• SAT BootCamp
  • SAT MasterClass
  • SAT Private Tutoring
  • SAT Proctored Practice Test
  • ACT Private Tutoring
  • Academic Subjects
  • College Essay Workshop
  • Academic Writing Workshop
  • AP English FRQ BootCamp
  • 1:1 College Essay Help
  • Online Instruction
  • Free Resources

How to format and structure a college essay: A definitive guide

Bonus Material: Download 30 essays that worked for Princeton

Are you a rising high school senior preparing for the admissions process and aiming for one of those coveted spots at selective universities? Are you looking for help figuring out how to structure your college admissions essay to maximize your chances of acceptance?

 We’ve guided countless students through the application process to acceptances at the country’s most selective colleges. In this blog post, we’ll share some of our proven advice on how to structure and format your college admissions essay to make the best impression on admissions officers.

We’ve also included a set of 30 successful college application essays that helped students get into Princeton. There are few better resources to help your brainstorming than essays that you know worked!

Download Thirty Essays that Worked for Princeton

Jump to section:

What makes a successful college essay Types of College Essay Formats The Narrative Essay Format and Example The Montage Essay Format and Example The “I am…” Essay Format and Example The Creative/Artistic Format and Example Next Steps

What makes a successful college essay?

You can think of a college essay’s effectiveness as being made up of two things: the content, and the narrative structure. In other words, you need to have a strong topic, but you also need to structure and format the way you write about that topic in a specific way. Without the right format, even the most unique and moving topic won’t wow the admission committee.

We’ve written extensively about our step-by-step process for ensuring that you have the right topic in our post on the Diamond Strategy here . It’s a proven method for topic selection, and we encourage everyone to read it and use it.

Your choice of topic is going to heavily influence what format will work best for your college essay. Below, we’ll go into several specific college essay formats (with successful college admissions essay examples!), and we’ll discuss when to use each one.

Types of College Essay Formats

In this post, we’ll talk about four kinds of structures or formats that have been proven to work again and again for successful college admission essays.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

  • The Narrative – best if you want to describe one key moment in your life.
  • The Montage – best if you have an eclectic mix of interests/experiences.
  • The “I am…” – best if you have an identity or belief that’s important to you.
  • The Creative/Artistic – Best if you have an unusual topic and like taking risks.

Remember: although each of these formats can be broken down into something like a template, it will always get its power from the specifics of your story and your experiences. Take a look at any of these successful college essays that worked and you’ll see that, no matter the format, the key to each is tons and tons of specific detail.

Also remember that these formats are not always interchangeable : if you want to write about what you learned from a pivotal moment in your life, you’ll probably want The Narrative and not, say, The Montage. 

The Narrative Essay Format and Example (best if you want to describe one key moment in your life).

The Narrative Essay format is one of the most popular and one of the most commonly seen on “Essays that Worked” blogs–and with good reason! This essay structure lets you tell a detailed story, keeping admissions counselors engaged while also conveying key insights about you as an applicant.

Here are the typical components of a Narrative Essay:

  • Start in the middle of the story
  • Show personal growth
  • Reflect on what’s changed

So what does it look like? Let’s take a look at an actual sample essay from our Thirty College Essays that Worked for Princeton and break it down.

1 – Start in the middle of the story (media res)

Drop the reader right into the middle of a crucial moment, describing it like a scene in a film or movie.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

To him, I was a stranger. He could not recall that I had fervently cared for him every day for the past five weeks. As I laughed at his trademark joke for the third time that day, he felt a familiar, but unidentifiable gratitude. When I mentioned a detail about his past, he blushed, realizing that I, a perceived stranger, knew him better than himself. The only recollection he had of me was of a girl with an unmatched dedication to his happiness. This man was one of the patients I encountered during my volunteer internship at Expressions, a hospital program for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Notice how this begins the story with no preamble. If your essay topic is about a major event in your life, one of the strongest ways to begin your college essay is by jumping right into it.

2 – Zoom out

Once you’ve hooked the reader with your story, zoom out and provide more context and background information. How did you get there? What brought you to that moment?

On the second day of the internship, I strode through the door, eager to delve into my new daily responsibilities. As I approached the patients, I anticipated, somewhat naively, a chorus of welcomes and friendly receptions. But instead, I was met with puzzled glances and polite, but reserved greetings. I realized that no one remembered who I was. For the next several minutes, I questioned my purpose in a program where I could not permanently impact the participants. What motivation did I have to go beyond mediocrity when, no matter the quality of my service, I would be forgotten? But it was that morning, as I poured each patient a cup of coffee, smiled, and reintroduced myself, that I constructed my personal motto: “Initiative requires no incentive.” Throughout the rest of the day, I found motivation through mundane, yet meaningful moments, like helping a patient complete a crossword or color a picture. It was in those moments that I learned that dedication is not derived from a desire to make memorable change, but from a will to contribute to your community no matter the reward.

You want to maintain a high level of detail and specificity, but you also want to zoom out enough to make sure your reader understands the background and context of your story. This essay does that perfectly by explaining the internship and the student’s initial involvement. More importantly, it shows us what the student was thinking at the beginning, which provides an opportunity for growth and learning.

3 – Show personal growth/development/change

The narrative works because it’s about how you, as a student, college applicant, and human, have changed and grown through the experience you describe. So the next part of your essay should describe some element of change as it develops through this story. Take a look below:

Over the next few weeks, I discovered that because the patients had no recollection of the past, they cherished the present moment. It was this principle of mindful existence that taught me to love the moments of doing, rather than linger in the memories of “I have done.” To fulfill this principle, I sought to paint each moment with cheer and consideration. Through all their bursts of frustration, shivers of discomfort, and tears of untraceable nostalgia, I strove to offer warmth and support. On several occasions, I brought in my tutu and pointe shoes and performed a ballet variation. As I taught the participants ballet steps, the room rang with laughter and amusement. Hoping to inspire the creativity I find so empowering, I also orchestrated events from poetry slams to watercolor classes to recipe exchanges. By incorporating my individuality into the program, I reinvented my role as a volunteer, a community member, and an individual.

This process of “discovery” is one of the keys to the Narrative Structure. This college essay format is designed to let you bring out the personal growth that accompanied this event. In the body paragraphs, the author shows how she developed and “reinvented” her role through this experience.

4 – Reflect on what’s changed

As you bring your essay to a close, you should actively reflect on what has changed throughout this narrative. The closing can be short and sweet, and often refers back to the original story you told in the first paragraph.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

On my last day at the program, I was leading a jewelry-making activity, when I noticed one of the participants becoming agitated. She was, among all the group members, the patient in the most advanced stage of memory loss and the patient I accompanied most often. I drew up a chair next to her and offered my help. Her head, previously hunched over scattered bracelet pieces, slowly lifted and her eyes turned to meet mine. As her eyes flickered across my face, I saw in her expression that she was searching for a thought, creeping to the forefront of her mind. Then, carefully she said, “Your name is Dana, right?” It had been nearly a year since she had remembered the last five minutes, yet she had remembered my name. As I smiled and nodded, she began to tear up, and we both silently rejoiced in the realization that she had momentarily overcome her disease. In that instant, my continuous acts of compassion, whether previously forgotten or anonymous, came to fruition. Service became more than the completion of routine tasks or the collection of volunteer hours; it became the responsibility to foster hope and prosperity within my community, the nation, and humanity.

This final paragraph beautifully brings the entire essay to a close: it recalls the opening paragraph, but now gives it a new and more positive spin. It also tells the admissions committee what this student has learned through this narrative. This student comes away from the experience with a new understanding of service.

This is one of the best examples of a successfully executed college essay in the Narrative style. It hooks the reader in from the beginning, making us want to figure out what’s going on. Then, it gives us the context we need to understand how the writer got to this point and who they are. Most importantly, it concludes the narrative by showing real, impressive personal growth in the student’s perspective on the world, ending with a reflection on what this writer values and brings to a college.

Yours will look different, of course. But if you want to understand why the narrative essay structure works, this impactful essay is a great place to start.

You can find more successful narrative essay examples in our Thirty College Essays that Worked for Princeton .

The Montage Essay Format and Example (best if you have an eclectic mix of interests/experiences)

The Narrative Structure is great if your essay topic can be conveyed through a single crucial moment or experience. But what if you want to show the admissions committee at your dream university some aspect(s) of your personality that can only be conveyed through multiple moments?

Here are the key elements of a Montage Essay:

  • Introduce your theme
  • Present a series of snapshots related to the theme
  • Tie the snapshots to the theme

That’s the kind of topic the Montage Essay Format is designed for. You won’t go into as much detail as you would in the Narrative Essay. Instead, you will present the admissions committee with a series of snapshots from your life, all connected by a common theme.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

These snapshots can be actual events, or they can be creatively selected items from your life that tell universities something about you–you might create a montage of what’s on your bookshelf or what kind of bumper stickers are on your car, for example.

1 – Start with the unifying thread or theme

Give us a bit of context for whatever unites the montage by setting it up. Alternatively, you can just jump right into one of the montage moments (like in the Narrative Format). The best option here will depend on your specific essay.

We can see an example from our collection of thirty actual sample essays below:

“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.

This introductory paragraph opens with something creative and catchy, then explains the purpose. It also sets up the montage that will follow: “the first world problems.”

2 – Present the montage!

Naturally, this is the biggest part of the Montage Format. The pieces of your montage can be short (as in the below example) or fairly long. The most important thing is that they are detailed, unique, and come together to tell the university admissions officers something about you.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

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.

This montage is really a list of the first-world problems of the writer and the things the writer “knows nothing” about. In writing this list, however, the student is making clear that they’re aware of the limits of their own experience, and that kind of self-reflection is crucial for a winning college essay.

3 – Tie the moments of the montage together

Each montage essay must end by clearly drawing a lesson. The question every admissions officer will be asking is: what do all of these moments tell us about you?

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.

This reflection really doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. In just a few sentences, this author shows us why the montage matters: this student understands the limits of their experiences and knowledge, and, most importantly, is eager and willing to work to overcome them.

For more successful college application essays like this, check out our collection of actual sample essays below:

The “I am…” Essay Format (best if you have an identity or belief that’s important to you)

This format is the most direct way to approach a personal essay. By using this structure, you will directly present the admissions officers with some crucial aspect of your personality, background, or interests.

This essay format is best for students who want to highlight a particular quirk, lifelong challenge, or important aspects of their demographic background.

This kind of essay generally follows this structure:

  • A surprising “I am…” statement
  • Explanation of the statement with specific examples
  • Reflection on how this has shaped you

Like all college admissions essays, this will require you to be specific and detailed. But, it might not involve much of an actual story or narrative (though it can!). Take a look at the breakdown of the example below to see how it’s done.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

1 – Start with a surprising “I am…” statement

This essay structure depends on hooking your reader’s attention from the first line, so you want to start with something memorable, unexpected, and maybe even a bit confusing. Though often this means saying “I am…” it could just as easily be “I believe…” or “I have…”

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.

Here’s a classic example of how to start. “Hot sauce sommelier” is unusual and quirky enough that it holds the reader’s attention. Admissions officers will want to keep reading to see why this matters.

2 – Expand on the “I am…”

This can take different forms: you can explain how you came to be, say, a hot sauce sommelier. Or you can tell us what that looks like in your everyday life. It’ll depend in large part on what your individual story is, but the key is specifics, specifics, specifics.

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.

Check out all specific details the writer uses in this portion of the essay! These moments both show the student’s skill as a writer and, more importantly, convey their very real passion for hot sauce. It doesn’t matter that it’s a little bit silly: what matters is showing the university that this student is dedicated to something .

3 – End by reflecting on how this aspect of your identity shapes who you are as a person and student

As always, these essays have to end with a bit of introspection: you’ve told us the story, now explain why it matters, as this student does.

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.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

This student makes clear to colleges why this aspect of their personality matters. It has helped them learn and travel; it shows the student’s desire to “challenge” themselves and to “stimulate their mind,” which is exactly what a top-tier university is looking for.

The Creative/Artistic Format (Best if you have an unusual topic and like taking risks)

I’m cheating a little bit here: by definition, there’s no real format to these Creative/Artistic Essays. These are the most unique, the toughest to pull off, and the riskiest essays. But for certain students, they’re undoubtedly the right choice.

Although these essays aren’t as easy to bulletpoint out as the above, creative personal essays will always contain the following elements:

  • A unique gimmick
  • Meaningful information about the writer’s life or identity
  • A mature reflection

does my college essay have to be a narrative

The Creative/Artistic Essays make your essay stand out to colleges, but require careful planning and editing to pull off. If you’re an artist type, or, alternatively, if you feel your application needs something to separate you from the pack, these can be the right choice.

Consulting with one of our expert college essay coaches can be the best way to ensure that your Creative/Artistic Essay helps and not hurts your application.

Below is a successful example, and some analysis of why this essay works:

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” “Yes.” I have always been tall, decidedly tall. Yet, my curiosity has always surpassed my height. Starting at a young age, I would ask countless questions, from “How heavy is the Earth?” to “Where does rain come from?” My curiosity, displayed in questions like these, has truly defined me as a person and as a student. Therefore, it is not surprising that I became transfixed the first time I played 20Q (the electronic version of Twenty Questions). Somehow, a little spherical device guessed what I was thinking. The piece of technology sparked my curiosity and instilled in me a unique interest in 20Q. This interest would later reveal valuable character traits of mine while also paralleling various facets of my life. “Does it strive to learn?” “Yes.” I became determined to discover how 20Q guessed correctly. After some research, I discovered artificial intelligence, more specifically, artificial neural networks—systems which learn and improve themselves. This idea fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I read avidly, seeking and absorbing as much information as I could. When given the opportunity years later, I signed up for the first computer programming class available to me. I found myself in an environment I loved. I would stay after class, go in during free periods, make my own apps, and work over Cloud-based IDEs. I prized the freedom and the possibilities. “Is it driven?” “Yes.” After my introduction to 20Q, I began to play Twenty Questions (the traditional parlor game) and became determined to rival the guessing accuracy of the artificial intelligence. At first I was mediocre. However, through long car rides with family, good-natured yet heated competitions with friends, logical strategy, and time, I became more effective. I discovered the “secrets” to success: practice and perseverance. “Does it apply what it learns?” “Yes.” As 20Q implements what it learns, so do I. Throughout high school, I applied the “secret” of practice to my basketball career. I spent countless hours sharpening my skills in 90° summer heat to 20° late-winter cold, countless afternoons playing pickup games with my friends, and countless weekends traveling to AAU basketball tournaments. As a result, I became a starter for my school’s varsity team. I applied another “secret,” this time the “secret” of perseverance, by dedicating myself to physical therapy after knee surgery in order to quickly return to football. Later that year, I became the first player in my grade to score a varsity touchdown. “Does it attempt to better itself?” “Yes.” Once I became proficient at Twenty Questions, I strengthened my resolve to become masterful. To do so, I needed to become a skillful inquisitor and to combine that with my analytical nature and interpersonal skills, all of which are vital for success in Twenty Questions. Because I had been debating politics with my friends since the 8th grade, I recognized that debate could sharpen these skills. I began to debate more frequently (and later more effectively) in English and government class, at the lunch table and family gatherings, and whenever the opportunity presented itself. This spurred in me an interest for how public policy and government work, leading me to attend Boys State and receive a nomination for The United States Senate Youth Program. “Does it think deeply?” “Yes.” So far, I have realized that thriving at Twenty Questions, just like life, is all about tenacity, rationality and interpersonal skills. I have found that, as in Twenty Questions, always succeeding is impossible; however, by persevering through difficulties and obstacles, favorable outcomes are often attainable. As I have become better at Twenty Questions, so too have I improved in many other aspects of my life. Nonetheless, I realize that I still have unbounded room to grow. And much like 20Q, I will continue to learn throughout my life and apply my knowledge to everything I do. “Are you thinking of me?” “Yes.” Source: Johns Hopkins Essays that Worked

Framing this essay as a round of 20 questions is the kind of risky creative move that, in this case, can really pay off.

It works here because it isn’t just being creative or artsy for the sake of it: this format really allows the student to express multiple important aspects of their personality as it relates to their application.

You’ll notice that, like most creative essays, it combines elements of the other essay formats. But it does so in a unique way that can’t be replicated: nobody else can write a 20 Questions style essay without ripping off this author.

If you can find a creative idea like this one that lets you express unique elements of your story or personality in a fun, attention-grabbing structure, then this option might be the best one for you.

You should think of the steps outlined in this blogpost as the middle of the essay writing process. First, you need to brainstorm and select your topic (see our guide on that here) . Then, based on that topic, you can use this post to identify what structure and format will work best for crafting your essay.

If you’ve settled on an essay format, it’s time to move on to actually writing the essay itself. We recommend starting by reviewing some of the past successful essays linked below and by first reading our post on the Diamond Strategy for topic selection.

Of course, there’s no substitute for professional help: our expert essay coaches have helped countless students with brainstorming, topic choice, organization, crafting, and final touches on essays that have helped these students gain admission to Ivies and other elite colleges. If you’re interested in working with one of our college essay coaches, reach out to us here !

Top College Essay Posts

  • 14 Best College Essay Services for 2023 (40 Services Reviewed)
  • Qualities of a Successful College Essay
  • 11 College Essays That Worked
  • How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions
  • How Colleges Read your College Applications (A 4-Step Process)
  • How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays
  • The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays that Get Them Into Princeton (And Other Ivy League Schools)
  • What is the College Essay? Your Complete Guide for 202 4
  • College Essay Brainstorming: Where to Start
  • How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays
  • How to Format Your College Essay


Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.

Privacy Preference Center

Privacy preferences.

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors


does my college essay have to be a narrative

How to Define a Strong Narrative for Your College Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Robert Crystal in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered

Why your college essay needs a strong narrative, how to organize your college essay as a narrative.

One of the most common and successful approaches to writing a college admissions essay is to tell a story about yourself. It engages the reader immediately and shows them how you could fit into their campus community. 

There are two main components of a narrative to consider: the “what” and the “who.” The “what” is about what you are doing right now, including your extracurricular activities, your passions, or your daily life. The “who” is about who you are at a fundamental level and your ethos. The reader wants to be airdropped into your life to learn something more personal about your character and values.

Like all good stories, the narrative of your admissions essay should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

The beginning should be about your “what.” This backstory and timeline will serve as the basis for your introduction.  

For some people, finding the “what” is easy. Incredible one-time experiences, such as running a marathon for charity or going on a two-month, off-the-grid camping trip, conveniently provide the foundation of their narrative. 

We all have incredible stories, however. Even without an extraordinary experience, you can write an amazing narrative that tells the story of who you are. 

If you are stuck, it can be helpful to have close family and friends write down what they think that you are passionate about in categories like academics, athletics, civic issues, faith, or your daily life. 

Once a common theme appears, it becomes something that could make a good essay topic. Then, develop the timeline. When did you become interested in these things, and why? Was there an event that sparked your interest, or is this something ingrained in your background? 

Maybe something that began as a volunteer opportunity grew into an internship and now is what you want to study in college. That would be considered a specific event. Alternatively, maybe you have Irish heritage and spent a year studying abroad. Although that is not a specific event, it is still clearly fundamental to your life. 

The middle should center on your growth and ethos. It’s an opportunity to talk about how you view the world and what you believe in as it relates to the passion that you have established. 

For example, perhaps your spirituality motivates you to excel in your passion project. Maybe you love watching television shows because it helps you reflect on the world, and that contributes to your desire to study film. 

This part of your essay is particularly important. Even if your passions and interests are typical, your ethos is unique and the key aspect of your essay that sets you apart.

Once you have decided what you are passionate about, developed a timeline of growth, and explained the connection to your ethos, the end should be about the future. 

How is everything that you have explained going to impact your college career? You want to explain how this will inform your college experience.

Since your essay will likely be sent to multiple schools, this portion should remain broad. Think about where you envision yourself in five years, regardless of the school that you attend. By discussing those goals instead of college-specific aspirations, your narrative will remain genuine and widely applicable. 

If you are still stuck, check out these articles for more ideas: “ 50 Engaging Narrative Essay Topics for High Schoolers ” and “ 19 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay .”

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Narrative Essays

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

What is a narrative essay?

When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.

  • If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a story.

This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.

  • When would a narrative essay not be written as a story?

A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.

  • The essay should have a purpose.

Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?

  • The essay should be written from a clear point of view.

It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays oftentimes manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.

  • Use clear and concise language throughout the essay.

Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.

  • The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is welcomed.

Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.

  • As always, be organized!

Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).

BibGuru Blog

Be more productive in school

  • Citation Styles

How to write a narrative essay [Updated 2023]

How to write a narrative essay

A narrative essay is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and craft a compelling story. In this blog post, we define what a narrative essay is and provide strategies and examples for writing one.

What is a narrative essay?

Similarly to a descriptive essay or a reflective essay, a narrative essay asks you to tell a story, rather than make an argument and present evidence. Most narrative essays describe a real, personal experience from your own life (for example, the story of your first big success).

Alternately, your narrative essay might focus on an imagined experience (for example, how your life would be if you had been born into different circumstances). While you don’t need to present a thesis statement or scholarly evidence, a narrative essay still needs to be well-structured and clearly organized so that the reader can follow your story.

When you might be asked to write a narrative essay

Although less popular than argumentative essays or expository essays, narrative essays are relatively common in high school and college writing classes.

The same techniques that you would use to write a college essay as part of a college or scholarship application are applicable to narrative essays, as well. In fact, the Common App that many students use to apply to multiple colleges asks you to submit a narrative essay.

How to choose a topic for a narrative essay

When you are asked to write a narrative essay, a topic may be assigned to you or you may be able to choose your own. With an assigned topic, the prompt will likely fall into one of two categories: specific or open-ended.

Examples of specific prompts:

  • Write about the last vacation you took.
  • Write about your final year of middle school.

Examples of open-ended prompts:

  • Write about a time when you felt all hope was lost.
  • Write about a brief, seemingly insignificant event that ended up having a big impact on your life.

A narrative essay tells a story and all good stories are centered on a conflict of some sort. Experiences with unexpected obstacles, twists, or turns make for much more compelling essays and reveal more about your character and views on life.

If you’re writing a narrative essay as part of an admissions application, remember that the people reviewing your essay will be looking at it to gain a sense of not just your writing ability, but who you are as a person.

In these cases, it’s wise to choose a topic and experience from your life that demonstrates the qualities that the prompt is looking for, such as resilience, perseverance, the ability to stay calm under pressure, etc.

It’s also important to remember that your choice of topic is just a starting point. Many students find that they arrive at new ideas and insights as they write their first draft, so the final form of your essay may have a different focus than the one you started with.

How to outline and format a narrative essay

Even though you’re not advancing an argument or proving a point of view, a narrative essay still needs to have a coherent structure. Your reader has to be able to follow you as you tell the story and to figure out the larger point that you’re making.

You’ll be evaluated on is your handling of the topic and how you structure your essay. Even though a narrative essay doesn’t use the same structure as other essay types, you should still sketch out a loose outline so you can tell your story in a clear and compelling way.

To outline a narrative essay, you’ll want to determine:

  • how your story will start
  • what points or specifics that you want to cover
  • how your story will end
  • what pace and tone you will use

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.” Also, most narrative essays will follow typical formatting guidelines, so you should choose a readable font like Times New Roman in size 11 or 12. Double-space your paragraphs and use 1” margins.

To get your creative wheels turning, consider how your story compares to archetypes and famous historical and literary figures both past and present. Weave these comparisons into your essay to improve the quality of your writing and connect your personal experience to a larger context.

How to write a narrative essay

Writing a narrative essay can sometimes be a challenge for students who typically write argumentative essays or research papers in a formal, objective style. To give you a better sense of how you can write a narrative essay, here is a short example of an essay in response to the prompt, “Write about an experience that challenged your view of yourself.”

Narrative essay example

Even as a child, I always had what people might call a reserved personality. It was sometimes framed as a positive (“Sarah is a good listener”) and at other times it was put in less-than-admiring terms (“Sarah is withdrawn and not very talkative”). It was the latter kind of comments that caused me to see my introverted nature as a drawback and as something I should work to eliminate. That is, until I joined my high school’s student council.

The first paragraph, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

The other four students making up the council were very outspoken and enthusiastic. I enjoyed being around them, and I often agreed with their ideas. However, when it came to overhauling our school’s recycling plan, we butted heads. When I spoke up and offered a different point of view, one of my fellow student council members launched into a speech, advocating for her point of view. As her voice filled the room, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I wondered if I should try to match her tone, volume, and assertiveness as a way to be heard. But I just couldn’t do it—it’s not my way, and it never has been. For a fleeting moment, I felt defeated. But then, something in me shifted.

In this paragraph, the writer goes into greater depth about how her existing thinking brought her to this point.

I reminded myself that my view was valid and deserved to be heard. So I waited. I let my fellow council member speak her piece and when she was finished, I deliberately waited a few moments before calmly stating my case. I chose my words well, and I spoke them succinctly. Just because I’m not a big talker doesn’t mean I’m not a big thinker. I thought of the quotation “still waters run deep” and I tried to embody that. The effect on the room was palpable. People listened. And I hadn’t had to shout my point to be heard.

This paragraph demonstrates the turn in the story, the moment when everything changed. The use of the quotation “still waters run deep” imbues the story with a dash of poetry and emotion.

We eventually reached a compromise on the matter and concluded the student council meeting. Our council supervisor came to me afterward and said: “You handled that so well, with such grace and poise. I was very impressed.” Her words in that moment changed me. I realized that a bombastic nature isn't necessarily a powerful one. There is power in quiet, too. This experience taught me to view my reserved personality not as a character flaw, but as a strength.

The final paragraph, or conclusion, closes with a statement about the significance of this event and how it ended up changing the writer in a meaningful way.

Narrative essay writing tips

1. pick a meaningful story that has a conflict and a clear “moral.”.

If you’re able to choose your own topic, pick a story that has meaning and that reveals how you became the person your are today. In other words, write a narrative with a clear “moral” that you can connect with your main points.

2. Use an outline to arrange the structure of your story and organize your main points.

Although a narrative essay is different from argumentative essays, it’s still beneficial to construct an outline so that your story is well-structured and organized. Note how you want to start and end your story, and what points you want to make to tie everything together.

3. Be clear, concise, concrete, and correct in your writing.

You should use descriptive writing in your narrative essay, but don’t overdo it. Use clear, concise, and correct language and grammar throughout. Additionally, make concrete points that reinforce the main idea of your narrative.

4. Ask a friend or family member to proofread your essay.

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, you should always plan to proofread and revise. To ensure that your narrative essay is coherent and interesting, ask a friend or family member to read over your paper. This is especially important if your essay is responding to a prompt. It helps to have another person check to make sure that you’ve fully responded to the prompt or question.

Frequently Asked Questions about narrative essays

A narrative essay, like any essay, has three main parts: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Structuring and outlining your essay before you start writing will help you write a clear story that your readers can follow.

The first paragraph of your essay, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.”

The 4 main types of essays are the argumentative essay, narrative essay, exploratory essay, and expository essay. You may be asked to write different types of essays at different points in your education.

Most narrative essays will be around five paragraphs, or more, depending on the topic and requirements. Make sure to check in with your instructor about the guidelines for your essay. If you’re writing a narrative essay for a college application, pay close attention to word or page count requirements.

How to write a college essay

Make your life easier with our productivity and writing resources.

For students and teachers.

How to Write a Narrative Essay: The Only Guide You Need

In this article, you’ll learn how to write a narrative essay.

The meaningful strategies, unique templates, and specific tips from this ultimate guide help college students write high-quality narratives. After reading it, you’ll have all the instruments you need to craft engaging stories in your academic papers.

So, let’s get to work.

Narrative: The Basics

What is a narrative essay?

The above narrative essay definition comes from our professional essay writer with ten years of experience in storytelling. He’s also shared details about a narrative’s elements, which you’ll see below.


First, it’s critical to understand the difference between a story and a narrative. That’s when you might hit a snag:

A narrative isn’t a story itself, but how you present that story to readers. In plain English, it’s a particular format you use to build your text.

Story Components

Let’s say you describe events in chronological order; that’s one narrative. Then, you decide to shuffle the events to make your story non-chronological. That will be another narrative BUT the same story, even if it’s being told backwards.

That’s why we call our described essay “narrative”; it requires a particular way of telling a story. A student includes the storytelling elements in their essay but also follows the structure of an academic paper.

Remember that when choosing a topic and format for your assigned paper in school.

Narrative essay characteristics:

  • Non-fictional
  • Written in the 1st person (using “I” or “we”)
  • Informal tone
  • Presents events in chronological order
  • Informs, without arguing or teaching anything
  • Includes storytelling elements but follows the structure of a standard essay

For your essay to become a narrative, it needs five elements:

  • Characters: A protagonist (you) and supporting characters (friends, teachers, etc.) to drive your story
  • Setting: A location and time (when and where the story takes place)
  • Plot: A chain of events happening in the story
  • Conflict: A problem the protagonist (i.e., you) resolves
  • Theme: A moral of your story

In classical storytelling, the path a protagonist travels is known as the “hero’s journey”:

The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell

A hero gets a call to adventure, sets off on a journey, meets obstacles, deals with conflicts, and returns home with a reward (a learned lesson).

The creator of this concept was the mythologist Joseph Campbell. He described the hero’s journey in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Another work to check out if you want to learn storytelling tricks is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey . Vogler is a Disney screenwriter, so get ready to uncover the secrets behind the creation of your favorite movie and cartoon characters!

movie and cartoon characters

When writing a narrative essay, you’ll combine all of the above elements into a compelling writing piece. The structure all authors know as a “narrative arc” will help here.

Types: Personal Narrative Essay and Co.

When in college, you’ll deal with two types of narratives:

  • Personal narratives. Focus on your personality, experiences, emotions, and reflections.
  • Descriptive narratives. Focus on other characters and places, i.e., the story itself — you should avoid emotions or reflections here.
Personal narrative essay
Descriptive narrative essay

Personal narratives come in two forms: literacy and viewpoint .

  • Literacy narratives are about experiences (meeting a person, reading a book, etc.) and how they influenced your life. You can also try this when writing a college application essay.
  • Viewpoint narratives are about a character’s (your) inner world and reflections.

Descriptive narratives take two forms, too: historical and fictional .

  • As a student, you may need to write historicals about a specific period in your life, aka memoirs.
  • Fiction narratives are made-up stories in books or movies (sci-fi, thrillers, romance, etc.). They aren’t about narrative essays you write in class.

We know what you are thinking:

How to Write a Narrative Essay: 5 Steps

  • Choose a topic
  • Craft a structure
  • Create an outline
  • Write a draft
  • Proofread and edit

And now (finally!), to the most intriguing part:

How to Write a Narrative Essay

Below is your practical guide on how to write a narrative essay step by step.

1. Choose a topic

Sure, a teacher can prescribe a particular prompt for your paper. However, students often choose a narrative essay topic themselves. For your future story to succeed, ensure that your topic meets the following criteria:

  • It’s meaningful to you.
  • It resonates with your personality.
  • It’s thought-provoking and disturbing for society.
  • It relates to a specific moment or experience in your life.
  • It’s potentially interesting for your target audience. (Think of something that’s relevant to the course material you’ve been taught and that will be informative to those reading your paper.)

Below is the list of niches you could consider:

Narrative Essay Topics Niches to Choose From

Organize a brainstorming session to think about what to tell in your narrative ( 1 ). Try a freewriting technique to boost inspiration: Write down all the ideas that come to your mind and then choose one to share with the world. Answer the question: “What message would I like to communicate in my essay?”

Remember that your narrative essay is not only about entertaining the readers with your story. It’s also about conveying a moral (a lesson) to them.

Tip: Choose topics that sound echoic to your interests. Your ability to turn a topic into an informative and emotional story depends on how much it resonates with you.

Do you need to see several narrative essay topics to understand the principle of choosing one for your paper?

We’ve got some narrative essay ideas. They can also serve as topics for a personal narrative essay:

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas

2. Craft a structure

Remember how we discussed the storytelling elements your essay should have to become a narrative? ( See above .) Now, it’s time to combine them into a compelling writing piece.

Given that you’ll need to present story events in chronological order, a classic narrative arc can help here:

A Narrative Arc

image source: Oregon State University

  • Exposition: The introduction of your essay, aka your story’s setting
  • Rising action (journey and discovery): The first body paragraph, aka the trigger leading to conflict
  • Climax (crisis and confrontation): The second body paragraph describing the main event of your story, aka the conflict (you face the truth, you have to make a choice, etc.)
  • Falling action: The third paragraph, aka the conflict resolution (the result of the main event from the previous section)
  • Resolution: The conclusion, aka the theme or moral of your story

In plain English, a narrative arc is the sequence of the events in your story. Organize them beforehand to save time and ensure that you get all the required elements in your essay when writing a draft.

Below is a narrative essay structure you can use when planning your papers. As you can see, it includes all the storytelling elements yet follows the strict rules of academic writing.

Narrative Essay Structure

3. Create an outline

The structure looks spooky, huh?

Well, such is a narrative essay format. That’s why it would help if you crafted an outline before writing to make sure that every paragraph is in its proper place.

A narrative essay outline is a plan for your paper. There, you note down what you’ll include in each paragraph. Thus, you’ll get all the details and ensure that your story looks cohesive and compelling.

What to include in an outline? Keep reading to get a template and see an example.

4. Write a draft

Now, it’s time to write your narrative essay. Follow the outline and start crafting each paragraph step by step. Stick to the narrative arc, but remember that you are writing an academic paper, not a fictional story.

Operate within the structure of a standard college essay. Organize your narrative like this:

  • Introduction: A paragraph with a hook, a story’s background, and a thesis
  • Body: Three or four paragraphs where you’ll describe the events, climax (conflict), and resolution
  • Conclusion: A final paragraph with your thesis restatement, the moral of your story (reflection), and a call to action for the reader

5. Proofread and edit

Please don’t rush to submit your draft for the teacher’s review once it’s ready. First, reread it several times to ensure that:

  • It has a logical structure and all the necessary narrative elements.
  • You’ve formatted it according to the rules of academic writing.
  • It’s free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.

Tip: Edit your essay the day after you’ve written it. It will help you see it with “fresh eyes” and notice tiny errors you’d miss if you read it when tired.

Narrative Essay Outline: Template and Example

Of all the strategies and tips on how to write a narrative essay, its outline’s creation remains the most essential to know:

Craft a detailed plan for your narrative before writing — and you’ll see if your story is cohesive, complete, and compelling. Outlining allows you to evaluate the clarity of your topic, statements, and storyline, re-organizing and reinforcing them with supporting details if necessary.

Below is a narrative essay outline template for you to consider. Once you make notes on each point, it will be easier (and faster!) for you to write your essay.

Narrative Essay Outline

Let’s clarify every point:

What’s in the introduction?

  • Hook. It’s an attention-grabber to encourage the audience to read your story. Think of a wowing fact, an intriguing question, or a thought-provoking statement.
  • Background. Here is a brief context (setting) for your story.
  • Thesis. It’s a claim with your story’s main point.

Now that you know how to write a narrative essay introduction, we move on.

What’s in the body?

  • Event(s). The initial situation. What happened?
  • Turning point. The moment you realized the situation was significant and noticed the shift in your perspective.
  • Climax. The peak of your story, i.e., the most transformative part of your described experience.
  • Resolution. Your response to the climax. How did you resolve the situation, and what was the immediate aftermath?

What’s in the conclusion?

  • Thesis restatement. Summarize the claim you made in the introduction. How does your story support it? What lessons did you learn?
  • Moral. Reflect on those lessons, offering the insights gained. Why should readers care?
  • Final words. It’s your message for the audience: a call to action, some food for thought, etc.

Here’s an example of a narrative outline to help you understand what to write there. (We bet you’ll guess the story we used for it!)

The moment that changed my life forever

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

Personal essays are about your experiences and emotions. You are the hero here, so structure and outline your story accordingly. Also, don’t hesitate to add other characters and dialogues to your essay. They’ll help readers understand your motivations and deeds better.

That’s how to write a personal narrative essay:

  • Write it in the 1st person.
  • Follow the format: Ensure that you include all the storytelling elements.
  • Don’t tell but show: Use descriptive language that helps readers “see” your story.
  • Ensure that your essay has a conflict.
  • Describe everything in chronological order.
  • Specify the moral: What do you want to say? What did you learn from the story that happened to you?
  • Write about real-life events and experiences. Narrative essays aren’t fictional stories.

How to Write a Good Narrative Essay

Now, this is important:

How to start a narrative essay?

Start it with a compelling essay hook to impress readers and grab their attention:

  • Ask a provocative question.
  • Write an intriguing yet relevant quote.
  • Think of some engaging statement to evoke curiosity.

Get inspired by the opening lines of your favorite books. Here are several examples:

5 Opening Lines from Popular Books Worth Reading

How to write a good narrative essay:

  • Say no to slang and formal language.
  • Choose descriptive and sensory words to evoke emotions.
  • Add details: Tell about what you saw and heard, how it smelled, what you felt, etc.
  • Use active voice to describe actions.
  • Add dialogues if appropriate.
  • Don’t write in the 2nd person (“you”).
  • Follow the narrative arc but put it in the standard essay structure.

Final Tips on How to Write a Narrative Essay

To those craving more strategies and insights on how to write a narrative essay, keep reading:

Below are some extra tips for you on how to write a narrative essay.

Five Extra Tips on How to Write a Narrative Essay

  • Write about a specific moment or experience. Don’t describe every tiny movement of your character; focus on those moving the plot forward.
  • Avoid redundant -ly adverbs like “very,” “really,” “truly,” etc. Think of solid verbs instead; use a thesaurus for more attractive words in your narrative.
  • If you are stuck on choosing a topic, try books or check other writing prompts for inspiration.
  • Try experimenting with perspectives. For example, you can describe the event from a supporting character’s view. (Write it in the 3rd person, if so.)
  • When writing a personal narrative essay, it’s okay to make it less formal than a standard academic paper. You can skip formatting it in MLA, APA, or another citation style. Be creative.

Still Need Help With Your Essay?

Now that you know how to write a narrative essay, it’s time to practice:

  • Choose a meaningful topic that resonates with your personality.
  • Write an outline, placing all the narrative elements according to the rules of academic writing.
  • Tell your story, and remember to edit it for better clarity before sharing it with the audience.

Still looking for ‘ write my essay ‘ helpers in Google? Your search is over: Our experts are ready to assist with every pitfall you may have on your way to flawless essay writing. Just ask.

Photo by Timothy L Brock from Unsplash

AI tools

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

What our customers say

Our website uses secure cookies. More details

Get professional help from best writers right from your phone


Grab our 3 e-books bundle for $27 FREE

Have a language expert improve your writing

Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • College essay
  • College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn’t

College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't

Published on November 8, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on August 14, 2023.

One effective method for improving your college essay is to read example essays . Here are three sample essays, each with a bad and good version to help you improve your own essay.

Table of contents

Essay 1: sharing an identity or background through a montage, essay 2: overcoming a challenge, a sports injury narrative, essay 3: showing the influence of an important person or thing, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student’s identity and background. The writer builds her essay around the theme of the five senses, sharing memories she associates with sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

In the weak rough draft, there is little connection between the individual anecdotes, and they do not robustly demonstrate the student’s qualities.

In the final version, the student uses an extended metaphor of a museum to create a strong connection among her stories, each showcasing a different part of her identity. She draws a specific personal insight from each memory and uses the stories to demonstrate her qualities and values.

How My Five Senses Record My Life

Throughout my life, I have kept a record of my life’s journey with my five senses. This collection of memories matters a great deal because I experience life every day through the lens of my identity.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

My classmate pulls one eye up and the other down.

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention to my discomfort, anger, and shame. How could he say such a mean thing about me? What did I do to him? Joseph’s words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Soaking in overflowing bubble baths with Andrew Lloyd Webber belting from the boombox.

Listening to “Cell Block Tango” with my grandparents while eating filet mignon at a dine-in show in Ashland.

Singing “The Worst Pies in London” at a Korean karaoke club while laughing hysterically with my brother, who can do an eerily spot-on rendition of Sweeney Todd.

Taking car rides with Mom in the Toyota Sequoia as we compete to hit the high note in “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera . Neither of us stands a chance!

The sweet scent of vegetables, Chinese noodles, and sushi wafts through the room as we sit around the table. My grandma presents a good-smelling mixture of international cuisine for our Thanksgiving feast. My favorite is the Chinese food that she cooks. Only the family prayer stands between me and the chance to indulge in these delicious morsels, comforting me with their familiar savory scents.

I rinse a faded plastic plate decorated by my younger sister at the Waterworks Art Center. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. I actually don’t mind this daily chore.

I taste sweat on my upper lip as I fight to continue pedaling on a stationary bike. Ava’s next to me and tells me to go up a level. We’re biking buddies, dieting buddies, and Saturday morning carbo-load buddies. After the bike display hits 30 minutes, we do a five-minute cool down, drink Gatorade, and put our legs up to rest.

My five senses are always gathering new memories of my identity. I’m excited to expand my collection.

Word count: 455

College essay checklist

Topic and structure

  • I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • My essay reveals something different from the rest of my application.
  • I have a clear and well-structured narrative.
  • I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

Writing style and tone

  • 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 tells.
  • I’ve used appropriate style and tone for a college essay.
  • I’ve used specific, vivid personal stories that would be hard to replicate.
  • I’ve demonstrated my positive traits and values in my essay.
  • My essay is focused on me, not another person or thing.
  • I’ve included self-reflection and insight in my essay.
  • I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Making Sense of My Identity

Welcome to The Rose Arimoto Museum. You are about to enter the “Making Sense of My Identity” collection. Allow me to guide you through select exhibits, carefully curated memories from Rose’s sensory experiences.

First, the Sight Exhibit.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention as my lip trembles and palms sweat. Joseph couldn’t have known how his words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Ten years later, these same eyes now fixate on an InDesign layout sheet, searching for grammar errors while my friend Selena proofreads our feature piece on racial discrimination in our hometown. As we’re the school newspaper editors, our journalism teacher Ms. Riley allows us to stay until midnight to meet tomorrow’s deadline. She commends our work ethic, which for me is fueled by writing一my new weapon of choice.

Next, you’ll encounter the Sound Exhibit.

Still, the world is my Broadway as I find my voice on stage.

Just below, enter the Smell Exhibit.

While I help my Pau Pau prepare dinner, she divulges her recipe for cha siu bau, with its soft, pillowy white exterior hiding the fragrant filling of braised barbecue pork inside. The sweet scent of candied yams, fun see , and Spam musubi wafts through the room as we gather around our Thankgsiving feast. After our family prayer, we indulge in these delicious morsels until our bellies say stop. These savory scents of my family’s cultural heritage linger long after I’ve finished the last bite.

Next up, the Touch Exhibit.

I rinse a handmade mug that I had painstakingly molded and painted in ceramics class. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. For a few fleeting moments, as I continue my nightly chore, the pressure of my weekend job, tomorrow’s calculus exam, and next week’s track meet are washed away.

Finally, we end with the Taste Exhibit.

My legs fight to keep pace with the stationary bike as the salty taste of sweat seeps into corners of my mouth. Ava challenges me to take it up a level. We always train together一even keeping each other accountable on our strict protein diet of chicken breasts, broccoli, and Muscle Milk. We occasionally splurge on Saturday mornings after interval training, relishing the decadence of everything bagels smeared with raspberry walnut cream cheese. But this is Wednesday, so I push myself. I know that once the digital display hits 30:00, we’ll allow our legs to relax into a five-minute cool down, followed by the fiery tang of Fruit Punch Gatorade to rehydrate.

Thank you for your attention. This completes our tour. I invite you to rejoin us for next fall’s College Experience collection, which will exhibit Rose’s continual search for identity and learning.

Word count: 649

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

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay uses a narrative structure to recount how a student overcame a challenge, specifically a sports injury. Since this topic is often overused, the essay requires vivid description, a memorable introduction and conclusion , and interesting insight.

The weak rough draft contains an interesting narrative, insight, and vivid imagery, but it has an overly formal tone that distracts the reader from the story. The student’s use of elaborate vocabulary in every sentence makes the essay sound inauthentic and stilted.

The final essay uses a more natural, conversational tone and chooses words that are vivid and specific without being pretentious. This allows the reader to focus on the narrative and appreciate the student’s unique insight.

One fateful evening some months ago, a defensive linebacker mauled me, his 212 pounds indisputably alighting upon my ankle. Ergo, an abhorrent cracking of calcified tissue. At first light the next day, I awoke cognizant of a new paradigm—one sans football—promulgated by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

It’s been an exceedingly taxing semester not being able to engage in football, but I am nonetheless excelling in school. That twist of fate never would have come to pass if I hadn’t broken my ankle. I still limp down the halls at school, but I’m feeling less maudlin these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, emboldened by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

Five months ago, right after my ill-fated injury, my friends’ demeanor became icy and remote, although I couldn’t fathom why. My teachers, in contrast, beckoned me close and invited me on a new learning journey. But despite their indubitably kind advances, even they recoiled when I drew near.

A few weeks later, I started to change my attitude vis-à-vis my newfound situation and determined to put my energy toward productive ends (i.e., homework). I wasn’t enamored with school. I never had been. Nevertheless, I didn’t abhor it either. I just preferred football.

My true turn of fate came when I started studying more and participating in class. I started to enjoy history class, and I grew interested in reading more. I discovered a volume of poems written by a fellow adventurer on the road of life, and I loved it. I ravenously devoured everything in the writer’s oeuvre .

As the weeks flitted past, I found myself spending my time with a group of people who were quite different from me. They participated in theater and played instruments in marching band. They raised their hands in class when the teacher posed a question. Because of their auspicious influence, I started raising my hand too. I am no longer vapid, and I now have something to say.

I am certain that your school would benefit from my miraculous academic transformation, and I entreat you to consider my application to your fine institution. Accepting me to your university would be an unequivocally righteous decision.

Word count: 408

  • I’ve chosen a college essay topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • I’ve respected the essay word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

As I step out of bed, the pain shoots through my foot and up my leg like it has every morning since “the game.” That night, a defensive linebacker tackled me, his 212 pounds landing decidedly on my ankle. I heard the sound before I felt it. The next morning, I awoke to a new reality—one without football—announced by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

My broken ankle broke my spirit.

My friends steered clear of me as I hobbled down the halls at school. My teachers tried to find the delicate balance between giving me space and offering me help. I was as unsure how to deal with myself as they were.

In time, I figured out how to redirect some of my frustration, anger, and pent-up energy toward my studies. I had never not liked school, but I had never really liked it either. In my mind, football practice was my real-life classroom, where I could learn all I ever needed to know.

Then there was that day in Mrs. Brady’s history class. We sang a ridiculous-sounding mnemonic song to memorize all the Chinese dynasties from Shang to Qing. I mumbled the words at first, but I got caught up in the middle of the laughter and began singing along. Starting that day, I began browsing YouTube videos about history, curious to learn more. I had started learning something new, and, to my surprise, I liked it.

With my afternoons free from burpees and scrimmages, I dared to crack open a few more of my books to see what was in them. That’s when my English poetry book, Paint Me Like I Am , caught my attention. It was full of poems written by students my age from WritersCorps. I couldn’t get enough.

I wasn’t the only one who was taken with the poems. Previously, I’d only been vaguely aware of Christina as one of the weird kids I avoided. Crammed in the margins of her high-top Chuck Taylors were scribbled lines of her own poetry and infinite doodles. Beyond her punk rock persona was a sensitive artist, puppy-lover, and environmental activist that a wide receiver like me would have never noticed before.

With Christina, I started making friends with people who once would have been invisible to me: drama geeks, teachers’ pets, band nerds. Most were college bound but not to play a sport. They were smart and talented, and they cared about people and politics and all sorts of issues that I hadn’t considered before. Strangely, they also seemed to care about me.

I still limp down the halls at school, but I don’t seem to mind as much these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, excited by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

My broken ankle broke my spirit. Then, it broke my ignorance.

Word count: 512

This essay uses a narrative structure to show how a pet positively influenced the student’s values and character.

In the weak draft, the student doesn’t focus on himself, instead delving into too much detail about his dog’s positive traits and his grandma’s illness. The essay’s structure is meandering, with tangents and details that don’t communicate any specific insight.

In the improved version, the student keeps the focus on himself, not his pet. He chooses the most relevant stories to demonstrate specific qualities, and the structure more clearly builds up to an insightful conclusion.

Man’s Best Friend

I desperately wanted a cat. I begged my parents for one, but once again, my sisters overruled me, so we drove up the Thompson Valley Canyon from Loveland to Estes Park to meet our newest family member. My sisters had already hatched their master plan, complete with a Finding Nemo blanket to entice the pups. The blanket was a hit with all of them, except for one—the one who walked over and sat in my lap. That was the day that Francisco became a Villanova.

Maybe I should say he was mine because I got stuck with all the chores. As expected, my dog-loving sisters were nowhere to be found! My mom was “extra” with all the doggy gear. Cisco even had to wear these silly little puppy shoes outside so that when he came back in, he wouldn’t get the carpets dirty. If it was raining, my mother insisted I dress Cisco in a ridiculous yellow raincoat, but, in my opinion, it was an unnecessary source of humiliation for poor Cisco. It didn’t take long for Cisco to decide that his outerwear could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I took off one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his ensemble more when we had to walk through snowdrifts to get his job done.

When my abuela was dying from cancer, we went in the middle of the night to see her before she passed. I was sad and scared. But, my dad let me take Cisco in the car, so Cisco cuddled with me and made me feel much better. It’s like he could read my mind. Once we arrived at the hospital, the fluorescent lighting made the entire scene seem unreal, as if I was watching the scene unfold through someone else’s eyes. My grandma lay calmly on her bed, smiling at us even through her last moments of pain. I disliked seeing the tubes and machines hooked up to her. It was unnatural to see her like this一it was so unlike the way I usually saw her beautiful in her flowery dress, whistling a Billie Holiday tune and baking snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained at the foot of the bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that seemed more effective at communicating comfort and compassion than the rest of us who attempted to offer up words of comfort that just seemed hollow and insincere. It was then that I truly appreciated Cisco’s empathy for others.

As I accompanied my dad to pick up our dry cleaner’s from Ms. Chapman, a family friend asked, “How’s Cisco?” before even asking about my sisters or me. Cisco is the Villanova family mascot, a Goldendoodle better recognized by strangers throughout Loveland than the individual members of my family.

On our summer trip to Boyd Lake State Park, we stayed at the Cottonwood campground for a breathtaking view of the lake. Cisco was allowed to come, but we had to keep him on a leash at all times. After a satisfying meal of fish, our entire family walked along the beach. Cisco and I led the way while my mom and sisters shuffled behind. Cisco always stopped and refused to move, looking back to make sure the others were still following. Once satisfied that everyone was together, he would turn back around and continue prancing with his golden boy curly locks waving in the chilly wind.

On the beach, Cisco “accidentally” got let off his leash and went running maniacally around the sand, unfettered and free. His pure joy as he raced through the sand made me forget about my AP Chem exam or my student council responsibilities. He brings a smile not only to my family members but everyone around him.

Cisco won’t live forever, but without words, he has impressed upon me life lessons of responsibility, compassion, loyalty, and joy. I can’t imagine life without him.

Word count: 701

I quickly figured out that as “the chosen one,” I had been enlisted by Cisco to oversee all aspects of his “business.” I learned to put on Cisco’s doggie shoes to keep the carpet clean before taking him out一no matter the weather. Soon after, Cisco decided that his shoes could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I removed one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his footwear more after I’d gear him up and we’d tread through the snow for his daily walks.

One morning, it was 7:15 a.m., and Alejandro was late again to pick me up. “Cisco, you don’t think he overslept again, do you?” Cisco barked, as if saying, “Of course he did!” A text message would never do, so I called his dad, even if it was going to get him in trouble. There was no use in both of us getting another tardy during our first-period class, especially since I was ready on time after taking Cisco for his morning outing. Alejandro was mad at me but not too much. He knew I had helped him out, even if he had to endure his dad’s lecture on punctuality.

Another early morning, I heard my sister yell, “Mom! Where are my good ballet flats? I can’t find them anywhere!” I hesitated and then confessed, “I moved them.” She shrieked at me in disbelief, but I continued, “I put them in your closet, so Cisco wouldn’t chew them up.” More disbelief. However, this time, there was silence instead of shrieking.

Last spring, Cisco and I were fast asleep when the phone rang at midnight. Abuela would not make it through the night after a long year of chemo, but she was in Pueblo, almost three hours away. Sitting next to me for that long car ride on I-25 in pitch-black darkness, Cisco knew exactly what I needed and snuggled right next to me as I petted his coat in a rhythm while tears streamed down my face. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained sitting at the foot of the hospital bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that communicated more comfort than our hollow words. Since then, whenever I sense someone is upset, I sit in silence with them or listen to their words, just like Cisco did.

The other day, one of my friends told me, “You’re a strange one, Josue. You’re not like everybody else but in a good way.” I didn’t know what he meant at first. “You know, you’re super responsible and grown-up. You look out for us instead of yourself. Nobody else does that.” I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t trying to do anything different. I was just being me. But then I realized who had taught me: a fluffy little puppy who I had wished was a cat! I didn’t choose Cisco, but he certainly chose me and, unexpectedly, became my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Word count: 617

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

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

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Courault, K. (2023, August 14). College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't. Scribbr. Retrieved July 10, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/college-essay-examples/

Is this article helpful?

Kirsten Courault

Kirsten Courault

Other students also liked, choosing your college essay topic | ideas & examples, how to make your college essay stand out | tips & examples, how to revise your college admissions essay | examples, get unlimited documents corrected.

✔ Free APA citation check included ✔ Unlimited document corrections ✔ Specialized in correcting academic texts

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Get science-backed answers as you write with Paperpal's Research feature

What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

Narrative essays are a type of storytelling in which writers weave a personal experience into words to create a fascinating and engaging narrative for readers. A narrative essay explains a story from the author’s point of view to share a lesson or memory with the reader. Narrative essays, like descriptive essays , employ figurative language to depict the subject in a vivid and creative manner to leave a lasting impact on the readers’ minds. In this article, we explore the definition of narrative essays, list the key elements to be included, and provide tips on how to craft a narrative that captivates your audience.

Table of Contents

What is a narrative essay, choosing narrative essay topics, key elements in a narrative essay, creating a narrative essay outline, types of narrative essays, the pre-writing stage, the writing stage, the editing stage, narrative essay example, frequently asked questions.

Narrative essays are often based on one’s personal experience which allows the author to express himself/herself in compelling ways for the reader. They employ storytelling elements to convey the plot and captivate the reader while disclosing the story’s theme or purpose. The author must always have a purpose or theme in mind when writing a narrative essay. These essays may be assigned to high school students to assess their ability to create captivating stories based on personal experiences, or they may be required as part of a college application to assess the applicant’s personal traits. Narrative essays might be based on true events with minor tweaks for dramatic purposes, or they can be adapted from a fictional scenario. Whatever the case maybe, the goal is to tell a story, a good story!

In narrative essays, the emphasis is not so much on the narrative itself as it is on how you explain it. Narrative essay topics cover a range of experiences, from noteworthy to mundane, but when storytelling elements are used well, even a simple account can have weight. Notably, the skills required for narrative writing differ significantly from those needed for formal academic essays, and we will delve deeper into this in the next section.

You can talk about any narrative, but consider whether it is fascinating enough, has enough twists and turns, or teaches a lesson (It’s a plus if the story contains an unexpected twist at the end). The potential topics for a narrative essay are limitless—a triumphant story, a brief moment of introspection, or a voyage of self-discovery. These essays provide writers with the opportunity to share a fragment of their lives with the audience, enriching both the writer’s and the reader’s experiences. Narrative essay examples could be a write-up on “What has been your biggest achievement in life so far and what did it teach you?” or “Describe your toughest experience and how you dealt with it?”.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

While narrative essays allow you to be creative with your ideas, language, and format, they must include some key components to convey the story clearly, create engaging content and build reader interest. Follow these guidelines when drafting your essay:   

  • Tell your story using the first person to engage users.
  • Use sufficient sensory information and figurative language.
  • Follow an organized framework so the story flows chronologically.
  • Include interesting plot components that add to the narrative.
  • Ensure clear language without grammar, spelling, or word choice errors.

Narrative essay outlines serve as the foundational structure for essay composition, acting as a framework to organize thoughts and ideas prior to the writing process. These outlines provide writers with a means to summarize the story, and help in formulating the introduction and conclusion sections and defining the narrative’s trajectory.

Unlike conventional essays that strictly adhere to the five-paragraph structure, narrative essays allow for more flexibility as the organization is dictated by the flow of the story. The outline typically encompasses general details about the events, granting writers the option to prioritize writing the body sections first while deferring the introduction until later stages of the writing process. This approach allows for a more organic and fluid writing process. If you’re wondering how to start writing a narrative essay outline, here is a sample designed to ensure a compelling and coherent narrative:


  • Hook/Opening line: The introduction should have an opening/hook sentence that is a captivating quote, question, or anecdote that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Background: Briefly introduce the setting, time, tone, and main characters.
  • Thesis statement: State clearly the main theme or lesson acquired from the experience.
  • Event 1 (according to occurrence): Describe the first major event in detail. Introduce the primary characters and set the story context; include sensory elements to enrich the narrative and give the characters depth and enthusiasm.
  • Event 2: Ensure a smooth transition from one event to the next. Continue with the second event in the narrative. For more oomph, use suspense or excitement, or leave the plot with cliffhanger endings. Concentrate on developing your characters and their relationships, using dialog to bring the story to life.
  • Event 3: If there was a twist and suspense, this episode should introduce the climax or resolve the story. Keep the narrative flowing by connecting events logically and conveying the feelings and reactions of the characters.
  • Summarize the plot: Provide a concise recap of the main events within the narrative essay. Highlight the key moments that contribute to the development of the storyline. Offer personal reflections on the significance of the experiences shared, emphasizing the lasting impact they had on the narrator. End the story with a clincher; a powerful and thought-provoking sentence that encapsulates the essence of the narrative. As a bonus, aim to leave the reader with a memorable statement or quote that enhances the overall impact of the narrative. This should linger in the reader’s mind, providing a satisfying and resonant conclusion to the essay.

There are several types of narrative essays, each with their own unique traits. Some narrative essay examples are presented in the table below.

 Narrative essay typeFeatures
1.PersonalBased on personal experience, insight, reflection, and emotion
2.AutobiographicalCovers life events, full length
3.DescriptiveEmphasizes detailed description for reader immersion
4.ExperientialBased on a specific experience, involving emotional responses
5.HistoricalFocuses on historical events, non-fictional, facts stated using figurative language
6.BiographicalExplores an individual’s life, personality, achievements, and challenges
7.TravelChronicles experiences and thoughtful observations during a journey
8.LiteraryAnalyzes or interprets literature, includes a narrative element

How to write a narrative essay: Step-by-step guide

A narrative essay might be inspired by personal experiences, stories, or even imaginary scenarios that resonate with readers, immersing them in the imaginative world you have created with your words. Here’s an easy step-by-step guide on how to write a narrative essay.

  • Select the topic of your narrative

If no prompt is provided, the first step is to choose a topic to write about. Think about personal experiences that could be given an interesting twist. Readers are more likely to like a tale if it contains aspects of humor, surprising twists, and an out-of-the-box climax. Try to plan out such subjects and consider whether you have enough information on the topic and whether it meets the criteria of being funny/inspiring, with nice characters/plot lines, and an exciting climax. Also consider the tone as well as any stylistic features (such as metaphors or foreshadowing) to be used. While these stylistic choices can be changed later, sketching these ideas early on helps you give your essay a direction to start.

  • Create a framework for your essay

Once you have decided on your topic, create an outline for your narrative essay. An outline is a framework that guides your ideas while you write your narrative essay to keep you on track. It can help with smooth transitions between sections when you are stuck and don’t know how to continue the story. It provides you with an anchor to attach and return to, reminding you of why you started in the first place and why the story matters.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

  • Compile your first draft

A perfect story and outline do not work until you start writing the draft and breathe life into it with your words. Use your newly constructed outline to sketch out distinct sections of your narrative essay while applying numerous linguistic methods at your disposal. Unlike academic essays, narrative essays allow artistic freedom and leeway for originality so don’t stop yourself from expressing your thoughts. However, take care not to overuse linguistic devices, it’s best to maintain a healthy balance to ensure readability and flow.

  • Use a first-person point of view

One of the most appealing aspects of narrative essays is that traditional academic writing rules do not apply, and the narration is usually done in the first person. You can use first person pronouns such as I and me while narrating different scenarios. Be wary of overly using these as they can suggest lack of proper diction.

  • Use storytelling or creative language

You can employ storytelling tactics and linguistic tools used in fiction or creative writing, such as metaphors, similes, and foreshadowing, to communicate various themes. The use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense is encouraged in narrative essays.

  • Follow a format to stay organized

There’s no fixed format for narrative essays, but following a loose format when writing helps in organizing one’s thoughts. For example, in the introduction part, underline the importance of creating a narrative essay, and then reaffirm it in the concluding paragraph. Organize your story chronologically so that the reader can follow along and make sense of the story.

  • Reread, revise, and edit

Proofreading and editing are critical components of creating a narrative essay, but it can be easy to become weighed down by the details at this stage. Taking a break from your manuscript before diving into the editing process is a wise practice. Stepping away for a day or two, or even just a few hours, provides valuable time to enhance the plot and address any grammatical issues that may need correction. This period of distance allows for a fresh perspective, enabling you to approach the editing phase with renewed clarity and a more discerning eye.

One suggestion is to reconsider the goals you set out to cover when you started the topic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a distinct beginning and end to your story?
  • Does your essay have a topic, a memory, or a lesson to teach?
  • Does the tone of the essay match the intended mood?

Now, while keeping these things in mind, modify and proofread your essay. You can use online grammar checkers and paraphrase tools such as Paperpal to smooth out any rough spots before submitting it for publication or submission.

It is recommended to edit your essay in the order it was written; here are some useful tips:

  • Revise the introduction

After crafting your narrative essay, review the introduction to ensure it harmonizes with the developed narrative. Confirm that it adeptly introduces the story and aligns seamlessly with the conclusion.

  • Revise the conclusion and polish the essay

The conclusion should be the final element edited to ensure coherence and harmony in the entire narrative. It must reinforce the central theme or lesson outlined initially.

  • Revise and refine the entire article

The last step involves refining the article for consistent tone, style, and tense as well as correct language, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Seeking feedback from a mentor or colleague can offer an invaluable external perspective at this stage.

Narrative essays are true accounts of the writer’s personal experiences, conveyed in figurative language for sensory appeal. Some narrative essay topic examples include writing about an unforgettable experience, reflecting on mistakes, or achieving a goal. An example of a personal narrative essay is as follows:

Title: A Feline Odyssey: An Experience of Fostering Stray Kittens


It was a fine summer evening in the year 2022 when a soft meowing disrupted the tranquility of my terrace. Little did I know that this innocent symphony would lead to a heartwarming journey of compassion and companionship. Soon, there was a mama cat at my doorstep with four little kittens tucked behind her. They were the most unexpected visitors I had ever had.

The kittens, just fluffs of fur with barely open eyes, were a monument to life’s fragility. Their mother, a street-smart feline, had entrusted me with the care of her precious offspring. The responsibility was sudden and unexpected, yet there was an undeniable sense of purpose in the air , filling me with delight and enthusiasm.

As the days unfolded, my terrace transformed into a haven for the feline family. Cardboard boxes became makeshift cat shelters and my once solitary retreat was filled with purrs and soothing meows. The mother cat, Lily, who initially observ ed me from a safe distance, gradually began to trust my presence as I offered food and gentle strokes.

Fostering the kittens was a life-changing , enriching experience that taught me the true joy of giving as I cared for the felines. My problems slowly faded into the background as evenings were spent playing with the kittens. Sleepless nights turned into a symphony of contented purring, a lullaby filled with the warmth of trust and security . Although the kittens were identical, they grew up to have very distinct personalities, with Kuttu being the most curious and Bobo being the most coy . Every dawn ushered in a soothing ritual of nourishing these feline companions, while nights welcomed their playful antics — a daily nocturnal delight.


As the kittens grew, so did the realization that our paths were destined to part. Finally, the day arrived when the feline family, now confident and self-reliant, bid farewell to my terrace. It was a bittersweet moment, filled with a sense of love and accomplishment and a tinge of sadness.

Fostering Kuttu, Coco, Lulu, and Bobo became one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Their arrival had brought unexpected joy, teaching me about compassion and our species’ ability to make a difference in the world through love and understanding. The terrace, once a quiet retreat, now bore the echoes of a feline symphony that had touched my heart in ways I could have never imagined.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

The length of a narrative essay may vary, but it is typically a brief to moderate length piece. Generally, the essay contains an introductory paragraph, two to three body paragraphs (this number can vary), and a conclusion. The entire narrative essay could be as short as five paragraphs or much longer, depending on the assignment’s requirements or the writer’s preference.

You can write a narrative essay when you have a personal experience to share, or a story, or a series of events that you can tell in a creative and engaging way. Narrative essays are often assigned in academic settings as a form of writing that allows students to express themselves and showcase their storytelling skills. However, you can also write a narrative essay for personal reflection, entertainment, or to communicate a message.

A narrative essay usually follows a three-part structure: – Introduction (To set the stage for the story) – Body paragraphs (To describe sequence of events with details, descriptions, and dialogue) – Conclusion (To summarize the story and reflect on the significance)

Paperpal is an AI academic writing assistant that helps authors write better and faster with real-time writing suggestions and in-depth checks for language and grammar correction. Trained on millions of published scholarly articles and 20+ years of STM experience, Paperpal delivers human precision at machine speed.    

Try it for free or upgrade to  Paperpal Prime , which unlocks unlimited access to Paperpal Copilot and premium features like academic translation, paraphrasing, contextual synonyms, consistency checks, submission readiness and more. It’s like always having a professional academic editor by your side! Go beyond limitations and experience the future of academic writing.  Get Paperpal Prime now at just US$19 a month!  

Related Reads:

Webinar: how to use generative ai tools ethically in your academic writing.

  • 7 Ways to Improve Your Academic Writing Process
  • Chemistry Terms: 7 Commonly Confused Words in Chemistry Manuscripts
  • Empirical Research: A Comprehensive Guide for Academics 

What is a Descriptive Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

You may also like, maintaining academic integrity with paperpal’s generative ai writing..., research funding basics: what should a grant proposal..., how to write an abstract in research papers..., how to write dissertation acknowledgements, how to structure an essay, leveraging generative ai to enhance student understanding of..., how to write a good hook for essays,..., addressing peer review feedback and mastering manuscript revisions..., how paperpal can boost comprehension and foster interdisciplinary..., what is the importance of a concept paper....

does my college essay have to be a narrative

How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Narrative essays combine personal storytelling with academic reflection. Unlike other essay types, they are not bound by strict requirements or the need for a bibliography. To write a narrative essay successfully, you’ll need to follow these steps: 

Step 1: Pick a personal experience to share.

Step 2: Organize your story's main points.

Step 3: Start narrating your story with vivid details.

Step 4: Improve the flow and clarity.

Step 5: Check for grammar and spelling errors.

A narrative is a story told verbally or in writing. The story's purpose is shown through its events and details. In the following sections, our custom term paper writing will explore various aspects of this type of writing, from choosing a topic to structuring your essay effectively.

What Is a Narrative Essay

Narrative essay , as the name suggests, is characterized by the presence of a narrative. Unlike argumentative essays, which present and defend a position, or analytical essays, which dissect another text, narrative essays tell a coherent story. Their goal is to convey a point or impart a lesson through personal experiences. These essays are frequently assigned in high school and for college admissions.

Where to Use Narrative Essays

A narrative essay serves the purpose of sharing personal experiences and insights. It helps the writer connect with readers on an emotional level and illustrate a point through storytelling. Here are a few occasions where writing a narrative essay is commonly used:

  • College Applications : To showcase personal growth and experiences, giving admission officers a glimpse into the applicant's character and background.
  • Class Assignments : To develop writing skills and reflect on personal events, helping students learn how to express their thoughts and emotions effectively.
  • Personal Blogs : To share life stories and engage with readers, building a personal connection and fostering a sense of community.
  • Scholarship Essays : To highlight personal achievements and challenges, demonstrating resilience and dedication to potential sponsors.

Professional Development : To reflect on career experiences and lessons learned, providing insights that can be valuable for personal growth and future endeavors.

5 Steps to Writing a Narrative Essay

Writing a narrative essay can be a rewarding experience as it allows you to share your personal story and insights. Crafting engaging and well-structured ideas for a narrative essay is essential for capturing your reader's attention. To help you learn how to start a narrative essay effectively, follow these five simple steps.

How to Write a Narrative Essay in 5 Steps

Step 1: Brainstorm Narrative Essay Topics

The first step is brainstorming narrative writing topics. Begin by thinking about personal experiences that have made a significant impact on you. Consider moments of growth, challenge, joy, or change. These experiences can provide a rich foundation for your narrative.

How to Research Narrative Essay Topics:

  • Reflect on Personal Experiences : Think about significant moments in your life. What stories do you often share with friends and family? These can be great starting points.
  • Read Other Narrative Essays : Look at examples of narrative essays online or in books. This can give you ideas for structure and themes.
  • Journaling : Write about your daily experiences and feelings. 
  • Ask for Feedback : Talk to friends, family, or teachers about your ideas. They might provide a fresh perspective or remind you of stories you’ve forgotten.
  • Consider Your Audience : Think about what stories would resonate with your readers. Choose topics that are engaging and relatable.

10 Narrative Essay Topics:

  • Describe a situation where your plans went awry but ended positively.
  • Focus on a dish you've cooked or baked. Share the recipe's story, emotional impact, and significance.
  • Reflect on a teacher who profoundly influenced your learning experience.
  • Describe an encounter with nature's beauty or strength and its impact on your worldview.
  • Recall a time you faced and conquered a significant fear, showing personal growth.
  • Reflect on an interaction with someone from a different cultural background, exploring lessons learned and challenges faced.
  • Explore the memories of a cherished item. How did you acquire it, and what significant events are tied to it?
  • Write about a passionate endeavor where failure led to personal growth and resilience.
  • Share a song or musical experience that deeply resonated with you and its significance in your life.
  • Reflect on losing something valuable and what it taught you about perseverance and resilience.

For more ideas, check out the Narrative Essay Topic list.

Step 2: Make a Narrative Essay Outline

Once you've chosen your topic, start by outlining your narrative essay. For instance, if you're writing about a memorable trip, begin with a scene-setting paragraph. Then, describe key experiences and interactions in subsequent paragraphs. Conclude by reflecting on how the trip affected you. In your conclusion, summarize the main events and their significance to effectively wrap up your story. For a more systematic approach, make sure to check out how to write an essay conclusion .

Topic: A Memorable Trip 🌍
Introduction 🎯 Begin with a captivating scene or anecdote from the trip. Briefly introduce the destination and purpose of the trip. State the significance of this trip in your life.
Setting the Scene 🌄
Key Experiences and Interactions 🌟 Detail a standout experience or adventure during the trip. Discuss an interaction with a local or a fellow traveler. Describe another memorable moment or activity.
Reflections and Insights 💡
Conclusion 🎓

Step 3: Write Your Narrative Essay

When you're ready to start writing your narrative essay, refer to your outline to develop each section with clear and engaging language. Unlike academic essays, narrative essays don’t need to follow strict formalities or summarize everything in the introduction.

Tip : Write from your own perspective . Most narratives use the first-person point of view, so feel free to use pronouns like "I" and "me" to describe your experiences.

Tip : Use creative storytelling techniques . Drawing from fiction or creative nonfiction, employ methods like dialogue, flashbacks, and symbolism to captivate readers and convey the themes of your essay effectively.

Tip : Focus on a central theme or message . Identify a central theme or message that your narrative revolves around. This gives your essay coherence and depth, guiding your storytelling towards a meaningful conclusion.

Step 4: Revise Your Narrative Essay

Once you already understand how to write a narrative essay and finish your first draft, revise and refine your essay. Start by taking a break to gain fresh perspective before returning with a clear mind – this is a key strategy for enhancing your writing.

While reviewing, carefully examine it for logical coherence and smooth flow. Address any inconsistencies or gaps in the narrative, refining your writing to improve clarity. Pay attention to details such as tense, point of view, and narrative voice throughout.

Step 5: Proofread and Publish Your Narrative Essay

After writing a narrative essay, take time to thoroughly proofread for any remaining errors or typos. Ensure proper formatting and citation style, if required.

Sharing your essay with trusted individuals such as friends, family, or educators can provide valuable feedback and new perspectives. Incorporate this feedback, along with your own observations from the revision process, to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of your essay.

Meanwhile, if you’re willing to describe your life in greater depth, our guide on how to write an autobiography might be just what you need!

Want to Be Like an Expert Writer? 

Order now and let our narrative essay writer turn your experiences into a captivating and unforgettable tale

Narrative Essay Examples

For more inspiration, check out a narrative essay example below prepared by our essay writer . Feel free to use it as a guide for your own story, ensuring that your unique voice and experiences come through in your work.

Final Thoughts

Now that you understand the basics of writing a narrative essay, you're probably excited to write your own! If you get stuck, our research paper writing service is here to help you. Whether you need a narrative essay or any other type of school paper, our services can provide personalized advice to fit your needs. Focusing on quality, affordability, and on-time delivery, we’ll make sure your story is told effectively!

Unlock Your Potential with Our Essays!

Order now and take the first step towards achieving your academic goals

How Do I Start a Narrative Essay?

What makes a good narrative essay, how to end a narrative essay.

Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker

is a seasoned educational writer focusing on scholarship guidance, research papers, and various forms of academic essays including reflective and narrative essays. His expertise also extends to detailed case studies. A scholar with a background in English Literature and Education, Daniel’s work on EssayPro blog aims to support students in achieving academic excellence and securing scholarships. His hobbies include reading classic literature and participating in academic forums.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

  • Updated writing steps, samples, outline and FAQ
  • Narrative essays. (n.d.). Miami University. https://miamioh.edu/howe-center/hwc/writing-resources/handouts/types-of-writing/narrative-essays.html  
  • Mohammed, S. I. (2021). Suggested strategies for writing narrative essay . International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation , 4 (12), 30-39.

How to Write an Essay Introduction

Still have questions? Leave a comment

Add Comment

Checklist: Dissertation Proposal

Enter your email id to get the downloadable right in your inbox!

Examples: Edited Papers

Need editing and proofreading services, narrative essay | step-by-step guide with examples.


  • Tags: Academic Writing , Essay , Essay Writing

The narrative essay is a unique and creative form of academic writing. It tests your ability to narrate personal anecdotes in a structured, meaningful, and engaging manner. This type of writing vastly differs from other academic writing types, which rely more on facts and statistics. 

In this article, we’re going to understand what is a narrative essay, how to write one, and its various types with the help of plenty of examples. We have also provided a narrative essay outline to help you craft a foolproof essay. But before we get into all of that, let’s start with something simple: what’s a narrative essay in the first place?

Upgrade your essay to perfection with our expert editing services today! Learn more

What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay is a highly creative form of academic writing which involves recounting personal anecdotes in an organized and climactic format. Although not as frequently used as expository essays or argumentative essays , this type of essay is a common requirement in high schools and creative writing courses in colleges. A personal statement is also a common requirement for many college admissions. 

A narrative essay uses literary devices such as similes, metaphors, and alliteration that add depth and character to your essay. The objective is to express yourself in a creative and compelling way, and not just convey information.

Now that you understand the narrative essay definition, it’s time to look at some common topics you may have to write on.

Topics for a narrative essay

Narrative essay topics can range from a personal narrative and specific essay topics to loose open-ended prompts. Let’s better understand this with the help of a few good narrative essay topics.

Here are a few topics. 

1. Write about your last day of school.

2. Write about your favorite book and your interpretation of its message.

3. An awkward encounter that led to a long-lasting friendship.

4. Your favorite vacation.

5. The moment you realized, you’re finally an adult.

Here are a few narrative essay examples of open-ended prompts.

1. Describe a life changing event and how it impacted you.

2. What is your favorite childhood memory? 

3. A personal accomplishment that you are proud of and how it has shaped you as a person.

4. The time when you overcame a fear or obstacle and how it helped you grow as a person.

5. A moment of personal growth and reflection that helped you realize something important about yourself.

Here are a few personal narrative essay topics.

1. The moment you realized what you wanted to do with your life.

2. A time when you felt like an outsider and how you dealt with it.

3. A moment when you had to make a difficult moral decision.

4. An experience that changed your perspective on a particular issue.

5. A personal passion or interest and how it has impacted your life.

Narrative essay structure

Although less formulaic than an expository or argumentative essay, your narrative essay format still needs to be well-structured and cohesive for it to be impactful. Like all essay types, the narrative format essay consists of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. However, this structure is less rigid than most essay types and mainly serves as a guideline. 

Let’s look at the main components of the structure of a narrative essay.

1. Introduction

In order to write a well-structured narrative essay, you need to know how to start it. The introduction of a narrative essay plays a crucial role in capturing the reader’s attention and setting the stage for the story that follows. 

A good introduction should include three key elements. First, an attractive, eye-catching opening statement that intrigues the reader and creates suspense. Second, background information that provides context for the story. Finally, a central idea or narrative that serves as a foundation of the story. 

Here are examples of a narrative essay introduction:

  • Background information
  • Central idea

As I stepped off the plane and took my first breath of the humid air, I knew my life was about to change forever. The next few weeks would be filled with new experiences, new people, and a new perspective that would stay with me for a long time. My study trip to Costa Rica was an unforgettable experience that had a significant impact on me.

2. Body paragraph

You can showcase most of your creative writing skills in the body paragraphs of your narrative essay. Use a topic sentence to introduce each experience, provide detailed elaboration, and conclude with a key takeaway or moral.

The body paragraphs of a narrative essay are also used to showcase numerous artistic elements. These elements may include the introduction of fresh characters, vivid descriptions of settings, subtle hints toward the conclusion, and the build-up of a pivotal event or a climactic situation. You can use these elements to transform a boring piece of writing into an impactful and captivating essay. 

Here’s an example of a vivid and highly descriptive body paragraph:

  • Topic sentence with descriptions of setting
  • Sensory descriptors elaborating the topic sentences
  • Key takeaway

The moment I set foot on Central American soil, I was welcomed by the tropical rainforest, the vibrant colors of the flowers, and the sounds of exotic birds. The air was filled with the sweet scent of fresh fruits, and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. This trip was not only a cultural and educational experience, but it was also an adventure of a lifetime.

3. Conclusion

When writing the conclusion of a narrative essay, it’s important to include three essential elements: an updated version of your thesis statement, reflections on all your experiences, and your final thoughts and key takeaways. 

You can remind your readers of the central idea you explored throughout your essay, by revisiting your thesis statement. Reflecting on your experiences allows you to explore the personal impact of your narrative. Whereas, your final thoughts help in providing a cohesive and impactful summary of your message.

Here’s an example of a strong conclusion:

  • Updated thesis statement
  • Reflections on experiences
  • Final thought

My study trip to Costa Rica was certainly a transformative experience. This trip taught me how to approach the world with an open mind and strive in the face of difficulties. It also inspired me to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Experiencing the rich culture of Costa Rica is something I would highly recommend to all students. It’s an opportunity to break free from our comfort zones, challenge our perspectives, and immerse ourselves in a world of stunning natural beauty.  

Now that we’ve looked at how to structure a narrative essay, let’s move on to writing a narrative essay.

How to write a narrative essay

Writing narrative essays is not just about telling a captivating story, but also about communicating a message to the reader. Although less formal than other types of essays, it still requires a coherent sequence of events, a clear central idea, a moral or message, and a structured outline.

Let’s understand how to write a narrative essay step by step. 

1. Choose an appropriate topic.

While essay topics are often predetermined, certain classes may give you the freedom to select your own topic. When choosing a topic for your narrative essay, it is crucial to consider the message that you want to convey. 

Simply recounting a one-dimensional, uneventful story can bore the reader. It is necessary to keep the reader in mind and choose an engaging story topic. This topic should encompass surprising plot twists, a recurring theme, and a significant takeaway or moral.

Here are a few examples of narrative essay topics for college:

Describe a moment in your life that challenged your beliefs or values and forced you to reconsider your perspective.

Describe a time in your life when you faced a difficult decision that required you to choose between two equally compelling options.

2. Form a central idea.

Your narrative essay should revolve around a central idea or theme, which is similar to a thesis statement. This idea should be unique and have a moral or message that sets the tone for your entire essay. Keep in mind that the central idea is crucial to your essay, so choose one carefully and make sure it’s unique and impactful.

Here are a few examples of central ideas:

Growing up as a first-generation immigrant, I faced several setbacks. But these setbacks motivated me to overcome language barriers and also taught me the value of hard work, and determination.

My journey of learning a new language in a foreign country challenged me in ways I never imagined. However, it also taught me the importance of persistence, adaptability, and embracing discomfort to achieve personal growth and success.

3. Construct an essay outline. 

While a narrative essay allows for a great deal of creative expression, it still sticks to a loose structure that includes a clear beginning, middle, and end. A well-organized narrative allows readers to follow and understand your story. Before writing your essay it’s crucial to answer key questions in your narrative essay outline. 

Here are a few questions you need to answer before starting your essay:

  • What central idea or message do I want to convey through my essay?
  • Which personal experiences and anecdotes will best support my central idea?
  • In what ways can I incorporate dialogues or other creative expressions to enhance my essay?
  • How can I effectively structure my essay to ensure it flows cohesively and logically?
  • What techniques can I use to build up to a climactic end that leaves a lasting impression on the reader?
  • What key takeaway do I want my audience to have after reading my essay?

4. Begin writing your essay.

The narrative essay differs from other forms of essay writing and typically follows a chronological order. Hence, it’s advisable to start by fleshing out your introduction and providing sufficient background information to give relevance to your central idea.

Written in the first-person point of view, the narrative essay shares several similarities with a short story. These include a clear plot structure with a beginning, middle, and end, vivid and detailed settings, a climactic point or peak, dialogues, and a key takeaway or moral. These elements can be incorporated to add depth and dimension to your essay.

Narrative essay outline

An outline for a narrative essay differs significantly from that of an evidence-based essay. The narrative essay outline provides structure and coherence to your essay, helping you map out a clear and logical flow of your ideas. This can guide your writing and help ensure that your story is well-organized, engaging, and effectively conveys your central message.

Here’s an example of a personal narrative essay outline that focuses on the challenges of low self-esteem and the ways to overcome them.

Journey to Self-Acceptance

I. Introduction

A. Hook: Start with an anecdote or a shocking statistic that highlights the rampantness of low self-esteem.

B. Background information: Explain what low self-esteem is, how it affects people, and how it can manifest in different ways.

C. Thesis statement: Describe your challenges with low self-esteem and how you overcame them.

II. Tackling Challenges

A. Describe the situation that challenged your self-esteem, such as a particular event or a persistent feeling.

B. Explain how it affected your life, such as your relationships, academic and professional performance, or your mental health.

C. Share your thoughts and feelings about the situation, and how they contributed to your low self-esteem.

III. Seeking Help

A. Describe how you recognized that you needed help, and what motivated you to seek it.

B. Discuss the steps you took, such as talking to a friend or therapist.

C. Explain the challenges you faced, such as stigma, fear of judgment, or financial barriers.

IV. Building Self-Esteem

A. Describe the strategies you used to build your self-esteem, such as positive self-talk, affirmations, or therapy.

B. Share your progress, and how you measured it, such as tracking your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

C. Explain how these strategies helped you, and how they impacted your life, such as improved relationships, academic or professional success, or mental health.

V. Maintaining Self-Esteem

A. Describe how you maintain your self-esteem on a daily basis, and what routines or habits you have developed.

B. Share your challenges and setbacks, and how you cope with them.

C. Explain the importance of self-care in maintaining self-esteem, and what self-care practices you use.

VI. Conclusion

A. Summarize the key points of your essay, and what you have learned from them.

B. Restate your thesis, and how you successfully overcame the challenge of low self-esteem.

C. Discuss how the experience has impacted your life, and what advice you would give to someone who is struggling with low self-esteem.

Narrative essay examples

To guide you in writing a foolproof narrative essay, we’ve constructed an example of a narrative essay. The following is a personal narrative essay example that explores the challenges faced by a student who was bullied in school. This personal narrative essay example will guide you on how you write a personal narrative essay.

Beyond the Shadows

Starting high school as a timid and shy kid was a daunting experience for me. I craved new opportunities and friendships but was overcome by the fear of being judged. Unfortunately, my fears soon became a reality as I found myself being relentlessly bullied.

It began with verbal abuse but soon escalated to physical aggression. Consulting my teachers was of no help since they did not understand the gravity of the situation. The only option was to ignore the bullies and concentrate on my classes, but the constant harassment made it difficult.

The bullying soon took its toll on my mental health, and I spiraled into a pit of anxiety and depression. I lost faith in myself and I believed I was undeserving of happiness. I retreated from my loved ones and spent my days battling my inner demons.

Despite the pain and anguish, I still decided to hold onto hope. I realized that standing up for myself and others was the only way to combat the bullying. I began speaking out against the harassment and also spoke up for those who were scared to raise their voice.

In an attempt to break out of my shell, I made a conscious effort to socialize with my fellow students and offered support to those going through a tough time. As a result, I encountered several friends who had shared experiences with mine. We bonded over our shared struggles and formed a tight-knit community of support and solidarity. Together, we worked to raise awareness of the devastating impact of bullying.

With time and effort, I began to heal from the trauma of my experiences. I learned to embrace my unique qualities and appreciate myself for who I am. The challenges I faced made me stronger and more resilient. As a result, I became more outgoing and confident, which allowed me to forge genuine friendships with my peers.

The bullying I experienced during high school transformed me in ways I could never have imagined. It instilled in me the value of empathy and courage and compelled me to use my voice to create positive change in the world.

Once you’re done writing your narrative essay, the process of editing and proofreading still remains. You can either choose to do this on your own or consider working with an essay editing service .  

Keep reading with more resources from your loyal editors and proofreaders:

  • What is an Expository Essay?
  • What are the Different Types of Essays
  • What is an Essay and What are the Parts of an Essay
  • How to Write an Essay Header
  • How to Write an Argumentative Essay 

Found this article helpful?

2 comments on “ Narrative Essay | Step-by-Step Guide with Examples ”

very good https://kabarcikpatiler.com/

your narrative essays have excellent introductions. They are really helpful

Leave a Comment: Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your vs. You’re: When to Use Your and You’re

Your organization needs a technical editor: here’s why, your guide to the best ebook readers in 2024, writing for the web: 7 expert tips for web content writing.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get carefully curated resources about writing, editing, and publishing in the comfort of your inbox.

How to Copyright Your Book?

If you’ve thought about copyrighting your book, you’re on the right path.

© 2024 All rights reserved

  • Terms of service
  • Privacy policy
  • Self Publishing Guide
  • Pre-Publishing Steps
  • Fiction Writing Tips
  • Traditional Publishing
  • Additional Resources
  • Dissertation Writing Guide
  • Essay Writing Guide
  • Academic Writing and Publishing
  • Citation and Referencing
  • Partner with us
  • Annual report
  • Website content
  • Marketing material
  • Job Applicant
  • Cover letter
  • Resource Center
  • Case studies

The Ultimate Narrative Essay Guide for Beginners

blog image

A narrative essay tells a story in chronological order, with an introduction that introduces the characters and sets the scene. Then a series of events leads to a climax or turning point, and finally a resolution or reflection on the experience.

Speaking of which, are you in sixes and sevens about narrative essays? Don’t worry this ultimate expert guide will wipe out all your doubts. So let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Everything You Need to Know About Narrative Essay

What is a narrative essay.

When you go through a narrative essay definition, you would know that a narrative essay purpose is to tell a story. It’s all about sharing an experience or event and is different from other types of essays because it’s more focused on how the event made you feel or what you learned from it, rather than just presenting facts or an argument. Let’s explore more details on this interesting write-up and get to know how to write a narrative essay.

Elements of a Narrative Essay

Here’s a breakdown of the key elements of a narrative essay:

A narrative essay has a beginning, middle, and end. It builds up tension and excitement and then wraps things up in a neat package.

Real people, including the writer, often feature in personal narratives. Details of the characters and their thoughts, feelings, and actions can help readers to relate to the tale.

It’s really important to know when and where something happened so we can get a good idea of the context. Going into detail about what it looks like helps the reader to really feel like they’re part of the story.

Conflict or Challenge 

A story in a narrative essay usually involves some kind of conflict or challenge that moves the plot along. It could be something inside the character, like a personal battle, or something from outside, like an issue they have to face in the world.

Theme or Message

A narrative essay isn’t just about recounting an event – it’s about showing the impact it had on you and what you took away from it. It’s an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about the experience, and how it changed your outlook.

Emotional Impact

The author is trying to make the story they’re telling relatable, engaging, and memorable by using language and storytelling to evoke feelings in whoever’s reading it.

Narrative essays let writers have a blast telling stories about their own lives. It’s an opportunity to share insights and impart wisdom, or just have some fun with the reader. Descriptive language, sensory details, dialogue, and a great narrative voice are all essentials for making the story come alive.

The Purpose of a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is more than just a story – it’s a way to share a meaningful, engaging, and relatable experience with the reader. Includes:

Sharing Personal Experience

Narrative essays are a great way for writers to share their personal experiences, feelings, thoughts, and reflections. It’s an opportunity to connect with readers and make them feel something.

Entertainment and Engagement

The essay attempts to keep the reader interested by using descriptive language, storytelling elements, and a powerful voice. It attempts to pull them in and make them feel involved by creating suspense, mystery, or an emotional connection.

Conveying a Message or Insight

Narrative essays are more than just a story – they aim to teach you something. They usually have a moral lesson, a new understanding, or a realization about life that the author gained from the experience.

Building Empathy and Understanding

By telling their stories, people can give others insight into different perspectives, feelings, and situations. Sharing these tales can create compassion in the reader and help broaden their knowledge of different life experiences.

Inspiration and Motivation

Stories about personal struggles, successes, and transformations can be really encouraging to people who are going through similar situations. It can provide them with hope and guidance, and let them know that they’re not alone.

Reflecting on Life’s Significance

These essays usually make you think about the importance of certain moments in life or the impact of certain experiences. They make you look deep within yourself and ponder on the things you learned or how you changed because of those events.

Demonstrating Writing Skills

Coming up with a gripping narrative essay takes serious writing chops, like vivid descriptions, powerful language, timing, and organization. It’s an opportunity for writers to show off their story-telling abilities.

Preserving Personal History

Sometimes narrative essays are used to record experiences and special moments that have an emotional resonance. They can be used to preserve individual memories or for future generations to look back on.

Cultural and Societal Exploration

Personal stories can look at cultural or social aspects, giving us an insight into customs, opinions, or social interactions seen through someone’s own experience.

Format of a Narrative Essay

Narrative essays are quite flexible in terms of format, which allows the writer to tell a story in a creative and compelling way. Here’s a quick breakdown of the narrative essay format, along with some examples:


Set the scene and introduce the story.

Engage the reader and establish the tone of the narrative.

Hook: Start with a captivating opening line to grab the reader’s attention. For instance:

Example:  “The scorching sun beat down on us as we trekked through the desert, our water supply dwindling.”

Background Information: Provide necessary context or background without giving away the entire story.

Example:  “It was the summer of 2015 when I embarked on a life-changing journey to…”

Thesis Statement or Narrative Purpose

Present the main idea or the central message of the essay.

Offer a glimpse of what the reader can expect from the narrative.

Thesis Statement: This isn’t as rigid as in other essays but can be a sentence summarizing the essence of the story.

Example:  “Little did I know, that seemingly ordinary hike would teach me invaluable lessons about resilience and friendship.”

Body Paragraphs

Present the sequence of events in chronological order.

Develop characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.

Story Progression : Describe events in the order they occurred, focusing on details that evoke emotions and create vivid imagery.

Example : Detail the trek through the desert, the challenges faced, interactions with fellow hikers, and the pivotal moments.

Character Development : Introduce characters and their roles in the story. Show their emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Example : Describe how each character reacted to the dwindling water supply and supported each other through adversity.

Dialogue and Interactions : Use dialogue to bring the story to life and reveal character personalities.

Example : “Sarah handed me her last bottle of water, saying, ‘We’re in this together.'”

Reach the peak of the story, the moment of highest tension or significance.

Turning Point: Highlight the most crucial moment or realization in the narrative.

Example:  “As the sun dipped below the horizon and hope seemed lost, a distant sound caught our attention—the rescue team’s helicopters.”

Provide closure to the story.

Reflect on the significance of the experience and its impact.

Reflection : Summarize the key lessons learned or insights gained from the experience.

Example : “That hike taught me the true meaning of resilience and the invaluable support of friendship in challenging times.”

Closing Thought : End with a memorable line that reinforces the narrative’s message or leaves a lasting impression.

Example : “As we boarded the helicopters, I knew this adventure would forever be etched in my heart.”

Example Summary:

Imagine a narrative about surviving a challenging hike through the desert, emphasizing the bonds formed and lessons learned. The narrative essay structure might look like starting with an engaging scene, narrating the hardships faced, showcasing the characters’ resilience, and culminating in a powerful realization about friendship and endurance.

Different Types of Narrative Essays

There are a bunch of different types of narrative essays – each one focuses on different elements of storytelling and has its own purpose. Here’s a breakdown of the narrative essay types and what they mean.

Personal Narrative

Description : Tells a personal story or experience from the writer’s life.

Purpose: Reflects on personal growth, lessons learned, or significant moments.

Example of Narrative Essay Types:

Topic : “The Day I Conquered My Fear of Public Speaking”

Focus: Details the experience, emotions, and eventual triumph over a fear of public speaking during a pivotal event.

Descriptive Narrative

Description : Emphasizes vivid details and sensory imagery.

Purpose : Creates a sensory experience, painting a vivid picture for the reader.

Topic : “A Walk Through the Enchanted Forest”

Focus : Paints a detailed picture of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings experienced during a walk through a mystical forest.

Autobiographical Narrative

Description: Chronicles significant events or moments from the writer’s life.

Purpose: Provides insights into the writer’s life, experiences, and growth.

Topic: “Lessons from My Childhood: How My Grandmother Shaped Who I Am”

Focus: Explores pivotal moments and lessons learned from interactions with a significant family member.

Experiential Narrative

Description: Relays experiences beyond the writer’s personal life.

Purpose: Shares experiences, travels, or events from a broader perspective.

Topic: “Volunteering in a Remote Village: A Journey of Empathy”

Focus: Chronicles the writer’s volunteering experience, highlighting interactions with a community and personal growth.

Literary Narrative

Description: Incorporates literary elements like symbolism, allegory, or thematic explorations.

Purpose: Uses storytelling for deeper explorations of themes or concepts.

Topic: “The Symbolism of the Red Door: A Journey Through Change”

Focus: Uses a red door as a symbol, exploring its significance in the narrator’s life and the theme of transition.

Historical Narrative

Description: Recounts historical events or periods through a personal lens.

Purpose: Presents history through personal experiences or perspectives.

Topic: “A Grandfather’s Tales: Living Through the Great Depression”

Focus: Shares personal stories from a family member who lived through a historical era, offering insights into that period.

Digital or Multimedia Narrative

Description: Incorporates multimedia elements like images, videos, or audio to tell a story.

Purpose: Explores storytelling through various digital platforms or formats.

Topic: “A Travel Diary: Exploring Europe Through Vlogs”

Focus: Combines video clips, photos, and personal narration to document a travel experience.

How to Choose a Topic for Your Narrative Essay?

Selecting a compelling topic for your narrative essay is crucial as it sets the stage for your storytelling. Choosing a boring topic is one of the narrative essay mistakes to avoid . Here’s a detailed guide on how to choose the right topic:

Reflect on Personal Experiences

  • Significant Moments:

Moments that had a profound impact on your life or shaped your perspective.

Example: A moment of triumph, overcoming a fear, a life-changing decision, or an unforgettable experience.

  • Emotional Resonance:

Events that evoke strong emotions or feelings.

Example: Joy, fear, sadness, excitement, or moments of realization.

  • Lessons Learned:

Experiences that taught you valuable lessons or brought about personal growth.

Example: Challenges that led to personal development, shifts in mindset, or newfound insights.

Explore Unique Perspectives

  • Uncommon Experiences:

Unique or unconventional experiences that might captivate the reader’s interest.

Example: Unusual travels, interactions with different cultures, or uncommon hobbies.

  • Different Points of View:

Stories from others’ perspectives that impacted you deeply.

Example: A family member’s story, a friend’s experience, or a historical event from a personal lens.

Focus on Specific Themes or Concepts

  • Themes or Concepts of Interest:

Themes or ideas you want to explore through storytelling.

Example: Friendship, resilience, identity, cultural diversity, or personal transformation.

  • Symbolism or Metaphor:

Using symbols or metaphors as the core of your narrative.

Example: Exploring the symbolism of an object or a place in relation to a broader theme.

Consider Your Audience and Purpose

  • Relevance to Your Audience:

Topics that resonate with your audience’s interests or experiences.

Example: Choose a relatable theme or experience that your readers might connect with emotionally.

  • Impact or Message:

What message or insight do you want to convey through your story?

Example: Choose a topic that aligns with the message or lesson you aim to impart to your readers.

Brainstorm and Evaluate Ideas

  • Free Writing or Mind Mapping:

Process: Write down all potential ideas without filtering. Mind maps or free-writing exercises can help generate diverse ideas.

  • Evaluate Feasibility:

The depth of the story, the availability of vivid details, and your personal connection to the topic.

Imagine you’re considering topics for a narrative essay. You reflect on your experiences and decide to explore the topic of “Overcoming Stage Fright: How a School Play Changed My Perspective.” This topic resonates because it involves a significant challenge you faced and the personal growth it brought about.

Narrative Essay Topics

50 easy narrative essay topics.

  • Learning to Ride a Bike
  • My First Day of School
  • A Surprise Birthday Party
  • The Day I Got Lost
  • Visiting a Haunted House
  • An Encounter with a Wild Animal
  • My Favorite Childhood Toy
  • The Best Vacation I Ever Had
  • An Unforgettable Family Gathering
  • Conquering a Fear of Heights
  • A Special Gift I Received
  • Moving to a New City
  • The Most Memorable Meal
  • Getting Caught in a Rainstorm
  • An Act of Kindness I Witnessed
  • The First Time I Cooked a Meal
  • My Experience with a New Hobby
  • The Day I Met My Best Friend
  • A Hike in the Mountains
  • Learning a New Language
  • An Embarrassing Moment
  • Dealing with a Bully
  • My First Job Interview
  • A Sporting Event I Attended
  • The Scariest Dream I Had
  • Helping a Stranger
  • The Joy of Achieving a Goal
  • A Road Trip Adventure
  • Overcoming a Personal Challenge
  • The Significance of a Family Tradition
  • An Unusual Pet I Owned
  • A Misunderstanding with a Friend
  • Exploring an Abandoned Building
  • My Favorite Book and Why
  • The Impact of a Role Model
  • A Cultural Celebration I Participated In
  • A Valuable Lesson from a Teacher
  • A Trip to the Zoo
  • An Unplanned Adventure
  • Volunteering Experience
  • A Moment of Forgiveness
  • A Decision I Regretted
  • A Special Talent I Have
  • The Importance of Family Traditions
  • The Thrill of Performing on Stage
  • A Moment of Sudden Inspiration
  • The Meaning of Home
  • Learning to Play a Musical Instrument
  • A Childhood Memory at the Park
  • Witnessing a Beautiful Sunset

Narrative Essay Topics for College Students

  • Discovering a New Passion
  • Overcoming Academic Challenges
  • Navigating Cultural Differences
  • Embracing Independence: Moving Away from Home
  • Exploring Career Aspirations
  • Coping with Stress in College
  • The Impact of a Mentor in My Life
  • Balancing Work and Studies
  • Facing a Fear of Public Speaking
  • Exploring a Semester Abroad
  • The Evolution of My Study Habits
  • Volunteering Experience That Changed My Perspective
  • The Role of Technology in Education
  • Finding Balance: Social Life vs. Academics
  • Learning a New Skill Outside the Classroom
  • Reflecting on Freshman Year Challenges
  • The Joys and Struggles of Group Projects
  • My Experience with Internship or Work Placement
  • Challenges of Time Management in College
  • Redefining Success Beyond Grades
  • The Influence of Literature on My Thinking
  • The Impact of Social Media on College Life
  • Overcoming Procrastination
  • Lessons from a Leadership Role
  • Exploring Diversity on Campus
  • Exploring Passion for Environmental Conservation
  • An Eye-Opening Course That Changed My Perspective
  • Living with Roommates: Challenges and Lessons
  • The Significance of Extracurricular Activities
  • The Influence of a Professor on My Academic Journey
  • Discussing Mental Health in College
  • The Evolution of My Career Goals
  • Confronting Personal Biases Through Education
  • The Experience of Attending a Conference or Symposium
  • Challenges Faced by Non-Native English Speakers in College
  • The Impact of Traveling During Breaks
  • Exploring Identity: Cultural or Personal
  • The Impact of Music or Art on My Life
  • Addressing Diversity in the Classroom
  • Exploring Entrepreneurial Ambitions
  • My Experience with Research Projects
  • Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in College
  • The Importance of Networking in College
  • Finding Resilience During Tough Times
  • The Impact of Global Issues on Local Perspectives
  • The Influence of Family Expectations on Education
  • Lessons from a Part-Time Job
  • Exploring the College Sports Culture
  • The Role of Technology in Modern Education
  • The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Education

Narrative Essay Comparison

Narrative essay vs. descriptive essay.

Here’s our first narrative essay comparison! While both narrative and descriptive essays focus on vividly portraying a subject or an event, they differ in their primary objectives and approaches. Now, let’s delve into the nuances of comparison on narrative essays.

Narrative Essay:

Storytelling: Focuses on narrating a personal experience or event.

Chronological Order: Follows a structured timeline of events to tell a story.

Message or Lesson: Often includes a central message, moral, or lesson learned from the experience.

Engagement: Aims to captivate the reader through a compelling storyline and character development.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s point of view, using “I” and expressing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Emphasizes a plot with a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Character Development: Focuses on describing characters, their interactions, emotions, and growth.

Conflict or Challenge: Usually involves a central conflict or challenge that drives the narrative forward.

Dialogue: Incorporates conversations to bring characters and their interactions to life.

Reflection: Concludes with reflection or insight gained from the experience.

Descriptive Essay:

Vivid Description: Aims to vividly depict a person, place, object, or event.

Imagery and Details: Focuses on sensory details to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

Emotion through Description: Uses descriptive language to evoke emotions and engage the reader’s senses.

Painting a Picture: Creates a sensory-rich description allowing the reader to visualize the subject.

Imagery and Sensory Details: Focuses on providing rich sensory descriptions, using vivid language and adjectives.

Point of Focus: Concentrates on describing a specific subject or scene in detail.

Spatial Organization: Often employs spatial organization to describe from one area or aspect to another.

Objective Observations: Typically avoids the use of personal opinions or emotions; instead, the focus remains on providing a detailed and objective description.


Focus: Narrative essays emphasize storytelling, while descriptive essays focus on vividly describing a subject or scene.

Perspective: Narrative essays are often written from a first-person perspective, while descriptive essays may use a more objective viewpoint.

Purpose: Narrative essays aim to convey a message or lesson through a story, while descriptive essays aim to paint a detailed picture for the reader without necessarily conveying a specific message.

Narrative Essay vs. Argumentative Essay

The narrative essay and the argumentative essay serve distinct purposes and employ different approaches:

Engagement and Emotion: Aims to captivate the reader through a compelling story.

Reflective: Often includes reflection on the significance of the experience or lessons learned.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s point of view, sharing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Emphasizes a storyline with a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Message or Lesson: Conveys a central message, moral, or insight derived from the experience.

Argumentative Essay:

Persuasion and Argumentation: Aims to persuade the reader to adopt the writer’s viewpoint on a specific topic.

Logical Reasoning: Presents evidence, facts, and reasoning to support a particular argument or stance.

Debate and Counterarguments: Acknowledge opposing views and counter them with evidence and reasoning.

Thesis Statement: Includes a clear thesis statement that outlines the writer’s position on the topic.

Thesis and Evidence: Starts with a strong thesis statement and supports it with factual evidence, statistics, expert opinions, or logical reasoning.

Counterarguments: Addresses opposing viewpoints and provides rebuttals with evidence.

Logical Structure: Follows a logical structure with an introduction, body paragraphs presenting arguments and evidence, and a conclusion reaffirming the thesis.

Formal Language: Uses formal language and avoids personal anecdotes or emotional appeals.

Objective: Argumentative essays focus on presenting a logical argument supported by evidence, while narrative essays prioritize storytelling and personal reflection.

Purpose: Argumentative essays aim to persuade and convince the reader of a particular viewpoint, while narrative essays aim to engage, entertain, and share personal experiences.

Structure: Narrative essays follow a storytelling structure with character development and plot, while argumentative essays follow a more formal, structured approach with logical arguments and evidence.

In essence, while both essays involve writing and presenting information, the narrative essay focuses on sharing a personal experience, whereas the argumentative essay aims to persuade the audience by presenting a well-supported argument.

Narrative Essay vs. Personal Essay

While there can be an overlap between narrative and personal essays, they have distinctive characteristics:

Storytelling: Emphasizes recounting a specific experience or event in a structured narrative form.

Engagement through Story: Aims to engage the reader through a compelling story with characters, plot, and a central theme or message.

Reflective: Often includes reflection on the significance of the experience and the lessons learned.

First-Person Perspective: Typically narrated from the writer’s viewpoint, expressing personal emotions and thoughts.

Plot Development: Focuses on developing a storyline with a clear beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.

Character Development: Includes descriptions of characters, their interactions, emotions, and growth.

Central Message: Conveys a central message, moral, or insight derived from the experience.

Personal Essay:

Exploration of Ideas or Themes: Explores personal ideas, opinions, or reflections on a particular topic or subject.

Expression of Thoughts and Opinions: Expresses the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on a specific subject matter.

Reflection and Introspection: Often involves self-reflection and introspection on personal experiences, beliefs, or values.

Varied Structure and Content: Can encompass various forms, including memoirs, personal anecdotes, or reflections on life experiences.

Flexibility in Structure: Allows for diverse structures and forms based on the writer’s intent, which could be narrative-like or more reflective.

Theme-Centric Writing: Focuses on exploring a central theme or idea, with personal anecdotes or experiences supporting and illustrating the theme.

Expressive Language: Utilizes descriptive and expressive language to convey personal perspectives, emotions, and opinions.

Focus: Narrative essays primarily focus on storytelling through a structured narrative, while personal essays encompass a broader range of personal expression, which can include storytelling but isn’t limited to it.

Structure: Narrative essays have a more structured plot development with characters and a clear sequence of events, while personal essays might adopt various structures, focusing more on personal reflection, ideas, or themes.

Intent: While both involve personal experiences, narrative essays emphasize telling a story with a message or lesson learned, while personal essays aim to explore personal thoughts, feelings, or opinions on a broader range of topics or themes.

5 Easy Steps for Writing a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is more than just telling a story. It’s also meant to engage the reader, get them thinking, and leave a lasting impact. Whether it’s to amuse, motivate, teach, or reflect, these essays are a great way to communicate with your audience. This interesting narrative essay guide was all about letting you understand the narrative essay, its importance, and how can you write one.

Order Original Papers & Essays

Your First Custom Paper Sample is on Us!

timely deliveries

Timely Deliveries

premium quality

No Plagiarism & AI

unlimited revisions

100% Refund

Try Our Free Paper Writing Service

Related blogs.


Connections with Writers and support

safe service

Privacy and Confidentiality Guarantee


Average Quality Score


Choose Your Test

  • Search Blogs By Category
  • College Admissions
  • AP and IB Exams
  • GPA and Coursework

3 Great Narrative Essay Examples + Tips for Writing

author image

General Education


A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end. Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.


3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.


Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.


Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes !

Trending Now

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

ACT vs. SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Get Your Free


Find Your Target SAT Score

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

How to Get a Perfect SAT Score, by an Expert Full Scorer

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading and Writing

How to Improve Your Low SAT Score

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading and Writing

Find Your Target ACT Score

Complete Official Free ACT Practice Tests

How to Get a Perfect ACT Score, by a 36 Full Scorer

Get a 36 on ACT English

Get a 36 on ACT Math

Get a 36 on ACT Reading

Get a 36 on ACT Science

How to Improve Your Low ACT Score

Get a 24 on ACT English

Get a 24 on ACT Math

Get a 24 on ACT Reading

Get a 24 on ACT Science

Stay Informed

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Follow us on Facebook (icon)

Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Narrative Essay Writing

Cathy A.

How to Write a Narrative Essay in Simple Steps

Published on: Mar 31, 2020

Last updated on: Mar 24, 2024

narrative essay

People also read

Interesting Narrative Essay Topics and Ideas

20+ Top Narrative Essay Examples by Experts

Personal Narrative Essay - Easy Guide & Examples

Share this article

Are you keen to express your thoughts, experiences, or imagination through storytelling? 

Writing a narrative essay allows you to do just that. Narratives offer a platform to share personal anecdotes, explore emotions, and captivate readers with engaging tales. 

If you're ready to start on this journey of storytelling, follow these simple steps to craft a compelling narrative essay.

On This Page On This Page -->

What is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a type of writing that tells a story from the author's personal perspective or point of view. 

Unlike other types of essays that focus on analysis or argumentation, a narrative essay aims to engage readers by recounting personal experiences, anecdotes, or events in a vivid and compelling manner. 

The narrative essay often follows a chronological structure, presenting events in the order in which they occurred. It includes elements such as characters, settings, plot, conflict, and resolution. The ultimate goal of a narrative essay is to entertain, enlighten, or provoke reflection, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Elements of a Narrative Essay

A basic narrative essay has the following elements. Let's take a look at them:

  • Character: The individuals or entities driving the story through actions, dialogue, and interactions.
  • Setting: The time, place, and environmental conditions shaping the narrative's atmosphere.
  • Plot: The sequence of events, including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.
  • Conflict: The central problem or challenge creating tension and driving the narrative.
  • Theme: Underlying messages, ideas, or insights that add depth and resonance to the story.
  • Point of View: The perspective from which the story is narrated, whether first-person, second-person, or third-person.
  • Dialogue: Spoken or written communication between characters, revealing personalities and conflicts.
  • Symbolism: Use of objects, actions, or imagery to represent deeper meanings or themes within the narrative.

How To Write a Narrative Essay in 10 Steps

Let’s look at the steps to write a narrative essay: 

Step 1: Choose a Captivating Topic

The first step in writing a narrative essay is selecting a topic that resonates with you. Consider personal experiences, memorable events, or significant moments in your life. 

Choose a topic that evokes emotion and has a clear storyline. Whether it's an adventure, a lesson learned, or a moment of triumph, ensure your topic has substance and depth.

Step 2: Develop a Coherent Narrative Structure

A well-structured narrative essay flows smoothly from beginning to end. Organize your story chronologically, starting with the introduction, followed by the body paragraphs, and concluding with a reflection or resolution. 

Each paragraph should focus on a specific aspect of the narrative, advancing the plot and engaging the reader along the way.

Step 3: Craft a Strong Introduction

The introduction sets the stage for your narrative essay and should grab the reader's attention from the outset. Start with a hook , it's a compelling opening sentence that piques curiosity and attracts the reader to continue. 

You can use a quote, a question, or a vivid description to draw readers into your story, or visit our hook examples blog for more ideas to engage your reader from the beginning. 

Follow this with a concise thesis statement that offers a glimpse into the narrative's essence without revealing too much detail. This strategic combination sets the stage for an enticing and immersive storytelling experience.

Step 4: Show, Don't Tell 

One of the most important principles of narrative writing is "showing" rather than "telling." Instead of simply stating facts or emotions, use descriptive language and vivid imagery to paint a picture for your readers. 

Engage the senses by incorporating sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell into your narrative. This immersive approach allows readers to experience the story firsthand, making it more memorable and impactful.

Step 5: Develop Compelling Characters 

Whether you're writing a story about yourself or fictional characters, it's essential to develop personalities that resonate with your audience. Provide depth and dimension to your characters by highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. 

Describe their actions, dialogue, and interactions with others to bring them to life on the page. Invest time in character development to create a connection between the reader and the protagonists of your narrative.

Step 6: Maintain a Consistent Point of View 

Choose a point of view that best suits your narrative and stick with it throughout the essay. First-person narration allows readers to experience the story through the eyes of the protagonist, fostering a sense of intimacy and authenticity. 

Alternatively, third-person narration provides a broader perspective and allows for more objectivity in storytelling. Whichever point of view you choose, ensure consistency to avoid confusion or disorientation among readers.

Step 7: Build Tension and Conflict 

Every compelling narrative thrives on tension and conflict. Introduce obstacles, challenges, or dilemmas that propel the story forward and keep readers engaged. Build suspense by creating anticipation and uncertainty about the outcome. 

Whether it's a personal struggle, a clash of personalities, or an external threat, conflict adds depth and complexity to your narrative, making it more compelling and relatable.

Step 8: Offer Reflection and Resolution 

As your narrative essay reaches its climax, take a moment to reflect on the significance of the story and its impact on the characters involved. Provide insight into the lessons learned, the emotions experienced, or the changes undergone throughout the journey. 

Offer closure by resolving any conflicts or unanswered questions, leaving readers with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Step 9: Revise and Polish

Once you've completed the initial draft of your narrative essay, take time to revise and polish your work. Pay attention to the clarity of your language, the coherence of your narrative structure, and the effectiveness of your storytelling techniques. 

Eliminate unnecessary words, tighten sentences, and refine your descriptive imagery to enhance the overall quality of your writing. Consider seeking feedback from peers or mentors to gain valuable insights and perspectives.

Step 10: Finalize and Share Your Story 

After revising your narrative essay, take pride in your accomplishment and share your story with the world. Whether you choose to publish it online or submit it for publication, your narrative essay is a testament to your creativity, passion, and storytelling prowess. 

Embrace the opportunity to connect with others through the power of narrative, and inspire others to embark on their own writing journeys. 

Order Essay

Tough Essay Due? Hire Tough Writers!

Example of a Narrative Essay

Whether you're penning a personal narrative essay or creative storytelling, we have examples for you.

Change is inevitable, and within its ebb and flow lies the essence of self-discovery. As I navigated the labyrinth of life, I stumbled upon a pivotal moment that reshaped my understanding of who I am. In the face of challenges, I discovered resilience, adaptability, and a renewed sense of purpose, leading to profound personal growth.

Amidst the cacophony of life's uncertainties, I found myself at a crossroads. The familiar was fading, making way for the unknown. This narrative recounts my transformative journey, a tale of resilience and self-realization.

The path was daunting, marked by unexpected twists. Confronted by adversity, I grappled with fear, yet resilience emerged. Each challenge became an opportunity for growth, unveiling hidden facets of my character. Adaptability became my ally, guiding me through uncharted territories.

In embracing change, I unearthed strength and purpose. The journey, though arduous, sculpted a version of myself unafraid of the unknown. This narrative is not just a story; it's a testament to the profound metamorphosis that occurs when we navigate the intricacies of change.

Here are some narrative essay pdf examples:

Narrative Essay Sample

Narrative Descriptive Essay Example

Personal Narrative Essay Example

Narrative Essay Outline Example

Follow these examples to write the best and winning narrative essays and score higher grades. For more examples visit our narrative essay examples blog.

Narrative Essay Topics

Writing about an experience can be challenging, but giving a title to it is even harder. If you are looking for some topics to start your essay, we have gathered some interesting topics for your guide.

  • The day you met your best friend
  • Your first solo travel experience
  • Overcoming a significant fear
  • A life-changing conversation with a stranger
  • Discovering a new passion or hobby
  • The day you received unexpected good news
  • An encounter with a famous person
  • Coping with a major disappointment
  • A decision that shaped your future
  • A memorable act of kindness you witnessed or experienced

Browse through our narrative essay topics blog to discover a range of ideas catering to different subjects and academic levels.

Narrative Checklist

Here's a simple narrative checklist: 

Are characters well-defined and dynamic?

Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end?

Is the setting vividly described and integral to the story?

Is there sufficient tension or conflict driving the narrative?

Is the dialogue natural and revealing of character?

Does the story maintain an appropriate pace?

Is there a central theme or message conveyed effectively?

Is the narrative voice consistent and engaging?

Is the resolution satisfying and logical?

Does the story evoke emotional responses from the reader?

To Wrap it Up, 

It is important to follow the basic guidelines in order to write a narrative essay impressive enough to achieve top academic levels. You can also seek professional help if you feel you need assistance with your writing.

Elevate your academic success with our premier essay writing company , where excellence meets precision. Our expert team ensures your essays shine in both structure and content.

For a touch of innovation, explore our AI essay write r, the cutting-edge tool designed to enhance your writing experience. Experience the future of academic writing today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a narrative essay and a descriptive essay.

A narrative essay focuses on telling a story, often from the author's point of view. It includes characters, a plot, and a clear sequence of events. On the other hand, a descriptive essay focuses on describing a person, place, object, or event in detail. It aims to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind through sensory details.

How do I come up with a topic for my narrative essay?

Here is how to come up with a topic for a narrative essay:

  • Reflect on personal experiences that have impacted you.
  • Consider significant events or moments in your life.
  • Think about challenges you've overcome or lessons you've learned.
  • Explore moments of transformation or growth.
  • Consider stories that involve conflict, resolution, or a change in perspective.
  • Choose a topic that allows you to reflect on its significance or meaning to you.

Cathy A. (Literature, Marketing)

For more than five years now, Cathy has been one of our most hardworking authors on the platform. With a Masters degree in mass communication, she knows the ins and outs of professional writing. Clients often leave her glowing reviews for being an amazing writer who takes her work very seriously.

Paper Due? Why Suffer? That’s our Job!

Get Help

Keep reading

narrative essay

Legal & Policies

  • Privacy Policy
  • Cookies Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Refunds & Cancellations
  • Our Writers
  • Success Stories
  • Our Guarantees
  • Affiliate Program
  • Referral Program
  • AI Essay Writer

Disclaimer: All client orders are completed by our team of highly qualified human writers. The essays and papers provided by us are not to be used for submission but rather as learning models only.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Does a college essay have to be a narrative?

Specifically for the first Common App prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, etc…” I’d like to write an essay about my experiences with immigration and my cultural identity (I know this sounds cliché, but it’s a topic meaningful to me and I think my experiences are fairly unique). The way I’ve framed it is not really as a narrative - of course, there’s some storytelling involved, but a large chunk of it is personal reflections on how my experience has shaped who I am. Doesn’t really include any dialogue or real action.

Do adcoms prefer essays that are written as a story, or a single, coherent retelling of one particular moment? Would it be a detriment that my essay isn’t like that?

The common attitude is that narrative essays are more engaging and therefore more effective. If you need more specific advice, you can PM me and I can let you know what I think in the context of your essay. Good luck

An essay like this would be amazing, even if it is mostly introspection: https://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays-that-worked/2019/#essay7

Commonly you are looking to “show”, not “tell”. That tends to be easier with a narrative. Remember that your goal is to make them want to add you to their campus pool of students. And also that they read TONS of essays. A lively narrative is going to catch their attention.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

  • The Magazine
  • Newsletters
  • Managing Yourself
  • Managing Teams
  • Work-life Balance
  • The Big Idea
  • Data & Visuals
  • Reading Lists
  • Case Selections
  • HBR Learning
  • Topic Feeds
  • Account Settings
  • Email Preferences

How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

does my college essay have to be a narrative

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

Ascend logo

Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

Partner Center

How to Write a Narrative Essay: Tips and Techniques


Table of contents

  • 1.1 The Narrative Essay and the Short Story: Key Differences
  • 2.1 What Makes a Good Narrative Essay?
  • 3.1 3. Storyline elements:
  • 4.1 Common Narrative Essay Types
  • 4.2 Types of Narrative Writing
  • 4.3 How Long Should it Be?
  • 4.4 Structure of the Narrative Essay
  • 5.1 How to Format a Narrative Essay?

If you are assigned to work on writing a narrative paper in college or high school, it is a good opportunity to train your skills in storytelling and show your knowledge and understanding of a subject. For many students, these essays are much more exciting than other written works. You demonstrate a specific event or episode and its results from your point of view, as a story, which helps you and your readers be more involved in the process than usual.

Before writing a narrative essay, you should look for a topic that can help you do your best. This only works if it is familiar to you and you can talk about it for hours with interest and passion. Why is it important? If you pick a personal narrative idea that is not very exciting for you, it will be difficult to build a good narrative essay on it simply because you will have to force yourself to do it.

What Is A Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay definition may vary in different universities and schools. As a rule, it describes a text that is used to tell a story and that allows you to share your personal experience in an engaging manner. This type of essay often receives more attention because people enjoy stories, which makes it an effective way to communicate ideas and emotions.

In a narrative essay, you are the narrator who recalls past experiences or discusses future plans. It may also describe a hypothetical scenario.

what is a narrative essay

In academic settings, students write narrative essays for various reasons:

  • For class assignments: Teachers often ask students to write narrative essays based on specific prompts.
  • To qualify for awards: Schools may ask students to write a narrative essay to show why they deserve an award. For example, a student nominated for a leadership award might describe their role in a community project.
  • For scholarships: Scholarship committees often ask for narrative essays where students explain their dedication to a field of study and their future goals.

Most narrative essays need a clear structure, a compelling story, and adherence to standard guidelines. It is important to find inspiration, know the teacher’s specific requirements, and follow these guidelines closely. Adding personal insights and unique experiences can make the essay more engaging.

The Narrative Essay and the Short Story: Key Differences

This type of essay and the short story have some similarities and differences. It’s important to understand what structures the two have so your own piece of work sticks to the required format.

You’ll have to rely on facts when writing a narrative essay for a college or university assessment. Your writing should give the reader a clear summary of what happened. You’ll also have to stick to a word count, if there is one, and follow the general narrative essay structure that markers are looking for. A thesis statement in the opening section should summarise your paper’s key argument.

As for a short story, this is fictional, and what happens is the product of the writer’s imagination. It doesn’t require a thesis statement, and its structure is much more fluid than a narrative essay. There’s no set way to approach one and you can be as creative as you like with the content.

Guidelines for Writing a Narrative Essay

  • Consider the topic

You should be able to weave your truth into a story that matters. A strong narrative essay tells a story you care about and are eager to share. Choose a subject that highlights your strengths and captures the interest of your audience. For instance, focus on your academic successes or your dedication to community work.

For example, if you are asked to describe a time you learned something important, think of a moment that had a profound effect on you. This approach will allow you to provide detailed and meaningful insights into your narrative.

  • Read narrative essay examples

Examine various narrative essay examples to understand how to write a narrative essay. When you read different samples, you see how others structure their essays, develop their plots, and use descriptive language. This can give you ideas for your own writing and help you learn effectively. Seeing how others express their personal experiences can inspire you. It also gives a clearer picture of what a well-written narrative essay looks like.

The more you read them, the more you’ll be able to create a well-developed plot. You can also watch video presentations in which other persons describe their experience as it helps to learn how to present your thoughts appropriately.

  • Double-check the provided requirements.

When you get such an assignment, you should be provided with some guidelines and requirements. If not, you can always request more details from your teacher.

What Makes a Good Narrative Essay?

A good narrative essay should draw readers in, tell them a story that leaves an impression on them and finish with a definitive conclusion. It includes all the familiar elements of a story without being as long as one. It should also let the reader know what you make of the story and your thoughts about it.

What’s also crucial is the structure and format of a narrative essay. These make your work presentable and readable.

Steps in the writing process

Here are the steps to follow in the writing process, which will guide you on how to write a narrative essay successfully:

  • Start writing with the draft

Writing a good story from start to finish is difficult without proper planning. This is why you should create a narrative essay outline and draft first. Break down your story into key points, organize them logically, and ensure each part flows smoothly into the next. After outlining, draft your essay and refine it until it meets all the requirements.

This step-by-step approach helps you stay focused and clear. Many people, including famous writers, use this method. It allows you to identify weak spots, add necessary details, and enhance your narrative. Revising multiple times ensures your final essay is polished and engaging.

Description of Betrayal
Emotional Response
Rebuilding Trust
Personal Growth and Lessons
  • Write in first-person

Use the first-person perspective in your narrative essay. This means using pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “we” to tell your story. Writing in first-person helps make your narrative more personal and engaging. It allows readers to connect with your experiences and see the story through your eyes. Be honest and open about your thoughts and feelings to illustrate your journey.

3. Storyline elements:

Most stories contain elements as the description, plot, characters, setting, and other components. These help each text attract the readers’ attention and make them think about it. Make sure your narrative story contains all these elements and is written in accordance with all standards of English grammar and proofreading.

  • Plot: A narrative essay needs a clear and organized plot at its foundation. Start with an engaging introduction that grabs attention, then build up events to a peak moment of tension or conflict, and finally, resolve the story. The plot should illustrate a significant event or experience, offering a lesson or insight to the reader.

An infographic showing the stages of plot development.

  • Characters: Characters bring your narrative to life. They do not always have to be people; they can be abstract concepts or objects with significant roles in the story. Each character should have distinctive traits that add depth and move the story forward.
  • Setting: The setting provides the backdrop for your narrative. It adds context and helps build the atmosphere. A well-described setting can create suspense and enhance the overall impact of the story.
  • Theme: Each narrative essay needs a core theme or message. Whether clear or subtle, this theme should be integrated into the story to provide it with meaning and direction.
  • Dialogue: Adding dialogue helps make your characters more believable and brings your narrative to life. Make sure the dialogue fits the context and reveals the characters’ traits and motivations.
  • Conflict: Conflict is important for creating tension and moving the story along. It might be a personal struggle or a clash between characters. By the end, the conflict should be resolved, leading to personal growth or a new understanding.
  • Clear Writing: Ensure your essay is written clearly and adheres to English grammar and proofreading standards. This will make your story easy to follow and understand.
  • The point of view. Readers and listeners should clearly understand your role in the story, which is why it is so important to let them know all the details of the described event, as well as the explanation of your behavior in a particular situation.
  • Proving and supporting. You should not only show your opinion but also give arguments that support it. You can provide readers with any facts and references that showcase your thoughts and the results of your conclusions.
  • Do not give details that don’t mean anything to your story. They make your essay too wordy and can confuse readers. To determine whether specific details are needed, find out if they have significant roles in the plot.
  • Clear writing . Use simple words and appropriate language in the text. The clearer your readers understand what you are telling them, the better their feedback will be and keep in mind that some things that are clear to you can be ambiguous to your readers so you should check your text before you hand it in.
  • Describe events chronologically. As a rule, such papers are created in proper chronological order in order to avoid confusion and allow everyone who reads it to follow the author’s thoughts easily and with interest.
  • Revise your essay. Check it for grammar and plagiarism, rewrite sentences that don’t sound well, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your friends, there are also many services that can help you with revising and editing your narrative essay.
  • Highlight the most crucial moments. Keep in mind that you will have to highlight the most significant arguments or facts to help your readers identify them and easily understand their role in the story, as well as their influence on the outcome.

Crafting a compelling narrative essay that effectively communicates your point and captivates the reader can be a valuable skill to acquire. If you’re struggling with the process, you can always seek the help of an essay writer from Papersowl.com. With their expertise and guidance, you can create an engaging narrative essay that shares your unique experiences and insights with the audience.

Common Narrative Essay Types

There are multiple types of narrative essays. Most college and university assignments require your work to be factual. Your work will be fictional for some courses, such as creative writing. You’ll find some of the main types below:

  • Factual. When writing a factual (or nonfiction) narrative essay, you retell real-life events for others. You’ll look at evidence from one or more sources to put the story together.
  • Fictional. For fictional narrative essays, you can be creative and develop any story you want. Since it’s for an academic assignment, it should still have some purpose and meaning.
  • Autobiographical. An autobiographical essay involves writing down a story you’re directly involved in. This is a factual piece of academic writing where you’re sharing with the reader something you’ve experienced. If you want, you’ll use the first person and can inject your telling of the story with thoughts and opinions.

Types of Narrative Writing

When thinking of how to start an essay for college, you should try to decide on the writing you’ll be using. Below are some types to consider:

  • Linear. When taking a linear approach to the writing, you’ll describe the story’s events in the order they happened. One event will follow from the previous one and lead into the next one.
  • Non-linear. Should you take a non-linear approach, you’ll tell the story’s events out of sequence. This may include flashbacks or even flashforwards.
  • Quest. Some stories are a sequence of events and characters reacting to these. Others are more like a quest where a person actively tries to complete a goal, which becomes their entire purpose.
  • Viewpoint. With a viewpoint type of narration, the main character narrates the events from their point of view. Instead of just about the plot, it’s just as much about the narrator’s opinions, ideas, and feelings.
  • Descriptive. For this type of narrative writing, you should be very descriptive and use vivid details. Readers should be able to picture the story’s setting and visualize what the characters in it look like.

Your story should make sense, whatever type of narrative writing you choose. The paragraphs should connect in a clear and logical way. If you choose a non-linear style, the reader should be able to tell that the events aren’t in the right order.

If you’re stuck on how to write a narrative paragraph, remember that it should be concise. It should also connect with the one before and after it. Your work ideally won’t have any blocks of text that stand out or are separate from the rest of the writing. For your essay to read well, there should be links from one paragraph to the next.

How Long Should it Be?

Before jumping into writing narrative essays and thinking about how many paragraphs should be in it, there are 2 rules to follow. #1: as long as your professor asked you. #2: as short and informative as you can make it. Semi-jokes aside, you need to write enough to fully unpack the topic and create an engaging story with a relevant structure that the audience will love.

Structure of the Narrative Essay

  • Introduction. Take it as a warm-up for the audience and give them the main idea of what is that story about. 3-5 sentences are the standard.
  • Main Body. Collect every supportive argument for your story and logically place them. Remember: every new idea is a new paragraph. 3-5 blocks will do no wrong.
  • Conclusion. Even the open ending is a conclusion of a sort. This is the part where you sum up and prove what you claimed in the introduction. 3-5 well-arranged sentences are all you need to succeed.


If you want to know how to write a good narrative essay, we will explain the most important guidelines in this video. Use our tips to understand better how to write narrative essays:

How to Format a Narrative Essay?

The format of a narrative essay should be professional and adhere to academic standards. Here are some key formatting guidelines:

  • Use one of the APA 7th edition-approved fonts.
  • Double-space your text.
  • Maintain one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Indent the beginning of each paragraph by half an inch.
  • Do not add extra spacing between paragraphs.
  • Include a cover page.
  • Add a header with the page number.

The exact type of format you use will depend on your college or university. Some institutions have a set formatting style that all academic writing submissions must follow. Make sure to check and adhere to these specific guidelines.

Readers also enjoyed

How to Write an Academic Essay – Full Essay Wrting Guidance


Just fill out the form, press the button, and have no worries!

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.

does my college essay have to be a narrative


Narrative Essay

Ai generator.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

A narrative essay is a form of storytelling where the writer shares a personal experience in a detailed and engaging manner. Crafting a Short Narrative Essay allows the author to focus on a specific event or moment, making it concise and impactful. Writing a Beneficial Narrative Essay helps readers connect with the author’s journey, providing insight and reflection. The Thesis Statement for Narrative Essay serves as the guiding idea, encapsulating the main point or lesson learned. A well-crafted Narrative Summary ensures the story is coherent and compelling, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

What is Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a form of writing that tells a story from the writer’s personal experience, using vivid details and a clear sequence of events. It aims to engage readers by making them feel a part of the journey, often imparting a meaningful lesson or insight.

Examples of Narrative Essay


  • A Memorable Family Vacation – Recount a family trip that left a lasting impression.
  • My First Day at School – Describe the emotions and experiences of your first school day.
  • An Unexpected Adventure – Share a surprising and exciting experience you had.
  • Overcoming a Fear – Narrate the story of how you faced and conquered a fear.
  • A Life-Changing Event – Detail an event that significantly impacted your life.
  • A Lesson Learned the Hard Way – Explain a situation where you learned an important lesson through a challenging experience.
  • My Favorite Childhood Memory – Describe a cherished memory from your childhood.
  • A Time I Helped Someone – Share a story where you helped someone in need and what you learned from it.
  • A Day I Will Never Forget – Narrate a day that stands out vividly in your memory.
  • My First Job Experience – Recount your experiences and lessons learned from your first job.
  • The Best Decision I Ever Made – Explain a decision that positively changed your life.
  • A Time I Stood Up for Myself – Describe an instance where you confidently defended your beliefs or actions.
  • A Significant Challenge I Faced – Narrate how you dealt with a major challenge in your life.
  • My Favorite Holiday Celebration – Share your experiences and traditions during a special holiday.
  • A Friendship That Changed Me – Describe a friendship that had a profound impact on you.
  • A Moment of Personal Growth – Explain a situation where you experienced significant personal development.
  • A Funny Incident from My Life – Recount a humorous event that still makes you laugh.
  • A Time I Felt Truly Happy – Describe an experience that brought you immense joy and fulfillment.
  • My Experience Moving to a New Place – Share your feelings and experiences about relocating to a new environment.
  • A Mistake That Taught Me a Valuable Lesson – Narrate a mistake you made and the lessons you learned from it.

Narrative Essay Examples for Students

  • My First Day at High School : My first day at high school was a mix of excitement and nervousness. Walking through the crowded halls, I felt lost but eager to start a new chapter.
  • Overcoming Stage Fright : In eighth grade, I was chosen to lead the school play. Though terrified, I practiced tirelessly and eventually overcame my stage fright.
  • A Memorable Family Vacation : Last summer, my family and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon. The breathtaking views and the bonding moments we shared made it an unforgettable experience.
  • The Day I Got My First Pet : Getting my first pet, a golden retriever named Max, was a day filled with joy. I vividly remember the feeling of holding him for the first time and the instant bond we formed.
  • Learning to Ride a Bike : Learning to ride a bike was a significant milestone in my childhood. My dad spent countless hours running beside me, encouraging me not to give up.

Narrative Essay Topics

  • A Life-Changing Experience
  • My First Day at a New School
  • An Unforgettable Family Reunion
  • The Day I Overcame a Fear
  • A Time I Got Lost
  • The Best Birthday Party Ever
  • A Lesson Learned from a Mistake
  • The Moment I Realized I Was Growing Up
  • A Memorable Road Trip
  • An Unexpected Act of Kindness
  • A Funny Incident in My Life
  • A Time I Stood Up for Myself
  • A Significant Challenge I Faced
  • My First Job Experience
  • A Time When I Felt Truly Happy
  • A Difficult Decision I Had to Make
  • The Day I Met My Best Friend
  • An Adventure in Nature
  • A Family Tradition That Means a Lot to Me
  • The First Time I Tried Something New

Narrative Essay Format


From a young age, I was terrified of public speaking. The very thought of standing in front of an audience made my palms sweat and my heart race. However, my journey to overcome this fear taught me valuable lessons about courage and perseverance.

In eighth grade, I was unexpectedly chosen to play the lead role in our school play. At first, I wanted to decline the offer, but my teacher encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. With her support and my parents’ encouragement, I reluctantly agreed.

As the day of the performance approached, my nerves intensified. However, I remembered my teacher’s advice: “Focus on the story you’re telling, not on the audience.” On the night of the play, I took a deep breath and stepped onto the stage, my heart pounding in my chest.

To my surprise, as I delivered my first lines, the fear began to fade. I became immersed in my character, and the audience’s presence seemed to disappear. By the end of the play, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride that I had never experienced before.

Overcoming my stage fright was a pivotal moment in my life. It taught me that facing my fears head-on and persevering through challenges can lead to personal growth and unexpected rewards.

How to write Narrative Essay

Choose a Topic : Pick a story or experience from your life that you can describe in detail and that has a clear point or lesson.

Create an Outline : Outline the main events of your story in the order they happened. This will help you organize your thoughts and ensure your essay flows smoothly.

Write the Introduction:

  • Hook : Start with an interesting opening sentence to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Setting the Scene : Provide background information about where and when the story takes place.
  • Thesis Statement : Briefly explain the main point or lesson of your story.

Write the Body Paragraphs :

  • Paragraph 1: Beginning of the Story
  • Paragraph 2: Rising Action
  • Paragraph 3: Climax
  • Paragraph 4: Falling Action
  • Write the Conclusion : Summarize the lesson or main point of your story.

Tips for Narrative Essay Writing

  • Start with a Strong Hook
  • Use Vivid Descriptions and Sensory Details
  • Show, Don’t Just Tell
  • Reflect on the Significance

How does a narrative essay differ from a biography?

Unlike a Biography Narrative Essay , a narrative essay focuses on a specific event or experience.

Can a narrative essay include fictional elements?

Yes, a narrative essay can blend fact and fiction for creative storytelling.

What is a narrative history essay?

A narrative history essay recounts historical events in a story-like format.

How do you start a narrative essay?

Begin with an engaging hook, setting the scene or introducing key characters.

What are the key components of a narrative essay?

Introduction, plot, characters, climax, and conclusion are essential.

How should a narrative essay be structured?

Follow a chronological order or a logical progression of events.

What tone should a narrative essay have?

The tone can vary but should suit the story’s context and audience.

How do you end a narrative essay?

Conclude by reflecting on the story’s significance or lessons learned.

How important is the setting in a narrative essay?

A well-described setting enhances the story’s mood and context.

What is the purpose of a narrative essay?

To entertain, inform, or convey personal experiences and insights.


Text prompt

  • Instructive
  • Professional

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting

Get the Reddit app


Join the A2C Discord!

r/ApplyingToCollege is the premier forum for college admissions questions, advice, and discussions, from college essays and scholarships to college list help and application advice, career guidance, and more.

Does your college essay need to be a narrative?

Made by History

How the College Application Essay Became So Important

Board of Admissions examining applicatio

S chool is out and summer is here. Yet future high school seniors and their families are likely already thinking about applying to college — a process that can be as labor-intensive and time-consuming as it is confusing. Students submit SAT scores, grades, references, personal essays, and more, often without a clear sense of what counts most.

The challenges facing college applicants today aren’t new. For over a century, Americans seeking higher education have had to navigate complicated admissions requirements including exams and grades as well as qualitative metrics of assessment, such as references, interviews, and essays.

Collecting so much academic and personal information has given colleges and universities greater control over the kinds of students they admit. In the first half of the 20th century, this information was mainly used to bar some applicants based on race, gender, and religion. Since the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, however, it has been used to do nearly the opposite by expanding access to previously excluded groups. In this process, personal essays have been especially valuable for the unique insights they can offer into applicants’ backgrounds and perspectives. In the context of today’s narrowing national diversity agenda, they are key to promoting inclusion in American higher education.

In the late 19th century, college admission standards were relatively low in America, even at the “Big Three” private universities, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. In an era when few Americans had more than an eighth-grade education, and even fewer could afford the cost of higher education, there was little competition for admission. Applicants needed only to pass subject matter exams, tests that were rudimentary and could be taken repeatedly until passed. Even those who failed their entrance exams might be admitted if they had elite standing and could pay tuition.

Read More: How to Talk About Race on College Applications, According to Admissions Experts

By the turn of the 20th century, however, demand for higher education was growing. Colleges worked intentionally to admit a broader range of students, dropping archaic requirements like knowledge of Latin and Greek that had previously barred all but the most privileged high school students from applying. More and more qualified applicants competed for fewer available spots, which meant that colleges and universities could be more selective. 

But with more applicants passing exams and earning entry to higher education, private universities became increasingly concerned about the demographics of their student bodies. By the 1910s, as immigration increased, and more public high schools were better preparing students of all backgrounds to meet private entrance requirements, rising numbers of Jewish students were landing spots at the historically Protestant and upper-class universities. With antisemitism on the rise, many private colleges adopted new metrics of admission that could be used to limit the number of “undesirable” students, especially Jewish ones. 

It was at this juncture that selective colleges introduced the application essay to assess students for the amorphous category of "fit." Applications in general became much more involved and intrusive. 

For instance, beginning in 1919, Columbia required prospective students to complete an eight-page form, submit a photo, list their mother’s maiden name, and provide information about their religious background. Even standardized tests could be used to screen students by cultural background. Early entrance exams were heavily biased toward American customs and colloquialisms, putting first-generation immigrants at a disadvantage.

In the wake of World War II, the passage of the GI Bill created a surge in demand for higher education across the country. Between 1950 and 1970, enrollment in colleges and universities in the U.S. nearly quadrupled. 

Although public and private universities expanded in response, they still came under new pressures to bolster selective criteria that would allow them to limit the growth of their student bodies. To ensure spots for students long considered the natural recipients of higher education — especially white, middle-class, Protestant men — private colleges continued to use quotas and other forms of preference such as legacy status to effectively limit the numbers of Jewish students, people of color, and women admitted. Meanwhile, admissions were far from need blind; applying for a scholarship could damage your chance of acceptance.

Public universities like the University of California, Berkeley charted a different course. In the post-war period, the UC system admitted all students who met basic requirements — graduation from an accredited high school along with a principal's recommendation, acceptance by exam, or completion of an Associate’s degree. But public universities now also faced more demand than they could accommodate. Indeed, the 1960s California Master Plan for Higher Education acknowledged that state universities, too, might well have to introduce a selective process for choosing applicants in the face of expanded access across much wider class, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds. 

By the 1960s, a selective application process became common across major private and public universities. But the social movements of the 1960s and 70s forced private universities to drop their formal practices of discrimination and changed the use of personal essays and other qualitative metrics of evaluation in the process. 

For the first time, in the 1960s, admissions officers at historically white and Protestant universities acknowledged that applicants’ academic profiles were deeply shaped by the opportunities — educational, economic, and cultural — available to them, and that these in turn were shaped by students’ race, ethnicity, and sex. 

While special considerations about background had once been used to systematically exclude minorities, in the 1960s they were invoked for the first time to do the opposite, albeit with some striking limitations. 

By looking at applicants from a comprehensive standpoint, which included these markers of identity, even the most selective private universities made major strides in achieving racial diversity in this period. They also dropped quotas and began to admit women on an equal basis with men. Class diversity, however, was another matter — to this day private universities continue to be comparatively socio-economically homogenous despite meaningful shifts in other areas. 

Since the 1970s, the admissions system has only grown increasingly competitive, with more students than ever before applying to college. That forced universities to choose between strong applicants while building their own brands and competitive profiles. This competitive environment has turned the college application essay into a particularly important vehicle in the admissions process for learning about students’ backgrounds and human qualities.

Read More: How the End of Affirmative Action Could Affect the College Admissions Process

In 1975, a small group of mostly East Coast colleges came together to form the Common App — today used by more than 1,000 universities. The Common App led the way in formulating what we now think of as the personal statement, aimed at understanding the inner world of each student.

For more than 50 years now, universities both private and public have evaluated essays for a range of qualities including leadership capacity, creativity, service to the community, and ability to overcome hardship, as part of their admissions decisions. The kinds of questions universities ask, the qualities they seek, and the responses they receive have changed many times and have been shaped by the cultural trends of our times. 

In 2021 for example, following the spread of a global pandemic, the Common App introduced a question about gratitude for the first time. And while the prompts remained unchanged following the 2023 Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA) v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina , which formally excluded race as a factor in admissions, universities began to read them for the role of race, ethnicity, and other identities in students’ profiles. In these and many other ways, the essay has only gained value as a way for students to explain the important ways their experiences and identities have shaped their academic profiles.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Still, there have been calls to eliminate the college essay from admissions requirements from both the right and the left, as either frivolously inclusive, or potentially exclusionary. Now, at a time when there are major political constraints on supporting diversity and inclusion at the national level, personal essays give admissions committees important flexibility. They also allow colleges to evaluate students for underrated but essential intellectual and personal qualities hard to observe elsewhere, including the capacity for growth, self-reflection, and awareness of the world around them. 

The history of modern admissions shows how institutions of higher education have sought to engineer their classes, often reinforcing harmful racial, class, and gender hierarchies. There is little objectivity in the metric of “fit” that has shaped American admissions practices. But the Civil Rights era has had a powerful and long-lasting legacy in broadening access through an assessment of applicants that is attentive to identity. However flawed the system, the essay offers something no other metric can: an account of a student’s lived experience, in their own words.

Sarah Stoller is a writer and historian. She also tutors college essay writing.

Made by History takes readers beyond the headlines with articles written and edited by professional historians. Learn more about Made by History at TIME here . Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors .

More Must-Reads from TIME

  • Inside the Health Crisis of a Texas Bitcoin Town
  • Why Are COVID-19 Cases Spiking Again ?
  • Lionel Messi Isn't Finished Yet
  • 4 Signs Your Body Needs a Break
  • Fiji’s Fiery Battle Against Plastics
  • Column: AI-Driven Behavior Change Could Transform Health Care
  • How to Watch Lost in 2024 Without Setting Yourself Up for Disappointment
  • Get Our Paris Olympics Newsletter in Your Inbox

Write to Sarah Stoller / Made by History at [email protected]

does my college essay have to be a narrative


does my college essay have to be a narrative

Agitators vs. Legislators: Same Team, Cross-Purposes

  Health Care Commentary

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Senate Panel’s Probe Into COVID-19’s Origin Brings Us Closer to Truth

Economy Commentary

does my college essay have to be a narrative

How the Radical Left Wrecked the Housing Market

Politics News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Heir to George Soros’ Empire to Wed Ex-Hillary Clinton Aide Huma Abedin

  Politics News

Vivek Ramaswamy speaking into a microphone and pointing.

Immigration Limits Needed to Preserve ‘National Identity,’ Ramaswamy Says

    Politics News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Here’s How Many Democrats Voted Against Requiring Proof of Citizenship to Vote

   Law News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

House GOP Faces Down Biden Veto Threat on Halting Noncitizen Voting

   Politics News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Heritage Action Scores SAVE Act as Key Vote

  Security Commentary

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Biden Talks Tough About NATO, but His Energy Policies Tell Different Story

    Security Commentary

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Why This Congressman Wants IRS to Probe Pro-Hamas Funders

     Politics News

President Joe Biden smirking.

Democrats’ Support for Biden Crumbles

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Ignoring Warnings, Beijing Escalates Aggression Against Philippines

Jim Jordan speaks passionately into a microphone.

‘Anti-Democratic’: Advertising Giant Silenced Conservative Outlets, House Report Says

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Garland, Clarke, Willis Possible Targets for Conservative Lawfare

does my college essay have to be a narrative

EXCLUSIVE: Concerned Women for America Launches ‘She Prays She Votes’ Bus Tour

   Security News

A female U.S. soldier saluting in front of an American flag.

EXCLUSIVE: Poll Reveals Gender Divide on Proposal to Include Women in Military Draft

  Law News

Police escort Jeremy Story out of a school board meeting

‘ABUSE OF POWER’: Texas Dad Suing for Retaliatory Arrest Reveals New Evidence of Corruption

does my college essay have to be a narrative

EXCLUSIVE: Women’s Group Calls Military Draft Proposal ‘Unacceptable’

Education   News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

NYU Settles Lawsuit With Jewish Students Over Campus Antisemitism

International   News

does my college essay have to be a narrative

US to Scrap Biden’s Problem-Ridden Gaza Pier for Good

  Society Commentary

does my college essay have to be a narrative

We Know What a Woman Is. Now, What Does It Mean to Be a Strong Woman?

Education   Analysis

Two woman do a podcast interview.

Parents Defending Education Adviser Explains ‘Anti-Woman,’ ‘Anti-Girl’ Title IX Reinterpretation

Health Care   Analysis

does my college essay have to be a narrative

‘It’s Going to Be Catastrophic’: Why the Next Pandemic Will Be Worse Than COVID

   Security Analysis

does my college essay have to be a narrative

It’s Not ‘If’ It Will Happen Again, ‘But When,’ Sheriff Says of Lives Lost to Criminal Illegal Aliens

Society Commentary

As an Asian American, I Say DEI Must Go

Contrary to its proponents' claims, under DEI, some are more equal than others. (Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

As someone who was involuntarily used as a poster child for Asian American and Pacific Islander month by my university, yet listened to some classmates rant that Asian Americans “would be nowhere without black people,” take it from me: Diversity, equity, and inclusion offices make racism worse, not better.

Nobody should wonder whether circling their race on an application form would harm his or her chances of being accepted, yet I would be lying if I said that was not my first thought every time I reached the dreaded racial question.

What else can you expect when your racial identity—an immutable trait that is literally skin-deep—signals to a university or workplace that you are “too privileged” or less deserving to have a seat at the table?

Conversely, how could one’s race alone fairly make someone more deserving of admittance?

I will never forget my senior year of high school, when I consulted a pro-DEI teacher about my essay topic for the Common App to colleges.

She squinted at my face before asking, “Have you given much thought to writing about your race in your college essay? I mean … ’cause you’re clearly not white.”

My heart sank. Suddenly , I went from being an impressive writer to another non-white person whose race needed to be exploited for sympathy.

Little did my teacher know that I am half white and half Asian, two of the DEI scorecard’s least favorable boxes to check.

To this day, classrooms preach inclusivity in the same breath that they write white people off as privileged and cultureless. The more an individual is “white-passing,” the less interesting they become.

This narrative is poisoning minds in grade school and higher education. Take the “model minority” stereotype about Asians, which asserts that Asians are successful because their culture uniformly pressures them to perform well.

Stereotypes such as these have been perpetuated by DEI under the guise of being inclusive when it is anything but. It treats people as groups defined by distinct levels of oppression, instead of rewarding people based on merit .

In late May, former Harvard University President Claudine Gay was honored with a Faculty Award and called “our forever president” at a separate graduationfor black students, not due to her research, but because of her “commitment to social justice.”

Meanwhile, Harvard’s DEI office, which Campus Reform reports sponsored the ceremony, has not commented on Gay’s inability to state unequivocally before Congress that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s policies.

I may be biracial and have Asian heritage, but that identity has no bearing on my most important and fulfilling identities: child of God, daughter of two great parents, proud sister, and friend to many.

It certainly has no bearing on my ability to seek opportunities and try my best.

Anyone who says otherwise is evidence that DEI offices profit from teaching people to judge others by their skin color , rather than their character.

Character cannot be built by meeting  racial quotas. It’s developed through taking risks and working hard.

Contrary to what the Left would have you believe, the ability to grit your teeth and work hard to pursue your dreams is not exclusive to “white-passing” people.

This fact is liberating, and anything but oppressive or racist.

What is unacceptable is impeding someone’s potential to learn or succeed because they do not check a favorable racial box, not to mention doing so under the guise of being against racism.

Last year, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn race-conscious admissions to colleges and universities marked a celebratory step for fairness.

But it isn’t enough. State lawmakers in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Texas, and more are prohibiting the use of taxpayer spending on racist DEI programs at colleges. Policymakers around the country frustrated by the student “encampments” on campuses this spring that claimed to be for peace , but were really antisemitic activists , would do well to follow suit.

DEI is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it’s time we exposed it as such. Like racial preferences, it too must go.

Related posts:

  • Kansas Universities Spent $45 Million on DEI. Lawmakers Want to Know What They Paid For.
  • DEI’s Demise: University of North Florida Closes Divisive Department
  • Defeating DEI and Rescuing Higher Education

does my college essay have to be a narrative

Global Portal Programs Applicant Requirements

Undergraduate Admission

Global BA & BFA Program Application Requirements

Global ba: franklin university application process.

Students interested in applying to either the Global BA in International & Political Communication or the Global BA in Business of Creative Enterprises programs will need to apply through Franklin University Switzerland . Please reach out to the admission team at Emerson College or Franklin University Switzerland if you have any questions.

Global BFA: Film Art Essay

In addition to the Emerson Application or Common Application and Application Supplement required, applicants must submit a 300- to 500-word essay, as well as a creative sample.

Essay Topic

Through the unique structure of the Global BFA in Film Art, you will study at Paris College of Art in France and at Emerson College in the United States and in the Netherlands. Knowing this, how does the multinational aspect of this program connect with your previous life experience as well as your personal and creative career goals?

Upload this essay within the Admission Portal after submitting your Undergraduate application.

Creative Sample Requirements

Applicants to the Global BFA in Film Art major must submit one creative sample as a part of their application. Please select a project where you are a principal creative force, and please specify your role in a co-created project.

Creative samples can be uploaded in the Application Portal after the application has been submitted and should include ONE of the following:

  • a film or video submission up to 5 minutes in length (up to 5 GBs per file), or
  • a portfolio of 10 to 15 examples of creative production in any other media: photography (digital or analog); drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.

Written works (i.e. screenplays, scripts, poetry, short stories, etc.) do NOT satisfy the creative sample requirements for the Global BFA in Film Art.

To upload your creative sample, you will need to submit your Common Application with Emerson Supplement or Emerson Application, and application fee payment.

Please note that the Global BFA in Film Art major is not available to transfer applicants at this time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are emerson college and paris college of art looking for from a creative sample.

We look at creative samples to assess your current skill and potential. Your creative sample should showcase your creativity, feature meaningful content, demonstrate your artistic sense, and showcase your technical skills.

How much money should I spend in making the content for my creative sample?

We do not judge applicants based on their resources. We’ve accepted applicants who submit a film in which there is a single shot of someone talking to the camera, but also projects that included a cast of dozens.

If I choose to submit a film or video, what style do Emerson College and Paris College of Art want?

There is no formula for a sure-fire creative sample. It can be experimental, documentary, or narrative told through unusual techniques or style. We’ve seen everything from a documentary on colony collapse disorder to non-narrative animated shorts. It can be an anti-war video or film noir. It can use a 35mm camera, a camcorder, a cell phone, still photos, or a videogame’s 3-D graphics rendering engine. Anything goes.

Can I submit multiple film or audio clips for my creative sample?

For these options, submit only your best piece, if multiple projects are sent then only one will be reviewed by the admission committee. Additionally, please submit a single complete work as opposed to an excerpt or reel.

Do you have practical advice on putting together the creative sample?

Take the time to do quality control and review the whole submission in the Digital Portfolio. Is the compression rate right? Is the sound distorted? Are images using the entire frame? You put a great deal of effort into making your submission look and sound good on your screen—make sure we get the same experience.

Make your hook count. Make a good first impression by presenting your best work to your audience early on. Hundreds of people submit creative samples to Emerson College. Make yours stand out.

Get someone with a critical eye to look over your work. Can you set up your narrative more efficiently? Are you better off submitting your best 90 seconds of content rather than stretching it out to five minutes? Do not waste time. Editing is about more than just stitching together shots, sounds, or scenes; it’s also about creating a cohesive piece. Show that you know how to make hard decisions about your work. You do not have to use the full time allotment; it will not be held against you.

If your work is not in English, please either subtitle it or provide a written translation with your creative sample.

  • For Current Students
  • For Parents
  • For Faculty
  • For the Media

The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

  • Share to Facebook
  • Share to Twitter
  • Share to Linkedin

Yale University

A compelling personal statement is a critical component of an Ivy League application, as it offers students the unique opportunity to showcase their personality, experiences, and aspirations. Kickstarting the writing process in the summer can give students a critical advantage in the admissions process, allowing them more time to brainstorm, edit, and polish standout essays. However, as students begin drafting their essays this summer, they should bear in mind that selecting the right topic is crucial to writing a successful essay. Particularly for students with Ivy League aspirations, submitting an essay that is cliche, unoriginal, or inauthentic can make the difference between standing out to admissions officers or blending into the sea of other applicants.

As ambitious students embark on the college application process, here are the personal statement topics they should avoid:

1. The Trauma Dump

Many students overcome significant hurdles by the time they begin the college application process, and some assume that the grisliest and most traumatic stories will attract attention and sympathy from admissions committees. While vulnerability can be powerful, sharing overly personal or sensitive information can make readers uncomfortable and shift focus away from a student’s unique strengths. Students should embrace authenticity and be honest about the struggles they have faced on their path to college, while still recognizing that the personal statement is a professional piece of writing, not a diary entry. Students should first consider why they want to share a particular tragic or traumatic experience and how that story might lend insight into the kind of student and community member they will be on campus. As a general rule, if the story will truly enrich the admissions committee’s understanding of their candidacy, students should thoughtfully include it; if it is a means of proving that they are more deserving or seeking to engender pity, students should consider selecting a different topic. Students should adopt a similar, critical approach as they write about difficult or sensitive topics in their supplemental essays, excluding unnecessary detail and focusing on how the experience shaped who they are today.

2. The Travelogue

Travel experiences can be enriching, but essays that merely recount a trip to a foreign country without deeper reflection often fall flat. Additionally, travel stories can often unintentionally convey white saviorism , particularly if students are recounting experiences from their charity work or mission trips in a foreign place. If a student does wish to write about an experience from their travels, they should prioritize depth not breadth—the personal statement is not the place to detail an entire itinerary or document every aspect of a trip. Instead, students should focus on one specific and meaningful experience from their travels with vivid detail and creative storytelling, expounding on how the event changed their worldview, instilled new values, or inspired their future goals.

3. The Superhero Narrative

Ivy League and other top colleges are looking for students who are introspective and teachable—no applicant is perfect (admissions officers know this!). Therefore, it’s crucial that students be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and open about the areas in which they hope to grow. They should avoid grandiose narratives in which they cast themselves as flawless heroes. While students should seek to put their best foot forward, depicting themselves as protagonists who single-handedly resolve complex issues can make them appear exaggerated and lacking in humility. For instance, rather than telling the story about being the sole onlooker to stand up for a peer being bullied at the lunch table, perhaps a student could share about an experience that emboldened them to advocate for themselves and others. Doing so will add dimension and dynamism to their essay, rather than convey a static story of heroism.

Best High-Yield Savings Accounts Of 2024

Best 5% interest savings accounts of 2024, 4. the plan for world peace.

Similarly, many students feel compelled to declare their intention to solve global issues like world hunger or climate change. While noble, these proclamations can come across as unrealistic and insincere, and they can distract from the tangible achievements and experiences that a student brings to the table. Instead, applicants should focus on demonstrable steps they’ve taken or plan to take within their local community to enact positive change, demonstrating their commitment and practical approach to making a difference. For instance, instead of stating a desire to eradicate poverty, students could describe their extended involvement in a local charity and how it has helped them to discover their values and actualize their passions.

5. The Sports Story

While sports can teach valuable lessons, essays that focus solely on athletic achievements or the importance of a particular game can be overdone and lack depth. Admissions officers have read countless essays about students scoring the winning goal, dealing with the hardship of an injury, or learning teamwork from sports. Students should keep in mind that the personal essay should relay a story that only they can tell—perhaps a student has a particularly unique story about bringing competitive pickleball to their high school and uniting unlikely friend groups or starting a community initiative to repair and donate golf gear for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to play. However, if their sports-related essay could have been written by any high school point guard or soccer team captain, it’s time to brainstorm new ideas.

6. The Pick-Me Monologue

Students may feel the need to list their accomplishments and standout qualities in an effort to appear impressive to Ivy League admissions officers. This removes any depth, introspection, and creativity from a student’s essay and flattens their experiences to line items on a resume. Admissions officers already have students’ Activities Lists and resumes; the personal statement should add texture and dimension to their applications, revealing aspects of their character, values and voice not otherwise obvious through the quantitative aspects of their applications. Instead of listing all of their extracurricular involvements, students should identify a particularly meaningful encounter or event they experienced through one of the activities that matters most to them, and reflect on the ways in which their participation impacted their development as a student and person.

7. The Pandemic Sob Story

The Covid-19 pandemic was a traumatic and formative experience for many students, and it is therefore understandable that applicants draw inspiration from these transformative years as they choose their essay topics. However, while the pandemic affected individuals differently, an essay about the difficulties faced during this time will likely come across as unoriginal and generic. Admissions officers have likely read hundreds of essays about remote learning challenges, social isolation, and the general disruptions caused by Covid-19. These narratives can start to blend together, making it difficult for any single essay to stand out. Instead of centering the essay on the pandemic's challenges, students should consider how they adapted, grew, or made a positive impact during this time. For example, rather than writing about the difficulties of remote learning, a student could describe how they created a virtual study group to support classmates struggling with online classes. Similarly, an applicant might write about developing a new skill such as coding or painting during lockdown and how this pursuit has influenced their academic or career goals. Focusing on resilience, innovation, and personal development can make for a more compelling narrative.

Crafting a standout personal statement requires dedicated time, careful thought, and honest reflection. The most impactful essays are those that toe the lines between vulnerability and professionalism, introspection and action, championing one’s strengths and acknowledging weaknesses. Starting early and striving to avoid overused and unoriginal topics will level up a student’s essay and increase their chances of standing out.

Christopher Rim

  • Editorial Standards
  • Reprints & Permissions
  • Share full article


Supported by

David Brooks

My Unsettling Interview With Steve Bannon

a black and white photo of Steve Bannon

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

I felt as if I were talking with Leon Trotsky in the years before the Russian Revolution.

I was sitting in Steve Bannon’s Washington living room in 2019. His stint in Donald Trump’s White House had ended ingloriously, but he had resumed his self-appointed role as populism’s grand strategist, its propagandist, its bad-boy visionary. He sat there that day sketching out his plans for how MAGA-type movements could take over the world.

By then populists had already racked up some big wins — Brexit in Britain, Trump’s victory in 2016. Right-wing populists were in power in Hungary and Poland, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was surging and populists were rising across Latin America. Bannon knew I opposed him in every particular and abhorred much of what he said, but he laid out his grand vision cheerfully, confidently. He didn’t seem concerned about old-fashioned conservatives, moderates and classical liberals like me; we were destined for the ash heap of history.

I decided to check in with Bannon again about a week ago. This year, populists have scored yet another string of triumphs, and a second Trump victory is possible or even probable this November. I found Bannon, currently the host of the podcast “War Room,” to be embroiled and embattled as usual. He’s going to prison on Monday to begin serving a four-month sentence for contempt of Congress. If anything, he is more confident than ever.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity and length — and to remove the F-bombs that Bannon dropped with machine gun regularity. I should emphasize that I wasn’t trying to debate Bannon or rebut his beliefs; I wanted to understand how he sees the current moment. I wanted to understand the global populist surge from the inside. What he told me now seems doubly terrifying, given Joe Biden’s performance at the first presidential debate.

DAVID BROOKS: Since we last spoke, in fact in just the past few months, there have been populist victories in the Netherlands, with Geert Wilders. We have the Chega movement doing well in Portugal, with the young especially. In Germany, the ultraright-wing Alternative for Germany surged in last month’s European parliamentary elections. In France, Marine Le Pen’s populist party also triumphed in the European election, a result that prompted President Emmanuel Macron to call new national elections and throw the entire French political system into meltdown. In the U.K.’s forthcoming national elections, Nigel Farage’s Reform Party is on pace to win seats for the first time. So if you’re a historian telling the big story of what’s happening, what would it be? What’s the core narrative here?

STEVE BANNON: Well, I think it’s very simple: that the ruling elites of the West lost confidence in themselves. The elites have lost their faith in their countries. They’ve lost faith in the Westphalian system, the nation-state. They are more and more detached from the lived experience of their people.

We are having trouble retrieving the article content.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and  log into  your Times account, or  subscribe  for all of The Times.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access.

Already a subscriber?  Log in .

Want all of The Times?  Subscribe .

Read the Latest on Page Six


Breaking news, joe biden biographer chris whipple calls white house most ‘scripted’ in modern history.

  • View Author Archive
  • Get author RSS feed

Thanks for contacting us. We've received your submission.

Author and journalist Chris Whipple – who wrote a 2023 biography about President Joe Biden – called Biden’s White House the most “scripted” in modern history during a CNN panel Tuesday night.

Whipple said he interviewed nearly all of Biden’s inner circle during the two years he had exclusive access to the inner workings of the White House.

“I can tell you having written a book about it,” Whipple said. “This White House is the most batten down, buttoned up, scripted White House in modern history.”

Biographer Chris Whipple with a copy of "The Fight of His Life."

Although Whipple’s book – “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House” – was a biography about the president, Whipple claimed he was never allowed to interview Biden.

Over the course of those two years, Whipple said he never asked the president questions in person, over Zoom or during a phone call. 

“When it came to Biden himself, the deal was written answers to written questions. I’d never heard of that before,” Whipple said.

The CNN panel last night focused on a report by The Wall Street Journal that claimed senior White House advisers pulled back on the president’s public appearances and impromptu exchanges to minimize the toll his age had taken on him.

Biographer Chris Whipple on a CNN panel.

Whipple said the White House either has “something to hide” or is “just obsessed with controlling the narrative.”

When discussing his conversations with high-level White House staffers, Whipple said: “I didn’t get any indication that he [Biden] was cognitively impaired and everyone said the opposite.”

But now, concerns are mounting about the president’s mental fitness after a disastrous debate performance that saw politicians, policymakers and media outlets across the political spectrum calling for Biden to bow out of the race.

President Joe Biden during presidential debate looking down.

Following a recent one-on-one interview, ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos said he did not believe Biden could serve another four years in office.

Whipple said Biden’s close friend told him that he thinks the president should have a complete neurological exam, release the results to the public and “let the chips fall.”

The friend has not told the president his suggestion because it is a “hard thing for a close friend to tell him,” Whipple said.

The biographer previously spoke out in support of the incumbent candidate. He said he was “rooting for” Biden in a guest essay published in The New York Times in January.

Whipple wrote then about the domineering White House and how it might hurt Biden’s campaign for re-election. 

“The president can’t run effectively if he’s kept under wraps by overprotective advisers,” Whipple warned.

does my college essay have to be a narrative

He argued in January that Biden’s most effective campaigning moments were the unscripted ones.

“The campaign will be more successful if it lets Joe be Joe and talk the way he actually talks,” Whipple said in the guest essay. 

Biographer Chris Whipple with a copy of "The Fight of His Life."



  1. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    In this step-by-step guide, learn how to brainstorm and structure your personal statement for your college essay.

  2. How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

    Learn how to format and structure your college essay with expert tips and examples. Discover the types of structures that suit different topics and prompts.

  3. How to Write a Narrative Essay

    A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay, along with the descriptive essay, allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing.

  4. How to format and structure a college essay: A definitive guide

    You can think of a college essay's effectiveness as being made up of two things: the content, and the narrative structure. In other words, you need to have a strong topic, but you also need to structure and format the way you write about that topic in a specific way. Without the right format, even the most unique and moving topic won't wow the admission committee.

  5. How to Format A College Essay: 15 Expert Tips

    Struggling with your college application essay format? We explain exactly how to format a college essay, from which font to use to how many paragraphs to use.

  6. How to Define a Strong Narrative for Your College Essay

    How to Organize Your College Essay as a Narrative Like all good stories, the narrative of your admissions essay should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  7. Narrative Essays

    When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

  8. How to write a narrative essay [Updated 2023]

    Similarly to a descriptive essay or a reflective essay, a narrative essay asks you to tell a story, rather than make an argument and present evidence. Most narrative essays describe a real, personal experience from your own life (for example, the story of your first big success).

  9. What Is a Narrative Essay? Learn How to Write A Narrative Essay With

    Not every form of essay writing involves meticulous research. One form in particular—the narrative essay—combines personal storytelling with academic argument. Narrative essay authors illustrate universal lessons in their unique experiences of the world. Below, you'll find some tips to guide in this style of narrative writing.

  10. How to Write a Narrative Essay: The Only Guide You Need

    In this article, you'll learn how to write a narrative essay. In fact: The meaningful strategies, unique templates, and specific tips from this ultimate guide help college students write high…

  11. College Essay Examples

    Our example essays show you how to write a great college admissions essay, with detailed analyses of what works and why.

  12. What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

    Framing a compelling narrative essay involves a captivating story with a clear purpose. Check out this detailed article to understand what a narrative essay is, its key elements and types, and how to write a narrative essay with examples.

  13. Narrative Essay Writing Guide

    Learn how to write a narrative essay with tips, samples, and FAQs. Find everything you need to excel in your writing process in this comprehensive guide.

  14. How to Write a Narrative Essay

    Have you been asked to write a narrative essay but don't know where to begin? This handy guide will explain what a narrative essay is, why you need to write one, and how to write one in five easy steps.

  15. Narrative Essay

    In this article, we're going to understand what is a narrative essay, how to write one, and its various types with the help of plenty of examples. We have also provided a narrative essay outline to help you craft a foolproof essay. But before we get into all of that, let's start with something simple: what's a narrative essay in the first place?

  16. A Complete Narrative Essay Guide

    A narrative essay depends on what your story is about. If you're curious about it, want to learn more, this comprehensive narrative essay guide is for you!

  17. 3 Great Narrative Essay Examples + Tips for Writing

    Looking for a narrative essay sample to inspire your writing? Check out our analysis of 3 great personal narrative essay examples, plus tips for writing.

  18. Narrative Essay Writing Guide

    A narrative essay is a type of writing that tells a story from the author's personal perspective or point of view. Unlike other types of essays that focus on analysis or argumentation, a narrative essay aims to engage readers by recounting personal experiences, anecdotes, or events in a vivid and compelling manner.

  19. Does a college essay have to be a narrative?

    That tends to be easier with a narrative. Remember that your goal is to make them want to add you to their campus pool of students. And also that they read TONS of essays. A lively narrative is going to catch their attention. Specifically for the first Common App prompt: "Some students have a background, identity, etc…".

  20. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Learn how to write a personal essay that showcases your unique story and impresses the admissions officers with these tips from Harvard Business Review.

  21. How to Write a Narrative Essay: Full Guide for Storytelling

    A narrative essay definition may vary in different universities and schools. As a rule, it describes a text that is used to tell a story and that allows you to share your personal experience in an engaging manner. This type of essay often receives more attention because people enjoy stories, which makes it an effective way to communicate ideas and emotions.

  22. Narrative Essay

    A narrative essay tells a personal story, blending fact and fiction to engage readers. Learn about its key components, structure, and tips for crafting compelling narrative history essays and biography narrative essays.

  23. 5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

    Pre-writing essays can be especially useful for students applying for a high number of scholarships. If students try to write a unique essay for every scholarship, there's a chance they could ...

  24. Does your college essay need to be a narrative?

    I'm writing on how music has impacted me in several different ways (as a writer, how music made me grow emotionally and how i got interested in…

  25. How the College Application Essay Became So Important

    This competitive environment has turned the college application essay into a particularly important vehicle in the admissions process for learning about students' backgrounds and human qualities.

  26. A Firsthand Account of the Discrimination Inherent in DEI Programs

    She squinted at my face before asking, "Have you given much thought to writing about your race in your college essay? I mean … 'cause you're clearly not white." ... This narrative is ...

  27. Global Portal Programs Applicant Requirements, Emerson College

    Upload this essay within the Admission Portal after submitting your Undergraduate application. ... There is no formula for a sure-fire creative sample. It can be experimental, documentary, or narrative told through unusual techniques or style. We've seen everything from a documentary on colony collapse disorder to non-narrative animated ...

  28. The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

    A compelling college essay is a critical component of an Ivy League application, as it offers students the opportunity to showcase their personality and aspirations.

  29. Opinion

    Everything is narrative. And in that regard, you have to make sure you forget about the noise and focus on the signal. ... women who didn't read a lot of books in college. They're not ...

  30. Joe Biden biographer Chris Whipple calls White House most 'scripted' in

    Author and journalist Chris Whipple called the White House the most 'scripted' in modern history. He claimed he was never allowed to speak with Biden -- only White House advisers -- despite ...