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

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

What's New in 2023/24

What are Harvard's Essay Prompts?

How to Answer Harvard's Essay Prompts

General Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Answer Harvard’s Supplemental Essay Questions?

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

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

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

Answering Prompt 1

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

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

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

2. Reflect on Your Unique Experiences

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

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

3. Dive Deep into Personal Growth

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

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

4. Connect to Harvard

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

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

5. Be Concise and Authentic

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

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

Answering Prompt 2

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

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

1. Define "Intellectual Experience"

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

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

2. Choose a Meaningful Experience

Reflect on experiences that genuinely transformed your thinking:

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

3. Delve into the "Why"

Discuss why this experience was transformative:

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

4. Highlight Personal Growth

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

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

5. Be Authentic and Reflective

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

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

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Answering Prompt 3

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

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

1. Prioritize Depth Over Quantity

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

2. Choose a Defining Experience

Reflect on moments that genuinely shaped your character:

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

3. Describe the Experience

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

4. Reflect on the Impact

Discuss how this experience influenced your personal growth:

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

5. Connect to the Present

Highlight how this experience continues to influence you:

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

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

Answering Prompt 4

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

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

1. Reflect on Your Goals

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

2. Highlight Harvard's Unique Offerings

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

3. Draw a Connection

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

4. Go Beyond the Obvious

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

5. Discuss the Broader Impact

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

6. Stay Authentic

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

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

Answering Prompt 5

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

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

1. Reflect on Your Personality

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

2. Balance Seriousness with Lightness

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

3. Be Genuine

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

4. Consider Your Daily Life

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

5. Reflect on Past Living Experiences

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

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

5 Tips for the "Why This School?" Essay

General Guidelines for Crafting Stellar Harvard Supplemental Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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What Makes Crimson Different

Key Resources & Further Reading

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

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Aiming for the world-renowned Harvard University? As part of the application to this prestigious Ivy League school , you'll have the option to submit a supplemental essay. But what should you write about for your Harvard essay? What are the different Harvard essay prompts to choose from, and how should you answer one so you can give yourself your best shot at getting in?

In this guide, we give you advice for each Harvard essay prompt as well as tips on whether you should choose a particular prompt. But before we look at the prompts, let's go over what Harvard actually requires in terms of essays.

Feature Image: Gregor Smith /Flickr

What Essays Do You Need to Submit to Harvard?

Those applying for admission to Harvard must submit an application through either the Common Application , the Coalition Application , or the Universal College Application (UCA) . For your Harvard application, you'll need to write a personal essay in response to one of the prompts provided by the Common App, Coalition App, or UCA (depending on the system you're applying through).

This essay is required for all applicants and should typically be about 500-550 words long (and must be less than 650 words). To learn more about this essay, check out the current prompts for the Common App , Coalition App , and UCA on their official websites.

In addition to this required essay, you have the option of submitting another essay as part of the Harvard supplement. The Harvard supplement essay, as it's known, is completely optional—you may, but do not need to, write this essay and submit it with your application.

Also, this essay also has no word limit, though if you do write it, it's best to stick to a typical college essay length (i.e., somewhere around 500 words).

Harvard advises applicants to submit this supplemental essay "if [they] feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about [themselves] or [their] accomplishments."

Options for essay topics are very open ended, and you have a total of 10 topics from which you can choose (11 if you include the fact that you may also "write on a topic of your choice").

Here are the 2022-2023 Harvard supplement essay prompts :

You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

Unusual circumstances in your life

Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities

What you would want your future college roommate to know about you

  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you

How you hope to use your college education

A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

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.

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?

Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?

Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

As you can see, some of these topics are more specific and focused, while others are more broad and open ended. When it comes down to it, though, should you write the Harvard supplement essay, or should you skip it altogether?


Should You Do the Harvard Supplement Essay?

You're already required to submit a personal essay for your Harvard application—so do you really need to submit an extra essay? In reality, opinions are mixed on whether you should write the Harvard supplement essay or not.

While some people are under the impression that this essay is basically mandatory and that your chances of getting into Harvard without it are slim. Others believe that submitting it (especially if you don't have anything particularly impressive or interesting to write about) is simply a waste of time.

So which is it? In general, if you have the opportunity to submit something that you think will only strengthen your college application, definitely do it. By doing this essay, you'll add more flavor to your application and showcase a different side of your personality.

Indeed, in his review of his successful Harvard application , PrepScholar co-founder and Harvard alum Allen Cheng strongly recommends writing this extra essay. He also notes that it's likely that most Harvard applicants do , in fact, submit the supplemental essay (as he himself did).

But it's worth stating again: this essay is not required for admission to Harvard. Whether you submit a Harvard supplement essay is entirely up to you—though I highly recommend doing it!

If you're really struggling to decide whether to do the extra Harvard essay or not, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a strong writer? Are there people you trust who could edit and proofread your essay for you?
  • Are you worried about other parts of your Harvard application that could negatively affect your chance of admission , such as below-average SAT/ACT scores, a low GPA, etc.?
  • Do you feel that you didn't get to write about something you really wanted to for the required essay?
  • Is there something you believe the admissions committee should know about you that you haven't gotten a chance to write about yet?
  • Do you have enough time to dedicate to writing and polishing another essay?
  • Do you think your overall Harvard application is too one-sided or too focused on one aspect of your personality and/or interests? Could your application benefit from more diversity and balance?

Hopefully, by answering these questions, you'll start to have a clearer idea as to whether you will write the Harvard supplement essay or not.


How to Write the Harvard Essay: Every Prompt Analyzed

In this section, we go through the 10 possible Harvard supplement essay prompts and offer you tips on how to write an effective, powerful essay, regardless of which prompt you choose.

Prompt 1: Unusual Circumstances

This essay prompt is all about highlighting an unusual situation or event in your life and what kind of impact it ultimately had on you. Harvard asks for this in case applicants want to discuss anything significant that has happened to them and has had a major influence on their academic accomplishments, future goals, perspectives, etc.

This is also an opportunity for applicants to discuss any major struggles they have had (that most students their age haven't had) and the way these experiences have personally affected their lives. 

Should You Choose This Prompt?

If you grew up with an uncommon lifestyle or had an uncommon experience that you believe had a strong effect on you, this is a good prompt to choose for your essay. For example, perhaps you grew up speaking four languages fluently, or you were the youngest of fourteen children.

This is also an ideal prompt to choose if you want to provide more background information for a weak point in your application. For instance, say you contracted a serious illness during your sophomore year, and your many absences caused your GPA to drop. You could then write about how you approached this problem head-on, and how working with a tutor every day after school to raise your GPA ultimately revealed to you an inner strength you never knew you had.

Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Choose an experience or situation that is actually uncommon. This doesn't mean that no one else in the world could have it, but try to focus on something that's unique and has had a big impact on your personal growth. As an example, although many teenagers were raised by a single parent, only you grew up with your parent, so concentrate on how this person as well as the overall situation helped to shape your personality and goals.
  • If you're writing about something that was challenging for you, don't just conclude that the experience was difficult. What specifically have you learned or taken away from it? Why is it important for the Harvard admissions committee to know this? For instance, say you had to move six times in just two years. You could write that although it was difficult adjusting to a new school each time you moved, you eventually started to enjoy meeting people and getting to explore new places. As a result of these experiences, you now have a lot more confidence when it comes to adapting to unfamiliar situations.


Prompt 2: Travel, Living, or Work Experiences

This prompt is asking you to discuss experiences you've had that involved traveling, living, and/or working in a specific community (either your own or another) and what kind of effect that experience has had on you.

Here are examples of experiences you could talk about for this essay:

  • Living or traveling abroad
  • Moving to a new place or living in multiple places
  • Working a part-time job
  • Working a temporary job or internship somewhere outside your own community

If you've had an experience that fits or mostly fits one of the examples above and it's had a big impact on how you see and define yourself as a person, this is a solid prompt for you.

On the other hand, do not choose this prompt if you've never had a significant experience while traveling or working/living somewhere.

  • Choose a truly significant experience to talk about. Although your experience doesn't need to be life-changing, it should have had a noteworthy impact on you and who you've become. If, for example, you traveled to Mexico with your family but didn't really enjoy or learn much from the trip, it's better to avoid writing about this experience (and might be better to choose a different prompt altogether!).
  • Make sure to talk about how this travel/living/work experience has affected you. For example, say you spent a couple of summers in high school visiting relatives in South Africa. You could write about how these trips helped you develop a stronger sense of independence and self-sufficiency—traits which have made you more assertive, especially when it comes to leading group projects and giving speeches.
  • Don't be afraid to get creative with this essay. For instance, if you lived in a country where you at first didn't understand the local language, you could open your Harvard essay with an anecdote, such as a conversation you overheard or a funny miscommunication.


Prompt 3: Your Future College Roommate

Unlike some of the other more traditional Harvard essay prompts on this list, this prompt is a little more casual and really lends itself to a creative approach.

For this prompt, you're writing an essay that's more of a letter to your future college roommate (remember, however, that it's actually being read by the Harvard admissions committee!). You'll introduce who you are by going over the key traits and characteristics that make you you —in other words, personality traits, eccentricities, flaws, or strengths that you believe are critical for someone (i.e., Harvard) to know about you.

This Harvard essay prompt is all about creativity and describing yourself—not a specific event or circumstance—so it's well suited for those who are skilled at clearly and creatively expressing themselves through writing.

  • Focus on your unique attributes. Since you're describing yourself in this essay, you'll need to concentrate on introducing the most unique and interesting aspects about yourself (that you also think a roommate would want or need to know). What's your daily routine? Do you have any funny or strange habits or quirks? How did you develop these characteristics?
  • Be true to your voice and don't pretend to be someone you're not. Don't say that you're always telling jokes if you're normally a very serious person. Describe yourself honestly, but don't feel as though you must tell every little detail about yourself, either.
  • Strike a balance: don't focus only on the positives or negatives. You want to come across as a strong applicant, but you also want to be realistic and authentic (you're human, after all!). Therefore, try to find balance by writing about not only your strengths and positive attributes but also your quirks and flaws. For instance, you could mention how you always used to run late when meeting up with friends, but how you've recently started working on getting better at this by setting an alarm on your iPhone.


Prompt 4: An Intellectual Experience

An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you.

With this prompt, Harvard wants you to focus on an intellectual or learning experience that's had a big impact on you in terms of your personal growth, your academic/intellectual interests and passions, the field of study you want to pursue, etc.

This intellectual experience could be anything that's intellectually stimulating, such as an essay or book you read, a poem you analyzed, or a research project you conducted.

Note that this experience does not need to be limited to something you did for school —if you've done anything in your spare time or for an extracurricular activity that you think fits this prompt, feel free to write about that.

Should You Choose This Topic?

This is a good prompt to choose if a certain intellectual experience motivated you or triggered an interest in something you really want to study at Harvard.

For example, you could write about how you found an old copy of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species at a garage sale, and how reading this prompted you to develop an interest in biology, which you now intend to major in and eventually make a career out of.

This is also an ideal prompt to pick if you want to highlight a particular interest or passion you have that differs from the academic field you want to study in college.

For instance, perhaps you're applying for admission as a computer science major, but you're also a huge fan of poetry and often take part in local poetry readings. Writing about a poem you recently read and analyzed could illuminate to the admissions committees a different, less prominent side of your personality and intellectual interests, ultimately showing that you're open minded and invested in gaining both new skills and experiences.

  • Choose an experience that had a significant impact on you. Don't talk about how reading Romeo and Juliet in eighth grade made you realize how much you enjoyed writing plays if you were already writing plays way before then! If you can't think of any memorable intellectual experience to write about, then it's best to opt for a different prompt.
  • Be specific about the intellectual experience you had and clearly relate it back to your strengths and interests. In other words, what kind of impact did this experience have on you? Your academic goals? Your future plans? For example, instead of writing about how a scientific paper on climate change made you think more deeply about the environment, you could talk about how this paper prompted you to form a recycling program at your school, take a class on marine biology, and so forth.


Prompt 5: Your Future Goals

This Harvard essay prompt is pretty self-explanatory: it wants you to discuss how you intend to use your education at Harvard after you graduate —so in a future job or career, in grad school, in a particular research field, etc.

Basically, how will your college education help you achieve your future goals (whatever those may be)?

If you have a pretty clear vision for your future goals during and after college, this is a perfect prompt to choose for your Harvard essay.

If, on the other hand, you're still undecided about the field(s) you want to study or how you intend to use your major, you might want to choose a different prompt that's less focused on your future and more concentrated on how past events and experiences have shaped you as a person.

  • Be careful when talking about your future goals. You don't want to come off too idealistic, but you also don't want to sound too broad or you'll come across unfocused and ambivalent. Try to strike a balance in how you discuss your future dreams so that they're both attainable and specific.
  • Clearly connect your goals back to your current self and what you've accomplished up until this point. You want to make it clear that your goals are actually attainable, specifically with a Harvard education. If you say you hope to start your own interior design business after graduation but are planning to major in biology, you're only going to confuse the admissions committee!
  • Emphasize any ways Harvard specifically will help you attain your academic goals. For example, is there a club you hope to join that could connect you with other students? Or is there a particular professor you want to work with? Don't just throw in names of clubs and people but specifically explain how these resources will help you reach your goals. In short, show Harvard that what they can offer you is exactly what you need to succeed.


Prompt 6: List of Books

Of all Harvard essay prompts, this one is by far the most unique.

Here, you're asked to simply list the books you've read in the past year. This essay is more than just a list, though—it's a brief overview of where your intellectual interests lie. These books may include works of fiction or nonfiction, essays, collections of poetry, etc.

Have you read a lot of diverse and interesting books in the past year? Are you an avid reader who loves dissecting books and essays? Do you enjoy a creative approach to college essays? If you answered yes to these questions, then this prompt is a perfect fit for you.

Even if you haven't read a ton of books this past year, if you were especially intrigued by some or all of what you did read, you could certainly use this prompt for your essay.

  • Instead of just listing the titles of books you've read, you might want to include a short sentence or two commenting on your reaction to the book, your analysis of it, why you enjoyed or didn't enjoy it, etc., after each title. Be sure to vary up your comments so that you're highlighting different aspects of your personality. Also, don't just regurgitate analyses you've read online or that your teacher has said—try to come up with your own thoughts and interpretations.
  • Don't feel the need to stick to only the most "impressive" books you read. The Harvard admissions committee wants to see your personality, not that of a pretentious applicant who claims to have only read Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway. Be honest: if you read Twilight in a day, why not make a short joke about how addictive it was?
  • Go beyond a chronological list of books. It'll be far more interesting if you list the books you read in a more unique way. For example, you could organize titles by theme or in the order of how much you enjoyed them.


Prompt 7: Honesty

As you can see with this quotation, Harvard strongly values honesty and integrity. Therefore, if you go with this prompt, you're essentially telling Harvard that you, too, embody a powerful sense of morality and honesty.

  • Was there a specific time in your life when you had to make a difficult choice to be honest about something with someone?
  • Could this incident be considered morally ambiguous? In other words, was the "right thing to do" somewhat of a gray area?
  • If you didn't make the "right" choice at the time, how did you come to terms with or learn from this decision? What were the consequences, and what did this experience teach you about your own morals and how you value honesty?
  • Be wary of the topic you choose to write about. Don't discuss a situation in which you did something obviously unethical or, worse, illegal. These types of situations are very black and white and therefore don't pose much of a moral dilemma. Additionally, talking about such an experience might make you seem dishonest and immoral, which you absolutely do not want Harvard to think about you!
  • Try to find a topic that isn't black and white. Choosing "gray" incidents will help emphasize why the choice was so difficult for you and also why it's affected you in this way. For example, say your friend calls you crying right before you have to leave to take the SAT. Do you skip the test to comfort your friend, or do you hang up and leave? This kind of situation does not have an evident "right" answer, making it an ideal one to use for this essay.
  • You could also discuss a time when you did not make the "right" choice—and what you learned from that mistake. As long as you look closely at why you made the "wrong" choice and what this incident taught you about integrity, your essay will be interesting and relevant.


Prompt 8: Citizens and Citizen-Leaders

This prompt might sound a little vague, but all it wants to know is how you'll have a positive impact on both your classmates and on other people after graduation. Put simply, what kind of leader/citizen will you be at Harvard? After you graduate from college and enter the real world?

This prompt is similar to Prompt 5 in that it wants to know what kind of person you'll become after you leave college and how you'll positively influence society.

If you're a natural-born leader and have had at least a few significant experiences with leading or facilitating things such as club activities, field trips, volunteer efforts, and so on, then this Harvard essay prompt would be a great fit for you.

  • Focus on a time when you led others and it resulted in a positive outcome. For instance, you could write about your position as team captain on your school's soccer team and how you would gather your teammates before each game to offer words of encouragement and advice on how to improve. You could then describe how your team began to perform better in games due to clearer communication and a stronger sense of sportsmanship. Make sure to answer the critical question: how did you lead and what ultimately made your leadership style successful?
  • Discuss what kind of role your leadership skills will have at both Harvard and after you graduate. The prompt is asking about your classmates, so you must specifically address how your leadership skills will contribute to the lives of your peers. How will your past experiences with leading help you approach group projects, for example? Or clubs you join?
  • Make sure to mention how you'll be a good citizen, too. By "citizen," Harvard essentially means a productive member of both the school and society in general. Basically, how have you contributed to the betterment of society? This is a good place to talk about experiences in which you played a crucial supporting role; for instance, maybe you helped out with a local volunteer initiative to feed the homeless, or maybe you joined a community project to build a new park in your town.


Prompt 9: Taking Time Off

Here, you're being asked what you plan to do with your time if you decide to defer your admission to Harvard or take time off during college. For example, will you travel the world? Work a full-time job? Do an internship? Take care of a sick relative?

Obviously, Harvard doesn't want to read that all you're going to do is relax and play video games all day, so make sure to think carefully about what your actual plans are and, more importantly, how these plans will benefit you as a person and as a student.

Only choose this Harvard essay prompt if you're pretty certain you'll be taking time off from college at some point (either before or during) and you have a relatively concrete idea of what you want to do during that time.

  • Be specific and honest about your plans. While many students like to take time off to travel the world, you don't just want to write, "I plan to backpack Europe and learn about cultures." Think critically about your desires: why do you want to do this and how will this experience help you grow as a person? Don't just reiterate what you think Harvard wants to hear—be transparent about why you feel you need this time off from school to accomplish this goal.
  • Be clear about why you must do this at this particular time. In other words, why do you think this (i.e., before or during college) is the right time to do whatever it is you plan to do? Is it something you can (or must) do at this exact time, such as a one-time internship that won't be offered again?


Prompt 10: Diversity

This final Harvard essay prompt is all about what you can bring to campus that will positively contribute to student diversity. Though we tend to think of race/ethnicity when using the word "diversity," you can actually interpret this word in a number of ways.

As a large and prestigious institution, Harvard strongly values students who have different and unique backgrounds and experiences, so it's important for them to admit students who embody these values as well.

This prompt is essentially a version of the diversity essay , which we talk about in more detail in our guide.

The main question to ask yourself before choosing this prompt is this: do you have a unique background or interest you can write about?

Here are some key types of diversity you can discuss (note that this is not an exhaustive list!):

  • Your ethnicity or race
  • A unique interest, passion, hobby, or skill you have
  • Your family or socioeconomic background
  • Your religion
  • Your cultural group
  • Your sex or gender/gender identity
  • Your opinions or values
  • Your sexual orientation

If any of these topics stand out to you and you can easily come up with a specific characteristic or experience to discuss for your essay, then this is a solid prompt to consider answering.

  • Choose a personal characteristic that's had a large impact on your identity. Don't talk about your family's religion if it's had little or no impact on how you see and define yourself. Instead, concentrate on the most significant experiences or skills in your life. If you play the theremin every day and have a passion for music because of it, this would be a great skill to write about in your essay.
  • Be clear about how your unique characteristic has affected your life and growth. You don't just want to introduce the experience/skill and leave it at that. How has it molded you into the person you are today? How has it influenced your ambitions and goals?
  • Be sure to tie this characteristic back to the diversity at Harvard. Basically, how will your experience/skill/trait positively influence the Harvard student body? For example, if you come from a specific cultural group, how do you believe this will positively impact other students?

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A Real Harvard Essay Example

Our resident full SAT / ACT scorer and co-founder of PrepScholar, Allen Cheng , applied to, got into, and attended Harvard—and he's posted his own Harvard supplement essay for you to look at. You can read all about Allen's essay in his analysis of his successful Harvard application .

Allen describes his essay as "probably neutral to [his Harvard] application, not a strong net positive or net negative," so it's important to note that this Harvard essay example is not representative of exactly what you should do in your own Harvard supplement essay. Rather, we're showing it to you to give you a taste of how you could approach the Harvard essay and to demonstrate the kinds of simple mistakes you should avoid.


Writing a Memorable Harvard Essay: 3 Tips

To wrap up, here are three tips to keep in mind as you write your Harvard supplement essay.

#1: Use an Authentic Voice

Having a clear, unique, and authentic voice is the key to making yourself stand apart from other applicants in your Harvard application—and to ensuring you're leaving a long-lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Therefore, write your essay in the way that comes most naturally to you, and talk about the things that actually matter to you. For example, if you love puns, throwing one or two puns into your essay will emphasize your goofier, non-academic side.

Using your voice here is important because it humanizes your application. The essay is the only chance you get to show the admissions committee who you are and what you actually sound like, so don't pretend to be someone you're not!

The only thing to look out for is using too much slang or sounding too casual. In the end, this is still a college essay, so you don't want to come off sounding rude, disrespectful, or immature.

In addition, don't exaggerate any experiences or emotions. The Harvard admissions committee is pretty good at their job—they read thousands of applications each year!—so they'll definitely be able to tell if you're making a bigger deal out of something than you should be. Skip the hyperbole and stick to what you know.

Ultimately, your goal should be to strike a balance so that you're being true to yourself while also showcasing your intelligence and talents.

#2: Get Creative

Harvard is one of the most difficult schools to get into (it only has about a 4% acceptance rate! ), so you'll need to make sure your essay is really, really attention-grabbing. In short, get creative with it!

As you write your personal essay, recall the classic saying: show, don't tell. This means that you should rely more on description and imagery than on explanation.

For example, instead of writing, "I became more confident after participating in the debate club," you might write, "The next time I went onstage for a debate, my shoulders didn't shake as much; my lips didn't quiver; and my heart only beat 100 times instead of 120 times per minute."

Remember that your essay is a story about yourself, so make sure it's interesting to read and will ultimately be memorable to your readers.

#3: Edit and Proofread a Lot

My final tip is to polish your essay by editing and proofreading it a lot. This means you should look it over not once, not twice, but several times.

Here's the trick to editing it: once you've got a rough draft of your essay finished, put it away for a few days or a week or two. Don't look at it all during this time —you want to give yourself some distance so that you can look at your essay later with a fresh perspective.

After you've waited, read over your essay again, noting any mistakes in spelling, grammar, and/or punctuation. Take care to also note any awkward wording, unclear areas, or irrelevant ideas. Ask yourself: is there anything you should add? Delete? Expand?

Once you've done this step several times and have a (nearly) final draft ready to turn in, give your essay to someone you can trust, such as a teacher, parent, or mentor. Have them look it over and offer feedback on tone, voice, theme, style, etc. In addition, make sure that they check for any glaring grammatical or technical errors.

Once all of this is done, you'll have a well-written, polished Harvard essay ready to go— one that'll hopefully get you accepted!


What's Next?

If you've got questions about other parts of the Harvard application, check out our top guide to learn what you'll need to submit to get into the prestigious Ivy League school .

How tough is it to get into Harvard? To other selective universities ? For answers, read our expert guide on how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League , written by an actual Harvard alum!

What's the average SAT score of admitted Harvard applicants? The average ACT score? The average GPA? Learn all this and more by visiting our Harvard admissions requirements page .

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

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

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Harvard University, the nation’s oldest college, is recognized worldwide as one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning, with centuries of history and an extensive alumni network ranging from Conan O’Brien to Sheryl Sandberg and beyond. With faculty who are leading experts in their fields and a diverse and motivated student body, Harvard is the worthy dream school of many college applicants. 

Harvard supplemental essays

Admissions officers at Harvard receive tens of thousands of applications each year, and the College boasted a record low acceptance rate of 3.41% for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. Many applicants display academic excellence and extracurricular involvement across the board, so the supplemental essays provide applicants with a valuable opportunity to stand out among their peers. 

Approaching these essays can seem like a daunting task, but with a methodical approach and careful execution, they can elevate an application to the next level. In this article, we will provide you with a number of strategies and tips for how to write the Harvard supplemental essays.

General Tips

In addition to your Common or Coalition Application essay, Harvard College has five supplemental essay prompts, all short responses of 200 words.  Unlike previous years, all five supplemental essays are required. Don’t let this intimidate you! More essays mean more opportunities to tell admissions officials about yourself, and the short word limits won’t stack up to too much writing overall. On the flipside, you’ll need to be prepared to make good use of those short word limits— so get ready to brainstorm and plan out each response carefully!

As with any application, remember to  think of your supplemental essays and your Common or Coalition Application materials as a portfolio  designed to represent you as wholly as possible. In practice, this means using each of your essays to their fullest advantage by discussing different aspects of yourself in each one. It is important to avoid redundancy in your essays and in your application overall. Instead, think of each essay as a new opportunity to present a unique side of yourself!

Also, as you compose these essays,  be true to yourself . If the prompt asks for a discussion of an activity or experience that was important to you, then really dig into the effects it had on your goals, your mindset, your everyday life. If you decide to respond with a description of something that brings you joy, choose a topic that truly inspires you, instead of trying to conform to what you believe the admissions officers want to see. Genuine and honest writing is compelling, and, on the flip side, forced or unenthusiastic writing appears as just that. Allow yourself to come shining through in your words!

And with that, let’s get into a more detailed look at each prompt.

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Harvard’s 2023-2024 Prompts

Short response (200 words).

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

Harvard’s Short Responses

Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. how will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to harvard  (200 words).

This prompt gives you an opportunity to discuss something important about your background outside your school experiences. Admissions officials are specifically looking for unique perspectives that you’re willing to bring to the table as a prospective student. As you brainstorm your response, try writing out a list of words that describe you—whether your identity, your aspirations, or your place in your community. Do any of these descriptors point to important experiences that shape who you are? If so, think about why they shaped you, and how you would use those life-shaping qualities to impact the Harvard community.

Some examples of experiences that might make a good response to this prompt follow here:

  • You’re an older sibling who looked after the baby in the family, fortifying your compassion and work ethic
  • You’re an aspiring musician who learned teamwork and conflict-solving after joining a band
  • You were the only girl on your school’s math team, inspiring you to encourage others

Once you know which experience to write about, don’t forget to answer the second part of the prompt: how will these experiences help you contribute to Harvard’s community? If you’re the older sibling we mentioned above, maybe you’ll use that compassion and work ethic to organize study groups in each of your classes. Maybe you’ll use the teamwork and conflict-solving you learned from your band to mediate disagreements that come up in intellectual conversations—or maybe you’re looking to draw on your math team experiences by mentoring through Harvard’s Women in STEM Mentorship program.

Whatever you choose, keep your short word limit in mind. Consider jumping straight into an anecdote that explains your experiences so you can answer the second part of the prompt in your essay’s back half. On the line level, don’t forget to use colons, semicolons, and em dashes to connect sentences as concisely as possible.

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.  (200 words)

This second short-answer response is a modification on last year’s Prompt 1, which asked applicants to describe an intellectual activity beyond their listed extracurriculars. While this prompt is more open-ended, the spirit behind the question still applies. Try to discuss an experience outside the extracurriculars you’ve already listed, or, if you can’t think of one, go into anecdotal depth on an activity elsewhere in your application. Above all, admissions officials want to see how you grow intellectually, carry an open mind, and seek out challenges in your academic life.

Specificity is vital for this short response. If you stay vague—by, for example, stating that you learned conversation skills through your internship in a newsroom—your reader won’t learn anything new that they couldn’t have gleaned from your extracurricular list. Pick an anecdote, and try to put your reader in your shoes. Going with the example above, you might launch into your essay by describing the question you prepared for your first journalistic interview, only for your interviewee to blow your mind with an answer you didn’t expect. By the end of your essay, admissions officials should understand why this experience was so important to you, and know a little more about your personality to boot.

Cast your net wide when considering responses to this prompt, and don’t confine yourself to the classroom. Anything that changed your perspective, challenged your thinking, or deepened your understanding of a topic might qualify as a valid answer here.

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.  (200 words)

Like Prompt 2, this prompt strongly resembles Harvard’s extracurricular question from last year—but this time, you have a wider scope to work with. Again, you’re free to go into detail on an activity you’ve already listed elsewhere. And again, we recommend instead picking an experience you haven’t already described, because this gives you more opportunities to show off your strengths and well-roundedness.

Use the categories the prompt lists as a jumping-off point to decide on your essay topic. Are there any extracurricular experiences you didn’t list with your other activities? Where have you worked, and how did your work affect you? Have you traveled anywhere that changed your perspective? Is your role in your family an essential part of who you are?

Again, be as specific as you can. For example:

  • Instead of stating how passionate you were about writing your fiction book, explain how facing your fifth rejection email taught you to persevere until you landed the publication
  • Instead of saying your retail job taught you to keep a level head in a fast-paced environment, describe how defusing a conflict with an angry customer opened your eyes to new conflict-resolution strategies
  • Instead of expressing that you loved your trip to Los Angeles, go into detail about your visit to the California Science Museum’s space exhibits
  • Instead of saying that your family’s business gave you a unique work ethic, explain how learning a difficult secret recipe from the family restaurant gave you a sense of pride in your background

Pay attention to the prompt’s wording—this shouldn’t be a superficial experience, but something that shaped who you are . Think carefully about the anecdote you choose to avoid coming across as shallow or generic.

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?  (200 words)

With this prompt, we’re switching gears from your past experiences into the future. Here, admissions officials want to know what drives you. What are your aspirations, and why do you think a Harvard education in particular would best suit your vision? What impact will you have on your community after you graduate? Try to give a sense of your long-term plans, and don’t just blandly describe your intended career field. If you plan to go into data science, for example, explain how you hope to improve the process of peer review by analyzing its availability in past research.

Consider two aspects to your response: how you envision your Harvard education, and how you plan to use it. Connect your intended major—and minors—to your aspirations post-graduation. If you’re dead-set on any specific student organizations or programs, consider focusing on those only if they’re essential to your plans. Remember, you’ve only got 200 words to describe your entire future!

You might also still be undecided about your post-graduation plans, or even your intended major. Be honest about this. Many students switch majors or career choices halfway through college, but even so, you still have a reason you want to go to Harvard. Maybe you know you want to help your community through some kind of leadership role, and you want to decide between a couple of majors provided at Harvard to determine what that leadership role will be. Whatever your reason is, you wouldn’t be applying if you didn’t have one—so think deeply about that reason, and express it genuinely through your essay!

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.  (200 words)

This last prompt is a classic “roommate” college essay prompt— it’s a chance to adopt a more casual voice, and show admissions officials a side of yourself they haven’t gotten with your other responses. Consider describing things like your hobbies, music taste, decoration sensibilities, or interesting facts about your living habits. Maybe it’s not your first time living in a dorm, or maybe you’re used to sharing your room with a sibling.

Whatever you choose, try to list three things that give some insight into who you are as a person, and give the list some variety. Instead of listing three hobbies, you might mention one hobby, one tidbit about your background that will play into your living habits, and one hope you have for activities you can do with your future roommate.

You might also consider playing around with your essay’s format to make it stand out. While 200 words is a bit long for a simple bullet-point format, you can still separate your essay out into numbered items—or maybe you’d like to try out a letter format addressed directly to your roommate. If a format along these lines helps you get into the casual headspace the prompt is asking for, then go for it!

If you need help polishing up your Harvard supplemental essays, check out our  College Essay Review  service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.

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Harvard University Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

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The following essay examples were written by several different authors who were admitted to Harvard University and are intended to provide examples of successful Harvard University application essays. All names have been redacted for anonymity. Please note that Bullseye Admissions has shared these essays with admissions officers at Harvard University in order to deter potential plagiarism.

For more help with your Harvard supplemental essays, check out our 2020-2021 Harvard University Essay Guide ! For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

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.

Why this Harvard essay worked: From an ex-admissions officer

When responding to short essays or supplements, it can be difficult to know which info to include or omit. In this essay, the writer wastes no time and immediately captivates the reader. Not only are the descriptions vivid and compelling, but the second portion highlights what the writer gained from this activity. As an admissions officer, I learned about the student’s level of commitment, leadership abilities, resiliency, ability to cooperate with others, and writing abilities in 150 words.

I founded Teen Court at [High School Name Redacted] with my older brother in 2016. Teen Court is a unique collaboration with the Los Angeles Superior Court and Probation Department, trying real first-time juvenile offenders from all over Los Angeles in a courtroom setting with teen jurors. Teen Court’s foundational principle is restorative justice: we seek to rehabilitate at-risk minors rather than simply punish them. My work provides my peers the opportunity to learn about the justice system. I put in over fifty hours just as Secretary logging court attendance, and now as President, I mentor Teen Court attendees. My goal is to improve their empathy and courage in public speaking, and to expand their world view. People routinely tell me their experience with Teen Court has inspired them to explore law, and I know the effort I devoted bringing this club to [High School Name Redacted] was well worth it.

This writer discussed a passion project with a long-lasting impact. As admissions officers, we realize that post-secondary education will likely change the trajectory of your life. We hope that your education will also inspire you to change the trajectory of someone else’s life as well. This writer developed an organization that will have far-reaching impacts for both the juvenile offenders and the attendees. They saw the need for this service and initiated a program to improve their community.

Harvard University Supplemental Essay Option: Books Read During the Last Twelve Months

Reading Frankenstein in ninth grade changed my relationship to classic literature. In Frankenstein , I found characters and issues that resonate in a modern context, and I began to explore the literary canon outside of the classroom. During tenth grade, I picked up Jane Eyre and fell in love with the novel’s non-traditional heroine whose agency and cleverness far surpassed anything that I would have imagined coming from the 19th century. I have read the books listed below in the past year.

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus *
  • Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger *
  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
  • Aphra Behn, The Fair Jilt ♰
  • Mongo Beti, Mission Terminée * (in French)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening
  • Arthur Conan-Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
  • Kamel Daoud, Meursault, contre-enquête * (in French)
  • Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry *
  • Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane *
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying *
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • E. M. Forster, Maurice
  • E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • E. M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread
  • Eliza Haywood, The City Jilt ♰
  • Homer, The Iliad
  • Christopher Isherwood, All The Conspirators
  • Christopher Isherwood, A Meeting by the River
  • Christopher Isherwood, Sally Bowles
  • Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies *
  • Morrissey, Autobiography
  • Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy *
  • Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago
  • Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, Herland
  • Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
  • Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove
  • Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven
  • Mary Renault, The Friendly Young Ladies
  • Mary Renault, The King Must Die
  • Mary Renault, The Persian Boy
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Terre des hommes * (in French)
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet *
  • Mary Shelley, The Last Man
  • Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead *
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
  • Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
  • Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
  • Evelyn Waugh, Scoop
  • Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies
  • Jeanette Winterson, The Passion
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary: A Fiction ♰
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman ♰
  • Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House and Other Stories
  • * indicates assigned reading
  • ♰ indicates independent study reading

Harvard University Supplemental Essay Option: What would you want your future college roommate to know about you? (No word limit)

Hi Roomie!!!!

You probably have noticed that I put four exclamation points. Yes, I am that excited to meet you, roomie!

Also, I don’t believe in the Rule of Three. It’s completely unfair that three is always the most commonly used number. Am I biased in my feelings because four is my favorite number? Perhaps. However, you have to admit that our reason for the Rule of Three is kinda arbitrary. The Rule of Three states that a trio of events is more effective and satisfying than any other numbers. Still, the human psyche is easily manipulated through socially constructed perceptions such as beauty standards and gender roles. Is having three of everything actually influential or is it only influential because society says so? Hmm, it’s interesting to think about it, isn’t it?

But if you’re an avid follower of the Rule of three, don’t worry, I won’t judge. In fact, if there’s one thing I can promise you I will never do, it’s being judgmental. Life is too short to go around judging people. Besides, judgments are always based on socially constructed beliefs. With so many backgrounds present on campus, it really would be unfair if we start going around judging people based on our own limited beliefs. My personal philosophy is “Mind your own business and let people be,” So, if you have a quirk that you’re worrying is too “weird” and are afraid your roommate might be too judgy, rest assured, I won’t be.

In fact, thanks to my non-judginess, I am an excellent listener. If you ever need to rant with someone about stressful classes, harsh gradings, or the new ridiculous plot twists of your favorite TV show (*cough* Riverdale), I am always available.

Now, I know what you are thinking. A non-judgmental and open-minded roommate? This sounds too good to be true. This girl’s probably a secret villain waiting to hear all my deepest and darkest secrets and blackmail me with them!

Well, I promise you. I am not a secret villain. I am just someone who knows how important it is to be listened to and understood.

I grew up under the communist regime of Vietnam, where freedom of speech and thought was heavily suppressed. Since childhood, I was taught to keep my opinion to myself, especially if it is contradictory to the government’s. No matter how strongly I felt about an issue, I could never voice my true opinion nor do anything about it. Or else, my family and I would face oppression from the Vietnamese government.

After immigrating to America, I have made it my mission to fight for human rights and justice. Back in Vietnam, I have let fear keep me from doing the right thing. Now, in the land of freedom, I won’t use that excuse anymore. I can finally be myself and fight for what I believe in. However, I can still remember how suffocating it was to keep my beliefs bottled up and to be silenced. Trust me, a conversation may not seem much, but it can do wonders. So, if you ever need a listener, know that I am right here.

See, I just shared with you a deep secret of mine. What secret villain would do that?

See ya soon!!!!!

[Name redacted] : )

P/S: I really love writing postscripts. So, I hope you won’t find it weird when I always end my emails, letters, and even texts with a P/S. Bye for real this time!!!!!

Harvard University Supplemental Essay Option: Unusual circumstances in your life

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.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of repeated, often unsuccessful attempts to grip a large-diameter crayon since I was unable to hold a regular pencil. I would attempt to scrawl out letters on a page to form words, fueled by either determination or outright stubbornness, persevering until I improved. I spent countless hours trying to control my gait, eventually learning to walk normally and proving the doctors wrong about their diagnoses. I also had to learn how to swallow without aspirating because the frequent intubations I had experienced as an infant left me with a uncoordinated swallow reflex. Perhaps most prominently, I remember becoming very winded as I tried to keep up with my elementary school peers on the playground and the frustration I experienced when I failed.

Little by little, my body’s tolerance for physical exertion grew, and my coordination improved. I enrolled in martial arts to learn how to keep my balance and to develop muscle coordination and an awareness of where my limbs were at any given time. I also became immersed in competition among my elementary school peers to determine which one of us could become the most accomplished on the recorder. For each piece of music played correctly, a “belt” was awarded in the form of a brightly colored piece of yarn tied around the bottom of our recorders- meant as symbols of our achievement. Despite the challenges I had in generating and controlling enough air, I practiced relentlessly, often going in before school or during my lunch hour to obtain the next increasingly difficult musical piece. By the time the competition concluded, I had broken the school record of how far an elementary school child could advance; in doing so, my love of instrumental music and my appreciation for the value of hard work and determination was born.

Throughout my middle and high school years, I have succeeded at the very highest level both academically and musically. I was even able to find a sport that I excelled at and would later be able to use as an avenue for helping others, volunteering as an assistant coach once I entered high school. I have mentored dozens of my high school peers in developing trumpet skills, teaching them how to control one’s breathing during musical phrases and how to develop effective fingering techniques in order to perform challenging passages. I believe that my positive attitude and hard work has allowed for not only my own success, but for the growth and success of my peers as well.

My scholastic and musical achievements, as well as my leadership abilities and potential to succeed at the highest level will hopefully be readily apparent to the committee when you review my application. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the behind-the-scenes character traits that have made these possible. I believe that I can conquer any challenge put in front of me. My past achievements provide testimony to my work ethic, aptitudes and grit, and are predictive of my future potential.

Thank you for your consideration.

In this essay, the writer highlighted their resilience. At some point, we will all endure challenges and struggles, but it is how we redeem ourselves that matters. This writer highlighted their initial struggles, their dedication and commitment, and the ways in which they’ve used those challenges as inspiration and motivation to persevere and also to encourage others to do the same.

Harvard University Supplemental Essay Option: An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you.

I want to be a part of something amazing, and I believe I can. The first line of the chorus springs into my mind instantaneously as my fingers experiment with chords on the piano. In this moment, as I compose the protagonist’s solo number, I speak from my heart. I envision the stage and set, the actors, the orchestra, even the audience. Growing increasingly excited, I promptly begin to create recordings so I can release the music from the confines of my imagination and share it with any willing ears.

My brother [name redacted] and I are in the process of writing a full-length, two-act musical comprised of original scenes, songs, characters. I began creating the show not only because I love to write music and entertain my friends and family, but also with the hope that I might change the way my peers view society. Through Joan, the protagonist of my musical, I want to communicate how I feel about the world.

The story centers around Joan, a high schooler, and her connection to the pilot Amelia Earhart. Ever since I saw a theatrical rendition of Amelia Earhart’s life in fifth grade, she has fascinated me as an extraordinary feminist and a challenger of society’s beliefs and standards. As I began researching and writing for the show, I perused through biographies and clicked through countless youtube documentaries about the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, astounded by her bravery and ability to overcome a troubled childhood and achieve her dream. In my musical, as Amelia transcends 20th century norms, changing the way that people regard women and flight, Joan strives to convince her peers and superiors that the worth of one’s life spans not from material success and grades, but from self-love and passion.

As I compose, the essence of each character and the mood of each scene steer the flow of each song. To me, it seems as though everything falls into place at once – as I pluck a melody out of the air, the lyrics come to me naturally as if the two have been paired all along. As I listen to the newly born principal line, I hear the tremolo of strings underscoring and the blaring of a brass section that may someday audibly punctuate each musical phrase.

The project is certainly one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever undertaken – we’ve been working on it for almost a year, and hope to be done by January – but, fueled by my passion for creating music and writing, it is also one of the most enjoyable. I dream that it may be performed one day and that it may influence society to appreciate the success that enthusiasm for one’s relationships and work can bring.

These essay examples were compiled by the advising team at Bullseye Admissions. If you want to get help writing your Harvard University application essays from Bullseye Admissions advisors , register with Bullseye today .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Jump to section:

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

Harvard’s 2023-2024 supplemental essays 

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

The supplemental essays prompts are below: 

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which path you take will actually be easy to decide: 

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

How to write Harvard’s second essay: Intellectual Experience

Here’s the second supplemental prompt:

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

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

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

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

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

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

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to write Harvard’s third essay: Extracurricular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

How to write Harvard’s fifth essay: Roommates 

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

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

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

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

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

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

intellectual experience college essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home — Application Essay — National Universities — An Intellectually Stimulating experience: College Admission Essay Sample

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An Intellectually Stimulating experience: College Admission Essay Sample

  • University: Johns Hopkins University

About this sample


Words: 620 |

Published: Jul 18, 2018

Words: 620 | Pages: 2 | 4 min read

I woke up that morning with a feeling of dread. As I raced down to the bus stop through the twilight of the early morning, I felt my heart palpitating with anticipation and worry. Every second that the bus brought me closer to New Haven, my fear grew more intense. Even as I swiped my keycard at the gates of Yale University’s Osborn Memorial Laboratory, apprehension of what I might find out in the minutes ahead overcame me. Eventually, after mustering my courage, I stepped into the cool air of the staging area; first donning my lab coat, then the gloves, then the goggles. Each move felt mechanical and automatic, like the motions of any other day. Yet today was different: today I would discover if my toil and trouble that I had poured into this experiment was truly worth it. My hands, ever steady through countless trials, now shook from simultaneous fear and excitement.

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My heart plummeted as I opened the incubator. It appeared that my experiment had been a complete failure. I dreaded having to report my failure to my mentor; to my surprise, Dr. Davis was not in the least bit disappointed. He told me that often times, experiments may appear to be disasters, but that they still give us insights into the world around us. His goal, he said, was not to be always right; rather, he endeavoured to gain an understanding of the fundamental topics of science. My internship in Dr. Davis' lab gave me a greater understanding of “success,” not only in scientific research, but in life itself.

Science is a passion which is often frustrating before becoming rewarding. I had always wondered how viruses infect cells and survive the hostile conditions of the human body; though invisible to our eyes, viruses and humans interact in so many different ways. Though my laboratory work tested my patience and seemed useless at that time, it helped me answer those questions that I had pondered since my childhood, while granting some small insight into the workings of the world we inhabit. As my summer internship progressed, I conducted innumerable trials and poured countless hours of effort into my work in the attempt to discover something concrete. Two weeks after my first, less-than-successful experiment, I was able to determine how certain strains of viruses are able to evolve at the molecular level to attain higher survival rates.

My early experiments reminded me that I am not perfect. I can’t promise to cure cancer, fix the economy, or anything like that. What I can promise is that I will do my utmost to utilize whatever skills I have and have acquired, to the fullest of my ability. I want to engage in scientific research that expands the gamut of human knowledge, even if it is only a small contribution in the form of fundamental research. I revel in the true reward that comes from the thrill of discovery after the possible disappointment of failure. Results apart, scientists get involved in research for the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself.

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I still wonder why my viruses could not survive under certain other conditions, but I learnt that innovation and discovery do not come from shirking away from the unknown, but rather from being a beacon of light in the darkness of ignorance. Like ancient explorers who charted the dark unknown for others to follow, I know that someday, some eager researchers will ask similar questions and utilize my work as the basis for their studies. I only hope that my contributions will help others as I continue upon my quest to help solve pressing medical problems that pervade the world around us.

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intellectual experience college essay

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Command Education Guide

How to write the harvard university essays, updated for 2023-2024, essay #1 (200 word maximum per essay).

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


When answering this prompt, start by thinking about the life experiences that have shaped you as an individual. Consider the moments, challenges, or situations that have had a significant impact on your perspective, values, and character. Which have been the most formative for you? How do you wish to continue these experiences in college? These experiences can be personal, academic, cultural, or social. In addition, research Harvard’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Understand the specific aspects of diversity that Harvard values and the ways in which the university believes a diverse student body enriches the academic community. Think and write about how your unique qualities align with these values.

During Spanish Mass, I look down from the altar—gloved hands crossed over my red altar boy tunic—and watch the parishioners as they come up to receive Communion. I see Martín extend his hands to accept the Body of Christ. Later today, we’ll see each other to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and discuss this week’s Gay Straight Alliance meeting. We’ll arrive early at school to print out posters advertising the meeting—we can’t risk printing them at home. “Gay Chicanidad” the poster reads, decorated in red, white, and green, the colors of the Mexican flag.

Harvard won’t restrict me to assumed dichotomies; it’s a place where I’ll freely pursue scholarship about the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community. Indeed, these identities can thrive alongside each other. In such spaces, I’ll discuss the Gospels through the lens of liberation and radical love. At Memorial Church, I’ll deliver a student sermon on how La Virgen de Guadalupe’s arrival on Mount Tepeyac symbolized not just a sign to the faithful in Latin America, but a call to action to end the racism, misogyny, and homophobia of the Old World. At Harvard, I’ll pursue these historical interventions, create new spaces, and fully involve myself in the college’s open and diverse environment.

Essay #2 (200 word maximum per essay)

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.

When answering a question relating to an important intellectual or academic experience, it’s important to convey your depth of thought and engagement with the topic you choose to discuss. Harvard values students’ intellectual curiosity—regardless of the subject! Don’t attempt to write something which you “think” Harvard might want to read. Oftentimes, this backfires on a candidate. Your response should genuinely reflect your thoughts and feelings. Choose an intellectual experience that genuinely left a significant impact on you. This could be an event, a class, a book, a conversation, a research project, or any instance where you engaged deeply. Convey your genuine passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter. Harvard values candidates who show genuine curiosity and excitement about learning.

In history class, I came across the story of La Malinche, a Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast. She served as an interpreter for the famed conquistador Hernán Cortés and aided his soldiers in navigating the unfamiliar terrain of the Americas. Eventually, she had a child with Cortés, birthing the first mestizo, a child of both European and indigenous blood. She is considered a “traitor” to the native population, having helped the Spanish conquer the Natives. In fact, malinchismo—named after her—is a pejorative, describing Mexicans who prefer the “foreign,” a type of national and racial self-hatred.

I’ve tried to reconcile this history with the perspectives many in the Chicano community have regarding Mexico. “It’s a failed state,” “It’s too dangerous,” “Thank God I’m living in America.” Are these affirmations simple comments about the basic realities of the United States and Mexico, namely, greater political stability, safety, and opportunity, or did such comments stem from deeper within the subconscious? A natural disposition to favor that which is American—what is whiter—than what exists in Mexico? What is the role culture plays with regard to these questions, the influence of American media on a country just south of the border? I’m currently reading Octavio Paz’s essays on the subject; I hope to continue interrogating these questions at Harvard.

Essay #3 (200 word maximum per essay)

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

Describe an extracurricular activity, employment experience, travel opportunity, or family responsibility that has had a significant impact on your formation and development. Don’t write about an extracurricular simply because you think Harvard will find it impressive! Let your true self come through. Authenticity is key. It should be a story that allows you to showcase qualities, values, and experiences that are important to you. Explain what the activity or responsibility entails and why it holds significance for you. This context will help the Harvard admissions committee understand the scope of your involvement.

Once a month, the Students for Social Action take a bus down to a local asylum center in Nogales, Arizona. Nogales is a city divided between the American and Mexican borders. Every year, 2 million people pass through the border, making it Arizona’s most populous point of entry.

Roughly 5% of those attempting to enter through Norgales are asylum seekers, waiting—some on the Mexican side, others on the American side—for a hearing to process their respective claims. Our group provides vital English-to-Spanish translation services, helping them navigate immigration centers, process their documents, and gather the necessary materials for their applications.

Some are fleeing gang violence, others economic destitution. The stories one hears are as expansive as they are heartbreaking. Listening to their stories, I’m reminded of how arbitrary borderlines can be, defining people as “Mexican” or “American.” A mere few feet across the border can lead to a dramatically different life. Our antiquated immigration system only makes the situation worse. This experience reinforces my dedication to fighting for justice and helping immigrants achieve a better future. Specifically, I hope to lead an effort resulting in critical immigration reform. It’s long overdue.

Essay #4 (200 word maximum per essay)

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

This prompt necessitates thorough consideration of your future aspirations and a clear connection to what Harvard offers. Reflect on your long-term goals and aspirations. What do you envision for your future? Research the specific programs, courses, faculty, and resources that Harvard offers. Is there a specific class, a professor, or research opportunity that will help you? Show a clear alignment between your goals and Harvard’s offerings. Explain how Harvard’s faculty, research opportunities, global network, or other resources will play a crucial role in your journey.

By concentrating in Government, I’ll use my Harvard education to bring about meaningful immigration reform in the United States. To achieve this, I aim to join the Immigration Studies Center at the John F. Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP), where I can develop data-driven solutions to address the immigration challenges in the country.

I’ll complement my work at the IOP participate in the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), Last year, DRCLAS hosted a symposium on Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act. It was the major bipartisan immigration reform in the United States. I’ll continue DRCLAS’ important investigative work along with taking courses such as “Comparative Politics in Latin America.” In fact, I hope to have Professor Steven Levistky serve as my thesis advisor, and work under him as a research assistant. I’ll also join the Latin American Student Association to build community and foster greater discussion.

I am committed to pursuing a bipartisan approach to find a solution to this issue; Harvard will be a crucial stepping stone along my journey.

Essay #5 (200 word maximum per essay)

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

Dear Amigx,

First question: Democrat or Republican? — just kidding, let’s have a meal first and then discuss politics. But you must know, I’m a political junkie. As an aspiring government concentrator, I’m eager to explore the future of immigration policy in the United States. Born and raised in Arizona, a border state, it’s a major issue for my community.

I enjoy deep conversations at night, where we can compare Sartre’s existentialism with Camus’ absurdism. Or discuss how Latin American magical realism influences our contemporary culture. We can also zone out to Friends (spoilers: Rachel should’ve definitely ended up with Joey).

I’m an aficionado for TexMex; it reminds me of home. We can try out different restaurants; I’m also excited to cook a dish my mother would always make: Chimichangas. A true delicacy! . Although it can simply be a coincidence computed by an algorithm, or whether you believe in fate over chance, out of 8 billion humans on Earth, we got matched. We’re destined to become friends. I cannot wait to meet you.

Saludos, Ian

intellectual experience college essay

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intellectual experience college essay

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Harvard University’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Diversity short response.

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

Intellectual Experience Short Response

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.

Extracurricular Short Response

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

Future Goals Short Response

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

Roommate Short Response

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

Common App Personal Essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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intellectual experience college essay

16 Strong College Essay Examples from Top Schools

intellectual experience college essay

What’s Covered:

  • Common App Essays
  • Why This College Essays
  • Why This Major Essays
  • Extracurricular Essays
  • Overcoming Challenges Essays
  • Community Service Essays
  • Diversity Essays
  • Political/Global Issues Essays
  • Where to Get Feedback on Your Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Multiple Meanings of Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparking Self-Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This College?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Major?

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

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

Why Duke Engineering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Georgia Tech CompSci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extracurricular Essay

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

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

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

A Dedicated Musician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Complicated Relationship with the School Newspaper

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

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

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

Participating in Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Challenges

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

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

The Student Becomes the Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Sensitivity to Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Service/Impact on the Community

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

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

Academic Signing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Rally

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

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

Rewind to the present day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Story of a Young Skater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Community in the Rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political/Global Issues

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

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

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

Fighting Violence Against Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays

Once you’ve written your college essays, you’ll want to get feedback on them. Since these essays are important to your chances of acceptance, you should prepare to go through several rounds of edits. 

Not sure who to ask for feedback? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review resource. You can get comments from another student going through the process and also edit other students’ essays to improve your own writing. 

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

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August 8, 2023

2023-2024 Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts

A view of Duke University's science center.

Duke University has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. In addition to The Common Application ’s Personal Statement, Duke’s Class of 2028 applicants must write one supplemental essay. Two additional essays are optional. Of course, as loyal readers of Ivy Coach ’s college admissions blog know all too well, any optional essay in elite college admissions should not be considered optional. If students want to get in, they must write both optional essays as well.

2023-2024 Duke Essay Topics and Questions

Required essay.

The first prompt, the required essay, has a limit of 250 words and reads as follows:

What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there’s something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well.

It’s a Why Duke essay prompt. As such, an applicant’s approach should be filled with specific examples after specific examples that only apply to Duke. Name-dropping professors or listing classes are not genuine specifics about a university . Instead, it should be an applicant’s goal to capture the enduring specifics of a school — programs, institute, culture, traditions, activities — and how a student will contribute their singular hook — rather than well-roundedness — to the institution.

Optional Essay Prompts

Applicants are offered the opportunity to answer two of the following five prompts in 250 words or less. These essays are optional, though they should not be treated as such.

1. Perspective response

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community.

In the wake of the Affirmative Action ruling against Affirmative Action, this essay prompt presents an opportunity for students to share the prism of their experience. While it can certainly focus on a student’s race or faith (as Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion makes clear), it doesn’t have to and can instead spotlight an applicant’s unique lived experience that has nothing to do with their racial or religious background.

2. Intellectual experience

Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating.

Ideally, an applicant’s answer will zero in on their hook. All of Duke’s admissions essays should be considered puzzle pieces. The specific topic that a student writes about in their Personal Statement should never be written about again since doing so would be redundant. Still, each essay should dovetail one another to showcase how a student is going to contribute their singular hook to Duke’s community.

3. Beliefs & values

We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; 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?

Duke, like all highly selective universities, wants to admit students who will respectfully disagree with one another. It’s why it’s crucial to Duke that they accept a class filled with students of varying backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Duke’s admissions committee wants to see that even when someone voices an opinion that differs from theirs, they can hear them out and be malleable to alter their mindset.

4. Being different

We recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you.

The “being different” prompt is another opportunity for Duke’s applicants to highlight the diversity they will bring to Durham. Even though the Supreme Court outlawed the overall consideration of race in admissions decision-making, it can still be considered within the context of an applicant’s life narrative. But one’s answer to this Duke essay prompt, of course, doesn’t have to relate to race. It can relate to faith — or sexuality, gender, diversity of thought, or anything else.

5. Orientation, identity, expression

Duke’s commitment to inclusion and belonging includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Feel free to share with us more about how your identity in this context has meaning for you as an individual or as a member of a community.

Duke’s admissions committee has long asked its applicants to express their thoughts and feelings on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. But an applicant need not be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to be able to answer this prompt. 

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Duke University Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission to Duke’s Class of 2028 by submitting powerful essays that wow Duke admissions officers, fill out Ivy Coach ’s consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services .

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Prospective students and their families gather around a Jumbo the elephant statue on the Tufts campus. The students admitted to the Tufts undergraduate Class of 2028 are described as civic-minded, entrepreneurial, and committed to collaboration.

“It was clear from evaluating this year’s applications that we have admitted an impressive group of students who want to learn with and from their peers, and who are eager to use their education to positively transform the world,” said JT Duck. Photo: Jenna Schad

Academic Achievement and ‘Intellectual Curiosity’ Shared by Admitted Class of 2028

The students admitted to the undergraduate class are described as civic-minded, entrepreneurial, and committed to collaboration

Regular admissions decisions for the Class of 2028 were released March 22, representing a 10% acceptance rate, on par with last year.

Students selected from the applicant pool , which exceeded 34,000, are “civic-minded, entrepreneurial, and deeply committed to collaborating with others,” said JT Duck, dean of admissions for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering.

Duck noted that first-year applicants began high school in the fall of 2020, when virtual or hybrid modalities were required as part of COVID-19 health precautions. 

The pandemic went on to have a challenging ripple effect on their high school experience by limiting access to extracurricular activities and the students’ ability to get to know their classmates outside of Zoom, and by impacting their mental health, said Duck.

“But the resilience that students showed us, as they navigated these limitations, was remarkable,” he said. “The class we have admitted has a deep appreciation for learning and exploration.”

In line with the mission of Tufts, the Office of Admissions looks for strong academic records and intellectual curiosity. Also of interest are students who show promise in becoming active citizens of the world, and who are likely—as reflected in their experiences and interests in learning across differences—to have a profound impact on one another. 

Through their essays, students offered a window onto their lives. They shared what excited them intellectually, the ways in which they contributed to building an inclusive and collaborative environment in their schools, and how their communities shaped them, said Duck.

“It was clear from evaluating this year’s applications that we have admitted an impressive group of students who want to learn with and from their peers, and who are eager to use their education to positively transform the world,” said Duck.

Highlights of the Admitted Class of 2028 

Women comprise 56% of the class and men 41%, and 3% identify as non-binary or genderqueer, or preferred not to specify a gender identity. Women also make up 50% of students admitted to the School of Engineering.

Of those admitted from high schools with class rank, 92% are ranked in the top 10% of their class.

Of all admitted students, 55% attend public high schools or public charter high schools, with the remainder attending independent schools, religiously affiliated schools, or home schools. They come from more than 1,750 high schools, of which more than 350 have not been represented in an admitted student cohort in the past five years, if ever.

30 students were admitted via the Questbridge Match process in December, and more than 150 Questbridge-affiliated students were admitted in total. Altogether, admitted students worked with more than 90 different college-access organizations that support low-income students on their paths to college.

Students who are among the first generation in their family to attend college account for 11% of the class, and 36% of admitted students speak a language other than, or in addition to, English at home.

The class represents all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. Of students from the United States, 29% are from New England; 31% from the Mid-Atlantic; 17% from the West; 15% from the South and Southwest; and 6% from the Midwest.

80 students are residents of Tufts’ host communities (Medford, Somerville, Boston, and Grafton), and include students affiliated with local college-access organizations such as Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Bottom Line, Breakthrough Greater Boston, Minds Matter Boston, SquashBusters, the Steppingstone Foundation, and Summer Search.

Of all admitted students, more than 400 are foreign nationals, representing 100-plus citizenships. The most represented countries are China, India, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Argentina, Rwanda, and Mexico.

Over two dozen students were admitted from seven of the  United World College high schools around the world. In addition, international students worked with many different college access organizations, including the Tanzania Student Achievement Fund ( TanSAF ),  Young Achievers Foundation Ghana ,  Sutton Trust ,  EdUSA , and  Bridge2Rwanda , among several others.

More than 800 students applied to Tisch College of Civic Life’s  Civic Semester program, taking place in Urubamba, Peru, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Offers of admission were made to students who applied directly to the program, with the expectation that 24 students will enroll this fall.

Incoming undergraduates indicated their top areas of academic interest as biology, international relations, computer science, economics, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, political science, interdisciplinary art, and psychology.

Tufts is in the fourth year of a six-year SAT/ACT test-optional pilot. Similar to previous years, about 50% of applicants, and 60% of admitted students, submitted scores for consideration. 

A small percentage of the applicant pool has been offered a place on the waitlist. The admissions office anticipates admitting some students from the waitlist in early May, depending on available space in the first-year class.

In April, the Tufts undergraduate admissions team will host three in-person Jumbo Days and a series of virtual events for admitted students called Jumbo Month. Admitted students have until May 1 to confirm their enrollment plans.

A crowd of parents and students listen to a tour guide talk on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus. Out of the more than 34,000 applications, students in the admitted Tufts Class of 2027 bring engagement, academic excellence, and diversity

Early Impressions of the Students Admitted to the Tufts Undergraduate Class of 2027

Victor Vazquez

Victor Vazquez’s Quest for Clean Energy

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The Dorms (and Rules) Have Changed, But Roommates Remain Key to Student Life

intellectual experience college essay

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Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

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June 14, 2024

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What is Atlas Shrugged?

The astounding story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world—and did.

Tremendous in scope, breathtaking in its suspense, Atlas Shrugged is unlike any other book you have ever read. It is a mystery story, not about the murder of a man’s body, but about the murder—and rebirth—of man’s spirit.

How It Works

Every three months there is a new seasonal entry round, with its own unique essay prompt. You may compete in any or all of these entry rounds.

The top three essays from each season will be awarded a cash prize. The first-place essay from each season will advance to compete for the annual grand prize.

The first-place essay from each season will be eligible to contend for the annual first-place title, with the opportunity to secure a grand prize of $25,000.

Challenging Essay Topics

Each entry round features a unique topic designed to provoke a deeper understanding of the book’s central themes and characters.

Essays must be written in English only and be between 800 and 1,600 words in length.

Questions? Write to us at [email protected] .

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The essay prompt for our fall entry period has not yet been determined. We will post it here as soon it’s available.

The essay prompt for our winter entry period has not yet been determined. We will post it here as soon it’s available.

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Master our grading standards.

Essays are judged on whether the student is able to justify and argue for his or her view, not on whether the Institute agrees with the view the student expresses. 

Our graders look for writing that is clear, articulate, and logically organized.  Essays should stay on topic, address all parts of the selected prompt, and interrelate the ideas and events in the novel. 

Winning essays must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the philosophic meaning of Atlas Shrugged .


Understanding, contest timeline, discover the power of atlas shrugged.

Atlas Shrugged  is a mystery novel like no other. You enter a world where scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors are inexplicably vanishing—where the world is crumbling.

And what you discover, by the end, is an uplifting vision of life, an inspiring cast of heroes, and a challenging new way to think about life’s most important issues.

Learn more and request a free digital copy of the book today.

intellectual experience college essay

Learn from Past Winners

Curious to know what makes for a winning essay in the Atlas Shrugged   contest? Check out some of the essays written by our most recent grand-prize winners. 

To varying degrees, they all display an excellent grasp of the philosophic meaning of Atlas Shrugged .

Click here to see the full list of 2022 contest winners.

Jacob Fisher

Graduate Student

Stanford University

Stanford, California

United States

Mariah Williams

Regis University

Denver, Colorado

intellectual experience college essay

Nathaniel Shippee

University of Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

intellectual experience college essay

Samuel Weaver

St. John’s College

Annapolis, Maryland

intellectual experience college essay

Patrick Mayles

Graduate student

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

intellectual experience college essay

Christina Jeong

College Student

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana

intellectual experience college essay

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Other than endorsing perfect punctuation and grammar in English, the Ayn Rand Institute offers no advice or feedback for essays submitted to its contests. However, we do recommend the following resources as ways to improve the content of your essays.

The Atlas Project

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How Chinese Students Experience America

By Peter Hessler

Panels showing a person traveling to different places.

In my composition class at Sichuan University, in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, the first assignment was a personal essay. I gave some prompts in case students had trouble coming up with topics. One suggestion was to describe an incident in which the writer had felt excluded from a group. Another was to tell how he or she had responded when some endeavor went unexpectedly wrong. For the third prompt, I wrote:

Have you ever been involved in a situation that was extremely threatening, or dangerous, or somehow dramatic? Tell the story, along with what you learned.

It was September, 2019, and the class consisted of engineering majors who were in their first month at university. Like virtually all Chinese undergraduates, they had been admitted solely on the basis of scores on the gaokao , the national college-entrance examination. The gaokao is notorious for pressure, and most of my students chose to write about some aspect of their high-school experience. One girl described a cruel math instructor: “He is the person whose office you enter happily and exit with pain and inferiority.” Edith, a student from northern Sichuan Province, wrote about feeling excluded from her graduation banquet, because her father and his male work colleagues hijacked the event by giving long-winded speeches that praised one another. “That’s what I hate, being hypocritical as some adults,” she wrote.

Few students chose the third prompt. Some remarked that nothing dangerous or dramatic had ever happened, because they had spent so much of their short lives studying. But one boy, whom I’ll call Vincent, submitted an essay titled “A Day Trip to the Police Station.”

The story began with a policeman calling Vincent’s mother. The officer said that the police needed to see her son, but he wouldn’t explain why. After the call, Vincent tried to figure out if he had committed some crime. He was the only student who wrote his essay in the third person, as if this distance made it easier to describe his mind-set:

He was tracing the memory from birth to now, including but not limited to [the time] he broke a kid’s head in kindergarten, he used V.P.N. to browse YouTube to see some videos, and talked with his friends abroad in Facebook and so on. Suddenly he thought of the most possible thing that happened two years ago. In the summer vacation in 2017, he bought an airsoft gun in the Internet, which is illegal in mainland China but legal in most countries or regions. Although it had been two years since then, he left his private information such as the address and his phone number. In modern society, it is possible to trace every information in the Internet and [especially] easy for police.

Vincent’s parents both worked tizhinei , within the government system. The boy approached his father for advice, and the older man didn’t lecture his son about following the rules. Vincent described their exchange:

“If you are asked about this matter,” dad said, “you just tell him that the seller mailed a toy gun and you were cheated. And then you felt unhappy and threw it away.” Sure enough, two policemen came to his home the next day.

Vincent stood about six feet tall, a handsome boy with close-cropped hair. He always sat in the front of the class, and he enjoyed speaking up, unlike many of the other engineers, who tended to be shy. On the first day of the term, I asked students to list their favorite authors, and Vincent chose Wang Xiaobo, a Beijing novelist who wrote irreverent, sexually explicit fiction.

As with many of his classmates, Vincent hoped to complete his undergraduate degree in the United States. I was teaching at the Sichuan University–Pittsburgh Institute, or SCUPI . All SCUPI classes were in English, and after two or three years at Sichuan University students could transfer to the University of Pittsburgh or another foreign institution. SCUPI was one of many programs and exchanges designed to direct more Chinese students to the U.S. In the 2019-20 academic year, Chinese enrollment at American institutions reached an all-time high of 372,532.

Nobody in Vincent’s section had previously studied in the U.S. Almost all of them were middle class, and they often said that their goal was to complete their bachelor’s degree in America, stay on for a master’s or a Ph.D., and then come back to work in China. A generation earlier, the vast majority of Chinese students at American universities had stayed in the country, but the pattern changed dramatically with China’s new prosperity. In 2022, the Chinese Ministry of Education reported that, in the past decade, more than eighty per cent of Chinese students returned after completing their studies abroad.

Vincent also intended to make a career in China, but he had specific plans for his time in the U.S. Once, during a class discussion, he remarked that someday he would purchase both a car and a real firearm. The illegal airsoft pistol that he had acquired in high school shot only plastic pellets. In 2017, when Vincent ordered the gun, it had been delivered to his home at the bottom of a rice cooker, as camouflage. At the time, such subterfuges were still possible, but the government had since cracked down, as part of a general tightening under Xi Jinping.

In Vincent’s essay, he was surprised that the two policemen who arrived at his home didn’t mention the forbidden gun. Instead, they accused him of a much more shocking crime: spreading terrorist messages.

“That’s ridiculous,” Vincent said. “I have never browsed such videos, not to mention posted them in the Internet. You must be joking.” “Maybe you didn’t post it by yourself,” the policeman said. “But the app may back up the video automatically.”

Vincent admitted that once, in a WeChat group, he had come across a terrorist video. The police instructed him to get his I.D. card and accompany them to the station. After they arrived, they entered a room labelled “Cybersecurity Police,” where Vincent was impressed by the officers’ politeness. (“It’s not scary at all, no handcuffs and no cage.”) The police informed him that they had found a host of sensitive and banned material on his cloud storage:

“But how interesting it is!” the policeman said. “They sent pornographic videos, traffic accident videos, [breaking news] videos, and funny videos.” “Yes,” he said helplessly, “so I am innocent.” “Yes, we believe you,” the policeman said. “But you have to [sign] the record because it is the fact that you posted the terrorism video in the Internet, which is illegal.”

On one level, the essay was terrifying—Chinese can be imprisoned for such crimes. But the calm tone created a strange sense of normalcy. The basic narrative was universal: a teen-ager makes a mistake, finds himself gently corrected, and gains new maturity. Along the way, he connects with the elders who love him. Part of this connection comes from what they share: the parents, rather than representing authority, are also powerless in the face of the larger system. The essay ended with the father giving advice that could be viewed as cynical, or heartwarming, or defeatist, or wise, or all these things at once:

“That’s why I always like to browse news [but] never comment on the Internet,” father said. “Because the Internet police really exist. And we have no private information, we can be easily investigated however you try to disguise yourself. So take care whatever you send on the Internet, my boy!” From this matter, Vincent really gained some experience. First, take care about your account in the Internet, and focus on some basic setting like automatic backup. Besides, don’t send some words, videos, or photos freely. In China, there is Internet police focus on WeChat, QQ, Weibo, and other software. As it is said in 1984 , “Big Brother is watching you.”

More than twenty years earlier, I had taught English at a small teachers’ college in a city called Fuling, less than three hundred miles east of Chengdu. The Fuling college was relatively low in the hierarchy of Chinese universities, but even such a place was highly selective. In 1996, the year that I started, only one out of twelve college-age Chinese was able to enter a tertiary educational institution. Almost all my students had grown up on farms, like the vast majority of citizens at that time.

In two years, I taught more than two hundred people, not one of whom went on to live abroad or attend a foreign graduate school. Most of them accepted government-assigned jobs in public middle schools or high schools, where they taught English, as part of China’s effort to improve education and engage with the outside world. Meanwhile, the government was expanding universities with remarkable speed. In less than ten years, the Fuling college grew from two thousand undergraduates to more than twenty thousand, a rate of increase that wasn’t unusual for Chinese institutions at that time. By 2019, the year that I returned, China’s enrollment rate of college-age citizens had risen, in the span of a single generation, from eight per cent to 51.6 per cent.

“O.K. go long and then go about a hundred feet to your left or your right—who knows”

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When I had first arrived, in the nineties, I believed that improved education was bound to result in a more open society and political system. But in Fuling I began to understand that college in China might work differently than it did in the West. Students were indoctrinated by mandatory political classes, and Communist Party officials strictly controlled teaching materials. They were also skilled at identifying talent. In “River Town,” a book that I wrote about teaching in Fuling, I described my realization that the kind of young people I once imagined would become dissidents were in fact the most likely to be co-opted by the system: “The ones who were charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, and brave—those were the ones who had been recruited long ago as Party Members.”

This strategy long predated the Communists. China’s imperial examination system, the ancestor of the gaokao , was instituted in the seventh century and lasted for about thirteen hundred years. Through these centuries, education was closely aligned with political authority, because virtually all schooling was intended to prepare men for government service. That emphasis stood in sharp contrast with the West, where higher learning in pre-modern times often came out of religious institutions. Elizabeth J. Perry, a historian at Harvard, has described the ancient Chinese system as being effective at producing “educated acquiescence.” Perry used this phrase as the title for a 2019 paper that explores how today’s Party has built on the ancient tradition. “One might have expected,” she writes, “that opening China’s ivory tower to an infusion of scholars and dollars from around the world would work to liberalize the intellectual climate on Chinese campuses. Yet Chinese universities remain oases of political compliance.”

At Sichuan University, which is among the country’s top forty or so institutions, I recognized some tools of indoctrination that I remembered from the nineties. Political courses now included the ideas of Xi Jinping along with Marxism, and an elaborate system of Party-controlled fudaoyuan , or counsellors, advised and monitored students. But today’s undergraduates were much more skilled at getting their own information, and it seemed that most young people in my classes used V.P.N.s. They also impressed me as less inclined to join the Party. In 2017, a nationwide survey of university students showed decreased interest in Party membership. I noticed that many of my most talented and charismatic students, like Vincent, had no interest in joining.

But they weren’t necessarily progressive. In class, students debated the death penalty after reading George Orwell’s essay “A Hanging,” and Vincent was among the majority, which supported capital punishment. He described it as a human right—in his opinion, if a murderer is not properly punished, other citizens lose their right to a safe society. Another day, when I asked if political leaders should be directly elected, Vincent and most of his classmates said no. Once, I asked two questions: Does the Chinese education system do a good job of preparing people for life? Should the education system be significantly changed? Vincent and several others had the same answer to both: no.

The students rarely exhibited the kind of idealism that a Westerner associates with youth. They seemed to accept that the world is a flawed place, and they were prepared to make compromises. Even when Vincent wrote about his encounter with the Internet police, he never criticized the monitoring; instead, his point was that a Chinese citizen needs to be careful. In another essay, Vincent described learning to control himself after a rebellious phase in middle school and high school. “Now, I seem to know more about the world,” he wrote. “It’s too impractical to change a lot of things like the education system, the government policies.”

Vincent took another class with me the following fall, in 2020. That year, China had a series of vastly different responses to COVID . Early on, Party officials in Wuhan covered up reports of the virus, which spread unchecked in the city, killing thousands. By February, the national leadership had started to implement policies—strict quarantines, extensive testing, and abundant contact tracing—that proved highly effective in the pre-vaccination era. There wasn’t a single reported case at Sichuan University that year, and we conducted our fall classes without masks or social distancing. Our final session was on December 31st, and I asked students to write about how they characterized 2020. Vincent, like more than seventy per cent of his peers, wrote that it had been a good year. He described how his thinking had evolved after observing the initial mistakes in Wuhan:

Most people held negative attitudes to the government’s reaction, including me. Meanwhile, our freedom of expression was not protected and the supervision department did a lot to delete negative news, critical comments, and so on. I felt so sad about the Party and the country at that time. But after things got better and seeing other countries’ worse behaviors, I feel so fortunate now and change my idea [about] China and the Party. Although I know there are still too many existing problems in China, I am convinced that the socialist system is more advanced especially in emergency cases.

In 2021, after suspending visa services for Chinese students during the pandemic, the U.S. resumed them. Throughout the spring, I fielded anxious questions from undergraduates who were thinking about going to America. One engineer itemized his concerns in an e-mail:

1. How to feel or deal with the discrimination when the two countries’ relationship [is] very nervous? 2. What are the root causes [in] America to cause today’s situation (drugs; distrust of the government, unemployment, and the most important, racial problem)?

They generally worried most about COVID , although guns, anti-Asian violence, and U.S.-China tensions were all prominent issues. One student who eventually went to America told me that in his home town, in northeastern China, ideas about the U.S. had changed dramatically since his childhood. “When people in the community went to America, the family was proud of them,” he said. “But this time, before I went, some family members came and they said, ‘You are going to the U.S.—it’s so dangerous!’ ”

Vincent’s mother was on a WeChat group for SCUPI parents, and that spring somebody posted an advisory from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.:

Since the COVID pandemic, there have been successive incidents of discrimination and violent crimes against Asians in some cities in the United States. . . . On March 16, three shooting incidents occurred in Atlanta and surrounding areas, killing 8 people, of whom 6 were Asian women, including 1 Chinese and 1 Chinese citizen. . . . When encountering such a situation, you must remain calm, deal with it properly, try to avoid quarrels and physical conflicts, and ensure your own safety.

That month, Vincent told me that he planned to buy a .38 revolver after arriving in Pittsburgh. He had already researched how to acquire a hunting license and a firearm-safety certificate. In July, a month before he was scheduled to leave, I had dinner with his mother. She said that she worried about gun violence and racial prejudice. “Lots of people say that now in America you can’t rise to the highest level if you are Chinese,” she said.

Vincent’s mother was born in 1974, the same year as many of the people I had taught in Fuling. Like them, she had benefitted from a stable government job during the era of China’s economic boom. She and her husband weren’t rich, but they were prepared to direct virtually all their resources toward Vincent’s education, a common pattern. Edith, the girl who wrote about her graduation banquet, told me that her parents were selling their downtown apartment and moving to the suburbs in order to pay her tuition at Pittsburgh—more than forty thousand dollars a year. Like Vincent, and like nearly ninety per cent of the people I taught, Edith was an only child. Her mother had majored in English in the nineties, when it was still hard to go overseas. After reading “Gone with the Wind” in college, she had dreamed of going abroad, and now she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity.

At dinner with Vincent’s mother, I asked how his generation was different from hers.

“They have more thoughts of their own,” she said. “They’re more creative. But they don’t have our experience of chiku , eating bitterness.”

Even so, she described Vincent as hardworking and unafraid of challenges. I saw these qualities in many students, which in some ways seemed counterintuitive. As only children from comfortable backgrounds who had spent high school in a bubble of gaokao preparation, they could have come across as sheltered or spoiled. But the exam is so difficult, and a modern Chinese childhood is so pressured, that even prosperous young people have experienced their own form of chiku .

They often seemed eager for a change of environment. In my classes, I required off-campus reporting projects, which aren’t common at Chinese universities. Some students clearly relished the opportunity to visit places that otherwise may have seemed illicit or inappropriate: Christian churches, gay bars, tattoo parlors. Occasionally, they travelled far afield. One boy in Vincent’s year who called himself Bruce, after Bruce Lee, rode a motorcycle several hundred miles into the Hengduan Mountains, at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, to research a road that had been constructed as part of China’s supply chain during the Second World War.

Vincent liked interacting with people from different backgrounds, and he researched a massage parlor, a seedy pool hall, and an outdoor marriage market in Chengdu’s People’s Park. At the marriage market, singles tried to find partners, often with the help of parents and various middlemen. In Vincent’s opinion, Chinese parents were too controlling, and young people had spent so much time studying that they had no dating experience. He wrote:

Because of one-child policy and traditional ideology, many parents consider their children as their treasure which belongs to the parents instead of the children themselves. . . . I hope the future Chinese children can have genuine liberty.

Vincent’s mother told me that she and her husband had made a point of allowing their son to decide for himself whether to go to America. But many parents were nervous, including Bruce’s father, who didn’t want his son to go to the U.S. because of the political tensions with China. In the end, Bruce decided to take a gap year before leaving. The delay was probably fortunate, because while researching the highway in the mountains he drove his motorcycle around a blind curve and was hit by a thirteen-ton dump truck. Bruce and the motorcycle slid beneath the truck; by some miracle, the vehicle came to a halt before killing the boy. I didn’t hear about the accident from the police, or the hospital, or anybody at the university. It was characteristic of these hardworking students that the news arrived in the form of an e-mailed request for an extension:

Dear Prof. Hessler, I had an accident on my way to the Lexi Highway. I was turning a corner when I was hit by a truck. Now I have a fracture in my left hand and a piece of flesh has been grinded off my left hand. Then the ligaments and nerves were damaged, and the whole left hand was immobile. My left foot was also injured. It was badly bruised. The whole foot was swollen and couldn’t move. I’m in hospital now. I’ll have to stay in the hospital for a while before I can come back. So I may not be able to write the article about the Lexi Highway. I don’t know what to do now. Can I write the article at a later date? Because I can’t do my research right now. And it’s really hard for me to type with one hand. Best wishes, Bruce

The first time I saw Vincent in Pittsburgh, in October, 2021, he had lived in America for only eighty-two days, but already he had acquired a used Lexus sedan, a twelve-gauge Winchester shotgun, a Savage Axis XP 6.5 Creedmoor bolt-action rifle, and a Glock 19 handgun. “It’s the Toyota Camry of guns,” he said, explaining that the Glock was simple and reliable.

Vincent had studied the gun laws in Pennsylvania, learning that an applicant for a concealed-carry permit must be at least twenty-one, so he applied on his birthday. The permit cost twenty dollars and featured a photograph of Vincent standing in front of an American flag. He had also researched issues of jurisdiction. “I can use it in Ohio,” he said. “But not in California. I don’t like California.” One reason he disliked California was that state law follows the Castle Doctrine, which, in Vincent’s opinion, provides inadequate protection for gun owners. “Pennsylvania has Stand Your Ground,” he said, referring to a law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force in public spaces. “They made some adjustments to the Castle Doctrine.”

Vincent was thriving in his engineering classes, and he said that some of the math was easier than what he had studied in high school in China. His views about his home country were changing, in part because of the pandemic. Vaccines were now widespread, but the Party hadn’t adjusted its “zero COVID ” strategy. “Their policy overreacts,” Vincent told me. “You should not require the government to do too many things and restrict our liberties. We should be responsible for ourselves. We should not require the government to be like our parents.”

“Im a monster.”

A couple of times, he had attended Sunday services at the Pittsburgh Chinese Church Oakland, an evangelical congregation that offered meals and various forms of support for students. In China, Vincent had never gone to church, but now he was exploring different denominations. He had his own way of classifying faiths. “For example, a church with all white Americans,” he said, referring to his options. “One of my classmates joined that. I think he likes it. He goes every week. He can earn so many profits. Even the Chinese church, they can pick you up from the airport, free. They can help you deliver furniture from some store, no charge. They do all kinds of things!”

In 2021, there were more than fifteen hundred Chinese at the University of Pittsburgh, and around three thousand at Carnegie Mellon, whose campus is less than a mile away. I came to associate the city with Sichuanese food, because I almost never ate anything else while meeting former students. Some of them, like Vincent, were trying to branch out into American activities, but for the most part they found it easy to maintain a Chinese life. Many still ordered from Taobao, which in the U.S. is slower than Amazon but has a much better selection of Chinese products. They also used various Chinese delivery apps: Fantuan, HungryPanda, FreshGoGo. The people I taught still relied heavily on V.P.N.s, although now they used them to hop in the other direction across China’s firewall. They needed the Chinese Internet in order to access various streaming apps and pop-music services, as well as to watch N.B.A. games with cheaper subscription fees and Mandarin commentary.

For students who wanted to play intercollegiate basketball, the Chinese even had their own league. An athletic boy named Ethan, who had been in my composition class at Sichuan University, was now the point guard for the Pittsburgh team. Ethan told me that about forty students had tried out and seventeen had made the cut. I asked if somebody like me could play.

“No white people,” Ethan said, laughing.

“What about hunxue’er ?” The term means a person of mixed race.

“I think that works.”

One weekend in 2022, I watched Pitt play Carnegie Mellon. Or, more accurately, I watched “UPitt,” because that was the name on the jerseys. My father attended Pitt in the late sixties, and I had grown up wearing school paraphernalia, but I had never heard anybody refer to the place as UPitt. The colors were also different. Rather than using Pitt’s royal and gold, the Chinese had made up uniforms in white and navy blue, which, in this corner of Pennsylvania, verged on sacrilege: Penn State colors.

The team received no university funding, so it had found its own sponsors. Moello, a Chinese-owned athletic-clothing company in New York, made the uniforms, and Penguin Auto, a local dealership, paid to have its logo on the back, because Chinese students were reliable car buyers.

The Northeastern Chinese Basketball League, which is not limited to the Northeast, has more than a hundred teams across the U.S. On the day that I watched, the Pitt team played a fast, guard-dominated game, running plays that had been named for local public bus lines. “ Qishiyi B!” the point guard would call out: 71B, a bus that runs to Highland Park. It was the first time I had attended a college basketball game in which the starting forward hit a vape pen in the huddle during time-outs.

The forward was originally from Tianjin, and his girlfriend was the team manager. She told me that she was trying to get him to stop vaping during games. Her name was Ren Yufan, and she was friendly and talkative; she went by the English name Ally. Ally had grown up in Shanghai and Nanjing, but she had attended high school at Christ the King Cathedral, a Catholic school in Lubbock, Texas, where she played tennis. “I was state sixth place in 2A,” she said. She noted that she had also been elected prom queen.

Ally often answered questions with “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” and her English had a slight Texas twang. Her parents had sent her to Lubbock through a program that pairs Chinese children with American host families. Ally’s host family owned a farm, where she learned to ride a horse; she enjoyed Lubbock so much that she still returned for school holidays. In the past ten or so years, more Chinese have found ways to enroll their kids in U.S. high schools, in part to avoid gaokao agony. In Pittsburgh, my Sichuan University students described these Chinese as a class apart: typically, they come from wealthy families, and their English is better than that of the Chinese who arrive in college or afterward. Their work patterns are also different. Yingyi Ma, a Chinese-born sociologist at Syracuse University, who has conducted extensive surveys of students from the mainland, has observed that the longer the Chinese stay in the U.S. the less they report working harder than their American peers. Like any good Chinese math problem, this distinctly American form of regression toward the mean can be quantified. In Ma’s book “Ambitious and Anxious,” she reports on her survey results: “Specifically, one additional year of time in the United States can reduce the odds of putting in more effort than American peers by 14 percent.”

Ally’s boyfriend had attended a private high school in Pennsylvania that cost almost seventy thousand dollars a year, and he drove a Mercedes GLC. “We are using our parents’ money, but we can’t be as successful as our parents,” Ally said. Neither her father nor her mother had attended university, but they had thrived in construction and private business during the era of China’s rapid growth. Now the country’s economy was struggling, and Ally accepted the fact that her career opportunities would likely be worse than those of the previous generation. Nevertheless, she planned to return to China, because she wanted to be close to her parents. I asked if anything might make it hard to fit in after spending so many formative years in America.

“My personality,” she said. “I’m too outgoing.”

“There are no prom queens in China, right?”

By my second visit to Pittsburgh, in November, 2022, Vincent had decided to stay permanently in the U.S., been baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and added an AK-47 and two Sig Sauer handguns to his arsenal. He had also downgraded to a less expensive car, because the Lexus had been damaged in a crash. Rather than getting the Glock 19 of automobiles, Vincent decided on the Camry’s cousin, a used Toyota Prius. He picked me up in the Prius, and we headed out for a traditional Steel City meal of lajiao and prickly ash. Vincent wore a Sig Sauer P365 XL with a laser sight in a holster on his right hip. The car radio was playing “Water Tower Town,” a country song by Scotty McCreery:

In a water tower town, everybody waves Church doors are the only thing that’s open on Sundays Word travels fast, wheels turn slow. . . .

Earlier in the year, some Mormon missionaries had struck up a conversation with Vincent on campus. “Their koucai is really good,” he told me, using a word that means “eloquence.” “It helps me understand how to interact with people. They say things like ‘Those shoes are really nice!’ And they start talking, and then they ask you a question: ‘Are you familiar with the Book of Mormon?’ ” Now Vincent had a Chinese app for the Book of Mormon on his phone, and he attended services every Sunday. He had been baptized on July 23rd, which was also the day that he had quit drinking and smoking cigarettes, a habit he’d had since Sichuan University. He thought that the church might be a good place to meet a girlfriend. He had a notion that someday he’d like to have a big family and live in a place like Texas, whose gun laws appealed to him.

Corn grows high, crime stays low There’s little towns everywhere where everybody knows. . . .

During the winter of Vincent’s first academic year in the U.S., his political transformation had been rapid. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos about things like June 4th,” he told me, referring to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in 1989. He began to question the accommodationist views that he had previously held. “Young people are like this in China,” he said. “They tend to support the system.”

In the spring of 2022, Vincent became dismayed by the excessive COVID lockdown in Shanghai. He posted a series of critical remarks on social media, and in May he sent me an e-mail:

In recent months, I make some negative comments on WeChat on the humanitarian crisis caused by the lockdown in Shanghai and some other issues. My parents got nervous and asked me to delete these contents because their colleagues having me in their contact lists in WeChat read my “Pengyou Quan” [friends’ circle] and reminded my parents of potential risks of “Ju Bao” [political reporting] that would affect my parents’ jobs.

One day, a man who may have been from the Chinese security apparatus phoned Vincent’s parents. Unlike in the call from years before, this man didn’t identify himself as the police. But he said that Vincent’s actions could cause trouble for the family. Such anonymous warnings are occasionally made to the parents of overseas Chinese, and they weigh heavily on students.

Vincent deleted his WeChat comments. But he also decided that he couldn’t imagine returning to China. “I would say something and get arrested,” he told me. “I need to be in a place where I have freedom.” An older Chinese friend in Pittsburgh had made a similar decision, and he advised Vincent on how to eventually apply for a green card.

Vincent told his parents that he planned to stay in America for at least five years, but initially he didn’t say that his decision was permanent, because he worried that they would be upset. In the meantime, he didn’t want to waste their money, so he earned cash on the side by teaching Chinese students how to drive. Professional garages charged at least five hundred dollars to install a passenger brake, but Vincent found one on Taobao for about eighty-five dollars, including shipping from China. “I don’t know if it’s legal,” he told me. With his engineering skills, he was able to install the brake in the Prius.

“How about you wash and dry and Ill curate a dishwashing playlist”

The number of Chinese studying in the U.S. had dropped to the lowest level in nearly a decade. But there were still almost three hundred thousand, and many of them arrived in places like Pittsburgh and realized that qishiyi B and other public buses weren’t adequate for their needs. They preferred to hire driving instructors who spoke Mandarin, and Vincent’s rate was eighty dollars an hour. He charged even more for the use of his car during exams. Vincent told me that a Chinese-speaking driving instructor who hustled could earn at least two hundred thousand dollars a year. In my own business, the Chinese political climate had made it almost impossible for American journalists to get resident visas, and specialists of all sorts no longer had access to the country. Sometimes I envisioned a retraining program for old China hands: all of us could buy passenger brakes on Taobao and set up shop as mandarins of parallel parking.

I knew of only a few former students who, like Vincent, had already decided to make a permanent home outside China. It was viewed as an extreme step, and most of them preferred to keep their options open. But virtually all my former students in the U.S. planned to apply to graduate school here.

They were concerned about the economic and political situation in China, but they also often felt out of place in Pittsburgh. American racial attitudes sometimes mystified them. One engineer had taken a Pitt psychology class that frequently touched on race, and he said that it reminded him of the political-indoctrination classes at Sichuan University. In both situations, he felt that students weren’t supposed to ask questions. “They’re just telling you how to play with words,” he said. “Like in China when they say socialism is good. In America you will say, ‘Black lives matter.’ They are actually the same thing. When you are saying socialism is good, you are saying that capitalism is bad. You are hiding something behind your words. When you say, ‘Black lives matter,’ what are you saying? You are basically saying that Asian lives don’t matter, white lives don’t matter.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Chinese students to have been harassed on the streets. They often said, with some discomfort, that those who targeted them tended to be Black. Many of these incidents involved people shouting slurs from passing cars, but occasionally there was something more serious. One group of boys was riding a public bus at night when a passenger insulted them and stole some ice cream that they had just bought. Afterward, one of the students acquired a Beretta air pistol. He was wary of buying an actual gun, but he figured that the Beretta looked real enough to intimidate people.

One evening, I went out for Sichuanese food with four former students, including a couple who had been involved in that incident. They seemed to brush it off, and they were much more concerned about Sino-U.S. tensions. One mentioned that if there were a war over Taiwan he would have only three options. “I can go back to China, or I can go to Canada, or I can go somewhere else,” he said. “I won’t be able to stay here.”

“Look at what happened to the Japanese during World War Two,” another said. “They put them into camps. It would be the same here.”

They all believed that war was unlikely, although Xi Jinping made them nervous. Back in China, my students had generally avoided mentioning the leader by name, and in Pittsburgh they did the same.

“It all depends on one person now,” a student said at the dinner. “In the past, it wasn’t just one person. When you have a group of people, it’s more likely that somebody will think about the cost.”

I asked whether they would serve in the Chinese military if there were a war.

“They wouldn’t ask people like us to fight,” one boy said. He explained that, in a war, he wouldn’t return home if his country was the aggressor. “If China fires the first shot, then I will stay in America,” he said.

I asked why.

“Because I don’t believe that we should attack our tongbao , our compatriots.”

I knew of only one Pitt student who planned to return to China for graduate school. The student, whom I’ll call Jack, was accepted into an aerospace-engineering program at Jiao Tong University, in Shanghai. Jack was one of the top SCUPI students, and in an earlier era he would have had his pick of American grad schools. But Chinese aerospace jobs are generally connected to the military, and American institutions had become wary of training such students. Even if a university makes an offer of admission, it can be extremely difficult to get a student visa approved. “Ten years ago, it would have been fine,” Jack told me. “My future Ph.D. adviser got his Ph.D. at Ohio State in aerospace engineering.” He continued, “Everybody knows you can’t get this kind of degree in the U.S. anymore.”

When I met Jack for lunch, I initially didn’t recognize him. He had lost twenty pounds, because in Pittsburgh he had adopted a daily routine of a four-mile run. “In middle school and high school, my parents and grandparents always said you should eat a lot and study hard,” he said. “I became kind of fat.”

He had assimilated to American life more successfully than most of his peers, and his English had improved dramatically. He told me shyly that he had become good friends with a girl in his department. “Some of my friends from SCUPI are jealous because I have a friend who is a foreign girl, a white girl,” he said. “They make some jokes.”

He said that he would always remember Pittsburgh fondly, but he expected his departure to be final. “I don’t think I’ll come to the U.S. again,” he said. “They will check. If they see that you work with rockets, with the military, they won’t let you in.”

On the afternoon of January 10, 2023, at around three o’clock, in the neighborhood of Homewood, Vincent was stopped behind another vehicle at a traffic light when he heard a popping sound that he thought was fireworks. He was driving the Prius, and a Chinese graduate student from Carnegie Mellon sat in the passenger seat. Vincent wore a Sig Sauer P365 subcompact semi-automatic pistol in a concealed-carry holster on his right hip. The Carnegie Mellon student was preparing to get his driver’s license, and Vincent was taking him to practice at a test course in Penn Hills, an area that was known for occasional crime problems.

At the traffic light, Vincent saw a car approach at high speed and run a red light. Then there were more popping sounds. Vincent realized that they weren’t fireworks when a bullet cracked his windshield.

He ducked below the dashboard. In the process, his foot came off the brake, and the Prius struck the vehicle ahead of him. The shooting continued for a few seconds. After it stopped, the Carnegie Mellon student said, “ Ge , brother, you just hit the car in front!”

“Get your head down!” Vincent shouted. He backed up, swerved around the other vehicle, and tore through a red light. After a block, he saw a crossing guard waiting for children who had just finished the day at Westinghouse Academy, a nearby public school.

“Shots fired, shots fired!” Vincent shouted. “Call 911!”

He parked on the side of the road, and soon he was joined by the driver whose car he had struck. They checked the bumpers; there wasn’t any damage. The driver, an elderly woman, didn’t seem particularly concerned about the shooting. She left before the police arrived.

A woman from a nearby house came out to talk with Vincent. She remarked that shootings actually weren’t so common, and then she walked off to pick up her child from Westinghouse Academy. After a while, a police officer drove up, carrying an AR-15. Vincent explained that he was also armed, and the officer thanked him for the information. He asked Vincent to wait until a detective arrived.

For more than two hours, Vincent sat in his car. The Carnegie Mellon student took an Uber home. When the detective finally showed up, his questions were perfunctory, and he didn’t seem interested in Vincent’s offer to provide dashboard-camera footage. A brief report about the incident appeared on a Twitter account called Real News and Alerts Allegheny County:

Shot Spotter Alert for 20 rounds Vehicles outside of a school shooting at each other. 1 vehicle fled after firing shots.

Later that year, Vincent took me to the site. He recalled that during the incident he had repeatedly said, “Lord, save me!,” like Peter the Apostle on the Sea of Galilee. The lack of police response had surprised Vincent. “I didn’t know they didn’t care about a shooting,” he said. For our visit, he wore a Sig Sauer P320-M17 on his right hip. “Normally, I don’t open-carry,” he said. “But this gun can hold eighteen rounds.”

It had been four years since Vincent arrived in my class at Sichuan University. Have you ever been involved in a situation that was extremely threatening, or dangerous, or somehow dramatic ? Back then, he had written about what happened when the Chinese Internet police came to his home. Now Vincent’s American story was one in which the police effectively didn’t come after twenty rounds had been fired near a school. But there was a similar sense of normalcy: everybody was calm; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The following month, four students were shot outside Westinghouse Academy.

I asked Vincent if the incident had changed his opinion about gun laws.

“No,” he said. “That’s why we should carry guns. Carrying a gun is more comfortable than wearing body armor.”

At Sichuan University, I also taught journalism to undergraduates from a range of departments. Last June, I sent out a detailed survey to more than a hundred and fifty students. One question asked if they intended to make their permanent home in China. A few weren’t certain, but, of the forty-three who answered, thirty said that they planned to live in China. There was no significant difference in the responses of students who were currently in China versus those abroad.

Since the pandemic, there have been increasing reports of young Chinese engaged in runxue , or “run philosophy,” escaping the country’s various pressures by going abroad permanently. A number of my students pushed back against the idea that runxue had wide appeal. “I think that’s just an expression of emotion, like saying, ‘I want to die,’ ” one student who was studying in Pittsburgh told me. “I don’t take it very seriously.” He planned to go to graduate school in America and then return home. He said that in China it was easy for him to avoid politics, whereas in Pittsburgh he couldn’t avoid the fact that he was a foreigner. During his initial few months in the city, he had experienced three unpleasant anti-Asian incidents. As a result, he had changed the route he walked to his bus stop. “I think I don’t belong here,” he said.

How Chinese Students Experience America

Yingyi Ma, the sociologist at Syracuse who has surveyed Chinese students in the U.S., has observed that almost sixty per cent of her respondents intend to return to their homeland. She told me that young Chinese rarely connect with the political climate in the U.S. “But what makes America appealing is the other aspects,” she said. “The agency. The self-acceptance. Over time, as they stay in the U.S., they figure out that they don’t have to change themselves.”

One former student told me that she might remain in America in part because people were less likely to make comments about her body. She’s not overweight, but she doesn’t have the tiny frame that is common among young Chinese women, and people in China constantly remarked on her size. In Pittsburgh, I met with Edith, the student who had written about her graduation banquet. Now she had dyed some of her hair purple and green, and she avoided video calls with her grandparents, who might judge her. Once, she had gone to a shooting range with Chinese classmates, and she had attended church-group meetings out of curiosity. She told me that recently she had taken up skateboarding as a hobby.

It was typical for students to pursue activities that would have been unlikely or impossible in China, and several boys became gun enthusiasts. Nationwide, rising numbers of Asian Americans have purchased firearms since the start of the pandemic, a trend that scholars attribute to fears of racism. One afternoon, I arranged to meet a former student named Steven at a shooting range outside Wexford, Pennsylvania. I knew that I was in the right parking lot when, amid all the pickup trucks, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “E=mc 2 .” On the range, whenever the call came for a halt in shooting—“All clear!”—a bunch of bearded white guys in camo and Carhartt stalked out with staple guns to attach new paper covers to the targets. Steven, a shy, round-faced engineer in glasses, was the only Chinese at the range, and also the only person who used quilting pins for his target. He told me that the quilting pins were reusable and thus cheaper than staples. He had come with a Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7 handgun, a Ruger American Predator 6.5 Creedmoor bolt-action rifle, and a large Benchmade knife that he wore in a leather holster. At the range, he shot his rifle left-handed. When he was small, his father had thought that he was a natural lefty, but he was taught to write with his right hand, like all Chinese students. He told me that shooting was the first significant activity in which he had used his left.

On the same trip, I met Bruce for a classic Allegheny County dinner of mapo tofu and Chongqing chicken. After the accident in the Himalayas, Bruce had sworn off motorcycles. At Pitt, in addition to his engineering classes, he had learned auto repair by watching YouTube videos. He bought an old BMW, fixed it up, and sold it for a fifty-per-cent profit. He used the money to purchase a used Ford F-150 truck, which he customized so he could sleep in the cab for hiking and snowboarding excursions to the mountains. He had decorated the truck with two “thin blue line” American-flag decals and another pro-police insignia around the license plate. “That’s so it looks like I’m a hongbozi ,” Bruce said, using the Mandarin translation of “redneck.” “People won’t honk at me or mess with me.” He opened the door and pointed out a tiny Chinese flag on the back of the driver’s seat. “You can’t see it from the outside,” he said, grinning.

Over time, I’ve also surveyed the people I taught in the nineties, and last year I asked both cohorts of former students the same question: Did the pandemic change anything significant about your personal opinions, beliefs, or values? The older group reported relatively few changes. Most are now around fifty years old, with stable teaching jobs that have not been affected by China’s economic problems. They typically live in third- or fourth-tier provincial cities, which were less likely to suffer brutal lockdowns than places like Shanghai and Beijing.

But members of the younger generation, who are likelier to live in larger cities and generally access more foreign information, responded very differently. “I can’t believe I’m still reading Mao Zedong Thought and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” one graduate student at a Chinese university wrote. “In this collectivist ideology, there is no respect for the dignity and worth of the individual.” Another woman, who was in graduate school in the United Kingdom, wrote, “Now I’ve switched to an anarchist. It reduces the stress when I have to read the news.”

Their generation is unique in Chinese history in the scope of their education and in their degree of contact with the outside world. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that their concerns are broader. In my survey, I asked what they worried about most, and, out of forty-seven responses, three mentioned politics. Another three worried about the possibility of war with Taiwan. Only one cited environmental issues. The vast majority of answers were personal, with more than half mentioning job opportunities or problems with graduate school. This seemed to reflect the tradition of “educated acquiescence”: there’s no point in concerning yourself with big questions and systemic flaws.

Nevertheless, their worldliness makes it harder to predict long-term outcomes, and I sense a new degree of unease. On a recent trip to California, I interviewed a former student who commented that even when she and her Chinese boyfriend were alone they instinctively covered their phones if they talked about politics, as if this would prevent surveillance. I noticed that, like many other former students, she never uttered the name Xi Jinping. Afterward, I asked her about it over e-mail, and she replied:

I do find myself avoiding mentioning Xi’s name directly in [California], even in private conversations and in places where I generally feel “safe.” . . . I guess it’s a thing that has been reinforced millions of times to the point that it just feels uncomfortable and daunting to say his full name, as it has too much association with unrestrained power and punishment.

In the survey of my Sichuan University students, I was most struck by responses to a simple query: Do you want to have children someday? The most common answer was no, and the trend was especially pronounced for women, at seventy-six per cent. Other surveys and studies in China indicate a similar pattern. One former student explained:

I think that Chinese children are more stressed and profoundly confused, which will continue. We are already a confused generation, and children’s upbringing requires long periods of companionship and observation and guidance, which is difficult to ensure in the face of intense social pressure. The future of Chinese society is an adventure and children do not “demand to be born.” I am worried that my children are not warriors and are lost in it.

By my third visit to Pittsburgh, in November, 2023, Vincent had graduated, been baptized again, and embarked on his first real American job. The previous year, I had attended Sunday services with him at a Mormon church, but this time he took me to the Church of the Ascension, an Anglican congregation near campus. When I asked why he had switched, he used a Chinese word, qihou . “Environment,” he said. “They aren’t pushy. The Mormons are too pushy.”

He liked the fact that the Anglicans were conservative but reasonable. He saw politics in similar terms: he disliked Donald Trump, but he considered himself most likely to vote as a traditional Republican if he became a citizen. He had been baptized in the Anglican Church on Easter. “I told them that I had already been baptized,” he explained. “But they said that because it was Mormon it doesn’t count.”

The previous summer, Vincent’s mother had visited Pittsburgh, where, among other places, he took her to church and to the shooting range. During the trip, he told her about his plan to live permanently in the U.S. When I spoke with her recently by phone, she still held out hope that he would someday return to China. “I don’t want him to stay in America,” she said. “But if that’s what he wants I won’t oppose it.” She said that she was impressed by how much her son had matured since going abroad.

After receiving his degree in industrial engineering, Vincent decided not to work in the field. He believed that he was best suited for a career in business, because he liked dealing with all kinds of people. He had started working for his landlord, Nick Kefalos, who managed real-estate properties around Pittsburgh. One morning, I accompanied Vincent when he stopped by Kefalos’s office to drop off a check from a tenant.

Kefalos was a wiry, energetic man of around seventy. He told me that on a couple of occasions a roommate had left an apartment and Vincent was able to find a replacement. At one point, he persuaded a Japanese American, a Serbian, and a Dane to share a unit, and all of them had got along ever since. “We could see that he had a knack,” Kefalos said. “He was able to find unrelated people and make good matches.” Kefalos also liked having a Chinese speaker on staff. “We think a diverse population is ideal,” he said. Vincent was currently studying for his real-estate license, and he hoped to start his own business someday.

Kefalos’s grandfather had come from Greece, and his father had worked as an electrical engineer in the steel industry. Many of his current tenants were immigrants. “My personal experience is that they are relatively hardworking,” he said. “And I think that’s true with most immigrants who come into the country. Whether it’s for education or a better life.” He looked up at Vincent and said, “My sense is that most U.S. citizens born in the United States don’t have any idea how fortunate they are.” ♦

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Educator of the Month, April 2024: Katherine Knowles

Michigan State University is fortunate to have passionate educators who are committed to enhancing the experience of their students and who help to provide the best education possible.

The Graduate School is featuring some of these educators – graduate and postdoc educators – every month to share their unique stories and perspectives on what it means to be a dedicated educator, how they’ve overcome educational challenges, and the ways they have grown through their experiences.

For April 2024, we are featuring Katherine Knowles, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English. In her writeup, Katherine shares that failure is not something to be afraid of and how it makes her a better educator.

What does it mean to be an educator at a university?

To be an educator at university, particularly as a graduate student, ultimately means being open to change. Flexibility and adaptability are the most important traits I’ve developed over my time as a teaching assistant at MSU. I have taught a variety of different courses, ranging from large humanities lecture courses that fulfill university general education requirements, to smaller, seminar-sized English courses.

Regardless of the size of the class, I strive to find ways to dismantle hierarchies in the classroom and create space for students to set their own terms and goals. The semester may start with a set plan, but there needs to be space to adjust the course. It is possible to uphold your values as an educator while understanding that not every activity, assignment, or reading works for every student and that you may need to switch paths for your students to help them achieve learning goals.

A big part of this is meeting students where they are. At any university, but especially one the size of MSU, educators interact with a diverse group of students who have had a variety of different life and educational experiences. In any given class, my students might come from rural or urban hometowns and various socioeconomic backgrounds. They may come from any number of countries or be the first in their family to attend college.

Even in the largest of classroom settings, it is my responsibility as an educator to work with my students to create a learning environment that best serves their needs and provides a safe space for them to cultivate their intellectual growth. Some of the most generative moments in the classroom come from creating opportunities to experiment and play by adapting to student interests and strengths.

What challenges have you experienced and how have you grown from them?  

Being an educator is inherently challenging. Although we’d like to think that when we are in the classroom the outside world gets left at the door, this is never the case. In addition to feeling the pressures of striving for academic success, our students are dealing with complex family and work lives that are going to inevitably influence how they approach their undergraduate work. I have grown to better understand that while the classes I teach are not necessarily unimportant, there are always going to be other things in my students’ lives that are more important to them. They may need to prioritize their work or their caregiving responsibilities.

Ultimately, better understanding the challenges my students face has enabled me to view them not as challenges toward my success as an instructor, but as opportunities to improve and expand my pedagogical skillset. While it is important to keep boundaries with students, there is nothing wrong with recognizing them as complex, well-rounded individuals who have individual needs. Keeping channels of communication open and actively cultivating an environment where students feel comfortable approaching you can cut down on many of the challenges one might face as an educator.

Of course, as I started teaching at MSU in Fall 2019, I have encountered a number of challenges that are not unique to me but are unique to our time. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a quick and unprecedented emergency shift to online courses in Spring 2020, and many educators also had to act as learners in order to develop effective online courses for future semesters.

After the violence that took place on campus in Spring 2023, educators had to process their own trauma while simultaneously deploying a trauma-informed pedagogy to help our students. Educators and students alike have been incredibly resilient over the last few years at MSU and, although I wish they didn’t have to be, I will continue to foster meaningful learning environments that can adapt to real-world situations, unprecedented, traumatic, and otherwise.

What value do you see in Teaching Professional Development?  

For many graduate student instructors, we never get any formal education in pedagogy. Although there are courses that focus on pedagogy, I have to go outside of my field and degree program to take them. Yet, a part of many funding packages requires a certain amount of teaching. As such, we often have to seek out opportunities to further improve our pedagogical practice and begin to develop our own system of values as educators.

Fortunately, opportunities to engage with teaching professional development are available. I have attended the beginning of the year TA training offered by the graduate school several times, and I have enrolled in the Certification in College Teaching , which has made me aware of a variety of workshops and talks across campus as well as connected me with my current fellowship with the Center for Teaching and Learning Innovation here on campus. Since I primarily teach students outside of my field, these events have given me the opportunity to develop a pedagogy that is aware of the diversity of both my students and their fields of study, and how I can best serve their needs—rather than defaulting to what may be expected in the more “traditional” English literature classroom.

I also strongly encourage educators to attend conferences related to teaching or find the panel at your national conference that discusses pedagogy. Even if your department is great at helping instructors develop their pedagogy, it is incredibly valuable to learn how educators in different university contexts are approaching the same material. There is always more to learn when it comes to pedagogy, and your development as an educator never ends.

What is one piece of advice you would give other graduate educators?  

Embrace failure and do not be afraid if you don’t know the answer. As a teaching assistant, you might find yourself teaching a class that is not in your subject area, and that’s okay. There are going to be times when you do not know the answer, or where an activity you have planned just doesn’t work out in the way you’ve hoped. Sometimes it may be as simple as technological failure, but as you spend more time in the classroom, the more chances there are for things to go wrong—and they will. But, in a way, that can be incredibly freeing. What is important is how you react to these moments where things don’t go the way you were expecting them to. In doing so, you can model behavior to your students to help them learn how to react positively and constructively when things do not go as planned.

For example, I provide multiple options to complete assignments, allowing students to experiment with different ways to express their arguments, be it via the more traditional essay, or via innovative digital tools and methods. Recently, for example, students in my IAH 206 course submitted artifacts such as websites, multimedia posters, and even podcasts to fulfill their final assignment and meet critical thinking, analysis, and communication goals. This flexibility, while allowing for more hands-on and tailored experiential learning, often includes moments of failure, as experimenting with new methods can add an additional learning curve on top of mastering course content.

To provide an inclusive learning environment that meets students at their own individual levels of technological competency, I build in space for moments in which “failure” is reframed as a learning opportunity. If things don’t go as planned, that doesn’t mean an automatic failure in terms of the grade scale. Rather, it provides the opportunity for me and my students to think through what went wrong—but also what went well, and how to move forward with resilience and with vital earned experience. Failure, I have learned, often provides much more rich engagement with ideas, and allows students opportunities to adjust, adapt to, and augment their approach to work within and without the classroom.

What do you enjoy in your free time? 

In my free time, I really enjoy reading books outside of my field of study and going on walks with my dog. As an educator, researcher, and student, I need to make an active effort in creating work-life balance.

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College essay about immigrant experience

So I just want some help in getting ideas for my college essays and advice on my ideas and feedback. My idea is to use an old essay for a competition as a skeleton and talking about being homesick after going to the UK from Hong Kong alone when I was 13 for boarding school. But then elaborate on how I overcame this and talk about all the positive skills and new things I learnt in the UK such as debating or writing. My old essay included about how the UK law protected me for being gay whereas Hong Kong does not but I know stuff like this is really over-done so should I bother with this at all? And would my essay above work if written well.

feedback on above would be appreciated. thank you!

I would take the detailed outline off of CC. Look at the protocol for asking for essay help on CC.

Topic is fine, but the point is how this experience shaped who you are now , not just anecdotes about the past.

I was going to talk about how this made me sympathise with young refugees, immigrants and low-income students who had much worse external challenges to balance with their studies and was hence motivated to start a non-profit (no, I did not start this for my college app) to connect ordinary secondary school tutors looking for a job to the refugees/low-income pupils for tuition and support

Your idea of using your experience of overcoming homesickness and discovering new skills in the UK for your college essay is powerful and personal. It showcases resilience and growth, which are valued qualities in college admissions. While discussing topics like LGBTQ+ rights may seem common, your perspective as an individual navigating different legal protections adds depth to your narrative. Focus on crafting a compelling story that highlights your journey and the insights gained. Your essay has the potential to be impactful if written authentically and thoughtfully.

As @happy1 suggested, you should seek help through the link @worriedmomucb provided. There are many talented and experienced volunteers who can guide you more specifically.


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    Intellectual experience - Tell us about an intellectual experience in the past two years that you found absolutely fascinating. (250 words) ... Prior to joining College Essay Guy, he worked as a college counselor at Lakeside School and an admissions officer at Pomona College and College of the Holy Cross (his alma mater). ...

  21. Harvard University Essay Prompts

    Harvard University has released its supplemental essays for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. ... Ideally, applicants will write about an intellectual experience that relates to their hook so they showcase a singular angle rather than well-roundedness on their Harvard application. As such, if a student is an astrophysicist, writing about ...

  22. Duke University Essay Prompts

    Duke's supplemental essays have been published for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle. Duke University has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. In addition to The Common Application 's Personal Statement, Duke's Class of 2028 applicants must write one supplemental essay.

  23. intellectual experience : r/ApplyingToCollege

    Supplementary Essays. so i'm writing an essay for this prompt for a schools application: Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. I have been researching different religions for like 7 months now, and i've learned a lot about some of them during that time. could this be considered an intellectual experience?

  24. Academic Achievement and 'Intellectual Curiosity' Shared by Admitted

    Highlights of the Admitted Class of 2028. Women comprise 56% of the class and men 41%, and 3% identify as non-binary or genderqueer, or preferred not to specify a gender identity. Women also make up 50% of students admitted to the School of Engineering. Of those admitted from high schools with class rank, 92% are ranked in the top 10% of their ...

  25. Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

    "I read Atlas Shrugged years ago as a teenager, and it set me on an intellectual path of setting new ideas and values I could live my life by. Its philosophy empowered me, and exploring Rand's ideas has been a recurring source of inspiration and confidence. I read it again for the essay contest, and the effort of closely attending to its themes and characterizations has also provided me a ...

  26. How Chinese Students Experience America

    COVID, guns, anti-Asian violence, and diplomatic relations have complicated the ambitions of the some three hundred thousand college students who come to the U.S. each year, Peter Hessler writes.

  27. Educator of the Month, April 2024: Katherine Knowles

    Michigan State University is fortunate to have passionate educators who are committed to enhancing the experience of their students and who help to provide the best education possible.The Graduate School is featuring some of these educators - graduate and postdoc educators - every month to share their unique stories and perspectives on what it means to be a dedicated educator, how they ...

  28. College essay about immigrant experience

    College essay about immigrant experience. college-essay. 2008 April 1, 2024, 1:53pm 1. So I just want some help in getting ideas for my college essays and advice on my ideas and feedback. My idea is to use an old essay for a competition as a skeleton and talking about being homesick after going to the UK from Hong Kong alone when I was 13 for ...