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10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked
What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.
- Essay 1: Summer Program
- Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
- Essay 3: Why Medicine
- Essay 4: Love of Writing
- Essay 5: Starting a Fire
- Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
- Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
- Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
- Essay 9: Eritrea
- Essay 10: Journaling
- Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?
Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.
In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Personal Statement Examples
Essay example #1: exchange program.
The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.
As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.
I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.
I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.
As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.
What the Essay Did Well
This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.
The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally.
Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.
What Could Be Improved
The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read.
For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.” They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”
If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great.
Table of Contents
Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American
Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.
Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.
Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day.
As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.
I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.
I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.
This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day.
The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.
This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.
One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day?
A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture.
Essay Example #3: Why Medicine
I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.
The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.
Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.
Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.
This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality.
This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.
Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration.
One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.
To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars.
Essay Example #4: Love of Writing
“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.
Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.
Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.
Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.
This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.
Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.
This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.
It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”. They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.
Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire
Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire.
Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family.
Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt.
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame.
In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him.
Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses.
That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.
This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in.
The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “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.”
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.
There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.
Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track
“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.
Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.
Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.
They didn’t bite.
Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.
Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin.
The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.
Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.
This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!
Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.
The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose.
One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.
The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.
Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.
I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.
When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.
By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.
Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?
This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?
The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.
The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”
The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.
The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.
Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach
”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 begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.
Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.
The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.
The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.
Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents.
Essay Example #9: Eritrea
No one knows where Eritrea is.
On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?
I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate, perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”
Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”
Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells. Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.
But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books borrowed from the library.
No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is. No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted dunes. No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother, her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes). It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal lineages.
There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time. You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells. I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…
I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero . I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …
This knowledge is intrinsic. “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.” Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.
Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential. Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.
This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader.
The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.
Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.
Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay.
There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.
Essay Example #10: Journaling
Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.
I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.
“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008
Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.
“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019
I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.
With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.
“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020
Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.
With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.
I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”
The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.
Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.
At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!
Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.
Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited
Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
Next Step: Supplemental Essays
Essay Guides for Each School
How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay
4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
How to Write the “Why This College” Essay
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How to Write a Personal Statement
A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.
When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.
The information you provide in your personal statement can help build on your other application materials, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and build a more cohesive picture to help the admissions committee understand your goals.
In this article, we'll go over more about personal statements, including why they're important, what to include in one, and tips for strengthening yours.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement—sometimes known as a college essay —is a brief written essay you submit along with other materials when you're applying to college or university. Personal statements tend to be most common for undergraduate applications, and they're a great opportunity for an admissions committee to hear your voice directly.
Many colleges and universities in the US, especially those using Common App , provide prompts for you to use. For example, "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea" or "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time" [ 1 ]. If the school you're interested in attending doesn't require prompts, you will likely want to craft a response that touches on your story, your values, and your goals if possible.
In grad school, personal statements are sometimes known as letters of intent , and go into more detail about your academic and professional background, while expressing interest in attending the particular program you're applying to.
Why is a personal statement important?
Personal statements are important for a number of reasons. Whereas other materials you submit in an application can address your academic abilities (like your transcripts) or how you perform as a student (like your letters of recommendation), a personal statement is a chance to do exactly that: get more personal.
Personal statements typically:
Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values
Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate
Provide an opportunity for you to talk about past employment, volunteer experiences, or skills you have that complement your studies
Allow colleges to evaluate your writing skills
Bring life to a college application package otherwise filled with facts and figures
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How to write a personal statement
As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response.
Create a solid hook .
To capture the attention of an admissions committee member, start your personal statement with a hook that relates to the topic of your essay. A hook tends to be a colorful sentence or two at the very beginning that compels the reader to continue reading.
To create a captivating hook, try one of these methods:
Pose a rhetorical question.
Provide an interesting statistic.
Insert a quote from a well-known person.
Challenge the reader with a common misconception.
Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary.
Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it comes from a reliable source.
Follow a narrative.
The best personal statements typically read like a story: they have a common theme, as well as a beginning, middle, and end. This type of format also helps keep your thoughts organized and improves the flow of your essay.
Common themes to consider for your personal statement include:
Special role models from your past
Life-altering events you've experienced
Unusual challenges you've faced
Accomplishments you're especially proud of
Service to others and why you enjoy it
What you've learned from traveling to a particular place
Unique ways you stand out from other candidates
Admissions committees read thousands of personal statements every year, which is why being specific on yours is important. Back up your statements with examples or anecdotes.
For instance, avoid vague assertions like, "I'm interested in your school counseling program because I care about children." Instead, point out experiences you've had with children that emphasize how much you care. For instance, you might mention your summer job as a day camp counselor or your volunteer experience mentoring younger children.
Don't forget to include detail and vibrancy to keep your statement interesting. The use of detail shows how your unique voice and experiences can add value to the college or university you're applying to.
Stay on topic.
It's natural to want to impress the members of the admissions committee that will read your personal statement. The best way to do this is to lead your readers through a cohesive, informative, and descriptive essay.
If you feel you might be going astray, check to make sure each paragraph in the body of your essay supports your introduction. Here are a few more strategies that can help keep you on track:
Know what you want to say and do research if needed.
Create an outline listing the key points you want to share.
Read your outline aloud to confirm it makes logical sense before proceeding.
Read your essay aloud while you're writing to confirm you're staying on topic.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and make suggestions.
Be true to your own voice
Because of the importance of your personal statement, you could be tempted to be very formal with structure and language. However, it's better to use a more relaxed tone than you would for a classroom writing assignment.
Remember: admissions committees really want to hear from you . Writing in your own voice will help accomplish this. To ensure your tone isn't too relaxed, write your statement as if you were speaking to an older relative or trusted teacher. This way, you'll come across as respectful, confident, and honest.
Tips for drafting an effective personal statement
Now that you've learned a little about personal statements and how to craft them, here are a few more tips you can follow to strengthen your essay:
1. Customize your statement.
You don't have to completely rewrite your personal statement every time you apply to a new college, but you do want to make sure that you tailor it as much as possible. For instance, if you talk about wanting to take a certain class or study a certain subject, make sure you adjust any specifics for each application.
2. Avoid cliches.
Admissions committees are ultimately looking for students who will fit the school, and who the school can help guide toward their larger goals. In that case, cliches can get in the way of a reviewer understanding what it is you want from a college education. Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me."
3. Stay focused.
Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written. Does every paragraph flow from one point to the next? Are the ideas you're presenting cohesive?
4. Stick to topics that aren't controversial
It's best not to talk about political beliefs or inappropriate topics in your personal essay. These can be controversial, and ideally you want to share something goals-driven or values-driven with an admissions committee.
Polish your writing skills on Coursera
A stellar personal statement starts with stellar writing skills. Enhance your writing ability with a writing course from a top university, like Good with Words: Writing and Editing from the University of Michigan or Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Get started for free to level up your writing.
1. Common App. " 2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/blog/2022-2023-common-app-essay-prompts." Accessed June 9, 2023.
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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
What exactly goes into writing a great college essay, and more importantly, what does it take to write one that stands out from thousands of others, landing itself in the “Accept” vs. “Reject” pile?
Breaking Down the College Essay
Let’s start by breaking it down into manageable parts and examining the required elements.
What’s the point of the college essay?
Almost every standard college application requires first-year applicants to submit a personal essay. If you are one of these applicants, you may be wondering, what’s the point?
With so many colleges deciding to go test-optional, (many do not require standardized tests and instead focus solely on your transcripts, essay, and recommendations), the essay is the one place in your application where you can illuminate your character in words and ideas, rather than in numbers and percentages. It is your chance to show schools who you are, what makes you tick, and why you stand out from the crowd.
Admissions counselors will read your essay and try to determine whether or not they want you at their school. While reading, they will be asking themselves, “What will this person bring to our community? Will they make our school a more valuable place?”
What are the prompts?
There are seven personal essay prompts in the Common Application. You may choose to write about obstacles you’ve encountered, your accomplishments and realizations, moments when you experienced extreme gratitude, or select your own topic.
No one prompt is considered “better” than another, but they can vary slightly from year to year, so be sure to read through all of them for your application cycle. At the end of the day, if there is something you feel really passionate about, you can likely adapt it to fit a prompt.
How long should your essay be?
The essay should be 650 words, which might sound like a lot at first, but you will be surprised by how quickly you reach that limit once you get going. Most of the students I work with end up making cuts to shorten their essays before submitting. The word limit is non-negotiable. You will not be able to submit an essay that’s even one word over the limit.
Writing the College Essay
Your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors know what they are talking about when they tell you to get started on the essay during the summer before your senior year. Don’t leave it until the last minute. Once senior year starts, life is a whirlwind. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay. Aim to start in July or August before senior year.
Starting can be as easy as creating a document where you generate an ongoing list of potential topics. You will want to draft your essay in a separate document anyway. You can copy and paste it over into the Common Application once you have a final, edited version.
Additionally, starting doesn’t always mean sitting down in front of a computer and typing. Talk about topic ideas out loud with anyone who will listen. Discuss ideas for topics with your family members over dinner or on car rides with friends. Think about ideas when you are out for a run or bike ride. Almost all colleges and universities have samples of “College Essays That Worked” in the admissions section of their websites. Reading through these may inspire you.
Keep the focus narrow.
Do not think too big. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
That leads to another suggestion: Don’t write about Covid-19. Your essay might touch on something that’s an offshoot of your time spent in quarantine or a loss connected to Covid, but it should not be about the pandemic specifically. There’s no question Covid-19 had, and still has, a major impact on all of us, but that topic has been written about by many students from every angle possible. Colleges want to read something different.
The Common Application has added an optional question that gives all applicants a place to address the impact that Covid has had on them personally and educationally. If you feel you have a story you must tell connected to the pandemic, this is the place to share it.
So, what should you write about?
When brainstorming topics, think about challenges you have faced and how you’ve handled them. You can also ask people who know you best how they would describe you in a few words and why. Their responses can be great jumping off points for writing your essay.
Some students choose to write about seemingly small, ordinary topics that illuminate their character beautifully, and are both poignant and thought-provoking. One student I worked with wrote about growing up hiking with her parents from the time when she was a baby in a backpack carrier, to a grumpy middle schooler, to an appreciative, nature-loving young adult who found outdoor experiences were an essential part of who she was at her core.
Other students choose to describe major life events, or especially challenging experiences that have impacted them deeply. An essay that comes to mind is one written by a student who battled loneliness and isolation due to anxiety and depression, and ultimately found invaluable reprieve in the arts, a passion that they hoped to continue to pursue at the college level.
Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, be sure the essay rises above a strict recounting of a story. Instead, use the narrative to reveal your true self. It’s okay to be vulnerable and honest; in fact, it’s critical you do so. Admissions counselors will not judge you negatively for depicting moments of weakness or fear, or for having different politics than they might. More likely, they will be impressed by your level of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and introspection.
Admissions counselors want value-adders. What adds value to a college campus? Students who display energy, resilience, leadership, passion, inclusivity, unique outlooks, and people who can inspire others. Your essay should tell a story that highlights traits like these. No one else has lived your life or experienced what you have in the way that you have; tell your unique story. Use a voice that’s real to you.
This is not the time to experiment with overly formal academic nor romantic, flowery language. Use words you would normally use and show the reader what makes you, you. There is no need to over-inflate things. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
The college essay is not like a typical English paper. It’s a true blend of the creative and the literary. In creative writing classes you often hear the advice, “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece. Describe sights, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and sounds as you write.
That said, just because you are being creative does not mean your essay should lack structure. This is not the time to experiment with a completely outlandish form. You don’t want to make your readers work to understand what you are trying to say. You want them to be entirely absorbed in the story you are telling. The easiest way to do this is by making your essay easy to read.
Think of the typical five paragraph structure for English papers. Your essay should have an introductory paragraph with a thesis/hook, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion that ties everything together. Your story might lend itself to six or seven paragraphs instead of five, depending on where the natural narrative breaks lie, and that’s fine. Just make sure it has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Your essay should not have any spelling, formatting, or grammatical errors. Mistakes do not put your best foot forward to admissions counselors, and they are distracting.
Be sure to read, re-read, and share your submission with others to prevent the possibility of mistakes. Use tools like spell and grammar check, and ask at least two other people to read your essay and offer feedback. You can ask a trusted family member to take a look, or even reach out to a friend with exceptionally good writing skills. We often get so close to our own words that we miss obvious errors. Even the best writers in the world rely on editors to help catch mistakes.
Another option is to ask your English teacher or guidance counselor to review your essay. In some schools, students will work on the college essay in English class during the fall of their senior year. This gives them a chance to receive both teacher and peer feedback, which can be incredibly valuable.
Finally, read your essay aloud before hitting submit. It may feel silly, but you will be amazed at the errors you will catch this way.
Make a point.
By the time you reach your conclusion, be sure your essay makes some sort of point. This is what will separate it from the competition. Ask yourself what you want your reader to walk away thinking and knowing about you, and allude to that in your final sentences. A strong conclusion that helps tie the entire essay together, and also points to the bigger picture, is key.
To achieve this, as you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had. Above all, remember that the conclusion should not be an afterthought, nor should it simply summarize the previous few paragraphs.
In many ways, the conclusion is the most important part of your essay as it’s the last thing people will read. Be sure to give it the time, effort, and energy it deserves. You want your readers to pause and reflect at the end of your essay. You want them to feel something, versus just moving on to the next essay on their list.
While some students are able to afford pricey college counselors to help guide them through the application process, at the end of the day, there is no magic formula that someone can pay thousands of dollars for when it comes to writing the college essay. Everyone has a unique story to tell and that is priceless. As long as you give yourself the time to brainstorm, and write and then rewrite, as well as ask for feedback from others along the way, you can end up with a solid final product.
One lesson you will learn at college is that the world is full of a wide array of brilliant, interesting, diverse individuals who all have unique life experiences. You are one of those people. Enjoy the process of telling your story, and then relish the opportunity you will have to create more stories as you move onto the next chapter of your life.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
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College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips
So, you have started your college application process and are hitting a wall. You got your high school transcripts and letters of recommendation in order. Your SAT scores are on the way. But your college personal statement is sitting there unfinished, and the deadline is coming fast!
But have no fear!
Because Wordvice edits thousands of essays every admissions season, we have seen some of the best (and worst) college application essays out there. This guide will tell you how to write the best personal statement for college possible for your college application. Included are examples of successful college personal statements and analyses.
What we will learn here about writing a personal statement for college:
- What is a college personal statement?
- How important is the personal statement for college admissions?
- Why do colleges require a personal statement?
- Read examples of successful personal statements
- Successful personal statement example & analysis
- Essay editing services can improve your personal statement
Personal Statements and Other College Admissions Essays
Even knowing what specific terms regarding college admissions documents means can be a bit confusing. To clear up any questions, here is a brief rundown of some main college application terms that are often used:
- Personal statement for college — an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It’s worth noting that, unlike “college essay,” this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.
- College admissions essay— this is essentially the same as a college personal statement. (I’ll be using the terms interchangeably.) It can also include supplemental essays or widely-used essays such as the Common App Essay .
- Essay prompt— a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.
- Supplemental essay— an additional school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement. Some schools require both a supplemental essay and a personal statement. Check your college’s application guidelines to determine which specific admissions essays are necessary for submission.
What is the personal statement for college?
The college personal statement is a key part of the college application and a key factor among admissions committees. It is the one opportunity for high school students applying to college to sell themselves on their own terms and using their own words.
Personal statements for college differ from SAT scores and academic transcripts, which are more standardized. Further, while letters of recommendation touch on many of the same issues as personal statements, they are not written by you but by a recommender.
A focused and effective personal statement for college serves three major functions:
1. Personal statements give broad, comprehensive insights into your personal and academic background.
Ultimately, your academic, personal, and even professional background can be the determining factor in your admission to any college program. But there’s a big difference between a personal statement and resume or CV.
2. It provides college admissions counselors with an accurate overview of your academic goals.
A good college personal statement must explain how your background relates to your university’s program and your goals. It must put in context the tools, resources, and background you bring to the table and how they are aligned with your school’s profile. In the business world, this is called “ vertical alignment .”
In other words, how you write about your background should make you stand out from other college applicants as well as connect with what you want to accomplish. Your background empowers you to succeed!
In admissions essays, small steps can yield big results.
3. Personal statements answer very specific questions.
Often, your college application will require you to apply to a specific program and will ask very specific questions. For example, applying to your university’s business college will require answering different application essay questions than applying to a performing arts program.
So be sure to research not only your target university’s profile but also your specific college major and professors in that department.
We illustrate this exact idea in the two successful personal statement examples below!
How Important is the personal statement for college to admissions officials?
Covid-19 has made the sat/act less important.
Common App announced that it will include a dedicated essay prompt on COVID-19 for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. As a result, students are scrambling to figure out how to write about COVID-19 in their college admissions essays .
There’s even more evidence that the college personal essay is becoming the most important part of the application process. As CBS News reports :
A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities are abandoning ACT and SAT scores as part of their admissions process. The so-called test-blind movement has gathered steam this year amid widespread cancellations of standardized tests because of COVID-19.
Moreover, a court recently ruled that the University of California public school system can no longer consider SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process . The days of the standardized test may be numbered.
This means that the application essay just got a lot more important.
How to Write a Personal Statement for College to Impress Admissions Officers
Why do college admissions committees rely on college application essays so much? The answer is that a college personal statement sets you apart from your high school peers by explaining three ideas:
Show your personality in your personal statement
College admissions committees rely on your transcripts and GPA as a measure of your academic prowess. Letters of recommendation focus more on how others view you and how you interact.
On the other hand, your college personal statement application essay gives admissions counselors a sense of your personality. It demonstrates how you will fit in as well as contribute to the university community.
Are you hyper-focused and ambitious with a lot of professional experience and projects to back it up? Or are you more curious, with a wide range of interests? Are your motivations related to achieving concrete objectives, or are they more personal or emotional in nature? The lens through which you interact with the world is exactly what your personal statement essay should show.
On paper, your SAT score, GPA, and extracurricular activities may be the same as other applicants. You may end up in the same college classes. College counselors know no two applicants are the same. What matters is that both fit in with what the university wants for its students.
Describe any extenuating circumstances
Are your grades a bit below average? Did you fail a class in high school? Those things jump out when it comes to numbers on paper. Universities want to know the context for abnormal records, and most importantly, how you view them.
As the world continues to become more global and aware of social disparities, the definition of “traditional success” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It has become standard for U.S. universities to have action plans for the diversity and inclusion of underprivileged students.
Most importantly, colleges want to understand how you struggled and overcame a difficult situation. Those are the exact students they want!
Explain why you are applying to this school
Besides selling your personality and explaining any drawbacks or holes in your record, a great college personal statement should provide insights into why you are applying to university. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, many students get caught up in proving themselves like a job application. They totally forget to explain why they are applying to college.
How to write about reasons for applying to college:
- Define what part(s) of the university appeal to you. Explain how they align with your personal goals and personality.
- Pick out a couple of unique characteristics of the school. These can be professors, programs of study, or facilities.
Successful College Personal Statement Examples
Now that we know how important a college personal statement is and what it does, what’s the first step?
Success imitates success
At Wordvice, we encourage college applicants to look at successful personal statement examples to really absorb and gain insights into what an engaging personal college essay is. Read as many as you can, as no two students are the same. But you will see many of the themes discussed above again and again in successful college personal statements.
College Personal Statement Examples and Sample Essays
To start, Wordvice is including a couple of successful personal statement essay examples, including comments and feedback provided by our editors to the students. Both of these essays were edited by Wordvice’s professional editors , with both students gaining admission!
Personal Statement Essay #1: The “Holistic Profile” Essay
Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing to express my interest in studying at the University of ________ as a Supply Chain Management student. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my letter. I am currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Public Finance and Supply Chain Management at ________ University. I have decided to apply to your Supply Chain Management programme because I am sure it would strongly enrich my future studies and help me in my prospective career. Moreover, I consider this programme as a great opportunity to get to know ________ culture and its well-developed logistic background. I am also very curious about the different approaches taken in this field at a prominent university. I have chosen to apply to the University of________ because it examines all types of supply chain management perspectives, from production to services. During my previous studies, I discovered that simply working on procurement is far from enough. My fellow students and I had the opportunity to create an e-commerce project. At the time, the only thing in our control was the procurement decision, but I soon realized I had the capacity and drive to learn more about solutions and innovations. Another reason I am applying for this programme at ________ is its close relationship with relevant companies in my desired field. I learned on the university’s website that there is a specific resource that helps to connect students with these companies. Since I am interested in working in the Netherlands after I graduate, this resource will definitely be useful for my career. In addition, the fact that this programme offers an option to participate in an apprenticeship is very appealing to me. This could not only broaden my horizons through practical experience but also provide a chance for me to expand my connections in the industry. My current undergraduate studies make me highly suitable for this programme. I have learned the basic foundations of supply chain management through courses such as operations management, strategic purchasing, and inventory management. I have also taken mathematics and statistics to help me understand data problems. In addition to my academic interests, I have a full and interesting life off-campus. I was a member of our school volleyball team, which won several championships; this led to me graduating as an honour’s student. Those times spent on the court have strengthened my team spirit and my ability to work under pressure. During summer vacations, I spend time travelling around Europe and the United States. My first experience in Amsterdam was unforgettable, and it made me consider coming back in the future. Planning the trip carefully, and living alone in an unfamiliar area, have turned me into a more independent young woman. Professionally, I have done internships in international companies such as Red Bull and ASUS. These experiences gave me the chance to work in a global context with people from different countries, which has encouraged me to have a more flexible and adaptive mindset. Because of these wonderful experiences, I am certain I will conquer all future challenges and make the most out of them. In conclusion, I am very eager to study Supply Chain Management at the University of ________, as it would give me a chance to deepen my skills and knowledge in one of the field’s top universities. I am confident I excel in this programme due to my solid educational foundation in business and personality strengths. Thank you again for reading my personal statement. I look forward to hearing from you.
Why was this personal statement for college successful?
The essay is well-organized and directly answers key questions.
The applicant clearly lays out her educational and professional background as well as her skills. She also includes two solid paragraphs about why she has chosen her program of study and later explains why she is both qualified and a perfect fit.
This essay displays excellent organization and has a natural flow of ideas indicative of a native English speaker who can write exceptionally well.
The essay is personal and does not feel like a resume or CV
This college applicant came with a very strong academic and professional background. A solid handle on supply chain management (not the most exciting major) with internships to back it up. But notice how she doesn’t dwell on just that? She is able to connect things like her academic math experience with personal motivation. She even includes her extracurricular activities to show she’s more than a number cruncher.
First, she shows that she is a well-rounded person , not just a student that studies for grades. Second, she conveys her well-developed personal identity that has chosen this course of study at this particular college in this particular country. Make sure your college essay communicates this!
The essay specifically targets the school
Every major university has a business school, and every business school has a supply chain management program. How do the college admissions counselors reading her personal statement know she’s motivated to apply there?
This applicant clearly explains how she personally wants to attend this particular university in The Netherlands. She lists her personal travel experience and mentions a specific mentorship program.
Personal Statement Essay #2: The “Enthusiastic Achiever” Essay
I am passionate about computers because technology will continue to play a fundamental role in our lives. Based on this fact, I researched colleges that have both a strong computer science program and co-op program, and this is when I found Hofstra. I visited the campus for a tour and was really impressed with what I saw. Not only are the campus facilities top-notch, but the advanced computer science labs are world-class. This shows Hofstra’s focus to be able to provide the best intellectual and technical resources for students. I asked my tour guide about the class sizes and curriculum style. I was thrilled when he told me that average class sizes are in the 20s and that the curriculum emphasizes experiential learning. I am looking for more than just academic excellence; extracurricular activities, including community service opportunities, are also very important to me. In researching schools that would provide students with the most well-rounded lifestyles, I was amazed to see the number of philanthropic events that the school hosts and supports. Philanthropy seems ingrained in the school’s culture. I also saw hundreds of clubs that can cater to everyone’s unique interests. Students are also welcome to start new clubs if no existing clubs can foster their interests. The energy on campus is something that I noticed right away. Both the students and staff show a lot of pride for Hofstra, and it’s truly memorable how enthusiastic the school spirit is among students. Leaving home to attend college is a big change for everyone, and I think school pride and a strong sense of community will help me make a smooth transition. I was very happy to hear that students get two tickets to events on campus. This is especially great because I am a sports fan and would love to experience the electric game-day atmosphere of a division one basketball game and cheer on the Lions! Hofstra’s location is also ideal because it has the advantages of being in a smaller town but also being very close to New York City. I do not want to attend college in a big city, but the fact that New York City is so close opens up a lot of opportunities. First off, there are numerous internships at top companies in the city. In addition, it would be great to visit the city from time to time and see a show or sports game. Being able to do that with friends would give me great experiences and memories. Hofstra is my top choice because it fulfills my most important criteria: esteemed faculty members, a strong computer science program, a strong sense of belonging, amazing internship and community service opportunities, and a diverse campus. I cannot wait to be a Hofstra Lion!
This personal statement is brief and under the word count
This essay is 461 words, which is perfectly under the 500-word limit on many college admissions essays. Although content is the main focus, your personal statement needs to abide by all rules laid out in the essay brief. That includes mundane but essential stipulations such as word count.
It is multi-faceted and hits major selling points
The student talks about Hofstra’s location, academics, sports, extracurriculars, and even philanthropy. The student doesn’t just list these as a marketing brochure would; each selling point is connected to the student personally and emotionally. Excitement is something that every student tries to portray in their admissions essay, so be sure you emulate something like this.
Improve Personal Statements with College Essay Editing Services
It’s an understatement that college is one of the most important factors, affecting your social and professional future. Unfortunately, college personal statements and admissions essays sometimes come a bit disorganized and unfocused, just like the students who write them. That’s where essay editing services like Wordvice come in. They are beneficial for a number of reasons.
Why Use an Admissions Essay Editing Service?
1. they help fix errors that you miss.
College admissions committees have to reject a certain number of applicants every year. You can be sure that your application essay will go straight into the reject pile if it has any grammar or spelling errors.
It definitely takes a bit of self-awareness and experience to realize when it’s best to let someone help you. No one person has a monopoly on knowledge or perspective, no matter how strong their background is. Ever played the “what’s the difference between these two pictures” game?
Our brains are hard-wired to lock in our own biases. That’s a major problem when it comes to writing a personal statement where the entire point is convincing someone else.
2. They save students time
College consulting services have stated that the average number of applications is about 5.9 per college applicant. Of course, students will try to maximize their chances of getting into a good college. The downside is lack of time, which no one can buy more of.
English editing services like Wordvice help free up time so you can do what you need to do: apply to college.
3. Editors help improve your ability to communicate
Whether you are an ESL student or a native English speaker, everyone can improve their writing. In the case of a college application essay, this can mean the difference between getting into your dream college and attending your second-choice school. In addition to fixing grammar and basic errors, editing services go above and beyond to match the flow and readability of your writing with your goal – academic or admissions.
If you are writing a personal statement or college essay, you want editors with first-hand college and university admissions experience reviewing and editing your essay.
Additional College Personal Statement Tips
We hope you learned a lot from these examples of successful college personal statements. So what’s next?
I want to learn more about the college admissions process
Interested in learning more tips from experts about the college admissions process, personal statements, or letters of recommendation? Check out the Wordvice Admissions Resources blog.
I am interested in professional editing for my personal statement
We also got you covered! Whether you choose personal statement editing , recommendation letter editing , resume editing , or any of our other essay editing services , you can find the help you need to improve your college essay.
I want to improve my college personal statement for college right now
Check out our turnaround times and conditions on our editing FAQ page. Or you can jump straight in and use our Editing Price Calculator to start the ordering process.
Essays That Worked
The essays are a place to show us who you are and who you’ll be in our community.
It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you and tell the admissions committee more about your background or goals. Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. In each of these essays, students were able to share stories from their everyday lives to reveal something about their character, values, and life that aligned with the culture and values at Hopkins.
Hear from the Class of 2027
These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.
Ordering the Disorderly
Ellie’s essay skillfully uses the topic of entropy as an extended metaphor. Through it, we see reflections about who they are and who they aspire to be.
Pack Light, But Be Prepared
In Pablo’s essay, the act of packing for a pilgrimage becomes a metaphor for the way humans accumulate experiences in their life’s journey and what we can learn from them. As we join Pablo through the diverse phases of their life, we gain insights into their character and values.
Julieta illustrates how the concept of Tikkun Olam, “a desire to help repair the world,” has shaped their passions and drives them to pursue experiences at Hopkins.
Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love.
Classical Reflections in Herstory
Maddie’s essay details their intellectual journey using their love of Greek classics. They incorporate details that reveal the roots of their academic interests: storytelling, literary devices, and translation. As their essay progresses, so do Maddie’s intellectual curiosities.
My Spotify Playlist
Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM.
More essays that worked
We share essays from previously admitted students—along with feedback from our admissions committee—so you can understand what made them effective and how to start crafting your own.
Our interactive workshops—on topics like the college search process and essay preparation—will help you build your strongest application when you’re ready to apply.
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- How to Write a College Essay
College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Getty Images
For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.
"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.
Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.
This can feel like a lot of pressure.
"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."
That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.
But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.
"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.
Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.
From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.
Getting Started on the College Essay
How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.
A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.
Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.
Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.
In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.
Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.
"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.
Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 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.
The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.
The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.
There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.
The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.
Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.
Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.
What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.
"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."
If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"
The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.
Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.
The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."
If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.
Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:
"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."
"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."
The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.
"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."
He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.
"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."
The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.
"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."
Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.
Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.
Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.
"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."
While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.
"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."
When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.
"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."
After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.
The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.
Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.
Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.
"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."
Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.
And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.
When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.
Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."
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How to Format Your Personal Statement (& Example Essays)
Admissions committee members who are reading personal statements all expect an essay to flow logically from one section to the next.
But this can be a challenge when core aspects of our lives often don’t occur to us in straightforward or linear ways. And some of those aspects may feel fundamentally disconnected: Is it even possible, for example, to write a personal statement that includes your career goals following a step by step approach in a way that is still personal ?
We think so. Most stories have some kind of arc: a satisfying sense of conflict, growth and change, and resolution. The personal statement format, structure, and content tips below can help you select an approach that helps you find and express the arc in your life, whether you’re working on undergraduate college admissions, law school, medical school, or other graduate schools.
What is the Correct Personal Statement Format?
There’s no single required format for the Common App or Coalition , but we’d generally recommend keeping it simple and standard. Regarding font choice, things like Times New Roman or Georgia (what this is written in) won’t fail you. Just avoid things like Comic Sans or other informal/casual fonts that will be distracting or show poor taste.
What about size? 11- or 12-point is fine.
And color? Black.
Going with something other than the above could be a risk, possibly a big one, for fairly little gain. Things like a wacky font or text color could easily feel gimmicky to a reader.
To stand out with your writing, instead of risks with basic format, take some risks in what you write about and the connections and insights you make .
Can I use things like italics and bold?
Possibly: keep in mind that if you’re pasting text into a box online, it may wipe out your formatting. So if you were hoping to rely on italics or bold for some kind of emphasis, double check whether you’ll be able to. (And as a general guideline, try to use sentence structure and phrasing to create that kind of emphasis anyway, rather than relying on bold or italics—doing so will make you a better writer.)
What if I’m attaching a document (rather than pasting)?
If you are attaching a document rather than pasting into a text box, all the above still applies. Again, we’d recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard one inch margins.
Basically, show them you’re ready to write in college by using the formatting you’ll normally use in college.
Learn more format tips here .
How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?
Fortunately, colleges and application systems usually give you specific personal statement word counts. The Common Application and Coalition Application, which are the most prevalent applications, will give you a word count of 650 words for your main personal statement, but will usually give a smaller word count for school-specific supplemental essays . Other application programs or schools will usually give the specific word count maximum—for example, the UC PIQs are 350 words max. If the application or college doesn’t specify how long your essay should be clearly in the application directors or on the site (and make sure to do your research), you can email them to ask! They don’t bite.
Some people have asked us: Should I use all of my allotted space in an essay?
As a general guideline, yes, we think it can be smart to use most of it. You likely have a lot to say about yourself, so not using all the space offered might be a missed opportunity to tell your story. While you don’t have to use every single word allowed, shoot to use most of what they give you. But fair warning: Don’t just fill space if what you’re writing doesn’t provide more insight into the story you’re telling.
There are also some applications or supplementals with recommended word counts or lengths. For example, Georgetown says things like “approx. 1 page,” and UChicago doesn’t have a limit, but recommends aiming for 650ish for the extended essay, and 250-500 for the “Why us?”
You can generally apply UChicago’s recommendations to other schools that don’t give you a limit: If it’s a “Why Major” or “Why Us” supplement, 650 is probably plenty (and shorter is generally fine), and for other supplements, 250-500 is a good target to shoot for. If you go over those, that can be ok—just be sure you’re earning that word count (as in, not rambling or being overly verbose). Your readers are humans. If you send them a tome, their attention could drift.
How to Find Your Topic
To clarify at the outset, your topic is always you —you’re showing the admissions readers who you are and what you value. So what we’re exploring here is how best to do so.
And because we have other posts that offer a step by step approach to writing a personal statement , we’ll give the shorter version here.
We think there are two structural approaches that can work for anyone writing a personal statement for college admissions:
Montage Structure —a series of experiences and insights that are connected thematically (so, for example, 5 pairs of socks that connect to 5 different sides of who you are).
Narrative Structure —classic western culture story structure, focusing roughly equally on a) Challenges You Faced, b) What You Did About Them, and c) What You Learned. Paragraphs and events are connected causally.
Which approach may work best for you depends on whether you have a clear, significant challenge you’d want to write about, or not. (And to make sure it’s clear: you don’t have to write about a challenge, even if you have experienced one.) Narrative works well for challenge-based essays; montage offers a great way to demonstrate who you are without (primarily) focusing on challenges you’ve faced.
We’ve found these brainstorming exercises can be great for building content for a montage or a narrative:
Essence Objects Exercise : 12 min.
Values Exercise : 4 min.
21 Details Exercise: 20 min.
Everything I Want Colleges to Know About Me Exercise : 20 min.
The Feelings and Needs Exercise : 15-20 min.
How to Start Your Personal Statement
We’ve seen plenty of strong essays that don’t use a hook, so don’t stress out or spend more time on this than on other, generally more important parts of your essay. But an interesting opening can be a nice way to intrigue your reader and show them that you’ve worked on your ability to write. To that end, here are three (of many) ways to start a personal statement :
Begin with information that creates certain expectations before taking us in a surprising direction.
Growing up, my world was basketball. My summers were spent between the two solid black lines. My skin was consistently tan in splotches and ridden with random scratches. My wardrobe consisted mainly of track shorts, Nike shoes, and tournament t-shirts. Gatorade and Fun Dip were my pre-game snacks. The cacophony of rowdy crowds, ref whistles, squeaky shoes, and scoreboard buzzers was a familiar sound. I was the team captain of almost every team I played on—familiar with the Xs and Os of plays, commander of the court, and the coach’s right hand girl. But that was only me on the surface. Deep down I was an East-Asian influenced bibliophile and a Young Adult fiction writer.
Why It Works: We’re introduced to the author as a basketball superstar, the queen of the court, a sports fanatic—and at this point the reader may even be making assumptions about this author’s identity based on her initial description of herself. However, in one sentence, the writer takes us in a completely unexpected direction. This plays with audience expectations and demonstrates that she has a good degree of self awareness about the layers of her identity. After having our expectations thrown for a loop, we can’t help but wonder more about who exactly this person is (and if you want to know like I did, read the rest of this essay here ).
I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile. But I am not any of these things. I am not a test score, nor a debater, nor a writer. I am an anti-nihilist punk rock philosopher. And I became so when I realized three things:
Why It Works: He basically tears up his (impressive) resume from the first few sentences and says, “That’s not me! Here’s the real me…” and as a result we wonder, “How does one become an anti-nihilist punk rock philosopher? And what are the three things??” (Read the rest here .)
THE PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION
Ask a question that you won’t (and probably can’t) answer in your essay. This gives you a chance to show how your brilliant brain works, plus keeps us hooked as you explore possible answers/solutions.
Does every life matter? Because it seems like certain lives matter more than others, especially when it comes to money.
Why it Works: This question raises a controversial and troubling idea: that we treat some lives as though they matter more than others. We wonder: “Is that true? Could it be? Say more…” Heads-up: This one can veer into the “Overly Grand Ambiguous Statement” opening if you’re not careful. Click here to read the rest of the essay mentioned above, which by the way took him a long time to refine—as this approach is not easy to pull off.
Begin by admitting something you might be judged (or judge yourself) for.
I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays. (Read the rest here .)
Why it Works: Shows vulnerability, but also in many cases intrigues us to learn more.
Here is a secret that no one in my family knows: I shot my brother when I was six. Luckily, it was a BB gun. But to this day, my older brother Jonathan does not know who shot him. And I have finally promised myself to confess this eleven year old secret to him after I write this essay.
Why It Works: This is super vulnerable to admit and raises all sorts of questions for us: Why did he shoot his brother? Why hasn’t he confessed it to him? What will his brother say once he tells him? (Fun fact: This essay actually breaks the “don’t start with a quote” rule. Here’s the rest if you wanna’ read it.)
Learn about six more ways to start a personal statement .
Showcase your Values, Skills, Qualities, and Insights
The personal statement is one of the primary ways a college gets to know who you are, through seeing the values, skills, qualities, and insights you’ll bring to that community. Both montage and narrative offer you a chance to demonstrate those aspects to your reader.
In a narrative, you’ll explore actions you took in response to the challenge you faced, and what you learned from those choices and experiences.
In a montage, you’ll explore different moments and experiences that demonstrate different core values through your actions and insights.
The in-depth guide we mentioned above can help you develop and revise those elements.
Build a Strong Ending
A great ending often has two qualities: surprise and inevitability . H/T Aristotle
Think about a great film ending—usually you feel some combination of “Whoa, I totally didn’t see that coming,” and “Ah, right, it probably had to end like that.”
We’re talking about The Sixth Sense , Inception , or Titanic . And totally j/k re: Titanic because that was a TERRIBLE ending—both Jack and Rose could’ve totally fit on that door. The boat sinking was a shocker, though, right?
Does every great movie have both those qualities? No. And must you have both those qualities to get into a great college? No. But these are two good qualities to keep in mind as you read this post and write your essay.
1. CONNECT TO YOUR VALUES
This one is one of the easiest. It basically works like this: Look back through your essay and ask yourself, “What values am I showing?”
Then don’t name those values too much in the body of your essay, but do name them explicitly in your conclusion.
Here’s an example (note the values in bold ):
Upon reflection, I found that my answer didn’t exist in books or research, but somewhere very close from the beginning—my intuition. In other words, I didn’t need an elaborate and intricate reason to prove to myself that health is an inalienable right for every human being—I needed self-reflection. So I ask again, “Does every life matter?” Yes. “Do I have solid, written proof?” No. Paul Farmer once said, “The thing about rights is that in the end you can’t prove what is a right.” To me, global health is not merely a study. It’s an attitude—a lens I use to look at the world—and it’s a statement about my commitment to health as a fundamental quality of liberty and equity .
To read the entire Does Every Life Matter essay, click here.
Why This Ending Works:
If you read the entire essay (at link above), you’ll see the author touches on a few different themes in his essay—heritage, community, moral behavior, etc.—but he doesn’t make them super explicit until the end. Once he names them at the end, we (as readers) go, “Ah, that’s what we thought you were talking about.”
Ending with values is also a pretty good idea because a) it shows your ability to self-reflect, and b) highlights some qualities that, oh, by the way, will be useful in college and beyond.
Heads-up that this doesn’t work quite as well if you’ve already clearly named the values earlier in the essay—in fact, it can feel repetitive. So, if you’re trying this approach, a) make sure you didn’t already explicitly name the values earlier and, if you did, b) delete or rephrase those parts of your essay so that when you name the values at the end, it won’t feel as repetitive.
And by the way—did you notice how the whole paragraph above felt repetitive? That’s because, if you were reading carefully, we already wrote before the example, “Then don’t name those values too much in the body of your essay, but do name them explicitly in your conclusion.” So, to edit, we should cut that sentence (and that’s what we’d have you do in your essay).
You’ll find another example of this type of ending in the Makeup essay (check out the mentions of “scientific inquiry,” “voice,” “connect me with others,” and more in those last lines).
2. THE BOOKEND OR CALLBACK
Bookending involves referring to something you’ve set up earlier in the essay. It’s something comedians do a lot and refer to as a “callback.” For a few examples, check out How Dave Chappelle Delivers a Callback starting at 1:05. (Trigger warning: There’s some adult language in that video. If you prefer, here’s the Wikipedia link explaining the same concept.)
Here’s an example of a callback in a personal statement:
The essay begins ...
I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays.
And the essay ends ...
The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it. I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others.
To read the entire “Poop, Animals, and the Environment” essay, click here.
What We Like about This Ending/Why It Works:
This one is great because, on the one hand, the ending catches the reader by surprise (we didn’t see that coming!). But it also feels inevitable (because she’s calling back to something she set up at the start). That’s that surprise + inevitability we mentioned a minute ago. (Thanks, Aristotle.)
One thing that’s cool about this tactic is that you can do this once the rest of your essay is already written. And, if you do it well, it’ll feel like you planned it all along.
Learn about 8 other ways to end your personal statement .
Example #1 of a Good Format
Montage essay: settlers of catan.
Sprinting home from school and bursting through the door, I exclaimed, “Want to solve a puzzle today, Pati?” My grandmother looked up from her favorite TV show, saying in reluctant Tamil and broken English, “Maybe just one. You must have homework today. I heard fourth grade is quite demanding.” I yanked the thousand-page crossword book off the shelf and sat beside her. While shopping the day before, the book had caught my eye; it seemed like the perfect way for me to teach her English. Slowly, we solved the first problem, and came across one clue that read “Person who cuts men’s hair.” I taught her how to pronounce the word “barber” and described what the typical American barbershop looked like. She paused, committing the definition to memory, and once again reminded me to not cut my hair at night. When I asked why, she responded, “you never know where pieces of your hair might fall. It may even fall into your food!” As we continued day after day with these crossword puzzles, I came to understand that the meaning behind our time together was much deeper than my desire to teach her. It was about exchange. I taught her English; she taught me about my heritage. With every crossword, our shared sense of joy and belonging grew. The two-way street of teaching and learning brought us closer and deepened our respect for one another. Six years later, I was teaching advanced math to a third-grade class. I took great care to explain new principles, and all of my students were doing well; I felt proud of them and of myself. Then, we reached the long division section. Despite my methodical descriptions, one student often stared back at me with a glazed-over look of confusion. I took her aside, trying yet again to explain the steps of long division, to no avail. Exasperated, I thought to myself, “This is my last try before kicking her out of the advanced class.” Taking a deep breath, I asked myself if I really was describing it in the best way. Realizing that mere repetition was futile, this time I explained it to her by connecting division to the basics of addition and subtraction. The glaze over her eyes disappeared, and in a small voice she exclaimed, “Oh!” My student mastered long division and scored excellently on the test - and I witnessed how patience allowed me to learn from my student and become a better teacher. While crosswords with my grandma illuminated the two-way nature of teaching and learning, this experience enriched my understanding of exchange with patience. This young girl also changed my view of patience: it isn’t only about waiting quietly for something to happen out of the blue, but can also be an act of service that I do for others. Now, I mentor elementary and middle schoolers in robotics and lead the programming committee on my high school’s robotics team. I’m constantly answering questions from both the younger students and my peers like, “How do I code a follow-the-line program?” or “How do I get data from an accelerometer?” Rather than simply answering, I contextualize their questions in the relevant theory and explain how the hardware and software bring that theory to life. Although it would be faster to explain the steps, I practice patience and engage them in an exchange. This way, they arrive at an answer on their own, allowing them to ingrain the new information in their memory. Mentoring robotics has solidified my notion that teaching is an exchange, and that patience is an integral part of that exchange. But most significantly, I understand that the dynamic pair of teaching and learning must come hand in hand for it to be effective. And the only way to have this kind of relationship is by helping each other solve our respective crossword puzzles. — — —
We think a strong personal statement demonstrates values, insight, vulnerability, and craft , so those are the aspects of these two sample essays we’ll focus on.
Values —This montage allows the author to illustrate many of the values that have shaped her: family, growth (her own and others’), heritage, connection, teaching, patience, curiosity…
Insight —There are several moments that show the author has worked on the ability to reflect. For example, “The two-way street of teaching and learning brought us closer and deepened our respect for one another.” demonstrates insight she has gained into how to develop strong supportive relationships
Vulnerability —Moments like “I asked myself if I really was describing it in the best way” in which we acknowledge when we may have failed at something or lacked understanding can be a nice way to demonstrate maturity
Craft —The author has clearly spent several drafts revising and thinking through their choices. The clarity of phrasing and sentence structure demonstrate that this author is ready to write in college.
Example #2 of a Good Format
Narrative essay: figuring out what really mattered.
"Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air." —Ivan Pavlov Upon graduation, I will be able to analyze medieval Spanish poems using literary terms and cultural context, describe the electronegativity trends on the periodic table, and identify when to use logarithmic differentiation to simplify a derivative problem. Despite knowing how to execute these very particular tasks, I currently fail to understand how to change a tire, how to do my taxes efficiently, or how to obtain a good insurance policy. A factory-model school system that has been left essentially unchanged for nearly a century has been the driving force in my educational development. I have been conditioned to complete tasks quickly, efficiently, and with an advanced understanding. I measured my self-worth as my ability to outdo my peers academically, thinking my scores were the only aspect that defined me; and they were. I was getting everything right. Then, I ran for Student Government and failed. Rejection. I didn’t even make it past the first round of cuts. How could that be? I was statistically a smart kid with a good head on my shoulders, right? Surely someone had to have made a mistake. Little did I know, this was my first exposure to meaning beyond numbers. As I was rejected from StuGo for the second year in a row, I discovered I had been wrongfully measuring my life through numbers--my football statistics, my test scores, my age, my height (I’m short). I had the epiphany that oh wait, maybe it was my fault that I had never prioritized communication skills, or open-mindedness (qualities my fellow candidates possessed). Maybe it was me. That must be why I always had to be the one to approach people during my volunteer hours at the public library to offer help--no one ever asked me for it. I resolved to alter my mindset, taking a new approach to the way I lived. From now on I would emphasize qualitative experiences over quantitative skills. I had never been more uncomfortable. I forced myself to learn to be vulnerable by asking questions even if I was terrified of being wrong. My proficiency in using data evidence could not teach me how to communicate with young children at church, nor could my test scores show me how to be more open to criticism. The key to all of these skills, I was to discover, happened to be learning from those around me. Turns out, I couldn’t do everything by myself. The process of achieving this new mindset came through the cultivation of relationships. I became fascinated by the new perspectives each person in my life could offer if I really took the time to connect. Not only did I improve my listening skills, but I began to consider the big-picture consequences my engagements could have. People interpret situations differently due to their own cultural contexts, so I had to learn to pay more attention to detail to understand every point of view. I took on the state of what I like to call collaborative independence, and to my delight, I was elected to StuGo after my third year of trying. Not long ago, I would have fallen apart at the presence of any uncertainty. As I further accept and advance new life skills, the more I realize how much remains uncertain in the world. After all, it is quite possible my future job doesn’t exist yet, and that’s okay. I can’t conceivably plan out my entire life at the age of 17, but what I can do is prepare myself to take on the unknown, doing my best to accompany others. Hopefully, my wings continue enabling me to fly, but it is going to take more than just me and my wings; I have to continue putting my faith in the air around me. — — —
Values —Again, we get a bunch of core values threaded throughout the essay: intellectual curiosity, perspective, growth, relationships…
Insight —There are several nice moments of reflection in here. One example: “I discovered I had been wrongfully measuring my life through numbers--my football statistics, my test scores, my age, my height (I’m short). I had the epiphany that oh wait, maybe it was my fault that I had never prioritized communication skills, or open-mindedness (qualities my fellow candidates possessed).” demonstrates an ability to step back and reflect, to understand where he may have gone wrong, and to grow.
Vulnerability —Moments like “I currently fail to understand how to change a tire, how to do my taxes efficiently, or how to obtain a good insurance policy” add a bit of humor to the essay while also being vulnerable—it can be a little scary to acknowledge what others might perceive as weakness or shortcomings. But doing so actually demonstrates strength on the author’s part.
And there are a few of these: losing the election, realizing they had been measuring their life incorrectly, “Maybe it was me”…
Craft —The author does a nice job demonstrating their ability to write. The hook is interesting and effective, and is bookended nicely at the end. There’s a clear structure and flow to the essay. And there are nice little metaphorical turns of phrase like “I have to continue putting my faith in the air around me.”
Special thanks to Andy for contributing to this post.
Andrew has worked as an educator, consultant, and curriculum writer for the past 15 years, and earned degrees from Stanford in Political Science and Drama. He feels most at home on mountain tops and in oceans.
Top Values: Insight/Growth | Truth | Integrity
College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked
CollegeAdvisor’s 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked
The college essay is one of the most important parts of the college admissions process—and it’s also one of the hardest to complete. If you’re struggling to find the right college essay topics, you’re not alone. In this guide, we’ll break down some of the best college essays to help you write a personal statement for college that will stand out .
You’ve likely written many essays over the course of your high school career. However, your personal statement for college may be the first time you’ve been asked to write about yourself . That’s where our sample college essays can help.
The best college essays will reflect who you are, what matters to you, and why you’ll enrich any college community you join. That’s a tall order, but looking at examples of college essays can help you as you begin the writing process. But before we dive into our sample college essays, let’s start with some basics.
What is a college essay?
A college essay is a piece of writing that responds to a given prompt, either on the Common App lication , Coalition Application , or on a school’s individual application. College essays can range anywhere from 50 to 800 words. There are two main types of college essays: personal statements and supplemental essays. In general, you will write one personal statement and submit it to every school you apply to. By contrast, you’ll submit a different set of supplemental essays to each school.
Why do college essays matter in the admissions process?
Your college essays reflect parts of your identity that aren’t clear from the rest of your application. While two students might have similar grades and extracurriculars, they won’t have the same college essays. That means that your college essays can make you stand out from the crowd. Our sample college essays can help you do just that.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through sample college essays that address a wide variety of college essay topics. We’ll break down examples of college essays from every category so that you feel prepared to write your own. Each sample college essay we’ve included in our college essay examples shows how you can use strong, intentional writing to approach a variety of college essay topics. By looking at these college essay examples, we hope you learn a lot about how to approach essay-writing.
Each school approaches college essay prompts differently. Each school may provide both required and optional college essay prompts. Most selective colleges will require you to write some kind of personal statement. Many also have school-specific supplemental college essay prompts and short answer questions. Below, sample college essays that worked show how students like you approached these prompts and impressed top schools.
For more tips about how to approach college essay topics and the writing process, check out our Essay Guides FAQ .
In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at some examples of college essays and talk about why they succeeded. Our analysis will explain why these are a few of the best college essays that worked.
This includes a variety of essay types such as:
- Short essay examples
- Common App essay examples
- Examples of personal essays
- Supplemental essay examples (including why this college essay examples and why this major essay examples), and more.
Soon, we’ll dive into our college essays examples and break down some examples of personal essays. But first, let’s talk about what makes a good college essay and how you can make sure your college essays stand out . As you’ll see from our examples of college essays, there is no one right way to approach college essay prompts or one specific formula for writing the best college essays. However, as you’ll learn from these sample college essays, there are still plenty of useful tips that can make your essays shine.
Good college essays and the college admissions process
As you start reviewing college essay prompts and looking at examples of college essays, you might find yourself wondering, “What are the common characteristics of good college essays?”
Each of our college application essay examples, from our Common App essay examples to our short essay examples, offer key insights into an applicant’s character. These sample college essays did a great job of answering their respective college essay prompts. As such, they each stood out to admissions teams as strong college application essay examples.
Later in this guide to college essay examples, we’ll break down the best college essays in detail. But first, let’s look at a few sample college essays to help you get an idea of what to think about as you learn how to write good college essays. These college essay examples provide valuable insight into how you can craft one of the best college essays admissions teams have ever seen.
Below is an excerpt from one of our successful personal essay examples:
One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels.
Below is an excerpt from one of our successful why NYU essay examples:
The Bachelor of Science in Business Program excites me, as it entails a well rounded yet intensive study in core business disciplines. However, what draws me to Stern is the emphasis on gaining a global perspective, which is crucial in today’s rapidly changing world economy. Through the International Business Exchange Program, I will be able to gain a first-hand cultural experience that will mold me into a global citizen and business leader. Not only will I be taking courses in the most prestigious business schools across the globe, but I will also have new doors opened for me to network with alumni.
As you can see, examples of college essays can look very different . What matters is that they are detailed, specific, and show the admissions team at any school why the writer would enrich campus life—all while answering the college essay prompts. When we look at more examples of college essays, we’ll discuss why these essays—and other college essay examples—worked so well.
We’ll break down:
- How they addressed their college essay prompts
- What kind of structure they followed
- What their unique strengths are
- Tips and tricks to use while writing your own college essays
As you start looking at examples of college essays, you may wonder how important they are to your application. The answer is: extremely.
Many top colleges and universities use a holistic process when reviewing applications. That means they evaluate your essays alongside your academic history, extracurriculars, and test scores to learn who you are, what has made you the person you are today, and what you might bring to a college campus.
As you will see from our Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, the best college essays give applicants a chance to teach a school about the writer. Good college essays give schools a more complete idea of the person they will be inviting to join their student body—and they are the only chance a school has to learn who you are in your own words.
Providing details and telling your story
As you’ll see from our college essay examples, good college essays discuss important details that might not be clear from the rest of your application. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a specific story. Other college essay prompts, like the Stanford roommate essay, for instance, ask applicants to reflect on parts of their identity beyond their grades and test scores.
Many colleges have also tried to demystify the college application process and provide helpful resources. Some schools, like Johns Hopkins and Hamilton , even provide their own examples of college essays that worked, including Common App essay examples. This can give you a sense of what their admissions team looks for.
You’ll encounter many different college essay topics. Each of these will ask you to write about your experiences in a slightly different way. So, looking at different college essay samples (like a why this college essay example or a why this major essay example) can help you approach different college essay topics. Also, since the Common App essay is a crucial part of your application, you’ll benefit from reading our Common App essay examples.
Later in this guide, we’ll provide full sample college essays for you. This will include both Common App essay examples and short essay examples.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of college essay topics. Then, we’ll talk about the examples of college essays you’ll find later in our college essay examples guide.
Types of college essay prompts you’ll encounter
All college essay prompts will require your best writing and ideas. Understanding the differences between the types of college essay samples can help you learn how to approach your college essay prompts.
Our examples of college essays fall into two main categories:
- Personal Essay Examples (Common App essay examples/Coalition App essay examples/Personal essay examples)
- Supplemental Essay Examples (short essay examples)
Our different types of college essay examples will show how you might approach different topics and what your final essays may look like. For example, when comparing Common App essay examples and supplemental short essay examples, one significant difference between the two is the word count. When looking at short essay examples, you’ll notice that the details you find in Common App essay examples don’t fit within the short 150 word or 250 word limit. As you’ll see in our short essay examples, short-form supplemental essays require you to make the most out of a limited number of words.
Exploring a variety of college essay samples will help prepare you to write your own. If you haven’t narrowed down your school selection yet, you might not know what kinds of supplemental essays you will write or what examples of college essays you should read. In this case, start with our personal essay examples—that is, our Common App essay examples.
The Personal Statement
The most common type of essay you’ll encounter is a personal statement for college. For most applications, you’ll choose from a selection of prompts and write a longer essay (500 – 800 words) that speaks to your experiences, identity, and goals. Your personal statement for college tends to be the longest essay in your application. This means it may require more work to edit into a focused and compelling story. For inspiration, take a look at our Common App essay examples. Each of our Common App essay examples tells a story that the admissions team otherwise wouldn’t know.
You will apply to colleges using the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or a school-specific portal. Each of these application portals will have their own unique prompts and specific word counts. However, all of our examples of personal essays serve a similar purpose and require a similar writing process.
Beyond your personal statement for college, many schools ask you to write school-specific supplemental essays. Our college application essay examples will cover a range of supplemental essay prompts, including why you are interested in a particular school or a particular major.
Some schools also offer a section where you can provide additional information that may have affected your grades or overall profile. This might include details about your home life or any special circumstances that created challenges for you.
In this college essay examples guide, we’ll look at Common App essay examples to help you craft your personal statement.
The school-specific college essays that worked, we will review below include:
- Harvard essay examples
- Stanford essay examples
- UPenn supplemental essays
- Dartmouth essay examples
- Why NYU essay examples
- Why UChicago essay examples
This collection of college essays that worked will include short essay examples, including a why this college essay example and a why this major essay example. Before we break down these sample college essays, let’s look at what exactly makes the best college essays the best.
What makes the best college essays?
When looking at college essays that worked, whether personal essay examples or short essay examples, it may be challenging to discern exactly what makes a great sample college essay great. In our college essay examples guide, our examples of college essays (in addition to being correctly formatted ) have succeeded across a few criteria.
The criteria to keep in mind while you are considering how to write a successful essay are:
You can apply these criteria to all of our college application essay examples, including our Common App essay examples, examples of personal essays, and short essay examples. A strong sample college essay, no matter the length, will use these three elements to create a compelling story that will show a school how you would enrich their campus.
In our examples of college essays, you’ll see that good college essays follow a thoughtfully composed structure. Since college essay prompts often have strict word limits, it is important to follow these examples of college essays and make sure your college essay flows. Strong personal essay examples usually tell a story that leaves the reader with a lasting impression.
Like our example college essays, your college essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. As you’ll see in our college essay examples, particularly our examples of personal essays, there isn’t one right way to structure your essay. Your structure could be chronological, funnel down from broad to specific, or start with a particular memory or experience and then expand out towards a greater perspective. No matter how you structure your essay, make sure your narrative remains clear.
Not all essays have to look the same
As you will see from our examples of college essays, your college essay can look any number of ways. The best college essays can take many forms — what’s important is that your college essay shows the admissions team who you are . Even as you look at college application essay examples inspired by a singular prompt, you’ll find the topics they cover to be very different. However, one thing our college essay examples have in common is that they all showcase who the writer is while still answering the essay prompt.
As you read our examples of college essays and start writing your own, try to emphasize your own identity. Think about what is important to you, experiences that made you grow or changed you, times where you were challenged, or an a-ha moment that solidified a piece of who you are. Then, once you’ve found a topic to write about, make sure it connects back to the original prompt. Even if you tell a fantastic story, if it doesn’t answer the question in the prompt, you’ll have missed the goal of the essay. If you’re still having trouble coming up with an essay topic, try this reflection exercise to help you brainstorm.
We’ve chosen these college essay samples because they stood out in the admissions process. Besides being well-crafted, what makes a sample college essay stand out is personality. In this college essay examples guide, we’ve included a range of Common App essay examples and short essay examples that embody different voices, tones, and styles.
As you read through our examples of college essays, you may get stuck on trying to pick a topic that is 100% unique or obviously impressive. Instead of worrying about what makes you unique from other applicants, focus on being honest and being true to yourself. Remember, no one is exactly like you. So, follow the blueprint our sample college essays provide, but stay true to who you are.
For example, if humor is a key part of your personality, let that side of you shine through in your essays! However, if you read a hilarious college essay example but don’t naturally use humor yourself, don’t try to replicate someone else’s voice. The best college essay examples reflect students who knew who they were, what they wanted to say, and how they wanted to say it.
Our sample college essays show why it’s important to take care as you craft your personal statement and supplemental essays. But what exactly made these examples of college essays work, and how can you replicate these sample college essays in your own admissions process?
How to use these college essay examples
Wondering how to use these essays to write your own college admission essay examples about yourself?
We’ve given some background on why we’ve included certain college application essay examples. We’ve also discussed what you can learn from the different types of college essay samples. Now, you might ask yourself, “How should I use these college application essay examples to start writing my own?”
Each college essay example addresses a unique prompt within a specific word count. So, our Common App essay examples may be more helpful to reference when writing your personal statement. Our short essay examples, by contrast, may be more helpful as you tackle your supplemental essays.
Think of these college essay examples, including Harvard essay examples and Stanford essay examples, as a resource. We know the college admissions process can be overwhelming . That’s why we are committed to providing you with resources and essay tips to help you navigate your college applications.
These college essays that worked should inspire you. As you read over these college essay samples, use these examples of college essays as a guide, not a blueprint. Your college essay should be original and entirely your own work. However, by looking at these sample college essays, you’ll get an idea of what to highlight as you tell your authentic story .
Coming up: college admission essay examples about yourself
So far, we’ve taken a peek at some examples of college essays. We hope these college essay samples will help you jumpstart your writing process. Now, you know a little bit about what goes into selecting a college essay example and why these college essay samples work. It’s time to take a deep dive into writing college admission essay examples about yourself.
Next, we’ll dig into some examples of college essays and think about how to write college admission essay examples about yourself. First, we’ll look at some Common App essay examples to help you write your personal statement. As you read through our examples of personal essays, we will break down why these Common App essay examples work and how you can craft your own effective personal statement.
Common App Essay Examples–How to approach your personal statement for college
Are you furiously googling “college admission essay examples about yourself”? You’re not alone. Writing good responses to college essay topics is one of the most difficult parts of the application process. With so many college essay prompts and college essay samples out there, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve provided the following examples of personal essays based on a variety of college essay topics.
This section will focus on Common App essay examples—that is, college admission essay examples about yourself. We’ll unpack two examples of college essays that worked and analyze what made them effective. The Common App essay will be a crucial part of your application to nearly every school on your list. Reviewing other college application essay examples is a great way to improve your own writing.
Each of these examples of college essays comes from our advisor network. Moreover, every sample college essay helped its writer get into a top school. So, they are all good examples of personal essays to use as you start your writing process.
Getting started with examples of college essays
Writing a personal statement for college isn’t easy. It’s natural to look for college admission essay examples about yourself to help. However, if you want to be competitive at top schools, you need to make sure that your Common App essay—like these Common App essay examples—is the best it can be. Many examples of college essays struggle to leave a lasting impression on readers. Also, many students struggle to choose the right college essay topics. These Common App essay examples will teach you how to do just that.
Let’s dig into some personal essay examples—or college admission essay examples about yourself. Each of these college essay samples relates to one of the Common App essay prompts. These examples of personal essays each tell stories about the writers that aren’t clear from the rest of their application; that’s why our college essay examples were successful at top schools.
Our guide will walk you through these examples of college essays and show you how to write one of the best college essays you can. Later on, we break down why these sample college essays were successful and show you how you can replicate that success in your own personal statement for college.
Common App Essay–Example 1: Elinor
The first of our Common App essay examples comes from a student named Elinor. In the first of our personal essay examples, she highlights her involvement in a club in an innovative and exciting way. Her tone, structure, and style each help her essay stand out from other examples of college essays.
Below is the full text for the first of our examples of college essays. Later, we’ll discuss what makes this sample college essay one of the best college essay samples to look at.
Elinor’s Common App Essay:
One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Rachael, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Rachael enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels. Cold bagels were not the only thing weighing heavily on my mind that morning. As I walked from classroom to classroom helping set up committees, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Our conference wasn’t going to be like those of the private schools- there were no engraved pens or stylish water bottles. Instead, people got post-it notes and whatever pens we could steal from the supply closet. Forcing myself to stop worrying, I chose instead to think of why we made that choice. Since most of the food was donated, and all of the supplies had been “borrowed” from the supply closet, we could afford to charge only a nominal fee to everyone attending. Making Model UN accessible was one of my top priorities as Secretary-General; the same desire motivated me to begin including middle school students in the club. I hurried back down to the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that all the bagels looked warm and ready to eat. The bagels would not be the sole crisis that day. As debates were about to start, one of the Chairs sent me a panic stricken text: “We only have 5 people in our committee! We can’t reenact the creation of the Treaty of Versailles!” I hurried to where his debate was taking place, and sure enough, only five people were there. I quickly considered my options- cancel the committee? Convince some delegates to switch into this debate through bagel bribery? Or maybe, come up with a completely new topic? I settled on idea number three. But what topic could a committee of only five people spend a day discussing? I mulled it over until an idea began to form. I explained to the room, “Each one of you will represent one of the five major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The chair will guide you as you tweet, make campaign videos, and debate the most important political issues.” I spent a few minutes figuring out how to go about moderating such an unconventional committee, before heading off to check in on the other debates. As I walked from committee to committee, fixing problems and helping move debates along, I felt a sense of pride. I had spent months working on this conference, along with the other members of my team. At times, I worried I could never pull it off. A part of me had wished our faculty advisor would just organize the whole thing for us. After all, I’m just a high schooler, how could I put together such a big event? But as the day went by, I realized that with the help of my peers, I had done it. All the little crises that cropped up weren’t because I was doing a bad job; they were inevitable. The fact that I could find solutions to such a wide variety of problems was a testament to my leadership skills, and my level-headedness. I didn’t just feel like a leader—I felt like an adult. As I look towards my future in college and later the workforce, I know that I can succeed, even if my obstacles seem as insurmountable as a mountain of frozen bagels.
Reflecting on this sample college essay
The first of our college essay examples certainly deserves its spot among the best college essays. This sample college essay works in large part because of its opening. The first sentence of Elinor’s Common App essay makes the reader want to continue—what happened to the bagels? How will Elinor solve this problem? Examples of college essays with strong introductions draw the reader in. In addition, an inspiring first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the essay. The frozen bagels in this college essay example create tension that draws the reader in.
Often, good examples of college essays also read like short stories in which the writer is the main character. While Elinor does mention other people in her Common App essay, she remains focused on her own actions and emotional state. In the third paragraph, she describes in detail how she responded to a crisis. She first explains her thought process, then she tells us what action she took to address the crisis.
As you comb through various college admission essay examples about yourself, you should keep your own identity in mind. Strong examples of personal essays should contain personal details about the writer. College essay topics are designed to get to know you on a personal level. Strong examples of college essays use every chance to showcase the writer’s positive qualities.
Tell YOUR story
The best Common App essay examples tell a story about the author. These college essay examples are no exception. Often, strong sample college essays use a story to show who a student is. Elinor uses the story of her model UN conference to show her leadership , maturity, and problem-solving skills. Like any good story, Elinor’s personal statement for college contains obstacles for her to overcome and challenges to face. By presenting these examples and discussing her responses, Elinor’s Common App essay shows that she is ready for the challenges ahead.
The best college essays show information rather than just telling it. It’s one thing to tell readers you are a proactive leader in college admission essay examples about yourself; it’s another to show it through your actions. In the second paragraph of her personal statement for college, Elinor states that she wanted to make model UN accessible as Secretary General. She then goes into detail about how she accomplished that goal by organizing food donations and only charging a small fee for attending the conference. In these Common App essay examples, the writers use details and evidence to showcase their best qualities.
Elinor’s sample college essay also contains a strong conclusion. She illustrates what she has learned about herself from this experience and in doing so, helps the admissions team learn more about her. In this college essay example, Elinor clearly shows the kind of student she would be and how she would enrich campus life. The best college application essay examples show readers why students should be admitted through evidence and storytelling. Our Common App essay examples each accomplish that goal.
Common App Essay–Example 2: Arham
The second of our Common App essay examples uses a different strategy to the first. However, it is still one of the top examples of personal essays. The next author of our college essay examples, Arham, starts with a very specific moment from his fifth grade class. He then explains how that moment has affected his life.
While some examples of personal essays are about a recent event, other personal essay examples show the author’s development over a longer period of time. To understand why this is among the best college application essay examples, let’s look at the essay itself and how it employs techniques often found in the best college essay examples.
Arham’s Common App Essay:
An hour into President Obama’s inauguration, I stifled a yawn and raised my hand. “Ms. Edgell, who did you vote for?” Instantly, nineteen fifth-graders shattered the silence: “Of course she voted Republican!” “No, she’s a Democrat!” “Obama was born in Kenya!” “Don’t ask people about their politics,” she chided. “So . . . you’re a Republican!” “Arham. Outside.” As Ms. Edgell fruitlessly tried to explain that politics didn’t belong in the classroom, I struggled to suppress a smile–I couldn’t help it. For a few moments, fifth grade’s single-variable algebra and spelling tests had been replaced by a more intriguing conversation: one without a definitive answer. Snippets of boisterous debate continued to drift through the closed door, and I was eager to rejoin the conversation–that day, I learned disagreements were fascinating. Eager to understand the “why” of each and every belief, I turned to my living room: a constant cacophony of political commentary, occasionally punctuated by my father’s frustrated jabs at the pause button and exasperated interjections. In my quest to decipher the cryptic nightly news, my parents became my personal dictionary, fielding a nightly barrage of questions. Forget just explaining where babies come from–over the next four years, I asked them to articulate almost every conceivable stance on gun control, abortion, and the death penalty. Through that television screen, I first encountered the full diversity of human opinions, and I was enthralled; I wanted to triumph in every dispute. Dodging my parents’ dinnertime queries of how my day went, I delved into new lines of questioning: the viability of Medicare for All, the feasibility of 100% green energy, the merits of chicken tikka masala mac & cheese fusion. After watching the 2016 Presidential Debate, I spent hours pondering the economic consequences of a more cohesive border–sadly, the living room walls didn’t offer much feedback on my ideas. Soon, I realized that some of my “solutions” were a bit near-sighted; eliminating poverty by printing money wasn’t exactly the modern-day Wealth of Nations, and the solution to global warming was a tad more nuanced than planting trees. I learned that I wouldn’t always be right–instead, the desire to win was slowly replaced by a yearning to understand. With every discussion, I synthesized new information, pinpointed gaps in my knowledge, and reevaluated my views; then, aided by the latest edition of The Economist and a plethora of Google searches, I’d unearth the next set of questions. Late nights in my living room have defined a lifelong passion: using disagreements as a lens to explore, understand, and influence the world. In Congressman DeSaulnier’s office—where interns were instructed to hang up on adversarial callers—I instead found myself engrossed in half-hour conversations with frustrated constituents. There, I delved beneath the partisan rhetoric to truly understand why people support a wall, desire nationalized healthcare, or champion coal–and, in return, I offered a bit of my own worldview. On elevators, I’ve been known to strike conversation on the whimsical (Should gyms offer a package where you pay for every day you don’t go?); overseas, I invite teams from Germany, Singapore, and Mexico to opine on whether or not Amazon should be considered a monopoly. Whether it’s discussing capitalism or everyday life, the resulting conversations shed light on our culture, upbringing, and aspirations–the willingness to disagree is what builds rapport. In recognition of that, I beckon for dialogue; I constantly invite the world to teach me more. In fifth grade, I learned that we fear disagreement–feigning unity will always be more comfortable. But, through ignoring each other’s most fundamental beliefs, we simultaneously abandon our ability to understand our peers. In my living room, disagreements provided a venue for questioning and navigating a world of conflicting perspectives: though I didn’t know it at the time, they set the stage for a lifetime of questioning. So, be it in the classroom, through a phone call, or on stage, I continue to raise my hand.”
Why is this a college essay that works
As we saw in the first of our college essay examples, one reason this sample college essay is effective is that it engages the reader from the very first sentence. The author uses the technique of in medias res , which is often found in strong personal essay examples. Instead of beginning the essay with exposition, the author begins with a quote that places the reader in the middle of a riveting conversation. This strategy makes the best Common App essay examples interesting to read and helps the best college essays stand out from the rest.
Another feature that characterizes the best college essay examples is varied and interesting word choice. This doesn’t mean you need to use words in your writing that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. In our examples of college essays, the writers don’t just throw around SAT words. Instead, these successful examples of college essays use carefully chosen words to elevate the quality of the writing and heighten emotional tension. The phrase “shattered the silence” from the second paragraph is a perfect example of how a vivid word can instantly improve a sentence. In addition, the phrase “constant cacophony of political commentary” shows how employing poetic devices—in this case, alliteration—can make college essay examples more fun to read.
So, what makes the second of our college essay examples shine? This personal statement for college works because it presents a compelling story about a young boy slowly learning how to express his opinions and refining his beliefs. Many of the best examples of college essays show a process of growth or transformation. These transformations require struggle, and good college essays embrace that struggle and present it openly to readers.
The value of authenticity
This brings us to another key feature of our college essay examples: authenticity. Some students have the misconception that the best college essays should only portray your good qualities. However, this is not the case. Instead, the most successful personal essay examples address their authors’ shortcomings and explain how they have worked to overcome them.
Honesty and authenticity permeate these college essay samples. Arham’s example college essay reveals his genuine passion for debate. He provides several examples, both personal and academic, that demonstrate his interest in that topic. Importantly, successful Common App essay examples include details not present in other areas of your application. This gives readers a more personal look into your values. These examples of college essays reveal the quirks and obsessions that round out the author’s personality and set him apart from his peers.
Both of these successful examples of college essays contain strong conclusions that look ahead to the future. These personal essay examples provide insight into how the writers will contribute to a college community. Arham uses the phrase “lifetime of questioning” to show that he will bring his curiosity and thirst for knowledge to whatever college he attends. Good college application essay examples show readers why they should accept you and what you will bring to their campus.
Although these examples of college essays are different from each other, they were both successful for a variety of reasons. Now let’s look at how to replicate these examples of college essays in your own writing!
Personal Essay Examples–How to get started writing your own college essays that work
Do you feel ready to sit down and write your own personal statement for college? Let’s break down some tips to help you use our sample college essays to write your own. Be aware that every writer has their own personal style. So, try to find ways to make these tips work for your own college admission essay examples about yourself!
So, what can we learn from these college application essay examples? Reflecting on these two Common App essay examples, there are several steps you can take in your own writing process to craft a college essay that works for top schools.
In addition to reviewing other examples of college essays, we recommend that you do some prewriting exercises to help you write the best college essays you can. First, take a moment to review your candidate profile. Then, decide on what 3-5 adjectives you would use to describe yourself. After you’ve reviewed our college essay examples, click here for a list of strong adjectives you might use.
Consider the word count
This exercise helps focus your essay on the most important themes. Because college essay topics are so broad, students want to cover as much ground as possible. However, the best Common App essay examples recognize the limits set by the word count. With this in mind, these examples of college essays use specific details to illustrate broad concepts. You may have a lot to share, but the best college essays highlight qualities not found elsewhere in your application. Reflect on our personal essay examples as you write. Instead of rehashing your extracurricular achievements, follow the lead of our Common App essay examples. Tell a story the admissions team hasn’t heard.
After you have your five adjectives, look over the Common Application’s college essay prompts. Then, choose one that lets you showcase the qualities you selected earlier. When writing college admission essay examples about yourself, it’s better to tell a single story in vivid detail than to write a broad survey of all your accomplishments. The first of our Common App essay examples focused on a single day of Elinor’s high school career. She then uses this anecdote to make a larger claim about her ability to solve problems. The second of the college essay samples starts with the story of a single fifth grade class before broadening out to other topics. As you choose your college essay topics, keep specificity in mind.
Expect to write multiple drafts
The best college essays take multiple drafts. So, make sure you allow yourself enough time to write your personal statement for college. The college application essay examples in this guide weren’t written in a day. Rather, these college essay examples each went through several drafts to become good college essays. So, take a cue from our examples of personal essays. After you write the first draft of your Common App essay, review it after a day or two. This will help you approach it with a fresh perspective. Having others review your writing can also help transform good college essays into the best college essays.
There is no single formula for writing good college essays. However, you can learn to develop your own voice by reading articles and reviewing sample college essays written by other students. As we’ve stated, examples of personal essays can help you find your own voice and narrative as you start the writing process. This article from U.S. News contains more college essay examples along with short essay examples of supplemental prompts. It also provides advice from admissions counselors about how to write college application essay examples that stand out from other examples of personal essays. Top colleges like Tufts , Johns Hopkins , and Connecticut College often post examples of college essays that worked for their schools. Reading Harvard essay examples along with other college essay samples from top schools gives you a sense of what it takes to get into top schools.
Showing vs. telling
With the above Common App essay examples, we’ve presented two college essays that worked. Both of these college application essay examples show—rather than tell—the reader important details about the applicant’s identity. These college essay examples show what kinds of students these writers would be on campus. Based on these sample college essays, top schools could imagine these students in their communities. That’s why these examples of college essays stand out.
Beyond the Common App Essay
These Common App essay examples are not the only personal essay examples we will look at in this guide. Next, we’ll discuss supplemental college essay examples—short essay examples that usually range between one hundred and four hundred words.
These college essay prompts are unique to the schools that assign them. However, looking at many different short essay examples will help you prepare for the variety of college essay prompts you may encounter. Let’s take a look at these examples of college essays!
Short essay examples: What types of college essay topics will you see?
Now that you have some useful Common App essay examples to use as you write your personal statement for college, let’s look at some other examples of college essays. As we mentioned, there are several types of college essays .
The short essay examples we’ll discuss effectively and efficiently answer the prompt. Keep in mind that you will often work within the constraints of a word limit. Reading examples of college essays will help you learn this writing style. Still, remember that the best college essays will reflect your own voice. Once again, use our examples of college essays as a guide—don’t try to be someone you’re not.
In this section, we’ll focus on four main types of supplemental college essay samples. These include why this college essay examples, why this major essay examples, other less typical supplemental essay examples, and “additional information” essay examples. As we look at these examples of college essays, we’ll focus on what made these some of the best college essays out there. We’ll talk about what makes each of these college essay examples unique—and how you can use them as you craft your own college essays.
Our college essay examples shouldn’t hold you back. Don’t feel limited to the same or similar college essay topics that you read in our college essay examples. Reading some short essay samples or Common App essay samples may help you brainstorm, but the stories you tell should be uniquely yours. When reading college application essay examples, keep in mind that authenticity will impress colleges the most.
‘Why this college’ essay
First, let’s break down some why this college essay examples. As you’ll see from our examples of successful essays, your why this college essay should discuss in detail what attracts you to that particular school.
Many colleges will require you to write an essay about why you want to attend that particular school. Good college essays that answer these prompts will reflect a given school’s mission, opportunities, and personality. When you read successful why NYU essay examples, why Stanford essay examples, or why UPenn supplemental essays, you’ll notice that the writer isn’t afraid to be specific.
Questions to consider
What classes will you take? Is there a professor whose work inspires you? What clubs will you join? The best examples of college essays are detailed and convincing . When reading short essay examples, notice how many details the writers include. Then, think about how you can include details with the same specificity—but ones that are applicable to your life, plans, and interests.
Most schools will have their own supplemental essays. This is one area where Common App essay examples and supplemental college essay examples will differ. Our Common App essay samples were submitted to all colleges, while these short essay examples were submitted to individual colleges.
As our example why this college essays show, it’s important to research the schools on your list before you complete any college essay prompts. Why this college essays that work establish three things—a personal anecdote, details about the college’s offerings, and the connection between a writer’s personal story and the college. Essentially, the best college essays help the reader visualize how a student will succeed at that school.
A ‘Why Dartmouth’ essay that worked
Why this college essay examples are a useful tool as you prepare your application for any top school. When reading this Dartmouth essay, pay attention to the clearly articulated and cohesive details. The best college essay examples will be easy to read and convey lots of information in a limited number of words.
I always had a keen interest in numbers, probability, and finance. Early on, I could quickly calculate sales tax, analyze probabilities, and visualize complex mathematical models. After taking AP classes in economics and statistics, I became intrigued with mathematical representations for economic markets and statistical models. This sparked my desire to pursue an actuarial career to utilize my talents in quantitative reasoning. The Major in Mathematical Data Science will provide me the skills to apply abstract mathematical and statistical theories to the concrete world. I will also have the opportunity to stimulate my academic intrigue through an intensive research project.
Good college essays do more than discuss why the applicant wants to study their major. They also go beyond why that school would be a good fit for their interests. College essays that worked also show why the applicant would make that school a better place.
As this Dartmouth essay shows , the best college essays illustrate a track record of involvement to support the applicant’s proposed path forward. In this Dartmouth essay, the applicant plans to become an actuary. Given this student’s background, this feels like an attainable and sincere goal.
Something else to note about this Dartmouth essay is that the writer doesn’t use big fancy words or elaborate sentence structure. Good college essays are well-planned, written intentionally, and free from errors. However, they still sound like high schoolers wrote them! Like our examples of college essays, your short essays should feel natural and authentic.
‘Why UChicago’ essay examples
Why UChicago essay examples provide useful insight into what UChicago —and other top schools —look for when evaluating applicants. These Why UChicago essay examples also have qualities that you can think about when looking at Stanford essay examples, why NYU essay examples, or others!
Ex. 1: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example
When I visited UChicago, a friend invited me to step into her Comparative Literature class: Monstrosity and the Monstrous. Desperate for refuge from the cold (as a Bay Area resident, I hadn’t packed for the Chicago winter), I quickly obliged. I expected to silently observe, but when I mentioned that I’d read Antigone, her professor was thrilled–he immediately invited me into the discussion. For an hour and a half, we weighed the pros and cons of civil disobedience: did Antigone’s actions permanently destabilize Thebes, and in the modern day, when does protesting against a government cross the line? Was Antigone justified in interpreting the will of the gods? And, if so, would Sophocles support pardoning well-intentioned criminals? Beyond the enthralling analysis of the play, I was captivated by the spirit of UChicago: a campus that invites everyone (including a loitering high school student) to contribute and develop their ideas.
In this first section of our UChicago short essay examples, notice that the writer shows a knowledge of campus based on their campus visit and research. Though UChicago does not track demonstrated interest , the best college essay examples include references to visits, school-specific events, and specific details about the school’s offer. This establishes a connection between the reader and the writer. Strong college essay samples will show genuine interest.
When reading examples of college essays, you should also think about the tone. In the first excerpt of these college application essay examples, the tone is passionate and enthusiastic. The tone of this sample college essay conveys excitement, and the reader can almost see the applicant walking around campus. Let’s read more UChicago essay examples:
Ex. 2: ‘Why UChicago’ essay example
Now, it’s surreal to imagine taking “The Economics of Crime” from someone as renowned as Professor Levitt (I’ve been a fan since reading Freakonomics) and staying after class to clarify the finer points of the latest Freakonomics podcast (I particularly enjoyed “Speak Softly and Carry Big Data,” on using data analysis to perfect foreign policy decisions). I hope to add to UChicago’s legacy of pushing the boundaries of our economic understanding by participating in undergraduate research, and perhaps put my findings to use through crafting social policy for the Harris School’s Public Policy Practicum. Prior to graduating, I’ll sample tastes of future careers through the Fried Public Policy and Service Program or the Trott Business Program. Simultaneously, as someone who enjoys conversing and respectfully challenging ideas, I look forward to immersing myself in the Core Curriculum and obtaining a strong foundation of knowledge. Above all, I appreciate that UChicago teaches students how to think, encourages dialogue, and prompts students to question norms.
Showcase your various interests
In this sample college essay excerpt, the author reveals a strong passion for learning. In this and many other why this college essay samples, the writer doesn’t focus solely on one academic area. Instead, the best college essays reveal qualities and traits of someone who is eager to explore a variety of interests.
Another strength of this sample college essay excerpt is that it sticks to the facts. The best college essays limit overly emotional appeals, avoid cliché phrases, and don’t make vague statements about the future. You’ll see many examples of college essays that acknowledge a degree of uncertainty about what the author will study—and that’s okay! As our examples of college essays show, you don’t need to have everything figured out.
Note too, that both excerpts of UChicago college application essay examples are part of a much longer essay. The UChicago supplement is closer in length to Common App essay examples. Though the college essay topics are different for UChicago, you can learn from reading Common App essay examples, too!
For more examples of college essays from UChicago, check out this article!
‘Why this college’ essays—Additional tips
There are a few more tips to learn from reading these examples of college essays. First, notice that you have a lot of freedom to choose your college essay topics. All that matters is that you discuss why you want to go to that particular college. Perhaps you are attracted to a niche academic program, or maybe you want to combine two of your interests and engage with an institute on campus.
Also, choose your college essay topics and words carefully. Effective college essay samples avoid “spending” words complimenting colleges, telling them information they already know, or regurgitating marketing materials. Strong examples of college essays don’t focus on rankings, acceptance rates, or prestige. Writing about the beautiful buildings, the weather, or the student body size will seldom effectively answer college essay prompts.
Dig deep and make connections
The most effective college essay examples mention major-specific electives or particular clubs. Most importantly, they’ll explain why these programs matter to the writer. You will notice that college application essay examples often describe how college will be an extension of existing passions, interests, and activities.
In these why this college essay examples, the writers each point to specific reasons why they would like to attend their respective schools. These why this college essays are detailed and specific. Both of these sample essays showcase what their writers would bring to a college campus and how they would benefit from attending their respective schools.
As you start writing, think about our college admission essay examples about yourself. Stay true to your identity, be specific, and tell a story—then, you have a great chance of writing the best college essays you can.
‘Why this major’ essay examples
Next, let’s discuss some why this major college essay prompts. A why this major essay tells the admissions team what inspires you about your chosen field. By reading our why this major essay examples, you can understand how to discuss your academic interests in an engaging way that tells the admissions team more about your identity and passions. Let’s read some sample college essays.
Ex.1: UPenn ‘Why this major’ essay
The University of Pennsylvania, with its strong emphasis on pre-professional learning is ideal as a learning environment. That focus is what drives many students with an eye to the future — we hope to apply our learning, impact the real world in ways that inspire change. I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing. As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally draws upon various fields that showcase various perspectives on the meanings of language. It’s fascinating that despite the various languages and cultures there can be a biological scientific breakdown explaining the complex processes underlying syntax and semantics.
Ex. 2: Brown University ‘Why this major’ essay
As someone who places great emphasis in words, the idea of analyzing the cognitive aspects behind linguistics, whether philosophically, psychologically, or computationally fits my ideal of using interdisciplinary methods to study human behavior holistically. I am also concerned with quantitative methods. For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology. I had read about the Asch conformity tests. But when my teacher set up the experiment with three classmates as subjects and the rest of us as confederates, two subjects did not conform; our ratio of nonconformity was lower than Asch had found. Could it be a trait of the magnet population and experience? Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.
Express your passion and curiosity
Each of these why this major essay examples gives the reader a sense of the writer’s intellectual passions. These why this major essay examples are clearly written, specific, and personal. When reading these examples of college essays, notice how detailed they are. For example, “I find the Cognitive Science program, specifically its concentration in Language and Mind most appealing.” Good college essays dig underneath the surface. Winning essays will identify how and why a student connects with their identified major or program.
Note too, that the author of the Brown sample college essay build a clear connection between their past experiences in high school (“For example, AP Psychology allowed me to talk about the ethics and methodology”) and future goals in college (“Should I remain pre-med, a strong background in neuroscience will support my study of anatomy and help me become a better physician. Directly linking biology and behavior, Cognitive Neuroscience will contribute to my holistic view of my patients.”)
Content comes first
As you can see in these examples of college essays, it’s crucial to focus on the content of the essay. So, when you write, complete all college essay prompts with specific details about why you want to attend that college. This will improve your overall application narrative. And, don’t forget to make that narrative cohesive. Strong college application essay examples tie extracurriculars, background , and identity together with future plans.
Whether you’re writing UPenn supplemental essays or Brown supplemental essays, try to write about interdisciplinary interests if possible. You’re likely interested in more than one area, and many schools offer majors, minors, and certifications with unique combinations. Many short essay examples will go beyond the surface to discuss how the applicant’s seemingly disparate interests mesh.
These college admission essay examples about yourself might raise some questions. Inevitably, some of you reading college essay samples are asking, “what if I don’t know what major I want to study?” Of course, college essays that worked can come from students who are certain of their future career. However, they can also come from students who change their major multiple times.
So, don’t panic if you haven’t chosen a major. Instead, look at how you spend your time. What excites you now? College essay prompts give you the flexibility to expand on your reasoning.
Unconventional college essay topics
Some supplemental essay prompts aren’t as straightforward as the why this major or why this college essay examples. For instance, Stanford has some unconventional college essay prompts that help the admissions team learn more about each student. Stanford asks students to write letters to their future roommate. So, let’s look at some Stanford roommate essay examples.
Stanford roommate essay
Stanford roommate essay examples—like any college essay examples—can be helpful as you craft your application for Stanford or any other top school. Unlike some examples of college essays, the question these Stanford roommate essay examples answer is a bit more personal. College essay prompts like these give you the chance to show off what makes you unique. The best college essays for these types of prompts will show off your unique character.
When tasked with writing an unconventional essay like the Stanford roommate essay, it’s helpful to look at a few examples of college essays. These will help give you a feel for college essays that worked. Let’s read two sample college essays.
Ex.1: Stanford Roommate Essay
In the spirit of inaugurating the life-long relationship I hope we’ll build this year, let me tell you a little about myself. Hi, I’m Allison. I’m the second child of a comically over-optimistic refugee mother (my Vietnamese name translates, literally, to “celestial being”) and a proud Kentuckian with a deep passion for student-driven advocacy. I have two parents, two stepparents, a nineteen-year-old sister (a junior in Product Design, here, at Stanford), a three-year-old half-sister, two cats, one dog, and a complicated life that spans two households. So, I’m used to sharing space and managing shifting schedules. I’ve also always been the “Mom” friend. To me, the little things—a chocolate chip cookie when I know a friend has a rough day ahead, words of encouragement before a big presentation, or staying up late to explain a tough physics problem—mean the most. I’ll be there when you need me—be it studying for tests or navigating personal challenges. I recycle incessantly and am known to snatch cans out of the trash, wash them, and relocate them to neighboring blue bins. I keep a regular sleep schedule, rarely going to bed past midnight or waking up later than 8:30. I’m averse to gyms, opting instead to go for runs in the morning or follow along to a YouTube workout in the afternoon. I’m passionate, but also even-keeled. I think life is best taken in stride—worrying has never gotten me anywhere, but flexibility has taken me everywhere. I look forward to an awesome year!
Ex.2: Stanford Roommate Essay
Hey Roomie! Yesterday was insane. I still can’t quite get over the energy in that stadium after that final play. I guess Berkeley couldn’t take back the axe to cut down these Trees! I’m writing you this since I have an 8:30 Syntax and Morphology with Dr. Gribanov. I know, it’s early, but that class is honestly worth waking up for. Last Friday, he spent the entire period rambling about why regardless and irregardless are the same thing, but responsible and irresponsible aren’t. Just a fun little thought to start your day. I’m also writing you this as a quick apology. I won’t be back from Mock Trial until late evening, and then I’ll be practicing for Stanford Symphony auditions. So, if you hear cacophonous noises in your sleep, it’s most likely me. Plus, it’s Mahler Symphony No. 1, so you might not sleep much anyway. Kidding. These next few days are jam-packed, but I’m craving some much-needed bonding time! I have a proposal: how does a jam session this Friday at Terman Fountain sound? I’ll bring the guitar and plenty of oldies sheet music, you just gotta bring a snack and the desire to sing! I’ve sold a few people already. Join us? Well, I’m headed to breakfast now. Text me if you want me to grab you anything.
Casual tone and style
These examples of college essays have a more casual tone and style. This works because it fits the prompt for the Stanford roommate essay. Writing a formal styled response in this case would be inappropriate. Instead, in these college application essay examples, both authors discuss their quirks, interests, habits, and personalities . Try to replicate this in your own Stanford roommate essay. Reading a variety of examples of college essays can help you brainstorm your own, but your ideas should still be original!
You and your freshman roommate will come to know each other well, so respond to this prompt with openness and honesty. While they aren’t as prevalent in Common App essay examples or supplemental college essay examples, jokes and humor are more common in these letters.
Examples of college essays that are a letter to your freshman roommate are less formal. However, they should still be specific and vivid. Include details and stories to show the reader who you are. The strongest college application essay examples for Stanford will illustrate your identity through vivid stories and specifics details.
Your letter to your Stanford roommate is a great opportunity to show the admissions committee another aspect of who you are. Take advantage of it!
The “Additional Information” essay
Finally, let’s turn to one last set of examples of college essays. One of the college essay prompts you’ll encounter is the “additional information” section of the Common App. This also appears as an optional supplement for some schools. Not all students should write this college essay. However, if you have something important to share about your background or experiences, the “additional information” section can be helpful.
Let’s look at some college essay examples for this prompt. Keep in mind when reading college essay examples for this prompt that the content will differ from applicant to applicant. So, use this space in whatever way feels natural to you.
Ex. 1: Harvard University Additional Information essay
I would like the Harvard Admissions Committee to know that my life circumstances are far from typical. I was born at twenty-four weeks gestation, which eighteen years ago was on the cusp of viability. Even if I was born today, under those same circumstances, my prospects for leading a normal life would be grim. Eighteen years ago, those odds were worse, and I was given a less than 5% chance of survival without suffering major cognitive and physical deficits. The first six months of my life were spent in a large neonatal ICU in Canada. I spent most of that time in an incubator, kept breathing by a ventilator. When I was finally discharged home, it was with a feeding tube and oxygen, and it would be several more months before I was able to survive without the extra tubes connected to me. At the age of two, I was still unable to walk. I engaged in every conventional and non-conventional therapy available to me, including physical and speech therapy, massage therapy, gymnastics, and several nutritional plans, to try to remedy this. Slowly, I began to make progress in what would be a long and arduous journey towards recovery.
This short essay example shares critical information about the writer. In doing so, this sample college essay excerpt helps the reader learn more about how medical circumstances have shaped the student’s perspective. It is factual—and so are many “additional information” short essay examples you will read.
The best examples of college essays covering additional information are concrete. They often detail special circumstances, background information, or ways your life has been impacted. If you don’t have important information to write about, then don’t feel like you have to write something. Many students leave this section blank!
Focus on impact
You’ll notice that examples of college essays for the additional information prompt could also include details about your extracurriculars . You might use this area to detail additional extracurriculars and awards that would not fit in that section. These short essay examples typically take the form of a list rather than an essay. These short essay samples should focus on impact; don’t include unimpressive extracurriculars just to put something in the box. Examples of college essays come in all shapes and sizes.
You don’t need to include any additional information on the Common App if you have nothing more to share. However, as you can see from our college essay examples, this section can be useful in some cases. So, use our sample college essays to help you determine whether you should include any additional information in your own applications.
Final Thoughts—Examples of College Essays & College Essays That Worked
In this guide to college essay examples, we’ve walked you through several different kinds of college essays prompts. We’ve also provided details on why these sample college essays impressed admissions officers at top schools. Reading and analyzing college essay examples can be an excellent part of the brainstorming process.
Colleges admit you based on your potential. So, when reading college essay samples, note the key qualities that the writer reveals. Each of the college essay samples is original and authentic. This should be one of your primary goals when writing your own college essays.
As you write your college essays, keep these college essay examples in mind. Think about how these short essay examples show impact and character. Then, use your voice to tell your unique story. Good luck!
This guide to college essay examples was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘22, Alex Baggott-Rowe , Davidson ’16, and Stefanie Tedards. At CollegeAdvisor, we have built our reputation by providing comprehensive information that offers real assistance to students. If you want to get help with your college applications from Alex or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts , click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.
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Writing Application Essays and Personal Statements
Some applications ask that you write an essay that draws on more personal reflections. These essays, sometimes called Personal Statements, are an opportunity to show the selection committee who you are as a person: your story, your values, your interests, and why you—and not your peer with a similar resume—are a perfect fit for this opportunity. These narrative essays allow you to really illustrate the person behind the resume, showcasing not only what you think but how you think.
Before you start writing, it’s helpful to really consider the goals of your personal statement:
- To learn more about you as a person: What would you like the selection committee to know about you that can't be covered by other application materials (e.g. resume, transcript, letters of recommendation)? What have been the important moments/influences throughout your journey that have led to where (and who!) you are?
- To learn how you think about the unsolved problems in your field of study/interest: What experiences demonstrate how you've been taught to think and how you tackle challenges?
- To assess whether you fit with the personal qualities sought by the selection committee: How can you show that you are thoughtful and mature with a good sense of self; that you embody the character, qualities, and experience to be personally ready to thrive in this experience (graduate school and otherwise)? Whatever opportunity you are seeking—going to graduate school, spending the year abroad, conducting public service—is going to be challenging intellectually, emotionally, and financially. This is your opportunity to show that you have the energy and perseverance to succeed.
In general, your job through your personal statement is to show, don’t tell the committee about your journey. If you choose to retell specific anecdotes from your life, focus on one or two relavant, formative experiences—academic, professional, extracurricular—that are emblematic of your development. The essay is where you should showcase the depth of your maturity, not the breadth—that's the resume's job!
Determining the theme of an essay
The personal statement is usually framed with an overarching theme. But how do you come up with a theme that is unique to you? Here are some questions to get you started:
- Question your individuality: What distinguishes you from your peers? What challenges have you overcome? What was one instance in your life where your values were called into question?
- Question your field of study: What first interested you about your field of study? How has your interest in the field changed and developed? How has this discipline shaped you? What are you most passionate about relative to your field?
- Question your non-academic experiences: Why did you choose the internships, clubs, or activites you did? And what does that suggest about what you value?
Once you have done some reflection, you may notice a theme emerging (justice? innovation? creativity?)—great! Be careful to think beyond your first idea, too, though. Sometimes, the third or fourth theme to come to your mind is the one that will be most compelling to center your essay around.
Certainly, your personal statement can have moments of humor or irony that reflect your personality, but the goal is not to show off your creative writing skills or present you as a sparkling conversationalist (that can be part of your interview!). Here, the aim is to present yourself as an interesting person, with a unique background and perspective, and a great future colleague. You should still use good academic writing—although this is not a research paper nor a cover letter—but the tone can be a bit less formal.
Communicating your values
Our work is often linked to our own values, identities, and personal experiences, both positive and negative. However, there can be a vulnerability to sharing these things with strangers. Know that you don't have to write about your most intimate thoughts or experiences, if you don't want to. If you do feel that it’s important that a selection committee knows this about you, reflect on why you would like for them to know that, and then be sure that it has an organic place in your statement. Your passion will come through in how you speak about these topics and their importance in forming you as an individual and budding scholar.
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, what is a personal statement everything you need to know about the college essay.
College Admissions , College Essays
In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.
In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.
Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:
Personal statement — an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.
College essay —basically the same as a personal statement. (I'll be using the terms interchangeably.)
Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.
Supplemental essay —an extra school or program specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.
Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.
Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:
- Why colleges ask for an essay
- What kinds of essay questions you'll see
- What sets great essays apart
- Tips for writing your own essay
Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?
There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.
#1: Insight Into Your Personality
The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.
Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team, while Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper, but they both want to be doctors and they both volunteer at the local hospital.
As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, on the other hand, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.
Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.
#2: Evidence of Writing Skills
A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.
That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.
No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .
#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances
For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.
Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.
#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School
Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .
I'll talk more about this type of essay below.
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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?
Thankfully, applications don't simply say "Please include an essay about yourself"—they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .
Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.
Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History
This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.
These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pitfall students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories—it's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.
Common App 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.
Common App 5
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
University of California 2
Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
University of California 6
Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem
A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .
The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.
Common App 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?
Harvard University 7
The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
Prompt Type 3: Diversity
Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .
In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.
Common App 3
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Johns Hopkins University
Founded in the spirit of exploration and discovery, Johns Hopkins University encourages students to share their perspectives, develop their interests, and pursue new experiences.
Use this space to share something you'd like the admissions committee to know about you (your interests, your background, your identity, or your community), and how it has shaped what you want to get out of your college experience at Hopkins.
Brown University 2
Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)
Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.
There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?
Why are you interested in attending Columbia University?
Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?
Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.
Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts
More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.
University of Chicago
What advice would a wisdom tooth have?
University of Richmond
Spiders are essential to the ecosystem. How are you essential to your community or will you be essential in your university community?
Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself.
Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.
In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.
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As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).
Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.
Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.
Top 5 Essay-Writing Tips
Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.
#1: Start Early!
No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.
You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.
Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) if the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.
#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About
One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays —the best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .
"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."
You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .
This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.
Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Gossip Girl probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.
When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out cliched and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you write about something that is genuinely important to you, on the other hand, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .
At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.
Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.
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Search the site, search suggestions, the personal essay.
Unlike the rest of your application, which primarily consists of filling in boxes, the personal essay gives you the freedom to essentially write about whatever you want. No rules! Show who you are! Which sounds pretty cool, until you’re sitting there looking at a blank Word document.
While the personal essay is a great opportunity to infuse your voice into the application, I think some people (cough, me, cough) can get overwhelmed by it to the point where they don’t know how to begin. What do I write about? What makes me stand out? How can I explain all of this in only a few hundred words?
Well, as someone who eventually managed to get some words down on that blank document and turn out a decent college essay, here are a few words of advice.
1. Start by writing something.
I know, that sounds really obvious. But sometimes the hardest part of writing is just getting started – if you spend too much time criticizing your ideas before you write anything down, you won’t get anywhere. Write a few sentences, jot down some random ideas, note a couple anecdotes that might be interesting… just get something on paper that you can look back to. Maybe one of those ideas will catch, and BOOM you have an essay – or maybe you’ll look back to this list after a few weeks and think of something else that you would rather write about. That’s fine! The beginning of the creative process involves coming up with ideas, judging them comes later. Trust me, I took a class on this (really: it was a psych class called “Creativity: Madmen, Geniuses, and Harvard Students.”)
2. Think about something that has some significance to you.
Many students feel like they have to write about some huge, life-changing, important event in their lives. If you have something like this that you want to write about, that’s great! However, you can also write an awesome essay about something other than The Most Important Thing Ever. It can be the littlest things, if you explain their significance well, that actually stand out. In my case, somewhere in my essay I mentioned that I got up at 5:37am (rather than 5:30 or 5:45) because I liked prime numbers – and the first thing my admissions officer said when I walked into the room for my interview was, “So, prime numbers, huh?” That being said, remember that this is a college essay, so keep this audience and goal in mind as you write. When they finish reading, what do you want the admissions officers to know about you? Does this essay demonstrate something about who you are and what you care about? If not, you might want to go back to the drawing board.
3. Don’t be afraid to start over.
After finishing my first draft, I was glad to have something, but I wasn’t completely happy with it either. A week or two later, as I was reading over my essay again, I had an idea for a totally different topic - so I opened another document and completely started over. The second attempt was so much better, and I felt happy with how it turned out. It can be hard to scrap an initial attempt after spending so much time on it, but think of that time as just part of the process of getting to what you really want to write about.
4. Get an outside perspective.
One of the most useful things I did while working on my college essay was asking a couple people to read it over. At the time, I had two drafts that I was choosing between, and I wasn’t sure which one captured “me” better. When I asked my parents and teacher what they thought, they unanimously picked one option over the other. In the end, it’s important to have an essay that you are happy with – but sometimes having a fresh set of eyes can help you see what that is.
This is an important step! Both you, and perhaps someone who knows you well, should read over your essay and make sure it is in tip-top shape before you turn it in. There should be no grammatical or spelling mistakes – that gives the impression that you did not take your time on it. I know you’ve spent a long time on it by this point, but those last edits are super important!
The personal essay is a snippet of who you are and where you’re coming from – a snapshot for the admissions officers to look at as they read your application. It will never be able to capture everything about you, but you want to make sure that you’re giving them your best angle. So sit down, smile, and get to writing!
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Writing the Personal Statement
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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .
- Examples of Awesome Personal Statements
Examples of Awesome Personal Statements Article Type: Tasty Bits
Write your own awesome personal statement with our COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY LAB , which will guide you through the process, providing tips and even more examples along the way.
Before you start, check out our own sample essays—or scroll down for the Best of the Web. Whether you're an athlete, a minority, or no one special (or, uh, probably some combination), we've got you covered.
No One Special
- Common App Prompt 1 Example: Background and Identity
- Common App Prompt 2 Example: Failure and Success
- Common App Prompt 3 Example: Challenging Beliefs
- Common App Prompt 4 Example: Problem-Solving
- Common App Prompt 5 Example: Accomplishment or Event
- What matters to you and why? Example
Some are surprising and some are clever, but they're all good examples of a "hook," not the kind with the pointy mustache but something that writers use to grab their reader's attention and make them want to keep reading.
Grab Them with the First Line Stanford Magazine compiled the following list of great opening lines written by hopeful Stanford applicants.
Essays That Worked Connecticut College posts a list of college essays “that worked.”
More Essays that Worked Hamilton College provides access to some of their favorite application essays.
Other Resources for College Essay Writing
Writing the Personal Statement The Purdue Online Writing lab offers a guide to writing all kinds of personal statements.
Application Tips: Tackling the Personal Essay Abc.com provides some good tips on approaching the personal essay.
10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay The famous U.S. News & World Report offers some writing advice.
The Elements of Style Flip through this famous guide to writing by William Strunk, Jr. that many students and teachers use. Read the 1918 version for free online.
Get Your Writing On Some great handbooks on writing by writing guru Andrea Lunsford.
Grammar Resources The University of Chicago’s guide to grammar.
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Writing Your Personal Statements
Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.
The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.
Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.
1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.
- Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
- Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?
My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.
The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.
— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History
Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects
- Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
- Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset or grit and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
- Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
- Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
- Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
- Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.
2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.
- Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
- Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.
I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.
— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature
WRITING YOUR DIVERSITY STATEMENT
- Read the instructions for statements related to diversity carefully. Many universities have subtle and yet significantly different approaches to asking similar questions.
- Review online statements related to diversity, inclusion, and equity from the university’s leadership.
- Being aware of different approaches to diversity may help you to communicate your own perspectives. Marc Nivet’s brief paper on Diversity 3.0 might be a helpful introduction.
- Review how the graduate program or university classifies diversity categories, e.g., in terms of race/ethnicity, gender identity, first-generation students, LGBQT+ communities, undocumented and DACA students, veterans, former foster youth, religion, etc.
- If you identify as a URM (under-represented minority) in your discipline, consider how aspects of your identity have shaped your academic journey and informed your research and career interests. Be sincere and genuine and avoid superficial or hyperbolic "overcoming all barriers" and "I’m the little engine that could" appeals.
- Whether or not you identify as a URM in your field, you can share how you participated or led activities that broadened participation in your field and promoted diversity and inclusive practices, e.g. mentorship or outreach programs, community-building events, professional development activities for underprivileged students, etc.
- Deciding whether or not to disclose aspects of your personal identity can be difficult, especially when dealing with less visible aspects of identity. Consider talking with close friends who have navigated similar paths. It might also help to observe if the graduate program (from websites and your personal interactions with contacts at the university) appears to operate from a “deficit model” or superficial “checkbox” approach to diversity, or has developed a more sophisticated framework in diversity (e.g. Diversity 3.0).
Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects
- Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
- With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
- Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
- Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
- Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
- You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
- Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.
© Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
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- How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples
How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples
Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.
A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.
To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:
- Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
- Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
- Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?
This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.
Urban Planning Psychology History
Table of contents
Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.
Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.
For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.
There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.
The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.
Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene
An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:
- A personal experience that changed your perspective
- A story from your family’s history
- A memorable teacher or learning experience
- An unusual or unexpected encounter
To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.
Strategy 2: Open with your motivations
To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.
Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:
- Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
- Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
- How does it fit into the rest of your life?
- What do you think it contributes to society?
Tips for the introduction
- Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
- Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.
Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.
To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.
Strategy 1: Describe your development over time
One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.
- What first sparked your interest in the field?
- Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
- Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?
Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.
My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.
Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles
If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.
- Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
- Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.
Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.
Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.
Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field
Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.
- Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
- Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
- Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.
The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.
In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.
Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions
Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.
- If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
- If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
- If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.
Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.
One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.
Tips for the main body
- Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
- Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.
Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.
Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.
Strategy 1: What do you want to know?
If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?
If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.
Strategy 2: What do you want to do?
If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?
Tips for the conclusion
- Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
- Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.
You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.
Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.
Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.
A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.
A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.
However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.
The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.
Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.
If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.
Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.
If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.
If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.
If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.
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One of the most common questions we receive at the Writing Center is “what am I supposed to do in my conclusion?” This is a difficult question to answer because there’s no one right answer to what belongs in a conclusion. How you conclude your paper will depend on where you started—and where you traveled. It will also depend on the conventions and expectations of the discipline in which you are writing. For example, while the conclusion to a STEM paper could focus on questions for further study, the conclusion of a literature paper could include a quotation from your central text that can now be understood differently in light of what has been discussed in the paper. You should consult your instructor about expectations for conclusions in a particular discipline.
With that in mind, here are some general guidelines you might find helpful to use as you think about your conclusion.
Begin with the “what”
In a short paper—even a research paper—you don’t need to provide an exhaustive summary as part of your conclusion. But you do need to make some kind of transition between your final body paragraph and your concluding paragraph. This may come in the form of a few sentences of summary. Or it may come in the form of a sentence that brings your readers back to your thesis or main idea and reminds your readers where you began and how far you have traveled.
So, for example, in a paper about the relationship between ADHD and rejection sensitivity, Vanessa Roser begins by introducing readers to the fact that researchers have studied the relationship between the two conditions and then provides her explanation of that relationship. Here’s her thesis: “While socialization may indeed be an important factor in RS, I argue that individuals with ADHD may also possess a neurological predisposition to RS that is exacerbated by the differing executive and emotional regulation characteristic of ADHD.”
In her final paragraph, Roser reminds us of where she started by echoing her thesis: “This literature demonstrates that, as with many other conditions, ADHD and RS share a delicately intertwined pattern of neurological similarities that is rooted in the innate biology of an individual’s mind, a connection that cannot be explained in full by the behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
Highlight the “so what”
At the beginning of your paper, you explain to your readers what’s at stake—why they should care about the argument you’re making. In your conclusion, you can bring readers back to those stakes by reminding them why your argument is important in the first place. You can also draft a few sentences that put those stakes into a new or broader context.
In the conclusion to her paper about ADHD and RS, Roser echoes the stakes she established in her introduction—that research into connections between ADHD and RS has led to contradictory results, raising questions about the “behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
She writes, “as with many other conditions, ADHD and RS share a delicately intertwined pattern of neurological similarities that is rooted in the innate biology of an individual’s mind, a connection that cannot be explained in full by the behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
Leave your readers with the “now what”
After the “what” and the “so what,” you should leave your reader with some final thoughts. If you have written a strong introduction, your readers will know why you have been arguing what you have been arguing—and why they should care. And if you’ve made a good case for your thesis, then your readers should be in a position to see things in a new way, understand new questions, or be ready for something that they weren’t ready for before they read your paper.
In her conclusion, Roser offers two “now what” statements. First, she explains that it is important to recognize that the flawed behavioral mediation hypothesis “seems to place a degree of fault on the individual. It implies that individuals with ADHD must have elicited such frequent or intense rejection by virtue of their inadequate social skills, erasing the possibility that they may simply possess a natural sensitivity to emotion.” She then highlights the broader implications for treatment of people with ADHD, noting that recognizing the actual connection between rejection sensitivity and ADHD “has profound implications for understanding how individuals with ADHD might best be treated in educational settings, by counselors, family, peers, or even society as a whole.”
To find your own “now what” for your essay’s conclusion, try asking yourself these questions:
- What can my readers now understand, see in a new light, or grapple with that they would not have understood in the same way before reading my paper? Are we a step closer to understanding a larger phenomenon or to understanding why what was at stake is so important?
- What questions can I now raise that would not have made sense at the beginning of my paper? Questions for further research? Other ways that this topic could be approached?
- Are there other applications for my research? Could my questions be asked about different data in a different context? Could I use my methods to answer a different question?
- What action should be taken in light of this argument? What action do I predict will be taken or could lead to a solution?
- What larger context might my argument be a part of?
What to avoid in your conclusion
- a complete restatement of all that you have said in your paper.
- a substantial counterargument that you do not have space to refute; you should introduce counterarguments before your conclusion.
- an apology for what you have not said. If you need to explain the scope of your paper, you should do this sooner—but don’t apologize for what you have not discussed in your paper.
- fake transitions like “in conclusion” that are followed by sentences that aren’t actually conclusions. (“In conclusion, I have now demonstrated that my thesis is correct.”)
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