Personal Essay Topics

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  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
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A personal essay is an essay about your life, thoughts, or experiences. This type of essay will give readers a glimpse into your most intimate life experiences and life lessons. There are many reasons you may need to write a personal essay , from a simple class assignment to a college application requirement . You can use the list below for inspiration. Consider each statement a starting point, and write about a memorable moment that the prompt brings to mind.

  • Your bravest moment
  • How you met your best friend
  • What makes your mom or dad special
  • How you overcame a fear
  • Why you will succeed
  • Why you made a difficult choice
  • A special place
  • A place you try to avoid
  • When a friend let you down
  • An event that changed your life
  • A special encounter with an animal
  • A time when you felt out of place
  • An odd experience that didn't make sense at the time
  • Words of wisdom that hit home and changed your way of thinking
  • A person that you do not like
  • A time when you disappointed someone
  • Your fondest memory
  • A time when you saw your parent cry
  • The moment when you knew you were grown up
  • Your earliest memory of holiday celebrations in your home
  • Times when you should have made a better choice
  • A time when you dodged a dangerous situation
  • A person you will think about at the end of your life
  • Your favorite time period
  • A failure you've experienced
  • A disappointment you've experienced
  • A surprising turn of events
  • What you would do with power
  • What superpower you would choose
  • If you could switch lives with someone
  • How money matters in your life
  • Your biggest loss
  • A time when you felt you did the wrong thing
  • A proud moment when you did the right thing
  • An experience that you've never shared with another person
  • A special place that you shared with a childhood friend
  • A first encounter with a stranger
  • Your first handshake
  • Where you go to hide
  • If you had a do-over
  • A book that changed your life
  • Words that stung
  • When you had the desire to run
  • When you had the urge to crawl into a hole
  • Words that prompted hope
  • When a child taught you a lesson
  • Your proudest moment
  • If your dog could talk
  • Your favorite time with family
  • If you could live in another country
  • If you could invent something
  • The world a hundred years from now
  • If you had lived a hundred years earlier
  • The animal you'd like to be
  • One thing you'd change at your school
  • The greatest movie moment
  • The type of teacher you would be
  • If you could be a building
  • A statue you'd like to see
  • If you could live anywhere
  • The greatest discovery
  • If you could change one thing about yourself
  • An animal that could be in charge
  • Something you can do that robots could never do
  • Your most unfortunate day
  • Your secret talent
  • Your secret love
  • The most beautiful thing you've ever seen
  • The ugliest thing you've seen
  • Something you've witnessed
  • An accident that changed everything
  • A wrong choice
  • A right choice
  • If you were a food
  • How you'd spend a million dollars
  • If you could start a charity
  • The meaning of color
  • A close call
  • Your favorite gift
  • A chore you'd do away with
  • A secret place
  • Something you can't resist
  • A hard lesson
  • A visitor you'll never forget
  • An unexplained event
  • Your longest minute
  • An awkward social moment
  • An experience with death
  • Why you'll never tell a lie
  • If your mom knew, she'd kill you
  • A kiss that meant a lot
  • When you needed a hug
  • The hardest news you've had to deliver
  • A special morning
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Essays About Life-changing Experiences: 5 Examples

Discover our guide for writing essays about life-changing experiences that combine three different elements: narrative, description, and self-reflection. 

Each of us has gone through life-changing experiences that shaped us into the individuals we are today. Because of how powerful they are, these events make for fascinating topics in writing. This subject doesn’t only let us tell our life stories, and it also pushes us to evaluate our behavior and reflect on why an incident happened.

Attract your readers by creating an excellent introduction and choosing a unique or exciting encounter. Paint a picture of the events that describe your experience vividly and finish with a strong conclusion.

5 Essay Examples

1. long essay on experience that changed my life by prasanna, 2. life-changing events: personal experience by anonymous on studycorgi.com, 3. my example of a life-changing experience by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 4. life-changing experience: death essay by writer annie, 5. a life-changing experience during the holiday season by anonymous on studymoose.com, 1. life-changing experience: defined, 2. the experience that changed my life, 3. life-changing events and how they impact lives, 4. everyday events that change a person’s life, 5. the person who change my life, 6. books or movies that changed my life, 7. a life-changing quote.

“Experiences can be good and sometimes terrible that results in a positive or negative impact on one’s life. Life is full of many unexpected challenges and unknown turning points that will come along any time. People must learn and grow from every experience that they go through in life rather than losing yourself.”

In this essay, Prasanna discusses her father’s death as her most challenging life-changing experience. She was cheerful, immature, and carefree when her father was still alive. However, when her father left, she became the decision-maker of their family because her mother was unable to.

Prasanna mentions that she lost not only a father but also a friend, motivator, and mentor. That sad and unexpected experience turned her into an introverted, mature, and responsible head of the family. Ultimately, she thanks her father for making her a better person, and because of the devastating incident, she realizes who she can trust and how she should handle the real world. You might also be interested in these essays about choice .

“In life, certain experiences present challenges that change the way people relate to themselves and their families. Certain life events mark life-changing moments that alter lives either positively or negatively. It matters how people handle their relationships at such critical moments.”

This essay contains two life events that helped the author become a better person. These events taught them to trust and appreciate people, be responsible, and value family. The first event is when their best friend passes away, leading to stress, loss of appetite, and depression. The second circumstance happened when the author postponed their studies because they were afraid to grow up and be accountable for their decisions and actions.

The writer’s family showed them love, support, and understanding through these events. These events changed their behavior, attitude, and perspective on life and guided them to strengthen family relationships.

For help picking your next essay topic, check out our 20 engaging essay topics about family .

“I thought it was awkward because he looked and acted very professional. In that moment I thought to myself, ‘this person is going to have a great impact in my life!’. I was very curious to meet him and get a chance to show him my personality.”

This essay proves that you should always believe in yourself and not be afraid to try something new. The author recalls when they had many problems and met an extraordinary person who changed their life. 

When they were in sixth grade, the writer had life issues that caused them to be anxious about any future endeavor. The author then says they don’t usually open up to teachers because they fear their reactions. Then they met Mr. Salazar, a mentor who respects and values them, and the writer considers him their best friend.

“When the funeral was over and he was laid to rest, I had a feeling I can’t even describe. It was almost an empty feeling. I knew I had lost someone that could never be replaced.”

Annie never thought that she’d go through a life-changing experience until the sudden death of her father. Her thoughts and feelings are all over the place, and she has many unanswered questions. She says that although she will never wish for anyone to experience the same. However, her father’s passing improved her life in some ways.

Her mother remarried and introduced a new father figure, who was very kind to her. Living with her stepdad allowed her to explore and do things she thought she couldn’t. Annie still mourns the loss of her birth father, but she is also grateful to have a stepdad she can lean on. She gradually accepts that she can’t bring her birth father back.

“This story as a whole has really changed me and made me an even better person in life, I’m so thankful that this happened to me because now I have a greater appreciation for the little things in life.”

The essay shows how a simple interaction on a cold day in December can completely change a person’s view on life. It starts with the writer being asked a small favor of an older man with Alzheimer’s disease to help him find his car. This experience teaches the writer to be more observant and appreciative of the things they have. The author was inspired to spend more time with loved ones, especially their grandfather, who also has Alzheimer’s disease, as they learned never to take anything for granted.

7 Prompts for Essays About Life-changing Experiences

Everyone has their definition of a life-changing experience. But in general, it is an event or series of events profoundly altering a person’s thinking, feelings, and behavior. Use this prompt to explain your understanding of the topic and discuss how a simple action, decision, or encounter can change someone’s life. You might also be interested in these essays about yourself .

Essays about life-changing experiences: The Experience That Changed My Life

For this prompt, choose a specific memory that made you re-evaluate your views, values, and morals. Then, discuss the impact of this event on your life. For example, you can discuss losing a loved one, moving to another country, or starting a new school. Your conclusion must contain the main lessons you learned from the experience and how it can help the readers.

Various positive and negative life-changing experiences happen anytime and anywhere. Sometimes, you don’t notice them until they substantially disturb your everyday life. 

To begin your essay, interview people and ask about a momentous event that happened to them and how it influenced their way of living. Then, pick the most potent life-changing experience shared. Talk about what you’d do if you were in the same situation.

Some life-changing events include common things such as marriage, parenthood, divorce, job loss, and death. Research and discuss the most common experiences that transform a person’s life. Include real-life situations and any personal encounters for an intriguing essay.

It’s normal to meet other people, but connecting with someone who will significantly impact your life is a blessing. Use this prompt to discuss that particular person, such as a parent, close friend, or romantic partner. Share who they are and how you met them, and discuss what they did or said that made a big difference in your life. 

Movies like “The Truman Show” help change your viewpoint in life. They open our minds and provide ideas for dealing with our struggles. Share how you reached an epiphany by reading a book or watching a movie. Include if it’s because of a particular dialogue, character action, or scenes you can relate to.

Essays about life-changing experiences: A Life-changing Quote

While others use inspirational quotes for comfort and to avoid negative thinking, some find a quote that gives them the courage to make drastic changes to better their lives. For this prompt, search for well-known personalities who discovered a quote that motivated them to turn their life around.  Essay Tip: When editing for grammar, we also recommend spending time and effort to improve the readability score of your essay before publishing or submitting it.

life experience essay questions

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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Top 100 Personal Experience Essay Topics for Students

Sep 1, 2021 | 0 comments

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Sep 1, 2021 | Topics | 0 comments

We all have stories to share. Though many of us find it difficult to come up with topics for essays, we’ve put some thought into the matter and found that ordinary people encounter a wide range of experiences throughout their lives. We know how important essay topics are, so our goal is to help students develop captivating events or activities from which they can draw inspiration when writing about themselves from an “I” formative perspective. Students looking for a personal experience essay topic often have trouble thinking of something that they’ve had relevant to write about. Luckily we compiled some ideas below, so students will know what’s appropriate without thinking too hard on the subject matter themselves! Conclusion: there are both general or common topics and personal experiences that many people can relate with easily and start writing about immediately.

Personal Experience Essay Topics

  • A personal experience of spelling competition
  • Personal Experience: Culture and Language
  • My Experience at a robbery scene
  • Bad Hand Writing: Personal Experience
  • Personal Experience as a tennis player
  • My Experience As An Athlete
  • My Experience of Meditation
  • My Personal Experience During A War
  • My personal experience during a lockdown
  • Personal Experience With A Family
  • My Personal Experience As An Applicant For A Scholarship
  • My Journey of Personal Growth
  • Personal Experience: This Rich Kid
  • My Experience As a Part-time Worker
  • My Experience Driving A Car
  • My Personal Experience Through Counseling
  • Scary Experience On The Road
  • Graphics designing: My personal experience
  • Personal Experience: The Seventh Grade
  • Bullying at school: My personal experience
  • My Experience Working For A Multinational Company
  • My Experience Using An Android Device
  • My Olympic Experience
  • My Personal Experience of Hallucinations
  • My Experience As An Outcast
  • My Experience With A Movie Star
  • My Experience in Dancing
  • A Personal Experience during a pandemic
  • A Child Of Divorce: Personal Experience
  • My Experience with Writing
  • My Experience During a Music Concert
  • My High School Experience
  • Personal Experience: My Culture Philippines
  • Personal Experience in a Company: Over laboring
  • Personal Experience: Sunday Worship
  • My Experience As An Entrepreneur
  • Sleep paralysis : A personal experience
  • Gender Identity Disorder: Personal Experience
  • A Personal Experience  On Patients
  • Personal Experience in Raising Children
  • My experience at a beach
  • My Experience During a National Competition
  • An International Learning Experience
  • My Experience During The coronavirus Pandemic
  • My Experience at an American International School
  • Personal Experience: Borrowed Home
  • Personal Experience as a football coach
  • My Experience with Urban Sprawl
  • Personal Experience: My Father Had Cancer
  • Personal Experience During an Interview
  • Personal Experience in a Fraternity
  • Racism: Personal Experience
  • Personal Experience: My Psychotic Disorder
  • My Personal Experience in Volleyball Training
  • My Experience in the US and Indonesia
  • A personal experience of humiliation
  • Past Job Experience
  • My Life as a Nun: Personal Experience
  • Personal Experience: Color Guard Group
  • My Life as a Monk: Personal Experience
  • My Experience on Microcultures
  • The Wake Forest Experience I Have
  • My College Experience: Reality vs. Plans
  • The Power of an Impression: A Personal Experience
  • Personal Experience: College Education
  • My personal experience as a vacationist in Colombia
  • A Personal Experience in College
  • A Personal Experience with Moving
  • My Air Force Experience
  • My personal experience as a cowboy
  • My Leadership Experience
  • A Personal Tourist Experience
  • A Personal Experience With Dyslexia
  • A Personal Experience of life
  • Love Within The Family: Personal Experience
  • A personal experience of science
  • My Experience As A Basketball Player
  • Bipolar Disorder: A personal experience
  • My Week at Bridge Builders
  • My Experience With Domestic Violence
  • My Experience During The Swine Flu Epidemic
  • Suffering in Silence: A Personal Experience
  • A Personal Experience in Fashion Industry
  • Love at First Sight: My Personal Experience
  • A Personal Experience of Music
  • My Experience with Bad Leadership
  • A Personal Experience with teaching
  • Personal Experience With Health Care
  • Microteaching Session: A Personal Experience
  • Personal Experience: A Surprise Gift on Christmas Day
  • Personal Experience Of Being A New Student In the College
  • First Impressions: Personal Experience
  • Terrifying Nightmare: A Personal Experience
  • Foreclosures: My Family’s Experience
  • Justice System: A Personal Experience
  • A Personal Experience in Research Projects
  • My personal experience as a worker in a pharmaceutical company
  • Moving to China: Personal Experience

Get Help from the Experts with your Personal Experience Essay Topics Paper

We know that you’ve been writing these essays for a while now. You may have some good ones in your arsenal, but we also want to remind you of the importance of having fresh content on hand as well. If you need help with this process, don’t hesitate to place an order today! Our professional writers are waiting and ready to work with you one-on-one until your essay is polished and perfect. Which topics do you think will make great personal experience essay topics? Please tell us what’s going on in your life right now–we can’t wait to find out more about it!  

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With a passion for education and student empowerment, I create blog content that speaks directly to the needs and interests of students. From study hacks and productivity tips to career exploration and personal development

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Life Experience Essay: How to Write a Brilliant Paper

A life experience essay combines the elements of narration, description, and self-reflection. Such a paper has to focus on a single event that had a significant impact on a person’s worldview and values.

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Writing an essay about life experience prompts students to do the following:

  • evaluate their behavior in specific situations critically;
  • analyze their life and find significant moments;
  • see connections between some crucial events;
  • tell the story of their lives.

You may struggle with such papers, not knowing how to structure them. So, here are valuable tips for writing essays about experience in life. Hopefully, they will help you with your task. Don’t forget to bookmark our website in case you need any assignment assistance.

  • 📅 Picking One
  • ⏳ Essay Topics

📅 Picking One Life Experience

Many people struggle with such essay writing because they don’t know what events to choose from. Almost any person had a memorable moment at least once. Yet, it might be challenging to share it with someone else, especially in a narrative essay on a life-changing experience.

To find the right event for your essay, here are the essential preliminary steps that you need to take:

  • Choose a memory to reflect in your essay. Think of any past event that made you reevaluate your views about other people or your values and moral principles. For example, you can describe an encounter with an exciting person that influenced you. Alternatively, think about discussing a situation when you had to make a moral choice. Make sure the event is indeed significant for you and will impress the readers.
  • Describe the settings. It is essential to let the readers dive into the atmosphere you experienced. Introduce the background. Talk about the time and location of the event and describe your feelings. The more detail you provide, the more empathetic your reader will be. And in case some of the writing doesn’t seem to come together well enough, don’t hesitate to use a sentence changer to mix things up.
  • Analyze the impact of the event on your life. Compare and contrast your views and values before and after this event. How did the experience influence your life? What did you learn from it? The analysis is probably an essential part of your life experience essay. So, make sure your ideas are concise and clear enough.
  • Evaluate your experience. Finally, determine how this experience can help you or your readers. Highlight the key lessons you gained from the event you are describing in your essay. Give the audience valuable suggestions.

🌱 Life Experience Essay: Key Tips

Having chosen the most memorable experience, you can start writing your essay. It’s a common creative task for college or high school students. Usually, such papers require to reflect on their life while telling a story with a moral. You have to explain how one significant event in the past affected or even changed you.

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Before composing your paper, it is essential to plan it properly. Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Decide whether the chosen topic is compelling.

Before starting structuring your essay, make sure you selected a great event. Here is a trick for you. Answer the following questions to evaluate your topic:

  • Did I learn something from that experience?
  • Did it significantly change my life?
  • Can I apply the knowledge I gained in the future?
  • Can I somehow educate the readers talking about this event?

If you answered YES, congratulations, you have a great topic. If your answers are NO, consider choosing another event to talk about.

  • Order the events logically.

While talking about your life-changing experience, it is essential to list the events in a logical order. Before writing your essay, outline. Decide on what you will tell first, what should be mentioned next, and how to conclude the paper. A logical structure will help the readers not to get overwhelmed with your thoughts.

  • Details matter.

For the readers, every detail might play a tremendous role. So, make sure you don’t forget to mention any essential turn of events. But be careful. Don’t overdo it. Include only vital and most vivid details in your essay about experience in life.

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Several strategies will help you with that:

  • A catchy intro is a key to a successful essay on life experience. Start your paper with an attention-getter or a sentence that can make your reader interested. For this purpose, you can use a quote or a paradoxical statement that shows how two conflicting ideas can co-exist. Turn on your imagination. The more exciting your first paragraph is – the highest chances to catch your readers’ attention are.
  • Explain your choice. No doubt, every person gets into a life-changing experience. So, impress your readers with your idea. Prove to them that your experience is worth sharing. Only if you introduce your concepts dynamically and effectively, your essay will be indeed fascinating.
  • Make your experience essay well balanced. It is also vital for you to find and maintain the balance between narrative and self-reflection. On the one hand, your paper has to describe an event accurately. As has been said before, you need to explain what happened and how it happened. On the other hand, you also need to analyze the impact the event’s experience had on you. So, make sure that your paper includes both: narrative and self-reflection.
  • Compose a memorable conclusion. The conclusion of your essay has to explain how experience can be applied. In other words, you need to show what you learned from the event. Explain how the knowledge you gained can affect your decisions in the future. Also, show your readers what they can learn from your life lesson.

See how it all can be accomplished in a life experience essay example below:

⏳ Life Experience Essay: Topics

Now you can approach an essay on a life experience that profoundly influenced you. Such a paper allows you to demonstrate your creativity and writing skills. So, try to be natural, and this mindset will help you write a great essay about yourself .

We prepared a list of life experience topics that will help you start:

  • How I conquered my fear . Were you afraid of something but found the courage to overcome your fears ? Isn’t it a perfect topic for an essay about experience in life? Introduce your fear. Explain how you conquered it. Describe how your life changed after it. Who knows, maybe you will inspire somebody else to deal with their fears.
  • A failure that made me stronger. Unsurprisingly, everybody fails. But have you ever been in a situation when your failure motivated you to improve? Describe this experience and tell the reader how you felt about it. Share your insight into overcoming failures with the audience!
  • How I met the love of my life. This topic is relevant to those having a boyfriend or a girlfriend who tremendously changed their lives. Are you one of them? Then consider writing about your life before and after you’ve met the love of your life. Did you change your habits ? Did you improve? Tell the reader more about that in your experience essay.
  • The most memorable experience of my childhood. We start our character formation in early childhood. So, maybe there was an incredibly significant event in your childhood that impacted your personal development. Analyze this experience and present your thoughts in the essay.
  • My first public performance. Well, public performances are a nightmare for some people. Therefore, the first appearance on the stage might become a life-changing and unforgettable experience. Do you have something fascinating to share about your first performance? Consider selecting this topic, then.
  • The most meaningful conversation I have ever had. Sometimes conversations can be pretty shallow. Sometimes, however, a talk might become the most memorable experience in your life. Have you ever had such a conversation? With whom? What was the topic of discussion? How did your perception of life or set of values transform after that talk?
  • A fascinating journey . Are you a fan of traveling? Then you have probably been on numerous trips . But have you ever been on a journey that significantly impacted your life? What country did you visit? What did you see or learn that impressed you most? How has your perception of life changed after that journey?
  • A piece of art that impressed me a lot. It’s no wonder that art has a tremendous power. Sometimes, a piece of art may turn an individual’s life upside down. Has it ever happened to you? What influenced you: a book, a movie, a painting ? What were your feelings and emotions?
  • My first award. Are you a professional athlete, an outstanding singer, or a successful dancer ? Then, you probably have numerous medals, cups, and certificates. But do you remember that unforgettable moment when you came to the stage to receive your first award? What was your way until that first award ? How did you feel when you finally got it? What did you learn from that life-changing experience?
  • Significant event that had a positive impact on my life .
  • An unforgettable visit to Africa .
  • Describe what makes you want to travel .
  • The experience of my first job at a rehabilitation center.
  • Discuss how a university degree became a driver of positive changes in your life.
  • The day I experimented on challenging gender norms .
  • Give details about your leadership experience .
  • My experience of winning the fight by losing it .
  • Analyze your experience of adopting a pet.
  • Describe your experience with English course and how it influenced your everyday life.
  • My experience of learning to ride a bicycle .
  • Examine the influence of a specific culture on your life.
  • How I bought my first laptop .
  • Spend twelve hours without smartphone and describe your experience.
  • An unforgettable experience of becoming a mom.
  • Analyze your experience with writing class and how it helped you to master writing in different styles.
  • Discuss your experience of mysophobia and its impact on your life.
  • The positive effect of art and dance movement therapy on my mental health.
  • Explain how you managed to resolve a conflict with your friend.
  • A defining event from my childhood.
  • Describe the challenges you faced at high school.
  • Tell about your experience as a volunteer .
  • Discuss your experience of working in a contact center .
  • Transformation of my life values after the lockdown .
  • The lessons I’ve learned being a Walmart employee .
  • Explain how mindfulness practice improved the quality of your life.
  • Personal experience of work with children with autism .
  • Describe the day you experienced a culture shock .
  • Tell about your experience of asking for help and results you obtained.
  • Give details about the worst job you’ve ever worked at.
  • My experience of covert conflict and how I managed to resolve it.
  • My trip to Yellowstone National Park .
  • Depict your last visit to the amusement park .
  • The educational experiences that influenced my career goals.

Thank you for reading our article! We hope our tips were helpful. Don’t forget to leave a comment and share the page with your friends.

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Personal Experience Essays

Personal experiences are the threads that weave the fabric of our lives. Writing a personal experience essay isn't just about storytelling; it's about finding meaning, connecting with others, and leaving your mark on the world. So, why should you write an essay about your personal experiences? Let's explore the importance together! 🌟

Personal Experience Essay Topics 📝

Selecting the right essay topic is key to crafting a compelling narrative. Here's how to pick one:

Personal Experience Argumentative Essay 🤨

Argumentative essays based on personal experiences require you to defend a viewpoint or argument. Here are ten intriguing topics:

  • 1. Argue for or against the idea that personal experiences are the most influential factors shaping an individual's personality.
  • 2. Defend your perspective on whether overcoming adversity through personal experiences builds stronger character.
  • 3. Debate the impact of personal experiences on shaping one's political beliefs and values.
  • 4. Argue for the significance of sharing personal experiences in order to promote empathy and understanding among diverse communities.
  • 5. Defend the idea that personal experiences play a crucial role in career development and decision-making.
  • 6. Debate the ethical implications of sharing deeply personal experiences in the era of social media and oversharing.
  • 7. Argue for the therapeutic benefits of writing about and reflecting on personal experiences.
  • 8. Defend your perspective on whether personal experiences should be a central part of school curricula.
  • 9. Debate the influence of personal experiences on an individual's approach to health and wellness.
  • 10. Argue for or against the notion that personal experiences can serve as catalysts for social change and activism.

Personal Experience Cause and Effect Essay 🤯

Cause and effect essays based on personal experiences explore the reasons behind events and their consequences. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Analyze the causes and effects of a life-changing personal experience on your academic or career choices.
  • 2. Examine how personal experiences can lead to personal growth, increased self-awareness, and improved well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the effects of travel experiences on personal perspectives and cultural understanding.
  • 4. Analyze the causes and consequences of sharing personal experiences with others, including its impact on relationships.
  • 5. Examine how personal experiences can influence one's hobbies, interests, and leisure activities.
  • 6. Investigate the impact of a significant personal experience on your family dynamics and relationships.
  • 7. Analyze the causes of personal transformation through exposure to diverse cultures and environments.
  • 8. Examine how personal experiences can shape one's attitude toward risk-taking and adventure.
  • 9. Investigate the effects of sharing personal experiences through writing, art, or storytelling on your personal well-being.
  • 10. Analyze the causes and consequences of personal experiences that challenge societal norms and expectations.

Personal Experience Opinion Essay 😌

Opinion essays based on personal experiences allow you to express your subjective viewpoints. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Share your opinion on the importance of documenting personal experiences for future generations.
  • 2. Discuss your perspective on whether personal experiences should be kept private or shared openly.
  • 3. Express your thoughts on how personal experiences have shaped your sense of identity and self-worth.
  • 4. Debate the significance of personal experiences in fostering empathy and compassion among individuals and communities.
  • 5. Share your views on the role of personal experiences in building resilience and coping with life's challenges.
  • 6. Discuss the impact of personal experiences on your approach to decision-making and problem-solving.
  • 7. Express your opinion on the therapeutic benefits of writing or talking about personal experiences.
  • 8. Debate the influence of personal experiences on your sense of purpose and life goals.
  • 9. Share your perspective on how personal experiences can inspire creativity and artistic expression.
  • 10. Discuss your favorite personal experience and the lessons or insights it has provided.

Personal Experience Informative Essay 🧐

Informative essays based on personal experiences aim to educate readers. Here are ten informative topics to explore:

  • 1. Provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of a specific personal experience on your career choices and aspirations.
  • 2. Explore the therapeutic benefits of journaling and writing about personal experiences for mental health and well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the history and significance of storytelling as a means of preserving personal experiences and cultural heritage.
  • 4. Analyze the connection between personal experiences and the development of emotional intelligence.
  • 5. Examine the influence of personal experiences on decision-making processes and risk assessment.
  • 6. Investigate the role of personal experiences in shaping cultural perceptions and worldviews.
  • 7. Provide insights into the art of crafting compelling narratives based on personal experiences.
  • 8. Analyze the impact of personal experiences on an individual's resilience and ability to adapt to change.
  • 9. Examine how personal experiences can serve as valuable life lessons and sources of wisdom.
  • 10. Investigate the therapeutic benefits of group discussions and support networks for individuals sharing similar personal experiences.

Personal Experience Essay Example 📄

Personal experience thesis statement examples 📜.

Here are five examples of strong thesis statements for your personal experience essay:

  • 1. "Through the lens of personal experiences, we uncover the profound impact that seemingly ordinary moments can have on our lives, reshaping our perspectives and guiding our journeys."
  • 2. "Personal experiences serve as powerful mirrors reflecting our growth, resilience, and capacity to navigate life's challenges, ultimately shaping the narratives of our existence."
  • 3. "The sharing of personal experiences is an act of vulnerability and courage, fostering connections, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the human condition."
  • 4. "Our personal experiences are the brushstrokes on the canvas of our identity, influencing our choices, values, and the stories we tell ourselves and others."
  • 5. "In exploring personal experiences, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, unlocking the untold stories that shape our uniqueness and enrich our shared human tapestry."

Personal Experience Essay Introduction Examples 🚀

Here are three captivating introduction paragraphs to kickstart your essay:

  • 1. "Amid the chaos of everyday life, our personal experiences are the constellations that guide us, the moments that define us. As we embark on this essay journey into the depths of our own stories, we unravel the threads of our existence, each tale a testament to the power of the personal."
  • 2. "Picture a canvas where the brushstrokes are the chapters of your life—a canvas waiting for you to paint your experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The personal experience essay is your opportunity to create a masterpiece that reflects the colors of your journey."
  • 3. "In a world of noise and distractions, our personal experiences are the melodies that resonate within us. As we venture into the heart of this essay, we uncover the symphony of our lives—a composition of highs, lows, and the beauty in between."

Personal Experience Conclusion Examples 🌟

Conclude your essay with impact using these examples:

  • 1. "As we close the chapter on this exploration of personal experiences, we are reminded that our stories are the threads that connect us all. The journey continues, and each experience, no matter how small, contributes to the tapestry of our shared humanity."
  • 2. "In the final brushstroke of our personal experience essay, we recognize that our stories are not finite; they are ever-evolving, ever-inspiring. The canvas of life awaits, ready for us to create new narratives and continue shaping our destinies."
  • 3. "As the echoes of our personal experiences linger, we stand at the intersection of past, present, and future. The essay's conclusion is but a pause in the symphony of our lives, with countless more notes to be played and stories to be written."

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242 Personal Persuasive Essay Topics and Ideas

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Personal Persuasive Essay Topics Ideas intro image

Personal essays are some of the most diverse assignments you can receive. Whether you’re a student in middle school or university, the best personal essay will highlight an individual’s personal views and unique experience. They’re not confined by the restrictions of literary essays and give plenty of opportunity for introducing the writer’s personality. The key here is selecting the right topics to talk about in a personal essay. Usually, this is the toughest part. After all, it’s the emotional core of your text. A lot of people also struggle to write about themselves and their experience as subjects of the text. Where does one start? Essay topics in general are frustrating to formulate so if you need help with some inspiration, take a look at some more ideas here ! And if you’re wondering what some good personal essay topics are, you’ll find a lot of sample ideas here as well as a guide on how to write a persuasive text.

In this article:

How to Write Personal Essays

Personal narrative essay topics, personal experience essay topics, personal argumentative essay topics, personal cause-and-effect essay topics, personal persuasive essay topics, personal essay topics for middle school, personal essay topics for high school students and college students.

Start by taking a trip down memory lane. The most gripping stories come from personal experience, especially if you’re thinking of writing a personal narrative essay. Think about a memory from your past that includes some inciting incident. If this is the first time you come across this phrase, inciting incidents are typically the metaphorical “ hooks ” of the story that have the audience interested in your text.

You could talk about your experience working as a volunteer, for example, or if you aren’t the volunteering type, you can write about some exciting memories from your childhood and summer vacations. Have you taken a trip abroad that has really left an impression on you? Are you drawn to different cultures because of that exotic trip? Maybe you went to visit a museum of your favourite artist, and this has inspired you to become an artist yourself. Perhaps you were immersed by the sound of a different language and decided to have a go at it. What have you enjoyed the most in the process? What did you hate about it? Perhaps you tried acquiring a new skill, but it went completely the wrong way for you. The list goes on and on.

There’s something there. Just remember the golden rule: always be honest in your personal essays . Trying to change your viewpoint on a subject so that it fits the masses’ opinion won’t make your personal essay enticing. The topic you’ll talk about in your personal essay is extremely important and so is the first sentence. Writing phrases such as “ever since I was a baby, I wanted to become a doctor” isn’t convincing or truthful. Try not to stick to clichés. You want to make an impression with your text, so ask yourself: What would grab your attention if you were reading your persuasive essay? I always think of Charles Dickens’ first sentence from A Christmas Carol : “Marley was dead: to begin with.” It begs for explanation and resolve, and it’s short and simple. The same should go for the personal essay entry sentence.

Why Choose Personal Persuasive Topics for Your Essay

If you’re wondering why you should choose personal persuasive topics for your essay, the answer lies in the question. We are a narrative-oriented society, and much of our relatability comes from convincingly expressing to others our individual, personal experience. What better way to let your personality shine than through conveying your emotions and adventures in a gripping story?

Personal experience essay topics vary depending on your age, and it’s quite likely that a story that worked for a high school assignment won’t have the same effect in your university days. That’s why in the sections below, we have divided the best personal essay topics into different categories. That way, you can easily navigate across all topics (and there’s quite a lot of them – a total of 242 ), but don’t let that restrict you. If you’re confident, you can always choose a topic from any of the categories.

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Of course, there are other important takeaways from writing a great personal essay. Usually, your teacher or admissions officer will look out that you have successfully done the following:

  • Communicated and implemented your critical thinking skills
  • Spoken convincingly and from experience about challenging themes that make you stand out from the crowd
  • Demonstrated your creativity and unique voice all the while applying persuasive techniques in your writing

With all this in mind, you can now start by selecting the right type of personal essay topic from our categories. We have included everything from personal essay topics for middle school to personal essay topics for high school, as well as narrative essay topics and many more. Go on, what are you waiting for?

Personal Narrative Essay Topics

Personal narrative essays are a great way to tell your unique take on a personal story. You just have to choose a project you feel passionate about. Typically, choosing a story involving your success and personality growth is your best bet, but of course, always make sure to check that your topic is suitable for the task given by your tutors. If you’re wondering what topics are suitable for a great personal narrative essay, check out the following ideas:

  • Starting your first job
  • Volunteering for the first time
  • A memorable teacher that made an impact on you
  • A dangerous experience
  • Your first journey abroad/to the countryside
  • An experience that changed your behavior
  • An experience that made you gain/lose religious faith
  • A comedic situation based on some misunderstanding
  • Events from your summer vacation that changed your life
  • The first time you got a pet
  • The experience of meeting your little sibling for the first time 
  • A time when you decided what your future job will be 
  • The change of a relationship with some you didn’t expect you’d like
  • The first time you experienced a dangerous event of some kind 
  • The first time you won something
  • Your experience participating in a sport/political/environmental design
  • A story about a teacher who inspired you
  • A story about a family member who is dear to you
  • Your experience of being in charge of something for the first time
  • Your experience traveling on your own for the first time 
  • How a book you read changed your life 
  • How the most exciting subject in school changed your life
  • How technology changed the way you access information
  • The first time you experienced an earthquake or tornado
  • A story about someone who has become your patron/idol 
  • Your reaction/opinion on an event that influenced your country 
  • A moment you caught someone in a lie
  • An episode that changed your relationship with your parents
  • An event which showed you taking responsibility and leadership 
  • An event in which you face discrimination 
  • An experience of successfully fighting procrastination 
  • A time when you helped people in a crisis
  • The experience of creating secret places in your childhood
  • An experience playing your favorite game
  • A time you got lost 
  • Your first time going on a trip by yourself 
  • The influence of technology on your younger siblings vs you
  • What you would do if you won the lottery for the first time 
  • Your best childhood memory
  • Your experience of discovering a disability for the first time 
  • A secret talent you have 
  • Your experience learning a musical instrument
  • Your experience with an inexplicable event that happened to you
  • A story about the greatest fear you have 
  • How your favorite work of art inspires you
  • The best advice you have heard in your life 
  • A place you would go to if you could travel in time 
  • A story about the most beautiful place you have visited
  • Something you witnessed in your lifetime that you will never forget
  • Your favorite holiday experience 
  • Your most awkward moment in college
  • Your biggest fear
  •  The most crucial lesson in your life 
  • Your experience of being betrayed by someone and your response to it 
  • An advice your parents gave you that wasn’t useful
  • Describe your biggest moment of failure 
  • Your biggest argument with a family member
  • A difficult decision you have made 
  • The day you realized you had made a best friend
  • The most interesting dream you have had 

Personal Experience Essay Topics

Personal experience essays aren’t that much different from personal narrative essays. They still have an element of narrative storytelling within them, but this time, they focus more on a level of experience you have gained because of a certain event. Usually, personal experience essay topics are focused around the theme of personal development. Many things can be described and included in a personal narrative essay, and you not only are given the opportunity to demonstrate your personal views on a subject, but you can also have your level of determination and ambition evaluated by a professional teacher or college admissions officer. Usually, personal narrative essay papers are written when submitting a college application, but it’s also possible to receive such an essay in school. In my personal experience, some of the greatest essays presenting an intellectual challenge are in fact the personal experience essays.

Let’s get straight into some essay prompts:

  • How do you handle stress when attending an important exam?
  • Which school subject motivated you to study hard?
  • Did a teacher have a significant influence on your confidence in selecting a career?
  • Is homework a waste of time?
  • How would you go about doing research for an essay?
  • What motivates you to study and pursue your dreams?
  • Everyone has a plan “A” when it comes to choosing a career. What is your plan “B”?
  • How has your biggest failure shaped your personality today?
  • What is your biggest accomplishment outside of college/school, and how did you come to achieve it?
  • What is the difference between female and male roles in your family? In what way would you change them?
  • How did a book/film change your worldview?
  • What role have teams and clubs had in your life?
  • What role has television had in your life? 
  • What is your relationship with social media?
  • How have moments of racial or religious discrimination affected you?

Personal Argumentative Essay Topics

Personal argumentative essay topics are generally given to college students or sometimes to people applying for a degree in Humanitarian Sciences. Such essays are a great way for admission officers to evaluate your knowledge of current events and relevant social discussions. Personal argumentative essay topics are usually considered more difficult than narrative essays, for example. For more argumentative ideas and speech topics , check the guide! Thus, if you’re planning on taking up this challenge, make sure you have enough time to prepare. If you have a whole term to prepare for this personal argumentative essay topic, you’ll surely be able to tackle it. Also, if that sounds too engaging, don’t worry, there are plenty of other, easier essay ideas on our lists!

Check out our example personal argumentative essay prompts for argumentative essay topics:

  • Should prisons be abolished? If so, what is the negative and positive impact of this global decision?
  • How does higher education affect the merit in meritocracy?
  • Should artificial intelligence be applied actively in warfare?
  • Does revolution go hand in hand with violence?
  • Has the COVID-19 pandemic made us more prepared for the prevention of future epidemics occurring worldwide?
  • In what way has the instant gratification of social media changed our relationship to technology?
  • How has the digital age changed children’s relationship to empathy?
  • What would the impact of a potential legalization of productivity drugs look like in current society?
  • Is there a difference in work performance between Ivy League alumni and lower-ranking university students?
  • Is obesity preventable?
  • Is gun control a necessary method for the prevention of shootings?
  • Should everyone have the right to vote?
  • Should the right to vote be exclusively available to people with some form of education?
  • Does the #metoo movement yield meaningful social change?
  • Is knife control a necessary and sufficient method of knife crime prevention?
  • How can the value of digital collectible art be accurately determined?
  • Is fan fiction writing real writing?
  • Do all students need to learn a foreign language?
  • Should students take a gap year between high school and university?
  • Why should universities teach financial literacy?
  • Should students participate in the maintenance of school property?

Personal Cause-and-Effect Essay Topics

Personal cause-and-effect essay topics are pretty self-explanatory. You’re aiming to express your opinion on a subject that has a cause, for example, supposedly, school uniforms are meant to cause discipline among students. Exercising and backing up your opinion on this essay idea will make it personal. Here is a detailed guide on how to write a great cause and effect essay . Think of a topic that excites you. It could be something you’re unhappy with or something you think is unjust.

Here are personal cause-and-effect essay topics we came up with:

  • How can video games boost people’s IQ?
  • Can a personal relationship in a family improve with phone use?
  • Can going to college make for happier marriages?
  • How can the involvement of a parent change a child’s education?
  • How have smartphones impacted general communication?
  • What is the effect of cookies, and does it make people shop more?
  • What is the effect of tablets on young children?
  • What is the effect of mobile usage during class?
  • Why can’t another popular engine be established in place of Google?
  • What is the effect of the financial success Disney has had in the last 30 years?
  • Should dating in school be banned?
  • Can living together before marriage make a relationship between partners stronger?
  • Can a couple sleeping in separate beds have a healthy relationship?
  • What is the effect of bullying on mental health?
  • What is the cause of bullying behavior?
  • Why shouldn’t women have to work after an abortion or miscarriage?
  • What is the impact of smoking on a pregnant mother ?
  • How can the presence of acne affect the life of a teenager? What about an adult?
  • Why do some people avoid vaccines?
  • What causes a lack of interest in sports?
  • How can teenagers better protect themselves against cyberbullies?
  • What causes certain social media apps to lose popularity?
  • Can continuous sporting activities cause character development?
  • Is “cancel culture” sparking meaningful change?
  • What is the root cause of racism?
  • Why is it essential to manage forest fires?
  • What are the harmful effects of antill hunting on the ecosystem? 
  • Why is it important for everyone to conserve water?
  • What is the environmental impact of a single-use plastic ban?
  • Can a long-distance relationship work?
  • What are the causes and effects of cheating during exams?
  • Is it a necessity to have an obligatory Sex Ed class ?
  • How has the Internet changed the public’s sexual education?
  • Should there be student bars on campus?
  • Should work become mandatory for anyone over the age of 18?
  • What causes some sports to be more popular among students than others?
  • What are the effects of using computers and tablets in school? What about university?
  • Have libraries become more popular over the last few years? 
  • What caused the General Data Protection Regulation, and why is it necessary?
  • What are the effects of online dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr?
  • What are the effects of drugs and alcohol on people?
  • Should people be allowed to drive after drinking a single unit of alcohol?
  • What are the effects of a family structure on an individual?
  • Does having a sibling make a person more responsible?
  • Are siblings better at sharing?
  • How has the golden child syndrome affected millennials?
  • How can teachers positively and negatively affect student lives?
  • What are the root causes of commitment phobia in men and women?
  • What is the effect of social media on romantic relationships?
  • How does eating fast food affect the energy levels of an individual?

Personal Persuasive Essay Topics

Unlike personal cause-and-effect essay topics, personal persuasive essay topics aim to convince the reader that your opinion is right. This type of academic writing assignment explains a particular problem and uses research combined with personal experience in order to end up with a powerful persuasive conclusion. Through logic and convincing evidence, as well as always keeping in mind the goal of persuasion, you can write a powerful assignment.

Here are some personal persuasive essay ideas to choose from for your next writing assignment:

  • Is chess considered a sport or a game?
  • How is modern music not as well-composed as music from the past, such as the 1970s?
  • Is it important to put PG labels on music tracks or films?
  • Elaborate on the importance of the right education when playing professional music.
  • Is animal hunting an immoral hobby?
  • Is it a good idea to keep pets indoors?
  • The cruelty behind testing beauty products on animals
  • Is it ethical to breed animals for sale?
  • Schools have to reduce the amount of homework assigned to students.
  • SATs and ACTs are not effective ways of examining the knowledge of students.
  • There should be an Emotional Intelligence mandatory class for all years.
  • Vaccines can lead to autism.
  • Astrology isn’t an effective way of predicting future events.
  • All transport vehicles should be automatic or electric.
  • Can distant online learning replace traditional classes?
  • Working from home is better for finance but worse for mental health.
  • The current taxation system is unfair.
  • Listening to music when writing homework is an effective way of sparking productivity
  • Hustle culture has taxing effects on mental health.
  • People volunteer for their personal benefit, instead of kindness
  • People who have survived a near-death experience have a newfound appreciation for life.
  • Is “fake it until you make it” a healthy way of progressing?
  • Why do people lie on their resumes?
  • Why book reading during summer vacations should become mandatory.
  • Weekends should change from 2 days to 3 days.
  • Why we should be making selective school sports mandatory in school.
  • Cooking and body health classes should be mandatory subjects in school.
  • Can e-books and Kindles replace physical books?
  • Should the death penalty exist?
  • Why should children have chores?
  • Why should it be made mandatory for children to contribute to the overall maintenance, cleanliness, and gardening of schools?

Personal Essay Topics for Middle School

When choosing a personal essay topic, it’s important to take on subjects and ideas related to your age. Some topics require a lot more research, while others can be a little too sensitive for a younger writer. Selecting the right one for you will leave you with less workload and can guarantee you a better grade. Of course, if you feel confident and knowledgeable enough, you can try your skills with a more difficult essay idea. Paper writing can be a difficult intellectual challenge, but we’re sure that with these essay ideas, you’ll be able to tell your personal story and write a great essay:

  • How did you make a best friend?
  • A special top-secret place you have.
  • A story of a time a friend let you down.
  • A time when you disappointed someone.
  • What is your happiest memory?
  • Your first time receiving a pet.
  • Your bravest moment.
  • A time you felt embarrassed.
  • What would you do if you were omnipotent? 
  • What would you do if you could switch lives with someone? Who would it be?
  • How did a book change your life?
  • What would you do if your pet could talk?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • If you could shapeshift into an animal, what would you be? What would you do?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Would you change anything?
  • What’s your secret talent?
  • The first time you fell in love.
  • An accident that changed your life.
  • Talk about the ugliest thing you have seen.
  • Talk about the most influential family member.
  • Talk about your favorite gift.
  • Talk about something you can’t resist.
  • Talk about a guest you had in your house that you’ll never forget.
  • Talk about the hardest news you’ve had to deliver.
  • Talk about a special gift you have received.
  • Talk about something that if your mum knew, you’d be in a lot of trouble. A lot.
  • If you could volunteer anywhere, where would it be?
  • If you won a million dollars, how would you spend them?
  • What is an unexplained event that stuck with you?
  • The one thing you can’t resist.
  • If you could be a superhero, what power would you have? Why?
  • If you could teleport anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Personal Essay Topics for High School Students and College Students

This list of personal essay topics for high school students will definitely inspire you to practice your personal essay skills. Covering topics like communication, ethical consumption, personal experience and more, you’ll be able to gain new ideas and express your deepest thoughts within the confines of the page. These personal essay topics for high school students are also a great way of reflecting on your growth and personal opinion, while expressing your thoughts and opinions.

  • What inspires you?
  • What inanimate object best embodies you?
  • What’s one thing your parents don’t understand about you?
  • What is the one quality a good person must have?
  • Describe the best decision you ever made
  • What is one thing you would change that you know will make a great difference in your life?
  • How do you respond to criticism? Talk about a time you were critiqued.
  • Do you feel the impact of peer pressure in your life? How is it manifested?
  • Are you religious, an atheist, or agnostic? Why and why not?
  • Do you feel comfortable in your body? Do you feel pressure from the media about how you “should” look?
  • What are your views on ethical consumption? Does it matter to you?
  • What are your views on veganism? 
  • Do you feel like your friends are honest with each other? Why and why not?
  • When you look back on your time in high school, what part will you remember with fondness?
  • If you could tell your 12-year-old self something, what would it be and why?
  • Do you have a dream profession? What is it?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
  • Do you believe in “soulmates”? Why and why not?
  • What is your dream goal? Do you feel like you’ll ever achieve it?
  • Do you believe in the concept of “best friends”? Why and why not?
  • Do you believe in astrology? Why and why not?
  • What do you think the world will look like in 100 years?
  • If you could bring to life any famous historical figure and spend the day with them, who would you pick, and what would you do?
  • If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler? 
  • What TV series you saw recently made an impression on you? Why?
  • What part of high school do you wish you could get rid of?
  • If you could start your own business, what would you do?
  • What issues truly motivate you and why?
  • If you were an admissions officer, what positive qualities would you look for in students?
  • What period of school do you think is most important? 
  • What is your dream profession? What are it’s positives and negatives?
  • Do you think the world can function without money? What would that alternative universe look like?
  • Do you think all students should go to college? Why?

Writing essays is a great way to showcase your writing skills, as well as clearly communicate your views and ideas. Personal essay writing improves your debating, logical, and deductive skills, so it’s important that you select a topic you’re passionate about and inspired by. This will give you enough fuel to power through the most difficult essay topics while at the same time enjoy what you’re writing about. We hope you enjoyed our personal persuasive essay topics! Make sure to bookmark and come back to this personal essay ideas list in the future when you’re given an assignment! Here are some more college essay topics , check them out!

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life experience essay questions

Harvard University

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Want to see your chances of admission at Harvard University?

We take every aspect of your personal profile into consideration when calculating your admissions chances.

Harvard University’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Diversity short response.

Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?

Intellectual Experience Short Response

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.

Extracurricular Short Response

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.

Future Goals Short Response

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?

Roommate Short Response

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

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.

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?

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

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?

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

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?

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.

What will first-time readers think of your college essay?

110 Personal Essay Topics

Though written from a lived experience, personal essay topics can be tricky to come up with because they have to be universal enough for other people to relate to.

Since the skill of writing a good essay is being able to paint an image with words, students must choose a topic that will get others interested in the story and what it has to say about life, society, or themselves.

In essence, personal essays are written from a personal point of view and express a writer’s own insights, opinions, and feelings on a particular topic. Additionally, these types of essays lead to an overall point, lesson, realization, or revelation.

Most commonly, personal essays are written by high school students as part of their college applications. However, there are many other reasons that a personal essay may be assigned or written, including:

  • Scholarship applications
  • Job interview
  • Writing contest
  • Grad school admission

Students and others struggling with a valuable personal essay topic can choose from any of the 110 personal essay topics on this list to help them get started.

How to Write a Personal Essay

Writing a personal essay will require you to follow a traditional essay’s guidelines, structure, and format. However, you will also need to ensure that your essay is personal or tells a story about yourself rather than being entirely academic.

For example, you might want to explain an experience that changed how you saw the world or share an opinion on something important to you – even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree with it.

It often helps to make a list of experiences that you may want to share before starting with the writing aspect of the personal essay.

Introduction

The introduction to your personal essay will set the scene for the reader. Therefore, your personal essay needs to start with a compelling hook that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.

This hook statement could be a humorous or poignant anecdote related to your topic or a line of questioning that the reader will be interested in following. For example, some possible opening lines for a personal essay could start with:

  • “I remember exactly where I was when I first realized …”
  • “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?
  • “So, I once had this problem …”

These beginning lines will often create questions in the reader’s mind, which is an excellent way to capture their interest and keep them reading. Following this initial opening sentence, you can introduce other details as you build up the main point of the story.

Your introduction should end with a thesis statement that verbalizes the general direction the story will go.

Body Paragraphs

Generally, a personal essay will have no less than three body paragraphs that detail your experience in chronological order. Each section should discuss one part of the story, including the events leading up to it, what happened during the experience, and what you learned from it.

Body paragraphs may also include examples of feelings, emotions, or arguments that support your experience. The goal of a personal essay is to share a compelling story and teach the reader something about life or themselves by using specific details and language.

Consider this formatting when creating the body paragraphs of your personal essay:

1st Paragraph

  • Beginning of the story that answers questions related to “Who?” and “Where?”
  • Initial attitudes, moods, feelings, and assumptions about the event or experience about to take place

2nd Paragraph

  • Middle of the story
  • Details that show how the situation evolved over time, including any changes in mood or assumption on your part

3rd Paragraph

  • Ending of the story/resolution
  • The final analysis on overall feelings, emotions, and mood

By sticking to this formatting for the body paragraphs, students can ensure that they are telling the story correctly and including every key detail as it happens.

Conclusion Paragraph

The conclusion of a personal essay is optional and depends on what you want to accomplish with the telling of your story. If you want to leave the reader feeling inspired or emotionally moved, then focus on summarizing the main points in a short paragraph that ends on a positive note.

However, if this was a darker story, you may want to use the concluding paragraph to sum up your feelings after the experience has ended or explore any unanswered questions that remain.

In any event, your conclusion does need to include an overall moral or lesson of how the writer:

  • overcame hardship
  • rose to the occasion
  • identified new traits or abilities that they never realized existed
  • turned defeat into success
  • followed their instincts and made the right choice
  • came to appreciate something about life after the experience took place

Any of these statements can stand alone as a powerful lesson learned. However, when combined in one concluding paragraph, you will leave your reader with a profound impression.

Using any of these 110 personal essay topics will ensure that you have a strong and interesting story to tell.

Personal Essay Topics About Relationships

  • What was a time when you made a friend?
  • What would your worst enemy say about you?
  • Talk about the death of a friend.
  • How did it feel to be bullied in school?
  • The time when you had to get along with a sibling despite being different ages
  • What you learned from your first relationship
  • Why marriage isn’t important to you
  • How you discovered polyamory, and how it changed your view of relationships
  • How your best friend made you a better person
  • The lesson you learned from being catfished
  • The first time you experienced heartbreak
  • A funny story about how technology ruined a relationship.
  • How did you learn to recognize love?
  • Who would you consider your soulmate? What makes them that person specifically for you?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment as a boyfriend or girlfriend, and what did you learn from it?

Personal Essay Topics About Hardships

  • The worst thing that ever happened to me
  • The roughest time in my family’s life
  • The hardest challenge I’ve ever had to overcome
  • How did you deal with the stress of moving?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment as a kid?
  • What are some reasons that I am grateful for my disability/illness/condition?
  • When have you had an “Aha!” moment in life?
  • What’s something terrible that happened to you that turned into something good?
  • What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my failures?
  • The time when it almost felt like the world was against me
  • How did I handle/recover from a severe illness/injury/accident?
  • When was the first time I realized that life isn’t fair?
  • What was the biggest struggle I went through in my teens?
  • The most challenging situation I faced in high school
  • When was a time when I made a negative impact on someone else?
  • The first time I got caught stealing
  • The most embarrassing mistake I ever made with money
  • What was the most challenging thing about getting sober/clean/overcoming addiction?
  • When did I realize that life is short and that nobody is promised tomorrow?
  • How did you learn to persevere through tough times?

Personal Essay Topics About Success & Achievements

  • Best moment in my sports career
  • My greatest success story
  • The time I overcame my fear and found strength I didn’t know I had.
  • What’s the happiest day of my life?
  • How did I learn to overcome failure?
  • The time I knew that dreams really do come true
  • My greatest triumph over adversity – and what it taught me about myself.
  • What made you realize that you have to work hard in order to achieve something meaningful in life?
  • When did I know that I had made it in life?
  • When was the first time you were acknowledged for your achievements?
  • The night when my hard work truly paid off
  • My most powerful moment after overcoming a setback
  • How did I become successful?
  • What are some defining moments in my career?
  • How did I make it through a difficult time in college/university?
  • What motivated me to become the person I am today?

Personal Essay Topics About Personal Growth & Self-Reflection

  • Whose lifelong encouragement helped make me who I am today
  • The first time I took responsibility for my own actions
  • What gave me the courage to be myself?
  • The most valuable life lesson I’ve ever received. Who taught it to me, and what was the context?
  • How did I get through a difficult childhood/adolescence/teenage years?
  • What did I learn from becoming a yoga master?
  • How has meditation helped me overcome anger issues?
  • How did I recover from using drugs and alcohol?
  • What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from quitting my job?
  • When did I realize that life is too short to hate someone?
  • The moment when I knew it was time for a change
  • I made a mistake – and this is how I bounced back
  • How did I overcome depression/anxiety/mental illness?

Personal Essay Topics About Passions & Hobbies

  • How did learning a skill change my life?
  • Why exercise makes me a better person
  • My passion for writing
  • What’s the best advice I’ve ever received? Who gave it to me, and in what situation?
  • The moment when I realized my true calling in life
  • The importance of keeping a journal and how it has helped me become a better person
  • My biggest bucket list dream and why it’s so important to me
  • What is my vision for the future?
  • How did I find peace, contentment, and happiness?
  • The time when I truly lived outside of my comfort zone
  • When was the moment when I felt like I “got” meditation?
  • My journey towards becoming vegan. What inspired me to make this change, and what were the challenges I faced?
  • What lessons have been easy for me to learn, and which ones have been harder?
  • The time when travel changed my life

Personal Essay Topics About Challenges & Failures

  • The low point of my life and how I got through it
  • How did an illness/injury/death in the family affect me?
  • Why did I decide to stop going on blind dates?
  • What were the consequences of losing my temper, and how did I make amends?
  • The time when I was broken. What happened, who got hurt, and how did it affect me? How did I overcome this experience?
  • When was the moment when I realized that my words carry weight?

Personal Essay Topics About Family & Childhood Memories

  • The time when my family showed me what unconditional love means
  • My most vivid childhood memory and how it has affected me as an adult
  • How did I learn to be patient and kind?
  • What was the moment that sparked a change in my life? What caused this change, and what happened after the changes took place?
  • The moment when I realized the true meaning of friendship
  • What lessons did growing up teach me about life?
  • My childhood dream and what it taught me about myself
  • How do I feel about my hometown after living in three different places?
  • Why is it important to visit your birthplace/hometown during holidays/vacations?
  • My family’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
  • What was the moment when I realized that my parents had their own struggles?
  • The time when I learned about my family history. What happened, why did this happen, and how did it affect me? How did things change after this event?
  • What do I know about family traditions now that I didn’t understand as a child?
  • Why are your family memories vital to you?

Personal Essay Topics About Cultural Heritage & Identity

  • What does being bilingual/multilingual mean to me? Why is it unique?
  • My first interaction with someone from another culture
  • What’s wrong with cultural appropriation, and how did I learn to stop?
  • The moment when I became aware of my race/ethnicity
  • My culture’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
  • How I learned to not be afraid of my cultural differences
  • Why is diversity important in my community? In what ways do I contribute?
  • The moment I realized that I am proud of my culture
  • How has the immigrant/refugee experience shaped who you are today?
  • How traditions have changed the way I view my family

Personal Essay Topics About Childhood Dreams & Aspirations

  • What were my childhood dreams, and how have they changed over the years?
  • How did I make peace with the fear of growing up?

Any of these 110 personal essay topics are perfect for students struggling to find a topic that will impress a college admission officer or any other person with whom you’re trying to connect with on a personal level through storytelling.

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60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications

Ideas to inspire every college applicant.

Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.

Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees. Every one of these questions is taken from real college applications for the 2023-2024 season, so they’re meaningful and applicable to today’s high school seniors.

Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts

2023-2024 coalition for college essay prompts, life experiences college essay prompts, personal college essay prompts, academics college essay prompts, creative college essay prompts.

Hundreds of colleges and universities use the Common App process . For many schools, this includes responding to one of several college essay topics, which can change each year. Here are the essay prompts for the current application cycle (check with your chosen school/s to see if an essay is required).

  • 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.
  • 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?

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?

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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

  • 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?
  • 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.

More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process . Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024.

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Answer these questions by sharing specific examples from your own experience.

  • Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
  • Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
  • Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.

Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.- college essay prompts

  • Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
  • What are the best words of advice you have received? Who shared them, and how have you applied them in your own life?
  • Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
  • Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
  • Who do you agree with on the big, important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
  • Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
  • When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
  • Discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
  • Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

  • Describe a time you did not meet expectations and what impact the experience had on you.

These essay topics give schools a better sense of who you are, what you value, and the kind of student citizen you might be.

  • What drives you to create, and what do you hope to make or have you made?
  • Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or nonfiction) seems made for you? Why?
  • What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
  • How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?

How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?- college essay prompts

  • Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
  • What would you want to be different in your own country or community to further principles of equality, equity, or social justice?
  • What strength or quality do you have that most people might not see or recognize?
  • If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why?
  • What gives meaning to your life?
  • If you wrote a letter to yourself to be opened in 20 years, what would it say?
  • If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

  • Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  • What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
  • Explain how a text you’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literature of any kind—has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.

Topics like these show your academic interests and demonstrate your commitment to learning and discovery.

  • What does it mean to you to be educated?
  • What is your motivation for pursuing higher education?
  • Describe your reasons for wanting to attend the specific school you’re applying to. Who or what factored into your decision?
  • Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?

Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?- college essay prompts

  • What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
  • If you decide to take a “gap year” between high school and college, what would you do during that time?
  • Many schools place a high value on diverse student populations. How can you contribute to and support a diverse and inclusive student population at your chosen school?
  • Imagine you were just awarded a research grant for a project of your choice. What are you researching and why?
  • What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

  • Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Use these college essay topics to show off your creativity and innovative thinking.

  • You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

  • Pick one person—a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual—to converse with for an hour, and explain your choice.
  • If you could witness a historic event (past, present, or future) firsthand, what would it be and why?
  • If you could have a theme song, what would it be and why?
  • Discuss a book that you would call a “great book.” What makes the book great in your view?
  • If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
  • If I could travel anywhere, I would go to …
  • My favorite thing about last Tuesday was …
  • Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.
  • If you had 10 minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your TED Talk be about?
  • What are your three favorite words in the English language? Explain what they mean to you.
  • Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?

Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?- college essay prompts

  • Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?
  • If you could create a college course that all students would take, what would it be about and why?
  • What website is the internet missing?

How do you help your students prepare their college application essays? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, check out  the ultimate guide to college scholarships.

Looking for writing ideas for your college application? These college essay prompts offer inspirational topics that let every student shine.

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Don’t Sweat the Supp Stuff: Advice for Crafting Your Supplemental Essay

life experience essay questions

It can feel daunting to choose what to write about in your college application essays. How do you sum up the complex, dynamic individual you are with such limited space? 

The short answer: You can’t. But that’s OK. 

The goal of your application is not to share every detail of your multifaceted life. Rather, the process allows you to share your story with the admissions committee about what makes you a strong match for the institution. Each piece of the application reveals something about your academic experiences and personal journey that shows us how you might contribute to the Hopkins community. 

In some ways, the essays help tie together the rest of the application. They offer space for you to tell stories that represent the most important parts of your identity, which provide context for other components of the application. 

Let’s zero in on the supplemental essay . 

The supplemental essay portion of the application is specific to each school. Each institution has intentionally crafted a question (or multiple) to help determine whether a student might be a good match. We look for individuals who share Hopkins’ institutional values but will also bring unique experiences and perspectives to the community.  

Below is the supplemental essay prompt for students applying for entry to Hopkins in the fall of 2024:  

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins. This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social. (350-word limit) *

Picture your life in college. What does your community look like? Which aspects of your identity are most important for you to develop and nurture?  

Now jot down some thoughts about experiences or parts of your identity that have had a significant effect on your life. Maybe it’s a hobby you love, a cultural tradition, or an instance when you discovered something new about yourself. 

Once you have a list, think about how each of these will continue to play a role in your college life. Choose one to focus on and spend some time building it out. 

Keep in mind this essay is not an exercise in “tell us everything you know about Hopkins.” While it’s important for the admissions committee to see you’ve done your research and understand what Hopkins has to offer, simply listing what you hope to pursue on campus is only half of the puzzle. Be sure to connect the dots by explaining why you wish to pursue those things, and how they’ll help you remain connected to and grow in your identity. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas or crafting your essay, reach out to your school counselor or an English teacher. They can help you brainstorm and ensure your piece is answering the prompt in a meaningful way. 

Happy writing! 

* An important note about the essay: In this essay question, we are looking for how an aspect of your identity or background has contributed to your personal story—your character, values, perspectives, or skills—and how you think it may shape your approach to college as a scholar, leader, or community member.

Please note that the U.S. Supreme Court recently limited the consideration of race in college admissions decisions but specifically permitted consideration of “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life” so long as the student is “treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” Therefore, any part of your background, including but not limited to your race, may be discussed in your response to this essay if you so choose, but will be considered by the university based solely on how it has affected your life and your experiences as an individual.

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College Admissions , College Essays

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

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

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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

Visible Signs of Planning

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

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

Stellar Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.

Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

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

Common App Essay Samples

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

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

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

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

Connecticut college.

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

Hamilton College

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

Johns Hopkins

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

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

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

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

Other Sample College Essays

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

Babson College

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

Emory University

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

University of Georgia

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

Smith College

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

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Books of College Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

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

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

I had never broken into a car before.

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

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

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

"Why me?" I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Essay Tick?

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

An Opening Line That Draws You In

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

Great, Detailed Opening Story

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

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

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

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

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

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

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

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

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

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

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

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

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

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

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

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

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

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

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

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

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

life experience essay questions

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Clear Governing Metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

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

#1: Get Help From the Experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

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

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

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

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What's Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Answer the Harvard Supplemental Essay Prompts (2023-2024)

How to write the harvard supplemental essays (2023-2024).

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Last year, Harvard admitted just 3.2% of applicants, meaning that if you want a shot at an admission for the 2023-2024 cycle, your application has to be just about perfect. 

One element of the Harvard application that many students struggle with is the Harvard writing supplement. It’s tricky to know exactly how to approach these supplemental essays: what can you write to stand out from the thousands of other applicants? What exactly are Harvard admissions officers looking for?

Fortunately, at PrepMaven, we’ve helped thousands of students craft compelling college application essays. It doesn’t hurt that many of our expert tutors have been admitted to Harvard themselves, and so they know exactly what works. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the 2023-2024 Harvard writing supplement, explaining exactly what you need to do to maximize your chances at a Harvard acceptance. To check out our overall guide that covers everything you need to do to get into Harvard in 2024, click here.

As you read on, check out our free resource linked below: it contains real, successful examples of supplemental essays written for Harvard and other top schools. 

Download 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Jump to section:

  • Harvard 2023-2024 supplemental essay prompts 
  • How to write Harvard’s first essay
  • How to write Harvard’s second essay
  • How to write Harvard’s third essay
  • How to write Harvard’s fourth essay
  • How to write Harvard’s fifth essay

Harvard’s 2023-2024 supplemental essays 

This year, Harvard has a fairly intense set of supplemental essays: you’ll have to write 5 essays, each with a maximum word count of 200 words.

The supplemental essays prompts are below: 

life experience essay questions

Prompt 1 Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?  Prompt 2 Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.  Prompt 3 Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.  Prompt 4 How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?  Prompt 5 Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

The first thing to notice is that several of these essays fall into well-known categories of the college essay. 

How to write Harvard’s first essay: Diversity/Community

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon come to recognize this essay prompt. At heart, this kind of prompt is asking you to discuss how–based on specific elements of your life–you view your role as a potential member of Harvard’s diverse community. 

We call this the Diversity/community essay, because those are really always two sides of the same coin. 

With the Harvard Diversity/community essay, there are 2 basic options for structuring your response:

  • Discuss community through the lens of your identity. 
  • Discuss community through the lens of other events/activities/pursuits in your life. 

Which path you take will actually be easy to decide: 

life experience essay questions

If your identity (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, etc.) has significantly influenced your worldview or experiences, go with option 1. 

In other words, if you know you have something meaningful to say about how your identity has shaped you, that should structure your response. This might mean writing an essay about how discrimination or systemic biases have affected you or your family; it could just as well, however, mean writing about specific experiences you’ve cherished as a member of a particular culture. 

A few great examples from recent essays we’ve worked on: 

  • An essay that focuses on a student’s biracial background and how she learned to use others’ ignorant/racist comments as opportunities for starting difficult conversations. 
  • An essay exploring how a first-generation immigrant served as a translator for his parents. 
  • An essay from a young woman exploring how she navigated the contradictions between her feminist views and the emphasis on tradition within her religion. 

If your identity has not significantly experienced how you view the world, go with option 2. 

If you don’t feel particularly connected to a specific identity, or if you can’t think of specific ways that your identity has affected you, you should instead focus on other elements of your life that have shaped your view of community. 

Think about what you want out of a community: then, think about what aspect of your life (an extracurricular, a hobby, a social circle) has shaped that desire. Tell that story. It may sound a bit tough to thread that needle, but it really isn’t so bad: here are a few really successful topics from recent students in response to this kind of prompt:

life experience essay questions

  • An essay about how a student’s participation in yearly music recitals with strangers shaped how he views community as a place for everyone to share their gifts/talents. 
  • An essay from an avid hiker about how his experiences maintaining hiking trails taught him to think of community as a shared, daily effort in the service of others. 
  • An essay from a student who moved countries multiple times reflecting on what in each place contributed to creating a cohesive community. 

All the examples are different, but share one thing in common: using your personal experiences to reflect on your role in a diverse community. 

For successful examples of Diversity/community essays, check out the first Princeton essay and the first three UMich essays in the free collection below!

How to write Harvard’s second essay: Intellectual Experience

Here’s the second supplemental prompt:

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

You can really think of this question as being a simpler version of the “Why Major?” question that colleges often ask (and on which we’ve written a guide here ). 

With a simple “Intellectual experience” prompt, you don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty of how Harvard’s programs will help you pursue your interests. Instead, you’ll just tell the Harvard admissions committee how a particular experience you’ve had sharpened your curiosity, raised new questions, or affected your academic goals. 

Think of the “Intellectual Experience” essay as having two parts:

  • Describe the experience itself
  • Show how it affected you or what you learned

What kinds of things count as intellectual experiences? Well, it really is a very broad category, and you’re likely the best judge. Particularly good ideas include things like:

life experience essay questions

  • Independent research
  • Internships with professors or universities
  • Advanced summer programs at universities
  • Academically-focused extracurriculars 

If you don’t have any of the above to talk about, you can also make this essay about:

  • A provocative book, article, etc. that you’ve engaged with
  • A particularly memorable moment in class (a specific lab, assignment, or lecture)
  • Any other learning experience, formal or not, that had a profound effect on you

The key is that, regardless of what the topic of your essay is, you do the following:

  • Describe it in vivid, specific detail
  • Convey your passion for whatever you’re describing
  • Explore its effect on you

Never underestimate the power of simply showing Harvard admissions officers that you’re the kind of person who spends time thinking about your interests. That’s really all they want here, and that’s why it’s so important that you’re specific and passionate. 

At the same time, Harvard admissions committees want to see that this intellectual experience has shaped you in some way, that you’ve meaningfully engaged with it. That’s why it’s crucial that you spend some time discussing what new ideas or questions arose out of this experience. 

And that’s it! Do all of the above, and you’ll have the second of Harvard’s supplemental essays locked down tight–plus, you’ll have a great template for any other schools that ask the same question. 

Ready to get started? A great resource to begin with is our collection of real, successful supplemental essays, many of which answer similar prompts. For stellar examples of essays that discuss intellectual experiences, check out the last supplemental essay for Princeton, as well as the first sample essay for UPenn. 

How to write Harvard’s third essay: Extracurricular

Harvard’s third supplemental essay is a classic one: the Extracurricular essay. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see a version of this prompt for a few of your schools. For reference, the exact wording of Harvard’s is below:

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. 

These essays usually come quite naturally to students, since the Extracurricular prompt lets you get into more detail about something on your resume/activities sheet. 

Although you may be tempted to simply write about the most “impressive” thing on your resume, we’d encourage you to think a little bit differently: the question here, as with every essay, is about what the best story you can tell is. 

You should especially think about how much more your essay can add on to what the activities list already shows. For example, if your team won first place at a national Quizbowl competition, that’s definitely impressive. But is there a story there? More to the point: is the story you tell going to add something meaningful beyond the fact that you took home the first place trophy?

If not, then Quizbowl can stay on your activities list: the Harvard admissions committee will still know you got first place, and you’ll be able to use this supplemental essay to instead provide added detail and color to an activity that might otherwise seem less impressive. 

We’ve included a sample below from an essay in response to one of Princeton’s previous prompts. 

life experience essay questions

Over the pandemic, I tutored two middle school boys. Now, I love kids, but middle schoolers are not my number one favorites. They are often dismissive of authority and it’s very hard to hold their attention for longer than two minutes. So working with them on Zoom for an hour became my new challenge. I tried many tactics. When fun warm-ups, writing prompts, and Zoom games all failed, I was officially stumped. I couldn’t understand why they found me so uninteresting. I decided to pay closer attention to the passions they mentioned. Instead of imposing my own ideas, I listened to what they had to say. It turned out Lucian loved running. Getting him to read was like pulling teeth, but I found a Jason Reynolds book called Ghost, part of a series about a track team. We would spend ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning of each session reading it aloud to each other, and while he seemed to be engaged, I couldn’t tell exactly how much he was enjoying it. But when we finally finished, he asked me shyly, “What did you say the next one was called?” Sajiah proved to be tougher to please. He wasn’t swayed by any books I suggested to him, no matter the topic. He often hummed or rapped while working, which I found to be endlessly annoying, until I started listening to the actual words. I Googled the lyrics and noticed that he particularly enjoyed Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. So we began a project investigating the origins of hip hop, and created a website as the final product. He loved finding out more about the music he listened to every day, and I loved seeing him so happy with his work. I don’t pretend I saved the world by helping these boys, but I am proud of the creative way I found projects and topics they genuinely enjoyed investigating. I hope to continue working with children as a form of civic engagement throughout college and beyond; if I can help students like Sajiah and Lucian, it’ll be well worth it.

Notice that the extracurricular itself (tutoring two young students) isn’t inherently impressive, but the story is. If the author just left this on their activities sheet, it probably wouldn’t have caught admissions officers’ attention. 

But, because this applicant was able to tell a meaningful, reflective story about this extracurricular activity, it added a new depth and perspective to their application as a whole. 

The third Harvard supplemental essay doesn’t have to be difficult: stay honest, stay direct, and tell your story. 

To read other responses to this very prompt (and many other sample supplemental essays), download our collection below. And if you’d like the guidance of one of our expert tutors (some of whom wrote the very essays in that packet), just contact us . 

How to write Harvard’s fourth essay: Putting your education to use

Although this question may feel oddly specific, it’s really just another version of a commonly asked question: what are you going to do with what you learn? Most frequently, this is a question asked by religious universities, or universities with a particular focus on service. 

While the answer doesn’t have to present you as somebody who will spend their whole life volunteering, it’s a good idea to reflect a bit on what the purpose of education is for you, and how you might be able to present that in a socially-minded, positive way.

Below, check out the prompt and some advice on what Harvard admissions officers are looking for. 

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? 

life experience essay questions

There are probably some obvious answers you could give here that (even if they’re true) should probably stay off the page. Saying you want to use your Harvard education to make a ton of money on Wall Street or make elite political connections isn’t likely to win you any admiration from the admissions officers. 

That being said, don’t try too hard to pass yourself off as someone you’re not. If you really do have a passion for service or politics and plan to pursue a major related to those ideas, then this essay will be quite straightforward for you. Describe what drives you and how the tools Harvard provides will help you achieve those socially-minded goals. 

For example, if you’re motivated to address systemic inequities in education and plan to study something like sociology, you could simply discuss where this motivation comes from and how a Harvard sociology degree would help you in your goals. The strongest essays will always come from these kinds of stories. 

If, on the other hand, you don’t have those kinds of motivations or background, you’ll likely want to focus this essay more broadly on how you plan to pursue your post-grad life. Ideally, you’ll find some way to thread in ideas about community, giving back, and service into this essay. 

This can be a big-picture, or not. You might talk about how a Harvard education will help you support your family, or how it can help you give back to the local community you come from. As long as you keep your essay specific and honest without trying to overdo your charitable intentions, you’ll be fine. 

How to write Harvard’s fifth essay: Roommates 

Ah, a classic roommate essay! Although this might seem like an offbeat or wacky question, you’ll find there’s a few colleges that ask you to share something with your future roommates. Why?

Well, basically because they want to make sure you’re a fairly sociable person who’ll get along with people. 

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

You can and should have fun with these essays, and can even frame them as letters to your roommate. It’s an opportunity for you to share fun facts or quirks about yourself, sure, but more than anything these essays are a chance for you to show that you’re mindful of others. 

Whatever specific facts you include here, be sure to make some of them about you as a community member. For example, if you’re an engineering whiz, you can definitely talk about how you like to tinker and take stuff apart. But, to really make this land with Harvard’s admissions committee, you could also mention how that means you’ll always be ready to help your roommate fix a broken laptop. 

The key idea is to show that your quirks, whatever they are, will have some positive impact on the people around you. 

life experience essay questions

Be humble, be playful, but don’t forget what this is all about: you’re trying to convince Harvard you’d be a good person to have around for four years. First and foremost that means showing them that you’d be a conscientious roommate who’s mindful of others’ needs. 

If you’re applying to Harvard, the place to start is our comprehensive guide to the Harvard application for the 2023-2024 cycle, which you can find here. That guide doesn’t just cover what Harvard’s application requires of you: it uses the latest statistics and insights from our own Harvard undergraduate tutors to walk you through exactly what you’ll need to do to have a shot at Harvard.

Once you’re ready to start writing supplemental essays for Harvard and your other schools, we have two main pieces of advice. 

First: read real, successful sample supplemental essays that helped get students into Harvard and other hyper-selective schools. Most people don’t really know what schools like Harvard actually want from the supplemental essays, and the best solution is to spend lots of time reviewing sample essays. We’ve collected dozens of these essays in the free resource below. 

Second: get expert help. Whether you’re a brilliant writer or just an okay one, you’ll benefit tremendously from the advice of someone who’s already successfully navigated the college application process. Our college essay coaches aren’t just writing experts who can make your essay shine: they’re trained to know exactly what schools like Harvard expect to see . 

Check out the free sample essays below, and, when you’re ready to start writing, contact us to get paired with a college essay expert. 

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How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

How To Answer Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

What's New in 2023/24

What are Harvard's Essay Prompts?

How to Answer Harvard's Essay Prompts

General Guidelines

Explore the changes in Harvard's supplemental essay prompts for 2023/24, understand the nuances of each question, and gain insights on crafting compelling responses with our detailed guide, complete with expert tips and links to successful Harvard essay examples.

Harvard's 2023/24 Supplemental Essay Updates: What's Changed?

Gaining admission to Harvard is no small feat, with acceptance rates sometimes plummeting as low as 3% . In such a competitive environment, every component of your application, especially your essay, becomes a crucial tool to stand out to admissions officers.

Every year, top-tier universities like Harvard fine-tune their application process to get a deeper understanding of their applicants. For the 2023/24 admissions cycle, Harvard University has made notable modifications to its supplemental essay questions .

Last year, applicants had a mix of required and optional prompts, with varying word limits, ranging from 50 to 150 words. These prompts touched on extracurricular activities, intellectual experiences, personal backgrounds, and more.

This year, Harvard has streamlined the process, requiring all applicants to answer five questions, each with a strict 200-word limit . The questions emphasize the importance of diversity, intellectual experiences, extracurricular activities, the utilization of a Harvard education, and personal insights for potential roommates.

This shift indicates a desire for more concise, focused responses from applicants, allowing the admissions committee to gain a clearer, more uniform understanding of each student's background, aspirations, and personality.

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What Are Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023/24?

For the 2023/24 application cycle, Harvard University has outlined specific supplemental essay prompts to understand applicants better in addition to the Common App or Coalition App questions. These questions delve into your experiences, intellectual pursuits, and personal insights. Students are required to answer each Harvard-specific question in under 200 words. Here's a breakdown of the prompts:

  • Diversity and Contribution : Harvard values a diverse student body. Reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to Harvard. (200 words)
  • Intellectual Experience : Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you. (200 words)
  • Personal Shaping Experiences : Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are. (200 words)
  • Future Aspirations : Describe how you envision utilizing your Harvard education in the future. (200 words)
  • Getting to Know You : List three things your future roommates should know about you. (200 words)

These prompts offer applicants a chance to showcase their personalities, aspirations, and experiences, providing a holistic view of their candidacy.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Harvard essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

How to Answer Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Questions?

This guide aims to help you craft a compelling response that showcases your unique journey and potential contributions to Harvard's diverse community.

As you begin planning responses to each individual prompt, be sure to consider what experiences, reflections, and qualities you want to showcase once you’ve responded to all the prompts:

  • Ensure you won’t leave out any important experiences, reflections, and qualities you want Harvard to know about.
  • Be sure you’ll avoid repeating the same experiences, reflections, or qualities in the other prompts.

Answering Prompt 1

Harvard values a diverse student body. reflect on your life experiences and explain how they have shaped you and how you plan to contribute to harvard., - 200 words or fewer, 1. understand the question.

Harvard is not merely asking for a list of experiences. They want to understand the depth of your experiences , how they've molded your character, and how you'll use that growth to contribute to the Harvard community.

Since Harvard is telling you they value diversity, consider emphasizing unique experiences or circumstances that highlight the most personal and profound aspects of your personality, values, and perspectives.

2. Reflect on Your Unique Experiences

Consider moments in your life that have had a significant impact on your worldview:

  • Have you lived in multiple countries, exposing you to various cultures?
  • Did you overcome challenges that forced you to view the world differently?
  • Were there pivotal moments in your upbringing that shaped your identity?
  • How did interactions with diverse individuals or groups influence your perspectives?

3. Dive Deep into Personal Growth

Discuss the evolution of your perspectives, values, or aspirations.

  • How did these experiences challenge your beliefs or expand your understanding?
  • What lessons did you derive, and how have they influenced your subsequent actions or decisions?
  • What experiences or reflections shape your deepest beliefs and values? — or, shape some deep questions or doubts you wrestle with?

4. Connect to Harvard

Consider how your unique perspective will enrich Harvard's community .

  • Will you introduce new viewpoints in classroom discussions or help teams work together more successfully?
  • Will you contribute to or initiate student organizations or community projects?
  • Will you exemplify certain traits that enhance a vibrant, curious, and inclusive learning environment?

5. Be Concise and Authentic

With a 200-word limit, precision is key. Ensure your narrative is genuine, making your essay resonate with the reader. Avoid generic statements; instead, provide specific examples that showcase your journey.

Harvard's first supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase the depth of your experiences and how they've shaped you . Reflecting on significant moments, emphasizing personal growth, and connecting your unique perspective to how you'll contribute to Harvard is essential. Remember to be concise, authentic, and ensure your essay is polished to perfection.

Answering Prompt 2

Discuss an intellectual experience that has had a significant impact on you..

This question aims to help you articulate the depth and significance of an intellectual experience and its profound impact on your academic and personal journey.

1. Define "Intellectual Experience"

Before diving in, understand that an intellectual experience isn't limited to classroom learning . It could be:

  • A book that changed your perspective
  • A conversation that challenged your beliefs
  • An experience that triggered a profound insight or understanding
  • Or even a personal project or research endeavor

2. Choose a Meaningful Experience

Reflect on experiences that genuinely transformed your thinking:

  • Was there a particular course or project that ignited a passion?
  • Did a specific book, article, or documentary challenge your pre-existing beliefs?
  • Have you attended seminars, workshops, or lectures that introduced you to new ideas?

3. Delve into the "Why"

Discuss why this experience was transformative:

  • What preconceptions or beliefs did it challenge?
  • How did it expand or deepen your understanding of a particular subject or idea?
  • Did it inspire further exploration or study into the topic?

4. Highlight Personal Growth

Describe how this intellectual experience influenced your academic and personal journey:

  • Did it guide your academic pursuits or career aspirations?
  • How did it shape your values, beliefs, or worldview?

5. Be Authentic and Reflective

Your genuine curiosity and passion should shine through. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language. Instead, focus on genuine reflection and personal growth .

Harvard's second supplemental essay seeks to understand your intellectual journey . It's an opportunity to showcase your curiosity, passion, and the transformative power of learning. By reflecting on a significant intellectual experience and its impact on you, you can demonstrate your academic depth, your own intellectual processes and aptitudes, and intellectual growth.

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Answering Prompt 3

Elaborate on extracurricular activities, employment, travel, or family responsibilities that have played a pivotal role in defining who you are..

This question is designed to help you articulate the significance of experiences outside the classroom and their profound impact on your personal journey.

1. Prioritize Depth Over Quantity

While you might have multiple experiences, focus on one or two that have had the most profound impact on you . This allows you to delve deeper and provide a more insightful reflection.

2. Choose a Defining Experience

Reflect on moments that genuinely shaped your character:

  • Was there an extracurricular activity that taught you leadership, teamwork, or dedication?
  • Did a job teach you responsibility, time management, or the value of hard work?
  • Has travel exposed you to diverse cultures, broadening your perspectives?
  • Were there family responsibilities that instilled in you a sense of maturity, empathy, or resilience?

3. Describe the Experience

Briefly set the scene. Whether it's the bustling environment of a part-time job, the challenges of a leadership role in a club, or the nuances of a family responsibility, paint a picture for the reader.

4. Reflect on the Impact

Discuss how this experience influenced your personal growth:

  • What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
  • What skills or values did you acquire or strengthen?
  • How did this experience shape your aspirations, perspectives, or values?

5. Connect to the Present

Highlight how this experience continues to influence you:

  • How do the lessons you learned guide your current decisions or actions?
  • How has it influenced your academic interests or future aspirations?

Harvard's third supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase experiences outside the classroom that have significantly influenced your personal growth . Reflecting on these pivotal moments and their lasting impact can provide a holistic picture of your character, values, and aspirations.

Answering Prompt 4

Describe how you envision utilizing your harvard education in the future..

This question aims to help you articulate how a Harvard education aligns with your future goals and the impact you aim to make in your chosen field or community.

1. Reflect on Your Goals

Begin by identifying your long-term aspirations . Have a clear vision in mind, whether it's a specific career, a desire to address a global challenge, or a passion you wish to pursue further.

2. Highlight Harvard's Unique Offerings

Research specific programs, courses, or opportunities at Harvard that align with your goals. This could be a particular academic program, research opportunities, or extracurricular activities.

3. Draw a Connection

Discuss how these unique offerings will equip you with the skills, knowledge, or experiences needed to achieve your future aspirations . Make it evident that Harvard is the ideal place for you to realize these goals.

4. Go Beyond the Obvious

While Harvard's academic excellence is a given, delve into the broader Harvard experience. Consider the influence of its diverse community, its culture of innovation, or its commitment to leadership and service.

5. Discuss the Broader Impact

Expand on how you plan to use your Harvard education to make a difference . Whether it's in your community, in a particular field, or on a global scale, showcase your commitment to creating positive change.

6. Stay Authentic

Ensure your response is genuine and reflects your true aspirations. Admissions officers can discern genuine passion and commitment from generic responses.

Harvard's fourth supplemental essay is an opportunity to showcase your forward-thinking approach and how you plan to leverage Harvard's resources to achieve your future goals. By drawing a clear connection between what Harvard offers and your aspirations, you demonstrate a purposeful approach to your education.

Answering Prompt 5

List three things your future roommates should know about you..

This question aims to help you present a genuine and well-rounded picture of yourself, offering insights into your personality, habits, and values.

1. Reflect on Your Personality

This prompt is an invitation to share more about your personal side. Think about the quirks, habits, or values that define you. What are the things that make you, well, you?

2. Balance Seriousness with Lightness

While one point could be a deep reflection of your values or beliefs, another could be a fun fact or a unique hobby. This mix gives a rounded picture of who you are.

3. Be Genuine

Avoid coming up with things you believe the admissions committee wants to hear. This is your chance to let your true self shine through.

4. Consider Your Daily Life

Think about your habits or routines, the music you listen to, or the books you read. These can offer insights into your personality and preferences.

5. Reflect on Past Living Experiences

Have you shared a space with someone before — roommate, sibling, family members, fellow campers?… Think about what made the experience harmonious. Were there particular habits, routines, or guiding principles you followed that were appreciated by those you were sharing space with?

Harvard's fifth supplemental essay is a chance to showcase your personality beyond academics and extracurriculars . By sharing genuine aspects of yourself related to day-to-day living and the many small ways you interact with those around you in more personal spaces, you give a glimpse into your life outside the classroom and what it might be like to share a living space with you.

5 Tips for the "Why This School?" Essay

General Guidelines for Crafting Stellar Harvard Supplemental Essays

1. Understand the Question: Before you start writing, ensure you fully understand what the prompt is asking. Break it down and consider its nuances. This will help you stay on track and address all aspects of the question.

2. Be Authentic: Harvard isn't just looking for high achievers; they're looking for genuine individuals. Your essay should reflect your true self, not what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

3. Show, Don't Tell: Instead of just stating facts or beliefs, use anecdotes, experiences, or stories to convey your points. This makes your essay more engaging and paints a clearer picture of who you are.

4. Stay Within the Word Limit: While it might be tempting to write more, respect the word limits. It shows that you can convey your thoughts concisely and respect guidelines.

5. Proofread and Edit: Always review your essay multiple times for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Consider also asking a teacher, mentor, or friend to review it.

6. Connect to Harvard: While the prompts might not explicitly ask for it, subtly showing why your experiences, values, or aspirations align with Harvard's culture or offerings can be a plus.

7. Reflect on Growth: Colleges love to see personal growth. Reflect on how experiences have shaped you, lessons learned, and how you've evolved.

8. Avoid Repetition: Ensure that your supplemental essays present new information and don't repeat what's already in your Common App essay or other parts of your application.

9. Be Forward-Looking: While it's essential to reflect on past experiences, also touch on how these experiences prepare you for future endeavors, especially at Harvard.

10. Start Early: Give yourself ample time to brainstorm, draft, and revise. Starting early reduces stress and allows you to approach the essay with a clear mind.

Remember, the supplemental essays are an opportunity to showcase aspects of yourself that aren't evident in other parts of your application . Use them wisely to provide a holistic picture of yourself and why you'd be a great fit for Harvard.

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Final Thoughts

The journey to Harvard is more than just academic prowess; it's about crafting a narrative that resonates deeply with the admissions committee. Your supplemental essays provide a unique window into your personality, aspirations, and the distinct perspectives you'll bring to the Harvard community.

Every Harvard aspirant has a story waiting to be told. This is your moment to share yours. Approach your essays with authenticity, introspection, and a genuine passion for your narrative.

If you're wondering whether your essay truly captures your essence or if it stands out from the multitude of applications, our essay review service is here to help. Our team of experts will meticulously review and provide feedback to refine your essay, ensuring it resonates with admissions officers. For further inspiration, delve into our ebook , which showcases essays from students who clinched spots at top universities. And if Harvard is your dream, these successful Harvard essay examples will provide invaluable insights.

For those just starting their college application journey, consider booking a free consultation with our seasoned college counselors. We're dedicated to guiding you in creating an application that significantly enhances your chances of donning the Crimson colors. Harvard is within reach, and we're here to help you every step of the way.

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What Makes Crimson Different

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • Everything you need to know about US Application Supplemental Essays
  • Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest
  • How to Tackle Every Type of Supplemental Essay
  • 2023-24 Common App Essay Prompts
  • What are the Most Unusual US College Supplemental Essay Prompts?

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September 13, 2023

The Most Popular College Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

A view inside a Harvard lecture hall, with ovular tables and a projection screen.

With the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle in full swing and now that all of America’s highly selective universities have released their supplemental essay prompts , let’s analyze the most popular types of essay questions asked of applicants to the Class of 2028. So here goes!

Most Common Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

While there are many supplemental essay prompts across the highly selective universities for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, we at Ivy Coach have distinguished four prompts as the ones that pop up the most. These four types of supplemental essays are as follows:

The Why College Essay Prompt

Most of America’s elite universities ask applicants why they wish to attend their institutions. Why do they ask this question? Because America’s elite universities are a tad insecure, and they’re trying to control their yields (or the percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll). Asking students why they wish to attend is a proven way of measuring a student’s Demonstrated Interest — or the likelihood they’ll matriculate.

When students respond to Why College essay prompts and fill their answers with names of professors or classes or generic sentences that can apply to virtually any school in America, they’ve fallen through the trap door of effectively proving to the school that they’d attend if admitted. Admissions officers don’t want to waste offers of admission on students who — no matter how well qualified — have no intention of enrolling. It’s why a student can get into Harvard University but be denied to Cornell University. Harvard, we at Ivy Coach have long argued, is the only school that truly doesn’t care about Demonstrated Interest because Harvard knows students wish to attend. When a school’s yield is over 84% , as it was for the Class of 2027, they have that luxury!

Top Colleges with Why College Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why College essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

The Why Major Essay Prompt

Many of America’s top colleges ask why students wish to major in the disciplines they’ve selected on the application. They want to understand the origin story of a student’s chief academic interest. Too often, applicants set this origin story during their childhoods when it would behoove them to set it during their high school years.

Top Colleges with Why Major Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why Major essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

The Why College/Why Major Hybrid Essay Prompt

Many of America’s top colleges ask an essay with essentially two parts: Why Major and Why College. Thus, their essay should include the origin story of their interest in their chosen field and specifics about the program at the school that only apply to this particular institution.

Top Colleges with Why College/Why Major Hybrid Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why College/Why Major hybrid essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

The Community/Background Essay Prompt

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw Affirmative Action , many of America’s elite universities added this prompt to their supplements this year. The prompt capitalizes on Chief Justice John Roberts ’ own words in the majority opinion banning the consideration of race in admissions decision-making.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

The schools that ask this prompt offer all applicants a chance to tell their stories. But by focusing on candidates’ backgrounds, it’s also an opportunity for underrepresented minority applicants to write about their race so these schools can continue to admit diverse classes.

Top Colleges with Community/Background Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Community/Background essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

Two Schools Deserving of Praise for Their Supplemental Essay Prompts

While many elite universities included a community/background question on their supplements this admissions cycle, few included the word “race” in the language of their questions.

After all, with these questions, America’s elite schools are capitalizing on the loophole penned by Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion outlawing Affirmative Action. They want to walk a fine line between continuing to admit a diverse class without facing litigation for not obeying the Supreme Court’s decision.

But there are two  highly selective universities that bucked the trend and dared include the word “race” in their community/background questions: Johns Hopkins University and Rice University. In the world of college admissions, for bucking the trend and staring the Supreme Court right in the eyes, these schools are deserving of Profiles in Courage .

A School Deserving of Criticism for a Supplemental Essay Prompt

And while we applaud Johns Hopkins and Rice for daring to include the word “race” in their supplemental essay questions, we wish to shame the University of Virginia for asking what we at Ivy Coach have deemed the most outrageously inappropriate supplemental essay prompt on any of America’s elite college applications this year. That optional prompt is as follows:

If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the university, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs.

While UVA’s admissions committee may defend asking this question with the misguided argument that it’s  optional , that’s  nonsense . UVA’s admissions committee is giving more space to mostly privileged students — the children of alumni and students who attended fancy shmancy UVA summer programs . As such, most students will choose not to answer the essay.

But that’s a mistake because any essay that’s optional in elite college admissions should not be considered  optional . Instead, it’s an opportunity for an applicant to make their case for admission, to tell their story. How dare UVA’s admissions committee give extra space for legacy applicants and students who attended fancy shmancy UVA summer programs!

Get with the times, UVA! Legacy admission is on the way out, especially after the SCOTUS ruling outlawing Affirmative Action. Yet, your institution — a public flagship, no less — is seemingly doubling down on legacy status. Your founder, Thomas Jefferson, didn’t write our Declaration of Independence from an aristocracy so you could perpetuate a ruling class in our American meritocracy. Shame on UVA!

All that said, we encourage  every  applicant to respond to this 100-word question. You don’t need to be a legacy. You don’t need to have attended a UVA summer camp. Just fill the essay with Why UVA specifics. Treat it as a typical Why College essay. Regretfully, we just suspect most students will think the essay doesn’t apply to them — through no fault of their own — and leave it blank.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with College Essays

If you’re looking to optimize your case for admission to America’s highly selective universities by submitting essays that inspire admissions officers to root for you, fill out Ivy Coach ’s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college admissions counseling services for applicants to the Class of 2028.

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  1. Personal Essay Topics and Prompts

    A personal essay is an essay about your life, thoughts, or experiences. This type of essay will give readers a glimpse into your most intimate life experiences and life lessons. There are many reasons you may need to write a personal essay, from a simple class assignment to a college application requirement.You can use the list below for inspiration. Consider each statement a starting point ...

  2. Essays About Life Changing Experience

    These questions will help guide your writing process and encourage introspection, allowing you to craft a compelling and impactful life changing experience essay. Life changing experience essay prompts If you're seeking some creative and thought-provoking essay prompts to inspire your writing, here are five ideas to get your creative juices ...

  3. Essays About Life-changing Experiences: 5 Examples

    Some life-changing events include common things such as marriage, parenthood, divorce, job loss, and death. Research and discuss the most common experiences that transform a person's life. Include real-life situations and any personal encounters for an intriguing essay. 5. The Person Who Change My Life.

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    A single encounter with someone that changed you. An event that was small but significant. A major, life-changing event. Something that you did over and over that was meaningful to you. Your experience and memories of a place that embodies who you are or has meaning for you. A time you were scared but overcame your fear.

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    Sleep paralysis: A personal experience. Gender Identity Disorder: Personal Experience. A Personal Experience On Patients. Personal Experience in Raising Children. My experience at a beach. My Experience During a National Competition. An International Learning Experience. My Experience During The coronavirus Pandemic.

  6. Life Experience Essay: How to Write a Brilliant Paper

    Compose a memorable conclusion. The conclusion of your essay has to explain how experience can be applied. In other words, you need to show what you learned from the event. Explain how the knowledge you gained can affect your decisions in the future. Also, show your readers what they can learn from your life lesson.

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    Personal Experience Cause and Effect Essay 🤯. Cause and effect essays based on personal experiences explore the reasons behind events and their consequences. Here are ten topics to consider: 1. Analyze the causes and effects of a life-changing personal experience on your academic or career choices. 2.

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    Experience Essay: An Experience That Changed My Life. An Experience that changed my Life Life is full of learning and it is mostly due to our daily life experiences. These experiences are mostly based on our surrounding environment from where we learn new things every day. But all these experiences are a result of our keen observations out of ...

  9. 242 Personal Persuasive Essay Topics and Ideas

    242 Personal Persuasive Essay Topics and Ideas. Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class. Personal essays are some of the most diverse assignments you can receive.

  10. Harvard University's 2023-24 Essay Prompts

    Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. Option 1.

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  12. 110 Personal Essay Topics

    Generally, a personal essay will have no less than three body paragraphs that detail your experience in chronological order. Each section should discuss one part of the story, including the events leading up to it, what happened during the experience, and what you learned from it. Body paragraphs may also include examples of feelings, emotions ...

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  14. 60+ College Essay Prompts for 2023-2024 Applicants

    2023-2024 Coalition for College Essay Prompts. More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process. Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. We Are Teachers.

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    Questions on Self-Reflection. Remember wisdom favors those who seek it. Everything in your life starts with you. Understanding your innate abilities, fears, desires, insecurities, and feelings is necessary to deal with them effectively. Introspect yourself and see where you stand. 1.

  16. Don't Sweat the Supp Stuff: Advice for Crafting Your Supplemental Essay

    Below is the supplemental essay prompt for students applying for entry to Hopkins in the fall of 2024: Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you'd like to pursue in college at Hopkins.

  17. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

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

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    A great resource to begin with is our collection of real, successful supplemental essays, many of which answer similar prompts. For stellar examples of essays that discuss intellectual experiences, check out the last supplemental essay for Princeton, as well as the first sample essay for UPenn. Download 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

  20. How To Ace Harvard's '23/24 Supplemental Essay Prompts

    For the 2023/24 application cycle, Harvard University has outlined specific supplemental essay prompts to understand applicants better in addition to the Common App or Coalition App questions. These questions delve into your experiences, intellectual pursuits, and personal insights. Students are required to answer each Harvard-specific question ...

  21. Life experience

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    Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University (100-250 Words) While this is not a straight-up-the-middle Why College essay, there is an opportunity to inject some Stanford specifics here. Yale University

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