Georgetown University.

Sample Essays

The breadth of Georgetown’s core curriculum means that students are required to write for a wide variety of academic disciplines. Below, we provide some student samples that exhibit the key features the most popular genres. When reading through these essays, we recommend paying attention to their 

1. Structure (How many paragraphs are there? Does the author use headers?) 

2. Argument (Is the author pointing out a problem, and/or proposing a solution?) 

3. Content (Does the argument principally rely on facts, theory, or logic?) and 

4. Style (Does the writer use first person? What is the relationship with the audience?)

Philosophy Paper

  • Singer on the Moral Status of Animals

Theology Paper

  • Problem of God
  • Jewish Civilization
  • Sacred Space and Time
  • Phenolphthalein in Alkaline Solution

History Paper

  • World History

Literature Review

Comparative Analysis 

Policy Brief

  • Vaccine Manufacturing

White Paper

Critical Analysis

  • Ignatius Seminar

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How to Write the Perfect Essay

06 Feb, 2024 | Blog Articles , English Language Articles , Get the Edge , Humanities Articles , Writing Articles

Student sitting at a desk writing in a notebook

You can keep adding to this plan, crossing bits out and linking the different bubbles when you spot connections between them. Even though you won’t have time to make a detailed plan under exam conditions, it can be helpful to draft a brief one, including a few key words, so that you don’t panic and go off topic when writing your essay.

If you don’t like the mind map format, there are plenty of others to choose from: you could make a table, a flowchart, or simply a list of bullet points.

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Thanks for signing up, step 2: have a clear structure.

Think about this while you’re planning: your essay is like an argument or a speech. It needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question.

Start with the basics! It’s best to choose a few major points which will become your main paragraphs. Three main paragraphs is a good number for an exam essay, since you’ll be under time pressure. 

If you agree with the question overall, it can be helpful to organise your points in the following pattern:

  • YES (agreement with the question)
  • AND (another YES point)
  • BUT (disagreement or complication)

If you disagree with the question overall, try:

  • AND (another BUT point)

For example, you could structure the Of Mice and Men sample question, “To what extent is Curley’s wife portrayed as a victim in Of Mice and Men ?”, as follows:

  • YES (descriptions of her appearance)
  • AND (other people’s attitudes towards her)
  • BUT (her position as the only woman on the ranch gives her power as she uses her femininity to her advantage)

If you wanted to write a longer essay, you could include additional paragraphs under the YES/AND categories, perhaps discussing the ways in which Curley’s wife reveals her vulnerability and insecurities, and shares her dreams with the other characters. Alternatively, you could also lengthen your essay by including another BUT paragraph about her cruel and manipulative streak.

Of course, this is not necessarily the only right way to answer this essay question – as long as you back up your points with evidence from the text, you can take any standpoint that makes sense.

Smiling student typing on laptop

Step 3: Back up your points with well-analysed quotations

You wouldn’t write a scientific report without including evidence to support your findings, so why should it be any different with an essay? Even though you aren’t strictly required to substantiate every single point you make with a quotation, there’s no harm in trying.

A close reading of your quotations can enrich your appreciation of the question and will be sure to impress examiners. When selecting the best quotations to use in your essay, keep an eye out for specific literary techniques. For example, you could highlight Curley’s wife’s use of a rhetorical question when she says, a”n’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs.” This might look like:

The rhetorical question “an’ what am I doin’?” signifies that Curley’s wife is very insecure; she seems to be questioning her own life choices. Moreover, she does not expect anyone to respond to her question, highlighting her loneliness and isolation on the ranch.

Other literary techniques to look out for include:

  • Tricolon – a group of three words or phrases placed close together for emphasis
  • Tautology – using different words that mean the same thing: e.g. “frightening” and “terrifying”
  • Parallelism – ABAB structure, often signifying movement from one concept to another
  • Chiasmus – ABBA structure, drawing attention to a phrase
  • Polysyndeton – many conjunctions in a sentence
  • Asyndeton – lack of conjunctions, which can speed up the pace of a sentence
  • Polyptoton – using the same word in different forms for emphasis: e.g. “done” and “doing”
  • Alliteration – repetition of the same sound, including assonance (similar vowel sounds), plosive alliteration (“b”, “d” and “p” sounds) and sibilance (“s” sounds)
  • Anaphora – repetition of words, often used to emphasise a particular point

Don’t worry if you can’t locate all of these literary devices in the work you’re analysing. You can also discuss more obvious techniques, like metaphor, simile and onomatopoeia. It’s not a problem if you can’t remember all the long names; it’s far more important to be able to confidently explain the effects of each technique and highlight its relevance to the question.

Person reading a book outside

Step 4: Be creative and original throughout

Anyone can write an essay using the tips above, but the thing that really makes it “perfect” is your own unique take on the topic. If you’ve noticed something intriguing or unusual in your reading, point it out – if you find it interesting, chances are the examiner will too!

Creative writing and essay writing are more closely linked than you might imagine. Keep the idea that you’re writing a speech or argument in mind, and you’re guaranteed to grab your reader’s attention.

It’s important to set out your line of argument in your introduction, introducing your main points and the general direction your essay will take, but don’t forget to keep something back for the conclusion, too. Yes, you need to summarise your main points, but if you’re just repeating the things you said in your introduction, the body of the essay is rendered pointless.

Think of your conclusion as the climax of your speech, the bit everything else has been leading up to, rather than the boring plenary at the end of the interesting stuff.

To return to Of Mice and Men once more, here’s an example of the ideal difference between an introduction and a conclusion:

Introduction

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men , Curley’s wife is portrayed as an ambiguous character. She could be viewed either as a cruel, seductive temptress or a lonely woman who is a victim of her society’s attitudes. Though she does seem to wield a form of sexual power, it is clear that Curley’s wife is largely a victim. This interpretation is supported by Steinbeck’s description of her appearance, other people’s attitudes, her dreams, and her evident loneliness and insecurity.
Overall, it is clear that Curley’s wife is a victim and is portrayed as such throughout the novel in the descriptions of her appearance, her dreams, other people’s judgemental attitudes, and her loneliness and insecurities. However, a character who was a victim and nothing else would be one-dimensional and Curley’s wife is not. Although she suffers in many ways, she is shown to assert herself through the manipulation of her femininity – a small rebellion against the victimisation she experiences.

Both refer back consistently to the question and summarise the essay’s main points. However, the conclusion adds something new which has been established in the main body of the essay and complicates the simple summary which is found in the introduction.

Hannah

Hannah is an undergraduate English student at Somerville College, University of Oxford, and has a particular interest in postcolonial literature and the Gothic. She thinks literature is a crucial way of developing empathy and learning about the wider world. When she isn’t writing about 17th-century court masques, she enjoys acting, travelling and creative writing. 

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How to Write the Perfect Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide for Students

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  • June 2, 2022

example of a great essay

  • What is an essay? 

What makes a good essay?

Typical essay structure, 7 steps to writing a good essay, a step-by-step guide to writing a good essay.

Whether you are gearing up for your GCSE coursework submissions or looking to brush up on your A-level writing skills, we have the perfect essay-writing guide for you. 💯

Staring at a blank page before writing an essay can feel a little daunting . Where do you start? What should your introduction say? And how should you structure your arguments? They are all fair questions and we have the answers! Take the stress out of essay writing with this step-by-step guide – you’ll be typing away in no time. 👩‍💻

student-writing

What is an essay?

Generally speaking, an essay designates a literary work in which the author defends a point of view or a personal conviction, using logical arguments and literary devices in order to inform and convince the reader.

So – although essays can be broadly split into four categories: argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive – an essay can simply be described as a focused piece of writing designed to inform or persuade. 🤔

The purpose of an essay is to present a coherent argument in response to a stimulus or question and to persuade the reader that your position is credible, believable and reasonable. 👌

So, a ‘good’ essay relies on a confident writing style – it’s clear, well-substantiated, focussed, explanatory and descriptive . The structure follows a logical progression and above all, the body of the essay clearly correlates to the tile – answering the question where one has been posed. 

But, how do you go about making sure that you tick all these boxes and keep within a specified word count? Read on for the answer as well as an example essay structure to follow and a handy step-by-step guide to writing the perfect essay – hooray. 🙌

Sometimes, it is helpful to think about your essay like it is a well-balanced argument or a speech – it needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question in a coherent manner. ⚖️

Of course, essays can vary significantly in length but besides that, they all follow a fairly strict pattern or structure made up of three sections. Lean into this predictability because it will keep you on track and help you make your point clearly. Let’s take a look at the typical essay structure:  

#1 Introduction

Start your introduction with the central claim of your essay. Let the reader know exactly what you intend to say with this essay. Communicate what you’re going to argue, and in what order. The final part of your introduction should also say what conclusions you’re going to draw – it sounds counter-intuitive but it’s not – more on that below. 1️⃣

Make your point, evidence it and explain it. This part of the essay – generally made up of three or more paragraphs depending on the length of your essay – is where you present your argument. The first sentence of each paragraph – much like an introduction to an essay – should summarise what your paragraph intends to explain in more detail. 2️⃣

#3 Conclusion

This is where you affirm your argument – remind the reader what you just proved in your essay and how you did it. This section will sound quite similar to your introduction but – having written the essay – you’ll be summarising rather than setting out your stall. 3️⃣

No essay is the same but your approach to writing them can be. As well as some best practice tips, we have gathered our favourite advice from expert essay-writers and compiled the following 7-step guide to writing a good essay every time. 👍

#1 Make sure you understand the question

#2 complete background reading.

#3 Make a detailed plan 

#4 Write your opening sentences 

#5 flesh out your essay in a rough draft, #6 evidence your opinion, #7 final proofread and edit.

Now that you have familiarised yourself with the 7 steps standing between you and the perfect essay, let’s take a closer look at each of those stages so that you can get on with crafting your written arguments with confidence . 

This is the most crucial stage in essay writing – r ead the essay prompt carefully and understand the question. Highlight the keywords – like ‘compare,’ ‘contrast’ ‘discuss,’ ‘explain’ or ‘evaluate’ – and let it sink in before your mind starts racing . There is nothing worse than writing 500 words before realising you have entirely missed the brief . 🧐

Unless you are writing under exam conditions , you will most likely have been working towards this essay for some time, by doing thorough background reading. Re-read relevant chapters and sections, highlight pertinent material and maybe even stray outside the designated reading list, this shows genuine interest and extended knowledge. 📚

#3 Make a detailed plan

Following the handy structure we shared with you above, now is the time to create the ‘skeleton structure’ or essay plan. Working from your essay title, plot out what you want your paragraphs to cover and how that information is going to flow. You don’t need to start writing any full sentences yet but it might be useful to think about the various quotes you plan to use to substantiate each section. 📝

Having mapped out the overall trajectory of your essay, you can start to drill down into the detail. First, write the opening sentence for each of the paragraphs in the body section of your essay. Remember – each paragraph is like a mini-essay – the opening sentence should summarise what the paragraph will then go on to explain in more detail. 🖊️

Next, it's time to write the bulk of your words and flesh out your arguments. Follow the ‘point, evidence, explain’ method. The opening sentences – already written – should introduce your ‘points’, so now you need to ‘evidence’ them with corroborating research and ‘explain’ how the evidence you’ve presented proves the point you’re trying to make. ✍️

With a rough draft in front of you, you can take a moment to read what you have written so far. Are there any sections that require further substantiation? Have you managed to include the most relevant material you originally highlighted in your background reading? Now is the time to make sure you have evidenced all your opinions and claims with the strongest quotes, citations and material. 📗

This is your final chance to re-read your essay and go over it with a fine-toothed comb before pressing ‘submit’. We highly recommend leaving a day or two between finishing your essay and the final proofread if possible – you’ll be amazed at the difference this makes, allowing you to return with a fresh pair of eyes and a more discerning judgment. 🤓

If you are looking for advice and support with your own essay-writing adventures, why not t ry a free trial lesson with GoStudent? Our tutors are experts at boosting academic success and having fun along the way. Get in touch and see how it can work for you today. 🎒

1-May-12-2023-09-09-32-6011-AM

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What’s Covered:

  • Common App Essays
  • Why This College Essays
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Most high school students don’t get a lot of experience with creative writing, so the college essay can be especially daunting. Reading examples of successful essays, however, can help you understand what admissions officers are looking for.

In this post, we’ll share 16 college essay examples of many different topics. Most of the essay prompts fall into 8 different archetypes, and you can approach each prompt under that archetype in a similar way. We’ve grouped these examples by archetype so you can better structure your approach to college essays.

If you’re looking for school-specific guides, check out our 2022-2023 essay breakdowns .

Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Note: the essays are titled in this post for navigation purposes, but they were not originally titled. We also include the original prompt where possible.

The Common App essay goes to all of the schools on your list, unless those schools use a separate application platform. Because of this, it’s the most important essay in your portfolio, and likely the longest essay you’ll need to write (you get up to 650 words). 

The goal of this essay is to share a glimpse into who you are, what matters to you, and what you hope to achieve. It’s a chance to share your story. 

Learn more about how to write the Common App essay in our complete guide.

The Multiple Meanings of Point

Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (250-650 words)

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée, while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable. 

The first obvious strength of this essay is the introduction—it is interesting and snappy and uses enough technical language that we want to figure out what the student is discussing. When writing introductions, students tend to walk the line between intriguing and confusing. It is important that your essay ends up on the intentionally intriguing side of that line—like this student does! We are a little confused at first, but by then introducing the idea of “sparring,” the student grounds their essay.

People often advise young writers to “show, not tell.” This student takes that advice a step further and makes the reader do a bit of work to figure out what they are telling us. Nowhere in this essay does it say “After years of Taekwondo, I made the difficult decision to switch over to ballet.” Rather, the student says “It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers.” How powerful! 

After a lot of emotional language and imagery, this student finishes off their essay with very valuable (and necessary!) reflection. They show admissions officers that they are more than just a good writer—they are a mature and self-aware individual who would be beneficial to a college campus. Self-awareness comes through with statements like “surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become” and maturity can be seen through the student’s discussion of values: “honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet.”

Sparking Self-Awareness

Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (250-650 words)

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

First things first, this Common App essay is well-written. This student is definitely showing the admissions officers her ability to articulate her points beautifully and creatively. It starts with vivid images like that of the “rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free.” And because the prose is flowery (and beautiful!), the writer can get away with metaphors like “I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms” that might sound cheesy without the clear command of the English language that the writer quickly establishes.

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

While dialogue often comes off as cliche or trite, this student effectively incorporates her family members saying “Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” This is achieved through the apt use of the verb “taunted” to characterize the questioning and through the question’s thematic connection to the earlier image of the student as a rustic princess. Similarly, rhetorical questions can feel randomly placed in essays, but this student’s inclusion of the questions “Was I so dainty?” and “Was I that incapable?” feel perfectly justified after she establishes that she was pondering her failure.

Quite simply, this essay shows how quality writing can make a simple story outstandingly compelling. 

Why This College?

“Why This College?” is one of the most common essay prompts, likely because schools want to understand whether you’d be a good fit and how you’d use their resources.

This essay is one of the more straightforward ones you’ll write for college applications, but you still can and should allow your voice to shine through.

Learn more about how to write the “Why This College?” essay in our guide.

Prompt: How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying (650 words).

Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics, said, “caring is the human mode of being.” I have long been inspired by Sister Roach’s Five C’s of Caring: commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence. Penn both embraces and fosters these values through a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum and unmatched access to service and volunteer opportunities.

COMMITMENT. Reading through the activities that Penn Quakers devote their time to (in addition to academics!) felt like drinking from a firehose in the best possible way. As a prospective nursing student with interests outside of my major, I value this level of flexibility. I plan to leverage Penn’s liberal arts curriculum to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges LGBT people face, especially regarding healthcare access. Through courses like “Interactional Processes with LGBT Individuals” and volunteering at the Mazzoni Center for outreach, I hope to learn how to better support the Penn LGBT community as well as my family and friends, including my cousin, who came out as trans last year.

CONSCIENCE. As one of the first people in my family to attend a four-year university, I wanted a school that promoted a sense of moral responsibility among its students. At Penn, professors challenge their students to question and recreate their own set of morals by sparking thought- provoking, open-minded discussions. I can imagine myself advocating for universal healthcare in courses such as “Health Care Reform & Future of American Health System” and debating its merits with my peers. Studying in an environment where students confidently voice their opinions – conservative or liberal – will push me to question and strengthen my value system.

COMPETENCE. Two aspects that drew my attention to Penn’s BSN program were its high-quality research opportunities and hands-on nursing projects. Through its Office of Nursing Research, Penn connects students to faculty members who share similar research interests. As I volunteered at a nursing home in high school, I hope to work with Dr. Carthon to improve the quality of care for senior citizens. Seniors, especially minorities, face serious barriers to healthcare that I want to resolve. Additionally, Penn’s unique use of simulations to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application impressed me. Using computerized manikins that mimic human responses, classes in Penn’s nursing program allow students to apply their emergency medical skills in a mass casualty simulation and monitor their actions afterward through a video system. Participating in this activity will help me identify my strengths and areas for improvement regarding crisis management and medical care in a controlled yet realistic setting. Research opportunities and simulations will develop my skills even before I interact with patients.

COMPASSION. I value giving back through community service, and I have a particular interest in Penn’s Community Champions and Nursing Students For Sexual & Reproductive Health (NSRH). As a four-year volunteer health educator, I hope to continue this work as a Community Champions member. I am excited to collaborate with medical students to teach fourth and fifth graders in the city about cardiology or lead a chair dance class for the elders at the LIFE Center. Furthermore, as a feminist who firmly believes in women’s abortion rights, I’d like to join NSRH in order to advocate for women’s health on campus. At Penn, I can work with like-minded people to make a meaningful difference.

CONFIDENCE. All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence. Each student summarized their experiences at Penn as challenging but fulfilling. Although I expect my coursework to push me, from my conversations with current Quakers I know it will help me to be far more effective in my career.

The Five C’s of Caring are important heuristics for nursing, but they also provide insight into how I want to approach my time in college. I am eager to engage with these principles both as a nurse and as a Penn Quaker, and I can’t wait to start.

This prompt from Penn asks students to tailor their answer to their specific field of study. One great thing that this student does is identify their undergraduate school early, by mentioning “Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics.” You don’t want readers confused or searching through other parts of your application to figure out your major.

With a longer essay like this, it is important to establish structure. Some students organize their essay in a narrative form, using an anecdote from their past or predicting their future at a school. This student uses Roach’s 5 C’s of Caring as a framing device that organizes their essay around values. This works well!

While this essay occasionally loses voice, there are distinct moments where the student’s personality shines through. We see this with phrases like “felt like drinking from a fire hose in the best possible way” and “All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence.” It is important to show off your personality to make your essay stand out. 

Finally, this student does a great job of referencing specific resources about Penn. It’s clear that they have done their research (they’ve even talked to current Quakers). They have dreams and ambitions that can only exist at Penn.

Prompt: What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

Coin collector and swimmer. Hungarian and Romanian. Critical and creative thinker. I was drawn to Yale because they don’t limit one’s mind with “or” but rather embrace unison with “and.” 

Wandering through the Beinecke Library, I prepare for my multidisciplinary Energy Studies capstone about the correlation between hedonism and climate change, making it my goal to find implications in environmental sociology. Under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Arielle Baskin-Sommers, I explore the emotional deficits of depression, utilizing neuroimaging to scrutinize my favorite branch of psychology: human perception. At Walden Peer Counseling, I integrate my peer support and active listening skills to foster an empathetic environment for the Yale community. Combining my interests in psychological and environmental studies is why I’m proud to be a Bulldog. 

This answer to the “Why This College” question is great because 1) the student shows their excitement about attending Yale 2) we learn the ways in which attending Yale will help them achieve their goals and 3) we learn their interests and identities.

In this response, you can find a prime example of the “Image of the Future” approach, as the student flashes forward and envisions their life at Yale, using present tense (“I explore,” “I integrate,” “I’m proud”). This approach is valuable if you are trying to emphasize your dedication to a specific school. Readers get the feeling that this student is constantly imagining themselves on campus—it feels like Yale really matters to them.

Starting this image with the Beinecke Library is great because the Beinecke Library only exists at Yale. It is important to tailor “Why This College” responses to each specific school. This student references a program of study, a professor, and an extracurricular that only exist at Yale. Additionally, they connect these unique resources to their interests—psychological and environmental studies.

Finally, we learn about the student (independent of academics) through this response. By the end of their 125 words, we know their hobbies, ethnicities, and social desires, in addition to their academic interests. It can be hard to tackle a 125-word response, but this student shows that it’s possible.

Why This Major?

The goal of this prompt is to understand how you came to be interested in your major and what you plan to do with it. For competitive programs like engineering, this essay helps admissions officers distinguish students who have a genuine passion and are most likely to succeed in the program. This is another more straightforward essay, but you do have a bit more freedom to include relevant anecdotes.

Learn more about how to write the “Why This Major?” essay in our guide.

Why Duke Engineering

Prompt: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke (250 words).

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.

Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.

This prompt calls for a complex answer. Students must explain both why they want to study engineering and why Duke is the best place for them to study engineering.

This student begins with a nice hook—a simple anecdote about a simple present with profound consequences. They do not fluff up their anecdote with flowery images or emotionally-loaded language; it is what it is, and it is compelling and sweet. As their response continues, they express a particular interest in problem-solving. They position problem-solving as a fundamental part of their interest in engineering (and a fundamental part of their fascination with their childhood toy). This helps readers to learn about the student!

Problem-solving is also the avenue by which they introduce Duke’s resources—DUhatch, The Foundry, and Duke’s Bass Connections program. It is important to notice that the student explains how these resources can help them achieve their future goals—it is not enough to simply identify the resources!

This response is interesting and focused. It clearly answers the prompt, and it feels honest and authentic.

Why Georgia Tech CompSci

Prompt: Why do you want to study your chosen major specifically at Georgia Tech? (300 words max)

I held my breath and hit RUN. Yes! A plump white cat jumped out and began to catch the falling pizzas. Although my Fat Cat project seems simple now, it was the beginning of an enthusiastic passion for computer science. Four years and thousands of hours of programming later, that passion has grown into an intense desire to explore how computer science can serve society. Every day, surrounded by technology that can recognize my face and recommend scarily-specific ads, I’m reminded of Uncle Ben’s advice to a young Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility”. Likewise, the need to ensure digital equality has skyrocketed with AI’s far-reaching presence in society; and I believe that digital fairness starts with equality in education.

The unique use of threads at the College of Computing perfectly matches my interests in AI and its potential use in education; the path of combined threads on Intelligence and People gives me the rare opportunity to delve deep into both areas. I’m particularly intrigued by the rich sets of both knowledge-based and data-driven intelligence courses, as I believe AI should not only show correlation of events, but also provide insight for why they occur.

In my four years as an enthusiastic online English tutor, I’ve worked hard to help students overcome both financial and technological obstacles in hopes of bringing quality education to people from diverse backgrounds. For this reason, I’m extremely excited by the many courses in the People thread that focus on education and human-centered technology. I’d love to explore how to integrate AI technology into the teaching process to make education more available, affordable, and effective for people everywhere. And with the innumerable opportunities that Georgia Tech has to offer, I know that I will be able to go further here than anywhere else.

With a “Why This Major” essay, you want to avoid using all of your words to tell a story. That being said, stories are a great way to show your personality and make your essay stand out. This student’s story takes up only their first 21 words, but it positions the student as fun and funny and provides an endearing image of cats and pizzas—who doesn’t love cats and pizzas? There are other moments when the student’s personality shines through also, like the Spiderman reference.

While this pop culture reference adds color, it also is important for what the student is getting at: their passion. They want to go into computer science to address the issues of security and equity that are on the industry’s mind, and they acknowledge these concerns with their comments about “scarily-specific ads” and their statement that “the need to ensure digital equality has skyrocketed.” This student is self-aware and aware of the state of the industry. This aptitude will be appealing for admissions officers.

The conversation around “threads” is essential for this student’s response because the prompt asks specifically about the major at Georgia Tech and it is the only thing they reference that is specific to Georgia Tech. Threads are great, but this student would have benefitted from expanding on other opportunities specific to Georgia Tech later in the essay, instead of simply inserting “innumerable opportunities.”

Overall, this student shows personality, passion, and aptitude—precisely what admissions officers want to see!

Extracurricular Essay

You’re asked to describe your activities on the Common App, but chances are, you have at least one extracurricular that’s impacted you in a way you can’t explain in 150 characters.

This essay archetype allows you to share how your most important activity shaped you and how you might use those lessons learned in the future. You are definitely welcome to share anecdotes and use a narrative approach, but remember to include some reflection. A common mistake students make is to only describe the activity without sharing how it impacted them.

Learn more about how to write the Extracurricular Essay in our guide.

A Dedicated Musician

My fingers raced across the keys, rapidly striking one after another. My body swayed with the music as my hands raced across the piano. Crashing onto the final chord, it was over as quickly as it had begun. My shoulders relaxed and I couldn’t help but break into a satisfied grin. I had just played the Moonlight Sonata’s third movement, a longtime dream of mine. 

Four short months ago, though, I had considered it impossible. The piece’s tempo was impossibly fast, its notes stretching between each end of the piano, forcing me to reach farther than I had ever dared. It was 17 pages of the most fragile and intricate melodies I had ever encountered. 

But that summer, I found myself ready to take on the challenge. With the end of the school year, I was released from my commitment to practicing for band and solo performances. I was now free to determine my own musical path: either succeed in learning the piece, or let it defeat me for the third summer in a row. 

Over those few months, I spent countless hours practicing the same notes until they burned a permanent place in my memory, creating a soundtrack for even my dreams. Some would say I’ve mastered the piece, but as a musician I know better. Now that I can play it, I am eager to take the next step and add in layers of musicality and expression to make the once-impossible piece even more beautiful.

In this response, the student uses their extracurricular, piano, as a way to emphasize their positive qualities. At the beginning, readers are invited on a journey with the student where we feel their struggle, their intensity, and ultimately their satisfaction. With this descriptive image, we form a valuable connection with the student.

Then, we get to learn about what makes this student special: their dedication and work ethic. The fact that this student describes their desire to be productive during the summer shows an intensity that is appealing to admissions officers. Additionally, the growth mindset that this student emphasizes in their conclusion is appealing to admissions officers.

The Extracurricular Essay can be seen as an opportunity to characterize yourself. This student clearly identified their positive qualities, then used the Extracurricular Essay as a way to articulate them.

A Complicated Relationship with the School Newspaper

My school’s newspaper and I have a typical love-hate relationship; some days I want nothing more than to pass two hours writing and formatting articles, while on others the mere thought of student journalism makes me shiver. Still, as we’re entering our fourth year together, you could consider us relatively stable. We’ve learned to accept each other’s differences; at this point I’ve become comfortable spending an entire Friday night preparing for an upcoming issue, and I hardly even notice the snail-like speed of our computers. I’ve even benefitted from the polygamous nature of our relationship—with twelve other editors, there’s a lot of cooperation involved. Perverse as it may be, from that teamwork I’ve both gained some of my closest friends and improved my organizational and time-management skills. And though leaving it in the hands of new editors next year will be difficult, I know our time together has only better prepared me for future relationships.

This response is great. It’s cute and endearing and, importantly, tells readers a lot about the student who wrote it. Framing this essay in the context of a “love-hate relationship,” then supplementing with comments like “We’ve learned to accept each other’s differences” allows this student to advertise their maturity in a unique and engaging way. 

While Extracurricular Essays can be a place to show how you’ve grown within an activity, they can also be a place to show how you’ve grown through an activity. At the end of this essay, readers think that this student is mature and enjoyable, and we think that their experience with the school newspaper helped make them that way.

Participating in Democracy

Prompt: Research shows that an ability to learn from experiences outside the classroom correlates with success in college. What was your greatest learning experience over the past 4 years that took place outside of the traditional classroom? (250 words) 

The cool, white halls of the Rayburn House office building contrasted with the bustling energy of interns entertaining tourists, staffers rushing to cover committee meetings, and my fellow conference attendees separating to meet with our respective congresspeople. Through civics and US history classes, I had learned about our government, but simply hearing the legislative process outlined didn’t prepare me to navigate it. It was my first political conference, and, after learning about congressional mechanics during breakout sessions, I was lobbying my representative about an upcoming vote crucial to the US-Middle East relationship. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, my whole life had led me to the moment when I could speak on behalf of the family members who had not emigrated with my parents.

As I sat down with my congresswoman’s chief of staff, I truly felt like a participant in democracy; I was exercising my right to be heard as a young American. Through this educational conference, I developed a plan of action to raise my voice. When I returned home, I signed up to volunteer with the state chapter of the Democratic Party. I sponsored letter-writing campaigns, canvassed for local elections, and even pursued an internship with a state senate campaign. I know that I don’t need to be old enough to vote to effect change. Most importantly, I also know that I want to study government—I want to make a difference for my communities in the United States and the Middle East throughout my career. 

While this prompt is about extracurricular activities, it specifically references the idea that the extracurricular should support the curricular. It is focused on experiential learning for future career success. This student wants to study government, so they chose to describe an experience of hands-on learning within their field—an apt choice!

As this student discusses their extracurricular experience, they also clue readers into their future goals—they want to help Middle Eastern communities. Admissions officers love when students mention concrete plans with a solid foundation. Here, the foundation comes from this student’s ethnicity. With lines like “my whole life had led me to the moment when I could speak on behalf of the family members who had not emigrated with my parents,” the student assures admissions officers of their emotional connection to their future field.

The strength of this essay comes from its connections. It connects the student’s extracurricular activity to their studies and connects theirs studies to their personal history.

Overcoming Challenges

You’re going to face a lot of setbacks in college, so admissions officers want to make you’re you have the resilience and resolve to overcome them. This essay is your chance to be vulnerable and connect to admissions officers on an emotional level.

Learn more about how to write the Overcoming Challenges Essay in our guide.

The Student Becomes the Master

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one. 

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay is great because it has a strong introduction and conclusion. The introduction is notably suspenseful and draws readers into the story. Because we know it is a college essay, we can assume that the student is one of the competitors, but at the same time, this introduction feels intentionally ambiguous as if the writer could be a competitor, a coach, a sibling of a competitor, or anyone else in the situation.

As we continue reading the essay, we learn that the writer is, in fact, the competitor. Readers also learn a lot about the student’s values as we hear their thoughts: “I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was.” Ultimately, the conflict and inner and outer turmoil is resolved through the “Same, but Different” ending technique as the student places themself in the same environment that we saw in the intro, but experiencing it differently due to their actions throughout the narrative. This is a very compelling strategy!

Growing Sensitivity to Struggles

Prompt: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (650 words)

“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.

When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.

As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.

Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.

We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.

We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.

My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.

Here you can find a prime example that you don’t have to have fabulous imagery or flowery prose to write a successful essay. You just have to be clear and say something that matters. This essay is simple and beautiful. It almost feels like having a conversation with a friend and learning that they are an even better person than you already thought they were.

Through this narrative, readers learn a lot about the writer—where they’re from, what their family life is like, what their challenges were as a kid, and even their sexuality. We also learn a lot about their values—notably, the value they place on awareness, improvement, and consideration of others. Though they never explicitly state it (which is great because it is still crystal clear!), this student’s ending of “I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story” shows that they are constantly striving for improvement and finding lessons anywhere they can get them in life.

Community Service/Impact on the Community

Colleges want students who will positively impact the campus community and go on to make change in the world after they graduate. This essay is similar to the Extracurricular Essay, but you need to focus on a situation where you impacted others. 

Learn more about how to write the Community Service Essay in our guide.

Academic Signing Day

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

The scent of eucalyptus caressed my nose in a gentle breeze. Spring had arrived. Senior class activities were here. As a sophomore, I noticed a difference between athletic and academic seniors at my high school; one received recognition while the other received silence. I wanted to create an event celebrating students academically-committed to four-years, community colleges, trades schools, and military programs. This event was Academic Signing Day.

The leadership label, “Events Coordinator,” felt heavy on my introverted mind. I usually was setting up for rallies and spirit weeks, being overlooked around the exuberant nature of my peers. 

I knew a change of mind was needed; I designed flyers, painted posters, presented powerpoints, created student-led committees, and practiced countless hours for my introductory speech. Each committee would play a vital role on event day: one dedicated to refreshments, another to technology, and one for decorations. The fourth-month planning was a laborious joy, but I was still fearful of being in the spotlight. Being acknowledged by hundreds of people was new to me.     

The day was here. Parents filled the stands of the multi-purpose room. The atmosphere was tense; I could feel the angst building in my throat, worried about the impression I would leave. Applause followed each of the 400 students as they walked to their college table, indicating my time to speak. 

I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets; instead, smiles lit up the stands, realizing my voice shone through my actions. I was finally coming out of my shell. The floor was met by confetti as I was met by the sincerity of staff, students, and parents, solidifying the event for years to come. 

Academic students were no longer overshadowed. Their accomplishments were equally recognized to their athletic counterparts. The school culture of athletics over academics was no longer imbalanced. Now, every time I smell eucalyptus, it is a friendly reminder that on Academic Signing Day, not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.

This essay answers the prompt nicely because the student describes a contribution with a lasting legacy. Academic Signing Day will affect this high school in the future and it affected this student’s self-development—an idea summed up nicely with their last phrase “not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.”

With Community Service essays, students sometimes take small contributions and stretch them. And, oftentimes, the stretch is very obvious. Here, the student shows us that Academic Signing Day actually mattered by mentioning four months of planning and hundreds of students and parents. They also make their involvement in Academic Signing Day clear—it was their idea and they were in charge, and that’s why they gave the introductory speech.

Use this response as an example of the type of focused contribution that makes for a convincing Community Service Essay.

Climate Change Rally

Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (technically not community service, but the response works)

Let’s fast-forward time. Strides were made toward racial equality. Healthcare is accessible to all; however, one issue remains. Our aquatic ecosystems are parched with dead coral from ocean acidification. Climate change has prevailed.

Rewind to the present day.

My activism skills are how I express my concerns for the environment. Whether I play on sandy beaches or rest under forest treetops, nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world. When my body is met by trash in the ocean or my nose is met by harmful pollutants, Earth’s pain becomes my own. 

Substituting coffee grinds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale. I often found performative activism to be ineffective when communicating climate concerns. My days of reposting awareness graphics on social media never filled the ambition I had left to put my activism skills to greater use. I decided to share my ecocentric worldview with a coalition of environmentalists and host a climate change rally outside my high school.

Meetings were scheduled where I informed students about the unseen impact they have on the oceans and local habitual communities. My fingers were cramped from all the constant typing and investigating of micro causes of the Pacific Waste Patch, creating reusable flyers, displaying steps people could take from home in reducing their carbon footprint. I aided my fellow environmentalists in translating these flyers into other languages, repeating this process hourly, for five days, up until rally day.  

It was 7:00 AM. The faces of 100 students were shouting, “The climate is changing, why can’t we?” I proudly walked on the dewy grass, grabbing the microphone, repeating those same words. The rally not only taught me efficient methods of communication but it echoed my environmental activism to the masses. The City of Corona would be the first of many cities to see my activism, as more rallies were planned for various parts of SoCal. My once unfulfilled ambition was fueled by my tangible activism, understanding that it takes more than one person to make an environmental impact.

Like with the last example, this student describes a focused event with a lasting legacy. That’s a perfect place to start! By the end of this essay, we have an image of the cause of this student’s passion and the effect of this student’s passion. There are no unanswered questions.

This student supplements their focused topic with engaging and exciting writing to make for an easy-to-read and enjoyable essay. One of the largest strengths of this response is its pace. From the very beginning, we are invited to “fast-forward” and “rewind” with the writer. Then, after we center ourselves in real-time, this writer keeps their quick pace with sentences like “Substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale.” Community Service essays run the risk of turning boring, but this unique pacing keeps things interesting.

Having a diverse class provides a richness of different perspectives and encourages open-mindedness among the student body. The Diversity Essay is also somewhat similar to the Extracurricular and Community Service Essays, but it focuses more on what you might bring to the campus community because of your unique experiences or identities.

Learn more about how to write the Diversity Essay in our guide.

A Story of a Young Skater

​​“Everyone follow me!” I smiled at five wide-eyed skaters before pushing off into a spiral. I glanced behind me hopefully, only to see my students standing frozen like statues, the fear in their eyes as clear as the ice they swayed on. “Come on!” I said encouragingly, but the only response I elicited was the slow shake of their heads. My first day as a Learn-to-Skate coach was not going as planned. 

But amid my frustration, I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater. At seven, I had been fascinated by Olympic performers who executed thrilling high jumps and dizzying spins with apparent ease, and I dreamed to one day do the same. My first few months on skates, however, sent these hopes crashing down: my attempts at slaloms and toe-loops were shadowed by a stubborn fear of falling, which even the helmet, elbow pads, and two pairs of mittens I had armed myself with couldn’t mitigate. Nonetheless, my coach remained unfailingly optimistic, motivating me through my worst spills and teaching me to find opportunities in failures. With his encouragement, I learned to push aside my fears and attack each jump with calm and confidence; it’s the hope that I can help others do the same that now inspires me to coach.

I remember the day a frustrated staff member directed Oliver, a particularly hesitant young skater, toward me, hoping that my patience and steady encouragement might help him improve. Having stood in Oliver’s skates not much earlier myself, I completely empathized with his worries but also saw within him the potential to overcome his fears and succeed. 

To alleviate his anxiety, I held Oliver’s hand as we inched around the rink, cheering him on at every turn. I soon found though, that this only increased his fear of gliding on his own, so I changed my approach, making lessons as exciting as possible in hopes that he would catch the skating bug and take off. In the weeks that followed, we held relay races, played “freeze-skate” and “ice-potato”, and raced through obstacle courses; gradually, with each slip and subsequent success, his fear began to abate. I watched Oliver’s eyes widen in excitement with every skill he learned, and not long after, he earned his first skating badge. Together we celebrated this milestone, his ecstasy fueling my excitement and his pride mirroring my own. At that moment, I was both teacher and student, his progress instilling in me the importance of patience and a positive attitude. 

It’s been more than ten years since I bundled up and stepped onto the ice for the first time. Since then, my tolerance for the cold has remained stubbornly low, but the rest of me has certainly changed. In sharing my passion for skating, I have found a wonderful community of eager athletes, loving parents, and dedicated coaches from whom I have learned invaluable lessons and wisdom. My fellow staffers have been with me, both as friends and colleagues, and the relationships I’ve formed have given me far more poise, confidence, and appreciation for others. Likewise, my relationships with parents have given me an even greater gratitude for the role they play: no one goes to the rink without a parent behind the wheel! 

Since that first lesson, I have mentored dozens of children, and over the years, witnessed tentative steps transform into powerful glides and tears give way to delighted grins. What I have shared with my students has been among the greatest joys of my life, something I will cherish forever. It’s funny: when I began skating, what pushed me through the early morning practices was the prospect of winning an Olympic medal. Now, what excites me is the chance to work with my students, to help them grow, and to give back to the sport that has brought me so much happiness. 

This response is a great example of how Diversity doesn’t have to mean race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, or ability. Diversity can mean whatever you want it to mean—whatever unique experience(s) you have to bring to the table!

A major strength of this essay comes in its narrative organization. When reading this first paragraph, we feel for the young skaters and understand their fear—skating sounds scary! Then, because the writer sets us up to feel this empathy, the transition to the second paragraph where the student describes their empathy for the young skaters is particularly powerful. It’s like we are all in it together! The student’s empathy for the young skaters also serves as an outstanding, seamless transition to the applicant discussing their personal journey with skating: “I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater.”

This essay positions the applicant as a grounded and caring individual. They are caring towards the young skaters—changing their teaching style to try to help the young skaters and feeling the young skaters’ emotions with them—but they are also appreciative to those who helped them as they reference their fellow staffers and parents. This shows great maturity—a favorable quality in the eyes of an admissions officer.

At the end of the essay, we know a lot about this student and are convinced that they would be a good addition to a college campus!

Finding Community in the Rainforest

Prompt: Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke (250 words).

I never understood the power of community until I left home to join seven strangers in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Although we flew in from distant corners of the U.S., we shared a common purpose: immersing ourselves in our passion for protecting the natural world.

Back home in my predominantly conservative suburb, my neighbors had brushed off environmental concerns. My classmates debated the feasibility of Trump’s wall, not the deteriorating state of our planet. Contrastingly, these seven strangers delighted in bird-watching, brightened at the mention of medicinal tree sap, and understood why I once ran across a four-lane highway to retrieve discarded beer cans. Their histories barely resembled mine, yet our values aligned intimately. We did not hesitate to joke about bullet ants, gush about the versatility of tree bark, or discuss the destructive consequences of materialism. Together, we let our inner tree huggers run free.

In the short life of our little community, we did what we thought was impossible. By feeding on each other’s infectious tenacity, we cultivated an atmosphere that deepened our commitment to our values and empowered us to speak out on behalf of the environment. After a week of stimulating conversations and introspective revelations about engaging people from our hometowns in environmental advocacy, we developed a shared determination to devote our lives to this cause.

As we shared a goodbye hug, my new friend whispered, “The world needs saving. Someone’s gotta do it.” For the first time, I believed that someone could be me.

This response is so wholesome and relatable. We all have things that we just need to geek out over and this student expresses the joy that came when they found a community where they could geek out about the environment. Passion is fundamental to university life and should find its way into successful applications.

Like the last response, this essay finds strength in the fact that readers feel for the student. We get a little bit of backstory about where they come from and how they felt silenced—“Back home in my predominantly conservative suburb, my neighbors had brushed off environmental concerns”—, so it’s easy to feel joy for them when they get set free.

This student displays clear values: community, ecoconsciousness, dedication, and compassion. An admissions officer who reads Diversity essays is looking for students with strong values and a desire to contribute to a university community—sounds like this student!  

Political/Global Issues

Colleges want to build engaged citizens, and the Political/Global Issues Essay allows them to better understand what you care about and whether your values align with theirs. In this essay, you’re most commonly asked to describe an issue, why you care about it, and what you’ve done or hope to do to address it. 

Learn more about how to write the Political/Global Issues Essay in our guide.

Note: this prompt is not a typical political/global issues essay, but the essay itself would be a strong response to a political/global issues prompt.

Fighting Violence Against Women

Prompt: Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay. (250-650 words)

“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” 

– Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University. 

The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 

My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 

At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 

Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 

Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.

As this student addresses an important social issue, she makes the reasons for her passion clear—personal experiences. Because she begins with an extended anecdote, readers are able to feel connected to the student and become invested in what she has to say.

Additionally, through her powerful ending—“I, too, deserve the night sky”—which connects back to her beginning— “as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky”—this student illustrates a mastery of language. Her engagement with other writing techniques that further her argument, like the emphasis on time—“gifted to me for my sixteenth birthday,” “when I was thirteen,” “when I was fourteen,” etc.—also illustrates her mastery of language.

While this student proves herself a good writer, she also positions herself as motivated and ambitious. She turns her passions into action and fights for them. That is just what admissions officers want to see in a Political/Global issues essay!

Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays

Once you’ve written your college essays, you’ll want to get feedback on them. Since these essays are important to your chances of acceptance, you should prepare to go through several rounds of edits. 

Not sure who to ask for feedback? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review resource. You can get comments from another student going through the process and also edit other students’ essays to improve your own writing. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

example of a great essay

Rafal Reyzer

  • Online Course

40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

Author: Rafal Reyzer

I wanted to improve my writing skills. I thought that reading the forty best essays of all time would bring me closer to my goal.

I had little money (buying forty collections of essays was out of the question) so I’ve found them online instead. I’ve hacked through piles of them, and finally, I’ve found the great ones. Now I want to share the whole list with you (with the addition of my notes about writing). Each item on the list has a direct link to the essay, so please click away and indulge yourself. Also, next to each essay, there’s an image of the book that contains the original work.

About this essay list:

Reading essays is like indulging in candy; once you start, it’s hard to stop. I sought out essays that were not only well-crafted but also impactful. These pieces genuinely shifted my perspective. Whether you’re diving in for enjoyment or to hone your writing, these essays promise to leave an imprint. It’s fascinating how an essay can resonate with you, and even if details fade, its essence remains. I haven’t ranked them in any way; they’re all stellar. Skim through, explore the summaries, and pick up some writing tips along the way. For more essay gems, consider “Best American Essays” by Joyce Carol Oates or “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” curated by Brianna Wiest.

George Orwell Typing

40 Best Essays of All Time (With Links And Writing Tips)

1. david sedaris – laugh, kookaburra.

david sedaris - the best of me essay collection

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the top essays of the lot. It’s a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what’s most important in life. You’ll also learn an awful lot about the curious culture of the Aussies.

Writing tips from the essay:

  • Use analogies (you can make it funny or dramatic to achieve a better effect): “Don’t be afraid,” the waiter said, and he talked to the kookaburra in a soothing, respectful voice, the way you might to a child with a switchblade in his hand”.
  • You can touch a few cognate stories in one piece of writing . Reveal the layers gradually. Intertwine them and arrange for a grand finale where everything is finally clear.
  • Be on the side of the reader. Become their friend and tell the story naturally, like around the dinner table.
  • Use short, punchy sentences. Tell only as much as is required to make your point vivid.
  • Conjure sentences that create actual feelings: “I had on a sweater and a jacket, but they weren’t quite enough, and I shivered as we walked toward the body, and saw that it was a . . . what, exactly?”
  • You may ask a few tough questions in a row to provoke interest and let the reader think.

2. Charles D’Ambrosio – Documents

Charles D'Ambrosio - Loitering - New and Collected Essays

Do you think your life punches you in the face all too often? After reading this essay, you will change your mind. Reading about loss and hardships often makes us sad at first, but then enables us to feel grateful for our lives . D’Ambrosio shares his documents (poems, letters) that had a major impact on his life, and brilliantly shows how not to let go of the past.

  • The most powerful stories are about your family and the childhood moments that shaped your life.
  • You don’t need to build up tension and pussyfoot around the crux of the matter. Instead, surprise the reader by telling it like it is: “The poem was an allegory about his desire to leave our family.” Or: “My father had three sons. I’m the eldest; Danny, the youngest, killed himself sixteen years ago”.
  • You can use real documents and quotes from your family and friends. It makes it so much more personal and relatable.
  • Don’t cringe before the long sentence if you know it’s a strong one.
  • At the end of the essay, you may come back to the first theme to close the circuit.
  • Using slightly poetic language is acceptable, as long as it improves the story.

3. E. B. White – Once more to the lake

E.B. White - Essays

What does it mean to be a father? Can you see your younger self, reflected in your child? This beautiful essay tells the story of the author, his son, and their traditional stay at a placid lake hidden within the forests of Maine. This place of nature is filled with sunshine and childhood memories. It also provides for one of the greatest meditations on nature and the passing of time.

  • Use sophisticated language, but not at the expense of readability.
  • Use vivid language to trigger the mirror neurons in the reader’s brain: “I took along my son, who had never had any fresh water up his nose and who had seen lily pads only from train windows”.
  • It’s important to mention universal feelings that are rarely talked about (it helps to create a bond between two minds): “You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings when the lake was cool and motionless”.
  • Animate the inanimate: “this constant and trustworthy body of water”.
  • Mentioning tales of yore is a good way to add some mystery and timelessness to your piece.
  • Using double, or even triple “and” in one sentence is fine. It can make the sentence sing.

4. Zadie Smith – Fail Better

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

Aspiring writers feel tremendous pressure to perform. The daily quota of words often turns out to be nothing more than gibberish. What then? Also, should the writer please the reader or should she be fully independent? What does it mean to be a writer, anyway? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions, but its contents are not only meant for scribblers. Within it, you’ll find some great notes about literary criticism, how we treat art , and the responsibility of the reader.

  • A perfect novel ? There’s no such thing.
  • The novel always reflects the inner world of the writer. That’s why we’re fascinated with writers.
  • Writing is not simply about craftsmanship, but about taking your reader to the unknown lands. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: “Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”
  • Style comes from your unique personality and the perception of the world. It takes time to develop it.
  • Never try to tell it all. “All” can never be put into language. Take a part of it and tell it the best you can.
  • Avoid being cliché. Try to infuse new life into your writing .
  • Writing is about your way of being. It’s your game. Paradoxically, if you try to please everyone, your writing will become less appealing. You’ll lose the interest of the readers. This rule doesn’t apply in the business world where you have to write for a specific person (a target audience).
  • As a reader, you have responsibilities too. According to the critics, every thirty years, there’s just a handful of great novels. Maybe it’s true. But there’s also an element of personal connection between the reader and the writer. That’s why for one person a novel is a marvel, while for the other, nothing special at all. That’s why you have to search and find the author who will touch you.

5. Virginia Woolf – Death of the Moth

Virginia Woolf - Essays

Amid an ordinary day, sitting in a room of her own, Virginia Woolf tells about the epic struggle for survival and the evanescence of life. This short essay is truly powerful. In the beginning, the atmosphere is happy. Life is in full force. And then, suddenly, it fades away. This sense of melancholy would mark the last years of Woolf’s life.

  • The melody of language… A good sentence is like music: “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow- underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us”.
  • You can show the grandest in the mundane (for example, the moth at your window and the drama of life and death).
  • Using simple comparisons makes the style more lucid: “Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure”.

6. Meghan Daum – My Misspent Youth

Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth - Essays

Many of us, at some point or another, dream about living in New York. Meghan Daum’s take on the subject differs slightly from what you might expect. There’s no glamour, no Broadway shows, and no fancy restaurants. Instead, there’s the sullen reality of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. You’ll get all the juicy details about credit cards, overdue payments, and scrambling for survival. It’s a word of warning. But it’s also a great story about shattered fantasies of living in a big city. Word on the street is: “You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana.”

  • You can paint a picture of your former self. What did that person believe in? What kind of world did he or she live in?
  • “The day that turned your life around” is a good theme you may use in a story. Memories of a special day are filled with emotions. Strong emotions often breed strong writing.
  • Use cultural references and relevant slang to create a context for your story.
  • You can tell all the details of the story, even if in some people’s eyes you’ll look like the dumbest motherfucker that ever lived. It adds to the originality.
  • Say it in a new way: “In this mindset, the dollars spent, like the mechanics of a machine no one bothers to understand, become an abstraction, an intangible avenue toward self-expression, a mere vehicle of style”.
  • You can mix your personal story with the zeitgeist or the ethos of the time.

7. Roger Ebert – Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Roger Ebert - The Great Movies

Probably the greatest film critic of all time, Roger Ebert, tells us not to rage against the dying of the light. This essay is full of courage, erudition, and humanism. From it, we learn about what it means to be dying (Hitchens’ “Mortality” is another great work on that theme). But there’s so much more. It’s a great celebration of life too. It’s about not giving up, and sticking to your principles until the very end. It brings to mind the famous scene from Dead Poets Society where John Keating (Robin Williams) tells his students: “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”.

  • Start with a powerful sentence: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.”
  • Use quotes to prove your point -”‘Ask someone how they feel about death’, he said, ‘and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die’. Ask them, ‘In the next 30 seconds?’ No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen”.
  • Admit the basic truths about reality in a childlike way (especially after pondering quantum physics) – “I believe my wristwatch exists, and even when I am unconscious, it is ticking all the same. You have to start somewhere”.
  • Let other thinkers prove your point. Use quotes and ideas from your favorite authors and friends.

8. George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

Even after one reading, you’ll remember this one for years. The story, set in British Burma, is about shooting an elephant (it’s not for the squeamish). It’s also the most powerful denunciation of colonialism ever put into writing. Orwell, apparently a free representative of British rule, feels to be nothing more than a puppet succumbing to the whim of the mob.

  • The first sentence is the most important one: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me”.
  • You can use just the first paragraph to set the stage for the whole piece of prose.
  • Use beautiful language that stirs the imagination: “I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains.” Or: “I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.”
  • If you’ve ever been to war, you will have a story to tell: “(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.)”
  • Use simple words, and admit the sad truth only you can perceive: “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching”.
  • Share words of wisdom to add texture to the writing: “I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his freedom that he destroys.”
  • I highly recommend reading everything written by Orwell, especially if you’re looking for the best essay collections on Amazon or Goodreads.

9. George Orwell – A Hanging

George Orwell - Essays

It’s just another day in Burma – time to hang a man. Without much ado, Orwell recounts the grim reality of taking another person’s life. A man is taken from his cage and in a few minutes, he’s going to be hanged. The most horrible thing is the normality of it. It’s a powerful story about human nature. Also, there’s an extraordinary incident with the dog, but I won’t get ahead of myself.

  • Create brilliant, yet short descriptions of characters: “He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting mustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the mustache of a comic man on the films”.
  • Understand and share the felt presence of a unique experience: “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man”.
  • Make your readers hear the sound that will stay with them forever: “And then when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!”
  • Make the ending original by refusing the tendency to seek closure or summing it up.

10. Christopher Hitchens – Assassins of The Mind

Christopher Hitchens - Arguably - Essays

In one of the greatest essays written in defense of free speech, Christopher Hitchens shares many examples of how modern media kneel to the explicit threats of violence posed by Islamic extremists. He recounts the story of his friend, Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses who, for many years, had to watch over his shoulder because of the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini. With his usual wit, Hitchens shares various examples of people who died because of their opinions and of editors who refuse to publish anything related to Islam because of fear (and it was written long before the Charlie Hebdo massacre). After reading the essay, you realize that freedom of expression is one of the most precious things we have and that we have to fight for it. I highly recommend all essay collections penned by Hitchens, especially the ones written for Vanity Fair.

  • Assume that the readers will know the cultural references. When they do, their self-esteem goes up – they are a part of an insider group.
  • When proving your point, give a variety of real-life examples from eclectic sources. Leave no room for ambiguity or vagueness. Research and overall knowledge are essential here.
  • Use italics to emphasize a specific word or phrase (here I use the underlining): “We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal. In consequence, several things have not happened.”
  • Think about how to make it sound more original: “So there is now a hidden partner in our cultural and academic and publishing and the broadcasting world: a shadowy figure that has, uninvited, drawn up a chair to the table.”

11. Christopher Hitchens – The New Commandments

Christopher Hitchens - Essays

It’s high time to shatter the tablets and amend the biblical rules of conduct. Watch, as Christopher Hitchens slays one commandment after the other on moral, as well as historical grounds. For example, did you know that there are many versions of the divine law dictated by God to Moses which you can find in the Bible? Aren’t we thus empowered to write our version of a proper moral code? If you approach it with an open mind, this essay may change the way you think about the Bible and religion.

  • Take the iconoclastic approach. Have a party on the hallowed soil.
  • Use humor to undermine orthodox ideas (it seems to be the best way to deal with an established authority).
  • Use sarcasm and irony when appropriate (or not): “Nobody is opposed to a day of rest. The international Communist movement got its start by proclaiming a strike for an eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, against Christian employers who used child labor seven days a week”.
  • Defeat God on legal grounds: “Wise lawmakers know that it is a mistake to promulgate legislation that is impossible to obey”.
  • Be ruthless in the logic of your argument. Provide evidence.

12. Phillip Lopate – Against Joie de Vivre

Philip Lopate - The Art Of Personal Essay

While reading this fantastic essay, this quote from Slavoj Žižek kept coming back to me: “I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves”. I can bear the onus of happiness or joie de vivre for some time. But this force enables me to get free and wallow in the sweet feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. By reading this work of Lopate, you’ll enter into the world of an intelligent man who finds most social rituals a drag. It’s worth exploring.

  • Go against the grain. Be flamboyant and controversial (if you can handle it).
  • Treat the paragraph like a group of thoughts on one theme. Next paragraph, next theme.
  • Use references to other artists to set the context and enrich the prose: “These sunny little canvases with their talented innocence, the third-generation spirit of Montmartre, bore testimony to a love of life so unbending as to leave an impression of rigid narrow-mindedness as extreme as any Savonarola. Their rejection of sorrow was total”.
  • Capture the emotions in life that are universal, yet remain unspoken.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your intimate experiences.

13. Philip Larkin – The Pleasure Principle

Philip Larkin - Jazz Writings, and other essays

This piece comes from the Required Writing collection of personal essays. Larkin argues that reading in verse should be a source of intimate pleasure – not a medley of unintelligible thoughts that only the author can (or can’t?) decipher. It’s a sobering take on modern poetry and a great call to action for all those involved in it. Well worth a read.

  • Write about complicated ideas (such as poetry) simply. You can change how people look at things if you express yourself enough.
  • Go boldly. The reader wants a bold writer: “We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try”.
  • Play with words and sentence length. Create music: “It is time some of you playboys realized, says the judge, that reading a poem is hard work. Fourteen days in stir. Next case”.
  • Persuade the reader to take action. Here, direct language is the most effective.

14. Sigmund Freud – Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

Sigmund Freud - On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia

This essay reveals Freud’s disillusionment with the whole project of Western civilization. How the peaceful European countries could engage in a war that would eventually cost over 17 million lives? What stirs people to kill each other? Is it their nature, or are they puppets of imperial forces with agendas of their own? From the perspective of time, this work by Freud doesn’t seem to be fully accurate. Even so, it’s well worth your time.

  • Commence with long words derived from Latin. Get grandiloquent, make your argument incontrovertible, and leave your audience discombobulated.
  • Use unending sentences, so that the reader feels confused, yet impressed.
  • Say it well: “In this way, he enjoyed the blue sea and the grey; the beauty of snow-covered mountains and green meadowlands; the magic of northern forests and the splendor of southern vegetation; the mood evoked by landscapes that recall great historical events, and the silence of untouched nature”.
  • Human nature is a subject that never gets dry.

15. Zadie Smith – Some Notes on Attunement

“You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing” – Francis Dolarhyde. This one is about the elusiveness of change occurring within you. For Zadie, it was hard to attune to the vibes of Joni Mitchell – especially her Blue album. But eventually, she grew up to appreciate her genius, and all the other things changed as well. This top essay is all about the relationship between humans, and art. We shouldn’t like art because we’re supposed to. We should like it because it has an instantaneous, emotional effect on us. Although, according to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Léon, liking Beethoven is rather mandatory.

  • Build an expectation of what’s coming: “The first time I heard her I didn’t hear her at all”.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition if it feels good.
  • Psychedelic drugs let you appreciate things you never appreciated.
  • Intertwine a personal journey with philosophical musings.
  • Show rather than tell: “My friends pitied their eyes. The same look the faithful give you as you hand them back their “literature” and close the door in their faces”.
  • Let the poets speak for you: “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no
  • more, / And all its dizzy raptures”.
  • By voicing your anxieties, you can heal the anxieties of the reader. In that way, you say: “I’m just like you. I’m your friend in this struggle”.
  • Admit your flaws to make your persona more relatable.

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

Annie Dillard - Teaching A stone to talk

My imagination was always stirred by the scene of the solar eclipse in Pharaoh, by Boleslaw Prus. I wondered about the shock of the disoriented crowd when they saw how their ruler could switch off the light. Getting immersed in this essay by Annie Dillard has a similar effect. It produces amazement and some kind of primeval fear. It’s not only the environment that changes; it’s your mind and the perception of the world. After the eclipse, nothing is going to be the same again.

  • Yet again, the power of the first sentence draws you in: “It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass”.
  • Don’t miss the extraordinary scene. Then describe it: “Up in the sky, like a crater from some distant cataclysm, was a hollow ring”.
  • Use colloquial language. Write as you talk. Short sentences often win.
  • Contrast the numinous with the mundane to enthrall the reader.

17. Édouard Levé – When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue

Édouard Levé - Suicide

This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life and the struggle with mental illness. It’s a collection of personal, apparently unrelated thoughts that show us the rich interior of the author. You look at the real-time thoughts of another person, and then recognize the same patterns within yourself… It sounds like a confession of a person who’s about to take their life, and it’s striking in its originality.

  • Use the stream-of-consciousness technique and put random thoughts on paper. Then, polish them: “I have attempted suicide once, I’ve been tempted four times to attempt it”.
  • Place the treasure deep within the story: “When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss”.
  • Don’t worry about what people might think. The more you expose, the more powerful the writing. Readers also take part in the great drama. They experience universal emotions that mostly stay inside.  You can translate them into writing.

18. Gloria E. Anzaldúa – How to Tame a Wild Tongue

Gloria Anzaldúa - Reader

Anzaldúa, who was born in south Texas, had to struggle to find her true identity. She was American, but her culture was grounded in Mexico. In this way, she and her people were not fully respected in either of the countries. This essay is an account of her journey of becoming the ambassador of the Chicano (Mexican-American) culture. It’s full of anecdotes, interesting references, and different shades of Spanish. It’s a window into a new cultural dimension that you’ve never experienced before.

  • If your mother tongue is not English, but you write in English, use some of your unique homeland vocabulary.
  • You come from a rich cultural heritage. You can share it with people who never heard about it, and are not even looking for it, but it is of immense value to them when they discover it.
  • Never forget about your identity. It is precious. It is a part of who you are. Even if you migrate, try to preserve it. Use it to your best advantage and become the voice of other people in the same situation.
  • Tell them what’s really on your mind: “So if you want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language”.

19. Kurt Vonnegut – Dispatch From A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut - A man without a country

In terms of style, this essay is flawless. It’s simple, conversational, humorous, and yet, full of wisdom. And when Vonnegut becomes a teacher and draws an axis of “beginning – end”, and, “good fortune – bad fortune” to explain literature, it becomes outright hilarious. It’s hard to find an author with such a down-to-earth approach. He doesn’t need to get intellectual to prove a point. And the point could be summed up by the quote from Great Expectations – “On the Rampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip – such is Life!”

  • Start with a curious question: “Do you know what a twerp is?”
  • Surprise your readers with uncanny analogies: “I am from a family of artists. Here I am, making a living in the arts. It has not been a rebellion. It’s as though I had taken over the family Esso station.”
  • Use your natural language without too many special effects. In time, the style will crystalize.
  • An amusing lesson in writing from Mr. Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”.
  • You can put actual images or vignettes between the paragraphs to illustrate something.

20. Mary Ruefle – On Fear

Mary Ruefle - Madness, rack and honey

Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. It’s programmed into our minds to keep us away from imaginary harm. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. She explores fear from so many angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of this personal essay, you will look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “f**k you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

  • Research your subject thoroughly. Ask people, have interviews, get expert opinions, and gather as much information as possible. Then scavenge through the fields of data, and pull out the golden bits that will let your prose shine.
  • Use powerful quotes to add color to your story: “The poet who embarks on the creation of the poem (as I know by experience), begins with the aimless sensation of a hunter about to embark on a night hunt through the remotest of forests. Unaccountable dread stirs in his heart”. – Lorca.
  • Writing advice from the essay: “One of the fears a young writer has is not being able to write as well as he or she wants to, the fear of not being able to sound like X or Y, a favorite author. But out of fear, hopefully, is born a young writer’s voice”.

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

Susan Sontag - Against Interpretation

In this highly intellectual essay, Sontag fights for art and its interpretation. It’s a great lesson, especially for critics and interpreters who endlessly chew on works that simply defy interpretation. Why don’t we just leave the art alone? I always hated it when at school they asked me: “What did the author have in mind when he did X or Y?” Iēsous Pantocrator! Hell if I know! I will judge it through my subjective experience!

  • Leave the art alone: “Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities”.
  • When you have something really important to say, style matters less.
  • There’s no use in creating a second meaning or inviting interpretation of our art. Just leave it be and let it speak for itself.

22. Nora Ephron – A Few Words About Breasts

Nora Ephron - The most of Nora Ephron

This is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a young girl who waits in vain for her breasts to grow. It’s simply a humorous and pleasurable read. The size of breasts is a big deal for women. If you’re a man, you may peek into the mind of a woman and learn many interesting things. If you’re a woman, maybe you’ll be able to relate and at last, be at peace with your bosom.

  • Touch an interesting subject and establish a strong connection with the readers (in that case, women with small breasts). Let your personality shine through the written piece. If you are lighthearted, show it.
  • Use hyphens to create an impression of real talk: “My house was full of apples and peaches and milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies – which were nice, and good for you, but-not-right-before-dinner-or-you’ll-spoil-your-appetite.”
  • Use present tense when you tell a story to add more life to it.
  • Share the pronounced, memorable traits of characters: “A previous girlfriend named Solange, who was famous throughout Beverly Hills High School for having no pigment in her right eyebrow, had knitted them for him (angora dice)”.

23. Carl Sagan – Does Truth Matter – Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization

Carl Sagan - The Demon Haunted World

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest proponents of skepticism, and an author of numerous books, including one of my all-time favorites – The Demon-Haunted World . He was also a renowned physicist and the host of the fantastic Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series, which inspired a whole generation to uncover the mysteries of the cosmos. He was also a dedicated weed smoker – clearly ahead of his time. The essay that you’re about to read is a crystallization of his views about true science, and why you should check the evidence before believing in UFOs or similar sorts of crap.

  • Tell people the brutal truth they need to hear. Be the one who spells it out for them.
  • Give a multitude of examples to prove your point. Giving hard facts helps to establish trust with the readers and show the veracity of your arguments.
  • Recommend a good book that will change your reader’s minds – How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

24. Paul Graham – How To Do What You Love

Paul Graham - Hackers and Painters

How To Do What You Love should be read by every college student and young adult. The Internet is flooded with a large number of articles and videos that are supposed to tell you what to do with your life. Most of them are worthless, but this one is different. It’s sincere, and there’s no hidden agenda behind it. There’s so much we take for granted – what we study, where we work, what we do in our free time… Surely we have another two hundred years to figure it out, right? Life’s too short to be so naïve. Please, read the essay and let it help you gain fulfillment from your work.

  • Ask simple, yet thought-provoking questions (especially at the beginning of the paragraph) to engage the reader: “How much are you supposed to like what you do?”
  • Let the readers question their basic assumptions: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like”.
  • If you’re writing for a younger audience, you can act as a mentor. It’s beneficial for younger people to read a few words of advice from a person with experience.

25. John Jeremiah Sullivan – Mister Lytle

John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead

A young, aspiring writer is about to become a nurse of a fading writer – Mister Lytle (Andrew Nelson Lytle), and there will be trouble. This essay by Sullivan is probably my favorite one from the whole list. The amount of beautiful sentences it contains is just overwhelming. But that’s just a part of its charm. It also takes you to the Old South which has an incredible atmosphere. It’s grim and tawny but you want to stay there for a while.

  • Short, distinct sentences are often the most powerful ones: “He had a deathbed, in other words. He didn’t go suddenly”.
  • Stay consistent with the mood of the story. When reading Mister Lytle you are immersed in that southern, forsaken, gloomy world, and it’s a pleasure.
  • The spectacular language that captures it all: “His French was superb, but his accent in English was best—that extinct mid-Southern, land-grant pioneer speech, with its tinges of the abandoned Celtic urban Northeast (“boned” for burned) and its raw gentility”.
  • This essay is just too good. You have to read it.

26. Joan Didion – On Self Respect

Joan Didion - The white album

Normally, with that title, you would expect some straightforward advice about how to improve your character and get on with your goddamn life – but not from Joan Didion. From the very beginning, you can feel the depth of her thinking, and the unmistakable style of a true woman who’s been hurt. You can learn more from this essay than from whole books about self-improvement . It reminds me of the scene from True Detective, where Frank Semyon tells Ray Velcoro to “own it” after he realizes he killed the wrong man all these years ago. I guess we all have to “own it”, recognize our mistakes, and move forward sometimes.

  • Share your moral advice: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs”.
  • It’s worth exploring the subject further from a different angle. It doesn’t matter how many people have already written on self-respect or self-reliance – you can still write passionately about it.
  • Whatever happens, you must take responsibility for it. Brave the storms of discontent.

27. Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

Susan Sontag - Essays of the 1960 and 1970

I’ve never read anything so thorough and lucid about an artistic current. After reading this essay, you will know what camp is. But not only that – you will learn about so many artists you’ve never heard of. You will follow their traces and go to places where you’ve never been before. You will vastly increase your appreciation of art. It’s interesting how something written as a list could be so amazing. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it.

  • Talking about artistic sensibilities is a tough job. When you read the essay, you will see how much research, thought and raw intellect came into it. But that’s one of the reasons why people still read it today, even though it was written in 1964.
  • You can choose an unorthodox way of expression in the medium for which you produce. For example, Notes on Camp is a listicle – one of the most popular content formats on the web. But in the olden days, it was uncommon to see it in print form.
  • Just think about what is camp: “And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp: the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience. Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling”.

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self Reliance and other essays

That’s the oldest one from the lot. Written in 1841, it still inspires generations of people. It will let you understand what it means to be self-made. It contains some of the most memorable quotes of all time. I don’t know why, but this one especially touched me: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design, and posterity seems to follow his steps as a train of clients”. Now isn’t it purely individualistic, American thought? Emerson told me (and he will tell you) to do something amazing with my life. The language it contains is a bit archaic, but that just adds to the weight of the argument. You can consider it to be a meeting with a great philosopher who shaped the ethos of the modern United States.

  • You can start with a powerful poem that will set the stage for your work.
  • Be free in your creative flow. Do not wait for the approval of others: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness”.
  • Use rhetorical questions to strengthen your argument: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly say a new and spontaneous word?”

29. David Foster Wallace – Consider The Lobster

David Foster Wallece - Consider the lobster and other essays

When you want simple field notes about a food festival, you needn’t send there the formidable David Foster Wallace. He sees right through the hypocrisy and cruelty behind killing hundreds of thousands of innocent lobsters – by boiling them alive. This essay uncovers some of the worst traits of modern American people. There are no apologies or hedging one’s bets. There’s just plain truth that stabs you in the eye like a lobster claw. After reading this essay, you may reconsider the whole animal-eating business.

  • When it’s important, say it plainly and stagger the reader: “[Lobsters] survive right up until they’re boiled. Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point”.
  • In your writing, put exact quotes of the people you’ve been interviewing (including slang and grammatical errors). It makes it more vivid, and interesting.
  • You can use humor in serious situations to make your story grotesque.
  • Use captions to expound on interesting points of your essay.

30. David Foster Wallace – The Nature of the Fun

David Foster Wallece - a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again

The famous novelist and author of the most powerful commencement speech ever done is going to tell you about the joys and sorrows of writing a work of fiction. It’s like taking care of a mutant child that constantly oozes smelly liquids. But you love that child and you want others to love it too. It’s a very humorous account of what it means to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

  • Base your point on a chimerical analogy. Here, the writer’s unfinished work is a “hideously damaged infant”.
  • Even in expository writing, you may share an interesting story to keep things lively.
  • Share your true emotions (even when you think they won’t interest anyone). Often, that’s exactly what will interest the reader.
  • Read the whole essay for marvelous advice on writing fiction.

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

Margaret Atwood - Writing with Intent - Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

This is not an essay per se, but I included it on the list for the sake of variety. It was delivered as a commencement speech at The University of Toronto, and it’s about keeping the right attitude. Soon after leaving university, most graduates have to forget about safety, parties, and travel and start a new life – one filled with a painful routine that will last until they drop. Atwood says that you don’t have to accept that. You can choose how you react to everything that happens to you (and you don’t have to stay in that dead-end job for the rest of your days).

  • At times, we are all too eager to persuade, but the strongest persuasion is not forceful. It’s subtle. It speaks to the heart. It affects you gradually.
  • You may be tempted to talk about a subject by first stating what it is not, rather than what it is. Try to avoid that.
  • Simple advice for writers (and life in general): “When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it”.

32. Jo Ann Beard – The Fourth State of Matter

Jo Ann Beard - The boys of my youth

Read that one as soon as possible. It’s one of the most masterful and impactful essays you’ll ever read. It’s like a good horror – a slow build-up, and then your jaw drops to the ground. To summarize the story would be to spoil it, so I recommend that you just dig in and devour this essay in one sitting. It’s a perfect example of “show, don’t tell” writing, where the actions of characters are enough to create the right effect. No need for flowery adjectives here.

  • The best story you will tell is going to come from your personal experience.
  • Use mysteries that will nag the reader. For example, at the beginning of the essay, we learn about the “vanished husband” but there’s no explanation. We have to keep reading to get the answer.
  • Explain it in simple terms: “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and then your plasma”. Why complicate?

33. Terence McKenna – Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

Terrence McKenna - Food of gods

To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. His many lectures (now available on YouTube) attracted millions of people who suspect that consciousness holds secrets yet to be unveiled. McKenna consumed psychedelic drugs for most of his life and it shows (in a positive way). Many people consider him a looney, and a hippie, but he was so much more than that. He dared to go into the abyss of his psyche and come back to tell the tale. He also wrote many books (the most famous being Food Of The Gods ), built a huge botanical garden in Hawaii , lived with shamans, and was a connoisseur of all things enigmatic and obscure. Take a look at this essay, and learn more about the explorations of the subconscious mind.

  • Become the original thinker, but remember that it may require extraordinary measures: “I call myself an explorer rather than a scientist because the area that I’m looking at contains insufficient data to support even the dream of being a science”.
  • Learn new words every day to make your thoughts lucid.
  • Come up with the most outlandish ideas to push the envelope of what’s possible. Don’t take things for granted or become intellectually lazy. Question everything.

34. Eudora Welty – The Little Store

Eudora Welty - The eye of the story

By reading this little-known essay, you will be transported into the world of the old American South. It’s a remembrance of trips to the little store in a little town. It’s warm and straightforward, and when you read it, you feel like a child once more. All these beautiful memories live inside of us. They lay somewhere deep in our minds, hidden from sight. The work by Eudora Welty is an attempt to uncover some of them and let you get reacquainted with some smells and tastes of the past.

  • When you’re from the South, flaunt it. It’s still good old English but sometimes it sounds so foreign. I can hear the Southern accent too: “There were almost tangible smells – licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill-pickle brine that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet Croker sacks and slammed into the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still-untrapped mice”.
  • Yet again, never forget your roots.
  • Childhood stories can be the most powerful ones. You can write about how they shaped you.

35. John McPhee – The Search for Marvin Gardens

John Mc Phee - The John Mc Phee reader

The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning. It’s a story about a Monopoly championship, but also, it’s the author’s search for the lost streets visible on the board of the famous board game. It also presents a historical perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, and on Atlantic City, which once was a lively place, and then, slowly declined, the streets filled with dirt and broken windows.

  • There’s nothing like irony: “A sign- ‘Slow, Children at Play’- has been bent backward by an automobile”.
  • Telling the story in apparently unrelated fragments is sometimes better than telling the whole thing in a logical order.
  • Creativity is everything. The best writing may come just from connecting two ideas and mixing them to achieve a great effect. Shush! The muse is whispering.

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

Maxine Hong Kingston - Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

A dead body at the bottom of the well makes for a beautiful literary device. The first line of Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red delivers it perfectly: “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well”. There’s something creepy about the idea of the well. Just think about the “It puts the lotion in the basket” scene from The Silence of the Lambs. In the first paragraph of Kingston’s essay, we learn about a suicide committed by uncommon means of jumping into the well. But this time it’s a real story. Who was this woman? Why did she do it? Read the essay.

  • Mysterious death always gets attention. The macabre details are like daiquiris on a hot day – you savor them – you don’t let them spill.
  • One sentence can speak volumes: “But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space”.
  • It’s interesting to write about cultural differences – especially if you have the relevant experience. Something normal for us is unthinkable for others. Show this different world.
  • The subject of sex is never boring.

37. Joan Didion – On Keeping A Notebook

Joan Didion - We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of the most famous collections of essays of all time. In it, you will find a curious piece called On Keeping A Notebook. It’s not only a meditation about keeping a journal. It’s also Didion’s reconciliation with her past self. After reading it, you will seriously reconsider your life’s choices and look at your life from a wider perspective.

  • When you write things down in your journal, be more specific – unless you want to write a deep essay about it years later.
  • Use the beauty of the language to relate to the past: “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing ‘How High the Moon’ on the car radio”.
  • Drop some brand names if you want to feel posh.

38. Joan Didion – Goodbye To All That

Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

This one touched me because I also lived in New York City for a while. I don’t know why, but stories about life in NYC are so often full of charm and this eerie-melancholy-jazz feeling. They are powerful. They go like this: “There was a hard blizzard in NYC. As the sound of sirens faded, Tony descended into the dark world of hustlers and pimps.” That’s pulp literature but in the context of NYC, it always sounds cool. Anyway, this essay is amazing in too many ways. You just have to read it.

  • Talk about New York City. They will read it.
  • Talk about the human experience: “It did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young?”
  • Look back at your life and reexamine it. Draw lessons from it.

39. George Orwell – Reflections on Gandhi

George Orwell could see things as they were. No exaggeration, no romanticism – just facts. He recognized totalitarianism and communism for what they were and shared his worries through books like 1984 and Animal Farm . He took the same sober approach when dealing with saints and sages. Today, we regard Gandhi as one of the greatest political leaders of the twentieth century – and rightfully so. But did you know that when asked about the Jews during World War II, Gandhi said that they should commit collective suicide and that it: “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” He also recommended utter pacifism in 1942, during the Japanese invasion, even though he knew it would cost millions of lives. But overall he was a good guy. Read the essay and broaden your perspective on the Bapu of the Indian Nation.

  • Share a philosophical thought that stops the reader for a moment: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid”.
  • Be straightforward in your writing – no mannerisms, no attempts to create ‘style’, and no invocations of the numinous – unless you feel the mystical vibe.

40. George Orwell – Politics and the English Language

Let Mr. Orwell give you some writing tips. Written in 1946, this essay is still one of the most helpful documents on writing in English. Orwell was probably the first person who exposed the deliberate vagueness of political language. He was very serious about it and I admire his efforts to slay all unclear sentences (including ones written by distinguished professors). But it’s good to make it humorous too from time to time. My favorite examples of that would be the immortal Soft Language sketch by George Carlin or the “Romans Go Home” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Overall, it’s a great essay filled with examples from many written materials. It’s a must-read for any writer.

  • Listen to the master: “This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose.” Do something about it.
  • This essay is all about writing better, so go to the source if you want the goodies.

The thinker

Other Essays You May Find Interesting

The list that I’ve prepared is by no means complete. The literary world is full of exciting essays and you’ll never know which one is going to change your life. I’ve found reading essays very rewarding because sometimes, a single one means more than reading a whole book. It’s almost like wandering around and peeking into the minds of the greatest writers and thinkers that ever lived. To make this list more comprehensive, below I included more essays you may find interesting.

Oliver Sacks – On Libraries

One of the greatest contributors to the knowledge about the human mind, Oliver Sacks meditates on the value of libraries and his love of books.

Noam Chomsky – The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Chomsky did probably more than anyone else to define the role of the intelligentsia in the modern world . There is a war of ideas over there – good and bad – intellectuals are going to be those who ought to be fighting for the former.

Sam Harris – The Riddle of The Gun

Sam Harris, now a famous philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on the problem of gun control in the United States. His thoughts are clear of prejudice. After reading this, you’ll appreciate the value of logical discourse overheated, irrational debate that more often than not has real implications on policy.

Tim Ferriss – Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide

This piece was written as a blog post , but it’s worth your time. The author of the NYT bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek shares an emotional story about how he almost killed himself, and what can you do to save yourself or your friends from suicide.

Edward Said – Reflections on Exile

The life of Edward Said was a truly fascinating one. Born in Jerusalem, he lived between Palestine and Egypt and finally settled down in the United States, where he completed his most famous work – Orientalism. In this essay, he shares his thoughts about what it means to be in exile.

Richard Feynman – It’s as Simple as One, Two, Three…

Richard Feynman is one of the most interesting minds of the twentieth century. He was a brilliant physicist, but also an undeniably great communicator of science, an artist, and a traveler. By reading this essay, you can observe his thought process when he tries to figure out what affects our perception of time. It’s a truly fascinating read.

Rabindranath Tagore – The Religion of The Forest

I like to think about Tagore as my spiritual Friend. His poems are just marvelous. They are like some of the Persian verses that praise love, nature, and the unity of all things. By reading this short essay, you will learn a lot about Indian philosophy and its relation to its Western counterpart.

Richard Dawkins – Letter To His 10-Year-Old Daughter

Every father should be able to articulate his philosophy of life to his children. With this letter that’s similar to what you find in the Paris Review essays , the famed atheist and defender of reason, Richard Dawkins, does exactly that. It’s beautifully written and stresses the importance of looking at evidence when we’re trying to make sense of the world.

Albert Camus – The Minotaur (or, The Stop In Oran)

Each person requires a period of solitude – a period when one’s able to gather thoughts and make sense of life. There are many places where you may attempt to find quietude. Albert Camus tells about his favorite one.

Koty Neelis – 21 Incredible Life Lessons From Anthony Bourdain

I included it as the last one because it’s not really an essay, but I just had to put it somewhere. In this listicle, you’ll find the 21 most original thoughts of the high-profile cook, writer, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain. Some of them are shocking, others are funny, but they’re all worth checking out.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca – On the Shortness of Life

It’s similar to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because it praises life. Seneca shares some of his stoic philosophy and tells you not to waste your time on stupidities. Drink! – for once dead you shall never return.

Bertrand Russell – In Praise of Idleness

This old essay is a must-read for modern humans. We are so preoccupied with our work, our phones, and all the media input we drown in our business. Bertrand Russell tells you to chill out a bit – maybe it will do you some good.

James Baldwin – Stranger in the Village

It’s an essay on the author’s experiences as an African-American in a Swiss village, exploring race, identity, and alienation while highlighting the complexities of racial dynamics and the quest for belonging.

Bonus – More writing tips from two great books

The mission to improve my writing skills took me further than just going through the essays. I’ve come across some great books on writing too. I highly recommend you read them in their entirety. They’re written beautifully and contain lots of useful knowledge. Below you’ll find random (but useful) notes that I took from The Sense of Style and On Writing.

The Sense of Style – By Steven Pinker

  • Style manuals are full of inconsistencies. Following their advice might not be the best idea. They might make your prose boring.
  • Grammarians from all eras condemn students for not knowing grammar. But it just evolves. It cannot be rigid.
  • “Nothing worth learning can be taught” – Oscar Wilde. It’s hard to learn to write from a manual – you have to read, write, and analyze.
  • Good writing makes you imagine things and feel them for yourself – use word pictures.
  • Don’t fear using voluptuous words.
  • Phonesthetics – or how the words sound.
  • Use parallel language (consistency of tense).
  • Good writing finishes strong.
  • Write to someone. Never write for no one in mind. Try to show people your view of the world.
  • Don’t tell everything you are going to say in summary (signposting) – be logical, but be conversational.
  • Don’t be pompous.
  • Don’t use quotation marks where they don’t “belong”. Be confident about your style.
  • Don’t hedge your claims (research first, and then tell it like it is).
  • Avoid clichés and meta-concepts (concepts about concepts). Be more straightforward!
  • Not prevention – but prevents or prevented – don’t use dead nouns.
  • Be more vivid while using your mother tongue – don’t use passive where it’s not needed. Direct the reader’s gaze to something in the world.
  • The curse of knowledge – the reader doesn’t know what you know – beware of that.
  • Explain technical terms.
  • Use examples when you explain a difficult term.
  • If you ever say “I think I understand this” it probably means you don’t.
  • It’s better to underestimate the lingo of your readers than to overestimate it.
  • Functional fixedness – if we know some object (or idea) well, we tend to see it in terms of usage, not just as an object.
  • Use concrete language instead of an abstraction.
  • Show your work to people before you publish (get feedback!).
  • Wait for a few days and then revise, revise, revise. Think about clarity and the sound of sentences. Then show it to someone. Then revise one more time. Then publish (if it’s to be serious work).
  • Look at it from the perspective of other people.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Put the heaviest words at the end of the sentence.
  • It’s good to use the passive, but only when appropriate.
  • Check all text for cohesion. Make sure that the sentences flow gently.
  • In expository work, go from general to more specific. But in journalism start from the big news and then give more details.
  • Use the paragraph break to give the reader a moment to take a breath.
  • Use the verb instead of a noun (make it more active) – not “cancellation”, but “canceled”. But after you introduce the action, you can refer to it with a noun.
  • Avoid too many negations.
  • If you write about why something is so, don’t spend too much time writing about why it is not.

On Writing Well – By William Zinsser

  • Writing is a craft. You need to sit down every day and practice your craft.
  • You should re-write and polish your prose a lot.
  • Throw out all the clutter. Don’t keep it because you like it. Aim for readability.
  • Look at the best examples of English literature . There’s hardly any needless garbage there.
  • Use shorter expressions. Don’t add extra words that don’t bring any value to your work.
  • Don’t use pompous language. Use simple language and say plainly what’s going on (“because” equals “because”).
  • The media and politics are full of cluttered prose (because it helps them to cover up for their mistakes).
  • You can’t add style to your work (and especially, don’t add fancy words to create an illusion of style). That will look fake. You need to develop a style.
  • Write in the “I” mode. Write to a friend or just for yourself. Show your personality. There is a person behind the writing.
  • Choose your words carefully. Use the dictionary to learn different shades of meaning.
  • Remember about phonology. Make music with words .
  • The lead is essential. Pull the reader in. Otherwise, your article is dead.
  • You don’t have to make the final judgment on any topic. Just pick the right angle.
  • Do your research. Not just obvious research, but a deep one.
  • When it’s time to stop, stop. And finish strong. Think about the last sentence. Surprise them.
  • Use quotations. Ask people. Get them talking.
  • If you write about travel, it must be significant to the reader. Don’t bother with the obvious. Choose your words with special care. Avoid travel clichés at all costs. Don’t tell that the sand was white and there were rocks on the beach. Look for the right detail.
  • If you want to learn how to write about art, travel, science, etc. – read the best examples available. Learn from the masters.
  • Concentrate on one big idea (“Let’s not go peeing down both legs”).
  • “The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good.”
  • One very helpful question: “What is the piece really about?” (Not just “What the piece is about?”)

Now immerse yourself in the world of essays

By reading the essays from the list above, you’ll become a better writer , a better reader, but also a better person. An essay is a special form of writing. It is the only literary form that I know of that is an absolute requirement for career or educational advancement. Nowadays, you can use an AI essay writer or an AI essay generator that will get the writing done for you, but if you have personal integrity and strong moral principles, avoid doing this at all costs. For me as a writer, the effect of these authors’ masterpieces is often deeply personal. You won’t be able to find the beautiful thoughts they contain in any other literary form. I hope you enjoy the read and that it will inspire you to do your writing. This list is only an attempt to share some of the best essays available online. Next up, you may want to check the list of magazines and websites that accept personal essays .

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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

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College Essays

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 Sure, you might know the theory behind what a college essay is supposed to sound and look like . But just like reading a description of the Golden Gate Bridge pales in comparison to seeing it in person, there’s no replacement for seeing actual college essays written by students just like you. Well, almost like you – they’ve since gotten into college.

But where do you find good sources for reading sample college essays? How can you make sure that these resources will actually strengthen and improve your writing? And what is the best way to use the college essay examples that you do find? In this article, I’ll go over the best books and websites for finding essays, I’ll point out a few to avoid, and I’ll explain how to make the most out of other people’s essays while avoiding common pitfalls.

Why Look At College Essay Examples?

There are some very good reasons for wanting to check out how other people have handled the college admissions essay.

First, because you'll be able to get a better sense of what colleges are looking for, you will necessarily broaden your own topic brainstorming past your first, easiest, and most c lichéd i deas . It's one thing to hear that a completely mundane topic is way better than one focusing on your greatest sports moment. But once you see other students writing about a family meal, or an obsession with a particular board game, or a love of cultivating cacti, you'll be convinced to find your essay in the small moments of your life.

Second, you'll see how your life and writing compares to that of your peers . The great diversity of voices, topics, tones, points of view will show you just how many things you could possibly write about, and how to keep the essay connected to your personality and your voice.

Finally, if you really do have a good story to tell about something that gets written about a lot, like divorce, pet death, a community service trip, or winning the big game, you can get ideas for how to approach a potentially lackluster essay topic in a novel and striking way .

What Makes A Good Sample College Essay Resource?

First, the basics. A source is only as good as its content, so make sure you're reading  college essays that worked, from people who actually got into the schools they applied to . Also, it's best to focus on new essays (not older than 10-15 years), so you are reading what has worked in the most recent past, rather than seeing outdated ideas and historical perspectives.

Next, what you really want is diversity in voice and perspective . Make sure the essays featured come from many different kinds of students: either from applicants to both top and lower-tier schools; or from students with different ethnic, economic, and racial backgrounds; or from writers using both formal and more experimental essay techniques.

Finally, the best sources of admission essays will feature explanatory material . This will give each essay some kind of context: commentary on what makes the essay good, explanations of the drafting process, or, at least, biographical information about students. Without commentary or context, it’s hard to know what you’re supposed to learn from the essays you read.

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Where to Find Great College Essay Examples

Here are my recommendations for excellent resources, as well as some warnings about resources that I think you should avoid. 

  

College Essays Collected in Books

I've taken a look at many of the books that collect college essays, so here are my recommendations. I've divided them into three categories:

  • Excellent  – meaning  having really diverse essays or very helpful commentary on each essay, or both
  • Worthwhile  – meaning either a helpful collection of essays without a lot of context or commentary, or some great advice but a narrow selection of essays geared toward one particular type of school
  • Don't Bother   – not useful either as a source of college essays or as a source of essay-writing advice and explanations

Also, please note that although I’ve listed the Amazon prices for all the books, you should definitely check your school and public library for copies before buying them. And even if your library doesn't have a copy, ask them to request one either from another library in the same system or even from the Library of Congress through interlibrary loan .

Excellent Books

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Heavenly Essays: 50 Narrative College Application Essays That Worked

Written by Janine W. Robinson, who blogs about college essays at EssayHell , this book features great sample essays. But it's Robinson's precise and clear explanations of how to use a narrative style in your essay to tell a story about your life that make the book really outstanding. Through long and detailed commentary on each essay, Robinson shows why narrative is exactly the kind of structure that works best for personal essays. You can check out sample sections from the book on her blog. The book retails for $10 new on Amazon.

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On Writing the College Application Essay, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice

Harry Bauld used to be an admissions officer at Brown, so he certainly knows what he is talking about when he writes about  how and why to avoid clichés and explains how to find and keep your specific voice . Bauld demonstrates his points with sample essays, showing how they go from first to final draft. The book is easy to read, uses humor to make points, and his advice will carry over into your college writing as well. It is $12.50 new on Amazon, but there are much cheaper used copies available there as well.

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The Berkeley Book of College Essays: Personal Statements for California Universities and Other Select Schools

This compilation features college admissions essays written by seniors from Berkeley High School (which is not affiliated with UC Berkeley). Because the city of Berkeley is economically, racially, and ethnically very diverse, these essays are about many different interests, perspectives, and experiences, and are written in many different styles and tones . Although there is no commentary for the essays, this collection is a great way to get a sense of the broad array of essay possibilities.

Also, because many of the students from Berkeley High apply to UC schools, this collection separates out UC application essay packages. (If you are interested in UC, also check out our own guide to writing excellent UC essays !) This book is currently $15 on Amazon. 

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50 Successful Harvard Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice

Edited by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, this is a great collection of essays from a not particularly diverse group of students. It is very useful to see how the very top students approach the college essay, as long as their best effort neither intimidates nor stymies you. The contextual material is excellent, with helpful explanations of what makes each essay work well. This book retails for $12 new on Amazon, with much cheaper used copies also available.

Worthwhile Books

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College Essays That Made a Difference, 6th Edition

This Princeton Review guide is mostly distinguished by its introductory material, which has detailed interviews with many different colleges at many different tiers about what role essays play in college applications, what kind of mistakes are okay, and what to write and not to write about. The sample essays themselves come without commentary, but each features a very short bio of the student, including test scores, GPA, a list of colleges where the person applied, and a list of colleges where the person got in. Right now, it's $11.50 new on Amazon, but there are cheaper used copies as well.

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50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays

This collection of of college essays that worked, edited by Gen and Kelly Tanabe, has somewhat spare, but insightful, commentary explaining what each essay does well and what it could have done better . It also includes an interview with an admissions officer explaining how essays are used in admissions decisions and some comments from students about the writing process. The link above is to a downloadable PDF file.

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50 Successful Stanford Application Essays: Get into Stanford and Other Top Colleges  

If you like the Tanabes' approach (they are the authors of the previous book), then you will find this one useful as well. The narrow diversity of essay content and the style of commentary (thoughtful, but not particularly detailed or expansive) is very similar. It's priced at $13.25 new on Amazon with some used options as well.

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Fiske Real College Essays That Work  

The "Fiske" of the title is Edward Fiske, who used to be the Education editor of the NY Times, and who therefore has some experience with what colleges want from their applicants. The book itself features an introduction with some helpful essay-writing tips, a diverse selection of essays built around narrative, but unfortunately has very little commentary to go with each essay . It retails for $12.50 new on Amazon, with cheaper used options available.

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2015 Elite College Application Essays

Although there's almost no commentary or discussion of what makes these essays work, this book is a reasonably good collection of essays from students who are now enrolled at Ivy and other top-tier schools. What's particularly appealing about this college essay compilation is how very new these essays are: all are from students who became freshmen in 2015 . The book is $14 new on Amazon.

Don't Bother

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100 Successful College Application Essays

I'd recommend not spending your time on any of the editions of this collection. The essays are decades old in some cases, the topics are clichéd and boring, and there is little to no commentary to make any of them useful. 

College Essays Published Online

I'll split my recommendations here into "worthwhile" and "don't bother" categories. There aren't any truly great collections of sample college essays online.

Individual College Websites . There are many essays published online by the various colleges where these students now go. This means these essays are guaranteed to be real, authentic, and to have worked on someone's application . Some of the essays even come with brief commentary by admissions officers about what makes them great. (The link will take you to our list of over 130 essays from more than 15 different colleges.)

Teen Ink Magazine . Teen Ink publishes all sorts of writing by teens, including college admission essays, which are split off into their own section on the site. The essays necessary feature a wide range of experiences and perspectives, so this is a great place to get a broad sense of what other students are writing about. The essays don't have any context except comment sections that run the gamut from generic “this is good” comments to some insight. Readers also get a chance to vote on which essays are featured as #1, #2, etc., which may be misleading because readers of Teen Ink aren't admissions officers.

Don't Bother 

Watch out for paid websites like AdmitSee, CollegeMapper, and Acceptional, which claim to give you access to college essays for a monthly or fixed fee. Because of the paywall, there's no way to verify the quality of the essays these sites have. Also, there are enough books that you could borrow from your library that you don’t need to pay monthly fees to these places. Finally, I would particularly stay away from AdmidSee, which uses Amazon reviews for other essay resources as a marketing platform.

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The Best Ways To Use College Admission Essay Samples

So now that you've rounded up a bunch of sample college essays, what should you do with them? Here are some tips for your next steps.

When Should You Read Essay Examples?

I'd advise waiting until after you've done some brainstorming of your own before you start immersing yourself in other people's work and ideas. (If you're not sure how to brainstorm, check out our guide to coming up with great college essay topics .)

This way, you can use other people’s essays to think about different possibilities for writing about your own topic. For example, looking at how other people tackled their life experience can show you:

  • how to focus on a different detail in your own story
  • how to change the insight you want to draw from your story
  • how to think about different ways to start and end your narrative

What Can Good College Essays Teach You?

There are both broad and specific learning opportunities to be found in reading other people's work.

Broadly speaking, seeing how other people are approaching the problem of writing a college essay can jog your own creative process. Likewise, reading a diversity of thoughts and voices will show you that even the most normal and boring seeming experiences be made into riveting essays.

More specifically, if you find essays from applicants to your target school, you can get some sense of the level of sophistication they expect to see from your writing. 

Finally, good context and commentary on the essays can show you how they are put together and what makes them work. You can then put this advice to use when rewriting your essay later.

Pitfalls To Avoid

Of course, being surrounded by other people's work, especially when some of that work is much better than what you think you can manage, has its share of temptations. So what do you need to guard against when looking at sample essays?

Plagiarism. This one is basic and obvious. Do not copy these sample essays! Admissions officers have seen them all, read them all, memorized them all – you will not get away with it.

Copying and mimicry. Think of this as a softer kind of plagiarism. Even if you really like someone else’s style, don’t borrow it. Even if someone’s life sounds more exciting than yours, don’t steal a piece of it for your own essay. Why? Because if you don’t sound like yourself, it will be visible to an experienced reader (and guess what, admissions officers are very experienced readers). Also, if you’re writing about experiences that aren't yours, your unfamiliarity will show through the lack of believable details.

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Resources for Essay Writing Advice

In researching this article, I came across books and websites that don't necessarily feature a lot of sample essays, but that give really excellent advice on writing your own college essay. I strongly recommend you spend some time checking them out.

Essay Hell blog . This great resource is written by Janine Anderson Robinson, an English teacher and a journalist, whose book Heavenly Essays I recommended above. The blog posts feature lots and lots of well-explained, detailed, easy to understand advice about how to write your essay, and are broken down into easy to understand, bite-sized nuggets of usefulness.

Slate 's Getting In podcast . The entire series is an interesting look at the college application process, with useful tips and explanations about all aspects what seniors are going through. Check out Episode 2: The Essay , in which a student gets feedback in real time on their essay from a former Princeton director of admissions and a panel of experts talk about essay dos and don’ts. The episode is 26 minutes long.

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The College Essay Trap: Rescue Your College Application Essay From the "Maybe" Pile

This is incredibly concise and excellent explanation of what not to do and what to avoid when writing your personal statement. It's short, sweet, to the point, and is praised to the skies by legendary Princeton admissions dean Fred Hargadon. Currently $12 new on Amazon.

The Bottom Line

  • Look at college essay examples to broaden your own topic brainstorming and get ideas for fixing lackluster topics.
  • Look for resources with diverse and recent essays, from many different kinds of students and with explanatory material that explains what makes each essay good.
  • Look at essay samples after you’ve generated some of your own ideas to think about different possibilities for writing about your own topic.
  • Seeing how other people are approaching the problem of writing a college essay can jog your creative process.
  • Avoid both actual plagiarism and “borrowing”: don’t use someone else’s style, voice, or life experiences as your own.

What’s Next?

If you’re starting to work on college essays, check out our article laying out every single kind of essay prompt out there and a step by step guide to writing a great college essay .

Are you working on the Common App essay? Read our breakdown of the Common App prompts and our guide to picking the best prompt for you.

Or maybe you're interested in the University of California? Check out our complete guide to the UC personal statements .

Working on other pieces of your college applications? We’ve got guides to choosing the right college for you ,  writing about extracurriculars , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Thinking about taking the SAT one last time, or prepping for your first run at it? Read our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

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:

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These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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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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Essay Examples

An essay is a piece of writing that revolves around a particular theme and contains the academic opinions of the person writing it.

An essay can perform one or more of the following functions:

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  • Analyses and critically evaluates a topic
  • Presents the writer‘s argument for or against an idea
  • Describes something
  • Narrates a story
  • Persuades the reader

To write a good essay you need an Introduction, a Body (Supporting Paragraphs), and a Conclusion. In this post, we have added the top 20 Essay Examples.

Essay Examples

Essay Examples #1

Essay on my family (500+ words).

Family is the place where you learn your first lesson in life. Your family members are the only assets that will remain with you forever. Whatever the circumstances, family members are always there for each other to support us. Good values and good morals are always taught in a family.

In the family, we are prepared to respect our elders and love younger ones. We learn lessons consistently from our family, about honesty, dependability, kindness and so on. Although I am a student in my final year, my family always treats me like a child but always provides me with a sensation of so much love and care.

My family is the best family for me. I live in a nuclear family of five members. My father is a teacher. He is the man who heads and leads our family. He brings the family into reality. My father is my hero as he predicts the need of the time and raises his family by bearing all the responsibilities and discharging all the duties for giving a required shape. I respect him for his great deeds.

My father does not force me to go for a career his choice. He does not want that his son should follow only his profession. He wants that his son should go according to his own choice, suitability, and capability. But my father desires his son should go for a better future.

My mother is a housewife as well as a beautician. She is a lovely woman. My mother is everything to me. She is the one who understands me best and most closely. My mother is my co-partner in everyday work and different issues.

My mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is my mother, who shapes me, to become a nobleman through her great, insightful, and elegant activities. My mother motivates me to learn by consenting to the activities which are important for character building and improvement. My mother creates an environment for me to learn enough in a natural manner.

My grandmother is the cutest person of all. In light of her, everybody has to get up early in the morning. She is fond of making sweet dishes and we love what she does. She is a focused woman and because of her everything needs to be in order.

My brother, who is elder than me, is the tallest. He is a Youtuber and is fond of cooking. He loves to play cricket and is a gadget freak. He doesn’t study much but is very sweet and gentlemanly.

I love my family because they are the jewels of my life. They work hard so that we can get anything we desire makes me love and respect my parents considerably more. We play games every night and discuss various topics to spend some quality time together.

I give deep respect and pay the highest regard to my family not just because they are my family, but for their unmatched and incredible sacrifices for me.

Also, Read 6 Types of Essay

Essay Examples #2

Essay on my father (500+ words).

My father is the man who heads and leads our family. He brings the family into reality. But in a real sense, my father predicts the need of the time and raises his family by bearing all the responsibilities and discharging all the duties for giving a required shape. I respect him for his great deeds.

My father is financially weak but fulfils my genuine requirements and guarantees that I should not be a survivor of feelings of inadequacy. My poor father does not hesitate to sweat heavily to enhance his earnings for my sake. He eats a little less but does not think twice about taking care of mine.

My father does not force me to go for a career of my papa’s choice. He does not want that his son should follow only his profession. He wants that his son should go according to his own choice, suitability, and capability. The tradition of specific jobs running in the family is literally dying. A doctor is not wanting his son to be a doctor, a professor is avoiding his profession for his children, an army officer is not forcing his son to join the defence forces, and so on. But my father desires his son should go for a better future.

My Father is a mature and agreeable individual who assists me make important decisions. Like most doting fathers, he plays a very important role in my life helping me build my career as well as resolve my everyday issues too. When I am looking for help and guidance against the odds, I, first of all, approached my father who comes forward leaving all his personal priorities and doing the needful. My father is a person who works tirelessly and makes countless penances to figure out my issues.

My father goes with me in all the activities ensuring my correct moves. He really looks at my problem and moulds me by giving lectures in the series in order to form a lovely sense in my mind. His concern is for my better career. My father is mature enough, knowledgeable, and very much aware of my cutting-edge needs, evaluates my inclination as well as decision, and does all-out efforts to develop me for accomplishing my objective.

My father is educated and has a logical vision. Today, my father has transformed into a trendy dad. His thinking is new which suits the time. He takes full advantage of his knowledge and modernization in raising me suitably and making me capable and confident to confront the competitive life that is prevailing today.

My father as an ideal father makes all efforts to meet my necessities. He would rather not leave any lacuna which may affect my development and career-building process.

We celebrate Father’s Day every year on 19 June to strengthen the relationship and remind a father of the sacrifices he endured towards his kids when they were in need.

It is very important that we should give deep respect and pay the highest regard to our fathers.

Essay Examples #3

Essay on my mother (500+ words).

The moment a child is born, the mother is born as well. When a child gets a sense, it looks up at its mother and starts to follow the mother’s movements. The mind of a child is generally very sharp. It copies the activities of the mother eagerly. Mother takes all the care of her kid from all points like health, dress, diet, entertainment, education, sports, and development of competitive aptitude. The mother attracts the kid through love and affection.

We can describe motherhood in terms of sacrifice. My mother ignores her comforts and works hard for good food, wear, and education for me. It is a natural and noteworthy quality that is wholly found in a mother. My mother bears the responsibility of motherhood not only from a young age, but she remains a trusted adviser throughout my life. It is very important that we should give deep respect and pay the highest regard to our mothers not just because they are mothers, but for their unmatched motherhood and incredible sacrifices towards us.

My mother is everything to me. She is the one who understands me best and most closely. My mother is my co-partner in everyday work and different issues. Sometimes my mother takes on a tremendous amount of responsibility and works under tension, when I need her, to take up its battle, both personally and professionally, to accomplish the troublesome objective in my work or business. We should owe our mothers for their everything.

There is an extraordinary job the mother does in influencing the kid. The foundation made by my mother through affection, persistence, discipline, direction, and tears permits me to cruise upon my ocean. It is my mother, who shapes me, to become a nobleman through her great, insightful, and elegant activities. My mother motivates me to learn by consenting to the activities which are important for character building and improvement. My mother creates an environment for me to learn enough in a natural manner.

Sometimes my mother uses specific hard measures to discipline me and teach me valuable lessons. She denounces me by denying me food. She forbids me to indulge in undesirable activities. Sometimes, she makes the dreaded beating with the rod. She shows her dismay. She warns of the carefulness. But I know, she is very soft from the inside. She is a well-wisher of mine. Her only point is that she needs her child free from inadequacies.

There are some cases when the children especially the individuals who are not depending on their parents and are working away, have forgotten their mothers. They don’t go home for quite a long time but their mothers still pray with all their hearts that they stay blissful and happy. She will ever remain a well-wisher of her children regardless of the circumstances.

It is very important that we should give deep respect and pay the highest regard to our mothers not just because they are mothers, but for their unmatched motherhood and incredible sacrifices towards us.

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Essay Examples #4

Balanced diet essay (500+ words).

People eat junk foods and other unhealthy food items only for taste. They don’t even have time to nourish their bodies with the required diet. A healthy and balanced diet reduces stress and promotes healthy life without suffering. Thus, it stands out of utmost importance to individuals to examine the significance of a healthy body.

A diet that contains all kinds of necessary ingredients in almost the required quantity is called the “Balanced Diet”. A Balanced diet is one that helps to maintain or improve overall health. We should consume a balanced diet consisting of essential nutrition: liquids, adequate proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and calories. We must eat fresh fruits, salad, green leafy vegetables, milk, egg, yoghurt, etc. on time in order to maintain a healthy body.

Among the minerals, we require chiefly iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and small quantities of iodine, copper, etc. They are found in green vegetables and most fruits, Vitamins have a number of kinds like A, B, C, D, etc. Vitamin A is found in fish oil, butter, carrot, papaya, etc., and Vitamin B is found in green leafy vegetables, wheat grain, etc. Vitamin C is found in green chilli, green vegetables, amla, lemon, and citric fruits. Vitamin D is found in the first oil, butter, and rays of the sun. We also need Vitamins E and K for our health. Milk is perhaps the only single item that can be called a balanced diet in itself.

Animal protein is found in meats, poultry, and fish. The white of an egg also contains protein. Another kind of protein is found in milk (casein), cheese, curd, pulses, soybean, dry fruits, etc. Fat is found in butter, pork, coconut, all edible oils, cod liver oil, the yolk of an egg, etc.

We should eat only fresh, well-washed and well-cooked food articles which are free from dust and flies. Fried foods and foods containing excess fat, spices, and chillis are harmful. Roadside eating should be avoided. We should take the last meal two or three hours before going to bed. There should be a good time gap between two meals so that the food gets digested in our stomachs.

A healthy body also needs some daily physical activities, proper rest and sleep neatness, a healthy environment, fresh air, and water, personal hygiene, etc. Also, we should drink more water at least 7-8 glasses of water. It balances blood pressure and supplies vital nutrients exceptionally quickly to the body. A fit and healthy individual turns out to be more resistant to infections and diseases.

Wealth matters, but, is not as important as health. Spending lots of money on junk food in five-star hotels or on other entertainment sources like watching films for a day and so on has no advantages other than self-satisfaction. Being physically and mentally healthy helps an individual to be socially and financially healthy as well.

Also, Read Academic Essay

Essay Examples #5

Health is wealth essay (500+ words).

The greatest wealth is our own health. A healthy body can earn great wealth but a wealthy person cannot earn great health.

Man is a reasonable creature. His predominance over different creatures lies in his superior mind. As a matter of fact, man has been able to control nature due to his highly developed brain. But man needs to keep his body and mind fit and healthy. It is said that “A healthy man is a wealthy one”. Regular exercise helps us to keep fit and simultaneously keep an alarm in mind. Good and sound well-being would guarantee an agile and active mind. Just as an individual’s state of mind and feelings are reflected in an individual’s health, a body that is feeble and ill-suited plays devastation on an individual’s psychological prosperity.

Recent studies have shown that the increased stress of the present speedy life is leading to various medical conditions. Major among those are heart and neurological problems. Good health assists an individual to keep a positive attitude toward work and life in general.

Regardless of anything else difficulties and obstacles, we go over, life is intended to be positive and cheerful. To enjoy and appreciate the wonderful things of life we need the energy and zest for life. This can happen only when the body is healthy enough to take on the difficulties of life.

An untalented man can also deal with his occupation through the excellence of his good health. We see a number of people having good physiques working on the farm the entire day by putting their energy into earning bread for themselves and their family members. It gives them mental satisfaction and a night of sound sleep during the night. Not only that a physically strong and intelligent man can stretch out better help to society and gain appreciation from individuals.

We realize that there is value in good health, so it ought to be improved. There are areas where people are badly suffering for want of healthcare centres. The hospitals in many rural areas are running without doctors and medicines. There are people who are suffering from multiple diseases or injuries but are not getting treatment, in the absence of proper medical facilities. The poor people can not afford the treatment after going to big cities. The treatment of major diseases in private hospitals is beyond their reach.

The medic.. facility alone can not solve the issue. There is a requirement for awareness among people for carrying out regular physical exercises to have sound health and efficiency to work. People who are cautious and aware of their health join Gymnasium and Yoga camps. The inspiration will intrigue others to follow these good frameworks for making them disease free and enabling them to enjoy robust health.

If a person can figure out how to free his mind of unhealthy and negative thoughts like self-indulgence, he can stir up the will to improve his body. That will free him of most illnesses that are of psychological origin. When he is on the way to good health, he will encounter a superior mind.

Also, Read Examples of Personal Essay

Essay Examples #6

Importance of history as a subject essay (500 words).

History is a very important and interesting subject. Those who are keen to know about the past events and heroism of great people, generally opt for history. History gives curiosities about the noble deeds of noble people who could make themselves fit to be chosen, by the excellence of their remarkable performance, for a record in the books of history. Such people and their acts, through which they could show wonder, always rouse others to follow. The study of history influences one’s character.

No doubt, the present generation has become materialistic as a result of modern science and very few students are going to study history. Their goal has changed. They are keener to earn more and more money for enjoying lavishly rather than philosophizing about historic events.

The study of history is very important to know about the major events which have happened within the nation and the world. An educated man ought to be aware of significant events of the past. The study of history makes a man savvy on various additional matters like religion, legislative issues, sociology, literature, economics, foreign policies, unity, freedom, trade, commerce, geographical aspects, and various indigenous and foreign races. A number of wars, victories, and treaties, which happened in the past inside the nation and outside, have been kept in the books of history. The reader of history knows all about these occurrences exhaustively after he goes through them.

History features differently. We know from history that in the past this world was a turning chunk of fire and a fragment of the Sun. It solidified after so many years and turned out to be increasingly cool step by step. Then life appeared with creatures, other living things, and plants. They were followed by apes and remote ancestors of man. There are countless different realities and happenings that are contained in the books of history.

History must be studied for many important reasons. Its study increases our understanding of caste, religion, tradition, and customs. Its study clarifies that all were man-made. The fundamental point behind it was to make a framework for work, feeling, and civilization in society. There is no religious sanctity attached to anyone. It is changing with the difference in time.

The study of history teaches us the lesson of courage, determination, and hope. A man may be feeble, however throughout ages, he has struggled against heavy odds and never looked back. He faced many disastrous wars and revolutions, yet, he has advanced. The study of history uncovers us the heroism of the man who empowered him to accomplish so much in different fields.

Now you realize the Importance of History as a Subject. Let us encourage the study of history in our country with a positive and helpful point. Let us arrange the study of history to give courage and strength to our childhood empowering them to grasp the element in it for making good use in building up a strong and prosperous country.

Also, Read Examples of Informative Essay

Essay Examples #7

Value of sports and games essay (500+ words).

Sports and games are as important as food, education, and other essential things for children. Games and sports are significant means of entertainment. Nowadays students are busy with their studies. They have a ton of books and various subjects to study. They need some change, which can be given by sports. The outdoor games and sports revive the students and make them able to regain their lost energy. Sports and games produce mental freshness and the students take an interest to concentrate on studying more.

Sports and games are also extremely valuable for good health. The outdoor games are more helpful, where the students share the company of nature and inhale fresh air. They get a lot of physical exercise while playing games outside on the playground. It keeps them physically and mentally fit. Sports and games make the students dynamic which is vital at that age.

Sports and games teach students the value of discipline, collaboration, leadership, judgment, courage, and determination to win. These things also assist the students to develop their traits of personality, which is very important for developing a talented person.

Sports and games teach them the requirement of sacrifice, discipline, elegance, liberality, and solidness, which enable them to effectively lead life. These characteristics in a man carry superfineness to act effectivity regardless of the circumstance and the task they come across. Citizens with such potential can contribute a lot to society and the country to which they belong.

Games likewise give an outlet to excess fat and weight and keep the students solid and dynamic. This aspect is crucial to keep the students healthy. Sports activities are the best means to utilize time in a positive way. They do not waste their time loitering and going on undesirable activities.

We see that the majority of the great athletes are from western and other developed countries. The reasons are obvious. They play games and sports right from childhood and primary school. India is progressing rapidly. We are now capable of affording expenditure on sports activities right from primary standard to empower us to improve the image of the country in sports.

That can be possible only when the children are provided opportunities right from the beginning. If required sports can be made a compulsory subject and marks can be added to the result, which will attract the students towards hard work with an interest in succeeding in sports. That will make an equation to create an ever-increasing number of athletes. The Government and the school administration have to ensure adequate sports facilities in all the schools and colleges. That will inspire the students to take part with a more prominent interest.

It is very clear that games and sports have extraordinary value in life. The games should be played keeping their nobility in mind. The nobility of the games should be maintained. There is a need to create a sports atmosphere in all the schools and colleges for attracting a maximum number of students to take part in the events.

Essay Examples #8

Essay on science and technology (500+ words).

This is the age of science and technology. Its benefits have arisen as a significant determinant of the wealth and power of the nation. The development of science and technology has significant ramifications on the management of the future pattern of social and economic growth.

In a fast-changing world, the fate of the country can be moulded through our ability to harness modern science and technology, which is a road to boost the development programs of the country.

Rapid technological advances have reduced the dependency on natural resources or the factors in proportion to it. Man is performing precisely by machines with a regular improvement in his work because of quick technological changes by virtue of scientific advancement all around the world.

The foremost important aspect that the world is perceiving today is consistent endeavours to consolidate the gains of science for improving the human condition. Scientific discoveries have to be converted by human efforts into technological innovation which have to be developed to achieve significant improvement in the human condition.

Our agricultural scientists have proactively made an exceptional commitment to giving new innovations for growing the crop with scientific methods, which have developed our national economy and human welfare by empowering ourselves completely independent in food grains. This could be accomplished through related technology and scientific methods by providing machines and developing quality seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides, which are suited to bringing a green revolution to the field of agriculture.

We have accomplished desired scientific and technological advancement and have succeeded in boosting various important national activities like information and telecommunication, television, meteorological services, medical advancement, industrial development, nuclear research, Space Research Oceanographic Research, etc.

Over the years a strong science and technology infrastructure base has been established for giving modern shape to world industries. It covers a chain of laboratories, specialized centres, various academic and research institutes, training centres, and useful development programs, which continuously provide skill, technically trained manpower, and technological support to industries for better execution.

Science has advanced a great deal in the field of medical care. New technology has given a compelling medical care framework at a reasonable cost. The new technology that medical science has invented provides the system, under which critical cases can be handled Confidently for saving human life. Medical research has been carried out, broadly on nutrition, tuberculosis, reproduction, child care, leprosy, drugs, communicable diseases, cholera, and malaria, which has an extremely certain result. Man is in a position today where he can undertake to treat these dreaded diseases according to the new invention which has given an established method of treatment and care.

If we look at the global scenario, the modern world is moving exceptionally fast. There are rapid scientific and technological changes that are occurring in a steady progression. Our country, as a global competitor, in the race of becoming a world power, needs to accomplish more in the area of Science and Technology emphasizing it as its foremost national priority in order to accomplish its objective.

Also, Read Summarizing an Essay

Essay Examples #9

Essay on co education (500 words).

Co-education is a system of education in which boys and girls study together in a common school or college. Co-education was not prevalent in ancient times. It is a groundbreaking thought. The parents supported the case for adequate education for the children irrespective of their sex. The countrymen realized that the boys and girls have to move together and shoulder to shoulder in every walk of life in the free world. They started educating their children in co-educational institutions.

Co-education has various advantages. It is useful in producing a sensation of solidarity and a feeling of equivalent obligation among boys and girls. When young boys and girls come closer to each other, they take more care in understanding each other. That helps in creating a friendly atmosphere between the two. The boys and the girls partake in their joint exercises consistently in schools and universities.

Co-education assists in carrying out a change in society according to the need of modern times. Young boys and girls get the opportunity to blend in with one another frankly and conveniently. They act together on different events and occasions in society. They demonstrate examples of cooperation before individuals, which inspires and produces a healthy spirit of working among the masses.

Co-education produces good citizens who have sufficient quality and development in them. That is a direct result of acquiring various experiences of good and terrible nature during their student life in coeducational institutions. This sort of value in an individual separates him respectably during his further course of life. Such citizens are mostly successful in their work because of their characteristic potentiality and maturity.

Ours is a male-overwhelmed society. There is a sensation of mediocrity among women. There is a need to educate the public opinion that the rights of women and men are equal and that they have an equal role to play in society. Their aim and interest are one, and both the men and the women possess the equal ability to act. The aim should be to remove the feeling of an inferiority complex and bring oneness between the two. That will generate confidence in the female community and will give great working strength to the country.

Co-education is the only answer to this issue. When the boys and the girls live and study together for a long time, the disparity of gender goes off and the feeling of equality is seen apparently among them. By prudence of this improvement, both the young boys and the young girls speed up their working with their equivalent and joint endeavours during their life and accomplish their objectives all the more without any problem.

In a democratic country, women are similarly valuable and can work side by side with men. We can not disregard the significance of women in the current circumstances. As a matter of fact, we need to give equal responsibility to women for taking our country ahead smoothly and making its dream of becoming a world power come true.

Essay Examples #10

Essay on disaster management (500+ words).

Numerous disasters are striking the people and the properties, which are causing great loss and we merely watch helplessly in the absence of prior management planning. Every government is spending immense cash on different issues, yet it is uninterested in chalking out the necessities against anticipated disasters.

Poor disaster management fails in handling the situation during it the happening. That could be checked or the outcomes diminished with earlier preparation and effective disaster management. That management can be trustworthy, which consists of certain essential norms like good training, the latest types of equipment, allocation of responsibilities, alertness, drill to tackle the situation on short notice, fast communication system, economic arrangements, and order of precedence depending upon the situation, security arrangements, adequate medical cover, rehabilitation where applicable and standing orders for essential services like transport, food and supplies, medicines and so on.

There is a necessity to set up teams independently for each anticipated disaster as per the preparation and capacity of the individuals for empowering them to tackle the situation with skill.

The disasters, which are generally occurring are either natural causes or accidental.

Disasters, which are caused due to natural reasons are always wide-ranging and more terrible. It needs greater arrangements by setting up an appropriate establishment and infrastructure. On the other hand, disasters which are caused accidentally need limited arrangements, but the time factor is more important to executing rescue operations in it.

Various other accidental occurrences have been occurring in our nation bringing about enormous disasters. These are chiefly accidents of aeroplanes and buses, blasts in mines, explosions due to mishandling of ammunition scraps, accidents while dealing the nuclear substances and during their disposal, hijacking, etc. There is a necessity to set up disaster management forces, which can manage the circumstances and salvage men and materials as timely as possible.

If we look at developed countries like America, Britain, France, etc, they have previously presented a different subject on disaster management in schools and universities with the aim to train and equip the students for handling emergency situations. There is a necessity to follow a similar arrangement of schooling in other countries for empowering the country to prepare every single resident to face and battle difficulties effectively during any sort of disaster.

As a matter of fact, the students ought to be prepared by training, drill, or practice for growing more certainty to deal with the circumstances in the genuine term on the ground. It is vital in the present life to have precautionary measures and adequate disaster management forces for tackling emergency situations when disasters are on increase due to the virtual effect of the advancement of science.

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Essay Examples #1 1

My native place.

My parents hail from a small village in Kerala which is nestled among mountains in a scenic district of the state. Every year, I visit my native place with my family. It is a trip that I look forward to all year. My father books the ticket two months in advance as it is difficult to procure reservations on short notice. Although I have lived in the city all my life, I feel that I never belonged to it. I have always felt at home in the quaint mountain village that is far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.

It takes us 18 hours by train to reach the railway station that is closest to my village. The journey is usually gruelling in the summers but very pleasant in the winters and the monsoons. We plan our trip in the summer months since we get a two-month vacation in April. To beat the heat, we travel by air-conditioned coaches every year. We board the train at noon and we reach our destination at 6 am the next day.

The morning air is heavy with the scent of flowers and wet foliage. The temple bells start ringing at 6:30 am and the sound of bhajans fills the air. The village is only a 20-minute rickshaw ride away from the station. When we enter my grandmother‘s house, we are welcomed by her diminutive figure holding a lamp. According to her, it is auspicious to welcome loved ones by lighting the lamp at the altar of God. The moment we set foot into the house, we are filled with a sense of nostalgia and love. After a sumptuous yet simple breakfast, we relax with our family in the courtyard.

The cool mountain air is laden with scents of the rustic countryside. From afar, we hear the sounds of birds. My sister and I make paper boats and run to the little babbling brook that flows southwards. We set the boats on the water and watch them bob up and down. Far away from the world of video games and television, we seek fun in a world of simplicity.

The house itself has a personality. Simple, two-storeyed, made of stone walls and a thatched roof, the house is an old friend who warmly embraces you every time you meet. The rooms are small but well-maintained. On the ground floor is a room that my grandmother uses for storing condiments and grains. It is illuminated with a single light bulb and an old-fashioned lock-and-key style door. In its corner is a small bed. The calming silence of the room soothes my ears and transports me into a magical place. I feel weightless. The smell of spices envelops me.

On many occasions, I have spent hours sprawled on that bed reading a book or listening to music. If I ever have to pick a favourite place, then I have no doubt this would be it. When twilight descends on the little hamlet, large clusters of stars start appearing in the sky. Such a sight is never seen in the city as the lights obscure the stars that appear in the sky. My grandmother lights the lamp again and we all gather around her to say our evening prayers. After enjoying her simple, rustic yet delicious meal, we retire for the night.

Sometimes when I am upset, I think of my quaint little house in the village, my grandmother‘s warm embrace, and the small room that smells of spices. They immediately help me put my worries away and bring a smile to my face.

Essay Examples #12

Conquering my fear.

I am a fairly brave person. I can confidently say that I am the go-to girl if somebody wants to flick a bug away from his or her collar or pacify a growling dog. Sometimes, I have stayed up late at night trying to calm the frayed nerves of a friend a week before the exams. Is there anything that a fairly brave person like me is frightened of? I am afraid, (pun intended) the answer is yes.

From a very young age, I was frightened of water. Picnics on river banks were nightmares. Never did I appreciate the beauty of a setting sun without dreading the rolling waves that crashed against the shore. In clinical terms, I was aquaphobic – someone who had a pathological fear of water bodies.

Was I happy about it? Of course not! I didn’t want to be the one sitting plastic chair when my family enjoyed a game of throwing a ball in the pool. This summer, I swore to myself that I will conquer this irrational fear at any cost. To put my plan into motion, I joined a swimming class. I told my instructor wasn‘t like the other students who have no trouble getting into the water. The fundamental challenge in coaching me is that I had to be coaxed into the water first.

Thankfully, the instructor was a patient person who took me seriously. He asked me to take my time and come back when I had figured out the reason for my fear. It took me a while but I went back when I found out that my phobia stemmed from my fear of drowning. As a child, I was pushed into the water and survived the scary drowning experience. He smiled and said, “Now that you know the reason, let me introduce you to your adversary.” I was about to perform the most daring act of my life, stepping into the pool.

I took my first step and found myself shivering. I immediately retreated. My instructor said benevolently, “Enough for today. Let‘s take baby steps.” The next day I took two steps. Just when I felt the urge to run back, I told myself, “It‘s just water. It will not harm you.” I stayed in the water for full 10 minutes. I repeated the feat the day after and this time, I waded deeper into the water. I never thought I would see this day; here I was, standing in the pool with water that came up to my chest. Across the pool, I heard my instructor applauding.

In the weeks that followed, I was already preparing for my swimming lessons. In a matter of months, I could say that I tamed my bête noir and had become a decent swimmer. I surprised my family by diving into the pool during a family picnic. I could finally see the beauty of the setting sun without worrying about missing my step and falling headfirst into the sea. For me, the greatest victory was challenging the limitations of my own mind and conquering my worst fears.

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Essay Examples #13

How to optimise your time as a student.

It is generally believed that students have a lot of free time. They can afford to spend their time without a care in the world and have the liberty to live as they please. Nothing can be further from the truth. Childhood and adolescence are not simply about whiling away time with immature pursuits; those years play a fundamental role in building one‘s ambitions and shaping one‘s career. Students have to juggle their studies along with their social and familial commitments. Some students are naturally attuned to using their time wisely, but some may not be blessed with those skills. To optimize one‘s time, students should discipline themselves by incorporating some time-saving tips.

Being organized is the cardinal rule in saving time. It simplifies one‘s life. Being a student involves extensive perusal and note-making. Students also take down notes in class which is dictated by their teachers. The lazy ones do not keep a track of where these notes are. As the exams are near, such students may find themselves in a chaotic situation. The diligent ones can access all their notes and use them with ease. To save time, students should start by adopting small practices. They could maintain separate notebooks for different subjects and organize notes in a folder that is labelled according to date and subject.

Keeping the right company also matters. Good fruits when left with spoilt ones turn rotten themselves. Similarly, the company of lazy, insincere people can turn any diligent student bad. Good habits, like bad ones, rub off on others. So, students should make a conscious effort to avoid falling into bad company. They should seek out the ones who could instil more discipline into their lives.

Focus on understanding the basics of every subject. The bedrock of the subject lies in its basics. Without it, education will not have a strong foundation. Knowing the basics also helps students in grasping difficult concepts easily. Therefore, students intent on saving time should go back to their textbooks. Prioritizing tasks can help students save time if they are on a tight deadline. Create a timetable by prioritizing the difficult subjects so that more time can be spent on them.

Following these basic rules can help students optimize their time. They needn‘t fret about balancing studies with recreation if they were to make some smart choices.

Essay Examples #14

The process of digestion.

Your digestive system is one of the most wondrous processes in your body. It is uniquely designed to convert your food into nutrients that are needed for your body‘s functioning. If not for the process of digestion, the human body would be deprived of nutrients and may slowly degenerate. Let us learn how it works.

The food which you eat is broken down partially in the mouth. Your saliva aids in the process by making it pliable and breaking down the starch. Your teeth grind the food into a fine paste-like consistency. From the mouth, the food travels through the pharynx to the oesophagus.

The oesophagus is a muscular tube that connects the pharynx to the stomach. The food reaches the stomach using systematic contractions called peristalsis. These contractions facilitate the movement of the food.

Your stomach is the next destination of the food. It is a pouch-like organ that processes food. Here, the food is completely broken down. Powerful muscles of the stomach along with strong gastric juices blend the food into a paste-like consistency. From the stomach, the paste-like mixture moves further down into the small intestine. It has three parts—duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. It is coiled inside the abdominal cavity and can be about 20 feet in length. In the small intestine, the process of breaking down food is continued. Your pancreas and liver supply enzymes and bile, respectively.

Bile helps in the digestion of fat and eliminates the waste products in the blood. Through peristalsis, the food is moved and mixed with the digestive juices. The duodenum breaks down the food, while the jejunum and ileum absorb all the nutrients and release them into the bloodstream. Your colon is a 5-6-foot-long tube that connects the caecum to the rectum. It absorbs all the water in the stools and releases debris and bacteria into the rectum. The residue is passed into the anus, from where it is eliminated as faeces.

In the complicated procedure, all the digestive organs work in unison each fulfilling its duty with precision. Even if one of these procedures fails, your body may stop functioning properly. Such is the beauty of digestion.

Essay Examples #15

Ajji’s treats.

Appetizing foods are those that appeal both to the eyes and the palate. You may have seen on television how great chefs go to any lengths to make sure that the carefully crafted food is aesthetically presented to taste. They meticulously measure the colour, feel, smell, and dimensions of the food when they mount it onto the plate. Whenever I watch such shows, I am reminded of Ajji who had the ability to give any seasoned chef a run for his money.

She never bothered to follow any of the fastidious rules of modern-day chefs or appealingly presented her culinary creations. She did not believe in fussing over how food was presented, but she did believe in how food was cooked.

Ajji‘s food was not attractive to look at. The laddoos were sometimes not round enough. Lumps and chunks would be barely holding onto one other in a hastily crafted sphere. Her Puran polis reminded me of the map of Europe. The dal curry looked pallid without any garnishing. My heart did ache at the sight of rosy basundi served in ugly plastic bowls. Her food was definitely not meant for someone who feasted with his eyes; it was meant to be enjoyed with the soul.

The haphazardly made laddoos were made with so much love that we would not let a crumb go to waste. Her golden Puran polis with jagged edges was filled with a delicious mixture that would melt in your mouth. The fragrance of her pallid dal curry was welcomed into the homes of the neighbours. We joked that the neighbours would be full by the aroma alone.

On special occasions, she made basundi by stirring the milk meticulously for hours. Even though it was served in ugly bowls, we would never pass a chance to enjoy it. Today she is not with us and neither are her recipes. As a token of her love for me, she bequeathed her personal cookbook to me. No matter how well I try to recreate her laddoos, I can never make them look as beautifully lumpy as she did.

Essay Examples #16

How education enriched me.

The importance of education for men and women cannot be understated. It plays a crucial role in the personal development of an individual and enriches the socio-economical fabric of society. Today, education is necessary for success, and each individual is pitched against the other in a bid to outperform one another. Education is something that can give a person the necessary edge over others. It is definitely an instrument of social progress.

Education does not merely end with sending children to school. It is a fire that has to be stoked repeatedly. I was born to intelligent parents who understood the importance of imparting education to children. They not only sent me to a very good school but also whetted my interest in a variety of subjects by buying books and educational toys for me. Games such as Scrabble, Taboo, math puzzles, and the Rubik’s Cube stimulated my brain cells and strengthened my intellectual faculties.

My childhood was spent reading books of all kinds. Exposure to classical works of literature enriched my knowledge of the language. Thanks to my extensive reading, I also possess a very vibrant vocabulary. Encyclopedias on subjects like science and geography made me aware of the basic scientific principles and cultures of people all around the world. History made me realize how human follies can change the course of our progress. Historical figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King made me understand that social change can be brought about without the need to shed blood.

Math introduced me to the mesmerizing world of numbers. It challenged my mind and made it sharper. Physics, Chemistry, and Biology helped me understand the laws governing the physical world around me. It made me appreciate the universe more. I often ponder how the world as we know it came into being. Though I am left without answers most of the time, I feel fortunate enough to have a mind that can question its own existence. I can weigh my actions morally and assess the repercussions of my words thanks to my education.

Without the benison of education, my life would have been no better than that of an animal. Apart from providing us with the knowledge to get by in life, it makes us rise above our primal tendencies. It expands our worldview and makes us more civilized. Educated people can become the driving force in the success of a nation. Education has made me what I am today. I am thankful that I, unlike many of my countrymen, have been fortunate enough to receive it.

Essay Examples #17

Who are we.

I have always thought about the nature of my existence. What am I? What is my identity? Made of flesh, blood, and a complex system of internal organs, is my body my identity? My countenance expresses my various moods and emotions, is my face my identity? Are my thoughts that make me who I am? We are much more than what we perceive ourselves to be. We need to move beyond the obvious to ponder upon the truth of our existence. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’

The Upanishads state, ‘Aham Bhrahmasmi’, meaning ‘I am Brahman’. The term Brahman here does not refer to the caste; it refers to the ultimate truth that underlies all the phenomena in the universe. According to the Vedas, the real self is not the body or the mind. Beyond the realms of the body and the mind is the soul. The soul represents our consciousness; consciousness is nothing but the awareness of the self by the self. It does not arise out of our material interactions.

Physically, we are composed of various elements—oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, etc. These elements constitute our bodies. If so, we are our bodies. What role does consciousness play in our identity?

Consciousness is a difficult term to define or understand. It cannot be explained with the help of numbers or explained with words. We identify ourselves with materials because they pleasure our physical selves. We form attachments for our need to be loved. We form ties that we cannot break free from. This further wedges a gap between us and our consciousness and we lose ourselves in the maze of worldliness.

We should never get distracted from our quest to uncover mysteries about ourselves. Only then will we realize our purpose in the vast system of planets, stars, life, and galaxies.

Essay Examples #18

Next to love, sympathy is the most divine passion.

The word ‘Sympathy’ is derived from the Greek prefix ‘syn’ or ‘sym’ which means together or joint and the root word ‘pathy’ which means to feel. Therefore, sympathy means to have a fellow feeling towards another living thing. It is characterized by the ability to understand the suffering of others and feel sorry for their plight. It is a trait that makes us distinctly human. It sets man apart from the beast; the civilized apart from the uncivilized; and the kind apart from the cruel.

The feeling of sympathy has a role to play in human society. It facilitates bonding between human beings and makes the burden of suffering lighter. Sympathy makes us extend a helping hand to someone in need and fosters a feeling of fellowship. Often the kind words of a stranger, a reassuring embrace of a friend and the patient ears of a dear one take the sting away from our pain.

Sympathy also ensures harmony in society. Apart from the role it plays in abating somebody‘s pain, sympathy also acts as a deterrent against crimes. It prevents us from wrongdoing through the voice of our conscience. Lack of sympathy is the foremost trait of a criminal.

The ability to shed a tear for someone is seen as a sign of weakness by a shallow society. But the perpetrators of this belief often forget that the strongest of individuals sometimes yearn for sympathy. Only hearts as cold as a stone would be devoid of this beautiful emotion since sympathy is a celebration of everything that makes us human.

Essay Examples #19

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

The proverb in its literal sense may seem counterintuitive. Why in the world would anybody want to keep their enemies closer than they keep their friends? The answer to this can be sought in the figurative implications of the proverb. The quote ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is sometimes attributed to Nicolo Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and even to Don Corleone, the protagonist of the novel The Godfather.

In the heart of the proverb lies the message that one can learn more from enemies than one does from friends. There are many reasons why this proverb holds water.

First, you can learn a lot from someone whom you despise. The best wisdom does not necessarily come from being with friends. A friend is someone who is agreeable and who does not become an obstacle or a threat to your ambitions. Chances are that you and your friend share a similar worldview. He or she is an extension of your own self.

An enemy, on the contrary, is someone who you don’t trust and who is aiming for the same things as you are. They are your opposites. Their ideas, beliefs, and worldviews may be in stark contrast with your own. By observing them, you can get a fresh perspective on a situation that you may not receive from your friends.

To outwit your enemies, you should pay close attention to their moves. This can help you stay ahead of them all the time. Keeping them at close quarters helps you in determining their motives. This helps you in anticipating all their moves.

Your enemy may have a lot of weaknesses that he does not like to bring to the fore. On the outside, he may seem like a formidable foe, but on the inside, he may be hiding some flaws which he does not wish to show the world. Knowing your enemy‘s weakness is the biggest instrument in anybody’s arsenal.

Sometimes, unexpectedly, you may find that your enemy may not be the ‘scheming’ and ‘evil’ villain you have imagined him to be. You may be surprised to find that he shares some of your values as well. An enemy may cease to be an enemy and you may learn to empathize with him/her. Hence, to be successful, you should be able to exploit your friendships and gain wisdom by observing your enemies.

Essay Examples #20

The lazy tiger.

Once upon a time, there lived a tiger. His mother named him Mkali, which means fierce. But that was a misnomer because Mkali was a lazy little cat. Nothing in the jungle could excite him. His mother Jasiri was an expert hunter. She had single-handedly provided for the entire ambush once when food was scarce in the jungle. She had also taught her other children how to prey on hippopotamuses and how to tackle prey with antlers. She was very well respected in the Tiger community and had held the title of ‘Tigress Extraordinaire’.

The carnivores of the jungle sniggered when they spoke of her perpetually sleepy son. “How could he be born to Jasiri?” the Hyena Cheka said. Tiririka the python added, “That boy wouldn’t swat a fly if it were to be sitting on his nose all day.” Mkali was never bothered. He loved his life; lazing around the river all day, returning home for dinner, feasting on the prey his mother had painstakingly caught and then sleeping on the thickest branch of his favourite tree.

One day, the unthinkable happened. Jasiri had cornered a water buffalo and was preparing to strike it down in one swift move. Suddenly, the beast swung its head goring her grievously. Her den was at a distance so she had to drag herself all the way. Mkali wondered why his mother didn’t call him for supper that day.

Once he entered the den, he saw his mother moaning in pain. She said, “Son, I think I am going to die. I don’t know how you would feed yourself.” Mkali’s eyes welled up. He was aware of his prodigal ways, but he didn‘t want to let his mother die thinking that her son could not provide for himself.

Something changed in him that day. He walked to a nearby pool and looked at his own reflection. He saw in himself a fierce tiger who had finally realized his life‘s purpose. He had to make his mother proud.

Mkali started providing for his ailing mother. He hunted small animals first. He then graduated to preying on larger animals such as sambars. He gathered medicinal herbs and ground them. Jasiri’s wounds were very deep, but with Mkali’s loving care she could walk again. The other animals were dumbfounded by his metamorphosis. Jasiri, on the other hand, was proud that her son proved everyone wrong.

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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary

Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.

Table of contents

What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.

Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.

We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.

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.

When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!

Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.

Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”

That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.

“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”

I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.

I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”

I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”

She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”

“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.

“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.

I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.

The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.

The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.

That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.

I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.

Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.

I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.

It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.

Word count: 601

This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.

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?

I never had a choice.

My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.

We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.

I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.

However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.

My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.

“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”

I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”

“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”

“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.

Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.

I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.

Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.

Word Count: 553

This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”

I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:

“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”

As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!

Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.

I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:

Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.

During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.

During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.

I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.

Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.

He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked up.

“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”

He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”

We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.

I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.

Word count: 626

The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.

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?

I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D. 

Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name. 

I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:

“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.” 

I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always. 

Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down. 

Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow. 

I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”

“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”

“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”

The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“Darwin, can we talk?” 

He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?” 

“Then why’d you do it?” 

“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.” 

“So I know you’re not trying.”

I locked eyes with him and glared. 

“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”

“So you give me a D?!”

“It got your attention.”

“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”

“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.” 

I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques. 

Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down. 

Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.” 

I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best . 

AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes. 

Word Count: 627

This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.

Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.

I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.

One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”

My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.

“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”

My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.

“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”

I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.

Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.

After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.

After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.

A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.

I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.

From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.

Word count: 622

This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.

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?

The worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.

It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.

I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.

Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.

Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune. 

The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.

Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.

While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.

Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.

Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!

Word count: 607

In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.

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.

Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition

The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?

This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.

And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.

So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”

Appetizer: My first leadership experience

A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.

Main course: My best leadership experience

Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.

Dessert: My future leadership hopes 

The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.

Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.

Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Time’s up! 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.

Word count: 612

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.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • 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
  • Conjunctions

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

Cite this Scribbr article

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Courault, K. (2023, May 31). Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary. Scribbr. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/common-app-examples/

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Kirsten Courault

Kirsten Courault

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  1. 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2024

    This college essay tip is by Abigail McFee, Admissions Counselor for Tufts University and Tufts '17 graduate. 2. Write like a journalist. "Don't bury the lede!" The first few sentences must capture the reader's attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading.

  2. Example of a Great Essay

    Example of a Great Essay | Explanations, Tips & Tricks. Published on February 9, 2015 by Shane Bryson . Revised on July 23, 2023 by Shona McCombes. This example guides you through the structure of an essay. It shows how to build an effective introduction, focused paragraphs, clear transitions between ideas, and a strong conclusion.

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    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.

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    Table of contents. Step 1: Hook your reader. Step 2: Give background information. Step 3: Present your thesis statement. Step 4: Map your essay's structure. Step 5: Check and revise. More examples of essay introductions. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.

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    Essay writing process. The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay.. For example, if you've been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you'll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay, on the ...

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    Step 2: Have a clear structure. Think about this while you're planning: your essay is like an argument or a speech. It needs to have a logical structure, with all your points coming together to answer the question. Start with the basics! It's best to choose a few major points which will become your main paragraphs.

  8. 14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024)

    College essay example #1. This is a college essay that worked for Harvard University. (Suggested reading: How to Get Into Harvard Undergrad) This past summer, I had the privilege of participating in the University of Notre Dame's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program .

  9. How to Write the Perfect Essay: A Step-By-Step Guide for Students

    As well as some best practice tips, we have gathered our favourite advice from expert essay-writers and compiled the following 7-step guide to writing a good essay every time. 👍. #1 Make sure you understand the question. #2 Complete background reading. #3 Make a detailed plan. #4 Write your opening sentences.

  10. 16 Strong College Essay Examples from Top Schools

    This essay is great because it has a strong introduction and conclusion. The introduction is notably suspenseful and draws readers into the story. Because we know it is a college essay, we can assume that the student is one of the competitors, but at the same time, this introduction feels intentionally ambiguous as if the writer could be a ...

  11. 40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

    1. David Sedaris - Laugh, Kookaburra. A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs…. This is one of the top essays of the lot. It's a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what's most important in life.

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    Argumentative Essay Example 2. Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through female Anopheles mosquitoes. Each year, over half a billion people will become infected with malaria, with roughly 80% of them living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

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    Check out Episode 2: The Essay, in which a student gets feedback in real time on their essay from a former Princeton director of admissions and a panel of experts talk about essay dos and don'ts. The episode is 26 minutes long. The College Essay Trap: Rescue Your College Application Essay From the "Maybe" Pile.

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    6. Stick to a clear essay plan. Creativity is an aspect very much appreciated in writing, but don't assume that a creative essay is not also an organized one. Obviously, you don't want to write a bunch of words without meaning, so make sure you write about just one subject at a time.

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    Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement. Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying "no" to other interests. Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness. Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself.

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