sample college essay about yourself

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

sample college essay about yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a college essay?

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

Why do college essays matter in the admissions process?

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

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

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

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

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

This includes a variety of essay types such as:

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

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

Good college essays and the college admissions process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll break down:

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

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

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

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

Providing details and telling your story

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

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

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

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

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

college essay examples

Types of college essay prompts you’ll encounter

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

Our examples of college essays fall into two main categories:

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

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

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

The Personal Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes the best college essays?

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

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

  • Personality

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

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

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

Not all essays have to look the same

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

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

Standing out

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

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

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

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

How to use these college essay examples

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up: college admission essay examples about yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting started with examples of college essays

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

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

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

Common App Essay–Example 1: Elinor

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

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

Elinor’s Common App Essay:

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

Reflecting on this sample college essay

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

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

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

Tell YOUR story

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

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

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

examples of college essays

Common App Essay–Example 2: Arham

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

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

Arham’s Common App Essay:

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

Why is this a college essay that works

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

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

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

The value of authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the word count

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

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

Expect to write multiple drafts

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

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

Showing vs. telling

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

examples of college essays

Beyond the Common App Essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why this college’ essay

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

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

Questions to consider

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

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

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

college essay examples

A ‘Why Dartmouth’ essay that worked

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why UChicago’ essay examples

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

Ex. 1: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example

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

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

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

Ex. 2: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example

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

Showcase your various interests

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

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

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

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

‘Why this college’ essays—Additional tips

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

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

Dig deep and make connections

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

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

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

examples of college essays

‘Why this major’ essay examples

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

Ex.1: UPenn ‘Why this major’ essay

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

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

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

Express your passion and curiosity

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

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

Content comes first

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

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

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

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

examples of college essays

Unconventional college essay topics

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

Stanford roommate essay 

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

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

Ex.1: Stanford Roommate Essay

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

Ex.2: Stanford Roommate Essay

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

Casual tone and style

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

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

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

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

The “Additional Information” essay

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

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

Ex. 1: Harvard University Additional Information essay

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

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

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

Focus on impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

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

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

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32 College Essay Examples That Worked

College Essay Samples

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

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

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Article Contents 54 min read

Why a college essay matters.

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

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

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

How to Structure Your College Essay

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

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

Great content requires a solid structure to really shine:

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

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

6 Tips for Effective Essay Writing

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

1. Do not plagiarize.

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

2. Say it with feeling.

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

3. Show, don’t tell.

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

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

5. Proofread your work.

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

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

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

6. Read that prompt one last time!

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

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

College Essay Examples #1/32: Harvard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #2/32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #4/32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #5/32: cornell.

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #6/32:

School: Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

School: Cornell College of Arts and Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #8/32: Princeton

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #9/32:

School: Princeton University 

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #11/32:

School: Stanford University

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

Dear future roommate,

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #12/32:

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #13/32:.

School:  Stanford University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #15/32: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #16/32:

School: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #17/32: yale university.

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

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

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

School: Yale University 

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #19/32: columbia university.

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #20/32:

School: Columbia University

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #21/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #23/32:

School:  Brown University

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

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

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

College essay examples #24/32:.

School:  Tulane University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #26/32:

Common App Essays

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #27/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #29/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample College Essay #30

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

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

Sample College Essay #32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jonathan Walker

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

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Jonathan! Thanks for your comment! Good luck!

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

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sample college essay about yourself

College Essays That Worked: See Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perils of Using AI for Essays

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how the essay opened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Essays

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If you've been sitting in front of a blank screen, unsure of exactly how to start a personal statement for college, then believe me—I feel your pain. A great college essay introduction is key to making your essay stand out, so there's a lot of pressure to get it right.

Luckily, being able to craft the perfect beginning for your admissions essay is just like many other writing skills— something you can get better at with practice and by learning from examples.

In this article, I'll walk you through exactly how to start a college essay. We'll cover what makes a great personal statement introduction and how the first part of your essay should be structured. We'll also look at several great examples of essay beginnings and explain why they work, how they work, and what you can learn from them.

What Is the College Essay Introduction For?

Before we talk about how to start a college essay, let's discuss the role of the introduction. Just as your college essay is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions office of your target college, your essay's beginning is your chance to introduce your writing.

Wait, Back Up—Why Do Colleges Want Personal Statements?

In general, college essays make it easier to get to know the parts of you not in your transcript —these include your personality, outlook on life, passions, and experiences.

You're not writing for yourself but for a very specific kind of reader. Picture it: your audience is an admissions officer who has read thousands and thousands of essays. This person is disposed to be friendly and curious, but if she hasn't already seen it all she's probably seen a good portion of it.

Your essay's job is to entertain and impress this person, and to make you memorable so you don't merely blend into the sea of other personal statements. Like all attempts at charm, you must be slightly bold and out of the ordinary—but you must also stay away from crossing the line into offensiveness or bad taste.

What Role Does the Introduction Play in a College Essay?

The personal statement introduction is basically the wriggly worm that baits the hook to catch your reader. It's vital to grab attention from the get-go—the more awake and eager your audience is, the more likely it is that what you say will really land.

How do you go about crafting an introduction that successfully hooks your reader? Let's talk about how to structure the beginning of your college essay.

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How to Structure a Personal Statement Introduction

To see how the introduction fits into an essay, let's look at the big structural picture first and then zoom in.

College Essay Structure Overview

Even though they're called essays, personal statements are really more like a mix of a short story and a philosophy or psychology class that's all about you.

Usually, how this translates is that you start with a really good (and very short) story about something arresting, unusual, or important that happened to you. This is not to say that the story has to be about something important or unusual in the grand scheme of things—it just has to be a moment that stands out to you as defining in some way, or an explanation of why you are the way you are . You then pivot to an explanation of why this story is an accurate illustration of one of your core qualities, values, or beliefs.

The story typically comes in the first half of the essay, and the insightful explanation comes second —but, of course, all rules were made to be broken, and some great essays flip this more traditional order.

College Essay Introduction Components

Now, let's zero in on the first part of the college essay. What are the ingredients of a great personal statement introduction? I'll list them here and then dissect them one by one in the next section:

  • A killer first sentence: This hook grabs your readers' attention and whets their appetite for your story.
  • A vivid, detailed story that illustrates your eventual insight: To make up for how short your story will be, you must insert effective sensory information to immerse the reader.
  • An insightful pivot toward the greater point you're making in your essay: This vital piece of the essay connects the short story part to the part where you explain what the experience has taught you about yourself, how you've matured, and how it has ultimately shaped you as a person.

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How to Write a College Essay Introduction

Here's a weird secret that's true for most written work: just because it'll end up at the beginning doesn't mean you have to write it first. For example, in this case, you can't know what your killer first sentence will be until you've figured out the following details:

  • The story you want to tell
  • The point you want that story to make
  • The trait/maturity level/background about you that your essay will reveal

So my suggestion is to work in reverse order! Writing your essay will be much easier if you can figure out the entirety of it first and then go back and work out exactly how it should start.

This means that before you can craft your ideal first sentence, the way the short story experience of your life will play out on the page, and the perfect pivoting moment that transitions from your story to your insight, you must work out a general idea about which life event you will share and what you expect that life event to demonstrate to the reader about you and the kind of person you are.

If you're having trouble coming up with a topic, check out our guide on brainstorming college essay ideas . It might also be helpful to read our guides to specific application essays, such as picking your best Common App prompt and writing a perfect University of California personal statement .

In the next sections of this article, I'll talk about how to work backwards on the introduction, moving from bigger to smaller elements: starting with the first section of the essay in general and then honing your pivot sentence and your first sentence.

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How to Write the First Section of Your College Essay

In a 500-word essay, this section will take up about the first half of the essay and will mostly consist of a brief story that illuminates a key experience, an important character trait, a moment of transition or transformation, or a step toward maturity.

Once you've figured out your topic and zeroed in on the experience you want to highlight in the beginning of your essay, here are 2 great approaches to making it into a story:

  • Talking it out, storyteller style (while recording yourself): Imagine that you're sitting with a group of people at a campfire, or that you're stuck on a long flight sitting next to someone you want to befriend. Now tell that story. What does someone who doesn't know you need to know in order for the story to make sense? What details do you need to provide to put them in the story with you? What background information do they need in order to understand the stakes or importance of the story?
  • Record yourself telling your story to friends and then chatting about it: What do they need clarified? What questions do they have? Which parts of your story didn't make sense or follow logically for them? Do they want to know more, or less? Is part of your story interesting to them but not interesting to you? Is a piece of your story secretly boring, even though you think it's interesting?

Later, as you listen to the recorded story to try to get a sense of how to write it, you can also get a sense of the tone with which you want to tell your story. Are you being funny as you talk? Sad? Trying to shock, surprise, or astound your audience? The way you most naturally tell your story is the way you should write it.

After you've done this storyteller exercise, write down the salient points of what you learned. What is the story your essay will tell? What is the point about your life, point of view, or personality it will make? What tone will you tell it with? Sketch out a detailed outline so that you can start filling in the pieces as we work through how to write the introductory sections.

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How to Write the First Sentence of Your College Essay

In general, your essay's first sentence should be either a mini-cliffhanger that sets up a situation the reader would like to see resolved, or really lush scene-setting that situates your audience in a place and time they can readily visualize. The former builds expectations and evokes curiosity, and the latter stimulates the imagination and creates a connection with the author. In both cases, you hit your goal of greater reader engagement.

Now, I'm going to show you how these principles work for all types of first sentences, whether in college essays or in famous works of fiction.

First Sentence Idea 1: Line of Quoted Direct Speech

"Mum, I'm gay." ( Ahmad Ashraf '17 for Connecticut College )

The experience of coming out is raw and emotional, and the issue of LGBTQ rights is an important facet of modern life. This three-word sentence immediately sums up an enormous background of the personal and political.

"You can handle it, Matt," said Mr. Wolf, my fourth-grade band teacher, as he lifted the heavy tuba and put it into my arms. ( Matt Coppo '07 for Hamilton College )

This sentence conjures up a funny image—we can immediately picture the larger adult standing next to a little kid holding a giant tuba. It also does a little play on words: "handle it" can refer to both the literal tuba Matt is being asked to hold and the figurative stress of playing the instrument.

First Sentence Idea 2: Punchy Short Sentence With One Grabby Detail

I live alone—I always have since elementary school. ( Kevin Zevallos '16 for Connecticut College )

This opener definitely makes us want to know more. Why was he alone? Where were the protective grown-ups who surround most kids? How on earth could a little kid of 8-10 years old survive on his own?

I have old hands. ( First line from a student in Stanford's class of 2012 )

There's nothing but questions here. What are "old" hands? Are they old-looking? Arthritic? How has having these hands affected the author?

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. (Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre )

There's immediately a feeling of disappointment and the stifled desire for action here. Who wanted to go for a walk? And why was this person being prevented from going?

First Sentence Idea 3: Lyrical, Adjective-Rich Description of a Setting

We met for lunch at El Burrito Mexicano, a tiny Mexican lunch counter under the Red Line "El" tracks. ( Ted Mullin '06 for Carleton College )

Look at how much specificity this sentence packs in less than 20 words. Each noun and adjective is chosen for its ability to convey yet another detail. "Tiny" instead of "small" gives readers a sense of being uncomfortably close to other people and sitting at tables that don't quite have enough room for the plates. "Counter" instead of "restaurant" lets us immediately picture this work surface, the server standing behind it, and the general atmosphere. "Under the tracks" is a location deeply associated with being run down, borderline seedy, and maybe even dangerous.

Maybe it's because I live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where Brett Favre draws more of a crowd on Sunday than any religious service, cheese is a staple food, it's sub-zero during global warming, current "fashions" come three years after they've hit it big with the rest of the world, and where all children by the age of ten can use a 12-gauge like it's their job. ( Riley Smith '12 for Hamilton College )

This sentence manages to hit every stereotype about Wisconsin held by outsiders—football, cheese, polar winters, backwardness, and guns—and this piling on gives us a good sense of place while also creating enough hyperbole to be funny. At the same time, the sentence raises the tantalizing question: maybe what is because of Wisconsin?

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. (David Lodge, Changing Places )

This sentence is structured in the highly specific style of a math problem, which makes it funny. However, at the heart of this sentence lies a mystery that grabs the reader's interest: why on earth would these two people be doing this?

First Sentence Idea 4: Counterintuitive Statement

To avoid falling into generalities with this one, make sure you're really creating an argument or debate with your counterintuitive sentence. If no one would argue with what you've said, then you aren't making an argument. ("The world is a wonderful place" and "Life is worth living" don't make the cut.)

If string theory is really true, then the entire world is made up of strings, and I cannot tie a single one. ( Joanna '18 for Johns Hopkins University )

There's a great switch here from the sub-microscopic strings that make up string theory to the actual physical strings you can tie in real life. This sentence hints that the rest of the essay will continue playing with linked, albeit not typically connected, concepts.

All children, except one, grow up. (J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan )

In just six words, this sentence upends everything we think we know about what happens to human beings.

First Sentence Idea 5: The End—Making the Rest of the Essay a Flashback

I've recently come to the realization that community service just isn't for me. ( Kyla '19 for Johns Hopkins University )

This seems pretty bold—aren't we supposed to be super into community service? Is this person about to declare herself to be totally selfish and uncaring about the less fortunate? We want to know the story that would lead someone to this kind of conclusion.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude )

So many amazing details here. Why is the Colonel being executed? What does "discovering" ice entail? How does he go from ice-discoverer to military commander of some sort to someone condemned to capital punishment?

First Sentence Idea 6: Direct Question to the Reader

To work well, your question should be especially specific, come out of left field, or pose a surprising hypothetical.

How does an agnostic Jew living in the Diaspora connect to Israel? ( Essay #3 from Carleton College's sample essays )

This is a thorny opening, raising questions about the difference between being an ethnic Jew and practicing the religion of Judaism, and the obligations of Jews who live outside of Israel to those who live in Israel and vice versa. There's a lot of meat to this question, setting up a philosophically interesting, politically important, and personally meaningful essay.

While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe? ( First line from a student in Stanford's class of 2012 )

There's a dreamy and sci-fi element to this first sentence, as it tries to find the sublime ("the universe") inside the prosaic ("daily path of life").

First Sentence Idea 7: Lesson You Learned From the Story You're Telling

One way to think about how to do this kind of opening sentence well is to model it on the morals that ended each Aesop's fable . The lesson you learned should be slightly surprising (not necessarily intuitive) and something that someone else might disagree with.

Perhaps it wasn't wise to chew and swallow a handful of sand the day I was given my first sandbox, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. ( Meagan Spooner '07 for Hamilton College )

The best part of this hilarious sentence is that even in retrospect, eating a handful of sand is only possibly an unwise idea—a qualifier achieved through that great "perhaps." So does that mean it was wise in at least some way to eat the sand? The reader wants to know more.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina )

This immediately sets readers to mentally flip through every unhappy family they've ever known to double-check the narrator's assertion. Did he draw the right conclusion here? How did he come to this realization? The implication that he will tell us all about some dysfunctional drama also has a rubbernecking draw.

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How to Write a Pivot Sentence in Your College Essay

This is the place in your essay where you go from small to big—from the life experience you describe in detail to the bigger point this experience illustrates about your world and yourself.

Typically, the pivot sentence will come at the end of your introductory section, about halfway through the essay. I say sentence, but this section could be more than one sentence (though ideally no longer than two or three).

So how do you make the turn? Usually you indicate in your pivot sentence itself that you are moving from one part of the essay to another. This is called signposting, and it's a great way to keep readers updated on where they are in the flow of the essay and your argument.

Here are three ways to do this, with real-life examples from college essays published by colleges.

Pivot Idea 1: Expand the Time Frame

In this pivot, you gesture out from the specific experience you describe to the overarching realization you had during it. Think of helper phrases such as "that was the moment I realized" and "never again would I."

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 '19 for Johns Hopkins University )

This is a pretty great pivot, neatly connecting the story Stephen's been telling (about having to break into a car on a volunteering trip) and his general reliance on his own resourcefulness and ability to roll with whatever life throws at him. It's a double bonus that he accomplishes the pivot with a play on the word "click," which here means both the literal clicking of the car door latch and the figurative clicking his brain does. Note also how the pivot crystallizes the moment of epiphany through the word "suddenly," which implies instant insight.

But in that moment I realized that the self-deprecating jokes were there for a reason. When attempting to climb the mountain of comedic success, I didn't just fall and then continue on my journey, but I fell so many times that I befriended the ground and realized that the middle of the metaphorical mountain made for a better campsite. Not because I had let my failures get the best of me, but because I had learned to make the best of my failures. (Rachel Schwartzbaum '19 for Connecticut College)

This pivot similarly focuses on a "that moment" of illuminated clarity. In this case, it broadens Rachel's experience of stage fright before her standup comedy sets to the way she has more generally not allowed failures to stop her progress—and has instead been able to use them as learning experiences. Not only does she describe her humor as "self-deprecating," but she also demonstrates what she means with that great "befriended the ground" line.

It was on this first educational assignment that I realized how much could be accomplished through an animal education program—more, in some cases, than the aggregate efforts of all of the rehabilitators. I found that I had been naive in my assumption that most people knew as much about wildlife as I did, and that they shared my respect for animals. ( J.P. Maloney '07 for Hamilton College )

This is another classically constructed pivot, as J.P. segues from his negative expectations about using a rehabilitated wild owl as an educational animal to his understanding of how much this kind of education could contribute to forming future environmentalists and nature lovers. The widening of scope happens at once as we go from a highly specific "first educational assignment" to the more general realization that "much" could be accomplished through these kinds of programs.

Pivot Idea 2: Link the Described Experience With Others

In this pivot, you draw a parallel between the life event that you've been describing in your very short story and other events that were similar in some significant way. Helpful phrases include "now I see how x is really just one of the many x 's I have faced," "in a way, x is a good example of the x -like situations I see daily," and "and from then on every time I ..."

This state of discovery is something I strive for on a daily basis. My goal is to make all the ideas in my mind fit together like the gears of a Swiss watch. Whether it's learning a new concept in linear algebra, talking to someone about a programming problem, or simply zoning out while I read, there is always some part of my day that pushes me towards this place of cohesion: an idea that binds together some set of the unsolved mysteries in my mind. ( Aubrey Anderson '19 for Tufts University )

After cataloging and detailing the many interesting thoughts that flow through her brain in a specific hour, Aubrey uses the pivot to explain that this is what every waking hour is like for her "on a daily basis." She loves learning different things and finds a variety of fields fascinating. And her pivot lets us know that her example is a demonstration of how her mind works generally.

This was the first time I've been to New Mexico since he died. Our return brought so much back for me. I remembered all the times we'd visited when I was younger, certain events highlighted by the things we did: Dad haggling with the jewelry sellers, his minute examination of pots at a trading post, the affection he had for chilies. I was scared that my love for the place would be tainted by his death, diminished without him there as my guide. That fear was part of what kept my mother and me away for so long. Once there, though, I was relieved to realize that Albuquerque still brings me closer to my father. ( Essay #1 from Carleton College's sample essays )

In this pivot, one very painful experience of visiting a place filled with sorrowful memories is used as a way to think about "all the other times" the author had been to New Mexico. The previously described trip after the father's death pivots into a sense of the continuity of memory. Even though he is no longer there to "guide," the author's love for the place itself remains.

Pivot Idea 3: Extract and Underline a Trait or Value

In this type of pivot, you use the experience you've described to demonstrate its importance in developing or zooming in on one key attribute. Here are some ways to think about making this transition: "I could not have done it without characteristic y , which has helped me through many other difficult moments," or "this is how I came to appreciate the importance of value z, both in myself and in those around me."

My true reward of having Stanley is that he opened the door to the world of botany. I would never have invested so much time learning about the molecular structure or chemical balance of plants if not for taking care of him. ( Michaela '19 for Johns Hopkins University )

In this tongue-in-cheek essay in which Michaela writes about Stanley, a beloved cactus, as if "he" has human qualities and is her child, the pivot explains what makes this plant so meaningful to its owner. Without having to "take care of him," Michaela "would never have invested so much time learning" about plant biology. She has a deep affinity for the natural sciences and attributes her interest at least partly to her cactus.

By leaving me free to make mistakes and chase wild dreams, my father was always able to help ground me back in reality. Personal responsibilities, priorities and commitments are all values that are etched into my mind, just as they are within my father's. ( Olivia Rabbitt '16 for Connecticut College )

In Olivia's essay about her father's role in her life, the pivot discusses his importance by explaining his deep impact on her values. Olivia has spent the story part of her essay describing her father's background and their relationship. Now, she is free to show how without his influence, she would not be so strongly committed to "personal responsibilities, priorities and commitments."

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College Essay Introduction Examples

We've collected many examples of college essays published by colleges and offered a breakdown of how several of them are put together . Now, let's check out a couple of examples of actual college essay beginnings to show you how and why they work.

Sample Intro 1

A blue seventh place athletic ribbon hangs from my mantel. Every day, as I walk into my living room, the award mockingly congratulates me as I smile. Ironically, the blue seventh place ribbon resembles the first place ribbon in color; so, if I just cover up the tip of the seven, I may convince myself that I championed the fourth heat. But, I never dare to wipe away the memory of my seventh place swim; I need that daily reminder of my imperfection. I need that seventh place.

Two years ago, I joined the no-cut swim team. That winter, my coach unexpectedly assigned me to swim the 500 freestyle. After stressing for hours about swimming 20 laps in a competition, I mounted the blocks, took my mark, and swam. Around lap 14, I looked around at the other lanes and did not see anyone. "I must be winning!" I thought to myself. However, as I finally completed my race and lifted my arms up in victory to the eager applause of the fans, I looked up at the score board. I had finished my race in last place. In fact, I left the pool two minutes after the second-to-last competitor, who now stood with her friends, wearing all her clothes.

(From "The Unathletic Department" by Meghan '17 for Johns Hopkins University )

Why Intro Sample 1 Works

Here are some of the main reasons that this essay's introduction is super effective.

#1: It's Got a Great First Sentence

The sentence is short but still does some scene setting with the descriptive "blue" and the location "from my mantel." It introduces a funny element with "seventh place"—why would that bad of a showing even get a ribbon? It dangles information just out of reach, making the reader want to know more: what was this an award for? Why does this definitively non-winning ribbon hang in such a prominent place of pride?

#2: It Has Lots of Detail

In the intro, we get physical actions: "cover up the tip," "mounted the blocks," "looked around at the other lanes," "lifted my arms up," and "stood with her friends, wearing all her clothes." We also get words conveying emotion: "mockingly congratulates me as I smile," "unexpectedly assigned," and "stressing for hours." Finally, we get descriptive specificity in the precise word choice: "from my mantel" and "my living room" instead of simply "in my house," and "lap 14" instead of "toward the end of the race."

#3: It Explains the Stakes

Even though everyone can imagine the lap pool, not everyone knows exactly what the "500 freestyle" race is. Meghan elegantly explains the difficulty by describing herself freaking out over "swimming 20 laps in a competition," which helps us to picture the swimmer going back and forth many times.

#4: It Has Great Storytelling

We basically get a sports commentary play-by-play here. Even though we already know the conclusion—Meghan came in 7th—she still builds suspense by narrating the race from her point of view as she was swimming it. She's nervous for a while, and then she starts the race.

Close to the end, she starts to think everything is going well ("I looked around at the other lanes and did not see anyone. 'I must be winning!' I thought to myself."). Everything builds to an expected moment of great triumph ("I finally completed my race and lifted my arms up in victory to the eager applause of the fans") but ends in total defeat ("I had finished my race in last place").

Not only that, but the mildly clichéd sports hype is hilariously undercut by reality ("I left the pool two minutes after the second-to-last competitor, who now stood with her friends, wearing all her clothes").

#5: It Uses a Pivot Sentence

This essay uses the time expansion method of pivoting: "But, I never dare to wipe away the memory of my seventh place swim; I need that daily reminder of my imperfection. I need that seventh place." Coming last in the race was something that happened once, but the award is now an everyday experience of humility.

The rest of the essay explores what it means for Meghan to constantly see this reminder of failure and to transform it into a sense of acceptance of her imperfections. Notice also that in this essay, the pivot comes before the main story, helping us "hear" the narrative in the way she wants us to.

Sample Intro 2

"Biogeochemical. It's a word, I promise!" There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother's famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out. And then, I am crowned the victor, a true success in the Merchant household. But it is fleeting, as the small, glossy, plastic tiles, perfectly connected to form my winning word, are snatched out from under me and thrown in a pile with all the disgraced, "unwinning" tiles as we mix for our next game of Bananagrams. It's a similar donnybrook, this time ending with my father arguing that it is okay to use "Rambo" as a word (it totally is not).

Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life: from silly games like Bananagrams and our road-trip favorite "word game," to stunted communication between opposing grandparents, each speaking a different Indian language; from trying to understand the cheesemonger behind the counter with a deep southern drawl (I just want some Camembert!), to shaping a script to make people laugh.

Words are moving and changing; they have influence and substance.

From an Essay by Shaan Merchant ‘19 for Tufts University

Why Intro Sample 2 Works

Let's take a look at what qualities make this essay's introduction particularly memorable.

With the first sentence, we are immediately thrust into the middle of the action —into an exciting part of an argument about whether "biogeochemical" is really a word. We're also immediately challenged. Is this a word? Have I ever heard it before? Does a scientific neologism count as a word?

#2: It Shows Rather Than Tells

Since the whole essay is going to be about words, it makes sense for Shaan to demonstrate his comfort with all different kinds of language:

  • Complex, elevated vocabulary, such as "biogeochemical" and "donnybrook"
  • Foreign words, such as "parantha" and "Camembert"
  • Colorful descriptive words, such as "shrieks and shouts," "famously flakey, "whizzes past," and "hash it out"
  • "Fake" words, such as "unwinning" and "Rambo"

What's great is that Shaan is able to seamlessly mix the different tones and registers these words imply, going from cerebral to funny and back again.

#3: It Uses a Pivot Sentence

This essay uses the value-extraction style of pivot: "Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life." After we see an experience linking Shaan's clear love of his family with an interest in word games, he clarifies that this is exactly what the essay will be about—using a very straightforward pivoting sentence.

#4: It Piles On Examples to Avoid Vagueness

The danger of this kind of pivot sentence is slipping into vague, uninformative statements, such as "I love words." To avoid making a generalization the tells us nothing, the essay builds a list of examples of times when Shaan saw the way that words connect people: games ("Bananagrams and our road-trip favorite ‘word game,'"), his mixed-language family ("grandparents, each speaking a different Indian language"), encounters with strangers ("from trying to understand the cheesemonger"), and finally the more active experience of performing ("shaping a script to make people laugh").

But the essay stops short of giving so many examples that the reader drowns. I'd say three to five examples is a good range—as long as they're all different kinds of the same thing.

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The Bottom Line: How to Start a College Essay

The college essay introduction should hook your reader and make her want to know more and read more.

Good personal statement introductions will contain the following features:

  • A killer first line
  • A detailed description of an experience from your life
  • A pivot to the bigger picture, in which you explain why and how this experience has shaped you, your point of view, and/or your values.

You don't have to write the introduction first, and you certainly don't have to write your first sentence first . Instead, start by developing your story by telling it out loud to a friend. You can then work on your first sentence and your pivot.

The first sentence should either be short, punchy, and carry some ambiguity or questions, or be a detailed and beautiful description setting an easily pictured scene. The pivot, on the other hand, should answer the question, "How does the story you've told connect to a larger truth or insight about you?"

What's Next?

Wondering what to make of the Common Application essay prompts? We have the complete list of this year's Common App prompts with explanations of what each is asking as well as a guide to picking the Common App prompt that's perfect for you .

Thinking of applying to the University of California system? Check out our detailed guide on how to approach their essay prompts and craft your ideal UC essay .

If you're in the middle of the essay-writing process, you'll want to see our suggestions on what essay pitfalls to avoid .

Working on the rest of your college 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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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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21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

What’s covered:, what makes a good common app essay, is your common app essay strong enough.

When you begin writing your Common App essay, having an example to look at can help you understand how to effectively write your college essay so that it stands apart from others. 

These Common App essay examples demonstrate a strong writing ability and answer the prompt in a way that shows admissions officers something unique about the student. Once you’ve read some examples and are ready to get started, read our step-by-step guide for how to write a strong Common App essay.  

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

Read our Common App essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

It’s Personal

The point of the Common App essay is to humanize yourself to a college admissions committee. The ultimate goal is to get them to choose you over someone else! You will have a better chance of achieving this goal if the admissions committee feels personally connected to you or invested in your story. When writing your Common App essay, you should explore your feelings, worldview, values, desires, and anything else that makes you uniquely you.

It’s Not Cliché

It is pretty easy to resort to clichés in college essays. This should be actively avoided! CollegeVine has identified the immigrant’s journey, sports injuries, and overcoming a challenging course as cliché topics . If you write about one of these topics, you have to work harder to stand out, so working with a more nuanced topic is often safer and easier.

It’s Well-Done

Colleges want good writers. They want students who can articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely (and creatively!). You should be writing and rewriting your essays, perfecting them as you go. Of course, make sure that your grammar and spelling are impeccable, but also put in time crafting your tone and finding your voice. This will also make your essay more personal and will make your reader feel more connected to you!

It’s Cohesive

Compelling Common App essays tell a cohesive story. Cohesion is primarily achieved through effective introductions and conclusions , which often contribute to the establishment of a clear theme or topic. Make sure that it is clear what you are getting at, but also don’t explicitly state what you are getting at—a successful essay speaks for itself.

Common App Essay Examples

Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts.

Prompt #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.

Prompt #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?

Prompt #3 :  Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #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? (NOTE: We only have an example for the old prompt #4 about solving a problem, not this current one)

Prompt #5 :  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #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?

Prompt #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.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.

Prompt #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.

Prompt #1, example #1.

The room was silent except for the thoughts racing through my head. I led a spade from my hand and my opponent paused for a second, then played a heart. The numbers ran through my mind as I tried to consider every combination, calculating my next move. Finally, I played the ace of spades from the dummy and the rest of my clubs, securing the contract and 620 points when my partner ruffed at trick five. Next board.

It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship. The winning team would be selected to represent the United States in the world championship and my team was still in the running.

Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game. Players from around the world gather at local clubs, regional events, and, in this case, national tournaments.

Going into the tournament, my team was excited; all the hours we had put into the game, from the lengthy midnight Skype sessions spent discussing boards to the coffee shop meetings spent memorizing conventions together, were about to pay off.

Halfway through, our spirits were still high, as we were only down by fourteen international match points which, out of the final total of about four hundred points, was virtually nothing and it was very feasible to catch up. Our excitement was short-lived, however, as sixty boards later, we found that we had lost the match and would not be chosen as the national team.

Initially, we were devastated. We had come so close and it seemed as if all the hours we had devoted to training had been utterly wasted. Yet as our team spent some time together reflecting upon the results, we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion. I chatted with the winning team and even befriended a few of them who offered us encouragement and advice.

Throughout my bridge career, although I’ve gained a respectable amount of masterpoints and awards, I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met. I don’t need to travel cross-country to learn; every time I sit down at a table whether it be during a simple club game, a regional tournament or a national event, I find I’m always learning. 

I nod at the pair that’s always yelling at each other. They teach me the importance of sportsmanship and forgiveness.

I greet the legally blind man who can defeat most of the seeing players. He reminds me not to make excuses.

I chat with the friendly, elderly couple who, at ages ninety and ninety-two, have just gotten married two weeks ago. They teach me that it’s never too late to start anything.

I talk to the boy who’s attending Harvard and the girl who forewent college to start her own company. They show me that there is more than one path to success.

I congratulate the little kid running to his dad, excited to have won his very first masterpoints. He reminds me of the thrill of every first time and to never stop trying new things.

Just as much as I have benefitted from these life lessons, I aspire to give back to my bridge community as much as it has given me. I aspire to teach people how to play this complicated yet equally as exciting game. I aspire to never stop improving myself, both at and away from the bridge table.

Bridge has given me my roots and dared me to dream. What started as merely a hobby has become a community, a passion, a part of my identity. I aspire to live selflessly and help others reach their goals. I seek to take risks, embrace all results, even failure, and live unfettered from my own doubt.

This student draws readers in with a strong introduction. The essay starts ambiguous—“I led with a spade”—then intrigues readers by gradually revealing more information and details. This makes the reader want to keep reading (which is super important!) As the writer continues, there is a rather abrupt tone shift from suspenseful to explanatory with statements like “It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship” and “Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game.” If you plan to start with an imagery-heavy, emotional, suspenseful, or dramatic introduction, you will need to transition to the content of your essay in a way that does not feel abrupt. 

You will often hear that essays need to “show, not tell.” This essay actually does both. First, the student tells readers the importance of bridge, saying “we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion” and “I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met.” Then, the student shows the lessons they have learned from bridge through a series of parallel sentences: “I nod… sportsmanship and forgiveness” “I greet… not to make excuses” “I chat… it’s never too late to start anything” and so on. This latter strategy is much more effective than the former and is watered down because the student has already told us what we are supposed to get out of these sentences. Remember that your readers are intelligent and can draw their own conclusions. Avoid summarizing the moral of your story for them!

Overall, this essay is interesting and answers the prompt. We learn the importance of bridge to this student. The student has a solid grasp of language, a high-level vocabulary, and a valuable message, though they would be better off if they avoided summarizing their point and created more seamless transitions. 

Prompt #1, Example #2

Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German.

My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector.

Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep-­rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me.

After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures.

During my first weeks in Scarsdale, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Scarsdale.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered Horizons, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with Horizon’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees.

It was there that I met Emily, a twelve­-year-­old Iraqi girl who lived next to Horizons. In between games and snacks, Emily would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children Horizons served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging.

Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.

Due to their endearing (and creative) use of language—with early phrases like “sloppy joes and spaetzle” as well as  “Germerican” and “Denglisch”—readers are inclined to like this writer from the get-go. Though the essay shifts from this lighthearted introduction to more serious subject matter around the third paragraph, the shift is not abrupt or jarring. This is because the student invites readers to feel the transition with them through their inclusion of various anecdotes that inspired their “feelings of cultural homelessness.” And our journey does not end there—we go back to America with the student and see how their former struggles become strengths.

Ultimately, this essay is successful due to its satisfying ending. Because readers experience the student’s struggles with them, we also feel the resolution. The conclusion of this essay is a prime example of the “Same, but Different” technique described in our article on How to End Your College Essay . As the student describes how, in the end, their complicated cultural identity still exists but transitions to a source of strength, readers are left feeling happy for the student. This means that they have formed a connection with the student, which is the ultimate goal!

Prompt #1, Example #3

“1…2…3…4 pirouettes ! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.

For as long as I can remember, ballet, in all its finesse and glamor, had kept me driven day to day. As a child, the lithe ballerinas, donning ethereal costumes as they floated across the stage, were my motivation. While others admired Messi and Adele, I idolized Carlos Acosta, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. 

As I devoted more time and energy towards my craft, I became obsessed with improving my technique. I would stretch for hours after class, forcing my leg one inch higher in an effort to mirror the Dance Magazine cover girls . I injured my feet and ruined pair after pair of pointe shoes, turning on wood, cement, and even grass to improve my balance as I spun. At competitions, the dancers with the 180-degree leg extensions, endless turns, and soaring leaps—the ones who received “Bravos!” from the roaring audience—further pushed me to refine my skills and perfect my form. I believed that, with enough determination, I would one day attain their level of perfection. Reaching the quadruple- pirouette milestone only intensified my desire to accomplish even more. 

My efforts seemed to have come to fruition two summers ago when I was accepted to dance with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet at their renowned New York City summer intensive. I walked into my first session eager to learn from distinguished ballet masters and worldly dancers, already anticipating my improvement. Yet, as I danced alongside the accomplished ballerinas, I felt out of place. Despite their clean technique and professional training, they did not aim for glorious leg extensions or prodigious leaps. When they performed their turn combinations, most of them only executed two turns as I attempted four. 

“Dancers, double- pirouettes only.” 

Taken aback and confused, I wondered why our teacher expected so little from us. The other ballerinas seemed content, gracing the studio with their simple movements. 

As I grew closer with my Moscow roommates, I gradually learned that their training emphasized the history of the art form instead of stylistic tricks. Rather than show off their physical ability, their performances aimed to convey a story, one that embodied the rich culture of ballet and captured both the legacy of the dancers before them and their own artistry. As I observed my friends more intently in repertoire class, I felt the pain of the grief-stricken white swan from Swan Lake , the sass of the flirtatious Kitri from Don Quijote, and I gradually saw what I had overlooked before. My definition of talent had been molded by crowd-pleasing elements—whirring pirouettes , gravity-defying leaps, and mind-blowing leg extensions. This mindset slowly stripped me from the roots of my passion and my personal connection with ballet. 

With the Bolshoi, I learned to step back and explore the meaning behind each step and the people behind the scenes. Ballet carries history in its movements, from the societal values of the era to each choreographer’s unique flair. As I uncovered the messages behind each pirouette, kick, and jump, my appreciation for ballet grew beyond my obsession with raw athleticism and developed into a love for the art form’s emotive abilities in bridging the dancers with the audience. My journey as an artist has allowed me to see how technical execution is only the means to a greater understanding between dancer and spectator, between storyteller and listener. The elegance and complexity of ballet does not revolve around astonishing stunts but rather the evocative strength and artistry manifested in the dancer, in me. It is the combination of sentiments, history, tradition, and passion that has allowed ballet and its lessons of human connection to become my lifestyle both on and off stage.

The primary strength of this essay is the honesty and authenticity of the student’s writing. It is purposefully reflective. Intentional language creates a clear character arc that begins with an eager young ballerina and ends with the student reflecting on their past. 

Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the concl usion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)

The main weakness of this essay (though this is a stellar essay) is its formulaic beginning. While dialogue can be an effective tool for starting your essay, this student’s introduction feels a bit stilted as the dialogue does not match the overall reflective tone of the essay. Perhaps, in place of “Next goal: five turns,” the student could have posed a question or foreshadowed the growth they ultimately describe.

Prompt #1, Example #4

My paintbrush dragged a flurry of acrylic, the rich colors attaching to each groove in my canvas’s texture. The feeling was euphoric.

From a young age, painting has been my solace. Between the stress of my packed high school days filled with classes and extracurriculars, the glide of my paintbrush was my emotional outlet.

I opened a fresh canvas and began. The amalgamation of assorted colors in my palette melded harmoniously: dark and light, cool and warm, brilliant and dull. They conjoined, forming shades and surfaces sharp, smooth, and ridged. The textures of my paint strokes — powdery, glossy, jagged — gave my painting a tone, as if it had a voice of its own, sometimes shrieking, sometimes whispering.

Rough indigo blue. The repetitive upward pulls of my brush formed layers on my canvas. Staring into the deep blue, I felt transported to the bottom of the pool I swim in daily. I looked upward to see a layer of dense water between myself and the person I aspire to be, an ideal blurred by filmy ripples. Rough blue encapsulates my amorphous, conflicting identity, catalyzed by words spewed by my peers about my “oily hair” and “smelly food”. They caused my ever present disdain toward cultural assemblies; the lehenga I wore felt burdensome. My identity quivers like the indigo storm I painted — a duel between my self-deprecating, validation-seeking self, and the proud self I desire to be. My haphazard paint strokes released my internal turbulence.

Smooth orange-hued green. I laid the color in melodious strokes, forming my figure. The warmer green transitions from the rough blue — while they share elements, they also diverge. My firm brushstrokes felt like the way I felt on my first day as a media intern at KBOO, my local volunteer-driven radio station, committed to the voices of the marginalized. As a naturally introverted speaker, I was forced out of my comfort zone when tasked with documenting a KBOO art exhibition for social media, speaking with hosts to share their diverse, underrepresented backgrounds and inspirations. A rhythmic green strength soon shoved me past internal blue turbulence. My communication skills which were built by two years of Speech and Debate unleashed — I recognized that making a social change through media required amplifying unique voices and perspectives, both my own and others. The powerful green strokes that fill my canvas entrench my growth.

Bright, voluminous coral, hinted with magenta and yellow. I dabbed the color over my figure, giving my painting dimension. The paint, speckled, added depth on every inch it coated. As I moved the color in random but purposeful movements, the vitality ushered into my painting brought a smile across my face. It reminded me of the encounters I had with my cubicle-mate in my sophomore year academic autism research internship, seemingly insignificant moments in my lifelong journey that, in retrospect, wove unique threads into my tapestry. The kindness she brought into work inspired my compassion, while her stories of struggling with ADHD in the workplace bolstered my empathy towards different experiences. Our conversations added blobs of a nonuniform bright color in my painting, binding a new perspective in me.

I added in my final strokes, each contributing an element to my piece. As I scanned my canvas, I observed these elements. Detail added nuance into smaller pictures; they embodied complexities within color, texture, and hue, each individually delivering a narrative. But together, they formed a piece of art— art that could be interpreted as a whole or broken apart but still delivering as a means of communication.

I find beauty in media because of this. I can adapt a complex narrative to be deliverable, each component telling a story. Appreciating these nuances — the light, dark, smooth, and rough — has cultivated my growth mindset. My life-long painting never finishes. It is ever-expanding, absorbing the novel textures and colors I encounter daily.

This essay is distinct from others due to its melodic, lyrical form. This is primarily achieved because the student’s form follows the movements of the paintbrush that they use to scaffold their essay. As readers, we simply flow through the essay, occasionally picking up bits of information about its creator. Without even realizing it, by the end of the essay, admissions officers will know that this student is a swimmer, was in Speech and Debate, is Indian, and has had multiple internships.

A major strength of this essay is the command of language that the student demonstrates. This essay was not simply written, it was crafted. Universities are, of course, interested in the talents, goals, and interests of applicants, but an essay being well-written can be equally important. Writing skills are important because your reader will not learn about your talents, goals, and interests if they aren’t engaged in your essay, but they are also important because admissions officers know that being able to articulate your thoughts is important for success in all future careers.

While this essay is well-written, there are a few moments where it falls out of the flow and feels more like a student advertising their successes. For example, the phrases “media intern at KBOO” and “autism research internship” work better on a resume than they do in this essay. Admissions officers have a copy of your resume and can check your internship experiences after reading your essay! If you are going to use a unique writing style or narrative form, lean into it; don’t try to hybridize it with the standard college essay form. Your boldness will be attractive to admissions officers.

sample college essay about yourself

Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the conclusion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)

Prompt #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?

Prompt #2, example #1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only part of this essay that could use a bit of work is the introduction. A short introduction can be effective, but this short first paragraph feels thrown in at the last minute and like it is missing its second half. If you are keeping your introduction short, make it matter.

Prompt #2, Example #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prompt #2, Example #3

The muffled voices behind thin walls heralded trouble.

They were fighting about money.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened and it wasn’t going to be the last. It was one of those countless nights I had to spend curled up under the blanket while pretending to be asleep. My father had been unemployed for five years now, and my mother, a local kindergarten teacher, was struggling to support the family alone. Our situation was bleak: Savings had run out and my parents could no longer hide our lack of money from me. To make matters worse, I was a few weeks away from starting high school, which would inevitably lead to college, yet another financial stressor for my family.

The argument didn’t sound like it would end soon.

“Why did you spend money on that?” my mother said, with an elongated sigh.

“I had to,” my father said, decidedly.

Every fight over the years had left me in despair and the idea of going through another fight daunted me. I had looked forward to my teen years all my life, an age that allows, for the first time, more responsibility. Indeed, after this fateful night, after my fourteenth birthday, I felt a mounting responsibility to help my family, and started brainstorming.

Always being fascinated by computers, I spent my childhood burying myself under computer cabinets, experimenting with computer parts. Naturally, I wondered if my skills in this area might be marketable.

The next morning, my friend, Naba, mentioned that her computer wasn’t working. A tuk-tuk ride later, and I was at her doorstep, and her mother was leading me to her room. I was off to work: I began examining her computer, like a surgeon carefully manages his scalpels and tools. A proper diagnosis was not far from reach, as I realized a broken pin in her computer’s SATA slot. After an hour of work, and a short trip to the hardware store, I successfully fixed the computer. To my pleasant surprise, Naba’s mother drew out two fresh 500 Rupee notes. One covered the cost of the parts I bought and the other was a token of appreciation. Bidding her goodbye, I went straight back home and put one of the 500 Rupee notes inside my family’s “savings-jar.”

Later that day, I devised a plan. I told my friends to spread the word that I was available to fix computers. At first, I got only one or two calls per week. I would pick up the computer from my client’s home, fix it quickly, and return it, thus earning myself a commission. While I couldn’t market my services at a competitive price, because I wasn’t able to buy the parts wholesale, I compensated by providing convenience. All my clients had to do was call me once and the rest was taken care of. Thus, my business had the best customer service in town.

At the beginning of my junior year, after two years of expanding my business through various avenues, I started buying computer parts from hardware suppliers in bulk at a cheaper rate. My business grew exponentially after that. 

Before long, I was my town’s go-to tech person. In this journey throughout high school, I started realizing that I had to create my own opportunities and not just curl up under a blanket, seeking only comfort, as I used to. Interacting with people from all walks of life became my forte and a sense of work ethic developed in me. My business required me to be an all-rounder– have the technical skills, be an easily approachable person, and manage cash flow. Slowly becoming better at this, I even managed to sway admins of a local institution to outsource their computer hardware purchases and repairs through me. As my business upsized throughout the years, I went from being helpless to autonomous – the teenager I always aspired to be.

This essay truly feels like a story—almost making you forget you are reading a college essay. The student’s voice is strong throughout the entire essay and they are able to give us insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations at every step of the story. Letting the reader into personal challenges like financial struggles can be daunting in a college essay, but the way this student used that setback to establish an emotional ethos to their narrative was well done.

Because the essay is essentially just telling a story, there’s a very natural flow that makes it enjoyable and easy to read. The student establishes the conflict at the beginning, then describes their solution and how they implemented it, and finally concludes with the lessons they took away from this experience. Transitions at the beginning of paragraphs effortlessly show the passage of time and how the student has progressed through the story.

Another reason this essay is so successful is because of the abundance of details. The reader truly feels like they are hiding in the room with the student as their parents yell because of the inclusion of quotes from the argument. We understand the precision and care they have for fixing computers because of the allusion to a surgeon with their scalpel. Not only does this imagery make the story more enticing, it also helps the reader gain a deeper appreciation for the type of person this student is and the adversity they have overcome.

If there were one thing this essay could do to improve, it would be to include a resolution to the conflict from the beginning. The student tells us how this business helped them grow as a person, but we don’t ever get to find out if they were able to lessen the financial burden on their parents or if they continued to struggle despite the student working hard. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it would be nice to return to the conflict and acknowledge the effect they had on it, especially since this prompt is all about facing challenges.

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #3, example #1.

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

This essay is cohesive as it centers around the theme of identity and the ability for two identities to coexist simultaneously (an interesting theme!). It uses the Full Circle ending strategy as it starts with a metaphor about food touching and ends with “I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.”

The main issue with this essay is that it could come off as cliché, which could be irritating for admissions officers. The story described is notably similar to High School Musical (“I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me”) and feels slightly overstated. 

At times, this essay is also confusing. In the first paragraph, it feels like the narrative is actually going to be about separating your food (and is somehow going to relate to the older brothers?). It is not entirely clear that this is a metaphor. Also, when the writer references the third submission day and then works backward to explain what a submission day is and that there are multiple throughout the semester, the timeline gets unnecessarily confusing. Reworking the way this paragraph unfolded would have been more compelling and less distracting.

Overall, this essay was interesting but could have been more polished to be more effective.

Prompt #3, Example #2

I walked into my middle school English class, and noticed a stranger behind my teacher’s desk. “Hello,” she said. “Today I will be your substitute teacher.” I groaned internally. “Let me start off by calling roll. Ally?” “Here!” exclaimed Ally. “Jack?” “Here.” “Rachel?” “Here.” “Freddie?” “Present.” And then– “…?” The awkward pause was my cue. “It’s Jasina,” I started. “You can just call me Jas. Here.” “Oh, Jasina. That’s unique.” The word “unique” made me cringe. I slumped back in my seat. The substitute continued calling roll, and class continued as if nothing had happened. Nothing had happened. Just a typical moment in a middle school, but I hated every second of it.

My name is not impossible to pronounce. It appears challenging initially, but once you hear it, “Jas-een-a”, then you can manage it. My nickname, Jas (pronounced “Jazz”), is what most people call me anyway, so I don’t have to deal with mispronunciation often. I am thankful that my parents named me Jasina (a Hebrew name), but whenever someone hears my name for the first time, they comment, and I assume they’re making assumptions about me. “Wow, Jas is a cool name.” She must be pretty cool.“I’ve never heard the name Jasina before.” She must be from somewhere exotic. “Jas, like Jazz?” She must be musical and artsy. None of these assumptions are bad, but they all add up to the same thing: She must be unique. 

When I was little, these sentiments felt more like commands than assumptions. I thought I had to be the most unique child of all time, which was a daunting task, but I tried. I was the only kid in the second grade to color the sun red. I knew it was really yellow, but you could always tell which drawings were mine. During snack time, we could choose between apple juice and grape juice. I liked apple juice more, but if everyone else was choosing apple, then I had to choose grape. This was how I lived my life, and it was exhausting. I tried to continue this habit into middle school, but it backfired. When everyone became obsessed with things like skinny jeans and Justin Bieber and blue mascara (that was a weird trend), my resistance of the norm made me socially awkward. I couldn’t talk to people about anything because we had nothing in common. I was too different. 

After 8th grade, I moved to Georgia, and I was dreading being the odd one out among kids who had grown up together. Then I discovered that my freshman year would be Cambridge High School’s inaugural year. Since there were students coming in from 5 different schools, there was no real sense of “normal”. I panicked. If there was no normal, then how could I be unique? That’s when I realized that I had spent so much energy going against the grain that I had no idea what my true interests were or what I really cared about. 

It was time to find out. I stopped concentrating on what everyone else was doing and started to focus on myself. I joined the basketball team, I performed in the school musical, and I enrolled in Chorus, all of which were firsts for me. I took art classes, joined clubs, and did whatever I thought would make me happy. And it paid off. I was no longer socially awkward. In fact, because I was involved in so many unrelated activities, I was socially flexible. My friends and I had things in common, but there was no one who could say that I was exactly like anyone else. I had finally become my own person.

My father named me Jasina because he wanted my nickname to be “Jazz.” According to Webster, “jazz” is “music characterized by syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and deliberate distortions of pitch.” Basically, jazz is music that is off-beat and unpredictable. It cannot be strictly defined. 

That sounds about right. 

Right off the bat, this essay starts extremely strong. The description of attendance in a class with ample quotes, awkward pauses, and the student’s internal dialogue immediately puts us in the middle of the action and establishes a lot of sympathy for this student before we’ve learned anything else. 

The strength of this essay continues into the second paragraph where the use of quotes, italics, and interjections from the student continues. All of these literary tools help the student express her voice and allow the reader to understand what this student goes through on a daily basis. Rather than just telling the reader people make assumptions about her name, she shows us what these assumptions look and sound like, and exactly how they make her feel.

The essay further shows us how the student approached her name by providing concrete examples of times she’s been intentionally unique throughout her life. Describing her drawing red suns and choosing grape juice bring her personality to life and allow her to express her deviance from the “norm” in a much more engaging and visual way than simply telling the reader she would go against the grain to be different on purpose.

One part of the essay that was a bit weaker than the others was the paragraph about her in high school. Although it was still well written and did a nice job of demonstrating how she got involved in multiple groups to find her new identity, it lacked the same level of showing employed in previous paragraphs. It would have been nice to see what “socially flexible” means either through a conversation she had with her friends or an example of a time she combined her interests from different groups in a way that was uniquely her.

The essay finishes off how it started: extremely strong. Taking a step back to fully explain the origin of her name neatly brings together everything mentioned in this essay. This ending is especially successful because she never explicitly states that her personality aligns with the definition of jazz. Instead, she relies on the points she has made throughout the essay to stick in the reader’s memory so they are able to draw the connection themselves, making for a much more satisfying ending for the reader.

Prompt #4 (OLD PROMPT; NOT THE CURRENT PROMPT): Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Prompt #4, example #1.

“Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” 

Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main weakness of this essay is that it is slightly confusing at times—how the other students found coaches feels unintentionally under-explained (a simple phrase like “through pleading and attracting sympathy” in the fourth paragraph could have served the writer well) and a dojang is never defined. Additionally, the turn of the essay or “volta” could’ve packed a bigger punch. It is put quite simply with “I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.” A more suspenseful reveal could’ve served the author well because more drama did come later.

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #5, example #1.

Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life. 

Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home, so I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.

My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead. As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school, athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover. I didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.

Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This essay feels real and tells readers a lot about the writer. To start at the beginning, the intro is 10/10. It has drama, it has emotions, and it has the reader wanting more.

And, when you keep going, you get to learn a lot about a very resilient and mature student. Through sentences like “I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover” and “Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities,” the reader shows us that they are aware of their resilience and maturity, but are not arrogant about it. It is simply a fact that they have proven!

Sometimes writing about adversity can feel exploitative or oddly braggy. This student backs up everything they say with anecdotes that prove and show their strength and resilience, rather than just claiming their strengths. When I read this essay, I want to cheer for its writer! And I want to be able to continue cheering for them (perhaps, if I were an admissions officer, that would make me want them at my school!).

Prompt #5, Example #2

Armed with a red pen, I slowly walked across the room to a small, isolated table with pink stools. Swinging her legs, my young student beamed and giggled at me, slamming her pencil bag on the table and bending over to pick up one of her toys. Natalie always brought some new toy with her to lessons—toys which I would sternly take away from her and place under the table until she finished her work. At the tutoring center where I work, a strict emphasis on discipline leaves no room for paper crowns or rubber chickens. 

Today, she had with her a large stuffed eagle from a museum. As she pulled out her papers, I slid the eagle to the other side of the table. She looked eagerly around, attempting to chat with other students as I impatiently called her attention to her papers. “I should name my eagle,” she chimed, waving her pencil in the air. I cringed—there was no wondering why Natalie always had to sit by herself. She was the antithesis of my academic values, and undoubtedly the greatest adversary of my teaching style.  

As the lesson progressed, Natalie became more fitful; she refused to release her feathered friend, and kept addressing the bird for help with difficult problems. We both grew increasingly more frustrated. Determined to tame this wryly, wiggling student, I stood my ground, set on converting this disobedient child to my calm, measured ways of study.  

As time slowly crept by, I noticed that despite Natalie’s cheerful tone and bright smile, the stuffed eagle was troublesomely quiet and stern-faced. Much like myself. Both the eagle and I were getting nowhere in this lesson—so we hatched a quick plan. Lifting the eagle up in the air, I started reading in my best impersonation of an eagle, squawking my way through a spelling packet. The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed. She sang out every letter, clapped her hands at every page, and followed along with the eagle, stopping at every few letters to declare that “E is for eagle” and pet her teacher fondly on the beak.  

Despite my ostensibly dissatisfied attitude toward my students, I did not join the tutoring center simply to earn money. I had always aspired to help others achieve their fullest potential. As a young adult, I felt that it was time for me to step out of the role of a pupil and into the influential role of a teacher, naively believing that I had the maturity and skill to adapt to any situation and help these students reach their highest achievements academically. For the most part, the role of a stern-faced, strict instructor helped me get by in the workplace, and while my students never truly looked happy, I felt that it was part of the process of conditioning a child to learn. 

Ironically, my transition to adulthood was the result of a stuffed animal. It was indisputable that I always had the skill to instruct others; the only thing needed to instruct someone is knowledge of the subject. However, it was only upon being introduced to a stuffed bird in which I realized that students receive the most help not from instructors, but teachers. While almost anyone can learn material and spit it back out for someone, it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens. From my young pupil and her little bird, I have undergone a change in attitude which reflects a growth in maturity and ability to improve the lives of others that I hope to implement in my future role as a student, activist, and physician. My newfound maturity taught me that the letter “e” stands for many things: empathy, experience, enthusiasm, and eagle.

In this essay, the student effectively explores their values (and how they learned them!) then identifies these values through a reflective conclusion. While the writer humbly recognizes the initial faults in their teaching style, they do not position their initial discipline or rigidity as mean or poorly intentioned—simply ineffective. This is important because, when you are discussing a transition like this, you don’t want admissions officers to think of you as having been a bad person. 

My favorite part about this essay is its subtlety. The major shift in the essay comes through the simple sentence “The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed.” The facts of this narrative are not too complicated. Simply put, the writer was strict then learned that it’s sometimes more effective not to be strict. The complexity of this narrative comes through reflection. Notably, through the ending, the student identifies their values (which they hadn’t given a name to before): “it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens.” 

The final sentence of this essay ties things up very nicely. Readers are left satisfied with the essay and convinced that its writer is a kind human with a large capacity for reflection and consideration. That is a great image to paint of yourself!

Prompt #5, Example #3

When it’s quiet, I can still hear the Friday night gossip and giggles of my friends. It’s a stark contrast from the environment I’ve known all my life, my home. My family has always been one to keep to themselves; introverts with a hard-working mentality—my father especially. He spent most of his time at work and growing up without him around, I came to be at peace with the fact that I’d probably never really get to know him. The thought didn’t bother me at the time because I felt that we were very different. He was stoic and traditional; I was trying to figure out who I was and explore my interests. His disapproval of the American music I listened to and my penchant for wearing hand-me-downs made me see him as someone who wanted to restrain my individuality. That explains why I relied heavily on my friends throughout middle and high school; they liked me for who I was. I figured I would get lonely without my friends during quarantine, but these last few months stuck at home gave me the time to make a new friend: my father. 

It was June. I had the habit of sleeping with my windows open so I wouldn’t need to set an alarm; the warmth of the sun and the sounds of the neighborhood children playing outside would wake me. One morning, however, it was not the chirping of birds or the laughter of children I awoke to, but the shrill of a saw. Through the window screen, on the grass below, my father stood cutting planks of wood. I was confused but didn’t question him—what he did with his time was none of my business. It was not until the next day, when I was attempting to work on a sculpture for an art class, that the sounds of hammering and drills became too much to ignore. Seeking answers, I trudged across my backyard towards the corner he was in. On that day, all there was to see was the foundation of what he was building; a shed. My intrigue was replaced with awe; I was impressed by the precision of his craft. Sharp corners, leveled and sturdy, I could imagine what it would look like when the walls were up and the inside filled with the tools he had spread around the yard. 

Throughout the week, when I was trying to finish my sculpture for art class—thinking about its shape and composition—I could not help but think of my father. Art has always been a creative outlet for me, an opportunity to express myself at home. For my dad, his craftsmanship was his art. I realized we were not as different as I had thought; he was an artist like me. My glue and paper were his wood and nails.

That summer, I tried to spend more time with my dad than I have in all my 18 years of life. Waking up earlier than usual so we could have our morning coffees together and pretending to like his favorite band so he’d talk to me about it, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to speak with him. In getting to know him, I’ve recognized that I get my artistry from him. 

Reflecting on past relationships, I feel I am now more open to reconnecting with people I’ve perhaps misjudged. In reconciling, I’ve realized I held some bitterness towards him all these years, and in letting that go, my heart is lighter. Our reunion has changed my perspective; instead of vilifying him for spending so much time at work, I can appreciate how hard he works to provide for our family. When I hear him tinkering away at another home project, I can smile and look forward to asking him about it later.

This is an outstanding example of the great things that can be articulated through a reflective essay. As we read the essay, we are simply thinking alongside its author—thinking about their past relationship with their father, about their time in quarantine, about aspects of themselves they think could use attention and growth. 

While we reflect, we are also centered by the student’s anecdote about the sculpture and the shed during quarantine. By centering us in real-time, the student keeps us engaged in the reflection.

The main strength here is the maturity we see on the part of its writer. The student doesn’t say “and I realized my father was the best dad in the world;” they say “and I realized my father didn’t have to be the best dad in the world for me to give him a chance.” Lots of students show themselves as motivated, curious, or compassionate in their college essays, but a reflective essay that ends with a discussion of resentment and forgiveness shows true maturity.

Prompt #5, Example #4

As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?

During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice. 

Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.

As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.

Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.

This essay is structurally-sound, with the student’s journey learning to savor mantou and their journey trying to find their voice serving as outstanding parallels. Additionally, as they describe the journey to find a voice in their writing, they definitely show off their voice! The clear introduction provides a great image and draws us in with an intriguing question. Additionally, their little inserts like “a strand of sweetness” and “falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had” work very well.

When the student describes their first published poem, however, their writing gets a little more stilted. This is a common error students make when writing about their achievements. If this student is writing about the craft that goes into writing, we should hear the details of the craft that went into the poem, instead of simply learning that they “opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum.” This is interesting information but would be stronger if it were supplemented by descriptions of the voice they created, comparisons to the styles of other poets, and analysis of their stylistic choices. This would make the essay feel more cohesive, centering entirely around concepts of voice and style.

Prompt #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?

Note: We don’t have a stellar example for this prompt, so instead, we’re sharing a couple examples that need improvement, and what can be done to make the essays more engaging. 

Prompt #6, Example #1

What factors shape the depth and allure of a literary character? This is the exact question I asked myself as my eyes riveted on the white pages covered with little black letters.

I was reading my old novels. I’ve written three novels and many short stories. Each of them repetitively portrayed the hero as intelligent and funny, and the antagonists as cold and manipulative. I came to the appalling realization that my characters were flat, neither exciting nor original. They just didn’t stand out! 

As Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vice and virtue are to the artist material to an art.’ Their mixing makes a novel addictive because its plot is rich with turnarounds and its characters more engaging. In his famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray , Wilde deconstructs the psyche of his characters. He brilliantly plays with the protagonist’s youthful appearance and the decaying portrait to build a truly unique idiosyncratic identity. The persona of Dorian Gray is so complicated a psychologist could analyze it for hours on end!

Inspired by this character, It was my turn to explore good and evil into characters to make my stories more enthralling. I skillfully played with vice and virtue, separating, merging them… My latest novel is the fruit of this exercise. I chose to set it in 20th century London. Its opium dens and exclusive salons; middle-class workers, peasants and politicians breathed the same newly industrialized air; modernity in Blackfriars bridge and tradition in St Paul’s Cathedral; all of these contrasts set the perfect environment for my characters to grow. Following Laclos’ Valmont, Maupassant’s Georges Duroy and Duffy’s Myra Hindley, I played with those contrasts to present an intricate character, truly creative – unlike my previous ones. Insanity, religion, depravity and love are merged into each character, reflecting Edwardian London. As I reflected on my work, I realized vice and virtue altogether made them more human and credible. These characters stood out, they were interesting, I even wanted to know more about them! 

After rewriting, erasing, typing, and thinking countless times, I realized writing is a unique exercise. Nothing is definite when you are holding a fountain pen, hearing its screeching sound on the white paper and watching the ebony ink forming letters. When I wasn’t too happy about a change I made in my story, I simply erased and rewrote it. Everything I imagined could happen: white pages are the only place the mouse eats the cat or the world is taken by a zombie attack! 

This exact exercise of diversifying my characters satisfied my relentless curiosity. Asking myself ‘how could this character be if she had lost her parents in a maritime tragedy?’ allowed me to view the world from different perspectives (some very dissimilar to my own) and considering how each character would react to different situations brought them to life. As I was writing, I was aiming to change the usual narratives I had previously traversed. I loved experimenting with countless personality traits in my characters – minutes flowing, my hand dancing on the paper as my mind was singing words coming alive….

There were times where my hand just stopped writing and my mind stopped raging. I tried thinking differently, changing a character’s background, the story, the setting. I was inspired by Zola, A.Carter, Fitzgerald, the Brontë sisters… I could observe the different reactions of their characters, and reflect on mine theoretically. But it was only part one of the work: I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically, always leading to fresh ideas – I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting. Both theory and practice are required to gain intellectual independence and experience, in writing and more globally: before I can change a character, I have to understand it. Before we can change the world, we have to understand it.

The main strength of this essay is the authenticity of the topic the student chose. They aren’t making anything up or stretching the truth. Writing is something that captivates them, and that captivation shines through—particularly through their fourth paragraph (where they geek out over specific plots and characters) and their fifth paragraph (where they joyfully describe how writing has no limitations). Admissions officers want to see this passion and intensity in applicants! The fact that this student has already written three novels also shows dedication and is impressive.

The main weakness of this essay is its structure. Ironically, it is not super captivating. The essay would have been more compelling if the student utilized a “anecdote – answer – reflection” structure. This student’s current introduction involves a reflective question, citations about their past writing experience, then their thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Instead, this student could’ve provided one cohesive (and powerful!) image of them being frustrated with their own writing then being inspired by Dorian Gray. This would look something like:

“I stayed up three nights in a row studying my own writing—bored by my own writing. The only thing more painful than seeing failure in the fruits of your labor is not seeing a path for improvement. I had written three novels and numerous short stories, and all I could come up with was funny and intelligent heroes going up against cold and manipulative villains. What kind of writer was so consistently cliche? On the third night, I wandered over to my bookshelf. Mrs. Dalloway caught my eye (it has such a beautiful cover). I flipped through. Then, I grabbed Giovanni’s Room . I was so obsessed with my shortcomings that I couldn’t even focus long enough to see what these authors were doing right. I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray and decided to just start reading. By the end of the night, I was captivated.”

An introduction like this would flow nicely into the student describing their experience with Dorian Gray then, because of that experience, describing how they have altered their approach to writing. The conclusion of this essay would then be this student’s time for reflection. Instead of repeating content about their passion—“I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically” and “I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting”—, the student could dedicate their conclusion to reflecting on the reasons that writing is so captivating or the ways that (until the day they die) writers will always be perfecting their craft.

This essay is a great example of how important it is to pick a topic that truly excites you. It also illustrates how important it is to effectively structure that excitement.

Prompt #6, Example #2

Astonished by the crashing sound of waves in my ear, I was convinced this magical shell actually held the sound of the big blue sea — my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop . It distinctly reminded me of the awestruck feeling I had when I witnessed the churning waves of a windy night by the ocean the previous weekend; I lost track of time gazing at the distant moonlit border dividing our world from the ever-growing black void. Turning to my mom, I inquired curiously, “Can we go to the place where the water ends one day?”

She explained to me I could never reach the end of the ocean because the harsh line I had seen was actually an illusion called the horizon —  there was no material end to the ocean. For a mind as young as mine was, the idea of infinity was incomprehensible. As my infatuation with the ocean continued to grow, I finally understood that regardless of how far I travel, the horizon is unattainable because it’s not a physical limit. This idea is why the ocean captivates me — no matter how much you discover, there is always more to explore. 

Learning about and exploring the ocean provided an escape from one reality into another; though we are on the same planet, it’s an entirely separate world. Through elementary and middle school, I devoted vast amounts of my free time to learning about simpler concepts like a dolphin’s ability to echolocate and coral reef ecosystems. I rented countless documentaries and constantly checked out books from my local library — my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.” This episode remained memorable because it was centered around the impacts of fossil fuels on marine animals; it was the first time I’d learned about the impending crisis we are faced with due to the human mistreatment of our planet.

Prior to viewing that episode, I relied on the ocean as an outlet — I fueled all of my emotions into studying marine organisms. Once I learned of its grave future, I delved into the world of environmental activism. This path was much more disheartening than studying echolocation — inevitable death due to climate change took a toll on my mental health. I attended two climate strikes in November of my sophomore year. Following the strikes, I joined Sunrise Movement Sacramento, a youth-led climate justice organization advocating for the Green New Deal. While analyzing legislation and organizing protests were significant takeaways from my experience with climate activism, they were not the most important. I became an organizer because of my love for the ocean and I remain an organizer because of my passion for dissolving the disproportionalities marginalized groups face due to the sacrificing of people’s livelihood for the sake of profit. The more I learned about our modern society, the more hopeless I grew that I could see any significant change within my lifetime.

However, this hopelessness comes in waves; every day, I remind myself of the moment I discovered the horizon. Or the moment I first dove into the beautiful waters of the Hawaiian coast and immediately was surrounded by breathtaking seas of magnificent creatures and coral gardens — life felt ethereal and beautiful. I remind myself that like the ocean, the vast majority of the universe has yet to be discovered; that distant border holds infinite opportunity to learn. In a universe as vast as ours, and life as rare as ours, individuals still choose to prioritize avarice over our planet. Despite this grave individualism, the ocean reminds me every day there is hope in the fight for a better world. Though I will never discover every inch of the ocean’s floor, I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.

Sometimes the path to a great essay is taking something normal and using it to show admissions officers who you are and what you value—that is precisely this student’s approach! Finding the ocean fascinating is not unique to this student. Tons of kids (and adults, too!) are obsessed with the ocean. What this student does is take things a step further as they explain their curiosity about the ocean in relation to their pain about the destruction of the environment. This capacity for reflection is great!

This student shows a good control of language through their thematic centering on ocean and horizons that carries through their essay—with ”this hopelessness comes in waves” and “I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.” The details provided throughout are also effective at keeping readers engaged—things like “ my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop” and “ my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.”

The main weakness of this essay is the lack of reflection when the student discusses environmental activism. There’s reflection on the student’s connection to the ocean and horizons at the beginning and at the end, but when the student discusses activism, the tone shifts from focusing on their internal thoughts to their external actions. Remember, a lot of students write about environmental activism, but not a lot of students write about an emotional connection to the ocean as an impetus for environmental activism. This student would stand out more to admissions officers if they had dug into questions of what the ocean means to them (and says about them) in the paragraphs beginning “Learning about and exploring the ocean…” and “Prior to viewing that episode.”

Prompt #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.

Prompt #7, example #1.

Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due. 

It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me. 

Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror. 

Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).  

Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day). 

Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control. 

Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain.

This essay is relatable yet personal! The writer makes themself supremely human through discussing the universal subject of showering. That being said, an essay about showering could easily turn boring while still being relatable. This writer keeps its relatable moments interesting and fun through vivid descriptions of common feelings including “causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely” and “the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.”

While describing a universal feeling, this student also cleverly and intentionally mentions small facts about their life through simple phrases like “I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me” and “the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me.” To put it simply, though we are talking about a shower, we learn about so much more!

And, at the end, the student lets us know that that is exactly why they love showers. Showers are more than meets the eye! With this insightful and reflective ending (“the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy”), readers learn about this student’s capacity for reflection, which is an important capacity as you enter college.

The one major error that this writer commits is that of using a trite transition. The inclusion of “Honestly though” at the beginning of this student’s ending detracts from what they are trying to say and sticks out in their writing.

Prompt #7, Example #2

Steam whooshed from the pot as I unveiled my newest creation: duck-peppercorn-chestnut dumplings. The spicy, hearty aroma swirled into the kitchen, mingling with the smell of fresh dough. Grinning, I grabbed a plump dumpling with chopsticks, blew carefully, and fed it into the waiting mouth of my little sister. Her eyes widening, she vigorously nodded and held up five stubby fingers. I did a little happy dance in celebration and pulled my notebook out of my apron pocket. Duck-peppercorn-chestnut: five stars.

In my household, dumplings are a far cry from the classic pork and cabbage. Our menu boasts everything from the savory lamb-bamboo shoot-watercress to the sweet and crispy apple-cinnamon-date. A few years ago, my sister claimed she was sick of eating the same flavors over and over. Refusing to let her disavow our family staple, I took her complaint as a challenge to make the tastiest and most unconventional dumplings to satisfy her. With her as my taste tester and Mum in charge of dough, I spent months experimenting with dozens of odd ingredient combinations. 

During those days spent covered in flour, my dumplings often reminded me of myself—a hybrid of ingredients that don’t usually go together. I am the product of three distinct worlds: the suburbs of Boston, the rural Chinese village of [location removed], and the coastal city of [location removed]. At school, I am both the STEM nerd with lightning-fast mental math and the artistic plant mom obsessed with funky earrings. I love all that is elegant, from Chinese calligraphy to the rolling notes of the Gourd flute, yet I can be very not elegant, like when my sister and I make homemade slime. When I’m on the streets, marching for women’s rights and climate action, I’m loud, bellowing from the bottom of my gut. In the painting studio, though, I don’t speak unless spoken to, and hours can slip by like minutes. I’m loud and quiet. Elegant and messy. Nerdy and artistic. Suburban, rustic, and metropolitan.

While I’m full of odd combinations, they are only seemingly contradictory. Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper, different facets of my identity also converge. After my tenth-grade summer, when I spent six weeks studying design at art school and another three researching the brain at Harvard Med, I began asking myself: What if I mixed art and neuroscience together? That fall, I collaborated with my school’s art museum for an independent research project, exploring two questions: How are aesthetic experiences processed in the brain? And how can neuroscience help museums design exhibits that maximize visitor engagement? I combed through studies with results from tightly controlled experiments, and I spent days gathering my own qualitative data by observing museum visitors and asking them questions. With the help of my artistic skills, I could identify the visual and spatial elements of the exhibits that best held visitors’ attention. 

By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am—art and neuroscience—I realized I shouldn’t see the different sides of myself as separate. I learned to instead seek the intersections between aspects of my identity. Since then, I have mixed art with activism to voice my opinions nonverbally, created Spotify playlists with both Chinese and western pop, and written flute compositions using music theory and math. In the future, by continuing to combine my interests, I want to find my niche in the world. I can make a positive impact on society without having to choose just one passion. As of now, my dream is to be a neuroscientist who designs art therapy treatments for mental health patients. Who knows though? Maybe my calling is to be a dim sum chef who teaches pottery on the side. I don’t know where I’ll go, but one thing’s for sure—being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.

This essay is outstanding because the student seems likable and authentic. With the first image of the student’s little sister vigorously nodding and holding up “five stubby fingers,” we find ourselves intrigued by the student’s daily life. They additionally show the importance of family, culture, and creativity in their life—these are great things to highlight in your essay!

After the introduction, the student uses their weird dumpling anecdote to transition to a discussion of their unique intersections. This is achieved smoothly because weirdness/uniqueness is the focus of both of these topics. Additionally, the comparison is not awkward because dumplings are used as more than just a transition, but rather are the through-line of the essay—the student weaves in little phrases like “Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper,” “By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am,” and “being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.” This gives the essay its cohesive feel.

Authenticity comes through in this essay as the student recognizes that they don’t know what the future holds. They just know what kind of a person they are—a passionate one! 

One change that would improve this student’s essay would be focusing on fewer intersections in their third and last paragraph. The student mentions STEM, music, family activities, activism, and painting, which makes it feel like a distraction in middle of the essay. Focus on the most important things you want to show admissions officers—you can sit at intersections, but you can’t be interested in everything.

Prompt #7, Example #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prompt #7, Example #4

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Prompt #7, Example #5

“We’re ready for take-off!” 

The tires hit the tarmac and began to accelerate, and I just realized what I had signed up for. For 24 hours straight, I strapped myself into a broken-down SUV whereas others chose the luxury of soaring through the skies for a mere two hours. Especially with my motion sickness and driving anxiety, I would call myself crazy too.

To say I have always remained in my comfort zone is an understatement. Did I always order chicken fingers and fries at a restaurant? Yup! Sounds like me. Did I always create a color-coded itinerary just for a day trip? Guilty as charged. Did I always carry a first-aid kit at all times? Of course! I would make even an ambulance look unprepared. And yet here I was, choosing 1,000 miles of misery from Las Vegas to Seattle despite every bone in my body telling me not to.

The sunlight blinded my eyes and a wave of nausea swept over me. Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? It was only ten minutes in, and I was certain that the trip was going to be a disaster. I simply hoped that our pre-drive prayer was not stuck in God’s voicemail box. 

All of a sudden, I noticed brightly colored rocks in the distance, ones I had been dying to see for years. Their fluorescence popped amongst the magnificent winding hills as the sunset became romantic in hue. The desert glistened with mirages of deep blue water unlike anything I had ever seen. Nevada was home, but home always seemed to be just desert and casinos. For once, I looked forward to endless desert outside my window rather than a sea of clouds.

I never realized how little I discovered of the world beyond home. For years I complained about how there was nothing to do or discover outside. Not once did I set out to prove myself wrong. Instead, I chose a daily routine of homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV. However, as summer vacation ended, I decided to set my stubbornness aside and finally give this drive back home a chance. Little did I know that it would turn out to be my favorite trip of all time. 

As we drove along, the world chose to prove me wrong when I discovered Heaven on Earth along Shasta Lake. I stood out of the sunroof, surrounded by lush green mountains and fog. I extended my arms out and felt a sense of flight that no plane could ever take me on. As the water vapor kissed my face, I floated into a dreamland I never wanted to leave. I didn’t have to go to great lengths to discover the beauty of the world; it was right in front of me.  From this moment on, comfort and convenience would no longer be my best friends. Rather than only looking for famous travel destinations or following carefully mapped-out routes, I would let curiosity lead the way. 

Since then, my daily life has been anything but routine. I’m proud to boast of my family’s homemade kombucha attempts, of flights purchased and taken in one day, and of a home flooded with knick-knacks from thrifting trips. Every day I set out to try something new, see a different perspective, and go beyond normal. Whether it is by trying a new recipe using taro, making a risky fashion choice with wide-legged pants, or listening to a new music genre in Spanish, I always act with curiosity first.

Over the years, I have devoted my time towards learning Swedish, building computers, and swimming. Although my accent is horrid, some computers almost broke, and even a starfish would outswim me, I continue to enjoy activities I once criticized. For me, there is no enjoyment without some risk. Nobody I know is a kazoo-playing, boogie-board loving, boba connoisseur like me.

This essay is an Overcoming Challenges story that centers around a single anecdote. The structure works nicely as the student describes what they were like before their road trip, what happened on the road trip, and what they were like after. 

The most major improvement that this essay needs is better-communicated authenticity. At the beginning, it feels a bit gimmicky. The student describes their preparedness, particularly the fact that they always carry a first aid kit, and it’s not super believable. Then, when they write “Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator?” it feels like we are in a sitcom and the student is that funny obsessive kid. Sitcom characters don’t feel real and you want to make yourself appear profoundly real.

On a similar note, the narrative arc of this essay isn’t entirely believable. The student describes a large personality and value shift but doesn’t describe any struggles that accompany the shift. A quick shift like that is far from easy. On the other hand, if the immediacy of the shift was easy, they could write about moments after their shift in mindset when they have felt troubled by residual desires to stay in their comfort zone, instead of writing “I always act with curiosity first.”

The greatest strength of this essay is the paragraphs beginning “I never realized how little…” and “As we drove along…” The fixation on comfort seems much more believable when it involves “homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV.” The descriptions of the drive provide beautiful, evocative imagery. And it’s topped off with some nice reflection! Digging into this great portion of the essay would make this an even stronger essay!

Want to see more examples? Check out this post with 16 strong essay examples from top schools , including common supplemental essay questions.

At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.

That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay. 

That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

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

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How to Write an Essay About Yourself

sample college essay about yourself

Writing an essay about yourself is no easy feat — although you may know yourself better than anyone, it can be tough to get the perspective needed to write about yourself in essay form. Despite its challenges, writing essays about yourself is one of the most crucial skills in the college application process, and we have some key tricks to make it easier. Keep on reading to learn about some of our best techniques to write about yourself naturally!

  • Outline your experiences

Ask friends and family for input

  • Don’t be too humble…
  • Let your personality shine!

Try journaling

Read more: How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

Outline your impactful experiences

Before you dig into prompts, try writing out a bullet-point list of meaningful experiences you’ve had. Underneath each bullet point, reflect on what they might demonstrate. Here’s an example:

  • Working as part of a team
  • Learning to balance school and work responsibilities
  • Honing communication skills
  • Developing writing skills
  • Fostering a passion for my school community
  • Learning to meet deadlines and balance responsibilities
  • Learning to balance school and volunteer responsibilities
  • Gaining an attention to detail

This is a little different than a typical resume — rather than focusing on your specific duties, try to focus on how the experience shaped your character. If you notice a lot of overlap between the experiences, that’s perfect! You can point out these recurring themes to make for an effective essay with a strong overarching point. Making lists like this early on in your writing stage can be helpful, and you may find yourself coming back to consult the list for many future essays.

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$2,000 Sallie Mae Scholarship

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When writing about yourself, it is important to reflect on your strengths, and who is better to do that than a supportive team of family and friends?

Consulting family and friends is a great way to learn about strengths that you might not even know you had. Your friends choose to hang out with you for a reason, and they often notice your good qualities that you take for granted. Having your friends point these out can be useful for an essay, as well as a general pick-me-up!

And if you’re looking for a perfect anecdote to answer a prompt like “How have you demonstrated a commitment to your community ,” who better to remember your past acts of kindness than your parents? 

Also recommended: Top essay & writing scholarships

Is it okay to ask friends and family to read my essay and offer feedback?

Some students may be wondering, is it okay to ask for additional help from friends and family? And the short answer is: absolutely. Additional essay reviewers can offer valuable feedback as you write your essay. With this said, students should make sure that they are maintaining their own voice in the essay. Outside reviewers should not be rewriting the essay or having a heavy hand in changing the written voice.

Don’t miss:  How to respond to the Common App essay prompts

Don’t be too humble

There is a time and a place for humility. But don’t worry if you feel like your essay is verging on the braggadocios. These essays are an opportunity to showcase your best qualities, and you should not be worried about putting your best foot forward and telling the reader all the reasons why they should be impressed by you.

What makes these essays effective is that they both include your relevant experiences and demonstrate why they are so significant. You may feel as though you are making mountains out of molehills, but it’s important to emphasize the importance of your experiences. This is the main objective of writing about yourself.

Also recommended: How to write a 500 word essay

Let your personality come through

Most essays written about yourself will be written in first-person. This provides a perfect opportunity to add some flair to your writing. While your first priority is to include impactful examples and communicate your points effectively, it is also important to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

If you see an opportunity to show off your sense of humor or use a more personal tone, don’t be afraid to do it. As long as your remarks are appropriate, on-topic, and not too frequent, they can help put you ahead of the pack.

Recommended:  How does an admissions officer read your application and essays?

A great trick for becoming comfortable writing essays about yourself is to try keeping a journal. Journaling helps eliminate the pressure of writing an essay while helping you become comfortable writing about yourself in an informal setting. Spending 10 or 15 minutes every night writing about your day, or answering some informal prompts can help you to get more in touch with yourself and jog your memory about past events that could be useful for an essay. 

Don’t miss:  Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Next steps for students

Now you’ve learned about the goals and techniques for writing an essay about yourself. Your next step should be to focus on making your writing effective and efficient. Make sure that your conclusion ties everything together impactfully . And once you’ve finished your draft, ask family members, friends, or college counselors to read over it and provide suggestions. Good luck, writers!

Related:  Overview of common scholarship essay prompts

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How to Write a College Essay About Yourself

David Sep 30, 2020

How to Write a College Essay About Yourself

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The scholarship you’re applying to requires that you write an essay about yourself. Easy peasy, how hard could it be? After all, you’ve been living with yourself for the last 17+ years! You know yourself better than anybody. You open your computer to start typing but your mind goes blank. Everything that you know about yourself suddenly seems unworthy of a $5,000 scholarship. 

What in the world can you write about that will spark enough interest in the scholarship committee? Before you start panicking, check out our step-by-step guide on how to write a college essay about yourself.

Step 1: Brainstorm 

The first way to tackle any scholarship essay prompt is to start with some thinking. We highly suggest that you take time before starting to write to brainstorm the essay prompt. This will not only get your creativity flowing, but your essay will be more organized and cohesive.  

Brainstorm Ideas 

To start brainstorming, sit down in a quiet space with a pen and paper. Think about your background, your family life, your family’s financial state, your academic history, your childhood, your education, sports you play, and anything else about yourself that makes you who you are. If you’re stuck, strike up a conversation with your parents or friends about yourself to get you rolling. Jot notes about yourself down on the paper.

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Now, it’s time to take the facts you’ve written about yourself and dig deeper. The goal of your scholarship essay is to tell a story about yourself that will convince the scholarship committee that you deserve to win. How can you turn facts about yourself into a compelling story?  What information can you provide about yourself that will broadcast your character? 

It helps to think about who your audience is. To do this, get to know the scholarship organization better! Visit their website and read their ‘about’ section. What do they stand for? What kind of students do they award? 

Your audience might be interested in how much you studied to get your 3.8 GPA. Your GPA and test scores may have helped get you into college, but they might not be enough to win you scholarship money. Thousands of students have near to perfect GPAs, and writing about it can be a bit dry.  

Your audience wants to read about the challenges you’ve faced along the way or meaningful experiences you’ve had. Did you have to watch a younger sibling every day after school because your parents were at work? Have you experienced mental health challenges or learning disabilities that have made studying hard for you? How did you decide that you wanted to study business in college? This is what we mean when we say to dig deep. Go past the surface level.  Talk about the experiences you have had that have gotten you to where you are today. 

Step 2: What to Include in an Essay About Yourself 

A scholarship essay about yourself is obviously very broad. You can take your essay in many directions. Remember, you want to provide information about yourself that makes your essay worth reading. Including facts about yourself in your essay is fine. But, you better be seasoning those facts with a lot of flavors. 

Here are some ideas to include in your essay. 

Topics You Can Address in Your Essay

There are plenty of ways you can talk about yourself in your essay. Remember, your essay must focus on yourself and your personal experiences in life. You can choose one or two of the following topics as the basis of your essay.

  • Experiences that have inspired your degree choice.
  • Challenges you’ve faced that have impacted your life and education.
  • Unique hobbies you have or the sports you play. 
  • How you’ve changed over the years. 
  • Your experiences in school. 
  • Professional goals you have for the future. 
  • Your achievements.
  • Special relationships that have inspired you. If you choose this topic, remember the essay still needs to focus on you.

The topic you choose to write about should be one that you can connect back to your education or career goals. If it didn’t impact your education or career in some way, it’s likely not relevant for the scholarship.  

Remember, you need to talk about the why and the how. For example, why are you pursuing a degree in law? Why did you choose this degree path? How will a law degree help you in your future? How have past experiences led you to dream of becoming a lawyer? 

Step 3: Sketch an Outline

Now that you have an idea of what you’ll write about it, it’s time to get organized. Creating an outline is your final step before starting to write. Choose one or two of the topics we suggested and start breaking down what you’ll write about in each paragraph. Your essay should consist of an introduction, 3-5 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

Check out our tips on what you should and shouldn’t include in your essay: 

  • Impress from the start of your essay.
  • Place yourself in the reader’s shoes. Do you show enough of your personality in your essay? Do you convince the reader that you deserve to win? 
  • Do your research and learn about the organization. Try and connect yourself to their initiatives. Do you have a hobby or goal that matches the organization? What can you bring to the organization?  
  • Only include relevant information. If something seems unnecessary or out of place, it probably is.
  • Write in the first person, this is about you after all.
  • Give specific examples. Don’t say you struggled during freshman year, instead, show what that struggle looked like.
  • Show off your strengths and achievements. 
  • Make your essay interesting! If it doesn’t captivate your audience from the start, it’s not good enough.
  • Proofread and edit your essay. Those little spelling mistakes can cost you the scholarship. They are distracting and they don’t do a good job at convincing the reader that you’re professional. Everybody makes mistakes but it’s on you to check your work before submitting.
  • Use the correct format .
  • Write about academic weaknesses in your transcripts. This is your chance to take responsibility for the ‘D’ you received during freshman year algebra. You might write about your struggles with algebra and how you were motivated to improve by getting a tutor. Definitely do not play the victim card by blaming a teacher! 
  • Making mistakes is human! Write about what you learned from your mistakes and how they have made you stronger.
  • Be authentic- write how you speak (of course, with correct grammar). Trying to impress with big words from the thesaurus isn’t as impressive as you think. 
  • Follow the essay instructions! You can write the best essay but if you don’t follow instructions, you risk being disqualified.  
  • Lie- Making up stories to win over the scholarship judges isn’t going to win over anybody! Lies scream inauthenticity. Trust us, it’s obvious when students lie and scholarship judges aren’t impressed.
  • Brag- If you think that bragging about your 4.0 GPA is going to win you scholarship money, you’re wrong. Show off your confidence in a way that doesn’t come across as overbearing and arrogant.
  • Use the essay as an opportunity to divulge your deepest darkest family secrets. This is not the place to cry your heart out or disclose personal information.
  • Be vague about your professional goals. What sounds better, awarding a student with clearly defined goals or a student who doesn’t know what they want to do in life?
  • Repeat the same information over and over again. You will have your readers yawning! 
  • Use cliches. Cliches are overused! Be bold and different. 

Step 4: How to Start an Essay About Yourself 

As with all scholarship essays, your essay about yourself should captivate readers from the very beginning. Start your essay with a creative introduction that will make the readers want to continue reading your essay. You may choose to start with a personal story or experience. 

Avoid using cliches such as “from a young age” or “for as long as I can remember.” Also, avoid using quotes. These are other peoples’ words, not your own.

At the end of your introduction paragraph, you should have a thesis statement that makes it clear to the reader why you are applying for the scholarship. They should be able to taste your enthusiasm and understand your motivation for applying. 

How to Start an Essay About Yourself Example

When it comes to my passion for teaching others, you might say I wasn’t given much of a choice in life. As the older sister of four, it was my responsibility to lead the way and teach my two younger brothers and sister. At least, I assumed that responsibility. I helped them with everything from school projects to packing for camp in the summer. It’s no surprise to me that years later, I have chosen to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Education at the University of Texas in the fall. With this scholarship, I will be able to pursue my degree in education and return to my hometown to teach in a local elementary school after graduating. 

Step 5: What to Include in Your Body Paragraphs  

Your body paragraphs are the meat of your scholarship essay. This is where the scholarship readers really get to know you. Your body paragraphs should each contain an argument with supporting details and examples. 

Your job in these paragraphs is to bring your personality out as much as possible. You also want to connect your arguments with your educational and career goals, and of course, to the scholarship you’re applying for. Make sure you relay to the reader how the scholarship will help you fulfill your goals.

How to Write a College Essay About Yourself Body Paragraphs Example

My role as a teacher to my little brothers and sister was only the start of it. As soon as I was of appropriate age, I started babysitting my neighbors on the weekends to earn extra money. Sure, that meant sacrificing my weekend nights with friends, but I was able to save up quite a lot of money from my Friday night and Saturday night gigs. For me, it was never only about the money. I loved spending time with the little kids. I would come up with fun activities to do with them, like “restaurant night,” where we would create menus and whip up ice cream sundaes in the kitchen. 

By high school, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a teacher. I took several classes in high school that confirmed this dream of mine. I particularly enjoyed my early childhood education class where I learned theories in childhood development, classroom management techniques, and about developing curriculum. I even started to write up my own curriculum and made my younger siblings be in “school,” with me as their teacher. I don’t think they were too happy about all those extra hours of school… 

Over the last year, I completed an internship as a teacher’s assistant. Every Tuesday and Thursday I spent half the day working with a 3rd-grade teacher at the local elementary school. I learned so much from this experience, like how to manage behavior problems and how to encourage shy students to participate in lessons. I can’t wait to come back to my hometown and work as a teacher after college.

Step 6: How to End an Essay About Yourself  

By the time you get to writing your concluding paragraph, you may feel an urge to finish up your essay quickly. But, your concluding paragraph is also important in making that final last impression. Don’t rush through it. 

Your concluding paragraph should wrap up your essay while giving an overview of the main points of your essay.  You should do the following in your concluding sentence: 

  • Restate your thesis in other words. 
  • Give an overview of the arguments you made in your body paragraphs. 
  • End your concluding paragraph with a big thought related to your future.

How to End an Essay About Yourself Example

You might say that my upbringing made me who I am today, but I think it’s a lot more than that. I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today in myself and in my future goals if it weren’t for my studies and jobs throughout high school. I am so excited to start my degree at the University of Texas and keep developing the tools and skills I need to become the best teacher I can be.

Step 7: The full Example of How to Write a College Essay About Yourself

Now that you have learned how to write a solid introduction, conclusion, and body paragraphs, it’s time to put it all together. Here is the full example: 

Final Thoughts 

The “Tell Us About Yourself” scholarship essay prompt might feel frustrating. It can feel intimidating but it’s really not so bad once you know how to tackle it. 

Use these tips and you’ll be good to go. Time to start writing!

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David Tabachnikov ScholarshipOwl

David Tabachnikov is the CEO of ScholarshipOwl. Formerly at Waze and Google, David is an experienced CTO/R&D manager with over 10 years of experience of leading tech teams. David fervently believes that students should have greater access to education, and is passionate about using technology to help them achieve that goal.

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9 Tips for Writing an Essay About Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone else, but writing about yourself can still be tough! When applying for scholarships or to college, essay prompts  can feel so general (and yet so specific!) that they leave us stumped.  So we’ll show you 8 tips to write an essay about yourself, so that you can land more scholarships. (Psst – Going Merry makes applying easy .)

1. Create a List of Questions

2. brainstorm and outline, 3. be vulnerable, 4. use personal examples, 5. write in the first person, 6. don’t be afraid to show off…but stay on topic, 7. show personality , 8. know your audience, 9. proofread and edit.

Let’s start with some examples of personal essay prompts:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Describe a challenge or event that made you who you are today.
  • What are your short and long-term goals, and how do you plan to achieve them?
  • Write about a time you failed at something. How did it affect you?

These are just a few of many scholarship essay prompts that require you to look internally, to answer a question, solve a problem, or explain a scenario in your life.  

We get it. You might not be a big fan of bragging about yourself, or you might want to keep your personal stories to yourself. But by opening up and sharing your story, you can show scholarship providers, colleges and universities who you are, and why you’re deserving of their scholarship.

(Don’t just take our word for it – check out our scholarship winners page full of students like you who were brave enough to share their stories with us).

how to write an essay about yourself

To get started, check out these 9 tips on how to write an essay about yourself:

After reading through the scholarship essay prompt, breathe, and make a list of smaller questions you can answer, which relate to the big essay prompt question. 

Let’s say the main essay prompt question asks you, “What were challenges or barriers you had to work to overcome?” Then the smaller questions might be something like:

  • What is your background? Family, finances, school.
  • What was challenging about that background?
  • What’s your greatest accomplishment? How did you get there? How have previous challenges influenced your goals?

Think of these questions as mini-prompts. They explain your story and help you answer the main essay prompt with more details than if you just answered it without a plan in place.

After considering smaller questions, it’s time to brainstorm your answers.  Take out a pen and paper – or open up a document on a computer – and take your time in answering each mini-prompt. Organize your responses in order:

  • Intro to main essay prompt.
  • Answer about 3 mini-prompt questions.
  • Conclude by rewriting the answer to the main essay prompt with a summary of your mini-prompt answers.

This organization will help you stay on topic and answer the prompt directly. (Or check out these 6 scholarship essay examples for alternative essay structures.)

Don’t be afraid to let your strengths, challenges, and personal stories shine through in your essay! Scholarship and admissions committees love to see that you’re self-aware how you can improve as a person, or how you’ve grown because of your experiences. Honest writing can help tell the best stories (in this case, YOUR story).

how to write an essay about yourself

Since this essay is all about you , you should make your answer as specific as possible! Avoid using generalizations (e.g., “I’m really good at music). Instead, go for more personalized statements (e.g., “My fourth-grade teacher Ms. Matay really inspired me to pursue my interest in the clarinet”). Your personal examples are what will help your scholarship essay stand out among the thousands of applicants..

 You’re telling your story, so write from your perspective! You can narrate your story. You can provide an overview of what you learned from your experiences. However you choose to answer the prompt, we recommend writing in an active tone, and using “I” and “me” throughout your essay.

Most students worry about bragging in their essay, but we say go for it! This is your time to shine, so highlight your accomplishments and strengths.  Review your essay to make sure that you’re keeping the tone informative and that you’re still on topic. (Brag while answering the essay prompt; don’t just mention random, unrelated but impressive facts about yourself!)You can use this brag sheet where you can brainstorm your accomplishments. While the worksheet is geared toward requesting letters of recommendation , you can still use it to write out your hobbies, interests, college list , and strengths to help you answer your scholarship essay prompt.

how to write an essay about yourself

Just because it’s an essay doesn’t mean it has to be dry and boring. This essay is all about you, so let your personality shine through. If you’re the class clown, you can use a bit of humor. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, don’t be afraid to show emotion. Trying your best to express who you are as a person will have a huge effect on the admissions or scholarship committee!

If you’re applying for a scholarship, research the scholarship provider. If you’re applying to college, research the school. Understanding what makes the provider/college unique and what their motivations are, will allow you to incorporate that information in your essay. For example, many scholarships are funded by private companies that sell products. You might want to reference those products in your essay. A good example of this is Emily Trader’s essay for the Life Happens organization , where she uses her personal narrative to explain the importance of insurance planning, since that is the mission of the organization (which is funded by insurance companies).

The last step in answering your essay prompt is to double-check your work! One typo can be distracting and cause scholarship providers to scratch their head while reading the essay. ( Psst, humble brag: Going Merry’s application platform includes spellcheck because we’ve got your back .) In addition to proofreading for typos and grammatical errors, also consider whether the sentence or paragraph structure makes sense. Are you breaking paragraphs in the right place? Are you using topic sentences well to signpost your main ideas? Does the essay flow? Consider these “bigger” structural questions too.  You might also want to ask a friend, family member, teacher, or guidance counselor to review your essay. They might catch something you didn’t see the first time around, and that can really help your essay! In fact, that is scholarship winner Daniel Gill ’s #1 tip. (Another tip is to apply for scholarships using Going Merry !)

how to write an essay about yourself

Also, check out this helpful list of the 10 most common scholarship essay topics while you’re brainstorming!

Top 10 Most Common Scholarship Essay Prompts Graphic

Now that you know how to write an essay about yourself, it’s time to start applying for scholarships! Remember: You’ve got this. 

Sign up for your free Going Merry profile . From there, you can easily upload and submit your essay for thousands of scholarships. We make it easy so you’ll only need to enter your profile information once! And then, you can apply away. In fact, we even have some bundled scholarships so that you only enter your essay once, to apply for multiple scholarships at the same time.

Or if you’re not ready to register, simply sign up to receive an email with 20 new scholarship opportunities each week. Just enter your email address below:

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  • Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples

Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples

Published on October 25, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A strong essay topic sets you up to write a unique, memorable college application essay . Your topic should be personal, original, and specific. Take time to brainstorm the right topic for you.

Table of contents

What makes a good topic, brainstorming questions to get started, discover the best topic for you, how to make a common topic compelling, frequently asked questions about college application essays, other interesting articles.

Here are some guidelines for a good essay topic:

  • It’s focused on you and your experience
  • It shares something different from the rest of your application
  • It’s specific and original (not many students could write a similar essay)
  • It affords the opportunity to share your positive stories and qualities

In most cases, avoid topics that

  • Reflect poorly on your character and behavior
  • Deal with a challenge or traumatic experience without a lesson learned or positive outlook

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Spend time reflecting on and writing out answers to the following questions. After doing this exercise, you should be able to identify a few strong topics for your college essay.

Writing about yourself can be difficult. If you’re struggling to identify your topic, try these two strategies.

Start with your qualities

After identifying your positive qualities or values, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.

Start with a story

If you already have some memorable stories in mind that you’d like to write about, think about which qualities and values you can demonstrate with those stories.

Talk it through

To make sure you choose the right topic, ask for advice from trusted friends or family members who know you well. They can help you brainstorm ideas and remember stories, and they can give you feedback on your potential essay topics.

You can also work with a guidance counselor, teacher, or other mentor to discuss which ideas are most promising. If you plan ahead , you can even workshop multiple draft essays to see which topic works best.

If you do choose a common topic, ensure you have the following to craft a unique essay:

  • Surprising or unexpected story arcs
  • Interesting insight or connections
  • An advanced writing style

Here are a few examples of how to craft strong essays from cliché topics.

Here’s a checklist you can use to confirm that your college essay topic is right for you.

College essay topic checklist

My topic is focused on me, not on someone else.

My topic shares something different from the rest of my application.

My topic is specific and original (not many students could write a similar essay).

My topic reflects positively on my character and behavior.

If I chose to write about a traumatic or challenging experience, my essay will focus on how I overcame it or gained insight.

If I chose a common topic, my essay will have a surprising story arc, interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style.

Good topic!

It looks like your topic is a good choice. It's specific, it avoids clichés, and it reflects positively on you.

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

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

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

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

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

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

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

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

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

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    How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples Published on September 21, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

  3. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Here are some tips to get you started. Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don't have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to ...

  4. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    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.

  5. 15 Tips for Writing a College Essay About Yourself

    Confidence without cockiness is the key here. Don't simply catalog your achievements, there are other areas on your application to share them. Rather, mention your achievements when they're critical to the story you're telling. It's helpful to think of achievements as compliments, not highlights, of your college essay.

  6. Examples of College Essays: 10 College Essays and Why They Worked

    In general, you will write one personal statement and submit it to every school you apply to. By contrast, you'll submit a different set of supplemental essays to each school. Why do college essays matter in the admissions process? Your college essays reflect parts of your identity that aren't clear from the rest of your application.

  7. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

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

  8. How to Write a College Essay

    Here's what colleges look for in an essay: Demonstrated values and qualities Vulnerability and authenticity Self-reflection and insight Creative, clear, and concise writing skills The only proofreading tool specialized in correcting academic writing - try for free!

  9. How do I write about myself in a college essay?

    Frequently asked questions How do I write about myself in a college essay? How do I write about myself in a college essay? Most importantly, your essay should be about you, not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

  10. 32 College Essay Examples That Worked

    Reading college essay examples is a great way of preparing yourself for writing your own. Whether you're aiming to get into your local college or looking to attend an Ivy League school, your college essay is a key component of your college application.. In this blog, we have 32 awesome college essay examples from some of the top universities in the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell ...

  11. College Essay Examples: How to Write Your Story

    For example, Stanford University in California asks students to answer several short questions, with a 50-word limit, in addition to answering three essay questions in 100 to 250 words. Georgia ...

  12. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Personal Statement Examples. Essay 1: Summer Program. Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American. Essay 3: Why Medicine. Essay 4: Love of Writing. Essay 5: Starting a Fire. Essay 6: Dedicating a Track. Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders. Essay 8: Becoming a Coach.

  13. 12 Outstanding Personal Statement Examples

    Our Story FAQ If you're applying to college, you'll most likely need to write a personal statement as part of your college application. (And please note that the personal statement examples below are for undergraduate applications—if you're trying to find grad school statement of purpose examples, please head to that link.)

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

    College essay examples from students accepted to Harvard, Stanford, and other elite schools REVIEWING SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLES CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR ODDS OF ACCEPTANCE Responding effectively to college essay prompts is quite different from other essay writing.

  15. How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction

    If that's the type of essay you'd like to write, you can describe that object in vivid detail, encouraging the reader to imagine it. Bad example. My favorite Spotify playlist says a lot about me. Good example. After hours sitting in my room staring at the screen, I'd completed it: my sonic alter ego.

  16. How to Start a College Essay Perfectly

    How to Write the First Section of Your College Essay. In a 500-word essay, this section will take up about the first half of the essay and will mostly consist of a brief story that illuminates a key experience, an important character trait, a moment of transition or transformation, or a step toward maturity.

  17. 21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

    Common App Essay Examples. Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts. Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without ...

  18. How to Write an Essay About Yourself

    The 3 main parts of an essay are introduction, body and conclusion. An essay about yourself should not be much different. However, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, an essay about yourself for a college application or scholarship usually has a fairly small word count. So, make sure you get your points across in a concise ...

  19. How to Write an Essay About Yourself for Your College App

    5. Don't Forget About Grammar! Once you feel like you have mastered the content of your essay, don't forget about the mechanics. Avoid grammatical errors by running your essay through a grammar checker, like Grammarly.Editing is an important step in the writing process, and online platforms can make checking for simple grammar errors an easy step in the process.

  20. How to Write a College Essay About Yourself

    Step 4: How to Start an Essay About Yourself. As with all scholarship essays, your essay about yourself should captivate readers from the very beginning. Start your essay with a creative introduction that will make the readers want to continue reading your essay. You may choose to start with a personal story or experience.

  21. College Essay Examples

    Table of contents. Essay 1: Sharing an identity or background through a montage. Essay 2: Overcoming a challenge, a sports injury narrative. Essay 3: Showing the influence of an important person or thing. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about college application essays.

  22. 9 Tips for Writing an Essay About Yourself

    5. Write in the First Person. You're telling your story, so write from your perspective! You can narrate your story. You can provide an overview of what you learned from your experiences. However you choose to answer the prompt, we recommend writing in an active tone, and using "I" and "me" throughout your essay. 6.

  23. Choosing Your College Essay Topic

    Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay) Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars) Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)