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College Admissions , College Essays

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

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

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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

Visible Signs of Planning

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

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

Stellar Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

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

Common App Essay Samples

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

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

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

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

Connecticut college.

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

Hamilton College

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

Johns Hopkins

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

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

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

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

Other Sample College Essays

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

Babson College

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

Emory University

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

University of Georgia

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

Smith College

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

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Books of College Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

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

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

I had never broken into a car before.

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

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

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

"Why me?" I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Essay Tick?

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

An Opening Line That Draws You In

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

Great, Detailed Opening Story

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

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

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

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

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

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

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

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

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

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

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

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

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

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

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

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

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

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Clear Governing Metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

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

#1: Get Help From the Experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

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

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

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

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What's Next?

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

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

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

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

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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

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

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Advice for Writing Application Essays

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The resources in this section provide a general timeline for undergraduate applications. In this section you will also find more detailed information about each stage in the application process, as well as a handout on writing the admissions application essay.

Advice for Writing Successful Application Essays

When you sit down to write your application essays, there is very little left that you can control. You should have already taken, or retaken, the SAT and ACT, your grades from your first three years of high school are set on your transcript, and your recommenders all have their impressions of you that are unlikely to change before the recommendation deadline. The only thing that left in your control is your writing for the application essay.

As with all things related to your college application, you will need to start drafting your application essay far ahead of the due date. In fact, you should move each school’s deadline up two weeks so that no unexpected events prevent you from completing and submitting your application. The reason that you need so much time to work on your essay is primarily because many schools will ask you to write about similar topics, but to do so in different ways. You will need enough time to draft essays that address each of these questions or prompts for each school to which you are applying.

Don't use boilerplate essays. That is, resist the urge to reuse the exact same essay for different schools if each of them is giving you a slightly different writing prompt. You can, of course, adapt the same essay for similar prompts. Many schools do allow you to use the Common Application essay for admission to several participating schools. For more information on the Common Application and to check which schools participate as members, click here .

Although using the Common Application does simplify the processes, make sure that you review each of the schools’ application requirements. as many of these same schools also request that you submit a second essay along with the Common Application essay. For instance, in addition to answering one of the standard Common Application questions, Amherst College asks that you write an additional essay responding to one of several quotations.

Before you can start writing your essay, you will need to begin by reading the prompts and questions carefully. Even the Common Application has six prompts that you can choose from. Don’t feel as though you must choose one immediately after reading them. You should ask yourself what sticks out the most for you after having read through them. Think about what is most salient for you.

Brainstorm by putting your thoughts on paper. You can free write (writing without stopping or censoring yourself), create word association maps (visually clustering concepts that you feel go together), or keep a journal over the course of several days so that you can collect your thoughts in one place. See the Purdue OWL's PowerPoint on “ Finding your Focus ” for more details on these strategies.

After you have generated several ideas, reflect on where you find the most intensity or excitement in what you were writing. If nothing jumps out at you, keep brainstorming or talk with others about some possible topics until something grabs you.

Once you know what want to write about, put a rough draft on paper. Don’t be afraid of stray thoughts if they lead you to something more interesting than you had set out to write. Just make sure that you eventually come to have a rough draft that is about one thing.

Look over your draft and check for the following.

  • Your writing should be personal. After reading your essay, does it seem like anyone could have written this? Make sure that your essay captures who you are.
  • You writing should show, not tell, through vivid language. Successful essays relate an experience or analyze a pattern from the writer’s life. It is not enough to make general claims about what impacted your decision to go to college, for instance; you must elaborate by including evidence that answers “how” and “why” when you make your claims.

It is important to note that admissions officers care as much about your structure, style, and insights as they do about your content. That is not meant to add an extra layer of anxiety to your writing process, but to highlight the fact that you don’t necessarily need to have something life-changing to write about in order to write a successful essay. As Dowhan, Dowhan and Kaufman note in Essays that Will Get You into College , “Personal does not have to mean heavy, emotional or even inspiring” (10). In fact, as the authors explain, students might over rely on the significant event that they write about to speak for itself and don’t “explain what it meant to them or give a solid example of how it changed them. In other words, they do not make it personal” (10).

Finally, your writing should be about a sustained topic. You must use vivid description with a purpose. What is it that you learned because of this experience? What message can you decipher from the series of events that you present? What led you to your conclusions?

Once you have completed your rough draft, put it away for a few days. Afterwards, read the question again and look through your essay. Ask yourself if the essay answers the prompt. Is it personal? Does it use vivid language? Is it focused on one topic? Rewrite whatever needs to be strengthened. This is a great time to have other people look through your draft and get their reaction. Make sure that you ask someone early, and that you trust this person’s judgment; they will be putting in a lot of time to help you, so don’t disregard anything that is inconvenient or that you don’t want to hear.

Again, giving yourself plenty of time to work on this essay is vital. You should have enough time to rewrite or restructure your essay based on the feedback that you have received. As you are drafting and revising, feel free to fix any mistakes that you catch in terms of spelling, grammar, and mechanics, but don’t spend too much time editing early on in the writing process. Working on lower-order concerns can give you the impression that the essay is ready to submit prematurely. Instead, use this time to strengthen the main points of your essay.

To supplement the advice offered on this page, you can find a handout on writing the admissions application essay here .

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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

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Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay
  • Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
  • Brainstorming tips for your college essay
  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
  • Taking your college essay to the next level
  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
  • Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem

Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

Pose a question the reader wants answered, don't focus exclusively on the past, experiment with the unexpected, don't summarize, want to join the conversation.

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How to Write a College Application Essay

Find the right college for you..

Your essay reveals something important about you that your grades and test scores can't─your personality. It can give admissions officers a sense of who you are and showcase your writing ability. Here are some things that admissions officers look for in a personal essay for college.

1. Open Strong.

Knowing how to start a college essay can create a strong opening paragraph that immediately captures the reader’s interest. You want to make the admissions officer reading your essay curious about what you say next.

2. Show You Can Write.

Colleges want to see that you have a command of the basics of good writing, which is a key component of success in college.

3. Answer the Prompt.

Admissions officers also want to see that the student can give a direct answer while sticking to a comprehensive narrative. When writing college essays, consider the point you want to make and develop a fleshed-out response that fits the prompt. Avoid force-fitting prewritten pieces. Approach every personal essay prompt as if it's your first.

4. Stick to Your Style.

Writing college essays isn't about using flowery or verbose prose. Avoid leaning too heavily on the thesaurus to sound impressive. Choose a natural writing style that’s appropriate for the subject matter.

Also, avoid stressing about trying to write what you think colleges want to see. Learning how to draft a good essay for college is about showcasing who you are. Stay true to your voice. Keep in mind that authenticity is more important than anything else.

5. Proofread.

Correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling are essential. Proofread several times after you've finished. Then ask a teacher, parent, or college English major to give it a quick read as well.

6. Keep Track of Length.

Finally, admissions officers value succinctness. Remember to pay attention to the recommended essay length or word count.

Bonus Tips and College Essay Writing Help

For more on how to write a college essay, check out these Tips for Writing Your College Admissions Essay .

What is the college application essay?

A personal essay for college applications is an opportunity for admission admissions panels to get more insight into who you are and what you have to offer. It's often the most personal component of the application, going beyond grades and standardized test scores. Essays usually have open-ended prompts, allowing you to flex your writing skills and make a personal statement.

Does my college application essay really matter?

Learning how to write a successful essay for college is crucial. This essay's exact weight on your chances of acceptance varies from one school to the next. But it's an element of your application that all admissions teams consider. Your essay could be the thing that gets you off a waiting list or gives you a competitive edge over other applicants.

What are colleges looking for in my application essay?

Knowing what to include in a college essay is half the battle. Admissions teams look for many things, but the most influential are authenticity, writing ability, character details, and positive traits. The purpose of the essay is to shed light on your background and gain perspective on your real-world experiences.

When should I start writing my college essay?

Because you'll want to tailor each application to each school, expect to write multiple personal essays. Advisers typically recommend starting these pieces during the summer before your senior year of high school. This will give you ample time to concentrate on writing a college essay before you're hit with schoolwork.

What can I do to write an effective college essay if I'm not a strong writer?

Good writing skills matter, but the best college essay is about the quality of your response. Authentic stories in a natural voice have impact. The story you want to tell about yourself will work better for you if it’s told in language that’s not overly sophisticated. Work with a writing coach for help with the academic aspects. Make responding with substance a priority.

How can I write my college essay if I have no monumental experiences?

You don't need life-changing moments to impress an admissions panel. Think about your personal experiences. Describe moments that left a lasting impact. The important thing is to have a fleshed-out narrative that provides insight into your life and way of thinking. Some of the best essays revolve around meaningful moments rather than flashy ones.

How should I start brainstorming topics for my college essay?

Most colleges provide open-ended prompts. Using the topic as inspiration, think about critical milestones or essential lessons you learned during your academic career. Tell stories about real-life experiences that have shaped the person you are. Write them down to brainstorm ideas. Choose stories that highlight your best traits.

What is a good list of essay topics to start with? What essay topics should I avoid?

Good topics when writing college essays include personal achievements, meaningful lessons, life-changing challenges, and situations that fostered personal growth. It's best to avoid anything too intimate or controversial. You want to open up, but it's not a good idea to go overboard or alienate members of the admissions panel.

What format should I use for my college essay?

Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

How long should my essay be?

The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

Who should I ask to review my college essay?

Turn to your school counselor for review. They understand what college admissions panels are looking for, and they can provide valuable insight into your piece's quality. You can also reach out to English teachers and other educators for proofreading.

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  • College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn’t

College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't

Published on November 8, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on August 14, 2023.

One effective method for improving your college essay is to read example essays . Here are three sample essays, each with a bad and good version to help you improve your own essay.

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Table of contents

Essay 1: sharing an identity or background through a montage, essay 2: overcoming a challenge, a sports injury narrative, essay 3: showing the influence of an important person or thing, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student’s identity and background. The writer builds her essay around the theme of the five senses, sharing memories she associates with sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

In the weak rough draft, there is little connection between the individual anecdotes, and they do not robustly demonstrate the student’s qualities.

In the final version, the student uses an extended metaphor of a museum to create a strong connection among her stories, each showcasing a different part of her identity. She draws a specific personal insight from each memory and uses the stories to demonstrate her qualities and values.

How My Five Senses Record My Life

Throughout my life, I have kept a record of my life’s journey with my five senses. This collection of memories matters a great deal because I experience life every day through the lens of my identity.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

My classmate pulls one eye up and the other down.

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention to my discomfort, anger, and shame. How could he say such a mean thing about me? What did I do to him? Joseph’s words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Soaking in overflowing bubble baths with Andrew Lloyd Webber belting from the boombox.

Listening to “Cell Block Tango” with my grandparents while eating filet mignon at a dine-in show in Ashland.

Singing “The Worst Pies in London” at a Korean karaoke club while laughing hysterically with my brother, who can do an eerily spot-on rendition of Sweeney Todd.

Taking car rides with Mom in the Toyota Sequoia as we compete to hit the high note in “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera . Neither of us stands a chance!

The sweet scent of vegetables, Chinese noodles, and sushi wafts through the room as we sit around the table. My grandma presents a good-smelling mixture of international cuisine for our Thanksgiving feast. My favorite is the Chinese food that she cooks. Only the family prayer stands between me and the chance to indulge in these delicious morsels, comforting me with their familiar savory scents.

I rinse a faded plastic plate decorated by my younger sister at the Waterworks Art Center. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. I actually don’t mind this daily chore.

I taste sweat on my upper lip as I fight to continue pedaling on a stationary bike. Ava’s next to me and tells me to go up a level. We’re biking buddies, dieting buddies, and Saturday morning carbo-load buddies. After the bike display hits 30 minutes, we do a five-minute cool down, drink Gatorade, and put our legs up to rest.

My five senses are always gathering new memories of my identity. I’m excited to expand my collection.

Word count: 455

College essay checklist

Topic and structure

  • I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • My essay reveals something different from the rest of my application.
  • I have a clear and well-structured narrative.
  • I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

Writing style and tone

  • I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of tells.
  • I’ve used appropriate style and tone for a college essay.
  • I’ve used specific, vivid personal stories that would be hard to replicate.
  • I’ve demonstrated my positive traits and values in my essay.
  • My essay is focused on me, not another person or thing.
  • I’ve included self-reflection and insight in my essay.
  • I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Making Sense of My Identity

Welcome to The Rose Arimoto Museum. You are about to enter the “Making Sense of My Identity” collection. Allow me to guide you through select exhibits, carefully curated memories from Rose’s sensory experiences.

First, the Sight Exhibit.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention as my lip trembles and palms sweat. Joseph couldn’t have known how his words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Ten years later, these same eyes now fixate on an InDesign layout sheet, searching for grammar errors while my friend Selena proofreads our feature piece on racial discrimination in our hometown. As we’re the school newspaper editors, our journalism teacher Ms. Riley allows us to stay until midnight to meet tomorrow’s deadline. She commends our work ethic, which for me is fueled by writing一my new weapon of choice.

Next, you’ll encounter the Sound Exhibit.

Still, the world is my Broadway as I find my voice on stage.

Just below, enter the Smell Exhibit.

While I help my Pau Pau prepare dinner, she divulges her recipe for cha siu bau, with its soft, pillowy white exterior hiding the fragrant filling of braised barbecue pork inside. The sweet scent of candied yams, fun see , and Spam musubi wafts through the room as we gather around our Thankgsiving feast. After our family prayer, we indulge in these delicious morsels until our bellies say stop. These savory scents of my family’s cultural heritage linger long after I’ve finished the last bite.

Next up, the Touch Exhibit.

I rinse a handmade mug that I had painstakingly molded and painted in ceramics class. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. For a few fleeting moments, as I continue my nightly chore, the pressure of my weekend job, tomorrow’s calculus exam, and next week’s track meet are washed away.

Finally, we end with the Taste Exhibit.

My legs fight to keep pace with the stationary bike as the salty taste of sweat seeps into corners of my mouth. Ava challenges me to take it up a level. We always train together一even keeping each other accountable on our strict protein diet of chicken breasts, broccoli, and Muscle Milk. We occasionally splurge on Saturday mornings after interval training, relishing the decadence of everything bagels smeared with raspberry walnut cream cheese. But this is Wednesday, so I push myself. I know that once the digital display hits 30:00, we’ll allow our legs to relax into a five-minute cool down, followed by the fiery tang of Fruit Punch Gatorade to rehydrate.

Thank you for your attention. This completes our tour. I invite you to rejoin us for next fall’s College Experience collection, which will exhibit Rose’s continual search for identity and learning.

Word count: 649

  • I’ve crafted an essay introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

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This essay uses a narrative structure to recount how a student overcame a challenge, specifically a sports injury. Since this topic is often overused, the essay requires vivid description, a memorable introduction and conclusion , and interesting insight.

The weak rough draft contains an interesting narrative, insight, and vivid imagery, but it has an overly formal tone that distracts the reader from the story. The student’s use of elaborate vocabulary in every sentence makes the essay sound inauthentic and stilted.

The final essay uses a more natural, conversational tone and chooses words that are vivid and specific without being pretentious. This allows the reader to focus on the narrative and appreciate the student’s unique insight.

One fateful evening some months ago, a defensive linebacker mauled me, his 212 pounds indisputably alighting upon my ankle. Ergo, an abhorrent cracking of calcified tissue. At first light the next day, I awoke cognizant of a new paradigm—one sans football—promulgated by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

It’s been an exceedingly taxing semester not being able to engage in football, but I am nonetheless excelling in school. That twist of fate never would have come to pass if I hadn’t broken my ankle. I still limp down the halls at school, but I’m feeling less maudlin these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, emboldened by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

Five months ago, right after my ill-fated injury, my friends’ demeanor became icy and remote, although I couldn’t fathom why. My teachers, in contrast, beckoned me close and invited me on a new learning journey. But despite their indubitably kind advances, even they recoiled when I drew near.

A few weeks later, I started to change my attitude vis-à-vis my newfound situation and determined to put my energy toward productive ends (i.e., homework). I wasn’t enamored with school. I never had been. Nevertheless, I didn’t abhor it either. I just preferred football.

My true turn of fate came when I started studying more and participating in class. I started to enjoy history class, and I grew interested in reading more. I discovered a volume of poems written by a fellow adventurer on the road of life, and I loved it. I ravenously devoured everything in the writer’s oeuvre .

As the weeks flitted past, I found myself spending my time with a group of people who were quite different from me. They participated in theater and played instruments in marching band. They raised their hands in class when the teacher posed a question. Because of their auspicious influence, I started raising my hand too. I am no longer vapid, and I now have something to say.

I am certain that your school would benefit from my miraculous academic transformation, and I entreat you to consider my application to your fine institution. Accepting me to your university would be an unequivocally righteous decision.

Word count: 408

  • I’ve chosen a college essay topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • I’ve respected the essay word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

As I step out of bed, the pain shoots through my foot and up my leg like it has every morning since “the game.” That night, a defensive linebacker tackled me, his 212 pounds landing decidedly on my ankle. I heard the sound before I felt it. The next morning, I awoke to a new reality—one without football—announced by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

My broken ankle broke my spirit.

My friends steered clear of me as I hobbled down the halls at school. My teachers tried to find the delicate balance between giving me space and offering me help. I was as unsure how to deal with myself as they were.

In time, I figured out how to redirect some of my frustration, anger, and pent-up energy toward my studies. I had never not liked school, but I had never really liked it either. In my mind, football practice was my real-life classroom, where I could learn all I ever needed to know.

Then there was that day in Mrs. Brady’s history class. We sang a ridiculous-sounding mnemonic song to memorize all the Chinese dynasties from Shang to Qing. I mumbled the words at first, but I got caught up in the middle of the laughter and began singing along. Starting that day, I began browsing YouTube videos about history, curious to learn more. I had started learning something new, and, to my surprise, I liked it.

With my afternoons free from burpees and scrimmages, I dared to crack open a few more of my books to see what was in them. That’s when my English poetry book, Paint Me Like I Am , caught my attention. It was full of poems written by students my age from WritersCorps. I couldn’t get enough.

I wasn’t the only one who was taken with the poems. Previously, I’d only been vaguely aware of Christina as one of the weird kids I avoided. Crammed in the margins of her high-top Chuck Taylors were scribbled lines of her own poetry and infinite doodles. Beyond her punk rock persona was a sensitive artist, puppy-lover, and environmental activist that a wide receiver like me would have never noticed before.

With Christina, I started making friends with people who once would have been invisible to me: drama geeks, teachers’ pets, band nerds. Most were college bound but not to play a sport. They were smart and talented, and they cared about people and politics and all sorts of issues that I hadn’t considered before. Strangely, they also seemed to care about me.

I still limp down the halls at school, but I don’t seem to mind as much these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, excited by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

My broken ankle broke my spirit. Then, it broke my ignorance.

Word count: 512

This essay uses a narrative structure to show how a pet positively influenced the student’s values and character.

In the weak draft, the student doesn’t focus on himself, instead delving into too much detail about his dog’s positive traits and his grandma’s illness. The essay’s structure is meandering, with tangents and details that don’t communicate any specific insight.

In the improved version, the student keeps the focus on himself, not his pet. He chooses the most relevant stories to demonstrate specific qualities, and the structure more clearly builds up to an insightful conclusion.

Man’s Best Friend

I desperately wanted a cat. I begged my parents for one, but once again, my sisters overruled me, so we drove up the Thompson Valley Canyon from Loveland to Estes Park to meet our newest family member. My sisters had already hatched their master plan, complete with a Finding Nemo blanket to entice the pups. The blanket was a hit with all of them, except for one—the one who walked over and sat in my lap. That was the day that Francisco became a Villanova.

Maybe I should say he was mine because I got stuck with all the chores. As expected, my dog-loving sisters were nowhere to be found! My mom was “extra” with all the doggy gear. Cisco even had to wear these silly little puppy shoes outside so that when he came back in, he wouldn’t get the carpets dirty. If it was raining, my mother insisted I dress Cisco in a ridiculous yellow raincoat, but, in my opinion, it was an unnecessary source of humiliation for poor Cisco. It didn’t take long for Cisco to decide that his outerwear could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I took off one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his ensemble more when we had to walk through snowdrifts to get his job done.

When my abuela was dying from cancer, we went in the middle of the night to see her before she passed. I was sad and scared. But, my dad let me take Cisco in the car, so Cisco cuddled with me and made me feel much better. It’s like he could read my mind. Once we arrived at the hospital, the fluorescent lighting made the entire scene seem unreal, as if I was watching the scene unfold through someone else’s eyes. My grandma lay calmly on her bed, smiling at us even through her last moments of pain. I disliked seeing the tubes and machines hooked up to her. It was unnatural to see her like this一it was so unlike the way I usually saw her beautiful in her flowery dress, whistling a Billie Holiday tune and baking snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained at the foot of the bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that seemed more effective at communicating comfort and compassion than the rest of us who attempted to offer up words of comfort that just seemed hollow and insincere. It was then that I truly appreciated Cisco’s empathy for others.

As I accompanied my dad to pick up our dry cleaner’s from Ms. Chapman, a family friend asked, “How’s Cisco?” before even asking about my sisters or me. Cisco is the Villanova family mascot, a Goldendoodle better recognized by strangers throughout Loveland than the individual members of my family.

On our summer trip to Boyd Lake State Park, we stayed at the Cottonwood campground for a breathtaking view of the lake. Cisco was allowed to come, but we had to keep him on a leash at all times. After a satisfying meal of fish, our entire family walked along the beach. Cisco and I led the way while my mom and sisters shuffled behind. Cisco always stopped and refused to move, looking back to make sure the others were still following. Once satisfied that everyone was together, he would turn back around and continue prancing with his golden boy curly locks waving in the chilly wind.

On the beach, Cisco “accidentally” got let off his leash and went running maniacally around the sand, unfettered and free. His pure joy as he raced through the sand made me forget about my AP Chem exam or my student council responsibilities. He brings a smile not only to my family members but everyone around him.

Cisco won’t live forever, but without words, he has impressed upon me life lessons of responsibility, compassion, loyalty, and joy. I can’t imagine life without him.

Word count: 701

I quickly figured out that as “the chosen one,” I had been enlisted by Cisco to oversee all aspects of his “business.” I learned to put on Cisco’s doggie shoes to keep the carpet clean before taking him out一no matter the weather. Soon after, Cisco decided that his shoes could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I removed one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his footwear more after I’d gear him up and we’d tread through the snow for his daily walks.

One morning, it was 7:15 a.m., and Alejandro was late again to pick me up. “Cisco, you don’t think he overslept again, do you?” Cisco barked, as if saying, “Of course he did!” A text message would never do, so I called his dad, even if it was going to get him in trouble. There was no use in both of us getting another tardy during our first-period class, especially since I was ready on time after taking Cisco for his morning outing. Alejandro was mad at me but not too much. He knew I had helped him out, even if he had to endure his dad’s lecture on punctuality.

Another early morning, I heard my sister yell, “Mom! Where are my good ballet flats? I can’t find them anywhere!” I hesitated and then confessed, “I moved them.” She shrieked at me in disbelief, but I continued, “I put them in your closet, so Cisco wouldn’t chew them up.” More disbelief. However, this time, there was silence instead of shrieking.

Last spring, Cisco and I were fast asleep when the phone rang at midnight. Abuela would not make it through the night after a long year of chemo, but she was in Pueblo, almost three hours away. Sitting next to me for that long car ride on I-25 in pitch-black darkness, Cisco knew exactly what I needed and snuggled right next to me as I petted his coat in a rhythm while tears streamed down my face. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained sitting at the foot of the hospital bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that communicated more comfort than our hollow words. Since then, whenever I sense someone is upset, I sit in silence with them or listen to their words, just like Cisco did.

The other day, one of my friends told me, “You’re a strange one, Josue. You’re not like everybody else but in a good way.” I didn’t know what he meant at first. “You know, you’re super responsible and grown-up. You look out for us instead of yourself. Nobody else does that.” I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t trying to do anything different. I was just being me. But then I realized who had taught me: a fluffy little puppy who I had wished was a cat! I didn’t choose Cisco, but he certainly chose me and, unexpectedly, became my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Word count: 617

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

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Writing A College Application Essay

College Application Essay Examples

Cathy A.

22+ Winning College Application Essay Examples For Your Inspiration

Published on: Feb 18, 2019

Last updated on: Jan 16, 2024

College Application Essay Examples

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"Congratulations, you've been accepted!" Imagine opening up your acceptance letter and feeling a rush of excitement as you read the words. 

Feels great, doesn't it?

But with so much riding on one application essay, how do you make it truly stand out and captivate your panel?

That's where our collection of the best college application essays steps in.

Check out our expert examples that will help you write an essay that stands out from the rest. Our examples are engaging, descriptive, and informative - perfect for any student looking to make their application stand out.

So read this blog to turn your college application essay into your ticket to success!

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Good College Application Essay Examples

Crafting a standout college application essay can be a daunting task, but finding inspiration in the form of good examples can make the writing process significantly more manageable.

Here is a successful college application with its complete analysis:

This essay tells a simple story about the applicant's interest in computer science, their challenges, and what they want to do in the future. It's straightforward and easy to understand.

  • Engaging Introduction : The essay starts with a comparison to an adventure to make it interesting.
  • Narrative Flow: The essay follows a story-like structure, talking about the challenges faced and what the applicant learned.
  • Specific Details : It gives specific examples like the summer job and coding contests to show what they've done.
  • Relevance to the College : The essay says why the applicant wants to go to the college, making it personal.
  • Personal Growth : It shows that the applicant learned and didn't give up.

The following are some example college essays for you to understand better.

College Application Essay Examples PDF

College Application Essay Examples 300 Words

College Application Essay Examples 500 Words

College Application Essay Examples 600 Words

College Application Essay Examples 650 Words

College Application Essay Examples 1000 Words

Personal statement college application essay example 500 Words pdf

College Application Essay Examples for High School Senior

College Application Essay Examples About Yourself

Personal Essay Examples for College Application

College Application Essay Examples for Universities

Many famous education institutes require students to write essays in their given format. Here are some college application essay examples to help you get admission in different universities.

College Program Application Essay Examples

College Scholarship Application Essay Examples

College Transfer Application Essay Examples

Common College Application Essay Examples

UC College Application Essay Examples

Honors College Application Essay Examples

Order Essay

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Subject Related College Application Essay Examples

Sometimes, students also have to write essays on different subjects. Here are some examples of college essays for students who have a background in medicine or technology.

Nursing College Application Essay Examples

College Application Essay Examples Computer Science

Engineering College Application Essay Examples

Art College Application Essay Examples

Veteran College Application Examples

college application essay examples about sports

How to Write a College Application Essay

The college application essay is a crucial component of your application package, offering admissions officers a unique glimpse into your personality, experiences, and aspirations. 

To make a lasting impression, it's essential to know how to start and end a college application essay effectively.

Here are examples of how to start and end your college application essay:

How to Start a College Application Essay - Examples

Common App Essay Prompts

When you apply to colleges and universities using the common essay prompts, you can create a personal essay where you can share your individual story.

These prompts are your chance to stand out and show admissions officers who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

Here are some college application essay prompts for you:

  • Background, Identity, or Talent : Share a meaningful aspect of your background or identity.
  • Overcoming Challenges : Describe a time you faced a challenge or setback and what you learned.
  • Questioning Beliefs : Reflect on when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea.
  • Problem-Solving : Discuss a problem you've solved or one you'd like to address.
  • Personal Growth : Describe an event that led to personal growth and self-discovery.

Need more prompts? Read our college application essay prompts blog!

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Tips for Writing an Effective College Application Essay

Remember, your college application essay is an opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and aspirations. 

Here are some tips for writing college application essays:

  • Start Early : Begin the essay-writing process well in advance of your application deadlines. This allows you to brainstorm, draft, revise, and edit your essay thoroughly, ensuring it's the best it can be.
  • Understand the Prompt: Carefully read and understand the essay prompt or question. Make sure your essay directly addresses the question or topic. If the prompt has multiple parts, address each one in your essay.
  • Be Authentic : Your essay should reflect your unique voice and experiences. Be yourself, and don't try to write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.
  • Tell a Story : Engage the reader by telling a personal story or anecdote. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture, and allow your experiences to reveal your character, values, and aspirations.
  • Focus on One Topic : It's better to explore one specific aspect of your life, personality, or experiences deeply rather than attempting to cover too much. A narrow focus allows for more depth and clarity.

Let's conclude,

A college essay is indeed an important part of your application. It provides an opportunity for students to show the admission committee what makes them good candidates. 

However, most people do not possess the right skills and knowledge to craft a perfect essay. Thus, they end up hiring an essay writer for their college admissions essay. 

If you're seeking help with your admission essay, consider our college admission essay writing service . We offer affordable rates, continuous progress tracking, and unlimited revisions.

Place your order with our online essay writing service today and take the first step toward academic success!

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Cathy has been been working as an author on our platform for over five years now. She has a Masters degree in mass communication and is well-versed in the art of writing. Cathy is a professional who takes her work seriously and is widely appreciated by clients for her excellent writing skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Multiple Meanings of Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparking Self-Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This College?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Major?

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

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

Why Duke Engineering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Georgia Tech CompSci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extracurricular Essay

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

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

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

A Dedicated Musician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Complicated Relationship with the School Newspaper

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

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

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

Participating in Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Challenges

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

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

The Student Becomes the Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Sensitivity to Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Service/Impact on the Community

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

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

Academic Signing Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Rally

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

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

Rewind to the present day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Story of a Young Skater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Community in the Rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political/Global Issues

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

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

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

Fighting Violence Against Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays

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

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

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

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essays college application

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Application Essays

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you write and revise the personal statement required by many graduate programs, internships, and special academic programs.

Before you start writing

Because the application essay can have a critical effect upon your progress toward a career, you should spend significantly more time, thought, and effort on it than its typically brief length would suggest. It should reflect how you arrived at your professional goals, why the program is ideal for you, and what you bring to the program. Don’t make this a deadline task—now’s the time to write, read, rewrite, give to a reader, revise again, and on until the essay is clear, concise, and compelling. At the same time, don’t be afraid. You know most of the things you need to say already.

Read the instructions carefully. One of the basic tasks of the application essay is to follow the directions. If you don’t do what they ask, the reader may wonder if you will be able to follow directions in their program. Make sure you follow page and word limits exactly—err on the side of shortness, not length. The essay may take two forms:

  • A one-page essay answering a general question
  • Several short answers to more specific questions

Do some research before you start writing. Think about…

  • The field. Why do you want to be a _____? No, really. Think about why you and you particularly want to enter that field. What are the benefits and what are the shortcomings? When did you become interested in the field and why? What path in that career interests you right now? Brainstorm and write these ideas out.
  • The program. Why is this the program you want to be admitted to? What is special about the faculty, the courses offered, the placement record, the facilities you might be using? If you can’t think of anything particular, read the brochures they offer, go to events, or meet with a faculty member or student in the program. A word about honesty here—you may have a reason for choosing a program that wouldn’t necessarily sway your reader; for example, you want to live near the beach, or the program is the most prestigious and would look better on your resume. You don’t want to be completely straightforward in these cases and appear superficial, but skirting around them or lying can look even worse. Turn these aspects into positives. For example, you may want to go to a program in a particular location because it is a place that you know very well and have ties to, or because there is a need in your field there. Again, doing research on the program may reveal ways to legitimate even your most superficial and selfish reasons for applying.
  • Yourself. What details or anecdotes would help your reader understand you? What makes you special? Is there something about your family, your education, your work/life experience, or your values that has shaped you and brought you to this career field? What motivates or interests you? Do you have special skills, like leadership, management, research, or communication? Why would the members of the program want to choose you over other applicants? Be honest with yourself and write down your ideas. If you are having trouble, ask a friend or relative to make a list of your strengths or unique qualities that you plan to read on your own (and not argue about immediately). Ask them to give you examples to back up their impressions (For example, if they say you are “caring,” ask them to describe an incident they remember in which they perceived you as caring).

Now, write a draft

This is a hard essay to write. It’s probably much more personal than any of the papers you have written for class because it’s about you, not World War II or planaria. You may want to start by just getting something—anything—on paper. Try freewriting. Think about the questions we asked above and the prompt for the essay, and then write for 15 or 30 minutes without stopping. What do you want your audience to know after reading your essay? What do you want them to feel? Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, organization, or anything else. Just get out the ideas you have. For help getting started, see our handout on brainstorming .

Now, look at what you’ve written. Find the most relevant, memorable, concrete statements and focus in on them. Eliminate any generalizations or platitudes (“I’m a people person”, “Doctors save lives”, or “Mr. Calleson’s classes changed my life”), or anything that could be cut and pasted into anyone else’s application. Find what is specific to you about the ideas that generated those platitudes and express them more directly. Eliminate irrelevant issues (“I was a track star in high school, so I think I’ll make a good veterinarian.”) or issues that might be controversial for your reader (“My faith is the one true faith, and only nurses with that faith are worthwhile,” or “Lawyers who only care about money are evil.”).

Often, writers start out with generalizations as a way to get to the really meaningful statements, and that’s OK. Just make sure that you replace the generalizations with examples as you revise. A hint: you may find yourself writing a good, specific sentence right after a general, meaningless one. If you spot that, try to use the second sentence and delete the first.

Applications that have several short-answer essays require even more detail. Get straight to the point in every case, and address what they’ve asked you to address.

Now that you’ve generated some ideas, get a little bit pickier. It’s time to remember one of the most significant aspects of the application essay: your audience. Your readers may have thousands of essays to read, many or most of which will come from qualified applicants. This essay may be your best opportunity to communicate with the decision makers in the application process, and you don’t want to bore them, offend them, or make them feel you are wasting their time.

With this in mind:

  • Do assure your audience that you understand and look forward to the challenges of the program and the field, not just the benefits.
  • Do assure your audience that you understand exactly the nature of the work in the field and that you are prepared for it, psychologically and morally as well as educationally.
  • Do assure your audience that you care about them and their time by writing a clear, organized, and concise essay.
  • Do address any information about yourself and your application that needs to be explained (for example, weak grades or unusual coursework for your program). Include that information in your essay, and be straightforward about it. Your audience will be more impressed with your having learned from setbacks or having a unique approach than your failure to address those issues.
  • Don’t waste space with information you have provided in the rest of the application. Every sentence should be effective and directly related to the rest of the essay. Don’t ramble or use fifteen words to express something you could say in eight.
  • Don’t overstate your case for what you want to do, being so specific about your future goals that you come off as presumptuous or naïve (“I want to become a dentist so that I can train in wisdom tooth extraction, because I intend to focus my life’s work on taking 13 rather than 15 minutes per tooth.”). Your goals may change–show that such a change won’t devastate you.
  • And, one more time, don’t write in cliches and platitudes. Every doctor wants to help save lives, every lawyer wants to work for justice—your reader has read these general cliches a million times.

Imagine the worst-case scenario (which may never come true—we’re talking hypothetically): the person who reads your essay has been in the field for decades. She is on the application committee because she has to be, and she’s read 48 essays so far that morning. You are number 49, and your reader is tired, bored, and thinking about lunch. How are you going to catch and keep her attention?

Assure your audience that you are capable academically, willing to stick to the program’s demands, and interesting to have around. For more tips, see our handout on audience .

Voice and style

The voice you use and the style in which you write can intrigue your audience. The voice you use in your essay should be yours. Remember when your high school English teacher said “never say ‘I’”? Here’s your chance to use all those “I”s you’ve been saving up. The narrative should reflect your perspective, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Focusing on events or ideas may give your audience an indirect idea of how these things became important in forming your outlook, but many others have had equally compelling experiences. By simply talking about those events in your own voice, you put the emphasis on you rather than the event or idea. Look at this anecdote:

During the night shift at Wirth Memorial Hospital, a man walked into the Emergency Room wearing a monkey costume and holding his head. He seemed confused and was moaning in pain. One of the nurses ascertained that he had been swinging from tree branches in a local park and had hit his head when he fell out of a tree. This tragic tale signified the moment at which I realized psychiatry was the only career path I could take.

An interesting tale, yes, but what does it tell you about the narrator? The following example takes the same anecdote and recasts it to make the narrator more of a presence in the story:

I was working in the Emergency Room at Wirth Memorial Hospital one night when a man walked in wearing a monkey costume and holding his head. I could tell he was confused and in pain. After a nurse asked him a few questions, I listened in surprise as he explained that he had been a monkey all of his life and knew that it was time to live with his brothers in the trees. Like many other patients I would see that year, this man suffered from an illness that only a combination of psychological and medical care would effectively treat. I realized then that I wanted to be able to help people by using that particular combination of skills only a psychiatrist develops.

The voice you use should be approachable as well as intelligent. This essay is not the place to stun your reader with ten prepositional phrases (“the goal of my study of the field of law in the winter of my discontent can best be understood by the gathering of more information about my youth”) and thirty nouns (“the research and study of the motivation behind my insights into the field of dentistry contains many pitfalls and disappointments but even more joy and enlightenment”) per sentence. (Note: If you are having trouble forming clear sentences without all the prepositions and nouns, take a look at our handout on style .)

You may want to create an impression of expertise in the field by using specialized or technical language. But beware of this unless you really know what you are doing—a mistake will look twice as ignorant as not knowing the terms in the first place. Your audience may be smart, but you don’t want to make them turn to a dictionary or fall asleep between the first word and the period of your first sentence. Keep in mind that this is a personal statement. Would you think you were learning a lot about a person whose personal statement sounded like a journal article? Would you want to spend hours in a lab or on a committee with someone who shuns plain language?

Of course, you don’t want to be chatty to the point of making them think you only speak slang, either. Your audience may not know what “I kicked that lame-o to the curb for dissing my research project” means. Keep it casual enough to be easy to follow, but formal enough to be respectful of the audience’s intelligence.

Just use an honest voice and represent yourself as naturally as possible. It may help to think of the essay as a sort of face-to-face interview, only the interviewer isn’t actually present.

Too much style

A well-written, dramatic essay is much more memorable than one that fails to make an emotional impact on the reader. Good anecdotes and personal insights can really attract an audience’s attention. BUT be careful not to let your drama turn into melodrama. You want your reader to see your choices motivated by passion and drive, not hyperbole and a lack of reality. Don’t invent drama where there isn’t any, and don’t let the drama take over. Getting someone else to read your drafts can help you figure out when you’ve gone too far.

Taking risks

Many guides to writing application essays encourage you to take a risk, either by saying something off-beat or daring or by using a unique writing style. When done well, this strategy can work—your goal is to stand out from the rest of the applicants and taking a risk with your essay will help you do that. An essay that impresses your reader with your ability to think and express yourself in original ways and shows you really care about what you are saying is better than one that shows hesitancy, lack of imagination, or lack of interest.

But be warned: this strategy is a risk. If you don’t carefully consider what you are saying and how you are saying it, you may offend your readers or leave them with a bad impression of you as flaky, immature, or careless. Do not alienate your readers.

Some writers take risks by using irony (your suffering at the hands of a barbaric dentist led you to want to become a gentle one), beginning with a personal failure (that eventually leads to the writer’s overcoming it), or showing great imagination (one famous successful example involved a student who answered a prompt about past formative experiences by beginning with a basic answer—”I have volunteered at homeless shelters”—that evolved into a ridiculous one—”I have sealed the hole in the ozone layer with plastic wrap”). One student applying to an art program described the person he did not want to be, contrasting it with the person he thought he was and would develop into if accepted. Another person wrote an essay about her grandmother without directly linking her narrative to the fact that she was applying for medical school. Her essay was risky because it called on the reader to infer things about the student’s character and abilities from the story.

Assess your credentials and your likelihood of getting into the program before you choose to take a risk. If you have little chance of getting in, try something daring. If you are almost certainly guaranteed a spot, you have more flexibility. In any case, make sure that you answer the essay question in some identifiable way.

After you’ve written a draft

Get several people to read it and write their comments down. It is worthwhile to seek out someone in the field, perhaps a professor who has read such essays before. Give it to a friend, your mom, or a neighbor. The key is to get more than one point of view, and then compare these with your own. Remember, you are the one best equipped to judge how accurately you are representing yourself. For tips on putting this advice to good use, see our handout on getting feedback .

After you’ve received feedback, revise the essay. Put it away. Get it out and revise it again (you can see why we said to start right away—this process may take time). Get someone to read it again. Revise it again.

When you think it is totally finished, you are ready to proofread and format the essay. Check every sentence and punctuation mark. You cannot afford a careless error in this essay. (If you are not comfortable with your proofreading skills, check out our handout on editing and proofreading ).

If you find that your essay is too long, do not reformat it extensively to make it fit. Making readers deal with a nine-point font and quarter-inch margins will only irritate them. Figure out what material you can cut and cut it. For strategies for meeting word limits, see our handout on writing concisely .

Finally, proofread it again. We’re not kidding.

Other resources

Don’t be afraid to talk to professors or professionals in the field. Many of them would be flattered that you asked their advice, and they will have useful suggestions that others might not have. Also keep in mind that many colleges and professional programs offer websites addressing the personal statement. You can find them either through the website of the school to which you are applying or by searching under “personal statement” or “application essays” using a search engine.

If your schedule and ours permit, we invite you to come to the Writing Center. Be aware that during busy times in the semester, we limit students to a total of two visits to discuss application essays and personal statements (two visits per student, not per essay); we do this so that students working on papers for courses will have a better chance of being seen. Make an appointment or submit your essay to our online writing center (note that we cannot guarantee that an online tutor will help you in time).

For information on other aspects of the application process, you can consult the resources at University Career Services .

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Asher, Donald. 2012. Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice , 4th ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Curry, Boykin, Emily Angel Baer, and Brian Kasbar. 2003. Essays That Worked for College Applications: 50 Essays That Helped Students Get Into the Nation’s Top Colleges . New York: Ballantine Books.

Stelzer, Richard. 2002. How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School , 3rd ed. Lawrenceville, NJ: Thomson Peterson.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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An stone archway tunnel passage on gothic-style college campus.

"Why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to this much work when they can only enroll in one school?" writes Alexander Calafiura. (Getty Images)

I applied to 23 colleges and wrote 50 essays. Here’s what I learned.

Find your voice, beat procrastination, and other lessons from my college application journey..

essays college application

The writer of this essay is a 2023-24 Student Voices Fellow at Chalkbeat. Click to learn more about our high school fellowship program.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Sitting in the Seward Park Public Library, my fingers dance as they click away at my laptop’s keyboard, their momentum fueled by the overwhelming sense that all my hard work will pay off on decision day. But hours later, when all my mental power is drained and the rock songs on my Spotify playlist start repeating, I feel a sense of dread. What if I don’t get in?

For the past few months, the stress of the college application dominated my life, fueled by my desire to study at what society refers to as “top schools” — prestigious institutions of higher education that provide students with a world-class education but accept only a tiny percentage of those who apply.

In this headshot, a young Asian male wears a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie.

Overall, I spent some 200 hours applying to 23 schools and writing 50 supplemental essays, with topics ranging from my interest in a school to the three words that best describe my life. Answer: providential, earnest, and excited. Of all the schools that I applied to, seven were “safeties,” meaning I was more likely than not to get in, four were “targets,” for which my grades and scores made me a strong candidate, and 12 were “reaches,” schools with the most competitive and unpredictable admissions practices.

Why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to this much work when they can only enroll in one school? Why pay application fees, some of which top $80, for so many schools? Turns out, among my friends, many of whom attend some of New York City’s most competitive public and private schools, this is becoming an increasingly common practice .

The trend is not limited to my social circle or New York City students. In recent years, the Common Application , a platform that allows students to use one application for the majority of U.S. colleges , has made it easier for students to apply to multiple schools. And with fee waivers , which I qualified for, the Common Application has given students the ability to apply to a wide range of schools at no cost. Since schools that accept the Common Application may ask for supplementary essays, the number of schools I applied to was limited only by my own time, effort, and sanity. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania asks you to write a thank you note to someone who you’ve yet to thank, and Columbia University asks you to list the literature and media that has had the most impact on your intellectual development.

More From Alexander Calafiura

My high school is exempt from Regents exams. Other schools should be, too.

Joining an Asian student group showed me I didn’t have to choose between my Chinese and American identities

Additionally, in recent years, the Internet has popularized what is called the “shotgunning” method — that is, applying to many elite schools at once in hopes that at least one school will accept you. Essentially, “shotgunners” believe that because they have no insight, year to year, into the exact mix of qualities and skills a school is looking for, they might as well spread out their options in the interest of finding one singular “match” school.

And since many prestigious colleges went test-optional during COVID — meaning SAT and ACT scores are no longer required for admissions consideration — the Common App saw a 30% increase in total applications, which resulted in an even lower percentage of applicants getting in.

I am no expert in college admissions, but I have spent hundreds of hours applying to colleges. In the interest of benefitting future applicants and providing some insight into what it’s like to apply to college, here are some of my biggest takeaways from the whole process.

Strive to be yourself and find your authentic voice.

I’ve always thought that “be yourself” is a reductive piece of advice, but having been through the application process, I have to admit that it’s true. In my case, I wrote about my love for cycling around New York City and my passion for Russian literature. Colleges want to know what makes you unique, and your thoughts and emotions are a large part of that. To that end, rather than inventing aspirations and exaggerating your experiences just to appeal to an admissions officer, you should genuinely believe what you’re writing. If you don’t, why would the person reading your application believe it?

Stay organized or waste hours of your time.

If you’re like me, and you find it hard to keep track of things in your head, a spreadsheet or document that contains or links to all your college application-related materials will be invaluable. I’d say that more than anything else, following my college counselor’s recommendation of using a spreadsheet saved me tens of hours of my time, and made my life 10x easier. Added bonus: Keeping track of the total number of supplements I had left to do was motivating as well as therapeutic.

Love your schools, or you won’t love applying to them.

Applying to so many schools is not for everybody. In fact, if you don’t truly love a school, don’t feel pressured to apply for the sake of prestige or name value. Without a genuine interest and passion for these institutions, it’ll only be a matter of time until you burn out and the quality of your applications suffers. For instance, I wanted to attend college in the Northeast or California, so I made the difficult choice to take great schools, such as the University of Texas at Austin and Vanderbilt, off my list.

The process is temporary, but the takeaways are forever.

After writing so many essays about my experiences, interests, and desires, I realized that my supplemental essays were emblematic of what I wanted out of life and my college experience. For example, after I began writing about my intended major (economics), it occurred to me that what I’m truly passionate about is policy’s intersection with economics and mathematical modeling. After I began writing about my most treasured extracurricular experiences, it became clear to me how much I valued using my voice as a tool to impact my community and effect change. I believe that writing about your genuine interests is more valuable to you than simply trying to present something that you think will appeal to colleges.

Find ways to avoid (my archnemesis) procrastination.

As I started writing my essays, I struggled a lot with procrastination because I worried that no matter how artistic or beautiful the essays I wrote were, I’d still be rejected from a school. Over time, I’ve learned that this is a natural emotion. But once you fall into the trap of thinking this way, you’ll waste so much time that the quality of your work will suffer. Thankfully, I got around these thoughts by staying off social media, taking consistent, relaxing breaks, and practicing mindfulness. For example, I found it to be particularly helpful to take a “mental reset” every few hours; I did this by jogging along the East River, getting boba with friends, and going to the gym. After my brain and body took a break, I found it to be a lot easier to pour my thoughts onto paper and discover prior flaws or mistakes in my writing.

Now that I’m essentially done with the college application process, I’m extremely excited for admissions decisions over the next couple of months. But in the short term, I face the alarming, perennial beast: senioritis. I’ll take my time to address it after one … more … episode … of … “Suits” on Netflix.

Alexander Calafiura, a Chalkbeat Student Voices Fellow for 2023-2 is a senior at East Side Community High School in New York City. In his spare time, he enjoys folding origami, reading classic literature, and discussing politics. At school, he is a co-editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The East Sider.

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The Lasting Value of the Personal Essay

This writing form has a value that goes beyond the college application as it nurtures self-reflection and inspires creativity.

Teenager working on a laptop while looking out a window

I still remember my own personal essay that I wrote decades ago during my college admissions process. My essay focused on movies and how movies were a conduit of curiosity. It was also about the death of my father and how movies, in part, had provided a common ground for us—a connection. Although my essay, of course, was not the sole determining factor in my admission, it’s a predominant memory from that time of my life. To this day, I feel it had a persuasive effect on my admittance.

In fact, now looking back, I can’t recall my grade point average or my class rank or the final grade that my English teacher gave me on my literary analysis of Heart of Darkness. Even my exact SAT score, back then a real measure of academic aptitude, remains fuzzy to me all these years later, “shaded in wistful half-lights,” as described by Norman Maclean. I can, however, remember nearly every sentence, if not quite every word, of the personal essay I submitted to my first-choice college, which has undoubtedly, for me, over the years remained one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever produced.

The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks. These writers function as exemplars for my students to both analyze and model not only for their rhetorical value but also for their stylistic technique and philosophical ruminations.

Power of Personalization

One of the most predominant rhetorical strategies we recognize in these texts is personalization. And so Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” has impacted my students throughout the years with its frank depiction of psychological tension, addressing philosophical themes on an existential level that never fail to capture their attention—so much so, that a group of students painted a mural on the wall outside my classroom, a visual interpretation of Woolf’s essay that they titled Memento Mori .

The candor and intimacy of Dr. Oliver Sacks’s depiction of his final days before his death from cancer have engendered numerous touching and insightful comments from my students during our Socratic seminars analyzing his almost unendurably moving personal essay, “My Periodic Table.” 

Students respond viscerally, it seems, to the personal. Sadly, many students have been touched by some of the same tragic subject matter that we analyze through these texts. During our seminars and journal assignments, my students have revealed their own personal connections to some of the personal essays we read in class, connecting, I think, to the shared experiences that we have all had throughout human history. 

Our students often find themselves facing a vortex of standardized tests, AP exams, and benchmarks throughout the school year, which often emphasize the formulaic. The active process of personal choice on topic and subject seems lost. So often my students ask me questions when writing an essay, seeking a particular answer, as if literary analysis were calculus. Missing is the creativity, the exploration of writing free from academic constraints like rubrics and scoring guides. Writer-editor Steve Moyer asserts in  Edsitement , “Nuanced thought... requires a greater gestation period than the nearly instant gratification made possible on Twitter.” I have witnessed this impatience from my own students.

There can be a restlessness in the writing process, a hesitancy for revision or drafting. Personal essays require self-reflection and a free-flowing freedom from rigid form that my students embrace in a way that they don’t with an argument or research-based essay. On more than one occasion during parent-teacher conferences, I have had parents tell me that their child used to love creative writing, but somewhere along the way, the rigor of school seemed to have killed it.

Personal essays, then, restore that creativity, since they encourage a freedom from form. Students can experiment with style and figurative language and syntax in ways that the traditional academic five-paragraph essay often thwarts.

Personal essays also allow teachers to really get to know our students, too. The inherent intimacy of a personal essay, the connection between the writer and the reader—in this case, a student and a teacher—provides insight into the concerns, the dreams, the emotions of our students in addition to allowing us to assess how they exercise their compositional skills, including imagery, syntax, diction, and figurative language. Here, then, a teacher has the best of both worlds. We’re able to both connect to our students on an emotional level and evaluate their learning on an academic level. Personal essays also serve as an emotional outlet. 

There seems to be a common assumption that personal essays for high school students serve only the college application process, so the process begins during their senior year. Personal writing, however, should occur throughout a student’s academic experience. The narrative essays that most elementary school students encounter evolve into the more ruminative, philosophical, and reflective personal writing they will encounter during their senior year from many of Common App essay prompts.

Many teachers implement journal writing in their classrooms that provides a firm foundation for the type of personal writing that the college admissions essay requires. In my own class of juniors, the last assignment we complete for the year is a personal essay. My intent is to help prepare them for the college essay they will write, hopefully, during the summer so that they will have a solid draft before the application process begins. 

Teaching our students this strategy in their own writing benefits them in their futures, not only for the imminent college application process but also for job interviews. For example, I was mentoring a student, a senior who had no desire to go to college, about the job interview process he would soon face after graduation. We rehearsed and practiced the types of questions he might encounter from a future employer. I encouraged him to remember the personal details of his experience, personalizing everything in a way that would allow him to ideally stand out as a job candidate.

Through personal essay writing, my overarching, grand ambition is to instill in my students ultimately a love of reflection, looking back on their experience, reminiscing on significant memories that linger, carefully considering the seemingly little moments that, only upon reflection, have an enormous impact on us.

The Washington Post

Can ChatGPT get into Harvard? We tested its admissions essay.

ChatGPT’s release a year ago triggered a wave of panic among educators. Now, universities are in the midst of college application season, concerned that students might use the artificial intelligence tool to forge admissions essays.

But is a chatbot-created essay good enough to fool college admissions counselors?

To find out, The Washington Post asked a prompt engineer — an expert at directing AI chatbots — to create college essays using ChatGPT. The chatbot produced two essays: one responding to a question from the Common Application, which thousands of colleges use for admissions, and one answering a prompt used solely for applicants to Harvard University.

We presented these essays to a former Ivy League college admissions counselor, Adam Nguyen, who previously advised students at Harvard University and read admissions essays at Columbia University. We presented Nguyen with a control: a set of real college admissions essays penned by Jasmine Green, a Post intern who used them to get into Harvard University, where she is currently a senior.

We asked Nguyen to read the essays and spot which ones were produced by AI. The results were illuminating.

Can you figure out which one was written by a human?

Computer science and college admissions experts say that AI created essays have some easy tells — helpful for admissions offers who are prepping for an uptick in ChatGPT-written essays.

Responses written by ChatGPT often lack specific details, leading to essays that lack supporting evidence for their points. The writing is trite and uses platitudes to explain situations, rather than delving into the emotional experience of the author. The essays are often repetitive and predictable, leaving readers without surprise or a sense of the writer’s journey. If chatbots produce content on issues of race, sex or socioeconomic status, they often employ stereotypes.

At first, Nguyen was impressed by the AI-generated essays: They were readable and mostly free of grammatical errors. But if he was reviewing the essay as part of an application package, he would’ve stopped reading.

“The essay is such a mediocre essay that it would not help the candidate’s application or chances,” he said in an interview. “In fact, it would probably diminish it.”

Here is how Nguyen evaluated ChatGPT’s essay.

Nguyen said that while AI may be sufficient to use for everyday writing, it is particularly unhelpful in creating college admissions essays. To start, he said, admissions offices are using AI screening tools to filter out computer-generated essays. (This technology can be inaccurate and falsely implicate students, a Post analysis found .)

But more importantly, admissions essays are a unique type of writing, he said. They require students to reflect on their life and craft their experiences into a compelling narrative that quickly provides college admissions counselors with a sense of why that person is unique.

“ChatGPT is not there,” he said.

Nguyen understands why AI might be appealing. College application deadlines often fall around the busiest time of the year, near winter holidays and end-of-semester exams. “Students are overwhelmed,” Nguyen said.

But Nguyen isn’t entirely opposed to using AI in the application process. In his current business, Ivy Link, he helps students craft college applications. For those who are weak in writing, he sometimes suggests they use AI chatbots to start the brainstorming process, he said.

For those who can’t resist the urge to use AI for more than just inspiration, there may be consequences.

“Their essays will be terrible,” he said, “and might not even reflect who they are.”

About this story

Jasmine Green contributed to this report.

The Washington Post worked with Benjamin Breen, an associate professor of history at the University of California in Santa Cruz who studies the impact of technological change, to create the AI-generated essays.

Editing by Karly Domb Sadof, Betty Chavarria and Alexis Sobel Fitts.

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Virginia Moves to End Legacy Admissions at Its Public Universities

The state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that ends preferences for children of alumni. The governor appears poised to sign it.

Students walk near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the campus of the University of Virginia.

By Stephanie Saul

Virginia is on track to ban legacy preferences at its public universities, which give a boost to children of alumni who apply for admission.

The state’s House of Delegates unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday that would eliminate the preferences; the State Senate did so last week.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office signaled that he would sign the legislation, saying in a statement that he “believes admission to Virginia’s universities and colleges should be based on merit.” The law would take effect July 1, after admissions decisions have been made for the fall of 2024.

The ban, which would affect two of the country’s more selective public universities, the University of Virginia and William & Mary, is another indication that legacy admissions, which mostly benefit students who are white, wealthy and well-connected, are losing favor across the country. Virginia Tech, another prestigious public university in the state, announced last year that it would no longer take legacy status into account.

Legacy admissions became a target last year soon after the Supreme Court banned race-conscious admissions. President Biden said that legacy preferences expand “privilege instead of opportunity.”

After the Supreme Court decision in June, several highly selective private schools, including Wesleyan Universit y, announced they would eliminate legacy preferences. And New York University said it would remove a check-off on its application asking if prospective students were legacies.

They joined several selective colleges that had already eliminated or had never used legacy preferences, including M.I.T., Johns Hopkins, Amherst College and the University of California system.

The state of Colorado has banned legacy preferences in its public universities, and similar legislation prohibiting the practice has been introduced in Congress and in states including Connecticut and New York.

But many elite private universities — including Harvard, Yale, and Brown — continue to give preference to the children of alumni. Data recently released by the Department of Education found that nearly 600 colleges and universities consider legacy status in admission.

Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania are the subject s of federal Department of Education investigations into their use of legacy preferences and whether the practice constitutes a civil rights violation. The Harvard investigation began following a complaint filed by three advocacy groups.

The bill in Virginia, which must still undergo more legislative maneuvering before going to the governor for signature, would also ban the consideration of “donor status” in admissions to state institutions. Under that practice, wealthy parents or other relatives might secure admission for their children by donating funds for new buildings or programs.

Dan Helmer, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Virginia House, said the time had come to level the playing field.

“The vast majority of Virginians, regardless of whether they are Democrat, Republican or independent, want a university system that admits students based on who they are and what they’ve done, not who their parents are,” Mr. Helmer said.

Mr. Helmer, a West Point graduate, said that none of the state’s universities had taken a public position against the legislation, though he suggested that they may have lobbied privately. “It may be that a couple of universities have stopped by,” he added, “and I said, ‘If you want to go on the record publicly, you can.’”

The University of Virginia, where legacy admissions have sometimes accounted for as much as 14 percent of an entering class, recently tweaked its admissions application to eliminate a check-box for legacy status, but said students could still indicate in their admissions essays whether they were legacies.

In a statement on Tuesday, Brian T. Coy, a spokesman for the University of Virginia, said it was the university’s policy not to comment on pending legislation. “For decades, U.Va. has evaluated each candidate for undergraduate admission as an individual with a unique story and a combination of strengths,” he said, “rather than through weighted methods and check boxes.”

An organization of conservative Virginia alumni known as the Jefferson Council has not taken a position on the legislation, according to its executive director, James A. Bacon.

“We are of two minds,” Mr. Bacon wrote in an email. On the one hand, he said, intergenerational families tend to be more loyal, engaged, and generous to the university. “On the other, we support merit-based admissions based on character and academic achievement,” he wrote.

William & Mary also considers legacy admissions. In a statement, the university said it would comment on the bill’s possible impact after its final adoption. In the statement, a spokeswoman for the university, Suzanne Clavet, said the school’s data showed that accepted applicants who were legacies were more than twice as likely to enroll at the school as other accepted applicants were.

Stephanie Saul reports on colleges and universities, with a recent focus on the dramatic changes in college admissions and the debate around diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. More about Stephanie Saul

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Article paid for by: Ocasio Media The news and editorial staffs of the Bay Area News Group had no role in this post’s preparation.

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  2. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

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

  3. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick 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.

  4. How to Write a College Essay

    The college essay can make or break your application. It's your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students. A standout essay has a few key ingredients: A unique, personal topic A compelling, well-structured narrative A clear, creative writing style

  5. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process.

  6. How to Write a College Essay Step-by-Step

    Your application centerpiece. The part of your application you're likely to spend the most time on. But, of course, I'd say that—I'm the College Essay Guy. The personal statement is likely to be 500-650 words long (so about a page) and many of the colleges you're applying to will require it. What's its purpose?

  7. Advice for Writing Application Essays

    Advice for Writing Successful Application Essays. When you sit down to write your application essays, there is very little left that you can control. You should have already taken, or retaken, the SAT and ACT, your grades from your first three years of high school are set on your transcript, and your recommenders all have their impressions of ...

  8. 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

    Don't Repeat. If you've mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don't repeat it again in your essay. Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

  9. How to Write a College Application Essay

    The college application essay is a key part of the admissions process. Learn how to write a personal statement for college, including what to avoid. By Juliann Scholl, Ph.D. Updated on November 7, 2022 Learn more about our editorial process College application essays allow students to showcase their strengths and uniqueness.

  10. How to Write a College Application Essay

    What is a college application essay? Many colleges require you to submit an essay, written by you, as part of your application. They may ask you to respond to a question or prompt. This application essay is your opportunity to show colleges your personality and how you think.

  11. Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

    Don't summarize. Avoid explicitly stating the point of your essay. It's far less effective when you spell it out for someone. Delete every single "That's when I realized," "I learned," and "The most important lesson was...". It's unnecessary, unconvincing, and takes the reader out of the moment.

  12. How to Write the Best College Application Essay

    A personal essay for college applications is an opportunity for admission admissions panels to get more insight into who you are and what you have to offer. It's often the most personal component of the application, going beyond grades and standardized test scores. Essays usually have open-ended prompts, allowing you to flex your writing skills ...

  13. 35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts

    Use your essays to empower your chances of acceptance, merit money, and scholarships.". This college essay tip is by Dr. Rebecca Joseph, professor at California State University and founder of All College Application Essays, develops tools for making the college essay process faster and easier. 15. Get personal.

  14. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Your essay is very important to your application — especially if you're applying to selective colleges. You should also take advantage of the following free resources: Peer Essay Review. Become a stronger writer by reviewing your peers' essays and get your essay reviewed as well for free. Essay Livestreams.

  15. College Essay Examples

    Frequently asked questions about college application essays Essay 1: Sharing an identity or background through a montage This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student's identity and background.

  16. How To Write A College Essay

    What Does a College Application Essay Involve? Common Essay Prompts The Common App, which allows students to apply to multiple colleges simultaneously, offers several essay prompt options...

  17. College Essays: Write Ones That Get You Admitted

    Generally, college admissions essays are between 400 and 600 words. Some colleges and programs require them to be shorter or longer, but typically, plan for your essay to be about this length. A college admissions essay doesn't necessarily follow the same essay structure you use when you're writing essays for class.

  18. 14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024

    14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024) College essay examples from students accepted to Harvard, Stanford, and other elite schools REVIEWING SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLES CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR ODDS OF ACCEPTANCE

  19. 22+ College Application Essay Examples: 2024 Edition

    1. Good College Application Essay Examples 2. College Application Essay Examples for Universities 3. Subject Related College Application Essay Examples 4. How to Write a College Application Essay 5. Common App Essay Prompts 6. Tips for Writing an Effective College Application Essay Good College Application Essay Examples

  20. 16 Strong College Essay Examples from Top Schools

    First things first, this Common App essay is well-written. This student is definitely showing the admissions officers her ability to articulate her points beautifully and creatively. It starts with vivid images like that of the "rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge ...

  21. Application Essays

    Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice, 4th ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Curry, Boykin, Emily Angel Baer, and Brian Kasbar. 2003. Essays That Worked for College Applications: 50 Essays That Helped Students Get Into the Nation's Top Colleges. New York: Ballantine Books. Stelzer, Richard. 2002.

  22. Get Accepted: What Looks Good On College Applications?

    A good college application should showcase strong grades, high test scores, volunteer or relevant work experience, compelling letters of recommendation and an honest and thoughtful personal essay.

  23. I spent hundreds of hours applying to college. Here's what I learned

    Overall, I spent some 200 hours applying to 23 schools and writing 50 supplemental essays, with topics ranging from my interest in a school to the three words that best describe my life. Answer ...

  24. The Importance of the Personal Essay in High School

    Many teachers implement journal writing in their classrooms that provides a firm foundation for the type of personal writing that the college admissions essay requires. In my own class of juniors, the last assignment we complete for the year is a personal essay. My intent is to help prepare them for the college essay they will write, hopefully ...

  25. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    The most popular college application systems, like the Common Application and Coalition Application, will give you a maximum of 650 words for your main personal statement, and typically less than that for school-specific supplemental essays.

  26. The College Essay Guy

    Jan 30, 2024. college admissions. MCC's Trisha Ross Anderson speaks with The College Essay Guy about how Making Caring Common helps colleges figure out what they are looking for; how some colleges are working to increase access and equity in admissions; and advice to parents as they navigate this process with their students.

  27. Can ChatGPT get into Harvard? We tested its admissions essay.

    Nguyen said that while AI may be sufficient to use for everyday writing, it is particularly unhelpful in creating college admissions essays. To start, he said, admissions offices are using AI ...

  28. Virginia Moves to End Legacy Admissions at Its Public Universities

    Jan. 30, 2024. Virginia is on track to ban legacy preferences at its public universities, which give a boost to children of alumni who apply for admission. The state's House of Delegates ...

  29. Buy Essay Online: 5 Best Sites to Purchase Cheap College Papers

    Top Sites Where You Can Buy an Essay Safely. PaperHelp — from $13 per page, rated 9.85/10; SpeedyPaper — from $11 per page, rated 9.78/10. EssayPro — from $10.80 per page, rated 9.72/10 ...