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College Essays

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Did you think you were all done pouring out your blood, sweat, and tears in written form for your personal statement , only to be faced with the "why this college?" supplemental essay? This question might seem simple but is in fact a crucial and potentially tricky part of many college applications. What exactly is the "why us?" essay trying to understand about you? And how do you answer this question without falling into its many pitfalls or making any rookie mistakes?

In this article, I'll explain why colleges want you to be able to explain why you are applying. I'll also discuss how to generate and brainstorm topics for this question and how to make yourself sound sincere and committed. Finally, we'll go over some "why this school?" essay do s and don't s.

This article is pretty detailed, so here's a brief overview of what we'll be covering:

Why Do Colleges Want You to Write a "Why Us?" Essay?

Two types of "why this college" essay prompts, step 1: research the school, step 2: brainstorm potential essay topics, step 3: nail the execution, example of a great "why this college" essay.

College admissions officers have to read an incredible amount of student work to put together a winning class, so trust me when I say that everything they ask you to write is meaningful and important .

The purpose of the "why us?" essay goes two ways. On one hand, seeing how you answer this question gives admissions officers a sense of whether you know and value their school .

On the other hand, having to verbalize why you are applying gives you the chance to think about what you want to get out of your college experience  and whether your target schools fit your goals and aspirations.

What Colleges Get Out Of Reading Your "Why This College?" Essay

Colleges want to check three things when they read this essay.

First, they want to see that you have a sense of what makes this college different and special.

  • Do you know something about the school's mission, history, or values?
  • Have you thought about the school's specific approach to learning?
  • Are you comfortable with the school's traditions and the overall feel of student life here?

Second, they want proof that you will be a good fit for the school.

  • Where do your interests lie? Do they correspond to this school's strengths?
  • Is there something about you that meshes well with some aspect of the school?
  • How will you contribute to college life? How will you make your mark on campus?

And third, they want to see that this school will, in turn, be a good fit for you.

  • What do you want to get out of college? Will this college be able to provide that? Will this school contribute to your future success?
  • What will you take advantage of on campus (e.g., academic programs, volunteer or travel opportunities, internships, or student organizations)?
  • Will you succeed academically? Does this school provide the right rigor and pace for your ideal learning environment?

What You Get Out Of Writing Your "Why This College?" Essay

Throughout this process of articulating your answers to the questions above, you will also benefit in a couple of key ways:

It Lets You Build Excitement about the School

Finding specific programs and opportunities at schools you are already happy about will give you a grounded sense of direction for when you start school . At the same time, by describing what is great about schools that are low on your list, you'll likely boost your enthusiasm for these colleges and keep yourself from feeling that they're nothing more than lackluster fallbacks.

It Helps You Ensure That You're Making the Right Choice

Writing the "why us?" essay can act as a moment of clarity. It's possible that you won't be able to come up with any reasons for applying to a particular school. If further research fails to reveal any appealing characteristics that fit with your goals and interests, this school is likely not for you.

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At the end of your four years, you want to feel like this, so take your "Why This College?" essay to heart.

essay about college campus

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Craft Your Perfect College Essay

The "why this college?" essay is best thought of as a back-and-forth between you and the college . This means that your essay will really be answering two separate, albeit related, questions:

  • "Why us?":  This is where you explain what makes the school special in your eyes, what attracted you to it, and what you think you'll get out of your experience there.
  • "Why you?":  This is the part where you talk about why you'll fit in at the school; what qualities, skills, talents, or abilities you'll contribute to student life; and how your future will be impacted by the school and its opportunities.

Colleges usually use one of these approaches to frame this essay , meaning that your essay will lean heavier toward whichever question is favored in the prompt. For example, if the prompt is all about "why us?" you'll want to put your main focus on praising the school. If the prompt instead is mostly configured as "why you?" you'll want to dwell at length on your fit and potential.

It's good to remember that these two prompts are simply two sides of the same coin. Your reasons for wanting to apply to a particular school can be made to fit either of these questions.

For instance, say you really want the chance to learn from the world-famous Professor X. A "why us?" essay might dwell on how amazing an opportunity studying with him would be for you, and how he anchors the Telepathy department.

Meanwhile, a "why you?" essay would point out that your own academic telepathy credentials and future career goals make you an ideal student to learn from Professor X, a renowned master of the field.

Next up, I'll show you some real-life examples of what these two different approaches to the same prompt look like.

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Clarifying why you want to study with a particular professor in a specific department can demonstrate to college admissions staff that you've done your research on the school.

"Why Us?" Prompts

  • Why [this college]?
  • Why are you interested in [this college]?
  • Why is [this college] a good choice for you?
  • What do you like best about [this college]?
  • Why do you want to attend [this college]?

Below are some examples of actual "why us?" college essay prompts:

  • Colorado College :  "Describe how your personal experiences with a particular community make you a student who would benefit from Colorado College’s Block Plan."
  • Tufts University : " I am applying to Tufts because… "
  • Tulane University : "Describe why you are interested in joining the Tulane community. Consider your experiences, talents, and values to illustrate what you would contribute to the Tulane community if admitted." (via the Common App )
  • University of Michigan : "Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?"
  • Wellesley College : " When choosing a college, you are choosing an intellectual community and a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but it's a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and select two items that attract, inspire, or celebrate what you would bring to our community. Have fun! Use this opportunity to reflect personally on what items appeal to you most and why. "

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In a "why us?" essay, focus on the specific aspects of the school that appeal to you and how you will flourish because of those offerings.

"Why You?" Prompts

  • Why are you a good match or fit for us?
  • What are your interests, and how will you pursue them at [this college]?
  • What do you want to study, and how will that correspond to our program?
  • What or how will you contribute?
  • Why you at [this college]?
  • Why are you applying to [this college]?

Here are some examples of the "why you?" version of the college essay:

  • Babson College : " A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community. "
  • Bowdoin College : "Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin's 'The Offer of the College.' ... Which line from the Offer resonates most with you? Optional: The Offer represents Bowdoin's values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you." (via the Common App )

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In a "why you?" essay, focus on how your values, interests, and motivations align with the school's offerings and how you'll contribute to campus life.

No matter how the prompt is worded, this essay is a give-and-take of what you and the college have to offer each other. Your job is to quickly zoom in on your main points and use both precision and detail to sound sincere, excited, and authentic.

How do you effectively explain the benefits you see this particular school providing for you and the contributions you will bring to the table as a student there? And how can you do this best using the small amount of space that you have (usually just one to two paragraphs)?

In this section, we'll go through the process of writing the "Why This College?" essay, step-by-step. First, I'll talk about the prep work you'll need to do. Next, we'll go through how to brainstorm good topics (and touch on what topics to avoid). I'll give you some tips on transforming your ideas and research into an actual essay. Finally, I'll take apart an actual "why us?" essay to show you why and how it works.

Before you can write about a school, you'll need to know specific things that make it stand out and appeal to you and your interests . So where do you look for these? And how do you find the details that will speak to you? Here are some ways you can learn more about a school.

In-Person Campus Visits

If you're going on college tours , you've got the perfect opportunity to gather information about the school. Bring a notepad and write down the following:

  • Your tour guide's name
  • One to two funny, surprising, or enthusiastic things your guide said about the school
  • Any unusual features of the campus, such as buildings, sculptures, layout, history, or traditions

Try to also connect with students or faculty while you're there. If you visit a class, note which class it is and who teaches it. See whether you can briefly chat with a student (e.g., in the class you visit, around campus, or in a dining hall), and ask what they like most about the school or what has been most surprising about being there.

Don't forget to write down the answer! Trust me, you'll forget it otherwise—especially if you do this on multiple college visits.

Virtual Campus Visits

If you can't visit a campus in person, the next best thing is an online tour , either from the school's own website or from other websites, such as YOUniversityTV , CampusTours , or YouTube (search "[School Name] + tour").

You can also connect with students without visiting the campus in person . Some admissions websites list contact information for currently enrolled students you can email to ask one or two questions about what their experience of the school has been like.

Or if you know what department, sport, or activity you're interested in, you can ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a student who is involved with that particular interest.

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If you can't visit a campus in person, request a video chat with admissions staff, a current student, or a faculty member to get a better sense of specific topics you might write about in your essay.

Alumni Interview

If you have an interview , ask your interviewer questions about their experience at the school and about what going to that school has done for them since graduation. As always, take notes!

College Fairs

If you have a chance to go to a college fair where your ideal college has representatives, don't just attend and pick up a brochure. Instead, e ngage the representatives in conversation, and ask them about what they think makes the school unique .  Jot down notes on any interesting details they tell you.

The College's Own Materials

Colleges publish lots and lots of different admissions materials—and all of these will be useful for your research. Here are some suggestions for what you can use. (You should be able to find all of the following resources online.)

Brochures and Course Catalogs

Read the mission statement of the school; does its educational philosophy align with yours? You should also read through its catalogs. Are there any programs, classes, departments, or activities that seem tailor-made for you in some way?

Pro Tip: These interesting features you find should be unusual in some way or different from what other schools offer. For example, being fascinated with the English department isn't going to cut it unless you can discuss its unusual focus, its world-renowned professors, or the different way it structures the major that appeals to you specifically.

Alumni Magazine

Are any professors highlighted? Does their research speak to you or connect with a project you did in high school or for an extracurricular?

Sometimes alumni magazines will highlight a college's new focus or new expansion. Does the construction of a new engineering school relate to your intended major? There might also be some columns or letters written by alumni who talk about what going to this particular school has meant to them. What stands out about their experiences?

School or Campus Newspaper

Students write about the hot issues of the day, which means that the articles will be about the best and worst things on campus . It'll also give you insight into student life, opportunities that are available to students, activities you can do off campus, and so on.

The College's Social Media

Your ideal school is most likely on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. Follow the school to see what it's posting about.  Are there any exciting new campus developments? Professors in the news? Interesting events, clubs, or activities?

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The Internet

Wikipedia is a great resource for learning basic details about a college's history, traditions, and values. I also recommend looking for forums on College Confidential that specifically deal with the school you're researching.

Another option is to search on Google for interesting phrases, such as "What students really think about [School Name]" or "[School Name] student forum." This will help you get detailed points of view, comments about specific programs or courses, and insight into real student life.

So what should you do now that you've completed a bunch of research? Answer: use it to develop connection points between you and your dream school. These connections will be the skeleton of your "why this college?" essay.

Find the Gems in Your Research

You have on hand all kinds of information, from your own personal experiences on campus and your conversations with people affiliated with your ideal school to what you've learned from campus publications and tidbits gleaned from the web.

Now, it's time to sift through all of your notes to find the three to five things that really speak to you. Link what you've learned about the school to how you can plug into this school's life, approach, and environment. That way, no matter whether your school's prompt is more heavily focused on the "why us?" or "why you?" part of the give-and-take, you'll have an entry point into the essay.

But what should these three to five things be? What should you keep in mind when you're looking for the gem that will become your topic?

Here are some words of wisdom from Calvin Wise , director of recruitment and former associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University (emphasis mine):

" Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you. Do your research, and articulate a multidimensional connection to the specific college or university. We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum). All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences. "

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Time to find that diamond, amethyst, opal, tourmaline, or amber in the rough.

Check Your Gems for Color and Clarity

When I say "check your gems," I mean make sure that each of the three to five things you've found is something your ideal school has that other schools don't have.

This something should be seen from your own perspective. The point isn't to generically praise the school but instead to go into detail about why it's so great for you that they have this thing.

This something you find should be meaningful to the school and specific to you. For example, if you focus on academics (e.g., courses, instructors, opportunities, or educational philosophy), find a way to link them either to your previous work or to your future aspirations.

This something should not be shallow and nonspecific. Want to live in a city? Every city has more than one college in it. Find a way to explain why this specific college in this specific city calls to you. Like pretty architecture? Many schools are beautiful, so dwell on why this particular place feels unlike any other. Like good weather, beach, skiing, or some other geographical attribute? There are many schools located near these places, and they know that people enjoy sunbathing. Either build a deeper connection or skip these as reasons.

Convert Your Gems into Essay Topics

Every "why this college?" essay is going to answer both the "why us?" and the "why you?" parts of the back-and-forth equation. But depending on which way your target school has worded its prompt, you'll lean more heavily on that part . This is why I'm going to split this brainstorming into two parts—to go with the "why us?" and "why you?" types of questions.

Of course, since they are both sides of the same coin, you can always easily flip each of these ideas around to have it work well for the other type of prompt . For example, a "why us?" essay might talk about how interesting the XYZ interdisciplinary project is and how it fits well with your senior project.

By contrast, a "why you?" essay would take the same idea but flip it to say that you've learned through your senior project how you deeply value an interdisciplinary approach to academics, making you a great fit for this school and its commitment to such work, as evidenced by project XYZ.

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Describing how project XYZ demonstrates your investment in a particular course of study that then happens to align with a specific program at the university is an effective approach to the "why you?" essay.

Possible "Why Us?" Topics

  • How a particular program of study, internship requirement, or volunteer connection will help further your specific career goals .
  • The school's interesting approach to your future major (if you know what that will be) or a major that combines several disciplines that appeal to you and fit with your current academic work and interests.
  • How the school handles financial aid and the infrastructure setup for low-income students and what that means for you in terms of opening doors.
  • A story about how you became interested in the school (if you learned about it in an interesting way). For example, did the institution host a high school contest you took part in? Did you attend an art exhibit or stage performance there that you enjoyed and that your own artistic work aligns with?
  • How you overcame an initial disinterest in the school (be sure to minimize this first negative impression). Did you do more research? Interact with someone on campus? Learn about the school's commitment to the community? Learn about interesting research being done there?
  • A positive interaction you had with current students, faculty, or staff, as long as this is more than just, "Everyone I met was really nice."
  • An experience you had while on a campus tour. Was there a super-passionate tour guide? Any information that surprised you? Did something happen to transform your idea about the school or campus life (in a good way)?
  • Interesting interdisciplinary work going on at the university and how that connects with your academic interests, career goals, or previous high school work.
  • The history of the school —but only if it's meaningful to you in some way. Has the school always been committed to fostering minority, first-generation, or immigrant students? Was it founded by someone you admire? Did it take an unpopular (but, to you, morally correct) stance at some crucial moment in history?
  • An amazing professor you can't wait to learn from. Is there a chemistry professor whose current research meshes with a science fair project you did? A professor who's a renowned scholar on your favorite literary or artistic period or genre? A professor whose book on economics finally made you understand the most recent financial crisis?
  • A class that sounds fascinating , especially if it's in a field you want to major in.
  • A facility or piece of equipment you can't wait to work in or with  and that doesn't exist in many other places. Is there a specialty library with rare medieval manuscripts? Is there an observatory?
  • A required curriculum that appeals to you because it provides a solid grounding in the classics, shakes up the traditional canon, connects all the students on campus in one intellectual project, or is taught in a unique way.

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If the school can boast a cutting-edge laboratory where you dream of conducting research, that would be a strong focus for a "Why Us?" essay.

Possible "Why You?" Topics

  • Do you want to continue a project you worked on in high school? Talk about how or where in the current course, club, and program offerings this work would fit in. Why will you be a good addition to the team?
  • Have you always been involved in a community service project that's already being done on campus? Write about integrating life on campus with events in the surrounding community.
  • Do you plan to keep performing in the arts, playing music, working on the newspaper, or engaging in something else you were seriously committed to in high school? Discuss how excited you are to join that existing organization.
  • Are you the perfect person to take advantage of an internship program (e.g., because you have already worked in this field, were exposed to it through your parents, or have completed academic work that gives you some experience with it)?
  • Are you the ideal candidate for a study abroad opportunity (e.g., because you can speak the language of the country, it's a place where you've worked or studied before, or your career goals are international in some respect)?
  • Are you a stand-out match for an undergraduate research project (e.g., because you'll major in this field, you've always wanted to work with this professor, or you want to pursue research as a career option)?
  • Is there something you were deeply involved with that doesn't currently exist on campus? Offer to start a club for it. And I mean a club; you aren't going to magically create a new academic department or even a new academic course, so don't try offering that. If you do write about this, make double (and even triple) sure that the school doesn't already have a club, course, or program for this interest.
  • What are some of the programs or activities you plan to get involved with on campus , and what unique qualities will you bring to them?
  • Make this a mini version of a personal statement you never wrote.  Use this essay as another chance to show a few more of the skills, talents, or passions that don't appear in your actual college essay. What's the runner-up interest that you didn't write about? What opportunity, program, or offering at the school lines up with it?

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One way to impress admissions staff in a "Why You?" essay is to discuss your fascination with a particular topic in a specific discipline, such as kinetic sculpture, and how you want to pursue that passion (e.g., as a studio art major).

Possible Topics for a College That's Not Your First Choice

  • If you're writing about a school you're not completely psyched about, one way to sidestep the issue is to focus on what getting this degree will do for you in the future . How do you see yourself changing existing systems, helping others, or otherwise succeeding?
  • Alternatively, discuss what the school values academically, socially, environmentally, or philosophically and how this connects with what you also care about . Does it have a vegan, organic, and cruelty-free cafeteria? A relationship with a local farm or garden? De-emphasized fraternity involvement? Strong commitment to environmental issues? Lots of opportunities to contribute to the community surrounding the school? Active inclusion and a sense of belonging for various underrepresented groups?
  • Try to find at least one or two features you're excited about for each of the schools on your list. If you can't think of a single reason why this would be a good place for you to go, maybe you shouldn't be applying there!

Topics to Avoid in Your Essay

  • Don't write about general characteristics, such as a school's location (or the weather in that location), reputation, or student body size. For example, anyone applying to the Webb Institute , which has just about 100 students , should by all means talk about having a preference for tiny, close-knit communities. By contrast, schools in sunny climates know that people enjoy good weather, but if you can't connect the outdoors with the college itself, think of something else to say.
  • Don't talk about your sports fandom. Saying, "I can see myself in crimson and white/blue and orange/[some color] and [some other color]" is both overused and not a persuasive reason for wanting to go to a particular college. After all, you could cheer for a team without going to the school! Unless you're an athlete, you're an aspiring mascot performer, or you have a truly one-of-a-kind story to tell about your link to the team, opt for a different track.
  • Don't copy descriptions from the college's website to tell admissions officers how great their institution is. They don't want to hear praise; they want to hear how you connect with their school. So if something on the college brochure speaks to you, explain why this specific detail matters to you and how your past experiences, academic work, extracurricular interests, or hobbies relate to that detail.
  • Don't use college rankings as a reason you want to go to a school. Of course prestige matters, but schools that are ranked right next to each other on the list are at about the same level of prestige. What makes you choose one over the other?
  • If you decide to write about a future major, don't just talk about what you want to study and why . Make sure that you also explain why you want to study this thing at this particular school . What do they do differently from other colleges?
  • Don't wax poetic about the school's pretty campus. "From the moment I stepped on your campus, I knew it was the place for me" is another cliché—and another way to say basically nothing about why you actually want to go to this particular school. Lots of schools are pretty, and many are pretty in the exact same way.

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Pop quiz: This pretty gothic building is on what college campus? Yes, that's right—it could be anywhere.

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Get Into Your Top Choice School

When you've put together the ideas that will make up your answer to the "why us?" question, it's time to build them into a memorable essay. Here are some tips for doing that successfully:

  • Jump right in. The essay is short, so there's no need for an introduction or conclusion. Spend the first paragraph delving into your best one or two reasons for applying. Then, use the second paragraph to go into slightly less detail about reasons 2 (or 3) through 5.
  • To thine own self be true. Write in your own voice, and be sincere about what you're saying. Believe me—the reader can tell when you mean it and when you're just blathering!
  • Details, details, details. Show the school that you've done your research. Are there any classes, professors, clubs, or activities you're excited about at the school? Be specific (e.g., "I'm fascinated by the work Dr. Jenny Johnson has done with interactive sound installations").
  • If you plan on attending if admitted, say so. Colleges care about the numbers of acceptances deeply, so it might help to know you're a sure thing. But don't write this if you don't mean it!
  • Don't cut and paste the same essay for every school. At least once, you'll most likely forget to change the school name or some other telling detail. You also don't want to have too much vague, cookie-cutter reasoning, or else you'll start to sound bland and forgettable.

For more tips, check out our step-by-step essay-writing advice .

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Avoid cookie-cutter responses to "why this college?" essay prompts. Instead, provide an essay that's personalized to that particular institution.

At this point, it'll be helpful to take a look at a "why us?" essay that works and figure out what the author did to create a meaningful answer to this challenging question.

Here is a "Why Tufts?" essay from James Gregoire '19 for Tufts University :

It was on my official visit with the cross country team that I realized Tufts was the perfect school for me. Our topics of conversation ranged from Asian geography to efficient movement patterns, and everyone spoke enthusiastically about what they were involved in on campus. I really related with the guys I met, and I think they represent the passion that Tufts' students have. I can pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur by joining the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, pursuing an Entrepreneurial Leadership minor, and taking part in an up-and-coming computer science program.

Here are some of the main reasons this essay is so effective:

  • Interaction with current students. James writes about hanging out with the cross-country team and sounds excited about meeting them.
  • "I'm a great fit." He uses the conversation with the cross-country team members to talk about his own good fit here ("I really related with the guys I met").
  • Why the school is special. James also uses the conversation as a way to show that he enjoys the variety of opportunities Tufts offers (their fun conversation covers Asian geography, movement patterns, and other things they "were involved with on campus").
  • Taking advantage of this specialness. James doesn't just list things Tufts offers but also explains which of them are of specific value to him. He's interested in being an entrepreneur, so the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses appeal to him.
  • Awareness of what the school is up to. Finally, James shows that he's aware of the latest Tufts developments when he mentions the new computer science program.

The Bottom Line: Writing a Great "Why This College?" Essay

  • Proof that you understand what makes this college different and special
  • Evidence that you'll be a good fit at this school
  • Evidence that this college will, in turn, be a good fit for you

The prompt may be phrased in one of two ways: "Why us?" or "Why you?" But these are sides of the same coin and will be addressed in your essay regardless of the prompt style.

Writing the perfect "why this school?" essay requires you to first research the specific qualities and characteristics of this school that appeal to you. You can find this information by doing any or all of the following:

  • Visiting campuses in person or virtually to interact with current students and faculty
  • Posing questions to your college interviewer or to representatives at college fairs
  • Reading the college's own materials , such as its brochures, official website, alumni magazine, campus newspaper, and social media
  • Looking at other websites that talk about the school

To find a topic to write about for your essay, find the three to five things that really speak to you about the school , and then link each of them to yourself, your interests, your goals, or your strengths.

Avoid using clichés that could be true for any school, such as architecture, geography, weather, or sports fandom. Instead, focus on the details that differentiate your intended school from all the others .

What's Next?

Are you also working on your personal statement? If you're using the Common App, check out our complete breakdown of the Common App prompts and learn how to pick the best prompt for you .

If you're applying to a University of California school, we've got an in-depth article on how to write effective UC personal statements .

And if you're submitting ApplyTexas applications, read our helpful guide on how to approach the many different ApplyTexas essay prompts .

Struggling with the college application process as a whole? Our expert guides teach you how to ask for recommendations , how to write about extracurriculars , and how to research colleges .

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

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

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

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

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College Essays That Worked: See Examples

Experts say a good college essay features a student's voice and personality.

Wide shot of diligent young woman sitting on the living room floor, studying for university and writing homework in her notebook.

Students should know themselves and write authoritatively so they can share a sense of their lives with admissions officers. (Getty Images)

Many college applications require a personal essay, which can be daunting for students to write.

But a few simple tips, some introspection and insight into what admissions officers are looking for can help ease the pressure. U.S. News has compiled several college essay examples that helped students get into school. Shared by admissions staff or referenced from admissions websites, these essays stand out, they say, because the student voices shine, helping the school get to know the applicants.

"Students can get caught in the trap of overthinking it and write the essay that's going to impress the admissions committee," says Andrew Strickler, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College . "The best essays, the ones that really pop, are the ones that come across as authentic and you really hear the student's voice."

The essay gives schools a feel for how a student writes, but it's the content of the essay that matters most, admissions professionals say. In other words, while it's important to showcase sound grammar and writing, it's even more important to showcase your character and personality.

"I care more about their stories than if it is a perfect five paragraph essay," David Graves, interim director of admissions at the University of Georgia , wrote in an email.

Many schools give students a wide range of topics to choose from, which experts say can be beneficial in helping students find their voice.

While you want your voice to be apparent, it's wise to be aware of your tone, says Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an admissions consulting company that works with students to craft and revise their college essays. The goal of the essay is to make a strong case for why you’re different from all the other applicants, not necessarily why you’re better, he adds.

"You have to pass the genuine likability test. Sometimes kids are so busy trying to brag or tell their story that they’re forgetting they have to sound like a likable person. That’s a very simple test, but it’s really important."

Good essays tend to be "positively emotional," he says. It's best to avoid using sarcasm because it tends to fail on college essays.

Any humor used "really has to be a very positive, witty humor, not sarcastic," which he says can be hard to pick up on in an essay.

The Perils of Using AI for Essays

Choosing the right tone can be a challenge for many students, but admissions pros encourage them not to take shortcuts to completing their essay.

Though some college professors have embraced artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT in their classrooms, Strickler says he's begun to stress in recent talks with high school audiences the importance of original work and avoiding the use of AI tools like ChatGPT to craft college essays. While it might produce a technically well-written essay and save time, your unique voice will be stripped away, and it may leave a bad impression on admissions offices as well as prevent them from truly getting to know you, he says.

Instead, Graves says, start early and take time to write it yourself, then "actually read it out loud to someone ... to listen to the rhythm and words as they are 'read.'"

Each spring on his admissions blog , Graves shares an enrolling student's essay and why it was strong. The essay excerpted below, shared with the permission of the University of Georgia, uses descriptive word choice and gives the admissions office deep insight into the student's life, their love for writing and their connection to their family, Graves says.

It was chosen as an example "to show our applicant pool how to express themselves through similes, sensory language (words that capture the senses of the reader), and emotion," Graves wrote on the blog.

Here's how the essay opened:

If you asked me what object I’d save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook. My notebook isn’t just any notebook, it’s bubble gum pink with purple tie dye swirls, and has gold coil binding it together. But more importantly, it’s the key that unlocked my superpower, sending me soaring into the sky, flying high above any problems that could ever catch me. However, my notebook is simply the key. My real power rests in the depths of my mind, in my passion for writing. But to know how my powers came to be (not from a spider or a special rock), I must travel back to the first spark.
Four years ago, I wrote my first 6-word memoir in my eighth-grade rhetoric class. Inspired by my father’s recently diagnosed terminal illness, I wrote “Take his words, don’t take him”. It was as if all the energy of my powers surged into six meaningful words meant to honor the man that I would soon lose to a villain known as ALS. This was the first time I felt my writing. Three years ago, my dad’s disease severely progressed. The ALS seized his ability to speak and locked it in a tower with no key. The only way we could communicate was with an old spiral notebook. ...

The essay counted down each year ("three years ago," "two years ago," etc.) and concluded with this paragraph:

One month ago, I needed my powers more than ever before. I needed them to convey who I truly am for the chance at the future of my dreams as a writer. Except this time, I didn’t need the key because my powers grew into fruition. Instead, I opened my laptop only to type out one sentence… “If you asked me what object to save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook.”

This style of storytelling, which shows not just the triumph at the end but also the conflict, struggle and evolution in between, makes for great essays, Koh says.

"The student also used an intriguing timeline (counting down years and month) to tell their story, and showed how she had grown," Graves says.

This next essay, by an anonymous writer and shared on Connecticut College 's admissions page , "manages to capture multiple aspects of the writer's personality, while not becoming overly cluttered or confusing," writes Susanna Matthews, associate director of admission at the school.

Every person who truly knows me believes that I was born in the wrong century. They call me "an old soul" because I'm a collector, attracted to books, antiques, vinyl records and anything from the 80's. But they also think I am unique in other ways. I believe it is because of the meaningful connections to my two languages and two cultures.
When we moved into our first American house, I was excited to decorate my new room. The first thing I knew I needed was a place to organize my most cherished possessions I have collected throughout my life. I searched and finally found a bookshelf with twenty-five thick sections that I could build and organize alphabetically ... Each shelf holds important objects from different parts of my life. ...
These books are a strong connection to my Brazilian heritage. They also remind me of the time when I was growing up in Brazil, as a member of a large Italian-Brazilian family.

The writer continues on, describing the types of books on each shelf, from Harry Potter to books used to learn English. They describe the bottom of the bookshelf housing some of their most prized possessions, like an old typewriter their grandfather gave them. They wonder about the words it has crafted and stories it has told.

As I grab my favorite Elvis vinyl to play, I can only wonder about the next chapter of my life. I look forward to adding new books, new friends, and a wide variety of experiences to my bookshelf.

"By placing one subject (the bookshelf) at the center of the piece, it lends some flexibility to layer in much more detail than if they had tried to discuss a few different interests in the essay," Matthews writes. "You learn a lot about the person, in a way that isn't in your face – a great thing when trying to write a personal essay."

Some colleges require a supplemental essay in addition to the personal statement. Typically, admissions pros note, these essays are shorter and focus on answering a specific question posed by the college.

The University of Chicago in Illinois allows students to submit essay prompts as inspiration for the admissions office and gives students some latitude in how they answer them. Essay prompts range from questions about the school itself to asking students to pick a question from a song title or lyric and give their best shot at answering it.

"We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions," the school's admissions website reads. "They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between."

While the University of Chicago says there is no strict word limit on its supplemental essays, other schools prefer brevity. For example, Stanford University in California asks students to answer several short questions, with a 50-word limit, in addition to answering three essay questions in 100 to 250 words.

Georgia asks for a school-specific supplemental essay that's 200-300 words in addition to a 250- to 650-word personal essay.

"Sometimes a shorter essay response is not as polished an essay, but instead is a more casual, more relaxed essay," Graves says. "In addition, sometimes a student needs to get to the point or be concise, and this helps see if they can give us their story without overdoing it."

Other schools allow for a little more creativity in how the supplemental essay questions are answered. Babson College in Massachusetts, for example, gives students a 500-word limit to answer a prompt, or they can choose to submit a one-minute video about why they chose to apply to the school.

One student, Gabrielle Alias, chose to film a "day-in-the-life" video , which she narrated to answer the prompt, "Who Am I?"

"Visiting campus twice, I know I could see myself as one of the many interesting, innovative, and enticing students that come out of Babson," she says in the video. "But who am I you ask? I am a student. I am a reader. I am a researcher. I am a music lover. ... I am Gabrielle Alias and I am excited for who I will be as a graduate of Babson."

An essay by Babson student Bessie Shiroki, seen below, describes her experience in the school's admissions office and how she immediately felt comfortable.

I immediately smiled at the sight of my favorite board game. Babsonopoly. I love the combination of strategy and luck in this traditional family pastime. Seeing this on the wall in the admissions office gave me immediate comfort; I knew I was home.

Shiroki describes what she felt set Babson College apart from other schools, such as being surrounded by "sophisticated and mature individuals" and a tight-knit, entrepreneurial environment that would help her reach her career goals.

It is natural for me to be in a small class where more than one language is spoken. I am accustomed to discussions with diverse viewpoints, open minds, and where differences are seen as advantages. I embrace my cultural uniqueness, and I will add my voice to the community. I can’t imagine not continuing this in college.

She notes that as she toured the campus and saw students studying, she could see herself as one of them, feeding off of their studious and entrepreneurial energy. She mentions that Babson's Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship class got her attention immediately and she saw it as a launch pad for a future that included running a business.

Babson recognizes the potential of their students, and FME is a great way for young entrepreneurs like me to find our place in the business world and learn from our mistakes. I am capable of this challenge and will conquer it with tenacity. I will bring my dedication, commitment, and innovative skills to Babson College.
Now it’s my turn to pass go and collect my Babson acceptance letter. I’ve found my next challenge.

Babson College offers several tips for what make good essays, including a strong "hook" to engage the reader from the start and a topic that allows you to share something that's not as obvious on your application.

When it comes to writing a college admissions essay – whether personal or supplemental – experts advise students to follow these rules:

  • Find your voice.
  • Write about a topic that matters to you.
  • Share your personality.
  • Express yourself.
  • Proofread extensively.

With both traditional essays and supplemental essays, Koh says it's best to write long and work with someone you trust to edit it down. Teachers, friends and parents can all be helpful proofreaders, but experts note that the student voice should remain intact.

A good editor can help edit a long essay to keep the main message but with fewer words. “If I see 400 words, I know I’m a dozen drafts away from getting it to 650,” he says. “If I see 1200 words, we might just be one or two away. It’s at least going to be a shorter haul.”

Strickler encourages students not to stress too much over the essay or put unnecessary weight on it as part of their college application . While a strong essay helps, he says, it doesn't make or break an application.

"There's this sense that you write the most amazing essay and it gets you over the top because it opens the door to the pathway to the Magic Kingdom," he says. "But it's just one piece of a myriad of pieces that allow us to get to know a particular student and help us figure out if they're a good fit and how they're going to contribute to our community."

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College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked

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CollegeAdvisor’s 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked

The college essay is one of the most important parts of the college admissions process—and it’s also one of the hardest to complete. If you’re struggling to find the right college essay topics, you’re not alone. In this guide, we’ll break down some of the best college essays to help you write a personal statement for college that will stand out . 

You’ve likely written many essays over the course of your high school career. However, your personal statement for college may be the first time you’ve been asked to write about yourself . That’s where our sample college essays can help. 

The best college essays will reflect who you are, what matters to you, and why you’ll enrich any college community you join. That’s a tall order, but looking at examples of college essays can help you as you begin the writing process. But before we dive into our sample college essays, let’s start with some basics. 

What is a college essay?

A college essay is a piece of writing that responds to a given prompt, either on the Common App lication , Coalition Application , or on a school’s individual application. College essays can range anywhere from 50 to 800 words. There are two main types of college essays: personal statements and supplemental essays. In general, you will write one personal statement and submit it to every school you apply to. By contrast, you’ll submit a different set of supplemental essays to each school. 

Why do college essays matter in the admissions process?

Your college essays reflect parts of your identity that aren’t clear from the rest of your application. While two students might have similar grades and extracurriculars, they won’t have the same college essays. That means that your college essays can make you stand out from the crowd. Our sample college essays can help you do just that. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through sample college essays that address a wide variety of college essay topics. We’ll break down examples of college essays from every category so that you feel prepared to write your own. Each sample college essay we’ve included in our college essay examples shows how you can use strong, intentional writing to approach a variety of college essay topics. By looking at these college essay examples, we hope you learn a lot about how to approach essay-writing. 

Each school approaches college essay prompts differently. Each school may provide both required and optional college essay prompts. Most selective colleges will require you to write some kind of personal statement. Many also have school-specific supplemental college essay prompts and short answer questions. Below, sample college essays that worked show how students like you approached these prompts and impressed top schools. 

For more tips about how to approach college essay topics and the writing process, check out our Essay Guides FAQ .

In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at some examples of college essays and talk about why they succeeded. Our analysis will explain why these are a few of the best college essays that worked.

This includes a variety of essay types such as:

  • Short essay examples
  • Common App essay examples
  • Examples of personal essays
  • Supplemental essay examples (including why this college essay examples and why this major essay examples), and more.

Soon, we’ll dive into our college essays examples and break down some examples of personal essays. But first, let’s talk about what makes a good college essay and how you can make sure your college essays stand out . As you’ll see from our examples of college essays, there is no one right way to approach college essay prompts or one specific formula for writing the best college essays. However, as  you’ll learn from these sample college essays, there are still plenty of useful tips that can make your essays shine. 

Good college essays and the college admissions process

As you start reviewing college essay prompts and looking at examples of college essays, you might find yourself wondering, “What are the common characteristics of good college essays?” 

Each of our college application essay examples, from our Common App essay examples to our short essay examples, offer key insights into an applicant’s character. These sample college essays did a great job of answering their respective college essay prompts. As such, they each stood out to admissions teams as strong college application essay examples.

Later in this guide to college essay examples, we’ll break down the best college essays in detail. But first, let’s look at a few sample college essays to help you get an idea of what to think about as you learn how to write good college essays. These college essay examples provide valuable insight into how you can craft one of the best college essays admissions teams have ever seen.

Below is an excerpt from one of our successful personal essay examples:

One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels.

Below is an excerpt from one of our successful why NYU essay examples:

The Bachelor of Science in Business Program excites me, as it entails a well rounded yet intensive study in core business disciplines. However, what draws me to Stern is the emphasis on gaining a global perspective, which is crucial in today’s rapidly changing world economy. Through the International Business Exchange Program, I will be able to gain a first-hand cultural experience that will mold me into a global citizen and business leader. Not only will I be taking courses in the most prestigious business schools across the globe, but I will also have new doors opened for me to network with alumni.

As you can see, examples of college essays can look very different . What matters is that they are detailed, specific, and show the admissions team at any school why the writer would enrich campus life—all while answering the college essay prompts. When we look at more examples of college essays, we’ll discuss why these essays—and other college essay examples—worked so well.

We’ll break down:

  • How they addressed their college essay prompts
  • What kind of structure they followed
  • What their unique strengths are
  • Tips and tricks to use while writing your own college essays

As you start looking at examples of college essays, you may wonder how important they are to your application. The answer is: extremely.

Many top colleges and universities use a holistic process when reviewing applications. That means they evaluate your essays alongside your academic history, extracurriculars, and test scores to learn who you are, what has made you the person you are today, and what you might bring to a college campus. 

As you will see from our Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, the best college essays give applicants a chance to teach a school about the writer. Good college essays give schools a more complete idea of the person they will be inviting to join their student body—and they are the only chance a school has to learn who you are in your own words. 

Providing details and telling your story

As you’ll see from our college essay examples, good college essays discuss important details that might not be clear from the rest of your application. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a specific story. Other college essay prompts, like the Stanford roommate essay, for instance, ask applicants to reflect on parts of their identity beyond their grades and test scores. 

Many colleges have also tried to demystify the college application process and provide helpful resources. Some schools, like Johns Hopkins and Hamilton , even provide their own examples of college essays that worked, including Common App essay examples. This can give you a sense of what their admissions team looks for.

You’ll encounter many different college essay topics. Each of these will ask you to write about your experiences in a slightly different way. So, looking at different college essay samples (like a why this college essay example or a why this major essay example) can help you approach different college essay topics. Also, since the Common App essay is a crucial part of your application, you’ll benefit from reading our Common App essay examples. 

Later in this guide, we’ll provide full sample college essays for you. This will include both Common App essay examples and short essay examples. 

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of college essay topics. Then, we’ll talk about the examples of college essays you’ll find later in our college essay examples guide.

college essay examples

Types of college essay prompts you’ll encounter

All college essay prompts will require your best writing and ideas. Understanding the differences between the types of college essay samples can help you learn how to approach your college essay prompts. 

Our examples of college essays fall into two main categories:

  • Personal Essay Examples (Common App essay examples/Coalition App essay examples/Personal essay examples)
  • Supplemental Essay Examples (short essay examples)

Our different types of college essay examples will show how you might approach different topics and what your final essays may look like. For example, when comparing Common App essay examples and supplemental short essay examples, one significant difference between the two is the word count. When looking at short essay examples, you’ll notice that the details you find in Common App essay examples don’t fit within the short 150 word or 250 word limit. As you’ll see in our short essay examples, short-form supplemental essays require you to make the most out of a limited number of words. 

Exploring a variety of college essay samples will help prepare you to write your own. If you haven’t narrowed down your school selection yet, you might not know what kinds of supplemental essays you will write or what examples of college essays you should read. In this case, start with our personal essay examples—that is, our Common App essay examples.

The Personal Statement

The most common type of essay you’ll encounter is a personal statement for college. For most applications, you’ll choose from a selection of prompts and write a longer essay (500 – 800 words) that speaks to your experiences, identity, and goals. Your personal statement for college tends to be the longest essay in your application. This means it may require more work to edit into a focused and compelling story. For inspiration, take a look at our Common App essay examples. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a story that the admissions team otherwise wouldn’t know. 

You will apply to colleges using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or a school-specific portal. Each of these application portals will have their own unique prompts and specific word counts. However, all of our examples of personal essays serve a similar purpose and require a similar writing process. 

Beyond your personal statement for college, many schools ask you to write school-specific supplemental essays. Our college application essay examples will cover a range of supplemental essay prompts, including why you are interested in a particular school or a particular major. 

Some schools also offer a section where you can provide additional information that may have affected your grades or overall profile. This might include details about your home life or any special circumstances that created challenges for you.

In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at Common App essay examples to help you craft your personal statement.

The school-specific college essays that worked, we will review below include:

  • Harvard essay examples
  • Stanford essay examples
  • UPenn supplemental essays
  • Dartmouth essay examples
  • Why NYU essay examples
  • Why UChicago essay examples

This collection of college essays that worked will include short essay examples, including a why this college essay example and a why this major essay example. Before we break down these sample college essays, let’s look at what exactly makes the best college essays the best.

What makes the best college essays?

When looking at college essays that worked, whether personal essay examples or short essay examples, it may be challenging to discern exactly what makes a great sample college essay great.  In our college essay examples guide, our examples of college essays (in addition to being correctly formatted ) have succeeded across a few criteria.

The criteria to keep in mind while you are considering how to write a successful essay are:

  • Personality

You can apply these criteria to all of our college application essay examples, including our Common App essay examples, examples of personal essays, and short essay examples. A strong sample college essay, no matter the length, will use these three elements to create a compelling story that will show a school how you would enrich their campus. 

In our examples of college essays, you’ll see that good college essays follow a thoughtfully composed structure. Since college essay prompts often have strict word limits, it is important to follow these examples of college essays and make sure your college essay flows. Strong personal essay examples usually tell a story that leaves the reader with a lasting impression.

Like our example college essays, your college essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. As you’ll see in our college essay examples, particularly our examples of personal essays, there isn’t one right way to structure your essay. Your structure could be chronological, funnel down from broad to specific, or start with a particular memory or experience and then expand out towards a greater perspective. No matter how you structure your essay, make sure your narrative remains clear.

Not all essays have to look the same

As you will see from our examples of college essays, your college essay can look any number of ways. The best college essays can take many forms — what’s important is that your college essay shows the admissions team who you are . Even as you look at college application essay examples inspired by a singular prompt, you’ll find the topics they cover to be very different. However, one thing our college essay examples have in common is that they all showcase who the writer is while still answering the essay prompt.

As you read our examples of college essays and start writing your own, try to emphasize your own identity. Think about what is important to you, experiences that made you grow or changed you, times where you were challenged, or an a-ha moment that solidified a piece of who you are. Then, once you’ve found a topic to write about, make sure it connects back to the original prompt. Even if you tell a fantastic story, if it doesn’t answer the question in the prompt, you’ll have missed the goal of the essay. If you’re still having trouble coming up with an essay topic, try this reflection exercise to help you brainstorm.

Standing out

We’ve chosen these college essay samples because they stood out in the admissions process. Besides being well-crafted, what makes a sample college essay stand out is personality. In this college essay examples guide, we’ve included a range of Common App essay examples and short essay examples that embody different voices, tones, and styles.

As you read through our examples of college essays, you may get stuck on trying to pick a topic that is 100% unique or obviously impressive. Instead of worrying about what makes you unique from other applicants, focus on being honest and being true to yourself. Remember, no one is exactly like you. So, follow the blueprint our sample college essays provide, but stay true to who you are. 

For example, if humor is a key part of your personality, let that side of you shine through in your essays! However, if you read a hilarious college essay example but don’t naturally use humor yourself, don’t try to replicate someone else’s voice. The best college essay examples reflect students who knew who they were, what they wanted to say, and how they wanted to say it.

Our sample college essays show why it’s important to take care as you craft your personal statement and supplemental essays. But what exactly made these examples of college essays work, and how can you replicate these sample college essays in your own admissions process? 

How to use these college essay examples

Wondering how to use these essays to write your own college admission essay examples about yourself? 

We’ve given some background on why we’ve included certain college application essay examples. We’ve also discussed what you can learn from the different types of college essay samples. Now, you might ask yourself, “How should I use these college application essay examples to start writing my own?”

Each college essay example addresses a unique prompt within a specific word count. So, our Common App essay examples may be more helpful to reference when writing your personal statement. Our short essay examples, by contrast, may be more helpful as you tackle your supplemental essays.

Think of these college essay examples, including Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, as a resource. We know the college admissions process can be overwhelming . That’s why we are committed to providing you with resources and essay tips to help you navigate your college applications.

These college essays that worked should inspire you. As you read over these college essay samples, use these examples of college essays as a guide, not a blueprint. Your college essay should be original and entirely your own work. However, by looking at these sample college essays, you’ll get an idea of what to highlight as you tell your authentic story .

Coming up: college admission essay examples about yourself

So far, we’ve taken a peek at some examples of college essays. We hope these college essay samples will help you jumpstart your writing process. Now, you know a little bit about what goes into selecting a college essay example and why these college essay samples work. It’s time to take a deep dive into writing college admission essay examples about yourself.

Next, we’ll dig into some examples of college essays and think about how to write college admission essay examples about yourself. First, we’ll look at some Common App essay examples to help you write your personal statement. As you read through our examples of personal essays, we will break down why these Common App essay examples work and how you can craft your own effective personal statement.

Common App Essay Examples–How to approach your personal statement for college

Are you furiously googling “college admission essay examples about yourself”? You’re not alone. Writing good responses to college essay topics is one of the most difficult parts of the application process. With so many college essay prompts and college essay samples out there, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve provided the following examples of personal essays based on a variety of college essay topics. 

This section will focus on Common App essay examples—that is, college admission essay examples about yourself. We’ll unpack two examples of college essays that worked and analyze what made them effective. The Common App essay will be a crucial part of your application to nearly every school on your list. Reviewing other college application essay examples is a great way to improve your own writing. 

Each of these examples of college essays comes from our advisor network. Moreover, every sample college essay helped its writer get into a top school. So, they are all good examples of personal essays to use as you start your writing process. 

Getting started with examples of college essays

Writing a personal statement for college isn’t easy. It’s natural to look for college admission essay examples about yourself to help. However, if you want to be competitive at top schools, you need to make sure that your Common App essay—like these Common App essay examples—is the best it can be. Many examples of college essays struggle to leave a lasting impression on readers. Also, many students struggle to choose the right college essay topics. These Common App essay examples will teach you how to do just that. 

Let’s dig into some personal essay examples—or college admission essay examples about yourself. Each of these college essay samples relates to one of the Common App essay prompts. These examples of personal essays each tell stories about the writers that aren’t clear from the rest of their application; that’s why our college essay examples were successful at top schools. 

Our guide will walk you through these examples of college essays and show you how to write one of the best college essays you can. Later on, we break down why these sample college essays were successful and show you how you can replicate that success in your own personal statement for college. 

Common App Essay–Example 1: Elinor

The first of our Common App essay examples comes from a student named Elinor. In the first of our personal essay examples, she highlights her involvement in a club in an innovative and exciting way. Her tone, structure, and style each help her essay stand out from other examples of college essays. 

Below is the full text for the first of our examples of college essays. Later, we’ll discuss what makes this sample college essay one of the best college essay samples to look at.

Elinor’s Common App Essay:

One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels.  Cold bagels were not the only thing weighing heavily on my mind that morning. As I walked from classroom to classroom helping set up committees, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Our conference wasn’t going to be like those of the private schools- there were no engraved pens or stylish water bottles. Instead, people got post-it notes and whatever pens we could steal from the supply closet. Forcing myself to stop worrying, I chose instead to think of why we made that choice. Since most of the food was donated, and all of the supplies had been “borrowed” from the supply closet, we could afford to charge only a nominal fee to everyone attending. Making Model UN accessible was one of my top priorities as Secretary-General; the same desire motivated me to begin including middle school students in the club. I hurried back down to the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that all the bagels looked warm and ready to eat.  The bagels would not be the sole crisis that day. As debates were about to start, one of the Chairs sent me a panic stricken text: “We only have 5 people in our committee! We can’t reenact the creation of the Treaty of Versailles!” I hurried to where his debate was taking place, and sure enough, only five people were there. I quickly considered my options- cancel the committee?  Convince some delegates to switch into this debate through bagel bribery? Or maybe, come up with a completely new topic?  I settled on idea number three. But what topic could a committee of only five people spend a day discussing? I mulled it over until an idea began to form. I explained to the room, “Each one of you will represent one of the five major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The chair will guide you as you tweet, make campaign videos, and debate the most important political issues.” I spent a few minutes figuring out how to go about moderating such an unconventional committee, before heading off to check in on the other debates.  As I walked from committee to committee, fixing problems and helping move debates along, I felt a sense of pride. I had spent months working on this conference, along with the other members of my team. At times, I worried I could never pull it off. A part of me had wished our faculty advisor would just organize the whole thing for us. After all, I’m just a high schooler, how could I put together such a big event? But as the day went by, I realized that with the help of my peers, I had done it. All the little crises that cropped up weren’t because I was doing a bad job; they were inevitable. The fact that I could find solutions to such a wide variety of problems was a testament to my leadership skills, and my level-headedness. I didn’t just feel like a leader—I felt like an adult. As I look towards my future in college and later the workforce, I know that I can succeed, even if my obstacles seem as insurmountable as a mountain of frozen bagels.

Reflecting on this sample college essay

The first of our college essay examples certainly deserves its spot among the best college essays. This sample college essay works in large part because of its opening. The first sentence of Elinor’s Common App essay makes the reader want to continue—what happened to the bagels? How will Elinor solve this problem? Examples of college essays with strong introductions draw the reader in. In addition, an inspiring first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the essay. The frozen bagels in this college essay example create tension that draws the reader in. 

Often, good examples of college essays also read like short stories in which the writer is the main character. While Elinor does mention other people in her Common App essay, she remains focused on her own actions and emotional state. In the third paragraph, she describes in detail how she responded to a crisis. She first explains her thought process, then she tells us what action she took to address the crisis. 

As you comb through various college admission essay examples about yourself, you should keep your own identity in mind. Strong examples of personal essays should contain personal details about the writer. College essay topics are designed to get to know you on a personal level. Strong examples of college essays use every chance to showcase the writer’s positive qualities.

Tell YOUR story

The best Common App essay examples tell a story about the author. These college essay examples are no exception. Often, strong sample college essays use a story to show who a student is. Elinor uses the story of her model UN conference to show her leadership , maturity, and problem-solving skills. Like any good story, Elinor’s personal statement for college contains obstacles for her to overcome and challenges to face. By presenting these examples and discussing her responses, Elinor’s Common App essay shows that she is ready for the challenges ahead. 

The best college essays show information rather than just telling it. It’s one thing to tell readers you are a proactive leader in college admission essay examples about yourself; it’s another to show it through your actions. In the second paragraph of her personal statement for college, Elinor states that she wanted to make model UN accessible as Secretary General. She then goes into detail about how she accomplished that goal by organizing food donations and only charging a small fee for attending the conference. In these Common App essay examples, the writers use details and evidence to showcase their best qualities.  

Elinor’s sample college essay also contains a strong conclusion. She illustrates what she has learned about herself from this experience and in doing so, helps the admissions team learn more about her. In this college essay example, Elinor clearly shows the kind of student she would be and how she would enrich campus life. The best college application essay examples show readers why students should be admitted through evidence and storytelling. Our Common App essay examples each accomplish that goal.

examples of college essays

Common App Essay–Example 2: Arham

The second of our Common App essay examples uses a different strategy to the first. However, it is still one of the top examples of personal essays. The next author of our college essay examples, Arham, starts with a very specific moment from his fifth grade class. He then explains how that moment has affected his life. 

While some examples of personal essays are about a recent event, other personal essay examples show the author’s development over a longer period of time. To understand why this is among the best college application essay examples, let’s look at the essay itself and how it employs techniques often found in the best college essay examples.

Arham’s Common App Essay:

An hour into President Obama’s inauguration, I stifled a yawn and raised my hand. “Ms. Edgell, who did you vote for?” Instantly, nineteen fifth-graders shattered the silence: “Of course she voted Republican!” “No, she’s a Democrat!” “Obama was born in Kenya!” “Don’t ask people about their politics,” she chided.  “So . . . you’re a Republican!”  “Arham. Outside.” As Ms. Edgell fruitlessly tried to explain that politics didn’t belong in the classroom, I struggled to suppress a smile–I couldn’t help it. For a few moments, fifth grade’s single-variable algebra and spelling tests had been replaced by a more intriguing conversation: one without a definitive answer. Snippets of boisterous debate continued to drift through the closed door, and I was eager to rejoin the conversation–that day, I learned disagreements were fascinating. Eager to understand the “why” of each and every belief, I turned to my living room: a constant cacophony of political commentary, occasionally punctuated by my father’s frustrated jabs at the pause button and exasperated interjections. In my quest to decipher the cryptic nightly news, my parents became my personal dictionary, fielding a nightly barrage of questions. Forget just explaining where babies come from–over the next four years, I asked them to articulate almost every conceivable stance on gun control, abortion, and the death penalty. Through that television screen, I first encountered the full diversity of human opinions, and I was enthralled; I wanted to triumph in every dispute. Dodging my parents’ dinnertime queries of how my day went, I delved into new lines of questioning: the viability of Medicare for All, the feasibility of 100% green energy, the merits of chicken tikka masala mac & cheese fusion. After watching the 2016 Presidential Debate, I spent hours pondering the economic consequences of a more cohesive border–sadly, the living room walls didn’t offer much feedback on my ideas. Soon, I realized that some of my “solutions” were a bit near-sighted; eliminating poverty by printing money wasn’t exactly the modern-day Wealth of Nations, and the solution to global warming was a tad more nuanced than planting trees. I learned that I wouldn’t always be right–instead, the desire to win was slowly replaced by a yearning to understand. With every discussion, I synthesized new information, pinpointed gaps in my knowledge, and reevaluated my views; then, aided by the latest edition of The Economist and a plethora of Google searches, I’d unearth the next set of questions.  Late nights in my living room have defined a lifelong passion: using disagreements as a lens to explore, understand, and influence the world. In Congressman DeSaulnier’s office—where interns were instructed to hang up on adversarial callers—I instead found myself engrossed in half-hour conversations with frustrated constituents. There, I delved beneath the partisan rhetoric to truly understand why people support a wall, desire nationalized healthcare, or champion coal–and, in return, I offered a bit of my own worldview. On elevators, I’ve been known to strike conversation on the whimsical (Should gyms offer a package where you pay for every day you don’t go?); overseas, I invite teams from Germany, Singapore, and Mexico to opine on whether or not Amazon should be considered a monopoly. Whether it’s discussing capitalism or everyday life, the resulting conversations shed light on our culture, upbringing, and aspirations–the willingness to disagree is what builds rapport. In recognition of that, I beckon for dialogue; I constantly invite the world to teach me more. In fifth grade, I learned that we fear disagreement–feigning unity will always be more comfortable. But, through ignoring each other’s most fundamental beliefs, we simultaneously abandon our ability to understand our peers. In my living room, disagreements provided a venue for questioning and navigating a world of conflicting perspectives: though I didn’t know it at the time, they set the stage for a lifetime of questioning. So, be it in the classroom, through a phone call, or on stage, I continue to raise my hand.”

Why is this a college essay that works

As we saw in the first of our college essay examples, one reason this sample college essay is effective is that it engages the reader from the very first sentence. The author uses the technique of in medias res , which is often found in strong personal essay examples. Instead of beginning the essay with exposition, the author begins with a quote that places the reader in the middle of a riveting conversation. This strategy makes the best Common App essay examples interesting to read and helps the best college essays stand out from the rest.

Another feature that characterizes the best college essay examples is varied and interesting word choice. This doesn’t mean you need to use words in your writing that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. In our examples of college essays, the writers don’t just throw around SAT words. Instead, these successful examples of college essays use carefully chosen words to elevate the quality of the writing and heighten emotional tension. The phrase “shattered the silence” from the second paragraph is a perfect example of how a vivid word can instantly improve a sentence. In addition, the phrase “constant cacophony of political commentary” shows how employing poetic devices—in this case, alliteration—can make college essay examples more fun to read. 

So, what makes the second of our college essay examples shine? This personal statement for college works because it presents a compelling story about a young boy slowly learning how to express his opinions and refining his beliefs. Many of the best examples of college essays show a process of growth or transformation. These transformations require struggle, and good college essays embrace that struggle and present it openly to readers. 

The value of authenticity

This brings us to another key feature of our college essay examples: authenticity. Some students have the misconception that the best college essays should only portray your good qualities. However, this is not the case. Instead, the most successful personal essay examples address their authors’ shortcomings and explain how they have worked to overcome them.

Honesty and authenticity permeate these college essay samples. Arham’s example college essay reveals his genuine passion for debate. He provides several examples, both personal and academic, that demonstrate his interest in that topic. Importantly, successful Common App essay examples include details not present in other areas of your application. This gives readers a more personal look into your values. These examples of college essays reveal the quirks and obsessions that round out the author’s personality and set him apart from his peers.

Both of these successful examples of college essays contain strong conclusions that look ahead to the future. These personal essay examples provide insight into how the writers will contribute to a college community. Arham uses the phrase “lifetime of questioning” to show that he will bring his curiosity and thirst for knowledge to whatever college he attends. Good college application essay examples show readers why they should accept you and what you will bring to their campus.

Although these examples of college essays are different from each other, they were both successful for a variety of reasons. Now let’s look at how to replicate these examples of college essays in your own writing!

Personal Essay Examples–How to get started writing your own college essays that work

Do you feel ready to sit down and write your own personal statement for college? Let’s break down some tips to help you use our sample college essays to write your own. Be aware that every writer has their own personal style. So, try to find ways to make these tips work for your own college admission essay examples about yourself! 

So, what can we learn from these college application essay examples? Reflecting on these two Common App essay examples, there are several steps you can take in your own writing process to craft a college essay that works for top schools. 

In addition to reviewing other examples of college essays, we recommend that you do some prewriting exercises to help you write the best college essays you can. First, take a moment to review your candidate profile. Then, decide on what 3-5 adjectives you would use to describe yourself. After you’ve reviewed our college essay examples, click here for a list of strong adjectives you might use. 

Consider the word count

This exercise helps focus your essay on the most important themes. Because college essay topics are so broad, students want to cover as much ground as possible. However, the best Common App essay examples recognize the limits set by the word count. With this in mind, these examples of college essays use specific details to illustrate broad concepts. You may have a lot to share, but the best college essays highlight qualities not found elsewhere in your application. Reflect on our personal essay examples as you write. Instead of rehashing your extracurricular achievements, follow the lead of our Common App essay examples. Tell a story the admissions team hasn’t heard. 

After you have your five adjectives, look over the Common Application’s college essay prompts. Then, choose one that lets you showcase the qualities you selected earlier. When writing college admission essay examples about yourself, it’s better to tell a single story in vivid detail than to write a broad survey of all your accomplishments. The first of our Common App essay examples focused on a single day of Elinor’s high school career. She then uses this anecdote to make a larger claim about her ability to solve problems. The second of the college essay samples starts with the story of a single fifth grade class before broadening out to other topics. As you choose your college essay topics, keep specificity in mind.

Expect to write multiple drafts

The best college essays take multiple drafts. So, make sure you allow yourself enough time to write your personal statement for college. The college application essay examples in this guide weren’t written in a day. Rather, these college essay examples each went through several drafts to become good college essays. So, take a cue from our examples of personal essays. After you write the first draft of your Common App essay, review it after a day or two. This will help you approach it with a fresh perspective. Having others review your writing can also help transform good college essays into the best college essays.  

There is no single formula for writing good college essays. However, you can learn to develop your own voice by reading articles and reviewing sample college essays written by other students. As we’ve stated, examples of personal essays can help you find your own voice and narrative as you start the writing process. This article from U.S. News contains more college essay examples along with short essay examples of supplemental prompts. It also provides advice from admissions counselors about how to write college application essay examples that stand out from other examples of personal essays. Top colleges like Tufts , Johns Hopkins , and Connecticut College often post examples of college essays that worked for their schools. Reading Harvard essay examples along with other college essay samples from top schools gives you a sense of what it takes to get into top schools.

Showing vs. telling

With the above Common App essay examples, we’ve presented two college essays that worked. Both of these college application essay examples show—rather than tell—the reader important details about the applicant’s identity. These college essay examples show what kinds of students these writers would be on campus. Based on these sample college essays, top schools could imagine these students in their communities. That’s why these examples of college essays stand out. 

examples of college essays

Beyond the Common App Essay

These Common App essay examples are not the only personal essay examples we will look at in this guide. Next, we’ll discuss supplemental college essay examples—short essay examples that usually range between one hundred and four hundred words. 

These college essay prompts are unique to the schools that assign them. However, looking at many different short essay examples will help you prepare for the variety of college essay prompts you may encounter. Let’s take a look at these examples of college essays!

Short essay examples: What types of college essay topics will you see?

Now that you have some useful Common App essay examples to use as you write your personal statement for college, let’s look at some other examples of college essays. As we mentioned, there are several types of college essays . 

The short essay examples we’ll discuss effectively and efficiently answer the prompt. Keep in mind that you will often work within the constraints of a word limit. Reading examples of college essays will help you learn this writing style. Still, remember that the best college essays will reflect your own voice. Once again, use our examples of college essays as a guide—don’t try to be someone you’re not. 

In this section, we’ll focus on four main types of supplemental college essay samples. These include why this college essay examples, why this major essay examples, other less typical supplemental essay examples, and “additional information” essay examples. As we look at these examples of college essays, we’ll focus on what made these some of the best college essays out there. We’ll talk about what makes each of these college essay examples unique—and how you can use them as you craft your own college essays.

Our college essay examples shouldn’t hold you back. Don’t feel limited to the same or similar college essay topics that you read in our college essay examples. Reading some short essay samples or Common App essay samples may help you brainstorm, but the stories you tell should be uniquely yours. When reading college application essay examples, keep in mind that authenticity will impress colleges the most. 

‘Why this college’ essay

First, let’s break down some why this college essay examples. As you’ll see from our examples of successful essays, your why this college essay should discuss in detail what attracts you to that particular school. 

Many colleges will require you to write an essay about why you want to attend that particular school. Good college essays that answer these prompts will reflect a given school’s mission, opportunities, and personality. When you read successful why NYU essay examples, why Stanford essay examples, or why UPenn supplemental essays, you’ll notice that the writer isn’t afraid to be specific. 

Questions to consider

What classes will you take? Is there a professor whose work inspires you? What clubs will you join? The best examples of college essays are detailed and convincing . When reading short essay examples, notice how many details the writers include. Then, think about how you can include details with the same specificity—but ones that are applicable to your life, plans, and interests. 

Most schools will have their own supplemental essays. This is one area where Common App essay examples and supplemental college essay examples will differ. Our Common App essay samples were submitted to all colleges, while these short essay examples were submitted to individual colleges. 

As our example why this college essays show, it’s important to research the schools on your list before you complete any college essay prompts. Why this college essays that work establish three things—a personal anecdote, details about the college’s offerings, and the connection between a writer’s personal story and the college. Essentially, the best college essays help the reader visualize how a student will succeed at that school. 

college essay examples

A ‘Why Dartmouth’ essay that worked

Why this college essay examples are a useful tool as you prepare your application for any top school. When reading this Dartmouth essay, pay attention to the clearly articulated and cohesive details. The best college essay examples will be easy to read and convey lots of information in a limited number of words. 

I always had a keen interest in numbers, probability, and finance. Early on, I could quickly calculate sales tax, analyze probabilities, and visualize complex mathematical models. After taking AP classes in economics and statistics, I became intrigued with mathematical representations for economic markets and statistical models. This sparked my desire to pursue an actuarial career to utilize my talents in quantitative reasoning. The Major in Mathematical Data Science will provide me the skills to apply abstract mathematical and statistical theories to the concrete world. I will also have the opportunity to stimulate my academic intrigue through an intensive research project. 

Good college essays do more than discuss why the applicant wants to study their major. They also go beyond why that school would be a good fit for their interests. College essays that worked also show why the applicant would make that school a better place.  

As this Dartmouth essay shows , the best college essays illustrate a track record of involvement to support the applicant’s proposed path forward. In this Dartmouth essay, the applicant plans to become an actuary. Given this student’s background, this feels like an attainable and sincere goal.

Something else to note about this Dartmouth essay is that the writer doesn’t use big fancy words or elaborate sentence structure. Good college essays are well-planned, written intentionally, and free from errors. However, they still sound like high schoolers wrote them! Like our examples of college essays, your short essays should feel natural and authentic. 

‘Why UChicago’ essay examples

Why UChicago essay examples provide useful insight into what UChicago —and other top schools —look for when evaluating applicants. These Why UChicago essay examples also have qualities that you can think about when looking at Stanford essay examples, why NYU essay examples, or others!

Ex. 1: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example

When I visited UChicago, a friend invited me to step into her Comparative Literature class: Monstrosity and the Monstrous. Desperate for refuge from the cold (as a Bay Area resident, I hadn’t packed for the Chicago winter), I quickly obliged. I expected to silently observe, but when I mentioned that I’d read Antigone, her professor was thrilled–he immediately invited me into the discussion. For an hour and a half, we weighed the pros and cons of civil disobedience: did Antigone’s actions permanently destabilize Thebes, and in the modern day, when does protesting against a government cross the line? Was Antigone justified in interpreting the will of the gods? And, if so, would Sophocles support pardoning well-intentioned criminals? Beyond the enthralling analysis of the play, I was captivated by the spirit of UChicago: a campus that invites everyone (including a loitering high school student) to contribute and develop their ideas.

In this first section of our UChicago short essay examples, notice that the writer shows a knowledge of campus based on their campus visit and research. Though UChicago does not track demonstrated interest , the best college essay examples include references to visits, school-specific events, and specific details about the school’s offer. This establishes a connection between the reader and the writer. Strong college essay samples will show genuine interest. 

When reading examples of college essays, you should also think about the tone. In the first excerpt of these college application essay examples, the tone is passionate and enthusiastic. The tone of this sample college essay conveys excitement, and the reader can almost see the applicant walking around campus. Let’s read more UChicago essay examples: 

Ex. 2: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example

Now, it’s surreal to imagine taking “The Economics of Crime” from someone as renowned as Professor Levitt (I’ve been a fan since reading Freakonomics) and staying after class to clarify the finer points of the latest Freakonomics podcast (I particularly enjoyed “Speak Softly and Carry Big Data,” on using data analysis to perfect foreign policy decisions). I hope to add to UChicago’s legacy of pushing the boundaries of our economic understanding by participating in undergraduate research, and perhaps put my findings to use through crafting social policy for the Harris School’s Public Policy Practicum. Prior to graduating, I’ll sample tastes of future careers through the Fried Public Policy and Service Program or the Trott Business Program. Simultaneously, as someone who enjoys conversing and respectfully challenging ideas, I look forward to immersing myself in the Core Curriculum and obtaining a strong foundation of knowledge. Above all, I appreciate that UChicago teaches students how to think, encourages dialogue, and prompts students to question norms. 

Showcase your various interests

In this sample college essay excerpt, the author reveals a strong passion for learning. In this and many other why this college essay samples, the writer doesn’t focus solely on one academic area. Instead, the best college essays reveal qualities and traits of someone who is eager to explore a variety of interests. 

Another strength of this sample college essay excerpt is that it sticks to the facts. The best college essays limit overly emotional appeals, avoid cliché phrases, and don’t make vague statements about the future. You’ll see many examples of college essays that acknowledge a degree of uncertainty about what the author will study—and that’s okay! As our examples of college essays show, you don’t need to have everything figured out. 

Note too, that both excerpts of UChicago college application essay examples are part of a much longer essay. The UChicago supplement is closer in length to Common App essay examples. Though the college essay topics are different for UChicago, you can learn from reading Common App essay examples, too!

For more examples of college essays from UChicago, check out this article!

‘Why this college’ essays—Additional tips

There are a few more tips to learn from reading these examples of college essays. First, notice that you have a lot of freedom to choose your college essay topics. All that matters is that you discuss why you want to go to that particular college. Perhaps you are attracted to a niche academic program, or maybe you want to combine two of your interests and engage with an institute on campus. 

Also, choose your college essay topics and words carefully. Effective college essay samples avoid “spending” words complimenting colleges, telling them information they already know, or regurgitating marketing materials. Strong examples of college essays don’t focus on rankings, acceptance rates, or prestige. Writing about the beautiful buildings, the weather, or the student body size will seldom effectively answer college essay prompts. 

Dig deep and make connections

The most effective college essay examples mention major-specific electives or particular clubs. Most importantly, they’ll explain why these programs matter to the writer. You will notice that college application essay examples often describe how college will be an extension of existing passions, interests, and activities. 

In these why this college essay examples, the writers each point to specific reasons why they would like to attend their respective schools. These why this college essays are detailed and specific. Both of these sample essays showcase what their writers would bring to a college campus and how they would benefit from attending their respective schools.

As you start writing, think about our college admission essay examples about yourself. Stay true to your identity, be specific, and tell a story—then, you have a great chance of writing the best college essays you can. 

examples of college essays

‘Why this major’ essay examples

Next, let’s discuss some why this major college essay prompts. A why this major essay tells the admissions team what inspires you about your chosen field. By reading our why this major essay examples, you can understand how to discuss your academic interests in an engaging way that tells the admissions team more about your identity and passions. Let’s read some sample college essays. 

Ex.1: UPenn ‘Why this major’ essay

The University of Pennsylvania, with its strong emphasis on pre-professional learning is ideal as a learning environment. That focus is what drives many students with an eye to the future — we hope to apply our learning, impact the real world in ways that inspire change.  I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing. As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally draws upon various fields that showcase various perspectives on the meanings of language. It’s fascinating that despite the various languages and cultures there can be a biological scientific breakdown explaining the complex processes underlying syntax and semantics. 

Ex. 2: Brown University ‘Why this major’ essay

As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally fits my ideal of using interdisciplinary methods to study human behavior holistically. I am also concerned with quantitative methods. For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology. I had read about the Asch conformity tests. But when my teacher set up the experiment with three classmates as subjects and the rest of us as confederates, two subjects did not conform; our ratio of nonconformity was lower than Asch had found. Could it be a trait of the magnet population and experience? Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior,  Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.

Express your passion and curiosity

Each of these why this major essay examples gives the reader a sense of the writer’s intellectual passions. These why this major essay examples are clearly written, specific, and personal. When reading these examples of college essays, notice how detailed they are. For example, “I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing.” Good college essays dig underneath the surface. Winning essays will identify how and why a student connects with their identified major or program.

Note too, that the author of the Brown sample college essay build a clear connection between their past experiences in high school (“For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology”) and future goals in college (“Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.”)

Content comes first

As you can see in these examples of college essays, it’s crucial to focus on the content of the essay. So, when you write, complete all college essay prompts with specific details about why you want to attend that college. This will improve your overall application narrative. And, don’t forget to make that narrative cohesive. Strong college application essay examples tie extracurriculars, background , and identity together with future plans. 

Whether you’re writing UPenn supplemental essays or Brown supplemental essays, try to write about interdisciplinary interests if possible. You’re likely interested in more than one area, and many schools offer majors, minors, and certifications with unique combinations. Many short essay examples will go beyond the surface to discuss how the applicant’s seemingly disparate interests mesh. 

These college admission essay examples about yourself might raise some questions. Inevitably, some of you reading college essay samples are asking, “what if I don’t know what major I want to study?” Of course, college essays that worked can come from students who are certain of their future career. However, they can also come from students who change their major multiple times. 

So, don’t panic if you haven’t chosen a major. Instead, look at how you spend your time. What excites you now? College essay prompts give you the flexibility to expand on your reasoning.

examples of college essays

Unconventional college essay topics

Some supplemental essay prompts aren’t as straightforward as the why this major or why this college essay examples. For instance, Stanford has some unconventional college essay prompts that help the admissions team learn more about each student. Stanford asks students to write letters to their future roommate. So, let’s look at some Stanford roommate essay examples.

Stanford roommate essay 

Stanford roommate essay examples—like any college essay examples—can be helpful as you craft your application for Stanford or any other top school. Unlike some examples of college essays, the question these Stanford roommate essay examples answer is a bit more personal. College essay prompts like these give you the chance to show off what makes you unique. The best college essays for these types of prompts will show off your unique character.

When tasked with writing an unconventional essay like the Stanford roommate essay, it’s helpful to look at a few examples of college essays. These will help give you a feel for college essays that worked. Let’s read two sample college essays.

Ex.1: Stanford Roommate Essay

In the spirit of inaugurating the life-long relationship I hope we’ll build this year, let me tell you a little about myself. Hi, I’m Allison. I’m the second child of a comically over-optimistic refugee mother (my Vietnamese name translates, literally, to “celestial being”) and a proud Kentuckian with a deep passion for student-driven advocacy. I have two parents, two stepparents, a nineteen-year-old sister (a junior in Product Design, here, at Stanford), a three-year-old half-sister, two cats, one dog, and a complicated life that spans two households. So, I’m used to sharing space and managing shifting schedules. I’ve also always been the “Mom” friend. To me, the little things—a chocolate chip cookie when I know a friend has a rough day ahead, words of encouragement before a big presentation, or staying up late to explain a tough physics problem—mean the most. I’ll be there when you need me—be it studying for tests or navigating personal challenges. I recycle incessantly and am known to snatch cans out of the trash, wash them, and relocate them to neighboring blue bins. I keep a regular sleep schedule, rarely going to bed past midnight or waking up later than 8:30. I’m averse to gyms, opting instead to go for runs in the morning or follow along to a YouTube workout in the afternoon.  I’m passionate, but also even-keeled. I think life is best taken in stride—worrying has never gotten me anywhere, but flexibility has taken me everywhere. I look forward to an awesome year!

Ex.2: Stanford Roommate Essay

Hey Roomie! Yesterday was insane. I still can’t quite get over the energy in that stadium after that final play. I guess Berkeley couldn’t take back the axe to cut down these Trees! I’m writing you this since I have an 8:30 Syntax and Morphology with Dr. Gribanov. I know, it’s early, but that class is honestly worth waking up for. Last Friday, he spent the entire period rambling about why regardless and irregardless are the same thing, but responsible and irresponsible aren’t. Just a fun little thought to start your day. I’m also writing you this as a quick apology. I won’t be back from Mock Trial until late evening, and then I’ll be practicing for Stanford Symphony auditions. So, if you hear cacophonous noises in your sleep, it’s most likely me. Plus, it’s Mahler Symphony No. 1, so you might not sleep much anyway. Kidding. These next few days are jam-packed, but I’m craving some much-needed bonding time! I have a proposal: how does a jam session this Friday at Terman Fountain sound? I’ll bring the guitar and plenty of oldies sheet music, you just gotta bring a snack and the desire to sing! I’ve sold a few people already. Join us? Well, I’m headed to breakfast now. Text me if you want me to grab you anything.

Casual tone and style

These examples of college essays have a more casual tone and style. This works because it fits the prompt for the Stanford roommate essay. Writing a formal styled response in this case would be inappropriate. Instead, in these college application essay examples, both authors discuss their quirks, interests, habits, and personalities . Try to replicate this in your own Stanford roommate essay. Reading a variety of examples of college essays can help you brainstorm your own, but your ideas should still be original!

You and your freshman roommate will come to know each other well, so respond to this prompt with openness and honesty. While they aren’t as prevalent in Common App essay examples or supplemental college essay examples, jokes and humor are more common in these letters. 

Examples of college essays that are a letter to your freshman roommate are less formal. However, they should still be specific and vivid. Include details and stories to show the reader who you are. The strongest college application essay examples for Stanford will illustrate your identity through vivid stories and specifics details. 

Your letter to your Stanford roommate is a great opportunity to show the admissions committee another aspect of who you are. Take advantage of it!

The “Additional Information” essay

Finally, let’s turn to one last set of examples of college essays. One of the college essay prompts you’ll encounter is the “additional information” section of the Common App. This also appears as an optional supplement for some schools. Not all students should write this college essay. However, if you have something important to share about your background or experiences, the “additional information” section can be helpful. 

Let’s look at some college essay examples for this prompt. Keep in mind when reading college essay examples for this prompt that the content will differ from applicant to applicant. So, use this space in whatever way feels natural to you. 

Ex. 1: Harvard University Additional Information essay

I would like the Harvard Admissions Committee to know that my life circumstances are far from typical. I was born at twenty-four weeks gestation, which eighteen years ago was on the cusp of viability. Even if I was born today, under those same circumstances, my prospects for leading a normal life would be grim. Eighteen years ago, those odds were worse, and I was given a less than 5% chance of survival without suffering major cognitive and physical deficits.  The first six months of my life were spent in a large neonatal ICU in Canada. I spent most of that time in an incubator, kept breathing by a ventilator. When I was finally discharged home, it was with a feeding tube and oxygen, and it would be several more months before I was able to survive without the extra tubes connected to me. At the age of two, I was still unable to walk. I engaged in every conventional and non-conventional therapy available to me, including physical and speech therapy, massage therapy, gymnastics, and several nutritional plans, to try to remedy this. Slowly, I began to make progress in what would be a long and arduous journey towards recovery. 

This short essay example shares critical information about the writer. In doing so, this sample college essay excerpt helps the reader learn more about how medical circumstances have shaped the student’s perspective. It is factual—and so are many “additional information” short essay examples you will read. 

The best examples of college essays covering additional information are concrete. They often detail special circumstances, background information, or ways your life has been impacted. If you don’t have important information to write about, then don’t feel like you have to write something. Many students leave this section blank!

Focus on impact

You’ll notice that examples of college essays for the additional information prompt could also include details about your extracurriculars . You might use this area to detail additional extracurriculars and awards that would not fit in that section. These short essay examples typically take the form of a list rather than an essay. These short essay samples should focus on impact; don’t include unimpressive extracurriculars just to put something in the box. Examples of college essays come in all shapes and sizes.

You don’t need to include any additional information on the Common App if you have nothing more to share. However, as you can see from our college essay examples, this section can be useful in some cases. So, use our sample college essays to help you determine whether you should include any additional information in your own applications.

Final Thoughts—Examples of College Essays & College Essays That Worked

In this guide to college essay examples, we’ve walked you through several different kinds of college essays prompts. We’ve also provided details on why these sample college essays impressed admissions officers at top schools. Reading and analyzing college essay examples can be an excellent part of the brainstorming process. 

Colleges admit you based on your potential. So, when reading college essay samples, note the key qualities that the writer reveals. Each of the college essay samples is original and authentic. This should be one of your primary goals when writing your own college essays. 

As you write your college essays, keep these college essay examples in mind. Think about how these short essay examples show impact and character. Then, use your voice to tell your unique story. Good luck!

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This guide to college essay examples was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘22,  Alex Baggott-Rowe , Davidson ’16, and Stefanie Tedards. At CollegeAdvisor, we have built our  reputation  by providing comprehensive information that offers real assistance to students. If you want to get help with your college applications from Alex or other  CollegeAdvisor.com  Admissions Experts ,  click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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  • How to Research and Write a “Why This College?” Essay

How to Research and Write a "Why This College?" Essay

Published on September 24, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on June 1, 2023.

As part of the college application process , many colleges ask applicants to include a supplemental essay explaining why they are interested in their school specifically. There’s one absolute must for writing a great answer to this question: do your research .

Admissions officers are looking for applicants to prove that they are knowledgeable and interested in their school in particular. General answers like “I like the location” or “It’s the right size and offers my major” won’t earn you much praise. Admissions officers are far more impressed by students who can take very specific information—the names of certain classes, for example—and connect it to their personal academic interests.

The process of writing a “Why this college?” essay should look something like this:

  • Thoroughly research the college
  • Connect what you’ve learned through your research to yourself
  • Outline and write the essay

Table of contents

How to research a college, plan and write the essay, mistakes to avoid in a “why this college” essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The first step in the process is by far the most important. Research should be concrete and very specific—the College Board’s “At a Glance” pages or the “About” section of the college website won’t have the information you need. Instead, look deeply into the college website to find information that isn’t so obvious.

The information you come up with should only be applicable to one college—if you could replace the name of one school with another and have the essay still make sense, you’re not being specific enough.

Visit the campus

Most students visit colleges they’re considering before they apply, and those visits can be a great source of information. Not only will you learn information on the tour, but you’ll also connect with a current student—the tour guide. Current students can answer questions about campus life, and mentioning your interactions with students in your essay can help strengthen it.

On your tour, keep an eye out for any information, big or small, about what makes the school unique. Ask your tour guide about what on-campus social events they enjoy or what unusual traditions they’ve taken part in.

If you’re an international student or otherwise unable to travel to the campus, check if there are other opportunities to find out more about the campus, such as virtual tours.

Look for courses and professors that interest you

If you have a major in mind, there will almost certainly be a list of requirements for that major somewhere on the website. Many schools also make their course catalog available on their website, which can be an excellent resource for prospective students.

You should also check the names of professors teaching in the department. Professors’ email addresses will usually be listed on these pages, and you can email them with any specific questions about the program that the admissions office can’t answer.

This process can work even if you aren’t sure what you’d like to major in. Look for classes in any fields that pique your interest. Find programs you might be interested in—such as study abroad or internship programs—and dig for detailed information about them.

To answer the “Why Duke?” supplemental essay question, Ariana looks at Duke’s registrar website, which offers a version of the course catalog online, and searches for courses in linguistics. There are plenty of courses that seem perfect for Ariana: “Spanish in the US,” “Neuroscience and Human Language,” and “Bilingualism” are all great fits with her interests.

Researching other activities

In addition to finding information on the academics of your chosen school, you should also research other aspects of the college. Non-academic motivations probably won’t make up the bulk of your essay, but they can be a great addition.

Student organizations are good to mention, and it’s great to connect with students who participate in organizations you’re interested in prior to writing your essay.

If you’re a student athlete, you will likely meet with the coach for your sport before you apply. Feel free to mention that—and what you discussed with them—in your essay.

You can also mention other unique traditions or quirks of the school that appeal to you. For example, Muhlenberg College prides itself on painting all of the doors on campus red as a sign of welcome; mentioning that in your essay could show that you’re invested in the friendly, communal culture of that school.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Once you’ve completed your research, you’re ready to start the writing process. All the general rules of essay writing still apply—you’ll want, for example, to organize your thoughts with an outline before getting started—but keep in mind that many schools want this essay to be short compared to the personal essay.

In your early notes, be sure to include all the possible reasons the school appeals to you. Write down any information you gathered from your research, campus visit, or conversations with faculty or current students, along with anything else that strikes you as relevant. For example, here’s what Ariana’s list of her reasons for applying to Duke might look like.

  • Combining linguistics and medicine/healthcare
  • Interesting courses: “Neuroscience and Human Language”; “Language, Music, and Dementia”; “Spanish in the US”
  • Campus atmosphere: I overheard students discussing their academic interests throughout the day, even at the dining hall. The student body seems passionate and focused on academics.
  • Conversation with a student during the tour: Discussed my interest in Spanish/bilingualism with a student who happened to be majoring in Spanish.
  • Clubs/activities: Latin American Students Organization and Mi Gente
  • VLearn Program: Duke offers students $70 per semester for lunch with a faculty member

Once your list of campus positives is finished, you can move on to writing an outline in which you organize your thoughts. In the outline, be sure to connect your research to yourself. You can do that by detailing a relevant experience, explaining an academic interest, or connecting the research to your personal life.

I have always been interested in language and how it intersects with neuroscience and medicine. Duke’s “Language, Music, and Dementia” class seems tailor-made for me: it’s the exact type of course I’d like to take and would prepare me for a future career in research or medicine, my two academic passions.

Once you’ve outlined your essay, you can write a draft. The word count for these essays is usually lower. Admissions officers don’t spend much time on each application, so be sure not to exceed the word count.

It’s okay for your answer to be short; successful answers to this question at Tufts, for example, range from just 100 words to 250 words .

For a strong essay, avoid being too general or too emotional, and try not to repeat the same points you’ve already made in other parts of your application.

Speaking in generalities

The most common cause of a bad “ Why this college?” essay is the use of generalities. You may have initially been interested in a school because of its size, ranking, reputation, or location, or the availability of your desired majors, but those aren’t specific enough reasons to include in your essay.

Overusing emotive language

It’s great if you “felt at home” on your college visit, but what does that really mean? You can call a college your “dream school,” but that doesn’t really explain what about it appeals to you.

While it’s fine to discuss the emotional reasons you like a specific college, your essay must include specific, concrete reasons why you want to attend.

Rewriting your personal essay or resume

Admissions officers already have your personal essay and resume right in front of them; you don’t need to reiterate what’s in those, especially if it isn’t relevant to the reasons you’ve given.

Rewriting your accomplishments over and over throughout the application can be annoyingly redundant or, worse, come off as boastful.

However, rewriting your personal essay to make it more readable is highly recommended. You can do this quickly with a paraphrasing tool .

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

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

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

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

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32 College Essay Examples That Worked

College Essay Samples

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

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

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Article Contents 54 min read

Why a college essay matters.

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

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

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

How to Structure Your College Essay

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

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

Great content requires a solid structure to really shine:

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

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

6 Tips for Effective Essay Writing

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

1. Do not plagiarize.

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

2. Say it with feeling.

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

3. Show, don’t tell.

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

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

5. Proofread your work.

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

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

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

6. Read that prompt one last time!

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

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

College Essay Examples #1/32: Harvard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #2/32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #4/32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #5/32: cornell.

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #6/32:

School: Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

School: Cornell College of Arts and Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Essay Examples #8/32: Princeton

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #9/32:

School: Princeton University 

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #11/32:

School: Stanford University

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

Dear future roommate,

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #12/32:

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

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

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

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

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College essay examples #13/32:.

School:  Stanford University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #15/32: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #16/32:

School: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #17/32: yale university.

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

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

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

School: Yale University 

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #19/32: columbia university.

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #20/32:

School: Columbia University

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #21/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #23/32:

School:  Brown University

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

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

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

College essay examples #24/32:.

School:  Tulane University

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

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

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

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

Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (600 words)

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #26/32:

Common App Essays

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #27/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #29/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prompt: Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Sample College Essay #30

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

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

Sample College Essay #32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jonathan Walker

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

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Jonathan! Thanks for your comment! Good luck!

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

Hello Sussy! Thanks for your comment.

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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students

Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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What Makes Successful College Essays… Successful?

Alex Collaza, Admissionado

How To Write a College Essay, Part 1 of 2

Learn the sparc method, and see college essays that worked.

You’ve probably read a sample college essay before. Applicants are bombarded with “essays that worked”—in purpose-built essay collections, English class, and even  the newspaper ." These essay examples can be invaluable, but also somewhat misleading. Your goal is not to get your essay published. It’s not even to write a good essay per se. It’s to write an essay that will get you into the college of your dreams.

The application essay examples most often seen in the wild are those that appeal to English-major types: essay collection editors, English teachers, journalists, etc. (Full disclosure: the author is guilty on all counts.) They are often well-written stories with lyrical prose that say something meaningful about the world and “what the kids are thinking.” No doubt, that kind of essay can unlock the door to an elite university. But it’s not the only way—in fact, only a tiny minority of successful college essays fit that profile.

What Do Colleges Look For in Essays?

To an audience that reads literally hundreds of application essays every year, your story is unlikely to stand out on writing skill alone. There are probably more published writers in the reject pile at Harvard than the admitted class (they need some scientists too!). A unique story won’t cut it either, because there really isn’t any such thing.

Here’s an extreme example of what I mean: In my eight years’ experience, I have read THREE application essays in which the writer survived a failed assassination attempt on them or their family. Each of those folks was totally confident that they had a story so unique and interesting that it would guarantee admission. But by the third essay, it’s not hard to think “Well sure, this is a pretty rare topic, but I've seen it done better…”

Start from the assumption that your essay will be one of many in terms of topic and writing quality. So how do you stand out? It’s not what you say, or even how you say it, but everything encoded in what you say. Think about it: If the school cared about what you wrote… wouldn’t they follow up at some point to make sure you actually took the major you said you would, or hold the beliefs you argued for, or joined XYZ university club you said you were interested in joining?

The reason no one ever follows up, is because after it fulfills its purpose, your essay goes into a permanent dead letter memory bank of “who cares?” The admissions committee is looking for applicants with maturity and the ability to excel on campus—a future student who has the gumption to navigate the abrupt transition to college. If you can recognize what traits the admissions committee is looking for, and show evidence of them, your essay will succeed.

How to Write a Good College Essay

The sparc method for writing a college essay that works.

The good news? You can convey the traits the admissions committee is looking for in an unlimited number of ways!

The bad news? You can convey the traits the admissions committee is looking for in an unlimited number of ways!

When applicants write what they think the reader wants to hear, it often doesn’t end well. Applicants who focus on certain achievements or values often don’t come across as they hoped to. For example, “I want to be seen as a leader, but I’m actually coming off as a pompous jerk who thinks an adult will be impressed that I organized a bake sale.” Or, “I want to be seen as valuing diversity, but the way I keep mentioning my friend’s racial identities is giving off a really weird vibe.”

Our approach is to not sweat values and achievements. You come to the essay writing stage of the application process having done certain things and holding certain values, and you likely can’t or shouldn’t change those at this point. Instead, the task is to frame your existing life story to show that you have desirable attributes for a university student: that “spark” of maturity and future success that gets the adcom excited.

We like to capture some of the many paths to a successful college essay through a framework we call––fittingly––SPARC:

These five occasionally overlapping ideas, taken together, capture the “special sauce” that makes one college application succeed while another fails. You don’t need to showcase all of these traits in your essays, but hopefully a few resonate with your view of yourself and give you a sense of how to pitch your candidacy.

It’s possible to have impressive achievements, but what if you never did anything unless someone asked you to? Are you the type of person who goes the extra mile, even when the task is already completed? Are you doing things because you’re propelled by some inner drive?

That ability to seize, or self-motivate, is absolutely essential on a college campus and beyond. In high school, if you’re falling behind, it’s the teacher’s job to notice that and help you get back on track. In college, it’s YOUR job to stay on track. You have to identify the problem, and you have to ask the professor for help (which most—but not all—will gladly give). Adcoms want to see that you’re the type of student who will handle this transition smoothly, because you already have a history of seizing opportunities in an independent, self-motivated way.

College Essay Example 1: Seize

This essay writer was admitted to princeton, duke, and uc berkeley.

Here’s a real example of what this can look like, from a student we worked with who recently got into Princeton, Duke, and UC Berkeley, among other schools. Details and names in all of the examples in this articles have been changed to protect our clients’ anonymity, but they are otherwise exactly as the adcom read them:

“The movement of each blade illuminated a musical harmony, and each insect scurrying around the grass was an instrument of the orchestra. When it was time to leave, the pleasant music in my head faded into a simple, unpleasant, dissonant noise as I encountered an exhibition on how climate change was destroying thousands of species of grass. That’s when I decided to dedicate my life to saving those special plants.

The next day, I built myself a garden bed out of wood and plastic that I found leftover in my uncle’s car dealership to begin researching how grasses adapt to challenging thermal scenarios. I read classic books on grass like Charles Veron’s Grasses of the World . I looked at my research from a strictly rational, mathematical and logical perspective. After months of tracking the growth rate of Chloris gayana grass under elevated temperatures, my results reflected my biggest fear: grasses will never be able to evolve that fast.”

This excerpt is powerful because it shows that the applicant’s interest in botany goes far beyond classroom assignments and the expectations of the adults in his life. He will need that motivation to succeed in Princeton’s rigorous science programs, far from home and with limited oversight.

Here are some other essay angles to consider:

  • When has something succeeded ONLY because you took it upon yourself to see it through to the end (when no one else would)?
  • What’s a belief or ideal that many others nod in agreement to, but you took ACTION on?
  • Was there ever a stalemate situation that you resolved by taking control?
  • Is there an example of an achievement or win that was only made possible because you wanted it more than others?
  • Have you ever cleaned up someone else’s mess, not sought credit for it, but did it because it simply needed doing?

Pursue is all about going after stuff that is just outside your reach. You need to give chase. And that requires putting in the work, with no guaranteed outcome.

You know what’s hard and has no guaranteed outcome? College. The worst thing an adcom can do is accept a person who then drops out part-way through. It’s their job to make sure that never happens, with tens of thousands of tuition dollars at stake. By showing persistence, determination and grit in your application essays, you can assuage these doubts.

Addressing this point is particularly important if you’re going to move somewhere far from home, are proposing to pursue a particularly tough program (i.e., pre-med), or have a history of quitting things or regularly changing your extracurricular activities.

College Essay Example 2: Pursue

The student who wrote this essay got into u of chicago, georgetown, and brown.

Here’s an example of pursuit that got a student into the University of Chicago, Georgetown, and Brown, among others:

A magical portal from the future--though perhaps not so distant in the future as we once thought. In every Star Trek ship, there’s a room with the power to change the world. It’s called the Transporter Room, and it has the ability to teleport people and equipment thousands of miles in an instant. … Meanwhile, new technological advancements are even beginning to resemble the infant phases of a teleporter. In 2017, scientists in China teleported photons 1,400 km from a satellite in orbit, and a team in Switzerland is working on a device which, once completed, may allow quantum teleportation of thousands of atoms at the speed of light through fiber optic cable. Teleportation captured my imagination completely…

It wasn’t easy to join the Anderson lab as a high school student. I reached out without any references, and it took weeks to get on the phone with one of the investigators. He was skeptical that I would be able to contribute, but my answers impressed him enough to arrange a second interview. It took four rounds, with hard studying before each interview, but I landed the internship. [...] I am determined to build on my experience at the Anderson lab and make practical teleportation a reality within my lifetime.

The big (if slightly outlandish) ideas are part of the charm here, but the real meat is the applicant’s persistence in securing her internship. That’s exactly the kind of work she’ll need to do to get lab positions on campus and impressive research internships in the summers. This is a person who understands what’s necessary to succeed in the job market.

Here are some other facets to consider with writing your essay:

  • Have you ever almost quit something? But––something compelled you to persevere?
  • Ever start something you thought would be easy, found out it was much harder than you realized… and then kept at it?
  • Have you ever developed a hunger for something precisely BECAUSE it would prove to be challenging?

Some folks are satisfied when an objective is met, or a question is answered. Others are restless, always leaning forward, never satisfied. It’s not enough to get the right answer, they need to know why. If they don’t understand something, they ask questions.

It’s this curiosity “gene” that is exciting to adcoms because it suggests a kind of intellectual restlessness. The Western college classroom is a place for debate, discussion, and disagreement. An essay that showcases you intelligently questioning conventional wisdom helps the adcom envision you as an active participant in their school’s intellectual life. While this kind of essay is valuable for everyone, it can be particularly useful for students coming from an academic tradition where classroom debate is not as encouraged.

College Essay Example 3: Ask

This sample essay's writer got into upenn, bu, and uc-berkeley.

The following example got this student into Penn, Boston University, and UC Berkeley, among other schools:

“The participatory budgeting process, allocating resources individually, intrigued me. I was excited to be doing something tangible for my community. […] In initial outreach discussions, with a goal to involve more participants, we were told to emphasize altruism, telling teens to consider other Austin communities too, since the fund is limited and must be allocated fairly across communities.

But then I asked myself, “Will this really work?” As a voracious reader of philosophy, history and economics, I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t. I had just read John Locke’s theory that “general interest is achieved with the advancement of individual interests.” I thought about Adam Smith’s idea that “self-interested competition could benefit the society.” I decided we should tell people to be "selfish" and focus on their own needs.

I hesitated to propose this idea to my team however. As I was about to say it out loud, I realized it sounded “unnatural.” I sat and thought about it, knowing that “being selfish” could be misunderstood and come off wrong if I presented it in the wrong way. I didn’t speak up during our next meeting out of fear of rejection. However, feeling guilty about my reticence and truly concerned about the program, I went home and wrote my thoughts down. I felt compelled to tell the team my idea.

I presented my idea at the next meeting. I carefully defined “selfishness” as self-focus, a driving force to involve more teens and eventually benefit more of them. Addressing questions from my teammates, I felt great relief to hear people’s enthusiasm. Teaching teens to be “selfish” does not sound very forward-thinking, but people are more willing to participate in programs that benefit them directly.

The particular politics may not be every adcom member’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest to an admissions professional. The magic here is all in the applicant’s relationship to the group: the way he challenges his peers and is willing to put in the work to develop a well thought-out, substantial argument. This is the kind of intellectual leadership that makes a student valuable to their classmates.

Here are a few other approaches to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Have you ever been told a truth, presented a fact, etc., but not been satisfied with it?
  • Have you ever asked a question few others have asked about a particular subject?

It’s easy to “say yes” when there are no consequences to failure. The person who cares more about “the thing” than “not failing” is incredibly exciting. This person will be less vulnerable to vanity, peer pressure, etc. This is also the kind of person who might be willing to make the bold career moves (founding a company, discovering something no one else is willing to research, creating a work of truly revolutionary art) that can land an alumnus on the cover of a magazine and reflect well on the alma mater.

Of course, wanton or unwise risk taking could be a sign of immaturity. Generally the proof is in the results: a situation where the risks of failure were high, but not realized because you succeeded. Play up what could have gone wrong, then show that it ultimately didn’t, because you soberly and accurately evaluated the situation.

College Essay Example 4: Risk

This student was accepted at princeton, duke, and uc berkeley.

Below is an example of a client who found himself in a dangerous situation and decided to take a calculated risk to salvage it. This essay earned him admission to Princeton, Duke, and UC Berkeley, among other schools.

We decided to tack the sails and head further offshore, so that the gusts of the cold front emanating from the shoreline and preceding the storm would propel us home. However, as the other two were significantly smaller and lighter than us, they caught the updrafts far more easily than Harry and I, rocketing them several hundred yards in front of us. My concern grew as the moments passed. If they moved incorrectly during a strong gale, their inexperience and light weight could cause the boat to tip and throw them overboard.

And, of course, that is exactly what happened.

At first sight of the capsized children, we cranked to full speed, ditching extraneous lines and equipment to the ocean’s depths—my favorite lawn chair now rests inside Davy Jones’s Locker. I manned the rudders, the tiller, and the back ropes, while Harry controlled the jib and the boom. Harry circled them as I jumped into the waves to flip the catamaran.

Climbing atop and falling off that skiff repeatedly filled my heart with despair and my lungs with saltwater. After righting the fallen vessel, I swam back to Harry, whose circular sailing reminded me of the sharks that infest those waters. This was ample motivation for my best Michael Phelps impersonation.

The writer saved his friends’ lives by taking a risk at sea in bad weather. The stakes don’t need to be nearly that high, however! Creating a new club, taking a difficult class, choosing a particularly difficult topic for an assignment––all of these things could be risky in the way adcoms appreciate.

Consider these questions when brainstorming essay topics:

  • Ever want something, but sense that you would more likely than not FAIL, and then… do it anyway?
  • Have you ever risked your personal reputation for something you believed was right, or helpful to a greater cause?
  • Have you ever been told by the majority of folks around you “don’t do it, take the easy road, there’s too much at stake” but you chose to ignore that advice?

It’s easy to build shelves when they come in a kit. It’s much cooler when you’re starting from scratch, and need to think laterally, build something from … the resources at hand, whatever they may be. Sometimes those resources amount to nothing. If you are able to succeed “wherever you are, whatever the circumstance, whatever your resources,” it bodes well. How well can you “create” when pushed?

A common trap is considering creativity solely the domain of artsy applicants. If you can paint, play music, or write excellently, that’s a great thing to highlight, but it’s not the only way to “create.” An engineering type could create a device, a coder could create an app, but many of the most successful “creativity” essays involve applicants creating new organizations, programs or IDEAS. This type of essay is powerful because it showcases your ability to have an impact on your community, and speaks to your ability to have an impact on your college campus.

College Essay Example 5: Create

The student who wrote this sample essay got into five ivy league schools.

Here’s an excerpt from a student that scored admits at Yale, Columbia, Penn, Cornell, Brown and a bunch of other schools:

Parliamentary debate has always been a search for the truth in round, but it has also become for me a search for truth on a personal level. At my first tournament, I noticed that I was the only girl and person of color in the room; I soon learned this is normal. A few disparaging remarks from judges about my “feminine” voice peppered otherwise positive feedback. To better appeal to judges, my first instinct was to mimic my successful male peers. But I soon realized that it was much more fulfilling to enhance my existing strengths.

When I realized I wasn’t the only one in this situation, I sought opportunities to mentor girls across the state. Through practice rounds, we empowered each other to build upon our strengths and preserve our diverse identities. Not only was I able to recruit more minorities to my team, but I also helped girls in Wisconsin begin small debate teams at their schools. Creating new forums for discourse has resulted in a more understanding student population, and I look forward to encouraging dialogue on campus[...]

This form of creativity has clear and direct applications to college life.

Here are some questions to consider when writing your essay:

  • Ever been deprived of certain “essential” ingredients for something, and figured out a clever solution with the resources at hand?
  • Ever find your way out of a tricky situation where there was no obvious answer by thinking outside the box?
  • Ever been stuck on a problem, and almost given up, but needed to solve it so badly that you found a new way to view the problem itself?

College Essay Ideas

Use the sparc method for essay inspiration.

Hopefully some of the essay samples and questions above have resonated with you. Pursue those ideas and imagine how they could map to a specific element of your experience. Worries like “do I have enough leadership?” or “did I win enough awards in XYZ to stand out?” are not worth considering. By the time you’re putting hands to keyboard on your application essay, it’s too late to make significant changes to your background. People who are not Olympians or valedictorians or published researchers get into top colleges every day. What matters is your ability to show your SPARC, whatever it may be.

In our next post, we’ll get into more detail about how to put your ideas on the page. In the meantime, if you’d like a free consultation with our team of admissions experts, or to take the SPARC Quiz , visit us at admissionado.com .

Read part 2 in this series on writing a successful college essay

Read on for more essay writing tips , common mistakes and examples of essays before and after revision.

Alex Collazo

Alex is the Managing Director of Systems & Content at Admissionado , a top admissions consultancy. Since graduating from Columbia University in 2013, he has worked with hundreds of MBA applicants on thousands of essays, helping his students maximize their MBA potential. From his base in New York City, he has written a wide variety of education-related reports, case studies, and articles, many of which can be found on Admissionado ’s website and Amazon store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Multiple Meanings of Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparking Self-Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This College?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Major?

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

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

Why Duke Engineering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Georgia Tech CompSci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extracurricular Essay

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

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

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

A Dedicated Musician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Complicated Relationship with the School Newspaper

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

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

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

Participating in Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Challenges

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

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

The Student Becomes the Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Sensitivity to Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Service/Impact on the Community

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

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

Academic Signing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Rally

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

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

Rewind to the present day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Story of a Young Skater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Community in the Rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political/Global Issues

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

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

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

Fighting Violence Against Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays

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

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

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

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6 Best Common App Essay Examples – 2024 College Essays

December 17, 2023

common app essay examples, college personal statement

If there’s a surefire way to strike fear into the heart of a college-bound high school senior, it’s the prospect of writing a college essay. We can understand why: this is a high-stakes piece of writing that adds much-needed dimension and personality to your application’s quantitative elements, providing important insight into what type of student and community member you will be on campus. Compounding these factors is the decision of what to write about, and then, after you decide, figuring out how to express it all in under 650 words. No pressure, right? Understand that your nerves are normal, but don’t let them induce midlife crisis levels of panic–you can do this! In today’s blog, we cover ten important tips & college essay examples. In addition, we also analyze each of the Common App essay examples and offer insight into what they can teach us.

College Essay Examples Tip #1: Remember your essay’s purpose  

To write the most effective piece of writing in any discipline, it’s important to understand the context in which that piece of writing is being evaluated and for what purpose. Your personal statement for college is a single subjective element of your application that helps tell the story of you, alongside other quantitative and qualitative information such as grades, test scores, teacher recommendations , and your extracurricular profile . It’s certainly true that essays can be a weighty element depending on the school you’re applying to and where you fall in relation to the rest of the applicant pool. However, since essays are often the final application piece that can be controlled, it’s common to overinflate their importance.

If your essay does its job, readers will obtain a clear sense of who you are and what you value. They’ll also have a better understanding of how you might contribute to their academic institution’s learning and social communities. Additionally, admissions officers should be able to sum up your essay’s main message in about one sentence.

College Essay Examples  Tip #2: Be authentic 

You might be tired of hearing this one, but it’s the most salient piece of advice we can offer. Often, students attempt to manufacture certain application narratives, which typically wind up sounding forced or over-engineered. If you do make genuine connections between certain experiences, great! Perhaps your lifelong love of camping really did contribute to your engineering aspirations. However, if that connection doesn’t exist, don’t invent it. If you’re writing about what truly matters most to you–an experience, a passion, an idea, an important moment of growth or conflict–the different aspects of your application will naturally come together. We promise.

College Essay Tip #3: Be humble and self-aware 

A self-important tone will sink an essay faster than holes in a canoe, no matter how impressive you are. The personal statement is not an opportunity to hit people over the head with accomplishments that appear elsewhere. Instead, it’s to reveal the voice of the person behind the application–what you value and think is important. Your essays are the closest admissions officers can get to having you in the room with them. Consequently, use that power wisely and let your grades, extracurricular profile, and teacher recommendations do the heavy lifting.

College Personal Statement Tip #4: Write well and with clarity.

Good writing is good writing, period. An excellent personal statement in 2023 would also have been an excellent personal statement in 2013. The criteria haven’t changed: colleges that use holistic admissions still rely on essays to obtain a sense of an applicant’s unique voice and hear their story in their own words.

However, packing your essay with figurative devices, subtle or abstract references, and complex syntax is not in your best interest. Your reader will not be sitting with your essay for 15-20 minutes appreciating its style. Instead, they’ll be reading it once–perhaps twice. They’ll synthesize its message and then move on. As such, your essay’s overall message–and its clarity–is paramount. When you do make sentence-level revisions, focus on those that will enhance your essay’s narrative or present your ideas even more clearly rather than worrying about using overly flowery language or uncommon vocabulary.

College Personal Statement Tip #5: Structure your essay in the way that makes the most sense for your story.

Too often, we see students attempting to make their essays stand out by adopting a “unique” structure or approach. However, to be quite frank, your chance of presenting admissions officers with something that they’ve never seen before has approximately the same probability as seeing a velociraptor in your backyard. Remember, they read thousands of applications per year. Their objective is not to be surprised but to get to know you . Style and presentation shouldn’t get in the way of substance.

College Personal Statement Tip #6: Trust your intuition .

When it comes to choosing topics, the way you write about any given topic often outweighs the topic itself. ( See exceptions here . ) As such, the topic that is often the most successful is the one that you feel most excited or inspired to write. In addition, many writing teachers and scholars agree that the most effective revision takes place when writers are interested and invested in their topics. Essentially, make sure you like what you’re writing about!

College Essay Examples –  Tip #7: Choose a topic you feel comfortable writing about.

Writing about trauma or deeply personal challenges is not a prerequisite for your application. Every student is so incredibly multidimensional with myriad stories to tell about themselves (yes, it’s true!). As such, you shouldn’t feel pressured to reveal details or experiences that you aren’t ready to write about or share. If you do elect to write about a traumatic experience or difficult circumstance, we’d advise engaging in a quick self-check. How much are you attaching yourself to this essay? In other words, if your application is not accepted to College X, will you be okay with that? If that question immediately induces self-doubt and negativity, you likely want to choose something else to write about.

College Personal Statement Tip #8: Solicit feedback.

Most professional writers ask a trusted peer, mentor, or colleague to read their work at least once before finalizing it. It can be difficult to be objective, so receiving quality feedback from an outside reader can make an important difference .

However, this tip has one important caveat: be choosy about whom you solicit feedback from. The person you ask should be familiar with the college essay genre and understand what is expected. Otherwise, it would be like asking someone who doesn’t play baseball to give you advice on your swing.

If you do ask a friend, family member, or teacher for feedback who is not familiar with college essay conventions, a great question to ask is “Does this essay sound like me?” In addition, the feedback you receive should, ideally, be very specific with well-explained reasoning. This allows you to decide if and how to use it.

College Essay Examples –  Tip #9: Use spell check.

An error or two won’t hurt you–we promise. We’re all humans and miss a comma here and there. However, if your essay is littered with typos that could have been remediated by running a Grammarly scan , a reader may assume you’re not serious about the application or lack attention to detail.

Common App Essay Examples Tip #10: Read Common App essay examples (with perspective).

How can we write a good poem without ever reading a piece of poetry? Or craft a short story without first immersing ourselves in the classics? Or develop a college personal statement without reading good examples? Well–that last one isn’t exactly rhetorical.

We’ve noticed that providing Common App essay examples is more complicated than providing examples for other types of writing. This is because college essays are often associated with a particular desired outcome. As such, students are prone to arrive at unhelpful and/or inaccurate conclusions after reading. For example: “If so-and-so got into Harvard by theming all their essays about chicken soup, then I should do the same!” or “This person used an extended metaphor, so that must be the way to do it!” What happens even more frequently is that students compare their writing styles and life experiences to others. They’ll then (falsely) conclude that they’re not good enough or interesting enough to be accepted to College X. This can result in confidence issues and unnecessary panic.

It’s also important to note that reading college essay examples by themselves is akin to watching a fish out of water. To truly understand its context, it should be read within the framework of the application. That said, to better understand the basics of the genre, it can be helpful to read a variety of Common App essay examples, observing their general structure and what they reveal about their writers. Below, we’ve included several college essay examples along with a short breakdown of what writers can learn from each piece.

Common App Essay Examples: Essay #1

On a hot day last summer, my brother ran his bike into the mailbox. He skinned his knee, but was less worried about that and more worried about the chipped paint on his new bike. Tears welling in his eyes, he rubbed it with his finger and even more paint flaked off.

“Wait,” I said. “Wait here for just one minute.”

I had taken my brother outside because my mom was sleeping after a chemo treatment, but I ran upstairs as quickly and quietly as I could to get my box of paints. It’s a wooden box, smudged with charcoal fingerprints and streaks of acrylics. I hadn’t always been an artist, but when my art teacher noticed the designs in my notebook margins and asked if I wanted to come to an art club meeting, I decided to try it.

At that first meeting, my teacher taught us how to create a mountain sunrise. As the painting took shape, I marveled at the techniques–using my thumbprint to create the sun, crafting shadows with surprising colors, creating different effects by applying varying types of pressure to my brush. I was also surprised that focusing on my piece felt so meditative–it was the first time since my mom’s diagnosis that I hadn’t been preoccupied with whether her treatments would work or what I was going to cook my brother for dinner.

Common App Essay Examples (Continued)

“What do you want on your bike?” I asked my brother. “Instead of the scratch.” I opened up my box and pointed toward his bike. His eyes widened.

“Anything I want?” he asked.

He chose a baseball bat, and crouched next to me as I painted. When I was done, he said, “Can you paint a baseball, too? Over here.” He pointed to the other end of the bike.

“I’ll show you how.” I dipped his thumb in white and pressed it on the bike’s frame, then showed him how to use my thinnest brush to add curved red stitching.

Word spread quickly about my bike designs. My brother’s friends stopped by the house with pictures of designs that they wanted, and my neighbor’s little girls shyly approached when I was outside with my brother, asking for butterflies. I started carrying my paints around just in case. The kids always gave me something–a shiny rock they’d found, a few quarters, a special feather. It makes me smile when I look out the window and see those bikes pedaling around the neighborhood, my brother’s among them. It makes my mom smile, too. I asked what she would want painted on her bike if she had one, and she said a sunflower. I painted one on our mailbox, cheery and yellow, its stem curling around the handle and down the post.

There are always new techniques to learn and improvements to strive toward, but I feel that art is about trying to create meaning within a chosen medium. There’s so much I can’t control, but what I can do is create beauty in my life and in the lives of others. It’s why I started teaching an afterschool art class at my brother’s elementary school, why I’m currently working on a wall mural in the children’s room at the library, why I’ve taught myself graphic design skills to create posters for art club events and shows. Also, my mailbox paint creations gained so much popularity that my entire street commissioned me to do their boxes. I donated the money to cancer research, but more importantly, the designs are a beacon of support to my mom each day that she feels strong enough to walk outside and check the mail.

Although college will bring new challenges, I also know it will bring a new collection of scratched-up bikes and bare mailboxes, waiting to be painted with brightly colored designs that allow me to express myself and impact others.

What we can learn from this college essay example:

Many students have hobbies or passions that are a defining part of their lives. This writer’s involvement in the arts is given context and dimension here. Upon reviewing other parts of the application, such as the extracurricular profile, the reader might wonder, Why art? What sparked this interest? Why is it so important to her? As such, it can be helpful to provide insight on the influence of a certain hobby or passion by sharing a related personal experience.

In addition, the writer alludes to her family circumstances and responsibilities without going too in-depth. This is an excellent choice for students who may not feel comfortable sharing anything other than a basic level of information.

Finally, this writer reflects throughout the essay, tying everything together at the end with just one sentence. It’s a good reminder that just a few well-placed moments of insight can go a long way.

Common App Essay Examples: Essay #2

By some people’s standards, my grandma might be considered a hoarder. When I say there is stuff everywhere at our house, I mean it: broken crystal glasses from a hundred years ago, old watch straps, a shockingly large collection of thumbtacks. Three coffee makers that haven’t worked since before I was born. A broom no one uses because it doesn’t actually sweep anything up.

Whenever I make a motion to throw something out–an empty spice jar for example, or socks with holes in them, my grandma acts personally insulted. (She has also been known to survey the trash can for offending items.) She’ll take it from me grouchily and remind me of its potential uses–spice jars can be cinnamon-and-sugar shakers! Socks are free dusters! Sometimes, though, she doesn’t have a reason beyond “I might need it someday.”

College Essay Examples (Continued)

At first, I thought this statement was weird. What could we possibly need a cracked Tupperware container for? But then I learned that her attitude stems, in part, from growing up on a rural farm. Everything was repurposed, and it was common to keep things that may not have direct uses, knowing you’d likely find one at some point or another. For example, a large plastic container with a broken lid could be turned on its side and stuffed with hay for the cat in the winter, or plastic bread bags could be used to pack school lunches. Dried-up markers? Homemade watercolor paint. Egg cartons and dryer lint? Fire starters. Chipped bowl? Bird bath.

Her attitude made me interested in our collective willingness to sentence an item to the trash before finding a reuse for it. We buy cheap clothes knowing they might only last us a year. Single-use plastic still dominates, even though the vast majority of it heads to the landfill instead of being recycled. Old jeans are tossed instead of patched up and used as gardening pants, like my grandma does. The worst part is that we do all this knowing that our planet is undergoing irreversible shifts as a result of climate change. The world we’re heading toward is a world none of us can possibly be prepared for.

But what if people could be convinced to adopt my grandma’s mindset? And what would it take to inspire such behavioral changes on a large scale? I started learning about the field of neuroeconomics through books, podcasts, and a summer course at our local college, and became fascinated with the neuroscience behind decision-making. Could principles of neuroeconomics influence environmental policy? What factors could help people make long-lasting, environmentally conscious changes, and how we might facilitate them? These are massive, long-term questions. For now, was there a way to inspire my friends to start being more mindful of their consumption? To start reusing spaghetti jars and dusting with hole-y socks? And what might people be willing to donate or repurpose when there was a community effort to do so?

So, me and my grandma started advertising our services, and the response was unlike anything I could have possibly imagined. We now have a garage full of items that we either donate, sell, or repair, everything from antique dresses that my grandma soaks the stains out of to custom-patched jeans to dressers and wooden toys that need a quick sanding and fresh coat of paint. Our yard sales have become legendary and I’m the go-to kid when people have an old end table with Buzz Lightyear on it that they don’t know what to do with. “Drop it off at my grandma’s,” I say, and they do. Until I can figure out how to effect the kind of large-scale change I’d like to make, I’ll start small and keep going, hopeful that I’m making a difference one revitalized sock at a time.

If you’re naturally humorous, feel free to incorporate it into your college essay! That said, if you do write a humorous piece, avoid waiting until the last paragraph to be funny or sarcastic. Otherwise, your one joke may not be received the way you intend.

It was important to this author to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, which was accomplished in several ways. For starters, the writer asked open-ended, interesting questions. Secondly, the writer provides examples of formal and informal engagement with neuroeconomics. Finally, the writer attempts to create a solution to at least one of their questions. This move gives the reader an opportunity to see how the writer’s mind works as well as how they process and utilize information. Finally, the writer is careful not to make future claims that are too grandiose in nature. For example: “I will single-handedly save the planet by repurposing furniture!”

Moreover, their use of vivid details and examples supports the narrative instead of acting as filler. Notice that the writer only provides examples of repurposable items (which are the focal point of the story). Other types of details, such as the house’s design features or Grandma’s physical attributes, may have felt distracting. When incorporating descriptive elements, it’s important to make sure that they’re serving a purpose and pulling their weight.

Common App Essay Examples: Essay #3

My life has always been punctuated by my father’s military deployments, like periods placed in the middle of sentences. I often measured time in relation to them: before, during, or after , holding my breath for my father’s departure or homecoming, for the inevitable extensions and sporadic phone calls, for the unexpected emotions and responsibilities. By the time I was in high school, my father had been gone for more of my childhood than he had been present, and in tenth grade, my parents decided to divorce.

Until then, I had always been surrounded by friends who also had an active duty parent. We didn’t have to explain to each other what the ups and downs felt like. We just knew. I knew that when Mariela’s father’s deployment got extended, she could use a trip to the beach, her favorite place, knew that one of the most painful parts of the whole deployment cycle was the anticipation, and would check in with my friends more frequently during that time, knew that the first week often felt the most discombobulated, and was usually when my mom would offer to drop off meals or help ferry kids to after-school activities. That first week was also the time when things usually went wrong: a burst pipe, a dead car battery, a broken washing machine. Murphy’s Law , my mom always said.

I had spent my entire life existing within this predictably unpredictable cycle. So, when my mom and I moved right before my junior year to a small condo ten minutes from my grandparents but 2,000 miles away from my father’s last duty station, I assumed it wouldn’t be that much different from other moves. I’d join new clubs, make new friends, get to know our neighbors.

But I was immediately confronted by a sense of otherness in a community of kids who had known each other since kindergarten. Explaining where I’d lived before–and why–either solicited shocked reactions “You’ve moved six times?” or prying questions “Why didn’t you stay with your dad?” Mentioning a deployment received a blank stare.  It felt like the previous version of me, the way I’d always thought of myself–as a military kid–was no longer true, or had somehow evaporated into thin air.

Then, last spring, I had an unexpected breakthrough. My chemistry lab partner struggled with some of the steps. As I explained them to her, she visibly relaxed and shot me a thankful smile. I grinned too, because in that moment, I felt more like myself than I had in months.

Later that week, I applied for a peer tutoring position and was accepted. I feel passionate about trying to make personal connections with my students so that I can try to understand and anticipate their needs. I notice whether some students like to brainstorm ideas aloud before writing them down, or prefer when I use pictures to explain concepts. Some students appreciate small talk for a few minutes before we get started, and others need to be more efficient, trying to squeeze in a tutoring session before their after-school job. Not only that, but as I got to know my fellow tutors, I found friendship and connection. When Sophia’s brother was in the hospital, I picked her up for an afternoon movie. On the night of my piano recital, Olivia and Mary were in the front row cheering me on.

I’ve come to understand that my previous identity is still part of me, even though I now live a very different lifestyle than I did several years ago. Sometimes, I still miss being a military kid. But all the lessons I learned from that time in my life–the importance of a supportive community, empathy, kindness, and anticipating others’ needs–are always with me, informing everything I do.

This essay deals with several significant personal challenges, including military deployments, divorce, and a cross-country move. Notice that the writer contains these challenges in the first half of the essay and only includes need-to-know details. For example, we don’t need to know the reason for the divorce, or every nitty-gritty deployment detail. She sticks to the facts.

In addition, there should always be a purpose to sharing a challenge, which needs to be revealed in the second half of the essay. As we often can’t control our circumstances, readers are most interested in how you handled the adversity you experienced or how it has impacted your perspective.

In essays about challenges, it’s also essential to strike a mature and positive tone, which this writer certainly demonstrates. However, positive doesn’t have to mean that you have to slap a shiny bow on an unresolved issue or arrive at a forced conclusion. Positive simply means that there is some type of upward trajectory, some type of forward momentum or thinking. At the end of the essay, one has the overall sense that, even though this writer sometimes struggles with her new lifestyle, she’s ready to take on new challenges. It’s also clear that she values and prioritizes being part of a community.

Finally, this writer chose to use several figurative devices in her essay, including similes and anaphora. However, she uses them sparingly. As such, they demonstrate her writing style without overshadowing or detracting from content.

Common App Essay Examples: Essay #4

The scent of crushed garlic permeates the air, mingling with tamari and sesame oil. The nutty smell of brown butter hits my nose next, followed by earthy sage. Something sweet and spicy—sweet potatoes tossed in cinnamon and gochujang.

Most Saturday mornings, the kitchen counter is a mess of ingredients, whisks, and hot pans with my parents shuffling around in the middle, kneading bread or marinating meat. They’re rarely home for dinner during the week, but Saturdays are when we try our hand at everything from my Italian great-grandmother’s tomato-stained lasagna recipe to new dishes like bulgogi, potstickers, and garlic naan.

Often, the recipes fail miserably the first time. A few months ago, our naan dough was so sticky that it was difficult to knead and then impossible to flip in the pan. Our raviolis split open when we dropped them in boiling water; our lemon curd always broke. Without fail, though, there was some special trick we were missing. My mom’s best friend, who gave us the naan recipe, showed us how to oil our hands before kneading the dough and brush the back of each naan with water before dropping it into the pan. The result? Perfectly chewy and easy-to-flip bread. YouTube tutorials fixed our ravioli problem—turns out we needed to turn down the heat and avoid overloading the pot. (We’re still figuring out the lemon curd.)

I always write down the adjustments in the margins of our recipe notebook, adjustments that are sometimes happy accidents, like when we successfully thickened a soup with cashews instead of butter or accidentally added cinnamon to a chocolate chip cookie recipe. It made me embrace the mindset that whatever problem we were facing could always be creatively solved.

It was this sense of possibility that helped me navigate new territory last year. After extensive testing and many years of chronic stomach problems and headaches, I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. I felt both relieved and nervous as I wondered whether our cooking Saturdays would be more difficult. My mom, however, seemed undeterred and immediately started researching gluten-free substitutes and flours. We quickly found that there were an overwhelming number of flour possibilities—tapioca, rice, coconut, almond, oat—all combined in various ratios and used for differing purposes.

We decided to test the flours one by one, quickly finding that coconut flour cannot be directly substituted for regular flour, almond flour naturally creates a chewier cookie, and gluten-free flours almost always need more moisture than regular flour. Every time we successfully modified one of our “old” recipes, I felt both energized and encouraged that I didn’t have to give up foods I loved just because I was gluten-free.

My experiences have made me realize that food inclusivity can be an underrated yet simple way to show kindness to others. After multiple events and birthday parties where I brought my own snacks or avoided the food table, I’ve become more mindful of people’s food traditions and considerations. For example, one of my Indian friends eats exclusively vegetarian while my Muslim friend doesn’t eat pork. My cousin has an anaphylactic peanut allergy, and my neighbor recently became vegan for environmental reasons. When they come over to study or hang out, I love the smile I get when they realize they can eat whatever snack or baked good I’ve made (especially if it’s brownies).

In addition to empathy, all those Saturday mornings cooking with my parents—and the food knowledge I’ve gained from our friends and family—have encouraged my curiosity. Instead of focusing on what might go wrong, I focus on how I can always learn something new if I’m open-minded enough to do it. Making perfect ravioli might just mean turning down the heat, unsticking my naan might just require a little sprinkle of water, and finding new friends in college might just take a warm plate of nut-free, vegan, gluten-free brownies.

Many of us have core food memories, and they can be a great way to demonstrate values and qualities. Food is an innately sensory experience, which means it can be an attention-grabbing way to start an essay. However, if you do choose to write about a particular food or food-related experience, it’s important to consider its merits beyond the opening “hook.” What does it demonstrate about you, the applicant? How has this particular food—or food experience—influenced you in a significant way? In essence, make sure that your opener is pulling its weight and serving a purpose.

Additionally, when you have a number of potential examples to share—as this writer did—consider embracing the rule of three. Our brains like patterns, and three is typically the sweet spot of effectiveness and memorability. Notice that this writer uses three examples in several areas: the opening paragraph, third paragraph, sixth paragraph, and final paragraph. Limiting yourself to three can be an excellent way to increase your writing’s power nd simultaneously reduce words. Win-win!

College Essay Examples: Essay #5

Beep. As the cashier passes each item over the scanner, she rolls it in my direction, where I have a growing collection of produce, soup cans, and chip bags. Beep. I sort through the heap, automatically stacking cans and moving eggs and bread to the side. Beep.

“Paper, plastic, or reusable?” I ask.

I started my job as a grocery bagger last summer, and at first, it seemed like it would be easy money. However, on my first day, I quickly learned that bagging groceries was part art, part science.

How hard could this be? I assumed the goal should be to load each bag with as many items as possible, and so placed three jars of spaghetti sauce, canned vegetables, and a half-gallon of milk in one bag, confident that I was being efficient.

Wrong. So, so wrong.

As soon as I lifted the bag toward the cart, the handles ripped off and the entire thing crashed to the floor. The cans rolled in multiple directions; the milk skidded across the tiles in what seemed like slow motion.

No spills. Phew .

I breathed a sigh of relief about those glass jars of sauce…until I picked up the bag, the inside of which was now a crime scene of tomatoes and broken glass. The cashier rolled her eyes at me and other customers stopped to crane their necks and see what was happening. I felt like everything was staring at me, and wanted to disappear.

“Hey, kid.” An older man limped over to where I was standing and took the bag from my hands. “Why don’t you go grab this lady some new sauce?”

I scurried off to the spaghetti sauce aisle, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. How could I have messed up something as simple as bagging groceries?

I got the sauce and went back. Gerry—as I would soon come to know him—was standing at my bagging station, patiently sorting the customer’s pile of food. When he saw me, he gestured me over.

“Now,” he said. “Here’s what you do. Cans on the bottom, around the outside, see? But only a couple.” He watched me load some in. “No, no, that’s too many.” He took one out. “You should be able to easily lift it, see?” He picked up the bag with one hand.

“Cans around the outside. Good. Now glass in the middle. Take one of these—” he took a spaghetti sauce jar out of my hands and deposited it snugly between the cans. “Good. Now, what else we got? Put the boxes and crushable items on top—look, she’s got granola bars, popcorn. Yep, just like that.”

Gerry supervised me for the rest of the week, teaching me how to handle all kinds of bagging conundrums, like fresh meat (put it in a separate bag); cleaning supplies (don’t put them with the food, in case they leak); recently-misted produce (put another plastic bag over it to keep it from getting the rest of the groceries wet); and eggs (either on top of a mid-weight bag or at the bottom of a light bag. Oh, and tell the customer which bag the eggs are in!).

I’ve quickly learned our customers’ bagging preferences, and cashiers now often request me as their bagger. I’ve also learned that these interactions mean a lot to people, as properly bagged groceries make it easier for people to transport their food home efficiently and in one piece. Most importantly, Gerry taught me that nothing is more essential than your willingness to learn and do your best, no matter what job you find yourself doing.

Gerry retired last month, but I think of him whenever I’m training a new bagger or navigating ripped-bag catastrophes. And when I see a jar of spaghetti sauce coming down the conveyor belt, I can’t help but grin as I place it safely between a few cans.

Many times, students want to share a memorable story or anecdote in their essays. The best stories and anecdotes are those that bring the reader into your world, often accomplished through the use of storytelling elements like dialogue, imagery, and interior monologue. White space is also an important consideration—in an essay this short, physical white space can be a helpful way to heighten or slow down a particular moment. Note that this writer used a number of short paragraphs at the most climactic point of the story, a great way to amp up tension without adding words.

In addition, this is very much what we’d call a “slice-of-life” essay. Many students shy away from writing essays about part-time jobs or seemingly “ordinary” moments, which they often believe are mundane and uninteresting. However, in our experience, these types of topics can be incredibly compelling, humorous, and revealing. In sum, look no further than your day-to-day life for plenty of essay-writing inspiration!

Common App Essay Examples: Essay #6

I’ve always been obsessed with the ocean. Bioluminescent plankton. Killer whales. Alien-like creatures that only exist in the abyssal zone, a place less explored than outer space. As a child, I spent summer beach days observing tide pools and writing down what I saw in a notebook. I learned about scientists like Eugenie Clark and Sylvia Earle, fearless crusaders who explored the ocean through scuba diving and deep-sea expeditions. Although many jobs within marine biology don’t require diving ability, I dreamed of being the type of scientist who boldly investigates underwater caves and cascades down to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible with bizarre and never-before-seen fish flashing past the tiny windows.

Even though the cold waters near our home weren’t exactly a diving mecca, I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was learn. I started saving up money to pay for lessons and was so excited when I finally had enough to take an introductory course. The class started out in a pool, and once we mastered a certain set of skills, we’d be able to do our first open-water dive.

Since I loved the ocean so much, I thought diving would come naturally to me. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I managed to keep up until it came time to work on clearing our masks underwater, which is when you rinse the inside of the mask while you’re diving rather than have to re-surface every time the glass fogs. However, whenever I loosened my mask to flood it with water, I couldn’t push away the nagging sense of panic. I kept sucking water up my nose instead of blowing out and would immediately need to surface, choking and gasping.

I tried again. And again. And again. Over and over, the mask clearing went sideways: I’d press on the seal, tilt my head up, and attempt to blow through my nose, only to inhale instead of exhale or become overwhelmed by the water clouding my vision. After several weeks and little improvement, my instructor sat me down to discuss taking a break.

Honestly, rather than feeling a sense of failure, all I felt was a sense of relief. However, as soon as I got home, that instant relief was replaced by intense disappointment. Diving was my dream, and I couldn’t let myself give up that easily.

I knew that there must be something mentally preventing me from enjoying diving and being able to complete certain skills. To figure out what that “something” was, I started talking to both beginning and experienced divers on online forums, who were quick to share their own experiences of struggling on their first dives. They emphasized water comfort as well as mindfulness techniques, such as yoga and meditation. Instead of diving, I started heading to the pool multiple days per week, doing laps and getting more comfortable in the water, in addition to taking a yoga class and meditating every morning.

Several months ago, I went back to my diving class with renewed purpose and confidence. I successfully cleared my mask underwater and quickly mastered the next set of skills. And two weeks ago, when I lowered myself beneath the surface of the ocean on my first open-water dive, it was nothing short of magical.

Diving is about more than my childhood dream—it’s about my confidence in myself. Although it was a longer journey than I anticipated, I’m proud of myself for committing to my goal. Rather than allowing myself to believe that my fears can’t be overcome and that I have to live with limited opportunities, I choose to embrace the belief that having fears—and confronting them—will only make me a stronger diver and a more resilient scientist.

What we can learn from this essay:

Similar to fervently hoping that you will not be asked “What’s your greatest weakness?” in a job interview, many students shy away from writing about failure. Quite understandably, they want to avoid portraying themselves negatively on their application. However, some of the most powerful essays that we’ve read are those that deal with a less-than-stellar experience, a personal mistake, or a project that went sideways. You won’t find a human on Earth who hasn’t stumbled (repeatedly), and stories of this nature are not only relatable but also demonstrative of valuable character attributes like grit, perseverance, resilience, and self-awareness.

In addition, this writer takes the time to provide us with essential context (she’s been obsessed with the ocean since she was a child, and diving has always been a personal goal). If you do choose to write an essay about a particular failure or struggle, think about why it felt so significant, and be sure to incorporate that “why” into your essay. Remember, the reader doesn’t know what you don’t tell them, so it’s important to frame your struggle with an appropriate level of detail.

Final Thoughts – Common App Essay Examples

The college personal statement is an important part of the application that can reveal more about who you are and what you’ll bring to a college campus. Studying the genre is an essential part of being well-prepared to do your best writing, an exercise that includes understanding the essay’s purpose as well as how it will be evaluated. In addition, reading college essay examples can be an insightful addition to your writing process. Relax, be yourself, and know that admissions officers are eager to get to know you –the real, multidimensional, interesting person–behind the application.

Looking for more essay writing advice and college essay examples? Check out the following blogs:

  • How to Write the Community Essay – Guide with Examples
  • How to Write the Why This Major Essay + Example
  • How to Write the Overcoming Challenges Essay + Example
  • Why This College Essay – 7 Tips for Success
  • How to Start a College Essay – 12 Techniques and Tips
  • How to End a College Essay – With Examples
  • College Essay

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Kelsea Conlin

Kelsea holds a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Tufts University, a graduate certificate in College Counseling from UCLA, and an MA in Teaching Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Chautauqua .

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Guest opinion: Campus controversies and the purpose of education

  • Published: Dec. 20, 2023, 6:30 a.m.

College graduates, student loans

FILE - New graduates line up before the start of a community college commencement in East Rutherford, N.J., May 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

  • Jean Lufkin Bouler

This is a guest opinion

Samford University in Birmingham is struggling with LGBTQ+ students protesting that they are not protected from discrimination. The Baptist, private campus has ethical and legal issues to deal with as students say their reports go unheard.

Birmingham’s Samford is not alone in dealing with harassment of students with different beliefs and cultures.

At Columbia University students are demonstrating and being accused of antisemitism while at other prestigious schools claims of Islamophobia have also made national news. Similar controversies have arisen at Cornell, Wellesley and the University of Pennsylvania. Jewish and Muslim students say they are afraid.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating to determine if the schools are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race or national origin. The issue is complicated— assuring campus security while protecting free speech.

But should we also ask what is expected of a college education? Narrow-mindedness? Is it time to take a second look at those admission essays? What happened to analytical thinking? College should enlighten students by stimulating the mind and enlivening the soul.

Scholars over decades have pondered what is the purpose of education. Maybe the best assessment is from Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1930, she wrote “Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education .”

If you were to ask even a relatively small group of teachers, administrators, students, parents, community members, business leaders, and policymakers to address the question of purpose, how difficult do you think it would be to reach a consensus?

You might have better luck asking, ‘What is the meaning of life?’

In the United States historically, the purpose of education has evolved according to the needs of society. Education’s primary purpose has ranged from instructing youth in religious doctrine, to preparing them to live in a democracy, to assimilating immigrants into mainstream society, to preparing workers for the industrialized 20th century workplace.

And now, as educators prepare young people for their futures in a world that is rapidly changing, what is the goal? To create adults who can compete in a global economy? To creative lifelong learners? To create emotionally healthy adults who can engage in meaningful relationships?

Before getting a master’s degree from the University of Alabama, I graduated in 1971 from what was then a new college, the University of South Alabama in Mobile. There was no ivy on the buildings. But we did have issues to confront. I was a member of the Student Government Association and we debated how to deal with anti-Vietnam War students and those enrolled on ROTC scholarships.

I had many friends in each group. I had been a sorority girl and dated frat boys, some who were ROTC. But I fell in love with a smart hippie who I later married. I hope I’m not too sentimental to remember that many of us respected the views of our fellow students. As proof, a planned demonstration in the center of campus at the flagpole was nonviolent.

Shouldn’t it be our goal to provide students exposure to and understanding of different views?

Eleanor Roosevelt nailed it. She summed up the proper education. To graduate citizens who can contribute to the well-being of the community.

Jean Lufkin Bouler is a former education reporter for The Birmingham News and author of several nonfiction books

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UVA adds identity question to admissions essay after SCOTUS ruling

The move comes after the supreme court deemed the use of affirmative action in college admissions unconstitutional., the new question asks students to discuss their 'background, perspective, or experience' in 300 words..

The University of Virginia (UVA) announced a new essay question for the 2023 to 2024 admissions cycle that circumvents the Supreme Court’s ruling that universities can no longer consider race in college admissions.

Applicants are now  required , in 300 words, to answer: “What about your background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you and those around you at UVA?”

While not explicitly mentioned, the question alludes to applicants’ race because it appeals to sources of oppression and marginalization given the “background, perspective, or experience” should be seen as a “source of strength.”

[RELATED: WATCH: Colleges will do whatever it takes to protect the ‘holy grail’ of diversity after SCOTUS ruling, says Rep. Dr. Virginia Foxx]

Craig Meister, a college admissions coach and educational consultant, described   UVA’s question as “leading,” eliciting responses that highlight applicants’ diversity. Meister also said a potential reason for this new question is that a “particular faction” of UVA’s admissions committee wanted to align the university with President Joe Biden’s  suggestion  to “account the adversity a student has overcome” in the process.

UVA, a public research university,  received  $216 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2022. The Virginia General Assembly can  adjust  funding at any given year, as it did in 2019.

[RELATED: Rather than ask directly about race, college now asks how applicants will be personally ‘impacted’ by affirmative action ruling]

Unlike Biden, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin  welcomed  the Supreme Court’s ruling, celebrating how an individual will have opportunities “based on the trajectory of their potential, their aspirations, and the quality of their capabilities as opposed to simply on their race.” 

Campus Reform  asked Gov. Youngkin if he would take action against UVA should they continue to use racial identity in admissions, but he has not responded.

Campus Reform contacted the University of Virginia for a comment, but did not receive a response. This article will update accordingly. 

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Ian Cruz '25

Ian Cruz is a sophomore at Georgetown University. He is majoring in International Politics with minors in Government and Theology, intending to pursue a career in the political arena. He is very active politically, and currently serves as the Vice President of the College Republicans and hosts their podcast ‘The Elephant in the Room.’ Off campus, Ian has interned in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

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Guest Essay

I Teach a Class on Free Speech. My Students Can Show Us the Way Forward.

An illustration of dozens of people fighting one another while five other people sit around a table in their midst, seemingly having a calm discussion.

By Sophia Rosenfeld

Ms. Rosenfeld is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Democracy and Truth: A Short History.”

Free speech is very hard to get right, especially on campus — as has been evident all fall at the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach a course on the history of free speech and censorship. If colleges and universities are best understood as microcosms of the larger world, they should be governed by the First Amendment alone. This would mean restricting only speech that directly incites violence, threatens specific individuals or constitutes targeted harassment.

But if colleges and universities — public or private — are better understood as special spaces with missions distinct from the world at large, they need some special rules of operation, tailored to the classroom, the student club and the college green.

One problem is that neither the left nor the right knows which model fits, making it difficult to determine any fair boundaries for campus speech. The politics around free speech have also shifted. And norms about what counts as dangerous speech and what ought to be done about its articulation have been changing faster than any of us can keep up with them.

No wonder students are confused when it comes to speech on campus right now. Frankly, so are faculties, administrators and, yes, donors and trustees. This may help explain why university presidents are finding themselves in a bind, unable to articulate fully consistent positions — and in the case of the University of Pennsylvania’s now-former President Elizabeth Magill , being sacrificed in the process. (Full disclosure: Ms. Magill is a friend.)

But the answer to all this confusion can’t simply be to update campus bylaws. Rather, we need to come up with better forms of speech education, keyed to the very purpose of the university, that give students the tools to work through the hard cases themselves.

The treacherousness of the current moment has been building for some time. For much of the 20th century, free speech was a rallying cry for the left, a way of sticking up for Communists, anarchists, pacifists and student activists. In recent years, though, this hasn’t been the dominant story line. In the United States, it has been the political right that has taken on the absolute free speech mantle, at least rhetorically, and it is the left that has been at the forefront of efforts to protect minorities from the harms of certain kinds of speech, from hate speech to microaggressions.

Now, abruptly, the sides have reversed once again. Left-leaning voices, in support of Palestinian liberation, have embraced academic freedom, demanding that universities protect unpopular speech and speakers. Meanwhile, conservatives have gone all in for book bans ; prohibitions on teaching critical race theory , among other ostensibly radical ideas ; and now crackdowns on a range of pro-Palestinian expressions.

Charges of antisemitism (some accurate, others a cover for efforts to stifle criticism of Israeli government policy or the war in Gaza) have helped make this new censorship palatable. The congressional hearing with the presidents of Penn, Harvard and M.I.T. was primarily political theater, an hourslong episode in our continuing culture wars. But already a backlash to this brand of conservative censorship has set in, led by organizations like FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Through all the flip-flopping on both the right and the left, the unsettled question of what the university is actually for has gone unaddressed.

But the sky really isn’t falling. Twice a week in my classroom, 40 or so students from different racial, ethnic, national, religious and political backgrounds have been trying hard to understand debates about the boundaries of acceptable speech in various places and times. They have been grappling with what those boundaries should be now, including for hate speech, sedition and more. Even as the topics have crept steadily closer to home, focusing on college presidents’ statements about Israel/Gaza and the language of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, these discussions have gone remarkably well. Students have waited their turn, listened to one another and, often, disagreed respectfully.

My students also report that they are treading lightly outside the classroom as they take on the issues of the moment in their own spaces. They say they are more worried about causing offense with their choices of words or being found ill informed than they are about scoring points. Rather than digging in with dogmatic positions, most of them seem as unsure as the rest of us about just where the lines are.

Mainly, I think my students can remind us of the purpose of higher education and, consequently, the kind of speech culture it demands. What they have learned in my free speech class, I hope, is not just the history of laws around speech but also two different but complementary ways of navigating speech, each of them tied to a different function of the modern university.

Students go to college largely to gain knowledge that will be useful in the here and now: the workplace, the democratic public sphere and private life. Importantly, that includes how to think about all sides of a given problem. It also includes how to get along with others across differences. But neither of these tasks is done without some informal rules. In my classroom, when we are conversing about the history of speech, we are also following a series of speech protocols that we’ve worked out in practice. No one, for example, can speak on top of anyone else, and no one can personalize the conversation in ways that draw attention to individuals rather than arguments. Free speech was never imagined, even by its earliest advocates , as a free-for-all. This is something that needs to be instilled.

College, though, is also the place where one learns to question and to develop thoughtful critiques of the world one is being prepared to enter. If we think of the university as a training ground for imagining a better world — whether from a left, right, center or altogether different perspective — then a very wide latitude for speech is essential as well. Any position that has political salience in today’s discourse should be sayable on campus, whether formally moderated in a classroom or screamed on the quad. No, that does not mean we have to give space to pure expressions of hatred for any group of people or, in the example of last week, tolerate hypothetical calls for genocide . But it does mean we have to allow for, even encourage, the airing of varied positions on all unsettled questions, including those that turn on the expression “from the river to the sea” or the term “intifada,” like it or not.

This mixture of rules and freedoms makes for a difficult standard. It gets harder all the time as student bodies become more diverse, outside politics become more polarized and the internet amplifies the sensational and turns the local into the global in an instant.

But universities have to make it their mission to train students to think about these principles and, even more, the rationales behind this combination of speech rules and freedoms. Then we have to let students and others who are living in this environment — not outsiders, whether from Washington or Wall Street — try to work it out in practice. It can be done.

Sophia Rosenfeld is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Democracy and Truth: A Short History.” Her book “The Choice Is Yours” is forthcoming in 2024.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Feeling the college application crunch? Here are a few tips.

essay about college campus

High school seniors nationwide are in the final weeks before college and university applications typically come due.

While early decision deadlines have long since passed, most schools have deadlines in early January for regular admission. Doug Christiansen, who serves as the dean of admission at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said the school usually receives around 46,000 applications each year. More than half of those come in between December and January.

As students pace through the college application crunch, Christiansen offered some expert advice on how to tailor their applications, along with tips for younger students who are still in the search process.

Tips for college applications, essays

Be authentic to who you are

Writing an essay can seem daunting to applicants, especially as they're eager to impress. Christiansen encourages applicants to stick with their strong suits. If a student is naturally funny, weave that into the essay. But if not, he says, it's best to stick with the applicant's true personality.

"Don't try to write it to what you think the admissions committee wants," he said.

It's also a good idea for applicants to have someone review an essay, but not to override a student's personal style.

"Don't ever lose your voice in the essay," Christiansen said.

Demonstrate growth, not just skills or activities

When listing or writing about extracurricular activities, along with academic achievements, Christiansen encourages applicants to choose things that not only show what they've learned but also how they've grown through those things.

"We would much prefer someone who's ... really developed a passion," he said. "Maybe they started as a (club) member, then they move to a leadership role, then a more senior leadership role. What we're looking for is those students who have made a difference."

Applicants can also ask people who know them well to look over their lists of extracurriculars and accomplishments to make sure they didn't forget anything important.

Include your work history

Some applicants may have fewer traditional extracurricular activities to list, like clubs or community service, because they chose or needed to work to help support themselves or their families. But seeing an applicant's consistency and growth through work experience is valuable for admissions committees, Christiansen said.

Don't procrastinate

As students finish up exams and the flurry of activities that come with the holiday seasons, Christiansen encourages them to not lose focus on their applications.

"Get it done and enjoy your winter break," he said. "Don't wait till the last minute, because it just brings undue stress.

What to consider in the college search process

Aim for the best match, but be open

It can be tempting to get fixated on only a handful of schools, Christiansen said, but it's important to consider a variety as students first start the search process. He encourages students to start with a larger list and then whittle it down to what schools they want to visit and ultimately apply to. He also encourages students to remain open to local or in-state schools, even if they're eager to leave home.

"It's really important to think about what is the best fit for you," he said. "Where will you thrive as a student?"

While Christiansen says it's important to start with a wide variety of schools, students should be judicious in how many applications they submit as they narrow the search.

"I've seen so many students that apply to way too many schools get admitted to most of them, and they're paralyzed when they have to make a decision," he said.

Start looking, visiting as early as you can

It's a good idea to start looking at schools by junior year, if not sooner, according to Christiansen. It's also a good idea to visit campuses as soon as possible. While information online and virtual visits are helpful tools, physically visiting a campus, when possible, can give students a sense of the surrounding area, the atmosphere of the school and even the weather — especially if it's different than what a student is used to.

Don't rule out schools based on finances

During the search process, some students may skip over schools they assume are too expensive for them. However, a wide variety of grants, scholarships and other financial aid are available for prospective students. It's important to research those options thoroughly, Christiansen said.

"Just because you think it's expensive, don't eliminate it early," he said. "Be focused on your grades. Be focused on your academics."

Looking for more college application tips?

Vanderbilt offers a free resource for people in the college search and application process. Visit admissions.vanderbilt.edu/apply/expert-advice to learn more.

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