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College Admissions , College Essays

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

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

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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

Visible Signs of Planning

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

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

Stellar Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to Full College Essay Examples

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

Common App Essay Samples

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

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

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

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

Connecticut college.

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

Hamilton College

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

Johns Hopkins

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

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

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

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

Other Sample College Essays

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

Babson College

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

Emory University

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

University of Georgia

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

Smith College

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

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Books of College Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

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

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

I had never broken into a car before.

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

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

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

"Why me?" I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Essay Tick?

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

An Opening Line That Draws You In

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

Great, Detailed Opening Story

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

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

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

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

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

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

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

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

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

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

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

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

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

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

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

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

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

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Clear Governing Metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

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

#1: Get Help From the Experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

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

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

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

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What's Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20 Successful College Essay Examples + Why They Worked (2023)

Ultimate List of College Essay Examples

Today I'm going to show you 20 essays that worked that will help inspire you and start you on your way to writing your own successful essays.

In this post, I've included:

  • Personal Statement examples
  • Supplemental essay examples
  • University of California essays
  • Links to hundreds more essay examples

If you're looking for college essay examples, you've found the right place.

Let's get started.

Ryan

Writing your college essays can be challenging.

And in 2023, with many schools dropping test scores from their application, your college essays are one of the most important parts of your application if you want to get accepted.

That means there's a whole lot more opportunity for students without the best SAT or ACT scores to boost their chances of admission by writing outstanding essays.

20 of My Favorite EssaysThatWorked

One of the best ways to write your own successful essays is to read and learn from past essays that worked.

Here's 20 of our favorite college essays examples. From Personal Statement examples to "Why this college?" supplements, find any type of essay you're looking for.

I've chosen these examples because they represent almost every type of essay you'll need to write.

Plus, they are all high-quality examples that have an authentic voice , one of the most important parts of a great essay.

Table of Contents

Personal statement essay examples.

  • 1. The Itch
  • 2. Paint Dance
  • 3. Football Manager
  • 4. Restaurant Job

Additional Personal Statement Examples

Additional Common App Essay Examples

University of California Essay Examples

  • 5. Summer Counselor
  • 6. Teaching Talent
  • 7. Linguistics
  • 8. Linguistics Society
  • 9. New Perspectives

Supplemental Essay Examples

  • 10. Fermat's Last Theorem
  • 11. Bug Fixing
  • 12. Why UPenn?
  • 13. Story of My Name
  • 14. Ideal College Community
  • 15. Why Computer Science
  • 16. Volunteering at Hospital
  • 17. Why Carnegie Mellon
  • 18. Why NYU?
  • 19. Moving Places
  • 20. Double Major

Ready to get inspired to write the next great admissions essays?

Let's jump right in.

Part 1: Personal Statements That Stand Out

Essay Examples: Writing the Personal Statement

Your Personal Statement essay is arguably the most important essay you'll write.

Since it's sent to every college you apply to, you need to carefully choose how you use your 650 words.

In this section, I'll show you several examples of successful Common App essays accepted into the most selective colleges.

Let’s dive right in.

Most students write their personal statement essay on their Common Application.

That's why it's called your Common App essay .

If you're having trouble starting your essay, be sure to check out some Common App inspiration .

Here are some of the best Common App essay examples that have gotten students into top colleges.

Below are some of our favorite personal statement essay examples from the Ivy League and other top-20 colleges.

College Essay Example #1: The Itch

This Common App personal statement was accepted into Stanford University .

Common App 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. (250-650 words)

Slowly, my passion emerged from pretense and envy into reality.

Why This Essay Works:

This essay is all based upon the metaphor of "the itch" representing a desire to understand the world. By using a central theme, such as a metaphor, you can create a thread of ideas that run throughout your essay. If you want to use a metaphor, make sure it clearly relates to the idea you're trying to express, rather than choosing one just because it is a creative or unique approach. In this case, there is perhaps no better metaphor than "the itch" which would capture their main idea, so it works well.

Instead of "telling" their ideas, this essay does a lot of fantastic "showing" through specific anecdotes. Sentences like "I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words..." capture a lot about the author's character and background without having to say it outright. By showing the reader, you allow them to draw their own conclusions rather than just having to accept what you're telling them. Using specific language also creates a more vibrant and interesting essay. Rather than saying "I loved learning as a kid," this student shows it using a concrete example: "my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums".

Writing about other people in your essay can be a great way to tell things about yourself. Known as a literary "foil," by describing other people you can show your own values without stating them plainly. In this essay, the author shows their value (of being passionate about learning) by first recognizing that value in somebody else, "Kikki" in this case. By writing about people in your life, you can also create a sense of humility and humanity. Nobody is an "island," meaning that everyone is influenced by those around us. Showing how you draw inspiration, values, or lessons from others will show more about your character than simply telling admissions would.

In general, listing activities in your essay is a bad strategy, because it is repetitive of your activities list and comes across boring. However, this essay manages to list their activities in the 3rd-to-last paragraph by connecting them to a central idea: how their newfound passion for learning sparked all these new engagements. Listing activities can be okay, but only if they have a clear purpose in doing so. In this case, the purpose is to show how these activities are representative of their new passion for learning. But the purpose for listing activities could also be to show a specific value, provide examples for your idea, demonstrate your new perspective, etc.

College Essay Example #2: Paint Dance

This Common App personal statement was accepted into Williams College .

Common App 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? (250-650 words)

This student uses figurative language, particularly personification, which makes their writing more engaging. Rather simply telling a story plainly, implementing aspects of creative writing such as metaphors, personification, and symbolism, can engage the reader in your story.

This essay deals with their struggles—particularly in overcoming fear of failure while painting. By showcasing your challenges, you not only create a more relatable persona, but it makes your successes far more impactful. Everyone has struggles, and reflecting upon those challenges is what will help you convey self-growth.

What They Might Improve:

Although this student reflects on the concept of fear, they don't go much deeper than surface-level reflections. This essay does pose some interesting questions, like "Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered?" but these questions are cut short and not satisfyingly explored. Admissions officers are impressed with genuine, deep reflection. To get there, you need to push past surface-level takeaways and try taking your ideas always one step further.

"Fear" is a central theme of this essay, but the main idea of overcoming fear is repeated excessively, without adding new ideas. It is important that your essay "goes somewhere" and doesn't stay stuck at the surface of your ideas. You want to go deep into your ideas, which means avoiding repetition at all costs, and only referencing a previous idea if you're adding something new: a new perspective, context, nuance, broader application, etc.

College Essay Example #3: Football Manager

This Common App personal statement was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania .

Common App 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. (250-650 words)

This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.

The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.

Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.

More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.

In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.

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College Essay Example #4: Restaurant Job

This Common App personal statement is an accepted Tulane essay .

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

Piano Man plays on repeat in Used To Be’s Island Eatery, a high-volume bar and restaurant in the town of [Location] on the Jersey shore. Balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools, chatting and laughing about their lives.

Rather than "telling," it's important to always back up your points by "showing." This means using anecdotes, examples, and specific references to help the reader come to the same conclusion as you. Anybody can "tell" things, but by showing them you are giving proof, which makes your points more convincing and compelling.

An effective strategy for having interesting ideas is to reflect upon what you've learned as the result of an activity or experience. Lessons are important because they show self-growth, which admissions officers are looking for. It can also be a good idea to compare and contrast your lessons with other areas of your life. For example, how do your lessons from an extracurricular activity differ or translate over to your academics? Or vice versa?

One of the most common "mistakes" in essays is to not go deeper into your ideas. Most students gravitate towards surface-level ideas, which can be a good starting point, but should ideally be taken further. Admissions officers have read thousands of essays, so it's important that your ideas are unique, specific to you, and interesting. To get to those "deeper" ideas, keep asking yourself questions. For example, if you start with the idea of "positivity is key for this job," then keep asking yourself "Why?" Repeat that process many times and think critically, and eventually you'll come to more interesting and compelling ideas.

Avoid writing like fiction books, which have lots of descriptions that build a world or environment. Instead, only describe the things that matter to your main point. Since you have a limited number of words to use, it is vital that each sentence has a clear purpose. In this essay, many descriptions are ultimately unnecessary to their main point. Does it matter that "balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools"? No, and this only distracts from what is ultimately more valuable: your ideas and reflections.

Want to read more Common App essay examples?

If you're looking for more outstanding Common App essays, check out our Common App guide with examples.

For more, check out our list of top personal statement examples .

Part 2: UC Personal Insight Questions

Essay Examples: UC Personal Insight Questions

Your UC essays are more important in 2022, now that UC's have dropped SAT and ACT scores from your application.

And if you're looking to write great UC essays, the best place to start is by learning from essays that worked in the past.

If you're looking for tons of UC essay examples, you're in the right place.

Every student applying to University of California must write four Personal Insight Questions. Each short essay must be fewer than 350 words each.

Check out our guides and examples for UCLA essays and UC Berkeley essays .

Within those posts, you'll be able to read dozens of the best UC Personal Insight Questions.

College Essay Example #5: Summer Counselor

This essay was accepted into UCLA .

UC PIQ #1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words max)

Each summer for the last eight years, I have attended a four-week residential summer camp on Orcas Island, first as a camper and more recently as a staff member. As a counselor-in- training last summer, my role shifted from one centred around my own enjoyment to one catering to the fulfilment of others. I welcomed this change of pace gladly, as the ability to positively impact the next generation of campers in a similar way to how my own counselors impacted mine thrilled me.

At first, I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself, as I was daunted by my new responsibility as staff. However, my uncertainty dissipated when one of the campers I had worked closely with in the sailing classes I taught wrote me a heartfelt letter towards the end of the session claiming that spending time with me had been one of the highlights of his summer. This small affirmation struck me deeply, and I was incentivised to continue putting all my energy into hopefully similarly affecting as many others as I could.

One of the most challenging parts of the summer was when I acted as an assistant counselor to a group of six 2nd-grade boys for a week, living with and supervising them for the whole time. I recall one particular moment when all six started yelling over the minor grievance of whose turn it was to take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen that meal. I tried diffusing the situation peacefully but, in the end, it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down. It was tough for me to take a harder line with them, but it was a valuable lesson that being assertive, yet still kind, is an effective method for future situations.

I cannot wait to apply for a full counselor position next summer, as each year I learn more from camp about what it is to be a compassionate leader, a convincing role model, and a team player.

  • Specific Example : For UC essays, it's important to directly and clearly answer the prompt. This student does a good job of using a specific moment that clearly answers the prompt.
  • Honest About Challenges : You don't have to present yourself as a perfect human being. Instead, by showing your flaws and challenges, it makes you more relatable. This student does that well by admitting: "I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself."

What They Might Change:

  • Give More Details : In addition to stating "...it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down," it's better to show this. How did you act in that moment? How can you illustrate that assertiveness, without just stating it?

College Essay Example #6: Teaching Talent

UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)

My greatest talent is teaching. I love the opportunity to help others and seeing them develop and improve as a result of my input is always so rewarding.

My principle teaching outlet is as a diving coach. My favourite part about this job is that it is so dynamic, and each session is different. Some days the divers are in a great mood, dive impressively, and will jest with you nonstop which, being extroverted, fills me with energy and is a genuinely enjoyable evening. These sessions are so easy to coach as you can present yourself as a friend to the divers and deepen the trust that exists between you. However, other nights the kids are tired and unenthusiastic and coaching becomes far more challenging. I have to be stricter with them while simultaneously finding ways to motivate them, such as introducing little competitions or rewards for training hard. Over time, I have gotten much more confident at adjusting my coaching attitude towards the signals I pick up from the divers and it has made my job significantly easier.

This year, I have taken on the additional responsibility of leading the Learn to Dive squad, the largest group of divers at my club. At first, it was tough for me to adjust to my new role as it entailed more work with other coaches, helping them to develop their own coaching ability and monitoring the progression of their divers, as well as with kids of my own. However, I have grown to love this new element of my job, despite the challenge of instructing coaches older than myself, as it has forced me to develop my teaching ability in new ways. I have had to analyse my own teaching methods in order to explain them to other coaches and this both helped them to understand how to improve, but also allowed me to refine and develop how I coach my own divers.

Teaching is such an important part of my life because it allows me to learn and increase my own knowledge while making a positive impact on others.

College Essay Example #7: Linguistics

This Personal Insight Question essay was accepted into UCLA among others.

UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)

While reading Tolkien's The Silmarillion , I was struck by the elegance of the Elvish script he included. Upon further research, I discovered that he had created an entire language – Quenya – to accompany the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The idea that a language could be crafted and cultivated like a piece of art was both illuminating and inspiring to me. I had heard of Esperanto previously, but I believe Tolkien wasn’t trying to change the world with his creation. His goal was simply to create a language for the pleasure of it, and to enrich his storytelling and worldbuilding.

The revelation that language could be more than just a tool for communication triggered a love for linguistics that persists to this day. I voraciously tore through reference grammars and college textbooks alike, including An Introduction to Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell.

I even tried to emulate Tolkien and create a language of my own. Whether at school taking classes in Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, and Ancient Greek, or at home studying the phonology of Brazilian Portuguese on my own, languages excited and motivated me to learn more. I was awarded the Arthur Beatty award for outstanding linguist in the year as a result of my dedication to the language program at school.

Watching Game of Thrones reintroduced me to conlanging in the form of Dothraki and rekindled my interest, prompting me to write my IB extended essay on the historical etymology of Spanish. It was a challenging project, but I loved every minute of my research. While my friends were lamenting their boredom at poring over endless journals on topics they didn’t enjoy, I was studying a subject for which I am truly passionate. I hope to continue my study of language in university, and one of my goals in life is to be trilingual. I have no doubt that languages will continue to inspire me throughout life, and I hope to be able to share some of this passion with others along the way.

College Essay Example #8: Linguistics Society

Here's another UCLA essay that worked.

UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)

Throughout my time at school, I have tried to share my passions and interests with others in various ways.

With the help of a friend, I reinvigorated and reinvented the school linguistics society, transforming it from a dull discussion of past exam questions to a seminar-style session where I have presented and analysed various interesting aspects of language. We have covered topics ranging from phonetics to historical sound change, and it has attracted a loyal troop of linguists who relish the weekly meetings almost as much as I do.

I have also channelled my passion for teaching into volunteering as a Spanish teacher at another local elementary school. Leading a class of thirty students can be a challenge, mainly as that many students are often hard to control. Nevertheless, I have planned and carried out lessons there each week for the last three years and have learnt a lot from it. I have found that as my confidence has grown, so the students have started to listen to and respect me more. They gain more from the lessons, as is evident from their progress at the end of each semester, and my enjoyment and fulfilment has risen. I am glad to have had a positive impact on their learning, and that I have been able to teach a subject that genuinely interests me.

Finally, I was appointed as a school prefect for senior year. In this role, I have been involved with a number of charity initiatives, such as organising bake sales and sponsored sporting events to raise money for the Make a Wish foundation, as well as various pastoral activities such as mentoring incoming freshman and guiding prospective parents around the campus. I love being a prefect as it allows me to give something back to the school that has been a huge part of my life for the last several years. I hope my legacy is that students feel more comfortable and confident in the school environment, and that they are inspired to become leaders as I have been to give back to the community in turn.

College Essay Example #9: New Perspectives

This essay was accepted into UC Berkeley .

Seconds after our teacher announced our project groups ​I heard the familiar, pitchy voice of the most irritating person in the class yell my name. Just like my worst nightmare, I had been put in a group to work with Eva; the annoying girl who had a weird obsession with horses. At that moment, I knew that it was going to be the longest project of my life.

Eva was extremely difficult to work with; she would always interrupt me, stubbornly stuck to what she wanted, and did not listen to a thing I said. Two weeks of tension and no progress flew by until one day during class, Eva went on another ramble about her horses.

Although I wasn't ready to hear her talk about horses again, I let her continue. What was another rant about horses turned into a conversation about the mental disorders Eva faced and how she relied on horse riding as therapy. After that conversation, our progress took a complete 180. I was eager to learn more, and we finished the project with more purpose and meaning. My perspective changed entirely.

I was moved by Eva’s passion for horse riding and encouraged her to start a club on campus where she could share her passion with others. Beyond this project, I helped Eva defend her riding center during city council meetings because it was on the verge of being shut down. In exchange, working with Eva taught me how to be more open-minded, more patient, more understanding; values of which I personally lacked my entire life. ​I began to cooperate with people with a more accepting and considerate mentality, understanding that people work in different ways.

I’m glad I chose to work through the project with Eva because I grew as a leader in a way that I would have never expected. I know I could have easily done the project by myself, but instead, I worked through our disagreements and bickering. S​haring this experience with Eva unearthed my ability to lead using patience and understanding, which are now essential assets to my leadership capabilities.

Part 3: Supplemental Essay Examples

Essay Examples: Supplemental Essays

Many top colleges require students to supplemental essays.

Each school may ask different prompts or none at all. And often your answers will be more specific and directly about the school.

In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts, from "Why this college?" to major and area of study questions

Let's jump into the essays.

In addition to the your personal statement or statement of purpose (SOP), many colleges also require supplements.

These supplemental essays are often specific to the school and ask you to answer a specific question, such as "Why this college?" or "Why this major?"

In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts that you may encounter.

College Essay Example #10: Fermat's Last Theorem

This supplemental essay was accepted into Cornell University .

Prompt: Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in. (250-650 words)

For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to show ways you imagine being involved on campus. This student does a great job of showing that they've done their research about Cornell, by connecting their passion for studying heart disease to specific initiatives already taking place on campus. Try researching what events, research, or programs are being conducted. By referencing those specifics, you can create convincing reasons of why this school is fit for you.

When discussing your intended area of study, one effective strategy is to identify a problem that you see. This problem can be in the field itself, your community, or the world. Then, you can connect this problem to yourself by showing how you'd want to help solve it. Don't try to tackle it entirely yourself, but show how you'd "take bites" out of this larger problem. It is also important that you identify potential solutions to the problem. You definitely don't (and shouldn't) have all the answers, but what do you see as potential steps for combatting the issue?

Using technical language, such as referencing "semi-elliptical curves" and "modular form" in this essay, will help show your in-depth knowledge and passion. Don't be afraid to use technical jargon like this, and don't worry if admissions officers may not know all the terms. As long as they have context and knowing the terminology isn't critical to understanding your point, including "nerdy" language will make your essay more engaging and demonstrate your intelligence.

If you have personal connections to the school you're applying to (such as legacy, family members who work there, students or faculty you're close with), it can be a good idea to reference those connections. Showing personal connections to the school makes admissions think, "They're already practically one of us!" Just make sure that these connections aren't contrived: only write about them if you have a clear purpose within your essay for introducing them. In this essay, the student references their brother who attended Cornell, but does so in a way that naturally ties into the rest of their reasons for "why Cornell."

College Essay Example #11: Bug Fixing

Here's another Cornell essay that worked .

Prompt: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (650 words max)

College Essay Example #12: Why UPenn

If you enjoyed the UPenn Common App essay , here's a supplement that was also accepted into the University of Pennsylvania .

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

This essay does a great job of conveying a thoughtful and candid applicant. Their phrasing, although verbose in some places, comes across genuine because the author walks you through how they learned about the school, what they're looking for in a school, and why the school would offer those specific things. Phrases like "I didn't know if I could honestly see myself studying that" are conversational and natural-sounding, which help create a sincere tone.

By referencing specific programs, like "Penn in Washington" as well as various minors and concentrations, it is clear this student has done their research about the school. One of the most important aspects for a "Why Us" essay is to find specific and unique opportunities and name them in your essay. These could be things like specific professors and their work, campus and its location, interesting classes, unique internship/study-abroad/job programs, special events, and many more. The key is referencing things that are entirely unique to the school and not many other schools too. Avoid broad terms like "renowned faculty" or "interdisciplinary studies" because virtually all colleges offer things like this, and these are some of the most over-used and artificial reasons used in "Why Us" essays.

This essay has many moments of repetition that are unnecessary. In general, avoid repeating your ideas and when editing, ask yourself of each sentence: does this add something distinctly new and important to my essay? There are two common mistakes that often create repetition: prefacing your ideas and summarizing your ideas. Unlike academic writing, you don't need to "prepare" the reader for what you're going to say, and you don't need to conclude it with a summary. By doing so, you only create unnecessary repetition and take up words which could otherwise be used to include new specific details or ideas.

This essay spends nearly half of its words explaining the "interdisciplinary" opportunities at UPenn. However, this reason is quite superficial and not at all unique to Penn, as almost all colleges offer some sort of interdisciplinary study (i.e. combining your interests or studying multiple fields). Talking about "interdisciplinary study" is one of the most common reasons students use in their "Why Us" essay, and it often comes across as generic and unoriginal. Instead, look for offerings that no other (or very few other) schools provide. Narrow down your reasons "why" to make them more specific to the school, even if they are smaller scale. You can mention things like "interdisciplinary studies" or "diverse student body" briefly as a reason why, but don't make them one of your primary reasons why, unless you have something particularly unique about it.

College Essay Example #13: Story of My Name

This interesting essay is a Dartmouth essay that was admitted. Enjoy!

Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)

My name is Eoin Hourihane and my entire life, no one has ever pronounced my name correctly. My genealogy is Irish and my name is spelled this way because every male in the Hourihane family, for the past seven generations, has been named John. Since my older brother's name is John, my dad decided to honor his heritage, which gives me my dual citizenship, and name me the old Gaelic for John: Eoin.

I am the youngest of six which brings with it the never-ending comparisons, teasing, and constant bickering; add to that being small for my age until the age of twelve, and you can imagine my household. We have all been raised to be independent, to love nature (except Princess Ali), and to work our hardest at everything we do.

I have always loved math, playing hockey (ice or floor), matzah ball soup, the Beatles and Queen. As a kid, I was into Percy Jackson and a series of books with titles that all ended in “-ology,” the churros at the hockey rink in Jamestown, Bang party snaps, t-shirts by Tobuscus, and my two stuffed cats - one with a mortarboard, and the other with a Star of David on its front left paw. I have dreamt of being a biomedical engineer and creating a glass eye that can see, knowing the intricacies of the human body and its responses to environmental and internal stimuli, and performing surgery on the brain.

I have celebrated Chanukah and Christmas, honoring my Jewish mother and my Catholic father, but not truly affiliating with either. I am a liberal thinker who follows current events closely, and I am eager to explore the world outside of Buffalo, NY, participate in an academic environment that will challenge me, and live among a community of learners.

College Essay Example #14: Ideal College Community

This supplement was accepted into Columbia University .

Prompt: List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words max)

Filled with activity around the clock. A place to come home to.

Trying to get past locked doors (literal and metaphorical).

Offering intellectual freedom and curiosity, without forcing specialization. Accommodating students who are unwilling to wait to make a difference. Willing to look critically at itself.

Socially conscious and politically active.

Never taking its eye off the national or global stage.

Buzzing with so much life it flows beyond the campus into the outside world.

So much life that sometimes it intimidates, that it yearns for more hours in the day. With too many options to choose from, Too much to do in four years.

Filled with clever eyes that see new ideas in the lessons of history.

Diverse of origin, of culture, of opinion, of religion, of personality, Diverse like an international center of thought and ideas and passions. An urban wonderland.

Supporting of extraordinary ambitions.

College Essay Example #15: Why Computer Science

This essay was accepted into Columbia University . To read more exceptional Columbia essays, be sure to check out our list for more Columbia essay examples .

Prompt: For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words max)

Studying computer science gives me the opportunity to be in a field that evolves so quickly I can always be on the forefront and do cutting-edge work. This summer at an ad-tech company, I moved the data science team’s analysis programs to a novel cluster-computing engine (Kubernetes), which can manage and distribute tasks across thousands of computers at once. Kubernetes is so new that barely any information has circulated about it. Because of this novelty, I was able to publish the first existing documentation of a data science pipeline in Kubernetes.

Computer science can also automate the manual drudgery of life. For example: to manage my clubs, I’ve written a program that checks for emails from members with excuses for missing meetings and automatically logs their absences.

Since computers have become the platform for every science, coding allows me to contribute to numerous fields. When I started at Einstein College of Medicine last year, I knew nothing about computational biology. Our project showed me that basic programming was all I needed to find fascinating results in the mostly unstudied mountains of genomic data.

As a person, I’m drawn to seemingly impossible challenges, in particular, the quest to teach machines and create mechanical consciousness. When I started taking online courses in AI, I became fascinated by the gradient descent method in machine learning. The method casts complex input data (e.g. photos) as thousand-dimensional surfaces and attempts to descend to the lowest points (minima) of those surfaces. It works best on data with underlying patterns, like pictures of human faces. This indicates that, in some way, the very nature of what a ‘face’ is, what unique structure is shared by nearly all faces, is found in the minima that AI models descend towards. My dream is to do foundational artificial intelligence research.

College Essay Example #16: Volunteering at Hospital

This essay was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Want to read more UNC essay examples? Check out our list of the best UNC essays for this year.

Prompt: We hope you’ll share with us the activities that you’ve found especially worthwhile. We also hope you won’t feel compelled to tell us everything you’ve ever done or, worse yet, to do things that mean little to you just because you think we expect them.

Low-profile pursuits can be just as meaningful as ones that draw more attention, and fewer activities can be just as good, and sometimes even better, than more activities. For example, although starting a new club can be a great experience and helpful to others, so can caring for siblings, parents, or grandparents, working outside the home to put food on the table, or being a good and caring friend.

For these reasons, although we’re glad to receive complete résumés, we don’t require or encourage them. Instead, if you choose to submit something that goes beyond what you’re providing through your Common Application, keep it brief; focus less on including everything and more on choosing and explaining the things that have meant the most to you; and upload it here. (650 words max)

Everywhere I looked, I saw a sea of white coats and scrubs; there was constant beeping of the heart monitors, and the smell of disinfectant was strong.

There I stood - a diminutive, awkward high school kid - lacking in experience and confidence, ready to begin volunteering at Vidant Medical Center. Perhaps the very same qualities that made me nervous were what put patients at ease. Many patients, especially younger ones who were uncomfortable speaking with medical professionals, seemed much more comfortable in my presence. I have learned this quality is how I have been able to make a difference - by connecting with many of the younger patients who were nervous just like me. I’ll always remember the two eight-year-old brothers who were waiting as their father got an MRI.

In some ways, they were also like me - they loved sports, and had an interest in math and science. As they were waiting, we talked about everything, from who they thought would win the NBA championship title to me giving them tips on how to remember their multiplication tables. This interaction put them at ease and kept them from becoming restless.

Every time I step into the hospital, I strive to connect with people. I find that I am able to make a difference not strictly due to my tasks of escorting and discharging patients but because of connection and rapport that I establish with them.

My initial nervousness about whether or not I would be able to assist sick and injured patients soon gave way to relief and gratification as I learned that I was indeed able to help them, by bringing a smile to those I escort, discharge, or deliver meals . I’ve met people I might never have met otherwise, and we’ve shared our thoughts and talked about our experiences. I have come to look forward to their company, who, despite their conditions, are still able to smile every day and enjoy engaging in conversation with me - and vice versa.

Even when volunteering in areas of the hospital where I’m not in contact with patients as often, such as doing food preparation, I always make sure to visit the patients I escort after my shift, to talk to them and uplift their spirits. Volunteering at a hospital reminds me every day how fortunate I am to be in good health and of the rewards of helping those who aren’t. While my job as a volunteer at the hospital may not result in the discovery of a cure for cancer, I am happy to have had an opportunity to contribute to improving the experiences of the children and young adults coping with their hospital stays.

College Essay Example #17: Why Carnegie Mellon

This essay was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University . Want to read more essays that worked for CMU? Check out our list of Carnegie Mellon essays that worked .

Prompt: Why Carnegie Mellon? (650 words max)

With a strong background in computer science and communications, I hope to incorporate both into a future career of building data systems, conducting research, and consulting for organizations that serve underrepresented citizens.

Specific details and anecdotes will almost always be more compelling than less specific ones. In this essay, the student does a great job of including specific, "nerdy" details, such as "an association test between melanoma associated variants and survival outcome." These details demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of an area and make your essay more engaging.

This essay does a fantastic job of addressing real-world problems and emphasizing the "bigger picture" impact of their studies. Rather than just explaining what they want to study, this student explains how their education will help them have an impact on the world. Make an argument for what problems you see in the world and how you could potentially help solve them.

For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to reference unique aspects to the school. Almost all colleges have strong academics, great faculty, etc. So instead of referencing those points, reference what makes the school unique and different. In this essay, the student talks about "CMU's Technology Consulting in the Global Community" program, which is both highly specific to CMU and relevant to their own interests.

In general, you should avoid simply listing your achievements. This student has many remarkable activities and experiences, but it comes across less interesting because the first half of the essay is simply describing these accomplishments.

For "Why Us?" essays, it is also a good idea to reference the values the school represents. Each school has a different "culture" and type of student body, and admissions wants to know how you will fit in.

College Essay Example #18: Why NYU?

This essay was accepted into New York University . Writing your NYU essays doesn't have to be stressful if you get inspired by these examples.

Prompt: Why NYU?

We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand - Why NYU? (400 words max)

Living in a suburb my whole life, I've always felt as if I lived in a two-dimensional plane. I can go left, right, forward, and backward.

In a suburb, however, it is nearly impossible to get any meaningful altitude. Upon visiting New York City during the summer before my senior year, however, I found myself gazing up at the skyscrapers soaring high above me. I've always loved the views mountains and buildings; both from above and below. I also have spent time studying Mandarin, and Shanghai would offer a unique opportunity to further my linguistic studies while engaging in cultural immersion.

Beyond settings, NYU has the capacity and the resources available for me to engage in research in quantum computation. Playing video games got me into math and science beyond just playing with my calculator as a baby. There were practical applications of the numbers, and I wanted to understand how it all worked in order to get the best equipment and maximize ammo efficiency. I would watch "Mythbusters" and try to come up with my own hypothesis and see if it matched their conclusion.

In 8th grade, I figured out that I loved science along with math, but I didn't exactly know what science I loved. At the time I was in "physical science" and I did enjoy the class a lot, but I always thought of physics as "speed distance time" triangles which were no fun at all. I was convinced to take AP Physics in my junior year with my friends, and I loved it. It was almost every week we would learn something that completely altered my perception of the universe.

Once I learned about quantum physics and how it basically destroys our understanding of everything, I knew I wanted to pursue it further, and be at the forefront of quantum research.

At NYU, not only can I take courses to learn about the subject, but I can also participate in research through the "Center for Quantum Phenomena". Taking advanced courses and conducting research in a new setting, such as New York or Shanghai, can offer me a new perspective and a breath of fresh air. Conversely, I can help over NYU a new perspective on critical thinking and problem-solving. I chose to apply to NYU because NYU is fit for me, and I am fit for NYU.

College Essay Example #19: Moving Places

This essay was accepted into Pomona College . Check out this Pomona supplement that worked.

Prompt: For Pomona students, the College’s location in Southern California is integral in shaping their experience. Tell us about a location, real or fictional, that has shaped you in a meaningful way. (650 words max)

In supplements where they aren't specifically asking you to write about the school, it can still be a good idea to connect to the school subtly. In this prompt, Pomona isn't asking for "Why Pomona," but the author still manages to imply their interest in the school by referencing Pomona's location near the "San Gabriel Mountains" and "East L.A." This is a subtle way of making the essay feel targeted for Pomona specifically, rather than this essay being reused for other schools, without answering the prompt in a way they aren't looking for.

This essay starts off with a strong metaphor, comparing a "Swiss Army knife" to blankets, which implies the many uses of blankets. This is a captivating hook because it is creative and makes sense when thought about, but isn't something immediately obvious. Throughout the essay, "blankets" become a symbol of being able to adapt to new locations and environments. By using "blankets" as a common thread through the essay, it makes their writing about various locations still feel connected. Even though the prompt is asking for "a location," this manages to work because "blankets" becomes the unifying symbol that ties together multiple locations.

By describing the luxurious-sounding places they've traveled, this essay could come across as privileged. Although coming from privilege isn't necessarily a bad thing for applying to colleges, emphasizing that privilege (especially nonchalantly) could come across as "entitled." This essay doesn't necessarily come across that way, but over-emphasizing your privilege could come across as not recognizing that privilege or "out of touch" with others who may come from less privilege. Instead, it may be better to acknowledge your privilege and show gratitude—emphasizing how those opportunities have allowed you to make a positive impact on others.

College Essay Example #20: Double Major

Here's another liberal arts essay that worked, again for Pomona College .

Prompt: Most Pomona students enter the College undecided about a major, or they change their minds about their prospective major by the time they graduate. Certainly we aren’t going to hold you to any of the choices you’ve made above. But, in no more than 250 words, please tell us why you’ve chosen the academic programs (or undecided!) that you have listed. (250 words max)

I’m sitting backstage at my first international piano competition, anxiously awaiting my turn to perform. Unconsciously, I massage my right wrist, still recovering from a recent injury. The young man beside me feels my nervousness and starts a conversation.

As we whisper, I notice him rub his hands together uncomfortably. “What’s wrong?” I ask, quickly leaving my own wrist alone. He suppresses a nervous laugh, then quietly details the long and unsuccessful surgery that shattered his dream of becoming a professional musician. His hands were permanently damaged.

“Alessandra Fang,” the judges call. I stand up, walk to the main stage and look back to see him encourage me with a stiff, crooked thumbs-up. As my fingers dance on the keys, I observe the fragile muscles and ligaments under my skin.

I realize in that moment that it is not in a massive concert hall where I wanted to change people’s lives, but on a smaller stage: an operating room. As an artist who has had her share of painful, music-related injuries, my goal is to become a musician’s physician, and blend my greatest two passions so that I might bring relief to those around me, while understanding their musical and anatomical plight.

I wish to pursue both Biology and Music programs at Pomona College. I want to become a hand surgeon while still developing my artistry on the piano. After all, surgery also has its own cadence, complexity and composition.

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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MIT Admitted Essay

Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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UPenn Admitted Essay

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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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)

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College essay examples #13/32:.

School:  Stanford University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #15/32: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #16/32:

School: University of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #17/32: yale university.

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

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

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

School: Yale University 

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

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

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

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

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

College essay examples #19/32: columbia university.

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #20/32:

School: Columbia University

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #21/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #23/32:

School:  Brown University

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

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

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

College essay examples #24/32:.

School:  Tulane University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #26/32:

Common App Essays

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #27/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Essay Examples #29/32:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample College Essay #30

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

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

Sample College Essay #32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jonathan Walker

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

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Jonathan! Thanks for your comment! Good luck!

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

Hello Sussy! Thanks for your comment.

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sample college essays 2022

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

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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. 

‘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.

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!

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

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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 formative experience

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Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

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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Essays That Worked

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

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

Read essays that worked from Transfer applicants .

Hear from the class of 2027.

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

sample college essays 2022

Ordering the Disorderly

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

sample college essays 2022

Pack Light, But Be Prepared

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

sample college essays 2022

Tikkun Olam

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

sample college essays 2022

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

sample college essays 2022

Classical Reflections in Herstory

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

sample college essays 2022

My Spotify Playlist

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

More essays that worked

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

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10 Successful Harvard Application Essays | 2022

With the top applicants from every high school applying to the best schools in the country, it's important to have an edge in your college application. Check out our updated list of 10 Harvard application essays below from students who made it in, and hear from expert college consultants about what made these work.

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Sophia's Essay

The Art of Applying

After 12 years of helping high achieving professionals get into their dream grad schools, The Art of Applying has opened our doors to high achievers, dreamers, and everyday students to work with us on their college applications. The sooner you reach out to us about working together, the better! The more time we have to achieve success together, the better set up we will be to achieve outstanding results.

We’d love to chat about your college applications with you -- book a free 15-minute call today !

Successful Harvard Essay - “Black Eyeliner Does Not Make You a Nonconformist”

Several years ago, my mother told me I listen to “white people music.” And I suppose that’s true—rock 'n' roll tends to spring from the middle-class basements of young, white men. Though I did point out that its origins trace back to jazz musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. Also that one of the greatest guitarists of all time—dear Mr.Hendrix; may he rest in peace—was black.

My devotion to punk rock began in seventh grade, when Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” came up on my iTunes shuffle. I started to look into their other releases, eventually immersing myself into the complete punk discography. My mother, having grown up in a racially segregated New York, was more likely to listen to Stevie Wonder than Stevie Nicks.

But, she must have figured, to each her own. So while my compatriots indulged in the music of Taylor Swift, One Direction, and Lady Gaga, my tacky Hot Topic headphones blasted Green Day, Ramones, and The Clash. My young adolescent ears drank in the raw, chaotic beauty, an echo of the pain of the past. The thrashing, pulsating vitality of the instruments painted a picture, connecting me to the disillusioned kids who launched an epic movement of liberation some 40 years ago.

Punkers question authority. Aggressively contrarian, they advocate for the other side—the side that seemed smothered silent during the post-Vietnam era. They rejected the established norms. They spoke out and weren’t afraid.

I had always felt different from my peers. In my girls’s prep school, the goal was to be blond and good at soccer. I was neither, which automatically deemed me “uncool”. I had a few close friends but never felt like I was part of a whole.

Then came the punk philosophy, for the outliers, for those who were different. That was something I could be part of.

Instead of trying to conform to my peers, I adopted an anti-conformist attitude. Much like the prematurely gray anti-hero of my favorite book, I sneered at all the “phonies” around me. I resented anything popular. Uggs? Wouldn’t buy them. Yoga pants? Never. Starbucks?Well, I could make a few concessions.

But I felt more cynical than liberated. I wasted so much energy on being different than I lost track of what actually made me happy. I insisted I didn’t care what people thought of me, which was true. Yet if I based my actions almost solely on their behavior, how could I deny their influence?

Luckily, as I transitioned from a private school to a brand new public high school, I got to clean the slate. I bought yoga pants and found they were comfortable. I listened to a wide variety of music, even the eh kind that wasn’t 100% hardcore punk. And I was happier.

I revised my punk philosophy: Do as you like—whether it fits into the “system” or not.

The Beatles’s “Revolution” lyrics sum it up well:

You tell me it’s the institution

Well, you know

You’d better free your mind instead

What I think Lennon was getting at is questioning everything does not entail opposing everything.

What I think Lennon was getting at is questioning everything does not entail opposing everything. Defiance for the sake of defiance is unproductive at best, destructive at worst. I believe in life’s greater Truths, like Love and Justice. These Truths are what should govern my actions—not what’s popular and what isn’t. Striving to act on these ideals has helped me stay true to myself, regardless of what’s considered “conformist."

Perhaps I’ve failed the punk movement. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’ll do what makes me happy and change what doesn’t. I’ll wear Doc Martens instead of Uggs; I’ll partake in a grande pumpkin spice latte; I’ll watch Gossip Girl; I’ll blare my favorite guitar solo over the speakers in my room.

And that’s as punk as it gets.

sample college essays 2022

Professional Review by The Art of Applying

From the snarky title and fiery opening, I was immediately drawn in. I and many people on our team at The Art of Applying® grew up as one of the few students of color in our honors classes, being told we liked “white people things.”

When you write about very specific personal experiences you’ve had, you can strike an emotional chord and connection with people who have similar experiences, and you can simultaneously intrigue people who have had vastly different experiences.

The student’s response to her mother’s assertion and the level of knowledge the student demonstrates about punk rock’s origins and political context show that she doesn’t just enjoy punk music passively as a fan; she was curious enough to research and learn about its historical roots, and confident enough to offer a contradictory viewpoint about what punk music is and who it is and isn’t for.

I enjoyed reading the journey of how the student’s interest in punk rock blossomed from an interest into a passion and eventually an identity. Don’t just tell us the beginning and the end of a personal growth journey; show us the messy middle too.

The student concisely depicts a vivid image of her outsider status in her private school without villainizing the other students. She also uses humor and wordplay well when she makes a concession for enjoying Starbucks.

A turning point in the essay comes when the student starts questioning whether her staunchly nonconformist identity is serving her. This shows an even deeper level of self reflection and personal growth.

While including quotes and lyrics in your essay can divert attention from your own words to a famous person’s, the student effectively uses the lyrics as a launching point for further reflection.

It ends in the same confident, energetic voice I grew to love throughout the piece, and the final sentences read like a glorious mic drop.

The conclusion is strong in that we see a person who has embraced all sides of herself rather than stubbornly clinging to a rigid image of nonconformity.

This essay is an excellent example to learn from if you want to write about how one of your passions spurred personal growth, struggles with fitting in, changing your mind about who you are, and/or getting clear on your values.

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Taras' Essay

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Successful Harvard Essay: More Boluses to Dissect

Finally, I had found a volunteer opportunity at the Long Marine Lab, a marine biology research facility at UC Santa Cruz! I envisioned swimming with dolphins, or perhaps studying behavioral patterns of decorator crabs. But when I discovered the nature of my work on the first day of volunteering, my excitement turned to disappointment: I’d be picking through albatross boluses, the indigestible materials they cough up before going to sea. Sure enough, after three hours of separating fishing line from brown muck, I began to dread what I was in for. At that point, I had no clue of just how interesting the opportunity would turn out to be, and it would remind me of how easily I become engrossed and fascinated by all sorts of random stuff.

It didn't take long for my boredom with the boluses to shift toward curiosity.

It didn’t take long for my boredom with the boluses to shift toward curiosity. In the first place, the project itself was fascinating. The idea was to research the behavior and diet of albatrosses at sea. These birds can fly for months without touching land! When the birds have chicks, they cough up whatever they’ve eaten at sea to feed their young. When the chicks become old enough to fly, they cough up the hard, indigestible materials left in their stomachs. These boluses contain squid beaks that can reveal the types of squid eaten and the area where the squid were caught. We volunteers would pick through the boluses, separating out anything that looked interesting.

As I got better at dissecting these blobs, I started finding crazy stuff, and my colleagues and I would often discuss important findings. There was, of course, the search for the biggest squid beak, and the fish eyes were always interesting. But most shocking was the plastic. Beyond the normal Styrofoam and fishing line were plastic bottle caps, lighters, even toothbrushes. Occasionally, Asian writing revealed distant origins. Once, I picked through a bolus permeated with orange goo, eventually to discover the round mouthpiece of a balloon. The origins of these artifacts were sad, but also fascinating. I learned of the Texas-sized trash heap in the middle of the Pacific, the effects of which I was witnessing firsthand. I gained a heightened awareness of the damage inflicted on the oceans by humans, and their far-reaching impacts. Perhaps most importantly, I realized that even the most tedious things can blow my mind.

If dissecting boluses can be so interesting, imagine the things I’ve yet to discover! I play piano and can see myself dedicating my life to the instrument, but I can’t bear to think of everything else I’d have to miss. I’d love to study albatrosses, but also particle physics or history, and preferably all three. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine picking just one area. At the same time, though, I love studying subjects in depth. I tend to get overwhelmed by my options, since I can’t possibly choose them all. But at least I know I’ll never be bored in life: there are just too many subjects to learn about, books to read, pieces to play, albatrosses to save, and boluses to dissect.

Professional Review by Prep Expert (Akbar Rahel)

While many applicants write essays full of detail and superlatives, emotional honesty is a critical component of a great essay.

What immediately distinguishes the first paragraph of the essay is the emotional honesty: Taras admits how “excitement turned to disappointment” and how he “had no clue” about how the opportunity would turn out. Too often, applicants fail to recognize that admissions officers are just normal people reading essays—people who also experience a range of emotions such as disappointment and confusion. While many applicants write essays full of detail and superlatives, emotional honesty is a critical component of a great essay.

Moreover, on a simple, albeit important level, he situates readers in the very first sentence by mentioning that his research was a volunteer opportunity at Long Marine Lab. Too many applicants attempt to keep a reader in suspense when, in fact, it is always better to provide context for an experience. Admissions officers don’t want to feel like they are deciphering the seemingly mundane who, what, when, and where. Nobody has time to untangle an essay.

Moving on, Taras succeeds in clearly demonstrating a sincere passion for his research by sharing interesting details of his work, such as understanding boluses. Whether writing about birds, Model UN, or any other possible topic, details are what help applicants show the admissions committees a level of intellectual vitality.

While an overall vibrant essay that captures a reader’s attention because of the unique topic, some aspects could have been improved. For example, exclamation points may come across as contrived enthusiasm to many readers—and strip away some of the decorum of an essay. Moreover, in the last paragraph, Taras mentions particle physics and history as possible interests, which did not align with the essay (and could have hurt chances for admissions in the final “shaping” of an incoming class).

Prep Expert

Yukta's Essay

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Successful Harvard Essay: Yukta

Garishly lined with a pearlescent lavender, my eyes idly scanned the haphazard desk in front of me, settling on a small kohl. I packed the ebony powder into my waterline with a shaky hand, wincing at the fine specks making their way into my eyes.

The palette's colors bore in, the breadth of my imagination interwoven into now-brittle brushes.

The girl in the mirror seemed sharper, older, somehow. At only 12, I was relatively new to the powders and blushes that lined my birthday makeup kit, but I was determined to decipher the deep splashes of color that had for so long been an enigma to me.

After school involved self-inflicted solitary confinement, as I shut myself in my bedroom to hone my skills. The palette’s colors bore in, the breadth of my imagination interwoven into now-brittle brushes. Much to my chagrin, my mom walked in one day, amused at my smudged lipstick, which congealed on the wispy hairs that lined my upper lip.

“Halloween already?” she asked playfully.

I flushed in embarrassment as she got to work, smoothing my skin with a brush and filling the gaps in my squiggly liner. Becoming a makeup aficionado was going to take some help.

“What’s this even made of?” I asked, transfixed by the bright powder she was smattering on my cheeks.

“You know, I’m not sure,” she murmured. “Maybe you should find out.”

Hours down the internet rabbit hole, I learned that the shimmery powder was made of mica, a mineral commonly used in cosmetics. While the substance was dazzling, its production process was steeped in humanitarian violations and environmental damage. Determined to reconcile my burgeoning love for makeup with my core values, I flung the kit into the corner of my drawer, vowing to find a more sustainable alternative. Yes, I was every bit as dramatic as you imagine it.

Now 17, I approach ethical makeup with assured deliberation. As I glance at my dusty kit, which still sits where I left it, I harken back on the journey it has taken me on. Without the reckoning that it spurred, makeup would still simply be a tool of physical transformation, rather than a catalyst of personal growth.

Now, each swipe of eyeliner is a stroke of my pen across paper as I write a children’s book about conscious consumerism. My flitting fingers programmatically place sparkles, mattes, and tints across my face in the same way that they feverishly move across a keyboard, watching algorithms and graphs integrate into models of supply chain transparency. Makeup has taught me to be unflinching, both in self expression and my expectations for the future. I coat my lips with a bold sheen, preparing them to form words of unequivocal urgency at global conferences and casual discussions. I see my passion take flight, emboldening others to approach their own reckonings, uncomfortable as they may be. I embark on a two-year journey of not buying new clothes in a statement against mass consumption and rally youth into a unified organization. We stand together, picking at the gritty knots of makeup, corporate accountability, and sustainability as they slowly unravel.

Deep rooted journeys of triumph and tribulation are plastered across the surface of my skin — this paradox excites me.

I’m not sure why makeup transfixes me. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy seeing my reveries take shape. Yukta, the wannabe Wicked Witch of the West, has lids coated with emerald luster and lips of coal. Yukta, the Indian classical dancer, wields thick eyeliner and bright crimson lipstick that allow her expressions to be amplified across a stage. Deep rooted journeys of triumph and tribulation are plastered across the surface of my skin — this paradox excites me.

Perhaps I am also drawn to makeup because as I peel back the layers, I am still wholly me. I am still the young girl staring wide-eyed at her reflection, earnestly questioning in an attempt to learn more about the world. Most importantly, I still carry an unflagging vigor to coalesce creativity and activism into palpable change, one brushstroke at a time.

Professional Review by Prepory

This student takes a household item as common as makeup to build a narrative that is as universally accessible as it is unique. This object is inflected with facets of both her personal and cultural identity that give the reader immediate contact with the student’s personality. She takes us on a sweeping journey through her investigation of the world around her, and embarks on a coming-of-age story without losing sight of the essay’s main topic. This student strikes a balance between the narrative and creative writing elements that are integral to successful personal statements. The writer gives us glimpses of insight into her personal development across multiple years, using makeup as a medium for self-reflection and discovery. She masterfully leverages the colors and elements of her makeup collection to craft vivid descriptions, situating imagery as the cornerstone of this essay’s approach and success. She takes up an object so easily tied to consumerism and superficiality and uses it to champion the societal and ethical battles for which she advocates.

We also see that the writer of this essay has a clearly defined voice. While many students struggle with the temptation to elevate their writing through ornamentation, this writer is able to maneuver a vibrant writing style that remains engaging, rhythmic and measured. Through each moment of this essay, we learn what the author cares about: conscious consumerism, creativity, and activism; we also learn how she thinks: curiosily, selflessly, and with feminist undertones. The opening sentences of this essay employ a successful strategy for personal statement writing, rich with adjectives detailing a small scene, that is expanded upon to make a larger commentary about the author and where she stands in society. Last, the student’s essay compliments her larger admissions profile in which the reader learns about years of advocacy, sustainable practices, and intentions to positively impact her community.

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Eda's Essay

POTOMAC ADMISSIONS

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Successful Harvard Essay: Homeless for Thirteen Years

I sat on my parents’ bed weeping with my head resting on my knees. “Why did you have to do that to me? Why did you have to show me the house and then take it away from me?” Hopelessly, I found myself praying to God realizing it was my last resort.

For years, my family and I found ourselves moving from country to country in hopes of a better future. Factors, such as war and lack of academic opportunities, led my parents to pack their bags and embark on a new journey for our family around the world. Our arduous journey first began in Kuçovë, Albania, then Athens, Greece, and then eventually, Boston, Massachusetts. Throughout those years, although my family always had a roof over our heads, I never had a place I could call “home.”

Instantly, I knew that it was fate that was bringing this house to me.

That night that I prayed to God, my mind raced back to the night I was clicking the delete button on my e-mails, but suddenly stopped when I came upon a listing of the house. It was September 22, 2007 —eight years exactly to the day that my family and I had moved to the United States. Instantly, I knew that it was fate that was bringing this house to me. I remembered visiting that yellow house the next day with my parents and falling in love with it. However, I also remembered the heartbreaking phone call I received later on that week saying that the owners had chosen another family’s offer.

A week after I had prayed to God, I had given up any hopes of my family buying the house. One day after school, I unlocked the door to our one-bedroom apartment and walked over to the telephone only to see it flashing a red light. I clicked PLAY and unexpectedly heard the voice of our real estate agent. “Eda!” she said joyfully. “The deal fell through with the other family—the house is yours! Call me back immediately to get started on the papers.” For a moment, I stood agape and kept replaying the words in my head. Was this really happening to me? Was my dream of owning a home finally coming true?

Over the month of November, I spent my days going to school and immediately rushing home to make phone calls. Although my parents were not fluent enough in English to communicate with the bank and real estate agent, I knew that I was not going to allow this obstacle to hinder my dream of helping to purchase a home for my family. Thus, unlike a typical thirteen-year-old girl’s conversations, my phone calls did not involve the mention of makeup, shoes, or boys. Instead, my conversations were composed of terms, such as “fixed-rate mortgages,” “preapprovals,” and “down payments.” Nevertheless, I was determined to help purchase this home after thirteen years of feeling embarrassed from living in a one-bedroom apartment. No longer was I going to experience feelings of humiliation from not being able to host sleepovers with my friends or from not being able to gossip with girls in school about who had the prettiest room color.

I had been homeless for the first thirteen years of my life. Although I will never be able to fully repay my parents for all of their sacrifices, the least I could do was to help find them a home that they could call their own—and that year, I did. To me, a home means more than the general conception of “four walls and a roof.” A home is a place filled with memories and laughter from my family. No matter where my future may lead me, I know that if at times I feel alone, I will always have a yellow home with my family inside waiting for me.

Professional Review by Potomac Admissions

Honest. Heartbreaking. Powerful.

Those were the first three words that came to mind after reading Eda’s essay.

By being so honest, Eda showcases her genuine growth and maturity over time.

What we love about Eda’s essay is its refreshing vulnerability. Too many college essays are “too” picture-perfect. Eda doesn’t censor the truth, even if admitting her inner thoughts may potentially paint her in a negative light. For example, she starts the entire essay with a scene of her weeping on her parents’ bed, blaming them for her misfortune. By being so honest, Eda showcases her genuine growth and maturity over time.

Her personal voice is also strong throughout the essay. When she talks about falling in love with “that yellow house,” an image of said house is automatically conjured up in our minds. When she speaks of the heartbreak she experienced upon learning “that yellow house” was sold to another family, we felt pain in our hearts too. Her deliberate choice to “PLAY” the voicemail she received for us and include her subsequent internal thoughts further pulls us into reliving her journey with her.

Yet, she goes beyond merely telling us of her journey. She highlights just how atypical her journey has been. Instead of enjoying phone conversations about makeup or shoes, she is talking to agents about fix-rate mortgages and down payments… all at the age of 13. Though she does not explicitly state this (she doesn’t need to): it is clear that Eda has had to grow up fast, becoming a stronger individual as a result.

Her understanding of the word “home” evolves from a physical roof over her head to a more abstract one. Home is wherever her “memories and laughter” exist. In the end, she comes to terms with the sacrifices her parents have made. Learning to be proud of her upbringing showcases Eda’s evolution.

Eda is someone who will overcome whatever challenges thrown her way, making her a strong college applicant.

Potomac Adm

Lisa's Essay

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Successful Harvard Essay: Playing it Dangerous

In hazy stillness, a sudden flurry of colored skirts, whispers of “Merde!” Sternly, my fingers smooth back my hair, although they know no loose strands will be found. My skin absorbs heat from stage lights above—if only that heat would seep into my brain, denature some proteins, and deactivate the neurons stressing me out. A warm hand, accompanied by an even warmer smile, interrupts my frenzied solitude. I glance up. My lovely teacher nods, coaxing my frozen lips into a thawed smile. A complex figure, filled in with doubt, yet finished with shades of confidence: My body takes its place and waits.

One, two, three, four; two, two, three, four. On stage, the lights and music wash over me. Never having had a true ballet solo before, my lungs are one breath away from hyperventilating. Trying to achieve a Zen-like state, I imagine a field of daisies, yet my palms continue sweating disobediently. It’s not that I’ve never been on stage alone before; I’ve had plenty of piano recitals and competitions. Yet, while both performances consume my mind and soul, ballet demands complete commitment of my body.

I've had plenty of piano recitals and competitions. Yet, while both performances consume my mind and soul, ballet demands complete commitment of my body.

Gently slide into arabesque and lean downward; try not to fall flat on face—Mom’s videotaping. In terms of mentality, I would hardly be described as an introvert; yet, a fear of failure has still kept me from taking risks. Maybe I was scared of leaping too high, falling too far, and hitting the hard floor. As I moved up in the cutthroat world of dance, this fear only increased; the pressure of greater expectations and the specter of greater embarrassment had held me contained. Now, every single eyeball is on me.

Lean extra in this pirouette; it’s more aesthetic. But is it always better to be safe than sorry? Glancing toward the wings, I see my teacher’s wild gesticulations: Stretch your arms out, she seems to mime, More! A genuine smile replaces one of forced enthusiasm; alone on the stage, this is my chance to shine. I breathe in the movements, forget each individual step. More than just imagining, but finally experiencing the jubilation of the music, I allow my splits to stretch across the stage and my steps to extend longer and longer, until I’m no longer safe and my heart is racing. Exhilarated and scared in the best way, I throw myself into my jumps. I no longer need to imagine scenes to get in the mood; the emotions are twirling and leaping within me.

Reaching, stretching, grabbing, flinging ... My fear no longer shields me. I find my old passion for ballet, and remember the grace and poise that can nevertheless convey every color of emotion. Playing it safe will leave me part of the backdrop; only by taking risks can I step into the limelight. Maybe I’ll fall, but the rush is worth it. I’ll captain an all-male science bowl team, run a marathon, audition for a musical, and embrace the physical and intellectual elation of taking risks.

Professional Review by MR. MBA®, Val Misra

Lisa creates a winning essay by successfully invoking real emotions in the reader through her creative, descriptive prose that conveys vivid imagery, heartfelt feelings, and wholesome introspection. I instantly likened Lisa’s allegory to a bird trapped in a closed cage; the cage serves as a metaphor for what we all face in our lives, our fears. Lisa’s first ballet solo is brilliantly illustrated as her ‘Aha! moment’ where she sheds her fears (opens her cage) and, with careful self-reflection, chooses to embrace future risks (flies only forward).

In paragraphs 1-3, Lisa captivates us instantly through her beautiful, rich language and imagery, as she portrays herself immobilized by stress and a fear of failure and family/public opinion. I empathize and want to learn more! Her warm humor shines perfectly: wanting to deactivate her brain neurons and reminding herself not to fall face-first lest she gets scolded by her mother/family - wonderfully done! Lisa uses her “lovely teacher” as her grounding, comfort zone and supporter, a theme many can share. Her anxiety is relatable, and she uses this to explicate her general risk averse nature.

In paragraphs 4-5, Lisa’s solo is radiantly depicted as her defining moment where she dances and realizes her transformation- fears turn to passion and excitement. She is poetry in motion in the moment, smiling, shedding her fears, and embracing risk like a warm glass of milk. A poignant question is posed, “But is it always better to be safe than sorry?” Through introspection, Lisa expresses her desire to pursue risks that will advance her personally. Acknowledging she may not always succeed, “the rush is worth it”. Lisa ends with concrete examples of leadership roles and activities that she will pursue at college- admissions officers favorably view students eager to step outside their comfort zones and embark on new adventures/challenges at college. To make this essay stronger, Lisa could have highlighted precisely how she will tackle any fears that may crop up during new obstacles at college, tying to lessons learned through her ballet.

Superbly written in a distinct narrative form, this essay crafts an experience that is vibrant, funny, deep, and relatable.

Superbly written in a distinct narrative form, this essay crafts an experience that is vibrant, funny, deep, and relatable. Lisa’s brand values seamlessly flow throughout the essay: creativity, determination, overcoming obstacles, self-reflection, growth through risk and, of course, passion! We are left with a glowing lesson in motivation in the hope of ridding oneself of such negative feelings to go on and achieve greater things - ‘playing it dangerous’.

MR. MBA

Michelle C.'s Essay

Key Education

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Successful Harvard Essay

“You should scrub off the top layer of your skin whenever you lose a round,” my debate teammate once advised me.

“That’s not practical,” I replied.

“Neither is your refusal to wear clothes you’ve lost important debate rounds in. Your wardrobe has very little to do with your success.”

Half of me disagrees with him. I still bring three BIC Round Stic pencils with 0.7 lead to every test because my gut tells me this fastidious procedure raises my scores. I’m still convinced that labs receive better grades if written in Calibri. And I still won’t rewear clothes in which I’ve lost crucial rounds.

Yet the other half of me is equally dismissive of my own superstitions. I love logic, never failing to check that steps in a proof lead to a precise conclusion without gaps in reasoning.

Fortunately, I often abandon my penchant for pragmatism to accommodate for my unwarranted superstitions. And since I only feel the need to act logicalcally in selective situations, I am perfectly content with the illogical nature of my other habits:

Raised with my great-grandmother, grandparents, and parents all under one roof, I never lacked a consultant to help me transcribe Korean holiday dates from the lunar calendar onto my schedule. Yet whenever all four generations of my family celebrates with a traditional meal of bulgogi, my untraceable and admittedly nonexistent Italian blood flares in protest; I rebelliously cook myself linguine con le vongole that clashes terribly with my mom’s pungent kimchi.

If I plot a graph of “hours I spend in physical activity” versus “week of the year,” the result looks like an irregular cardiac cycle. The upsurges symbolize my battles with colossal walls of water in hopes of catching a smooth surf back to Mission Bay shore. The ensuing period of rest mirrors the hours I spend researching in that one spot in my debate team’s war room that isn’t covered in papers (yet), or at the piano sight-reading the newest Adele song. Then the diastolic tranquility is interrupted by the weekends when I’m sprinting through trenches to avoid paintballs swarming above my favorite arena at Paintball USA.

I find comfort in the familiar. I treasure the regular midnight chats with my brother as we indulge in batter while baking cupcakes for a friend's birthday, keeping our voices hushed

I find comfort in the familiar. I treasure the regular midnight chats with my brother as we indulge in batter while baking cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, keeping our voices hushed to avoid waking our mom and facing her “salmonella is in your near future” lecture. Yet, some of my fondest memories involve talking to people with whom I share nothing in common. Whether my conversations are about the Qatari coach’s research on Kuwait’s female voting patterns, or about the infinite differences between the “common app” and the Oxford interviewing process, or even about my friend’s Swedish school’s peculiar policy of mandating uniforms only on Wednesdays, I love comparing cultures with debaters from different countries.

My behavior is unpredictable. Yet it’s predictably unpredictable. Sure, I’ll never eat a Korean dinner like one might expect. But I’ll always be cooking linguine the moment I catch a whiff of kimchi.

Professional Review by Key Education (Bryan)

Most often, it is the down-to-earth topics that make for the most successful Common App essays. My students have written on subjects as mundane as cleaning, loading the dishwasher, eraser shavings, finding a piece of driftwood, or looking after not one, but two Shiba Inus. And so, it was a delight to read Michelle Choi’s essay. Choi took an idea that the rest of us probably give very little thought to – superstitions – and effectively used it as a focusing lens to explore different parts of her life.

By drawing these connections between seemingly unrelated and different aspects of her life, Choi demonstrated her ability to introspect while giving the reader a richer picture of who she is. Choi is not just another high achiever. Her superstitions – and that ever-present struggle between being logical and superstitious – is what makes her appealing. One can’t help but to like her. As I often remind my students, quirky is cool.

These various connections give the reader insight into what drives Choi as someone who is profoundly curious and quirky, someone who takes a different approach to things.

With Choi’s hook, the reader’s attention is immediately captured. One could be forgiven for probably cringing a little at the thought of scrubbing off a layer of one’s own skin. And besides that, what was Choi even going on about? Her opening compels the reader to want to keep on reading. Very early on in her essay, we know that debating is a core part of her identity. As she guides the reader through the rest of her essay, she skillfully connects her superstitions to other important aspects of her life, including her cultural heritage, family, surfing, music, paintball, baking, conversations with random strangers, and examinations of different cultures around the world. These various connections give the reader insight into what drives Choi as someone who is profoundly curious and quirky, someone who takes a different approach to things, whether it be intentionally combining Korean and Italian cuisine (I picture the likes of Gordon Ramsay already shuddering at the clash of flavors) to playing pop on the piano (perhaps a refreshingly different take than Mozart or Beethoven).

If I could offer one suggestion, it would be that after reading Choi’s essay, I was craving a little more. Perhaps she could have expanded slightly: what did she learn from this process of being unconventional? How did it influence the way she saw the world and influenced her actions? And in what ways did she apply this learning? That said, even with her essay, Choi does what many other students don’t with their Common App essay; she takes that a unique approach using a down-to-earth topic as a focusing lens to draw connections to various parts of her life.

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Tony's Essay

Dan Lichterman

As an admission essay specialist , Dan Lichterman has been empowering students to find their voice since 2004. He helps students stand out on paper, eliminating the unnecessary so the necessary may speak. Drawing upon his storytelling background, Dan guides applicants to craft authentic essays that leap off the page. He is available for online writing support within the US and internationally. To learn more and schedule a brief complimentary consultation visit danlichterman.com.

Successful Harvard Essay: Beauty in Complexity

Gazing up at the starry sky, I see Cygnus, Hercules, and Pisces, remnants of past cultures. I listen to waves crash on the beach, the forces of nature at work. Isn’t it odd how stars are flaming spheres and electrical impulses make beings sentient? The very existence of our world is a wonder; what are the odds that this particular planet developed all the necessary components, parts that all work in unison, to support life? How do they interact? How did they come to be? I thought back to how my previously simplistic mind-set evolved this past year.

The very existence of our world is a wonder; what are the odds that this particular planet developed all the necessary components, parts that all work in unison, to support life?

At Balboa, juniors and seniors join one of five small learning communities, which are integrated into the curriculum. Near the end of sophomore year, I ranked my choices: Law Academy first—it seemed the most prestigious—and WALC, the Wilderness Arts and Literacy Collaborative, fourth. So when I was sorted into WALC, I felt disappointed at the inflexibility of my schedule and bitter toward my classes. However, since students are required to wait at least a semester before switching pathways, I stayed in WALC. My experiences that semester began shifting my ambition-oriented paradigm to an interest-oriented one. I didn’t switch out.

Beyond its integrated classes, WALC takes its students on trips to natural areas not only to build community among its students, but also to explore complex natural processes and humanity’s role in them. Piecing these lessons together, I create an image of our universe. I can visualize the carving of glacial valleys, the creation and gradation of mountains by uplift and weathering, and the transportation of nutrients to and from ecosystems by rivers and salmon. I see these forces on the surface of a tiny planet rotating on its axis and orbiting the sun, a gem in this vast universe. Through WALC, I have gained an intimate understanding of natural systems and an addiction to understanding the deep interconnections embedded in our cosmos.

Understanding a system’s complex mechanics not only satisfies my curiosity, but also adds beauty to my world; my understanding of tectonic and gradational forces allows me to appreciate mountains and coastlines beyond aesthetics. By physically going to the place described in WALC’s lessons, I have not only gained the tools to admire these systems, but have also learned to actually appreciate them. This creates a thirst to see more beauty in a world that’s filled with poverty and violence, and a hunger for knowledge to satisfy that thirst. There are so many different systems to examine and dissect—science alone has universal, planetary, molecular, atomic, and subatomic scales to investigate. I hope to be able to find my interests by taking a variety of courses in college, and further humanity’s understanding through research, so that all can derive a deeper appreciation for the complex systems that govern this universe.

Professional Review by Dan Lichterman

Tony’s essay opens with stargazing at the ocean’s edge where we experience his boundless curiosity towards the natural world, sentience, and life itself. This wide-eyed wonderment is rendered artfully, yet what actually enables this essay to succeed is its ability to ponder deep concepts without getting lost in the clouds.

The story itself revolves around an event that seems far removed from the incomprehensibility of the universe: a randomized selection has assigned Tony to study wilderness arts when he preferred the path of law. He is bitter that a decision impacting his studies has been determined by chance. We see vulnerability in his admission that he was beholden to an “ambition oriented paradigm,” rather than studying what interested him most. However, what we discover through the rest of the essay is that Tony’s decision to remain in wilderness arts is one that has transformed him completely, changing his perspective from a “simplistic mindset” to one that is addicted to “understanding the deep interconnections embedded in our cosmos.”

The strength of Tony's language helps us appreciate the breadth and excitement of his unforseen awakening.

The strength of Tony’s language helps us appreciate the breadth and excitement of his unforseen awakening. From visualizing the “carving of glacial valleys” to reveling in the complex mechanics of natural systems, the essay showcases how much more Tony appreciates our world thanks to an event that had once seemed unfairly arbitrary. Observing Tony’s thirst for life’s interconnectedness, we grow confident that his evolving perspective will guide his studies into exciting unexpected realms.

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Yueming's Essay

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My Ye-Ye always wears a red baseball cap. I think he likes the vivid color—bright and sanguine, like himself. When Ye-Ye came from China to visit us seven years ago, he brought his red cap with him and every night for six months, it sat on the stairway railing post of my house, waiting to be loyally placed back on Ye-Ye’s head the next morning. He wore the cap everywhere: around the house, where he performed magic tricks with it to make my little brother laugh; to the corner store, where he bought me popsicles before using his hat to wipe the beads of summer sweat off my neck. Today whenever I see a red hat, I think of my Ye-Ye and his baseball cap, and I smile.

Ye-Ye is the Mandarin word for “grandfather.” My Ye-Ye is a simple, ordinary person—not rich, not “successful”—but he is my greatest source of inspiration and I idolize him. Of all the people I know, Ye-Ye has encountered the most hardship and of all the people I know, Ye-Ye is the most joyful. That these two aspects can coexist in one individual is, in my mind, truly remarkable.

Ye-Ye was an orphan. Both his parents died before he was six years old, leaving him and his older brother with no home and no family. When other children gathered to read around stoves at school, Ye-Ye and his brother walked in the bitter cold along railroad tracks, looking for used coal to sell. When other children ran home to loving parents, Ye-Ye and his brother walked along the streets looking for somewhere to sleep. Eight years later, Ye-Ye walked alone—his brother was dead.

Ye-Ye managed to survive, and in the meanwhile taught himself to read, write, and do arithmetic. Life was a blessing, he told those around him with a smile.

Years later, Ye-Ye’s job sent him to the Gobi Desert, where he and his fellow workers labored for twelve hours a day. The desert wind was merciless; it would snatch their tent in the middle of the night and leave them without supply the next morning. Every year, harsh weather took the lives of some fellow workers.

After eight years, Ye-Ye was transferred back to the city where his wife lay sick in bed. At the end of a twelve-hour workday, Ye-Ye took care of his sick wife and three young children. He sat with the children and told them about the wide, starry desert sky and mysterious desert lives. Life was a blessing, he told them with a smile.

But life was not easy; there was barely enough money to keep the family from starving. Yet, my dad and his sisters loved going with Ye-Ye to the market. He would buy them little luxuries that their mother would never indulge them in: a small bag of sunflower seeds for two cents, a candy each for three cents. Luxuries as they were, Ye-Ye bought them without hesitation. Anything that could put a smile on the children’s faces and a skip in their steps was priceless.

He would buy them little luxuries that their mother would never indulge them in: a small bag of sunflower seeds for two cents, a candy each for three cents.

Ye-Ye still goes to the market today. At the age of seventy-eight, he bikes several kilometers each week to buy bags of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then bikes home to share them with his neighbors. He keeps a small patch of strawberries and an apricot tree. When the fruit is ripe, he opens his gate and invites all the children in to pick and eat. He is Ye-Ye to every child in the neighborhood.

I had always thought that I was sensible and self-aware. But nothing has made me stare as hard in the mirror as I did after learning about the cruel past that Ye-Ye had suffered and the cheerful attitude he had kept throughout those years. I thought back to all the times when I had gotten upset. My mom forgot to pick me up from the bus station. My computer crashed the day before an assignment was due. They seemed so trivial and childish, and I felt deeply ashamed of myself.

Now, whenever I encounter an obstacle that seems overwhelming, I think of Ye-Ye; I see him in his red baseball cap, smiling at me. Like a splash of cool water, his smile rouses me from grief, and reminds me how trivial my worries are and how generous life has been. Today I keep a red baseball cap at the railing post at home where Ye-Ye used to put his every night. Whenever I see the cap, I think of my Ye-Ye, smiling in his red baseball cap, and I smile. Yes, Ye-Ye. Life is a blessing.

Professional Review by Crimson Education

Yueming’s essay is the perfect example of an application essay that does exactly what it’s supposed to do: it fills out the picture of who Yueming is and allows the admissions committee to learn things about him that are not contained in the rest of his application. Yueming uses the story of his Ye-Ye’s baseball cap to show the reader what is important to him and to demonstrate key personality traits that he’d contribute to life on campus.

Yueming uses the story of his Ye-Ye's baseball cap to show the reader what is important to him and to demonstrate key personality traits

Even though most of the text is devoted to Ye-Ye’s biography, the essay is not just about him. Ye-Ye’s whole story is a prelude to the final paragraphs, which reveal the most important aspects of Yueming’s personality. Just like in life, our ancestors’ past is a prelude to a future generation’s history, which is still emerging. This subtle parallel, unnoticeable at first glance, allows the reader to understand the profound development of Yueming’s personality and his talent for looking deeper into the essence of things.

Yueming shows his ability to learn from the experience of others, and he highlights his own resilience and the positive mindset he gained from Ye-Ye. These qualities are undoubtedly essential for a future Harvard student and demonstrate his ability to embody “life is a blessing” on campus and beyond.

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Charles' Essay

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James was not fitting in with everyone else. During lunch, he sat alone, playing with his own toys. During group activities, the other campers always complained when paired with him. What was wrong? As camp counselor, I quietly observed his behavior—nothing out of the ordinary. I just couldn’t fathom why the other campers treated him like a pariah.

After three days of ostracism, James broke down during a game of soccer. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he slumped off the field, head in his hands. I jogged toward him, my forehead creased with concern. Some campers loudly remarked, “Why is that creep crying?” Furious indignation leaped into my heart. They were the ones who “accidentally” bumped into him and called him “James the Freak.” It was their cruelty that caused his meltdown, and now they were mocking him for it. I sharply told them to keep their thoughts to themselves. I squatted beside James and asked him what was wrong. Grunting, he turned his back to me. I had to stop his tears, and I had to make him feel comfortable. So for the next hour, I talked about everything a seven-year-old boy might find interesting, from sports to Transformers.

I had to stop his tears, and I had to make him feel comfortable. So for the next hour, I talked about everything a seven-year-old boy might find interesting, from sports to Transformers.

“I have a question,” I asked as James began to warm to me. I took a deep breath and dove right into the problem. “Why do the other campers exclude you?” Hesitantly, he took off his shoes and socks, and pointed at his left foot. One, two, three … four. He had four toes. We had gone swimming two days before: All the campers must have noticed. I remembered my childhood, when even the smallest abnormality—a bad haircut, a missing tooth—could cause others, including myself, to shrink away. I finally understood.

But what could I do to help? I scoured my mind for the words to settle his demons. But nothing came to me. Impulsively, I hugged him—a gesture of intimacy we camp leaders were encouraged not to initiate, and an act I later discovered no friend had ever offered James before. Then, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes. I assured him that external features didn’t matter, and that as long as he was friendly, people would eventually come around. I listed successful individuals who had not been hindered by their abnormalities. And finally, I told him he would always be my favorite camper, regardless of whether he had two, five, or a hundred toes.

On the last day of camp, I was jubilant—James was starting to fit in. Although the teasing had not completely disappeared, James was speaking up and making friends. And when, as we were saying our good-byes, James gave me one last hug and proclaimed that I was his “bestest friend in the whole wide world,” my heart swelled up. From my campers, I learned that working with children is simply awesome. And from James, I learned that a little love truly goes a long way.

Professional Review by College Confidential

Charles Wong takes the all too common experience of watching someone be excluded and explains how he combats it. In his personal account of being a camp counselor, Charles not only communicates that he cares deeply for others, but also displays his thought process for how he solves problems in general. Instead of just declaring these personal characteristics, he shows them through a personal account. The pointed decision to “show” not “tell” is an excellent essay tactic.

Charles not only communicates that he cares deeply for others, but also displays his thought process for how he solves problems in general.

First, Charles begins with his description of the situation. His tone is casual and straightforward. He incorporates crucial details, but his writing is not superfluous. His essay is concise and easy to follow. While this approach may seem to lack sophistication, it reflects Charle’s raw, real thoughts. The reader can feel his concern; Charles walks us through his genuine dilemma. Additionally, the acts of kindness he describes—the pep talks, the hugs—offer insight into his character. The decision to include these details paint Charles as a kind and bright personality, something of value on any college campus.

Moreover, Charles does more than just describe how he solved this particular problem, but expands it to life in general. He grasps meaning from a seemingly mundane experience and explains how it changed his entire mindset. This ability to consciously grow suggests Charles’s drive to to learn from all life has to offer; he is a student in more than just the classroom.

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Sean's Essay

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I have always envied the butterfly.

Its graceful poise as it glides through the air; the blissful flutter of its wings as it courageously embarks upon life’s journeys. Its ambitious and adaptive nature — a change-maker and discoverer, a trendsetter in the animal world, a leader amongst other species. Charles Darwin said, “it is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.” I envy the butterfly’s adaptive approach to change, making them the silent leaders of the animal kingdom.

It was at age nine, on a family trip to the Boston Museum of Science, that I was first drawn to the breathtaking butterfly. As I stepped into the butterfly’s endless capsule of nature, the flamboyant and audacious nature of the butterfly was captivating — their vibrant colors flaunted proud and shame-free, central to their persona but not defining of their personality. Their extraordinary courage in self-expression brought a little boy great inspiration. As someone who has questioned and struggled with my identity and accepting my queerness throughout life, the butterfly exemplified what it meant to be bold, courageous, and proud to a young boy who was lacking in all of those.

The butterfly exemplified what it meant to be bold, courageous, and proud to a young boy who was lacking in all of those.

I vividly recall one butterfly standing out among its comrades. Being an uncreative third-grader, I named my new friend Bloo due to his radiant cerulean shades descending from darkness to light as they progressed from the wing’s base. I watched Bloo soar, using his wings to glide far above the dainty and fragile stereotypes placed on him by society. I admire the profound growth Bloo must have achieved to get here, at one point a timid and powerless inchworm evolved into a carefully-crafted canvas of power. Bloo exemplified the strength and pride that I needed to begin accepting my identity. Looking back on this brief encounter with Bloo, I recall how he taught an insecure child self-acceptance. From here, I began to internalize the butterfly’s power. I began to molt into a new skin with fledgling wings.

As I progressed through life with these newly-discovered wings, I became increasingly drawn to observing butterflies in nature. They have proven much more than just precious gems found amongst clouds or prize trophies for kindergarteners to catch in their nets. The butterfly has shown itself as the hidden alpha of the animal kingdom — a leader and trendsetter amongst organisms both small and large, a fearless change-maker enabling them to outsurvive the rest for the past fifty-six million years.

With the wings and strength of the butterfly latched to my shoulders, I proudly embraced the challenge posed by this delicate yet powerful creature — to be a leader and a change-maker. Recognizing many social injustices in my community, I was inspired by the butterfly to become a voice of change. Driven by the butterfly’s creativity, I developed a social justice discussion program to take place at my high school, and became a local leader and fighter against corrupt politics in the 2020 election cycle. Bloo reminds me that time moves quickly and I must never settle nor lose focus in the crusade for justice. I hope to use this fragile time to advocate for equality in medicine, combining my passion for science with advocacy to leave a lasting legacy.

Today, the lessons taught by the butterfly are never far from my mind, whether I'm sitting in my English classroom discussing Beowulf, dreading the prospect of my upcoming integral exam, or even studying Darwin in Biology.

All these years later, as I ponder my defining characteristics and core values, I recognize that it is my time to become the butterfly — to embody Darwin’s words and face life with the courage to create change as I break free from my cocoon and enter the long-awaited adult world.

Professional Review by HS2 Academy

This piece is quite touching, as it deftly crafts a delicate and nuanced picture of Sean’s lifelong connection with the butterfly. It is playful (“my new friend Bloo”) while also profoundly introspective. It starts out effectively with a thought-provoking hook. After all, how many people would think to envy a butterfly? But the essay quickly picks up pace and shows how the butterfly truly is a perfect symbol for Sean’s own metamorphosis into a true leader and agent of change.

The essay works on so many levels because it utilizes an extended metaphor that aptly describes many parallels with Sean's life.

The essay works on so many levels because it utilizes an extended metaphor that aptly describes many parallels with Sean’s life. Oftentimes, many college essays utilize figurative language, but the connection with the narrative of that student’s life tends to be rather superficial. The idea of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon may seem a bit cliche as an image of a student’s transformation, but Sean’s essay goes deeper, in part because of a parallel with Sean’s own struggles with their queer identity. Phrases like using his wings to “glide far above the dainty and fragile stereotypes placed on him by society” powerfully capture Sean’s own journey from an insecure child to an advocate for social justice and equality in medicine.

We learn that Sean has truly found inspiration in the butterfly, rising above struggles with self-identity to become a principled leader with a genuine desire to fight injustice. The qualities Sean demonstrates—determination over adversity, passion for equality and justice—would be a welcome addition to any college community.

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Sample Essays: Writing with MLA Style

Congratulations to the students whose essays were selected for the 2023 edition of Writing with MLA Style! Essays were selected as examples of excellent student writing that use MLA style for citing sources. Essays have been lightly edited. 

If your institution subscribes to MLA Handbook Plus , you can access annotated versions of the essays selected in 2022 and 2023. 

Writing with MLA Style: 2023 Edition

The following essays were selected for the 2023 edition of Writing with MLA Style. The 2023 selection committee was composed of Ellen C. Carillo, University of Connecticut (chair); Rachel Ihara, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York; and Tarshia L. Stanley, Wagner College.

Caroline Anderson (Pepperdine University)

“ L’Appel du Vide : Making Spaces for Sinful Exploration in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ”

Hunter Daniels (University of South Carolina, Aiken)

“Biblical Legalism and Cultural Misogyny in The Tragedy of Mariam ”

Aspen English (Southern Utah University)

“Putting the ‘Comm’ in Comics: A Communication-Theory-Informed Reading of Graphic Narratives”

Raul Martin (Lamar University)

“The Book-Object Binary: Access and Sustainability in the Academic Library”

Grace Quasebarth (Salve Regina University)

“Finding a Voice: The Loss of Machismo Criticisms through Translation in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits ”

Writing with MLA Style: 2022 Edition

The following essays were selected for the 2022 edition of Writing with MLA Style. The 2022 selection committee was composed of Ellen C. Carillo, University of Connecticut; Jessica Edwards, University of Delaware (chair); and Deborah H. Holdstein, Columbia College Chicago.

Kaile Chu (New York University, Shanghai)

“Miles Apart: An Investigation into Dedicated Online Communities’ Impact on Cultural Bias”

Sietse Hagen (University of Groningen)

“The Significance of Fiction in the Debate on Dehumanizing Media Portrayals of Refugees”

Klara Ismail (University of Exeter)

“Queering the Duchess: Exploring the Body of the Female Homosexual in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi ”

Yasmin Mendoza (Whittier College)

“Banning without Bans”

Niki Nassiri (Stony Brook University)

“Modern-Day US Institutions and Slavery in the Twenty-First Century”

Samantha Wilber (Palm Beach Atlantic University)

“‘Pero, tu no eres facil’: The Poet X as Multicultural Bildungsroman”

Writing with MLA Style: 2019 Edition

The following essays were selected for the 2019 edition of Writing with MLA Style. The 2019 selection committee was composed of Jessica Edwards, University of Delaware; Deborah H. Holdstein, Columbia College Chicago (chair); and Liana Silva, César E. Chavez High School, Houston, Texas.

Catherine Charlton (University of King’s College, Nova Scotia)

“‘Coal Is in My Blood’: Public and Private Representations of Community Identity in Springhill, Nova Scotia”

Alyiah Gonzales (California Polytechnic State University)

“Disrupting White Normativity in Langston Hughes’s ‘I, Too’ and Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’”

Meg Matthias (Miami University, Ohio)

“Prescriptions of (Living) Historical Happiness: Gendered Performance and Racial Comfort in Reenactment”

Jennifer Nguyen  (Chaminade University of Honolulu)

“The Vietnam War, the American War: Literature, Film, and Popular Memory”

Emily Schlepp (Northwest University)

“A Force of Love: A Deconstructionist Reading of Characters in Dickens’s  Great Expectations ”

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60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications

Ideas to inspire every college applicant.

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

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

Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts

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

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

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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

  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, check out  the ultimate guide to college scholarships.

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

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2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts

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The Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2022-2023. Because as we enter the third year of a global pandemic, consistency is not a bad thing.

That’s not the only reason, of course. We know from our most recent survey on the topic that over 95% of every group who responded--students, counselors, teachers, and admission officers--agree that the prompts spark effective essays. That’s why we kept them the same last year as well, with the exception of adding a new one about gratitude .

As we’ve said in the past, this announcement is not an invitation to juniors to start writing. And it’s definitely not a signal that they start thinking about applying. Those things will come in time. We share this news in January because it’s when some schools begin conversations about college options. It’s a time for learning, reflecting, and planning. That’s where the prompts can be useful: in helping students understand the aspects of their lives that colleges are curious about. 

"We share this news in January because it’s when some schools begin conversations about college options. It’s a time for learning, reflecting, and planning. That’s where the prompts can be useful: in helping students understand the aspects of their lives that colleges are curious about." Scott Anderson, Senior Director, Common App

Something else we’ve said in the past: prompts are not topics. They are simply questions designed to spark thinking. Our Telling Your Story resource shows students just how much flexibility they have in what they write when the time comes.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2022-2023. We will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.

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

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Highly-selective colleges and universities often require supplemental application materials. These materials help further personalize the admissions process so that each college’s admissions committee has the information it needs to select a vibrant and diverse incoming class. 

In this article, we will look at 10 supplemental essay prompts from top colleges and universities for the 2022-23 admissions cycle. Once you get a better sense of what to expect from a supplemental essay prompt, we will outline key strategies for answering these prompts, as well as provide practical writing tips to help you get started.

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What are supplemental essays and are they important?

Each college has its own sets of values and criteria that it looks for in applicants. This is why determining college fit is so important. By carefully researching each school on your college list and having several clear and compelling reasons for wanting to attend, you will increase your overall chances of admission.    

One way that colleges gauge whether or not a student would be a good fit for their university is by posing unique supplemental essay prompts. This is why knowing how to write a supplemental essay is so important. Most colleges with supplemental essays will have applicants write the “why this college” essay . 

Many selective colleges will require additional supplemental essays as well. In some cases, you will need to prepare an additional five essays per school, so give yourself plenty of time to complete each essay thoughtfully, write multiple drafts, seek out feedback, and proofread. The college application process can feel overwhelming at times, so make sure you brainstorm ways to stay organized during the college application process . 

Although the style and content of the actual prompts can vary greatly, at the core these prompts have one thing in common: They are designed to get to know who you are as a person, what your values are, and whether you demonstrate compatibility with the university’s overall mission. 

How to write supplemental essays

If you’re looking for supplemental essay tips, you’ve come to the right place! In this section, we will discuss how to write a good supplemental essay, by providing several key application essay tips. 

To start, it’s important to remember that the process of writing supplemental essays is similar to the process of writing a successful personal statement . Review components of a strong personal statement to give yourself a fresh perspective before beginning your supplemental essays.

Tips for writing supplemental essays

Supplemental essays are typically pretty brief. This is why it’s important to learn how to write concisely and powerfully. Having very few words to respond does not mean that you should prepare your responses casually or that your responses shouldn’t include lots of details. Rather, approach each word limit creatively. Whether you have 50 words, 200 words, or 500 words, try to use each sentence and detail to your advantage. One of the best ways to do this is to begin by freewriting. Write down everything that comes to mind. Take time to fully flush out your ideas. Then review what you’ve written and see what feels most important. These are the details you will want to highlight in your response.

Some colleges will require three to five additional essays. Maybe even more! This is why it’s important to be prepared and plan ahead. Supplemental essays are an important part of your college application and they require a lot of time and effort. While some supplemental essay prompts may be similar between schools, in general, you want to avoid recycling your college essays. Admissions officers can tell when a student is tweaking an existing essay to fit a prompt.

While some essay prompts are required, others are optional. In general, try to answer each prompt thoughtfully and creatively. After all, it’s no secret that college admissions are highly competitive so it’s great to give your application “an edge” whenever possible. That said, there are times when you should pass on writing an optional essay. If you’re not sure whether or not you should submit an essay for an optional prompt, begin by drafting a response. Then ask yourself if the essay feels forced or genuine. Does the essay convey something new about you that isn’t included in the rest of your application? If the question doesn’t seem to apply to you and you are genuinely unsure what to contribute, you should probably skip that particular essay. After all, no one wants to read an uninspired essay that doesn’t contribute to your overall application.

2022-23 supplemental essay prompts

As mentioned, supplemental essay prompts can vary significantly. Some prompts ask you to respond in 50 words while other prompts ask you to respond in 500 words. Some prompts focus on academics while others ask you to reflect carefully on your cultural upbringing or life philosophies. Still, other prompts will ask you to introduce who you are as a person or discuss something that you enjoy.

Just as supplemental essay prompts vary in style, your responses will also vary. Some prompts will require you to be thoughtful and serious, while other prompts may encourage you to be humorous or creative. It all depends.

Brown University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Brown University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

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

Columbia University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Columbia University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list of 75 words, 1 list of 125 words, 3 essays of 200 words each, and 1 short answer of 35 words. One of their supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. (For example, it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.)  

List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

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Dartmouth college supplemental essay prompt.

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Dartmouth College requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

“Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde advised. “Everyone else is taken.” Introduce yourself in 200-250 words. 

Duke University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Duke University requires at least one supplemental essay, with the option to submit an additional two supplemental essays. One of the optional supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Emory University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Emory University requires two supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

Emory If you could witness a historic event (past, present or future) first-hand, what would it be, and why?

Harvard University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Harvard University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

MIT supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, MIT requires five supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.

Princeton University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Princeton University requires three supplemental essays and three short responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:

Please respond to each question in 75 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!

What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

What brings you joy? 

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

Stanford University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Stanford University requires three supplemental essays and five short answer responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:

How did you spend your last two summers? (50-word limit)

UPenn supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, UPenn requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows: 

Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words)

Yale University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Yale University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list; 6 short answer questions; 1 additional short essay of 400 words. One of the short answer prompts is as follows:

Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss? (200 characters or fewer)

Supplemental essay examples

One of the best ways to prepare your supplemental essay responses is to look at successful past examples. In this section, we will look at three examples and explain why each response is successful. 

This first example was submitted as a part of Harvard’s college application. This essay is in response to the prompt: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words).

Feet moving, eyes up, every shot back, chants the silent mantra in my head. The ball becomes a beacon of neon green as I dart forward and backward, shuffling from corner to far corner of the court, determined not to let a single point escape me. With bated breath, I swing my racquet upwards and outwards and it catches the ball just in time to propel it, spinning, over the net. My heart soars as my grinning teammates cheer from the sidelines. While I greatly value the endurance, tenacity, and persistence that I have developed while playing tennis throughout the last four years, I will always most cherish the bonds that I have created and maintained each year with my team.

This essay uses rich, descriptive language to evoke a clear sense of movement and place. The first paragraph shows a creative and expert control of language, whereas the second paragraph uses straightforward language to highlight key characteristics. Overall, this response is creative, well-balanced, and uses each word to its advantage. 

Source: https://www.collegeadvisor.com/essay-guides/harvard-university-essay-examples-and-why-they-worked/  

This essay was submitted as a part of an MIT college application. The supplemental essay prompt that it addresses is: Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

We were moving away from my home of thirteen years to go miles and miles away, from my whole life. Worst of all: away from New York City – the only place in the world worth knowing – or so I thought. The town might as well have been called “Miniscule Ville”. I resented every second of it. The real shocking thing to me was almost that anything existed outside of New York City. NYC is a world of its own, with its own pulses and lifeblood. I still think it’s a great place, and I’ll likely at least visit it someday, but right now, I want to visit everywhere. My move humbled me. I began to love nature walks, the friendly camaraderie of the small town, and saw a world I never imagined. I thought I knew it all just because I lived in New York. Here was a great place, hidden from view. I loved experiencing that new world, learning local history, and most of all, learning the life stories of my new neighbors, each one of whom had a fascinating life. My greatest dream is to be a journalist, covering other countries, and learning about new worlds and neighbors. My old perspective feels so limited. If I can share global stories, I can open up my perspective, and I can share those stories with a thousand homes so readers can learn about other perspectives as well. The world is full of different lives. Everywhere is somebody’s home.

This essay covers a lot of material; most impressively, it shows a shift in perspective and its effect on the student’s lived experience. It also clearly explains the student’s academic and professional goals. The tone of this essay is both confident and humble. It demonstrates who this student is as a person, what their goals are, and what they value.  

Source: https://bemoacademicconsulting.com/blog/mit-supplemental-essay-examples  

This essay was submitted as a part of a Duke college application. The essay addresses the prompt: What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Most teachers who taught me talked a big game about wanting students to engage in debate, or “dialectic” as they called it, and to challenge their ideas. In my experience, most of this was a fabrication. The best essay grades and participation marks were found through parroting what was dictated from on high. Did the teacher think such-and-such is the “correct” interpretation of a novel? You did, too, or you lost points. None of that was true for Ms. Jackie Winters. The first essay I sent her came back with the note, “This doesn’t sound like you; it sounds like me.” I asked her about the note, and this initiated a marvelous learning environment, in which I grew faster than I ever have in any other class. Discussions were lively, and the more I presented my authentic views, the more I was respected. My grades were dependent on being backed up by rhetoric, sources, and logic, not by compliance. Due to this engagement, this was the most enjoyable English literature class I had, and I feel like my viewpoints were challenged. I learned to question my ideas and dig into a text for the best results. Best of all, I was putting in more and more effort to find good, quality sources to back up my arguments. I was held to a high standard and shown respect, and I believe that those qualities made for the best learning environment possible

This essay clearly shows a shift in perspective and the effects it had on this student’s ability to think, speak, and write critically. Structurally, this essay uses an anecdote to introduce and contextualize a topic, but the essay itself isn’t overly narrative. Rather, the student explains, in detail, how this teacher’s encouragement and guidance have influenced their willingness and ability to engage with the source material and academic discourse.

Source: https://bemoacademicconsulting.com/blog/duke-supplemental-essay-examples  

Key takeaways and moving forward

Supplemental essays are an important part of your college applications. In fact, they are a key factor in what college admissions officers look for in an applicant . Highly-selective colleges and universities use supplemental essays to further personalize the college admissions process. After all, thousands of qualified students apply to Ivy League institutions each year and only a small fraction are admitted. Supplemental essays allow you to share more about who you are as a person and as a student. Use each prompt as an opportunity to add something new to your college application. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance throughout this process, reach out to learn more about our services .

Frequently asked questions and answers

Still have questions about supplemental essays and the effects they have on college applications? Review the following frequently asked questions and answers for further insight on supplemental essays. 

How important are supplemental essays?

Supplemental essays are an incredibly important part of your college applications and should be properly prioritized. If a college didn’t care about your response, they wouldn’t ask you in the first place. Put plenty of time and care into your responses. Write several drafts, seek out feedback, and always proofread.

How long should supplemental essays be?

Always follow directions. Colleges will specify how long each supplemental essay should be, usually right after the prompt itself. Depending on the college, and the prompt, a supplemental essay’s word count may range anywhere from 50 to 500 words.

Do supplemental essays change every year?

It all depends on the college. Colleges often reuse past prompts, but there are no guarantees. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and make a list of supplemental essay prompts early on in the college application process.

Are supplemental essays required?

Sometimes colleges will have both required and optional supplemental essays. That said, the essay prompts are clearly labeled. In short, each college will specify whether supplemental essays are required. 

Do all colleges have supplemental essays?

No, not all colleges have supplemental essays. Highly-selective colleges, however, often require at least one additional essay.

  • December 14, 2022

Supplemental Essay Guide for 2022-23 Prompts

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College Essay Topics for 2022

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Overwhelmed by the many college essay topics you can write about? Don’t be. We’ll show you potential topics you can choose for your college essay.

As discussed in the post about   How to Choose an Essay Topic , don’t start with the Common App, Coalition App, or other college application essay prompts. Instead, begin writing your essay and go back and choose the prompt it answers best later.

Key Takeaways

  • The college essay starts with a compelling essay topic.
  • It's not easy to come up with a college essay topic that is interesting, original, and supports the overall theme of your college application.
  • Start here for ideas on the best college essay topics of 2022

Table of Contents

What is the college essay.

The college essay is the piece of writing in your college application where you tell admission officers:

  • Who you are
  • What value you’d bring to the campus community
  • Why they should accept you. 

The college essay brings color to your file and can give “aha” moments to highlight or bring clarity about why you’re a good candidate for the college. Your college essay is so important that a great essay can push you over the edge if it’s between you and another candidate. A bad college essay will likely lead to a decision to decline your application. College essay topics set the tone of the entire essay.

2020 is the first year that most colleges considered files without test scores. They placed more emphasis on the college essay. Things will be the same in 2020. The University of California and many other colleges have announced that 2021-2022 will also be test-optional.

While we never know the exact impact of the college essay on admissions, before COVID-19,  75% of admissions officers responded that they found the college essay to be a factor in their decisions . This shows that the college essay is important. The essay you write is guided by the college essay topics you choose.  With so many things happening in your life, how do you choose which to write about? 

This post digs into the most compelling topics of the 2022 college application season. The examples presented here will get you started on writing an essay that is unique to you and makes the case for your admissions.

Something you're afraid of

girl covering her face with her blouse

Fear is a great topic to explore in your college essay. It’s one of the most primal of all human emotions. Fear keeps us from making decisions that can hurt us. But more often than not, fear also holds us back from doing things that will help us grow. With a key objective in your essay to show growth, writing your essay about something that keeps you up at night is sure to be a winner. 

Some examples can include the fear of loneliness, fear of failure, or the fear of success . I had a former student write an essay about his fear of heights and how he overcame that fear and worked his way up to riding the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios. Here’s an excerpt from the student’s essay:

"I am scared of many things (needles, sharks, blood), but no fear has conquered me more than height fright. I spent a decade visiting Disney World with my mom, dad, and younger brother and never set foot on a thrill ride. I especially feared The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a Hollywood Studios headliner, engineered to drop at accelerated speeds while being struck by lightning bolts or what epitomized my waking nightmare. In August 2011, when my dad suggested we ride Terror, I profusely refused. His stone-cold face glared at me down when he said, "Logan, this ride isn't even scary!" But I, arms crossed and standing my ground, wouldn't waver. Of course, I got my way, and he stayed back with me. Although relieved for the time being, upon returning to New York, I felt bad that I had burdened my family with my fear, which persisted for five more years. Then, last year, I rode Terror and haven't looked back since. Here's how I did it." Student Writer

Something you're grateful for

girl on the bus laughing looking outside

This topic perfectly aligns with the Common Apps new 2021-2022 essay prompt that says: 

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?

The motivation for this question update is that so much has happened in the last two years. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the world will never be the same. We have lost so many lives. Also, there is social unrest, economic decline, and lots of uncertainty. Some people liken what’s happening to the early 20th century, ironically in the same 20s decade. If you’re alive, breathing, and have had good fortunes this year, this may be an excellent topic for you to dig into further.

Someone who has inspired you

Dad and daugther posing for picture studying in the library

For this essay topic, you’d write about a real person in your life . Avoid choosing a celebrity, popular politician or pubic figure, out of the risk of being too clich é . The person you choose should have a direct or indirect influence on the person you have become. 

This could be someone like your mom or dad, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, cousin, friend, teacher, coach, or anyone else who you can speak vividly and candidly about lessons they have taught you. This person can be living or may have passed on. The essay you write will illustrate what insights and learnings you can apply to your life because of the influence they have had on you.

Here’s an excerpt from a sample student who wrote about her late father: 

"In his final days, I recall my father reclining on a plush black couch. His expressionless face was attached to a gas mask and oxygen tank. It still brings me to tears that the father I loved - the man who walked ten blocks every Sunday to Parisi's Bakery to buy his little girl strawberry-filled bread cookies - was losing his battle with lung cancer. Even as his health started to deteriorate, my father proved himself to be a hero. Like a devout Muslim, he read his favorite Koran passages and prayed five times daily until the eleventh hour. Oblivious to his weakening condition, I sat by his side, asking questions about everything like spelling a word, the question to a Jeopardy answer, and what a fact means. Hoarse and out of breath, my father always gave me an answer. He was aware that this moment might be the last time we would have together. But I believed that he would pull through cancer and be around forever. After all, real heroes never die, right? While difficult to be fully expressed in words, my father strived to be a good parent to my brothers and me. He made sure we got to school on time, taught us how to save for the future, and encouraged us to value our Muslim beliefs. Still, more importantly, he made us earn his approval. On those rare occasions, when I could get him to share a proud smile for something that I achieved, I felt like my world was complete. For example, my father walked with my brothers and me to Rainey Park on Saturdays, where he challenged us to a relay race. Of course, he always won. But during each race, he yelled at me to run faster, pull through the pain gushing through my legs, and pump harder and harder. After following his advice, on one particular Saturday afternoon, I beat him! And when I waited for his expression, his grave eyes finally gave me the approval I yearned for. On the way home, he stopped at the store to buy me red Baby Bottle Pop candy. It was the perfect day!" Student Writer

Something you're fighting for

girl with afro hair protesting

2020 is arguably the year of the most protests in your lifetime (and my lifetime!). Mashable featured a great article about the 15 protests of 2020 that you’ll tell your children about. Why wait? Your college essay is a great place to start, especially if you’ve been part of any of the protests. Nothing explains who you are and what you stand for than sharing causes that you care about. 

Something you're sacrificing for

boy studying in his computer

One of the most incredible moves you can make in your life is sacrificing something in your life for the greater good. For example, maybe you’re an aspiring teen entrepreneur and next founder or creator. You’re building a business, like a few of my students. 

One has a jewelry company and sells her products on Etsy. Another is buying and selling cryptocurrency on an exchange. Running a business comes with sacrifices, such as missing out on having fun with friends. Or perhaps your grades. Many of my entrepreneurial students have less than stellar grades or limited extracurricular involvement because they’ve spent more time building their businesses. 

This essay would serve a dual purpose of explaining why their grades aren’t perfect (addressing something that admissions officers would want to know) and showing their passion for something worth sacrificing the time and energy they’d spend elsewhere that wasn’t as significant.

Something or someone you value

teenager boy opening a secret box

A classic topic, you can use it as your general essay. Some schools, like Stanford University, use this topic as a supplemental essay. At its core, motivation, and passion lead to action. In this essay, you can show admissions officers what type of person you are, how you show up in the world, and your plans for the future – for yourself, the campus community, and society. 

To be sure, this is a BIG essay to write. If you select this topic, be sure to focus on one thing (as opposed to ten) that is meaningful and most important to you. Avoid repeating anything you have said in another part of your application. A great example of this essay is a student who wrote about a memory box where she keeps her most precious treasures. She speaks about each treasure, a book from her mom and a pair of gold hoop earrings, and the significance they’ve had in her life. Here’s an excerpt:

Here’s a college essay excerpt from a student who wrote about a box for her most precious treasures: 

I am a collector. It started with a box. But my head is ingrained with the idea that every object worth saving has a story worth remembering. Peeking out from the edge of the box was Our Moon Has Blood Clots, a book my mom had given me two years ago to read. It vividly details Kashmir's purge of the Kashmiri Pandit community, a part of our history my mom felt was important to understand. But I avoided it. For me, it was too uncomfortable to face a past ridden with war, violence, rape, and exile. I didn't want to relive my parents escaping their homes with only a few documents, living in tents, and everything they worked for and knew was gone and forced to restart their lives from ground zero. Instead of reading it, I buried it, deep, in my memory box. Although I was born 13 years later, I read in a PBS article that trauma is an inherited trait. And like so many victims of trauma, be it first-hand or through DNA, we hold on to things but put memories away. I am without a piece of myself. One day, I'll face the truth and accept how the mass exodus has shaped me. But today, I find solace in understanding that my parents' struggle gave rise to more opportunities I could hope for given their arrival as American refugees. By taking advantage of everything at my disposal, I am grateful for my education and relationships, all assets no one can ever take away." Student Writer

Something you're passionate about

girl listening music in her earphone

This essay topic is a great way to show your curiosity and hunger for knowledge or mastering a skill . You wouldn’t want to write this essay about anything already in your college application, like why you enjoy biology or why you joined your school’s video club. Instead, you’d write about something that shows your interest in something that would not fit anywhere else. You enjoy something so unique that your application would not be complete unless they knew this about you.

Interests you can write about like:

  • Podcasting and video blogging
  • Bitcoin and cryptocurrency
  • Real estate investing
  • Running your own business or nonprofit
  • Spoken word poetry
  • Knitting, scrapbooking, or other creative arts
  • Social media and being an influencer

These are a few examples, and you likely have your own examples of interests you’re passionate about that you do on your own and outside of school. Speaking about your hobbies and interests can give insight into what else you’ve been up to during your high school years. Often for students, these interests may lead to career options or influence how you’ll engage in the campus community, both of which admissions officers are very interested in learning about you.

Your cultural roots and background

girl having a snack in the kitchen

If you’re a newcomer to the United States or a first-generation American with parents who migrated to our country, this may be a good topic for you to explore. You have a unique voice and perspective that college admissions officers highly value. You can speak about so many things — experiences, culture, food — what meaning these things have had in your life, how you’re balancing with ideals in American culture.

You can speak about it directly, such as telling the reader about your journey as a newcomer or first-generation American student. Or you can talk about it indirectly, as one of my students from last year did. The student wrote about his joy in making empanadas. He shares his grandmother’s recipe and what it’s like making them with her and ties it to his cultural ties to Equador and being of Italian heritage. Here’s an excerpt from his essay:

Here’s a college essay excerpt from a student who wrote about his joy of cooking empanadas for his family: 

"I have become more comfortable with the recipe, and I am confident that I can make any empanada I want. I like making empanadas for several reasons. First, I can be very creative with them, changing the ingredients every time I make them. Over the years, I have made empanadas with all kinds of varieties of beef, chicken, cheese, and vegetables. But if I wanted to, I could fill it with tomato sauce and cheese to make a pizza empanada or American cheese and beef to make a cheeseburger empanada. From start to finish, no matter what you put inside, it takes half an hour, and you have yourself a meal. Also, around the time that I made my first empanadas, it was not often that I would find a restaurant that sold them. I had to make them myself. However, as time has passed, I have seen more restaurants and food trucks that strictly serve empanadas open in my neighborhood, where there are few from my Ecuadorian culture living here. And like so many other things, empanadas have arrived in mainstream American culture, making their mark on the world, something so unique, diverse, and delicious. But most importantly, empanadas represent a significant part of Ecuadorian culture, to which I've always felt connected through my grandma's stories. Growing up, I remember vivid stories about her life in Ecuador. She eventually moved to the United States at 18-years-old and was immersed in American culture as a young woman and immigrant. Learning to cook empanadas and staying true to her recipe has strengthened my relationship with my grandma. While I have never traveled to Quito, Ecuador's capital city, where she was born, the empanadas link me to my cultural roots." Student Writer

Once you decide on a topic, then you can proceed to write your college essay. Start here with this post about Writing a College Essay. Also, you can check out an upcoming College Essay Workshop .

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3 Marvelous MIT Essay Examples

What’s covered:, essay example #1 – simply for the pleasure of it, essay example #2 – community, essay example #3 – overcoming challenges.

  • Where to Get Feedback on Your MIT Essay  

Sophie Alina , an expert advisor on CollegeVine, provided commentary on this post. Advisors offer one-on-one guidance on everything from essays to test prep to financial aid. If you want help writing your essays or feedback on drafts,  book a consultation with Sophie Alina or another skilled advisor.

MIT is a difficult school to be admitted into; a strong essay is key to a successful application. In this post, we will discuss a few essays that real students submitted to MIT, and outline the essays’ strengths and areas of improvement. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved). 

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

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. 

Prompt: We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. 

After devouring Lewis Carrolls’ masterpiece, my world shifted off its axis. I transformed into Alice, and my favorite place, the playground, became Wonderland. I would gallivant around, marveling at flowers and pestering my parents with questions, murmuring, “Curiouser and curiouser.” If Alice’s “Drink Me” potion was made out of curiosity, I drank liters of it. Alice, along with fairytale retellings like the Land of Stories by Chris Colfer, kickstarted my lifelong love of reading. 

Especially when I was younger, reading brought me solace when the surrounding world was filled with madness (and sadly, not like the fun kind in Alice in Wonderland ). There are so many nonsensical things that happen in the world, from shootings at a movie theater not thirty minutes from my home, to hate crimes targeted towards elderly Asians. Reading can be a magical escape from these problems, an opportunity to clear one’s mind from chaos. 

As I got older, reading remained an escape, but also became a way to see the world and people from a new perspective. I can step into so many different people’s shoes, from a cyborg mechanic ( Cinder ), to a blind girl in WWII’s France (Marie-Laure, All the Light We Cannot See ). Sure, madness is often prevalent in these worlds too, but reading about how these characters deal with it helps me deal with our world’s madness, too. 

Reading also transcends generational gaps, allowing me to connect to my younger siblings through periodic storytimes. Reading is timeless — something I’ll never tire of. 

What This Essay Did Well

This essay is highly detailed and, while it plays off a common idea that reading is an escape, the writer brings in personal examples of why this is so, making the essay more their own. These personal examples often include strong language (e.g. “devoured,” “gallivant,” “pestering” ), which make the imagery more vivid, the writing more interesting. More advanced language can add more nuance to an essay– instead of “ate,” the writer chooses to say “devoured, ” and you can almost see the writer taking the book in almost as quickly as they might polish off a tray of cookies. 

The writer also discusses how reading can not only be a solace from events that seem nonsensical, but a way to understand the madness in these events. By giving two different examples of how this can be so, that seem so varied from each other (the cyborg mechanic and the girl in WWII’s France), the writer creates more depth to this idea. 

What Could be Improved

At the beginning, the writer should consider cutting the introduction paragraph by a line to leave more room for the two major points of the essay in the following paragraphs. Instead of a long sentence about a love of reading being kickstarted, the writer could create a short, powerful sentence to kick off the next two paragraphs. “I was in love with reading.” 

The detail at the end about how reading also transcends generational gaps seems like an add-on that doesn’t connect to the past two ideas– instead, I would suggest that this author expand a little more on the prior two ideas and tie them together at the end. “In this timeless world of reading, I can keep drinking from the well of curiosity. In the pages of a book, I have a space to find out more about the world around me, process its events, and more deeply understand others.”

Prompt: At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)

“Orange throw!”

As I extended my arm to signal properly, the smallest girl on the orange team picked up the ball to throw it back into play. In AYSO, U10 players often lift their back foot when throwing the ball, so I focused my attention there.

Don’t lift it. Keep it down.

It shot straight up. 

My instincts blew the whistle to stop the game. The rulebook is simple: the rule was broken, give it to the other team. But the way she tried, eager to play, eager to learn and try again— I couldn’t punish that. So I made my way over to the sideline to try it myself.

“When we’re throwing it in, we wanna keep our back foot down. Try again!” After demonstrating, I backpedaled a bit and watched her throw again.

Don’t lift it. Keep it down… Ah, it stayed down.

“Nice throw!”

And just like that, we were off again. These short, educational encounters happen multiple times a game. And while they may not be prescribed, they provide so many learning opportunities. These kids, they’re the future of soccer. If they learn the basics, they can achieve greatness.

Every time I step out onto the pitch, that’s what I see: potential. Little Alex may not throw correctly now, but with work, she could become the next Alex Morgan. That’s why, in every soccer game I referee, every new situation I’m thrust into, I strive to see what’s more; I strive to see the potential.

What the Essay Did Well

There is so much imagery in this essay! It’s easy to see the scene in your mind. Through details such as “smallest girl” and describing the team as the “orange,” the reader can more easily picture the scene in their mind. Giving color, size, and other details such as these can make the imagery stronger and the picture clearer in the reader’s mind. 

The writer narrates their thought process through their use of italics, bringing the reader into the mind of the writer. The space for each line of dialogue separates each thought, so that the reader can feel the full emphasis of each line. The mingling of cognitive narration and details about the setting keep the momentum of the essay. 

Through this essay, we learn that this referee is supportive to the members of the youth soccer teams that they are refereeing; instead of seeing the role of referee as punitive (punishing), this writer sees it as a coaching experience. This idea of creating educational encounters as one’s contribution to the community is definitely a great idea to build upon for this essay prompt. 

What Could Be Improved

The contribution to the community is clear because of the emphasis on the coaching aspect of refereeing. However, especially thinking about structure, the author spends about half the essay on a single situation. Limiting this story to a third of the essay could give the writer more space to provide examples of other ways that the author has coached others. The author could have also connected this coaching experience to a mentoring experience in a different context, such as mentoring students at the YMCA,  to create more connections between other extracurriculars and give more weight to this author’s contributions to the community. 

The second to last paragraph ( “And just like that, we were off again…” ) could benefit from another example or two about showing, not telling. The sentence “And while they might not be prescribed, they provide so many learning opportunities” is already clear from the situation that the author has given; the author has already called these “educational encounters” in the prior sentence. Instead of that sentence, the writer could have given another example about a child thanking the writer for a coaching tip, or the expression on a different player’s face when they learned a new skill. 

Additionally, the role of the writer is not immediately clear at the beginning, although it’s suspected that this student is most likely the referee. The writer also provides details about “AYSO” (American Youth Soccer Organization) and “U10,” where they could have simply referred to the games as “youth soccer games” to get the point across that the players are still learning basic skills about throwing the ball in. 

To make all of this clear, the writer could have said “As a referee for youth soccer games, I have seen that players often lift their back foot when throwing the ball, so I focused my attention there.” Acronyms are usually best to be avoided in essays- they can take the reader’s attention away from what is actually happening and lead them to wonder about what the letters in the acronym stand for.

Prompt: Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? 

“It’s… unique,” they say. 

I sag, my younger sister’s koala drawing staring at me from the wall. It always seemed like her art ended up praised and framed, while mine ended up in the trash can when I wasn’t looking. In contrast to my sister, art always came as a bit of a struggle for me. My bowls were lopsided and my portraits looked like demons. Many times, I’ve wanted to scream and quit art once and for all. I craved my parents’ validation, a nod of approval or a frame on the wall. 

Eventually, my art improved, and I made some of my favorite projects, from a ceramic haunted house to mushroom salt-and-pepper shakers. Even then, I didn’t get much praise from my parents, but I realized I genuinely loved art. It wasn’t something I enjoyed because of others’ praise; I just liked creating things of my own and the inexplicable thrill of chasing a challenge. Art has taught me to love failing miserably at something to continue it again the next day. If I never endured countless Bob Ross tutorials, I never would’ve made the mountain painting that I hang in my room today; if I never made pottery that blew up (just once!), I wouldn’t have my giant ceramic pie. 

I’m still light years from being an expert, but I’ll never tire of the kick of a challenge. 

The detail about the sister’s koala drawing being framed and praised while this writer’s portraits look like “demons” and bowls “lopsided” draws a nice contrast between the skills of the sister versus those of the writer.  In response to this “Overcoming Challenges” prompt , the author justifies that this is a significant challenge by saying that they “wanted to scream and quit art once and for all” and that they still desired their parents’ approval. 

The writer’s response to the situation— taking more tutorials online, creating many different pots before getting it right– is nicely framed. Many times, students forget to include examples that demonstrate how they respond to the situation, and this writer does a good job of including some of those details. 

The writer seems to emphasize the parents’ approval piece in the first paragraph, but then moves away from that point more to focus on the “thrill of chasing a challenge.” This essay could be improved by focusing a little more on how the writer emotionally moved past not getting that approval “Even then, I didn’t get much praise from my parents, but I finally realized I didn’t need to focus on that. I could focus on my love of art, on the inexplicable thrill of chasing the challenge…” 

Additionally, the sentence that starts with “Eventually, my art improved…” leaves the reader with the ques tion– how? Saying something like “Eventually, after many YouTube tutorials and a few destroyed pots, my art improved” would add detail, without taking away from the sentence about the Bob Ross tutorials and the pot blowing up. 

Where to Get Feedback on Your MIT Essay 

Do you want feedback on your MIT  essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

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

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