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Sample College Admission Essays
Applying to college can be very exciting, but also require a lot of dedication, research, and hard work. One key piece of your application that should be given plenty of time and attention is the college admission essay. Before you write your first draft read our sample essays to get a few tips on writing your perfect admission essay.
This section contains five examples of good college essays.
College Essay Sample One
College essay sample two, college essay sample three, college essay sample four, college essay sample five.
State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.
In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.
This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.
Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.
Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.
The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.
In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.
In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.
As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.
My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.
My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.
Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.
From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.
My handwriting didn’t become jittery until the third round. The number of competitors in the Midwest Spelling Bee had dropped from 100 to the thirty-some who remained after two waves of preliminaries, a group I was awed to be in. The third round would likely be the last one carried out with pencil and paper. A sole word stood between me and the oral competition to follow. My nerves soared at the thought that a mere handful of syllables from the pronouncer’s mouth would offer me a chance to compete in the apex of orthography: the regional bee finals. Yet, when I heard the word “Wagner,” the degree of my confusion was only rivaled by that of my disappointment upon elimination.
My approach to academic success in middle school consisted of rote memorization and stodgy study habits. Fortunately for my sanity and social life, I have since discovered that learning derived from experience can introduce an invaluable layer of reality to otherwise useless knowledge. My hinge moment came near the end of eighth grade when I was stumped by “Wagner” and its ensuing definition: “a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas.” To my credit, the phonetic vocalization of Wagner is something like “BAHG-nur,” with the ever ambiguous bee/vee sound. But, an error is an error, and my misspelling of the word earned me a disheartening dismissal from the Midwest Spelling Bee. I immediately resolved to learn about the man whose name was responsible for cheapening my years of poring over vocabulary lists and etymology guides. Upon learning that Richard Wagner was one of the most prolific opera composers in history, I had to investigate. Along my inquisitive quest, I encountered two newfound passions: opera music and the pursuit of stimulating information.
I am an unabashed classical music aficionado. My enthusiasm came gradually over years of imposed piano lessons that eventually became voluntary as my interest in the activity piqued. I came to sense the profound communion with notes on a page arising from tinkering out the same rhythms and melodies that were manuscripts by musical geniuses centuries ago. However, because I could not perform it, I never thought to explore opera. Without my keen interest in Wagner, I may have never encountered the awe-inspiring blend of visual and musical mastery that constitutes his interpretation of the genre. Opera swiftly captured my eye and ear for insightful art. For instance, in his landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, Wagner unleashed a then-revolutionary tonal system which paved the way for twentieth century classical music. As I unearthed the beauty of opera, my awareness of all the remarkable, groundbreaking themes of Wagner’s productions became embodied by the word “Wagner.” In this striking moment, I could not help but feel the value of connecting my learning to purposeful interaction.
Fueled by my frustration with the outcome of the bee, I searched for the source of my failure. In uncovering the works of Wagner, I gleaned a sense of the vast droves of information that can lie behind a seemingly simple word. I suddenly became aware of my incapacity to seek out the surprising insights that the world might have been waiting to reveal. Thanks to a reevaluation triggered by a failure, I garnered a new appreciation for experiential learning. Since my underwhelming performance nearly four years ago, I have become well versed in the mysterious, gritty art of inquiry. Rather than perceiving my environment to be a sterile list of terms with a neat pronunciation guide to boot, I am now eager to take in the uncommon wisdoms of everything from the innovative operatic tropes of Wagner to the fickle nature of bees—both the pollinating insects and their manmade homonyms.
The exclusiveness portrayed in Mean Girls led me to expect that high school would consist of like-minded cliques. Rather, in high school I found that a single commonality can unite a seemingly random sampling of people. Through marching band, this idea was embodied in a desire to perform music. UChicago’s community is similarly bonded by a serious passion for learning which satisfies my desire to become a thoughtful citizen of tomorrow.
The hierarchy of authority in marching band is one I have come to love, and not only because I achieved the top student position in it as a drum major. In that role, I watched younger members hone their skills in an effort to contribute to the collective performance. The value of a uniform training followed by opportunities to lead is exemplified by the ambitious and talented student leaders produced. At UChicago, The Core serves a comparable purpose in preparing students for exhaustive academic exploration. I am enticed by the intensive inquiry and groundbreaking research that students partake in. Yet, I appreciate the benefit of undergoing the rigorous Core first. UChicago emphasizes experiential learning, even in the College, which appeals to my desire to collaborate with other brilliant learners. When I visited campus, two specific encounters struck me. Initially, the Institute of Politics attracted me with its hands-on approach to policy issues through programs like Student Civic Engagement projects. Even more alluring was the Politics & Policy class I sat in on. Following a lecture on bureaucracy that may have droned over the heads of less inspired students, I was surrounded by a hubbub of engaged thinkers convening through discussion. UChicago’s intellectual atmosphere is animated by the common thirst for knowledge that characterizes every student.
Through marching band, I discovered a passion for influencing others. My dream is that by drawing from UChicago’s empowering community, my drive will transfer to pertinent global issues like human rights in the Middle East. UChicago is my ideal learning environment, for as Wayne Booth stated while he was Dean of the College, UChicago empowers tomorrow’s intellectual leaders to “see through the guff.” During high school, I have grown from an uncertain ninth grader into the capable leader I am today, leaving me optimistic for how I may develop in the next four years.
A travel through my room reveals almost everything about me. The walls are splashed with two tones of eye-burning pink, fairies dance across the vibrant wallpaper sprinkled with sparkles, a white-washed dresser covered in knick-knacks, and an overflowing toy box fit perfectly in this Technicolor dream room.
In one corner of my room, a paint-by-numbers portrait that my grandfather created in a World War II hospital silently tells its story. My grandfather, an Italian barber, raised six children in Bayonne, NJ with my grandmother. My grandparents worked hard to deliver the most American of promises – that your kids will have a better standard of living than you. In that regard, my mother, who put herself through college to become an engineer, made good, affording to give me my own room, a luxury she never knew.
The next corner of my room contains a nondescript desk and laptop, the same as anyone’s room. Who would guess that this desk is also the launching pad of myYearbook.com, a 1.6 million member social networking site that I created? Layers of spec sheets, Post-Its, and emails form a sea of productivity that I find comforting. Scribbled telephone numbers and names remind me of deals I did and didn’t do, reporters who did and didn’t write on me, and technology worries I never stop trying to resolve. Half-drunk coke cans tell the tale of a dozen all-nighters, and someone who is at her most creative at night.
The desk is not all business though. My calculus and economics texts bookend my laptop, and a bouquet of dead flowers from my boyfriend rest in peace on my shelf, revealing a morbid sentimentality. Although the flowers have long died and the water completely evaporated, the card and its words “Jeg synes a du er fantastik og du er det beste ting i mit verden,” are the only reason the flowers never made it to the garbage. In Danish, the sentence translates to, “I think you are fantastic, and you are the best thing in my world.” Ever since I started dating him, I have been learning more and more about his Danish culture, and I plan to go to Denmark twice this year.
The third corner holds my well-worn, folded-up gymnastics floor beam and barely used grips. Unlike many gymnasts though, I prefer not to wear the grips on bars because they make it harder to feel the bar. I started gymnastics when I was five, and since then my hands have earned their calluses, and I am proud of them. You won’t find me moisturizing my hands except to keep them from splitting on the bars.
In the last corner hangs a painting I bought while organizing an online Tsunami Aid Art Project. It was my first significant project online and helped give me a sense of the power of the Internet to connect people. As part of the artist community WetCanvas.com, myself and two other members organized a tsunami-related art project with all proceeds donated to charity. We raised $10,000 in funds, and had about 100 pieces of work donated from artists in nine countries.
Sadly, I know this will not always be my room. The pink fairies will give way to adult- sized possessions and responsibilities. The knick-knacks will break, and the sanctuary of my childhood will soon seem so childish. But, for now, I will embrace the pink, the fairies, and the simplicity of life in my mom’s house. I will look forward to the possibilities of creating another space, as uniquely my own as this one, and as uniquely a part of my past as this room will always be.
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Essays That Worked
The essays are a place to show us who you are and who you’ll be in our community.
It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you and tell the admissions committee more about your background or goals. Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. In each of these essays, students were able to share stories from their everyday lives to reveal something about their character, values, and life that aligned with the culture and values at Hopkins.
Hear from the Class of 2027
These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.
Ordering the Disorderly
Ellie’s essay skillfully uses the topic of entropy as an extended metaphor. Through it, we see reflections about who they are and who they aspire to be.
Pack Light, But Be Prepared
In Pablo’s essay, the act of packing for a pilgrimage becomes a metaphor for the way humans accumulate experiences in their life’s journey and what we can learn from them. As we join Pablo through the diverse phases of their life, we gain insights into their character and values.
Julieta illustrates how the concept of Tikkun Olam, “a desire to help repair the world,” has shaped their passions and drives them to pursue experiences at Hopkins.
Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love.
Classical Reflections in Herstory
Maddie’s essay details their intellectual journey using their love of Greek classics. They incorporate details that reveal the roots of their academic interests: storytelling, literary devices, and translation. As their essay progresses, so do Maddie’s intellectual curiosities.
My Spotify Playlist
Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM.
More essays that worked
We share essays from previously admitted students—along with feedback from our admissions committee—so you can understand what made them effective and how to start crafting your own.
Our interactive workshops—on topics like the college search process and essay preparation—will help you build your strongest application when you’re ready to apply.
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Sample college application essays.
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Writing your college application essay is difficult. And the stakes are high. A great essay can help you get accepted to your dream school. A mediocre essay can contribute to rejection. We want to help you write that great essay and get accepted.
We've compiled a list of college application essay examples to use as a springboard for you own reflection and creativity. Pay close attention to the consistent format of these pieces:
ENGAGING INTRODUCTION / UNIFYING THEME / COMPELLING CONCLUSION
Give the admissions committee (adcom) readers a clear picture of you as an individual, a student, and a future medical professional. Make them want to meet you after they finish reading your essay.
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Last updated October 3, 2023
Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.
Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)
20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)
Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University
Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant
Have you ever wondered what goes through an admissions officer’s mind as they read college essays?
Now’s your chance.
This post takes you behind that dark, mysterious admissions curtain to show you what exceptional, good, and “bad” college essays look like. And we don’t just show them to you.
We’ve asked our team of former admissions officers to read through the essays, analyze them, offer editing ideas, and assign them grades.
So join us on this college essay example journey so you know what to do (and what not to do) as you write all your college essays this fall.
Let’s get started.
How to Use College Essay Examples
Here’s the thing. People in college admissions have lots of different opinions about whether students should read example essays. But we believe that reading example essays is a crucial step in the college essay writing process.
If you don’t know what a college essay looks like, then how should you expect yourself to write one?
So reading examples is important.
However! There’s a caveat. The point of reading college essay examples isn’t to copy them or even to get inspiration from them. It’s to analyze them and apply what you’ve learned to your own college essay.
To help you do that, our team of former admissions officers has taken this super-comprehensive compilation of college essay examples and pointed out exactly what you need to know before you start writing.
Let me break down how this post works:
We’ve put together a great variety of college essay examples and sorted them into three categories, including…
- Best college essay examples: these examples are the creme-de-la-creme. They’re written by a small percentage of students who are exceptional writers.
- Good college essay examples: these examples are solid. They do exactly what they need to do on the admissions committee floor. You’re aiming to write a good college essay.
- “Bad” college essay examples: these examples illustrate a few of the most common college essay mistakes we see.
Our former admissions officers have assigned each essay a letter grade to help you understand where it falls on the scale of “bad” college essays to exceptional college essays.
Alongside our categorization and grades, our former admissions officers have also annotated the essays and provided concrete feedback about what works and what could be improved.
The majority of essays you’ll see here are written in response to the Common Application personal statement prompts. We’ve also included a few stellar supplemental essays at the end of the post.
How an Admissions Officer Reads College Essays
All admissions officers are different. And all institutions ask their admissions officers to read in different ways.
But there are a few strategies that shape how the majority of admissions officers read college essays. (If you want a look behind the mysterious admissions curtain, read our post about how admissions offices read tens of thousands of applications every year .)
First, we need to talk about application reading as a whole.
Remember that admissions officers are reading your college essays in the context of your entire application. It’s likely that by the time they get to your essay, they’ve already glanced at your background information, activities, and transcript. They may have even looked at your letters of recommendation or additional information.
Why is this detail important? It matters because your college essays need to be in conversation with the rest of your application. We refer to this strategy as adopting a “ cohesive application narrative .” Your unique personal brand—who you are, what you’re good at, what you value—should emerge across all of your application materials.
To summarize: your college essays don’t exist in a vacuum. Your admissions officers learn about who you are from your entire application, and your college essays are the place where you get to tell them exactly what you want them to know. You should write them in a way that creates balance among the other parts of your application.
So once your admissions officers get to your college essays, what are they looking for?
They’re looking for several things. Each of your essays doesn’t have to address all of these points, but they are a great place to start:
- Personal narrative that explains who you are and where you come from
- Details about specific activities, accomplishments, or inclinations
- Personality traits that make you who you are
- Lessons you’ve learned throughout your life
- Values that you hold dear
- Information about how you interact with the world around you
- Highlights about what makes you special, strong, interesting, or unique
What do all of these points have in common? They revolve around your core strengths . We’ve written more extensively about core strengths in our college essay writing guide . But for now, just know this: your college essays should tell admissions officers something positive about yourself. They want to know who you are, what motivates you, and why you would be an active contributor to their campus.
As we go through the following example essays, remember: college essays are read alongside the rest of your application, and college admissions officers read your essays to learn about your core strengths.
Okay, let’s get to it. Ready? Buckle up.
The Best College Essay Examples
As an admissions officer, every so often you come across an essay that blows you away. It stops you in your tracks, makes you laugh or cry, or resonates deeply with you. When exceptional essays come through your application bin, you’re reminded what an honor it is to get these fleeting glimpses into incredible students’ lives.
As an applicant, you may be wondering how to write this kind of exceptional college essay. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula. You can’t “hack” your way into it. You have to write vulnerable, authentically, and beautifully—which is much easier said than done. We have a whole guide on how to write a personal statement that stands out, so we recommend that you start there.
For now, let’s take a look at some of our favorites.
College Essay Example #1: The Gospel of Steve
The first college essay we'll look at got an A+ grade and is about the writer's experience with depression and... Steve Irwin. It's a common application essay. Check it out:
" In sophomore year, I struggled with depression((While this is a fantastic essay, this hook could definitely be stronger.)) . I felt like I was constantly battling against the darkness that seemed to be closing in on me. Until, that is, I found solace in the teachings of Steve Irwin.((This unusual last sentence drew me in when I read this for the first time.))
When I first discovered Steve Irwin and his show "The Crocodile Hunter," I was captivated by his passion for wildlife. He was fearless, jumping into danger without hesitation to save an animal in need. But it was more than just his bravery that inspired me; it was his infectious energy and love for life. Watching him on TV, I couldn't help but feel a little bit better about my own struggles.((This explicit reflection does a fantastic job connecting the writer’s experiences to this Steve Irwin reference.))
But it wasn't until I read his biography that I truly felt the impact Steve had on my life. In the book, he talked openly about his own struggles with depression. He talked about the dark moments in his life, when he felt like he was drowning in despair. But he also talked about how he fought back against the darkness, how he refused to let it consume him, and how he turned his depression into a career that allowed him to follow his biggest passions.
Reading Steve's words, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.((Another beautiful transition)) I wasn't alone in my struggles if someone as brave and fearless as Steve had faced similar challenges. And that gave me the courage to keep going. I started visiting a therapist, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness meditation. Day by day, I lifted myself out of my depression–all with a healthy dose of “Crocodile Hunter” each evening after I finished my homework((The writer does a great job focusing on action steps here.)) .
One of the things that I admired most about Steve was his ability to find joy and laughter in the most unlikely places. He was always cracking jokes, even in the face of danger. He taught me that laughter and humor can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression. I went looking for the humor in my own struggles. I started learning about how stand-up comedy works, and wrote my own five-minute skit finding the humor and silver lining((The writer expands their connection to Steve Irwin even more through this comedy thread.)) in my depression. I wasn’t a great comic, let me tell you. But being able to channel my experience into something positive—something that helped others laugh—was extremely gratifying to me.
Depression((The reflection in this paragraph is exactly what writers need to tie all the information together before reaching the conclusion.)) is a bizarre thing. One day, you’re besieged by it from every side and it looks like there’s no way out. Then, two months later, if you’re diligent, you look around the world and wonder what you ever had to be upset about. You find goodness and light in the things around you—your friends, your family, your habits, and your hobbies. These forces act as buttresses to keep you standing up and moving forward.
As silly as it may sound, I credit Steve Irwin with that first buttress. His experience and outlook on life gave me the push I needed to cultivate bravery and resilience in the face of my struggle with mental health. My eternal goal is now to practice the gospel of Steve—to always pass along humor, passion, and encouragement to others, especially to those who seem down and out. Thank you, Steve."
Word Count: 525
Admissions Officer Notes on The Gospel of Steve
This essay captured my attention because of its unique pairing of a tough subject—depression—with a light-hearted and endearing topic—Steve Irwin.
The writer doesn’t dwell in the experience of depression but instead finds hope and light by focusing on how their favorite TV star changed their perspective. Why this essay stands out:
- Great organization and sign-posting . The essay clearly progresses through each part of the writer’s journey. The first sentence of each paragraph signals to the reader what that paragraph will be about.
- Focus on action steps. It’s very apparent that this writer is a do-er. The focus of the essay is on the way they emerged from their depression, not on the depression itself.
- Meaningful reflection. Especially in the second-to-last paragraph and conclusion, the writer beautifully reflects on what depression and hope mean to them.
- Core strengths. From this essay alone, I gather that the writer is a sage archetype . They clearly show their wisdom and ability to persist through challenges.
Most importantly, they’ve written the essay around communicating their core strengths.
College Essay Example #2: The Embroidery Scientist
This essay is about a writer's Etsy store and the connection she draws between fashion and science.
I stretch the thin fabric over my hoop and pull it tight, wedging the nested rings between my legs to secure them shut with my other hand((This hook is compelling. It makes us ask, “What in the world is the writer doing?” We are compelled to read on to find out.)) .
Next I get out the thread. Each color is wound tightly around a paper spool and stored in a container whose original purpose was to store fishing tackle.
I look at the pre-printed design on the fabric and decide what colors to select. Orange, red, pink, yellow–this design will be as bright and happy as I can make it.
Embroidery is where the STEM and creative parts of my identity converge((Here we get a clear, explicit statement of the writer’s main point. This isn’t always necessary, but it can help your reader navigate your essay more easily if you have a lot going on.)) . My STEM side is calculated. She meticulously plans the designs, mocks them up in photoshop, and painstakingly transfers them onto the fabric. She organizes each thread color by its place in ROYGBIV and cuts every piece to an identical length of 18”. Her favorite stitch is the French Knot, with its methodical “one, two” wrap sequence. For her, art is about precision.
My creative side, on the other hand, is messy. She throws thread scraps on the floor without hesitation, and she haphazardly adds design elements in pen. She does a Lazy Daisy stitch very lazily while adding an indescribable flourish to a simple backstitch. Her methods are indeed madness: she’ll border a design with glitter glue, hang a finished project upside down, or stitch a big red X over a perfectly good embroidery. For her, art is about meaning.
While these two sides of myself may seem at odds((Seamless transition to talking about Etsy accomplishment)) , they actually complement each other perfectly. At least, that’s what 3,000 of my Etsy customers think. From three-inch hoops to massive wall hangings, my Etsy shop is a compilation of the best embroidery I’ve ever done. My precision and meaning have earned me hundreds of five-star reviews from customers whose lives I’ve impacted with my art. And none of that art would have been possible without STEM me and creative me.
My STEM and creative side complement each other in more than my embroidery life too. What began as a creative side hustle has actually made me a better scientist((Another good transition to discussing passion and talent for science)) .
Before I started embroidering, I approached the lab bench with an eye like a ruler. Poured a millimeter too much liquid? Better get a pipette. Went a degree over boiling? Time to start over. My lab reports demonstrated my knowledge, skill, and care, but they didn’t show any innovation or ingenuity. My precision led me to be a good scientist but not an exceptional one.
I realized that to be exceptional, I needed to think like a real scientist. While scientists are careful and precise, they are also interrogators. They constantly question the world around them, identifying previously unseen problems and finding creative solutions. To become the scientist I wanted to be, I needed to allow myself to be more creative((This is a good example of what reflection throughout the essay should look like.)) .
When I had this realization, I had just begun my embroidery business. I didn’t understand that my creativity could also be so useful in the lab. I set out on a new path to use more creativity in the pursuit of science.
To inspire myself, I brought an embroidery project to the lab. On it, I stitched a compound microscope and a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Marie Curie. It reads, “ I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”
In the lab now, I’m not afraid to take risks and try new things((Here we see clear personal growth.)) . When I boil my mixture too long, I still start over. But occasionally, when my teacher permits, I do a second experiment on the rejected liquid just to see what will happen. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes it results in utter failure. But other times, my mistakes create blue, green, and purple mixtures, mixtures that bubble and burst and fizz. All of these experiments are stitches in my quest to become a cancer researcher. They are messy, but they are beautiful((The conclusion ties beautifully back to the beginning, and we also learn what the writer is interested in pursuing in the future.)) .
Admissions Officer Notes on "Embroidery Scientist"
This writer has done an excellent job talking about two very different aspects of their identity. What I love about this essay is that the structure of the essay itself shows the writer’s creativity and precision. The essay is well-organized and precise, but the writing has a unique and creative flair. It demonstrates the writer’s point exactly. I also appreciate how the writer doesn’t just talk about these parts of their identity. They explicitly connect their creativity and precision to their future goals as a scientist.
Why this essay stands out:
- Creative approach: The writer doesn’t just say, “I have two identities: creative and logical.” Instead, they illustrate that point through the wonderful example of embroidery. Connecting embroidery with science also shows this creativity.
- Attention-grabbing hook: The introductory paragraphs place readers immediately into the essay. We’re drawn in because we’re curious what the writer is doing and how it will evolve into a more meaningful message.
- Connection between personal and academic interests: The writer makes it clear why this story matters for their life in college. The creative and precise personalities aren’t inconsequential—they have a real effect on who this person wants to be.
- Forward-looking conclusion: The writer ends by subtly telling admissions officers what they’re interested in doing during and after college.
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College Essay Example #4: Poetry Slam
When I first met Simon, he was neither speaking nor singing. He was doing something in between(( This hook is a good “statement” hook that raises more questions than it answers.)) . With words that flowed together like an ancient tributary, he spoke music. His hands grasping a microphone, he swayed slowly from side to side. He was a poet. But unlike that of Yeats or Dickenson, Simon’s poetry wasn’t meant to be read on a page—it was meant to be experienced like an aural work of art. And I had never experienced anything more beautiful. Disheartened, I realized that my words would never sound like Simon’s(( These two sentences are essential because otherwise the introduction would be all about Simon, not the writer.)) .
I sat in my on-deck seat. Forgetting that I was up next, I admired his craft. The crescendos and decrescendos that mirrored his pacing, the quick staccatos that punctuated each stanza, the rhymes so subtle they almost disappeared—every second of his spoken word pulled me further from reality. I listened to his words like a devout in church(( This is good sentence pacing. A long, winding sentence is followed by a short one that keeps our attention and propels us forward.)) . Closing my eyes, I joined my hands together to count the syllables. From the outside, it probably looked like I was praying. And maybe I was. When Simon’s poem ended, the audience, though betrayed by the silence, erupted into applause.
It was my turn. I had spent an entire year perfecting my poem. My sister had grown accustomed to kicking me under the dinner table when someone asked me a question. She knew that my mind was in my beloved poetry notebook, mentally analyzing my latest draft. I’ve never been one for living in the moment. My report cards usually feature comments like, “She’s a good student but has trouble paying attention.” I’m always the first one out in dodgeball because my mind is completely absent from the school gym. But what seems like inattention to my teachers is actually a kind of profound focus(( This reflection widens the essay’s scope and reveals more about who the writer is as a person.)) .
When writing slam poetry, I become completely consumed. I like to start with the words. The rhythm and intonation come with time. For me, it’s about translating a feeling into language. It’s no easy task, but it feels like an obligation. Once the words come into being, they’re like a twister in my mind(( Good (and sparing) use of figurative language.)) . They spin and spin, destroying every other thought in their path. I can’t focus on anything else because, in the aftermath of a twister, nothing else exists.
And there on the stage, nothing else existed besides me and my poem. I spoke it into existence. Like Simon, I wrapped my hands around the microphone, willing my poem to be heard. The twister exited my mind and entered the world.
A few weeks ago(( Excellent signposting)) , I watched the recording of my first poetry slam, that slam two years ago when I saw Simon perform for the first time. I saw myself climb on stage from the dark abyss of the audience. I looked small, all alone on that big stage. My voice shook as I began. But soon, my poem rendered the stage smaller and smaller. I filled the darkness with words.
As I watched myself on my computer, I thought about how I felt that day, awe-struck in the audience by Simon’s work. I felt like I’d never be able to sound like him. And I was right. My poem didn’t sound like Simon’s, and none of my poems ever would. But in this moment, I realized that they were just as beautiful. My words sounded like me(( Beautiful conclusion that really drives home just how much this person has grown. They don’t need to sound like Simon. They need to sound like themself.)) .
Word Count: 552
Admissions Officer Notes on Poetry Slam
We would call this essay a “sacred practice” essay. It’s clear that slam poetry is deeply meaningful to the writer. They even call it “an obligation.” It’s a beautiful essay that also reflects the writer’s interest in poetry. They have some nice figurative language that adds interest to the story—it’s almost like the essay is in some ways a poem itself. And the story is a good one: it demonstrates the writer’s fears, strengths, and growth.
- Deeply meaningful: We say it all the time because it’s true: college essays should be vulnerable and deeply meaningful. This essay oozes meaning. The writer even connects their love of slam poetry to who they are as a person.
- Good organization and signposting: The narrative in this essay is a little complicated as the writer switches between the slam poetry event, reflection on past events, and reflection during current day. But because each paragraph is about a single topic, and because they use very clear topic sentences and transitions, it’s easy to follow the narrative thread.
- Theme: The main theme in this essay is that the writer found their own voice through slam poetry. They had to experience growth to come to this realization. The very last sentence of the essay wonderfully ties back to the introduction and wraps up the entire essay.
College Essay Example #4: The Muscle Show
My parents are the scrapbooking type(( I’m intrigued by this hook! It makes me ask, “Where is this essay going?”)) . The crafty, crazy-cut scissors and construction paper, okay-everyone-make-a-silly-face-for-this-picture type.
Every summer, my entire family rents a small house in Wildwood, New Jersey for a week to catch up and enjoy the beach and good company. My favorite part is spending time with my cousin Steven, who is one year older than me. To us, there is nothing better than two pockets full of quarters, strolling down the boardwalk headed to an arcade, licking an ice cream cone, and laughing at all the novelty t-shirts for sale(( This sentence beautifully gives us a sense of place. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, too.)) .
We have a “down the shore” scrapbook proudly displayed on our coffee table that holds memories from each of our family vacations. The scrapbook(( Ah-ha. A quick answer to our scrapbooking question.)) is such a fixture in our house that it blends in with its surroundings and I fully forgot it existed until this past March. I happened to pick it up and look at pictures from the first year we went. I was four, Steven was five, and there we were, shirtless in the living room, proudly displaying our kid “muscles” in front of a handmade sign that said “WELCOME 2 THE MUSLE SHOW”.
I cried when I saw it.
No, not because we spelled muscle wrong. The four-year-old in that picture had such a small and fragile frame. I was the kind of child who almost looked like they had six-pack abs because they are so slim. There was so much naivety in that picture that no longer exists(( With this sentence, our writer begins to embark on their journey.)) .
I started gaining weight–a lot of weight–around the fifth grade. My parents are wonderful role models in the way they treat others, but they aren’t exactly paragons of healthy eating. Looking through the scrapbook, none of the adults in my family were particularly healthy. I distinctly remember my dad saying to me sometime in elementary school, “what do these people go to the gym for, anyway? What are you going to do with all those muscles?” I spent elementary and middle school on a steady diet of McDonald’s, Doritos, and video games.
I hit 200 pounds at age 14. One day in my least favorite class, PE, we had to do a push-up competition. Not only could I not do one, I was out of breath just getting up and down from the floor. Something had to change(( And here is our inciting incident in this narrative arc)) .
I turned to one thing I was good at to figure out a solution: reading. I read books like “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes and started to learn the science behind calories, carbs, insulin, and soon, exercise. Even though neither of my parents had ever been inside a gym, I convinced them to buy me some training sessions and a membership that Christmas.
It’s remarkable what happens when you suddenly stop consuming fried chicken and soda, go for a daily 20-minute power walk, and exercise a few times a week. Progress in losing weight actually came sooner than I expected. By sophomore year, I was lifting weights four times a week after school and felt more comfortable in the gym than anywhere else.
I also noticed my attitude towards schoolwork was changing(( This is a good transition to widen the scope of the essay and talk about the broader implications of this journey on the writer’s life.)) . I felt like I had control in my life for the first time. I had spent countless hours trying to “level up” fake characters in video games (OK, I still do that…). But leveling up myself–my own body and mind–was life changing. So much in life is out of our control, but realizing that, at least to an extent, my own health is within my control brought a new sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.
Today, I’m at a healthy weight, my grades have improved, and I have even taken several of my friends to the gym for their first time. I look forward to continuing my healthy trend in college and beyond.
I’ll see Steven again at this summer’s beach trip. We have decided to recreate the “musle show” picture–this time with better spelling and in better health(( This short conclusion wraps everything up and has a great callback to the beginning of the essay.)) .
Admissions Officer Notes on The Muscle Show
What I like about this essay is how it weaves together multiple parts of this writer’s life. We get their family background, their sense of self, and their values, interests, and goals. The writer takes us on a journey with them. We see their determination in finding solutions to the problems they’re facing, and we also clearly see their personality and voice.
- Upward-trending growth structure : This writer nails this essay structure. We clearly see that they begin at a “point A” where things aren’t so great, and they steadily make their way to “point B.” By the end, we truly get a sense of how they’ve grown through the journey.
- Connections: This essay isn’t just about the writer’s health journey. It’s also about their “sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.” Their changes expanded to even more parts of their life, and we can see that they are a person who takes initiative and gets creative with solutions.
- Conclusion: I especially love the way this conclusion brings everything full-circle. The “musle show” reference. at the end ties the journey nicely together with a bow and ends with a sense of forward movement.
College Essay Example #5: The Stop Sign
While some high schoolers get in trouble for skipping class, I get in trouble for arguing with my local government officials on Twitter. But when lives are at stake, I can take the heat(( Very catchy, humorous, and personality-filled hook)) .
I live at the intersection of 33rd and Spruce. The intersection itself sits between a large bend and a bundle of white oak trees—a recipe for obstructed views. Drivers careen around the corner, Indy 500-style, and are abruptly met with oncoming traffic. Neither can see the other through the oaks. What is otherwise a beautiful intersection makes for awfully dangerous driving conditions.
Living by this intersection my whole life, I’ve heard countless crashes and collisions. The screeching tires and cacophony of crushing car parts is seared in my mind. As neighbors, we are often the first on the scene. Cell phone in hand, I’ve run out to help several motorists who didn’t know what was coming. After the most recent crash, where a car flipped into the ditch, I knew that something had to change(( The writer has set the scene with a vivid description, and these sentences draw our attention to what’s at stake. They need a stop sign, and it’s clear that the writer is on a mission to get one.)) . We needed a stop sign.
I began with a google search, which led me to my local Stop Sign Request Form. According to the form, a government official would reach out to me. If they deemed it appropriate, we’d work together to assess whether the intersection qualified for a stop sign.
Their response took months. While I waited, I began collecting evidence on my own(( The writer’s initiative shines through.)) . After noticing that the security camera on my house pointed toward the intersection, I decided to put the skills I’d been developing in AP Computer Science to work. I wrote a simple code that tabulated the number of cars that passed through the intersection each day(( Here we see the technical skills the writer is developing.)) . Briefly reviewing the footage each night also helped me determine how many cars were likely going over the posted speed limit of forty miles per hour. Alongside these statistics, I went back into our cloud history to find footage of the crashes that had occurred.
When I finally heard back from the city, I was ready to make my case. My confidence deflated as soon as I opened the email(( Oh no! There’s a roadblock. Things aren’t progressing as the writer hoped.)) : Thank you for filling out a Stop Sign Request Form , the email read. At this time, we do not have reason to believe that the intersection of 33rd Street and Spruce Street meets the criteria for a two-way stop sign. The city had disagreed with my recommendation and denied my request.
I took a moment to collect myself. How could the city not care about the safety of its citizens? Were human lives not worth looking into a simple stop sign? I took to Twitter, posting statistics from my research, photos of the obstructed view, and a security camera compilation of cars speeding by. I tagged my local representatives, and I asked for help(( But the writer doesn’t focus on the problem. They continue to focus on their action steps and solutions. That’s exactly how you talk about a personal challenge in a college essay.)) .
While not all of them were receptive to my post, one particularly helpful representative connected me with my city’s City Engineer. The representative instructed me to send the City Engineer all of the evidence I had collected along with another copy of my Stop Sign Request Form.
The engineer was impressed with the code I wrote and the tracking system I’d put together, and she agreed to meet me at my house to do an inspection of the intersection. I accompanied her on the inspection so I could watch what she did. After working so hard to advocate for my community, it felt good to have my opinions heard.
In the end, I got my stop sign(( The writer emphasizes that it wasn’t just about winning the stop sign debate. It was about the community impact. And what do admissions officers want to see? Yep, community impact.)) . Drivers still occasionally speed, but I was astounded by the outpouring of thanks I received after my neighborhood was alerted of the change. My foray into local government was an eventful but rewarding one. And even though I’ve secured my stop sign, I’ll still be doing stop sign research this summer— this time as an intern at the City Engineer’s office(( And the writer pops in this awesome opportunity they’ve earned as a result. As an AO, I would see that they are continuing to prepare for college as their high school career is coming to a close.)) .
Word Count: 641
Admissions Officer Notes on The Stop Sign
This essay combines a story of personal strengths with an impactful accomplishment. It’s not necessary to write about one of your accomplishments in your college essays, but if that’s the route you want to go down, then this approach is a good one. Notice how it focuses on concrete action steps, emphasizes the skills the writer learned and used, and highlights how their actions impacted their community. A stop sign may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but the writer shows just how important this effort was.
- Community impact: The accomplishment this writer chose to write about is an impressive one. Admissions officers are always looking at how applicants interact with their communities, so this story showcases the writer’s willingness to help and engage with those around them.
- Strengths: Above all, we see that the writer is solutions-oriented. They are a “founder” or “builder” archetype and aren’t afraid to tackle hard problems. The writer also explicitly shows how they solved the problem using impressive skills.
- Narrative momentum : This essay is easy to read because we’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. The hook is very catchy, the ups and downs of the writer’s struggle to solve this problem are clear, and the conclusion points to the overall significance of the story and looks toward its future impact.
College Essay Example #6: Fran’s Flower Farm
Surrounded(( The hook is interesting and vivid.)) by carnations, dahlias, and marigolds, I laid down on the hard dirt, sweating from the midday sun. While my garden was a labor of love, it was still a labor. I’d spent months during the beginning of the pandemic researching how to set up beds correctly, choose seeds and fertilizers, and run a small business(( We get plopped right into the story without wasting any time.)) . A year later, this summer would be the second harvest of Fran’s Flower Farm.
As I prepared the yield for my small table at that week’s farmers market, I reflected on how far I had come(( This transitional phrase is a quick and convenient way to incorporate reflection.)) . Prior to the pandemic, I had never even dug in the dirt. I didn’t know anything about seed germination or nitrogen levels. I had my own Instagram, but I had never had to market anything or think about overhead costs. I was a total and complete newb.
But my life, like everyone’s, changed in spring of 2020. Lockdown rendered me depressed and hopeless until one day when my mom ordered me a bouquet of flowers along with our grocery delivery. The bouquet was a simple grocery store arrangement of sunflowers. A few petals were wilting at the ends, and the stems were smashed from the flour that had been in the same plastic bag. But they were perfect. Such a small and thoughtful gesture, that bouquet inspired me to get to work(( Nice—here we learn about the “inciting incident” that compelled the writer to get started on their flower farm.)) .
Lucky enough to have space for flower beds, I mapped out four different six-foot beds in my backyard. Garden tools stolen from my mom and borrowed from socially-distanced neighbors in hand, I added compost, arranged my seeds, watered, and mulched. I laid protective plastic over my beds, tucking them in like a child, and wrapped the garden in decade-old chickenwire I found in our barn. My garden was imperfect–compost trailed between beds, my hose wrapped around my shovel in a heap on the ground, and the chickenwire was dented and rusty. But it was all mine, and it was alive(( I like this paragraph because we really see the writer’s personality. They are determined, innovative, and grateful.)) .
As the pandemic waged on, I tended to my flowers. Each morning, I’d peek under the plastic to see how they had fared throughout the night. They gave me routine and purpose when the days seemed droning and neverending. The longer I kept them alive, the more their sprouts brought me life, too(( This is a very nice and poetic point.)) . In a world that seemed to come to a halt, my flowers showed me that growth wasn’t just possible–it was happening right in front of me.
The business side came soon after(( The transition here could be a touch smoother.)) . Later that summer, once my first crop had bloomed, I set up a roadside stand outside of my house. At that point, I had to put my flower buckets across the driveway from my stand to keep everyone safe. But my flowers brightened the days of hundreds of passing motorists. With growing confidence, I secured a spot at the farmer’s market by July, my business boomed(( I’d like to see some specific details here about how well the business was doing.)) . Returning all profits to my garden, I’ve expanded my operations to include two more flower beds this year.
I’m proud of how far my gardening and business skills have come, but what has been most fulfilling about Fran’s Flower Farm have been the connections I’ve made. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for healthcare workers. As the child of a healthcare worker myself, these challenges have been close to home. Knowing how greatly that bouquet of sunflowers affected me, I make sure to donate flowers(( And this sweet gesture shows another one of the writer’s strengths.)) to my local hospital in thanks every week.
Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d own my own flower farm. It’s brought me so many joys, challenges, and friends. I know I won’t be able to bring my flower farm with me to college. But the heart of the farm is more than the flowers(( Here, the writer wraps up the main theme of the essay and makes sure the reader really understands the point.)) . It’s about me learning and using my skills to help others. Wherever I’m planted, I know that I will bloom(( This phrasing is cliche. The writer could re-write the idea in their own words.)) .
Word Count: 643
AO Notes on Fran’s Flower Farm Grade: A
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to buy a bouquet of flowers from this student! While the ending is a bit cliche, we really see how far this student has come in their journey as a farmer and a business person. We also see the magnitude of their impact. They not only grew a successful small business, but they also gave back to the healthcare workers in their community. The student is definitely one I could see thriving in a campus community.
- Topic and accomplishments : Like The Stop Sign, this essay conveys an impressive accomplishment. But the essay isn’t bragging about it or overstating its significance. It works well because the writer tells a genuine story about a passion they developed.
- Variety: The writer also manages to show us two distinct strengths in one essay. We see their strength as a DIY farmer and as a business person. They are clearly a founder archetype.
- Organization and style: The essay opens with a beautiful description, and we get a lot of good language throughout. The writer is able to go through a fairly complicated timeline in a concise and digestible way.
Good College Essay Examples
Not every student can write an exceptional college essay. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not one of your priorities or in your particular skill set.
Thankfully, college essays don’t have to be exceptional to earn admission. They can simply be good. You can still write a solid college essay that does everything you need it to do.
So what’s the difference between the best college essays and good college essays? Usually it’s writing style. Some writers have a gift for writing or have spent years practicing their craft, and those are usually the writers who produce essays that make admissions officers gasp.
But admissions officers recognize good, solid writing and storytelling, too.
So writing a good college essay should always be your main goal. Focus on the basics first before trying to level up to an exceptional essay.
College Essay Example #7: My Emotional Support Water Bottle
I had a stuffed animal named Elephant when I was a child(( This hook makes a statement that compels me to read on so I can figure out what they’re referring to.)) . I’ve long since outgrown Elephant, but now I have a new object that I keep around for comfort: my emotional support water bottle. A gray thirty-two-ounce wide-mouth Hydroflask, my emotional support water bottle accompanies me everywhere.
The water bottle was a gift last Christmas after I begged my mom for one. The brand had become extremely popular at my school, and I wanted in on the trend. When I opened the package that Christmas morning, I was elated. I felt an immediate attachment, and I was proud that I could finally fit in with the other kids at my school(( Here we learn about the connection between the waterbottle and the writer’s values)) .
I had always felt like an outsider(( In this paragraph, the writer zooms the focus out to their life in general. We need this reflection to understand why the topic matters so much to the writer.)) . Other students seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a picture that matched my piece. I envied the tight-knit friendships I saw among my peers.
As soon as I unwrapped my water bottle, I decided that I needed stickers to match. The kids at my school always had stickers on theirs. I found the perfect pack. It had animated depictions of every famous literary character imaginable. Jane Austen characters, Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Montag, Jane Eyre, and more. I couldn’t believe my luck.
No matter how disconnected I felt from my classmates, I could always find a community on my bookshelf(( The writer introduces another topic, literature, that tells us more about who they are.)) . I sat in the courtroom with Atticus Finch, walked through the streets of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov, and watched the revolution unfold alongside Satrapi. My literary friends kept me optimistic through difficult times, and I was glad to see them every day on my beloved Hydroflask.
After winter break ended, I couldn’t wait to debut my new accessory. I placed it atop my desk in each class, angling my favorite stickers outward in hopes of connection. I was profoundly comforted by its presence—I could always take a sip of water when I felt thirsty or uncomfortable, and its stickers promised to draw people in.
To my dismay(( This paragraph serves an important plot function. We see that everything, in fact, did not work out perfectly. By highlighting this challenge, we really get a sense of the writer’s problem-solving and resilience.)) , weeks went by, and no one noticed my Hydroflask or stickers. The school was filled with dozens more Hydroflasks after the holidays, so mine didn’t seem so special. What had once filled me with so much hope and support transformed into a reminder of an unfulfilled promise of friendship.
I coped with the disappointment by re-reading one of my childhood favorites, Le Petit Prince . Near the end, when the little prince returns to water his flower, I had a realization. I couldn’t wait around for people to come to me(( Ding, ding, ding! Here we have it. The main lesson the writer has learned. What’s great, too, is that they’ve stated it so clearly.)) . I had to bring the water to them.
The next day at school, I held my Hydroflask close and gathered all my courage. I headed into the lunch room and spotted Jordan, one of the people I’d chatted with in class. She was sitting alone at a table, reading a book I couldn’t identify. I asked if I could join her. Nodding, she told me about her book, White Teeth . When I placed my Hydroflask on the lunch table, she noticed my stickers(( This sentence is crucial because it ties all these threads together: the waterbottle, stickers, literature, and friendship/fitting in.)) . Together, we went through every sticker and talked about the character’s book.
Jordan and I spent the next day’s lunch exchanging laughter and book recommendations. She had a water bottle of her own, too. It was a classic Nalgene without a single sticker. As our friendship grew stronger, I brought Jordan the last sticker from my collection(( With this small gesture, we see a) the writer’s kindness and b) the writer’s personal growth.)) , a rainbow bookmark that read, “BOOKWORM.”
I’ve always looked to the world around me for comfort instead of finding courage within myself. Elephant still sits on my shelf, I continue to be an avid reader, and I always carry my Hydroflask around for hydration. But this learning process has taught me the importance of having confidence and finding the ability to reach out to others. I can’t wait to carry this skill with me to college— after I get some more stickers(( The conclusion ties all these threads together beautifully, and this final statement adds some spunk and forward movement.)) .
Word Count: 648
Admissions Officer Notes on My Emotional Support Waterbottle
Ah, the emotional support water bottle. We’ve all had one! This writer does a wonderful job connecting an otherwise simple object to a larger story about an important part of their life. We also learn a lot about the student, their background, their goals, and their interests from this essay. I especially like how the essay shows the writer’s academic passion (literature) without being an explicitly academic-focused essay.
What makes this essay good:
- Storytelling: With their love of reading, it’s no wonder this writer is a good storyteller. As readers, we get a very clear sense of how the events progressed and changed the reader’s perspective.
- Compelling hook: This essay’s introduction is attention-grabbing and quirky. It compels readers to continue on in the essay to find out what, exactly the writer is talking about.
- Clean conclusion: The conclusion is a fantastic example of what college essay conclusions should do. It reflects back on the essay, ties up loose ends, and looks forward to how these lessons will apply to the writer’s future.
What the writer could do to level up:
- Core Strengths: While we learn a lot about the writer from the essay, there could be a stronger sense of core strengths. We see that they are a strong reader, but that strength doesn’t necessarily connect to their overall message. We also see that they are eager to connect and become a good friend with Jordan, but they don’t all connect seamlessly into a specific archetype or two. A good question to ask yourself is: how would the strengths I show in this essay convince an admissions officer that I will be a good addition to their campus?
College Essay Example #8: Party of One
The sun shone through my airplane window, hitting the tray table exactly right to reveal the greasy handprint of a child. Beside me, a woman cleared her throat as she rifled through her purse, and the tween next to her tapped away on an iPad. The knees of the tall man behind me pushed against the back of my chair. Together, we headed to Pennsylvania(( We open with clear scene-setting, and the final sentence jumps right to the point: we’re on a journey to PA.)) .
This wasn’t my first trip to Pennsylvania, and it wouldn’t be my last. But it was my first trip traveling as a party of one. Barely past the unaccompanied minor cutoff, I departed for a month-long and court-ordered trip to my dad’s house. I wasn’t eager to travel alone. I felt afraid, too young to do this by myself. I wanted to go back home. But I decided to embrace the journey as an adventure(( This explicit reflection helps us, the reader, understand what mindset the writer is at at the beginning of this journey.)) .
With the growing whirr of the engines, the plane ascended. All around me, my neighbors breathed sighs of relief when we reached cruising altitude. I tightened my seatbelt across my lap, steadying myself for the five-hour trip, and took in the scene. Always the quiet and careful observer(( And here we really learn about who the writer is)) , a full flight was my Sistine Chapel.
The woman to my right was wearing all black. She extracted her laptop from her bag the moment the flight attendants permitted, and she created a PowerPoint presentation from scratch before the drinks cart had even started down the aisle. She was all business. I imagined that she signed her emails with nothing but her name, that she read Keynes in her free time, and that people listened when she spoke. She was everything I longed to be(( While the majority of this paragraph is about the writer’s seat mate, this final sentence brings the focus back to the writer. We learn that the description, in fact, was about the writer themself—everything they “longed to be.”)) .
Next was the tween, only a few years younger than I was. Clearly afraid of flying, the tween reached across the aisle to a man who was presumably her father. I found it endearing that she reached out in fear. The dad’s reassurance didn’t just comfort the tween. It comforted me. So far from home, his quiet calm reminded me of the parent waiting to pick me up at the other end of this journey. I remembered reaching out for my own father’s hand when we flew to Pennsylvania for the first time(( Here we have more great reflection about the writer’s relationship with their dad. )) . Now, I watched the dad squeeze the tween’s hand. I felt guilty for the frustration I felt about the trip. I was excited to see my dad.
And finally, there was the man behind me. Aside from the brief glimpse I got during boarding, I didn’t know what he looked like. But there were two things I knew to be true. First, he was tall. The longer the flight went on, the more apologetically his knees bumped against my seat. Second, I felt emboldened by his ability to take up space. With each nudge forward, I spread myself a little bigger(( The writer’s encounter with this man nudged their growth forward. At the beginning, they felt small and timid. Now, they’re more able to take up space.)) , daring to exist in a world I normally wanted to hide from.
Four hours into the flight, turbulence hit. The long-legged man yelped as his knee hit the metal of the seat. Bigger now(( And that growth is solidified even more through this brief transition statement.)) , I was able to brace myself against the impact. I looked to the tween, who I expected to be a wreck. Instead, I saw a calm girl handing napkins to her dad, whose drink had spilled in the commotion. Her care for him mirrored the care he had shown for her. The woman next to me, who had seemed so steadfast, gasped when the plane shot downward. Her hand reached for her chest as she caught herself, surprised. I moved my arm from our shared armrest, giving her space(( This last part gives a very subtle look at the writer’s growth, too. We see that the person the writer admired isn’t as strong as she had seemed. In fact, the writer’s growth has enabled them to help the woman in her moment of weakness.)) . She smiled in appreciation.
After the turbulence had ended, I looked at myself. My hands were folded neatly in my lap. I realized that although I was flying solo, I was surrounded by strangers whose stories intersected with my own(( This point could be more specific.)) . When we landed, I ran into my dad’s arms. “ You’ve grown ,” he smiled.
Admissions Officer Notes on Party of One
This essay is an endearing story about the writer’s first solo plane ride. The narrative is what we would characterize as a “going on a journey” essay—both literally and figuratively. As the writer makes this cross-country trip, they also go through a long personal journey. I especially like the tie between the introduction and conclusion. Along the way, we also learn about the writer through their observations of the other people on the flight.
- Introduction: The first two paragraphs draw the reader in, descriptively set the scene, and establish what is at stake for the writer. We are dropped right into the journey alongside them.
- Vivid language: Throughout the essay, the writer uses interesting and vivid language that helps draw the reader in. The details aren’t overwhelming but add depth to the narrative.
- Reflection throughout: One of the most challenging parts of writing this kind of essay is figuring out how to incorporate your reflection throughout. Many writers mistakenly save it all to the end. But this writer does it the right way by adding reflection at each stop along their journey.
Focus on the self: As-is, this essay tells us a lot about the writer. But it’s nearing on committing one of the biggest college essay writing faux pas: focusing on people other than your self. I think the writer is getting close to that line but doesn’t yet cross it because of the reflection throughout. But to make the essay even better, the writer could still draw more focus to themself.
College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent
I’m a klutz(( Quirky but not too out-there hook that has a lot of personality)) —that’s it, that’s my greatest talent. I’ve honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life.
When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over. (“This is why we can’t have nice things!” my mom used to scream, half in jest and half in exasperation.) My parents used to joke that I was the only person who could trip on a flat surface. But unfortunately for me, despite doing my due diligence into flat-earth theory(( Here’s more humor that adds some interest and voice to the essay.)) , I found that there was a prevailingly devilish curve to everything around me. If it had a lip, an edge, or a slick spot, I found it.
As I got older(( Excellent signposting to guide the reader through the narrative)) , my talent for being a klutz grew. I managed to trip over my own backpack on a daily basis, and I once fell down a flight of stairs while holding a tray of cookies (I was trying to be a good hostess, but it didn't end well). My friends and family came to expect it, and after those first few years of irritated glances, they began to meet my clumsiness with a laugh and an extended hand.
Being a klutz isn't all bad(( Here, the writer flips our expectations on their head. We’re about to learn about how being clumsy is, in fact, a talent.)) . In fact, it has some pretty decent perks. For one thing, it’s helped me become more empathetic. I know what it feels like to stumble and fall (and stumble and fall, and stumble and fall, and…), and I’m always ready to offer a kind word and a hug to someone who’s having a tough time. I also have a great sense of humor(( We’ve already seen this strength in action at the beginning of the essay, so it’s another good one to highlight.)) —a defense mechanism thanks to all of the embarrassing moments that I’ve created for myself. And let's not forget the fact that I am never bored. There is always something to trip over or knock over. Neither I nor anyone around me ever lacks for entertainment.
One of the biggest benefits of being a klutz is the unexpected friendships(( Friendship is another good strength. But at this point, the essay is starting to feel somewhat list-like. It may have been better to delve more deeply into fewer strengths rather than try to cover so much at once.)) it has given me. For example(( This is a good concrete anecdote that demonstrates the point, though.)) , I once tripped and fell into a ditch while hiking with a group of near-strangers I had met at a trailhead. Surrounded by brambles and thorns, three of them jumped right down with me to hoist me out. My graceless tumble became an inside joke of the trip and we all ended up becoming good friends. I was still embarrassed, of course, but I’m grateful that my clumsiness opened up a new door for friendship that day.
Being a klutz has also taught me to be patient with myself(( Again, we have another good strength, but it’s a lot to cover in one short essay.)) , and to not take myself too seriously. It has taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected, and to always have a good sense of humor. And most importantly, it has taught me to be kind to others(( And yet another strength! Especially since these are related, combining them in a more substantial way may have been more effective.)) , especially when they are having a tough time.
So, if you are looking for someone who’s a little bit quirky and a lot of fun, I’m your girl. I may not be the most graceful person on the planet, or on your campus, but I am confident, kind, and always up for a good laugh. Anyway, where's the fun in being graceful? Just, please, if you do accept me—I’d really appreciate some foam bumpers on the sharp surfaces in my dorm(( More wonderful personality to wrap things up hete. It's approaching being too informal, though.)) .
Word Count: 548
Admissions Officer Notes on My Greatest Talent
This essay is kind of a goofy one. I’ve included it as an example because I want to show you that it’s okay for your college essay to have some personality! Your college essay doesn’t have to be a big, serious rumination on some deep topic. Especially if you’re a goofy person yourself, it’s completely okay for you to choose a more light-hearted topic that showcases your personality. If you do, just be sure to follow this writer’s lead and still write an essay that showcases your strengths.
- Topic choice and personal voice: When we read this essay, we get a crystal clear picture of who the student is because the topic allows them to really write in their own voice. I feel like I know the student after reading it.
- Strengths: All college essays should communicate a core strength to the reader. This essay does an exceptional job at transforming something most people would consider a weakness—being clumsy—into clear strengths—empathy, humor, friendship, patience. Overall, we see that the writer
- Writing style: The biggest tweak this writer could make would be leveling up the writing style. As it is now, it reads like a five-paragraph essay: first I did this, then this, and then this third thing. Changing up the organization and topic sentences could help the writing come across as more mature.
College Essay Example #10: Counting Cards
I am a psychic who thinks in terms of fours and threes(( This hook raises a lot of questions: What is the writer referring to? It does read, however, as a bit disingenuous and overly quirky.)) . Deal me any hand of Gin, and I can guarantee I’ll have you beat. I stare at the cards in my hand and see numbers moving in my mind. Like a mathemetician at a chalkboard, I plan out my next move. I use logic, memory, and a little bit of luck to guess exactly what your hand looks like. The possible combinations seem endless—four Kings and a run of three, three nines and four Queens, a run of four and three sevens, and many, many more. What I love most about playing Gin is the predictability. While I may not know what’s coming, I can use what I already know to strategize, adapt, and have fun along the way(( Here we have a clear gesture toward the essay’s overall theme.)) .
My Gin career began as a small child. My aunt taught me how to play the game while we were camping. My hands were so small that we had to use a chip clip to keep the cards in place(( These first three sentences are very choppy because they all have the same length and structure.)) . I was at first intimated by the “big kid game,” as I called it then, but soon I couldn’t get enough. I forced my entire family to play, and I even roped in the kids at the campsite next to us. My aunt, a mathematician, is a skilled Gin player. She passed her tips and tricks along to me. After a few years of playing, she was the only opponent I couldn’t beat.
Last summer was the first time it finally happened. I bested her. I had a hand with three Aces and a run of Spades. I needed another Ace or a three or seven of Spades. When I drew that final Ace from the deck, I could hardly believe it. I paused to count my cards again(( This description paints a wonderful picture of the writer, their aunt, and the relationship between them.)) . I drew my hands to my chest, looked up at my aunt slowly and triumphantly, and calmly declared, “Gin.” My aunt squealed and embraced me, proud of all the progress her protegee had made.
This win came from a year of hard work(( This is an effective transition that allows the writer to talk about all the work they put in.)) . I read every book on Gin I could find at the library, watched countless YouTube videos, and became an expert on Gin’s more lively counterpart, Gin Rummy. Learning and practicing drew me into a huge online community of Gin enthusiasts. I never thought that I’d meet some of my best friends through a card game, but I did. Every night, we’d compete against each other. And with each match, my skills would sharpen like a knife on a honing steel. When I finally beat my aunt, I hadn’t just won the game. I’d won lifelong friends and greater reasoning skills(( And here is a bit of reflection sprinkled in at the end. There definitely could be more reflection throughout.)) .
Gin players aren’t internationally recognized for their intellectual prowess like chess or Scrabble. I’ve learned other games and played them successfully, but nothing has come close to the joy and challenge I feel while playing Gin. I love predicting what your opponent holds and what you’ll draw next, betting on your perfect card being in the draw deck, chatting with your opponent as you deal the next round, and earning bragging rights after winning a match—all of it is the perfect mix of strategy and community. When I head off to college in the fall, the first thing I’ll pack will be a deck of cards(( This is a sweet ending that looks forward to the future. The conclusion could have touched more specifically on why all of this is so meaningful to the writer.)) .
Word Count: 549
Admissions Officer Notes on Counting Cards
This essay chronicles a writer’s journey learning how to play the card game Gin. I really like how much the writer and their personality shine through. Like the My Greatest Talent essay, Counting Cards is a great example of how to write a fun, light-hearted essay that still speaks to your strengths.
- Topic: Admissions officers see lots of essays about chess and sports. But it’s pretty rare to see one about Gin. The topic (and enthusiasm with which the student writes about the topic) give this essay a good personal voice.
- Connections: The writer also makes stellar connections between a simple game and the people who are most meaningful to them: their family and friends.
- Strengths: Even with a topic as simple as a card game, the writer manages to highlight their strengths of work ethic and camaraderie.
- Higher stakes: We see that the game of Gin is really important to the writer. We also see how the game is connected to their relationship with their aunt and to the new community they found online. But I’m left wanting a little bit more reflection and vulnerability about why Gin is so meaningful to this writer.
College Essay Example #11: Golden Hills Animal Clinic
On my best days at work, I’m surrounded by puppies, kittens, and rainbows(( This hook is interesting, but it's quite cliche.)) . On my worst, I watch people say tearful goodbyes to their best friends. Working at the front desk of Golden Hills Animal Clinic, I’ve seen it all. I’ve learned a lot about people through their pets. I’ve also learned a lot about myself(( Here, we get straight to the point of what this essay is going to be about.)) .
I began working in the clinic two summers ago. I’m known in my family as the “ Snow White(( What a sweet detail about this writer’s background)) ” because I’ve always had a special connection with animals. I had nearly started a new colony of stray cats in my backyard by the time I was nine. I’ve nursed more sick and injured birds than I can count. I’ve discovered all kinds of insects, snakes, and lizards in my neighborhood. Now, at the front desk, I get to welcome the animals and their humans. I share in their joys and console them at their lows.
After(( This topic sentence does a good job structuring the paragraph, but it could be clearer how this paragraph connects to the overall idea of the essay.)) watching thousands of animals struggle, you think you’d get used to the pain and suffering. But each hurt, injured, or elderly animal I check in stings just the same. When I’m in the back room helping prepare the animals for surgeries or procedures, I look into their eyes and desperately try to communicate that everything will be okay. The worst part is knowing that the animals can tell something is wrong but don’t understand what is happening. And when their owners walk past my front desk, I reassure them that we’re treating their pets as our own.
But with life’s hard moments also come the happiest ones. It’s easy to become dejected by the sad times, but working at the clinic has actually given me more hope(( Ah-ha! We learn that even though the writer witnesses a lot of sadness at the clinic, the experience has actually given them more hope.)) . There’s nothing like seeing small puppies, feet too big for their bodies, prance through the waiting room. I’ve witnessed children comfort cats through holes in carriers, and I’ve become inspired by the assertiveness with which our veterinarians make critical decisions to help animals. Through all this, I’ve learned that those little pockets of happiness, care, and determination are what make life worth living(( This sentence helps ground the reader in the writer’s theme.)) .
I’ve also learned that veterinary medicine is as much about the people as it is the pets. Sometimes owners have to be convinced about the best care plan for their pets. Sometimes others aren’t able to afford the care they desperately want to get. People come in worried about nothing or not worried enough. Part of managing the front desk is having the ability to read where a person is coming from the moment they start speaking. Seeing things from customers’ perspectives helps me provide better customer service to the people and the pets. If I sense that a customer is worried about cost, I can talk to them about payment plans. If someone seems overwhelmed by the options, I ask if they’d like to speak with the vet again. In all these cases, I feel proud to provide as much help as I can. Doing so makes sure that our animals receive the best care possible(( We get a good sense of the writer’s strengths in this paragraph, but by the end, it still doesn’t really connect back to the theme.)) .
Now, as an aspiring veterinarian myself(( And with this small note, we learn all that’s at stake: the writer wants to be a vet in the future, so all of these experiences are important preparation .)) , I know that the rest of my career will be filled with the happiest and saddest moments of people’s lives. My care for animals will turn tragedies into miracles. I’ll console owners of sick pets, and I’ll help bring new life into the world. Veterinary medicine is a lot like life in general. You can’t have the good without the bad. But I’ve never met a pet owner who wouldn’t trade the pain of animal loss for even one fleeting, happy moment with their furry friend. Animals make the world a better place. Like Snow White(( Clever call back to tie the essay together)) , I’ll continue listening to animals so I can make their world a little better too.
Word Count: 615
Admissions Officer Notes on Golden Hills Animal Clinic
This essay tells a good story about this writer’s time working at an animal clinic. What I like about this essay is that the writer doesn’t sugar coat things, but they also don’t dwell on the sadness that passes through the clinic. They are real about their experiences, and they draw valuable lessons from them. They also show the importance of this story by connecting it to their future goals.
- Strengths: We clearly see the strengths this writer brings to the clinic. They are understanding, patient, and positive. We also clearly see how these strengths will help the writer be a good veterinarian in the future.
- Topic sentences and transitions: Although the paragraphs get unwieldy at times, the writer’s clear topic sentences and transitions help us seamlessly progress through the narrative.
- Being more direct and concise: At times, it feels like the writer rambles instead of making clear, direct points. Rambling can distract the reader from the main point you’re trying to make, so it’s best to stay on track in each paragraph.
- Fewer cliches: Relying on cliches shows immaturity in your writing. Cliches like “puppies, kittens, and rainbows” and “with the bad comes the good” get in the way of the writer’s own voice.
College Essay Example #12: The Filmmaker
Eye to the lens, I feel in complete control. The old camera weighs heavy in my hands as I quietly point my leading actor to the other side of the frame. Taking a moment to look at the world through my own eyes rather than a lens, I make a decision. I back up, careful not to trip, and capture the wide, panning shot I had envisioned. Filmmaking allows me to show others exactly how I see the world. With an odd angle or lingering aside, I can take my audience on a journey through my eyes(( This introduction raises a lot of questions that propel us forward through the essay: what is the writer doing? What is it that they want to show the world? Why does this all matter?)) .
What’s beautiful about filmmaking is that there are several art forms occurring simultaneously(( We begin with a paragraph that dives deep into the writer’s interest.)) . At the foundation of a scene is the script. Words that draw a viewer in and keep them there, the script is an essential act of creative writing. Next there’s the acting. An art of performance, acting brings the script to life. A good actor will make an audience feel as if they are with the characters, feeling what they feel and doing what they do. Then there’s the direction and filmmaking. Choices about how to translate a three-dimensional world to pixels on a screen drastically affect the audience’s experience. And, finally, there’s the editing. Editing is where all of the other art forms converge, selected and chopped up and stitched back together to create something even better than the original.
I’ve never been one for writing or acting. But the latter two, filmmaking and editing, are where my passions lie(( And here we learn about the writer’s main passion, inspirations, and journey as a filmmaker.)) . Inspired by my favorite movie, ET , I began filmmaking in elementary school. Borrowing my mom’s Flip UltraHD camera, I’d run around my home, filming everything in sight. Soon after, I started gathering my neighborhood friends in my backyard and directing them in made-up film productions. Our films took us on journeys around the world. We were pirates in the Atlantic, merchants in Paris, and kangaroos in Australia. We learned how to tell stories and create and resolve conflicts. In the process, we learned about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
My love for editing didn’t come until later(( This is an okay topic sentence that helps us understand where we’re at in the narrative, but the paragraph as a whole could more clearly relate to the writer’s overall theme.)) . When my family upgraded our ancient Gateway 2000 to a sleek iMac, I became an iMovie aficionado. I learned how to use all the features and enter in keyboard shortcuts. I became a sculptor. Instead of clay, my material was digital. I’d split clips in half, manually zoom in to my subject, and add filters that changed the whole tone of a shot. Shift + Command + F, and I’d play my clips in full screen, evaluating them with the eye of a film critic. Was my shot effective? Are the actors convincing? Is there anything odd in the background? If I had never seen this, what would I think and feel? Then I’d repeat the process, over and over again.
Some people might say that dedicating myself to filmmaking is frivolous in a world with more pressing problems. But filmmaking is a way to spread messages and give people hope. From the change wrought by An Inconvenient Truth to the laughter Mr. Bean has incited in millions, filmmaking is a way to bring art, truth, and laughter to everyone. More accessible than books or newspapers, film and TV couldn’t be more essential media to confront the problems of today. With the passion of my ten-year-old self, the films I’ll continue to make will have an impact(( We conclude by learning about the writer’s interest in using filmmaking to impact the world. The writer could dig a little deeper here—it stays mainly on the surface.)) .
Word Count: 563
Admissions Officer Notes on The Filmmaker
In this essay, we get a great sense of how excited the writer is about filmmaking. They take us on their journey learning about filmmaking, and they explain how their interest will serve them in the future. I especially enjoy how this essay oozes passion. By the end of the essay, we have no doubt about what this writer sees as their life’s calling.
- Organization: The introduction, background, explanation, and discussion of personal growth all cohere perfectly. The writer walks us through each step of their journey in a clear and logical way.
- Voice: Through all the rich descriptions of the writer’s childhood, we really see their personality and voice.
- Significance and meaning : While it’s clear that this topic is one the writer is passionate about, the essay could evoke more meaning. It’s not apparent what’s truly at stake. The writer should ask and answer the question: “So what?” In answering that question, they’ll be able to be more vulnerable throughout the essay.
“Bad” College Essay Examples
“Bad” is in quotation marks here because writing is always relative.
In the case of these examples, we have categorized them as “bad” because they don’t adequately meet the expectations of a college essay. That doesn’t mean that they’re objectively bad or that their writers are bad writers. It means that the essays need some more attention.
“Bad” essays can always become good essays. Sometimes they can even become the best essays. What matters most is identifying what’s not working and putting in a lot of effort to address the problems.
Across the thousands of college essays we read as admissions officers, there are several issues that arise again and again. Learning from these issues can help you avoid them.
We have a whole post about those biggest college essay mistakes. But the following examples commit three different writing faux pas:
- Too much metaphor and not enough substance
- No main point or clear organization
- About a topic that is important to the writer but not actually that high-stakes
With these mistakes in mind, let’s do some analysis.
College Essay Example #13: Lost in the Forest
I look into the forest, moss wet on my feet(( This is an intriguing hook.)) . There’s fog everywhere—I can barely see the glasses that sit on my nose. I feel a cool breeze rustle against my coat. I am cold and warm all at once. The sun shines through the fog, casting the shadow of a tree whose roots know no end. At the entrance to the forest, I stand frozen in time and space. I can’t see what’s ahead of me or behind me, only what is(( After this sentence, the metaphor becomes unclear.)) . And what is suddenly transforms into what could be. I see a fork in the pathway in front of me. The noise—the noise is so loud. Crickets and owls and tigers, oh my(( Avoid cliche phrases.)) . My thoughts scream even louder. I can’t hear myself think through the sounds of the forest of my mind. Off in the distance, I see a figure. It’s a shadow figure. It’s my mother. She’s walking towards me. I take a step into the forest, fearlessly ready to confront any overwhelming obstacle that comes my way(( This is a nice sentence that encapsulates the main theme of the essay.)) .
When I was a child, I used to play in the forest behind my house. Until one day when I caught my mom sneaking a cigarette outside. She tried to hide it behind her back, but I could see the smoke trailing over her head like a snail. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran farther into the forest. I am used to being disappointed by her. I ran and ran and ran until I tripped over a tree branch that fell in the storm the week before. I laid on the cold, hard ground. The back of me was soaked. Would I turn into my mom? After that, I decided to turn back. The cold was encroaching. I got home and saw my mom in the kitchen. We agreed not to speak of what I saw(( This paragraph could use some more details about what’s at stake: why does all of this matter? As readers, we need more information about the writer’s relationship with their mom to understand why this confrontation was so significant.)) .
While taking a history test, I looked around at my classmates. The gray desk was cold against my skin. I started counting the people around me, noting those who I knew well and those I had never really talked to. I looked at all the expensive backpacks and shoes. After our test, I asked the person next to me how she thought she did. She said it was a difficult test, and I agreed. Every class period, we’d talk more and more. We became friends. We started hanging out with another friend from biology class. We were inseparable, like three peas in a pod. We’d study together and hang out together and dance. They were the best friends I ever had. We liked to play soccer after school and sing loudly to music in my room. But one day it all stopped. They both stopped talking to me((It's not clear how this anecdote relates to the anecdote about the writer’s mother. The significance of the forest metaphor could also be drawn out more.)) . It was like I had been yanked out of the forest and thrown on to the forest floor. I became moss, the owls pecking at my spikey green tendrils. They found two other friends, and I sat alone at my desk in history again. It was like another test, but this time a history of my own.
Things went on like this for years. Over and over again I got put back into the forest. My friends who I thought were my friends actually were just drama machines. Life is foggy when you don’t know what’s going on. And I live in a forest that’s always foggy. Try as I might to find myself, it’s easy to get lost in all the trails and hills. I’m climbing a mountain each and every day. But I keep going back into the forest, looking for answers(( The return to the metaphor almost works here. But because the metaphor has gotten in the way of the main point, we need more explicit reflection to tie everything together.)) .
Word Count: 603
Admissions Officer Notes on Lost in the Forest
So. Writers know that college essays should be meaningful reflections and exercises in creative writing. But sometimes writers take this advice to the extreme and write essays that are too metaphorical and too focused on internal reflection.
This essay is the perfect example of what happens when a writer goes over the top with metaphor. The forest metaphor could be a useful tool given the writer’s topic, but as it is now, everything else gets lost within the metaphor. It’s difficult to extract what the writer actually says about their life.
The writer’s reflection is also deep and removed from specific examples. After reading the essay, I still don’t feel like I know the writer. The topic also changes halfway through the essay, so following the thread throughout is challenging.
What this essay does well:
- Topic: Even though the writer’s topic switches in the middle of the essay, it’s clear that the topics are both meaningful to the writer. The first topic especially may still be grounds for a great college essay.
- Vulnerability: The writer’s vulnerability shines through. They are willing to share an important part of themselves.
What the writer could improve upon:
- Pick a main topic and stick with it: Part of what makes this essay challenging to follow is that it’s doing too many things at once. Narrowing the topic would help the writer focus all their thoughts on communicating one overall idea.
- Use the metaphor sparingly: Remember that metaphors are best when used sparingly. Pulling off an overarching metaphor is very difficult, so it’s generally easier for writers to sprinkle in small references to the metaphor throughout. A great way to accomplish this is the “bookend technique,” where you introduce a metaphor in the introduction and return to it in the conclusion.
- Tighten up each paragraph : All of the paragraphs in this essay have a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily flow logically from one sentence to the next. My final recommendation would be to edit the paragraphs themselves for clarity. The writer should think about what information is essential and cut the rest.
College Essay Example #14: The Chemist
You(( There are always different opinions about addressing your reader. Sometimes it can work okay, but this instance doesn't work quite as well.)). may be wondering why I’ve taken so many chemistry classes. Well, that’s because I love chemistry. I used to hate chemistry with a fiery passion but now I love it more than anything. I remember that I used to struggle through every single chemistry assignment I ever got. My sister would try to help me but I’d just get upset, like I really just didn’t understand it and that was so frustrating so I just kept not wanting to do more but eventually I started to think “oh chemistry is at the foundation of everything that makes up our universe,” and isn’t that just fascinating?(( Whew—that was a long sentence! This is a run-on sentence, but we do learn about the writer’s primary motivation for studying chemistry.)) So then I decided to make a change and actually try to learn chemistry. I started paying attention in class and asking my teacher for help after class and finally one day my sister said, “Wow, you’re really improving.” And that meant so much to me. When my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States(( This reference is nice, but it's an abrupt topic change. It’s not clear why the writer is bringing up their great-grandparents.)) , they had no idea what would be in store for their great-grandkids. We really don’t learn chemistry in school until high school, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand it in high school when I started taking it. Electrons and atoms and acids and alcohols. There’s so much to learn. I really have never been good at math so I’d say that’s one of my biggest challenges in chemistry now is learning how to do the equations and figuring out how the math works. In fifth grade I used to be in advanced math but then it just got worse from there until I learned about tutoring. I started doing tutoring through the high school when I was in ninth grade and it helped a lot because I just needed a little more help for each lesson to really understand it. But even with that the math part of chemistry is still hard for me. But I always keep trying! That’s the most important thing to me I think is to keep trying(( This is a good statement of values.)) . Even when problems are hard and I can’t solve them I try to have a good attitude because even if I can’t get it right, doing chemistry is about unlocking the secrets of the universe and that really is interesting even if you can’t completely understand them. When I started taking chemistry in my sophomore year I almost gave up but I was also really inspired by my teacher who guided me through everything. She gave me extra time to do my lab work and was even my lab partner a couple times because our class has an uneven number of students. My favorite part of chemistry lab is mixing solutions and testing them. I don’t like the lab report writing so much but I know it’s an important part. So I try to just get through that so I can get back to doing experiments and such. My favorite experiments was about building a calormieter to measure how many calories is in our food(( Pay attention to small errors and typos like this one.)) . Calories are energy so you burn your food to measure how much energy they have. Then you write up a report about how many calories each food item like bananas, bread, a cookie, had. The best part of doing labs is having your lab partner there with you. You’re both wearing goggles and lab coats and gloves and you feel really like a professional chemist and it’s nice that you’re not doing it alone. You just read the lab instructions and do each of the steps in order. It’s like baking a cake! You just follow the recipe. But you don’t eat the results! You might use beakers or bunsen burners to hold liquid or burn or heat up whatever it is you’re experimenting on. And when I say “find the meaning of the universe” I really mean it(( The writer is trying to return to a bigger reflection here, but the transition needs to be much smoother.)) . It’s amazing how much chemistry is in everything. Cooking is doing chemistry because you’re changing up the properties of the food. The air we breathe, the way plants get energy, the medicines we take, we understand it all because of chemistry. I know that becoming a chemist is hard work and isn’t easy. But I know that it’s rewarding and that’s why I want to do it. Helping people is so important to me and I think that chemistry can help me get there(( Here, we also learn about the writer’s values and motivations.)) . I also like the health and beauty industry and I think it would be fun to get to develop new products or perfumes or medicines.
Word Count: 746
Admissions Officer Notes on The Chemist
There’s no easy way to say it, but this essay just doesn’t meet the mark. That’s why it gets an F. It reads like a free write rather than an essay because it is stream-of-consciousness and doesn’t really make a clear point. I learn that the writer loves chemistry, but the overall message is not clear.
- Ideas : All hope is not lost! Once we dig into what each sentence of the essay is saying, there are some good ideas that the writer can turn into a more cohesive topic.
- Organization: I hesitate to make any extreme claims about college essays, but I feel pretty confident in saying that the vast majority of college essays should always be more than one paragraph. You need paragraphs to break up your thoughts into digestible chunks. Each paragraph should contain a single point you’re trying to convey to the reader. This writer should break all these ideas up into several paragraphs.
- Theme: We see that the topic of the essay is chemistry, that chemistry is interesting because it’s the foundation of everything, and that chemistry can help people. But we don’t really get any deeper meaning from the writer. They haven’t made an attempt to be vulnerable or to show us something significant about themself.
- Length: The essay is almost a hundred words over the word count. The writer needs to pare things down as they organize and clarify their ideas.
Supplemental Essay Examples
In addition to your personal statement, many colleges will also have you write what are called “supplemental essays.”
These essays do exactly as the name implies: they supplement your personal statement. They’re the perfect opportunity for you to tell admissions officers even more about yourself beyond the information you put in your personal statement. Specifically, ou can use them strategically to highlight even more of your strengths.
There are no universal supplemental essay prompts like there are for the Common Application personal statement.
Instead, colleges provide their own supplemental essay prompt(s) as part of their applications.
The good news, however, is that these prompts generally fall into a few common categories: Why Us, Community, Personal Challenge, Extracurricular Activities, Academic Interest, Diversity, and Why this Major prompts.
If you want to learn more about what these prompts entail, or about how to even write a supplemental essay in the first place, check out our complete guide to writing supplemental essays (it’s really good).
For now, let’s take a look at standout example essays for four of the most common supplemental prompt types.
Community Essay: The DIY-ers
Prompt from MIT: Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
225 words or fewer"
I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers(( Straightforward but attention-grabbing. Nice!)) . In part, this lifestyle is one of necessity. Hiring professionals isn’t cheap, after all. But our DIY proclivities are also a product of a longstanding family tradition of ingenuity.
My first DIY was a fix on my Cozy Coupe, whose steering wheel had fallen off. Since then, my DIYs have become larger scale. With my dad, I’ve replaced loose bike chains, put in a new car clutch, and re-tiled our kitchen.
But our biggest DIY to date has been building a six-foot telescope(( Great topic choice that connects to the writer’s academic interests)) together. Made of scraps and spare parts, it’s not the most beautiful telescope. But our focus is on the stars anyway. My entire family has evening picnics, taking turns to look through the makeshift eyepiece. Occasionally the eyepiece falls off, and we all laugh(( I love the personality that emerges with this detail.)) as I run over to replace it.
Coming from a DIY family has made me self-reliant. And when the fixes just aren’t working, my dad reminds me to take a step back and think creatively about solutions. It’s from this mindset that my dream of being an environmental engineer has evolved(( The writer could get to this point sooner.)) .
I know that engineering isn’t just about fancy gadgets. It’s about ingenuity. I want to adapt my DIY ingenuity, mind and hand(( A cheeky nod to the school’s motto—interesting!)) , to even bigger projects that mitigate climate change and lead to a safer tomorrow(( I also like this gesture to the broader significance of their dreams and aspirations.)) .
Word Count: 220
Admissions Officer Notes
- Topic: The writer has chosen a pretty interesting topic that will most likely stand out among other candidates. More importantly, the community they’ve chosen to write about is one that they hold dear and have learned a lot from. The story connects in specific ways to who they are as a person and what their dreams and aspirations have come to be.
- Growth: The prompt asks how the community has “shaped” your dreams and aspirations. This writer focuses on the progression of their aspirations while telling endearing stories about their relationship with their family members.
- Future goals: The writer explicitly states how this community has shaped how and what they want to do in the future.
What it could improve on:
- Pacing: Aside from describing your community, the main question of the prompt is how that community has shaped your dreams and aspirations. While the writer does get to an answer, they could spend more time in the essay focusing on that answer.
Diversity Essay: Bumpass
Prompt from Duke: We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself.
There((A great, interesting hook that also jumps into a connection with Duke.)) are more traffic lights on the Duke University campus than there are in my entire hometown.
I don’t actually know how many traffic lights Duke has, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it has more than zero, which is how many we have here in Bumpass, Virginia.
Yes, Bumpass. Pronounced “bump-us”.
I’m from a weird little lake town in central Virginia((This paragraph gives us a clear picture of the writer's lived experiences.)) that has two types of residents: part-timers (that’s what we call them), mostly from DC, Richmond, or Charlottesville, with million-plus dollar homes on Lake Anna. They swim and boat on the private side of the lake, which is heated (yes, the lake is heated) by a nuclear power plant. And then there are families like mine. The locals. I’ve always thought “working class” was a nice way for rich people to call poor people poor, but that’s what we are. Families like mine clean the power plant. I’ve never swam in the private side, and our boat is a canoe.
Officially((And this paragraph gives us a good sense of how those lived experiences have influenced them.)) , I’ve had a job since my 16th birthday, which is the legal age in Virginia. But I’ve worked cleaning rental homes and fixing boats for part-timers with my uncle since I was old enough to use a Swiffer and turn a wrench. I’ve cleaned homes that cost more than my extended family’s combined net worth, but oddly I enjoy it. When I see inside their homes, I have something to aspire to, and that’s more than most of my hometown peers can say.
Success around here means making it through community college. Doing so in two years all without abusing alcohol or drugs? I don’t know many people who have done that. But I want to bring my Bumpass experience to Duke.((Nice job bringing the story back to the connection with Duke.)) I know how to rise before the sun and get a day’s worth of work in before noon. I know how to talk to goat farmers and postal workers (my best friend’s parents) just as well as neurosurgeons and pilots (my favorite part-timers whose docks I maintain in the off-season).
I’m looking forward to learning from the diverse body at Duke, making friends from around the world, and gaining a better understanding of the world beyond Bumpass((This conclusion ties the essay together nicely and communicates good school fit.)) .
- Humor and personality: From the topic of the town’s name to the introduction, the writer uses humor (when appropriate) and clearly shows their own voice. I feel like I know the student after reading this, which is always good.
- School Connections: While there aren’t a ton of references to Duke here, the prompt doesn’t necessarily ask for them. The writer still does a good job connecting their lived experience to how they see themself at Duke.
Personal Challenge Essay: Tutoring Charlotte
Prompt from Brown: Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)
Asking Charlotte to answer a math question was like asking a cat to take a bath. Her resistance was almost instinctual. When I first met her, I had been doing after-school tutoring for about six months. The program paired up high school students with middle schoolers who were falling behind in their classes. Charlotte was my first student and biggest challenge(( Nice wording to make it abundantly clear that the writer is answering the prompt)) .
At first, her unwillingness to try came across as lazy(( This sentence gets at what the prompt is asking for: “a perspective that differed from your own”)) . I used everything I had in my tutoring arsenal. I encouraged her to give her confidence, and I even brought candy to bribe her. To my dismay, nothing worked. Each time I introduced a new problem, Charlotte simply refused.
My frustration grew so immense that I caught myself being curt with her. When I saw the look of betrayal in her eyes, I was ashamed at my impatience(( Here we have an inciting incident and growth that resulted from a realization. The writer begins to address the “how did you respond?” part of the prompt.)) . I realized that Charlotte’s struggles weren’t her fault. Math has always come easy to me. Whereas every math problem I encounter is like a code I’m excited to crack, Charlotte sees math problems as threats. After years of struggling, it’s no wonder that she stopped trying.
Once I understood that we approach math from different perspectives, I tried something new. I got rid of the math book and graph paper, and I brought out gummy bears. We did an algebra problem without her even knowing it. Together(( The writer zooms the focus out to a larger reflection about what they learned from this interaction. Nice.)) , we worked to overcome her fear of math. Along the way, I learned to teach the person, not the subject matter.
World Count: 247
- Topic choice: Personal Challenge prompts can be some of the most difficult, especially if you don’t have a specific challenge you’ve faced in your life. This writer’s topic choice works great. They show that you don’t have to have a life-altering challenge to answer this prompt well.
- Clear narrative: This prompt is a lengthy one, but the writer has clearly read it and used it to structure the story. As a reader, it’s easy to follow along as the writer identifies the problem, works toward a solution, overcomes hurdles, and eventually comes out successful in the end.
- Connections: Different prompts require different levels of connections to the school. This writer incorporates some of Brown’s institutional values, but, especially since the prompt says so much about Brown’s community, the writer could have made more effort to connect their story to Brown.
Extracurricular Essay: Working Retail
Prompt from Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.
“ Would(( Beginning any essay with dialog can be hit or miss. But this is a hit. The dialog quickly captures the essence of working in retail and plops the reader directly into the writer’s extracurricular activity.)) you like another size? Sure thing, I’ll get a medium.”
“Are you interested in saving 10% today with an Old Navy Card? No, no worries…”
“I can clean the bathrooms if someone covers the fitting room!”
I didn’t expect much from my first job. Mostly, I expected to earn $12 an hour and improve my denim folding skills at Old Navy. I didn’t think I could learn so much about people and develop life skills.
As(( This paragraph could be a little more specific to the writer rather than their coworkers.)) odd as it may sound, retail work brought people together during COVID. I started in July of 2020. Our store had always met for monthly meetings, but everyone emphasized how much closer they’d become since the pandemic. Stepping up to cover someone’s shift when they got sick–or their spouse or child did–used to elicit a quick “thank you!”, but took on a more profound meaning in 2020. Though I started mid-pandemic, everyone I worked with remarked that, with a few notable exceptions, the overall demeanor of the clientele was much more empathetic. My coworkers seemed to go from sales associates to brave workers keeping the economy afloat overnight.
After about seven months of dutiful work, I was promoted(( The writer seamlessly incorporates the information that they earned a promotion after a relatively brief time of working at the store.)) to senior associate and had new responsibilities of closing and opening the store. Sure, I had dreams of working in an infectious disease lab. But having adults put real trust in me to account for several thousand dollars and secure a major outlet made me value and understand work perhaps even more than the research internship I missed out on(( I appreciate the perspective here. The writer makes a good argument for the importance of retail work, especially in relation to their academic interests.)) .
I am thankful for this opportunity to work and learn with a dedicated staff. Now, I look forward to pursuing more experiences that will relate to my career in biotech in college. Oh, and I won’t miss soliciting credit card sales with each purchase(( This humor bookends the essay wonderfully and adds some extra personality.)) !
- Focus on strengths: Maintaining the right focus in extracurricular essays can be tricky. It can be easy to get caught up in the details of the activity and brag too much or not enough. Especially with extracurricular activities that aren’t based in competition, it can be challenging to draw out strengths. But this writer finds the perfect way to talk about their accomplishments and strengths (being promoted and being a team player) while also seeming personable and humble.
- Connection to future goals : Importantly, the writer doesn’t just leave the story at their retail job. They show the admissions officer how they see this job as contributing toward their future goals.
- Transitions: The transitions between paragraphs and into the detail about a future biotech career could be smoother.
Why this Major: Watchers
Prompt from USC: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)
As a child(( I like how the writer takes a more creative approach to a standard “why this major” essay.)) , I always got in trouble for staring. My mom would nudge me whenever I looked at someone too long. My uncontrollable staring was an embarrassment for her, but it’s one of the things I love most about myself. Whereas some people are do-ers, I am a watcher, a listener, and a documenter(( We learn a lot about the writer’s personality here.)) . Like introverts and extroverts, the world needs both kinds of people.
Watchers have an admirable task: to see what exists and give it meaning. That’s exactly what I want to do while pursuing my academic interests in anthropology(( And at this point, we jump quickly into the connections between the opening story and the writer’s academic interests. )) . In particular, I’m interested in learning about art, language, and culture in Russia. Pursuing a research career in anthropology would open up opportunities for me to do research for government offices and move toward my ultimate goal(( Incorporating a future goal that they’re working towards is an effective approach.)) of working for the United Nations.
As(( This paragraph has a number of specific, detailed, and relevant connections to the school.)) a Visual Anthropology and Russian double major at USC, I would hone my social scientist skills and improve my Russian language abilities. I’m also eager to participate in a directed internship and to connect with fellow watchers in the Anthropology and Global Studies club. The Center for Visual Anthropology, minor in Folklore and Popular Culture, and the anthropology-focused study abroad opportunity in St. Petersburg all converge to make USC the ideal place for me to learn.
With USC’s global focus and emphasis on creativity, research, and public service, I know that I could develop my watching skills into a successful anthropology career(( And the writer concludes by drawing on some of the institution’s core values, which helps ground all of those disparate connections into something meaningful that the writer aligns themself with.)) .
- Writing style and storytelling: This essay shows that supplemental essays don’t have to be boring. The writer opens with an interesting hook and writes about their major interest in a compelling way.
- School research and connections: The writer does a good job specifically answering the “how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC” part of the prompt. It’s clear that they’ve done their research, and the connections they’ve chosen to focus on make sense in the context of the story they’ve told. They also incorporate school values in addition to simple facts.
- Writing about school connections : To take this essay to the next level, the student could write about the school connections in a slightly more elegant way. As they are now, they feel quite list-like.
Academic Interest: Everyday History
Prompt from Barnard: At Barnard, academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited and why do they interest you? Tell us how you would explore these questions at Barnard. (max 300)
As I walked through the ancient city of Pompeii(( This is a beautiful hook that stops and makes the reader think, too.)) on a family vacation, I thought about the children. I imagined how scared they must have been when the volcano erupted, how they must have reached out to their caregivers for protection. When a large group of people mobbed through the alley next to us, I reached out to my own mother(( With a simple phrase, the writer shows the connection between themself and the people of the past who have captured their attention.)) as an anchor.
What interests me most about history is that the people of the past(( The writer adeptly transitions from a poetic introduction to a straightforward answer to the prompt.)) were just like us. They had likes and dislikes, they became frightened and love-struck and tired. While the history of royalty and great wars captures most people’s attention, what I want to study is the history of everyday people.
What(( These questions respond exactly to what the prompt is asking for. )) was it like to be a child in Pompeii? How did prisoners feel on their way to Australia? What kinds of recipes did the Aztecs cook?
I know that with Barnard’s culture of multidisciplinarity, discovery, and creative thinking, I’d be able to pursue these questions and more(( The writer draws on Barnard’s own values and connects their interests, goals, and questions to specific offerings at Barnard.)) . In classes like Gender and Empire, I’ll learn about the ways European expansion was gendered. And in Children and Childhood in African History or Reproducing Inequalities: Family in Latin American History, I’ll be able to ask questions about the history of the family: How have family structures varied across time and place? What historical role have children played? In what ways have parenting practices changed and why?
While they may seem inconsequential for life today, I believe that answering these questions helps us better understand ourselves. With Barnard’s Building Strong Voices(( And they also reference out-of-the-classroom opportunities.)) mission, I’ll learn how to present my research and advocate for the importance of history.
The world needs more histories of everyday people. We have a lot to learn from them, and Barnard’s offerings will help me lead us to better historical and current understandings(( With this conclusion, it’s clear how Barnard will help the writer accomplish their goals. )) .
Word Count: 299
- Introduction: Academic interest essays are your chance to go all-in. The introduction to this essay does just that. We’re immediately transported into this writer’s academic interest, and we begin to ask these questions alongside them.
- Answering all parts of the prompt: This can be a tricky feat when responding to complex prompts like Barnard’s. But this writer does just that. They tackle each part of the prompt in order, and the make clear transitions between them.
College Essay Example Takeaways
Whether you’re writing a personal statement or supplemental essay, reading and analyzing college essay examples is an important tool. Good examples can give you insight into the proper form and structure to use. And bad examples can be just as helpful by showing you what not to do.
All admissions officers will approach your college essays from different perspectives. But hopefully the grades and comments—provided by our team of former admissions officers and professional writing coaches—have helped you understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why.
As you’ve seen, there are so many essays, topics, personalities, approaches—you can write a college essay about almost anything.
Remember that the key to any successful college application is a cohesive application narrative .
And if you want to take your own college essays to the next level, join the Essay Academy for an entire course of professional guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do admissions officers actually grade college essays, what makes a good college essay, liked that try this next..
How to Write a College Essay (Exercises + Examples)
How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers
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College Essays That Worked: See Examples
Experts say a good college essay features a student's voice and personality.
Students should know themselves and write authoritatively so they can share a sense of their lives with admissions officers. (Getty Images)
Many college applications require a personal essay, which can be daunting for students to write.
But a few simple tips, some introspection and insight into what admissions officers are looking for can help ease the pressure. U.S. News has compiled several college essay examples that helped students get into school. Shared by admissions staff or referenced from admissions websites, these essays stand out, they say, because the student voices shine, helping the school get to know the applicants.
"Students can get caught in the trap of overthinking it and write the essay that's going to impress the admissions committee," says Andrew Strickler, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College . "The best essays, the ones that really pop, are the ones that come across as authentic and you really hear the student's voice."
The essay gives schools a feel for how a student writes, but it's the content of the essay that matters most, admissions professionals say. In other words, while it's important to showcase sound grammar and writing, it's even more important to showcase your character and personality.
"I care more about their stories than if it is a perfect five paragraph essay," David Graves, interim director of admissions at the University of Georgia , wrote in an email.
Many schools give students a wide range of topics to choose from, which experts say can be beneficial in helping students find their voice.
While you want your voice to be apparent, it's wise to be aware of your tone, says Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, an admissions consulting company that works with students to craft and revise their college essays. The goal of the essay is to make a strong case for why you’re different from all the other applicants, not necessarily why you’re better, he adds.
"You have to pass the genuine likability test. Sometimes kids are so busy trying to brag or tell their story that they’re forgetting they have to sound like a likable person. That’s a very simple test, but it’s really important."
Good essays tend to be "positively emotional," he says. It's best to avoid using sarcasm because it tends to fail on college essays.
Any humor used "really has to be a very positive, witty humor, not sarcastic," which he says can be hard to pick up on in an essay.
The Perils of Using AI for Essays
Choosing the right tone can be a challenge for many students, but admissions pros encourage them not to take shortcuts to completing their essay.
Though some college professors have embraced artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT in their classrooms, Strickler says he's begun to stress in recent talks with high school audiences the importance of original work and avoiding the use of AI tools like ChatGPT to craft college essays. While it might produce a technically well-written essay and save time, your unique voice will be stripped away, and it may leave a bad impression on admissions offices as well as prevent them from truly getting to know you, he says.
Instead, Graves says, start early and take time to write it yourself, then "actually read it out loud to someone ... to listen to the rhythm and words as they are 'read.'"
Each spring on his admissions blog , Graves shares an enrolling student's essay and why it was strong. The essay excerpted below, shared with the permission of the University of Georgia, uses descriptive word choice and gives the admissions office deep insight into the student's life, their love for writing and their connection to their family, Graves says.
It was chosen as an example "to show our applicant pool how to express themselves through similes, sensory language (words that capture the senses of the reader), and emotion," Graves wrote on the blog.
Here's how the essay opened:
If you asked me what object I’d save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook. My notebook isn’t just any notebook, it’s bubble gum pink with purple tie dye swirls, and has gold coil binding it together. But more importantly, it’s the key that unlocked my superpower, sending me soaring into the sky, flying high above any problems that could ever catch me. However, my notebook is simply the key. My real power rests in the depths of my mind, in my passion for writing. But to know how my powers came to be (not from a spider or a special rock), I must travel back to the first spark.
Four years ago, I wrote my first 6-word memoir in my eighth-grade rhetoric class. Inspired by my father’s recently diagnosed terminal illness, I wrote “Take his words, don’t take him”. It was as if all the energy of my powers surged into six meaningful words meant to honor the man that I would soon lose to a villain known as ALS. This was the first time I felt my writing. Three years ago, my dad’s disease severely progressed. The ALS seized his ability to speak and locked it in a tower with no key. The only way we could communicate was with an old spiral notebook. ...
The essay counted down each year ("three years ago," "two years ago," etc.) and concluded with this paragraph:
One month ago, I needed my powers more than ever before. I needed them to convey who I truly am for the chance at the future of my dreams as a writer. Except this time, I didn’t need the key because my powers grew into fruition. Instead, I opened my laptop only to type out one sentence… “If you asked me what object to save in a burning fire, I’d save my notebook.”
This style of storytelling, which shows not just the triumph at the end but also the conflict, struggle and evolution in between, makes for great essays, Koh says.
"The student also used an intriguing timeline (counting down years and month) to tell their story, and showed how she had grown," Graves says.
This next essay, by an anonymous writer and shared on Connecticut College 's admissions page , "manages to capture multiple aspects of the writer's personality, while not becoming overly cluttered or confusing," writes Susanna Matthews, associate director of admission at the school.
Every person who truly knows me believes that I was born in the wrong century. They call me "an old soul" because I'm a collector, attracted to books, antiques, vinyl records and anything from the 80's. But they also think I am unique in other ways. I believe it is because of the meaningful connections to my two languages and two cultures.
When we moved into our first American house, I was excited to decorate my new room. The first thing I knew I needed was a place to organize my most cherished possessions I have collected throughout my life. I searched and finally found a bookshelf with twenty-five thick sections that I could build and organize alphabetically ... Each shelf holds important objects from different parts of my life. ...
These books are a strong connection to my Brazilian heritage. They also remind me of the time when I was growing up in Brazil, as a member of a large Italian-Brazilian family.
The writer continues on, describing the types of books on each shelf, from Harry Potter to books used to learn English. They describe the bottom of the bookshelf housing some of their most prized possessions, like an old typewriter their grandfather gave them. They wonder about the words it has crafted and stories it has told.
As I grab my favorite Elvis vinyl to play, I can only wonder about the next chapter of my life. I look forward to adding new books, new friends, and a wide variety of experiences to my bookshelf.
"By placing one subject (the bookshelf) at the center of the piece, it lends some flexibility to layer in much more detail than if they had tried to discuss a few different interests in the essay," Matthews writes. "You learn a lot about the person, in a way that isn't in your face – a great thing when trying to write a personal essay."
Some colleges require a supplemental essay in addition to the personal statement. Typically, admissions pros note, these essays are shorter and focus on answering a specific question posed by the college.
The University of Chicago in Illinois allows students to submit essay prompts as inspiration for the admissions office and gives students some latitude in how they answer them. Essay prompts range from questions about the school itself to asking students to pick a question from a song title or lyric and give their best shot at answering it.
"We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions," the school's admissions website reads. "They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between."
While the University of Chicago says there is no strict word limit on its supplemental essays, other schools prefer brevity. For example, Stanford University in California asks students to answer several short questions, with a 50-word limit, in addition to answering three essay questions in 100 to 250 words.
Georgia asks for a school-specific supplemental essay that's 200-300 words in addition to a 250- to 650-word personal essay.
"Sometimes a shorter essay response is not as polished an essay, but instead is a more casual, more relaxed essay," Graves says. "In addition, sometimes a student needs to get to the point or be concise, and this helps see if they can give us their story without overdoing it."
Other schools allow for a little more creativity in how the supplemental essay questions are answered. Babson College in Massachusetts, for example, gives students a 500-word limit to answer a prompt, or they can choose to submit a one-minute video about why they chose to apply to the school.
One student, Gabrielle Alias, chose to film a "day-in-the-life" video , which she narrated to answer the prompt, "Who Am I?"
"Visiting campus twice, I know I could see myself as one of the many interesting, innovative, and enticing students that come out of Babson," she says in the video. "But who am I you ask? I am a student. I am a reader. I am a researcher. I am a music lover. ... I am Gabrielle Alias and I am excited for who I will be as a graduate of Babson."
An essay by Babson student Bessie Shiroki, seen below, describes her experience in the school's admissions office and how she immediately felt comfortable.
I immediately smiled at the sight of my favorite board game. Babsonopoly. I love the combination of strategy and luck in this traditional family pastime. Seeing this on the wall in the admissions office gave me immediate comfort; I knew I was home.
Shiroki describes what she felt set Babson College apart from other schools, such as being surrounded by "sophisticated and mature individuals" and a tight-knit, entrepreneurial environment that would help her reach her career goals.
It is natural for me to be in a small class where more than one language is spoken. I am accustomed to discussions with diverse viewpoints, open minds, and where differences are seen as advantages. I embrace my cultural uniqueness, and I will add my voice to the community. I can’t imagine not continuing this in college.
She notes that as she toured the campus and saw students studying, she could see herself as one of them, feeding off of their studious and entrepreneurial energy. She mentions that Babson's Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship class got her attention immediately and she saw it as a launch pad for a future that included running a business.
Babson recognizes the potential of their students, and FME is a great way for young entrepreneurs like me to find our place in the business world and learn from our mistakes. I am capable of this challenge and will conquer it with tenacity. I will bring my dedication, commitment, and innovative skills to Babson College.
Now it’s my turn to pass go and collect my Babson acceptance letter. I’ve found my next challenge.
Babson College offers several tips for what make good essays, including a strong "hook" to engage the reader from the start and a topic that allows you to share something that's not as obvious on your application.
When it comes to writing a college admissions essay – whether personal or supplemental – experts advise students to follow these rules:
- Find your voice.
- Write about a topic that matters to you.
- Share your personality.
- Express yourself.
- Proofread extensively.
With both traditional essays and supplemental essays, Koh says it's best to write long and work with someone you trust to edit it down. Teachers, friends and parents can all be helpful proofreaders, but experts note that the student voice should remain intact.
A good editor can help edit a long essay to keep the main message but with fewer words. “If I see 400 words, I know I’m a dozen drafts away from getting it to 650,” he says. “If I see 1200 words, we might just be one or two away. It’s at least going to be a shorter haul.”
Strickler encourages students not to stress too much over the essay or put unnecessary weight on it as part of their college application . While a strong essay helps, he says, it doesn't make or break an application.
"There's this sense that you write the most amazing essay and it gets you over the top because it opens the door to the pathway to the Magic Kingdom," he says. "But it's just one piece of a myriad of pieces that allow us to get to know a particular student and help us figure out if they're a good fit and how they're going to contribute to our community."
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Choose Your Test
Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.
College Admissions , College Essays
The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.
In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article will be a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!
What Excellent College Essays Have in Common
Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.
Visible Signs of Planning
Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.
Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.
A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!
A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.
Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.
And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.
Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!
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Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
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Links to Full College Essay Examples
Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.
Common App Essay Samples
Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts.
- 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007
These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).
- 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
- 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
- 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
- 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
- 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020
Essay Examples Published by Other Websites
- 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia
Other Sample College Essays
Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.
- 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020
- 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
- 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out
University of Georgia
- 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
- 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
- 10 Harvard essays from 2023
- 10 Harvard essays from 2022
- 10 Harvard essays from 2021
- 10 Harvard essays from 2020
- 10 Harvard essays from 2019
- 10 Harvard essays from 2018
- 6 essays from admitted MIT students
- 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018
Books of College Essays
If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.
College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.
50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .
50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.
Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.
Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked
I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.
Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)
I had never broken into a car before.
We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.
Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.
"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"
"Why me?" I thought.
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.
Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.
But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.
Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"
The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.
Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.
What Makes This Essay Tick?
It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!
An Opening Line That Draws You In
In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).
Great, Detailed Opening Story
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.
It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.
Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.
Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight
Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."
Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.
"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.
Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice
My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.
Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."
The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.
An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future
But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"
The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.
This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.
What Could This Essay Do Even Better?
Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?
Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.
Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.
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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.
Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.
I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.
In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).
I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.
A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.
It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.
Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.
One Clear Governing Metaphor
This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.
But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:
This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.
Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:
While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.
An Engaging, Individual Voice
This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.
Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.
I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.
Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!
For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:
Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.
Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.
Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.
Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.
In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.
The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.
Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.
Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.” The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.
Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.
4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay
How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.
#1: Get Help From the Experts
Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings . If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .
#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own
As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
- Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
- Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
- Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?
Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.
#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment
All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.
Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.
#4: Start Early, Revise Often
Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.
Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!
For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .
Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.
Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .
Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.
Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.
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Writing a successful college admissions essay can be tough, so we've put together some example essays below to provide with some inspiration of your own.
Please do not plagiarise sentences or whole parts of these essays - they are only intended as guidelines and you can jeopardise your application if you're discovered to have copied your essay from the web.
College Essay Example #1
Honestly, I have had a pretty easy life. I have never really gone without something I absolutely needed, and I have always attended good schools and lived in safe neighborhoods. My parents raised me in a loving home, told me I was smart, and tried to help me be successful. But almost everyone else I knew seemed to have those same things, and I never really gave the benefits of my life much thought. Instead, I mostly coasted – focusing on playing sports, hanging out with my friends, and having fun. It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I started to understand what my parents had been trying to teach me. My brother graduated from high school at the same time I finished my freshman year. I watched as he and his friends went off to college – all but his best friend, Jim. Jim was a big dreamer, talker, and “coaster” – like me. Jim had not spent much time studying in high school and could only get into community college. When we talked, he did not seem down about going to community college and my initial thought was that it was no big deal. However, a month or two into the next fall semester I noticed that Jim was still coming by the high school frequently, spending most of his time hanging out with younger teenagers, and trying to relive his “glory days.” He was not the happy guy I had known and it became all too clear that Jim was not prepared to take the next steps in his life. That spring my parents announced it was time for me to get a job. I found a position at a local bakery and made decent money for being sixteen – it was OK, for a job. My boss was a nice, local guy in his early forties. He was fun to talk with and had great stories about when he was a teenager. But as I got to know him, underneath the “cool” exterior, I soon realized he was not happy. His life had not turned out the way he had hoped, and he seemed lost and still looking for direction – he reminded me of Jim. I personally do not think everyone needs to go to college to have a successful life, but everyone does need purpose and direction – both of which I did not have. I began to worry what my life would become if I did not find them, and I decided I needed to make a change. I asked my parents if I could get a tutor, asked for help from my teachers, and began getting involved in school clubs. My parents were a little shocked and my history teacher, in particular, all but rolled her eyes the first time I asked for help preparing for a test – I think she thought I was trying to “work the system.” I did not change overnight, but I continued to make significant progress. My grades went from mostly “Cs,” with a few “Bs,” my first two years in high school to mostly “Bs,” with a few “As,” by the end of my junior year. My history teacher even asked me to become her teacher’s assistant during a free period in my senior year class schedule, and the first semester of my senior year I made the all “A” honor roll. I will never forget the look of pride and relief on my mother’s face. While it may have taken me longer than others, I have learned the value of hard work and the importance of having purpose and direction in my life. I am very excited to take the next steps and hope to have the opportunity to continue my journey at your university.
College Essay Example #2
While I have never seen myself as a rebel, I am not a conformist and have never felt comfortable being labeled. I like to sew, scrapbook, and wear pink, but I also like to hike through the woods, get dirty, and build things with tools. When I turned fifteen, I looked for something different and unique that would be fun, challenging, and give me a sense of accomplishment. I found it in Search and Rescue. In King County, Washington youth over the age of fifteen are allowed to join the county Search and Rescue team if they complete a set of grueling trainings and pass a series of tests. New recruits spend multiple weekends hiking, camping, doing physical fitness, and learning general wilderness survival and navigation skills. Classes of recruits are usually eighty to ninety percent boys and my year was no exception. My last test was a two-day navigation course in which we were required to traverse a large mountainous area using maps and compasses. At the end of each task, we recorded how many feet we were away from the intended location and our total variation for all tasks could not exceed 300 feet. The course took us through swamps, thickets, and other obstacles, and we had to successfully navigate each type of terrain. At one point, we carried our fifty pound packs over our heads as we walked through water up to our armpits, but my group of three girls would not be outdone by the boys. The last few miles were the hardest. As we prepared for the final hike back to base camp, we were met by a truck of rangers. They told us we could stop, but if we got in the truck we would not pass and would not be permitted to join the team. We hiked the last few miles with our 50 pound packs on our backs, our cloths soaked, our feet covered in blisters, and snow starting to fall – all the time with the truck following closely behind. Our souls and wills seemed to go numb, and there was a constant temptation to give in, but we would not let each other quit. When we finally reached base camp and tallied our scores, we had stayed under the 300 feet threshold and were the only girls admitted to the program that year. It was an amazing feeling. Similarly, I will never forget the first time I saw a dead body. We were asked to search for a mentally disabled man that had disappeared nearly a year before, but was never found. His family needed closure, and we were tasked with searching an area not far from his house that had very dense vegetation. My team members and I lined up about 10 feet from each other and began hacking away at the shrubs, vines, and tall grass. After many hours, I discovered the body in my section. The skeleton and decaying remains were clothed in the man’s t-shirt and boxer shorts – and his hat was not far away. This scene, combined with the looks of both sorrow and relief on the faces of the man’s family, changed me. I gained perspective on both the value and reality of life and was proud to be part of such a great organization that had truly made a difference for this family.
Through my experiences in Search and Rescue, I have learned to persevere and gained a new level of empathy for others. In addition, I have a better perspective on life and am filled with a desire to choose activities that will have a positive impact on those around me. These lessons and experiences have become part of who I am, and I look forward to building upon them as I embark on my next great adventure.
College Essay Example #3
Ever since I was young, I’ve never been able to put down a good book. It’s a bit of a cliché to refer to yourself as a bookworm, but for all intents and purposes, I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. When I was younger my mum used to read to me, so reading has always been an established part of my routine. When the first Harry Potter book came out, my mind was blown. I became absorbed into this fictional world, and was addicted to the escapism. This was the beginning of a life long appreciation of English Literature.
I first new I wanted to study English at university when I studied Wuthering Heights in class at high school. I was fascinated with how Heathcliff was portrayed as some kind of monster with redeemable features. I found myself in awe at this conflicted and tortured character that Bronte had created, and mused whether he was beyond redemption. I hadn’t read a book that had encapsulated such a dilemma before. I was hungry to get my hands on as many books as possible, and after reading some other classics like Of Mice and Men and In Cold Blood, our English class studied the plays Top Girls and The Doll House. At this point, my appreciation for literature reached new heights, as these were the first overtly political works that resonated with me. I was entranced by the ways these plays advanced the idea of Feminism. I wanted to read more, and I wanted to write more on what I’d read. I decided that I wanted to write as a career.
I knew I had to study at US University when I saw the shear diversity of your English course, and the overall climate of diversity that embodies your institution. I’m eager to read books from a broad range of authors from lots of different backgrounds and I find it motivating to see that this is a core part of your curriculum. I love literature, and I’m that I can bring that passion into my lectures and seminars. I’ve always been the first person to contribute when I have an opinion! I’d be interested to expose myself to authors I am not too familiar with and I’d be very interested in taking your extensive course on Charles Dickens to learn more about this literary great.
Outside of my high school work, I’ve found myself enjoying books written by authors such as Naomi wolf and Germaine Greer. Books like the Female Eunuch have inspired me to read more Feminist books, and have encouraged me to become further involved in local activism. I’ve volunteered for a number of women’s organizations, most recently I worked with women’s aid to help to fundraise for a domestic violence awareness event. I helped to research and write parts of a leaflet on domestic violence, which gave me a lot of confidence in my writing and made me feel good about contributing my abilities to an important cause. I’d like to build on this experience by helping to create some other fundraising events on campus, and potentially by joining the University Feminist society.
In addition to reading, I spend most of my time writing on my political blog. I write on a number of topics, but most commonly I write on Feminism as this is the subject I find most interesting. I’m currently planning to release an eBook in the near future called Myths about the Patriarchy. Throughout the course of writing this content, I’ve enjoyed communicating my opinions with my readership and would like to continue this for a career. A degree at US University would enable me to gain some solid academic credentials and enable me to pursue writing as a career. My passion for reading and writing has meant that becoming a full-time writer is the only thing I can imagine myself doing. Studying English Literature would be a good starting point to turn this lifelong dream into a reality.
College Essay Example #4
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been singing along to the radio. Whether it’s a catchy pop song, or an alternative masterpiece, I just can’t help but find myself moving to the music. It was no surprise that when I first picked up the guitar at 11 years old, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the process of learning to play all these little tunes that I heard and hummed before. The process of physically playing music, lead me to appreciate music in a whole different way. As soon as I could, I rushed to start a band, and after around 6 months of playing I played my first concert. Truthfully, we weren’t very good, but I loved the feeling of playing music in front of other people, so much so that I decided I wanted to pursue performing music as a career.
Ever since then, I’ve been throwing myself at any gig I can find. My attitude to music has always been to learn by doing, and I’ll be sure to continue my passion for performing by becoming active in the campus music scene. On that note, I would definitely be interesting in becoming involved within the local area music scene as well. As a player, I started off on alternative music, but not I am much more motivated by the spontaneity of Jazz music. Every day when I wake up I go downstairs and have a quick jam along to a few backing tracks. To me, putting hours into my instrument isn’t work and I’m always thinking about music in one way or another. By Enrolling at Berklee School of Music, I’d be well placed to cope with the demands of staying on track with my learning. If I have a performance coming up I will not be shy of spending 8 hours a day practicing. I remember how proud I felt when I finally learnt how to play the advance piece Eugene’s Trick Bag by Steve Vai, and am prepared to throw myself at any more demanding performance pieces that come my way. It would be an honor study at an institution that’s had Steve Vai as Alumni.
Outside of my schoolwork, I’ve been very eager to learn all I can about the instrument and have been giving guitar lessons for the past two years. I have become very confident explaining the basic CAGED chord system, and teaching students the Major, Minor, Blues and Pentatonic scales. Not only has teaching improved my own knowledge of the instrument, it has also been incredibly rewarding. I have enjoyed helping students who have struggle with the basics to be able to play songs like Green day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends and Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. I know that it is rare for professional musicians to sustain themselves on performing alone, so I’d love to be able to teach along side performing. A degree of Berklee school of music will be evidence of my ability to teach not only the practice of playing guitar, but the theory that goes behind it.
For a long time, I’ve known that perfoming music is what I want to pursue as a career and I can see that UC Berklee will give me everything I need to become an established part of the professional music scene. Not only will formalized study benefit the standard of my performance but it will also take my theoretical understanding to the next level. In order to fulfill my aspiration to be a professional musician, I can see no other institution that offers the shear brilliance of UC Berklee.
College Essay Example #5
Ever since I read Frank Ryan’s book Virolution, I’ve been captivated by the idea of understanding what’s around me on a higher level. Ryan took the common ways that viruses were interpreted, such as natural evils and annoyances and turned them on their head. Ryan’s argument that viruses had a role in forcing evolution forward by encouraging animals to adapt was a completely new idea to me. The premise that we as humans evolve with viruses, presented viruses as somewhat useful, which was a completely new idea to me. After reading the book I became fascinated by the processes of life’s smallest organisms. I wanted to understand what they did, and how they were doing it. Virolution was my first insight into the shear variety and depth of the field of Biology. Outside of the narrow scope of the high school curriculum, there was a whole new world out there.
Since I read Ryan’s book by happenstance, I delved deeper into any similar books that I could get my hands on. Naturally I found myself reaching for Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene before taking a look at Darwin’s classic The Origins of the Species. These books taught me that I was missing a lot of what was under my nose. I have since decided that I want to pursue biology as a career, and after my degree I will be enrolling to do a PHD. A degree from US University will provide me with a strong set of academic credentials. It’s very important to me, to be part of a committed and active research institution as this is what I want to pursue as a career. By going to an institution with such a commitment to cutting edge research, I will be well placed to make my transition to the academic world myself.
In terms of practical experience with Biology, I have been fortunate enough to complete a work placement at the Baker Laboratory in Washington. My placement as Baker helped me to develop my day-to-day understanding of Laboratory practices and what the working day of a Biologist is like. The staff at Baker Laboratory commented on my commitment to learning, my enthusiasm, and my initiative. I found that I learnt a lot during my short time there, so I can only imagine what I’d learn over years of working at such an institution. I would find nothing more fulfilling than being able to contribute to the academic community full-time.
Outside of my studies and my passion for biology, I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering at the local animal sanctuary. I enjoy helping out with the animals there and aiding the general conservation attempts of the charity. Generally, we tended to smaller animals like badgers and raccoons but sometimes we got larger animals to look after like deer, which have been injured out in the wild. For me, helping to look after a wounded deer and helping her return to the wild was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Naturally, I found it very refreshing to see your institutions commitment to ethical and sustainable research practices.
One day, I would like the opportunity to contribute to academic journals of the future so that I can influence generations of the future to go into the sciences. My work experience and my volunteering efforts have shown me that the study of the natural world is something very important to me, and although I haven’t narrowed down on a specific field of Biology yet, I am confident that I can find this out throughout the course of my degree.
College Essay Example #6
Ever since I learnt about the Crusades in History at school, I’ve known History is the subject for me. Learning about how western Christendom ushered to defense of the holy land and occupied the surrounding areas seemed strangely reminiscent of western interventionism following the Iraq war. To me this was one of those places where History seemed to repeat itself. Since first becoming enamored with the Crusades my passion for History has steadily grown outwards. Today, I’m always expanding my knowledge of History wherever I can. Just recently, I’ve been getting to grips with Russia, reading Richard Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime.
As an individual, I’ve always been interested in the Leopold Von Ranke-esque perception of History, where the historian aims to understand history whilst leaving contemporary prejudices at the door. US University’s course on the Second World War, and the peri-centric approach mentioned within the course details, where students will study the lesser powers in World War II suggest that this is an institution committed to inclusion and diversity of history. I’ve always been fascinated with History in terms of hearing from groups/nations who aren’t the typical capitalist superpowers presented to us by mainline historical scholarship.
My interest in studying history comes both as a result of interest, and as a stepping-stone into a career in Journalism. A History degree would act as evidence of my ability to research and disseminate information into a concise and compelling format. Ever since high school I’ve wanted to pursue a career where I can engage with ideas. Indeed, I would be well place to communicate with others in lectures and seminars as I have read enough over time to become quite fluent at presenting information and arguing a point.
After completing a work experience placement at a local newspaper recently I have known that Journalism was the career for me. As part of my experience, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the local journalists, helping to source research for articles through a mixture of online and print based sources. It was my responsibility to ensure that what was written down was accurate and to organize this data so that it could be included within an article. I even got the chance to ghost write on a couple of smaller pieces. Personally, I found this experience to be incredibly rewarding, and with a History degree from US University, I’ll be well placed to enter into a career in Journalism.
Outside of my schoolwork, I’m always staying active, whether its playing basketball with friends or going to the gym, I’m always pushing myself. When I’m not at school or out moving about I’m at home reading. If I’m not holding a book I’ll be on YouTube watching political commentary or debates to unwind (well, most of the time!). I thrive off absorbing ideas from new books. My favorite book would have to be The Prince by Machiavelli. I found the way that Machiavelli eschews traditional morality in favor of tyrannical pragmatism to be very interesting and disturbing. Famously, Machiavelli suggests it is ‘better to be feared than loved’, and I find it interesting how his recommendation of ‘fear’ as a tool of rule would leave him admired by later dictators like Mussolini. I’d be very interested in learning more about Machiavelli and tackling his work as part of the University’s Renaissance module. Exposing myself to these unorthodox political ideas is part of what has made me want to go into political journalism, to engage with ideas that others have put out there, and to critique them.
College Essay Example #7
Since I was a child, I’ve always been competitive. Whilst other kids were out playing football, I was in the boxing gym working hard. I’ve always enjoyed football, but for me there was a whole new level of pressure and competition in Boxing that you didn’t get by playing team sports. I’ve found it immensely rewarding to push myself to the limit. As I grew older at high school I began to look for an avenue that I could make a real career out of, and by chance I stumbled upon an old episode of the TV show Law and Order. I found the idea of being a lawyer and being judged on your performance to be incredibly interesting.
To me, being a lawyer meant working in a meritocratic environment where you are rewarded on your performance. I’ve always had the tenacity to hold strong under pressure, and have the innate ability to thrive in high-pressure environments. With my schoolwork, I’ve always done well because of my dedication to just putting my head down and working hard. At Harvard Law School, I’m going to be the one putting in the hours to get the grades I want. I’m comfortable with throwing myself into a routine, and ensuring that my reading gets done.
I’m driven to study at Harvard because it’s the most prolific law school in the world. Harvard Law School has become synonymous with the study of law across the world, and for good reason. As an elite academic institution, Harvard Law School has the capacity not just to forge careers, but also to forge illustrious careers. I am confident that I am of the character, ability, and intestinal fortitude to thrive in such an environment. For me this is an opportunity to stand out from my peers and to create the life that I want to live. A degree from Harvard Law School will place the keys of my future in law well within my own hands.
Recently, I completed a work experience placement shadowing a lawyer, and have had the opportunity to sit and observe a number of trials. I’ve become familiar with the day-to-day running’s of a law firm, and as part of the role I was responsible for assisting the Lawyer with his research and double-checking documents. I saw that being a Lawyer was a lot of work, but this did not deter me, as I’ve always been a hard worker. Whilst others have been finishing their school day and going home, I’ve been going straight to work at a bar. When others finish up their lectures for the day to go home, I’ll be the one getting work done at the library before starting a 6-hour shift. I’ve always been a firm believer that you get out of life what you put in, and I’m always putting in 100%. Amongst my studies and my work, I’ll definitely be checking out the boxing society, and with aim to compete later in my first year.
With my commitment to working hard, I will be well placed within the culture of Harvard Law School. Work as a Lawyer will be incredibly demanding and time consuming, and I intend to put myself through the paces throughout the duration of the degree so that I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I land my first role as a lawyer. Most importantly of all, I’m willing to fail in order to learn. If I don’t get the grade I want on an assignment, I’m not going to start to crumble under pressure, I’m going to take the feedback on the chin and get back in the library to get the grades I want.
College Essay Example #8
While I like to read, play soccer, be in the outdoors, and hang out with my friends, my passion is music. It started when as a 7 year olds and has blossomed into something I would have never expected. I have learned how to work hard and about victory and defeat. Music has led me on many adventures, helped me find my identity, and shaped who I am today.
One of my first significant experiences as a musician came in the sixth grade. My school did not offer band classes until middle school, but by that age I had been studying a few years with a private instructor and was a member of a community youth orchestra. When I arrived at school, I quickly discovered that I was one of the best musicians in my grade and was given the opportunity to join three bands: the sixth grade band, the seventh grade band, and the jazz band (which was normally limited to seventh and eighth graders).
I reluctantly performed a short trumpet solo during our first performance before the student body. I worked hard on the piece and it went well, but what I remember most was that when I walked down the halls after the concert other sixth graders congratulated me. I did not know many of them, but they told me how “cool” it was that I played with the jazz band. While it may sound vein, this experience allowed me at a young and impressionable age to embrace who I am and gave me self-confidence, pride, and a sense of identity.
That spring I also auditioned for two all-district bands with the best seventh and eighth graders in the county (even though I was only in sixth grade). The experience did not go as well – I was nervous and did a terrible job. I was devastated, but soon realized that if I truly wanted to be great I had to dedicate myself to working harder and learning to handle stress better. I have drawn on these lessons many times in high school. I joined the marching and jazz bands, and made multiple all-district and all-state bands. In addition, when faced with peer pressure or when it would have been easy to question who I am, I was better able to be steadfast and grounded than many of my peers.
My greatest musical achievement happened at the end of my junior year when I participated in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. I stopped working afterschool my last two quarters and doubled my practice time to prepare for the audition. I remembered what I learned going as far back as sixth grade and gave one of the best performances of my life. I then spent a few weeks in New York with a group of students from around the country studying music with an impressive cast of professional musicians. We worked ten to twelve hour days and learned to push our lungs to new levels.
On the last night before we left for a tour in Latin America, we had a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The venue was filed with our parents, a few political and sports celebrities, and many others dressed in their finest. At the end of the concert, as we finished the last note, the entire crowd erupted in applause. I looked into the eyes of my fellow musicians and we shared a moment of pride and accomplishment. I knew in my heart that all my hard work had been worth it and this is what I was meant to do.
College Essay Example #9
I was that “that” teenager who told his parents at the end of high school that he needed to “find himself” and who received a collective eye roll from every adult in a 5 mile radius. I did not know who I was or what I wanted, but I knew I was not ready to go to college. I also knew that I did not want to be one of those “spoiled rich kids” that sat home playing video games and partying on the weekends. Instead, I took the $2000 I had saved up from my afterschool job; bought a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag; and had an adventure that has forever changed my life and prepared me to go to college.
I left the house with the goal of circling the globe over the next year, working along the way to make enough money to eat and travel to my next city. I worked about a dozen jobs, from cleaning out horse stalls in Argentina to fast food in the Philippines. The reality is that, up to that point, I had never really understood the value of money or had to work to survive. I lived in Greece for two months working for a fisherman mending and cleaning his fishing nets. At the end of the day, he would inspect my work and if it was satisfactory I would get paid – if it was not, I was not paid that day. It did not take me long to figure out how to take pride in my work.
I faced dangers that I had never experienced at home. In São Paulo, Brazil, one of my temporary travel companions was robbed at gunpoint while I was chased down the street. In the same city, the children would not go to school during periods of heightened gang violence out of fear for their safety. It was difficult to then be asked by those same kids about my school experiences and why I had chosen to leave home.
Most of all, I learned that most people are generally the same. Regardless of region, economic class, skin color, religion, or gender most people are just trying to do the best they can to navigate their challenges with dignity and give their children more than they have. Towards the end of my journey, I stayed a few weeks in France with a family friend. We talked frequently about what I had seen and observed over the prior months, and I shared this hypothesis with the father. To my surprise, he opened up to me about the struggles he faced raising his children. While he did not to have to worry about whether his kids had enough food to eat, his concerns were just as sincere and real, and I saw in him much of what I had seen in others. While this may not be profound to some, it was for me particularly in light of the negativity and demonization that seems to dominate so much of the public discourse in the United States.
I did not walk away from my year-long adventure with a clear roadmap for my entire life. I do not know for sure what I am going to major in or what will be my final career choose. But I did gain perspective on what the world is really like and my place in it; I learned how to work hard and the dignity that comes from doing so; and I learned how lucky I truly am and the type of life I want to provide for my kids.
I am grateful for the experiences I had and am now better prepared to move forward into adulthood. I hope to have the opportunity to start my next great adventure at your university.
College Essay Example #10
My parent’s favorite television show is a political drama called The West Wing that that went off the air about 10 years ago. Growing up, I frequently walked into a room to find them watching old episodes and, in one such episode, the President of the United States closed a discussion with a group of college students by counseling: “decisions are made by those who show up.” The quote stuck with me, but it was not until recently that I came to understand what it meant.
I will be honest – I initially joined Key Club International, a service organization, because I thought it would look good on a college application. As part of my membership, I was required to complete at least fifty hours of service. I decided the easiest way to complete the requirement was to set up a regular volunteer project and so I agreed to work at the local soup kitchen every other Saturday morning. For the first year, I went on my designated mornings, helped out, and went home, but I began to notice that other student volunteers frequently missed their allotted time and left the facility understaffed.
I could tell this really bothered the Director of the program and it took away from her ability to serve the soup kitchen’s clients. Innocently, I mentioned to the Director that more students may show up on time if she sent them a reminder via text message. She thought it was a good idea and asked if I would mind sending out the messages next week, and so I did. The response was positive and more of the students arrived on time for their shifts.
Over the next few months, the Director continued to ask me questions about how best to engage student volunteers. I helped her set up accounts on various social media platforms, create better internal volunteer tracking charts, and plan a presentation she could make at local schools to recruit volunteers and increase awareness. The Director asked me to join her at one of the presentations and, while I was nervous, I enjoyed sharing my positive experiences with the other students.
At the end of my junior year, the Director was asked to make a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors about the student outreach program and what had made it so successful. She brought me with her and asked that I give part of the presentation. I received a very warm reception from the Board and, at the end, the Chairwoman pulled me aside and asked if I would join a county commission on hunger and poverty. She explained that the Board was struggling to find new solutions to the growing issues facing underprivileged children in the county. I was honored to accept and have since spent a few hours a month at the county offices working on the commission. It has gone so well that both the Chairwoman and the Director offered to write me letters of recommendation to college.
The reality is that I am not more talented than my fellow students. I do not have some great technical knowledge, I am not particularly outgoing, and I am not a great public speaker. But I was willing to show up and help. By doing so, what was meant to be a simple volunteer project two times a month developed into a great adventure where I have met many fantastic people, done things most teenagers never consider possible, and had lots of fun.
I look forward to taking what I have learned with me as I go to college. I hope to have many opportunities to provide service and improve myself, and I am excited to see what adventures the next 4 years bring.
For more tips and advice on applying to college in the U.S, please see:
- Choosing a college
- Ivy League universities
- How to write a college essay
- Budgeting for college
- Admissions tests
- Fees & funding