party in the USA.” My sense of school spirit has never been stronger. Throughout the summer, the three hours after school, and the seven hours I spend on game days with the players, I have learned lessons and developed relationships that I will never forget.
This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.
The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.
Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.
More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.
In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.
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College Essay Example #4: Restaurant Job
This Common App personal statement is an accepted Tulane essay .
Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)
Piano Man plays on repeat in Used To Be’s Island Eatery, a high-volume bar and restaurant in the town of [Location] on the Jersey shore. Balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools, chatting and laughing about their lives.
From my hostess stand I can see it all. To my left is the restaurant portion of the building. It is dimly lit but there is enough light to see the customers’ expressions, from the time I seat them until their plates have been cleared. It’s fascinating to watch how much people change from the time they approach me at the stand , hungry and impatient, to when they are smiling and telling me to have a good night, plucking a mint from the silver bowl as they leave.
I’ve learned that the demeanors of the staff shape the mood of the restaurant. When the waitresses have come from the beach and have plans with their friends later that night, there is a sense of calmness and ease among the staff and the customers. On the other hand, when one waitress trudges in fifteen minutes late on a rainy afternoon and recites her endless list of the day’s unfortunate experiences, the entire mood drops. I’ve discovered that restaurants are all about putting on a happy face, even if you’re secretly envisioning hurling a rude customer's plate across the restaurant like a frisbee and watching ravioli spray across the room.
My dad has always told me to be positive, but I never really understood how truly meaningful that was until I started working as a host. I’ve learned that positivity and friendliness are crucial to making any situation more enjoyable, and especially in making stressful ones more bearable. So, even if I have eighteen reservations and a dozen takeout orders to handle, I plant a smile on my face and ask the elderly couple that walks in the door how they are doing. What I’ve discovered is that when they smile back at me and ask me about myself, it brightens my mood, and I end up having a simple and sweet conversation with complete strangers. Their kindness is uplifting, and I love hearing about a couple’s recent vacation, or talking and laughing with the father of a baby who just tried to eat a lemon.
I was anxious about starting my first job. However, I quickly found that hosting not only suited my strengths, but also taught me more about myself and how others behave in stressful environments. Hosting requires perception, observation and organization, qualities that play to my strengths. While the waitresses are distracted taking orders or bringing food, I’m the one who watches over the entire restaurant, making sure that tables are cleaned and little kids have paper and crayons. On the other hand, this job also taught me that sometimes I need to keep my mouth shut and deal with issues on my own, even if it means defusing an uncomfortable conversation with a customer who has had too much to drink. This response is generally counterintuitive to what I’ve been taught in school, which is to speak up and seek help from peers or teachers. In this business, one is often told to “figure it out yourself” or “just fix it”. Initially this was challenging, but I soon discovered that it taught me to have faith in myself and be more independent.
I absolutely loved this job. I discovered how much I enjoy working with and learning from other people. Hosting taught me the value of being totally engaged and fully present, which allowed me to commit myself to the people and environment around me. This job took me out of my comfort zone, but I have no doubt that what I learned will help me in every stage of my life , including when I go back next summer.
Rather than "telling," it's important to always back up your points by "showing." This means using anecdotes, examples, and specific references to help the reader come to the same conclusion as you. Anybody can "tell" things, but by showing them you are giving proof, which makes your points more convincing and compelling.
An effective strategy for having interesting ideas is to reflect upon what you've learned as the result of an activity or experience. Lessons are important because they show self-growth, which admissions officers are looking for. It can also be a good idea to compare and contrast your lessons with other areas of your life. For example, how do your lessons from an extracurricular activity differ or translate over to your academics? Or vice versa?
One of the most common "mistakes" in essays is to not go deeper into your ideas. Most students gravitate towards surface-level ideas, which can be a good starting point, but should ideally be taken further. Admissions officers have read thousands of essays, so it's important that your ideas are unique, specific to you, and interesting. To get to those "deeper" ideas, keep asking yourself questions. For example, if you start with the idea of "positivity is key for this job," then keep asking yourself "Why?" Repeat that process many times and think critically, and eventually you'll come to more interesting and compelling ideas.
Avoid writing like fiction books, which have lots of descriptions that build a world or environment. Instead, only describe the things that matter to your main point. Since you have a limited number of words to use, it is vital that each sentence has a clear purpose. In this essay, many descriptions are ultimately unnecessary to their main point. Does it matter that "balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools"? No, and this only distracts from what is ultimately more valuable: your ideas and reflections.
Want to read more Common App essay examples?
If you're looking for more outstanding Common App essays, check out our Common App guide with examples.
For more, check out our list of top personal statement examples .
Part 2: UC Personal Insight Questions
Your UC essays are more important in 2022, now that UC's have dropped SAT and ACT scores from your application.
And if you're looking to write great UC essays, the best place to start is by learning from essays that worked in the past.
If you're looking for tons of UC essay examples, you're in the right place.
Every student applying to University of California must write four Personal Insight Questions. Each short essay must be fewer than 350 words each.
Check out our guides and examples for UCLA essays and UC Berkeley essays .
Within those posts, you'll be able to read dozens of the best UC Personal Insight Questions.
College Essay Example #5: Summer Counselor
This essay was accepted into UCLA .
UC PIQ #1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words max)
Each summer for the last eight years, I have attended a four-week residential summer camp on Orcas Island, first as a camper and more recently as a staff member. As a counselor-in- training last summer, my role shifted from one centred around my own enjoyment to one catering to the fulfilment of others. I welcomed this change of pace gladly, as the ability to positively impact the next generation of campers in a similar way to how my own counselors impacted mine thrilled me.
At first, I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself, as I was daunted by my new responsibility as staff. However, my uncertainty dissipated when one of the campers I had worked closely with in the sailing classes I taught wrote me a heartfelt letter towards the end of the session claiming that spending time with me had been one of the highlights of his summer. This small affirmation struck me deeply, and I was incentivised to continue putting all my energy into hopefully similarly affecting as many others as I could.
One of the most challenging parts of the summer was when I acted as an assistant counselor to a group of six 2nd-grade boys for a week, living with and supervising them for the whole time. I recall one particular moment when all six started yelling over the minor grievance of whose turn it was to take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen that meal. I tried diffusing the situation peacefully but, in the end, it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down. It was tough for me to take a harder line with them, but it was a valuable lesson that being assertive, yet still kind, is an effective method for future situations.
I cannot wait to apply for a full counselor position next summer, as each year I learn more from camp about what it is to be a compassionate leader, a convincing role model, and a team player.
- Specific Example : For UC essays, it's important to directly and clearly answer the prompt. This student does a good job of using a specific moment that clearly answers the prompt.
- Honest About Challenges : You don't have to present yourself as a perfect human being. Instead, by showing your flaws and challenges, it makes you more relatable. This student does that well by admitting: "I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself."
What They Might Change:
- Give More Details : In addition to stating "...it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down," it's better to show this. How did you act in that moment? How can you illustrate that assertiveness, without just stating it?
College Essay Example #6: Teaching Talent
UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)
My greatest talent is teaching. I love the opportunity to help others and seeing them develop and improve as a result of my input is always so rewarding.
My principle teaching outlet is as a diving coach. My favourite part about this job is that it is so dynamic, and each session is different. Some days the divers are in a great mood, dive impressively, and will jest with you nonstop which, being extroverted, fills me with energy and is a genuinely enjoyable evening. These sessions are so easy to coach as you can present yourself as a friend to the divers and deepen the trust that exists between you. However, other nights the kids are tired and unenthusiastic and coaching becomes far more challenging. I have to be stricter with them while simultaneously finding ways to motivate them, such as introducing little competitions or rewards for training hard. Over time, I have gotten much more confident at adjusting my coaching attitude towards the signals I pick up from the divers and it has made my job significantly easier.
This year, I have taken on the additional responsibility of leading the Learn to Dive squad, the largest group of divers at my club. At first, it was tough for me to adjust to my new role as it entailed more work with other coaches, helping them to develop their own coaching ability and monitoring the progression of their divers, as well as with kids of my own. However, I have grown to love this new element of my job, despite the challenge of instructing coaches older than myself, as it has forced me to develop my teaching ability in new ways. I have had to analyse my own teaching methods in order to explain them to other coaches and this both helped them to understand how to improve, but also allowed me to refine and develop how I coach my own divers.
Teaching is such an important part of my life because it allows me to learn and increase my own knowledge while making a positive impact on others.
College Essay Example #7: Linguistics
This Personal Insight Question essay was accepted into UCLA among others.
UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)
While reading Tolkien's The Silmarillion , I was struck by the elegance of the Elvish script he included. Upon further research, I discovered that he had created an entire language – Quenya – to accompany the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The idea that a language could be crafted and cultivated like a piece of art was both illuminating and inspiring to me. I had heard of Esperanto previously, but I believe Tolkien wasn’t trying to change the world with his creation. His goal was simply to create a language for the pleasure of it, and to enrich his storytelling and worldbuilding.
The revelation that language could be more than just a tool for communication triggered a love for linguistics that persists to this day. I voraciously tore through reference grammars and college textbooks alike, including An Introduction to Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell.
I even tried to emulate Tolkien and create a language of my own. Whether at school taking classes in Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, and Ancient Greek, or at home studying the phonology of Brazilian Portuguese on my own, languages excited and motivated me to learn more. I was awarded the Arthur Beatty award for outstanding linguist in the year as a result of my dedication to the language program at school.
Watching Game of Thrones reintroduced me to conlanging in the form of Dothraki and rekindled my interest, prompting me to write my IB extended essay on the historical etymology of Spanish. It was a challenging project, but I loved every minute of my research. While my friends were lamenting their boredom at poring over endless journals on topics they didn’t enjoy, I was studying a subject for which I am truly passionate. I hope to continue my study of language in university, and one of my goals in life is to be trilingual. I have no doubt that languages will continue to inspire me throughout life, and I hope to be able to share some of this passion with others along the way.
College Essay Example #8: Linguistics Society
Here's another UCLA essay that worked.
UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)
Throughout my time at school, I have tried to share my passions and interests with others in various ways.
With the help of a friend, I reinvigorated and reinvented the school linguistics society, transforming it from a dull discussion of past exam questions to a seminar-style session where I have presented and analysed various interesting aspects of language. We have covered topics ranging from phonetics to historical sound change, and it has attracted a loyal troop of linguists who relish the weekly meetings almost as much as I do.
I have also channelled my passion for teaching into volunteering as a Spanish teacher at another local elementary school. Leading a class of thirty students can be a challenge, mainly as that many students are often hard to control. Nevertheless, I have planned and carried out lessons there each week for the last three years and have learnt a lot from it. I have found that as my confidence has grown, so the students have started to listen to and respect me more. They gain more from the lessons, as is evident from their progress at the end of each semester, and my enjoyment and fulfilment has risen. I am glad to have had a positive impact on their learning, and that I have been able to teach a subject that genuinely interests me.
Finally, I was appointed as a school prefect for senior year. In this role, I have been involved with a number of charity initiatives, such as organising bake sales and sponsored sporting events to raise money for the Make a Wish foundation, as well as various pastoral activities such as mentoring incoming freshman and guiding prospective parents around the campus. I love being a prefect as it allows me to give something back to the school that has been a huge part of my life for the last several years. I hope my legacy is that students feel more comfortable and confident in the school environment, and that they are inspired to become leaders as I have been to give back to the community in turn.
College Essay Example #9: New Perspectives
This essay was accepted into UC Berkeley .
Seconds after our teacher announced our project groups I heard the familiar, pitchy voice of the most irritating person in the class yell my name. Just like my worst nightmare, I had been put in a group to work with Eva; the annoying girl who had a weird obsession with horses. At that moment, I knew that it was going to be the longest project of my life.
Eva was extremely difficult to work with; she would always interrupt me, stubbornly stuck to what she wanted, and did not listen to a thing I said. Two weeks of tension and no progress flew by until one day during class, Eva went on another ramble about her horses.
Although I wasn't ready to hear her talk about horses again, I let her continue. What was another rant about horses turned into a conversation about the mental disorders Eva faced and how she relied on horse riding as therapy. After that conversation, our progress took a complete 180. I was eager to learn more, and we finished the project with more purpose and meaning. My perspective changed entirely.
I was moved by Eva’s passion for horse riding and encouraged her to start a club on campus where she could share her passion with others. Beyond this project, I helped Eva defend her riding center during city council meetings because it was on the verge of being shut down. In exchange, working with Eva taught me how to be more open-minded, more patient, more understanding; values of which I personally lacked my entire life. I began to cooperate with people with a more accepting and considerate mentality, understanding that people work in different ways.
I’m glad I chose to work through the project with Eva because I grew as a leader in a way that I would have never expected. I know I could have easily done the project by myself, but instead, I worked through our disagreements and bickering. Sharing this experience with Eva unearthed my ability to lead using patience and understanding, which are now essential assets to my leadership capabilities.
Part 3: Supplemental Essay Examples
Many top colleges require students to supplemental essays.
Each school may ask different prompts or none at all. And often your answers will be more specific and directly about the school.
In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts, from "Why this college?" to major and area of study questions
Let's jump into the essays.
In addition to the your personal statement or statement of purpose (SOP), many colleges also require supplements.
These supplemental essays are often specific to the school and ask you to answer a specific question, such as "Why this college?" or "Why this major?"
In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts that you may encounter.
College Essay Example #10: Fermat's Last Theorem
This supplemental essay was accepted into Cornell University .
Prompt: Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in. (250-650 words)
I was thirteen sitting in my eighth grade geometry class, when I first heard of Fermat’s Last Theorem. We were discussing Pythagorean triples, whole number solutions to the Pythagorean Theorem, and conversation arose about the possibility of solving for exponents larger than two. What about three, four, or five? Eventually, this led to the teacher saying, “This is called Fermat’s Last Theorem. You won’t learn about it until you are much older.” With a dismissal like that, I naturally spent the whole night researching it instead of reading A Separate Peace for English. My fascination for this theorem was two-fold. The theorem is a seemingly simple concept, while on the other hand, it is notorious for being one of the most difficult proofs in all of mathematics. Fermat, himself, claimed he knew how to prove it, but promptly died leaving no evidence to back up his assertion. For over three and a half centuries, mathematicians were stumped by a seemingly impossible problem. Until it wasn’t.
Fermat’s Last Theorem was the impossible math proof, but overtime, collective mathematical knowledge grew. In 1993, British mathematician Andrew Wiles combined others’ theorems and conjectures to show that Fermat’s Last Theorem was a special case of semi-elliptical curves and that the theorem was a modular form. As a result, Fermat’s Last Theorem was proven to be correct. Consequently, once the mathematical community reviewed Wiles’ proof, it was widely agreed that Fermat could not have proven the theorem, because the general mathematical understanding in 1637 was not developed enough yet. Though the story of its eventual solution is exhilarating, to me, this episode underscores a more important lesson that is as true in science and engineering as it is in mathematics: it is not through individual genius, but collective effort and exploration that impossible problems become solvable.
Impossibilities surround us in the world. Here’s my impossibility— developing a solution to the global management of heart disease. Every year, millions die of cardiovascular complications, but nobody has a large-scale solution. My father’s death opened my eyes to the limited treatment options for cardiovascular disease, in that medicine can diagnose the disease, but current preventative measures are inefficient, as it is still the leading cause of death in America. Like Fermat’s Last Theorem, however, this problem does not have to remain unsolvable. Biomedical engineering applications enable us to foresee biological and physiological phenomena, and conceive system-oriented solutions to problems that have previously been treated symptomatically. I aspire to find new ways to track the growth of arterial plaque and blood clots throughout the body to better maintain blood flow, reducing, maybe someday eliminating, heart attacks, cardiac arrests, and strokes.
I see Cornell as my next step towards accomplishing this aspiration. My brother, Matt, went to Cornell Engineering for his B.S. ( [Date] ) and M.S. ( [Date] ), and his accomplishments are what initially drew me to the College of Engineering. He was a member of the DARPA Robotics team that built an autonomous vehicle. Cornell’s theoretical approach to systems allowed him to find new ways of visualizing the world when solving problems. Although my brother and I have differing interests, I see through him how a Cornell education fosters a mindset not just to improve the status quo, but to reimagine it.
Cornell researchers are already pioneering the future of cardiovascular engineering, where professors and students are researching “heart-assist technology” to discover better solutions to pediatric heart problems. That project is already seeking answers to many of the questions that motivate me, and I’m excited about the prospect of joining the effort. The college’s theoretical approach combined with its project teams offers a way for students like me to not just learn how to build things, but to understand the conceptual principles underlying each problem. With this two-pronged method, Cornell Engineering will allow me to solve my personal Fermat’s Last Theorem of developing better methods to combat heart disease.
For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to show ways you imagine being involved on campus. This student does a great job of showing that they've done their research about Cornell, by connecting their passion for studying heart disease to specific initiatives already taking place on campus. Try researching what events, research, or programs are being conducted. By referencing those specifics, you can create convincing reasons of why this school is fit for you.
When discussing your intended area of study, one effective strategy is to identify a problem that you see. This problem can be in the field itself, your community, or the world. Then, you can connect this problem to yourself by showing how you'd want to help solve it. Don't try to tackle it entirely yourself, but show how you'd "take bites" out of this larger problem. It is also important that you identify potential solutions to the problem. You definitely don't (and shouldn't) have all the answers, but what do you see as potential steps for combatting the issue?
Using technical language, such as referencing "semi-elliptical curves" and "modular form" in this essay, will help show your in-depth knowledge and passion. Don't be afraid to use technical jargon like this, and don't worry if admissions officers may not know all the terms. As long as they have context and knowing the terminology isn't critical to understanding your point, including "nerdy" language will make your essay more engaging and demonstrate your intelligence.
If you have personal connections to the school you're applying to (such as legacy, family members who work there, students or faculty you're close with), it can be a good idea to reference those connections. Showing personal connections to the school makes admissions think, "They're already practically one of us!" Just make sure that these connections aren't contrived: only write about them if you have a clear purpose within your essay for introducing them. In this essay, the student references their brother who attended Cornell, but does so in a way that naturally ties into the rest of their reasons for "why Cornell."
College Essay Example #11: Bug Fixing
Here's another Cornell essay that worked .
Prompt: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (650 words max)
Since seventh grade, I’ve been obsessed with making others smile. That year was tough on my 12-year-old, bewildered self. It was the first time I’d struggled through anything major in my life. Someone important in my life passed away. Several relationships were beaten up and broken down. My once-straight-A grades took a turn for the worse as the magnet school experience bore down upon me. And ever since I was forced to be that one kid who cried through lunch with her head down on the table, I decided to make sure nobody else would have to be that kid.
I’ve tried everything to hear someone’s laugh, from biting sarcasm to the pain of a bad pun. But when I think about when my friends and I are laughing the most, it’s all together, in a call at midnight. We’re playing computer games and listening to silly music and laughing at the expense of each other as we die at the hands of the enemy team in the most ridiculous ways.
I started playing League of Legends late last year. It was a way for me to feel strong and unstoppable when I felt powerless in reality. The gameplay was what initially hooked me, but everything else about the game was equally, if not more, fascinating. The design of the maps, champions, and skins. The precise animations and detail in every interaction. The engrossing theme songs and background music, especially ones like Aurelion Sol’s intro (highly recommend, by the way; it’s a beautifully written, insistent orchestral piece) . The concept of worldbuilding and forever expanding upon the backstories of over a hundred characters and their universe. The way gaming brings all sorts of people together and lets them really laugh.
I once read a throwback article, called “Total Recall, or: That Time We Disabled Ranked,” that was written by product managers, designers, and producers. It covered an intensive bug that forced the company to work nearly 28 hours straight in order to restore the game and discussed the processes behind bugfixing. It was this article that truly incensed my interest in game design.
When reading about the majors and programs that Cornell provides, I felt a rare yet very real spark of excitement for college and my future. I’d heard of the notoriety of the Computer Science major at Cornell, but the option to follow the major within the School of Arts and Sciences eased my mind. As a right-brained student, I’ve always felt the struggle to succeed academically, especially within maths and sciences, while still pursuing my artistic interests. The BA CS major gives the ability to major in what I want to do while also getting exposure to a larger breadth of courses in other schools. I believe that Cornell will be able to reconcile my passions and style of learning by providing an environment in which I can thrive.
But what caught my eye the most was the specific game design minor that I could pursue alongside a major in computer science. It seems pretty unique to the school and is exactly what I’ve been wanting from a prospective school. Through this route , I’d be able to further my current understanding of programming and learn how to apply this to the world of design and animation. I’d be worlds closer to not only bringing my ideas to life, but also bringing the same happiness, excitement, and immersion that I feel to other gamers like me.
Gaming is what brings a smile to my face, as it does to millions of other people around the globe. I want my efforts to inspire happiness and infectious laughter to reach the world by doing what I love. And now, it truly feels as though Cornell has given me a real chance at being able to make someone smile by doing what they love.
College Essay Example #12: Why UPenn
If you enjoyed the UPenn Common App essay , here's a supplement that was also accepted into the University of Pennsylvania .
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 max)
When I first started seriously thinking about college during sophomore year, I didn’t want to go anywhere outside of Ohio. I thought I would be too far away from home. But the more mail I received from different colleges, the more I realized that some of my best opportunities were going to come from outside of my comfort zone, from outside of Ohio. One pamphlet from the University of Pennsylvania in particular caught my eye, and although I was a bit skeptical at first, as I did my research I realized that the University of Pennsylvania is a top tier university that holds many unique opportunities for its students.
One of the first things I noticed when I began to research Penn was their emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. This appealed to me because I have never been interested in only one subject. The fact that a third of my classes would be taken outside of the Wharton School tells me that I will be able to explore a variety of classes in virtually any subject. For example, although I do not want to major in it, I have always been interested in computer coding. Hopefully I will able able to take some introductory level computer programming or coding classes at Penn even though it is not directly related to finance, my potential concentration. I am also excited about the availability of foreign languages at the University of Pennsylvania. I started learning French in eighth grade, and since my school only offers four years of French, I wasn’t able to take it my senior year , and I really miss it. I also started learning Portuguese during high school because I want to travel to Brazil one day. I want to continue learning both of these languages at the University of Pennsylvania. I am very excited about the opportunities that the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies will give me at Penn.
Another aspect of Penn that I found fascinating was their different programs regarding political science. At one point, I wanted to major in political science. But when I took an Introduction to Global Politics class at the Ohio State University during the summer before my senior year, I didn’t know if I could honestly see myself studying that for four years. However, during my time researching political science at Penn, I found out about an amazing program that I could participate in: Penn in Washington. Political science is currently my second choice major, and if I decide that’s what I want to major in, it would be with a concentration in American Politics , so the Penn in Washington program would be perfect for me to find an internship and learn about how the different parts of government work together in the heart of America’s government. However, if I choose not to major in political science, I would still be interested in the American Public Policy minor , which is offered through the political science department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School, which is where I will possibly be pursuing a degree in finance. Penn seems to match perfectly with what I want to study in college. I am really excited for the opportunities that the University of Pennsylvania will give me. From the interdisciplinary studies to the foreign languages and political science programs, I will have plenty of chances to explore my diverse interests here at the University of Pennsylvania.
This essay does a great job of conveying a thoughtful and candid applicant. Their phrasing, although verbose in some places, comes across genuine because the author walks you through how they learned about the school, what they're looking for in a school, and why the school would offer those specific things. Phrases like "I didn't know if I could honestly see myself studying that" are conversational and natural-sounding, which help create a sincere tone.
By referencing specific programs, like "Penn in Washington" as well as various minors and concentrations, it is clear this student has done their research about the school. One of the most important aspects for a "Why Us" essay is to find specific and unique opportunities and name them in your essay. These could be things like specific professors and their work, campus and its location, interesting classes, unique internship/study-abroad/job programs, special events, and many more. The key is referencing things that are entirely unique to the school and not many other schools too. Avoid broad terms like "renowned faculty" or "interdisciplinary studies" because virtually all colleges offer things like this, and these are some of the most over-used and artificial reasons used in "Why Us" essays.
This essay has many moments of repetition that are unnecessary. In general, avoid repeating your ideas and when editing, ask yourself of each sentence: does this add something distinctly new and important to my essay? There are two common mistakes that often create repetition: prefacing your ideas and summarizing your ideas. Unlike academic writing, you don't need to "prepare" the reader for what you're going to say, and you don't need to conclude it with a summary. By doing so, you only create unnecessary repetition and take up words which could otherwise be used to include new specific details or ideas.
This essay spends nearly half of its words explaining the "interdisciplinary" opportunities at UPenn. However, this reason is quite superficial and not at all unique to Penn, as almost all colleges offer some sort of interdisciplinary study (i.e. combining your interests or studying multiple fields). Talking about "interdisciplinary study" is one of the most common reasons students use in their "Why Us" essay, and it often comes across as generic and unoriginal. Instead, look for offerings that no other (or very few other) schools provide. Narrow down your reasons "why" to make them more specific to the school, even if they are smaller scale. You can mention things like "interdisciplinary studies" or "diverse student body" briefly as a reason why, but don't make them one of your primary reasons why, unless you have something particularly unique about it.
College Essay Example #13: Story of My Name
This interesting essay is a Dartmouth essay that was admitted. Enjoy!
Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)
My name is Eoin Hourihane and my entire life, no one has ever pronounced my name correctly. My genealogy is Irish and my name is spelled this way because every male in the Hourihane family, for the past seven generations, has been named John. Since my older brother's name is John, my dad decided to honor his heritage, which gives me my dual citizenship, and name me the old Gaelic for John: Eoin.
I am the youngest of six which brings with it the never-ending comparisons, teasing, and constant bickering; add to that being small for my age until the age of twelve, and you can imagine my household. We have all been raised to be independent, to love nature (except Princess Ali), and to work our hardest at everything we do.
I have always loved math, playing hockey (ice or floor), matzah ball soup, the Beatles and Queen. As a kid, I was into Percy Jackson and a series of books with titles that all ended in “-ology,” the churros at the hockey rink in Jamestown, Bang party snaps, t-shirts by Tobuscus, and my two stuffed cats - one with a mortarboard, and the other with a Star of David on its front left paw. I have dreamt of being a biomedical engineer and creating a glass eye that can see, knowing the intricacies of the human body and its responses to environmental and internal stimuli, and performing surgery on the brain.
I have celebrated Chanukah and Christmas, honoring my Jewish mother and my Catholic father, but not truly affiliating with either. I am a liberal thinker who follows current events closely, and I am eager to explore the world outside of Buffalo, NY, participate in an academic environment that will challenge me, and live among a community of learners.
College Essay Example #14: Ideal College Community
This supplement was accepted into Columbia University .
Prompt: List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words max)
Filled with activity around the clock. A place to come home to.
Trying to get past locked doors (literal and metaphorical).
Offering intellectual freedom and curiosity, without forcing specialization. Accommodating students who are unwilling to wait to make a difference. Willing to look critically at itself.
Socially conscious and politically active.
Never taking its eye off the national or global stage.
Buzzing with so much life it flows beyond the campus into the outside world.
So much life that sometimes it intimidates, that it yearns for more hours in the day. With too many options to choose from, Too much to do in four years.
Filled with clever eyes that see new ideas in the lessons of history.
Diverse of origin, of culture, of opinion, of religion, of personality, Diverse like an international center of thought and ideas and passions. An urban wonderland.
Supporting of extraordinary ambitions.
College Essay Example #15: Why Computer Science
This essay was accepted into Columbia University . To read more exceptional Columbia essays, be sure to check out our list for more Columbia essay examples .
Prompt: For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words max)
Studying computer science gives me the opportunity to be in a field that evolves so quickly I can always be on the forefront and do cutting-edge work. This summer at an ad-tech company, I moved the data science team’s analysis programs to a novel cluster-computing engine (Kubernetes), which can manage and distribute tasks across thousands of computers at once. Kubernetes is so new that barely any information has circulated about it. Because of this novelty, I was able to publish the first existing documentation of a data science pipeline in Kubernetes.
Computer science can also automate the manual drudgery of life. For example: to manage my clubs, I’ve written a program that checks for emails from members with excuses for missing meetings and automatically logs their absences.
Since computers have become the platform for every science, coding allows me to contribute to numerous fields. When I started at Einstein College of Medicine last year, I knew nothing about computational biology. Our project showed me that basic programming was all I needed to find fascinating results in the mostly unstudied mountains of genomic data.
As a person, I’m drawn to seemingly impossible challenges, in particular, the quest to teach machines and create mechanical consciousness. When I started taking online courses in AI, I became fascinated by the gradient descent method in machine learning. The method casts complex input data (e.g. photos) as thousand-dimensional surfaces and attempts to descend to the lowest points (minima) of those surfaces. It works best on data with underlying patterns, like pictures of human faces. This indicates that, in some way, the very nature of what a ‘face’ is, what unique structure is shared by nearly all faces, is found in the minima that AI models descend towards. My dream is to do foundational artificial intelligence research.
College Essay Example #16: Volunteering at Hospital
This essay was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Want to read more UNC essay examples? Check out our list of the best UNC essays for this year.
Prompt: We hope you’ll share with us the activities that you’ve found especially worthwhile. We also hope you won’t feel compelled to tell us everything you’ve ever done or, worse yet, to do things that mean little to you just because you think we expect them.
Low-profile pursuits can be just as meaningful as ones that draw more attention, and fewer activities can be just as good, and sometimes even better, than more activities. For example, although starting a new club can be a great experience and helpful to others, so can caring for siblings, parents, or grandparents, working outside the home to put food on the table, or being a good and caring friend.
For these reasons, although we’re glad to receive complete résumés, we don’t require or encourage them. Instead, if you choose to submit something that goes beyond what you’re providing through your Common Application, keep it brief; focus less on including everything and more on choosing and explaining the things that have meant the most to you; and upload it here. (650 words max)
Everywhere I looked, I saw a sea of white coats and scrubs; there was constant beeping of the heart monitors, and the smell of disinfectant was strong.
There I stood - a diminutive, awkward high school kid - lacking in experience and confidence, ready to begin volunteering at Vidant Medical Center. Perhaps the very same qualities that made me nervous were what put patients at ease. Many patients, especially younger ones who were uncomfortable speaking with medical professionals, seemed much more comfortable in my presence. I have learned this quality is how I have been able to make a difference - by connecting with many of the younger patients who were nervous just like me. I’ll always remember the two eight-year-old brothers who were waiting as their father got an MRI.
In some ways, they were also like me - they loved sports, and had an interest in math and science. As they were waiting, we talked about everything, from who they thought would win the NBA championship title to me giving them tips on how to remember their multiplication tables. This interaction put them at ease and kept them from becoming restless.
Every time I step into the hospital, I strive to connect with people. I find that I am able to make a difference not strictly due to my tasks of escorting and discharging patients but because of connection and rapport that I establish with them.
My initial nervousness about whether or not I would be able to assist sick and injured patients soon gave way to relief and gratification as I learned that I was indeed able to help them, by bringing a smile to those I escort, discharge, or deliver meals . I’ve met people I might never have met otherwise, and we’ve shared our thoughts and talked about our experiences. I have come to look forward to their company, who, despite their conditions, are still able to smile every day and enjoy engaging in conversation with me - and vice versa.
Even when volunteering in areas of the hospital where I’m not in contact with patients as often, such as doing food preparation, I always make sure to visit the patients I escort after my shift, to talk to them and uplift their spirits. Volunteering at a hospital reminds me every day how fortunate I am to be in good health and of the rewards of helping those who aren’t. While my job as a volunteer at the hospital may not result in the discovery of a cure for cancer, I am happy to have had an opportunity to contribute to improving the experiences of the children and young adults coping with their hospital stays.
College Essay Example #17: Why Carnegie Mellon
This essay was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University . Want to read more essays that worked for CMU? Check out our list of Carnegie Mellon essays that worked .
Prompt: Why Carnegie Mellon? (650 words max)
As a child who hid behind her parents and never uttered a word whenever strangers were near, I was no stranger to people deeming me shy. As I got older, however, I found my voice more comfortably through music, through art, and through writing .
Playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto in the Kennedy Center , for instance, unleashed a swell of emotions through the intricate art of storytelling with my violin. I was drawn to writing stories and sharing ideas with my peers, starting my editor career in fifth grade. Five years later, I co-founded my high school’s literary magazine, Muses, which provides a platform for all voices while fostering connections among students.
I was twelve years old when a HTML class through John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth program introduced me to a modern language of communication: computers and the Internet. Falling in love with coding and website design, I utilized my newfound knowledge to design a website for my National History Day project, which won the school competition. In high school, I joined programming club, took the rigorous computer science classes, and designed Muses’ website. This year, I created a conceptual online boutique store, which won first place in Maryland Future Business Leader Association’s E-business competitive event.
In the summer of [Date] , I interned in a NCI melanoma research lab. This experience completed changed how I viewed the importance of technology to modern communication. We had obtained genotypes from thousands of melanoma patients and controls, but a new question arose: how could we extract the useful information from a massive data file , akin to finding a needle in a haystack ? Under the guidance of a bioinformatician, I performed an association test between melanoma associated variants and survival outcome to identify the risk loci that might affect patient survival.
Catering to the needs of the scientists, I wrote an app by R code that organizes and manages melanoma genotype information; extracting the information of a particular genotype and its association with melanoma was now a couple clicks away . From this work, I learned how to translate large data into solutions, while using the correct data format and data structure. I realized that modern technology not only helps us communicate more efficiently, but also provides a system upon which we can solve global problems.
With a strong background in computer science and communications, I hope to incorporate both into a future career of building data systems, conducting research, and consulting for organizations that serve underrepresented citizens.
One project I want to tackle is the modification of social media algorithms so that media created by minorities and/or for minorities will appear on users’ radars. The algorithm would analyze the user’s demographics and deliver news relevant to those traits, such as discoveries about Asian health issues showing up on Asian users’ feeds. Carnegie Mellon’s encouragement of interdisciplinary studies under the Information Systems major would allow me to accomplish this and so much more. As someone who attacks calculus and creative writing with equal enthusiasm , IS’ objective of providing students with a broad background in the humanities and sciences is very appealing. As someone who learned to work as a team in a research lab, CMU’s emphasis on collaboration and student innovation would push me to further improve my teamwork and problem-solving skills.
In particular, I hope to take advantage of CMU’s Technology Consulting in the Global Community program , receiving guidance from both CMU’s renowned faculty and international technology experts. To that end, the Social and Decision Sciences major, my second choice, would also prepare me to utilize similar decision-making and analysis skills to solve social problems.
We live in a world where communication through technology connects communities across the globe, more so than ever before. The future of exploration and innovation requires us to develop efficient ways of communication - we need a combination of scientific expertise and knowledge grounded in the humanities to accurately convey ideas, solve problems and make the planet a better home for us all. An education at Carnegie Mellon would propel me in this endeavor.
Specific details and anecdotes will almost always be more compelling than less specific ones. In this essay, the student does a great job of including specific, "nerdy" details, such as "an association test between melanoma associated variants and survival outcome." These details demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of an area and make your essay more engaging.
This essay does a fantastic job of addressing real-world problems and emphasizing the "bigger picture" impact of their studies. Rather than just explaining what they want to study, this student explains how their education will help them have an impact on the world. Make an argument for what problems you see in the world and how you could potentially help solve them.
For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to reference unique aspects to the school. Almost all colleges have strong academics, great faculty, etc. So instead of referencing those points, reference what makes the school unique and different. In this essay, the student talks about "CMU's Technology Consulting in the Global Community" program, which is both highly specific to CMU and relevant to their own interests.
In general, you should avoid simply listing your achievements. This student has many remarkable activities and experiences, but it comes across less interesting because the first half of the essay is simply describing these accomplishments.
For "Why Us?" essays, it is also a good idea to reference the values the school represents. Each school has a different "culture" and type of student body, and admissions wants to know how you will fit in.
College Essay Example #18: Why NYU?
This essay was accepted into New York University . Writing your NYU essays doesn't have to be stressful if you get inspired by these examples.
Prompt: Why NYU?
We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand - Why NYU? (400 words max)
Living in a suburb my whole life, I've always felt as if I lived in a two-dimensional plane. I can go left, right, forward, and backward.
In a suburb, however, it is nearly impossible to get any meaningful altitude. Upon visiting New York City during the summer before my senior year, however, I found myself gazing up at the skyscrapers soaring high above me. I've always loved the views mountains and buildings; both from above and below. I also have spent time studying Mandarin, and Shanghai would offer a unique opportunity to further my linguistic studies while engaging in cultural immersion.
Beyond settings, NYU has the capacity and the resources available for me to engage in research in quantum computation. Playing video games got me into math and science beyond just playing with my calculator as a baby. There were practical applications of the numbers, and I wanted to understand how it all worked in order to get the best equipment and maximize ammo efficiency. I would watch "Mythbusters" and try to come up with my own hypothesis and see if it matched their conclusion.
In 8th grade, I figured out that I loved science along with math, but I didn't exactly know what science I loved. At the time I was in "physical science" and I did enjoy the class a lot, but I always thought of physics as "speed distance time" triangles which were no fun at all. I was convinced to take AP Physics in my junior year with my friends, and I loved it. It was almost every week we would learn something that completely altered my perception of the universe.
Once I learned about quantum physics and how it basically destroys our understanding of everything, I knew I wanted to pursue it further, and be at the forefront of quantum research.
At NYU, not only can I take courses to learn about the subject, but I can also participate in research through the "Center for Quantum Phenomena". Taking advanced courses and conducting research in a new setting, such as New York or Shanghai, can offer me a new perspective and a breath of fresh air. Conversely, I can help over NYU a new perspective on critical thinking and problem-solving. I chose to apply to NYU because NYU is fit for me, and I am fit for NYU.
College Essay Example #19: Moving Places
This essay was accepted into Pomona College . Check out this Pomona supplement that worked.
Prompt: For Pomona students, the College’s location in Southern California is integral in shaping their experience. Tell us about a location, real or fictional, that has shaped you in a meaningful way. (650 words max)
Inside every bedroom is the Swiss Army knife of the sleeping world: blankets. You can take them with you anywhere and they always come in handy. My blankets are dark blue with square tribal patterns, knitted from the finest pima cotton by Peruvian artisans. I fluff them up for a soft snuggle, throw them over myself to deter the monsters under the bed , or use them as a ShamWow for tears. Yet they also helped me overcome the biggest obstacle—the moving target— in my life.
I’ve moved within and between countries ten times. I’ve changed schools so often that I’ve never been in a classroom for more than two years. I have felt loneliness and isolation , while my classmates had playdates and tea parties in a language I struggled to speak. Nothing was mine, not in school where local kids decorated their lockers, not in our rented house where everything belonged to the landlord, and not in the bedroom I slept in, where furniture and wall colors constantly switched from cream to light tan to stale beige.
The only thing that followed me from house to house were my two blankets.
As I started middle school, I began to resent moving. I took my anger out on my parents , despising them for ripping me away from newly made friends, the eighth-grade boyfriend who held my hand and gifted me Godiva chocolates, and the bedroom overlooking the Via Paloma, whose bare, white walls and street noises were beginning to feel familiar. I had no safe space or anchor to rely on when new cultures and languages overwhelmed me.
As I finished middle school, my dark blue blankets were brimming with tears of anger and frustration. One night I rolled myself up into a pitiful cocoon of ill-thoughts and sadness, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. The scent of clean cotton swirled inside my lungs, relaxing me. Memories morphed: The spacious apartment in the Andes mountains of Venezuela, the cozy cabin in the hills of Peru, and the lush single story homes in Palm Beach and Miami. Each stop carried its own memories like a distinctive aroma. I remembered the first hike along the Andean mountains in Caracas, sliding down the sand dunes in Lima, and savoring deep fried Oreos at the South Florida Fair. A nostalgic smile formed on my face as I continued to remember.
In retrospect, moving was my passport to exciting new ideas, tastes, and hobbies. I lived through vastly different cultures, and over the course of my country-hopping journey, I blended them to create a unique lifestyle of arroz con pollo, salsa, and Costco bulk shopping. I was exposed to new angles on belief and opinions, which opened my eyes to the diverse perspectives of the world. Changes of place, language and altitude have gifted me with an open-minded and thoughtful nature.
My blankets have followed me to every new home, to every new bedroom. They were my emotional anchors when I felt adrift, they were my safe harbors. They reminded me that it’s not important to own everything around you to feel in control of your own life. It’s okay for things to change, as long as you hang on to your values. The battle between bare white and dark blue has shaped me into a person that can accept and adapt to unfamiliar situations.
I’ll haul my weathered blankets to new adventures and apartments, hopefully to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and the gritty streets of East LA. Wherever I go, I can count on them to wrap me in their familiar arms, making the undiscovered feel like home.
In supplements where they aren't specifically asking you to write about the school, it can still be a good idea to connect to the school subtly. In this prompt, Pomona isn't asking for "Why Pomona," but the author still manages to imply their interest in the school by referencing Pomona's location near the "San Gabriel Mountains" and "East L.A." This is a subtle way of making the essay feel targeted for Pomona specifically, rather than this essay being reused for other schools, without answering the prompt in a way they aren't looking for.
This essay starts off with a strong metaphor, comparing a "Swiss Army knife" to blankets, which implies the many uses of blankets. This is a captivating hook because it is creative and makes sense when thought about, but isn't something immediately obvious. Throughout the essay, "blankets" become a symbol of being able to adapt to new locations and environments. By using "blankets" as a common thread through the essay, it makes their writing about various locations still feel connected. Even though the prompt is asking for "a location," this manages to work because "blankets" becomes the unifying symbol that ties together multiple locations.
By describing the luxurious-sounding places they've traveled, this essay could come across as privileged. Although coming from privilege isn't necessarily a bad thing for applying to colleges, emphasizing that privilege (especially nonchalantly) could come across as "entitled." This essay doesn't necessarily come across that way, but over-emphasizing your privilege could come across as not recognizing that privilege or "out of touch" with others who may come from less privilege. Instead, it may be better to acknowledge your privilege and show gratitude—emphasizing how those opportunities have allowed you to make a positive impact on others.
College Essay Example #20: Double Major
Here's another liberal arts essay that worked, again for Pomona College .
Prompt: Most Pomona students enter the College undecided about a major, or they change their minds about their prospective major by the time they graduate. Certainly we aren’t going to hold you to any of the choices you’ve made above. But, in no more than 250 words, please tell us why you’ve chosen the academic programs (or undecided!) that you have listed. (250 words max)
I’m sitting backstage at my first international piano competition, anxiously awaiting my turn to perform. Unconsciously, I massage my right wrist, still recovering from a recent injury. The young man beside me feels my nervousness and starts a conversation.
As we whisper, I notice him rub his hands together uncomfortably. “What’s wrong?” I ask, quickly leaving my own wrist alone. He suppresses a nervous laugh, then quietly details the long and unsuccessful surgery that shattered his dream of becoming a professional musician. His hands were permanently damaged.
“Alessandra Fang,” the judges call. I stand up, walk to the main stage and look back to see him encourage me with a stiff, crooked thumbs-up. As my fingers dance on the keys, I observe the fragile muscles and ligaments under my skin.
I realize in that moment that it is not in a massive concert hall where I wanted to change people’s lives, but on a smaller stage: an operating room. As an artist who has had her share of painful, music-related injuries, my goal is to become a musician’s physician, and blend my greatest two passions so that I might bring relief to those around me, while understanding their musical and anatomical plight.
I wish to pursue both Biology and Music programs at Pomona College. I want to become a hand surgeon while still developing my artistry on the piano. After all, surgery also has its own cadence, complexity and composition.
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In this article and on our site, we've compiled hundreds of successful college essay examples so that you can see how other students got accepted and learn exactly what to do in order to help make your application a success too.
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21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay
What’s covered:, what makes a good common app essay, is your common app essay strong enough.
When you begin writing your Common App essay, having an example to look at can help you understand how to effectively write your college essay so that it stands apart from others.
These Common App essay examples demonstrate a strong writing ability and answer the prompt in a way that shows admissions officers something unique about the student. Once you’ve read some examples and are ready to get started, read our step-by-step guide for how to write a strong Common App essay.
Please note: 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.
Read our Common App essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
The point of the Common App essay is to humanize yourself to a college admissions committee. The ultimate goal is to get them to choose you over someone else! You will have a better chance of achieving this goal if the admissions committee feels personally connected to you or invested in your story. When writing your Common App essay, you should explore your feelings, worldview, values, desires, and anything else that makes you uniquely you.
It’s Not Cliché
It is pretty easy to resort to clichés in college essays. This should be actively avoided! CollegeVine has identified the immigrant’s journey, sports injuries, and overcoming a challenging course as cliché topics . If you write about one of these topics, you have to work harder to stand out, so working with a more nuanced topic is often safer and easier.
Colleges want good writers. They want students who can articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely (and creatively!). You should be writing and rewriting your essays, perfecting them as you go. Of course, make sure that your grammar and spelling are impeccable, but also put in time crafting your tone and finding your voice. This will also make your essay more personal and will make your reader feel more connected to you!
Compelling Common App essays tell a cohesive story. Cohesion is primarily achieved through effective introductions and conclusions , which often contribute to the establishment of a clear theme or topic. Make sure that it is clear what you are getting at, but also don’t explicitly state what you are getting at—a successful essay speaks for itself.
Common App Essay Examples
Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts.
Prompt #1 : 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.
Prompt #2 : 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?
Prompt #3 : Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Prompt #4 : Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? (NOTE: We only have an example for the old prompt #4 about solving a problem, not this current one)
Prompt #5 : Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Prompt #6 : 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?
Prompt #7 : Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.
Prompt #1: 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.
Prompt #1, example #1.
The room was silent except for the thoughts racing through my head. I led a spade from my hand and my opponent paused for a second, then played a heart. The numbers ran through my mind as I tried to consider every combination, calculating my next move. Finally, I played the ace of spades from the dummy and the rest of my clubs, securing the contract and 620 points when my partner ruffed at trick five. Next board.
It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship. The winning team would be selected to represent the United States in the world championship and my team was still in the running.
Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game. Players from around the world gather at local clubs, regional events, and, in this case, national tournaments.
Going into the tournament, my team was excited; all the hours we had put into the game, from the lengthy midnight Skype sessions spent discussing boards to the coffee shop meetings spent memorizing conventions together, were about to pay off.
Halfway through, our spirits were still high, as we were only down by fourteen international match points which, out of the final total of about four hundred points, was virtually nothing and it was very feasible to catch up. Our excitement was short-lived, however, as sixty boards later, we found that we had lost the match and would not be chosen as the national team.
Initially, we were devastated. We had come so close and it seemed as if all the hours we had devoted to training had been utterly wasted. Yet as our team spent some time together reflecting upon the results, we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion. I chatted with the winning team and even befriended a few of them who offered us encouragement and advice.
Throughout my bridge career, although I’ve gained a respectable amount of masterpoints and awards, I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met. I don’t need to travel cross-country to learn; every time I sit down at a table whether it be during a simple club game, a regional tournament or a national event, I find I’m always learning.
I nod at the pair that’s always yelling at each other. They teach me the importance of sportsmanship and forgiveness.
I greet the legally blind man who can defeat most of the seeing players. He reminds me not to make excuses.
I chat with the friendly, elderly couple who, at ages ninety and ninety-two, have just gotten married two weeks ago. They teach me that it’s never too late to start anything.
I talk to the boy who’s attending Harvard and the girl who forewent college to start her own company. They show me that there is more than one path to success.
I congratulate the little kid running to his dad, excited to have won his very first masterpoints. He reminds me of the thrill of every first time and to never stop trying new things.
Just as much as I have benefitted from these life lessons, I aspire to give back to my bridge community as much as it has given me. I aspire to teach people how to play this complicated yet equally as exciting game. I aspire to never stop improving myself, both at and away from the bridge table.
Bridge has given me my roots and dared me to dream. What started as merely a hobby has become a community, a passion, a part of my identity. I aspire to live selflessly and help others reach their goals. I seek to take risks, embrace all results, even failure, and live unfettered from my own doubt.
This student draws readers in with a strong introduction. The essay starts ambiguous—“I led with a spade”—then intrigues readers by gradually revealing more information and details. This makes the reader want to keep reading (which is super important!) As the writer continues, there is a rather abrupt tone shift from suspenseful to explanatory with statements like “It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship” and “Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game.” If you plan to start with an imagery-heavy, emotional, suspenseful, or dramatic introduction, you will need to transition to the content of your essay in a way that does not feel abrupt.
You will often hear that essays need to “show, not tell.” This essay actually does both. First, the student tells readers the importance of bridge, saying “we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion” and “I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met.” Then, the student shows the lessons they have learned from bridge through a series of parallel sentences: “I nod… sportsmanship and forgiveness” “I greet… not to make excuses” “I chat… it’s never too late to start anything” and so on. This latter strategy is much more effective than the former and is watered down because the student has already told us what we are supposed to get out of these sentences. Remember that your readers are intelligent and can draw their own conclusions. Avoid summarizing the moral of your story for them!
Overall, this essay is interesting and answers the prompt. We learn the importance of bridge to this student. The student has a solid grasp of language, a high-level vocabulary, and a valuable message, though they would be better off if they avoided summarizing their point and created more seamless transitions.
Prompt #1, Example #2
Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German.
My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector.
Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep-rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me.
After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures.
During my first weeks in Scarsdale, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Scarsdale.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered Horizons, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with Horizon’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees.
It was there that I met Emily, a twelve-year-old Iraqi girl who lived next to Horizons. In between games and snacks, Emily would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children Horizons served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging.
Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.
Due to their endearing (and creative) use of language—with early phrases like “sloppy joes and spaetzle” as well as “Germerican” and “Denglisch”—readers are inclined to like this writer from the get-go. Though the essay shifts from this lighthearted introduction to more serious subject matter around the third paragraph, the shift is not abrupt or jarring. This is because the student invites readers to feel the transition with them through their inclusion of various anecdotes that inspired their “feelings of cultural homelessness.” And our journey does not end there—we go back to America with the student and see how their former struggles become strengths.
Ultimately, this essay is successful due to its satisfying ending. Because readers experience the student’s struggles with them, we also feel the resolution. The conclusion of this essay is a prime example of the “Same, but Different” technique described in our article on How to End Your College Essay . As the student describes how, in the end, their complicated cultural identity still exists but transitions to a source of strength, readers are left feeling happy for the student. This means that they have formed a connection with the student, which is the ultimate goal!
Prompt #1, Example #3
“1…2…3…4 pirouettes ! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.
For as long as I can remember, ballet, in all its finesse and glamor, had kept me driven day to day. As a child, the lithe ballerinas, donning ethereal costumes as they floated across the stage, were my motivation. While others admired Messi and Adele, I idolized Carlos Acosta, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet.
As I devoted more time and energy towards my craft, I became obsessed with improving my technique. I would stretch for hours after class, forcing my leg one inch higher in an effort to mirror the Dance Magazine cover girls . I injured my feet and ruined pair after pair of pointe shoes, turning on wood, cement, and even grass to improve my balance as I spun. At competitions, the dancers with the 180-degree leg extensions, endless turns, and soaring leaps—the ones who received “Bravos!” from the roaring audience—further pushed me to refine my skills and perfect my form. I believed that, with enough determination, I would one day attain their level of perfection. Reaching the quadruple- pirouette milestone only intensified my desire to accomplish even more.
My efforts seemed to have come to fruition two summers ago when I was accepted to dance with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet at their renowned New York City summer intensive. I walked into my first session eager to learn from distinguished ballet masters and worldly dancers, already anticipating my improvement. Yet, as I danced alongside the accomplished ballerinas, I felt out of place. Despite their clean technique and professional training, they did not aim for glorious leg extensions or prodigious leaps. When they performed their turn combinations, most of them only executed two turns as I attempted four.
“Dancers, double- pirouettes only.”
Taken aback and confused, I wondered why our teacher expected so little from us. The other ballerinas seemed content, gracing the studio with their simple movements.
As I grew closer with my Moscow roommates, I gradually learned that their training emphasized the history of the art form instead of stylistic tricks. Rather than show off their physical ability, their performances aimed to convey a story, one that embodied the rich culture of ballet and captured both the legacy of the dancers before them and their own artistry. As I observed my friends more intently in repertoire class, I felt the pain of the grief-stricken white swan from Swan Lake , the sass of the flirtatious Kitri from Don Quijote, and I gradually saw what I had overlooked before. My definition of talent had been molded by crowd-pleasing elements—whirring pirouettes , gravity-defying leaps, and mind-blowing leg extensions. This mindset slowly stripped me from the roots of my passion and my personal connection with ballet.
With the Bolshoi, I learned to step back and explore the meaning behind each step and the people behind the scenes. Ballet carries history in its movements, from the societal values of the era to each choreographer’s unique flair. As I uncovered the messages behind each pirouette, kick, and jump, my appreciation for ballet grew beyond my obsession with raw athleticism and developed into a love for the art form’s emotive abilities in bridging the dancers with the audience. My journey as an artist has allowed me to see how technical execution is only the means to a greater understanding between dancer and spectator, between storyteller and listener. The elegance and complexity of ballet does not revolve around astonishing stunts but rather the evocative strength and artistry manifested in the dancer, in me. It is the combination of sentiments, history, tradition, and passion that has allowed ballet and its lessons of human connection to become my lifestyle both on and off stage.
The primary strength of this essay is the honesty and authenticity of the student’s writing. It is purposefully reflective. Intentional language creates a clear character arc that begins with an eager young ballerina and ends with the student reflecting on their past.
Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the concl usion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)
The main weakness of this essay (though this is a stellar essay) is its formulaic beginning. While dialogue can be an effective tool for starting your essay, this student’s introduction feels a bit stilted as the dialogue does not match the overall reflective tone of the essay. Perhaps, in place of “Next goal: five turns,” the student could have posed a question or foreshadowed the growth they ultimately describe.
Prompt #1, Example #4
My paintbrush dragged a flurry of acrylic, the rich colors attaching to each groove in my canvas’s texture. The feeling was euphoric.
From a young age, painting has been my solace. Between the stress of my packed high school days filled with classes and extracurriculars, the glide of my paintbrush was my emotional outlet.
I opened a fresh canvas and began. The amalgamation of assorted colors in my palette melded harmoniously: dark and light, cool and warm, brilliant and dull. They conjoined, forming shades and surfaces sharp, smooth, and ridged. The textures of my paint strokes — powdery, glossy, jagged — gave my painting a tone, as if it had a voice of its own, sometimes shrieking, sometimes whispering.
Rough indigo blue. The repetitive upward pulls of my brush formed layers on my canvas. Staring into the deep blue, I felt transported to the bottom of the pool I swim in daily. I looked upward to see a layer of dense water between myself and the person I aspire to be, an ideal blurred by filmy ripples. Rough blue encapsulates my amorphous, conflicting identity, catalyzed by words spewed by my peers about my “oily hair” and “smelly food”. They caused my ever present disdain toward cultural assemblies; the lehenga I wore felt burdensome. My identity quivers like the indigo storm I painted — a duel between my self-deprecating, validation-seeking self, and the proud self I desire to be. My haphazard paint strokes released my internal turbulence.
Smooth orange-hued green. I laid the color in melodious strokes, forming my figure. The warmer green transitions from the rough blue — while they share elements, they also diverge. My firm brushstrokes felt like the way I felt on my first day as a media intern at KBOO, my local volunteer-driven radio station, committed to the voices of the marginalized. As a naturally introverted speaker, I was forced out of my comfort zone when tasked with documenting a KBOO art exhibition for social media, speaking with hosts to share their diverse, underrepresented backgrounds and inspirations. A rhythmic green strength soon shoved me past internal blue turbulence. My communication skills which were built by two years of Speech and Debate unleashed — I recognized that making a social change through media required amplifying unique voices and perspectives, both my own and others. The powerful green strokes that fill my canvas entrench my growth.
Bright, voluminous coral, hinted with magenta and yellow. I dabbed the color over my figure, giving my painting dimension. The paint, speckled, added depth on every inch it coated. As I moved the color in random but purposeful movements, the vitality ushered into my painting brought a smile across my face. It reminded me of the encounters I had with my cubicle-mate in my sophomore year academic autism research internship, seemingly insignificant moments in my lifelong journey that, in retrospect, wove unique threads into my tapestry. The kindness she brought into work inspired my compassion, while her stories of struggling with ADHD in the workplace bolstered my empathy towards different experiences. Our conversations added blobs of a nonuniform bright color in my painting, binding a new perspective in me.
I added in my final strokes, each contributing an element to my piece. As I scanned my canvas, I observed these elements. Detail added nuance into smaller pictures; they embodied complexities within color, texture, and hue, each individually delivering a narrative. But together, they formed a piece of art— art that could be interpreted as a whole or broken apart but still delivering as a means of communication.
I find beauty in media because of this. I can adapt a complex narrative to be deliverable, each component telling a story. Appreciating these nuances — the light, dark, smooth, and rough — has cultivated my growth mindset. My life-long painting never finishes. It is ever-expanding, absorbing the novel textures and colors I encounter daily.
This essay is distinct from others due to its melodic, lyrical form. This is primarily achieved because the student’s form follows the movements of the paintbrush that they use to scaffold their essay. As readers, we simply flow through the essay, occasionally picking up bits of information about its creator. Without even realizing it, by the end of the essay, admissions officers will know that this student is a swimmer, was in Speech and Debate, is Indian, and has had multiple internships.
A major strength of this essay is the command of language that the student demonstrates. This essay was not simply written, it was crafted. Universities are, of course, interested in the talents, goals, and interests of applicants, but an essay being well-written can be equally important. Writing skills are important because your reader will not learn about your talents, goals, and interests if they aren’t engaged in your essay, but they are also important because admissions officers know that being able to articulate your thoughts is important for success in all future careers.
While this essay is well-written, there are a few moments where it falls out of the flow and feels more like a student advertising their successes. For example, the phrases “media intern at KBOO” and “autism research internship” work better on a resume than they do in this essay. Admissions officers have a copy of your resume and can check your internship experiences after reading your essay! If you are going to use a unique writing style or narrative form, lean into it; don’t try to hybridize it with the standard college essay form. Your boldness will be attractive to admissions officers.
Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the conclusion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)
Prompt #2: 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?
Prompt #2, example #1.
“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 is a prime example that you don’t have to have fabulous imagery or flowery prose to write a successful Common App 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.
The only part of this essay that could use a bit of work is the introduction. A short introduction can be effective, but this short first paragraph feels thrown in at the last minute and like it is missing its second half. If you are keeping your introduction short, make it matter.
Prompt #2, Example #2
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.
This Common App essay is well-written. The student is showing the admissions officers their ability to articulate their 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, 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 their 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?” feels perfectly justified after they establish that they were pondering their failure.
Quite simply, this essay shows how quality writing can make a simple story outstandingly compelling.
Prompt #2, Example #3
The muffled voices behind thin walls heralded trouble.
They were fighting about money.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened and it wasn’t going to be the last. It was one of those countless nights I had to spend curled up under the blanket while pretending to be asleep. My father had been unemployed for five years now, and my mother, a local kindergarten teacher, was struggling to support the family alone. Our situation was bleak: Savings had run out and my parents could no longer hide our lack of money from me. To make matters worse, I was a few weeks away from starting high school, which would inevitably lead to college, yet another financial stressor for my family.
The argument didn’t sound like it would end soon.
“Why did you spend money on that?” my mother said, with an elongated sigh.
“I had to,” my father said, decidedly.
Every fight over the years had left me in despair and the idea of going through another fight daunted me. I had looked forward to my teen years all my life, an age that allows, for the first time, more responsibility. Indeed, after this fateful night, after my fourteenth birthday, I felt a mounting responsibility to help my family, and started brainstorming.
Always being fascinated by computers, I spent my childhood burying myself under computer cabinets, experimenting with computer parts. Naturally, I wondered if my skills in this area might be marketable.
The next morning, my friend, Naba, mentioned that her computer wasn’t working. A tuk-tuk ride later, and I was at her doorstep, and her mother was leading me to her room. I was off to work: I began examining her computer, like a surgeon carefully manages his scalpels and tools. A proper diagnosis was not far from reach, as I realized a broken pin in her computer’s SATA slot. After an hour of work, and a short trip to the hardware store, I successfully fixed the computer. To my pleasant surprise, Naba’s mother drew out two fresh 500 Rupee notes. One covered the cost of the parts I bought and the other was a token of appreciation. Bidding her goodbye, I went straight back home and put one of the 500 Rupee notes inside my family’s “savings-jar.”
Later that day, I devised a plan. I told my friends to spread the word that I was available to fix computers. At first, I got only one or two calls per week. I would pick up the computer from my client’s home, fix it quickly, and return it, thus earning myself a commission. While I couldn’t market my services at a competitive price, because I wasn’t able to buy the parts wholesale, I compensated by providing convenience. All my clients had to do was call me once and the rest was taken care of. Thus, my business had the best customer service in town.
At the beginning of my junior year, after two years of expanding my business through various avenues, I started buying computer parts from hardware suppliers in bulk at a cheaper rate. My business grew exponentially after that.
Before long, I was my town’s go-to tech person. In this journey throughout high school, I started realizing that I had to create my own opportunities and not just curl up under a blanket, seeking only comfort, as I used to. Interacting with people from all walks of life became my forte and a sense of work ethic developed in me. My business required me to be an all-rounder– have the technical skills, be an easily approachable person, and manage cash flow. Slowly becoming better at this, I even managed to sway admins of a local institution to outsource their computer hardware purchases and repairs through me. As my business upsized throughout the years, I went from being helpless to autonomous – the teenager I always aspired to be.
This essay truly feels like a story—almost making you forget you are reading a college essay. The student’s voice is strong throughout the entire essay and they are able to give us insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations at every step of the story. Letting the reader into personal challenges like financial struggles can be daunting in a college essay, but the way this student used that setback to establish an emotional ethos to their narrative was well done.
Because the essay is essentially just telling a story, there’s a very natural flow that makes it enjoyable and easy to read. The student establishes the conflict at the beginning, then describes their solution and how they implemented it, and finally concludes with the lessons they took away from this experience. Transitions at the beginning of paragraphs effortlessly show the passage of time and how the student has progressed through the story.
Another reason this essay is so successful is because of the abundance of details. The reader truly feels like they are hiding in the room with the student as their parents yell because of the inclusion of quotes from the argument. We understand the precision and care they have for fixing computers because of the allusion to a surgeon with their scalpel. Not only does this imagery make the story more enticing, it also helps the reader gain a deeper appreciation for the type of person this student is and the adversity they have overcome.
If there were one thing this essay could do to improve, it would be to include a resolution to the conflict from the beginning. The student tells us how this business helped them grow as a person, but we don’t ever get to find out if they were able to lessen the financial burden on their parents or if they continued to struggle despite the student working hard. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it would be nice to return to the conflict and acknowledge the effect they had on it, especially since this prompt is all about facing challenges.
Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Prompt #3, example #1.
When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.
And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”
Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.
By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.
I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.
This essay is cohesive as it centers around the theme of identity and the ability for two identities to coexist simultaneously (an interesting theme!). It uses the Full Circle ending strategy as it starts with a metaphor about food touching and ends with “I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.”
The main issue with this essay is that it could come off as cliché, which could be irritating for admissions officers. The story described is notably similar to High School Musical (“I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me”) and feels slightly overstated.
At times, this essay is also confusing. In the first paragraph, it feels like the narrative is actually going to be about separating your food (and is somehow going to relate to the older brothers?). It is not entirely clear that this is a metaphor. Also, when the writer references the third submission day and then works backward to explain what a submission day is and that there are multiple throughout the semester, the timeline gets unnecessarily confusing. Reworking the way this paragraph unfolded would have been more compelling and less distracting.
Overall, this essay was interesting but could have been more polished to be more effective.
Prompt #3, Example #2
I walked into my middle school English class, and noticed a stranger behind my teacher’s desk. “Hello,” she said. “Today I will be your substitute teacher.” I groaned internally. “Let me start off by calling roll. Ally?” “Here!” exclaimed Ally. “Jack?” “Here.” “Rachel?” “Here.” “Freddie?” “Present.” And then– “…?” The awkward pause was my cue. “It’s Jasina,” I started. “You can just call me Jas. Here.” “Oh, Jasina. That’s unique.” The word “unique” made me cringe. I slumped back in my seat. The substitute continued calling roll, and class continued as if nothing had happened. Nothing had happened. Just a typical moment in a middle school, but I hated every second of it.
My name is not impossible to pronounce. It appears challenging initially, but once you hear it, “Jas-een-a”, then you can manage it. My nickname, Jas (pronounced “Jazz”), is what most people call me anyway, so I don’t have to deal with mispronunciation often. I am thankful that my parents named me Jasina (a Hebrew name), but whenever someone hears my name for the first time, they comment, and I assume they’re making assumptions about me. “Wow, Jas is a cool name.” She must be pretty cool.“I’ve never heard the name Jasina before.” She must be from somewhere exotic. “Jas, like Jazz?” She must be musical and artsy. None of these assumptions are bad, but they all add up to the same thing: She must be unique.
When I was little, these sentiments felt more like commands than assumptions. I thought I had to be the most unique child of all time, which was a daunting task, but I tried. I was the only kid in the second grade to color the sun red. I knew it was really yellow, but you could always tell which drawings were mine. During snack time, we could choose between apple juice and grape juice. I liked apple juice more, but if everyone else was choosing apple, then I had to choose grape. This was how I lived my life, and it was exhausting. I tried to continue this habit into middle school, but it backfired. When everyone became obsessed with things like skinny jeans and Justin Bieber and blue mascara (that was a weird trend), my resistance of the norm made me socially awkward. I couldn’t talk to people about anything because we had nothing in common. I was too different.
After 8th grade, I moved to Georgia, and I was dreading being the odd one out among kids who had grown up together. Then I discovered that my freshman year would be Cambridge High School’s inaugural year. Since there were students coming in from 5 different schools, there was no real sense of “normal”. I panicked. If there was no normal, then how could I be unique? That’s when I realized that I had spent so much energy going against the grain that I had no idea what my true interests were or what I really cared about.
It was time to find out. I stopped concentrating on what everyone else was doing and started to focus on myself. I joined the basketball team, I performed in the school musical, and I enrolled in Chorus, all of which were firsts for me. I took art classes, joined clubs, and did whatever I thought would make me happy. And it paid off. I was no longer socially awkward. In fact, because I was involved in so many unrelated activities, I was socially flexible. My friends and I had things in common, but there was no one who could say that I was exactly like anyone else. I had finally become my own person.
My father named me Jasina because he wanted my nickname to be “Jazz.” According to Webster, “jazz” is “music characterized by syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and deliberate distortions of pitch.” Basically, jazz is music that is off-beat and unpredictable. It cannot be strictly defined.
That sounds about right.
Right off the bat, this essay starts extremely strong. The description of attendance in a class with ample quotes, awkward pauses, and the student’s internal dialogue immediately puts us in the middle of the action and establishes a lot of sympathy for this student before we’ve learned anything else.
The strength of this essay continues into the second paragraph where the use of quotes, italics, and interjections from the student continues. All of these literary tools help the student express her voice and allow the reader to understand what this student goes through on a daily basis. Rather than just telling the reader people make assumptions about her name, she shows us what these assumptions look and sound like, and exactly how they make her feel.
The essay further shows us how the student approached her name by providing concrete examples of times she’s been intentionally unique throughout her life. Describing her drawing red suns and choosing grape juice bring her personality to life and allow her to express her deviance from the “norm” in a much more engaging and visual way than simply telling the reader she would go against the grain to be different on purpose.
One part of the essay that was a bit weaker than the others was the paragraph about her in high school. Although it was still well written and did a nice job of demonstrating how she got involved in multiple groups to find her new identity, it lacked the same level of showing employed in previous paragraphs. It would have been nice to see what “socially flexible” means either through a conversation she had with her friends or an example of a time she combined her interests from different groups in a way that was uniquely her.
The essay finishes off how it started: extremely strong. Taking a step back to fully explain the origin of her name neatly brings together everything mentioned in this essay. This ending is especially successful because she never explicitly states that her personality aligns with the definition of jazz. Instead, she relies on the points she has made throughout the essay to stick in the reader’s memory so they are able to draw the connection themselves, making for a much more satisfying ending for the reader.
Prompt #4 (OLD PROMPT; NOT THE CURRENT PROMPT): Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
Prompt #4, example #1.
“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 a strong 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!
The main weakness of this essay is that it is slightly confusing at times—how the other students found coaches feels unintentionally under-explained (a simple phrase like “through pleading and attracting sympathy” in the fourth paragraph could have served the writer well) and a dojang is never defined. Additionally, the turn of the essay or “volta” could’ve packed a bigger punch. It is put quite simply with “I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.” A more suspenseful reveal could’ve served the author well because more drama did come later.
Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Prompt #5, example #1.
Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life.
Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home, so I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.
My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead. As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school, athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover. I didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.
Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.
This essay feels real and tells readers a lot about the writer. To start at the beginning, the intro is 10/10. It has drama, it has emotions, and it has the reader wanting more.
And, when you keep going, you get to learn a lot about a very resilient and mature student. Through sentences like “I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover” and “Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities,” the reader shows us that they are aware of their resilience and maturity, but are not arrogant about it. It is simply a fact that they have proven!
Sometimes writing about adversity can feel exploitative or oddly braggy. This student backs up everything they say with anecdotes that prove and show their strength and resilience, rather than just claiming their strengths. When I read this essay, I want to cheer for its writer! And I want to be able to continue cheering for them (perhaps, if I were an admissions officer, that would make me want them at my school!).
Prompt #5, Example #2
Armed with a red pen, I slowly walked across the room to a small, isolated table with pink stools. Swinging her legs, my young student beamed and giggled at me, slamming her pencil bag on the table and bending over to pick up one of her toys. Natalie always brought some new toy with her to lessons—toys which I would sternly take away from her and place under the table until she finished her work. At the tutoring center where I work, a strict emphasis on discipline leaves no room for paper crowns or rubber chickens.
Today, she had with her a large stuffed eagle from a museum. As she pulled out her papers, I slid the eagle to the other side of the table. She looked eagerly around, attempting to chat with other students as I impatiently called her attention to her papers. “I should name my eagle,” she chimed, waving her pencil in the air. I cringed—there was no wondering why Natalie always had to sit by herself. She was the antithesis of my academic values, and undoubtedly the greatest adversary of my teaching style.
As the lesson progressed, Natalie became more fitful; she refused to release her feathered friend, and kept addressing the bird for help with difficult problems. We both grew increasingly more frustrated. Determined to tame this wryly, wiggling student, I stood my ground, set on converting this disobedient child to my calm, measured ways of study.
As time slowly crept by, I noticed that despite Natalie’s cheerful tone and bright smile, the stuffed eagle was troublesomely quiet and stern-faced. Much like myself. Both the eagle and I were getting nowhere in this lesson—so we hatched a quick plan. Lifting the eagle up in the air, I started reading in my best impersonation of an eagle, squawking my way through a spelling packet. The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed. She sang out every letter, clapped her hands at every page, and followed along with the eagle, stopping at every few letters to declare that “E is for eagle” and pet her teacher fondly on the beak.
Despite my ostensibly dissatisfied attitude toward my students, I did not join the tutoring center simply to earn money. I had always aspired to help others achieve their fullest potential. As a young adult, I felt that it was time for me to step out of the role of a pupil and into the influential role of a teacher, naively believing that I had the maturity and skill to adapt to any situation and help these students reach their highest achievements academically. For the most part, the role of a stern-faced, strict instructor helped me get by in the workplace, and while my students never truly looked happy, I felt that it was part of the process of conditioning a child to learn.
Ironically, my transition to adulthood was the result of a stuffed animal. It was indisputable that I always had the skill to instruct others; the only thing needed to instruct someone is knowledge of the subject. However, it was only upon being introduced to a stuffed bird in which I realized that students receive the most help not from instructors, but teachers. While almost anyone can learn material and spit it back out for someone, it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens. From my young pupil and her little bird, I have undergone a change in attitude which reflects a growth in maturity and ability to improve the lives of others that I hope to implement in my future role as a student, activist, and physician. My newfound maturity taught me that the letter “e” stands for many things: empathy, experience, enthusiasm, and eagle.
In this essay, the student effectively explores their values (and how they learned them!) then identifies these values through a reflective conclusion. While the writer humbly recognizes the initial faults in their teaching style, they do not position their initial discipline or rigidity as mean or poorly intentioned—simply ineffective. This is important because, when you are discussing a transition like this, you don’t want admissions officers to think of you as having been a bad person.
My favorite part about this essay is its subtlety. The major shift in the essay comes through the simple sentence “The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed.” The facts of this narrative are not too complicated. Simply put, the writer was strict then learned that it’s sometimes more effective not to be strict. The complexity of this narrative comes through reflection. Notably, through the ending, the student identifies their values (which they hadn’t given a name to before): “it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens.”
The final sentence of this essay ties things up very nicely. Readers are left satisfied with the essay and convinced that its writer is a kind human with a large capacity for reflection and consideration. That is a great image to paint of yourself!
Prompt #5, Example #3
When it’s quiet, I can still hear the Friday night gossip and giggles of my friends. It’s a stark contrast from the environment I’ve known all my life, my home. My family has always been one to keep to themselves; introverts with a hard-working mentality—my father especially. He spent most of his time at work and growing up without him around, I came to be at peace with the fact that I’d probably never really get to know him. The thought didn’t bother me at the time because I felt that we were very different. He was stoic and traditional; I was trying to figure out who I was and explore my interests. His disapproval of the American music I listened to and my penchant for wearing hand-me-downs made me see him as someone who wanted to restrain my individuality. That explains why I relied heavily on my friends throughout middle and high school; they liked me for who I was. I figured I would get lonely without my friends during quarantine, but these last few months stuck at home gave me the time to make a new friend: my father.
It was June. I had the habit of sleeping with my windows open so I wouldn’t need to set an alarm; the warmth of the sun and the sounds of the neighborhood children playing outside would wake me. One morning, however, it was not the chirping of birds or the laughter of children I awoke to, but the shrill of a saw. Through the window screen, on the grass below, my father stood cutting planks of wood. I was confused but didn’t question him—what he did with his time was none of my business. It was not until the next day, when I was attempting to work on a sculpture for an art class, that the sounds of hammering and drills became too much to ignore. Seeking answers, I trudged across my backyard towards the corner he was in. On that day, all there was to see was the foundation of what he was building; a shed. My intrigue was replaced with awe; I was impressed by the precision of his craft. Sharp corners, leveled and sturdy, I could imagine what it would look like when the walls were up and the inside filled with the tools he had spread around the yard.
Throughout the week, when I was trying to finish my sculpture for art class—thinking about its shape and composition—I could not help but think of my father. Art has always been a creative outlet for me, an opportunity to express myself at home. For my dad, his craftsmanship was his art. I realized we were not as different as I had thought; he was an artist like me. My glue and paper were his wood and nails.
That summer, I tried to spend more time with my dad than I have in all my 18 years of life. Waking up earlier than usual so we could have our morning coffees together and pretending to like his favorite band so he’d talk to me about it, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to speak with him. In getting to know him, I’ve recognized that I get my artistry from him.
Reflecting on past relationships, I feel I am now more open to reconnecting with people I’ve perhaps misjudged. In reconciling, I’ve realized I held some bitterness towards him all these years, and in letting that go, my heart is lighter. Our reunion has changed my perspective; instead of vilifying him for spending so much time at work, I can appreciate how hard he works to provide for our family. When I hear him tinkering away at another home project, I can smile and look forward to asking him about it later.
This is an outstanding example of the great things that can be articulated through a reflective essay. As we read the essay, we are simply thinking alongside its author—thinking about their past relationship with their father, about their time in quarantine, about aspects of themselves they think could use attention and growth.
While we reflect, we are also centered by the student’s anecdote about the sculpture and the shed during quarantine. By centering us in real-time, the student keeps us engaged in the reflection.
The main strength here is the maturity we see on the part of its writer. The student doesn’t say “and I realized my father was the best dad in the world;” they say “and I realized my father didn’t have to be the best dad in the world for me to give him a chance.” Lots of students show themselves as motivated, curious, or compassionate in their college essays, but a reflective essay that ends with a discussion of resentment and forgiveness shows true maturity.
Prompt #5, Example #4
As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?
During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice.
Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.
As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.
Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.
This essay is structurally-sound, with the student’s journey learning to savor mantou and their journey trying to find their voice serving as outstanding parallels. Additionally, as they describe the journey to find a voice in their writing, they definitely show off their voice! The clear introduction provides a great image and draws us in with an intriguing question. Additionally, their little inserts like “a strand of sweetness” and “falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had” work very well.
When the student describes their first published poem, however, their writing gets a little more stilted. This is a common error students make when writing about their achievements. If this student is writing about the craft that goes into writing, we should hear the details of the craft that went into the poem, instead of simply learning that they “opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum.” This is interesting information but would be stronger if it were supplemented by descriptions of the voice they created, comparisons to the styles of other poets, and analysis of their stylistic choices. This would make the essay feel more cohesive, centering entirely around concepts of voice and style.
Prompt #6: 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?
Note: We don’t have a stellar example for this prompt, so instead, we’re sharing a couple examples that need improvement, and what can be done to make the essays more engaging.
Prompt #6, Example #1
What factors shape the depth and allure of a literary character? This is the exact question I asked myself as my eyes riveted on the white pages covered with little black letters.
I was reading my old novels. I’ve written three novels and many short stories. Each of them repetitively portrayed the hero as intelligent and funny, and the antagonists as cold and manipulative. I came to the appalling realization that my characters were flat, neither exciting nor original. They just didn’t stand out!
As Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vice and virtue are to the artist material to an art.’ Their mixing makes a novel addictive because its plot is rich with turnarounds and its characters more engaging. In his famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray , Wilde deconstructs the psyche of his characters. He brilliantly plays with the protagonist’s youthful appearance and the decaying portrait to build a truly unique idiosyncratic identity. The persona of Dorian Gray is so complicated a psychologist could analyze it for hours on end!
Inspired by this character, It was my turn to explore good and evil into characters to make my stories more enthralling. I skillfully played with vice and virtue, separating, merging them… My latest novel is the fruit of this exercise. I chose to set it in 20th century London. Its opium dens and exclusive salons; middle-class workers, peasants and politicians breathed the same newly industrialized air; modernity in Blackfriars bridge and tradition in St Paul’s Cathedral; all of these contrasts set the perfect environment for my characters to grow. Following Laclos’ Valmont, Maupassant’s Georges Duroy and Duffy’s Myra Hindley, I played with those contrasts to present an intricate character, truly creative – unlike my previous ones. Insanity, religion, depravity and love are merged into each character, reflecting Edwardian London. As I reflected on my work, I realized vice and virtue altogether made them more human and credible. These characters stood out, they were interesting, I even wanted to know more about them!
After rewriting, erasing, typing, and thinking countless times, I realized writing is a unique exercise. Nothing is definite when you are holding a fountain pen, hearing its screeching sound on the white paper and watching the ebony ink forming letters. When I wasn’t too happy about a change I made in my story, I simply erased and rewrote it. Everything I imagined could happen: white pages are the only place the mouse eats the cat or the world is taken by a zombie attack!
This exact exercise of diversifying my characters satisfied my relentless curiosity. Asking myself ‘how could this character be if she had lost her parents in a maritime tragedy?’ allowed me to view the world from different perspectives (some very dissimilar to my own) and considering how each character would react to different situations brought them to life. As I was writing, I was aiming to change the usual narratives I had previously traversed. I loved experimenting with countless personality traits in my characters – minutes flowing, my hand dancing on the paper as my mind was singing words coming alive….
There were times where my hand just stopped writing and my mind stopped raging. I tried thinking differently, changing a character’s background, the story, the setting. I was inspired by Zola, A.Carter, Fitzgerald, the Brontë sisters… I could observe the different reactions of their characters, and reflect on mine theoretically. But it was only part one of the work: I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically, always leading to fresh ideas – I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting. Both theory and practice are required to gain intellectual independence and experience, in writing and more globally: before I can change a character, I have to understand it. Before we can change the world, we have to understand it.
The main strength of this essay is the authenticity of the topic the student chose. They aren’t making anything up or stretching the truth. Writing is something that captivates them, and that captivation shines through—particularly through their fourth paragraph (where they geek out over specific plots and characters) and their fifth paragraph (where they joyfully describe how writing has no limitations). Admissions officers want to see this passion and intensity in applicants! The fact that this student has already written three novels also shows dedication and is impressive.
The main weakness of this essay is its structure. Ironically, it is not super captivating. The essay would have been more compelling if the student utilized a “anecdote – answer – reflection” structure. This student’s current introduction involves a reflective question, citations about their past writing experience, then their thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Instead, this student could’ve provided one cohesive (and powerful!) image of them being frustrated with their own writing then being inspired by Dorian Gray. This would look something like:
“I stayed up three nights in a row studying my own writing—bored by my own writing. The only thing more painful than seeing failure in the fruits of your labor is not seeing a path for improvement. I had written three novels and numerous short stories, and all I could come up with was funny and intelligent heroes going up against cold and manipulative villains. What kind of writer was so consistently cliche? On the third night, I wandered over to my bookshelf. Mrs. Dalloway caught my eye (it has such a beautiful cover). I flipped through. Then, I grabbed Giovanni’s Room . I was so obsessed with my shortcomings that I couldn’t even focus long enough to see what these authors were doing right. I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray and decided to just start reading. By the end of the night, I was captivated.”
An introduction like this would flow nicely into the student describing their experience with Dorian Gray then, because of that experience, describing how they have altered their approach to writing. The conclusion of this essay would then be this student’s time for reflection. Instead of repeating content about their passion—“I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically” and “I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting”—, the student could dedicate their conclusion to reflecting on the reasons that writing is so captivating or the ways that (until the day they die) writers will always be perfecting their craft.
This essay is a great example of how important it is to pick a topic that truly excites you. It also illustrates how important it is to effectively structure that excitement.
Prompt #6, Example #2
Astonished by the crashing sound of waves in my ear, I was convinced this magical shell actually held the sound of the big blue sea — my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop . It distinctly reminded me of the awestruck feeling I had when I witnessed the churning waves of a windy night by the ocean the previous weekend; I lost track of time gazing at the distant moonlit border dividing our world from the ever-growing black void. Turning to my mom, I inquired curiously, “Can we go to the place where the water ends one day?”
She explained to me I could never reach the end of the ocean because the harsh line I had seen was actually an illusion called the horizon — there was no material end to the ocean. For a mind as young as mine was, the idea of infinity was incomprehensible. As my infatuation with the ocean continued to grow, I finally understood that regardless of how far I travel, the horizon is unattainable because it’s not a physical limit. This idea is why the ocean captivates me — no matter how much you discover, there is always more to explore.
Learning about and exploring the ocean provided an escape from one reality into another; though we are on the same planet, it’s an entirely separate world. Through elementary and middle school, I devoted vast amounts of my free time to learning about simpler concepts like a dolphin’s ability to echolocate and coral reef ecosystems. I rented countless documentaries and constantly checked out books from my local library — my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.” This episode remained memorable because it was centered around the impacts of fossil fuels on marine animals; it was the first time I’d learned about the impending crisis we are faced with due to the human mistreatment of our planet.
Prior to viewing that episode, I relied on the ocean as an outlet — I fueled all of my emotions into studying marine organisms. Once I learned of its grave future, I delved into the world of environmental activism. This path was much more disheartening than studying echolocation — inevitable death due to climate change took a toll on my mental health. I attended two climate strikes in November of my sophomore year. Following the strikes, I joined Sunrise Movement Sacramento, a youth-led climate justice organization advocating for the Green New Deal. While analyzing legislation and organizing protests were significant takeaways from my experience with climate activism, they were not the most important. I became an organizer because of my love for the ocean and I remain an organizer because of my passion for dissolving the disproportionalities marginalized groups face due to the sacrificing of people’s livelihood for the sake of profit. The more I learned about our modern society, the more hopeless I grew that I could see any significant change within my lifetime.
However, this hopelessness comes in waves; every day, I remind myself of the moment I discovered the horizon. Or the moment I first dove into the beautiful waters of the Hawaiian coast and immediately was surrounded by breathtaking seas of magnificent creatures and coral gardens — life felt ethereal and beautiful. I remind myself that like the ocean, the vast majority of the universe has yet to be discovered; that distant border holds infinite opportunity to learn. In a universe as vast as ours, and life as rare as ours, individuals still choose to prioritize avarice over our planet. Despite this grave individualism, the ocean reminds me every day there is hope in the fight for a better world. Though I will never discover every inch of the ocean’s floor, I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.
Sometimes the path to a great essay is taking something normal and using it to show admissions officers who you are and what you value—that is precisely this student’s approach! Finding the ocean fascinating is not unique to this student. Tons of kids (and adults, too!) are obsessed with the ocean. What this student does is take things a step further as they explain their curiosity about the ocean in relation to their pain about the destruction of the environment. This capacity for reflection is great!
This student shows a good control of language through their thematic centering on ocean and horizons that carries through their essay—with ”this hopelessness comes in waves” and “I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.” The details provided throughout are also effective at keeping readers engaged—things like “ my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop” and “ my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.”
The main weakness of this essay is the lack of reflection when the student discusses environmental activism. There’s reflection on the student’s connection to the ocean and horizons at the beginning and at the end, but when the student discusses activism, the tone shifts from focusing on their internal thoughts to their external actions. Remember, a lot of students write about environmental activism, but not a lot of students write about an emotional connection to the ocean as an impetus for environmental activism. This student would stand out more to admissions officers if they had dug into questions of what the ocean means to them (and says about them) in the paragraphs beginning “Learning about and exploring the ocean…” and “Prior to viewing that episode.”
Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Prompt #7, example #1.
Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due.
It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me.
Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror.
Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).
Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day).
Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.
Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain.
This essay is relatable yet personal! The writer makes themself supremely human through discussing the universal subject of showering. That being said, an essay about showering could easily turn boring while still being relatable. This writer keeps its relatable moments interesting and fun through vivid descriptions of common feelings including “causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely” and “the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.”
While describing a universal feeling, this student also cleverly and intentionally mentions small facts about their life through simple phrases like “I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me” and “the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me.” To put it simply, though we are talking about a shower, we learn about so much more!
And, at the end, the student lets us know that that is exactly why they love showers. Showers are more than meets the eye! With this insightful and reflective ending (“the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy”), readers learn about this student’s capacity for reflection, which is an important capacity as you enter college.
The one major error that this writer commits is that of using a trite transition. The inclusion of “Honestly though” at the beginning of this student’s ending detracts from what they are trying to say and sticks out in their writing.
Prompt #7, Example #2
Steam whooshed from the pot as I unveiled my newest creation: duck-peppercorn-chestnut dumplings. The spicy, hearty aroma swirled into the kitchen, mingling with the smell of fresh dough. Grinning, I grabbed a plump dumpling with chopsticks, blew carefully, and fed it into the waiting mouth of my little sister. Her eyes widening, she vigorously nodded and held up five stubby fingers. I did a little happy dance in celebration and pulled my notebook out of my apron pocket. Duck-peppercorn-chestnut: five stars.
In my household, dumplings are a far cry from the classic pork and cabbage. Our menu boasts everything from the savory lamb-bamboo shoot-watercress to the sweet and crispy apple-cinnamon-date. A few years ago, my sister claimed she was sick of eating the same flavors over and over. Refusing to let her disavow our family staple, I took her complaint as a challenge to make the tastiest and most unconventional dumplings to satisfy her. With her as my taste tester and Mum in charge of dough, I spent months experimenting with dozens of odd ingredient combinations.
During those days spent covered in flour, my dumplings often reminded me of myself—a hybrid of ingredients that don’t usually go together. I am the product of three distinct worlds: the suburbs of Boston, the rural Chinese village of [location removed], and the coastal city of [location removed]. At school, I am both the STEM nerd with lightning-fast mental math and the artistic plant mom obsessed with funky earrings. I love all that is elegant, from Chinese calligraphy to the rolling notes of the Gourd flute, yet I can be very not elegant, like when my sister and I make homemade slime. When I’m on the streets, marching for women’s rights and climate action, I’m loud, bellowing from the bottom of my gut. In the painting studio, though, I don’t speak unless spoken to, and hours can slip by like minutes. I’m loud and quiet. Elegant and messy. Nerdy and artistic. Suburban, rustic, and metropolitan.
While I’m full of odd combinations, they are only seemingly contradictory. Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper, different facets of my identity also converge. After my tenth-grade summer, when I spent six weeks studying design at art school and another three researching the brain at Harvard Med, I began asking myself: What if I mixed art and neuroscience together? That fall, I collaborated with my school’s art museum for an independent research project, exploring two questions: How are aesthetic experiences processed in the brain? And how can neuroscience help museums design exhibits that maximize visitor engagement? I combed through studies with results from tightly controlled experiments, and I spent days gathering my own qualitative data by observing museum visitors and asking them questions. With the help of my artistic skills, I could identify the visual and spatial elements of the exhibits that best held visitors’ attention.
By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am—art and neuroscience—I realized I shouldn’t see the different sides of myself as separate. I learned to instead seek the intersections between aspects of my identity. Since then, I have mixed art with activism to voice my opinions nonverbally, created Spotify playlists with both Chinese and western pop, and written flute compositions using music theory and math. In the future, by continuing to combine my interests, I want to find my niche in the world. I can make a positive impact on society without having to choose just one passion. As of now, my dream is to be a neuroscientist who designs art therapy treatments for mental health patients. Who knows though? Maybe my calling is to be a dim sum chef who teaches pottery on the side. I don’t know where I’ll go, but one thing’s for sure—being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.
This essay is outstanding because the student seems likable and authentic. With the first image of the student’s little sister vigorously nodding and holding up “five stubby fingers,” we find ourselves intrigued by the student’s daily life. They additionally show the importance of family, culture, and creativity in their life—these are great things to highlight in your essay!
After the introduction, the student uses their weird dumpling anecdote to transition to a discussion of their unique intersections. This is achieved smoothly because weirdness/uniqueness is the focus of both of these topics. Additionally, the comparison is not awkward because dumplings are used as more than just a transition, but rather are the through-line of the essay—the student weaves in little phrases like “Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper,” “By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am,” and “being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.” This gives the essay its cohesive feel.
Authenticity comes through in this essay as the student recognizes that they don’t know what the future holds. They just know what kind of a person they are—a passionate one!
One change that would improve this student’s essay would be focusing on fewer intersections in their third and last paragraph. The student mentions STEM, music, family activities, activism, and painting, which makes it feel like a distraction in middle of the essay. Focus on the most important things you want to show admissions officers—you can sit at intersections, but you can’t be interested in everything.
Prompt #7, Example #3
“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.
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!
Prompt #7, Example #4
Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.
I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.
“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008
Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.
“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019
I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.
With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.
“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020
Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.
With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.
I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”
The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.
Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.
At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!
Prompt #7, Example #5
“We’re ready for take-off!”
The tires hit the tarmac and began to accelerate, and I just realized what I had signed up for. For 24 hours straight, I strapped myself into a broken-down SUV whereas others chose the luxury of soaring through the skies for a mere two hours. Especially with my motion sickness and driving anxiety, I would call myself crazy too.
To say I have always remained in my comfort zone is an understatement. Did I always order chicken fingers and fries at a restaurant? Yup! Sounds like me. Did I always create a color-coded itinerary just for a day trip? Guilty as charged. Did I always carry a first-aid kit at all times? Of course! I would make even an ambulance look unprepared. And yet here I was, choosing 1,000 miles of misery from Las Vegas to Seattle despite every bone in my body telling me not to.
The sunlight blinded my eyes and a wave of nausea swept over me. Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? It was only ten minutes in, and I was certain that the trip was going to be a disaster. I simply hoped that our pre-drive prayer was not stuck in God’s voicemail box.
All of a sudden, I noticed brightly colored rocks in the distance, ones I had been dying to see for years. Their fluorescence popped amongst the magnificent winding hills as the sunset became romantic in hue. The desert glistened with mirages of deep blue water unlike anything I had ever seen. Nevada was home, but home always seemed to be just desert and casinos. For once, I looked forward to endless desert outside my window rather than a sea of clouds.
I never realized how little I discovered of the world beyond home. For years I complained about how there was nothing to do or discover outside. Not once did I set out to prove myself wrong. Instead, I chose a daily routine of homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV. However, as summer vacation ended, I decided to set my stubbornness aside and finally give this drive back home a chance. Little did I know that it would turn out to be my favorite trip of all time.
As we drove along, the world chose to prove me wrong when I discovered Heaven on Earth along Shasta Lake. I stood out of the sunroof, surrounded by lush green mountains and fog. I extended my arms out and felt a sense of flight that no plane could ever take me on. As the water vapor kissed my face, I floated into a dreamland I never wanted to leave. I didn’t have to go to great lengths to discover the beauty of the world; it was right in front of me. From this moment on, comfort and convenience would no longer be my best friends. Rather than only looking for famous travel destinations or following carefully mapped-out routes, I would let curiosity lead the way.
Since then, my daily life has been anything but routine. I’m proud to boast of my family’s homemade kombucha attempts, of flights purchased and taken in one day, and of a home flooded with knick-knacks from thrifting trips. Every day I set out to try something new, see a different perspective, and go beyond normal. Whether it is by trying a new recipe using taro, making a risky fashion choice with wide-legged pants, or listening to a new music genre in Spanish, I always act with curiosity first.
Over the years, I have devoted my time towards learning Swedish, building computers, and swimming. Although my accent is horrid, some computers almost broke, and even a starfish would outswim me, I continue to enjoy activities I once criticized. For me, there is no enjoyment without some risk. Nobody I know is a kazoo-playing, boogie-board loving, boba connoisseur like me.
This essay is an Overcoming Challenges story that centers around a single anecdote. The structure works nicely as the student describes what they were like before their road trip, what happened on the road trip, and what they were like after.
The most major improvement that this essay needs is better-communicated authenticity. At the beginning, it feels a bit gimmicky. The student describes their preparedness, particularly the fact that they always carry a first aid kit, and it’s not super believable. Then, when they write “Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator?” it feels like we are in a sitcom and the student is that funny obsessive kid. Sitcom characters don’t feel real and you want to make yourself appear profoundly real.
On a similar note, the narrative arc of this essay isn’t entirely believable. The student describes a large personality and value shift but doesn’t describe any struggles that accompany the shift. A quick shift like that is far from easy. On the other hand, if the immediacy of the shift was easy, they could write about moments after their shift in mindset when they have felt troubled by residual desires to stay in their comfort zone, instead of writing “I always act with curiosity first.”
The greatest strength of this essay is the paragraphs beginning “I never realized how little…” and “As we drove along…” The fixation on comfort seems much more believable when it involves “homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV.” The descriptions of the drive provide beautiful, evocative imagery. And it’s topped off with some nice reflection! Digging into this great portion of the essay would make this an even stronger essay!
Want to see more examples? Check out this post with 16 strong essay examples from top schools , including common supplemental essay questions.
At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.
That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.
Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay.
That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
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!
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.
College Admissions , College Essays
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Links to Full College Essay Examples
Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.
Common App Essay Samples
Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:
1. 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. 2. 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? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. 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?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 145 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts.
- 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007
These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).
- 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
- 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
- 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
- 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020
- 8 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2019
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2018
- 6 Common Application essays
Essay Examples Published by Other Websites
- 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia
Other Sample College Essays
Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.
- 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020
- 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
- 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out
- 10 Harvard essays from 2022
- 10 Harvard essays from 2021
- 10 Harvard essays from 2018
- 6 essays from admitted MIT students
- 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018
- 9 "Why Tufts?" short essays
- 6 "Let Your Life Speak" essays
- 5 Tufts essays that worked, plus video commentary from Tufts Admissions
Books of College Essays
If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.
College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.
50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .
50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.
Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.
Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked
I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.
Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)
I had never broken into a car before.
We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.
Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.
"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"
"Why me?" I thought.
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.
Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.
But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.
Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"
The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.
Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.
What Makes This Essay Tick?
It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!
An Opening Line That Draws You In
In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).
Great, Detailed Opening Story
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.
It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.
Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.
Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight
Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."
Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.
"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.
Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice
My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.
Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."
The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.
The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.
This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.
What Could This Essay Do Even Better?
Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?
Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.
Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.
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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.
Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.
I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.
In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).
I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.
A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.
It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.
Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.
One Clear Governing Metaphor
This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.
But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:
This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.
Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:
While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.
An Engaging, Individual Voice
This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.
Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.
I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Renner gives a great example of h ow to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.
Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!
For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:
Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.
Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.
Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.
Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.
In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.
The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.
All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.
Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.
#3: Start Early, Revise Often
Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.
Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!
For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .
Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .
Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.
Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.
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Writing a successful college admissions essay can be tough, so we've put together some example essays below to provide with some inspiration of your own.
Please do not plagiarise sentences or whole parts of these essays - they are only intended as guidelines and you can jeopardise your application if you're discovered to have copied your essay from the web.
College Essay Example #1
Honestly, I have had a pretty easy life. I have never really gone without something I absolutely needed, and I have always attended good schools and lived in safe neighborhoods. My parents raised me in a loving home, told me I was smart, and tried to help me be successful. But almost everyone else I knew seemed to have those same things, and I never really gave the benefits of my life much thought. Instead, I mostly coasted – focusing on playing sports, hanging out with my friends, and having fun. It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I started to understand what my parents had been trying to teach me. My brother graduated from high school at the same time I finished my freshman year. I watched as he and his friends went off to college – all but his best friend, Jim. Jim was a big dreamer, talker, and “coaster” – like me. Jim had not spent much time studying in high school and could only get into community college. When we talked, he did not seem down about going to community college and my initial thought was that it was no big deal. However, a month or two into the next fall semester I noticed that Jim was still coming by the high school frequently, spending most of his time hanging out with younger teenagers, and trying to relive his “glory days.” He was not the happy guy I had known and it became all too clear that Jim was not prepared to take the next steps in his life. That spring my parents announced it was time for me to get a job. I found a position at a local bakery and made decent money for being sixteen – it was OK, for a job. My boss was a nice, local guy in his early forties. He was fun to talk with and had great stories about when he was a teenager. But as I got to know him, underneath the “cool” exterior, I soon realized he was not happy. His life had not turned out the way he had hoped, and he seemed lost and still looking for direction – he reminded me of Jim. I personally do not think everyone needs to go to college to have a successful life, but everyone does need purpose and direction – both of which I did not have. I began to worry what my life would become if I did not find them, and I decided I needed to make a change. I asked my parents if I could get a tutor, asked for help from my teachers, and began getting involved in school clubs. My parents were a little shocked and my history teacher, in particular, all but rolled her eyes the first time I asked for help preparing for a test – I think she thought I was trying to “work the system.” I did not change overnight, but I continued to make significant progress. My grades went from mostly “Cs,” with a few “Bs,” my first two years in high school to mostly “Bs,” with a few “As,” by the end of my junior year. My history teacher even asked me to become her teacher’s assistant during a free period in my senior year class schedule, and the first semester of my senior year I made the all “A” honor roll. I will never forget the look of pride and relief on my mother’s face. While it may have taken me longer than others, I have learned the value of hard work and the importance of having purpose and direction in my life. I am very excited to take the next steps and hope to have the opportunity to continue my journey at your university.
College Essay Example #2
While I have never seen myself as a rebel, I am not a conformist and have never felt comfortable being labeled. I like to sew, scrapbook, and wear pink, but I also like to hike through the woods, get dirty, and build things with tools. When I turned fifteen, I looked for something different and unique that would be fun, challenging, and give me a sense of accomplishment. I found it in Search and Rescue. In King County, Washington youth over the age of fifteen are allowed to join the county Search and Rescue team if they complete a set of grueling trainings and pass a series of tests. New recruits spend multiple weekends hiking, camping, doing physical fitness, and learning general wilderness survival and navigation skills. Classes of recruits are usually eighty to ninety percent boys and my year was no exception. My last test was a two-day navigation course in which we were required to traverse a large mountainous area using maps and compasses. At the end of each task, we recorded how many feet we were away from the intended location and our total variation for all tasks could not exceed 300 feet. The course took us through swamps, thickets, and other obstacles, and we had to successfully navigate each type of terrain. At one point, we carried our fifty pound packs over our heads as we walked through water up to our armpits, but my group of three girls would not be outdone by the boys. The last few miles were the hardest. As we prepared for the final hike back to base camp, we were met by a truck of rangers. They told us we could stop, but if we got in the truck we would not pass and would not be permitted to join the team. We hiked the last few miles with our 50 pound packs on our backs, our cloths soaked, our feet covered in blisters, and snow starting to fall – all the time with the truck following closely behind. Our souls and wills seemed to go numb, and there was a constant temptation to give in, but we would not let each other quit. When we finally reached base camp and tallied our scores, we had stayed under the 300 feet threshold and were the only girls admitted to the program that year. It was an amazing feeling. Similarly, I will never forget the first time I saw a dead body. We were asked to search for a mentally disabled man that had disappeared nearly a year before, but was never found. His family needed closure, and we were tasked with searching an area not far from his house that had very dense vegetation. My team members and I lined up about 10 feet from each other and began hacking away at the shrubs, vines, and tall grass. After many hours, I discovered the body in my section. The skeleton and decaying remains were clothed in the man’s t-shirt and boxer shorts – and his hat was not far away. This scene, combined with the looks of both sorrow and relief on the faces of the man’s family, changed me. I gained perspective on both the value and reality of life and was proud to be part of such a great organization that had truly made a difference for this family.
Through my experiences in Search and Rescue, I have learned to persevere and gained a new level of empathy for others. In addition, I have a better perspective on life and am filled with a desire to choose activities that will have a positive impact on those around me. These lessons and experiences have become part of who I am, and I look forward to building upon them as I embark on my next great adventure.
College Essay Example #3
Ever since I was young, I’ve never been able to put down a good book. It’s a bit of a cliché to refer to yourself as a bookworm, but for all intents and purposes, I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. When I was younger my mum used to read to me, so reading has always been an established part of my routine. When the first Harry Potter book came out, my mind was blown. I became absorbed into this fictional world, and was addicted to the escapism. This was the beginning of a life long appreciation of English Literature.
I first new I wanted to study English at university when I studied Wuthering Heights in class at high school. I was fascinated with how Heathcliff was portrayed as some kind of monster with redeemable features. I found myself in awe at this conflicted and tortured character that Bronte had created, and mused whether he was beyond redemption. I hadn’t read a book that had encapsulated such a dilemma before. I was hungry to get my hands on as many books as possible, and after reading some other classics like Of Mice and Men and In Cold Blood, our English class studied the plays Top Girls and The Doll House. At this point, my appreciation for literature reached new heights, as these were the first overtly political works that resonated with me. I was entranced by the ways these plays advanced the idea of Feminism. I wanted to read more, and I wanted to write more on what I’d read. I decided that I wanted to write as a career.
I knew I had to study at US University when I saw the shear diversity of your English course, and the overall climate of diversity that embodies your institution. I’m eager to read books from a broad range of authors from lots of different backgrounds and I find it motivating to see that this is a core part of your curriculum. I love literature, and I’m that I can bring that passion into my lectures and seminars. I’ve always been the first person to contribute when I have an opinion! I’d be interested to expose myself to authors I am not too familiar with and I’d be very interested in taking your extensive course on Charles Dickens to learn more about this literary great.
Outside of my high school work, I’ve found myself enjoying books written by authors such as Naomi wolf and Germaine Greer. Books like the Female Eunuch have inspired me to read more Feminist books, and have encouraged me to become further involved in local activism. I’ve volunteered for a number of women’s organizations, most recently I worked with women’s aid to help to fundraise for a domestic violence awareness event. I helped to research and write parts of a leaflet on domestic violence, which gave me a lot of confidence in my writing and made me feel good about contributing my abilities to an important cause. I’d like to build on this experience by helping to create some other fundraising events on campus, and potentially by joining the University Feminist society.
In addition to reading, I spend most of my time writing on my political blog. I write on a number of topics, but most commonly I write on Feminism as this is the subject I find most interesting. I’m currently planning to release an eBook in the near future called Myths about the Patriarchy. Throughout the course of writing this content, I’ve enjoyed communicating my opinions with my readership and would like to continue this for a career. A degree at US University would enable me to gain some solid academic credentials and enable me to pursue writing as a career. My passion for reading and writing has meant that becoming a full-time writer is the only thing I can imagine myself doing. Studying English Literature would be a good starting point to turn this lifelong dream into a reality.
College Essay Example #4
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been singing along to the radio. Whether it’s a catchy pop song, or an alternative masterpiece, I just can’t help but find myself moving to the music. It was no surprise that when I first picked up the guitar at 11 years old, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the process of learning to play all these little tunes that I heard and hummed before. The process of physically playing music, lead me to appreciate music in a whole different way. As soon as I could, I rushed to start a band, and after around 6 months of playing I played my first concert. Truthfully, we weren’t very good, but I loved the feeling of playing music in front of other people, so much so that I decided I wanted to pursue performing music as a career.
Ever since then, I’ve been throwing myself at any gig I can find. My attitude to music has always been to learn by doing, and I’ll be sure to continue my passion for performing by becoming active in the campus music scene. On that note, I would definitely be interesting in becoming involved within the local area music scene as well. As a player, I started off on alternative music, but not I am much more motivated by the spontaneity of Jazz music. Every day when I wake up I go downstairs and have a quick jam along to a few backing tracks. To me, putting hours into my instrument isn’t work and I’m always thinking about music in one way or another. By Enrolling at Berklee School of Music, I’d be well placed to cope with the demands of staying on track with my learning. If I have a performance coming up I will not be shy of spending 8 hours a day practicing. I remember how proud I felt when I finally learnt how to play the advance piece Eugene’s Trick Bag by Steve Vai, and am prepared to throw myself at any more demanding performance pieces that come my way. It would be an honor study at an institution that’s had Steve Vai as Alumni.
Outside of my schoolwork, I’ve been very eager to learn all I can about the instrument and have been giving guitar lessons for the past two years. I have become very confident explaining the basic CAGED chord system, and teaching students the Major, Minor, Blues and Pentatonic scales. Not only has teaching improved my own knowledge of the instrument, it has also been incredibly rewarding. I have enjoyed helping students who have struggle with the basics to be able to play songs like Green day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends and Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. I know that it is rare for professional musicians to sustain themselves on performing alone, so I’d love to be able to teach along side performing. A degree of Berklee school of music will be evidence of my ability to teach not only the practice of playing guitar, but the theory that goes behind it.
For a long time, I’ve known that perfoming music is what I want to pursue as a career and I can see that UC Berklee will give me everything I need to become an established part of the professional music scene. Not only will formalized study benefit the standard of my performance but it will also take my theoretical understanding to the next level. In order to fulfill my aspiration to be a professional musician, I can see no other institution that offers the shear brilliance of UC Berklee.
College Essay Example #5
Ever since I read Frank Ryan’s book Virolution, I’ve been captivated by the idea of understanding what’s around me on a higher level. Ryan took the common ways that viruses were interpreted, such as natural evils and annoyances and turned them on their head. Ryan’s argument that viruses had a role in forcing evolution forward by encouraging animals to adapt was a completely new idea to me. The premise that we as humans evolve with viruses, presented viruses as somewhat useful, which was a completely new idea to me. After reading the book I became fascinated by the processes of life’s smallest organisms. I wanted to understand what they did, and how they were doing it. Virolution was my first insight into the shear variety and depth of the field of Biology. Outside of the narrow scope of the high school curriculum, there was a whole new world out there.
Since I read Ryan’s book by happenstance, I delved deeper into any similar books that I could get my hands on. Naturally I found myself reaching for Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene before taking a look at Darwin’s classic The Origins of the Species. These books taught me that I was missing a lot of what was under my nose. I have since decided that I want to pursue biology as a career, and after my degree I will be enrolling to do a PHD. A degree from US University will provide me with a strong set of academic credentials. It’s very important to me, to be part of a committed and active research institution as this is what I want to pursue as a career. By going to an institution with such a commitment to cutting edge research, I will be well placed to make my transition to the academic world myself.
In terms of practical experience with Biology, I have been fortunate enough to complete a work placement at the Baker Laboratory in Washington. My placement as Baker helped me to develop my day-to-day understanding of Laboratory practices and what the working day of a Biologist is like. The staff at Baker Laboratory commented on my commitment to learning, my enthusiasm, and my initiative. I found that I learnt a lot during my short time there, so I can only imagine what I’d learn over years of working at such an institution. I would find nothing more fulfilling than being able to contribute to the academic community full-time.
Outside of my studies and my passion for biology, I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering at the local animal sanctuary. I enjoy helping out with the animals there and aiding the general conservation attempts of the charity. Generally, we tended to smaller animals like badgers and raccoons but sometimes we got larger animals to look after like deer, which have been injured out in the wild. For me, helping to look after a wounded deer and helping her return to the wild was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Naturally, I found it very refreshing to see your institutions commitment to ethical and sustainable research practices.
One day, I would like the opportunity to contribute to academic journals of the future so that I can influence generations of the future to go into the sciences. My work experience and my volunteering efforts have shown me that the study of the natural world is something very important to me, and although I haven’t narrowed down on a specific field of Biology yet, I am confident that I can find this out throughout the course of my degree.
College Essay Example #6
Ever since I learnt about the Crusades in History at school, I’ve known History is the subject for me. Learning about how western Christendom ushered to defense of the holy land and occupied the surrounding areas seemed strangely reminiscent of western interventionism following the Iraq war. To me this was one of those places where History seemed to repeat itself. Since first becoming enamored with the Crusades my passion for History has steadily grown outwards. Today, I’m always expanding my knowledge of History wherever I can. Just recently, I’ve been getting to grips with Russia, reading Richard Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime.
As an individual, I’ve always been interested in the Leopold Von Ranke-esque perception of History, where the historian aims to understand history whilst leaving contemporary prejudices at the door. US University’s course on the Second World War, and the peri-centric approach mentioned within the course details, where students will study the lesser powers in World War II suggest that this is an institution committed to inclusion and diversity of history. I’ve always been fascinated with History in terms of hearing from groups/nations who aren’t the typical capitalist superpowers presented to us by mainline historical scholarship.
My interest in studying history comes both as a result of interest, and as a stepping-stone into a career in Journalism. A History degree would act as evidence of my ability to research and disseminate information into a concise and compelling format. Ever since high school I’ve wanted to pursue a career where I can engage with ideas. Indeed, I would be well place to communicate with others in lectures and seminars as I have read enough over time to become quite fluent at presenting information and arguing a point.
After completing a work experience placement at a local newspaper recently I have known that Journalism was the career for me. As part of my experience, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the local journalists, helping to source research for articles through a mixture of online and print based sources. It was my responsibility to ensure that what was written down was accurate and to organize this data so that it could be included within an article. I even got the chance to ghost write on a couple of smaller pieces. Personally, I found this experience to be incredibly rewarding, and with a History degree from US University, I’ll be well placed to enter into a career in Journalism.
Outside of my schoolwork, I’m always staying active, whether its playing basketball with friends or going to the gym, I’m always pushing myself. When I’m not at school or out moving about I’m at home reading. If I’m not holding a book I’ll be on YouTube watching political commentary or debates to unwind (well, most of the time!). I thrive off absorbing ideas from new books. My favorite book would have to be The Prince by Machiavelli. I found the way that Machiavelli eschews traditional morality in favor of tyrannical pragmatism to be very interesting and disturbing. Famously, Machiavelli suggests it is ‘better to be feared than loved’, and I find it interesting how his recommendation of ‘fear’ as a tool of rule would leave him admired by later dictators like Mussolini. I’d be very interested in learning more about Machiavelli and tackling his work as part of the University’s Renaissance module. Exposing myself to these unorthodox political ideas is part of what has made me want to go into political journalism, to engage with ideas that others have put out there, and to critique them.
College Essay Example #7
Since I was a child, I’ve always been competitive. Whilst other kids were out playing football, I was in the boxing gym working hard. I’ve always enjoyed football, but for me there was a whole new level of pressure and competition in Boxing that you didn’t get by playing team sports. I’ve found it immensely rewarding to push myself to the limit. As I grew older at high school I began to look for an avenue that I could make a real career out of, and by chance I stumbled upon an old episode of the TV show Law and Order. I found the idea of being a lawyer and being judged on your performance to be incredibly interesting.
To me, being a lawyer meant working in a meritocratic environment where you are rewarded on your performance. I’ve always had the tenacity to hold strong under pressure, and have the innate ability to thrive in high-pressure environments. With my schoolwork, I’ve always done well because of my dedication to just putting my head down and working hard. At Harvard Law School, I’m going to be the one putting in the hours to get the grades I want. I’m comfortable with throwing myself into a routine, and ensuring that my reading gets done.
I’m driven to study at Harvard because it’s the most prolific law school in the world. Harvard Law School has become synonymous with the study of law across the world, and for good reason. As an elite academic institution, Harvard Law School has the capacity not just to forge careers, but also to forge illustrious careers. I am confident that I am of the character, ability, and intestinal fortitude to thrive in such an environment. For me this is an opportunity to stand out from my peers and to create the life that I want to live. A degree from Harvard Law School will place the keys of my future in law well within my own hands.
Recently, I completed a work experience placement shadowing a lawyer, and have had the opportunity to sit and observe a number of trials. I’ve become familiar with the day-to-day running’s of a law firm, and as part of the role I was responsible for assisting the Lawyer with his research and double-checking documents. I saw that being a Lawyer was a lot of work, but this did not deter me, as I’ve always been a hard worker. Whilst others have been finishing their school day and going home, I’ve been going straight to work at a bar. When others finish up their lectures for the day to go home, I’ll be the one getting work done at the library before starting a 6-hour shift. I’ve always been a firm believer that you get out of life what you put in, and I’m always putting in 100%. Amongst my studies and my work, I’ll definitely be checking out the boxing society, and with aim to compete later in my first year.
With my commitment to working hard, I will be well placed within the culture of Harvard Law School. Work as a Lawyer will be incredibly demanding and time consuming, and I intend to put myself through the paces throughout the duration of the degree so that I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I land my first role as a lawyer. Most importantly of all, I’m willing to fail in order to learn. If I don’t get the grade I want on an assignment, I’m not going to start to crumble under pressure, I’m going to take the feedback on the chin and get back in the library to get the grades I want.
College Essay Example #8
While I like to read, play soccer, be in the outdoors, and hang out with my friends, my passion is music. It started when as a 7 year olds and has blossomed into something I would have never expected. I have learned how to work hard and about victory and defeat. Music has led me on many adventures, helped me find my identity, and shaped who I am today.
One of my first significant experiences as a musician came in the sixth grade. My school did not offer band classes until middle school, but by that age I had been studying a few years with a private instructor and was a member of a community youth orchestra. When I arrived at school, I quickly discovered that I was one of the best musicians in my grade and was given the opportunity to join three bands: the sixth grade band, the seventh grade band, and the jazz band (which was normally limited to seventh and eighth graders).
I reluctantly performed a short trumpet solo during our first performance before the student body. I worked hard on the piece and it went well, but what I remember most was that when I walked down the halls after the concert other sixth graders congratulated me. I did not know many of them, but they told me how “cool” it was that I played with the jazz band. While it may sound vein, this experience allowed me at a young and impressionable age to embrace who I am and gave me self-confidence, pride, and a sense of identity.
That spring I also auditioned for two all-district bands with the best seventh and eighth graders in the county (even though I was only in sixth grade). The experience did not go as well – I was nervous and did a terrible job. I was devastated, but soon realized that if I truly wanted to be great I had to dedicate myself to working harder and learning to handle stress better. I have drawn on these lessons many times in high school. I joined the marching and jazz bands, and made multiple all-district and all-state bands. In addition, when faced with peer pressure or when it would have been easy to question who I am, I was better able to be steadfast and grounded than many of my peers.
My greatest musical achievement happened at the end of my junior year when I participated in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. I stopped working afterschool my last two quarters and doubled my practice time to prepare for the audition. I remembered what I learned going as far back as sixth grade and gave one of the best performances of my life. I then spent a few weeks in New York with a group of students from around the country studying music with an impressive cast of professional musicians. We worked ten to twelve hour days and learned to push our lungs to new levels.
On the last night before we left for a tour in Latin America, we had a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The venue was filed with our parents, a few political and sports celebrities, and many others dressed in their finest. At the end of the concert, as we finished the last note, the entire crowd erupted in applause. I looked into the eyes of my fellow musicians and we shared a moment of pride and accomplishment. I knew in my heart that all my hard work had been worth it and this is what I was meant to do.
College Essay Example #9
I was that “that” teenager who told his parents at the end of high school that he needed to “find himself” and who received a collective eye roll from every adult in a 5 mile radius. I did not know who I was or what I wanted, but I knew I was not ready to go to college. I also knew that I did not want to be one of those “spoiled rich kids” that sat home playing video games and partying on the weekends. Instead, I took the $2000 I had saved up from my afterschool job; bought a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag; and had an adventure that has forever changed my life and prepared me to go to college.
I left the house with the goal of circling the globe over the next year, working along the way to make enough money to eat and travel to my next city. I worked about a dozen jobs, from cleaning out horse stalls in Argentina to fast food in the Philippines. The reality is that, up to that point, I had never really understood the value of money or had to work to survive. I lived in Greece for two months working for a fisherman mending and cleaning his fishing nets. At the end of the day, he would inspect my work and if it was satisfactory I would get paid – if it was not, I was not paid that day. It did not take me long to figure out how to take pride in my work.
I faced dangers that I had never experienced at home. In São Paulo, Brazil, one of my temporary travel companions was robbed at gunpoint while I was chased down the street. In the same city, the children would not go to school during periods of heightened gang violence out of fear for their safety. It was difficult to then be asked by those same kids about my school experiences and why I had chosen to leave home.
Most of all, I learned that most people are generally the same. Regardless of region, economic class, skin color, religion, or gender most people are just trying to do the best they can to navigate their challenges with dignity and give their children more than they have. Towards the end of my journey, I stayed a few weeks in France with a family friend. We talked frequently about what I had seen and observed over the prior months, and I shared this hypothesis with the father. To my surprise, he opened up to me about the struggles he faced raising his children. While he did not to have to worry about whether his kids had enough food to eat, his concerns were just as sincere and real, and I saw in him much of what I had seen in others. While this may not be profound to some, it was for me particularly in light of the negativity and demonization that seems to dominate so much of the public discourse in the United States.
I did not walk away from my year-long adventure with a clear roadmap for my entire life. I do not know for sure what I am going to major in or what will be my final career choose. But I did gain perspective on what the world is really like and my place in it; I learned how to work hard and the dignity that comes from doing so; and I learned how lucky I truly am and the type of life I want to provide for my kids.
I am grateful for the experiences I had and am now better prepared to move forward into adulthood. I hope to have the opportunity to start my next great adventure at your university.
College Essay Example #10
My parent’s favorite television show is a political drama called The West Wing that that went off the air about 10 years ago. Growing up, I frequently walked into a room to find them watching old episodes and, in one such episode, the President of the United States closed a discussion with a group of college students by counseling: “decisions are made by those who show up.” The quote stuck with me, but it was not until recently that I came to understand what it meant.
I will be honest – I initially joined Key Club International, a service organization, because I thought it would look good on a college application. As part of my membership, I was required to complete at least fifty hours of service. I decided the easiest way to complete the requirement was to set up a regular volunteer project and so I agreed to work at the local soup kitchen every other Saturday morning. For the first year, I went on my designated mornings, helped out, and went home, but I began to notice that other student volunteers frequently missed their allotted time and left the facility understaffed.
I could tell this really bothered the Director of the program and it took away from her ability to serve the soup kitchen’s clients. Innocently, I mentioned to the Director that more students may show up on time if she sent them a reminder via text message. She thought it was a good idea and asked if I would mind sending out the messages next week, and so I did. The response was positive and more of the students arrived on time for their shifts.
Over the next few months, the Director continued to ask me questions about how best to engage student volunteers. I helped her set up accounts on various social media platforms, create better internal volunteer tracking charts, and plan a presentation she could make at local schools to recruit volunteers and increase awareness. The Director asked me to join her at one of the presentations and, while I was nervous, I enjoyed sharing my positive experiences with the other students.
At the end of my junior year, the Director was asked to make a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors about the student outreach program and what had made it so successful. She brought me with her and asked that I give part of the presentation. I received a very warm reception from the Board and, at the end, the Chairwoman pulled me aside and asked if I would join a county commission on hunger and poverty. She explained that the Board was struggling to find new solutions to the growing issues facing underprivileged children in the county. I was honored to accept and have since spent a few hours a month at the county offices working on the commission. It has gone so well that both the Chairwoman and the Director offered to write me letters of recommendation to college.
The reality is that I am not more talented than my fellow students. I do not have some great technical knowledge, I am not particularly outgoing, and I am not a great public speaker. But I was willing to show up and help. By doing so, what was meant to be a simple volunteer project two times a month developed into a great adventure where I have met many fantastic people, done things most teenagers never consider possible, and had lots of fun.
I look forward to taking what I have learned with me as I go to college. I hope to have many opportunities to provide service and improve myself, and I am excited to see what adventures the next 4 years bring.
For more tips and advice on applying to college in the U.S, please see:
- Choosing a college
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- How to write a college essay
- Budgeting for college
- Admissions tests
- Fees & funding