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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

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#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

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

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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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How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples

The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.

A standout essay has a few key ingredients:

  • A unique, personal topic
  • A compelling, well-structured narrative
  • A clear, creative writing style
  • Evidence of self-reflection and insight

To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.

Table of contents

Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.

While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.

Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

What do colleges look for in an essay?

Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :

  • Demonstrated values and qualities
  • Vulnerability and authenticity
  • Self-reflection and insight
  • Creative, clear, and concise writing skills

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.

Create an essay tracker sheet

If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:

  • Deadlines and number of essays needed
  • Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts

You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.

College essay tracker template

Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.

If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.

What makes a good topic?

  • Meaningful and personal to you
  • Uncommon or has an unusual angle
  • Reveals something different from the rest of your application

Brainstorming questions

You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:

  • What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
  • What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
  • What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
  • What makes you different from your classmates?
  • What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
  • Whom do you admire most? Why?
  • What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?

How to identify your topic

Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:

  • Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
  • Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.

After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.

Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.

Vignettes structure

The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.

This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.

Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences

  • Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
  • Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
  • Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
  • Story: Broadway musical interests
  • Lesson: Finding my voice
  • Story: Smells from family dinner table
  • Lesson: Appreciating home and family
  • Story: Washing dishes
  • Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
  • Story: Biking with Ava
  • Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
  • Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.

Single story structure

The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.

Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.

Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person

  • Situation: Football injury
  • Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
  • Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
  • My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
  • Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game

Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs

Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.

Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.

Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..

Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).

While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.

Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.

Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook

Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.

Option 2: Start with vivid imagery

Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.

A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .

Show, don’t tell

“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”

First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.

  • What are the most prominent images?
  • Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
  • What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?

Be vulnerable to create an emotional response

You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.

Use appropriate style and tone

Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:

  • Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
  • Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
  • Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
  • Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
  • Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).

You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:

  • Summarizing what you already wrote
  • Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
  • Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”

Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.

Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure

The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.

In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.

Option 2: Revealing your insight

You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.

Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.

It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.

Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.

Respect the word count

Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.

Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Check your content, style, and grammar

  • First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
  • Then, check for style and tone issues.
  • Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Get feedback

Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.

  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
  • Friends and family can check for authenticity.
  • An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.

The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.

College admissions essay checklist

I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.

I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.

I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.

I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.

I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.

I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.

I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.

I’ve used appropriate style and tone .

I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.

I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Congratulations!

It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

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

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

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11 College Essays That Worked

College essay examples: 11 that worked.

Bonus Material: 30 College Essay Examples

In this regularly updated post, we share the college essays that helped students get into their dream schools — including Ivy League colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and others.

But this isn’t simply a collection of college essay examples.

We also provide a link to in-depth profiles of the authors who wrote the essays, providing you with the most comprehensive picture available of the nation’s most successful applicants.

While you should always craft the best essay you are capable of, please remember that the essay is one component of the application process!  The essays you’ll read below are all of varying quality, but each one of these students gained admission to the most selective schools in the country.

You can also find 19 more college essay examples below.

Download 30 College Essay Examples

Here’s what we cover in this post:

What is the College Essay? Our Expert Definition

  • College Essay Example #1 – “It takes more than wishing upon a star”
  • College Essay Example #2 – “I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier”
  • College Essay Example #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”
  • College Essay Example #4 – “I’m still questioning”
  • College Essay Example #5 – “My place of inner peace”
  • College Essay Example #6 – “So this is what compassion is all about”
  • College Essay Example #7 – “I believe that every person is molded by their experiences”
  • College Essay Example #8 – The California Cadet Corps
  • College Essay Example #9 – “I never want to lose what we had in that corner”
  • College Essay Example #10 – “It is the effort that counts, not the result”
  • College Essay Example #11 – “The problem of social integration”

What These College Essay Examples Have in Common

  • How to Write an Essay Like These Examples
  • Bonus: 30 College Essay Examples

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition .

Regardless, both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer .

College Essay Prompts 2023-2024

What do these questions all have in common? They all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal.

Take a look at some of these buzzwords from these prompts to see what we mean:

  • Understanding
  • Belief / Idea
  • Contribution

These are big words attached to big, personal concepts. That’s the point!

But because that’s the case, that means the college essay is not an academic essay. It’s not something you write in five paragraphs for English class. Nor is it a formal statement, an outline of a resume, or a list of accomplishments.

It’s something else entirely.

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences.

The college essay is fundamentally personal and creative. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness. It can have elements of academic writing in it, such as logical organization, thesis statements, and transition words. But it is not an academic essay that fits comfortably into five paragraphs.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller–and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

One of the easiest ways to understand what the personal statement is all about is to read through some college essay examples — essays that exemplify the 7 qualities of a successful college essay .

The 11 college essay examples below do just that!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #1 – It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star

Author: Erica Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Williams College, Duke University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Boston College, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University

college essay acceptance samples

I hung up the phone with a smile plastered on my face. Never mind that I was barely eleven, that my portfolio consisted of a few half-page poems from elementary school, or that the contest was taking place on another continent, I was determined to write the most extraordinary fantasy novel ever created. For months afterward the sight of me was accompanied by the tap, tap, tap of my fingers flying across the keyboard, and the sharp glint of obsession in my eyes. The contest in London closed, a winner was chosen. I didn’t care. I kept writing. After a year I had stretched my writing project into a three hundred page novel. I scraped together a few dollars of allowance money, slapped it in my mom’s hand, and asked her to have Staples print a bound copy of the manuscript.

She handed me my magnum opus when I got home from school that day. I ran my fingers across the shiny laminate over the cover page, caressed the paper as if it were some sacred tome. After more than fourteen months fleshing out characters and cultivating mythologies, I was ready to publish. With the copy in hand I ran to my dad. “Read it and tell me what you think!” I said, imagining the line of publishing companies that would soon be knocking down my door.

Within two weeks my father handed it back to me, the pages now scrawled over in bright red ink. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told me, with his typical soul-wrenching brusque.

I stared at him for a moment, jaw locked tight, eyes nearly brimming with tears. He proceeded to list for me all the things I needed to revise for my next draft. Less colloquial dialogue, vivid descriptions, more complex subplots, the list went on and on.

“A serious author doesn’t get offended by constructive criticism,” he said, “whether you take my advice or not will prove whether or not you are one.”

My dreams fell like the Berlin wall. What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Today, six years, 10 drafts, and 450 pages later, I am finally close to finishing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Erica’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #2 – I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier

Author: Elizabeth Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I’m not referring to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table.

Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank’s Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend’s grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn’t always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures.

I’m not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it’s simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Elizabeth’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these for free below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Author: Shanaz Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

“You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros.

Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles.

Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems. I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger.

I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk.

Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me?

Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes.

Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty.

Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d’état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war.

Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease.

Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination.

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I’ll never witness, people I’ll never meet, and beliefs I’ll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful.

Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system.

I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Shanaz’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #4 – “I’m still questioning”

Author: Aja Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? School Acceptances: Princeton University, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College and City College

I walked down the pale pink stone pathway, up a ramp, past the library building, and towards the Student Activities Center of the college campus, carrying a large brown cardboard box. People might’ve taken note of the load I was carrying, and particularly the other high school students with whom I ate my dinner. Out of the box I grabbed my meal, which was wrapped in two separate plastic airplane meal style trays; one container for the side and one for the main. I tried not to call attention to myself as I unwrapped the tight double wrapping of plastic around both trays.

My actions and practices were the same, but for the first time I stood out. While I was eating my meals, in the lab, or during the lectures, I began to ask myself some questions.

Was it worth continuing to strictly observe my customs in such an environment?  I thought.

Could I afford to take time away from the lab to walk to the kosher restaurant to pick up lunch? Was continuing to dress in a long skirt, on hot summer days and with additional lab dress codes, worth the discomfort? Was it worth standing out from most other people?

The science experiment that I performed that summer in a way mirrored the experiment that I “performed” to test my practices. My lab partner and I researched the current issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which left certain bacterial infections without an effective cure; this was our observation. We then hypothesized that an alternative mechanism of destruction, by physically slicing the bacterial membrane, would be more efficient. Similarly, I hypothesized that an alternative life path without my religious practices might be an “effective” life path for me, as it had been for the students that I met, with the added social benefits of fitting in. I hypothesized that perhaps my own life would be “effective” or fulfilling without these practices, as it was for the students whom I had met. Wearing our purple nitrite gloves, our safety goggles pressing against our faces, my partner and I began to prepare our tiny metal chips, containing a thin coating of polymer blends, which would prick the membranes of the bacteria cells.

In my personal experiment, the “testing” stage became tricky. I didn’t put on my lab coat, and start spin casting my solutions or pipetting liquids onto surfaces. I didn’t even try eating some food that was not kosher, or actively violate my practices. My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. We talked about our very different lives, genuinely interested in one another’s.

I’m still questioning, and I think the process does not end, which is part of what makes my religious practice important to me – it urges me to constantly reflect on my values and the moral quality of my actions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish that “experiment,” but by experiencing and valuing the practices and lifestyles of other people, I also got to reflect on my own. That summer showed me that the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Aja’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #5 – My place of inner peace

Author: Jim Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word “comfortable”. There is something special about a rowing race; that 6 minute, 2000 meter tour de force that many who have truly experienced one (and all who have emerged victorious) will describe as the most painful, and yet the most thrilling activity they have ever been a part of.

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it’s all out, everything you’ve got, from start to finish), but at the same time it’s long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. The mental toughness required to drag oneself through this ordeal, from the moment it starts to hurt 30 seconds in to the moment you cross the finish line, is immense. The psychological state that is entered into during a race is one of unparalleled focus, drive, and will to win.

The race begins with six boats lined up side by side, tensed and ready to pounce. The umpire then makes the call, “Attention. Row” in a tone that seems entirely too casual for the occasion, and the bows spring forward. What was moments before an atmosphere of complete silence is transformed into a world of noise. Here is a short list of things one hears at the start of a rowing race: the authoritative yell of the coxswains, the rhythmic click of the oars, the fluid swish of the water under the boat, the roar of the officials’ launches falling in behind the boats. I always find it funny though, that while the tense silence of the pre-race moments dissolves so quickly into noise from every direction, a rower can only actually hear any of it for a surprisingly short period of time. This is because at about two minutes into a race, a rower begins to lose his senses. Scent disappears completely, touch is negligible, hearing dissolves into nothing but the calls of the cox, and sight reduces itself to a portrait of the back of the rower in front of you. It is in this bizzare state of mind and body that I am truly in my “comfort zone”.

The pain is intense, yes, but I have felt it before. I feel it quite regularly, actually. The training a rower goes through to prepare for a race begins months in advance and consists of pushing oneself to the limit; repeatedly putting oneself in positions of pain and discomfort so that when crunch time comes, a rower is truly without fear of what lies ahead of him. This is how I feel when the going gets tough at around two minutes in: fearless. In these moments I feel invincible; I feel like I was born to do exactly what I am doing right then and there. In these moments I am completely and totally content.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out James’ story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #6 – So this is what compassion is all about

Author: Amanda Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Rutgers University

So this is what compassion is all about? Piece of cake.

Joey was a sweet, ten-year-old boy who could derive pleasure even in the most prosaic of activities: catching a balloon, listening to music, watching other children run, jump, and play. But Joey himself was confined to a wheelchair – he would never be able to participate in the same way that his friends without physical disabilities could.

Joey was the first child assigned to me when I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children. Right from the start, I was grateful for being matched up with this sweet, easy-going child; I felt immense relief at how effortless my volunteering commitment with Joey could be. Simply by wheeling my friend through tiled halls and breezy gardens, I simultaneously entertained him and inspired others with my acts of kindness.

Piece of cake.

Truthfully, though, during my time with Joey, I felt more than a little virtuous and pleased with myself. There I was, able to impress everyone with my dedication to Joey, with only minimal effort on my part. My experience with Joey led me to mistakenly believe that I had, by the age of thirteen, attained a complete understanding of what a word like “empathy” really meant. I was complacent in my comfort zone, confident that I understood what compassion was all about.

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was.

Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

One day, after an unsuccessful attempt to break up a brawl between Robyn and another girl, I found myself taking dazed steps towards the administrator’s office. I was near my breaking point, ready to quit. In that moment, though, I vividly recall looking up and seeing Robyn’s parents walking down the hall coming to pick her up. Tired eyes. Weary, but appreciative smiles. A realization then struck me: I was only with Robyn for one day a week. During the rest of the week, Robyn was the sole responsibility of her parents. The same parents who once confided in me that Robyn behaved no differently at home than she did at the Friendship Circle with me.

Robyn’s parents undeniably loved her. There were even moments when Robyn transformed into one of the sweetest children I had ever met. But she was no Joey. Sweet, easygoing Joey. Joey who I thought had taught me true empathy. If I was such a saint, how could I give back to Joey’s parents, but not to Robyn’s? How could I not provide them a brief respite every week, from the labors of caring for her? Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Progress exists in steps. The first steps were the ones I took with Joey, my earliest experience in volunteering. But the steps I took away from the administrator’s office, the steps I took back toward Robyn, were the steps of a different person, I like to think.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Amanda’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples  that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these essays below.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #7 – I believe that every person is molded by their experiences

Author: Martin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances:  Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, University of California Santa Cruz, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University

I believe every person is molded by their experiences whether they be positive or negative. I have been impacted by many events and challenges, both personally and socially, that have made me who I am today.

I was born in Concepcion de Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico. My dad did not always live with us and worked doing manual labor in the United States every three months to provide income for us transitioning between the United States and Mexico when he could. When I was six, my Spanish-speaking family immigrated to the United States. Once here in the United States, I found English difficult to learn at school since it was brand new to me. English-speaking students always had to translate for me which motivated me to become fluently proficient by third grade.

In addition to the language barrier at school, my family would constantly move due to apartment rent increase, so I never grew accustomed to a group of friends.  Because of this, I had social difficulties in elementary school.  I remember hardly speaking in class and not playing any recess games unless invited. I recall playing tetherball mostly by myself and observing the children with longing eyes. In the sixth grade, my social life began to change; I met my best friend, Luz. We fostered a tight-knit bond immediately, and my confidence developed little by little each day. As each year passed, I acquired more confidence to become more sociable, but my awkwardness did not completely go away.

My earlier language barrier, my soft-hearted and quiet personality, and my social self-consciousness found me drawn to playing with girls and not sports with the other boys. I soon began to feel excluded by boys asking me why I played with girls; it made me feel small and different from the rest. Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

In my freshman year I began to come out of my shell and develop self-confidence, largely due to my participation in choir and drama class. In these classes I could be myself and found my real voice. Here I felt a connection to a family not connected by blood but by a unifying passion in the creative arts.  That connection allowed me to confide in my friend Luz my struggle with my personal identity. One day I messaged her: “I have something to tell you… I think I might be bisexual.” My heart pounded as I waited anxiously for her reply. She responded: “How long have you been thinking of this?”  In her response I felt reassured that the she would not reject me.  From that moment my best friend thanked me and said our friendship was now stronger as a result. I felt so relieved to get that secret off my chest; it was a cathartic moment in my life and a significant turning point!

Throughout high school, I have become more open about who I am, and my confidence and acceptance in myself has grown tremendously. Although I still have not told my parents about my sexuality, I will when I am ready.  I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Martin’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #8 – The California Cadet Corps

Author: Justin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSD

During my freshman year at Cajon High School, I enlisted in the California Cadet Corps (CACC). The CACC is essentially a JROTC program based on a state level. Every summer, the CACC holds a summer encampment at Camp San Luis Obispo. A myriad of leadership schools are offered: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, Officer-Candidate School (OCS), etc. I participated in OCS my freshman year, Survival my sophomore year, and Marksmanship last summer. Of those three, Survival was definitely my biggest challenge and marked my transition from childhood to adulthood.

Within the CACC, there’s an honor so admirable that those who receive it are inducted into an order of elites: the Red Beret. It signifies completion of survival training, the most rigorous and difficult training course within the CACC. With a heart mixed with excitement and fear, I stepped onto the bus headed for Camp San Luis Obispo in June of 2015.

After basic instruction, we were transported to arid Camp Roberts to begin field training. Upon arrival, we were separated into groups of four with one leader each (I was designated as team leader). We then emptied our canteens, received minimal tools, and set off. Our immediate priority was finding areas to build our shelter and latrine. Then, we needed to locate a clean source of water. After, we had to find food. It was truly a situation that required making everything from scratch. As the day drew to a close and night advanced, I felt seclusion and apprehension envelop me.

As the days drew on, constant stress and heat along with lack of food took a toll on my sanity and drove me almost to my breaking-point. At one moment, I remembered a handwritten phrase that had been on my desk: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” At this moment, it hit me: I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to overcome this challenge and show myself that I have what it takes to survive for five days using nothing but my wits.

On the morning of the sixth day, my team and I reported to headquarters to complete training. With pride, I received the honor of wearing that glorious Red Beret on my head.

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. Additionally, being isolated from mass civilization and relying heavily on my companions gave me an appreciation for my friends and for the absolute necessity of teamwork. Being the leader of my team meant that they all looked to me for motivation, inspiration, and a will to survive; I got first-hand experience on how important a leader can be in a situation of literal life and death. Most importantly, however, I gained priceless insight into the amount of effort and work my parents put in for me every day.

As demonstrated, survival training taught me essential lessons to survive successfully as an adult. Looking back, it’s absolutely unbelievable how one week affected me so profoundly. Even today, I remember the phrase that motivated me that day: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” Thinking of that, I go to school and say to myself, “Justin, you truly are an amazing young man!”

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Justin’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these essays for free below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #9 – I never want to lose what we had in that corner

Author: Jonah Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? School Acceptances: Princeton University, Swarthmore College

The squeaks of whiteboard markers have now replaced the scritch-scratch of chalk, but the hubbub of voices is always the same. For millennia, the great thinkers of their day would gather and discuss. In ancient Greece, it was Socrates debating about philosophy; centuries later it was Newton lecturing at Cambridge on fluxions and physics. This summer Paul Steinhardt and his eminent colleagues sat down for a panel about inflationary theory at the World Science festival- though there was neither chalk nor markers there. Though we make no claim to be the greatest thinkers of our day and our school in no way resembles the hallowed edifices of science, my friends and I have staked out a corner of our AP Calculus room where we can have our own discussions. We even have a whiteboard.

It started small: just myself, Avery, and Sam and a problem set that didn’t take us long enough. Appropriately enough, we were working on one of Newton’s problems: differential equations describing cooling curves. His solution is fairly simple, perhaps overly simple, which prompted me to ask Avery what he thought. We had both taken Chemistry the year before, and Newton’s equation didn’t take into account thermal equilibrium; (to be fair to Newton, adding thermal equilibrium doesn’t appreciably change the solution at normal conditions). Since we were slightly bored and faced with an empty hour ahead of us, we started to modify the equation. We had learned in Chemistry that both the surroundings and the actual cooling object both change temperature, which Newton had ignored. We wrote up a first attempt on the infamous whiteboard, paused a second, and then started laughing as we realized that our inchoate equation meant a hot cup of coffee could plummet Earth into another Ice Age. This disturbance in an otherwise fairly quiet classroom drew the attention of Sam. He too was amused with our attempt and together we began to fix the poor thing. Huddled around the back of the classroom, we all pondered. It wasn’t an important problem, it wasn’t due the next day, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. But we loved it.

The three of us had been friends since middle school, which in many ways seems astounding. Avery, a track runner, Sam, a Morris dancer, and myself, a fencer. Our interests could not be more diverse. Avery was an avid programmer while Sam was fascinated by the evolution of language. I always had a soft spot for physics. Luckily for us, we had found each other early on in middle school and our discussions started soon after. As we learned more math, read more books, and culled more esoteric facts from our varied experiences, the quality of our rebuttals has dramatically improved. The laughter is immutable.

In the back of algebra class in eighth grade, Avery taught me how to program calculators in TIBasic while I traded theories with him about the Big Bang. From Sam I learned the phonetic alphabet and more recently the physics of bell ringing. Since then our dynamic has always stayed playful no matter how heated the discussion; only our arguments have changed. I may have learned as much in the back of classes with my friends as I learned from my teachers. Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and I could not agree more. In the myriad hours Avery, Sam, and I spent together, the neuron-firing was palpable, the exuberance impossible to miss.

But not only did I learn linguistics, Python, and philosophy with Avery and Sam, I learned a little more about myself. I never want to lose what we had in that corner. Our interplay of guessing and discovering and laughing seemed like paradise to me. I looked for other opportunities in my life to meet brilliant and vivacious people, to learn from them, and to teach them what I loved. I co-founded a tutoring program, participated in original research, and taught lessons in Physics and Chemistry as a substitute.

I expected to be nervous, I expected to embarrass myself. Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Jonah’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #10 – It is the effort that counts, not the result

Author: John Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – 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? School Acceptances: Princeton University

For as long as I can remember, wrestling has been an important part of my life. I can recall playing dodgeball after wrestling practice, summer wrestling camps, hard practices with my older brother, and hundreds of wrestling tournaments as cornerstones of my childhood. From a young age I was determined to be the best; and quickly concluded that meant winning a PIAA state championship. When I entered Junior High, I discovered that only ten wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania had won a state championship each year of their high school careers – and becoming the eleventh became my personal ambition.

Entering high school, I centered my life around the goal of winning a state title my freshman year. I became disciplined in every aspect of my life: from how many hours of sleep I got, to what exact foods I ate. I was obsessed with my intensive training regimen, and fell asleep each night to the dream of my hand being raised in the circle of the main mat on the Giant Center floor.

As the season progressed, I experienced success. My state ranking climbed steadily and by the time the state tournament began, I was projected to finish third. I wrestled well throughout the tournament, advancing to the semifinals where I defeated the favorite 11-0. At last: I was to wrestle in the final match for the state championship. I prepared for my opponent, whom I defeated the week before. However, when the match began, I wrestled nervously, was unable to fully recover, and ended up on the short end of a 3-1 decision.

In just a few short minutes, my dream was shattered. For me, it felt like the end of the world. I had based my whole identity and lifestyle on the dream of winning four state titles. It felt as though the sport I loved most had ripped out my heart,  and on live television, in front of thousands of people. I was upset after the match.  I was depressed and felt worthless, devoid of my passion for and love of wrestling.

After a month or perhaps more of introspection, and some in depth conversations with the people closest to me, I began to realize that one lost wrestling match, at age fifteen, was not the end of the world. The more I reflected on my wrestling journey, the more gratitude I developed for all of my opportunities.   I realized that wrestling had helped forge some of the most important relationships of my life, including an irreplaceable fraternity with my older brother, teammates, and coaches. My setback in the state finals also helped me to understand all of the lessons learned through wrestling, and that there was much more I could still accomplish. Wrestling helped me learn the value of hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. But most important, I learned that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, including the outcome of a wrestling match. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction, attitude, actions, and effort. In the words of my father, “it is the effort that counts, not the result.”

Hence, through my experience of failure I learned an invaluable lesson applicable to every walk of life. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity to compete, to represent myself and my school, and to lay all my hard work on the line. The process of striving to become a state champion taught me more than achieving this title ever could, and my failure in the state finals was a blessing in disguise.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out John’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #11 – The problem of social integration

Author: Harry Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Universal Common Application Personal Statement – How do we establish common values to promote harmony in an increasingly diverse society? School Acceptances: Princeton University

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

This cold blooded murder provides a clear example of what can happen when people lose their human connection to the society that they’re a part of and instead pursue hate and violence on a pretence to a higher purpose (killing in the name of religion). I think suggestible minds are undoubtedly most prone to this, and the two British men who killed Rigby, previously Christians, are examples of how minds devoid of any instilled social values are fertile ground for the fomentation of harmful ideas.

What I find particularly worrying is the distinct danger of allowing a largely atomised society to develop, where conflicts such as this one begin to characterise the interaction between the different parts. It’s imperative that we avoid this situation and work towards social unity, and so I think a long-term and complex solution to social integration must be found. Given the upward trends in multiculturalism and globalisation, it is going to be paramount that my generation takes on the problems of integration and cultural diversity to create a harmonious society.

The solution will no doubt be an ongoing process, involving years of detailed and thoroughly considered legislation, but I think that in working towards it, we should focus on certain things.

With regard to the role of religion, I think its relationship with the state needs to be clarified and communicated to everyone. As the case of Lee Rigby quite bluntly reveals, where religion triumphs over civic duty, there’s a potentially dangerous situation, especially when put into the context of radical fundamentalism. By the same token however, it’s neither desirable nor feasible to have a society where politics trumps religion, so I think that when addressing the issue of social cohesion there must be an overarching commitment to other people within society that’s established – humanity must transcend any form of politics or ideology, and bind the two camps so their incompatibility does not become entrenched.

I think that this has to be done primarily through education: both within the formal curriculum which all citizens of a democratic nation state should be compelled to follow until at least the age of 16, and in the wider sense through more promotion of cultural programmes nationally that encourage the nation’s population to participate in the continuing discussion and examination of our core, shared values. We have to work at this constantly since identity is itself always in a state of flux and accept that this continuing ‘conversation’ will always require us to confront some very difficult questions about freedom and responsibility. People need to understand these ideas not simply as abstract questions, but also as issues of practical, pragmatic relevance, deconstructing them into how we actually treat each other, the true test of how civilised and tolerant we are.

You’ve read through these 11 college essay examples. What do they all have in common? What’s the secret sauce that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance?

Remember: the college essay is only one part of the college application.

The admissions officers reading these essays thus were considering other aspects of the writers’ applications , including extracurricular distinction and academic achievement.

That being said, we’ve done the research and pinpointed the 7 qualities of successful college essays that all of these pieces exemplify.

  • Introspective and reflective
  • Full of a student’s voice
  • Descriptive and engaging
  • Unconventional and distinct
  • Well-written

How to Write an Essay Like These College Essay Examples

What can you do to write a personal statement in line with these stellar college essay examples?

First, let’s talk about how to actually read one of these college essay examples.

If you’re at this point in this post, you’ve likely read at least one of the examples in this post at least once. Now, return to that essay and read it a second time with a more critical eye.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What do you like? What do you not like?
  • How does the essay make you feel?
  • How is the essay structured?
  • How does the writer craft the introduction? The conclusion?
  • What’s unique about this college essay example?
  • What value(s) does the writer express? Key takeaways?
  • Is there anything unexpected or surprising?
  • Do any writing techniques stick out to you?

Pay attention to your answers to these questions, and reflect on the qualities that surface. Compare them to the 7 qualities of a successful college essay . What do you notice?

Complete this exercise for several other college essay examples — you can download 19 additional college essay examples right here!

This can help you understand exactly what it it takes to write a compelling college essay, including what impact a strong essay has on a reader.

It’s also a great first step to take in the college essay writing process, which we’ve boiled down to these 10 simple steps . 

You can check out even more college essay examples by successful applicants! For 19 additional essays, download PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays That Worked .

With this document, you’ll get:

  • The essays included in this post
  • 19 additional full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Need some additional help? Check out our college essay service and work with one of our Master Consultants .

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.

Greg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.

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Essays That Worked

college essay acceptance samples

The essays are a place to show us who you are and who you’ll be in our community.

It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you and tell the admissions committee more about your background or goals. Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. In each of these essays, students were able to share stories from their everyday lives to reveal something about their character, values, and life that aligned with the culture and values at Hopkins.

Read essays that worked from Transfer applicants .

Hear from the class of 2027.

These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.

college essay acceptance samples

Ordering the Disorderly

Ellie’s essay skillfully uses the topic of entropy as an extended metaphor. Through it, we see reflections about who they are and who they aspire to be.

college essay acceptance samples

Pack Light, But Be Prepared

In Pablo’s essay, the act of packing for a pilgrimage becomes a metaphor for the way humans accumulate experiences in their life’s journey and what we can learn from them. As we join Pablo through the diverse phases of their life, we gain insights into their character and values.

college essay acceptance samples

Tikkun Olam

Julieta illustrates how the concept of Tikkun Olam, “a desire to help repair the world,” has shaped their passions and drives them to pursue experiences at Hopkins.

college essay acceptance samples

Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love.

college essay acceptance samples

Classical Reflections in Herstory

Maddie’s essay details their intellectual journey using their love of Greek classics. They incorporate details that reveal the roots of their academic interests: storytelling, literary devices, and translation. As their essay progresses, so do Maddie’s intellectual curiosities.

college essay acceptance samples

My Spotify Playlist

Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM.

More essays that worked

We share essays from previously admitted students—along with feedback from our admissions committee—so you can understand what made them effective and how to start crafting your own.

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Last updated March 5, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Have you ever wondered what goes through an admissions officer’s mind as they read college essays?

Now’s your chance.

This post takes you behind that dark, mysterious admissions curtain to show you what exceptional, good, and “bad” college essays look like. And we don’t just show them to you.

We’ve asked our team of former admissions officers to read through the essays, analyze them, offer editing ideas, and assign them grades.

So join us on this college essay example journey so you know what to do (and what not to do) as you write all your college essays this fall.

Let’s get started.

How to Use College Essay Examples

Here’s the thing. People in college admissions have lots of different opinions about whether students should read example essays. But we believe that reading example essays is a crucial step in the college essay writing process.

If you don’t know what a college essay looks like, then how should you expect yourself to write one?

So reading examples is important.

However! There’s a caveat. The point of reading college essay examples isn’t to copy them or even to get inspiration from them. It’s to analyze them and apply what you’ve learned to your own college essay.

To help you do that, our team of former admissions officers has taken this super-comprehensive compilation of college essay examples and pointed out exactly what you need to know before you start writing.

Let me break down how this post works:

Categories:

We’ve put together a great variety of college essay examples and sorted them into three categories, including…

  • Best college essay examples: these examples are the creme-de-la-creme. They’re written by a small percentage of students who are exceptional writers.
  • Good college essay examples: these examples are solid. They do exactly what they need to do on the admissions committee floor. You’re aiming to write a good college essay.
  • “Bad” college essay examples: these examples illustrate a few of the most common college essay mistakes we see.

Our former admissions officers have assigned each essay a letter grade to help you understand where it falls on the scale of “bad” college essays to exceptional college essays.

Alongside our categorization and grades, our former admissions officers have also annotated the essays and provided concrete feedback about what works and what could be improved.

The majority of essays you’ll see here are written in response to the Common Application personal statement prompts. We’ve also included a few stellar supplemental essays at the end of the post.

How an Admissions Officer Reads College Essays

All admissions officers are different. And all institutions ask their admissions officers to read in different ways.

But there are a few strategies that shape how the majority of admissions officers read college essays. (If you want a look behind the mysterious admissions curtain, read our post about how admissions offices read tens of thousands of applications every year .)

First, we need to talk about application reading as a whole.

Remember that admissions officers are reading your college essays in the context of your entire application. It’s likely that by the time they get to your essay, they’ve already glanced at your background information, activities , and transcript . They may have even looked at your letters of recommendation or additional information.

Why is this detail important? It matters because your college essays need to be in conversation with the rest of your application. We refer to this strategy as adopting a “ cohesive application narrative .” Your unique personal brand—who you are, what you’re good at, what you value—should emerge across all of your application materials.

To summarize: your college essays don’t exist in a vacuum. Your admissions officers learn about who you are from your entire application, and your college essays are the place where you get to tell them exactly what you want them to know. You should write them in a way that creates balance among the other parts of your application.

So once your admissions officers get to your college essays, what are they looking for?

They’re looking for several things. Each of your essays doesn’t have to address all of these points, but they are a great place to start:

  • Personal narrative that explains who you are and where you come from
  • Details about specific activities, accomplishments, or inclinations
  • Personality traits that make you who you are
  • Lessons you’ve learned throughout your life
  • Values that you hold dear
  • Information about how you interact with the world around you
  • Highlights about what makes you special, strong, interesting, or unique

What do all of these points have in common? They revolve around your core strengths . We’ve written more extensively about core strengths in our college essay writing guide . But for now, just know this: your college essays should tell admissions officers something positive about yourself. They want to know who you are, what motivates you, and why you would be an active contributor to their campus.

As we go through the following example essays, remember: college essays are read alongside the rest of your application, and college admissions officers read your essays to learn about your core strengths.

Okay, let’s get to it. Ready? Buckle up.

The Best College Essay Examples

As an admissions officer, every so often you come across an essay that blows you away. It stops you in your tracks, makes you laugh or cry, or resonates deeply with you. When exceptional essays come through your application bin, you’re reminded what an honor it is to get these fleeting glimpses into incredible students’ lives.

As an applicant, you may be wondering how to write this kind of exceptional college essay. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula. You can’t “hack” your way into it. You have to write vulnerable, authentically, and beautifully—which is much easier said than done. We have a whole guide on how to write a personal statement that stands out, so we recommend that you start there.

For now, let’s take a look at some of our favorites.

College Essay Example #1: The Gospel of Steve

The first college essay we'll look at got an A+ grade and is about the writer's experience with depression and... Steve Irwin. It's a common application essay. Check it out:

" In sophomore year, I struggled with depression((While this is a fantastic essay, this hook could definitely be stronger.)) . I felt like I was constantly battling against the darkness that seemed to be closing in on me. Until, that is, I found solace in the teachings of Steve Irwin.((This unusual last sentence drew me in when I read this for the first time.))

When I first discovered Steve Irwin and his show "The Crocodile Hunter," I was captivated by his passion for wildlife. He was fearless, jumping into danger without hesitation to save an animal in need. But it was more than just his bravery that inspired me; it was his infectious energy and love for life. Watching him on TV, I couldn't help but feel a little bit better about my own struggles.((This explicit reflection does a fantastic job connecting the writer’s experiences to this Steve Irwin reference.))

But it wasn't until I read his biography that I truly felt the impact Steve had on my life. In the book, he talked openly about his own struggles with depression. He talked about the dark moments in his life, when he felt like he was drowning in despair. But he also talked about how he fought back against the darkness, how he refused to let it consume him, and how he turned his depression into a career that allowed him to follow his biggest passions.

Reading Steve's words, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.((Another beautiful transition)) I wasn't alone in my struggles if someone as brave and fearless as Steve had faced similar challenges. And that gave me the courage to keep going. I started visiting a therapist, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness meditation. Day by day, I lifted myself out of my depression–all with a healthy dose of “Crocodile Hunter” each evening after I finished my homework((The writer does a great job focusing on action steps here.)) .

One of the things that I admired most about Steve was his ability to find joy and laughter in the most unlikely places. He was always cracking jokes, even in the face of danger. He taught me that laughter and humor can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression. I went looking for the humor in my own struggles. I started learning about how stand-up comedy works, and wrote my own five-minute skit finding the humor and silver lining((The writer expands their connection to Steve Irwin even more through this comedy thread.)) in my depression. I wasn’t a great comic, let me tell you. But being able to channel my experience into something positive—something that helped others laugh—was extremely gratifying to me.

Depression((The reflection in this paragraph is exactly what writers need to tie all the information together before reaching the conclusion.)) is a bizarre thing. One day, you’re besieged by it from every side and it looks like there’s no way out. Then, two months later, if you’re diligent, you look around the world and wonder what you ever had to be upset about. You find goodness and light in the things around you—your friends, your family, your habits, and your hobbies. These forces act as buttresses to keep you standing up and moving forward.

As silly as it may sound, I credit Steve Irwin with that first buttress. His experience and outlook on life gave me the push I needed to cultivate bravery and resilience in the face of my struggle with mental health. My eternal goal is now to practice the gospel of Steve—to always pass along humor, passion, and encouragement to others, especially to those who seem down and out. Thank you, Steve."

Word Count: 525

Admissions Officer Notes on The Gospel of Steve

This essay captured my attention because of its unique pairing of a tough subject—depression—with a light-hearted and endearing topic—Steve Irwin.

The writer doesn’t dwell in the experience of depression but instead finds hope and light by focusing on how their favorite TV star changed their perspective. Why this essay stands out:

  • Great organization and sign-posting . The essay clearly progresses through each part of the writer’s journey. The first sentence of each paragraph signals to the reader what that paragraph will be about.
  • Focus on action steps. It’s very apparent that this writer is a do-er. The focus of the essay is on the way they emerged from their depression, not on the depression itself.
  • Meaningful reflection. Especially in the second-to-last paragraph and conclusion, the writer beautifully reflects on what depression and hope mean to them.
  • Core strengths. From this essay alone, I gather that the writer is a sage archetype . They clearly show their wisdom and ability to persist through challenges.

Most importantly, they’ve written the essay around communicating their core strengths.

College Essay Example #2: The Embroidery Scientist

This essay is about a writer's Etsy store and the connection she draws between fashion and science.

I stretch the thin fabric over my hoop and pull it tight, wedging the nested rings between my legs to secure them shut with my other hand((This hook is compelling. It makes us ask, “What in the world is the writer doing?” We are compelled to read on to find out.)) .

Next I get out the thread. Each color is wound tightly around a paper spool and stored in a container whose original purpose was to store fishing tackle.

I look at the pre-printed design on the fabric and decide what colors to select. Orange, red, pink, yellow–this design will be as bright and happy as I can make it.

Embroidery is where the STEM and creative parts of my identity converge((Here we get a clear, explicit statement of the writer’s main point. This isn’t always necessary, but it can help your reader navigate your essay more easily if you have a lot going on.)) . My STEM side is calculated. She meticulously plans the designs, mocks them up in photoshop, and painstakingly transfers them onto the fabric. She organizes each thread color by its place in ROYGBIV and cuts every piece to an identical length of 18”. Her favorite stitch is the French Knot, with its methodical “one, two” wrap sequence. For her, art is about precision.

My creative side, on the other hand, is messy. She throws thread scraps on the floor without hesitation, and she haphazardly adds design elements in pen. She does a Lazy Daisy stitch very lazily while adding an indescribable flourish to a simple backstitch. Her methods are indeed madness: she’ll border a design with glitter glue, hang a finished project upside down, or stitch a big red X over a perfectly good embroidery. For her, art is about meaning.

While these two sides of myself may seem at odds((Seamless transition to talking about Etsy accomplishment)) , they actually complement each other perfectly. At least, that’s what 3,000 of my Etsy customers think. From three-inch hoops to massive wall hangings, my Etsy shop is a compilation of the best embroidery I’ve ever done. My precision and meaning have earned me hundreds of five-star reviews from customers whose lives I’ve impacted with my art. And none of that art would have been possible without STEM me and creative me.

My STEM and creative side complement each other in more than my embroidery life too. What began as a creative side hustle has actually made me a better scientist((Another good transition to discussing passion and talent for science)) .

Before I started embroidering, I approached the lab bench with an eye like a ruler. Poured a millimeter too much liquid? Better get a pipette. Went a degree over boiling? Time to start over. My lab reports demonstrated my knowledge, skill, and care, but they didn’t show any innovation or ingenuity. My precision led me to be a good scientist but not an exceptional one.

I realized that to be exceptional, I needed to think like a real scientist. While scientists are careful and precise, they are also interrogators. They constantly question the world around them, identifying previously unseen problems and finding creative solutions. To become the scientist I wanted to be, I needed to allow myself to be more creative((This is a good example of what reflection throughout the essay should look like.)) .

When I had this realization, I had just begun my embroidery business. I didn’t understand that my creativity could also be so useful in the lab. I set out on a new path to use more creativity in the pursuit of science.

To inspire myself, I brought an embroidery project to the lab. On it, I stitched a compound microscope and a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Marie Curie. It reads, “ I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”

In the lab now, I’m not afraid to take risks and try new things((Here we see clear personal growth.)) . When I boil my mixture too long, I still start over. But occasionally, when my teacher permits, I do a second experiment on the rejected liquid just to see what will happen. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes it results in utter failure. But other times, my mistakes create blue, green, and purple mixtures, mixtures that bubble and burst and fizz. All of these experiments are stitches in my quest to become a cancer researcher. They are messy, but they are beautiful((The conclusion ties beautifully back to the beginning, and we also learn what the writer is interested in pursuing in the future.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on "Embroidery Scientist"

This writer has done an excellent job talking about two very different aspects of their identity. What I love about this essay is that the structure of the essay itself shows the writer’s creativity and precision. The essay is well-organized and precise, but the writing has a unique and creative flair. It demonstrates the writer’s point exactly. I also appreciate how the writer doesn’t just talk about these parts of their identity. They explicitly connect their creativity and precision to their future goals as a scientist.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Creative approach: The writer doesn’t just say, “I have two identities: creative and logical.” Instead, they illustrate that point through the wonderful example of embroidery. Connecting embroidery with science also shows this creativity.
  • Attention-grabbing hook : The introductory paragraphs place readers immediately into the essay. We’re drawn in because we’re curious what the writer is doing and how it will evolve into a more meaningful message.
  • Connection between personal and academic interests: The writer makes it clear why this story matters for their life in college. The creative and precise personalities aren’t inconsequential—they have a real effect on who this person wants to be.
  • Forward-looking conclusion: The writer ends by subtly telling admissions officers what they’re interested in doing during and after college.

College Essay Example #4: Poetry Slam

When I first met Simon, he was neither speaking nor singing. He was doing something in between(( This hook is a good “statement” hook that raises more questions than it answers.)) . With words that flowed together like an ancient tributary, he spoke music. His hands grasping a microphone, he swayed slowly from side to side. He was a poet. But unlike that of Yeats or Dickenson, Simon’s poetry wasn’t meant to be read on a page—it was meant to be experienced like an aural work of art. And I had never experienced anything more beautiful. Disheartened, I realized that my words would never sound like Simon’s(( These two sentences are essential because otherwise the introduction would be all about Simon, not the writer.)) .

I sat in my on-deck seat. Forgetting that I was up next, I admired his craft. The crescendos and decrescendos that mirrored his pacing, the quick staccatos that punctuated each stanza, the rhymes so subtle they almost disappeared—every second of his spoken word pulled me further from reality. I listened to his words like a devout in church(( This is good sentence pacing. A long, winding sentence is followed by a short one that keeps our attention and propels us forward.)) . Closing my eyes, I joined my hands together to count the syllables. From the outside, it probably looked like I was praying. And maybe I was. When Simon’s poem ended, the audience, though betrayed by the silence, erupted into applause.

It was my turn. I had spent an entire year perfecting my poem. My sister had grown accustomed to kicking me under the dinner table when someone asked me a question. She knew that my mind was in my beloved poetry notebook, mentally analyzing my latest draft. I’ve never been one for living in the moment. My report cards usually feature comments like, “She’s a good student but has trouble paying attention.” I’m always the first one out in dodgeball because my mind is completely absent from the school gym. But what seems like inattention to my teachers is actually a kind of profound focus(( This reflection widens the essay’s scope and reveals more about who the writer is as a person.)) .

When writing slam poetry, I become completely consumed. I like to start with the words. The rhythm and intonation come with time. For me, it’s about translating a feeling into language. It’s no easy task, but it feels like an obligation. Once the words come into being, they’re like a twister in my mind(( Good (and sparing) use of figurative language.)) . They spin and spin, destroying every other thought in their path. I can’t focus on anything else because, in the aftermath of a twister, nothing else exists.

And there on the stage, nothing else existed besides me and my poem. I spoke it into existence. Like Simon, I wrapped my hands around the microphone, willing my poem to be heard. The twister exited my mind and entered the world.

A few weeks ago(( Excellent signposting)) , I watched the recording of my first poetry slam, that slam two years ago when I saw Simon perform for the first time. I saw myself climb on stage from the dark abyss of the audience. I looked small, all alone on that big stage. My voice shook as I began. But soon, my poem rendered the stage smaller and smaller. I filled the darkness with words.

As I watched myself on my computer, I thought about how I felt that day, awe-struck in the audience by Simon’s work. I felt like I’d never be able to sound like him. And I was right. My poem didn’t sound like Simon’s, and none of my poems ever would. But in this moment, I realized that they were just as beautiful. My words sounded like me(( Beautiful conclusion that really drives home just how much this person has grown. They don’t need to sound like Simon. They need to sound like themself.)) .

Word Count: 552

Admissions Officer Notes on Poetry Slam

We would call this essay a “sacred practice” essay. It’s clear that slam poetry is deeply meaningful to the writer. They even call it “an obligation.” It’s a beautiful essay that also reflects the writer’s interest in poetry. They have some nice figurative language that adds interest to the story—it’s almost like the essay is in some ways a poem itself. And the story is a good one: it demonstrates the writer’s fears, strengths, and growth.

  • Deeply meaningful: We say it all the time because it’s true: college essays should be vulnerable and deeply meaningful. This essay oozes meaning. The writer even connects their love of slam poetry to who they are as a person.
  • Good organization and signposting: The narrative in this essay is a little complicated as the writer switches between the slam poetry event, reflection on past events, and reflection during current day. But because each paragraph is about a single topic, and because they use very clear topic sentences and transitions, it’s easy to follow the narrative thread.
  • Theme: The main theme in this essay is that the writer found their own voice through slam poetry. They had to experience growth to come to this realization. The very last sentence of the essay wonderfully ties back to the introduction and wraps up the entire essay.

College Essay Example #4: The Muscle Show

My parents are the scrapbooking type(( I’m intrigued by this hook! It makes me ask, “Where is this essay going?”)) . The crafty, crazy-cut scissors and construction paper, okay-everyone-make-a-silly-face-for-this-picture type.

Every summer, my entire family rents a small house in Wildwood, New Jersey for a week to catch up and enjoy the beach and good company. My favorite part is spending time with my cousin Steven, who is one year older than me. To us, there is nothing better than two pockets full of quarters, strolling down the boardwalk headed to an arcade, licking an ice cream cone, and laughing at all the novelty t-shirts for sale(( This sentence beautifully gives us a sense of place. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, too.)) .

We have a “down the shore” scrapbook proudly displayed on our coffee table that holds memories from each of our family vacations. The scrapbook(( Ah-ha. A quick answer to our scrapbooking question.)) is such a fixture in our house that it blends in with its surroundings and I fully forgot it existed until this past March. I happened to pick it up and look at pictures from the first year we went. I was four, Steven was five, and there we were, shirtless in the living room, proudly displaying our kid “muscles” in front of a handmade sign that said “WELCOME 2 THE MUSLE SHOW”.

I cried when I saw it.

No, not because we spelled muscle wrong. The four-year-old in that picture had such a small and fragile frame. I was the kind of child who almost looked like they had six-pack abs because they are so slim. There was so much naivety in that picture that no longer exists(( With this sentence, our writer begins to embark on their journey.)) .

I started gaining weight–a lot of weight–around the fifth grade. My parents are wonderful role models in the way they treat others, but they aren’t exactly paragons of healthy eating. Looking through the scrapbook, none of the adults in my family were particularly healthy. I distinctly remember my dad saying to me sometime in elementary school, “what do these people go to the gym for, anyway? What are you going to do with all those muscles?” I spent elementary and middle school on a steady diet of McDonald’s, Doritos, and video games.

I hit 200 pounds at age 14. One day in my least favorite class, PE, we had to do a push-up competition. Not only could I not do one, I was out of breath just getting up and down from the floor. Something had to change(( And here is our inciting incident in this narrative arc)) .

I turned to one thing I was good at to figure out a solution: reading. I read books like “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes and started to learn the science behind calories, carbs, insulin, and soon, exercise. Even though neither of my parents had ever been inside a gym, I convinced them to buy me some training sessions and a membership that Christmas.

It’s remarkable what happens when you suddenly stop consuming fried chicken and soda, go for a daily 20-minute power walk, and exercise a few times a week. Progress in losing weight actually came sooner than I expected. By sophomore year, I was lifting weights four times a week after school and felt more comfortable in the gym than anywhere else.

I also noticed my attitude towards schoolwork was changing(( This is a good transition to widen the scope of the essay and talk about the broader implications of this journey on the writer’s life.)) . I felt like I had control in my life for the first time. I had spent countless hours trying to “level up” fake characters in video games (OK, I still do that…). But leveling up myself–my own body and mind–was life changing. So much in life is out of our control, but realizing that, at least to an extent, my own health is within my control brought a new sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.

Today, I’m at a healthy weight, my grades have improved, and I have even taken several of my friends to the gym for their first time. I look forward to continuing my healthy trend in college and beyond.

I’ll see Steven again at this summer’s beach trip. We have decided to recreate the “musle show” picture–this time with better spelling and in better health(( This short conclusion wraps everything up and has a great callback to the beginning of the essay.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on The Muscle Show

What I like about this essay is how it weaves together multiple parts of this writer’s life. We get their family background, their sense of self, and their values, interests, and goals. The writer takes us on a journey with them. We see their determination in finding solutions to the problems they’re facing, and we also clearly see their personality and voice.

  • Upward-trending growth structure : This writer nails this essay structure. We clearly see that they begin at a “point A” where things aren’t so great, and they steadily make their way to “point B.” By the end, we truly get a sense of how they’ve grown through the journey.
  • Connections: This essay isn’t just about the writer’s health journey. It’s also about their “sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.” Their changes expanded to even more parts of their life, and we can see that they are a person who takes initiative and gets creative with solutions.
  • Conclusion: I especially love the way this conclusion brings everything full-circle. The “musle show” reference at the end ties the journey nicely together with a bow and ends with a sense of forward movement.

College Essay Example #5: The Stop Sign

While some high schoolers get in trouble for skipping class, I get in trouble for arguing with my local government officials on Twitter. But when lives are at stake, I can take the heat(( Very catchy, humorous, and personality-filled hook)) .

I live at the intersection of 33rd and Spruce. The intersection itself sits between a large bend and a bundle of white oak trees—a recipe for obstructed views. Drivers careen around the corner, Indy 500-style, and are abruptly met with oncoming traffic. Neither can see the other through the oaks. What is otherwise a beautiful intersection makes for awfully dangerous driving conditions.

Living by this intersection my whole life, I’ve heard countless crashes and collisions. The screeching tires and cacophony of crushing car parts is seared in my mind. As neighbors, we are often the first on the scene. Cell phone in hand, I’ve run out to help several motorists who didn’t know what was coming. After the most recent crash, where a car flipped into the ditch, I knew that something had to change(( The writer has set the scene with a vivid description, and these sentences draw our attention to what’s at stake. They need a stop sign, and it’s clear that the writer is on a mission to get one.)) . We needed a stop sign.

I began with a google search, which led me to my local Stop Sign Request Form. According to the form, a government official would reach out to me. If they deemed it appropriate, we’d work together to assess whether the intersection qualified for a stop sign.

Their response took months. While I waited, I began collecting evidence on my own(( The writer’s initiative shines through.)) . After noticing that the security camera on my house pointed toward the intersection, I decided to put the skills I’d been developing in AP Computer Science to work. I wrote a simple code that tabulated the number of cars that passed through the intersection each day(( Here we see the technical skills the writer is developing.)) . Briefly reviewing the footage each night also helped me determine how many cars were likely going over the posted speed limit of forty miles per hour. Alongside these statistics, I went back into our cloud history to find footage of the crashes that had occurred.

When I finally heard back from the city, I was ready to make my case. My confidence deflated as soon as I opened the email(( Oh no! There’s a roadblock. Things aren’t progressing as the writer hoped.)) : Thank you for filling out a Stop Sign Request Form , the email read. At this time, we do not have reason to believe that the intersection of 33rd Street and Spruce Street meets the criteria for a two-way stop sign. The city had disagreed with my recommendation and denied my request.

I took a moment to collect myself. How could the city not care about the safety of its citizens? Were human lives not worth looking into a simple stop sign? I took to Twitter, posting statistics from my research, photos of the obstructed view, and a security camera compilation of cars speeding by. I tagged my local representatives, and I asked for help(( But the writer doesn’t focus on the problem. They continue to focus on their action steps and solutions. That’s exactly how you talk about a personal challenge in a college essay.)) .

While not all of them were receptive to my post, one particularly helpful representative connected me with my city’s City Engineer. The representative instructed me to send the City Engineer all of the evidence I had collected along with another copy of my Stop Sign Request Form.

The engineer was impressed with the code I wrote and the tracking system I’d put together, and she agreed to meet me at my house to do an inspection of the intersection. I accompanied her on the inspection so I could watch what she did. After working so hard to advocate for my community, it felt good to have my opinions heard.

In the end, I got my stop sign(( The writer emphasizes that it wasn’t just about winning the stop sign debate. It was about the community impact. And what do admissions officers want to see? Yep, community impact.)) . Drivers still occasionally speed, but I was astounded by the outpouring of thanks I received after my neighborhood was alerted of the change. My foray into local government was an eventful but rewarding one. And even though I’ve secured my stop sign, I’ll still be doing stop sign research this summer— this time as an intern at the City Engineer’s office(( And the writer pops in this awesome opportunity they’ve earned as a result. As an AO, I would see that they are continuing to prepare for college as their high school career is coming to a close.)) .

Word Count: 641

Admissions Officer Notes on The Stop Sign

This essay combines a story of personal strengths with an impactful accomplishment. It’s not necessary to write about one of your accomplishments in your college essays, but if that’s the route you want to go down, then this approach is a good one. Notice how it focuses on concrete action steps, emphasizes the skills the writer learned and used, and highlights how their actions impacted their community. A stop sign may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but the writer shows just how important this effort was.

  • Community impact: The accomplishment this writer chose to write about is an impressive one. Admissions officers are always looking at how applicants interact with their communities , so this story showcases the writer’s willingness to help and engage with those around them.
  • Strengths: Above all, we see that the writer is solutions-oriented. They are a “founder” or “builder” archetype and aren’t afraid to tackle hard problems. The writer also explicitly shows how they solved the problem using impressive skills.
  • Narrative momentum : This essay is easy to read because we’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. The hook is very catchy, the ups and downs of the writer’s struggle to solve this problem are clear, and the conclusion points to the overall significance of the story and looks toward its future impact.

College Essay Example #6: Fran’s Flower Farm

Surrounded(( The hook is interesting and vivid.)) by carnations, dahlias, and marigolds, I laid down on the hard dirt, sweating from the midday sun. While my garden was a labor of love, it was still a labor. I’d spent months during the beginning of the pandemic researching how to set up beds correctly, choose seeds and fertilizers, and run a small business(( We get plopped right into the story without wasting any time.)) . A year later, this summer would be the second harvest of Fran’s Flower Farm.

As I prepared the yield for my small table at that week’s farmers market, I reflected on how far I had come(( This transitional phrase is a quick and convenient way to incorporate reflection.)) . Prior to the pandemic, I had never even dug in the dirt. I didn’t know anything about seed germination or nitrogen levels. I had my own Instagram, but I had never had to market anything or think about overhead costs. I was a total and complete newb.

But my life, like everyone’s, changed in spring of 2020. Lockdown rendered me depressed and hopeless until one day when my mom ordered me a bouquet of flowers along with our grocery delivery. The bouquet was a simple grocery store arrangement of sunflowers. A few petals were wilting at the ends, and the stems were smashed from the flour that had been in the same plastic bag. But they were perfect. Such a small and thoughtful gesture, that bouquet inspired me to get to work(( Nice—here we learn about the “inciting incident” that compelled the writer to get started on their flower farm.)) .

Lucky enough to have space for flower beds, I mapped out four different six-foot beds in my backyard. Garden tools stolen from my mom and borrowed from socially-distanced neighbors in hand, I added compost, arranged my seeds, watered, and mulched. I laid protective plastic over my beds, tucking them in like a child, and wrapped the garden in decade-old chickenwire I found in our barn. My garden was imperfect–compost trailed between beds, my hose wrapped around my shovel in a heap on the ground, and the chickenwire was dented and rusty. But it was all mine, and it was alive(( I like this paragraph because we really see the writer’s personality. They are determined, innovative, and grateful.)) .

As the pandemic waged on, I tended to my flowers. Each morning, I’d peek under the plastic to see how they had fared throughout the night. They gave me routine and purpose when the days seemed droning and neverending. The longer I kept them alive, the more their sprouts brought me life, too(( This is a very nice and poetic point.)) . In a world that seemed to come to a halt, my flowers showed me that growth wasn’t just possible–it was happening right in front of me.

The business side came soon after(( The transition here could be a touch smoother.)) . Later that summer, once my first crop had bloomed, I set up a roadside stand outside of my house. At that point, I had to put my flower buckets across the driveway from my stand to keep everyone safe. But my flowers brightened the days of hundreds of passing motorists. With growing confidence, I secured a spot at the farmer’s market by July, my business boomed(( I’d like to see some specific details here about how well the business was doing.)) . Returning all profits to my garden, I’ve expanded my operations to include two more flower beds this year.

I’m proud of how far my gardening and business skills have come, but what has been most fulfilling about Fran’s Flower Farm have been the connections I’ve made. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for healthcare workers. As the child of a healthcare worker myself, these challenges have been close to home. Knowing how greatly that bouquet of sunflowers affected me, I make sure to donate flowers(( And this sweet gesture shows another one of the writer’s strengths.)) to my local hospital in thanks every week.

Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d own my own flower farm. It’s brought me so many joys, challenges, and friends. I know I won’t be able to bring my flower farm with me to college. But the heart of the farm is more than the flowers(( Here, the writer wraps up the main theme of the essay and makes sure the reader really understands the point.)) . It’s about me learning and using my skills to help others. Wherever I’m planted, I know that I will bloom(( This phrasing is cliche. The writer could re-write the idea in their own words.)) .

Word Count: 643

AO Notes on Fran’s Flower Farm Grade: A

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to buy a bouquet of flowers from this student! While the ending is a bit cliche, we really see how far this student has come in their journey as a farmer and a business person. We also see the magnitude of their impact. They not only grew a successful small business, but they also gave back to the healthcare workers in their community. The student is definitely one I could see thriving in a campus community.

  • Topic and accomplishments : Like The Stop Sign, this essay conveys an impressive accomplishment. But the essay isn’t bragging about it or overstating its significance. It works well because the writer tells a genuine story about a passion they developed.
  • Variety: The writer also manages to show us two distinct strengths in one essay. We see their strength as a DIY farmer and as a business person. They are clearly a founder archetype.
  • Organization and style: The essay opens with a beautiful description, and we get a lot of good language throughout. The writer is able to go through a fairly complicated timeline in a concise and digestible way.

Good College Essay Examples

Not every student can write an exceptional college essay. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not one of your priorities or in your particular skill set.

Thankfully, college essays don’t have to be exceptional to earn admission. They can simply be good. You can still write a solid college essay that does everything you need it to do.

So what’s the difference between the best college essays and good college essays? Usually it’s writing style. Some writers have a gift for writing or have spent years practicing their craft, and those are usually the writers who produce essays that make admissions officers gasp.

But admissions officers recognize good, solid writing and storytelling, too.

So writing a good college essay should always be your main goal. Focus on the basics first before trying to level up to an exceptional essay.

College Essay Example #7: My Emotional Support Water Bottle

I had a stuffed animal named Elephant when I was a child(( This hook makes a statement that compels me to read on so I can figure out what they’re referring to.)) . I’ve long since outgrown Elephant, but now I have a new object that I keep around for comfort: my emotional support water bottle. A gray thirty-two-ounce wide-mouth Hydroflask, my emotional support water bottle accompanies me everywhere.

The water bottle was a gift last Christmas after I begged my mom for one. The brand had become extremely popular at my school, and I wanted in on the trend. When I opened the package that Christmas morning, I was elated. I felt an immediate attachment, and I was proud that I could finally fit in with the other kids at my school(( Here we learn about the connection between the waterbottle and the writer’s values)) .

I had always felt like an outsider(( In this paragraph, the writer zooms the focus out to their life in general. We need this reflection to understand why the topic matters so much to the writer.)) . Other students seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a picture that matched my piece. I envied the tight-knit friendships I saw among my peers.

As soon as I unwrapped my water bottle, I decided that I needed stickers to match. The kids at my school always had stickers on theirs. I found the perfect pack. It had animated depictions of every famous literary character imaginable. Jane Austen characters, Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Montag, Jane Eyre, and more. I couldn’t believe my luck.

No matter how disconnected I felt from my classmates, I could always find a community on my bookshelf(( The writer introduces another topic, literature, that tells us more about who they are.)) . I sat in the courtroom with Atticus Finch, walked through the streets of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov, and watched the revolution unfold alongside Satrapi. My literary friends kept me optimistic through difficult times, and I was glad to see them every day on my beloved Hydroflask.

After winter break ended, I couldn’t wait to debut my new accessory. I placed it atop my desk in each class, angling my favorite stickers outward in hopes of connection. I was profoundly comforted by its presence—I could always take a sip of water when I felt thirsty or uncomfortable, and its stickers promised to draw people in.

To my dismay(( This paragraph serves an important plot function. We see that everything, in fact, did not work out perfectly. By highlighting this challenge, we really get a sense of the writer’s problem-solving and resilience.)) , weeks went by, and no one noticed my Hydroflask or stickers. The school was filled with dozens more Hydroflasks after the holidays, so mine didn’t seem so special. What had once filled me with so much hope and support transformed into a reminder of an unfulfilled promise of friendship.

I coped with the disappointment by re-reading one of my childhood favorites, Le Petit Prince . Near the end, when the little prince returns to water his flower, I had a realization. I couldn’t wait around for people to come to me(( Ding, ding, ding! Here we have it. The main lesson the writer has learned. What’s great, too, is that they’ve stated it so clearly.)) . I had to bring the water to them.

The next day at school, I held my Hydroflask close and gathered all my courage. I headed into the lunch room and spotted Jordan, one of the people I’d chatted with in class. She was sitting alone at a table, reading a book I couldn’t identify. I asked if I could join her. Nodding, she told me about her book, White Teeth . When I placed my Hydroflask on the lunch table, she noticed my stickers(( This sentence is crucial because it ties all these threads together: the waterbottle, stickers, literature, and friendship/fitting in.)) . Together, we went through every sticker and talked about the character’s book.

Jordan and I spent the next day’s lunch exchanging laughter and book recommendations. She had a water bottle of her own, too. It was a classic Nalgene without a single sticker. As our friendship grew stronger, I brought Jordan the last sticker from my collection(( With this small gesture, we see a) the writer’s kindness and b) the writer’s personal growth.)) , a rainbow bookmark that read, “BOOKWORM.”

I’ve always looked to the world around me for comfort instead of finding courage within myself. Elephant still sits on my shelf, I continue to be an avid reader, and I always carry my Hydroflask around for hydration. But this learning process has taught me the importance of having confidence and finding the ability to reach out to others. I can’t wait to carry this skill with me to college— after I get some more stickers(( The conclusion ties all these threads together beautifully, and this final statement adds some spunk and forward movement.)) .

Word Count: 648

Admissions Officer Notes on My Emotional Support Waterbottle

Ah, the emotional support water bottle. We’ve all had one! This writer does a wonderful job connecting an otherwise simple object to a larger story about an important part of their life. We also learn a lot about the student, their background, their goals, and their interests from this essay. I especially like how the essay shows the writer’s academic passion (literature) without being an explicitly academic-focused essay.

What makes this essay good:

  • Storytelling: With their love of reading, it’s no wonder this writer is a good storyteller. As readers, we get a very clear sense of how the events progressed and changed the reader’s perspective.
  • Compelling hook: This essay’s introduction is attention-grabbing and quirky. It compels readers to continue on in the essay to find out what, exactly the writer is talking about.
  • Clean conclusion: The conclusion is a fantastic example of what college essay conclusions should do. It reflects back on the essay, ties up loose ends, and looks forward to how these lessons will apply to the writer’s future.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Core Strengths: While we learn a lot about the writer from the essay, there could be a stronger sense of core strengths. We see that they are a strong reader, but that strength doesn’t necessarily connect to their overall message. We also see that they are eager to connect and become a good friend with Jordan, but they don’t all connect seamlessly into a specific archetype or two. A good question to ask yourself is: how would the strengths I show in this essay convince an admissions officer that I will be a good addition to their campus?

College Essay Example #8: Party of One

The sun shone through my airplane window, hitting the tray table exactly right to reveal the greasy handprint of a child. Beside me, a woman cleared her throat as she rifled through her purse, and the tween next to her tapped away on an iPad. The knees of the tall man behind me pushed against the back of my chair. Together, we headed to Pennsylvania(( We open with clear scene-setting, and the final sentence jumps right to the point: we’re on a journey to PA.)) .

This wasn’t my first trip to Pennsylvania, and it wouldn’t be my last. But it was my first trip traveling as a party of one. Barely past the unaccompanied minor cutoff, I departed for a month-long and court-ordered trip to my dad’s house. I wasn’t eager to travel alone. I felt afraid, too young to do this by myself. I wanted to go back home. But I decided to embrace the journey as an adventure(( This explicit reflection helps us, the reader, understand what mindset the writer is at at the beginning of this journey.)) .

With the growing whirr of the engines, the plane ascended. All around me, my neighbors breathed sighs of relief when we reached cruising altitude. I tightened my seatbelt across my lap, steadying myself for the five-hour trip, and took in the scene. Always the quiet and careful observer(( And here we really learn about who the writer is)) , a full flight was my Sistine Chapel.

The woman to my right was wearing all black. She extracted her laptop from her bag the moment the flight attendants permitted, and she created a PowerPoint presentation from scratch before the drinks cart had even started down the aisle. She was all business. I imagined that she signed her emails with nothing but her name, that she read Keynes in her free time, and that people listened when she spoke. She was everything I longed to be(( While the majority of this paragraph is about the writer’s seat mate, this final sentence brings the focus back to the writer. We learn that the description, in fact, was about the writer themself—everything they “longed to be.”)) .

Next was the tween, only a few years younger than I was. Clearly afraid of flying, the tween reached across the aisle to a man who was presumably her father. I found it endearing that she reached out in fear. The dad’s reassurance didn’t just comfort the tween. It comforted me. So far from home, his quiet calm reminded me of the parent waiting to pick me up at the other end of this journey. I remembered reaching out for my own father’s hand when we flew to Pennsylvania for the first time(( Here we have more great reflection about the writer’s relationship with their dad. )) . Now, I watched the dad squeeze the tween’s hand. I felt guilty for the frustration I felt about the trip. I was excited to see my dad.

And finally, there was the man behind me. Aside from the brief glimpse I got during boarding, I didn’t know what he looked like. But there were two things I knew to be true. First, he was tall. The longer the flight went on, the more apologetically his knees bumped against my seat. Second, I felt emboldened by his ability to take up space. With each nudge forward, I spread myself a little bigger(( The writer’s encounter with this man nudged their growth forward. At the beginning, they felt small and timid. Now, they’re more able to take up space.)) , daring to exist in a world I normally wanted to hide from.

Four hours into the flight, turbulence hit. The long-legged man yelped as his knee hit the metal of the seat. Bigger now(( And that growth is solidified even more through this brief transition statement.)) , I was able to brace myself against the impact. I looked to the tween, who I expected to be a wreck. Instead, I saw a calm girl handing napkins to her dad, whose drink had spilled in the commotion. Her care for him mirrored the care he had shown for her. The woman next to me, who had seemed so steadfast, gasped when the plane shot downward. Her hand reached for her chest as she caught herself, surprised. I moved my arm from our shared armrest, giving her space(( This last part gives a very subtle look at the writer’s growth, too. We see that the person the writer admired isn’t as strong as she had seemed. In fact, the writer’s growth has enabled them to help the woman in her moment of weakness.)) . She smiled in appreciation.

After the turbulence had ended, I looked at myself. My hands were folded neatly in my lap. I realized that although I was flying solo, I was surrounded by strangers whose stories intersected with my own(( This point could be more specific.)) . When we landed, I ran into my dad’s arms. “ You’ve grown ,” he smiled.

Admissions Officer Notes on Party of One

This essay is an endearing story about the writer’s first solo plane ride. The narrative is what we would characterize as a “going on a journey” essay—both literally and figuratively. As the writer makes this cross-country trip, they also go through a long personal journey. I especially like the tie between the introduction and conclusion. Along the way, we also learn about the writer through their observations of the other people on the flight.

  • Introduction: The first two paragraphs draw the reader in, descriptively set the scene, and establish what is at stake for the writer. We are dropped right into the journey alongside them.
  • Vivid language: Throughout the essay, the writer uses interesting and vivid language that helps draw the reader in. The details aren’t overwhelming but add depth to the narrative.
  • Reflection throughout: One of the most challenging parts of writing this kind of essay is figuring out how to incorporate your reflection throughout. Many writers mistakenly save it all to the end. But this writer does it the right way by adding reflection at each stop along their journey.

Focus on the self: As-is, this essay tells us a lot about the writer. But it’s nearing on committing one of the biggest college essay writing faux pas: focusing on people other than yourself. I think the writer is getting close to that line but doesn’t yet cross it because of the reflection throughout. But to make the essay even better, the writer could still draw more focus to their own experiences.

College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent

I’m a klutz(( Quirky but not too out-there hook that has a lot of personality)) —that’s it, that’s my greatest talent. I’ve honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life.

When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over. (“This is why we can’t have nice things!” my mom used to scream, half in jest and half in exasperation.) My parents used to joke that I was the only person who could trip on a flat surface. But unfortunately for me, despite doing my due diligence into flat-earth theory(( Here’s more humor that adds some interest and voice to the essay.)) , I found that there was a prevailingly devilish curve to everything around me. If it had a lip, an edge, or a slick spot, I found it.

As I got older(( Excellent signposting to guide the reader through the narrative)) , my talent for being a klutz grew. I managed to trip over my own backpack on a daily basis, and I once fell down a flight of stairs while holding a tray of cookies (I was trying to be a good hostess, but it didn't end well). My friends and family came to expect it, and after those first few years of irritated glances, they began to meet my clumsiness with a laugh and an extended hand.

Being a klutz isn't all bad(( Here, the writer flips our expectations on their head. We’re about to learn about how being clumsy is, in fact, a talent.)) . In fact, it has some pretty decent perks. For one thing, it’s helped me become more empathetic. I know what it feels like to stumble and fall (and stumble and fall, and stumble and fall, and…), and I’m always ready to offer a kind word and a hug to someone who’s having a tough time. I also have a great sense of humor(( We’ve already seen this strength in action at the beginning of the essay, so it’s another good one to highlight.)) —a defense mechanism thanks to all of the embarrassing moments that I’ve created for myself. And let's not forget the fact that I am never bored. There is always something to trip over or knock over. Neither I nor anyone around me ever lacks for entertainment.

One of the biggest benefits of being a klutz is the unexpected friendships(( Friendship is another good strength. But at this point, the essay is starting to feel somewhat list-like. It may have been better to delve more deeply into fewer strengths rather than try to cover so much at once.)) it has given me. For example(( This is a good concrete anecdote that demonstrates the point, though.)) , I once tripped and fell into a ditch while hiking with a group of near-strangers I had met at a trailhead. Surrounded by brambles and thorns, three of them jumped right down with me to hoist me out. My graceless tumble became an inside joke of the trip and we all ended up becoming good friends. I was still embarrassed, of course, but I’m grateful that my clumsiness opened up a new door for friendship that day.

Being a klutz has also taught me to be patient with myself(( Again, we have another good strength, but it’s a lot to cover in one short essay.)) , and to not take myself too seriously. It has taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected, and to always have a good sense of humor. And most importantly, it has taught me to be kind to others(( And yet another strength! Especially since these are related, combining them in a more substantial way may have been more effective.)) , especially when they are having a tough time.

So, if you are looking for someone who’s a little bit quirky and a lot of fun, I’m your girl. I may not be the most graceful person on the planet, or on your campus, but I am confident, kind, and always up for a good laugh. Anyway, where's the fun in being graceful? Just, please, if you do accept me—I’d really appreciate some foam bumpers on the sharp surfaces in my dorm(( More wonderful personality to wrap things up hete. It's approaching being too informal, though.)) .

Word Count: 548

Admissions Officer Notes on My Greatest Talent

This essay is kind of a goofy one. I’ve included it as an example because I want to show you that it’s okay for your college essay to have some personality! Your college essay doesn’t have to be a big, serious rumination on some deep topic. Especially if you’re a goofy person yourself, it’s completely okay for you to choose a more light-hearted topic that showcases your personality. If you do, just be sure to follow this writer’s lead and still write an essay that showcases your strengths.

  • Topic choice and personal voice: When we read this essay, we get a crystal clear picture of who the student is because the topic allows them to really write in their own voice. I feel like I know the student after reading it.
  • Strengths: All college essays should communicate a core strength to the reader. This essay does an exceptional job at transforming something most people would consider a weakness—being clumsy—into clear strengths—empathy, humor, friendship, patience. Overall, we see that the writer
  • Writing style: The biggest tweak this writer could make would be leveling up the writing style. As it is now, it reads like a five-paragraph essay: first I did this, then this, and then this third thing. Changing up the organization and topic sentences could help the writing come across as more mature.

College Essay Example #10: Counting Cards

I am a psychic who thinks in terms of fours and threes(( This hook raises a lot of questions: What is the writer referring to? It does read, however, as a bit disingenuous and overly quirky.)) . Deal me any hand of Gin, and I can guarantee I’ll have you beat. I stare at the cards in my hand and see numbers moving in my mind. Like a mathemetician at a chalkboard, I plan out my next move. I use logic, memory, and a little bit of luck to guess exactly what your hand looks like. The possible combinations seem endless—four Kings and a run of three, three nines and four Queens, a run of four and three sevens, and many, many more. What I love most about playing Gin is the predictability. While I may not know what’s coming, I can use what I already know to strategize, adapt, and have fun along the way(( Here we have a clear gesture toward the essay’s overall theme.)) .

My Gin career began as a small child. My aunt taught me how to play the game while we were camping. My hands were so small that we had to use a chip clip to keep the cards in place(( These first three sentences are very choppy because they all have the same length and structure.)) . I was at first intimated by the “big kid game,” as I called it then, but soon I couldn’t get enough. I forced my entire family to play, and I even roped in the kids at the campsite next to us. My aunt, a mathematician, is a skilled Gin player. She passed her tips and tricks along to me. After a few years of playing, she was the only opponent I couldn’t beat.

Last summer was the first time it finally happened. I bested her. I had a hand with three Aces and a run of Spades. I needed another Ace or a three or seven of Spades. When I drew that final Ace from the deck, I could hardly believe it. I paused to count my cards again(( This description paints a wonderful picture of the writer, their aunt, and the relationship between them.)) . I drew my hands to my chest, looked up at my aunt slowly and triumphantly, and calmly declared, “Gin.” My aunt squealed and embraced me, proud of all the progress her protegee had made.

This win came from a year of hard work(( This is an effective transition that allows the writer to talk about all the work they put in.)) . I read every book on Gin I could find at the library, watched countless YouTube videos, and became an expert on Gin’s more lively counterpart, Gin Rummy. Learning and practicing drew me into a huge online community of Gin enthusiasts. I never thought that I’d meet some of my best friends through a card game, but I did. Every night, we’d compete against each other. And with each match, my skills would sharpen like a knife on a honing steel. When I finally beat my aunt, I hadn’t just won the game. I’d won lifelong friends and greater reasoning skills(( And here is a bit of reflection sprinkled in at the end. There definitely could be more reflection throughout.)) .

Gin players aren’t internationally recognized for their intellectual prowess like chess or Scrabble. I’ve learned other games and played them successfully, but nothing has come close to the joy and challenge I feel while playing Gin. I love predicting what your opponent holds and what you’ll draw next, betting on your perfect card being in the draw deck, chatting with your opponent as you deal the next round, and earning bragging rights after winning a match—all of it is the perfect mix of strategy and community. When I head off to college in the fall, the first thing I’ll pack will be a deck of cards(( This is a sweet ending that looks forward to the future. The conclusion could have touched more specifically on why all of this is so meaningful to the writer.)) .

Word Count: 549

Admissions Officer Notes on Counting Cards

This essay chronicles a writer’s journey learning how to play the card game Gin. I really like how much the writer and their personality shine through. Like the My Greatest Talent essay, Counting Cards is a great example of how to write a fun, light-hearted essay that still speaks to your strengths.

  • Topic: Admissions officers see lots of essays about chess and sports. But it’s pretty rare to see one about Gin. The topic (and enthusiasm with which the student writes about the topic) give this essay a good personal voice.
  • Connections: The writer also makes stellar connections between a simple game and the people who are most meaningful to them: their family and friends.
  • Strengths: Even with a topic as simple as a card game, the writer manages to highlight their strengths of work ethic and camaraderie.
  • Higher stakes: We see that the game of Gin is really important to the writer. We also see how the game is connected to their relationship with their aunt and to the new community they found online. But I’m left wanting a little bit more reflection and vulnerability about why Gin is so meaningful to this writer.

College Essay Example #11: Golden Hills Animal Clinic

On my best days at work, I’m surrounded by puppies, kittens, and rainbows(( This hook is interesting, but it's quite cliche.)) . On my worst, I watch people say tearful goodbyes to their best friends. Working at the front desk of Golden Hills Animal Clinic, I’ve seen it all. I’ve learned a lot about people through their pets. I’ve also learned a lot about myself(( Here, we get straight to the point of what this essay is going to be about.)) .

I began working in the clinic two summers ago. I’m known in my family as the “ Snow White(( What a sweet detail about this writer’s background)) ” because I’ve always had a special connection with animals. I had nearly started a new colony of stray cats in my backyard by the time I was nine. I’ve nursed more sick and injured birds than I can count. I’ve discovered all kinds of insects, snakes, and lizards in my neighborhood. Now, at the front desk, I get to welcome the animals and their humans. I share in their joys and console them at their lows.

After(( This topic sentence does a good job structuring the paragraph, but it could be clearer how this paragraph connects to the overall idea of the essay.)) watching thousands of animals struggle, you think you’d get used to the pain and suffering. But each hurt, injured, or elderly animal I check in stings just the same. When I’m in the back room helping prepare the animals for surgeries or procedures, I look into their eyes and desperately try to communicate that everything will be okay. The worst part is knowing that the animals can tell something is wrong but don’t understand what is happening. And when their owners walk past my front desk, I reassure them that we’re treating their pets as our own.

But with life’s hard moments also come the happiest ones. It’s easy to become dejected by the sad times, but working at the clinic has actually given me more hope(( Ah-ha! We learn that even though the writer witnesses a lot of sadness at the clinic, the experience has actually given them more hope.)) . There’s nothing like seeing small puppies, feet too big for their bodies, prance through the waiting room. I’ve witnessed children comfort cats through holes in carriers, and I’ve become inspired by the assertiveness with which our veterinarians make critical decisions to help animals. Through all this, I’ve learned that those little pockets of happiness, care, and determination are what make life worth living(( This sentence helps ground the reader in the writer’s theme.)) .

I’ve also learned that veterinary medicine is as much about the people as it is the pets. Sometimes owners have to be convinced about the best care plan for their pets. Sometimes others aren’t able to afford the care they desperately want to get. People come in worried about nothing or not worried enough. Part of managing the front desk is having the ability to read where a person is coming from the moment they start speaking. Seeing things from customers’ perspectives helps me provide better customer service to the people and the pets. If I sense that a customer is worried about cost, I can talk to them about payment plans. If someone seems overwhelmed by the options, I ask if they’d like to speak with the vet again. In all these cases, I feel proud to provide as much help as I can. Doing so makes sure that our animals receive the best care possible(( We get a good sense of the writer’s strengths in this paragraph, but by the end, it still doesn’t really connect back to the theme.)) .

Now, as an aspiring veterinarian myself(( And with this small note, we learn all that’s at stake: the writer wants to be a vet in the future, so all of these experiences are important preparation .)) , I know that the rest of my career will be filled with the happiest and saddest moments of people’s lives. My care for animals will turn tragedies into miracles. I’ll console owners of sick pets, and I’ll help bring new life into the world. Veterinary medicine is a lot like life in general. You can’t have the good without the bad. But I’ve never met a pet owner who wouldn’t trade the pain of animal loss for even one fleeting, happy moment with their furry friend. Animals make the world a better place. Like Snow White(( Clever call back to tie the essay together)) , I’ll continue listening to animals so I can make their world a little better too.

Word Count: 615

Admissions Officer Notes on Golden Hills Animal Clinic

This essay tells a good story about this writer’s time working at an animal clinic. What I like about this essay is that the writer doesn’t sugar coat things, but they also don’t dwell on the sadness that passes through the clinic. They are real about their experiences, and they draw valuable lessons from them. They also show the importance of this story by connecting it to their future goals.

  • Strengths: We clearly see the strengths this writer brings to the clinic. They are understanding, patient, and positive. We also clearly see how these strengths will help the writer be a good veterinarian in the future.
  • Topic sentences and transitions: Although the paragraphs get unwieldy at times, the writer’s clear topic sentences and transitions help us seamlessly progress through the narrative.
  • Being more direct and concise: At times, it feels like the writer rambles instead of making clear, direct points. Rambling can distract the reader from the main point you’re trying to make, so it’s best to stay on track in each paragraph.
  • Fewer cliches: Relying on cliches shows immaturity in your writing. Cliches like “puppies, kittens, and rainbows” and “with the bad comes the good” get in the way of the writer’s own voice.

College Essay Example #12: The Filmmaker

Eye to the lens, I feel in complete control. The old camera weighs heavy in my hands as I quietly point my leading actor to the other side of the frame. Taking a moment to look at the world through my own eyes rather than a lens, I make a decision. I back up, careful not to trip, and capture the wide, panning shot I had envisioned. Filmmaking allows me to show others exactly how I see the world. With an odd angle or lingering aside, I can take my audience on a journey through my eyes(( This introduction raises a lot of questions that propel us forward through the essay: what is the writer doing? What is it that they want to show the world? Why does this all matter?)) .

What’s beautiful about filmmaking is that there are several art forms occurring simultaneously(( We begin with a paragraph that dives deep into the writer’s interest.)) . At the foundation of a scene is the script. Words that draw a viewer in and keep them there, the script is an essential act of creative writing. Next there’s the acting. An art of performance, acting brings the script to life. A good actor will make an audience feel as if they are with the characters, feeling what they feel and doing what they do. Then there’s the direction and filmmaking. Choices about how to translate a three-dimensional world to pixels on a screen drastically affect the audience’s experience. And, finally, there’s the editing. Editing is where all of the other art forms converge, selected and chopped up and stitched back together to create something even better than the original.

I’ve never been one for writing or acting. But the latter two, filmmaking and editing, are where my passions lie(( And here we learn about the writer’s main passion, inspirations, and journey as a filmmaker.)) . Inspired by my favorite movie, ET , I began filmmaking in elementary school. Borrowing my mom’s Flip UltraHD camera, I’d run around my home, filming everything in sight. Soon after, I started gathering my neighborhood friends in my backyard and directing them in made-up film productions. Our films took us on journeys around the world. We were pirates in the Atlantic, merchants in Paris, and kangaroos in Australia. We learned how to tell stories and create and resolve conflicts. In the process, we learned about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

My love for editing didn’t come until later(( This is an okay topic sentence that helps us understand where we’re at in the narrative, but the paragraph as a whole could more clearly relate to the writer’s overall theme.)) . When my family upgraded our ancient Gateway 2000 to a sleek iMac, I became an iMovie aficionado. I learned how to use all the features and enter in keyboard shortcuts. I became a sculptor. Instead of clay, my material was digital. I’d split clips in half, manually zoom in to my subject, and add filters that changed the whole tone of a shot. Shift + Command + F, and I’d play my clips in full screen, evaluating them with the eye of a film critic. Was my shot effective? Are the actors convincing? Is there anything odd in the background? If I had never seen this, what would I think and feel? Then I’d repeat the process, over and over again.

Some people might say that dedicating myself to filmmaking is frivolous in a world with more pressing problems. But filmmaking is a way to spread messages and give people hope. From the change wrought by An Inconvenient Truth to the laughter Mr. Bean has incited in millions, filmmaking is a way to bring art, truth, and laughter to everyone. More accessible than books or newspapers, film and TV couldn’t be more essential media to confront the problems of today. With the passion of my ten-year-old self, the films I’ll continue to make will have an impact(( We conclude by learning about the writer’s interest in using filmmaking to impact the world. The writer could dig a little deeper here—it stays mainly on the surface.)) .

Word Count: 563

Admissions Officer Notes on The Filmmaker

In this essay, we get a great sense of how excited the writer is about filmmaking. They take us on their journey learning about filmmaking, and they explain how their interest will serve them in the future. I especially enjoy how this essay oozes passion. By the end of the essay, we have no doubt about what this writer sees as their life’s calling.

  • Organization: The introduction , background, explanation, and discussion of personal growth all cohere perfectly. The writer walks us through each step of their journey in a clear and logical way.
  • Voice: Through all the rich descriptions of the writer’s childhood, we really see their personality and voice.
  • Significance and meaning : While it’s clear that this topic is one the writer is passionate about, the essay could evoke more meaning. It’s not apparent what’s truly at stake. The writer should ask and answer the question: “So what?” In answering that question, they’ll be able to be more vulnerable throughout the essay.

“Bad” College Essay Examples

“Bad” is in quotation marks here because writing is always relative.

In the case of these examples, we have categorized them as “bad” because they don’t adequately meet the expectations of a college essay. That doesn’t mean that they’re objectively bad or that their writers are bad writers. It means that the essays need some more attention.

“Bad” essays can always become good essays. Sometimes they can even become the best essays. What matters most is identifying what’s not working and putting in a lot of effort to address the problems.

Across the thousands of college essays we read as admissions officers, there are several issues that arise again and again. Learning from these issues can help you avoid them.

We have a whole post about those biggest college essay mistakes. But the following examples commit three different writing faux pas:

  • Too much metaphor and not enough substance
  • No main point or clear organization
  • About a topic that is important to the writer but not actually that high-stakes

With these mistakes in mind, let’s do some analysis.

College Essay Example #13: Lost in the Forest

I look into the forest, moss wet on my feet(( This is an intriguing hook.)) . There’s fog everywhere—I can barely see the glasses that sit on my nose. I feel a cool breeze rustle against my coat. I am cold and warm all at once. The sun shines through the fog, casting the shadow of a tree whose roots know no end. At the entrance to the forest, I stand frozen in time and space. I can’t see what’s ahead of me or behind me, only what is(( After this sentence, the metaphor becomes unclear.)) . And what is suddenly transforms into what could be. I see a fork in the pathway in front of me. The noise—the noise is so loud. Crickets and owls and tigers, oh my(( Avoid cliche phrases.)) . My thoughts scream even louder. I can’t hear myself think through the sounds of the forest of my mind. Off in the distance, I see a figure. It’s a shadow figure. It’s my mother. She’s walking towards me. I take a step into the forest, fearlessly ready to confront any overwhelming obstacle that comes my way(( This is a nice sentence that encapsulates the main theme of the essay.)) .

When I was a child, I used to play in the forest behind my house. Until one day when I caught my mom sneaking a cigarette outside. She tried to hide it behind her back, but I could see the smoke trailing over her head like a snail. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran farther into the forest. I am used to being disappointed by her. I ran and ran and ran until I tripped over a tree branch that fell in the storm the week before. I laid on the cold, hard ground. The back of me was soaked. Would I turn into my mom? After that, I decided to turn back. The cold was encroaching. I got home and saw my mom in the kitchen. We agreed not to speak of what I saw(( This paragraph could use some more details about what’s at stake: why does all of this matter? As readers, we need more information about the writer’s relationship with their mom to understand why this confrontation was so significant.)) .

While taking a history test, I looked around at my classmates. The gray desk was cold against my skin. I started counting the people around me, noting those who I knew well and those I had never really talked to. I looked at all the expensive backpacks and shoes. After our test, I asked the person next to me how she thought she did. She said it was a difficult test, and I agreed. Every class period, we’d talk more and more. We became friends. We started hanging out with another friend from biology class. We were inseparable, like three peas in a pod. We’d study together and hang out together and dance. They were the best friends I ever had. We liked to play soccer after school and sing loudly to music in my room. But one day it all stopped. They both stopped talking to me((It's not clear how this anecdote relates to the anecdote about the writer’s mother. The significance of the forest metaphor could also be drawn out more.)) . It was like I had been yanked out of the forest and thrown on to the forest floor. I became moss, the owls pecking at my spikey green tendrils. They found two other friends, and I sat alone at my desk in history again. It was like another test, but this time a history of my own.

Things went on like this for years. Over and over again I got put back into the forest. My friends who I thought were my friends actually were just drama machines. Life is foggy when you don’t know what’s going on. And I live in a forest that’s always foggy. Try as I might to find myself, it’s easy to get lost in all the trails and hills. I’m climbing a mountain each and every day. But I keep going back into the forest, looking for answers(( The return to the metaphor almost works here. But because the metaphor has gotten in the way of the main point, we need more explicit reflection to tie everything together.)) .

Word Count: 603

Admissions Officer Notes on Lost in the Forest

So. Writers know that college essays should be meaningful reflections and exercises in creative writing. But sometimes writers take this advice to the extreme and write essays that are too metaphorical and too focused on internal reflection.

This essay is the perfect example of what happens when a writer goes over the top with metaphor. The forest metaphor could be a useful tool given the writer’s topic, but as it is now, everything else gets lost within the metaphor. It’s difficult to extract what the writer actually says about their life.

The writer’s reflection is also deep and removed from specific examples. After reading the essay, I still don’t feel like I know the writer. The topic also changes halfway through the essay, so following the thread throughout is challenging.

What this essay does well:

  • Topic: Even though the writer’s topic switches in the middle of the essay, it’s clear that the topics are both meaningful to the writer. The first topic especially may still be grounds for a great college essay.
  • Vulnerability: The writer’s vulnerability shines through. They are willing to share an important part of themselves.

What the writer could improve upon:

  • Pick a main topic and stick with it: Part of what makes this essay challenging to follow is that it’s doing too many things at once. Narrowing the topic would help the writer focus all their thoughts on communicating one overall idea.
  • Use the metaphor sparingly: Remember that metaphors are best when used sparingly. Pulling off an overarching metaphor is very difficult, so it’s generally easier for writers to sprinkle in small references to the metaphor throughout. A great way to accomplish this is the “bookend technique,” where you introduce a metaphor in the introduction and return to it in the conclusion. 
  • Tighten up each paragraph : All of the paragraphs in this essay have a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily flow logically from one sentence to the next. My final recommendation would be to edit the paragraphs themselves for clarity. The writer should think about what information is essential and cut the rest.

College Essay Example #14: The Chemist

You(( There are always different opinions about addressing your reader. Sometimes it can work okay, but this instance doesn't work quite as well.)). may be wondering why I’ve taken so many chemistry classes. Well, that’s because I love chemistry. I used to hate chemistry with a fiery passion but now I love it more than anything. I remember that I used to struggle through every single chemistry assignment I ever got. My sister would try to help me but I’d just get upset, like I really just didn’t understand it and that was so frustrating so I just kept not wanting to do more but eventually I started to think “oh chemistry is at the foundation of everything that makes up our universe,” and isn’t that just fascinating?(( Whew—that was a long sentence! This is a run-on sentence, but we do learn about the writer’s primary motivation for studying chemistry.)) So then I decided to make a change and actually try to learn chemistry. I started paying attention in class and asking my teacher for help after class and finally one day my sister said, “Wow, you’re really improving.” And that meant so much to me. When my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States(( This reference is nice, but it's an abrupt topic change. It’s not clear why the writer is bringing up their great-grandparents.)) , they had no idea what would be in store for their great-grandkids. We really don’t learn chemistry in school until high school, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand it in high school when I started taking it. Electrons and atoms and acids and alcohols. There’s so much to learn. I really have never been good at math so I’d say that’s one of my biggest challenges in chemistry now is learning how to do the equations and figuring out how the math works. In fifth grade I used to be in advanced math but then it just got worse from there until I learned about tutoring. I started doing tutoring through the high school when I was in ninth grade and it helped a lot because I just needed a little more help for each lesson to really understand it. But even with that the math part of chemistry is still hard for me. But I always keep trying! That’s the most important thing to me I think is to keep trying(( This is a good statement of values.)) . Even when problems are hard and I can’t solve them I try to have a good attitude because even if I can’t get it right, doing chemistry is about unlocking the secrets of the universe and that really is interesting even if you can’t completely understand them. When I started taking chemistry in my sophomore year I almost gave up but I was also really inspired by my teacher who guided me through everything. She gave me extra time to do my lab work and was even my lab partner a couple times because our class has an uneven number of students. My favorite part of chemistry lab is mixing solutions and testing them. I don’t like the lab report writing so much but I know it’s an important part. So I try to just get through that so I can get back to doing experiments and such. My favorite experiments was about building a calormieter to measure how many calories is in our food(( Pay attention to small errors and typos like this one.)) . Calories are energy so you burn your food to measure how much energy they have. Then you write up a report about how many calories each food item like bananas, bread, a cookie, had. The best part of doing labs is having your lab partner there with you. You’re both wearing goggles and lab coats and gloves and you feel really like a professional chemist and it’s nice that you’re not doing it alone. You just read the lab instructions and do each of the steps in order. It’s like baking a cake! You just follow the recipe. But you don’t eat the results! You might use beakers or bunsen burners to hold liquid or burn or heat up whatever it is you’re experimenting on. And when I say “find the meaning of the universe” I really mean it(( The writer is trying to return to a bigger reflection here, but the transition needs to be much smoother.)) . It’s amazing how much chemistry is in everything. Cooking is doing chemistry because you’re changing up the properties of the food. The air we breathe, the way plants get energy, the medicines we take, we understand it all because of chemistry. I know that becoming a chemist is hard work and isn’t easy. But I know that it’s rewarding and that’s why I want to do it. Helping people is so important to me and I think that chemistry can help me get there(( Here, we also learn about the writer’s values and motivations.)) . I also like the health and beauty industry and I think it would be fun to get to develop new products or perfumes or medicines.

Word Count: 746

Admissions Officer Notes on The Chemist

There’s no easy way to say it, but this essay just doesn’t meet the mark. That’s why it gets an F. It reads like a free write rather than an essay because it is stream-of-consciousness and doesn’t really make a clear point. I learn that the writer loves chemistry, but the overall message is not clear.

  • Ideas : All hope is not lost! Once we dig into what each sentence of the essay is saying, there are some good ideas that the writer can turn into a more cohesive topic.
  • Organization: I hesitate to make any extreme claims about college essays, but I feel pretty confident in saying that the vast majority of college essays should always be more than one paragraph. You need paragraphs to break up your thoughts into digestible chunks. Each paragraph should contain a single point you’re trying to convey to the reader. This writer should break all these ideas up into several paragraphs.
  • Theme: We see that the topic of the essay is chemistry, that chemistry is interesting because it’s the foundation of everything, and that chemistry can help people. But we don’t really get any deeper meaning from the writer. They haven’t made an attempt to be vulnerable or to show us something significant about themself.
  • Length: The essay is almost a hundred words over the word count. The writer needs to pare things down as they organize and clarify their ideas.

Supplemental Essay Examples

In addition to your personal statement, many colleges will also have you write what are called “supplemental essays.”

These essays do exactly as the name implies: they supplement your personal statement. They’re the perfect opportunity for you to tell admissions officers even more about yourself beyond the information you put in your personal statement. Specifically, ou can use them strategically to highlight even more of your strengths.

There are no universal supplemental essay prompts like there are for the Common Application personal statement.

Instead, colleges provide their own supplemental essay prompt(s) as part of their applications.

The good news, however, is that these prompts generally fall into a few common categories: Why Us, Community, Personal Challenge, Extracurricular Activities, Academic Interest, Diversity, and Why this Major prompts.

If you want to learn more about what these prompts entail, or about how to even write a supplemental essay in the first place, check out our complete guide to writing supplemental essays (it’s really good).

For now, let’s take a look at standout example essays for four of the most common supplemental prompt types.

Community Essay: The DIY-ers

Prompt from MIT: Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

225 words or fewer"

I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers(( Straightforward but attention-grabbing. Nice!)) . In part, this lifestyle is one of necessity. Hiring professionals isn’t cheap, after all. But our DIY proclivities are also a product of a longstanding family tradition of ingenuity.

My first DIY was a fix on my Cozy Coupe, whose steering wheel had fallen off. Since then, my DIYs have become larger scale. With my dad, I’ve replaced loose bike chains, put in a new car clutch, and re-tiled our kitchen.

But our biggest DIY to date has been building a six-foot telescope(( Great topic choice that connects to the writer’s academic interests)) together. Made of scraps and spare parts, it’s not the most beautiful telescope. But our focus is on the stars anyway. My entire family has evening picnics, taking turns to look through the makeshift eyepiece. Occasionally the eyepiece falls off, and we all laugh(( I love the personality that emerges with this detail.)) as I run over to replace it.

Coming from a DIY family has made me self-reliant. And when the fixes just aren’t working, my dad reminds me to take a step back and think creatively about solutions. It’s from this mindset that my dream of being an environmental engineer has evolved(( The writer could get to this point sooner.)) .

I know that engineering isn’t just about fancy gadgets. It’s about ingenuity. I want to adapt my DIY ingenuity, mind and hand(( A cheeky nod to the school’s motto—interesting!)) , to even bigger projects that mitigate climate change and lead to a safer tomorrow(( I also like this gesture to the broader significance of their dreams and aspirations.)) .

Word Count: 220

Admissions Officer Notes

  • Topic: The writer has chosen a pretty interesting topic for this community essay that will most likely stand out among other candidates. More importantly, the community they’ve chosen to write about is one that they hold dear and have learned a lot from. The story connects in specific ways to who they are as a person and what their dreams and aspirations have come to be.
  • Growth: The prompt asks how the community has “shaped” your dreams and aspirations. This writer focuses on the progression of their aspirations while telling endearing stories about their relationship with their family members.
  • Future goals: The writer explicitly states how this community has shaped how and what they want to do in the future.

What it could improve on:

  • Pacing: Aside from describing your community, the main question of the prompt is how that community has shaped your dreams and aspirations. While the writer does get to an answer, they could spend more time in the essay focusing on that answer.

Diversity Essay: Bumpass

Prompt from Duke:  We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself.

There((A great, interesting hook that also jumps into a connection with Duke.)) are more traffic lights on the Duke University campus than there are in my entire hometown.

I don’t actually know how many traffic lights Duke has, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it has more than zero, which is how many we have here in Bumpass, Virginia.

Yes, Bumpass. Pronounced “bump-us”.

I’m from a weird little lake town in central Virginia((This paragraph gives us a clear picture of the writer's lived experiences.)) that has two types of residents: part-timers (that’s what we call them), mostly from DC, Richmond, or Charlottesville, with million-plus dollar homes on Lake Anna. They swim and boat on the private side of the lake, which is heated (yes, the lake is heated) by a nuclear power plant. And then there are families like mine. The locals. I’ve always thought “working class” was a nice way for rich people to call poor people poor, but that’s what we are. Families like mine clean the power plant. I’ve never swam in the private side, and our boat is a canoe.

Officially((And this paragraph gives us a good sense of how those lived experiences have influenced them.)) , I’ve had a job since my 16th birthday, which is the legal age in Virginia. But I’ve worked cleaning rental homes and fixing boats for part-timers with my uncle since I was old enough to use a Swiffer and turn a wrench. I’ve cleaned homes that cost more than my extended family’s combined net worth, but oddly I enjoy it. When I see inside their homes, I have something to aspire to, and that’s more than most of my hometown peers can say.

Success around here means making it through community college. Doing so in two years all without abusing alcohol or drugs? I don’t know many people who have done that. But I want to bring my Bumpass experience to Duke.((Nice job bringing the story back to the connection with Duke.)) I know how to rise before the sun and get a day’s worth of work in before noon. I know how to talk to goat farmers and postal workers (my best friend’s parents) just as well as neurosurgeons and pilots (my favorite part-timers whose docks I maintain in the off-season).

I’m looking forward to learning from the diverse body at Duke, making friends from around the world, and gaining a better understanding of the world beyond Bumpass((This conclusion ties the essay together nicely and communicates good school fit.)) .

  • Humor and personality: From the topic of the town’s name to the introduction, the writer uses humor (when appropriate) and clearly shows their own voice. They take an authentic approach to the diversity essay prompt. I feel like I know the student after reading this, which is always good.
  • School Connections: While there aren’t a ton of references to Duke here, the prompt doesn’t necessarily ask for them. The writer still does a good job connecting their lived experience to how they see themself at Duke.

Personal Challenge Essay: Tutoring Charlotte

Prompt from Brown: Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)

Asking Charlotte to answer a math question was like asking a cat to take a bath. Her resistance was almost instinctual. When I first met her, I had been doing after-school tutoring for about six months. The program paired up high school students with middle schoolers who were falling behind in their classes. Charlotte was my first student and biggest challenge(( Nice wording to make it abundantly clear that the writer is answering the prompt)) .

At first, her unwillingness to try came across as lazy(( This sentence gets at what the prompt is asking for: “a perspective that differed from your own”)) . I used everything I had in my tutoring arsenal. I encouraged her to give her confidence, and I even brought candy to bribe her. To my dismay, nothing worked. Each time I introduced a new problem, Charlotte simply refused.

My frustration grew so immense that I caught myself being curt with her. When I saw the look of betrayal in her eyes, I was ashamed at my impatience(( Here we have an inciting incident and growth that resulted from a realization. The writer begins to address the “how did you respond?” part of the prompt.)) . I realized that Charlotte’s struggles weren’t her fault. Math has always come easy to me. Whereas every math problem I encounter is like a code I’m excited to crack, Charlotte sees math problems as threats. After years of struggling, it’s no wonder that she stopped trying.

Once I understood that we approach math from different perspectives, I tried something new. I got rid of the math book and graph paper, and I brought out gummy bears. We did an algebra problem without her even knowing it. Together(( The writer zooms the focus out to a larger reflection about what they learned from this interaction. Nice.)) , we worked to overcome her fear of math. Along the way, I learned to teach the person, not the subject matter.

World Count: 247

  • Topic choice: Personal Challenge prompts can be some of the most difficult, especially if you don’t have a specific challenge you’ve faced in your life. This writer’s topic choice works great. They show that you don’t have to have a life-altering challenge to answer this prompt well.
  • Clear narrative: This prompt is a lengthy one, but the writer has clearly read it and used it to structure the story. As a reader, it’s easy to follow along as the writer identifies the problem, works toward a solution, overcomes hurdles, and eventually comes out successful in the end.
  • Connections: Different prompts require different levels of connections to the school. This writer incorporates some of Brown’s institutional values, but, especially since the prompt says so much about Brown’s community, the writer could have made more effort to connect their story to Brown.

Extracurricular Essay: Working Retail

Prompt from Vanderbilt:  Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

“ Would(( Beginning any essay with dialog can be hit or miss. But this is a hit. The dialog quickly captures the essence of working in retail and plops the reader directly into the writer’s extracurricular activity.)) you like another size? Sure thing, I’ll get a medium.”

“Are you interested in saving 10% today with an Old Navy Card? No, no worries…”

“I can clean the bathrooms if someone covers the fitting room!”

I didn’t expect much from my first job. Mostly, I expected to earn $12 an hour and improve my denim folding skills at Old Navy. I didn’t think I could learn so much about people and develop life skills.

As(( This paragraph could be a little more specific to the writer rather than their coworkers.))  odd as it may sound, retail work brought people together during COVID. I started in July of 2020. Our store had always met for monthly meetings, but everyone emphasized how much closer they’d become since the pandemic. Stepping up to cover someone’s shift when they got sick–or their spouse or child did–used to elicit a quick “thank you!”, but took on a more profound meaning in 2020. Though I started mid-pandemic, everyone I worked with remarked that, with a few notable exceptions, the overall demeanor of the clientele was much more empathetic. My coworkers seemed to go from sales associates to brave workers keeping the economy afloat overnight.

After about seven months of dutiful work, I was promoted(( The writer seamlessly incorporates the information that they earned a promotion after a relatively brief time of working at the store.)) to senior associate and had new responsibilities of closing and opening the store. Sure, I had dreams of working in an infectious disease lab. But having adults put real trust in me to account for several thousand dollars and secure a major outlet made me value and understand work perhaps even more than the research internship I missed out on(( I appreciate the perspective here. The writer makes a good argument for the importance of retail work, especially in relation to their academic interests.)) .

I am thankful for this opportunity to work and learn with a dedicated staff. Now, I look forward to pursuing more experiences that will relate to my career in biotech in college. Oh, and I won’t miss soliciting credit card sales with each purchase(( This humor bookends the essay wonderfully and adds some extra personality.)) !

  • Focus on strengths: Maintaining the right focus in extracurricular essays can be tricky. It can be easy to get caught up in the details of the activity and brag too much or not enough. Especially with extracurricular activities that aren’t based in competition, it can be challenging to draw out strengths. But this writer finds the perfect way to talk about their accomplishments and strengths (being promoted and being a team player) while also seeming personable and humble.
  • Connection to future goals : Importantly, the writer doesn’t just leave the story at their retail job. They show the admissions officer how they see this job as contributing toward their future goals.
  • Transitions: The transitions between paragraphs and into the detail about a future biotech career could be smoother.

Why this Major: Watchers

Prompt from USC: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)

As a child(( I like how the writer takes a more creative approach to a standard “why this major” essay.)) , I always got in trouble for staring. My mom would nudge me whenever I looked at someone too long. My uncontrollable staring was an embarrassment for her, but it’s one of the things I love most about myself. Whereas some people are do-ers, I am a watcher, a listener, and a documenter(( We learn a lot about the writer’s personality here.)) . Like introverts and extroverts, the world needs both kinds of people.

Watchers have an admirable task: to see what exists and give it meaning. That’s exactly what I want to do while pursuing my academic interests in anthropology(( And at this point, we jump quickly into the connections between the opening story and the writer’s academic interests. )) . In particular, I’m interested in learning about art, language, and culture in Russia. Pursuing a research career in anthropology would open up opportunities for me to do research for government offices and move toward my ultimate goal(( Incorporating a future goal that they’re working towards is an effective approach.)) of working for the United Nations.

As(( This paragraph has a number of specific, detailed, and relevant connections to the school.)) a Visual Anthropology and Russian double major at USC, I would hone my social scientist skills and improve my Russian language abilities. I’m also eager to participate in a directed internship and to connect with fellow watchers in the Anthropology and Global Studies club. The Center for Visual Anthropology, minor in Folklore and Popular Culture, and the anthropology-focused study abroad opportunity in St. Petersburg all converge to make USC the ideal place for me to learn.

With USC’s global focus and emphasis on creativity, research, and public service, I know that I could develop my watching skills into a successful anthropology career(( And the writer concludes by drawing on some of the institution’s core values, which helps ground all of those disparate connections into something meaningful that the writer aligns themself with.)) .

  • Writing style and storytelling: This essay shows that supplemental essays don’t have to be boring. The writer opens with an interesting hook and writes about their major interest in a compelling way.
  • School research and connections: The writer does a good job specifically answering the “how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC” part of the prompt. It’s clear that they’ve done their research, and the connections they’ve chosen to focus on make sense in the context of the story they’ve told. They also incorporate school values in addition to simple facts.
  • Writing about school connections : To take this essay to the next level, the student could write about the school connections in a slightly more elegant way. As they are now, they feel quite list-like.

Academic Interest: Everyday History

Prompt from Barnard: At Barnard, academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited and why do they interest you? Tell us how you would explore these questions at Barnard. (max 300)

As I walked through the ancient city of Pompeii(( This is a beautiful hook that stops and makes the reader think, too.)) on a family vacation, I thought about the children. I imagined how scared they must have been when the volcano erupted, how they must have reached out to their caregivers for protection. When a large group of people mobbed through the alley next to us, I reached out to my own mother(( With a simple phrase, the writer shows the connection between themself and the people of the past who have captured their attention.)) as an anchor.

What interests me most about history is that the people of the past(( The writer adeptly transitions from a poetic introduction to a straightforward answer to the prompt.)) were just like us. They had likes and dislikes, they became frightened and love-struck and tired. While the history of royalty and great wars captures most people’s attention, what I want to study is the history of everyday people.

What(( These questions respond exactly to what the prompt is asking for. )) was it like to be a child in Pompeii? How did prisoners feel on their way to Australia? What kinds of recipes did the Aztecs cook?

I know that with Barnard’s culture of multidisciplinarity, discovery, and creative thinking, I’d be able to pursue these questions and more(( The writer draws on Barnard’s own values and connects their interests, goals, and questions to specific offerings at Barnard.)) . In classes like Gender and Empire, I’ll learn about the ways European expansion was gendered. And in Children and Childhood in African History or Reproducing Inequalities: Family in Latin American History, I’ll be able to ask questions about the history of the family: How have family structures varied across time and place? What historical role have children played? In what ways have parenting practices changed and why?

While they may seem inconsequential for life today, I believe that answering these questions helps us better understand ourselves. With Barnard’s Building Strong Voices(( And they also reference out-of-the-classroom opportunities.)) mission, I’ll learn how to present my research and advocate for the importance of history.

The world needs more histories of everyday people. We have a lot to learn from them, and Barnard’s offerings will help me lead us to better historical and current understandings(( With this conclusion, it’s clear how Barnard will help the writer accomplish their goals. )) .

Word Count: 299

  • Introduction: Academic interest essays are your chance to go all-in. The introduction to this essay does just that. We’re immediately transported into this writer’s academic interest, and we begin to ask these questions alongside them.
  • Answering all parts of the prompt: This can be a tricky feat when responding to complex prompts like Barnard’s. But this writer does just that. They tackle each part of the prompt in order, and they make clear transitions between them.

College Essay Example Takeaways

Whether you’re writing a personal statement or supplemental essay, reading and analyzing college essay examples is an important tool. Good examples can give you insight into the proper form and structure to use. And bad examples can be just as helpful by showing you what not to do.

All admissions officers will approach your college essays from different perspectives. But hopefully the grades and comments—provided by our team of former admissions officers and professional writing coaches—have helped you understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

As you’ve seen, there are so many essays, topics, personalities, approaches—you can write a college essay about almost anything.

Remember that the key to any successful college application is a cohesive application narrative . 

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32 College Essay Examples That Worked

College Essay Samples

Reading college essay examples is a great way of preparing yourself for writing your own. Whether you’re aiming to get into your local college or looking to attend an Ivy League school , your college essay is a key component of your college application.

In this blog, we have 32 awesome college essay examples from some of the top universities in the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, UPenn, Yale, and more! Plus, you will learn how to craft an outstanding college essay step by step, so that your own personality and experiences will really shine. This is the same exact proven strategies our college essay advisors share with our own students in our much sought-after college admissions consulting program . We're not holding back. So, let's dive in!

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Article Contents 54 min read

Why a college essay matters.

A personal statement essay or a college admissions essay is the part of your college application that allows the admissions committee to get a stronger sense of who you are as a candidate. The admissions committee is not only seeking academically strong candidates for their school – they want to find students who will also be a good fit for the culture and values of their institution. The personal statement essay is your chance to show the committee why you are the best all-around candidate for admission.

Your essay will reveal both your hard and soft skills to the admissions committee. From a technical angle, it will showcase your writing skills in terms of organization, clarity, narrative ability, and spelling and grammar. In terms of content, a compelling personal statement should tell a story that reveals something about your personality and what formative experiences you have had in your life. Since the personal statement essay reveals so much about you as an applicant, crafting an outstanding essay is crucial! 

Writing a strong college essay requires significant time and effort. The best way to ensure success is to be properly prepared before you even begin to write:

How to Structure Your College Essay

Most personal statements tend to range from 250 words to 650 words in length. The specific format requirements can vary depending on if you’re writing a common app essay or a unique college admissions essay for a specific school. The structure of your essay will follow the structure of an academic paper, with an introduction, main body, and a conclusion. As our sample above shows, it is usually written in response to a prompt provided by the school. It is important to pay attention to and answer the prompt, as it demonstrates what the school is hoping to learn about you.

While this task may seem challenging, we are here to guide you through the writing process and the strategies you should apply each step of the way.

Great content requires a solid structure to really shine:

For example: \u201cAlthough being a member of a community isn\u2019t always easy, my experiences have taught me that helping others is also a gift to ourselves \u2013 perhaps solitude isn\u2019t the \u2018best society\u2019 after all.\u201d ","label":"Conclusion","title":"Conclusion"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">

Here’s a short guide on how to write a college essay !

6 Tips for Effective Essay Writing

No matter what the prompt is, here are some tips and strategies that are essential for effective writing in any essay:

1. Do not plagiarize.

Your essay needs to be an honest representation of your abilities. It also needs to tell your story, not someone else’s. Copying someone else’s essay violates the rules of academic integrity. Always make sure that you are writing about your own experiences in your own words.

2. Say it with feeling.

Choose topics that you are passionate about – if you aren’t enthusiastic about what you’re sharing, then your audience won’t be excited to read what you have to say, either. Write about how situations made you feel, what you learned from your experiences and how it will serve you in the future. An essay written on a topic that you are passionate about will have a more genuine voice and will make for a more compelling and memorable read. Be sure to avoid clichés like “I know how to think outside of the box” that will sound impersonal and uninspired, and instead express yourself in your own unique and meaningful way. The personal statement essay is your one chance to showcase your personality and character, so let your natural voice shine through!  

3. Show, don’t tell.

Here is one of the best college essay tips : it is important to always give examples and use specific experiences to illustrate what you wish your reader to know about you, instead of merely summarizing or listing facts about yourself. Your experiences are stories, and when you tell your story in a well-organized and vivid way, it makes it easier for the reader to stay engaged and remember afterwards what you have shared with them. For example, simply stating, “I have a strong sense of community” can sound like an empty claim. Showing your reader how and why you have a sense of community is both far more memorable and far more effective in offering proof for what you’re saying (e.g. sharing an experience about working in a soup kitchen, and what it taught you about community). 

If your essay is over the word limit set by the school, you will appear to either not care about the rules in place or to have failed to pay attention to them. Either way, you will damage your standing as an applicant! Check your word counts to make sure you are within the proper range. If you have written too much, edit your work to make it shorter. Clear and succinct writing will create a good impression, so being under the word limit is acceptable as long as you have answered the prompt and effectively conveyed your experiences. 

5. Proofread your work.

As mentioned above, your college essay reveals a lot about your writing skills to the admissions committee. A compelling personal narrative can still end up undermined or muddled by poor spelling, grammar, and confusing syntax. Don’t let typos and grammatical errors let your essay down! You need to commit to proofreading your essay multiple times at each stage of the process, to make sure it is clearly and correctly written.

Additionally, get someone else to proofread it too! Ask a college essay review service or editor if you addressed the prompt effectively, if your essay makes sense, and if your message is clear. Ask them for their impression of the person writing the essay. How would they describe this person? Does that match with what you were trying to convey? What did they think of the tone of your essay? 

Ask a good teacher, a counselor, or another professional to go over your draft. However, choose your proofreader with care: if you let too many people read it, you may end up with too many conflicting suggestions and opinions. Ideally, your proofreader should be someone you trust, and who can provide you with honest feedback on the content and grammar of your essay. Be sure to share the essay prompt with your reader so that he or she can tell you whether you have answered the prompt effectively.

6. Read that prompt one last time!

It’s an excellent idea to go back and re-read the prompt one last time after you’ve completed the final draft of your personal statement essay. This way, you’ll be absolutely sure that you have responded to the prompt effectively. Double-checking before submission also ensures that you did not go too far off-topic in any way during the multiple re-writes you’ll have to do in perfecting your college admission essay. 

Don’t forget about supplemental college application essays ! Here’s a guide on how to write one:

College Essay Examples #1/32: Harvard

Prompt: The Harvard College Honor code declares that we "hold honesty as the foundation of our community." As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty. (650 words)

"I sit in a hot SUV winding it’s way over a bumpy African road, a scarf protecting my nose and mouth as dust streams in through the window. Returning from a teaching session with the Maasai women, the other students' excited chatter dances around me as they discuss our invitation to the Maasai coming of age ceremony. The ceremony centers on the circumcision of pubescent males and females; often performed with a sharp rock and no anesthetic. It is a rite of passage for the Maasai. My stomach is a tight knot, picturing the children we met today and imagining the painful procedure they will soon undergo. The other students, excited about the feast and intricate costumes, hope that accepting the invitation will strengthen our bond with the community. I, however, am weighed down by a profound sense of unease when it comes to the main attraction, the circumcisions. Further, the leader of the organization is absent; should she not be consulted? Do I go along with the group, and participate in something that I am morally opposed to? Or do something about it?

For me, the strength of a person’s character is defined by their ability to act on their values and stand up for what they believe in. Having strong moral values only becomes a powerful agent of change when one is willing to follow through on them with action. Situations, such as this one, where I feel a sinking sensation deep in my gut, help to cue me to conflicts with my own values, prompting me to gather more information, thus taking the first step towards informed action.

In this situation, the knots in my stomach came from being asked to participate in the celebration of female genital mutilation; a practice which is decidedly against my personal values of reducing human suffering and promoting women’s rights. My visceral reaction came specifically from the idea of watching while doing nothing to intervene. Further, I worried that, as students, our group would be woefully ill-equipped to navigate the nuances of the situation, potentially resulting in harm to our relationship with the community. Plus, due to our association with a medical organization, our presence could be mis-interpreted as an endorsement of the safety of these procedures. With the potential to do harm and without an actionable plan in place for stopping genital mutilation, I concluded that I could not, in good conscience, attend the ceremony.

Though I had decided that I could not go, I still felt concerned about the potential impact of the group's attendance, and wanted to gain more insight into the situation before deciding on a course of action. I shared my concerns with my partner and another student. My partner agreed with me, and we decided to consult his physician father. We quickly learned that Canadian physicians are not legally permitted to condone female genital mutilation, meaning that our attending the ceremony could have legal ramifications for our physician-run organization. With this information in hand, I knew I had to contact the organization lead about the excursion. She forbid our group from attending, requesting that I inform the other students, who were obviously disappointed that I had 'gotten the trip cancelled'.

Though I believe my course of action was the right one and I would not change the outcome, looking back, I wish I had voiced my concerns earlier; it may have made the end result easier for the other students to swallow. In spite of this, being honest when expressing my discomfort with a situation and choosing an alternative course of action that is aligned with my values has never led me to make a decision that I regret. Though standing up for what you believe in, and doing what is right, is not always easy, it is always worth it, and arguably the only way of living a life without regrets."

Want to learn the 7 most important and easy ways to make your college essay stand out? Check out this video:

College Essay Examples #2/32

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

When I was a child, I loved to play the video game Pokémon. My favorite part was having to go to different places and collect all the animals. Around the same time, I entered Boy Scouts and got engrossed in the idea of merit badges. Each badge could be earned by learning about a topic or a challenge and then doing a series of projects related to it. From fishing to first aid, I quickly found that I loved learning about each new task. In my first year in Scouts, I earned double the required number of badges, and it took off from there. My love of collecting trophies was once again reignited. 

My passion for collecting the Pokémon animals was transferred to Boy Scouts. I had set my mind on earning every merit badge, so I had to tell my parents and my troop. My parents were on board instantly, but my troop took some convincing. Many of them said that it would take too much time; that I’d have to travel to different states for some badges like the snow sports merit badge, or that I’d have to build up the endurance to bike for 50 miles at one time for the bicycling merit badge. I told them that I was eager to do this and that I needed their help to find where the badges were being taught. They chuckled and let me have access to the citywide list. Over the next six years I hiked up mountains, swam across rivers, and camped outside with nothing but a long jacket. As I kept going, my troop's attitude slowly turned from apprehensive to encouraging. Members of the community started popping up to teach some of the more obscure merit badges like atomic energy and bugling. Word of what we were doing spread thought-out the local scouting community and other scouts started joining our mission when someone offered one of the uncommon badges. There was a little boy who must have weighed 80 pounds when he took the computers merit badge with me, and last time we talked, he had been offered a job at Google.

A scout must collect all the badges before his 18th birthday. With the strength of the community behind me, I was able to get my final merit badge a month before my 18th birthday – right before I had to sit for my final interview for the Eagle Scout badge. During that interview, the scout leader asked if I had completed every single merit badge. When I confirmed, he informed me that I had broken a new world record as the first Boy Scout in history to earn every merit badge before earning my Eagle! As he stood up and shook my hand, I was overcome with gratitude for everyone who had gotten me to this point. Every late night with my parents, every merit badge counselor, every teacher, every fellow scout, and every scout leader who helped me achieve that goal. This was about so much more than one scout. This was about a community coming together to make history. Even though this was a few years ago, I look back fondly on all the people who made it happen, and today I am a merit badge counselor myself working to give back to scouting more than what it has given me, even though that might take a while. 

Prompt: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find, so engaging 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?

I have always been fascinated by history: the rise and fall of empires, the evolution of humanity, innovation, politics, and everything else that made us who we are today. What amazes me so much about history are the moments when everything could have gone differently had it not been for one decision: what if Lincoln was never elected? What if the French Revolution never took place? What if the Magna Carta was never signed?

My love of history likely started in middle school with Mr. Flickerson. He was a very thin, tall man with a giant white mustache who always wore a tweed jacket. He was our history teacher and he always claimed that books didn’t always have everything right. Mr. Flickerson often encouraged us to do our own research and see what else we could find on a topic of interest. If someone could find something from a reputable source that disagreed with the textbook, we got five bonus points on a test.

I still remember how excitedly he recounted old battles. He would do gruff voices for generals and deftly switch to a hilarious high pitched voice for the ladies. His passion for history greatly affected his students, and by the end of the year, we were shooting history reenactment videos in full costume. Since then, history has always held a special place in my heart.

Now when I exercise, half of my podcasts are all history related. I remember once getting so engrossed in a podcast about Genghis Khan that I stayed at the gym for three hours! On the one hand, he was a vicious warrior and tyrant, but he was also an innovator and loyal leader. He allowed women to serve in leadership positions. He even promoted freedom of religion. There are many stories of him eating on the ground or from an old wooden bowl while his guests dined using the fine silver. 

From history, we can learn a lot about the complexities of humanity. We can see how people in the past dealt with issues and what their results were. In its way, history sheds light on our present and future. 

Here’s why “show, don’t tell” is the most important rule for writing any personal statement:

College Essay Examples #4/32

Prompt: The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission? (650 words max)

The phrase “citizen-leader” is important to distinguish from conventional ideas about leadership. Rather than leading by trying to single oneself out among peers, I believe that real leadership comes through effecting palpable change in the lives of those around you. Effective leaders don’t stand apart from their communities, but rather strive to become as deeply rooted within them as possible. A real leader is first and foremost a citizen, a peer, and a support for those around them.

My sense of leadership has been shaped by my father, whose nearly 25 years in public education have positively impacted hundreds of students. Each year he would come home on the last day of a school year with dozens of cards and gifts, from both current students graduating and former students who stopped by to thank him sometimes years after being his students. He was a leader—someone who helped others learn to find themselves, rather than direct their actions or words through conventional authority. I’ve come to believe that power it is the ability to encourage people to evolve, and that sustained, successful leadership is measured only by the success and wellbeing of the people around you.

As a result of this understanding, I’ve maintained an active presence in my high school’s peer tutoring program throughout my junior and senior years. Since I also hope to become a teacher, this has provided important experience that helped me better understand the kind of communication and time management skills needed to help people overcome their educational obstacles, specifically regarding their writing skills. The Academic Resource Center’s Peer Tutoring program at Harvard is one of the central ways in which I’d like to help lead my fellow students toward a better understanding not only of rhetoric and composition, but of the world in general.

Coaching in sports is another mode of leadership that I hope to maintain at Harvard. Powerlifting has had a major place in my extracurricular life during high school and I was thrilled to learn that Harvard boasts a competitive powerlifting club. This goes back to the metric of encouraging success and wellbeing of others — the powerlifting club presents an opportunity in which I can further develop these skills along with my fellow barbell enthusiasts. I’ve found strength sport environments to be really egalitarian and accessible, with a continual emphasis on collaboration and mutual support that’s unique among team sports. The path to becoming a more effective leader comes from forging bonds and developing skills alongside other people, so that eventually your ability to lead follows naturally from the experience and abilities you’ve honed over years of work. By lifting up oneself and others, we eventually pass a threshold into becoming beacons of knowledge, exemplars of ethical and effective action, and citizen-leaders.

This all further galvanizes my desire to teach following my time at Harvard. I feel incredibly fortunate that my current passions in writing and powerlifting will provide opportunities in which I can further develop my leadership skills in a way that will improve my ability to teach them to others. I will strive to continue being a supportive peer and collaborator which is an important foundation for becoming a true leader and educator. Harvard is in every sense the best possible environment for continuing this evolution and encouraging it in my fellow students as well. (556 words)

Write a killer college essay for Harvard by reading some of the best Harvard supplemental essay examples .

College essay examples #5/32: cornell.

Prompt: What is your "thing"? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (maximum of 650 words)

“Bam!” These were the energized words of Emeril Lagasse as he added a touch of parmesan cheese to perfectly top off the dish he had just cooked on live television. Growing up, my sisters and I became hooked on watching chefs like Emeril cook on The Food Network. I never liked mushrooms and despised when my parents included them as we sat down to eat dinner together each night. My parents said that if I did not like it, I could cook dinner myself. I had been watching cooking shows, so I decided to try my hand at cooking our family meals. My parents were thrilled to have someone else making dinner for the night and I was ecstatic to be put in the decision-making seat for what we would be eating for dinner. Over the years, I continue to cook with my family as a way to grow closer together and I also cook by myself as a form of stress relief. As I chop vegetables, I get lost in the repetitive nature of the task and it becomes a form of meditation for me; something for my mind to focus on that allows me to forget about the troubles of the day. While my love for cooking stemmed from a desire to not have to eat mushrooms with dinner, it has grown into one of my favorite hobbies. At Cornell, I know I will meet a wide range of people and even the typical college student that does not know now to cook and relies on a microwave, pop tarts, and ramen to get through arduous study sessions. I hope to bring my hobby of cooking to Cornell where I can use it to make it through my own stressful hurdles but also to build relationships with my new classmates who may be missing a home-cooked meal.

The college admissions essays for Cornell are a bit different than other Ivy League schools. Brush up on writing Cornell essays and review the essay prompts to start your writing! ","label":"Note","title":"Note"}]" code="tab3" template="BlogArticle">

College Essay Examples #6/32:

School: Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Prompt: What is your "thing"? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (650 words)

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m bent over my computer screen. In front of me is one of the photographs I intend to submit for the Charles Lewin Digital Photo Essay Competition. It is a silhouette shot of a tall, smiling woman – my mother – framed against the backdrop of a gorgeous red sunset. Though I’d used the whip-pan technique to give the photo the same dynamic, inspiring, whirlwind energy I associate with my mother, it’s not quite right. I’ve been fiddling with the white balance and color pallet for hours, trying to capture the perfect amount of luminosity in my mother’s eyes. At that moment, my mother herself comes in, asking why I’m up so late on a school night. When I show her the picture, her eyes light up in exactly the way I’ve captured in the photo. That photo essay, capturing the beauty of three generations of women in my family, went on to win me first place in the competition. And yet the moment that I shall carry with me forever is the one from 4 a.m. that night. The moment when my mother’s eyes lit up in joy and wonder as she understood exactly what I was trying to say through my photography. In that moment, I knew for sure that I’d be chasing this feeling for the rest of my life.

Though that moment cemented my love for photography, I’ve been playing around with a camera since I was 5 years old, when my father first introduced me to his favorite hobby. I was a shy, quiet kid and photography allowed me to experience the world and communicate my feelings like I never could before. Most of our weekends were spent taking pictures, from micro nature photography on our camping trips to event photography for every community event. Even back then, I was constantly asking questions about why one picture looks better than another. I credit my father for helping me develop my photographic “eye”. The training of those early years helped me develop my sense of aesthetic placements, framing, and positioning. 

To this day, I am obsessed with learning about the technical side of photography. I have a natural analytical bent of mind that exists along-side my artistic vision; and so, I gravitate towards understanding exactly how aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, exposure, composition, and white balance can be used as a tool of artistic control in photography. My favorite way to unwind is to read books and online articles about photography and techniques I’m currently obsessed with. I also love experimenting with different styles of photography. Though art photography is my passion, I spent a couple of years as the staff photographer for my high school newspaper. This foray into the journalistic arena helped to broaden my horizons and consider the social impact of photography.

Lately, I’ve become passionately interested in the philosophy and psychology of photography. There are two books that inspired this journey - “The Art of Photography” by Bruce Barnbaum and “Studio Anywhere” by Nick Fancher. These books led me to think deeply about the artistic merit and social impact of photography and inspired me to sign up as a volunteer photographer at the local community center. I remember when an older lady, a little self-conscious about her appearance, asked me to take a photo of her in her evening dress at a fund-raising event. When I showed her the photo I took, her expression transformed from anxiety and discomfort to pride and confidence, just like my mother on that fateful Tuesday night. That’s another moment of joy I’ll carry with me forever.

Alfred Stieglitz once said - “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” Every photographer has a vision of their own reality and the greatest joy I feel is when I successfully communicate this philosophy using my work. (648 words)

School: Cornell College of Arts and Sciences

Prompt: Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College. (650 words)

Growing up, I was your average troublesome kid. I rarely turned in homework on time, I frequently landed in detention, and I preferred video games to any other activity. This was me until the age of 14 – and that was when it all changed, thanks to Mr. Robert Brown. I was placed in Mr. Brown’s English Literature class in freshman year. Mr. Brown believed that every student could become interested in English Literature, given the right bait, and for me the bait was science fiction novels. He identified my nascent inclination towards science-based, fantasy worlds, based on my interest in video games, and handed me some choice works by Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, and Frank Herbert. In a matter of days, I was hooked. 

Looking back, I can appreciate how deeply transformative that period of my life was. Science fiction fulfilled all of my natural inclinations towards an exploration of imagination and wonder within the limits of a rule-bounded world. At the same time, it awoke in me a deep and abiding interest in larger questions of philosophy, sociology, technology, and ethics. I had a new-found love for not only English Literature, but also Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Math and my overall grades improved tremendously. I often took up projects for extra credit just so I could explore a particular new topic I was obsessed with. Specifically, I loved to take up parallel projects in different classes since I loved exploring two different sides of the same essential question. For instance, in my sophomore year, I wrote a paper on Darwinian Evolution in Mid-Century American Fiction for my English Literature class, while also working on an extra-credit class presentation on the Darwin’s Theory of Evolution for Biology. This kind of dual-natured exploration of topics is something I want to pursue throughout my life.

Over time, my interest in the fictional explorations of socio-scientific questions expanded to the real world. In particular, I developed an interest in biotechnology innovations such as gene-therapy, drug engineering, and agricultural biotechnology and I even started a YouTube channel to provide commentary on the latest scientific news. My scientific interests led me to real-world activism in my junior year when a biotechnology company came to our town to offer “free” genetic sequencing for the population. I organized an informational campaign highlighting their lax privacy and data protection terms. Thanks to our efforts, the company revised their terms to ensure greater privacy for the genetic information of all participants.

This experience sparked my interest in medical ethics as a career and I am now actively seeking an education that will allow me to pursue both the scientific and philosophical questions related to technology, society, and ethical limitations. I believe the Science & Technology Studies major at the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences offers a unique opportunity to pursue the holistic, balanced education I seek. 

Though I know what I eventually want to major in, it is also particularly important to me to continue building my knowledge base in both humanities and sciences, before declaring my major. The holistic, balanced curriculum at your school allows me this freedom. At Cornell, I will have the chance to acquire philosophy AND biology mentors, interact with students who have varying subject matter interests, and complete an independent research study in any topic of my choosing. 

It’s strange to think that just a few years ago, I cared about nothing more than my League of Legends avatar and Minecraft cohorts! And yet, that love for video games was the first step in my journey towards finding answers to the greatest socio-philosophical and scientific questions of our times. I hope Cornell College of Arts and Science can be the next step in that journey. (623)

Want to get into a top school but have a low GPA? Here’s what you can do:

College Essay Examples #8/32: Princeton

Prompt: At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future? (250 words)

As captain of my high school basketball team, I have led my team to many hard-earned victories and a few crushing losses. Yet the most difficult moment of my football career took place off the field. It was the morning after our last game of the season, when Tyler, one of my classmates, approached me to ask for a favor. He said that a group he was a part of called the Hands-On organization were planning a new campaign that they’d love my support with, as captain of the football team – a campaign to request a different school mascot. You see, our school team was called the “Lincoln Indians” and our mascot was a stereotypical representation of an Indian. In our small town located in rural Montana, this has never even been recognized as an issue and initially, I, too, didn’t comprehend why it might be one. Tyler took the time to explain to me how it made him feel to see his identity masqueraded as a costume. It was a revelation to me to learn how traumatized he felt at every game. It was a brief conversation which made me re-think a lot of things I had taken for granted; ultimately, I was enlightened and humbled. Thanks to Tyler’s efforts, we have a new team mascot. As for me, I am now a member of the Hands-On organization myself, and I want to continue to use my voice to create awareness around the issues affecting minorities in our country. (250) 

If you\u2019re planning to apply to Princeton, read some more Princeton essay examples to get you started! ","label":"College Diversity Essay","title":"College Diversity Essay"}]" code="tab4" template="BlogArticle">

College Essay Examples #9/32:

School: Princeton University 

Prompt: Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)

I was 14 when I met Jennifer at the local Literacy Volunteers and Advocates (LVA) chapter. At this time, I was going through the basic motions of volunteering without truly understanding the impact or significance of what I was doing. Jennifer was an immigrant from Mexico and attended my computer literacy class at LVA. She was one of the few new immigrants who could speak English fluently, and so she served as the unofficial translator at our LVA center. Once, I asked her if she didn’t find it annoying to always have to leave her own tasks and go running off to translate for other people. She told me that for her, it was a privilege to be able to do this for others and the biggest annoyances were the authority figures who displayed impatience, discrimination, and cruelty towards immigrants. Her words had a lasting impact on me and from that moment, I saw so many instances of inequity, cruelty, and injustice that I had not even registered before. At the same time, I recognized the potential I had to make a real difference in people’s lives. I decided to take on a full-time Spanish tutor and in a couple of years, I was near-fluent in Spanish. My life’s goal is to continue practicing my Spanish language skills through my undergraduate education and to eventually enact provisions in politics and society to counter the language barrier that so many immigrants face. (241)

Prompt: The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)

I have always enjoyed my English Literature classes and Mrs. Sutherland’s junior year Lit class was no different. Our assigned reading was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It was my first Austen novel, and in fact, it was the first classic novel I had read from that historical period. I knew I’d enjoy the romantic story of the novel; what I didn’t expect was how the social structure of the novel would grip me as I deep-dived into it for our class. When Mrs. Sutherland gave us the freedom to write our English Lit finals paper about any topic, I chose to write about the social fabric of the Regency era. I was fascinated by how the Regency-era economic and military events formed the backdrop for Jane Austen’s social realism. This paper sparked my interest in social history as a field of study, and subsequently, I read as many books as I could about the social, cultural, and economic history of England. Each new topic I read about made me reflect on how social mores and day-to-day social rituals are formed as a result of the major economic, military, and business events of the time. That one semester of English Literature introduced me to a whole new world of learning, questioning, and debating, and eventually helped me define what I wish to study in college. Thank you Mrs. Sutherland! (230)

College Essay Examples #11/32:

School: Stanford University

Prompt: Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better. (100-250 words)

Dear future roommate,

The number one thing you should know about me is that I live in a state of organized chaos, both in my mind and outside it. For example, I love learning about new topics and my favorite way to learn is to read as much as I can while drinking copious cups of tea. Prepare to often see large piles of books about my latest hyper-obsession lying around! 

Yes, I still like checking physical books out of the library rather than downloading digital copies – that’s another one of my quirks. While I’m open to learning and I enjoy new experiences, I also like the comfort and stability of tradition. In fact, I am also a very traditional student. For me, learning is not just about classes and homework and assignments. I like to bring my learning home with me, and to talk about topics that sparked my interest with my friends. 

For example, yesterday in AP Biology, we learned about invasive species and their impact on ecology. This got me thinking about how human beings could, in our current form, be considered an invasive species, and I later had an interesting conversation with my friend about whether natural corrections could already be occurring in response. 

Along with my piles of books, you can expect me to bring home many ideas, experiences, and speculations to discuss with you, maybe over a cup of tea! (236)

College Essay Examples #12/32:

Prompt: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?(100-250 words)

I am a passionate advocate for universal healthcare and specifically, equitable, and non-discriminatory access to healthcare for people of all communities. One of my goals in pursuing an education in medicine combined with public health policy is to take tangible actions towards my beliefs. 

Growing up, my family and I never considered “going to the hospital” an option. My parents both had minimum wage jobs with no benefits. Without health insurance, without coverage, healthcare was, to us, a luxury. If we were seriously injured or ill, we would call on “unofficial” doctors – a friendly nurse, a local vet, or the knowledgeable pharmacist who lived above us. I remember when I was 12, my mother, who at the time had an undiagnosed diabetic condition, went into insulin shock, and almost died. Riding to the hospital in the ambulance, I could see that even in that moment, my father couldn’t purely worry about his wife’s life; he also had to worry about the medical bills he’d be stuck with, even if she lived. 

My mother survived, and so did our family, but the suffering of that time still lives with me. It informs my desire to be the best possible doctor I can be, serving communities that need my help. And it’s why my greatest ambition is to one day be in a position to implement effective policies that address the imbalances in our healthcare system. (234)

Is Stanford your #1 choice? Get ready for supplemental applications and read some Stanford essay examples !

College essay examples #13/32:.

School:  Stanford University

Prompt: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why? (Max 250 words)

Cold water splashed my exposed calves as I helped pull the rubber dingy safely to shore. I kept thinking about the line of a poem by Warshan Shire: “no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” I noted that there were more than 15 small children in the boat. My family and I had been vacationing on a Greek island when we heard cries coming from the sea. We rushed to help and with the aid of locals, we pulled the boat to shore. Luckily everyone survived. A few of those on the boat spoke English; they explained that they were refugees and had fled conflict in Syria. Until that point in my life the concept of a refugee was opaque. Now I understood in a visceral way what it meant to flee one’s country.    

Since this trip one year ago, I have devoted most of my extracurricular hours to a local NGO that helps to resettle refugees. I have convinced many friends to join me as a “buddy” to incoming refugees. We teach each other about our cultures by cooking together, sharing stories, and exploring nature. The more I learn about other cultures, the more I realize that I have much more to learn. What I now know is that is my duty to advocate for those who do not have the power to advocate for themselves and to fight for the rights of those at home and abroad. (248 words)

Prompt: 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.

As a child, I was considered the “fat” kid. I grew much faster than any of my peers and was over a foot taller than every other person in my 5th-grade class. With that speedy growth came a lot of eating and I tended to be overweight for most of my childhood. However, by the start of grade 7, I started to lean out and at the end that year I was finally “in shape.” This new status and change in my appearance led to major changes in most of my relationships: it was easier to make friends, teachers treated me better, and I was picked first for sports teams. Everything seemed to improve. Yet, I remembered what it had been like to be an “outsider” and suffer humiliation for my appearance and weight.

I learned to appreciate the power of humor very early on in my life. Initially, when a classmate went on about how giant or stupid I was, I could not stand up for myself. It was painful and infuriating, but I took the abuse quietly. However, once I learned that I shouldn't take myself and my appearance too seriously, I was able to make fun of myself too. This change in my attitude was life-altering. My classmates' taunts didn't hurt anymore and most of my peers did not want to bully someone who reacted to their abuse with laughter. As the years went on, I would hone this ability, always ready to deflect mean words with a quick joke or a clever comment. I even started using it to swing in and save other outsiders like myself. The key was to distract the bully long enough to escape or to get the bully to start laughing, perhaps even turning them into friends. Once I dropped the weight and became conventionally “normal”, I never forgot what it was like to be different. Since then, I have always worked to include everyone. Inclusion has become a priority to me, as I do not want anyone to experience what I did. A kind word or a quick joke makes strangers feel like friends and speaking from experience, sometimes that’s all we need.

Children can be brutally honest. If they see something different than what they are used to, they have no problem pointing it out. As an adult, this is an endearing trait to see in children, but as a fellow kid, it was difficult to endure. Growing up is hard for everyone, but it is especially rough for people who are different. One of my best friends as a child was a kind girl from Spain whose family always made very fragrant foods. Other children mocked the smell of her lunches, but I was always friendly, and we often enjoyed her delicious lunches together. Together, our respective challenges did not seem so severe.

Growing up as an outsider taught me a lot. Negative experiences are also valuable: knowing what it’s like to be made fun of and excluded teaches you the value of friendship and companionship. I didn’t know it at the time, but hardships can be helpful gifts. The spice of life is variety. If everyone looked, acted, and thought the same, we’d have such a boring world. But instead, we have artists, craftsmen, philosophers, and writers - people who change the world through their uniqueness. 

College Essay Examples #15/32: University of Pennsylvania

Prompt: How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? (300-450 words)

Realizing how infinitely fascinating biology could be is a memory steeped in the peculiar odor of formaldehyde. My tiny hand, 9 years old and perpetually snack-sticky enough to leave fingerprints on the glass, reached out and lightly rested on the jar holding what I then called “monster hands”. In reality, this was an impeccably preserved pair of hands from a gout sufferer, one of the thousands of wet specimens in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, a place I didn’t know existed prior to my first visit but have not forgotten since.

Though the sight was unusual, I wasn’t scared by this display at all. My parents have since told me that I was overcome with fascination in that moment, genuinely transfixed by what surrounded me. My now-hazy recollection is one of wonder, and a feeling I couldn’t quite describe at the time but now understand to be empathy. “Was he sore?” I asked my parents. My mother laughed and my father calmly tried to explain, in toddler terms, just how much pain this person suffered.

This planted a seed that has since matured into a profound appreciation for the complexity of living systems. And, in more somber terms, a sensitivity to how these systems can short-circuit and create a domino effect of dysfunction that results in everything from uric acid crystals in knuckles to conjoined twins. I’ve since tempered my childhood fascination with more extreme medical conditions, but I can still see, feel, and smell that room in the Mutter. Strange as it may be, my lifelong obsession with medicine and biology comes out of this oddity-packed room, its vaguely astringent air, and impossibly large intestine sitting halfway up the stairs.

Penn’s Musculoskeletal Center is therefore one of the biggest reasons for my application for admission. The center’s current research in both ossification disorders and tissue engineering is incredibly exciting to me, and while I know participation in high-level research is quite limited for undergraduates, nothing would make me happier than to contribute to the MC’s singular work in some small way. Even more generally, the strength of Penn’s biology department will provide an incredible launching pad for more specialized work in medicine following graduation. (363 words)

Here are some top study strategies that will help you during undergrad!

College Essay Examples #16/32:

School: University of Pennsylvania

Prompt: At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)

In addition to my academic interests, music will be my main means of exploring Penn’s community. Growing up in a small town of just 600 people meant that my high school was perpetually underfunded and unable to support any music programs. Penn’s symphony orchestra and jazz combos would be my first opportunity to utilize years of private lessons and practice I’ve undertaken since early childhood. Moreover, working with such a renowned orchestra will be my first commitment to musical performance outside of small community ensembles. This would enable a previously underdeveloped part of who I am to bloom in the company of incredibly talented musicians and directors. 

Shifting from very introverted, isolated artistic practice to genuine collaboration and community would be a massive evolution for me as both a musician and a person. I would look forward to unbottling the energy I've built up playing along to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane over the last ten years, energizing and encouraging my fellow musicians and adding a unique perspective as someone who's new to—but very grateful for—larger ensemble performance. (178 words)

Check out some more UPenn essays to find inspiration before writing your own!

College essay examples #17/32: yale university.

Prompt: Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words or fewer)

Art is always a snapshot of a given cultural and artistic moment, but the physicality of this information in pottery has always fascinated me and encouraged me to be both a voracious researcher and experimenter in my own creative practice Pottery is rightly considered an art, but its underpinnings in chemistry are what have attracted me to this practice and kept me engaged with it over the years. Glazes in particular are endlessly complex, rife with history and a sense of cross-cultural collaboration. In a sense, something as simple as the type of cobalt luster on a Hispano-Moresque plate contains centuries of history, telling stories of resource availability, migration, commerce, and even theology. Yet all of this information must be unlocked through understanding a piece's chemical underpinnings, and specifically the nearly infinite variations in fluxes and ensuing chemical interactions that have shaped—or more accurately, colored—earthenware and stoneware art throughout history.

Yale’s Chemistry BS/MS program will be a demanding course of study, but a big part of my extracurricular and personal development involvement throughout it will remain in the molecular magic of pottery. Much the same way surgeons often engage in very dexterity-dependent arts in their downtime, I look forward to continuing my personal explorations in art-oriented chemistry while further developing my academic proficiencies in the science itself. (217 words)

School: Yale University 

Prompt: Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international significance. Discuss an issue that is important to you and how your college experience could help you address it. (250 words or fewer)

Being called “short stack” is probably common for a lot of 5 year-olds, and it certainly didn’t bother me throughout my kindergarten year. But just a few years later, I came to understand that I was not only significantly shorter than my friends but was in fact growing at a much slower pace. 

I had grown up in a so-called “food desert”. As is the case for most families in these areas, mine rarely had enough money to afford what scarce high-nutrient food we did have access to. This experience has shaped a big part of not only my sense of self but of my desire to pursue a career in policy analysis to help prevent other kids from having food insufficiencies. Legislation around food and specifically its insufficient supply in poorer areas would therefore be a central focus in my individual research in Yale’s Urban Studies program, as well as my graduate and professional work thereafter. 

I feel extremely strongly that I have an ethical duty to utilize the privilege afforded to me by an education at Yale to help other kids grow up happier, healthier, and in more self-sufficient communities. (192 words)

Applying to Yale? Here are some Yale supplemental essays examples !

College essay examples #19/32: columbia university.

Prompt: Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you. (200 words or fewer)

The biggest impact I’ve had on my friends and peers was small enough to fit in a shoebox. It started simply: one day in 8th grade, a friend forgot to pack any money, so the rest of us pitched in to buy her lunch. The next day she wanted to pay us back, but I suggested we just stash the $5 in case any of us forget our lunch money in the future. After a few weeks of saving our spare change, we had enough to move our cache to a small shoebox, which then became our friend group’s bank. This caught on quickly, and by ninth grade we began to maintain a class-wide “shoebox bank,” available to anyone who needed lunch money or a few dollars for anything else. 

By the end of high school, this grew into a formal “leave what you can / take what you need” policy that allowed us to donate $400 to our city’s food bank at the end of the year. I couldn’t have done this alone, and so one of the most important things I learned from the success of our shoebox was that a good idea needs community support to succeed. (200 words)

College Essay Examples #20/32:

School: Columbia University

Prompt: Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (200 words or fewer)

Columbia has long been my magnetic North in the world of American literature. I was an early reader, and became interested in poetry, first the romantics and transcendentalists, then the beats. Tracing the biographies of figures like Kerouac and Ginsburg more recently, I began to realize that they and many other writers whose work had found its way to me spontaneously came with the common thread of Columbia.

My own poetic practice has therefore been deeply informed by the textures and philosophical milieus which stem from Columbia, and a big part of my desire to matriculate. Professor Arsić’s book On Leaving was especially transformative, awakening me to a fuller sense of the interrelatedness of so many American writers like Emerson, and galvanizing beyond any doubt the sense that literary studies was my calling. And on a more concrete level, the resources of both the Burke and Butler libraries would play a central part in my proposed thesis, allowing me to fully enmesh my own academic work with the history that has shaped it. (173 words)

The \u201c why this college \u201d is a common essay prompt for admissions. Be sure your reasons for applying are clear and sound. Outline 2 or 3 reasons why you want to attend and what you will bring to the program, especially if you\u2019re writing to an Ivy League school! Read some Columbia essay examples to see what other prompts you can expect. ","label":"Tip","title":"Tip"}]" code="tab5" template="BlogArticle">

College Essay Examples #21/32:

Prompt: Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

My first visit to a planetarium at the age of 10 infected me with a specific obsession: infinity. The idea of an ever-expanding universe was so thrilling and puzzling to me that I couldn’t shake trying to understand it. 

For months after my first trip to the Hayden planetarium, I pondered infinity, barely understanding the word itself. This matured into a lasting fascination with number and number theory specifically, and by the time I was in high school I was committed to following this path of knowledge without reservation. The history of number theory formed a prominent part of my elective work as an undergrad, during which I undertook both bibliographic and technical research on Cantor's paradox and "actual infinity" in relation to his lifelong mysticism. 

My commitment to mathematics has grown and become much more specialized since my early bedazzlement by cosmology, but the experience of seeing mathematics as a way of thinking beyond conventional scales and frameworks has remained a central part of my love for the discipline ever since. A life spent exploring the outermost reaches of number and logic has been and still is my deepest desire. (191 words)

Prompt: Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it. (250 words)

Looking through the eyepiece of a microscope, I was amazed to see the individual cells of a sea urchin embryo. In my high school cell and molecular biology class, we were studying the cell cycle and we had the opportunity to harvest embryos from sea urchins to view under the microscope. I had used a microscope before, but only to look at prepared slides containing preserved tissue samples. This was my first time viewing a live sample that I had prepared myself. This experience opened my eyes to the wonders of cell biology and how our scientific world has been expanded with the technology of microscopes. I knew that I wanted to continue to incorporate microscopes into my own learning and to learn as much as I could about cells and their inner workings. With Brown’s Open Curriculum, I am excited to broadly study biology while also diving deeply into the world of cell biology. The excitement I felt when looking through the microscope at a sea urchin embryo is one that I look to bring with me to Brown as my classmates and I embark on expanding our academic horizons and building the foundation needed to be successful in our future scientific careers. 

College Essay Examples #23/32:

School:  Brown University

Prompt: Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)

When I was a child, I was upset to learn that my parents had decided we would be moving houses. I did not want to leave the place I had called home for the past thirteen years, the place where I had friends and happy childhood memories. Since this period in my life, I have moved several times and now when I think of home, the first thought that comes to mind is my parents. I realized that home is not a specific place; it is the people that surround you that make you feel at home. This perspective allows me to travel to new places and embark on new adventures with the understanding that I can make any place feel like home. The key is building friendships and relationships with those around you so a place does not feel foreign but rather a place in which you feel supported. As I join your community, I look forward to establishing these relationships as my peers and I build a new home at Brown University.  

If you’re applying to Brown University, be sure to read some more Brown essay examples !

College essay examples #24/32:.

School:  Tulane University

Prompt: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. 

My arms began to shake as the bag filled up. Soon it became almost too heavy to manage. Finally, the massive Leatherback Sea Turtle had finished laying her eggs and my team and I could move them to a nursery we had prepared. I was in Costa Rica for an AP class in Tropical Ecology and we were tasked with saving these eggs from poachers. We brought the eggs to safety and when we returned two months later, we were able to watch as hundreds of baby sea turtles hatched and made it out to sea. 

This experience was particularly formative for me. I learned two important lessons. The first is the importance of environmental stewardship. Due to trawling, harvesting for consumption, light pollution and other human factors, many sea turtles are now critically endangered. It will be left to my generation to continue the fight to preserve the natural world. I also learned how inequality can contribute to environmental degradation. The poachers, for example, were working-class families who sold the eggs as aphrodisiacs for $USD 1-2 in order to survive. When I heard this, I had to act. By saving the eggs, we may have unintentionally denied these families their means of survival. I therefore, asked my school program if we could brainstorm a solution that would help both the turtles and the locals. We decided to buy their handicrafts at a higher price, to sell back at home. We also established a yearly fundraiser. To date we have helped transition 10 local families from relying on turtle eggs, to selling handmade items. Through this new partnership with the community, we have also established a cultural exchange, in which a few of our youth spend one month in Costa Rica each year while their youth come to the United States. I hope that this will continue to flourish in the years to come. 

With privilege comes responsibility: those of us who have grown up in wealthy societies have largely benefitted from an unequal global system. I believe that it is my duty to use this privilege to help both the world’s human and non-human inhabitants.

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? (600 words)

I had not lived long, but at that moment, I was sure this was the worst day of my life. I was only eleven years old, and I had to listen to a doctor tell my mother that I would have to inject myself every day for the rest of my life. Being diagnosed with Type I diabetes felt almost like a death sentence; my life changed in an instant, and I was terrified of not being able to cope with a chronic disease and afraid that I would never get to be a normal child. Little did I know that this condition would later on allow me to give back to my community through my volunteering initiatives and would make me want to pursue a career where I could help others.

The impact that my disease had on my family was profound. We all had to learn to adjust to a new reality, and I went from having a normal life, to having to mature in a matter of weeks. I knew that it was up to me to make this work, but I felt lost and did not know how to deal with this immense responsibility of managing a new diet, an insulin shot four times a day, and my emotions. After a few days, the initial shock was replaced by denial, then came anger, and little by little, I later gained acceptance. By exercising determination and courage, I decided that even though my disease was now a part of my life, I would not let it dictate who I was or what I could become. I was resolute to do great things.  

Besides the discipline and resilience that I had to muster to live my life as a diabetic, I realized that some things in life are better dealt with by having a support system. With this in mind, I looked for volunteering positions where I could share my experience with others and listen to their own struggles. After I got involved in different initiatives, I decided to organize a support group in high school for students who were dealing with difficult situations and just needed someone to talk to. The group was so successful that I was invited to other schools to talk about what we did and about the difference we made in our members’ lives by just listening to one another. Today, we have more than twenty volunteers, and our meeting times have doubled since we started. Additionally, this group has been a platform for other initiatives that I have helped launch such as fundraising campaigns and mental health events. I do this as I keep looking for ways to get involved in my community and create spaces for people to support one another in difficult times. 

We all have challenges in life. Being diagnosed with a chronic disease at such a young age was devastating for me and my family. However, form this experience I have learned that being disciplined is the key to living a healthy life and that being compassionate is the first step to helping those who need it. When I see how many people have been benefitted from our group, I look back and remember being a scared eleven-year-old, and I feel proud of what I have become. What felt like a death sentence at first turned into a way of supporting others in my community proving that the lessons we take from the obstacles we encounter can, in fact, be fundamental to later success.

Are you applying to any UC schools ? Familiarize yourself with some UC personal statement samples and prompts , since these can be very different from common app prompts! ","label":"Note","title":"Note"}]" code="tab6" template="BlogArticle">

College Essay Examples #26/32:

Common App Essays

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

Staring down at my scuffed Converse Chuck Taylors, I distinctly remember the feeling of heat rising in my cheeks. Somehow, I had landed myself in the principal’s office at the beginning of the school year in tenth grade. I blame it on the growth spurt I experienced the summer before that had single-handedly taken half of my wardrobe out of commission. The polka dot dress skimmed the tops of my knees on the first day of high school was now, apparently, so short that it would “distract the young men” in class. Though I respected the rules at my school, I was infuriated, embarrassed, and confused about being made to feel as though I had done something morally wrong as a result of my height making my skirt length criminally deficient. After sheepishly explaining the situation to my mom, I was relieved to find her just as angry about the school’s actions, and even more relieved when she supported my desire to challenge them.

Challenging the school’s actions ended up being a little more, well, challenging than I thought. Growing up in a conservative area, my defiance was met with disdain and whispers in the hallway about not knowing my place. Thankfully, however, not all of my peers were so resistant to change. After weeks of emails campaigning the student government’s faculty advisor, I was finally permitted to make a presentation about the sexism inherent in the school’s dress code before the student government representatives, who grew excited about the potential to change school policy for the better. Collaborating with each grade’s representative, we organized a school-wide awareness-raising campaign to engender support for our initiative. At after-school sports practices, band rehearsals, and art club meetings, I pleaded with my peers to realize how antiquated these restrictions on girls’ dress were. It was a blatant sexualization of minors’ bodies at best and spread the message that male students were not responsible for their actions when faced with such temptations as exposed kneecaps and bare shoulders. I knew that our school could do better.  

Finally, after months of work, my team of advocates and I obtained 1,000 student signatures and 2,000 parent signatures supporting an initiative to reconsider my school’s dress code through a gender equity lens. I distinctly remember the heat rising in my cheeks as I stepped up to the podium to address the school board, but this time they were flushed with excitement and pride, not shame or embarrassment. Though I did abide by my mother’s censorship of my wardrobe that time—admittedly, scuffed Chuck Taylors did not reflect the gravity of that event—I was so proud to be advocating for gender equity in my school and saving so many of my female peers the trouble of disciplinary action for their bodies being seen. The results of the reconsideration are not yet in, but I learned the power of using my voice for positive social change – something I look forward to continuing in college.

College Essay Examples #27/32:

Prompt: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Nothing compares to the feeling of the first pass of a pigment-soaked brush on a clean canvas. The first slice into a beautifully iced birthday cake or the powerful print of a first footstep in snow may come close, but I can never lose myself in a sugary confection or icy landscape the way I can when standing at my easel. The thrill I felt as a small child when finger painting never left me, though my technique may have improved a bit.

Technique aside, the value of self-expression through artistic endeavor has only grown for me as I mature. Many find cathartic release through journaling or sharing their thoughts with others in conversation, but I feel most connected to my feelings and the world when I put paint brush to canvas. Not all sentiments can be captured in words, which is where art takes over for me. Just as a piece of music can engender poignant emotions in its listener, a piece of art can make a person feel seen in a large and often lonely world. Nobody knew this better than my middle school art teacher Mrs. Williams. She often let me stay in the studio after school to put continuous rounds of final touches on my latest masterpiece, knowing that sometimes my piece did not need those additional strokes, but my soul did. A true artist herself, Mrs. Williams understood how art could tell a story and that sometimes the artist’s need to tell their story in color and shape was more important than the finished product. Over the years following middle school, I visited Mrs. Williams every once in a while and each time was always like no time had passed. We would set our easels side by side and paint, sometimes chatting a bit, but often sitting in comfortable silence as we watched colors blend and form new hues with the flick of a paint brush.

In the middle of my junior year of high school, I received the tragic news that Mrs. Williams had suffered a massive heart attack and passed. Devastated and trying to make sense of the first death I had ever experienced, I turned to my mother for advice. “Well, how would you deal with this if Mrs. Williams were here?” she asked me. Of course. I should have known that was the answer to working through my grief. Grabbing my easel and a stool, I set up on the front porch where I could see the sun filtering through the oak leaves in green and yellow shards of glass, smiled at the memory of Mrs. Williams, and began to paint.

I think by the time we graduate high school, we all fall into the trap of thinking we know ourselves pretty well by now. The truth is, we are only just discovering who we are. And at that point in our lives, we are entering into an incredible period of self-discovery and personal growth. I know I am no exception, and my post-high school years have included some of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Last year was my first opportunity to travel abroad. For someone who rarely strayed more than 100 miles from where they grew up, this was a pretty intimidating choice, but I was excited to travel, to learn about another place and people. For this unique experience, I chose to travel to Japan; a country so unlike my own, I was both excited and worried. Excited for the opportunity, but worried because I speak no Japanese and had never left home before. I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself.

After first arriving, everything seemed to be going well, and I had few problems getting around. The locals were friendly and spoke enough English that I had no troubles. Aside from learning to adapt to a new culture, I had no qualms. That is, until I decided to take a bus trip, by myself, into a rural area of the country to do some sightseeing.

I was traveling alone, and all the other bus passengers spoke little English. After we arrived at our destination, I got off the bus and toured around, taking photos and enjoying some lunch. Unfortunately, when I went to catch the bus back to the city, I discovered it was gone. And from what I could gather at the bus stop, there would be no more buses running until the following week, since it was the weekend. Now that I was in a smaller village, there were virtually no English speakers, but I managed to communicate in the limited Japanese I’d learned.

Basically, there were no options for transport back to the city. I could walk down a mountainside throughout the night, or I could wait until Monday to catch the next bus back. Through some creative communication, I managed to get a place to stay for the weekend. The village didn’t have an official inn, but the owner of the restaurant where I’d eaten lunch was kind enough to rent me her vacant upstairs room for the two days. Even with her limited English and my poor Japanese, we found a way to make it work. She was even nice enough to invite me to eat with her family that night, and give me some suggestions for a hike the next day. When I got on the bus to leave on Monday morning, she waved me goodbye and sent me off with a homemade meal for the journey.

Although the setback I experience seemed at first to confirm my fears that I wouldn’t be able to get myself out of a jam, I still managed to sort the problem out, with some help from a kind woman.

If anything, this experience taught me that I am still learning and still growing. It also showed me that I am much more adaptable and resourceful than I give myself credit for. By being open to new experiences and expanding horizons, I can allow myself to expand, too.

My trip taught me some invaluable things about myself, and definitely changed my perspective of who I am. It also taught me the importance of planning ahead and having a backup travel plan!

College Essay Examples #29/32:

From the time I was in grade school, I thought I was destined to become a scientist. Specifically, I wanted to become a marine biologist. Other students in my class would change their minds from week to week, switching their ideal future careers from doctor to astronaut to musician, never settling on anything and always exploring new possibilities. But I was stuck on marine biology. I was obsessed. Every weekend, I asked to visit the local aquarium.

I imagine my parents were quite pleased with my choice of interest, as they were both scientists themselves. My mother is a molecular biologist, and my father is a neuroscientist and professor. They encouraged my love of science, from bringing me to the aquarium to teaching me to snorkel and scuba dive as I grew up.

In high school, I excelled in the sciences and received high grades. Every academic performance was another step towards my goal of becoming a marine biologist, of being admitted to a good school and focusing on science. But somewhere along the way, my love for science was changed. Not diluted, or split, but evolved into something more. Through science, I discovered a love for art. I can’t pinpoint exactly when this love began, but it was somewhere in the cool, bluish space of the aquarium observation room. Having spent so many hours there, observing the hundreds of different species, studying their patterns, it’s easy to forget that I used to draw sketches of them.

I dug through some old boxes, and as often happens when you’re looking through childhood memories, I found something unexpected. Sketchbooks, crammed full of sketches, diagrams and notes of my favorite aquatic species. There were sketches from things I’d seen while scuba diving or visiting the aquarium—fish with colorful stripes and waving fins, coral with intricate patterns and shapes. I was surprised at the details I’d put into the drawings. After showing them to some friends and receiving positive reviews, a friend of mine convinced me to show my drawings in an art show. I’d never considered art as something other than a tool I used in my scientific studies. It never occurred to me that there was an intersection between art and science. An undeniable connection. How could two disciplines, seemingly opposites, come together seamlessly?

The scientist in me was intrigued that there was an existing relationship between the two I had yet to discover. So, I took my friend’s advice and let them arrange an art show for me. I selected my best pieces drawn in pencil. Then I went back to visit my favorite aquarium. I brought my tools with me, and I commenced my experiment.

For hours, I sat on the benches, drawing sketches, scribbling notes on color differentiation, environment and behavior. Taking my new sketches home, I started experimenting with an entirely new medium: paint. With some help from my friend, I began learning the techniques and methods to create fully colorful paintings of my favorite marine creatures. The results were surprising and stunning.

By the end of a few weeks, I had dozens of pencil sketches and half a dozen smaller paintings. I’d seen how I could develop an eye for color, and use it to capture the exact hues of the creatures I observed. Or how to translate the natural movement of coral and their incredible patterns into flecks of paint. The realism I could create with a few simple things was astounding. I nervously displayed my artwork and waited for my first art exhibition.

The exhibition was a great success, and I even sold some of my paintings. The most notable part of my experience was how it changed my idea of myself. It was surprising and delightful to discover that my passion for science could be expressed so creatively. And that art could understand and capture the beauty of science.

Prompt: 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?

Sample College Essay #30

College essay examples #31/32:, sample college essay #31, college essay examples #32/32:.

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.

Sample College Essay #32

Yes, your college admission essays are important. Although the committee can evaluate your academic abilities based on your grades and test scores, the essay is your chance to present a full, unique story of your experiences. While many students have great marks and scores, the essay is usually the weak link in many students’ applications. You must work hard to create an essay that will make your application stand out.

Each school will have specific instructions regarding the length of the essay, but the range is usually between 250 and 650 words. You need to review the instructions and the word limit carefully before you begin to write.

Writing a strong essay requires a significant commitment of time and energy. Ideally, you should plan on spending 6-8 weeks writing and rewriting your essay. Always remember that a truly effective essay will require multiple drafts!

The essay prompts are typically very open-ended. You can choose to write about any topic you like as long as it directly relates to the prompt. Remember, you must answer the prompt, do not ignore it! As I already said, essay prompts are open to interpretation, so try to be original. Instead of writing about common topics like a sports victory or a difficult test, brainstorm unique ideas for your college essay. Rather than playing it safe, take your chance to be unique and unforgettable.

Your essay is your chance to be personable, real, and honest. Discuss what shaped you and your world view, or what concerns you about humanity’s future, or discuss a painter or a filmmaker who changed your life. Do not be afraid to explore different topics. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions committee member, wouldn’t you want to read something exciting, new, and different?

Give yourself ample amount of time to prepare your essay. It might take you weeks or even months to shape it into a great paper. Give yourself at least 8 weeks to prepare your submission.

First, make sure you have set aside enough time for your personal essay (6-8 weeks). Then, take some time to familiarize yourself with the culture and values of your school and program of choice, to get a general sense of what sort of person they would value having has a student. Read and re-read the essay prompt several times to ensure that you understand what they expect you to address in your essay. Make a list of qualities and experiences that you may wish to include in your essay. Review your list of experiences carefully to narrow them down to the most significant ones. Once you know which experiences you wish to feature in your essay, brainstorm how you would like to tell your story. Create an outline or some notes sketching out what each section of your essay should cover, and keep it close by for reference while writing.  

It might be a good idea for someone to review your essay. Do not let too many people read it, as too many reviews could make your essay into a melting pot of ideas and opinions. Ideally, your reader is someone you trust and who can provide you with honest feedback on the content and grammar of your essay.

Remember, this is your story. Instead of writing about topics often used in college essays, reflect on your own unique experiences and choose something that will intrigue and interest the admissions committee. You might not think that your life and experiences are very interesting, but you are wrong. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at your life objectively – dig deep and give yourself time to brainstorm a variety of options.

Your essay will feature an introduction, main body, and conclusion. Good organization is essential in creating a compelling, logical narrative for your reader to follow, so always pay close attention to your essay’s structure. Your introduction should open with an attention-grabbing sentence that captures your reader’s interest and helps to reveal or foreshadow what your essay will be about. Your main body highlights the formative experience (or 2-3 experiences) that you wish to share, and what you learned from that experience. Your conclusion ties your essay together and should leave your reader with an interesting and memorable final thought, which will leave your reader wanting to learn more about you. 

Some colleges may ask you to submit a curriculum vitae, or a CV. This is not a requirement for all schools, but most colleges have some kind of variation of the CV. For example, UC schools ask their applicants to fill out an activities list.

*Please note that our sample essays are the property of BeMo Academic Consulting, and should not be re-used for any purpose. Admissions committees regularly check for plagiarism from online sources.

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Jonathan Walker

Good Post! Amazing tips to me. I also want to study abroad. I have to improve my English. Every night I usually use duolingo to learn more, except for class hours, apkdownload is a reasonable choice for old android users like me. I will try very hard, to study abroad, open my eyes

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Jonathan! Thanks for your comment! Good luck!

I think this was a really good articile, I was able to learn a lot for my class!

Hello Sussy! Thanks for your comment.

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college essay acceptance samples

When you apply to colleges, you will do plenty of writing. Aside from filling in information and completing a resume, you will have to write essays or short answers based on prompts universities give you. Looking at college essay examples can be a helpful way to prepare for this important part of the application.

Generally, your college entrance essays are meant to convey something about you that could not be known from other parts of your application. For example, your essays should do more than show you are a hard worker because good grades and a busy resume already do this. Some essays for college will ask for something very specific. For example, the “why this college” essay tries to gauge your knowledge and commitment to the institution. For the personal essay on the Common Application, expectations are less clear. This is a college essay about yourself, and you will submit one for all schools that require the Common Application . 

The Common App essay is supposed to give admissions officers a sense of your personality. This is a chance to make you stand out in a way that other parts of the application could not. That being said, the best college essays do more than just display the author’s quirks but create a picture of a dynamic person who offers something to a college community. This will help set you apart during the college admissions committee review process . 

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4 winning college application essay examples that can help you get admitted

Here are some examples of college essays that worked. Pay attention to how students used one part of who they are (a memory, their background, a challenge) to paint a larger picture. Overall, this is a great way to communicate a lot of information in a relatively small space. 

College essay example #1

This first essay was submitted to Harvard University during the 2021 college admissions cycle: 

When I was a child, I begged my parents for my very own Brother PT-1400 P-Touch Handheld Label Maker to fulfill all of my labeling needs. Other kids had Nintendos and would spend their free time with Mario and Luigi. While they pummeled their video game controllers furiously, the pads of their thumbs dancing across their joysticks, I would type out labels on my industrial-standard P-Touch with just as much zeal. I labeled everything imaginable, dividing hundreds of pens into Ziploc bags by color, then rubber-banding them by point size. The finishing touch, of course, was always a glossy, three-eighths-inch-wide tag, freshly churned out from my handheld labeler and decisively pasted upon the numerous plastic bags I had successfully compiled.

Labeling became therapeutic for me; organizing my surroundings into specific groups to be labeled provides me with a sense of stability. I may not physically need the shiny color-coded label verifying the contents of a plastic bag as BLUE HIGHLIGHTERS—FAT, to identify them as such, but seeing these classifications so plainly allows me to appreciate the reliability of my categorizations. There are no exceptions when I label the top ledge of my bookshelf as containing works from ACHEBE, CHINUA TO CONRAD, JOSEPH. Each book is either filtered into that category or placed definitively into another one. Yet, such consistency only exists in these inanimate objects.

Thus, the break in my role as a labeler comes when I interact with people. Their lives are too complicated, their personalities too intricate for me to resolutely summarize in a few words or even with the 26.2 feet of laminated adhesive tape compatible with my label maker. I have learned that a thin line exists between labeling and just being judgmental when evaluating individuals. I can hardly superficially characterize others as simply as I do my material possessions because people refuse to be so cleanly separated and compartmentalized. My sister Joyce jokes freely and talks with me for hours about everything from the disturbing popularity of vampires in pop culture to cubic watermelons, yet those who don’t know her well usually think of her as timid and introverted. My mother is sometimes my biggest supporter, spouting words of encouragement and, at other instances, my most unrelenting critic. The overlap becomes too indistinct, the contradictions too apparent, even as I attempt to classify those people in the world whom I know best.

Neither would I want others to be predictable enough for me to label. The real joy in human interaction lies in the excitement of the unknown. Overturning expectations can be necessary to preserving the vitality of relationships. If I were never surprised by the behaviors of those around me, my biggest source of entertainment would vanish. For all my love of order when it comes to my room, I don’t want myself, or the people with whom I interact, to fit squarely into any one category. I meticulously follow directions to the millimeter in the chemistry lab but measure ingredients by pinches and dashes in the comfort of my kitchen. I’m a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, but I’ll admit e. e. cummings’s irreverence does appeal. I’ll chart my television show schedule on Excel, but I would never dream of confronting my chores with as much organization. I even call myself a labeler, but not when it comes to people. As Walt Whitman might put it, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.).”

I therefore refrain from the temptation to label—despite it being an act that makes me feel so fulfilled when applied to physical objects—when real people are the subjects. The consequences of premature labeling are too great, the risk of inaccuracy too high because, most of the time, not even the hundreds of alphanumeric digits and symbols available for entry on my P-Touch can effectively describe who an individual really is.

A pleasure to read, filled with witty remarks and earnest self-reflection. This essay uses humor, along with meticulous attention to detail, to convey certain personal truths. The opening anecdote demonstrates the student’s passion for order and organization, while the second half of this essay shows the student’s willingness to contradict themself to engage with others meaningfully. 

Not only is this essay creative and entertaining, but it also demonstrates how this student is eager to challenge themself and embrace a wide variety of perspectives. Furthermore, the specific details this student includes, especially their literary references, help express their academic interests and values. Overall, this essay is witty, creative, and memorable, while engaging in a larger meaningful discussion.

college essay acceptance samples

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College essay example #2.

This second essay was submitted to Hamilton College during the 2021 college admissions cycle: 

I dreaded their arrival. The tyrannical cicadas swarmed DC and neighboring areas in 1987, 2004, and again in 2021. I was freaking about Brood X, the worst of them all. Brood X is a cluster of cicadas that descend on Washington, D.C., every 17 years. I live in the epicenter of their swarm. Cicadas battled with mosquitoes for first place in the top tier of the human annoyance pyramid. I hate these off-brand cockroaches.

For 17 years, cicadas live underground feasting off of sap, running free of danger. Then, they emerge and face the real world. That sounds familiar. I have lived in the same house, in the same town, for 17 years, with my parents feeding me pasta and keeping me safe.

Is it conceivable that I have more in common with cicadas than I previously thought? Cicadas have beady, red eyes. After a year of enduring Zoom classes, attending tele-health appointments, and spending too much time on social media and video games, I too feel a little blurry-eyed and disoriented. But what about their incessant hum and perpetual noise? That is not me. OK, maybe I do make protein shakes with a noisy blender at all hours of the day. Maybe I do FaceTime vehemently with friends, blare music while I shower, and constantly kick a ball around both inside the house and out.

At least I do not leave damaged wings, shedded skin, or rotting carcasses everywhere. Smelly soccer socks on the clean carpet after a long practice? Check. Pools of turf in the mudroom after sliding all over the field? You got it. Dirty dishes and trail mix stains after accidentally sitting on a mislaid M&M are hardly as abhorrent as cicada remains, right?

The more I reflected, the more I realized these bugs and I are more alike than different. After 17 years of being cooped up, we are both antsy to face new experiences. Of course, cicadas want to broaden their wings, fly, and explore the world, even if it means clumsily colliding into people’s faces, telephone poles, and parked cars. Just like I want to shed my skin and escape to college, even if it means getting lost on campus or ruining a whole load of laundry. Despite all my newbie attributes, I am proceeding to the next phase of my life whether I am ready or not.

Only the hardiest of cicadas survive their emergence and make it to trees to mate, lay eggs, and ensure the existence of their species. I want to be a tenacious Brood X cicada. I will know what it means to travel into the wrong classroom before getting laughed at, bump into an upperclassman before dropping textbooks everywhere, fail an exam after thinking I aced it. I may even become the cicada of the lecture hall by asking a professor for permission to go to the bathroom. Like cicadas, I will need time to learn how to learn.

No matter what challenge I undergo that exposes and channels my inner-cicada, novice thought process, I will regroup and continue to soar toward the ultimate goal of thriving in college.

When I look beyond our beady red eyes, round-the-clock botherment, and messy trails, I now understand there is room for all creatures to grow, both cicadas and humans. Cicadas certainly are on to something … Seventeen years is the perfect amount of time to emerge and get ready to fly.

This essay uses a humorous extended metaphor to express their eagerness to attend college — as well as their inner trepidations. Mostly this essay is about resiliency and embracing change. What makes this essay stand out, however, is its subject matter. By comparing themself to a cicada, an organism they’ve already admitted to strongly disliking, the student demonstrates humor, humility, and a willingness to approach the world with creativity and curiosity. 

While this essay isn’t necessarily about a particular interest or experience, it characterizes the student exceedingly well. Overall, this essay is memorable and creative, using humor and humility to express a greater truth about how this student views themself and how they approach their surroundings. 

College essay example #3

This third essay was submitted to Tufts College  during the 2019 college admissions cycle: 

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn’t allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn’t expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find — with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials “RK-1” — that cyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB’s, and students’ apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody’s surprise). Ironically, it’s through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry’s book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I’m learning that it isn’t the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek — I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

This essay uses a humorous childhood anecdote to introduce an impressive series of scientific projects and inquiries. As evident through their various scientific projects, this student is very talented and driven. Furthermore, by periodically revisiting the playful language of the opening anecdote, the student’s scientific achievements are further emphasized through its contrasting language and tone. 

Overall, this essay strikes a really good balance between playful and scientific language, which ultimately ties into the student’s parting conclusion that they want to use their love of storytelling to make scientific discoveries more accessible to a wider audience. This essay is memorable, highly detailed, and leaves a lasting impression. 

College essay example #4

This final essay was submitted to John Hopkins University as a part of the 2018 college admissions cycle: 

The sound was loud and discordant, like a hurricane, high notes and low notes mixing together in an audible mess. It was as if a thousand booming foghorns were in a shouting match with sirens. Unlike me, this was a little abrasive and loud. I liked it. It was completely unexpected and extremely fun to play.

Some instruments are built to make multiple notes, like a piano. A saxophone on the other hand doesn’t play chords but single notes through one vibrating reed. However, I discovered that you can play multiple notes simultaneously on the saxophone. While practicing a concert D-flat scale, I messed up a fingering for a low B-flat, and my instrument produced a strange noise with two notes. My band teacher got very excited and exclaimed, “Hey, you just played a polyphonic note!” I like it when accidents lead to discovering new ideas.

I like this polyphonic sound because it reminds me of myself: many things at once. You assume one thing and get another. At school, I am a course scholar in English, but I am also able to amuse others when I come up with wince evoking puns. My math and science teachers expect me to go into engineering, but I’m more excited about making films. Discussing current events with my friends is fun, but I also like to share with them my secrets to cooking a good scotch egg. Even though my last name gives them a hint, the Asian students at our school don’t believe that I’m half Japanese. 

Meanwhile the non-Asians are surprised that I’m also part Welsh. I feel comfortable being unique or thinking differently. As a Student Ambassador this enables me to help freshmen and others who are new to our school feel welcome and accepted. I help the new students know that it’s okay to be themselves.

There is added value in mixing things together. I realized this when my brother and I won an international Kavli Science Foundation contest where we explained the math behind the Pixar movie “Up”. Using stop motion animation we explored the plausibility and science behind lifting a house with helium balloons. I like offering a new view and expanding the way people see things. In many of my videos I combine art with education. I want to continue making films that not only entertain, but also make you think.

A lot of people have a single passion that defines them or have a natural talent for something specific. Like my saxophone I am an instrument, but I can play many notes at once. I’m a scholar and a musician. Quiet but talkative. An athlete and a filmmaker. Careful but spontaneous. A fan of Johnny Cash and Kill The Noise. Hard-working but playful. A martial artist and a baker. One of a kind but an identical twin.

Will polyphonic notes resonate in college? Yes. For instance, balancing a creative narrative with scientific facts will make a more believable story. I want to bring together different kinds of students (such as music, film, and English majors) to create more meaningful art. Understanding fellow students’ perspective, talents, and ideas are what build a great community.

I’m looking forward to discovering my place in the world by combining various interests. Who I am doesn’t always harmonize and may seem like nothing but noise to some. But what I play, no matter how discordant, can be beautiful. It’s my own unique polyphonic note.

The opening anecdote is unique, engaging, and succinct. It also allows the student to include a lot of personal details and interests in a way that feels natural and matches the tone of the opening anecdote. In less than a page, we learn that this student is a musician, athlete, filmmaker, jokester, twin, martial artist, baker, lover of literature, and twin. We also learn that the student is half-Japanese, half-Welsh, and has learned to embrace her cultural differences and personal nuances while encouraging others to do the same. The upbeat, excitable tone of this essay also helps characterize this student as well as demonstrate how she would enhance the school’s campus culture. 

Key takeaways from college essay examples

Writing a successful personal statement is a key factor in holistic college admissions practices . This is because your personal statement is your opportunity to share more about who you are as a person and what you’re passionate about. Every year thousands of qualified students apply to highly-selective colleges, such as Ivy League institutions , but only a small fraction of students are admitted. So how do you stand out in a pool of equally qualified applicants? Your personal statement. 

This is why it is important to learn more about components of a strong personal statement , as well as overused college essay topics that are best to avoid. Reading examples of successful Common App essays is a great way to start thinking about how to best approach your college essays. By identifying key strategies and characteristics that helped set these essay examples apart, you are one step closer to writing your own successful personal statement.

Need college essay help?

Prepory offers a college admissions essay help package to assist high school students with the most important part of the college application process. Our expert editors have degrees in writing, attended elite colleges and universities, and have hundreds of success stories editing college essays. Our college essay review process goes further than editing for a missing comma or period. We dig deep to learn more about who you are and what you want to tell admissions officers. 

Our college admissions team helps students write compelling college essays and construct, edit, and flesh out their resumes, too! If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance during this college application season, reach out to learn more about our services .

  • November 7, 2022
  • College Admissions , Common App

4 Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools

college essay acceptance samples

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay
  • Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
  • Brainstorming tips for your college essay
  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Taking your college essay to the next level

  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
  • Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
  • Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

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Video transcript

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Common App essay examples that got applicants into top colleges

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Composing essays for your college application is a challenging task. It is not enough to prepare a ‘good’ essay. College admissions committees review thousands upon thousands of college essays annually, making it crucial that your Common App essays stand out.

The good news is there are plenty of Common App essay examples available to get you started on your writing and provide you some much needed inspiration. Read on to learn about common application essays and check out the examples. 

The “Why us?” App Essay

The “diversity” app essay, the “challenges” app essay, the “community” app essay, the “extra-curricular activities” app essay, the “personal statement” app essay.

Common App essay examples

The purpose of a “why did you choose this college” essay is to help you persuade admissions committees that you are a good match. The essay is a chance for you to introduce yourself and talk about your passions. It is also important to exhibit genuine enthusiasm for the institution.

Sample answer from Essays That Worked: “The only reason I fear going for lunch in a hotel is probably because I wouldn’t choose between fried chicken and roasted meat and so is my dilemma over my college major. The multifaceted whole brain approach at McCormick, however, grants me the perfect opportunity to pursue my interest in Computer Science whilst acquiring the appropriate skills in entrepreneurship to a one day startup as an innovator.

As a NU computer scientist, I particularly look forward to Software Development EECS 473 – NUvention: Web, through which I would not only learn intricacies of Software development, but have related studies in real time software development in relation to market requirements in CS+X that would form a base for a startup. That would also provide a bridge for me to join Prof Todd Warren at Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation where I would specifically join the NUvention; Web + Media. Through this unparalleled program I would have the intimacy of working in a team with fellow wild cats towards an innovative business project. The results of which will be an introduction to the Northwestern Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) through which I look forward to gaining practical exposure in launching businesses to the general public.

Outside McCormick, I would be excited to pursue the Managerial analytics Certificate program at Kellogg to acquire intelligent business management skills, let off steam at SPARK exploring hacks while fostering entrepreneurial habits, and eventually joining preparations for the Benedictine Eagle Invite at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion (SPAC) with the NU track club. I may not be the best of singers, but I do have intense phases of music obsessions and where better to let it off than taking non major classes at Bienen and joining one of the numerous Acapella groups as I await Armadillo day!”

Why does this essay work? 

The essay refers to specific programs and events that are unique to the school. The author also connects his personal interests with the type of activities he would like to engage in. The focus is on a handful of initiatives the author would be most interested in.

A diversity essay highlights the applicant’s unique background, identity, culture, beliefs, or connections to a particular community. It underlines what sets the applicant apart. These essays are used by colleges to promote diversity on campus, enhance the learning environment, and identify candidates eligible for scholarships aimed at underrepresented groups.

Sample Answer from Boston College : “I’m angry and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. There have been too many riots, too many marches, too many people shouting into uncaring ears when Black people get treated the way we do. How many dead fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters have to move from the front page of the news to the bottom of the social media feed before we get recognized and listened to. I just want to be heard. I have given up on the idea of waking up in a world where I am not afraid, angry, and weary. Maybe that world is for my grandkids, or my great-grandkids, but not me.

My mother and my father, my aunts and uncles, they were all very active in the protests – often at the front of the line – and they did not come through unscathed. They had bruises and blood spilt, they had broken bones. I know they will return to that battlefield, to protest peacefully until they cannot maintain that rank any longer. From these noble people I received my sense of righteous anger. But I also got good advice on how to use it well.

They know that protests are one thing, but action is another, and my mind has been geared toward law school for some time now, because I wanted to bring about the major changes that are needed for our society to move on. So, in addition to protests, I have been taking pre-law courses, and I have acquired a part-time job in the law firm where my uncle works, and while it is a small, office job, I get to spend a lot of time with my uncle learning about how to bring positive change by fighting big and little battles. Of course, he is also showing me how to fight those battles.

Anger alone isn’t going to settle anything, which is why I believe in making a better world with my actions and rhetoric. But I am still frustrated and furious, and while I am trying to find a hopeful place to get to, I’ll repeat that I don’t think we’ll see the better world I want. Maybe our grandkids, but not us. Hold on to that, get angry, and join me in pushing forward for them.”

The applicant talks about their personal experience beyond a general push for diversity. This authenticity makes the essay stand out, as it provides a genuine insight into the applicant’s life and character.The essay clearly articulates the applicant’s motivation for pursuing law school as a means to enact social change. It shows a thoughtful progression from anger and frustration to actionable goals and aspirations, which is exactly what admissions committees look for — students who are motivated by their experiences to make a positive impact.

This type of essay requires you to choose an obstacle you have encountered, explain how it impacted you, and outline the steps you took to overcome it. Life during college and beyond can be unpredictable. Through this essay, the admissions committee wants to see that you are adaptable, resilient, and able to think critically to solve problems. 

Sample Answer from CollegeVine: “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.”

For a ‘challenge’ essay, admissions committees look for evidence of resilience, problem-solving, and the ability to learn from difficult situations. This essay effectively addresses these criteria, presenting the writer as someone who has faced interpersonal challenges, reflected on their actions, and emerged more aware and compassionate.

college essay acceptance samples

The “Community” essay will prompt students to talk about a community to which they belong and what role they have played in that community. You can start by discussing a community you have previously been involved with and then outline how you intend to sustain your engagement with a similar community in college to give the admissions office an idea of what on-campus activities you would like to participate in. 

Sample answer from Baylor University : “Since getting involved in helping the homeless, I learned that for a time one of my relatives was homeless. When you have a house it’s easy to take it for granted, but all it takes is some bad luck for you to lose it. This is why I feel it’s so important that we all try to help those who have no home to go to.

As hard as it was to motivate others to volunteer and help out with our fundraiser, it was worth it in the end. We raised over $1,000 for the hurricane victims. Now when we see news coverage of that terrible disaster at least we know that we have done our small part to help. 

The reward for being a coach has nothing to do with winning games. The reward is seeing everyone working as a team and enjoying the game. Win or lose, as a coach you’re always proud after each game.”

Overall, this essay works because it skillfully combines personal motivation with community action, challenges faced during these endeavors, and reflections on what truly constitutes a reward. It not only showcases the applicant’s commitment to addressing community issues but also highlights valuable character traits such as empathy, leadership, and resilience. 

college essay acceptance samples

The essay about your extracurricular activities aims to provide admissions officers with insight into your involvement in extracurriculars and how that has influenced and inspired you. Rather than listing the activities mentioned in your resume, you should delve into how the extracurricular activities have impacted and shaped you.  

Sample answer from Admit Report : “As an impressionable six-year-old, I watched Meryl Streep-portrayed Miranda Priestly shape fashion history with a single word of disgust. I longed for my words to have such an impact.

Now, as an editor-in-chief myself, I oversee daily operations of The Hallway, my high school’s newspaper. Instead of shaping global fashion trends, I impact my community by ensuring everyone stays informed.

My place as editor-in-chief was solidified when, in March of last year, we published a breaking story. After a tip to our newspaper email address, a fellow reporter and I uncovered an academic dishonesty scandal. We conducted interviews, dug into school files, and reviewed old test keys to discover the cheating. My reporter wrote the story, and I edited it and put it on the front page. Our story became so big that it was republished in our city’s local newspaper.

Leading my team through this investigation taught me just how important journalism is. Even when people might be upset with what you write, what’s most important is the truth. People can’t make decisions if they’re uninformed about the facts. And reporters can’t investigate and write those stories without the support of a leader who’s willing to put in the work, too.

I doubt I’ll ever predict what we’ll be wearing next spring. But I know that my words will continue to have a deep impact on my community, and I can’t wait to find the next big story at The Catalyst.”

The applicant reflects on what they learned through their experience, especially the value of truth and the role of leadership in journalism.The essay concludes with a forward-looking statement, expressing eagerness to continue making an impact through journalism. This not only highlights the applicant’s passion for their extracurricular activity but also their intention to pursue this interest further, suggesting potential for future growth and contributions.

Through this essay, you can get the opportunity to show the college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. The essay demonstrates the type of individual you are beyond  your academic grades and test scores. It is a chance for you to stand out as an individual. 

Sample answer from College Advisor : “Gymnastics has always been a part of my life and has shaped who I am today. Without gymnastics I would not have the same determined mindset, competitive nature, and appreciation of a team. If I were to neglect sharing this aspect of my life, my application would truly be incomplete.

When I was two years old, my parents enrolled me in the Parent-and-Me program at Countryside Gymnastics. At six, I became part of the pre-team program, Dynamos, and was placed in the compulsory team at age seven.  As a compulsory, I struggled to be as good as my teammates. This struggle caused frustration which evolved into determination and a competitive nature. Throughout the rest of my compulsory years, I gradually improved but still felt as though I were stuck. I knew I had to “up my game.”

The optional levels, 7 and up, brought a new factor—fear. Even though this fear did hold me back at times, I did not let it keep me from achieving my goals. Gymnastics is also extremely tough on the body. Once I entered the optional level of gymnastics, I trained at least 20 hours a week and endured the aches and pains that came along with it. However, I did not let these pains defeat me. When I reached level 9, I began to experience severe back pain, which a spine specialist diagnosed as a subcutaneous lipoma. Although the physician highly recommended I stop training to avoid complications later in life, I was too committed to stop the sport.  I let my desire push me through the pain, and I had a successful competition season, qualifying for the Region 8 Regional Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. 

During summer training in 2013, I worked as hard as possible to reach level 10, with the back pain progressively worsening. Once my pain peaked, my coach told me it may be time to “hang it up.” I could either quit or repeat level 9 with minimal training. Ultimately, the choice was mine. To prove I was capable of reaching level 10 and to support my team, I continued to train on a vigorous schedule. At level 10, I am the highest level gymnast at Countryside Gymnastics and am determined to have an exceptional competition season.

This determination and competitiveness that pushes me to accomplish my goals in gymnastics also exists in my current scholastics—the health sciences, which will ultimately prepare me for my future in pediatric medicine. Without the desire to be the best I can be, I might not have achieved success throughout my high school years.”

This personal statement application essay effectively showcases the applicant’s character, resilience, and the transferability of skills learned through sports to academic and personal pursuits.It is also well-structured, with a clear narrative arc that engages the reader from the beginning to the end.

These essays are a vital component of the college application. It’s an opportunity for applicants to showcase their personality, experiences, and values in a way that grades and test scores cannot. The example essays can give you ideas on themes, topics, or approaches you might want to consider and help you understand what makes an essay effective in terms of structure, tone, and content.

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college essay acceptance samples

12 Effective “Why This College?” Essay Examples

What’s covered.

  • Essay 1: UPenn Nursing
  • Essay 2: UPenn
  • Essay 3: UW Madison
  • Essay 4: Northwestern
  • Essay 5: NYU
  • Essay 6: NYU
  • Essay 7: Boston University
  • Essay 8: Boston University
  • Essay 9: Tufts
  • Essay 10: Tufts
  • Essay 11: Georgia Tech
  • Essay 12: Georgia Tech

Where to Get Your Essays Edited

The “ Why This College?” essay is one of the most common supplemental prompts. These school-specific essays help colleges understand if you’re a good fit for them, and if they’re a good fit for you.

In this post, we’ll share 12 “Why This College?” essay examples from real students and explain what they did well, and what could be improved. Read these examples to understand how to write a strong supplemental essay that improves your chances of acceptance.

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

Essay Example #1: UPenn Nursing

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.

What the Essay Did Well

This essay has many positive aspects, but the most impressive one is the structure. Utilizing the Five C’s of Caring to discuss Penn’s offerings was a genius way of tying in this student’s passion for nursing while also making their essay exciting and easy to read. Beginning each paragraph with the respective adjective helped focus the paragraph and allowed the student to demonstrate how they exemplify each quality without explicitly stating it. The student wasn’t afraid to think outside the box and add creativity to their essay structure, which really paid off.

Another positive is how specific and specialized the Penn resources and opportunities the student mentions are. This essay did not fall into the trap of name-dropping professors or programs. In every paragraph, there was a connection to something the student wants to do at Penn to further themselves in the respective characteristic they were describing.

Not only did this student mention a resource at Penn—whether it was a professor, a class, or a club—in every paragraph, but they elaborated on what that resource was and how it would help them achieve their goal of becoming a nurse. The what and how is what sets this essay apart from other supplements that just name-drop resources for the sake of it. The amount of detail this essay went into about some of these resources makes it clear to the admissions officers reading the essay that this student has seriously looked into Penn and has a strong desire to come to campus and use these resources.

What Could Be Improved

One thing this essay could do to make it stronger is improve the first paragraph. The student does a good job of setting up Sister Roach and the Five C’s, but they don’t mention anything about their desire to study or pursue nursing. The first paragraph mentions both Sister Roach and Penn, but left out the student. This could be fixed by simply adding something along the lines of “I can’t wait to embody these values as a nursing student at Penn” to the paragraph.

Essay Example #2: UPenn

Prompt: Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania?  For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay. (300-450 words)

I always loved watching the worms when it rained. I used to put my little raincoat on, sit on the doorsteps, and watch them move toward the puddles. My younger brother, forever intent on destroying the world around him, would try to stomp on the worms, and I would run after him screaming. In my imagination, the brain looked like a pile of squiggly worms. However, my neuroscience curiosity has since grown beyond a worm’s habits.

For example, my mother thought that I was insane when I wanted to watch American Murder: The Family Next Door . To her immense relief, I was interested in the psychology of the criminal rather than the crime itself. Although neuroscience is my primary interest, I also hope to learn more about the intersection between law and medicine at the UPenn College of Arts and Sciences. I’ve been able to explore this topic through various projects at school such as presentations on juvenile crime and the death penalty.

At the University of Pennsylvania, I look forward to taking classes like Forensic Neuroscience (BIBB 050) as well as Neuroscience and Society (PSYC 247) both of which directly combine my two interests. Hopefully, the Take Your Professor to Dinner program resumes as I would make sure to talk to Dr. Daniel Langleben about his research on forensic functional brain imaging over a meal of Philly cheesesteaks.

I also hope to participate in the Race, Science, and Society Program where I can discover how race biases and neuroscience go hand-in-hand and contribute to the fight against racism. The Beyond Arrests: Re-Thinking Systematic-Oppression Group immediately caught my attention while looking at Penn’s opportunities to engage in relevant dialogue. My fascination with the criminal system began with reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment , and Penn will both fuel that curiosity as well as introduce new questions about the world of justice reform.

As an eight-year Latin scholar and a five-time reader of the Percy Jackson franchise, I would like to take classes in the Penn Classical Studies department where I can learn more about the impact of ancient cultures on society today. Classes such as Greek and Roman Medicine (CLST 271) would intersect my interests in medicine and classical civilizations.

Although I do harbor a deep love for Philly cheesesteaks and enjoyment of running in strange places like the Woodlands Cemetery, the range of programs to support my diverse interests and unmatched opportunities to put learning into action make me confident that the University of Pennsylvania is the best university for me to succeed.

The real strength in the essay lies in the sheer number of details this student is able to include in a short space, without sacrificing style and flow. The first two paragraphs really have nothing to do with Penn, but the inclusion of them makes this response feel like an essay, rather than a list of offerings at Penn. Striking the balance is important, and the anecdote at the beginning ultimately humanizes the writer.

From the three unique courses to the specific professor and his research to the race and criminal justice programs, this student has clearly done their homework on Penn! The key to this essay’s success isn’t just mentioning the offerings at Penn that excite the student, but the context that explains how each opportunity fits into the student’s academic interests.

Adding book titles like Crime and Punishment and Percy Jackson to support their passion for the criminal justice system and classics are extra details that help us learn more about how this student pursues their passions outside of the classroom. Finding little ways to humanize yourself throughout the essay can take it from good to great.

One area of improvement for this essay is the structure. It follows a very traditional “ Why This College? ” framework—start with an anecdote, then discuss classes, and then extracurriculars and programs—that gets old quickly for admissions officers.

A great way to add some spice to the format would be to use a sample schedule for the day. This essay mentions three different classes, two different groups, and a Take Your Professor to Dinner opportunity. Together, that’s the recipe for a full day at UPenn!

There are a few ways to play around with an essay that follows a typical day-in-the-life. Maybe each paragraph starts with a time and explains what they do during that hour. Maybe they narrate walking through campus on their way from one class to the next and what they just learned. However they choose to go about it, adding in a playful spin to the traditional essay structure is one of the best ways to instantly set an essay apart from the crowd. 

Essay Example #3: UW Madison

Prompt: Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, please include why you are interested in studying the major(s) you have selected. If you selected undecided, please describe your areas of possible academic interest. (650 words)

Essay – # Day 117

7:30 am… As I open my eyes, I look at the pinboard in front of my bed. Written in red block letters are two of the many goals of my life: “Make life better and more independent for the Visually impaired; Inspire kids to explore the field of STEM, making them the future problem solvers.“

Keeping these goals afresh in mind, I freshen up and prepare for the first class of the day, ​ECE 533 Image Processing. As the professor explains the Applications of Image Processing in Computer Vision, a light bulb sparks in my mind. I can modify the head contraption of PERIPHIS to identify objects in peripheral vision and alert the wearer via an earpiece using Text to Speech (TTS). 

After the class, I see Professor Mohit Gupta at the WISION Lab, where he shares his insights from the Block World Cameras system, which helps to geometrize 3D Man-made environments. We brainstorm ways we can implement this system on PERIPHIS.

Deep in the discussion and intrigued by my curiosity, he asked me where my interest in this niche field sparked during high school, and then I recount the incident from 9th grade: 

“In Hindi – Agar aaj mere paas paise hote to ye din na dekhna padta” (If I had money, I would not have had to see this day.) 

These were the words of Aadiya, a glaucoma patient, who couldn’t help but cry in despair as she injured herself in an accident just because she couldn’t sense the incoming traffic. During my visit to “Baroda Association for Blind (BAB)” for a survey, I saw and experienced firsthand how hard and inaccessible it is for an underprivileged visually impaired to locomote without anyone’s assistance. 

What happened next was my first adventure into the world of Computer Science and Engineering. I dedicated the next four years to find an affordable solution to a pressing problem. It was called PERIPHIS, a smart wearable that helps alert the visually impaired wearer of impending danger while locomoting.

When I finally presented this device to Aadiya, the smile on her face made me realize how big an impact technology can make in one’s life.

11:00 am… As I head to the Engineering Hall to complete my assignments of COMP SCI 570

Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, I crossways with my roommate from the Chadbourne Residential College, who is also interested in researching applications of Computer Vision in real life. We fix a time to chat later. 

1:20pm… After a quick bite, I head to Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory. I expand my knowledge on different applications of Computer Science to make human life better than I found. I get fascinated when I see a few students building a child-friendly humanoid robot to teach kids the principles of Coding and AI. I hop in and share insights from my experience of being the President at AiGoLearning and kindling interest in STEM for young children. I explain how crucial the UI is when it comes to technology for the young.

5:00pm… To blow off some steam and socialize, I meet up with my fellow countrymen and artists at the Indian Graduate Students’ Association. We discuss and plan the upcoming Diwali Night Music at Shannon Hall. I feel proud to share my national identity while bringing out my musical self by contributing as a Tabla player at the student organization. 

As I close my day, I reflect and think of the most unique resource at UW. It is not the labs, research facilities, classes, but the people, including the professors and students, all aligned to a single goal: “Solving problems to make society a better place.”

10:00pm… I find my way back to my dorm room and write with red block letters on my pinboard: “Meet with at least 1 Badger every day and gain new insight from them.”

This essay is a stellar example. The day in the life formatting is a common way to spice up your “Why This College?” essay, but the way this writer executes it is nearly flawless.

Opening with the vision board makes the student’s college goals clear from the very start, and this was cleverly done since vision boards are naturally one of the first things you see when you wake up.

The student then takes us to specific courses and labs and shares their thoughts on how they could improve their invention, PERIPHIS. The author seamlessly includes background information on PERIPHIS by including this hypothetical conversation with a professor who speaks their native language.

As we go through the day, we can see that this student will not only be involved academically, but also socially. We learn how important their culture is to them and how they plan to share it with the campus community.

This essay does everything a “Why This College?” essay should: it shares the student’s goals and motivations behind them, how the university can support those goals, and how the student will engage with the campus beyond academics.

There’s not much this essay could improve, besides a few formatting and wording issues. The first line of this essay—“ Essay – # Day 117”—is a great attention-grabber, but the placement of the # symbol is confusing and perhaps should’ve been in front of the number.

There are also a couple spots where wording is a bit awkward, such as these lines:

I crossways with my roommate from the Chadbourne Residential College, who is also interested in researching applications of Computer Vision in real life. We fix a time to chat later. 

It should instead say something like “I run into my roommate” and “We schedule a time”. This is likely due to English not being the student’s native language, but could’ve easily been caught by proofreading from a native speaker.

Essay Example #4: Northwestern

Prompt: While other parts of your application give us a sense of who you are, we are also excited to hear more about how you see yourself engaging with the larger Northwestern community.

In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.

For as long as I can remember, I have seen my parents, both farmers, struggling to produce food because of the challenges presented by the environment. Joining Northwestern’s community, and majoring in Environmental Engineering, will allow me to understand what are the reasons behind climate change and learn how to stop them and/or prevent them from happening. 

Having witnessed how plant diseases affect crops, I would like to collaborate in the PLANT-Dx project and in its widespread application. I strongly believe that it will be able to help farmers to improve the quality and quantity of their production, and reduce famine around the world. At some point in my education, I want to take advantage of the study-abroad programs Northwestern has to offer and learn about farming practices in a different part of the world. In addition, I want to conduct research on sustainable alternative farming methods that adapt to the new environmental conditions and that can be practiced in countries with fewer resources.

Apart from having access to outstanding professors, rigorous academics, and cutting-edge research resources, I will be able to be part of a close-knit community genuinely curious about others’ activities, truly passionate about what they do, and not afraid to step out of their comfort zone to make of this world a better place. Being part of Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern will allow me to get to know people that share one of my passions in addition to learning and teaching how to apply sustainable practices in daily life.  

I am already looking forward to marching through the Weber Arch.

This essay is extremely cohesive, as it focuses on the student’s agricultural background and desire to study environmental engineering. The student mentions a couple resources specific to Northwestern, such as the PLANT-Dx project and Engineers for a Sustainable World.

Because of the background information the student provided, their motivations for participating in these opportunities is also clear. We can see that Northwestern would be a school that would help them achieve their goals.

There are two main aspects of the essay that could be improved: the writing and its specificity.

To begin with, the intro paragraph is a bit clunky and vague.  The student should have specified the challenges the environment has presented to their parents’ farming with detailed imagery about droughts or torrential rain. The final sentence about climate change is also much too broad, and the student should’ve stated a goal in a smaller niche of environmentalism.

For example, here’s what a rewritten strong intro paragraph might look like:

The drought this year was bad, and the once-flourishing tomato crops on my family’s farm were afflicted with Southern Blight. As my family and our community struggled to put food on the table for the third year in a year, I resolved to major in Environmental Engineering at Northwestern to learn how to preserve our agriculture in the face of climate change.

Another writing error is the typo in the final paragraph, where they write “to make of this world a better place”. It’s important to proofread your essay and have others help you proofread as well!

Finally, while the essay mentions a couple specific Northwestern resources, the other resources they mention are too vague.  The student could’ve improved by mentioning a specific study abroad program and a current research project on sustainable alternative farming methods. Most colleges let you study abroad and conduct research, so you need to explain why Northwestern is the best place for your goals.

Essay Example #5: NYU

Prompt: We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand – Why NYU? (400 words)

“A futuristic way of looking at academics,” the student panelist said during a New York University virtual information session. I reflected on a conversation I had with my grandma; she couldn’t understand how her vegetarian granddaughter could build a career in the food industry. However much I tried convincing her that vegetarianism was the future, as it offers substantial benefits to the environment and can offer health benefits to a growing population with the same environmental resources, she insisted that tofu would never provide the same satiation as meat. She was raised in a community where meat consumption was embedded in the culture, and its production is a large part of the country’s economy. In contrast, I had the privilege of living a few steps from San Francisco, with many restaurants and grocery stores dedicated to plant-based meat alternatives. Trying innovative recipes and products eventually allowed me to develop my own recipes. Upon my move to Nicaragua, where my grandmother is from, I found my food options to be limited, expensive and hard to find. So I developed my own small-scale solutions that did not break the bank and satiated grandma.

An institution that implements forward-thinking is what I need to reach my goals of changing the future of plant-based diets and people’s views on vegetarianism. NYU’s Nutrition and Food Studies program offers multiple disciplines of food studies that I will apply to my aspirations as a vegetarian. I plan to study under Adjunct Faculty Kayleen St. John, whose success in the plant-based industry and her teaching of the ‘Foundations of Plant-Based Nutrition’ in The Vegetarian Times excites me. The variety of classes like Introduction to Food History, Food Photography, and Food Systems: Food & Agriculture will give me an overview of what is available in the food industry to be prepared for all fields. Not to be cliche, but NYU’s proximity to the city is essential for the rapidly changing vegetarian industry. The multiculturalism available in NYC and NYU will allow me to understand the food system and diets of various cultures, religions, and areas. I can explore the extremes of the food industry, from fancy restaurants to public school cafeterias. These juxtapositions, much like the one I experienced after my move to Nicaragua, will allow me to broaden my reach and demonstrate that the vegetarian diet is not something reserved for select groups but a diet attainable to all. 

A core strength of this essay is the fact it takes its time to provide the reader with ample background on why this student is interested in nutrition and food studies and how they have grappled with difficult questions and surrounding this topic in the past. It’s okay to not mention anything about NYU for a whole paragraph if you are using that space to bring depth to your interests and tell the reader the crucial backstory behind pursuing your intended degree.

Another positive aspect is the inclusion of New York City for a purposeful reason. NYU admissions officers read thousands of essays that just talk about living in NYC for the sake of NYC—this is not what they want to hear. In contrast, this essay focuses on the vast and lively food scene in New York that the student considers to be an invaluable asset to her NYU education. This is a time where including New York actually plays to the appeal of NYU, rather than making it seem like the student is simply applying for the city.

Finally, this student clearly demonstrates that they are someone who wants to change the world for the better, but through their personal niche. NYU is looking for people who express this desire to be a changemaker, but oftentimes sweeping statements like “I want to change the world” come across as vague and disingenuous. The essay does mention changing diets and looking to the future, but it is focused within the student’s specific area of interest, making the claim to change the world more determined and authentic.

This essay could be made stronger if there was a bit more personal reflection included. The first paragraph provides a lot of details on the student’s vegetarianism and how it conflicts with her grandmother and her heritage. What it doesn’t include very much of is how the student thinks and feels about her diet being at odds with that of her family. 

Does this student feel they are betraying their heritage by being vegetarian? What emotions do they feel when people criticize vegetarianism? Why did they go vegetarian in the first place? Probing questions like these that get to the emotional core behind the story in the first paragraph would really help to build out this student’s backstory. We want to understand what their emotional responses and reasoning processes look like, so finding ways to include those into an already expositive paragraph would further bolster this essay.

Essay Example #6: NYU

My mother never takes off her Cartier necklace that my father gave her 10 years ago on their anniversary. As a child, I didn’t fully understand this attachment. However, on my 15th birthday, my aunt gifted me a ring, which was uniquely designed and made up of three rings linked together. Wearing it every day and making sure I would never lose it, I didn’t treat it like my easily replaceable childhood necklaces; it was my piece of luxury. This sparked my deep curiosity for the luxury world. The niche strives to provide the finest and most memorable experiences, as equally as my Japanese attention to detail and my French appreciation towards aesthetic beauty. In a constantly shifting environment, I learned that luxury chases timeless excellence.

NYU Stern’s BS in business and a co-concentration in management and marketing will fully immerse me in the business side of luxury fashion that I aim to pursue a future career in. The luxury marketing track, offered only by NYU, will enable me to assemble the most suited classes to reflect my interests. Specifically, NYU Stern’s exciting electives such as The Dynamics of the Fashion Industry seminar and Brand Strategy & Planning will encourage me to develop the skills that I was introduced to and grew keen on when running a virtual sustainable fashion auction.

As someone who has moved around from Paris to Tokyo, to Chicago and now Athens, I thrive in meeting and collaborating with others from diverse backgrounds. The school’s strong global outlook, demonstrated through Stern’s International Business Exchange Program, further sets NYU apart for me, as it is crucial to building essential soft skills. This opportunity allows me to experience new cultural approaches to luxury business which I can bring back with me to New York, and therefore push me to become a well-rounded business student. Similarly, I am excited to take part in the array of student clubs offered, such as the Luxury and Retail Association (LARA), which I learned about after connecting with and talking to current students. Seeing past talks from employers of companies like Conde Nast, I am eager to learn outside of the classroom from future speakers. 

Finding myself in new situations constantly, I always seek new challenges and explorations – to me, it is clear that NYU Stern will push me to create the finest and most unique learning experiences of timeless excellence.

This essay has an amazing introduction paragraph. It doesn’t mention anything about NYU or what this student is planning on studying, which is what makes it so intriguing. The reader doesn’t know where this student is headed after making such a seemingly unrelated statement about jewelry, but we want to find out. 

Not only does this essay immediately capture the reader’s attention, it maintains a succinct and direct tone that helps the reader effortlessly flow from one paragraph to the next. The student chose to include three opportunities at NYU that excite them and fully elaborate on them. This serves as an excellent example of more is less. 

We aren’t bombarded with a laundry list of classes, professors, and clubs the student wants to take. Instead, the student took a focused approach and described why they were excited by each offering they highlighted. Going deeper into a smaller number of opportunities at the college still shows this student did their research, but it allows for their backstory and goals to be discussed in far greater detail.

While this student does a good job of elaborating, they also mention a few key aspects of their personality as throw-away lines, when it would have been great to elaborate further on them. For example, they mention running a virtual sustainable fashion auction (cool!), but don’t provide us with any details on what that actually entails, how they got involved with it, what they enjoyed about it, etc. They also mention moving around a lot in the context of developing a diverse perspective, but they don’t include any emotional insight into what that was like.

Although there are only 400 words available, and you don’t want to spend too much time discussing the past, it would be nice to see just a sentence or two that delves into the details of this student’s background. The fashion auction and moving around clearly had an impact on the student, so we want to know what that was. If they are choosing to include these details, they must be important in the student’s decision to pursue business at NYU, so they shouldn’t be afraid to divulge the emotional significance to the reader.

Essay Example #7: Boston University

Prompt: In no more than 250 words, please tell us why BU is a good fit for you and what specifically has led you to apply for admission.

Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) attracts me because of its support of interdisciplinary study among its wide array of majors. In fact, the CAS now offers a course that combines biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. As I hope to conduct medical research into brain disorders, I plan to pursue all three areas of study. These cross-disciplinary connections at BU will prepare me to do so.

CAS’s undergraduate research program would allow me to work with a mentor, such as Dr. Alice Cronin-Golomb or Dr. Robert M.G. Reinhart related to their research on neurological disorders. With them, I can advance the work I have already completed related to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In a summer class at our local university, my partner and I extracted data from fMRI and PET studies and inputted them into a coding program. We then created an indicator map, which we imported into another software program, AFNI, to display significant activity in the brain regions affected by DID. Seeing the representation of our data thrilled me because I knew it could eventually help people who live with DID. I want to experience that feeling again. Successfully analyzing these fMRI and PET studies and learning to code drives me to pursue more research opportunities, and this desire motivates me to study at a university that offers research opportunities to undergraduates. BU’s interdisciplinary approach to psychology and support for independent undergraduate research will optimally prepare me for a career as a neurological researcher.

This student clearly outlines BU-specific resources (the interdisciplinary course and undergrad research program), plus how these resources align with their professional goals (to become a neurological researcher). They do name professors, but since their work clearly relates to the student’s interests, it doesn’t look disingenuous, and shows that the student has done research on their fit with BU. The student also provides background on why they want to pursue research, and shows that they already have experience, which makes their interest in the undergrad research program more concrete.

The only thing missing from this essay is the student’s fit with BU in terms of extracurriculars and social life. “Why This College?” essays should also cover extracurriculars, as colleges are also interested in how you’ll contribute to their community. 

In general, these essays should be academic-leaning (especially if they’re under 250 words), but you should still address some social aspects of the college that appeal to you (we recommend about 70% academics, 30% social, with more or less focus on social aspects depending on the word count). 

Since the student probably already detailed their previous research in their Common App activities section, they could’ve just summarized their research background in one sentence (instead of 78 words, which is 31% of the total word count!), and used that valuable space to talk about a specific social aspect of BU that interests them. 

Essay Example #8: Boston University

Prompt: In no more than 250 words, please tell us why BU is a good fit for you and what specifically has led you to apply for admission. 

I am fascinated by research, though completely uninterested in the disciplines traditionally associated with it, such as STEM fields. I need to find a school that will balance my desire to conduct research with my interest in political science. 

While many schools boast in-depth student research programs for those looking to cure diseases or develop solutions to global warming, few tout their support for humanities research. Additionally, many universities that do allocate funding to social science research typically reserve these monies for graduate students or upperclassmen. BU, with the help of its Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, will allow me to conduct research on the topics that most intrigue me, such as gender disparity in politics, or the relationship between dominant parties in power and the country’s economy and involvement in foreign affairs. Furthermore, I can begin these studies as early as my first year. Not only can I take classes with professors like Sandra McEvoy or Dino Christenson to develop my interests in a classroom setting, but I could also work with one of them to develop new knowledge in the topics that we both enjoy learning about. With this knowledge base and experience conducting studies with top professors in a respected research institution, I will be well-prepared for my future law career. I want to learn in an environment that encourages independent study no matter one’s field of interest or experience, and BU’s support of intellectual curiosity for all of its students makes it a perfect fit for me.

This student knows exactly what they want, and they’re not afraid to state it bluntly. Their intro paragraph is totally honest about their interests (or lack of interest), and we immediately understand one of their main college goals: to conduct political science research.

The student mentions a specific resource, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, as well as an alignment with BU’s value of encouraging independent study in all fields. Showing alignment with a specific value of the university is a great way to take your essay to the next level.

This essay shows us that the student would be a great fit for BU and would take advantage of its research opportunities.

The writer mentions some of their research interests, but doesn’t explain the motivation behind them. We don’t actually learn very much about the student themself, which is a common flaw of “Why This College?” essays. The essay would’ve been stronger if they’d explained why they’re interested in “gender disparity in politics, or the relationship between dominant parties in power and the country’s economy and involvement in foreign affairs.” For example, maybe they feel strongly about abortion rights and are upset about the way men have been legislating women’s rights.

The student also names two professors whose classes they’d like to take and with whom they’d like to do research, but we aren’t told which classes they’re interested in, or which topics they could cover together. You want to avoid “name-dropping” professors without context in your essay. If the student shared the names of specific classes or research topics and why they’re interested in them, that would’ve strengthened their essay.

Essay Example #9: Tufts

Prompt: Why Tufts? (100 words) 

When Deanne, Tufts’ admissions counselor, visited my school, she immediately caught my attention by emphasizing Tufts’ diverse yet unified campus. Tufts’ inclusive definition of diversity goes beyond merely recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds. Tufts seeks to integrate these categories of diversity and pushes its students to learn from one another. One such intersectional program that attracts me is CAFE (Conversation, Action, Faith, and Education). By joining CAFE, a community that promotes interfaith education, I will learn from my peers, become more understanding of other religious backgrounds, and apply this broader understanding to my academic work at Tufts.

It’s hard to write a “Why This College?” essay in 100 words. This essay does a good job sticking to one unique element of Tufts—its intersectionality. Since Tufts also cares about demonstrated interest, it’s great that the student also mentioned speaking with an admissions counselor. 

We unfortunately don’t learn very much about the student from this essay. Why do they care about diversity and interfaith programs? How does this relate to their academic and career goals? While the word count is super short, they could’ve cut these lines and jumped right into the specific resource they’re interested in: Tufts’ inclusive definition of diversity goes beyond merely recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds. Tufts seeks to integrate these categories of diversity and pushes its students to learn from one another.

Here’s an example of a stronger version of this essay:

When a Tufts admissions counselor visited my school, she immediately caught my attention by emphasizing Tufts’ diverse yet unified campus. As a Muslim hoping to go into International Relations, I want to attend a school that not only recruits diverse students, but pushes them to learn from one another. I hope to join intersectional programs such as CAFE (Conversation, Action, Faith, and Education). By joining this community that promotes interfaith education, I will gain the necessary perspective and compassion to become a human rights lawyer in countries with religious conflict, such as my homeland Azerbaijan.

Essay Example #10: Tufts

Prompt: Why Tufts? (100 words)

Someday I hope to conduct medical research in developing countries; Tufts attracts me because of its wide array of majors it offers and support for undergraduate research. To understand the human brain, I hope to study biology, neuroscience, and psychology. In addition to outstanding faculty in each of these areas, Tufts also organizes initiatives including the International Research Program. Through this program, I would work with other students and faculty members on an international project related to brain diseases. This opportunity will give me a taste of my future career and help me narrow the scope of my later studies.

This essay does a better job of sharing the student’s goals with us compared to the previous Tufts essay. We learn that the applicant is interested in medical research in developing countries on brain diseases, and that Tufts has a program to support international research.

The essay still mentions some resources that could apply to many schools, which is not an effective use of the tiny word count. For example, they say: “Tufts attracts me because of its wide array of majors it offers and support for undergraduate research” and they mention the “outstanding faculty” in the fields they plan to study.

They also don’t tell us their motivation behind studying brain diseases abroad, and it feels like there’s a significant story there. Giving some background would’ve further strengthened their essay.

Finally, they mention that they still need to narrow the scope of their studies; while it’s fine to be undecided on your career and majors, you don’t need to spend your precious word count saying that in your essay. They could’ve instead shared a couple potential avenues they’re considering.

Here’s what the student could’ve written instead:

Outcomes for schizophrenia patients are better in developing countries than in developed ones. I hope to research the reasons behind this and improve the treatment options in the US for the cousin I grew up with. In college, I want to study biology, neuroscience, and psychology. Tufts attracts me because of its unique interdisciplinary BS in Cognitive and Brain Science and its International Research Program. Through this program, I could do the research I’ve dreamt of doing with a faculty member and other students, preparing me for my future career as either a researcher or clinician.

Essay Example #11: Georgia Tech

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

Climate change is a human rights issue.  

There the headline was, screaming on my phone screen. I think about those suffering from a lack of clean water. I think about those suffering from a lack of clean air. 

I often think back to that headline – it’s what drives my passion for environmental engineering. As an environmental engineer, I can mitigate air pollution and design water treatment systems that address the water injustices that people face. However, it’s not just about creating a technology that cleans water; it’s about changing people’s lives. New technologies can make a lasting difference in humanitarian issues worldwide; Georgia Tech’s research on creating a toilet that turns human waste into clean water for those in need of improved sanitation aligns perfectly with my interests.   

At Georgia Tech, through the student-led organization, Engineers for a Sustainable World and the InVenture Prize, I can translate the knowledge gained from my classes into a concrete vision. I can design and implement hands-on sustainability projects around Atlanta and invent a water sanitation system for the on-site acquisition of clean water. 

Georgia Tech can also provide me with ample research opportunities, such as the broad area of Healthy Communities in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. I can further pursue my interest in developing solutions to deliver clean water while welcoming new areas of inquiry. An area I would like to explore would be the controlling of dangerous matter in the air to reduce health hazards; reducing the impact of climate change is of utmost importance to me. 

Studying environmental engineering at Georgia Tech would well prepare me to develop solutions to climate-related issues. With the countless opportunities that Georgia Tech has to offer, I know there is nowhere else where I can receive a better environmental engineering education.

What the Essay Did Well l

This essay begins with an attention-grabbing statement that leaves the reader wondering how this will relate to the student’s interest in Georgia Tech. They then transition seamlessly into how climate change and human rights motivate their desire to become an environmental engineer.

The student mentions several resources specific to Georgia Tech that would help them achieve their goals, such as the research on the toilet turning waste into water, Engineers for a Sustainable World, InVenture Prize, and Healthy Communities research. It’s clear that they did their research and have reflected on their fit with the campus community.

They end the essay explicitly stating that Georgia Tech is the best place for them to grow, and the reader is certainly convinced of this by the end.

This essay is quite strong, so there’s not much that the student could’ve improved. That said, there is one sentence that is a bit awkwardly worded: New technologies can make a lasting difference in humanitarian issues worldwide; Georgia Tech’s research on creating a toilet that turns human waste into clean water for those in need of improved sanitation aligns perfectly with my interests.

Instead, the student could’ve written:

New technologies can make a lasting difference in humanitarian issues worldwide; Georgia Tech aligns with this value of mine and is even developing a toilet that turns human waste into clean water for those who need improved sanitation.

Essay Example #12: Georgia Tech

From my first Java project, a somewhat primitive graphing calculator, I realized that CS unlocks a different way of thinking. My brain races at speeds it seldom touches with other subjects. Every part of CS, from conceptualizing a plan to executing a solution, is another piece of a puzzle I’m eager to solve and affords the most opportunities for creative problem-solving and application. 

“Progress and Service,” Georgia Tech’s motto, tells me there’s no better place to explore my curiosity and deepen my CS skills while simultaneously helping make the world a better place, my ultimate goal for a college education. 

In the classroom, I look forward to GT’s threads program, where I can tailor the curriculum to suit my career choice after exposing myself to all technical aspects of CS.

I’ll apply my specialized learning with Tech’s fascinating research opportunities. Professor Pandarinth’s brain-machine interfacing software means a lot to me. My uncle passed away from a freak accident after extensive paralysis because potential treatments were unaffordable. Exploring this revolutionary brain decoding software wouldn’t just involve me in cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology research, I’d be personally driven to ensure its success and accessibility. 

I’m at my best building towards tangible results. I learned this on my robotics team using design skills to create a technically complex robot that tackles anything from shooting balls to hanging on a balance beam. I’m excited to expand my skills on the RoboJackets team, applying my career interests to build ferocious BattleBots and autonomous race robots that compete on the Indy Speedway, two events that sound ridiculously fun. 

Of course, I can’t skip hackathons. These competitions molded my interest in coding so I want to give back to Georgia Tech’s Hack-Community by planning HackGT and the Catalyst Mentorship program as a member of the Hexlabs team. 

The student’s passion for CS shines through this essay. They explain what they love about the subject (the problem-solving aspect) and they share that they hope to make a difference through CS, demonstrating alignment with Tech’s motto of  “progress and service”.

It’s clear that this student has done their research, mentioning specific academic programs, research, and clubs. We can see that they’d be greatly engaged with the campus community.

Finally, this essay is also down-to-earth. The student doesn’t try to use impressive vocabulary or formal language. In fact, they even describe some extracurriculars as “ridiculously fun.” While you shouldn’t get too informal in your essays, this student’s casual tone in this context makes them feel more approachable and more excited about the prospect of going to Georgia Tech.

This essay has a couple sentences that are confusing to read:

Every part of CS, from conceptualizing a plan to executing a solution, is another piece of a puzzle I’m eager to solve and affords the most opportunities for creative problem-solving and application.

This sentence could’ve been broken up and rewritten as:

Every part of CS, from conceptualizing a plan to executing a solution, is another piece of a puzzle I’m eager to solve. For me, the field affords the most opportunities for creative problem-solving and application.

This sentence also uses incorrect grammar—the comma should be replaced with a semicolon:

Exploring this revolutionary brain decoding software wouldn’t just involve me in cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology research, I’d be personally driven to ensure its success and accessibility. 

These details would make the essay more readable.

The organization of the essay could also be reworked. The student mentions Tech’s motto of “progress and service,” but doesn’t follow up until later with an example of how they’d use CS for the greater good. Using CS for social good isn’t ultimately the theme of their essay, so this section would’ve been better placed at the end of the paragraph about AI technology research, or at the very end of the essay. The essay actually ends abruptly, so placing the section at the end might’ve tied it up nicely, if the student could’ve placed more emphasis on how they plan to use CS to improve society.

Do you want feedback on your “Why This College” essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

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

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Writing a successful college admissions essay can be tough, so we've put together some example essays below to provide with some inspiration of your own.

Please do not plagiarise sentences or whole parts of these essays - they are only intended as guidelines and you can jeopardise your application if you're discovered to have copied your essay from the web.

College Essay Example #1

Honestly, I have had a pretty easy life.  I have never really gone without something I absolutely needed, and I have always attended good schools and lived in safe neighborhoods.  My parents raised me in a loving home, told me I was smart, and tried to help me be successful.   But almost everyone else I knew seemed to have those same things, and I never really gave the benefits of my life much thought.   Instead, I mostly coasted – focusing on playing sports, hanging out with my friends, and having fun.   It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I started to understand what my parents had been trying to teach me.      My brother graduated from high school at the same time I finished my freshman year.   I watched as he and his friends went off to college – all but his best friend, Jim.  Jim was a big dreamer, talker, and “coaster” – like me.   Jim had not spent much time studying in high school and could only get into community college.   When we talked, he did not seem down about going to community college and my initial thought was that it was no big deal.  However, a month or two into the next fall semester I noticed that Jim was still coming by the high school frequently, spending most of his time hanging out with younger teenagers,  and trying to relive his “glory days.”  He was not the happy guy I had known and it became all too clear that Jim was not prepared to take the next steps in his life. That spring my parents announced it was time for me to get a job.  I found a position at a local bakery and made decent money for being sixteen – it was OK, for a job.  My boss was a nice, local guy in his early forties.  He was fun to talk with and had great stories about when he was a teenager.  But as I got to know him, underneath the “cool” exterior, I soon realized he was not happy.  His life had not turned out the way he had hoped, and he seemed lost and still looking for direction – he reminded me of Jim. I personally do not think everyone needs to go to college to have a successful life, but everyone does need purpose and direction – both of which I did not have.  I began to worry what my life would become if I did not find them, and I decided I needed to make a change.  I asked my parents if I could get a tutor, asked for help from my teachers, and began getting involved in school clubs.  My parents were a little shocked and my history teacher, in particular, all but rolled her eyes the first time I asked for help preparing for a test – I think she thought I was trying to “work the system.”   I did not change overnight, but I continued to make significant progress.  My grades went from mostly “Cs,” with a few “Bs,” my first two years in high school to mostly “Bs,” with a few “As,” by the end of my junior year.  My history teacher even asked me to become her teacher’s assistant during a free period in my senior year class schedule, and the first semester of my senior year I made the all “A” honor roll.  I will never forget the look of pride and relief on my mother’s face. While it may have taken me longer than others, I have learned the value of hard work and the importance of having purpose and direction in my life.  I am very excited to take the next steps and hope to have the opportunity to continue my journey at your university.

College Essay Example #2

While I have never seen myself as a rebel, I am not a conformist and have never felt comfortable being labeled.  I like to sew, scrapbook, and wear pink, but I also like to hike through the woods, get dirty, and build things with tools.  When I turned fifteen, I looked for something different and unique that would be fun, challenging, and give me a sense of accomplishment.  I found it in Search and Rescue. In King County, Washington youth over the age of fifteen are allowed to join the county Search and Rescue team if they complete a set of grueling trainings and pass a series of tests.  New recruits spend multiple weekends hiking, camping, doing physical fitness, and learning general wilderness survival and navigation skills.  Classes of recruits are usually eighty to ninety percent boys and my year was no exception. My last test was a two-day navigation course in which we were required to traverse a large mountainous area using maps and compasses.  At the end of each task, we recorded how many feet we were away from the intended location and our total variation for all tasks could not exceed 300 feet.   The course took us through swamps, thickets, and other obstacles, and we had to successfully navigate each type of terrain.  At one point, we carried our fifty pound packs over our heads as we walked through water up to our armpits, but my group of three girls would not be outdone by the boys. The last few miles were the hardest.  As we prepared for the final hike back to base camp, we were met by a truck of rangers.  They told us we could stop, but if we got in the truck we would not pass and would not be permitted to join the team.  We hiked the last few miles with our 50 pound packs on our backs, our cloths soaked, our feet covered in blisters, and snow starting to fall – all the time with the truck following closely behind. Our souls and wills seemed to go numb, and there was a constant temptation to give in, but we would not let each other quit. When we finally reached base camp and tallied our scores, we had stayed under the 300 feet threshold and were the only girls admitted to the program that year.  It was an amazing feeling. Similarly, I will never forget the first time I saw a dead body.  We were asked to search for a mentally disabled man that had disappeared nearly a year before, but was never found.  His family needed closure, and we were tasked with searching an area not far from his house that had very dense vegetation.  My team members and I lined up about 10 feet from each other and began hacking away at the shrubs, vines, and tall grass.  After many hours, I discovered the body in my section.  The skeleton and decaying remains were clothed in the man’s t-shirt and boxer shorts – and his hat was not far away.  This scene, combined with the looks of both sorrow and relief on the faces of the man’s family, changed me.  I gained perspective on both the value and reality of life and was proud to be part of such a great organization that had truly made a difference for this family.  

Through my experiences in Search and Rescue, I have learned to persevere and gained a new level of empathy for others.  In addition, I have a better perspective on life and am filled with a desire to choose activities that will have a positive impact on those around me.  These lessons and experiences have become part of who I am, and I look forward to building upon them as I embark on my next great adventure.       

College Essay Example #3

Ever since I was young, I’ve never been able to put down a good book. It’s a bit of a cliché to refer to yourself as a bookworm, but for all intents and purposes, I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. When I was younger my mum used to read to me, so reading has always been an established part of my routine. When the first Harry Potter book came out, my mind was blown. I became absorbed into this fictional world, and was addicted to the escapism. This was the beginning of a life long appreciation of English Literature.

I first new I wanted to study English at university when I studied Wuthering Heights in class at high school. I was fascinated with how Heathcliff was portrayed as some kind of monster with redeemable features. I found myself in awe at this conflicted and tortured character that Bronte had created, and mused whether he was beyond redemption. I hadn’t read a book that had encapsulated such a dilemma before. I was hungry to get my hands on as many books as possible, and after reading some other classics like Of Mice and Men and In Cold Blood, our English class studied the plays Top Girls and The Doll House. At this point, my appreciation for literature reached new heights, as these were the first overtly political works that resonated with me. I was entranced by the ways these plays advanced the idea of Feminism. I wanted to read more, and I wanted to write more on what I’d read. I decided that I wanted to write as a career.

I knew I had to study at US University when I saw the shear diversity of your English course, and the overall climate of diversity that embodies your institution. I’m eager to read books from a broad range of authors from lots of different backgrounds and I find it motivating to see that this is a core part of your curriculum. I love literature, and I’m that I can bring that passion into my lectures and seminars. I’ve always been the first person to contribute when I have an opinion! I’d be interested to expose myself to authors I am not too familiar with and I’d be very interested in taking your extensive course on Charles Dickens to learn more about this literary great.

Outside of my high school work, I’ve found myself enjoying books written by authors such as Naomi wolf and Germaine Greer. Books like the Female Eunuch have inspired me to read more Feminist books, and have encouraged me to become further involved in local activism. I’ve volunteered for a number of women’s organizations, most recently I worked with women’s aid to help to fundraise for a domestic violence awareness event. I helped to research and write parts of a leaflet on domestic violence, which gave me a lot of confidence in my writing and made me feel good about contributing my abilities to an important cause. I’d like to build on this experience by helping to create some other fundraising events on campus, and potentially by joining the University Feminist society.

In addition to reading, I spend most of my time writing on my political blog. I write on a number of topics, but most commonly I write on Feminism as this is the subject I find most interesting. I’m currently planning to release an eBook in the near future called Myths about the Patriarchy. Throughout the course of writing this content, I’ve enjoyed communicating my opinions with my readership and would like to continue this for a career. A degree at US University would enable me to gain some solid academic credentials and enable me to pursue writing as a career. My passion for reading and writing has meant that becoming a full-time writer is the only thing I can imagine myself doing. Studying English Literature would be a good starting point to turn this lifelong dream into a reality.

College Essay Example #4

Ever since I was young, I’ve always been singing along to the radio. Whether it’s a catchy pop song, or an alternative masterpiece, I just can’t help but find myself moving to the music. It was no surprise that when I first picked up the guitar at 11 years old, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the process of learning to play all these little tunes that I heard and hummed before. The process of physically playing music, lead me to appreciate music in a whole different way. As soon as I could, I rushed to start a band, and after around 6 months of playing I played my first concert. Truthfully, we weren’t very good, but I loved the feeling of playing music in front of other people, so much so that I decided I wanted to pursue performing music as a career.

Ever since then, I’ve been throwing myself at any gig I can find. My attitude to music has always been to learn by doing, and I’ll be sure to continue my passion for performing by becoming active in the campus music scene. On that note, I would definitely be interesting in becoming involved within the local area music scene as well. As a player, I started off on alternative music, but not I am much more motivated by the spontaneity of Jazz music. Every day when I wake up I go downstairs and have a quick jam along to a few backing tracks. To me, putting hours into my instrument isn’t work and I’m always thinking about music in one way or another. By Enrolling at Berklee School of Music, I’d be well placed to cope with the demands of staying on track with my learning. If I have a performance coming up I will not be shy of spending 8 hours a day practicing. I remember how proud I felt when I finally learnt how to play the advance piece Eugene’s Trick Bag by Steve Vai, and am prepared to throw myself at any more demanding performance pieces that come my way. It would be an honor study at an institution that’s had Steve Vai as Alumni.

Outside of my schoolwork, I’ve been very eager to learn all I can about the instrument and have been giving guitar lessons for the past two years. I have become very confident explaining the basic CAGED chord system, and teaching students the Major, Minor, Blues and Pentatonic scales. Not only has teaching improved my own knowledge of the instrument, it has also been incredibly rewarding. I have enjoyed helping students who have struggle with the basics to be able to play songs like Green day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends and Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. I know that it is rare for professional musicians to sustain themselves on performing alone, so I’d love to be able to teach along side performing. A degree of Berklee school of music will be evidence of my ability to teach not only the practice of playing guitar, but the theory that goes behind it.

For a long time, I’ve known that perfoming music is what I want to pursue as a career and I can see that UC Berklee will give me everything I need to become an established part of the professional music scene. Not only will formalized study benefit the standard of my performance but it will also take my theoretical understanding to the next level. In order to fulfill my aspiration to be a professional musician, I can see no other institution that offers the shear brilliance of UC Berklee.

College Essay Example #5

Ever since I read Frank Ryan’s book Virolution, I’ve been captivated by the idea of understanding what’s around me on a higher level. Ryan took the common ways that viruses were interpreted, such as natural evils and annoyances and turned them on their head. Ryan’s argument that viruses had a role in forcing evolution forward by encouraging animals to adapt was a completely new idea to me. The premise that we as humans evolve with viruses, presented viruses as somewhat useful, which was a completely new idea to me. After reading the book I became fascinated by the processes of life’s smallest organisms. I wanted to understand what they did, and how they were doing it. Virolution was my first insight into the shear variety and depth of the field of Biology. Outside of the narrow scope of the high school curriculum, there was a whole new world out there.

Since I read Ryan’s book by happenstance, I delved deeper into any similar books that I could get my hands on. Naturally I found myself reaching for Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene before taking a look at Darwin’s classic The Origins of the Species. These books taught me that I was missing a lot of what was under my nose. I have since decided that I want to pursue biology as a career, and after my degree I will be enrolling to do a PHD. A degree from US University will provide me with a strong set of academic credentials. It’s very important to me, to be part of a committed and active research institution as this is what I want to pursue as a career. By going to an institution with such a commitment to cutting edge research, I will be well placed to make my transition to the academic world myself.

In terms of practical experience with Biology, I have been fortunate enough to complete a work placement at the Baker Laboratory in Washington. My placement as Baker helped me to develop my day-to-day understanding of Laboratory practices and what the working day of a Biologist is like. The staff at Baker Laboratory commented on my commitment to learning, my enthusiasm, and my initiative. I found that I learnt a lot during my short time there, so I can only imagine what I’d learn over years of working at such an institution. I would find nothing more fulfilling than being able to contribute to the academic community full-time.

Outside of my studies and my passion for biology, I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering at the local animal sanctuary. I enjoy helping out with the animals there and aiding the general conservation attempts of the charity. Generally, we tended to smaller animals like badgers and raccoons but sometimes we got larger animals to look after like deer, which have been injured out in the wild. For me, helping to look after a wounded deer and helping her return to the wild was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Naturally, I found it very refreshing to see your institutions commitment to ethical and sustainable research practices.

One day, I would like the opportunity to contribute to academic journals of the future so that I can influence generations of the future to go into the sciences. My work experience and my volunteering efforts have shown me that the study of the natural world is something very important to me, and although I haven’t narrowed down on a specific field of Biology yet, I am confident that I can find this out throughout the course of my degree.

College Essay Example #6

Ever since I learnt about the Crusades in History at school, I’ve known History is the subject for me. Learning about how western Christendom ushered to defense of the holy land and occupied the surrounding areas seemed strangely reminiscent of western interventionism following the Iraq war. To me this was one of those places where History seemed to repeat itself. Since first becoming enamored with the Crusades my passion for History has steadily grown outwards. Today, I’m always expanding my knowledge of History wherever I can. Just recently, I’ve been getting to grips with Russia, reading Richard Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime.

As an individual, I’ve always been interested in the Leopold Von Ranke-esque perception of History, where the historian aims to understand history whilst leaving contemporary prejudices at the door. US University’s course on the Second World War, and the peri-centric approach mentioned within the course details, where students will study the lesser powers in World War II suggest that this is an institution committed to inclusion and diversity of history. I’ve always been fascinated with History in terms of hearing from groups/nations who aren’t the typical capitalist superpowers presented to us by mainline historical scholarship.  

My interest in studying history comes both as a result of interest, and as a stepping-stone into a career in Journalism. A History degree would act as evidence of my ability to research and disseminate information into a concise and compelling format. Ever since high school I’ve wanted to pursue a career where I can engage with ideas. Indeed, I would be well place to communicate with others in lectures and seminars as I have read enough over time to become quite fluent at presenting information and arguing a point.  

After completing a work experience placement at a local newspaper recently I have known that Journalism was the career for me. As part of my experience, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the local journalists, helping to source research for articles through a mixture of online and print based sources. It was my responsibility to ensure that what was written down was accurate and to organize this data so that it could be included within an article. I even got the chance to ghost write on a couple of smaller pieces. Personally, I found this experience to be incredibly rewarding, and with a History degree from US University, I’ll be well placed to enter into a career in Journalism.

Outside of my schoolwork, I’m always staying active, whether its playing basketball with friends or going to the gym, I’m always pushing myself. When I’m not at school or out moving about I’m at home reading. If I’m not holding a book I’ll be on YouTube watching political commentary or debates to unwind (well, most of the time!). I thrive off absorbing ideas from new books. My favorite book would have to be The Prince by Machiavelli. I found the way that Machiavelli eschews traditional morality in favor of tyrannical pragmatism to be very interesting and disturbing. Famously, Machiavelli suggests it is ‘better to be feared than loved’, and I find it interesting how his recommendation of ‘fear’ as a tool of rule would leave him admired by later dictators like Mussolini. I’d be very interested in learning more about Machiavelli and tackling his work as part of the University’s Renaissance module. Exposing myself to these unorthodox political ideas is part of what has made me want to go into political journalism, to engage with ideas that others have put out there, and to critique them.

College Essay Example #7

Since I was a child, I’ve always been competitive. Whilst other kids were out playing football, I was in the boxing gym working hard. I’ve always enjoyed football, but for me there was a whole new level of pressure and competition in Boxing that you didn’t get by playing team sports. I’ve found it immensely rewarding to push myself to the limit. As I grew older at high school I began to look for an avenue that I could make a real career out of, and by chance I stumbled upon an old episode of the TV show Law and Order. I found the idea of being a lawyer and being judged on your performance to be incredibly interesting.

To me, being a lawyer meant working in a meritocratic environment where you are rewarded on your performance. I’ve always had the tenacity to hold strong under pressure, and have the innate ability to thrive in high-pressure environments. With my schoolwork, I’ve always done well because of my dedication to just putting my head down and working hard. At Harvard Law School, I’m going to be the one putting in the hours to get the grades I want. I’m comfortable with throwing myself into a routine, and ensuring that my reading gets done.

I’m driven to study at Harvard because it’s the most prolific law school in the world. Harvard Law School has become synonymous with the study of law across the world, and for good reason. As an elite academic institution, Harvard Law School has the capacity not just to forge careers, but also to forge illustrious careers. I am confident that I am of the character, ability, and intestinal fortitude to thrive in such an environment. For me this is an opportunity to stand out from my peers and to create the life that I want to live. A degree from Harvard Law School will place the keys of my future in law well within my own hands.

Recently, I completed a work experience placement shadowing a lawyer, and have had the opportunity to sit and observe a number of trials. I’ve become familiar with the day-to-day running’s of a law firm, and as part of the role I was responsible for assisting the Lawyer with his research and double-checking documents. I saw that being a Lawyer was a lot of work, but this did not deter me, as I’ve always been a hard worker. Whilst others have been finishing their school day and going home, I’ve been going straight to work at a bar. When others finish up their lectures for the day to go home, I’ll be the one getting work done at the library before starting a 6-hour shift. I’ve always been a firm believer that you get out of life what you put in, and I’m always putting in 100%. Amongst my studies and my work, I’ll definitely be checking out the boxing society, and with aim to compete later in my first year.

With my commitment to working hard, I will be well placed within the culture of Harvard Law School. Work as a Lawyer will be incredibly demanding and time consuming, and I intend to put myself through the paces throughout the duration of the degree so that I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I land my first role as a lawyer. Most importantly of all, I’m willing to fail in order to learn. If I don’t get the grade I want on an assignment, I’m not going to start to crumble under pressure, I’m going to take the feedback on the chin and get back in the library to get the grades I want.

College Essay Example #8

While I like to read, play soccer, be in the outdoors, and hang out with my friends, my passion is music.  It started when as a 7 year olds and has blossomed into something I would have never expected.  I have learned how to work hard and about victory and defeat.  Music has led me on many adventures, helped me find my identity, and shaped who I am today.  

One of my first significant experiences as a musician came in the sixth grade.  My school did not offer band classes until middle school, but by that age I had been studying a few years with a private instructor and was a member of a community youth orchestra.  When I arrived at school, I quickly discovered that I was one of the best musicians in my grade and was given the opportunity to join three bands:  the sixth grade band, the seventh grade band, and the jazz band (which was normally limited to seventh and eighth graders). 

I reluctantly performed a short trumpet solo during our first performance before the student body.   I worked hard on the piece and it went well, but what I remember most was that when I walked down the halls after the concert other sixth graders congratulated me.  I did not know many of them, but they told me how “cool” it was that I played with the jazz band.  While it may sound vein, this experience allowed me at a young and impressionable age to embrace who I am and gave me self-confidence, pride, and a sense of identity.

That spring I also auditioned for two all-district bands with the best seventh and eighth graders in the county (even though I was only in sixth grade).  The experience did not go as well – I was nervous and did a terrible job.  I was devastated, but soon realized that if I truly wanted to be great I had to dedicate myself to working harder and learning to handle stress better. I have drawn on these lessons many times in high school.  I joined the marching and jazz bands, and made multiple all-district and all-state bands.  In addition, when faced with peer pressure or when it would have been easy to question who I am, I was better able to be steadfast and grounded than many of my peers.

My greatest musical achievement happened at the end of my junior year when I participated in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.  I stopped working afterschool my last two quarters and doubled my practice time to prepare for the audition.  I remembered what I learned going as far back as sixth grade and gave one of the best performances of my life.  I then spent a few weeks in New York with a group of students from around the country studying music with an impressive cast of professional musicians.  We worked ten to twelve hour days and learned to push our lungs to new levels. 

On the last night before we left for a tour in Latin America, we had a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  The venue was filed with our parents, a few political and sports celebrities, and many others dressed in their finest.  At the end of the concert, as we finished the last note, the entire crowd erupted in applause.  I looked into the eyes of my fellow musicians and we shared a moment of pride and accomplishment.   I knew in my heart that all my hard work had been worth it and this is what I was meant to do.

College Essay Example #9

I was that “that” teenager who told his parents at the end of high school that he needed to “find himself” and who received a collective eye roll from every adult in a 5 mile radius.  I did not know who I was or what I wanted, but I knew I was not ready to go to college.  I also knew that I did not want to be one of those “spoiled rich kids” that sat home playing video games and partying on the weekends.  Instead, I took the $2000 I had saved up from my afterschool job; bought a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag; and had an adventure that has forever changed my life and prepared me to go to college.

I left the house with the goal of circling the globe over the next year, working along the way to make enough money to eat and travel to my next city.  I worked about a dozen jobs, from cleaning out horse stalls in Argentina to fast food in the Philippines.  The reality is that, up to that point, I had never really understood the value of money or had to work to survive.  I lived in Greece for two months working for a fisherman mending and cleaning his fishing nets.  At the end of the day, he would inspect my work and if it was satisfactory I would get paid – if it was not, I was not paid that day.  It did not take me long to figure out how to take pride in my work.

I faced dangers that I had never experienced at home.  In São Paulo, Brazil, one of my temporary travel companions was robbed at gunpoint while I was chased down the street.  In the same city, the children would not go to school during periods of heightened gang violence out of fear for their safety.  It was difficult to then be asked by those same kids about my school experiences and why I had chosen to leave home.

Most of all, I learned that most people are generally the same.  Regardless of region, economic class, skin color, religion, or gender most people are just trying to do the best they can to navigate their challenges with dignity and give their children more than they have.   Towards the end of my journey, I stayed a few weeks in France with a family friend.   We talked frequently about what I had seen and observed over the prior months, and I shared this hypothesis with the father.  To my surprise, he opened up to me about the struggles he faced raising his children.  While he did not to have to worry about whether his kids had enough food to eat, his concerns were just as sincere and real, and I saw in him much of what I had seen in others. While this may not be profound to some, it was for me particularly in light of the negativity and demonization that seems to dominate so much of the public discourse in the United States.

I did not walk away from my year-long adventure with a clear roadmap for my entire life.  I do not know for sure what I am going to major in or what will be my final career choose.   But I did gain perspective on what the world is really like and my place in it; I learned how to work hard and the dignity that comes from doing so; and I learned how lucky I truly am and the type of life I want to provide for my kids.  

I am grateful for the experiences I had and am now better prepared to move forward into adulthood.   I hope to have the opportunity to start my next great adventure at your university. 

College Essay Example #10

My parent’s favorite television show is a political drama called The West Wing that that went off the air about 10 years ago.  Growing up, I frequently walked into a room to find them watching old episodes and, in one such episode, the President of the United States closed a discussion with a group of college students by counseling: “decisions are made by those who show up.”  The quote stuck with me, but it was not until recently that I came to understand what it meant. 

I will be honest – I initially joined Key Club International, a service organization, because I thought it would look good on a college application.  As part of my membership, I was required to complete at least fifty hours of service.  I decided the easiest way to complete the requirement was to set up a regular volunteer project and so I agreed to work at the local soup kitchen every other Saturday morning.  For the first year, I went on my designated mornings, helped out, and went home, but I began to notice that other student volunteers frequently missed their allotted time and left the facility understaffed. 

I could tell this really bothered the Director of the program and it took away from her ability to serve the soup kitchen’s clients.  Innocently, I mentioned to the Director that more students may show up on time if she sent them a reminder via text message.  She thought it was a good idea and asked if I would mind sending out the messages next week, and so I did.  The response was positive and more of the students arrived on time for their shifts. 

Over the next few months, the Director continued to ask me questions about how best to engage student volunteers.   I helped her set up accounts on various social media platforms, create better internal volunteer tracking charts, and plan a presentation she could make at local schools to recruit volunteers and increase awareness.   The Director asked me to join her at one of the presentations and, while I was nervous, I enjoyed sharing my positive experiences with the other students.

At the end of my junior year, the Director was asked to make a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors about the student outreach program and what had made it so successful.   She brought me with her and asked that I give part of the presentation.  I received a very warm reception from the Board and, at the end, the Chairwoman pulled me aside and asked if I would join a county commission on hunger and poverty.  She explained that the Board was struggling to find new solutions to the growing issues facing underprivileged children in the county.  I was honored to accept and have since spent a few hours a month at the county offices working on the commission.  It has gone so well that both the Chairwoman and the Director offered to write me letters of recommendation to college.  

The reality is that I am not more talented than my fellow students.  I do not have some great technical knowledge, I am not particularly outgoing, and I am not a great public speaker.  But I was willing to show up and help.  By doing so, what was meant to be a simple volunteer project two times a month developed into a great adventure where I have met many fantastic people, done things most teenagers never consider possible, and had lots of fun.     

I look forward to taking what I have learned with me as I go to college.  I hope to have many opportunities to provide service and improve myself, and I am excited to see what adventures the next 4 years bring.

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College Admission and Application Essay

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A virtual workshop for high school seniors and college transfer students.

You want your college essay to make a difference. Virtual camp will be interactive and engaging. You will have time to create on your own, come together for advice, participate in online peer revision with other young writers led by Teacher Consultants, revise and build better essays together.

Dates: July 22-26, 2024 Time: 8:30am-11:30am Cost: $400 (includes: 15 hours of group instruction with a 12:1 student-teacher ratio & follow up 1:1 session in October)  Grades: Incoming Seniors Fall 2024 or transfer students Register Now: collegeessay.eventbrite.com

Students will:

  • Learn to share your story in a way that will stand out to your readers and positively impact your future
  • Receive personal attention and feedback
  • Determine the most effective techniques
  • Hear advice from college admissions officers
  • Personal insight questions, details, and structures for a strong essay in the application process (UC guidelines)
  • Common Application
  • Coalition Prompts
  • Scholarship Prompts
  • Any other College Admissions writing response prompts

What previous campers have said...

  • " Before joining my college essays only consisted of a few bullet point ideas of what I wanted to write about. Being in this group gave me the necessary tools I needed to get started on my essay and allowed me to get my ideas out. I now have many different essays to choose from and expand on. I feel very prepared now."
  • "I think I will do a great job, I'm still nervous as its so important, but I think I will be done leagues before my classmates and will have a really amazing essay, this class was worth just coming up with ideas I would not have thought of otherwise."
  • "This writing course enlightened me on what colleges are truly looking for when reading essays, it allowed me to give and receive critique, and gave me the tools I need to write impactful essays all while building relationships and working in groups along the way."
  • "I feel like I have every ability to be able to write an effective college essay. At first, I was a bit nervous due to the fact that I tend not to write about myself or my story, but now I know that I have lessons that I can share to others that I would be proud of."

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How to Write a College Application Essay

Find the right college for you..

Your essay reveals something important about you that your grades and test scores can't─your personality. It can give admissions officers a sense of who you are and showcase your writing ability. Here are some things that admissions officers look for in a personal essay for college.

1. Open Strong.

Knowing how to start a college essay can create a strong opening paragraph that immediately captures the reader’s interest. You want to make the admissions officer reading your essay curious about what you say next.

2. Show You Can Write.

Colleges want to see that you have a command of the basics of good writing, which is a key component of success in college.

3. Answer the Prompt.

Admissions officers also want to see that the student can give a direct answer while sticking to a comprehensive narrative. When writing college essays, consider the point you want to make and develop a fleshed-out response that fits the prompt. Avoid force-fitting prewritten pieces. Approach every personal essay prompt as if it's your first.

4. Stick to Your Style.

Writing college essays isn't about using flowery or verbose prose. Avoid leaning too heavily on the thesaurus to sound impressive. Choose a natural writing style that’s appropriate for the subject matter.

Also, avoid stressing about trying to write what you think colleges want to see. Learning how to draft a good essay for college is about showcasing who you are. Stay true to your voice. Keep in mind that authenticity is more important than anything else.

5. Proofread.

Correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling are essential. Proofread several times after you've finished. Then ask a teacher, parent, or college English major to give it a quick read as well.

6. Keep Track of Length.

Finally, admissions officers value succinctness. Remember to pay attention to the recommended essay length or word count.

Bonus Tips and College Essay Writing Help

For more on how to write a college essay, check out these Tips for Writing Your College Admissions Essay .

What is the college application essay?

A personal essay for college applications is an opportunity for admission admissions panels to get more insight into who you are and what you have to offer. It's often the most personal component of the application, going beyond grades and standardized test scores. Essays usually have open-ended prompts, allowing you to flex your writing skills and make a personal statement.

Does my college application essay really matter?

Learning how to write a successful essay for college is crucial. This essay's exact weight on your chances of acceptance varies from one school to the next. But it's an element of your application that all admissions teams consider. Your essay could be the thing that gets you off a waiting list or gives you a competitive edge over other applicants.

What are colleges looking for in my application essay?

Knowing what to include in a college essay is half the battle. Admissions teams look for many things, but the most influential are authenticity, writing ability, character details, and positive traits. The purpose of the essay is to shed light on your background and gain perspective on your real-world experiences.

When should I start writing my college essay?

Because you'll want to tailor each application to each school, expect to write multiple personal essays. Advisers typically recommend starting these pieces during the summer before your senior year of high school. This will give you ample time to concentrate on writing a college essay before you're hit with schoolwork.

What can I do to write an effective college essay if I'm not a strong writer?

Good writing skills matter, but the best college essay is about the quality of your response. Authentic stories in a natural voice have impact. The story you want to tell about yourself will work better for you if it’s told in language that’s not overly sophisticated. Work with a writing coach for help with the academic aspects. Make responding with substance a priority.

How can I write my college essay if I have no monumental experiences?

You don't need life-changing moments to impress an admissions panel. Think about your personal experiences. Describe moments that left a lasting impact. The important thing is to have a fleshed-out narrative that provides insight into your life and way of thinking. Some of the best essays revolve around meaningful moments rather than flashy ones.

How should I start brainstorming topics for my college essay?

Most colleges provide open-ended prompts. Using the topic as inspiration, think about critical milestones or essential lessons you learned during your academic career. Tell stories about real-life experiences that have shaped the person you are. Write them down to brainstorm ideas. Choose stories that highlight your best traits.

What is a good list of essay topics to start with? What essay topics should I avoid?

Good topics when writing college essays include personal achievements, meaningful lessons, life-changing challenges, and situations that fostered personal growth. It's best to avoid anything too intimate or controversial. You want to open up, but it's not a good idea to go overboard or alienate members of the admissions panel.

What format should I use for my college essay?

Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

How long should my essay be?

The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

Who should I ask to review my college essay?

Turn to your school counselor for review. They understand what college admissions panels are looking for, and they can provide valuable insight into your piece's quality. You can also reach out to English teachers and other educators for proofreading.

Related Articles

Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action ruling leaves them no choice

CHICAGO — When she started writing her college essay, Hillary Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color, instantly more was riding on the already high-stakes writing assignment. Some say they felt pressure to exploit their hardships as they competed for a spot on campus.

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life’s hardest moments to show how far she’d come. But she and some of her classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

“For a lot of students, there’s a feeling of, like, having to go through something so horrible to feel worthy of going to school, which is kind of sad,” said Amofa, the daughter of a hospital technician and an Uber driver.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action . The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” he wrote.

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds. Brown University asked applicants how “an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you.” Rice University asked students how their perspectives were shaped by their “background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity.”

WONDERING IF SCHOOLS 'EXPECT A SOB STORY'

When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, he knew the stakes were higher than ever because of the court’s decision. His first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child.

Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “And if you don’t provide that, then maybe they’re not going to feel like you went through enough to deserve having a spot at the university. I wrestled with that a lot.”

He wrote drafts focusing on his childhood, but it never amounted to more than a collection of memories. Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. The essay had humor — it centered on a water gun fight where he had victory in sight but, in a comedic twist, slipped and fell. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and getting made fun of for listening to “white people music.”

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to write this for me, and we’re just going to see how it goes,’” he said. “It just felt real, and it felt like an honest story.”

The essay describes a breakthrough as he learned “to take ownership of myself and my future by sharing my true personality with the people I encounter. ... I realized that the first chapter of my own story had just been written.”

A RULING PROMPTS PIVOTS ON ESSAY TOPICS

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he constantly felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” he wrote.

As a first-generation college student, Decker thought about the subtle ways his peers seemed to know more about navigating the admissions process . They made sure to get into advanced classes at the start of high school, and they knew how to secure glowing letters of recommendation.

If writing about race would give him a slight edge and show admissions officers a fuller picture of his achievements, he wanted to take that small advantage.

His first memory about race, Decker said, was when he went to get a haircut in elementary school and the barber made rude comments about his curly hair. Until recently, the insecurity that moment created led him to keep his hair buzzed short.

Through Word is Bond, Decker said he found a space to explore his identity as a Black man. It was one of the first times he was surrounded by Black peers and saw Black role models. It filled him with a sense of pride in his identity. No more buzzcut.

The pressure to write about race involved a tradeoff with other important things in his life, Decker said. That included his passion for journalism, like the piece he wrote on efforts to revive a once-thriving Black neighborhood in Portland. In the end, he squeezed in 100 characters about his journalism under the application’s activities section.

“My final essay, it felt true to myself. But the difference between that and my other essay was the fact that it wasn’t the truth that I necessarily wanted to share,” said Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane, in New Orleans, because of the region’s diversity. “It felt like I just had to limit the truth I was sharing to what I feel like the world is expecting of me.”

SPELLING OUT THE IMPACT OF RACE

Before the Supreme Court ruling, it seemed a given to Imani Laird that colleges would consider the ways that race had touched her life. But now, she felt like she had to spell it out.

As she started her essay, she reflected on how she had faced bias or felt overlooked as a Black student in predominantly white spaces.

There was the year in math class when the teacher kept calling her by the name of another Black student. There were the comments that she’d have an easier time getting into college because she was Black .

“I didn’t have it easier because of my race,” said Laird, a senior at Newton South High School in the Boston suburbs who was accepted at Wellesley and Howard University, and is waiting to hear from several Ivy League colleges. “I had stuff I had to overcome.”

In her final essays, she wrote about her grandfather, who served in the military but was denied access to GI Bill benefits because of his race.

She described how discrimination fueled her ambition to excel and pursue a career in public policy.

“So, I never settled for mediocrity,” she wrote. “Regardless of the subject, my goal in class was not just to participate but to excel. Beyond academics, I wanted to excel while remembering what started this motivation in the first place.”

WILL SCHOOLS LOSE RACIAL DIVERSITY?

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court’s ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at some public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

It’s been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The first drafts of her essay focused on growing up in a low-income family, sharing a bedroom with her brother and grandmother. But it didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said.

Her final essay tells how she came to embrace her natural hair . She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro. When her grandmother sent her back with braids or cornrows, they made fun of those too.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“I stopped seeing myself through the lens of the European traditional beauty standards and started seeing myself through the lens that I created,” Amofa wrote.

“Criticism will persist, but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!”

Ma reported from Portland, Oregon.

The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org .

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How to get into Ivy-League universities? Essential tips for applicants

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The allure of Ivy League institutions is undeniable. Renowned for academic excellence, rich traditions, and influential alumni networks, these universities are in the upper echelons of higher education .

Therefore, gaining admission to one of these prestigious establishments is a challenging journey that demands meticulous research and planning to demonstrate your exceptional achievements, all within a compelling application.

Members of Ivy League schools are Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University.

Migration of youths for foreign education to have lasting impact on Kerala society

Migration of youths for foreign education to have lasting impact on Kerala society

Falling rupee makes studying abroad costlier

Falling rupee makes studying abroad costlier

Here's a comprehensive guide for aspiring candidates to understand what these esteemed institutions expect in a candidate.

What do Ivy-League universities look for in a student? Ivy-League establishments consider far more than academic excellence; they look for a soul that beats with purpose and a mind overflowing with potential. These institutions scout for students who bring a unique value to both the heritage of the college and the broader community around it. They seek brilliant minds who dream of making a tangible change, be it embarking on noble endeavours or solving real problems that can create a scalable impact. Whether it is the drive to alleviate economies or pioneer groundbreaking technological innovations, these colleges crave impact-driven humans who work beyond personal benefits and are destined to redefine the future.

Road signs for Harvard and Yale

Six key elements to excel in the application process: Academic excellence: Embarking on the path to an Ivy League college demands an early start, even as early as 9th grade, coupled with exceptional consistency in academic performance and attaining the highest grade possible. Academic potential serves as the foundation of an applicant, where good grades are a requirement but not the sole defining factor. Therefore, showcasing a sincere zeal for learning, excelling in demanding courses, and maintaining an intellectual curiosity are equally fundamental.

Diversify your skill set: Your application journey is accelerated by additional certifications or projects as they exhibit your ability to embrace new subjects and acquire diverse skills, moving beyond conventional learning. For example, if your goal is to pursue a degree in the field of data science, you could consider pursuing a relevant project demonstrating your interest in that field and gain a head start for your degree. Venture deep into the fundamental concepts of your desired fields of study, laying the groundwork for your university pursuits. This extra layer of knowledge enriches your profile and signifies the immense value you bring, serving as an example of your proactive approach towards academic brilliance.

Yale University graduation ceremony

Talents beyond academics: Enriching your portfolio extends beyond academics, as these institutions value a diverse extracurricular mix. Actively engaging in drama clubs, sports, arts, community service and summer schools highlights your multifaceted talents growing up. Moreover, progressing consistently in these activities, from local to national levels, reflects your commitment to growth – a trait that amplifies your profile for an Ivy League institution.

Demonstrate your analytical proficiency: Scoring high on standardised tests like SAT, ACT, or advanced placement exams is pivotal in Ivy League admissions because they assess your problem-solving abilities and critical thinking. It also shows your potential to handle the academic rigour of university-level subjects.

Highlight the personal journey: Crafting compelling application essays extends beyond recounting experiences; it is about depicting the significant growth you have experienced in recent years while navigating the application process for an Ivy League institution. These essays are windows to your vision and the impact you have made, painting a vivid picture of your potential. Your narrative must resonate with authenticity, relaying about your character and the trajectory of your aspirations to the admissions committees.

Thoughtful endorsement: Strong recommendations are crucial in your application journey. Opting for professionals or professors as recommenders is better because their validation of your abilities holds significant weight. They offer an in-depth and holistic evaluation of your profile. These letters also depict the level of impact you could make during your study years and further in life.

Harvard University

How to standout among other applicants In a sea of applicants vying for attention, the key to standing out lies in a self-initiated journey toward perfection. Break free from any limitations in schooling and proactively create opportunities that define your unique profile. Explore online resources, collaborate with supportive companions, and engage in course-specific projects to showcase your capabilities. Formalize your interests, carving your distinct path – whether through a blog, website, YouTube, or Social Media channels. Stay motivated, letting your actions speak about your ambitions. Do not forget to be the architect of your narrative.

Ultimately, the quest for admission to an Ivy League institution is a transformative journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and a foundation for a prosperous future, irrespective of your background. Your passions, character, challenges, and community contributions define your image, regardless of the university name on your degree certificate. Hence, aspiring for this ambitious endeavour demands dedication, honesty, and a multifaceted approach. Embrace this process because this is going to stay with you for a lifetime!

(Sujatha Kshirsagar is the President and Chief Business Officer of Career Launcher)

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Condolence Messages for a Coworker – 60 Samples

March 31, 2024

condolence message for coworker examples

The grief over losing a loved one is something that no one should have to suffer alone . When someone close to us experiences the grief of death, our responses might feel more instinctual, relaxed, and natural. But what if the person we want to console is a coworker? These kinds of conversations in the professional space can be challenging. When it comes to asking for a raise or rescheduling an interview , there are tons of practical tips—these are expected things. But knowing how to tow the emotional/professional line can be a different kind of challenge. Of course, it’s important to offer condolences with sensitivity and empathy when the people around us are suffering, no matter the context. A part of being a professional is also the ability to have empathy, compassion, and a sense of humanity. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 60 different condolence messages for a coworker who has experienced the death of a loved one.

Straightforward, Classic Responses 

This first set of responses consists of fairly straightforward, classic statements that we often hear in response to a personal loss, no matter the context. Just because you’re comforting a coworker doesn’t mean you need to labor dramatically over crafting language. That could actually backfire and make you sound insincere, like a middle schooler who decided to use the thesaurus to look up “smart words” for a school essay.

The best thing to remember when sending your condolences to a grieving person is that it matters so much less what you say and so much more that you’re reaching out. So, if you’re searching for simple language, choose the statement that feels right to you. These phrases are also simple enough that you could string a few of them together (in a natural way, of course). You could also think of the statement as a general prompt that would help you to get started to add your own personal note at the end.

Condolence Message for Coworker (Continued)

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “My heart goes out to you during this difficult time.”
  • “Sending you love and strength as you navigate this loss.”
  • “Please know that you’re in my thoughts.”
  • “I’m keeping you and your family in my prayers.”
  • “Wishing you peace and healing in the days ahead.”
  • “Sending you warm hugs and my deepest condolences.”
  • “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

Responses That Contain A Bit of Guidance or Support 

Sometimes, it can be stabilizing to receive a reminder from a friendly coworker that the rest of the work is supporting you in your time of grief. This next set of responses contains small kernels of guidance that might prompt your colleague to reach out to you for more conversation or support. So, use these phrases only if you feel capable and ready to receive someone else’s grief—and only if you feel ready to support that person, as well.

  • “If you need to talk or need anything at all, I’m here.”
  • “May you find comfort in the memories you shared.”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.”
  • “It’s okay to take all the time you need to grieve.”
  • “Remember to be kind to yourself during this tough time.”
  • “I’m here to support you in any way I can.”
  • “Please know that you’re not alone in your grief.”
  • “I’m here to listen if you need to talk or share memories.”
  • “May you find moments of peace amidst the pain.”
  • “Please take care of yourself as you navigate through grief.”
  • “I’m here to help with anything you need, even if it’s just a listening ear.”
  • “I’m here to help lighten your burden in any way I can.”
  • “Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything at all.”

Responses to Acknowledge the Importance of the Person Who Has Passed 

Did you have a special connection to your coworker, their loved one who has passed, or their family in general? Perhaps you’ve had dinner at their house or simply connected during conversations at a work outing. No matter the case, if you personally knew the person who passed or have a friendship with your colleague that extends beyond the realm of the strictly professional, you may want to craft a response that acknowledges that connection.

The following phrases can guide you in your task of creating a personalized response. If you wish, you can take these statements as jumping-off points and write a longer note that includes special memories, conversations, or moments that you shared with your colleague and their family. Consider, also, replacing the words “your loved one” in any of these phrases with the name of the person who has passed, in order to make the statement that much more sincere.

  • “Your loved one will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
  • “Thinking of you and your family during this time of loss.”
  • “Your loved one will be dearly missed.”
  • “Sending you strength and comfort during this challenging time.”
  • “Remembering your loved one and the impact they had on us all.”
  • “Your loved one’s memory will live on in our hearts.”
  • “Your loved one’s legacy will continue to inspire us.”
  • “Your loved one’s kindness and warmth will always be remembered.”
  • “Your loved one’s presence will be deeply missed.”
  • “I will never forget how much your loved one meant to me.”

A Prayer for Peace 

If you are a spiritual or religious person, you may be inclined to reach for language that reflects those values. Depending on your workplace or your colleagues, however, it might be in good taste to keep direct references to specific religious traditions out of your condolence messages. Unless we know specifically that we share the same religious tradition and experiences as the person we are consoling, it might be better to use broader language that can still encompass what you’re hoping to communicate. The following phrases seek to do just that.

  • “Wishing you moments of solace and reflection.”
  • “May you find some peace in the support of those who care about you.”
  • “Wishing you courage as you face the days ahead.”
  • “In this time of sadness, know that you are loved and supported.”
  • “Thinking of you and sending heartfelt condolences.”
  • “I wish you moments of comfort and strength.”
  • “Grieving is a personal journey, and I’m here to walk alongside you.”
  • “May you find moments of peace in the midst of sorrow.”
  • “Your loved one’s spirit will live on in the memories shared.”
  • “I’m holding you close in my thoughts and prayers.”
  • “Wishing you moments of grace and healing.”
  • “My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family.”
  • “Your loved one’s spirit will always be with us.”
  • “Remembering your loved one with fondness and gratitude.”

What to Say If You’re the Boss 

Being in charge when one of your employees loses a close friend or family member can be upending. You need to maintain your professional boundaries, but you want to be warm-hearted, kind, and caring. You also don’t want to be a tyrant about time. Often, people need to travel to make it home for funerals, wakes, and to help in the general reordering of life that follows any person’s death. It’s in your best interest to allow for such time off, and extending it before your employee needs to ask will help to remove any burden or guilt they may feel for needing to take extra time away from the office.

It’s also important to acknowledge any formal or informal contributions your employee’s loved one may have made to your workplace over time. Depending on the company or institution, spouses, partners, and even parents and children can bring a number of gifts and joys to a professional situation. If that’s the case, be sure to let your employee know that you recognize and appreciate everything they gave to help your organization.

The following phrases should be helpful in guiding you toward those goals.

  • “If you need time off or any support from work, please let me know.”
  • “Your loved one’s impact on our team will never be forgotten.”
  • “Please know that we’re here to support you in any way we can.”
  • “Grieving is a process, and it’s okay to take it one step at a time.”
  • “Your loved one’s memory will forever be cherished.”
  • “Please take all the time you need to heal and grieve.”
  • “May you find comfort in the love and support surrounding you, including all of us here.”
  • “I’m here to offer support and comfort whenever you need it.”
  • “Your loved one’s legacy of kindness will continue to shine through.”
  • “Wishing you moments of peace and strength during this difficult time.”
  • “Your loved one’s kindness and warmth touched us all.”

Signing Off with Care 

What do you do when you need to sign off on a card, email, or other note of condolence for someone who is grieving? It can be hard to find the right words to say. Perhaps you purchased a pre-written condolence card from the store, but you’re hoping to extend the message beyond what’s already been written with a little personal touch. Or, perhaps, you’ve organized a card to go around the office to all of your colleagues, but you’re the person who needs to close out the card, put it in the envelope, and send it off. Or, maybe your office has agreed to send flowers to the funeral home, and you just need a quick phrase to include on the printed note sent by the flower shop.

The following phrases should hopefully help you to close out your note of condolence by demonstrating professionalism and care to your fellow colleague.

  • “Sending you love and light during this dark time.”
  • “May the love of those around you provide solace and strength.”
  • “Wishing you moments of peace and serenity.”

Condolence Message for Coworker – Final Thoughts

We hope that you have found our sample Condolence Messages for a Coworker blog to be useful. You may also wish to check out the following workplace-related blogs to be of interest:

  • Highest Paying College Majors
  • Best Jobs for Introverts

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Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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Elite College Admissions Have Turned Students Into Brands

An illustration of a doll in a box attired in a country-western outfit and surrounded by musical accessories and a laptop. The doll wears a distressed expression and is pushing against the front of the box, which is emblazoned with the words “Environmentally Conscious Musician” and “Awesome Applicant.” The backdrop is a range of pink with three twinkling lights surrounding the box.

By Sarah Bernstein

Ms. Bernstein is a playwright, a writing coach and an essayist in Brooklyn.

“I just can’t think of anything,” my student said.

After 10 years of teaching college essay writing, I was familiar with this reply. For some reason, when you’re asked to recount an important experience from your life, it is common to forget everything that has ever happened to you. It’s a long-form version of the anxiety that takes hold at a corporate retreat when you’re invited to say “one interesting thing about yourself,” and you suddenly believe that you are the most boring person in the entire world. Once during a version of this icebreaker, a man volunteered that he had only one kidney, and I remember feeling incredibly jealous of him.

I tried to jog this student’s memory. What about his love of music? Or his experience learning English? Or that time on a summer camping trip when he and his friends had nearly drowned? “I don’t know,” he said with a sigh. “That all seems kind of cliché.”

Applying to college has always been about standing out. When I teach college essay workshops and coach applicants one on one, I see my role as helping students to capture their voice and their way of processing the world, things that are, by definition, unique to each individual. Still, many of my students (and their parents) worry that as getting into college becomes increasingly competitive, this won’t be enough to set them apart.

Their anxiety is understandable. On Thursday, in a tradition known as “Ivy Day,” all eight Ivy League schools released their regular admission decisions. Top colleges often issue statements about how impressive (and competitive) their applicant pools were this cycle. The intention is to flatter accepted students and assuage rejected ones, but for those who have not yet applied to college, these statements reinforce the fear that there is an ever-expanding cohort of applicants with straight A’s and perfect SATs and harrowing camping trip stories all competing with one another for a vanishingly small number of spots.

This scarcity has led to a boom in the college consulting industry, now estimated to be a $2.9 billion business. In recent years, many of these advisers and companies have begun to promote the idea of personal branding — a way for teenagers to distinguish themselves by becoming as clear and memorable as a good tagline.

While this approach often leads to a strong application, students who brand themselves too early or too definitively risk missing out on the kind of exploration that will prepare them for adult life.

Like a corporate brand, the personal brand is meant to distill everything you stand for (honesty, integrity, high quality, low prices) into a cohesive identity that can be grasped at a glance. On its website, a college prep and advising company called Dallas Admissions explains the benefits of branding this way: “Each person is complex, yet admissions officers only have a small amount of time to spend learning about each prospective student. The smart student boils down key aspects of himself or herself into their personal ‘brand’ and sells that to the college admissions officer.”

Identifying the key aspects of yourself may seem like a lifelong project, but unfortunately, college applicants don’t have that kind of time. Online, there are dozens of lesson plans and seminars promising to walk students through the process of branding themselves in five to 10 easy steps. The majority begin with questions I would have found panic-inducing as a teenager, such as, “What is the story you want people to tell about you when you’re not in the room?”

Where I hoped others would describe me as “normal” or, in my wildest dreams, “cool,” today’s teenagers are expected to leave this exercise with labels like, Committed Athlete and Compassionate Leader or Environmentally Conscious Musician. Once students have a draft of their ideal self, they’re offered instructions for manifesting it (or at least, the appearance of it) in person and online. These range from common-sense tips (not posting illegal activity on social media) to more drastic recommendations (getting different friends).

It’s not just that these courses cut corners on self-discovery; it’s that they get the process backward. A personal brand is effective only if you can support it with action, so instead of finding their passion and values through experience, students are encouraged to select a passion as early as possible and then rack up the experience to substantiate it. Many college consultants suggest beginning to align your activities with your college ambitions by ninth grade, while the National Institute of Certified College Planners recommends students “talk with parents, guardians, and/or an academic adviser to create a clear plan for your education and career-related goals” in junior high.

The idea of a group of middle schoolers soberly mapping out their careers is both comical and depressing, but when I read student essays today, I can see that this advice is getting through. Over the past few years, I have been struck by how many high school seniors already have defined career goals as well as a C.V. of relevant extracurriculars to go with them. This widens the gap between wealthy students and those who lack the resources to secure a fancy research gig or start their own small business. (A shocking number of college applicants claim to have started a small business.) It also puts pressure on all students to define themselves at a moment when they are anxious to fit in and yet changing all the time.

In the world of branding, a word that appears again and again is “consistency.” If you are Charmin, that makes sense. People opening a roll of toilet paper do not want to be surprised. If you are a teenage human being, however, that is an unreasonable expectation. Changing one’s interests, opinions and presentation is a natural part of adolescence and an instructive one. I find that my students with scattershot résumés are often the most confident. They’re not afraid to push back against suggestions that ring false and will insist on revising their essay until it actually “feels like me.” On the other hand, many of my most accomplished students are so quick to accept feedback that I am wary of offering it, lest I become one more adult trying to shape them into an admission-worthy ideal.

I understand that for parents, prioritizing exploration can feel like a risky bet. Self-insight is hard to quantify and to communicate in a college application. When it comes to building a life, however, this kind of knowledge has more value than any accolade, and it cannot be generated through a brainstorming exercise in a six-step personal branding course online. To equip kids for the world, we need to provide them not just with opportunities for achievement, but with opportunities to fail, to learn, to wander and to change their minds.

In some ways, the college essay is a microcosm of modern adolescence. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a forum for self-discovery or a high-stakes test you need to ace. I try to assure my students that it is the former. I tell them that it’s a chance to take stock of everything you’ve experienced and learned over the past 18 years and everything you have to offer as a result.

That can be a profound process. But to embark on it, students have to believe that colleges really want to see the person behind the brand. And they have to have the chance to know who that person is.

Sarah Bernstein is a playwright, a writing coach and an essayist.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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