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15 College Essays That Worked

College essay examples: 15 that worked.

Bonus Material: 35 College Essay Examples

In this regularly updated post, we share the college essays that helped students get into their dream schools — including Ivy League colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and others.

But this isn’t simply a collection of college essay examples.

We also provide a link to in-depth profiles of the authors who wrote the essays, providing you with the most comprehensive picture available of the nation’s most successful applicants.

While you should always craft the best essay you are capable of, please remember that the essay is one component of the application process!  The essays you’ll read below are all of varying quality, but each one of these students gained admission to the most selective schools in the country.

You can download our collection of 35 successful College Essays below!

Download 35 College Essay Examples

Here’s what we cover in this post:

What is the College Essay? Our Expert Definition

  • College Essay Example #1 – “It takes more than wishing upon a star”
  • College Essay Example #2 – “I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier”
  • College Essay Example #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”
  • College Essay Example #4 – “I’m still questioning”
  • College Essay Example #5 – “My place of inner peace”
  • College Essay Example #6 – “So this is what compassion is all about”
  • College Essay Example #7 – “I believe that every person is molded by their experiences”
  • College Essay Example #8 – The California Cadet Corps
  • College Essay Example #9 – “I never want to lose what we had in that corner”
  • College Essay Example #10 – “It is the effort that counts, not the result”
  • College Essay Example #11 – “The problem of social integration”
  • College Essay Example #12 – “Improv”
  • College Essay Example #13 – “ The Sound of Music”
  • College Essay Example #14 – “Translation”
  • College Essay Example #15 – “ The Yoka Times”

What These College Essay Examples Have in Common

  • How to Write an Essay Like These Examples
  • Bonus: 35 College Essay Examples

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition .

Regardless, both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer .

College Essay Prompts 2023-2024

What do these questions all have in common? They all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal.

Take a look at some of these buzzwords from these prompts to see what we mean:

  • Understanding
  • Belief / Idea
  • Contribution

These are big words attached to big, personal concepts. That’s the point!

But because that’s the case, that means the college essay is not an academic essay. It’s not something you write in five paragraphs for English class. Nor is it a formal statement, an outline of a resume, or a list of accomplishments.

It’s something else entirely.

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences.

The college essay is fundamentally personal and creative. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness. It can have elements of academic writing in it, such as logical organization, thesis statements, and transition words. But it is not an academic essay that fits comfortably into five paragraphs.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller–and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

One of the easiest ways to understand what the personal statement is all about is to read through some college essay examples — essays that exemplify the 7 qualities of a successful college essay .

The 15 college essay examples below do just that!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #1 – It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star

Author: Erica Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Williams College, Duke University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Boston College, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University

old college essays

At eleven years old, I wrote the New York Times best-selling novel, The Chosen, the first installation in a trilogy that would become the newest sensation of the fantasy genre, and grow to be even more popular than the Harry Potter series. At least, that what I originally imagined as I feverishly typed the opening words of my manuscript. I had just received a call from my parents, who were on a business trip in London. While touring the city, they heard about an amateur novel writing contest open to all ages, and thought that I, as an amateur writer, would be interested. All I had to do was compose an original manuscript of merely 80,000 words and submit it to an office in London, and I could win $20,000 in addition to a publishing deal.

I hung up the phone with a smile plastered on my face. Never mind that I was barely eleven, that my portfolio consisted of a few half-page poems from elementary school, or that the contest was taking place on another continent, I was determined to write the most extraordinary fantasy novel ever created. For months afterward the sight of me was accompanied by the tap, tap, tap of my fingers flying across the keyboard, and the sharp glint of obsession in my eyes. The contest in London closed, a winner was chosen. I didn’t care. I kept writing. After a year I had stretched my writing project into a three hundred page novel. I scraped together a few dollars of allowance money, slapped it in my mom’s hand, and asked her to have Staples print a bound copy of the manuscript.

She handed me my magnum opus when I got home from school that day. I ran my fingers across the shiny laminate over the cover page, caressed the paper as if it were some sacred tome. After more than fourteen months fleshing out characters and cultivating mythologies, I was ready to publish. With the copy in hand I ran to my dad. “Read it and tell me what you think!” I said, imagining the line of publishing companies that would soon be knocking down my door.

Within two weeks my father handed it back to me, the pages now scrawled over in bright red ink. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told me, with his typical soul-wrenching brusque.

I stared at him for a moment, jaw locked tight, eyes nearly brimming with tears. He proceeded to list for me all the things I needed to revise for my next draft. Less colloquial dialogue, vivid descriptions, more complex subplots, the list went on and on.

“A serious author doesn’t get offended by constructive criticism,” he said, “whether you take my advice or not will prove whether or not you are one.”

My dreams fell like the Berlin wall. What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Today, six years, 10 drafts, and 450 pages later, I am finally close to finishing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Erica’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #2 – I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier

Author: Elizabeth Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I’m not referring to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table.

Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank’s Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend’s grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn’t always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures.

I’m not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it’s simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Elizabeth’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Author: Shanaz Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

“You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros.

Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles.

Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems. I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger.

I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk.

Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me?

Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes.

Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty.

Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d’état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war.

Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease.

Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination.

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I’ll never witness, people I’ll never meet, and beliefs I’ll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful.

Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system.

I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Shanaz’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #4 – “I’m still questioning”

Author: Aja Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? School Acceptances: Princeton University, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College and City College

I walked down the pale pink stone pathway, up a ramp, past the library building, and towards the Student Activities Center of the college campus, carrying a large brown cardboard box. People might’ve taken note of the load I was carrying, and particularly the other high school students with whom I ate my dinner. Out of the box I grabbed my meal, which was wrapped in two separate plastic airplane meal style trays; one container for the side and one for the main. I tried not to call attention to myself as I unwrapped the tight double wrapping of plastic around both trays.

My actions and practices were the same, but for the first time I stood out. While I was eating my meals, in the lab, or during the lectures, I began to ask myself some questions.

Was it worth continuing to strictly observe my customs in such an environment?  I thought.

Could I afford to take time away from the lab to walk to the kosher restaurant to pick up lunch? Was continuing to dress in a long skirt, on hot summer days and with additional lab dress codes, worth the discomfort? Was it worth standing out from most other people?

The science experiment that I performed that summer in a way mirrored the experiment that I “performed” to test my practices. My lab partner and I researched the current issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which left certain bacterial infections without an effective cure; this was our observation. We then hypothesized that an alternative mechanism of destruction, by physically slicing the bacterial membrane, would be more efficient. Similarly, I hypothesized that an alternative life path without my religious practices might be an “effective” life path for me, as it had been for the students that I met, with the added social benefits of fitting in. I hypothesized that perhaps my own life would be “effective” or fulfilling without these practices, as it was for the students whom I had met. Wearing our purple nitrite gloves, our safety goggles pressing against our faces, my partner and I began to prepare our tiny metal chips, containing a thin coating of polymer blends, which would prick the membranes of the bacteria cells.

In my personal experiment, the “testing” stage became tricky. I didn’t put on my lab coat, and start spin casting my solutions or pipetting liquids onto surfaces. I didn’t even try eating some food that was not kosher, or actively violate my practices. My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. We talked about our very different lives, genuinely interested in one another’s.

I’m still questioning, and I think the process does not end, which is part of what makes my religious practice important to me – it urges me to constantly reflect on my values and the moral quality of my actions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish that “experiment,” but by experiencing and valuing the practices and lifestyles of other people, I also got to reflect on my own. That summer showed me that the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Aja’s story here ]

You can read our collection of 35 essays that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these for free below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #5 – My place of inner peace

Author: Jim Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word “comfortable”. There is something special about a rowing race; that 6 minute, 2000 meter tour de force that many who have truly experienced one (and all who have emerged victorious) will describe as the most painful, and yet the most thrilling activity they have ever been a part of.

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it’s all out, everything you’ve got, from start to finish), but at the same time it’s long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. The mental toughness required to drag oneself through this ordeal, from the moment it starts to hurt 30 seconds in to the moment you cross the finish line, is immense. The psychological state that is entered into during a race is one of unparalleled focus, drive, and will to win.

The race begins with six boats lined up side by side, tensed and ready to pounce. The umpire then makes the call, “Attention. Row” in a tone that seems entirely too casual for the occasion, and the bows spring forward. What was moments before an atmosphere of complete silence is transformed into a world of noise. Here is a short list of things one hears at the start of a rowing race: the authoritative yell of the coxswains, the rhythmic click of the oars, the fluid swish of the water under the boat, the roar of the officials’ launches falling in behind the boats. I always find it funny though, that while the tense silence of the pre-race moments dissolves so quickly into noise from every direction, a rower can only actually hear any of it for a surprisingly short period of time. This is because at about two minutes into a race, a rower begins to lose his senses. Scent disappears completely, touch is negligible, hearing dissolves into nothing but the calls of the cox, and sight reduces itself to a portrait of the back of the rower in front of you. It is in this bizzare state of mind and body that I am truly in my “comfort zone”.

The pain is intense, yes, but I have felt it before. I feel it quite regularly, actually. The training a rower goes through to prepare for a race begins months in advance and consists of pushing oneself to the limit; repeatedly putting oneself in positions of pain and discomfort so that when crunch time comes, a rower is truly without fear of what lies ahead of him. This is how I feel when the going gets tough at around two minutes in: fearless. In these moments I feel invincible; I feel like I was born to do exactly what I am doing right then and there. In these moments I am completely and totally content.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out James’ story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #6 – So this is what compassion is all about

Author: Amanda Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Rutgers University

So this is what compassion is all about? Piece of cake.

Joey was a sweet, ten-year-old boy who could derive pleasure even in the most prosaic of activities: catching a balloon, listening to music, watching other children run, jump, and play. But Joey himself was confined to a wheelchair – he would never be able to participate in the same way that his friends without physical disabilities could.

Joey was the first child assigned to me when I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children. Right from the start, I was grateful for being matched up with this sweet, easy-going child; I felt immense relief at how effortless my volunteering commitment with Joey could be. Simply by wheeling my friend through tiled halls and breezy gardens, I simultaneously entertained him and inspired others with my acts of kindness.

Piece of cake.

Truthfully, though, during my time with Joey, I felt more than a little virtuous and pleased with myself. There I was, able to impress everyone with my dedication to Joey, with only minimal effort on my part. My experience with Joey led me to mistakenly believe that I had, by the age of thirteen, attained a complete understanding of what a word like “empathy” really meant. I was complacent in my comfort zone, confident that I understood what compassion was all about.

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was.

Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

One day, after an unsuccessful attempt to break up a brawl between Robyn and another girl, I found myself taking dazed steps towards the administrator’s office. I was near my breaking point, ready to quit. In that moment, though, I vividly recall looking up and seeing Robyn’s parents walking down the hall coming to pick her up. Tired eyes. Weary, but appreciative smiles. A realization then struck me: I was only with Robyn for one day a week. During the rest of the week, Robyn was the sole responsibility of her parents. The same parents who once confided in me that Robyn behaved no differently at home than she did at the Friendship Circle with me.

Robyn’s parents undeniably loved her. There were even moments when Robyn transformed into one of the sweetest children I had ever met. But she was no Joey. Sweet, easygoing Joey. Joey who I thought had taught me true empathy. If I was such a saint, how could I give back to Joey’s parents, but not to Robyn’s? How could I not provide them a brief respite every week, from the labors of caring for her? Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Progress exists in steps. The first steps were the ones I took with Joey, my earliest experience in volunteering. But the steps I took away from the administrator’s office, the steps I took back toward Robyn, were the steps of a different person, I like to think.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Amanda’s story here ]

You can read all 35 of our “College Essays that Worked” below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #7 – I believe that every person is molded by their experiences

Author: Martin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances:  Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, University of California Santa Cruz, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University

I believe every person is molded by their experiences whether they be positive or negative. I have been impacted by many events and challenges, both personally and socially, that have made me who I am today.

I was born in Concepcion de Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico. My dad did not always live with us and worked doing manual labor in the United States every three months to provide income for us transitioning between the United States and Mexico when he could. When I was six, my Spanish-speaking family immigrated to the United States. Once here in the United States, I found English difficult to learn at school since it was brand new to me. English-speaking students always had to translate for me which motivated me to become fluently proficient by third grade.

In addition to the language barrier at school, my family would constantly move due to apartment rent increase, so I never grew accustomed to a group of friends.  Because of this, I had social difficulties in elementary school.  I remember hardly speaking in class and not playing any recess games unless invited. I recall playing tetherball mostly by myself and observing the children with longing eyes. In the sixth grade, my social life began to change; I met my best friend, Luz. We fostered a tight-knit bond immediately, and my confidence developed little by little each day. As each year passed, I acquired more confidence to become more sociable, but my awkwardness did not completely go away.

My earlier language barrier, my soft-hearted and quiet personality, and my social self-consciousness found me drawn to playing with girls and not sports with the other boys. I soon began to feel excluded by boys asking me why I played with girls; it made me feel small and different from the rest. Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

In my freshman year I began to come out of my shell and develop self-confidence, largely due to my participation in choir and drama class. In these classes I could be myself and found my real voice. Here I felt a connection to a family not connected by blood but by a unifying passion in the creative arts.  That connection allowed me to confide in my friend Luz my struggle with my personal identity. One day I messaged her: “I have something to tell you… I think I might be bisexual.” My heart pounded as I waited anxiously for her reply. She responded: “How long have you been thinking of this?”  In her response I felt reassured that the she would not reject me.  From that moment my best friend thanked me and said our friendship was now stronger as a result. I felt so relieved to get that secret off my chest; it was a cathartic moment in my life and a significant turning point!

Throughout high school, I have become more open about who I am, and my confidence and acceptance in myself has grown tremendously. Although I still have not told my parents about my sexuality, I will when I am ready.  I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Martin’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #8 – The California Cadet Corps

Author: Justin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSD

During my freshman year at Cajon High School, I enlisted in the California Cadet Corps (CACC). The CACC is essentially a JROTC program based on a state level. Every summer, the CACC holds a summer encampment at Camp San Luis Obispo. A myriad of leadership schools are offered: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, Officer-Candidate School (OCS), etc. I participated in OCS my freshman year, Survival my sophomore year, and Marksmanship last summer. Of those three, Survival was definitely my biggest challenge and marked my transition from childhood to adulthood.

Within the CACC, there’s an honor so admirable that those who receive it are inducted into an order of elites: the Red Beret. It signifies completion of survival training, the most rigorous and difficult training course within the CACC. With a heart mixed with excitement and fear, I stepped onto the bus headed for Camp San Luis Obispo in June of 2015.

After basic instruction, we were transported to arid Camp Roberts to begin field training. Upon arrival, we were separated into groups of four with one leader each (I was designated as team leader). We then emptied our canteens, received minimal tools, and set off. Our immediate priority was finding areas to build our shelter and latrine. Then, we needed to locate a clean source of water. After, we had to find food. It was truly a situation that required making everything from scratch. As the day drew to a close and night advanced, I felt seclusion and apprehension envelop me.

As the days drew on, constant stress and heat along with lack of food took a toll on my sanity and drove me almost to my breaking-point. At one moment, I remembered a handwritten phrase that had been on my desk: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” At this moment, it hit me: I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to overcome this challenge and show myself that I have what it takes to survive for five days using nothing but my wits.

On the morning of the sixth day, my team and I reported to headquarters to complete training. With pride, I received the honor of wearing that glorious Red Beret on my head.

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. Additionally, being isolated from mass civilization and relying heavily on my companions gave me an appreciation for my friends and for the absolute necessity of teamwork. Being the leader of my team meant that they all looked to me for motivation, inspiration, and a will to survive; I got first-hand experience on how important a leader can be in a situation of literal life and death. Most importantly, however, I gained priceless insight into the amount of effort and work my parents put in for me every day.

As demonstrated, survival training taught me essential lessons to survive successfully as an adult. Looking back, it’s absolutely unbelievable how one week affected me so profoundly. Even today, I remember the phrase that motivated me that day: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” Thinking of that, I go to school and say to myself, “Justin, you truly are an amazing young man!”

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Justin’s story here ]

Click below for our free collection of 35 successful college essays!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #9 – I never want to lose what we had in that corner

Author: Jonah Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? School Acceptances: Princeton University, Swarthmore College

The squeaks of whiteboard markers have now replaced the scritch-scratch of chalk, but the hubbub of voices is always the same. For millennia, the great thinkers of their day would gather and discuss. In ancient Greece, it was Socrates debating about philosophy; centuries later it was Newton lecturing at Cambridge on fluxions and physics. This summer Paul Steinhardt and his eminent colleagues sat down for a panel about inflationary theory at the World Science festival- though there was neither chalk nor markers there. Though we make no claim to be the greatest thinkers of our day and our school in no way resembles the hallowed edifices of science, my friends and I have staked out a corner of our AP Calculus room where we can have our own discussions. We even have a whiteboard.

It started small: just myself, Avery, and Sam and a problem set that didn’t take us long enough. Appropriately enough, we were working on one of Newton’s problems: differential equations describing cooling curves. His solution is fairly simple, perhaps overly simple, which prompted me to ask Avery what he thought. We had both taken Chemistry the year before, and Newton’s equation didn’t take into account thermal equilibrium; (to be fair to Newton, adding thermal equilibrium doesn’t appreciably change the solution at normal conditions). Since we were slightly bored and faced with an empty hour ahead of us, we started to modify the equation. We had learned in Chemistry that both the surroundings and the actual cooling object both change temperature, which Newton had ignored. We wrote up a first attempt on the infamous whiteboard, paused a second, and then started laughing as we realized that our inchoate equation meant a hot cup of coffee could plummet Earth into another Ice Age. This disturbance in an otherwise fairly quiet classroom drew the attention of Sam. He too was amused with our attempt and together we began to fix the poor thing. Huddled around the back of the classroom, we all pondered. It wasn’t an important problem, it wasn’t due the next day, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. But we loved it.

The three of us had been friends since middle school, which in many ways seems astounding. Avery, a track runner, Sam, a Morris dancer, and myself, a fencer. Our interests could not be more diverse. Avery was an avid programmer while Sam was fascinated by the evolution of language. I always had a soft spot for physics. Luckily for us, we had found each other early on in middle school and our discussions started soon after. As we learned more math, read more books, and culled more esoteric facts from our varied experiences, the quality of our rebuttals has dramatically improved. The laughter is immutable.

In the back of algebra class in eighth grade, Avery taught me how to program calculators in TIBasic while I traded theories with him about the Big Bang. From Sam I learned the phonetic alphabet and more recently the physics of bell ringing. Since then our dynamic has always stayed playful no matter how heated the discussion; only our arguments have changed. I may have learned as much in the back of classes with my friends as I learned from my teachers. Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and I could not agree more. In the myriad hours Avery, Sam, and I spent together, the neuron-firing was palpable, the exuberance impossible to miss.

But not only did I learn linguistics, Python, and philosophy with Avery and Sam, I learned a little more about myself. I never want to lose what we had in that corner. Our interplay of guessing and discovering and laughing seemed like paradise to me. I looked for other opportunities in my life to meet brilliant and vivacious people, to learn from them, and to teach them what I loved. I co-founded a tutoring program, participated in original research, and taught lessons in Physics and Chemistry as a substitute.

I expected to be nervous, I expected to embarrass myself. Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Jonah’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #10 – It is the effort that counts, not the result

Author: John Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? School Acceptances: Princeton University

For as long as I can remember, wrestling has been an important part of my life. I can recall playing dodgeball after wrestling practice, summer wrestling camps, hard practices with my older brother, and hundreds of wrestling tournaments as cornerstones of my childhood. From a young age I was determined to be the best; and quickly concluded that meant winning a PIAA state championship. When I entered Junior High, I discovered that only ten wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania had won a state championship each year of their high school careers – and becoming the eleventh became my personal ambition.

Entering high school, I centered my life around the goal of winning a state title my freshman year. I became disciplined in every aspect of my life: from how many hours of sleep I got, to what exact foods I ate. I was obsessed with my intensive training regimen, and fell asleep each night to the dream of my hand being raised in the circle of the main mat on the Giant Center floor.

As the season progressed, I experienced success. My state ranking climbed steadily and by the time the state tournament began, I was projected to finish third. I wrestled well throughout the tournament, advancing to the semifinals where I defeated the favorite 11-0. At last: I was to wrestle in the final match for the state championship. I prepared for my opponent, whom I defeated the week before. However, when the match began, I wrestled nervously, was unable to fully recover, and ended up on the short end of a 3-1 decision.

In just a few short minutes, my dream was shattered. For me, it felt like the end of the world. I had based my whole identity and lifestyle on the dream of winning four state titles. It felt as though the sport I loved most had ripped out my heart,  and on live television, in front of thousands of people. I was upset after the match.  I was depressed and felt worthless, devoid of my passion for and love of wrestling.

After a month or perhaps more of introspection, and some in depth conversations with the people closest to me, I began to realize that one lost wrestling match, at age fifteen, was not the end of the world. The more I reflected on my wrestling journey, the more gratitude I developed for all of my opportunities.   I realized that wrestling had helped forge some of the most important relationships of my life, including an irreplaceable fraternity with my older brother, teammates, and coaches. My setback in the state finals also helped me to understand all of the lessons learned through wrestling, and that there was much more I could still accomplish. Wrestling helped me learn the value of hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. But most important, I learned that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, including the outcome of a wrestling match. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction, attitude, actions, and effort. In the words of my father, “it is the effort that counts, not the result.”

Hence, through my experience of failure I learned an invaluable lesson applicable to every walk of life. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity to compete, to represent myself and my school, and to lay all my hard work on the line. The process of striving to become a state champion taught me more than achieving this title ever could, and my failure in the state finals was a blessing in disguise.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out John’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #11 – The problem of social integration

Author: Harry Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Universal Common Application Personal Statement – How do we establish common values to promote harmony in an increasingly diverse society? School Acceptances: Princeton University

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

This cold blooded murder provides a clear example of what can happen when people lose their human connection to the society that they’re a part of and instead pursue hate and violence on a pretence to a higher purpose (killing in the name of religion). I think suggestible minds are undoubtedly most prone to this, and the two British men who killed Rigby, previously Christians, are examples of how minds devoid of any instilled social values are fertile ground for the fomentation of harmful ideas.

What I find particularly worrying is the distinct danger of allowing a largely atomised society to develop, where conflicts such as this one begin to characterise the interaction between the different parts. It’s imperative that we avoid this situation and work towards social unity, and so I think a long-term and complex solution to social integration must be found. Given the upward trends in multiculturalism and globalisation, it is going to be paramount that my generation takes on the problems of integration and cultural diversity to create a harmonious society.

The solution will no doubt be an ongoing process, involving years of detailed and thoroughly considered legislation, but I think that in working towards it, we should focus on certain things.

With regard to the role of religion, I think its relationship with the state needs to be clarified and communicated to everyone. As the case of Lee Rigby quite bluntly reveals, where religion triumphs over civic duty, there’s a potentially dangerous situation, especially when put into the context of radical fundamentalism. By the same token however, it’s neither desirable nor feasible to have a society where politics trumps religion, so I think that when addressing the issue of social cohesion there must be an overarching commitment to other people within society that’s established – humanity must transcend any form of politics or ideology, and bind the two camps so their incompatibility does not become entrenched.

I think that this has to be done primarily through education: both within the formal curriculum which all citizens of a democratic nation state should be compelled to follow until at least the age of 16, and in the wider sense through more promotion of cultural programmes nationally that encourage the nation’s population to participate in the continuing discussion and examination of our core, shared values. We have to work at this constantly since identity is itself always in a state of flux and accept that this continuing ‘conversation’ will always require us to confront some very difficult questions about freedom and responsibility. People need to understand these ideas not simply as abstract questions, but also as issues of practical, pragmatic relevance, deconstructing them into how we actually treat each other, the true test of how civilised and tolerant we are.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #12 – Improv

Author: Thomas

I scarf down my mom’s squash casserole as fast as humanly possible with only one thought in mind: “Will I miss it?” Leaving my almost-clean plate in the dust, I reach the sofa just in time to hear Drew Carrey announce, “and welcome back to Whose Line Is it Anyway”. I bow to the applause coming from the speakers and take my seat between my siblings, breathing a sigh of relief. Finally paying the screen my full attention, I’d rather be nowhere else; The quick-witted interactions between Colin, Ryan, Wayne, and Greg never fail to make our family nights perfect.

At the time, I was oblivious to the mastery required for the skits on-screen—every impromptu joke had to land, or else the performers would be subjected to the doom of humiliation and awkward silence, perils I would soon experience the hard way.

I first entered the world of improv listening to “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman in the car with my brother. He told me offhandedly that the majority of the song had been made up on the spot. I was shocked. I could hardly give a speech at the head of the classroom with five pages of prepared notes and two hours of rehearsal. How could someone just “make up” something so enjoyable? My enlightenment came in the form of music. In playing the trombone, I fell in love with the difficult yet rewarding task of jazz improvisation; the combination of intense musical focus with unbridled creative expression brought about not only a new appreciation for my childhood “Whose Line” idols but also a burning desire to reach their level of prowess in terms of music.

My newfound fascination led me to the school jazz band, where the practice of on-the-spot originality became a harsh reality. When the jazz teacher suddenly pointed at me to noodle in the key of B-flat, I froze. Performance anxiety and a lack of experience manifested themselves in the form of a few pitiful flubs out of my trombone; the silence afterward was deafening. Despite my blunders, I was unfazed in my desire to attain Benny Goodman’s level of improv mastery. At home, I approached my dream through rigorous practice of jazz fundamentals, guided partly by the work of other jazz legends like J. J. Johnson and Charles Mingus. Practice turned into improvement, and, before I knew it, performance anxiety began to fade.

It wasn’t until my stone-faced jazz teacher referred to one of my improvised melodies as “hot” that my playing confidence truly took shape. I found my musical voice just like Wayne Brady found his comedic timing. In my free time, I would spend hours exploring musical worlds of my own—and they were my own! Not even Duke Ellington had combined rhythms and melodies in the exact way that I had! With a vast expanse of unique sounds and emotions stretching out before me, I felt liberated from my past musical stutters.

In my newfound confidence, I found unexpected advantages of improv in my engineering endeavors. As a Science Olympiad member, improvisation benefits materialized in structure and circuit creation. Hours that I had spent formulating spontaneous musical ideas mirrored the creativity required for fruitful brainstorming sessions. Designs transformed into wooden structures just as thoughts turned into jazz melodies. The confidence gleaned from improv impacted my circuit-building events as well; my experience improvising in front of large crowds dwarfed any prior nervousness associated with timed circuit prompts.

Whether I am solving urgent engineering problems or performing my heart out on-stage, my love for improv always shines through. Benny Goodman, my deadpan jazz teacher, and countless others inspire me to push the boundaries of this love, however, my ultimate inspiration lies in my childhood “Whose Line” idols. At heart, the only thing that separates me from the fascinated eight-year-old staring at the television is how I have approached my fascination: I’ve improved.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #13 – The Sound of Music

Author: Alyssa

Tucked inside the small blue box that sits on my dresser is a folded-up Market Basket receipt from November 3rd, 2010. If you flipped over the order, you’d find—written in neat and lilting handwriting—the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music.

On November 3rd, 2010, I was six going on seven, watching the Sound of Music with my grandparents for the first time, nestled between them on their old brown leather couch. The themes of the film were far beyond my understanding, but I could not get the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” out of my head. I begged my grandmother to transcribe them for me to keep. The message of the song, which lists images dear to Maria—from “raindrops on roses” to “silver white winters that melt into springs”—is that by drawing upon moments of joy, we can cope with any misfortune.

Now, it becomes clear why I found the lyrics important enough to write down and keep for eleven years: I tend to find the best in everything. Even when I feel lost, I am in constant search of small flickers of brightness, elusive moments of clarity. Like Maria, I think that my favorite things are my most inexhaustible sources of strength.

On January 1st, 2020, I downloaded an app called “One Second Every Day.” Essentially, I would film one second of my life each day, and the app would compile these clips into a movie at the end of every year. I began the project simply to document my life, to keep my memories fresh.

Soon, my project became much more than a documentary. Rather than capturing the most significant one-second of my day, as I had initially intended, I found myself filming moments that made me smile—moments that reminded me to stay hopeful.

On my mom’s first day of chemotherapy, I filmed the blue January sky and captioned the clip succinctly: “fresh air > everything else.” On the day that her hair fell out, I captured the serenity of a nearby lake, where I go to collect my thoughts. On the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I filmed my friends and me at a fencing tournament; on the second, a stunning sunset. Throughout quarantine, clips included flowers, Easter cookies, Zooms with my friends, and efforts to learn guitar.

I hadn’t realized it then, but like Maria, I was steadily compiling a list of my favorite things to make me feel better “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad”—a huge database of happiness in spite of pain. In that way, I grew stronger, more optimistic, better able to connect with myself and be there for my mother as she battled cancer amid the pandemic. My circumstances did not have to define my outlook on life. Sometimes, I look back on my clips and can’t help but grin, knowing what comes next—like the clip of myself playing field hockey, filmed shortly before my mother received a call from her doctor, telling her that she was finally cancer-free.

I wish I could whisper to myself in the “before” moments like that one, “You’ll never believe what’s about to happen. Everything is going to be okay.” For now, I settle for the knowledge that we grow in the small moments, not only in the big ones. We push ourselves through obstacles and come out on the other side; we gear up for the decisions that will change our lives; we are strengthened and empowered and made brave. Back in 2010, I may not have known what “schnitzel with noodles” was, but I did know that “My Favorite Things” matter, whether I’m six-going-on-seven or sixteen-going-on-seventeen or simply just trying to forge ahead. Whenever I rediscover that Market Basket receipt, I smile, and look forward to all the favorite things that I have yet to discover.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #14 – Translation

Author: Cecile

I first thought seriously about human trafficking while sitting on a public toilet. The right place, the right time, and an uncanny sign can turn a banal act into a mission. For me, the venue was a bathroom stall in the Atlanta airport, the time was early morning, and the sign was a generic poster that warned viewers: “human trafficking is in our community.” The graffiti hearts on the stall door took the poster’s credibility down a notch, but I was intrigued. Ambiguous yet alarming, this message ultimately inspired me to learn a language that, although foreign, was spoken within earshot. As I later found out, a human trafficking ring took place blocks from my house in Austin, Texas. I would not have made this discovery without approaching my research with the attitude of a translator—from Austin’s East side to conversations with an ex-convict on my porch, from Spanish to English, from inside the bathroom stall to the whole wide world. 

To translate, dictionaries can only do so much. When I lived in Spain during the Summer of 2019, my host sister Carmen proved to be a better translator than my pocket dictionary. Through words, phrases, and theatrical charades, Carmen filled gaps in my understanding, offering me a much more grounded (and entertaining) explanation of a word than a conventional Spanish-English dictionary ever could. This lesson stuck, and it was not just about linguistics.

My time in Spain was an opportunity to discover meaning beyond words. To learn why “thank you” could be offensive, why my youngest host sister cursed like the word “joder” was going out of style, why everyone spoke as if on Novocain, I had to translate not just language, but culture. The challenge of understanding the cultural subtleties that language reveals taught me to see ambiguity—say, of a false cognate or a mysterious warning sign—as a green light for immersion. So, when it came to that poster on the bathroom wall, I hit the academic search engines and devoured a trove of research. 

Case studies dispelled myths, anthropologists offered context, and scholars everywhere, it seemed, were engaging in some form of translation. As I read, a world inaccessible even to data scientists—that of human sex trafficking—began to seem slightly more lucid. The scholarship, while brilliant, had its limits. Yes, I learned about the interactions of survivors with police officers; I discovered surprising arguments for legalizing prostitution; I noticed gaps between NGO advocacy and what empirical data suggest. Still, translating these discoveries into a language I understood remained as elusive to me as the Spanish subjunctive once seemed. As with linguistic translation, a deeper understanding would require deeper questions. Should the response to a human rights abuse change if the perceived victims do not agree that they are being abused? How can personal agency and external support coexist? What makes a kid a kid? I approached my new inquiries with the same attitude it took to discuss Mediterranean migration patterns with my host dad: shameless curiosity. I had another language to learn, and only human conversation, as nuanced and enthralling as my host sister made it, could lead me to fluency. 

I interviewed—in person and on Zoom—dozens of global experts, witnesses, and survivors of human trafficking. I created a website—which I called RISE (Recording Interviews and Stories of Exploitation)—to house my interviews and connect with those eager to explore questions further. My conversations, although in English, were no less of a translation than my experience rendering an English thought into a Spanish sentence. I was equally immersed, this time not in another language but in a new field. As with learning a new language, I found clarity through human connection. I have yet to reach the whole wide world with my research, but with RISE, I am just beginning to make discoveries that only true immersion rewards.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #15 –  The YOKA Times

Author: Allie

It was already 6 PM, and I walked across the classroom, wary of the many fingers tapping away at their keyboards, their mouse clicks, their resizing and editing articles, photos, and captions. It was the day before the newspaper production deadline, and my team of middle schoolers had worked tirelessly on their articles and layouts. Just before we hit send, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride.

Student Newspaper in Every Middle School project began as an impossible dream. The ubiquity of fake news is undermining our democracy and our First Amendment right. I believe that my project can undermine the spread of fake news by educating young students to become better consumers of news. Determined, I began my journey to achieve my dream.

I was naive to think that merely sending “email presentation” to local middle school principals will be sufficient to convince them to start a newspaper with me. I was dead wrong. Out of 43 emails sent, I received exactly “0” interest. Out of desperation, I started calling schools one by one.

Another valuable lesson learned – principals don’t answer phone calls. Six schools picked up my call, but only Principal Lauer of Young Oak Kim Academy (YOKA), a Los Angeles Unified School District middle school, called me back. I implored the reluctant Principal for a chance to explain my plan, and was elated when he agreed to meet me. It was my only shot.

I felt like a person on a hopeless mission when I first walked the halls of YOKA. “What am I doing here? I don’t have to do this,” I kept mumbling to myself. A receptionist told me to wait as he had a meeting. Some twenty agonizing minutes passed before smiling Principal Lauer walked out to greet me. Remarkably, he read my presentation and told me that he had been trying to the same thing. Just like that, I became an advisor to YOKA’s student newspaper.

School bureaucracy quickly dampened my short-lived elation. As a minor, I couldn’t advise students on my own. So, the school had to assign a teacher. But, no one wanted the extra work, so I had to go around and convince teachers of the project’s merits one by one. I was overjoyed in tears when Ms. Ramos agreed to co-advise.

Problems never ended. I envisioned 30+ Energizer Bunnies to welcome me to first class. Instead, I got two bored students, wondering aloud “why they had to be there?” I was demoralized. But, I had expended too much effort and convinced too many people to quit. All dreams start small and humble, and I had to accept the fact that my dream was no exception.

I learned another undeniable truth – that getting an “idea” turned out to be the easiest step. In comparison, executing that “idea” was excruciatingly more difficult. Convincing conflicted individuals to work for a common goal was impossibly challenging. I needed to be resilient, but I was always prepared to fail as well.

I stumbled on to a “tipping point.” I told my staff that the feature article’s “star” will be them. The new “celebrity” status was enticing enough to get them enthusiastic. I took the cue from their metamorphosis and started promising “stardom” to other students. Encouraging narcissism through flattery worked as seven more students enthusiastically joined. Our goal was simple, “tell accurate stories about students, the ‘stars’ of our paper.” The “YOKA Times” was successfully launched last year and I am proud to be working with two more schools this year.

It was 6:30 PM, and we finally finished our first issue. “High five, we did it,” my students and I were overjoyed. I held the “YOKA Times” in my hands, smiling at the team who worked so hard to make this happen.

You’ve read through these 15 college essay examples. What do they all have in common? What’s the secret sauce that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance?

Remember: the college essay is only one part of the college application.

The admissions officers reading these essays thus were considering other aspects of the writers’ applications , including extracurricular distinction and academic achievement.

That being said, we’ve done the research and pinpointed the 7 qualities of successful college essays that all of these pieces exemplify.

  • Introspective and reflective
  • Full of a student’s voice
  • Descriptive and engaging
  • Unconventional and distinct
  • Well-written

How to Write an Essay Like These College Essay Examples

What can you do to write a personal statement in line with these stellar college essay examples?

First, let’s talk about how to actually read one of these college essay examples.

If you’re at this point in this post, you’ve likely read at least one of the examples in this post at least once. Now, return to that essay and read it a second time with a more critical eye.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What do you like? What do you not like?
  • How does the essay make you feel?
  • How is the essay structured?
  • How does the writer craft the introduction? The conclusion?
  • What’s unique about this college essay example?
  • What value(s) does the writer express? Key takeaways?
  • Is there anything unexpected or surprising?
  • Do any writing techniques stick out to you?

Pay attention to your answers to these questions, and reflect on the qualities that surface. Compare them to the 7 qualities of a successful college essay . What do you notice?

Complete this exercise for several other college essay examples — you can download  35 real college essays below!

This can help you understand exactly what it it takes to write a compelling college essay, including what impact a strong essay has on a reader.

It’s also a great first step to take in the college essay writing process, which we’ve boiled down to these 10 simple steps . 

You can check out even more college essay examples by successful applicants! For 20 additional essays, download PrepMaven’s 35 College Essays That Worked .

With this document, you’ll get:

  • The essays included in this post
  • 20 additional full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Need some additional help? Check out our college essay service and work with one of our Master Consultants .

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.

Greg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.

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Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Have you ever wondered what goes through an admissions officer’s mind as they read college essays?

Now’s your chance.

This post takes you behind that dark, mysterious admissions curtain to show you what exceptional, good, and “bad” college essays look like. And we don’t just show them to you.

We’ve asked our team of former admissions officers to read through the essays, analyze them, offer editing ideas, and assign them grades.

So join us on this college essay example journey so you know what to do (and what not to do) as you write all your college essays this fall.

Let’s get started.

How to Use College Essay Examples

Here’s the thing. People in college admissions have lots of different opinions about whether students should read example essays. But we believe that reading example essays is a crucial step in the college essay writing process.

If you don’t know what a college essay looks like, then how should you expect yourself to write one?

So reading examples is important.

However! There’s a caveat. The point of reading college essay examples isn’t to copy them or even to get inspiration from them. It’s to analyze them and apply what you’ve learned to your own college essay.

To help you do that, our team of former admissions officers has taken this super-comprehensive compilation of college essay examples and pointed out exactly what you need to know before you start writing.

Let me break down how this post works:

Categories:

We’ve put together a great variety of college essay examples and sorted them into three categories, including…

  • Best college essay examples: these examples are the creme-de-la-creme. They’re written by a small percentage of students who are exceptional writers.
  • Good college essay examples: these examples are solid. They do exactly what they need to do on the admissions committee floor. You’re aiming to write a good college essay.
  • “Bad” college essay examples: these examples illustrate a few of the most common college essay mistakes we see.

Our former admissions officers have assigned each essay a letter grade to help you understand where it falls on the scale of “bad” college essays to exceptional college essays.

Alongside our categorization and grades, our former admissions officers have also annotated the essays and provided concrete feedback about what works and what could be improved.

The majority of essays you’ll see here are written in response to the Common Application personal statement prompts. We’ve also included a few stellar supplemental essays at the end of the post.

How an Admissions Officer Reads College Essays

All admissions officers are different. And all institutions ask their admissions officers to read in different ways.

But there are a few strategies that shape how the majority of admissions officers read college essays. (If you want a look behind the mysterious admissions curtain, read our post about how admissions offices read tens of thousands of applications every year .)

First, we need to talk about application reading as a whole.

Remember that admissions officers are reading your college essays in the context of your entire application. It’s likely that by the time they get to your essay, they’ve already glanced at your background information, activities , and transcript . They may have even looked at your letters of recommendation or additional information.

Why is this detail important? It matters because your college essays need to be in conversation with the rest of your application. We refer to this strategy as adopting a “ cohesive application narrative .” Your unique personal brand—who you are, what you’re good at, what you value—should emerge across all of your application materials.

To summarize: your college essays don’t exist in a vacuum. Your admissions officers learn about who you are from your entire application, and your college essays are the place where you get to tell them exactly what you want them to know. You should write them in a way that creates balance among the other parts of your application.

So once your admissions officers get to your college essays, what are they looking for?

They’re looking for several things. Each of your essays doesn’t have to address all of these points, but they are a great place to start:

  • Personal narrative that explains who you are and where you come from
  • Details about specific activities, accomplishments, or inclinations
  • Personality traits that make you who you are
  • Lessons you’ve learned throughout your life
  • Values that you hold dear
  • Information about how you interact with the world around you
  • Highlights about what makes you special, strong, interesting, or unique

What do all of these points have in common? They revolve around your core strengths . We’ve written more extensively about core strengths in our college essay writing guide . But for now, just know this: your college essays should tell admissions officers something positive about yourself. They want to know who you are, what motivates you, and why you would be an active contributor to their campus.

As we go through the following example essays, remember: college essays are read alongside the rest of your application, and college admissions officers read your essays to learn about your core strengths.

Okay, let’s get to it. Ready? Buckle up.

The Best College Essay Examples

As an admissions officer, every so often you come across an essay that blows you away. It stops you in your tracks, makes you laugh or cry, or resonates deeply with you. When exceptional essays come through your application bin, you’re reminded what an honor it is to get these fleeting glimpses into incredible students’ lives.

As an applicant, you may be wondering how to write this kind of exceptional college essay. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula. You can’t “hack” your way into it. You have to write vulnerable, authentically, and beautifully—which is much easier said than done. We have a whole guide on how to write a personal statement that stands out, so we recommend that you start there.

For now, let’s take a look at some of our favorites.

College Essay Example #1: The Gospel of Steve

The first college essay we'll look at got an A+ grade and is about the writer's experience with depression and... Steve Irwin. It's a common application essay. Check it out:

" In sophomore year, I struggled with depression((While this is a fantastic essay, this hook could definitely be stronger.)) . I felt like I was constantly battling against the darkness that seemed to be closing in on me. Until, that is, I found solace in the teachings of Steve Irwin.((This unusual last sentence drew me in when I read this for the first time.))

When I first discovered Steve Irwin and his show "The Crocodile Hunter," I was captivated by his passion for wildlife. He was fearless, jumping into danger without hesitation to save an animal in need. But it was more than just his bravery that inspired me; it was his infectious energy and love for life. Watching him on TV, I couldn't help but feel a little bit better about my own struggles.((This explicit reflection does a fantastic job connecting the writer’s experiences to this Steve Irwin reference.))

But it wasn't until I read his biography that I truly felt the impact Steve had on my life. In the book, he talked openly about his own struggles with depression. He talked about the dark moments in his life, when he felt like he was drowning in despair. But he also talked about how he fought back against the darkness, how he refused to let it consume him, and how he turned his depression into a career that allowed him to follow his biggest passions.

Reading Steve's words, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.((Another beautiful transition)) I wasn't alone in my struggles if someone as brave and fearless as Steve had faced similar challenges. And that gave me the courage to keep going. I started visiting a therapist, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness meditation. Day by day, I lifted myself out of my depression–all with a healthy dose of “Crocodile Hunter” each evening after I finished my homework((The writer does a great job focusing on action steps here.)) .

One of the things that I admired most about Steve was his ability to find joy and laughter in the most unlikely places. He was always cracking jokes, even in the face of danger. He taught me that laughter and humor can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression. I went looking for the humor in my own struggles. I started learning about how stand-up comedy works, and wrote my own five-minute skit finding the humor and silver lining((The writer expands their connection to Steve Irwin even more through this comedy thread.)) in my depression. I wasn’t a great comic, let me tell you. But being able to channel my experience into something positive—something that helped others laugh—was extremely gratifying to me.

Depression((The reflection in this paragraph is exactly what writers need to tie all the information together before reaching the conclusion.)) is a bizarre thing. One day, you’re besieged by it from every side and it looks like there’s no way out. Then, two months later, if you’re diligent, you look around the world and wonder what you ever had to be upset about. You find goodness and light in the things around you—your friends, your family, your habits, and your hobbies. These forces act as buttresses to keep you standing up and moving forward.

As silly as it may sound, I credit Steve Irwin with that first buttress. His experience and outlook on life gave me the push I needed to cultivate bravery and resilience in the face of my struggle with mental health. My eternal goal is now to practice the gospel of Steve—to always pass along humor, passion, and encouragement to others, especially to those who seem down and out. Thank you, Steve."

Word Count: 525

Admissions Officer Notes on The Gospel of Steve

This essay captured my attention because of its unique pairing of a tough subject—depression—with a light-hearted and endearing topic—Steve Irwin.

The writer doesn’t dwell in the experience of depression but instead finds hope and light by focusing on how their favorite TV star changed their perspective. Why this essay stands out:

  • Great organization and sign-posting . The essay clearly progresses through each part of the writer’s journey. The first sentence of each paragraph signals to the reader what that paragraph will be about.
  • Focus on action steps. It’s very apparent that this writer is a do-er. The focus of the essay is on the way they emerged from their depression, not on the depression itself.
  • Meaningful reflection. Especially in the second-to-last paragraph and conclusion, the writer beautifully reflects on what depression and hope mean to them.
  • Core strengths. From this essay alone, I gather that the writer is a sage archetype . They clearly show their wisdom and ability to persist through challenges.

Most importantly, they’ve written the essay around communicating their core strengths.

College Essay Example #2: The Embroidery Scientist

This essay is about a writer's Etsy store and the connection she draws between fashion and science.

I stretch the thin fabric over my hoop and pull it tight, wedging the nested rings between my legs to secure them shut with my other hand((This hook is compelling. It makes us ask, “What in the world is the writer doing?” We are compelled to read on to find out.)) .

Next I get out the thread. Each color is wound tightly around a paper spool and stored in a container whose original purpose was to store fishing tackle.

I look at the pre-printed design on the fabric and decide what colors to select. Orange, red, pink, yellow–this design will be as bright and happy as I can make it.

Embroidery is where the STEM and creative parts of my identity converge((Here we get a clear, explicit statement of the writer’s main point. This isn’t always necessary, but it can help your reader navigate your essay more easily if you have a lot going on.)) . My STEM side is calculated. She meticulously plans the designs, mocks them up in photoshop, and painstakingly transfers them onto the fabric. She organizes each thread color by its place in ROYGBIV and cuts every piece to an identical length of 18”. Her favorite stitch is the French Knot, with its methodical “one, two” wrap sequence. For her, art is about precision.

My creative side, on the other hand, is messy. She throws thread scraps on the floor without hesitation, and she haphazardly adds design elements in pen. She does a Lazy Daisy stitch very lazily while adding an indescribable flourish to a simple backstitch. Her methods are indeed madness: she’ll border a design with glitter glue, hang a finished project upside down, or stitch a big red X over a perfectly good embroidery. For her, art is about meaning.

While these two sides of myself may seem at odds((Seamless transition to talking about Etsy accomplishment)) , they actually complement each other perfectly. At least, that’s what 3,000 of my Etsy customers think. From three-inch hoops to massive wall hangings, my Etsy shop is a compilation of the best embroidery I’ve ever done. My precision and meaning have earned me hundreds of five-star reviews from customers whose lives I’ve impacted with my art. And none of that art would have been possible without STEM me and creative me.

My STEM and creative side complement each other in more than my embroidery life too. What began as a creative side hustle has actually made me a better scientist((Another good transition to discussing passion and talent for science)) .

Before I started embroidering, I approached the lab bench with an eye like a ruler. Poured a millimeter too much liquid? Better get a pipette. Went a degree over boiling? Time to start over. My lab reports demonstrated my knowledge, skill, and care, but they didn’t show any innovation or ingenuity. My precision led me to be a good scientist but not an exceptional one.

I realized that to be exceptional, I needed to think like a real scientist. While scientists are careful and precise, they are also interrogators. They constantly question the world around them, identifying previously unseen problems and finding creative solutions. To become the scientist I wanted to be, I needed to allow myself to be more creative((This is a good example of what reflection throughout the essay should look like.)) .

When I had this realization, I had just begun my embroidery business. I didn’t understand that my creativity could also be so useful in the lab. I set out on a new path to use more creativity in the pursuit of science.

To inspire myself, I brought an embroidery project to the lab. On it, I stitched a compound microscope and a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Marie Curie. It reads, “ I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”

In the lab now, I’m not afraid to take risks and try new things((Here we see clear personal growth.)) . When I boil my mixture too long, I still start over. But occasionally, when my teacher permits, I do a second experiment on the rejected liquid just to see what will happen. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes it results in utter failure. But other times, my mistakes create blue, green, and purple mixtures, mixtures that bubble and burst and fizz. All of these experiments are stitches in my quest to become a cancer researcher. They are messy, but they are beautiful((The conclusion ties beautifully back to the beginning, and we also learn what the writer is interested in pursuing in the future.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on "Embroidery Scientist"

This writer has done an excellent job talking about two very different aspects of their identity. What I love about this essay is that the structure of the essay itself shows the writer’s creativity and precision. The essay is well-organized and precise, but the writing has a unique and creative flair. It demonstrates the writer’s point exactly. I also appreciate how the writer doesn’t just talk about these parts of their identity. They explicitly connect their creativity and precision to their future goals as a scientist.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Creative approach: The writer doesn’t just say, “I have two identities: creative and logical.” Instead, they illustrate that point through the wonderful example of embroidery. Connecting embroidery with science also shows this creativity.
  • Attention-grabbing hook : The introductory paragraphs place readers immediately into the essay. We’re drawn in because we’re curious what the writer is doing and how it will evolve into a more meaningful message.
  • Connection between personal and academic interests: The writer makes it clear why this story matters for their life in college. The creative and precise personalities aren’t inconsequential—they have a real effect on who this person wants to be.
  • Forward-looking conclusion: The writer ends by subtly telling admissions officers what they’re interested in doing during and after college.

College Essay Example #4: Poetry Slam

When I first met Simon, he was neither speaking nor singing. He was doing something in between(( This hook is a good “statement” hook that raises more questions than it answers.)) . With words that flowed together like an ancient tributary, he spoke music. His hands grasping a microphone, he swayed slowly from side to side. He was a poet. But unlike that of Yeats or Dickenson, Simon’s poetry wasn’t meant to be read on a page—it was meant to be experienced like an aural work of art. And I had never experienced anything more beautiful. Disheartened, I realized that my words would never sound like Simon’s(( These two sentences are essential because otherwise the introduction would be all about Simon, not the writer.)) .

I sat in my on-deck seat. Forgetting that I was up next, I admired his craft. The crescendos and decrescendos that mirrored his pacing, the quick staccatos that punctuated each stanza, the rhymes so subtle they almost disappeared—every second of his spoken word pulled me further from reality. I listened to his words like a devout in church(( This is good sentence pacing. A long, winding sentence is followed by a short one that keeps our attention and propels us forward.)) . Closing my eyes, I joined my hands together to count the syllables. From the outside, it probably looked like I was praying. And maybe I was. When Simon’s poem ended, the audience, though betrayed by the silence, erupted into applause.

It was my turn. I had spent an entire year perfecting my poem. My sister had grown accustomed to kicking me under the dinner table when someone asked me a question. She knew that my mind was in my beloved poetry notebook, mentally analyzing my latest draft. I’ve never been one for living in the moment. My report cards usually feature comments like, “She’s a good student but has trouble paying attention.” I’m always the first one out in dodgeball because my mind is completely absent from the school gym. But what seems like inattention to my teachers is actually a kind of profound focus(( This reflection widens the essay’s scope and reveals more about who the writer is as a person.)) .

When writing slam poetry, I become completely consumed. I like to start with the words. The rhythm and intonation come with time. For me, it’s about translating a feeling into language. It’s no easy task, but it feels like an obligation. Once the words come into being, they’re like a twister in my mind(( Good (and sparing) use of figurative language.)) . They spin and spin, destroying every other thought in their path. I can’t focus on anything else because, in the aftermath of a twister, nothing else exists.

And there on the stage, nothing else existed besides me and my poem. I spoke it into existence. Like Simon, I wrapped my hands around the microphone, willing my poem to be heard. The twister exited my mind and entered the world.

A few weeks ago(( Excellent signposting)) , I watched the recording of my first poetry slam, that slam two years ago when I saw Simon perform for the first time. I saw myself climb on stage from the dark abyss of the audience. I looked small, all alone on that big stage. My voice shook as I began. But soon, my poem rendered the stage smaller and smaller. I filled the darkness with words.

As I watched myself on my computer, I thought about how I felt that day, awe-struck in the audience by Simon’s work. I felt like I’d never be able to sound like him. And I was right. My poem didn’t sound like Simon’s, and none of my poems ever would. But in this moment, I realized that they were just as beautiful. My words sounded like me(( Beautiful conclusion that really drives home just how much this person has grown. They don’t need to sound like Simon. They need to sound like themself.)) .

Word Count: 552

Admissions Officer Notes on Poetry Slam

We would call this essay a “sacred practice” essay. It’s clear that slam poetry is deeply meaningful to the writer. They even call it “an obligation.” It’s a beautiful essay that also reflects the writer’s interest in poetry. They have some nice figurative language that adds interest to the story—it’s almost like the essay is in some ways a poem itself. And the story is a good one: it demonstrates the writer’s fears, strengths, and growth.

  • Deeply meaningful: We say it all the time because it’s true: college essays should be vulnerable and deeply meaningful. This essay oozes meaning. The writer even connects their love of slam poetry to who they are as a person.
  • Good organization and signposting: The narrative in this essay is a little complicated as the writer switches between the slam poetry event, reflection on past events, and reflection during current day. But because each paragraph is about a single topic, and because they use very clear topic sentences and transitions, it’s easy to follow the narrative thread.
  • Theme: The main theme in this essay is that the writer found their own voice through slam poetry. They had to experience growth to come to this realization. The very last sentence of the essay wonderfully ties back to the introduction and wraps up the entire essay.

College Essay Example #4: The Muscle Show

My parents are the scrapbooking type(( I’m intrigued by this hook! It makes me ask, “Where is this essay going?”)) . The crafty, crazy-cut scissors and construction paper, okay-everyone-make-a-silly-face-for-this-picture type.

Every summer, my entire family rents a small house in Wildwood, New Jersey for a week to catch up and enjoy the beach and good company. My favorite part is spending time with my cousin Steven, who is one year older than me. To us, there is nothing better than two pockets full of quarters, strolling down the boardwalk headed to an arcade, licking an ice cream cone, and laughing at all the novelty t-shirts for sale(( This sentence beautifully gives us a sense of place. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, too.)) .

We have a “down the shore” scrapbook proudly displayed on our coffee table that holds memories from each of our family vacations. The scrapbook(( Ah-ha. A quick answer to our scrapbooking question.)) is such a fixture in our house that it blends in with its surroundings and I fully forgot it existed until this past March. I happened to pick it up and look at pictures from the first year we went. I was four, Steven was five, and there we were, shirtless in the living room, proudly displaying our kid “muscles” in front of a handmade sign that said “WELCOME 2 THE MUSLE SHOW”.

I cried when I saw it.

No, not because we spelled muscle wrong. The four-year-old in that picture had such a small and fragile frame. I was the kind of child who almost looked like they had six-pack abs because they are so slim. There was so much naivety in that picture that no longer exists(( With this sentence, our writer begins to embark on their journey.)) .

I started gaining weight–a lot of weight–around the fifth grade. My parents are wonderful role models in the way they treat others, but they aren’t exactly paragons of healthy eating. Looking through the scrapbook, none of the adults in my family were particularly healthy. I distinctly remember my dad saying to me sometime in elementary school, “what do these people go to the gym for, anyway? What are you going to do with all those muscles?” I spent elementary and middle school on a steady diet of McDonald’s, Doritos, and video games.

I hit 200 pounds at age 14. One day in my least favorite class, PE, we had to do a push-up competition. Not only could I not do one, I was out of breath just getting up and down from the floor. Something had to change(( And here is our inciting incident in this narrative arc)) .

I turned to one thing I was good at to figure out a solution: reading. I read books like “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes and started to learn the science behind calories, carbs, insulin, and soon, exercise. Even though neither of my parents had ever been inside a gym, I convinced them to buy me some training sessions and a membership that Christmas.

It’s remarkable what happens when you suddenly stop consuming fried chicken and soda, go for a daily 20-minute power walk, and exercise a few times a week. Progress in losing weight actually came sooner than I expected. By sophomore year, I was lifting weights four times a week after school and felt more comfortable in the gym than anywhere else.

I also noticed my attitude towards schoolwork was changing(( This is a good transition to widen the scope of the essay and talk about the broader implications of this journey on the writer’s life.)) . I felt like I had control in my life for the first time. I had spent countless hours trying to “level up” fake characters in video games (OK, I still do that…). But leveling up myself–my own body and mind–was life changing. So much in life is out of our control, but realizing that, at least to an extent, my own health is within my control brought a new sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.

Today, I’m at a healthy weight, my grades have improved, and I have even taken several of my friends to the gym for their first time. I look forward to continuing my healthy trend in college and beyond.

I’ll see Steven again at this summer’s beach trip. We have decided to recreate the “musle show” picture–this time with better spelling and in better health(( This short conclusion wraps everything up and has a great callback to the beginning of the essay.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on The Muscle Show

What I like about this essay is how it weaves together multiple parts of this writer’s life. We get their family background, their sense of self, and their values, interests, and goals. The writer takes us on a journey with them. We see their determination in finding solutions to the problems they’re facing, and we also clearly see their personality and voice.

  • Upward-trending growth structure : This writer nails this essay structure. We clearly see that they begin at a “point A” where things aren’t so great, and they steadily make their way to “point B.” By the end, we truly get a sense of how they’ve grown through the journey.
  • Connections: This essay isn’t just about the writer’s health journey. It’s also about their “sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.” Their changes expanded to even more parts of their life, and we can see that they are a person who takes initiative and gets creative with solutions.
  • Conclusion: I especially love the way this conclusion brings everything full-circle. The “musle show” reference at the end ties the journey nicely together with a bow and ends with a sense of forward movement.

College Essay Example #5: The Stop Sign

While some high schoolers get in trouble for skipping class, I get in trouble for arguing with my local government officials on Twitter. But when lives are at stake, I can take the heat(( Very catchy, humorous, and personality-filled hook)) .

I live at the intersection of 33rd and Spruce. The intersection itself sits between a large bend and a bundle of white oak trees—a recipe for obstructed views. Drivers careen around the corner, Indy 500-style, and are abruptly met with oncoming traffic. Neither can see the other through the oaks. What is otherwise a beautiful intersection makes for awfully dangerous driving conditions.

Living by this intersection my whole life, I’ve heard countless crashes and collisions. The screeching tires and cacophony of crushing car parts is seared in my mind. As neighbors, we are often the first on the scene. Cell phone in hand, I’ve run out to help several motorists who didn’t know what was coming. After the most recent crash, where a car flipped into the ditch, I knew that something had to change(( The writer has set the scene with a vivid description, and these sentences draw our attention to what’s at stake. They need a stop sign, and it’s clear that the writer is on a mission to get one.)) . We needed a stop sign.

I began with a google search, which led me to my local Stop Sign Request Form. According to the form, a government official would reach out to me. If they deemed it appropriate, we’d work together to assess whether the intersection qualified for a stop sign.

Their response took months. While I waited, I began collecting evidence on my own(( The writer’s initiative shines through.)) . After noticing that the security camera on my house pointed toward the intersection, I decided to put the skills I’d been developing in AP Computer Science to work. I wrote a simple code that tabulated the number of cars that passed through the intersection each day(( Here we see the technical skills the writer is developing.)) . Briefly reviewing the footage each night also helped me determine how many cars were likely going over the posted speed limit of forty miles per hour. Alongside these statistics, I went back into our cloud history to find footage of the crashes that had occurred.

When I finally heard back from the city, I was ready to make my case. My confidence deflated as soon as I opened the email(( Oh no! There’s a roadblock. Things aren’t progressing as the writer hoped.)) : Thank you for filling out a Stop Sign Request Form , the email read. At this time, we do not have reason to believe that the intersection of 33rd Street and Spruce Street meets the criteria for a two-way stop sign. The city had disagreed with my recommendation and denied my request.

I took a moment to collect myself. How could the city not care about the safety of its citizens? Were human lives not worth looking into a simple stop sign? I took to Twitter, posting statistics from my research, photos of the obstructed view, and a security camera compilation of cars speeding by. I tagged my local representatives, and I asked for help(( But the writer doesn’t focus on the problem. They continue to focus on their action steps and solutions. That’s exactly how you talk about a personal challenge in a college essay.)) .

While not all of them were receptive to my post, one particularly helpful representative connected me with my city’s City Engineer. The representative instructed me to send the City Engineer all of the evidence I had collected along with another copy of my Stop Sign Request Form.

The engineer was impressed with the code I wrote and the tracking system I’d put together, and she agreed to meet me at my house to do an inspection of the intersection. I accompanied her on the inspection so I could watch what she did. After working so hard to advocate for my community, it felt good to have my opinions heard.

In the end, I got my stop sign(( The writer emphasizes that it wasn’t just about winning the stop sign debate. It was about the community impact. And what do admissions officers want to see? Yep, community impact.)) . Drivers still occasionally speed, but I was astounded by the outpouring of thanks I received after my neighborhood was alerted of the change. My foray into local government was an eventful but rewarding one. And even though I’ve secured my stop sign, I’ll still be doing stop sign research this summer— this time as an intern at the City Engineer’s office(( And the writer pops in this awesome opportunity they’ve earned as a result. As an AO, I would see that they are continuing to prepare for college as their high school career is coming to a close.)) .

Word Count: 641

Admissions Officer Notes on The Stop Sign

This essay combines a story of personal strengths with an impactful accomplishment. It’s not necessary to write about one of your accomplishments in your college essays, but if that’s the route you want to go down, then this approach is a good one. Notice how it focuses on concrete action steps, emphasizes the skills the writer learned and used, and highlights how their actions impacted their community. A stop sign may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but the writer shows just how important this effort was.

  • Community impact: The accomplishment this writer chose to write about is an impressive one. Admissions officers are always looking at how applicants interact with their communities , so this story showcases the writer’s willingness to help and engage with those around them.
  • Strengths: Above all, we see that the writer is solutions-oriented. They are a “founder” or “builder” archetype and aren’t afraid to tackle hard problems. The writer also explicitly shows how they solved the problem using impressive skills.
  • Narrative momentum : This essay is easy to read because we’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. The hook is very catchy, the ups and downs of the writer’s struggle to solve this problem are clear, and the conclusion points to the overall significance of the story and looks toward its future impact.

College Essay Example #6: Fran’s Flower Farm

Surrounded(( The hook is interesting and vivid.)) by carnations, dahlias, and marigolds, I laid down on the hard dirt, sweating from the midday sun. While my garden was a labor of love, it was still a labor. I’d spent months during the beginning of the pandemic researching how to set up beds correctly, choose seeds and fertilizers, and run a small business(( We get plopped right into the story without wasting any time.)) . A year later, this summer would be the second harvest of Fran’s Flower Farm.

As I prepared the yield for my small table at that week’s farmers market, I reflected on how far I had come(( This transitional phrase is a quick and convenient way to incorporate reflection.)) . Prior to the pandemic, I had never even dug in the dirt. I didn’t know anything about seed germination or nitrogen levels. I had my own Instagram, but I had never had to market anything or think about overhead costs. I was a total and complete newb.

But my life, like everyone’s, changed in spring of 2020. Lockdown rendered me depressed and hopeless until one day when my mom ordered me a bouquet of flowers along with our grocery delivery. The bouquet was a simple grocery store arrangement of sunflowers. A few petals were wilting at the ends, and the stems were smashed from the flour that had been in the same plastic bag. But they were perfect. Such a small and thoughtful gesture, that bouquet inspired me to get to work(( Nice—here we learn about the “inciting incident” that compelled the writer to get started on their flower farm.)) .

Lucky enough to have space for flower beds, I mapped out four different six-foot beds in my backyard. Garden tools stolen from my mom and borrowed from socially-distanced neighbors in hand, I added compost, arranged my seeds, watered, and mulched. I laid protective plastic over my beds, tucking them in like a child, and wrapped the garden in decade-old chickenwire I found in our barn. My garden was imperfect–compost trailed between beds, my hose wrapped around my shovel in a heap on the ground, and the chickenwire was dented and rusty. But it was all mine, and it was alive(( I like this paragraph because we really see the writer’s personality. They are determined, innovative, and grateful.)) .

As the pandemic waged on, I tended to my flowers. Each morning, I’d peek under the plastic to see how they had fared throughout the night. They gave me routine and purpose when the days seemed droning and neverending. The longer I kept them alive, the more their sprouts brought me life, too(( This is a very nice and poetic point.)) . In a world that seemed to come to a halt, my flowers showed me that growth wasn’t just possible–it was happening right in front of me.

The business side came soon after(( The transition here could be a touch smoother.)) . Later that summer, once my first crop had bloomed, I set up a roadside stand outside of my house. At that point, I had to put my flower buckets across the driveway from my stand to keep everyone safe. But my flowers brightened the days of hundreds of passing motorists. With growing confidence, I secured a spot at the farmer’s market by July, my business boomed(( I’d like to see some specific details here about how well the business was doing.)) . Returning all profits to my garden, I’ve expanded my operations to include two more flower beds this year.

I’m proud of how far my gardening and business skills have come, but what has been most fulfilling about Fran’s Flower Farm have been the connections I’ve made. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for healthcare workers. As the child of a healthcare worker myself, these challenges have been close to home. Knowing how greatly that bouquet of sunflowers affected me, I make sure to donate flowers(( And this sweet gesture shows another one of the writer’s strengths.)) to my local hospital in thanks every week.

Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d own my own flower farm. It’s brought me so many joys, challenges, and friends. I know I won’t be able to bring my flower farm with me to college. But the heart of the farm is more than the flowers(( Here, the writer wraps up the main theme of the essay and makes sure the reader really understands the point.)) . It’s about me learning and using my skills to help others. Wherever I’m planted, I know that I will bloom(( This phrasing is cliche. The writer could re-write the idea in their own words.)) .

Word Count: 643

AO Notes on Fran’s Flower Farm Grade: A

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to buy a bouquet of flowers from this student! While the ending is a bit cliche, we really see how far this student has come in their journey as a farmer and a business person. We also see the magnitude of their impact. They not only grew a successful small business, but they also gave back to the healthcare workers in their community. The student is definitely one I could see thriving in a campus community.

  • Topic and accomplishments : Like The Stop Sign, this essay conveys an impressive accomplishment. But the essay isn’t bragging about it or overstating its significance. It works well because the writer tells a genuine story about a passion they developed.
  • Variety: The writer also manages to show us two distinct strengths in one essay. We see their strength as a DIY farmer and as a business person. They are clearly a founder archetype.
  • Organization and style: The essay opens with a beautiful description, and we get a lot of good language throughout. The writer is able to go through a fairly complicated timeline in a concise and digestible way.

Good College Essay Examples

Not every student can write an exceptional college essay. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not one of your priorities or in your particular skill set.

Thankfully, college essays don’t have to be exceptional to earn admission. They can simply be good. You can still write a solid college essay that does everything you need it to do.

So what’s the difference between the best college essays and good college essays? Usually it’s writing style. Some writers have a gift for writing or have spent years practicing their craft, and those are usually the writers who produce essays that make admissions officers gasp.

But admissions officers recognize good, solid writing and storytelling, too.

So writing a good college essay should always be your main goal. Focus on the basics first before trying to level up to an exceptional essay.

College Essay Example #7: My Emotional Support Water Bottle

I had a stuffed animal named Elephant when I was a child(( This hook makes a statement that compels me to read on so I can figure out what they’re referring to.)) . I’ve long since outgrown Elephant, but now I have a new object that I keep around for comfort: my emotional support water bottle. A gray thirty-two-ounce wide-mouth Hydroflask, my emotional support water bottle accompanies me everywhere.

The water bottle was a gift last Christmas after I begged my mom for one. The brand had become extremely popular at my school, and I wanted in on the trend. When I opened the package that Christmas morning, I was elated. I felt an immediate attachment, and I was proud that I could finally fit in with the other kids at my school(( Here we learn about the connection between the waterbottle and the writer’s values)) .

I had always felt like an outsider(( In this paragraph, the writer zooms the focus out to their life in general. We need this reflection to understand why the topic matters so much to the writer.)) . Other students seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a picture that matched my piece. I envied the tight-knit friendships I saw among my peers.

As soon as I unwrapped my water bottle, I decided that I needed stickers to match. The kids at my school always had stickers on theirs. I found the perfect pack. It had animated depictions of every famous literary character imaginable. Jane Austen characters, Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Montag, Jane Eyre, and more. I couldn’t believe my luck.

No matter how disconnected I felt from my classmates, I could always find a community on my bookshelf(( The writer introduces another topic, literature, that tells us more about who they are.)) . I sat in the courtroom with Atticus Finch, walked through the streets of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov, and watched the revolution unfold alongside Satrapi. My literary friends kept me optimistic through difficult times, and I was glad to see them every day on my beloved Hydroflask.

After winter break ended, I couldn’t wait to debut my new accessory. I placed it atop my desk in each class, angling my favorite stickers outward in hopes of connection. I was profoundly comforted by its presence—I could always take a sip of water when I felt thirsty or uncomfortable, and its stickers promised to draw people in.

To my dismay(( This paragraph serves an important plot function. We see that everything, in fact, did not work out perfectly. By highlighting this challenge, we really get a sense of the writer’s problem-solving and resilience.)) , weeks went by, and no one noticed my Hydroflask or stickers. The school was filled with dozens more Hydroflasks after the holidays, so mine didn’t seem so special. What had once filled me with so much hope and support transformed into a reminder of an unfulfilled promise of friendship.

I coped with the disappointment by re-reading one of my childhood favorites, Le Petit Prince . Near the end, when the little prince returns to water his flower, I had a realization. I couldn’t wait around for people to come to me(( Ding, ding, ding! Here we have it. The main lesson the writer has learned. What’s great, too, is that they’ve stated it so clearly.)) . I had to bring the water to them.

The next day at school, I held my Hydroflask close and gathered all my courage. I headed into the lunch room and spotted Jordan, one of the people I’d chatted with in class. She was sitting alone at a table, reading a book I couldn’t identify. I asked if I could join her. Nodding, she told me about her book, White Teeth . When I placed my Hydroflask on the lunch table, she noticed my stickers(( This sentence is crucial because it ties all these threads together: the waterbottle, stickers, literature, and friendship/fitting in.)) . Together, we went through every sticker and talked about the character’s book.

Jordan and I spent the next day’s lunch exchanging laughter and book recommendations. She had a water bottle of her own, too. It was a classic Nalgene without a single sticker. As our friendship grew stronger, I brought Jordan the last sticker from my collection(( With this small gesture, we see a) the writer’s kindness and b) the writer’s personal growth.)) , a rainbow bookmark that read, “BOOKWORM.”

I’ve always looked to the world around me for comfort instead of finding courage within myself. Elephant still sits on my shelf, I continue to be an avid reader, and I always carry my Hydroflask around for hydration. But this learning process has taught me the importance of having confidence and finding the ability to reach out to others. I can’t wait to carry this skill with me to college— after I get some more stickers(( The conclusion ties all these threads together beautifully, and this final statement adds some spunk and forward movement.)) .

Word Count: 648

Admissions Officer Notes on My Emotional Support Waterbottle

Ah, the emotional support water bottle. We’ve all had one! This writer does a wonderful job connecting an otherwise simple object to a larger story about an important part of their life. We also learn a lot about the student, their background, their goals, and their interests from this essay. I especially like how the essay shows the writer’s academic passion (literature) without being an explicitly academic-focused essay.

What makes this essay good:

  • Storytelling: With their love of reading, it’s no wonder this writer is a good storyteller. As readers, we get a very clear sense of how the events progressed and changed the reader’s perspective.
  • Compelling hook: This essay’s introduction is attention-grabbing and quirky. It compels readers to continue on in the essay to find out what, exactly the writer is talking about.
  • Clean conclusion: The conclusion is a fantastic example of what college essay conclusions should do. It reflects back on the essay, ties up loose ends, and looks forward to how these lessons will apply to the writer’s future.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Core Strengths: While we learn a lot about the writer from the essay, there could be a stronger sense of core strengths. We see that they are a strong reader, but that strength doesn’t necessarily connect to their overall message. We also see that they are eager to connect and become a good friend with Jordan, but they don’t all connect seamlessly into a specific archetype or two. A good question to ask yourself is: how would the strengths I show in this essay convince an admissions officer that I will be a good addition to their campus?

College Essay Example #8: Party of One

The sun shone through my airplane window, hitting the tray table exactly right to reveal the greasy handprint of a child. Beside me, a woman cleared her throat as she rifled through her purse, and the tween next to her tapped away on an iPad. The knees of the tall man behind me pushed against the back of my chair. Together, we headed to Pennsylvania(( We open with clear scene-setting, and the final sentence jumps right to the point: we’re on a journey to PA.)) .

This wasn’t my first trip to Pennsylvania, and it wouldn’t be my last. But it was my first trip traveling as a party of one. Barely past the unaccompanied minor cutoff, I departed for a month-long and court-ordered trip to my dad’s house. I wasn’t eager to travel alone. I felt afraid, too young to do this by myself. I wanted to go back home. But I decided to embrace the journey as an adventure(( This explicit reflection helps us, the reader, understand what mindset the writer is at at the beginning of this journey.)) .

With the growing whirr of the engines, the plane ascended. All around me, my neighbors breathed sighs of relief when we reached cruising altitude. I tightened my seatbelt across my lap, steadying myself for the five-hour trip, and took in the scene. Always the quiet and careful observer(( And here we really learn about who the writer is)) , a full flight was my Sistine Chapel.

The woman to my right was wearing all black. She extracted her laptop from her bag the moment the flight attendants permitted, and she created a PowerPoint presentation from scratch before the drinks cart had even started down the aisle. She was all business. I imagined that she signed her emails with nothing but her name, that she read Keynes in her free time, and that people listened when she spoke. She was everything I longed to be(( While the majority of this paragraph is about the writer’s seat mate, this final sentence brings the focus back to the writer. We learn that the description, in fact, was about the writer themself—everything they “longed to be.”)) .

Next was the tween, only a few years younger than I was. Clearly afraid of flying, the tween reached across the aisle to a man who was presumably her father. I found it endearing that she reached out in fear. The dad’s reassurance didn’t just comfort the tween. It comforted me. So far from home, his quiet calm reminded me of the parent waiting to pick me up at the other end of this journey. I remembered reaching out for my own father’s hand when we flew to Pennsylvania for the first time(( Here we have more great reflection about the writer’s relationship with their dad. )) . Now, I watched the dad squeeze the tween’s hand. I felt guilty for the frustration I felt about the trip. I was excited to see my dad.

And finally, there was the man behind me. Aside from the brief glimpse I got during boarding, I didn’t know what he looked like. But there were two things I knew to be true. First, he was tall. The longer the flight went on, the more apologetically his knees bumped against my seat. Second, I felt emboldened by his ability to take up space. With each nudge forward, I spread myself a little bigger(( The writer’s encounter with this man nudged their growth forward. At the beginning, they felt small and timid. Now, they’re more able to take up space.)) , daring to exist in a world I normally wanted to hide from.

Four hours into the flight, turbulence hit. The long-legged man yelped as his knee hit the metal of the seat. Bigger now(( And that growth is solidified even more through this brief transition statement.)) , I was able to brace myself against the impact. I looked to the tween, who I expected to be a wreck. Instead, I saw a calm girl handing napkins to her dad, whose drink had spilled in the commotion. Her care for him mirrored the care he had shown for her. The woman next to me, who had seemed so steadfast, gasped when the plane shot downward. Her hand reached for her chest as she caught herself, surprised. I moved my arm from our shared armrest, giving her space(( This last part gives a very subtle look at the writer’s growth, too. We see that the person the writer admired isn’t as strong as she had seemed. In fact, the writer’s growth has enabled them to help the woman in her moment of weakness.)) . She smiled in appreciation.

After the turbulence had ended, I looked at myself. My hands were folded neatly in my lap. I realized that although I was flying solo, I was surrounded by strangers whose stories intersected with my own(( This point could be more specific.)) . When we landed, I ran into my dad’s arms. “ You’ve grown ,” he smiled.

Admissions Officer Notes on Party of One

This essay is an endearing story about the writer’s first solo plane ride. The narrative is what we would characterize as a “going on a journey” essay—both literally and figuratively. As the writer makes this cross-country trip, they also go through a long personal journey. I especially like the tie between the introduction and conclusion. Along the way, we also learn about the writer through their observations of the other people on the flight.

  • Introduction: The first two paragraphs draw the reader in, descriptively set the scene, and establish what is at stake for the writer. We are dropped right into the journey alongside them.
  • Vivid language: Throughout the essay, the writer uses interesting and vivid language that helps draw the reader in. The details aren’t overwhelming but add depth to the narrative.
  • Reflection throughout: One of the most challenging parts of writing this kind of essay is figuring out how to incorporate your reflection throughout. Many writers mistakenly save it all to the end. But this writer does it the right way by adding reflection at each stop along their journey.

Focus on the self: As-is, this essay tells us a lot about the writer. But it’s nearing on committing one of the biggest college essay writing faux pas: focusing on people other than yourself. I think the writer is getting close to that line but doesn’t yet cross it because of the reflection throughout. But to make the essay even better, the writer could still draw more focus to their own experiences.

College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent

I’m a klutz(( Quirky but not too out-there hook that has a lot of personality)) —that’s it, that’s my greatest talent. I’ve honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life.

When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over. (“This is why we can’t have nice things!” my mom used to scream, half in jest and half in exasperation.) My parents used to joke that I was the only person who could trip on a flat surface. But unfortunately for me, despite doing my due diligence into flat-earth theory(( Here’s more humor that adds some interest and voice to the essay.)) , I found that there was a prevailingly devilish curve to everything around me. If it had a lip, an edge, or a slick spot, I found it.

As I got older(( Excellent signposting to guide the reader through the narrative)) , my talent for being a klutz grew. I managed to trip over my own backpack on a daily basis, and I once fell down a flight of stairs while holding a tray of cookies (I was trying to be a good hostess, but it didn't end well). My friends and family came to expect it, and after those first few years of irritated glances, they began to meet my clumsiness with a laugh and an extended hand.

Being a klutz isn't all bad(( Here, the writer flips our expectations on their head. We’re about to learn about how being clumsy is, in fact, a talent.)) . In fact, it has some pretty decent perks. For one thing, it’s helped me become more empathetic. I know what it feels like to stumble and fall (and stumble and fall, and stumble and fall, and…), and I’m always ready to offer a kind word and a hug to someone who’s having a tough time. I also have a great sense of humor(( We’ve already seen this strength in action at the beginning of the essay, so it’s another good one to highlight.)) —a defense mechanism thanks to all of the embarrassing moments that I’ve created for myself. And let's not forget the fact that I am never bored. There is always something to trip over or knock over. Neither I nor anyone around me ever lacks for entertainment.

One of the biggest benefits of being a klutz is the unexpected friendships(( Friendship is another good strength. But at this point, the essay is starting to feel somewhat list-like. It may have been better to delve more deeply into fewer strengths rather than try to cover so much at once.)) it has given me. For example(( This is a good concrete anecdote that demonstrates the point, though.)) , I once tripped and fell into a ditch while hiking with a group of near-strangers I had met at a trailhead. Surrounded by brambles and thorns, three of them jumped right down with me to hoist me out. My graceless tumble became an inside joke of the trip and we all ended up becoming good friends. I was still embarrassed, of course, but I’m grateful that my clumsiness opened up a new door for friendship that day.

Being a klutz has also taught me to be patient with myself(( Again, we have another good strength, but it’s a lot to cover in one short essay.)) , and to not take myself too seriously. It has taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected, and to always have a good sense of humor. And most importantly, it has taught me to be kind to others(( And yet another strength! Especially since these are related, combining them in a more substantial way may have been more effective.)) , especially when they are having a tough time.

So, if you are looking for someone who’s a little bit quirky and a lot of fun, I’m your girl. I may not be the most graceful person on the planet, or on your campus, but I am confident, kind, and always up for a good laugh. Anyway, where's the fun in being graceful? Just, please, if you do accept me—I’d really appreciate some foam bumpers on the sharp surfaces in my dorm(( More wonderful personality to wrap things up hete. It's approaching being too informal, though.)) .

Word Count: 548

Admissions Officer Notes on My Greatest Talent

This essay is kind of a goofy one. I’ve included it as an example because I want to show you that it’s okay for your college essay to have some personality! Your college essay doesn’t have to be a big, serious rumination on some deep topic. Especially if you’re a goofy person yourself, it’s completely okay for you to choose a more light-hearted topic that showcases your personality. If you do, just be sure to follow this writer’s lead and still write an essay that showcases your strengths.

  • Topic choice and personal voice: When we read this essay, we get a crystal clear picture of who the student is because the topic allows them to really write in their own voice. I feel like I know the student after reading it.
  • Strengths: All college essays should communicate a core strength to the reader. This essay does an exceptional job at transforming something most people would consider a weakness—being clumsy—into clear strengths—empathy, humor, friendship, patience. Overall, we see that the writer
  • Writing style: The biggest tweak this writer could make would be leveling up the writing style. As it is now, it reads like a five-paragraph essay: first I did this, then this, and then this third thing. Changing up the organization and topic sentences could help the writing come across as more mature.

College Essay Example #10: Counting Cards

I am a psychic who thinks in terms of fours and threes(( This hook raises a lot of questions: What is the writer referring to? It does read, however, as a bit disingenuous and overly quirky.)) . Deal me any hand of Gin, and I can guarantee I’ll have you beat. I stare at the cards in my hand and see numbers moving in my mind. Like a mathemetician at a chalkboard, I plan out my next move. I use logic, memory, and a little bit of luck to guess exactly what your hand looks like. The possible combinations seem endless—four Kings and a run of three, three nines and four Queens, a run of four and three sevens, and many, many more. What I love most about playing Gin is the predictability. While I may not know what’s coming, I can use what I already know to strategize, adapt, and have fun along the way(( Here we have a clear gesture toward the essay’s overall theme.)) .

My Gin career began as a small child. My aunt taught me how to play the game while we were camping. My hands were so small that we had to use a chip clip to keep the cards in place(( These first three sentences are very choppy because they all have the same length and structure.)) . I was at first intimated by the “big kid game,” as I called it then, but soon I couldn’t get enough. I forced my entire family to play, and I even roped in the kids at the campsite next to us. My aunt, a mathematician, is a skilled Gin player. She passed her tips and tricks along to me. After a few years of playing, she was the only opponent I couldn’t beat.

Last summer was the first time it finally happened. I bested her. I had a hand with three Aces and a run of Spades. I needed another Ace or a three or seven of Spades. When I drew that final Ace from the deck, I could hardly believe it. I paused to count my cards again(( This description paints a wonderful picture of the writer, their aunt, and the relationship between them.)) . I drew my hands to my chest, looked up at my aunt slowly and triumphantly, and calmly declared, “Gin.” My aunt squealed and embraced me, proud of all the progress her protegee had made.

This win came from a year of hard work(( This is an effective transition that allows the writer to talk about all the work they put in.)) . I read every book on Gin I could find at the library, watched countless YouTube videos, and became an expert on Gin’s more lively counterpart, Gin Rummy. Learning and practicing drew me into a huge online community of Gin enthusiasts. I never thought that I’d meet some of my best friends through a card game, but I did. Every night, we’d compete against each other. And with each match, my skills would sharpen like a knife on a honing steel. When I finally beat my aunt, I hadn’t just won the game. I’d won lifelong friends and greater reasoning skills(( And here is a bit of reflection sprinkled in at the end. There definitely could be more reflection throughout.)) .

Gin players aren’t internationally recognized for their intellectual prowess like chess or Scrabble. I’ve learned other games and played them successfully, but nothing has come close to the joy and challenge I feel while playing Gin. I love predicting what your opponent holds and what you’ll draw next, betting on your perfect card being in the draw deck, chatting with your opponent as you deal the next round, and earning bragging rights after winning a match—all of it is the perfect mix of strategy and community. When I head off to college in the fall, the first thing I’ll pack will be a deck of cards(( This is a sweet ending that looks forward to the future. The conclusion could have touched more specifically on why all of this is so meaningful to the writer.)) .

Word Count: 549

Admissions Officer Notes on Counting Cards

This essay chronicles a writer’s journey learning how to play the card game Gin. I really like how much the writer and their personality shine through. Like the My Greatest Talent essay, Counting Cards is a great example of how to write a fun, light-hearted essay that still speaks to your strengths.

  • Topic: Admissions officers see lots of essays about chess and sports. But it’s pretty rare to see one about Gin. The topic (and enthusiasm with which the student writes about the topic) give this essay a good personal voice.
  • Connections: The writer also makes stellar connections between a simple game and the people who are most meaningful to them: their family and friends.
  • Strengths: Even with a topic as simple as a card game, the writer manages to highlight their strengths of work ethic and camaraderie.
  • Higher stakes: We see that the game of Gin is really important to the writer. We also see how the game is connected to their relationship with their aunt and to the new community they found online. But I’m left wanting a little bit more reflection and vulnerability about why Gin is so meaningful to this writer.

College Essay Example #11: Golden Hills Animal Clinic

On my best days at work, I’m surrounded by puppies, kittens, and rainbows(( This hook is interesting, but it's quite cliche.)) . On my worst, I watch people say tearful goodbyes to their best friends. Working at the front desk of Golden Hills Animal Clinic, I’ve seen it all. I’ve learned a lot about people through their pets. I’ve also learned a lot about myself(( Here, we get straight to the point of what this essay is going to be about.)) .

I began working in the clinic two summers ago. I’m known in my family as the “ Snow White(( What a sweet detail about this writer’s background)) ” because I’ve always had a special connection with animals. I had nearly started a new colony of stray cats in my backyard by the time I was nine. I’ve nursed more sick and injured birds than I can count. I’ve discovered all kinds of insects, snakes, and lizards in my neighborhood. Now, at the front desk, I get to welcome the animals and their humans. I share in their joys and console them at their lows.

After(( This topic sentence does a good job structuring the paragraph, but it could be clearer how this paragraph connects to the overall idea of the essay.)) watching thousands of animals struggle, you think you’d get used to the pain and suffering. But each hurt, injured, or elderly animal I check in stings just the same. When I’m in the back room helping prepare the animals for surgeries or procedures, I look into their eyes and desperately try to communicate that everything will be okay. The worst part is knowing that the animals can tell something is wrong but don’t understand what is happening. And when their owners walk past my front desk, I reassure them that we’re treating their pets as our own.

But with life’s hard moments also come the happiest ones. It’s easy to become dejected by the sad times, but working at the clinic has actually given me more hope(( Ah-ha! We learn that even though the writer witnesses a lot of sadness at the clinic, the experience has actually given them more hope.)) . There’s nothing like seeing small puppies, feet too big for their bodies, prance through the waiting room. I’ve witnessed children comfort cats through holes in carriers, and I’ve become inspired by the assertiveness with which our veterinarians make critical decisions to help animals. Through all this, I’ve learned that those little pockets of happiness, care, and determination are what make life worth living(( This sentence helps ground the reader in the writer’s theme.)) .

I’ve also learned that veterinary medicine is as much about the people as it is the pets. Sometimes owners have to be convinced about the best care plan for their pets. Sometimes others aren’t able to afford the care they desperately want to get. People come in worried about nothing or not worried enough. Part of managing the front desk is having the ability to read where a person is coming from the moment they start speaking. Seeing things from customers’ perspectives helps me provide better customer service to the people and the pets. If I sense that a customer is worried about cost, I can talk to them about payment plans. If someone seems overwhelmed by the options, I ask if they’d like to speak with the vet again. In all these cases, I feel proud to provide as much help as I can. Doing so makes sure that our animals receive the best care possible(( We get a good sense of the writer’s strengths in this paragraph, but by the end, it still doesn’t really connect back to the theme.)) .

Now, as an aspiring veterinarian myself(( And with this small note, we learn all that’s at stake: the writer wants to be a vet in the future, so all of these experiences are important preparation .)) , I know that the rest of my career will be filled with the happiest and saddest moments of people’s lives. My care for animals will turn tragedies into miracles. I’ll console owners of sick pets, and I’ll help bring new life into the world. Veterinary medicine is a lot like life in general. You can’t have the good without the bad. But I’ve never met a pet owner who wouldn’t trade the pain of animal loss for even one fleeting, happy moment with their furry friend. Animals make the world a better place. Like Snow White(( Clever call back to tie the essay together)) , I’ll continue listening to animals so I can make their world a little better too.

Word Count: 615

Admissions Officer Notes on Golden Hills Animal Clinic

This essay tells a good story about this writer’s time working at an animal clinic. What I like about this essay is that the writer doesn’t sugar coat things, but they also don’t dwell on the sadness that passes through the clinic. They are real about their experiences, and they draw valuable lessons from them. They also show the importance of this story by connecting it to their future goals.

  • Strengths: We clearly see the strengths this writer brings to the clinic. They are understanding, patient, and positive. We also clearly see how these strengths will help the writer be a good veterinarian in the future.
  • Topic sentences and transitions: Although the paragraphs get unwieldy at times, the writer’s clear topic sentences and transitions help us seamlessly progress through the narrative.
  • Being more direct and concise: At times, it feels like the writer rambles instead of making clear, direct points. Rambling can distract the reader from the main point you’re trying to make, so it’s best to stay on track in each paragraph.
  • Fewer cliches: Relying on cliches shows immaturity in your writing. Cliches like “puppies, kittens, and rainbows” and “with the bad comes the good” get in the way of the writer’s own voice.

College Essay Example #12: The Filmmaker

Eye to the lens, I feel in complete control. The old camera weighs heavy in my hands as I quietly point my leading actor to the other side of the frame. Taking a moment to look at the world through my own eyes rather than a lens, I make a decision. I back up, careful not to trip, and capture the wide, panning shot I had envisioned. Filmmaking allows me to show others exactly how I see the world. With an odd angle or lingering aside, I can take my audience on a journey through my eyes(( This introduction raises a lot of questions that propel us forward through the essay: what is the writer doing? What is it that they want to show the world? Why does this all matter?)) .

What’s beautiful about filmmaking is that there are several art forms occurring simultaneously(( We begin with a paragraph that dives deep into the writer’s interest.)) . At the foundation of a scene is the script. Words that draw a viewer in and keep them there, the script is an essential act of creative writing. Next there’s the acting. An art of performance, acting brings the script to life. A good actor will make an audience feel as if they are with the characters, feeling what they feel and doing what they do. Then there’s the direction and filmmaking. Choices about how to translate a three-dimensional world to pixels on a screen drastically affect the audience’s experience. And, finally, there’s the editing. Editing is where all of the other art forms converge, selected and chopped up and stitched back together to create something even better than the original.

I’ve never been one for writing or acting. But the latter two, filmmaking and editing, are where my passions lie(( And here we learn about the writer’s main passion, inspirations, and journey as a filmmaker.)) . Inspired by my favorite movie, ET , I began filmmaking in elementary school. Borrowing my mom’s Flip UltraHD camera, I’d run around my home, filming everything in sight. Soon after, I started gathering my neighborhood friends in my backyard and directing them in made-up film productions. Our films took us on journeys around the world. We were pirates in the Atlantic, merchants in Paris, and kangaroos in Australia. We learned how to tell stories and create and resolve conflicts. In the process, we learned about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

My love for editing didn’t come until later(( This is an okay topic sentence that helps us understand where we’re at in the narrative, but the paragraph as a whole could more clearly relate to the writer’s overall theme.)) . When my family upgraded our ancient Gateway 2000 to a sleek iMac, I became an iMovie aficionado. I learned how to use all the features and enter in keyboard shortcuts. I became a sculptor. Instead of clay, my material was digital. I’d split clips in half, manually zoom in to my subject, and add filters that changed the whole tone of a shot. Shift + Command + F, and I’d play my clips in full screen, evaluating them with the eye of a film critic. Was my shot effective? Are the actors convincing? Is there anything odd in the background? If I had never seen this, what would I think and feel? Then I’d repeat the process, over and over again.

Some people might say that dedicating myself to filmmaking is frivolous in a world with more pressing problems. But filmmaking is a way to spread messages and give people hope. From the change wrought by An Inconvenient Truth to the laughter Mr. Bean has incited in millions, filmmaking is a way to bring art, truth, and laughter to everyone. More accessible than books or newspapers, film and TV couldn’t be more essential media to confront the problems of today. With the passion of my ten-year-old self, the films I’ll continue to make will have an impact(( We conclude by learning about the writer’s interest in using filmmaking to impact the world. The writer could dig a little deeper here—it stays mainly on the surface.)) .

Word Count: 563

Admissions Officer Notes on The Filmmaker

In this essay, we get a great sense of how excited the writer is about filmmaking. They take us on their journey learning about filmmaking, and they explain how their interest will serve them in the future. I especially enjoy how this essay oozes passion. By the end of the essay, we have no doubt about what this writer sees as their life’s calling.

  • Organization: The introduction , background, explanation, and discussion of personal growth all cohere perfectly. The writer walks us through each step of their journey in a clear and logical way.
  • Voice: Through all the rich descriptions of the writer’s childhood, we really see their personality and voice.
  • Significance and meaning : While it’s clear that this topic is one the writer is passionate about, the essay could evoke more meaning. It’s not apparent what’s truly at stake. The writer should ask and answer the question: “So what?” In answering that question, they’ll be able to be more vulnerable throughout the essay.

“Bad” College Essay Examples

“Bad” is in quotation marks here because writing is always relative.

In the case of these examples, we have categorized them as “bad” because they don’t adequately meet the expectations of a college essay. That doesn’t mean that they’re objectively bad or that their writers are bad writers. It means that the essays need some more attention.

“Bad” essays can always become good essays. Sometimes they can even become the best essays. What matters most is identifying what’s not working and putting in a lot of effort to address the problems.

Across the thousands of college essays we read as admissions officers, there are several issues that arise again and again. Learning from these issues can help you avoid them.

We have a whole post about those biggest college essay mistakes. But the following examples commit three different writing faux pas:

  • Too much metaphor and not enough substance
  • No main point or clear organization
  • About a topic that is important to the writer but not actually that high-stakes

With these mistakes in mind, let’s do some analysis.

College Essay Example #13: Lost in the Forest

I look into the forest, moss wet on my feet(( This is an intriguing hook.)) . There’s fog everywhere—I can barely see the glasses that sit on my nose. I feel a cool breeze rustle against my coat. I am cold and warm all at once. The sun shines through the fog, casting the shadow of a tree whose roots know no end. At the entrance to the forest, I stand frozen in time and space. I can’t see what’s ahead of me or behind me, only what is(( After this sentence, the metaphor becomes unclear.)) . And what is suddenly transforms into what could be. I see a fork in the pathway in front of me. The noise—the noise is so loud. Crickets and owls and tigers, oh my(( Avoid cliche phrases.)) . My thoughts scream even louder. I can’t hear myself think through the sounds of the forest of my mind. Off in the distance, I see a figure. It’s a shadow figure. It’s my mother. She’s walking towards me. I take a step into the forest, fearlessly ready to confront any overwhelming obstacle that comes my way(( This is a nice sentence that encapsulates the main theme of the essay.)) .

When I was a child, I used to play in the forest behind my house. Until one day when I caught my mom sneaking a cigarette outside. She tried to hide it behind her back, but I could see the smoke trailing over her head like a snail. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran farther into the forest. I am used to being disappointed by her. I ran and ran and ran until I tripped over a tree branch that fell in the storm the week before. I laid on the cold, hard ground. The back of me was soaked. Would I turn into my mom? After that, I decided to turn back. The cold was encroaching. I got home and saw my mom in the kitchen. We agreed not to speak of what I saw(( This paragraph could use some more details about what’s at stake: why does all of this matter? As readers, we need more information about the writer’s relationship with their mom to understand why this confrontation was so significant.)) .

While taking a history test, I looked around at my classmates. The gray desk was cold against my skin. I started counting the people around me, noting those who I knew well and those I had never really talked to. I looked at all the expensive backpacks and shoes. After our test, I asked the person next to me how she thought she did. She said it was a difficult test, and I agreed. Every class period, we’d talk more and more. We became friends. We started hanging out with another friend from biology class. We were inseparable, like three peas in a pod. We’d study together and hang out together and dance. They were the best friends I ever had. We liked to play soccer after school and sing loudly to music in my room. But one day it all stopped. They both stopped talking to me((It's not clear how this anecdote relates to the anecdote about the writer’s mother. The significance of the forest metaphor could also be drawn out more.)) . It was like I had been yanked out of the forest and thrown on to the forest floor. I became moss, the owls pecking at my spikey green tendrils. They found two other friends, and I sat alone at my desk in history again. It was like another test, but this time a history of my own.

Things went on like this for years. Over and over again I got put back into the forest. My friends who I thought were my friends actually were just drama machines. Life is foggy when you don’t know what’s going on. And I live in a forest that’s always foggy. Try as I might to find myself, it’s easy to get lost in all the trails and hills. I’m climbing a mountain each and every day. But I keep going back into the forest, looking for answers(( The return to the metaphor almost works here. But because the metaphor has gotten in the way of the main point, we need more explicit reflection to tie everything together.)) .

Word Count: 603

Admissions Officer Notes on Lost in the Forest

So. Writers know that college essays should be meaningful reflections and exercises in creative writing. But sometimes writers take this advice to the extreme and write essays that are too metaphorical and too focused on internal reflection.

This essay is the perfect example of what happens when a writer goes over the top with metaphor. The forest metaphor could be a useful tool given the writer’s topic, but as it is now, everything else gets lost within the metaphor. It’s difficult to extract what the writer actually says about their life.

The writer’s reflection is also deep and removed from specific examples. After reading the essay, I still don’t feel like I know the writer. The topic also changes halfway through the essay, so following the thread throughout is challenging.

What this essay does well:

  • Topic: Even though the writer’s topic switches in the middle of the essay, it’s clear that the topics are both meaningful to the writer. The first topic especially may still be grounds for a great college essay.
  • Vulnerability: The writer’s vulnerability shines through. They are willing to share an important part of themselves.

What the writer could improve upon:

  • Pick a main topic and stick with it: Part of what makes this essay challenging to follow is that it’s doing too many things at once. Narrowing the topic would help the writer focus all their thoughts on communicating one overall idea.
  • Use the metaphor sparingly: Remember that metaphors are best when used sparingly. Pulling off an overarching metaphor is very difficult, so it’s generally easier for writers to sprinkle in small references to the metaphor throughout. A great way to accomplish this is the “bookend technique,” where you introduce a metaphor in the introduction and return to it in the conclusion. 
  • Tighten up each paragraph : All of the paragraphs in this essay have a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily flow logically from one sentence to the next. My final recommendation would be to edit the paragraphs themselves for clarity. The writer should think about what information is essential and cut the rest.

College Essay Example #14: The Chemist

You(( There are always different opinions about addressing your reader. Sometimes it can work okay, but this instance doesn't work quite as well.)). may be wondering why I’ve taken so many chemistry classes. Well, that’s because I love chemistry. I used to hate chemistry with a fiery passion but now I love it more than anything. I remember that I used to struggle through every single chemistry assignment I ever got. My sister would try to help me but I’d just get upset, like I really just didn’t understand it and that was so frustrating so I just kept not wanting to do more but eventually I started to think “oh chemistry is at the foundation of everything that makes up our universe,” and isn’t that just fascinating?(( Whew—that was a long sentence! This is a run-on sentence, but we do learn about the writer’s primary motivation for studying chemistry.)) So then I decided to make a change and actually try to learn chemistry. I started paying attention in class and asking my teacher for help after class and finally one day my sister said, “Wow, you’re really improving.” And that meant so much to me. When my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States(( This reference is nice, but it's an abrupt topic change. It’s not clear why the writer is bringing up their great-grandparents.)) , they had no idea what would be in store for their great-grandkids. We really don’t learn chemistry in school until high school, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand it in high school when I started taking it. Electrons and atoms and acids and alcohols. There’s so much to learn. I really have never been good at math so I’d say that’s one of my biggest challenges in chemistry now is learning how to do the equations and figuring out how the math works. In fifth grade I used to be in advanced math but then it just got worse from there until I learned about tutoring. I started doing tutoring through the high school when I was in ninth grade and it helped a lot because I just needed a little more help for each lesson to really understand it. But even with that the math part of chemistry is still hard for me. But I always keep trying! That’s the most important thing to me I think is to keep trying(( This is a good statement of values.)) . Even when problems are hard and I can’t solve them I try to have a good attitude because even if I can’t get it right, doing chemistry is about unlocking the secrets of the universe and that really is interesting even if you can’t completely understand them. When I started taking chemistry in my sophomore year I almost gave up but I was also really inspired by my teacher who guided me through everything. She gave me extra time to do my lab work and was even my lab partner a couple times because our class has an uneven number of students. My favorite part of chemistry lab is mixing solutions and testing them. I don’t like the lab report writing so much but I know it’s an important part. So I try to just get through that so I can get back to doing experiments and such. My favorite experiments was about building a calormieter to measure how many calories is in our food(( Pay attention to small errors and typos like this one.)) . Calories are energy so you burn your food to measure how much energy they have. Then you write up a report about how many calories each food item like bananas, bread, a cookie, had. The best part of doing labs is having your lab partner there with you. You’re both wearing goggles and lab coats and gloves and you feel really like a professional chemist and it’s nice that you’re not doing it alone. You just read the lab instructions and do each of the steps in order. It’s like baking a cake! You just follow the recipe. But you don’t eat the results! You might use beakers or bunsen burners to hold liquid or burn or heat up whatever it is you’re experimenting on. And when I say “find the meaning of the universe” I really mean it(( The writer is trying to return to a bigger reflection here, but the transition needs to be much smoother.)) . It’s amazing how much chemistry is in everything. Cooking is doing chemistry because you’re changing up the properties of the food. The air we breathe, the way plants get energy, the medicines we take, we understand it all because of chemistry. I know that becoming a chemist is hard work and isn’t easy. But I know that it’s rewarding and that’s why I want to do it. Helping people is so important to me and I think that chemistry can help me get there(( Here, we also learn about the writer’s values and motivations.)) . I also like the health and beauty industry and I think it would be fun to get to develop new products or perfumes or medicines.

Word Count: 746

Admissions Officer Notes on The Chemist

There’s no easy way to say it, but this essay just doesn’t meet the mark. That’s why it gets an F. It reads like a free write rather than an essay because it is stream-of-consciousness and doesn’t really make a clear point. I learn that the writer loves chemistry, but the overall message is not clear.

  • Ideas : All hope is not lost! Once we dig into what each sentence of the essay is saying, there are some good ideas that the writer can turn into a more cohesive topic.
  • Organization: I hesitate to make any extreme claims about college essays, but I feel pretty confident in saying that the vast majority of college essays should always be more than one paragraph. You need paragraphs to break up your thoughts into digestible chunks. Each paragraph should contain a single point you’re trying to convey to the reader. This writer should break all these ideas up into several paragraphs.
  • Theme: We see that the topic of the essay is chemistry, that chemistry is interesting because it’s the foundation of everything, and that chemistry can help people. But we don’t really get any deeper meaning from the writer. They haven’t made an attempt to be vulnerable or to show us something significant about themself.
  • Length: The essay is almost a hundred words over the word count. The writer needs to pare things down as they organize and clarify their ideas.

Supplemental Essay Examples

In addition to your personal statement, many colleges will also have you write what are called “supplemental essays.”

These essays do exactly as the name implies: they supplement your personal statement. They’re the perfect opportunity for you to tell admissions officers even more about yourself beyond the information you put in your personal statement. Specifically, ou can use them strategically to highlight even more of your strengths.

There are no universal supplemental essay prompts like there are for the Common Application personal statement.

Instead, colleges provide their own supplemental essay prompt(s) as part of their applications.

The good news, however, is that these prompts generally fall into a few common categories: Why Us, Community, Personal Challenge, Extracurricular Activities, Academic Interest, Diversity, and Why this Major prompts.

If you want to learn more about what these prompts entail, or about how to even write a supplemental essay in the first place, check out our complete guide to writing supplemental essays (it’s really good).

For now, let’s take a look at standout example essays for four of the most common supplemental prompt types.

Community Essay: The DIY-ers

Prompt from MIT: Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

225 words or fewer"

I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers(( Straightforward but attention-grabbing. Nice!)) . In part, this lifestyle is one of necessity. Hiring professionals isn’t cheap, after all. But our DIY proclivities are also a product of a longstanding family tradition of ingenuity.

My first DIY was a fix on my Cozy Coupe, whose steering wheel had fallen off. Since then, my DIYs have become larger scale. With my dad, I’ve replaced loose bike chains, put in a new car clutch, and re-tiled our kitchen.

But our biggest DIY to date has been building a six-foot telescope(( Great topic choice that connects to the writer’s academic interests)) together. Made of scraps and spare parts, it’s not the most beautiful telescope. But our focus is on the stars anyway. My entire family has evening picnics, taking turns to look through the makeshift eyepiece. Occasionally the eyepiece falls off, and we all laugh(( I love the personality that emerges with this detail.)) as I run over to replace it.

Coming from a DIY family has made me self-reliant. And when the fixes just aren’t working, my dad reminds me to take a step back and think creatively about solutions. It’s from this mindset that my dream of being an environmental engineer has evolved(( The writer could get to this point sooner.)) .

I know that engineering isn’t just about fancy gadgets. It’s about ingenuity. I want to adapt my DIY ingenuity, mind and hand(( A cheeky nod to the school’s motto—interesting!)) , to even bigger projects that mitigate climate change and lead to a safer tomorrow(( I also like this gesture to the broader significance of their dreams and aspirations.)) .

Word Count: 220

Admissions Officer Notes

  • Topic: The writer has chosen a pretty interesting topic for this community essay that will most likely stand out among other candidates. More importantly, the community they’ve chosen to write about is one that they hold dear and have learned a lot from. The story connects in specific ways to who they are as a person and what their dreams and aspirations have come to be.
  • Growth: The prompt asks how the community has “shaped” your dreams and aspirations. This writer focuses on the progression of their aspirations while telling endearing stories about their relationship with their family members.
  • Future goals: The writer explicitly states how this community has shaped how and what they want to do in the future.

What it could improve on:

  • Pacing: Aside from describing your community, the main question of the prompt is how that community has shaped your dreams and aspirations. While the writer does get to an answer, they could spend more time in the essay focusing on that answer.

Diversity Essay: Bumpass

Prompt from Duke:  We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself.

There((A great, interesting hook that also jumps into a connection with Duke.)) are more traffic lights on the Duke University campus than there are in my entire hometown.

I don’t actually know how many traffic lights Duke has, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it has more than zero, which is how many we have here in Bumpass, Virginia.

Yes, Bumpass. Pronounced “bump-us”.

I’m from a weird little lake town in central Virginia((This paragraph gives us a clear picture of the writer's lived experiences.)) that has two types of residents: part-timers (that’s what we call them), mostly from DC, Richmond, or Charlottesville, with million-plus dollar homes on Lake Anna. They swim and boat on the private side of the lake, which is heated (yes, the lake is heated) by a nuclear power plant. And then there are families like mine. The locals. I’ve always thought “working class” was a nice way for rich people to call poor people poor, but that’s what we are. Families like mine clean the power plant. I’ve never swam in the private side, and our boat is a canoe.

Officially((And this paragraph gives us a good sense of how those lived experiences have influenced them.)) , I’ve had a job since my 16th birthday, which is the legal age in Virginia. But I’ve worked cleaning rental homes and fixing boats for part-timers with my uncle since I was old enough to use a Swiffer and turn a wrench. I’ve cleaned homes that cost more than my extended family’s combined net worth, but oddly I enjoy it. When I see inside their homes, I have something to aspire to, and that’s more than most of my hometown peers can say.

Success around here means making it through community college. Doing so in two years all without abusing alcohol or drugs? I don’t know many people who have done that. But I want to bring my Bumpass experience to Duke.((Nice job bringing the story back to the connection with Duke.)) I know how to rise before the sun and get a day’s worth of work in before noon. I know how to talk to goat farmers and postal workers (my best friend’s parents) just as well as neurosurgeons and pilots (my favorite part-timers whose docks I maintain in the off-season).

I’m looking forward to learning from the diverse body at Duke, making friends from around the world, and gaining a better understanding of the world beyond Bumpass((This conclusion ties the essay together nicely and communicates good school fit.)) .

  • Humor and personality: From the topic of the town’s name to the introduction, the writer uses humor (when appropriate) and clearly shows their own voice. They take an authentic approach to the diversity essay prompt. I feel like I know the student after reading this, which is always good.
  • School Connections: While there aren’t a ton of references to Duke here, the prompt doesn’t necessarily ask for them. The writer still does a good job connecting their lived experience to how they see themself at Duke.

Personal Challenge Essay: Tutoring Charlotte

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

Asking Charlotte to answer a math question was like asking a cat to take a bath. Her resistance was almost instinctual. When I first met her, I had been doing after-school tutoring for about six months. The program paired up high school students with middle schoolers who were falling behind in their classes. Charlotte was my first student and biggest challenge(( Nice wording to make it abundantly clear that the writer is answering the prompt)) .

At first, her unwillingness to try came across as lazy(( This sentence gets at what the prompt is asking for: “a perspective that differed from your own”)) . I used everything I had in my tutoring arsenal. I encouraged her to give her confidence, and I even brought candy to bribe her. To my dismay, nothing worked. Each time I introduced a new problem, Charlotte simply refused.

My frustration grew so immense that I caught myself being curt with her. When I saw the look of betrayal in her eyes, I was ashamed at my impatience(( Here we have an inciting incident and growth that resulted from a realization. The writer begins to address the “how did you respond?” part of the prompt.)) . I realized that Charlotte’s struggles weren’t her fault. Math has always come easy to me. Whereas every math problem I encounter is like a code I’m excited to crack, Charlotte sees math problems as threats. After years of struggling, it’s no wonder that she stopped trying.

Once I understood that we approach math from different perspectives, I tried something new. I got rid of the math book and graph paper, and I brought out gummy bears. We did an algebra problem without her even knowing it. Together(( The writer zooms the focus out to a larger reflection about what they learned from this interaction. Nice.)) , we worked to overcome her fear of math. Along the way, I learned to teach the person, not the subject matter.

World Count: 247

  • Topic choice: Personal Challenge prompts can be some of the most difficult, especially if you don’t have a specific challenge you’ve faced in your life. This writer’s topic choice works great. They show that you don’t have to have a life-altering challenge to answer this prompt well.
  • Clear narrative: This prompt is a lengthy one, but the writer has clearly read it and used it to structure the story. As a reader, it’s easy to follow along as the writer identifies the problem, works toward a solution, overcomes hurdles, and eventually comes out successful in the end.
  • Connections: Different prompts require different levels of connections to the school. This writer incorporates some of Brown’s institutional values, but, especially since the prompt says so much about Brown’s community, the writer could have made more effort to connect their story to Brown.

Extracurricular Essay: Working Retail

Prompt from Vanderbilt:  Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

“ Would(( Beginning any essay with dialog can be hit or miss. But this is a hit. The dialog quickly captures the essence of working in retail and plops the reader directly into the writer’s extracurricular activity.)) you like another size? Sure thing, I’ll get a medium.”

“Are you interested in saving 10% today with an Old Navy Card? No, no worries…”

“I can clean the bathrooms if someone covers the fitting room!”

I didn’t expect much from my first job. Mostly, I expected to earn $12 an hour and improve my denim folding skills at Old Navy. I didn’t think I could learn so much about people and develop life skills.

As(( This paragraph could be a little more specific to the writer rather than their coworkers.))  odd as it may sound, retail work brought people together during COVID. I started in July of 2020. Our store had always met for monthly meetings, but everyone emphasized how much closer they’d become since the pandemic. Stepping up to cover someone’s shift when they got sick–or their spouse or child did–used to elicit a quick “thank you!”, but took on a more profound meaning in 2020. Though I started mid-pandemic, everyone I worked with remarked that, with a few notable exceptions, the overall demeanor of the clientele was much more empathetic. My coworkers seemed to go from sales associates to brave workers keeping the economy afloat overnight.

After about seven months of dutiful work, I was promoted(( The writer seamlessly incorporates the information that they earned a promotion after a relatively brief time of working at the store.)) to senior associate and had new responsibilities of closing and opening the store. Sure, I had dreams of working in an infectious disease lab. But having adults put real trust in me to account for several thousand dollars and secure a major outlet made me value and understand work perhaps even more than the research internship I missed out on(( I appreciate the perspective here. The writer makes a good argument for the importance of retail work, especially in relation to their academic interests.)) .

I am thankful for this opportunity to work and learn with a dedicated staff. Now, I look forward to pursuing more experiences that will relate to my career in biotech in college. Oh, and I won’t miss soliciting credit card sales with each purchase(( This humor bookends the essay wonderfully and adds some extra personality.)) !

  • Focus on strengths: Maintaining the right focus in extracurricular essays can be tricky. It can be easy to get caught up in the details of the activity and brag too much or not enough. Especially with extracurricular activities that aren’t based in competition, it can be challenging to draw out strengths. But this writer finds the perfect way to talk about their accomplishments and strengths (being promoted and being a team player) while also seeming personable and humble.
  • Connection to future goals : Importantly, the writer doesn’t just leave the story at their retail job. They show the admissions officer how they see this job as contributing toward their future goals.
  • Transitions: The transitions between paragraphs and into the detail about a future biotech career could be smoother.

Why this Major: Watchers

Prompt from USC: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)

As a child(( I like how the writer takes a more creative approach to a standard “why this major” essay.)) , I always got in trouble for staring. My mom would nudge me whenever I looked at someone too long. My uncontrollable staring was an embarrassment for her, but it’s one of the things I love most about myself. Whereas some people are do-ers, I am a watcher, a listener, and a documenter(( We learn a lot about the writer’s personality here.)) . Like introverts and extroverts, the world needs both kinds of people.

Watchers have an admirable task: to see what exists and give it meaning. That’s exactly what I want to do while pursuing my academic interests in anthropology(( And at this point, we jump quickly into the connections between the opening story and the writer’s academic interests. )) . In particular, I’m interested in learning about art, language, and culture in Russia. Pursuing a research career in anthropology would open up opportunities for me to do research for government offices and move toward my ultimate goal(( Incorporating a future goal that they’re working towards is an effective approach.)) of working for the United Nations.

As(( This paragraph has a number of specific, detailed, and relevant connections to the school.)) a Visual Anthropology and Russian double major at USC, I would hone my social scientist skills and improve my Russian language abilities. I’m also eager to participate in a directed internship and to connect with fellow watchers in the Anthropology and Global Studies club. The Center for Visual Anthropology, minor in Folklore and Popular Culture, and the anthropology-focused study abroad opportunity in St. Petersburg all converge to make USC the ideal place for me to learn.

With USC’s global focus and emphasis on creativity, research, and public service, I know that I could develop my watching skills into a successful anthropology career(( And the writer concludes by drawing on some of the institution’s core values, which helps ground all of those disparate connections into something meaningful that the writer aligns themself with.)) .

  • Writing style and storytelling: This essay shows that supplemental essays don’t have to be boring. The writer opens with an interesting hook and writes about their major interest in a compelling way.
  • School research and connections: The writer does a good job specifically answering the “how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC” part of the prompt. It’s clear that they’ve done their research, and the connections they’ve chosen to focus on make sense in the context of the story they’ve told. They also incorporate school values in addition to simple facts.
  • Writing about school connections : To take this essay to the next level, the student could write about the school connections in a slightly more elegant way. As they are now, they feel quite list-like.

Academic Interest: Everyday History

Prompt from Barnard: At Barnard, academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited and why do they interest you? Tell us how you would explore these questions at Barnard. (max 300)

As I walked through the ancient city of Pompeii(( This is a beautiful hook that stops and makes the reader think, too.)) on a family vacation, I thought about the children. I imagined how scared they must have been when the volcano erupted, how they must have reached out to their caregivers for protection. When a large group of people mobbed through the alley next to us, I reached out to my own mother(( With a simple phrase, the writer shows the connection between themself and the people of the past who have captured their attention.)) as an anchor.

What interests me most about history is that the people of the past(( The writer adeptly transitions from a poetic introduction to a straightforward answer to the prompt.)) were just like us. They had likes and dislikes, they became frightened and love-struck and tired. While the history of royalty and great wars captures most people’s attention, what I want to study is the history of everyday people.

What(( These questions respond exactly to what the prompt is asking for. )) was it like to be a child in Pompeii? How did prisoners feel on their way to Australia? What kinds of recipes did the Aztecs cook?

I know that with Barnard’s culture of multidisciplinarity, discovery, and creative thinking, I’d be able to pursue these questions and more(( The writer draws on Barnard’s own values and connects their interests, goals, and questions to specific offerings at Barnard.)) . In classes like Gender and Empire, I’ll learn about the ways European expansion was gendered. And in Children and Childhood in African History or Reproducing Inequalities: Family in Latin American History, I’ll be able to ask questions about the history of the family: How have family structures varied across time and place? What historical role have children played? In what ways have parenting practices changed and why?

While they may seem inconsequential for life today, I believe that answering these questions helps us better understand ourselves. With Barnard’s Building Strong Voices(( And they also reference out-of-the-classroom opportunities.)) mission, I’ll learn how to present my research and advocate for the importance of history.

The world needs more histories of everyday people. We have a lot to learn from them, and Barnard’s offerings will help me lead us to better historical and current understandings(( With this conclusion, it’s clear how Barnard will help the writer accomplish their goals. )) .

Word Count: 299

  • Introduction: Academic interest essays are your chance to go all-in. The introduction to this essay does just that. We’re immediately transported into this writer’s academic interest, and we begin to ask these questions alongside them.
  • Answering all parts of the prompt: This can be a tricky feat when responding to complex prompts like Barnard’s. But this writer does just that. They tackle each part of the prompt in order, and they make clear transitions between them.

College Essay Example Takeaways

Whether you’re writing a personal statement or supplemental essay, reading and analyzing college essay examples is an important tool. Good examples can give you insight into the proper form and structure to use. And bad examples can be just as helpful by showing you what not to do.

All admissions officers will approach your college essays from different perspectives. But hopefully the grades and comments—provided by our team of former admissions officers and professional writing coaches—have helped you understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

As you’ve seen, there are so many essays, topics, personalities, approaches—you can write a college essay about almost anything.

Remember that the key to any successful college application is a cohesive application narrative . 

And if you want to take your own college essays to the next level, join the Essay Academy for an entire course of professional guidance.

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5 Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays

←11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

8 Do’s and Don’ts for Crafting Your College Essay→

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What’s Covered:

What makes a good college essay topic, awesome college essay topics + sample essays, how to get your essay reviewed for free.

Finding a great college essay topic is one of the most stressful parts of the essay writing process. How is it possible to accurately represent your life and personality in one essay? How can you tell if a topic will do your story justice, or if it’ll end up hurting your application?

While a good essay topic varies from one person to another, there are some general guidelines you should follow when picking a topic. In this post, we’ll go over the commonalities of a good college essay topic, and we’ll share five original topics and sample essays to inspire your writing.

College essays are meant to provide admissions officers with a better idea of who you are beyond your quantitative achievements. It’s your chance to share your voice, personality, and story.

A good essay topic will do the following:

Answers the 4 core questions. These questions are:

  • “Who Am I?”
  • “Why Am I Here?”
  • “What is Unique About Me?”
  • “What Matters to Me?”

At its core, your essay should show who you are, how you got there, and where you’re going. 

Is deeply personal. The best essay topics allow you to be raw and vulnerable. You don’t need to bare your soul and tell your deepest secrets, but you should share your thoughts and emotions in your essay. A good essay should make the reader feel something—whether that’s your joy, embarrassment, panic, defeat, confidence, or determination.

Is original, or approaches a common topic in an original way. Admissions officers read a lot of essays about the same old topics. Some of those cliches include: a sports injury, person you admire, tragedy, or working hard in a challenging class. While it’s possible to write a good essay on a common topic, it’s much harder to do so, and you may lose the admissions officer’s attention early on. 

Try to find a topic that goes beyond traditional archetypes to make yourself truly stand out. You could also take a cliche topic but develop it in a different way. For example, the standard storyline of the sports injury essay is that you got hurt, were upset you couldn’t participate, but then worked hard and overcame that injury. Instead, you could write about how you got injured, and used that time off to develop a new interest, such as coding. 

The truth is that a “good” college essay topic varies by individual, as it really depends on your life experiences. That being said, there are some topics that should work well for most people, and they are:

1. A unique extracurricular activity or passion 

Writing about an extracurricular activity is not a unique essay topic, and it’s actually a common supplemental essay prompt. If you have an unconventional activity, however, the essay is the perfect opportunity to showcase and elaborate upon that interest. Less common activities are less familiar to admissions officers, so some extra context can be helpful in understanding how that activity worked, and how much it meant to you.

For example, here’s a sample essay about a student who played competitive bridge, and what the activity taught them:

The room was silent except for the thoughts racing through my head. I led a spade from my hand and my opponent paused for a second, then played a heart. The numbers ran through my mind as I tried to consider every combination, calculating my next move. Finally, I played the ace of spades from the dummy and the rest of my clubs, securing the contract and 620 points when my partner ruffed at trick five. Next board.

It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship. The winning team would be selected to represent the United States in the world championship and my team was still in the running.

Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game. Players from around the world gather at local clubs, regional events, and, in this case, national tournaments.

Going into the tournament, my team was excited; all the hours we had put into the game, from the lengthy midnight Skype sessions spent discussing boards to the coffee shop meetings spent memorizing conventions together, were about to pay off.

Halfway through, our spirits were still high, as we were only down by fourteen international match points which, out of the final total of about four hundred points, was virtually nothing and it was very feasible to catch up. Our excitement was short-lived, however, as sixty boards later, we found that we had lost the match and would not be chosen as the national team.

Initially, we were devastated. We had come so close and it seemed as if all the hours we had devoted to training had been utterly wasted. Yet as our team spent some time together reflecting upon the results, we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion. I chatted with the winning team and even befriended a few of them who offered us encouragement and advice.

Throughout my bridge career, although I’ve gained a respectable amount of masterpoints and awards, I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met. I don’t need to travel cross-country to learn; every time I sit down at a table whether it be during a simple club game, a regional tournament or a national event, I find I’m always learning. 

I nod at the pair that’s always yelling at each other. They teach me the importance of sportsmanship and forgiveness.

I greet the legally blind man who can defeat most of the seeing players. He reminds me not to make excuses.

I chat with the friendly, elderly couple who, at ages ninety and ninety-two, have just gotten married two weeks ago. They teach me that it’s never too late to start anything.

I talk to the boy who’s attending Harvard and the girl who forewent college to start her own company. They show me that there is more than one path to success.

I congratulate the little kid running to his dad, excited to have won his very first masterpoints. He reminds me of the thrill of every first time and to never stop trying new things.

Just as much as I have benefitted from these life lessons, I aspire to give back to my bridge community as much as it has given me. I aspire to teach people how to play this complicated yet equally as exciting game. I aspire to never stop improving myself, both at and away from the bridge table.

Bridge has given me my roots and dared me to dream. What started as merely a hobby has become a community, a passion, a part of my identity. I aspire to live selflessly and help others reach their goals. I seek to take risks, embrace all results, even failure, and live unfettered from my own doubt .

2. An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile

The essays are also a great way to highlight different aspects of who you are, and also explain any aspects of your profile that might not “make sense.” For instance, if your extracurriculars are heavily STEM-focused, but you have one theatre-related activity you care a lot about, you might want to write an essay on theatre to add an extra dimension to your application. Admissions officers actually love when students have a “contrast profile,” or well-developed interests in two disparate fields. This is because they see a lot of well-rounded and specialized students, so students with contrast profiles offer something refreshingly unique.

Here’s a sample essay written by an athlete who is also an accomplished poet. The piece focuses upon the student’s contrasting identities, and how they eventually come to feel proud of both identities.

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

3. A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life 

Writing an essay on a seemingly mundane moment is unexpected, so that should grab the attention of the reader in almost a backwards way. You’ll make them wonder where the essay is going, and why you chose to write about that moment. From there, you can use that moment as an avenue to discuss important elements of your identity. 

In this sample essay, a student details her experience failing to make a fire from sticks, and how it leads her to reflect on how her former passion (or “fire”) for the outdoors is now reflected in her current interests. 

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.

4. Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality 

Using an everyday experience as a vehicle to explore your identity is also intriguing in an unexpected way. You’d be surprised at how many everyday routines and objects naturally lend themselves to a unique glance into your life. Some of those things might be: a familiar drive, your running shoes, a recipe from your grandmother, walking to your guitar lesson.

This topic also is a strong choice if you have a descriptive, artful writing style. It allows you to get creative with the transitions from the everyday experience to larger reflections on your life.

Here’s an example of a student who chose to write about showers, all while showcasing their personality and unique aspects of their life. 

Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due. 

It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me. 

Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror. 

Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).  

Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day). 

Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control. 

Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain. 

5. An in the moment narrative that tells the story of a important moment in your life

In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you . Students assume that your chosen moment needs to be extremely dramatic or life-altering, but the truth is that you can use this method to write about all kinds of events, from the everyday to the unexpected to the monumental. It doesn’t matter, as long as that moment was important to your development.

For example, this student wrote about a Model UN conference where they were asked to switch stances last minute. This might not seem like a huge moment, but this experience was meaningful to them because it showed them the importance of adaptability. 

The morning of the Model United Nation conference, I walked into Committee feeling confident about my research. We were simulating the Nuremberg Trials – a series of post-World War II proceedings for war crimes – and my portfolio was of the Soviet Judge Major General Iona Nikitchenko. Until that day, the infamous Nazi regime had only been a chapter in my history textbook; however, the conference’s unveiling of each defendant’s crimes brought those horrors to life. The previous night, I had organized my research, proofread my position paper and gone over Judge Nikitchenko’s pertinent statements. I aimed to find the perfect balance between his stance and my own.

As I walked into committee anticipating a battle of wits, my director abruptly called out to me. “I’m afraid we’ve received a late confirmation from another delegate who will be representing Judge Nikitchenko. You, on the other hand, are now the defense attorney, Otto Stahmer.” Everyone around me buzzed around the room in excitement, coordinating with their allies and developing strategies against their enemies, oblivious to the bomb that had just dropped on me. I felt frozen in my tracks, and it seemed that only rage against the careless delegate who had confirmed her presence so late could pull me out of my trance. After having spent a month painstakingly crafting my verdicts and gathering evidence against the Nazis, I now needed to reverse my stance only three hours before the first session.

Gradually, anger gave way to utter panic. My research was fundamental to my performance, and without it, I knew I could add little to the Trials. But confident in my ability, my director optimistically recommended constructing an impromptu defense. Nervously, I began my research anew. Despite feeling hopeless, as I read through the prosecution’s arguments, I uncovered substantial loopholes. I noticed a lack of conclusive evidence against the defendants and certain inconsistencies in testimonies. My discovery energized me, inspiring me to revisit the historical overview in my conference “Background Guide” and to search the web for other relevant articles. Some Nazi prisoners had been treated as “guilty” before their court dates. While I had brushed this information under the carpet while developing my position as a judge, it now became the focus of my defense. I began scratching out a new argument, centered on the premise that the allied countries had violated the fundamental rule that, a defendant was “not guilty” until proven otherwise.

At the end of the three hours, I felt better prepared. The first session began, and with bravado, I raised my placard to speak. Microphone in hand, I turned to face my audience. “Greetings delegates. I, Otto Stahmer would like to…….” I suddenly blanked. Utter dread permeated my body as I tried to recall my thoughts in vain. “Defence Attorney, Stahmer we’ll come back to you,” my Committee Director broke the silence as I tottered back to my seat, flushed with embarrassment. Despite my shame, I was undeterred. I needed to vindicate my director’s faith in me. I pulled out my notes, refocused, and began outlining my arguments in a more clear and direct manner. Thereafter, I spoke articulately, confidently putting forth my points. I was overjoyed when Secretariat members congratulated me on my fine performance.

Going into the conference, I believed that preparation was the key to success. I wouldn’t say I disagree with that statement now, but I believe adaptability is equally important. My ability to problem-solve in the face of an unforeseen challenge proved advantageous in the art of diplomacy. Not only did this experience transform me into a confident and eloquent delegate at that conference, but it also helped me become a more flexible and creative thinker in a variety of other capacities. Now that I know I can adapt under pressure, I look forward to engaging in activities that will push me to be even quicker on my feet.

old college essays

At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.

That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay. 

That’s why we created our 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. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!

old college essays

Final Thoughts

We hope this gives you a better idea of what good essay topic looks like, and that you’re feeling inspired to write your own essay—maybe one of these topics can even apply to your own life!

For more guidance on your essays, see these posts:

How to Write the Common App Essay

What If I Don ’t Have Anything Interesting to Write About in My College Essay?

Wh ere to Begin? 6 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

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

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

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

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

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

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org.

old college essays

Fans Go Sicko Mode On Travis Scott After Old College Essay About Kanye West Appears Online

Travis Scott is the internet’s current target for jokes after one of his alleged old college essays surfaced online. The 33-year-old rapper wrote about Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label and its signees Kid Cudi and Big Sean .

The Houston rapper attended the University of Texas at San Antonio before dropping out to pursue a full-time music career. In 2009, he seemingly wrote an essay about Ye and the label he would later sign to as a producer. “Good Music is known all around the world,” Scott wrote. “Rappers such as Big Sean and Kid Cudi are well-known rappers that had similar lifestyles but different messages. What they had in common carried them an opportunity to get sign to an multi-million dollar company called G.O.O.D MUSIC.”

He gushed over Cudi and Sean’s courage to approach Ye through a myriad of typos. “Both of these rappers had enough courage to step up to the famous Kanye West and rap there heart which led them to instant success,” he wrote. “Even though these two moguls are sign to the same label and are part of the same music family there styles and there background are different but they were brought together by a beautiful sound we call music.”

Neither Travis Scott nor the university have confirmed whether this essay is real or not, but internet users didn’t need the truth to let their jokes off. “This mf had no choice but to be a rapper he stupid as hell,” one fan wrote on social media. “College…?” one fan asked while another speculated that he wrote the essay five minutes before his class began.

While a major in English clearly wasn’t Scott’s forte, he seemingly manifested his future success with the contents of this essay. He signed with G.O.O.D Music in 2012 and has been one of Kanye West’s constant collaborators in the ensuing years. He also worked with Kid Cudi on numerous occasions and at one point, the duo even promoted a joint album which was later shelved .

Scott’s relationship with Ye and G.O.O.D Music helped him to break through and become one of music’s biggest stars today. Most recently, he released his latest LP Utopia in July 2023. The album featured Drake, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, Beyoncé, SZA, Future, Playboi Carti, and more. Utopia debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and maintained the top spot on the chart for four weeks. It has remained on the chart for 42 weeks, closing in on his 2015 album Rodeo which was on the Billboard 200 for 59 weeks.

Travis Scott also recently appeared on Future and Metro Boomin’s March 2024 collaborative album We Don’t Trust You . He was featured on “ Type Sh*t ” alongside Playboi Carti and “Cinderella.” In January, he joined 21 Savage on “Née-Nah” from his latest album American Dream . The 10-time Grammy nominee also joined Tyla on the remix to her popular record “Water” in November 2023 and “Aye” from Lil Uzi Vert’s June 2023 album Pink Tape . Listen to Utopia above.

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  • Common Says He Turned Down These Classic Kanye West Beats

Fans Go Sicko Mode On Travis Scott After Old College Essay About Kanye West Appears Online

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Suggestions

old college essays

4 Very Convincing Reasons to Keep Your Old Essays

old college essays

Essay Hoarding

One of them may or may not be money..

By Bria Jones , Georgia Southern University

Students, let’s be honest: At the end of each semester, you want nothing more than to just get rid of any and all traces of the past four months.

You want to sell those overpriced text books back (for just a fraction of the original price, unfortunately), trash old assignments, delete essay files and enjoy your break with the peace of mind that comes with successfully making it through a semester. One down, x to go!

But wait, take a couple of steps back. Believe it or not, those old essays could really come in handy later. All of your essays, good, bad and ancient, can be beneficial to you. So, before you take a match to that stack of hard copies and hit the delete button on your laptop, think about how your essays can be repurposed post-course. A well-written essay is so much more than the A that you received for it.

old college essays

One of the best reasons to keep your old papers is to incorporate them into your portfolio. Some students, mainly Writing and English majors, already keep their great essays to be used in portfolios, as a good writing portfolio can be used to impress future employers or admissions representatives for your graduate school of choice, but it’s a good idea for everyone. You can use your portfolio to exhibit growth in writing, or you can use it to showcase your absolute best works; sometimes, people do both. Students of any major can use a tidy portfolio, along with their resume, to show that they are the real deal and that they know what they are talking about.

Your portfolio does not have to be a folder full of paper either; many people take to creating online portfolios, and there are plenty of websites that help with creating them. Having a goal and layout in mind are important, for online and hard copy portfolios alike. More tips for general portfolios can be found on The Balance , Clippings and Chron ; field-specific tips are a quick search away. Online or not, a portfolio is an essay writer’s best friend.

In addition to making for winning portfolios, your good writing can be used for scholarships. Putting aside the ever-repetitive “Why do you deserve this scholarship?” and “What are your academic and community achievements?” essays, there exists a handful scholarships that just want to see how you write. These scholarships will accept an essay about pretty much anything, and, in some cases, they are perfectly fine with you reusing essays (from school or other scholarships). Those are the golden scholarships.

Similarly, old writing can be used as writing samples for employment. At risk of being a little too specific, those looking for writing-based jobs will benefit greatly from keeping their old writing on hand. Before you can be considered for an internship or paying job, your employers want to be sure that you can write well. Putting your best piece forward (that you thankfully held onto) will save you the time of writing a whole new piece, and your old paper could be the difference between you getting the job versus someone else.

On the other end of the old-essay spectrum, there are the essays that you maybe got a bad grade on; maybe you got an okay grade on it, but you know it’s not your best work. There are people out there that want your less-than-great papers. It’s not like you’ll ever use them again anyway, so why not sell them?

Yep, you can turn your old, undesirable essays into cash. The internet is home to various websites hosted by companies that want your old essays, good and bad (placing emphasis on the bad, because you need to save the good ones for your portfolio or scholarships.) Examples of such websites include, but aren’t limited to,  CashForEssays and GradeSaver . By searching for yourself on Google (or Bing, I guess), you can find more websites willing to pay you for your writing. Keep in mind that when searching, do not get “We buy your essays!” mixed up with “Hey, buy these essays from us!” Websites like those guys might be useful for you in another situation. There is a very real possibility of getting in trouble for plagiarism though, and I wouldn’t dig myself that grave if I were you.

One of these websites that I can certainly vouch for, as far as legitimacy goes, is CashForEssays (CFE). I sold them a bunch of my old essays from my previous Literature and English classes and made over $20. CFE will take an essay, lab reports, annotated bibliographies, detailed essay outlines and anything else of that sort. “Basically, writing that would be assigned in typical high school or college courses,” says the F.A.Q. page . Keep in mind that there are some simple requirements , but nothing too serious. The folks at CFE buy essays for their database-research tool; because they are indexed by Google, no one else can plagiarize your hard work. There is no payout minimum and you cash out using good ol’ convenient PayPal!

The catch? There’s a small wait time. After being accepted, your essay is put into the purchase queue. On the first of every month, a purchasing budget is set and a fixed number of essays gets bought once a day until that budget is reached. The queue can be quite long, and I waited about two months for my essays to be purchased for the first time. (CFE does have a nice little visual at the bottom of the pending essays page that lets you know how far along you are.) Otherwise, CFE is a great way to make a little bit of spending money.

Before you start saving essays for later or digging up old ones, remember not to go crazy with it. You don’t want to overcrowd your computer, flash drive or random old paper drawer. Be honest with yourself about what constitutes a good, application-worthy essay, and remember that online portfolios will save a lot of space. As for the others, when I say keep and sell “undesirable,” “bad” and “less-than-great” essays, I don’t mean essays that have big, fat F’s on them, or something you threw together in ten minutes. Those papers can totally be thrown away (or burned in a trashcan if you have a flair for the dramatics). For lack of a better analogy, I basically mean the essays that are good people, but that you wouldn’t necessarily trust with your life. Then, after you sell those bad boys: toss ’em! Toss ’em just like you were going to, but now disposal won’t be a waste.

So, are you convinced to hold onto your old essays yet?

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Bria Jones, Georgia Southern University

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How to retrieve old essays?

<p>Hey, I was wondering if there was any way to access the essays I had written to apply for college about two years ago. I cannot find them saved on my computer so wanted to know if there was a way to retrieve them (including supplement essays.) Is there a way to do this?</p>

<p>Thanks a lot in advance for your help!</p>

<p>Unless you have a pressing reason, nope.</p>

<p>thanks for your reply! that’s too bad though… i just wanted to see them to see what i had done in order to help others going through the application process now.</p>

<p>does this response apply to the common app? would individual institutions be willing to release supplement essays written?</p>

<p>thx again</p>

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College Essays

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Most colleges and universities in the United States require applicants to submit at least one essay as part of their application. But trying to figure out what college essay topics you should choose is a tricky process. There are so many potential things you could write about!

In this guide, we go over the essential qualities that make for a great college essay topic and give you 50+ college essay topics you can use for your own statement . In addition, we provide you with helpful tips for turning your college essay topic into a stellar college essay.

What Qualities Make for a Good College Essay Topic?

Regardless of what you write about in your personal statement for college , there are key features that will always make for a stand-out college essay topic.

#1: It’s Specific

First off, good college essay topics are extremely specific : you should know all the pertinent facts that have to do with the topic and be able to see how the entire essay comes together.

Specificity is essential because it’ll not only make your essay stand out from other statements, but it'll also recreate the experience for admissions officers through its realism, detail, and raw power. You want to tell a story after all, and specificity is the way to do so. Nobody wants to read a vague, bland, or boring story — not even admissions officers!

For example, an OK topic would be your experience volunteering at a cat shelter over the summer. But a better, more specific college essay topic would be how you deeply connected with an elderly cat there named Marty, and how your bond with him made you realize that you want to work with animals in the future.

Remember that specificity in your topic is what will make your essay unique and memorable . It truly is the key to making a strong statement (pun intended)!

#2: It Shows Who You Are

In addition to being specific, good college essay topics reveal to admissions officers who you are: your passions and interests, what is important to you, your best (or possibly even worst) qualities, what drives you, and so on.

The personal statement is critical because it gives schools more insight into who you are as a person and not just who you are as a student in terms of grades and classes.

By coming up with a real, honest topic, you’ll leave an unforgettable mark on admissions officers.

#3: It’s Meaningful to You

The very best college essay topics are those that hold deep meaning to their writers and have truly influenced them in some significant way.

For instance, maybe you plan to write about the first time you played Skyrim to explain how this video game revealed to you the potentially limitless worlds you could create, thereby furthering your interest in game design.

Even if the topic seems trivial, it’s OK to use it — just as long as you can effectively go into detail about why this experience or idea had such an impact on you .

Don’t give in to the temptation to choose a topic that sounds impressive but doesn’t actually hold any deep meaning for you. Admissions officers will see right through this!

Similarly, don’t try to exaggerate some event or experience from your life if it’s not all that important to you or didn’t have a substantial influence on your sense of self.

#4: It’s Unique

College essay topics that are unique are also typically the most memorable, and if there’s anything you want to be during the college application process, it’s that! Admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications, and the essay is one of the only parts that allows them to really get a sense of who you are and what you value in life.

If your essay is trite or boring, it won’t leave much of an impression , and your application will likely get immediately tossed to the side with little chance of seeing admission.

But if your essay topic is very original and different, you’re more likely to earn that coveted second glance at your application.

What does being unique mean exactly, though? Many students assume that they must choose an extremely rare or crazy experience to talk about in their essays —but that's not necessarily what I mean by "unique." Good college essay topics can be unusual and different, yes, but they can also be unique takes on more mundane or common activities and experiences .

For instance, say you want to write an essay about the first time you went snowboarding. Instead of just describing the details of the experience and how you felt during it, you could juxtapose your emotions with a creative and humorous perspective from the snowboard itself. Or you could compare your first attempt at snowboarding with your most recent experience in a snowboarding competition. The possibilities are endless!

#5: It Clearly Answers the Question

Finally, good college essay topics will clearly and fully answer the question(s) in the prompt.

You might fail to directly answer a prompt by misinterpreting what it’s asking you to do, or by answering only part of it (e.g., answering just one out of three questions).

Therefore, make sure you take the time to come up with an essay topic that is in direct response to every question in the prompt .

Take this Coalition Application prompt as an example:

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

For this prompt, you’d need to answer all three questions (though it’s totally fine to focus more on one or two of them) to write a compelling and appropriate essay.

This is why we recommend reading and rereading the essay prompt ; you should know exactly what it’s asking you to do, well before you start brainstorming possible college application essay topics.

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53 College Essay Topics to Get Your Brain Moving

In this section, we give you a list of 53 examples of college essay topics. Use these as jumping-off points to help you get started on your college essay and to ensure that you’re on track to coming up with a relevant and effective topic.

All college application essay topics below are categorized by essay prompt type. We’ve identified six general types of college essay prompts:

Why This College?

Change and personal growth, passions, interests, and goals, overcoming a challenge, diversity and community, solving a problem.

Note that these prompt types could overlap with one another, so you’re not necessarily limited to just one college essay topic in a single personal statement.

  • How a particular major or program will help you achieve your academic or professional goals
  • A memorable and positive interaction you had with a professor or student at the school
  • Something good that happened to you while visiting the campus or while on a campus tour
  • A certain class you want to take or a certain professor you’re excited to work with
  • Some piece of on-campus equipment or facility that you’re looking forward to using
  • Your plans to start a club at the school, possibly to raise awareness of a major issue
  • A study abroad or other unique program that you can’t wait to participate in
  • How and where you plan to volunteer in the community around the school
  • An incredible teacher you studied under and the positive impact they had on you
  • How you went from really liking something, such as a particular movie star or TV show, to not liking it at all (or vice versa)
  • How yours or someone else’s (change in) socioeconomic status made you more aware of poverty
  • A time someone said something to you that made you realize you were wrong
  • How your opinion on a controversial topic, such as gay marriage or DACA, has shifted over time
  • A documentary that made you aware of a particular social, economic, or political issue going on in the country or world
  • Advice you would give to your younger self about friendship, motivation, school, etc.
  • The steps you took in order to kick a bad or self-sabotaging habit
  • A juxtaposition of the first and most recent time you did something, such as dance onstage
  • A book you read that you credit with sparking your love of literature and/or writing
  • A school assignment or project that introduced you to your chosen major
  • A glimpse of your everyday routine and how your biggest hobby or interest fits into it
  • The career and (positive) impact you envision yourself having as a college graduate
  • A teacher or mentor who encouraged you to pursue a specific interest you had
  • How moving around a lot helped you develop a love of international exchange or learning languages
  • A special skill or talent you’ve had since you were young and that relates to your chosen major in some way, such as designing buildings with LEGO bricks
  • Where you see yourself in 10 or 20 years
  • Your biggest accomplishment so far relating to your passion (e.g., winning a gold medal for your invention at a national science competition)
  • A time you lost a game or competition that was really important to you
  • How you dealt with the loss or death of someone close to you
  • A time you did poorly in a class that you expected to do well in
  • How moving to a new school impacted your self-esteem and social life
  • A chronic illness you battled or are still battling
  • Your healing process after having your heart broken for the first time
  • A time you caved under peer pressure and the steps you took so that it won't happen again
  • How you almost gave up on learning a foreign language but stuck with it
  • Why you decided to become a vegetarian or vegan, and how you navigate living with a meat-eating family
  • What you did to overcome a particular anxiety or phobia you had (e.g., stage fright)
  • A history of a failed experiment you did over and over, and how you finally found a way to make it work successfully
  • Someone within your community whom you aspire to emulate
  • A family tradition you used to be embarrassed about but are now proud of
  • Your experience with learning English upon moving to the United States
  • A close friend in the LGBTQ+ community who supported you when you came out
  • A time you were discriminated against, how you reacted, and what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again
  • How you navigate your identity as a multiracial, multiethnic, and/or multilingual person
  • A project or volunteer effort you led to help or improve your community
  • A particular celebrity or role model who inspired you to come out as LGBTQ+
  • Your biggest challenge (and how you plan to tackle it) as a female in a male-dominated field
  • How you used to discriminate against your own community, and what made you change your mind and eventually take pride in who you are and/or where you come from
  • A program you implemented at your school in response to a known problem, such as a lack of recycling cans in the cafeteria
  • A time you stepped in to mediate an argument or fight between two people
  • An app or other tool you developed to make people’s lives easier in some way
  • A time you proposed a solution that worked to an ongoing problem at school, an internship, or a part-time job
  • The steps you took to identify and fix an error in coding for a website or program
  • An important social or political issue that you would fix if you had the means

body_boy_writing_notebook_ideas

How to Build a College Essay in 6 Easy Steps

Once you’ve decided on a college essay topic you want to use, it’s time to buckle down and start fleshing out your essay. These six steps will help you transform a simple college essay topic into a full-fledged personal statement.

Step 1: Write Down All the Details

Once you’ve chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay . These could be things such as the following:

  • Emotions you felt at the time
  • Names, places, and/or numbers
  • Dialogue, or what you or someone else said
  • A specific anecdote, example, or experience
  • Descriptions of how things looked, felt, or seemed

If you can only come up with a few details, then it’s probably best to revisit the list of college essay topics above and choose a different one that you can write more extensively on.

Good college essay topics are typically those that:

  • You remember well (so nothing that happened when you were really young)
  • You're excited to write about
  • You're not embarrassed or uncomfortable to share with others
  • You believe will make you positively stand out from other applicants

Step 2: Figure Out Your Focus and Approach

Once you have all your major details laid out, start to figure out how you could arrange them in a way that makes sense and will be most effective.

It’s important here to really narrow your focus: you don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) discuss every single aspect of your trip to visit family in Indonesia when you were 16. Rather, zero in on a particular anecdote or experience and explain why and how it impacted you.

Alternatively, you could write about multiple experiences while weaving them together with a clear, meaningful theme or concept , such as how your math teacher helped you overcome your struggle with geometry over the course of an entire school year. In this case, you could mention a few specific times she tutored you and most strongly supported you in your studies.

There’s no one right way to approach your college essay, so play around to see what approaches might work well for the topic you’ve chosen.

If you’re really unsure about how to approach your essay, think about what part of your topic was or is most meaningful and memorable to you, and go from there.

Step 3: Structure Your Narrative

  • Beginning: Don’t just spout off a ton of background information here—you want to hook your reader, so try to start in the middle of the action , such as with a meaningful conversation you had or a strong emotion you felt. It could also be a single anecdote if you plan to center your essay around a specific theme or idea.
  • Middle: Here’s where you start to flesh out what you’ve established in the opening. Provide more details about the experience (if a single anecdote) or delve into the various times your theme or idea became most important to you. Use imagery and sensory details to put the reader in your shoes.
  • End: It’s time to bring it all together. Finish describing the anecdote or theme your essay centers around and explain how it relates to you now , what you’ve learned or gained from it, and how it has influenced your goals.

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Step 4: Write a Rough Draft

By now you should have all your major details and an outline for your essay written down; these two things will make it easy for you to convert your notes into a rough draft.

At this stage of the writing process, don’t worry too much about vocabulary or grammar and just focus on getting out all your ideas so that they form the general shape of an essay . It’s OK if you’re a little over the essay's word limit — as you edit, you’ll most likely make some cuts to irrelevant and ineffective parts anyway.

If at any point you get stuck and have no idea what to write, revisit steps 1-3 to see whether there are any important details or ideas you might be omitting or not elaborating on enough to get your overall point across to admissions officers.

Step 5: Edit, Revise, and Proofread

  • Sections that are too wordy and don’t say anything important
  • Irrelevant details that don’t enhance your essay or the point you're trying to make
  • Parts that seem to drag or that feel incredibly boring or redundant
  • Areas that are vague and unclear and would benefit from more detail
  • Phrases or sections that are awkwardly placed and should be moved around
  • Areas that feel unconvincing, inauthentic, or exaggerated

Start paying closer attention to your word choice/vocabulary and grammar at this time, too. It’s perfectly normal to edit and revise your college essay several times before asking for feedback, so keep working with it until you feel it’s pretty close to its final iteration.

This step will likely take the longest amount of time — at least several weeks, if not months — so really put effort into fixing up your essay. Once you’re satisfied, do a final proofread to ensure that it’s technically correct.

Step 6: Get Feedback and Tweak as Needed

After you’ve overhauled your rough draft and made it into a near-final draft, give your essay to somebody you trust , such as a teacher or parent, and have them look it over for technical errors and offer you feedback on its content and overall structure.

Use this feedback to make any last-minute changes or edits. If necessary, repeat steps 5 and 6. You want to be extra sure that your essay is perfect before you submit it to colleges!

Recap: From College Essay Topics to Great College Essays

Many different kinds of college application essay topics can get you into a great college. But this doesn’t make it any easier to choose the best topic for you .

In general, the best college essay topics have the following qualities :

  • They’re specific
  • They show who you are
  • They’re meaningful to you
  • They’re unique
  • They clearly answer the question

If you ever need help coming up with an idea of what to write for your essay, just refer to the list of 53 examples of college essay topics above to get your brain juices flowing.

Once you’ve got an essay topic picked out, follow these six steps for turning your topic into an unforgettable personal statement :

  • Write down all the details
  • Figure out your focus and approach
  • Structure your narrative
  • Write a rough draft
  • Edit, revise, and proofread
  • Get feedback and tweak as needed

And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your college essays!

What’s Next?

Writing a college essay is no simple task. Get expert college essay tips with our guides on how to come up with great college essay ideas and how to write a college essay, step by step .

You can also check out this huge list of college essay prompts  to get a feel for what types of questions you'll be expected to answer on your applications.

Want to see examples of college essays that absolutely rocked? You're in luck because we've got a collection of 100+ real college essay examples right here on our blog!

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

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

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Trash, the Library and a Worn, Brown Table: The 2019 College Essays on Money

Each year, we ask high school seniors to submit college application essays they’ve written about work, money, social class and related topics. Here are five that moved us.

Credit... Eiko Ojala

Supported by

Ron Lieber

By Ron Lieber

  • May 9, 2019

We organize the money in our wallets in units of currency, dollars and cents, bills and coins.

But the money in our heads is a lot harder to arrange, lost as it often is in a haze of volatile emotions, pride and shame, jubilation and despair.

Reckoning with these feelings is hard, which is why people don’t talk about them much. Writing about them is even harder.

Six years ago, I started asking high school seniors to send in any college application essay that happened to be about money, work, social class or related topics. Immediately, it was clear that there was plenty we could learn from their writing, as they and their parents prepared to make what may be the biggest financial decision of their lives: where to spend up to $300,000 on a college education.

This year’s collection of five essays is a reminder of how rich the idea of money is for the writers who dare to tackle it.

A plumber’s daughter and a young man fascinated with garbage trucks take on jobs that few of their peers would want. A dish washer rides home in the middle of the school night, flashcards in hand. A family gets smaller set against the tableau of its aging furniture. And a Minnesota teenager finds her way, over many years, to a new role in an old place of refuge.

Los Angeles

old college essays

‘I got the usual looks from people fresh out of bars or parties, either because of the stench of a hard night’s work on my clothes or because I was muttering to myself while feverishly flipping flashcards.’

—mark isai garcia.

“No more broken plates, you understand?”

I could make little sense of the broken English that spat from his mouth but his scrunched-up face spoke a universal language. It was a Friday night in Little Tokyo, and while families were eating five-star meals in the front dining room, a 14-year-old boy was in the back washing their dishes.

Wash the plates by hand, dump them into the sanitizer, place the plates into the machine, dry the plates off, return the plates to their designated spot and repeat — hopefully without damaging any. On this night though, a porcelain plate slipped through my soapy fingers and shattered onto the floor in five pieces. My face flushed even as I tried to keep my composure, but inside I was screaming, “Why me!?” as if my scream would make the plate whole again.

The shattered plate was only one of the many worries fighting relentlessly inside my head for attention — there was the Advanced Placement United States history midterm, a low grade in calculus, the eviction notice, a little brother getting into trouble and a dozen other smaller but pressing concerns.

For me, there was no calling in sick to clear my head, getting some much needed rest or carving out study time before an upcoming exam. I had to contribute to the necessities. I shut up, got back to work and pushed with all the energy I had left. I knew all too well the symptoms of bottling up my emotions — the bitter taste of salt in each drop of sweat, losing myself in the background music and the muscle aches were nothing new to me.

It was 12 a.m. when my shift finally ended. I boarded the bus home and took out my notes to study. I got the usual looks from people fresh out of bars or parties, either because of the stench of a hard night’s work on my clothes or because I was muttering to myself while feverishly flipping flashcards on a bus in the middle of the night.

Their stares didn’t bother me at all. I was used to those too, and they were nothing more than another set of speed bumps in the way of achieving my goals. I was tired of seeing childhood friends flashing gang signs, relatives glued to the beer bottle or my dad coming home late at night with burn scars from work. Something had to change and I knew it fell to me to initiate that change.

Fortunately, I also knew I had dedication, desire and grit in my blood. My grandfather was part of the first wave of Mexican immigrants that settled in Los Angeles. He returned home to a small village in rural Oaxaca, with his savings and tales of the land of opportunity.

Both of my parents left Oaxaca in their early teenage years and began working long hours in Los Angeles, as a cook and a maid. The work ethic was passed down generations; from the cornfields in Oaxaca, to the restaurants in Los Angeles, to the classroom, which helped me thrive both in school and work.

On this particular night, as I walked through the front door at home, I saw an uplifting surprise: My mother had fallen asleep waiting up for me despite her own long day. I tucked the cash tips I made that night into her purse and turned off the TV.

I peered into our bedroom where my brothers and cousins were lost in their blissful dreams. Watching my siblings snore and breathe slowly sparked a yawn that cued the rest of my body’s delayed exhaustion. However, it would be a while before I could join them in sleep. I had an essay due early the next morning, and Ms. DePaolo doesn’t accept late work.

‘Life is a process of accepting the messes and learning to clean them up.’

—kelley schlise.

Not many 17-year-old girls know how to solder two copper pipes together or light the pilot light on a water heater. I venture that most people would struggle to tell the difference between a regular 90-degree PVC elbow and a street 90.

These are skills and distinctions I have learned over the past five years as an assistant to my dad in his one-man plumbing business. My summer job involves messes that constantly elicit physical and mental discomfort, and the work demands an attitude of grittiness and grace that I frequently struggle to adopt. Nevertheless, I persist. I am the plumber’s daughter and the plumber’s helper.

Each humid morning, I wrestle myself into a pair of used men’s jeans from Goodwill that most of my peers would refuse to be seen wearing in public. I slip my tape measure onto my belt, tie my hair back as I run out the door, and climb into the passenger seat of the plumber truck, which is really an aged white minivan with two kinds of pipes strapped to the top.

As my peers begin their shifts nannying, lifeguarding or checking out groceries, my dad and I haul unwieldy toolboxes and heavy-duty saws into the depths of people’s houses. Although at times we work in the gold-plated master bathrooms of mansions with lake views, we usually end up in dank, mildewed basements where I get lost in mazes of storage boxes looking for the water meter.

Five summers navigating the pipes of Milwaukee have taught me that the messy parts of people’s houses reflect the messy parts of their lives. My dad and I make plenty of our own messes too. When his rugged Sawzall blade slices through walls, clouds of plaster permeate the air. Sometimes there are no walls at all, and we work in primordial jungles of fiberglass insulation, floor joists and rusted cast iron stacks.

I constantly leap over tangled piles of wrenches and extension cords. My mouth and nose are covered by a dust mask; my jeans are smudged with pipe dope, and my hands are blackened with the grime of a hard day’s work. As I observe the chaos around me, chaos rises within me. Nothing is beautiful or tidy; everything I see is ugly. I feel powerless, frustrated and unable to think clearly.

Plumbing work is a microcosm of the messes of the world, and sometimes I despise it. I question why I endure the dust and sweat when I could be in my air-conditioned house, vacuuming my bedroom, making avocado toast for breakfast and finishing my summer homework early. I could even find another job, a normal one that more closely resembles the work of my peers.

Yet as much as I despise the mess of plumbing, I despise myself for becoming affected by such trivial qualms and for being so easily aggravated by disorder. After all, the world was built by people willing to get their hands dirty.

And when I think about it, I cope with messes all the time. The uncertainties and contradictions of my teenage brain are far more tangled than any extension cord, but I keep trying to sort them out. Life is a process of accepting the messes and learning to clean them up, and plumbing work is no different.

As much as my dad and I create chaos, we create order, and if I look carefully I can find it in each newly soldered array of copper pipes or in the way my dad’s toolboxes all fit together in the back of his van. Moreover, when customers express gratitude for our work, I understand that, in a small way, we bring order to their lives. The physical and mental discomforts of plumbing are worth it.

Pottsville, Pa.

‘the first thing my pap said was “give her a hug, you can’t hurt her now.” ’, —victoria oswald.

My kitchen is largely occupied by my old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table.

It’s seen better days. Every time I sit down, I’m surrounded by splatters of old paint, hot glue and the occasional dab of nail polish (that’s thanks to my older sisters). Whenever I sit at either of our two chairs, I have to be extra careful they don’t fall apart because the legs are held together by a tedious mixture of wood glue, brute force and pure spite.

The kitchen table itself has been the hub of my family for the entire first half of my life. When I was younger, we (my Gram, Pap and two older sisters) would eat a home-cooked meal, courtesy of my Gram, at that old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table at exactly 7 p.m. every single night.

At these family dinners, I would argue with my Pap for fun, watch him get yelled at by my Gram for interrupting me eating my dinner and listen to my sisters either fight or joke; it was always a gamble. Originally, my kitchen table had five sturdy wooden seats. A couple years later when my oldest sister was 16 years old and I was 8, the chair count lowered to four, as my oldest sister moved out. She fought too much with my Gram and wouldn’t follow the rules, so she left.

Three years later my grandmother was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. That triggered a few more changes to our dinner table routine. First, my other older sister started to skip dinners. Not because of the inevitable food quality decline (cancer messes with your taste buds and overall cooking abilities), but because she was never home. I don’t think that she wanted to be around post-cancer-diagnosis Gram.

The chair count dropped to three. The dinners themselves after a year or so were much less frequent, not so much because of my Gram, but because my Pap was determined to make Gram rest. She ignored my Pap’s concerns, so it sort of ended up in a middle gray area that I had to live in.

A year and a half after my grandmother got cancer, she died. It may sound quick in words, but it was pretty dragged out. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandmother, but people with cancer are usually dead long before they die.

I was there when she died, right smack dab in the middle of our living room. I was on one side of the bed, and my Pap was on the other. Her labored breaths slowed and then stopped. It sounds depressing, but it was sort of a happy moment. The first thing my Pap said was “Give her a hug, you can’t hurt her now.” And, despite the phlegmy cancer smell, I did. We only needed two chairs.

After that, Pap and I, with the remnants of our nontraditional American family, built an extra nontraditional family. It took a while before we stabilized ourselves, because, to be honest, we were low-income before grandma got cancer, but post-cancer was much worse.

Pap and I cut down on everything. We got rid of our cable, phone and internet. We used less oil, we used less water, we wasted less food, and at times we didn’t have a car because our minivan took up a bunch of gas and liked to break down frequently. But, despite a dreadfully boring WiFi-less and phoneless year, we made it through.

I still live in the same house, except now it has Wi-Fi. Our kitchen table is still standing, though we took the center piece of wood out so now it’s the perfect size for just the two of us. We don’t have nightly dinners anymore, but sometimes Pap and I sit on the couch and hang out.

Sure, maybe our coffee table chats aren’t the same as our nightly family dinners, and maybe our television doesn’t turn on anymore. Maybe our kitchen has ants, and maybe we have to listen to the Super Bowl on our outdated radio from the ’90s, and maybe, possibly, he is getting sicker now, too.

I don’t care that my new life revolves around a holey old couch, a grumpy old man, a couple of fat cats and a bearded dragon. I’m content with my Pap, and I’m content with the fact that every night at 7 p.m., two empty chairs surround my old, dirty, warm-brown dinner table in the darkness of my kitchen. These days, the lights are on in the living room.

‘The trash itself was a lens through which I saw what was going on in Chatham.’

—andy patriquin.

It was the peak of the day’s heat on July 5, 2017, in the small vacation town of Chatham, Mass. My partner Benjamin and I emerged from the vast backyards of neighboring shoreline homes with big green barrels of garbage held over our backs and dumped them into the back of a garbage truck. As I hopped on the back step to ride to our next stop, I thought about how despite being sweaty, sore, covered in bug bites and garbage juice, I couldn’t have been happier to have this job.

Like many kids, I liked trash trucks as a toddler. Unlike most kids, I stuck with it forever. At the age of 8, I joined a community on YouTube of like-minded enthusiasts who posted videos of garbage trucks, under the name “ trashmonster26 .”

I spent a large portion of the next nine years filming all the different models of trash trucks that I could find, not only in my hometown, San Diego, but in Sacramento and Boston, where during family vacations I would take the opportunity to chase different kinds of trucks that couldn’t be found in San Diego.

I have such a vast knowledge of these vehicles that I can name the make, model and year of almost any garbage truck in the country after just a glance. The channel has amassed over 6,000 subscribers and four million views over the years. Most of my older friends who shared this interest went on to become garbage collectors when they reached adulthood, a path that my parents strongly discouraged.

I always knew growing up that I was going to go to college after high school, but I still wanted the experience of working on a truck. Although there are virtually no hauling companies that hire anyone under 18, I knew of a small family company near my grandparents on the East Coast that might break that norm to fill their need for seasonal help, Benjamin T. Nickerson Inc. I called their office, and after some persistent follow-up emails, I was hired to work for the summer.

To my classmates, moving to a small fishing town and handling other people’s waste all day sounds like the very least enjoyable summer possible. For me, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

My day started at the crack of dawn, long before the vacationers in the area would even consider waking up. I was free from the confines of the classroom walls, free from the nagging of my parents. It was just me and the open road.

The trash itself was a lens through which I saw what was going on in Chatham. I saw American flags and spent fireworks on the 5th of July. The worst stops of the day were the dumpsters at fish piers, which had a stronger stench than the Chatham Transfer Station, an industrial building where we dumped the day’s load before it was transported to a landfill miles away. At one boat fabrication shop, a dangerous combination of sawdust and reactive chemicals caused a small fire in the truck.

There are very few similarities that one could find between my classmates at High Tech High and my customers in Chatham. The kids in my class were from diverse backgrounds and cultural groups all over San Diego. The summer vacation crowd in Chatham was almost exclusively white and wealthy.

The one thing that unified them, at least in my mind, was that they were not willing to take on my job. When my classmates thought about applying for jobs, they were thinking about air-conditioned movie theaters and retail stores, not backbreaking manual labor.

I’ve considered going into a field relevant to the management of waste, like civil engineering, but I think I may also pursue another passion of mine, like criminal law or political science. I know that no matter what path I choose, this experience will be part of how I end up there.

Eden Prairie, Minn.

‘when we had nowhere to live, we would spend hours at the library, using what i thought to be the key to the world: library computers.’, —astrid liden.

As Arthur Read, my favorite aardvark, would say, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” Well, it was hard. I didn’t have my library card. Again.

The librarian probably had me on “recent history” since this happened so often, so she just looked me up on the computer. I, the little glasses-wearing 9-year-old patron, simply wanted to check out a book, but now I had ​two ​problems: I did not have my library card and my fines were too high to check out.

Pulling out the dollar bill I had found in my duct tape wallet, I paid the 20 percent of my fine that let me check out a book and left, gritting my teeth. If I could have checked out a book called “Handling Money for Kids​,” I would have, because most of my “wealth” went right back to the library.

Thanks to my mom, I practically had a library card from birth. I would go to my library not just to read books but to be immersed in them. I would find my stool, sit in the children’s area and read. I would get dropped off at the library while my mom worked, and I would follow my usual routine: sit, read, return, repeat, and if I was lucky, check out.

The purpose of my visit was usually the same: read books or play on the computer. But as I grew up, I realized that things had begun to change. My mom began coming to the library with us more often. While I would be reading or finishing homework, she would be right there, typing beside me. Our worlds coexisted, but for a reason.

For three years, my mother was unemployed. As a single mother, the struggle of not having a job, home or car was immense. I stopped my usual routine and was fine with it. With two tabs open, I continued on with my work.

I would log on daily to Zillow, job search websites and websites about stroke rehabilitation for my grandfather, asking if any of my findings would work. “Gracias, mija,” my mom always said, but I realized the stress ensued. We were in different worlds, but they collided.

When we had nowhere to live, we would spend hours at the library, using what I thought to be the key to the world: library computers. Whether it was at our childhood library or the library 40 miles away by the farm where we were staying, the library was this stability.

Sitting behind the service desk today, I see and hear it all: the little girl begging to check out Junie B. Jones, the boys playing ​Roblox on the computer, the woman filing her taxes, the call from “Sports Guy” asking for the latest results, the woman asking about the weather.

I hear Spanish, English, Somali. I get the usual rule-breakers: kids running, out of breath, to the desk asking, “Can I have a Guest Pass?”

At first, the slowly printed receipt is just a number, but I soon realize it is much more. I was once saying, “My mom forgot her card” or “When does the library close?” or “Can I use the phone?” Back then, I was the patron on the computer, the kid in the reading area. Now, I am the specialist at the desk looking up the forgotten library cards. Sitting at the desk does not make me forget my past, it helps me embrace it.

The library gives people access to a resource that opens doors in one way for one person, and in others for the next. Even after my mom got a job, the library remained a source of security and comfort. By working at a place that gave me so much, I have learned to give back. I now have the opportunity to open the library to others, just as it was opened up to me.

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist and the author of the forthcoming  “What to Pay For College.” He is an unpaid adviser to the Money section of Wirecutter  and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and Fortune. More about Ron Lieber

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73 Best Colleges Without Supplemental Essays – 2024

May 27, 2024

When college application season arrives, it’s easy for students to become overwhelmed about the essays. There’s the personal statement , which many students have a general idea about, and then there are the supplemental essays. Supplemental essays can cover a range of college-specific prompts that help the colleges better understand why you’d be a great fit . Due to how personal and varied the supplemental essays can be, students often end up spending weeks, if not months, writing them.

However, across the country, there are colleges that do not require supplemental essays at all. For some students, applying to colleges without supplemental essays can make the overall application process much smoother. Benefits include experiencing less stress in their application preparation and diversifying prospective colleges while focusing more on their priority schools. Sometimes, though, these schools do ask for program-specific essays or optional essays, depending on the applicant.

Best Colleges without Supplemental Essays

1) albion college.

At Albion College, the application essay is not required, but it is recommended. Students are encouraged to provide any more details that they believe the admissions team should consider.

2) Allegheny College

As noted on their website, Allegheny College has not required the supplemental essay since their 2013-2014 application cycle. Students will find more essay questions in the Member Questions section of the Common Application.

3) Augusta University

Augusta University joins the list of colleges without supplemental essays as they do not require a personal essay at all. They do still require SAT or ACT scores and GPA.

4) Bates College

Since 1984, Bates College has not required SAT Subject Tests or ACT scores in their applications. There is an optional arts supplement for students who are applying to study art, creative writing, dance, film, music, and theater.

5) Case Western Reserve University

At Case Western Reserve University, the Common Application personal essay is required. However, if you’re applying to the Pre-Professional Scholars Program, then you’ll have to write supplemental essays.

Best Colleges Without Supplemental Essays (Continued)

6) clemson university.

Clemson University does not require students to complete a personal essay with the Common or Coalition Application. There is also a test-optional policy that may appeal to some students.

7) Coe College

At Coe College, the personal essay is optional for students who meet the college’s minimum academic standards. Coe College joins the list of colleges without supplemental essays that also have a test-optional policy.

8) Colby College

Colby College accepts the Common Application, Coalition Application, and QuestBridge Application, and they do not have any additional writing supplements. Test scores are optional for applicants at Colby College, and there is no application fee.

9) Colgate University

Colgate University is one of the colleges without supplemental essays required, but there is the option to write them. As stated on their website, “These prompts are not meant to feel like essays; they are simply an added perspective.

10) College of the Holy Cross

College of the Holy Cross does not require supplemental essays, but the following are optional: personal interview, SAT or ACT scores, and supplementary materials.

11) Denison University

Denison University joins this list of colleges without supplemental essays. Their website states that they wish to provide “equal access” to a Denison education, and they are also test-optional.

12) DePaul University

For first-year student applicants at DePaul University, personal essays are not required but optional. They have also been a test-optional university since 2012.

13) Dillard University

Dillard University is the oldest HBCU in Louisiana and is one of the colleges with no supplemental essay requirements. However, if students do not meet the minimum GPA and standardized test score requirements, then they must submit two letters of recommendation and a personal statement.

14) Drew University

At Drew University, a personal statement is required, along with a counselor evaluation, teacher evaluation, and high school transcript.

15) Drexel University

Drexel University joins the list of colleges without supplemental essays. They do require all students to complete the 250 to 650 essay on the Common or Coalition Application. However, the short answer question is optional.

16) Fairleigh Dickinson University

At Fairleigh Dickinson University, all essays, résumés, and recommendations are optional.

17) Florida Gulf Coast University

The only essay required by Florida Gulf Coast University is a two-page personal essay that discusses academic performance, special talents, and what the student can contribute to the campus.

18) Florida State University

Although Florida State University is one of the colleges without supplemental essays, students should invest time into the Common Application personal statement.

19) Fordham University

At Fordham University, the Common Application essay is required, but there are also optional writing sections. If students choose not to write in these sections, they will not be penalized.

20) Franklin and Marshall College

Franklin and Marshall College joins this list of colleges without supplemental essays. They do require the personal essay in the Common Application, as well as standardized test scores, recommendations and other materials.

21) Furman University

At Furman University, first-year applicants do not need to submit a personal essay, and they are also test-optional.

22) Gannon University

Gannon University does not require students to submit a personal statement. It is optional but recommended for students to submit a statement. However, it is required for LECOM 4+4 Medical Program applicants.

23) Gettysburg College

Although Gettysburg College joins the list of colleges without supplemental essays, it does require a personal statement on the Common Application.

24) Grinnell College

Grinnell College does not require supplemental essays and it also does not have an application fee. Standardized test scores are also optional.

25) Hamilton College

Although Hamilton College joins this list of colleges without supplemental essays, the optional essays are still encouraged.

26) Hampshire College

Hampshire College only requires supplemental essays from international students applying as first-year or transfer students.

27) Hanover College

Hanover College states on their website that the essay or personal statement is optional, alongside test scores, letters of recommendation and résumé.

28) Hollins University

At Hollins University, for first-year students no personal statement is required and standardized test scores are optional.

29) Howard University

Howard University requires students to complete the Common Application essay and there is one optional supplemental essay.

30) Indiana University – Bloomington

Students applying to Indiana University – Bloomington must write the one essay in the Common Application or through Apply IU.

31) Kent State University

At Kent State University, first-year students are not required to submit a personal essay or a letter of recommendation. Test scores are also optional.

32) Kenyon College

Kenyon College joins this list as it is one of the colleges without supplemental essays. For first-year and transfer students, test scores are optional and flexible.

33) Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University does require the Common Application personal statement, but as of its most recent admissions cycle, no supplemental essay is required.

34) Mercer University

At Mercer University, applicants who wish to be test-optional must complete the supplemental essays. They must also have a 3.5 GPA and letter of recommendation.

35) Miami University

Miami University, not to be confused with the University of Miami, requires the Common App personal statement but not the supplemental essays.

36) Michigan State University

Michigan State University requires students to write only one essay on the MSU application, Common Application or Coalition Application.

37) Middlebury College

Middlebury College is one of the best colleges without supplemental essays. They do still require the personal statement on the Common Application.

38) Muhlenberg College

Muhlenberg College requires students to submit the personal essay but no other supplemental essays.

39) New College of Florida

New College of Florida is one of the many colleges with no supplemental essays. However, they do still require a personal statement.

40) New Jersey Institute of Technology

New Jersey Institute of Technology only requires a personal statement included in the Common Application. There is no supplemental essay requirement.

41) New York Institute of Technology

Students applying to the New York Institute of Technology are required to write a 300 to 350 word essay as their only essay. They may require test-optional applicants to submit a graded essay.

42) Northeastern University

Northeastern is one of the best colleges without a supplemental essay requirement. They do require a personal statement, alongside other materials.

43) Nova Southeastern University

At Nova Southeastern University, the essay is entirely optional, and students can self-report their test scores.

44) Oberlin College

Oberlin requires a personal statement, but does not require any supplemental essays.

45) Ohio State University

Ohio State University only requires a personal statement. However, they also offer a COVID-19 impact statement on the Common Application for interested students.

46) Ripon College

At Ripon College, the personal statement itself is optional for applicants, along with other materials.

47) Rhodes College

Rhodes College does not require a supplemental essay, but they have the option for students to record an optional “ Elevator Pitch .”

48) Rowan University

Rowan University requires a personal statement in the Common Application, but joins this list as a college without supplemental essays.

49) St. Lawrence University

St. Lawrence University has no supplemental essay requirement, but it still requires the personal statement essay. They are also test-optional, depending on the applicant.

50) St. Mary’s University (San Antonio)

For students applying to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, the personal statement is only required if they choose not to submit test scores.

51) Seton Hall University

At Seton Hall University, the personal statement is required, but there are no other supplemental essays.

52) Siena College

Siena College has made the personal statement (open topic) optional for students applying.

53) Skidmore College

While Skidmore College does not require supplemental essays, students do often send in supplemental materials to further support their application.

54) Stony Brook University

At Stony Brook University, only a personal statement is required. However, students applying to the Honors, WISE, University Scholars, Scholars for Medicine, and Scholars for Dental Medicine must write supplemental essays.

55) Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee does not require supplemental essays and SAT/ACT scores are also optional.

56) Susquehanna University

Susquehanna University only requires supplemental essay materials for students applying to the creative writing, graphic design, studio art, and music programs.

57) Temple University

Temple University offers an optional essay as part of the Common Application for students to tell more about themselves beyond grades or test scores.

58) Union College

Union College does offer an optional supplemental essay question as part of their application.

59) University of Alabama

At the University of Alabama, essay submissions and letters of recommendation are not required but they are optional.

60) University of Albany

University of Albany joins the list as one of the colleges without supplemental essays. However, it does require a personal essay of at least 250 words on the Common Application of SUNY Application.

61) University of Arkansas

At the University of Arkansas, first-year students are not required to submit a personal essay. They accept self-reported test scores and letters of recommendation are also not required.

62) University of Arizona

Although the University of Arizona does not require an application essay, they strongly encourage students to submit the 500-word personal statement.

63) University of Cincinnati

Students applying to the University of Cincinnati are required to write the Cincinnati personal statement and the Common Application personal statement. However, there are no other required essays.

64) University of Colorado-Denver

University of Colorado-Denver requires the personal statement on the Common Application, but not other supplemental essays.

65) University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut joins this list as one of the best colleges without supplemental essays. The university does require a personal essay on the Common Application or the Coalition Application.

66) University of Dayton

The University of Dayton does not require any supplemental essays, although it does require a personal statement. The university is also test-optional.

67) University of Denver

The University of Denver only requires the personal statement on the Common Application.

68) University of Houston

Students who apply to the University of Houston without a test score must submit a short admissions essay and extracurricular activities.

69) University of Iowa

The University of Iowa does require a personal statement as part of their application, but there is no supplemental essay requirement.

70) University of Kansas

The University of Kansas is a college without supplemental essay requirements for first-year students. However, students applying to the Honors Program or the Engineering SELF Program must submit their responses.

71) University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky requires students to write one personal statement from seven of their given writing prompts.

72) University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

For first-year students applying to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, the personal essay is not required, although it is encouraged.

73) University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln does not require a personal statement for first-year students. However, those applying to the Honors Program must write a 300-600 word essay.

Whether for the personal statement or any supplemental essay, writing college application essays can prove to be a challenging task. But if students plan ahead about how they want to approach the essays, it helps tremendously. Those who are about to apply to a college without supplemental essays can focus any extra time on other schools that do require them. It’s also great for students who wish to be considered primarily for their grades, test scores, personal statement and other reasons.

Best Colleges Without Supplemental Essays – Additional Resources 

  • 10 Instructive Common App Essay Examples 
  • How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay
  • UC Essay Examples
  • Good Safety Schools
  • College Search/Knowledge

Joanna Hong

With a BA from Pitzer College and an MA from University College London, Joanna has worked in London, Berlin, and Los Angeles covering many cultural and political issues with organizations such as Byline Media, NK News, and Free Turkey Media. A freelancer for The New York Times, her work has also appeared in Newsweek, Dazed and Confused Magazine, and The Guardian, among others. In addition, Joanna was the recipient of the 2021 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship in Fiction and is currently completing her first novel.

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Buying College Essays Is Now Easier Than Ever. But Buyer Beware

Tovia Smith

old college essays

Concern is growing about a burgeoning online market for essays that students can buy and turn in as their own work. And schools are trying new tools to catch it. Angela Hsieh/NPR hide caption

Concern is growing about a burgeoning online market for essays that students can buy and turn in as their own work. And schools are trying new tools to catch it.

As the recent college admissions scandal is shedding light on how parents are cheating and bribing their children's way into college, schools are also focusing on how some students may be cheating their way through college. Concern is growing about a burgeoning online market that makes it easier than ever for students to buy essays written by others to turn in as their own work. And schools are trying new tools to catch it.

It's not hard to understand the temptation for students. The pressure is enormous, the stakes are high and, for some, writing at a college level is a huge leap.

"We didn't really have a format to follow, so I was kind of lost on what to do," says one college freshman, who struggled recently with an English assignment. One night, when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed, she tweeted her frustration.

"It was like, 'Someone, please help me write my essay!' " she recalls. She ended her tweet with a crying emoji. Within a few minutes, she had a half-dozen offers of help.

"I can write it for you," they tweeted back. "Send us the prompt!"

The student, who asked that her name not be used for fear of repercussions at school, chose one that asked for $10 per page, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

"For me, it was just that the work was piling up," she explains. "As soon as I finish some big assignment, I get assigned more things, more homework for math, more homework for English. Some papers have to be six or 10 pages long. ... And even though I do my best to manage, the deadlines come closer and closer, and it's just ... the pressure."

In the cat-and-mouse game of academic cheating, students these days know that if they plagiarize, they're likely to get caught by computer programs that automatically compare essays against a massive database of other writings. So now, buying an original essay can seem like a good workaround.

"Technically, I don't think it's cheating," the student says. "Because you're paying someone to write an essay, which they don't plagiarize, and they write everything on their own."

Her logic, of course, ignores the question of whether she's plagiarizing. When pressed, she begins to stammer.

"That's just a difficult question to answer," she says. "I don't know how to feel about that. It's kind of like a gray area. It's maybe on the edge, kind of?"

Besides she adds, she probably won't use all of it.

Other students justify essay buying as the only way to keep up. They figure that everyone is doing it one way or another — whether they're purchasing help online or getting it from family or friends.

"Oh yeah, collaboration at its finest," cracks Boston University freshman Grace Saathoff. While she says she would never do it herself, she's not really fazed by others doing it. She agrees with her friends that it has pretty much become socially acceptable.

"I have a friend who writes essays and sells them," says Danielle Delafuente, another Boston University freshman. "And my other friend buys them. He's just like, 'I can't handle it. I have five papers at once. I need her to do two of them, and I'll do the other three.' It's a time management thing."

The war on contract cheating

"It breaks my heart that this is where we're at," sighs Ashley Finley, senior adviser to the president for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She says campuses are abuzz about how to curb the rise in what they call contract cheating. Obviously, students buying essays is not new, but Finley says that what used to be mostly limited to small-scale side hustles has mushroomed on the internet to become a global industry of so-called essay mills. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but research suggests that up to 16 percent of students have paid someone to do their work and that the number is rising.

"Definitely, this is really getting more and more serious," Finley says. "It's part of the brave new world for sure."

The essay mills market aggressively online, with slickly produced videos inviting students to "Get instant help with your assignment" and imploring them: "Don't lag behind," "Join the majority" and "Don't worry, be happy."

"They're very crafty," says Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California in San Diego and a board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity.

The companies are equally brazen offline — leafleting on campuses, posting flyers in toilet stalls and flying banners over Florida beaches during spring break. Companies have also been known to bait students with emails that look like they're from official college help centers. And they pay social media influencers to sing the praises of their services, and they post testimonials from people they say are happy customers.

"I hired a service to write my paper and I got a 90 on it!" gloats one. "Save your time, and have extra time to party!" advises another.

"It's very much a seduction," says Bertram Gallant. "So you can maybe see why students could get drawn into the contract cheating world."

YouTube has been cracking down on essay mills; it says it has pulled thousands of videos that violate its policies against promoting dishonest behavior.

But new videos constantly pop up, and their hard sell flies in the face of their small-print warnings that their essays should be used only as a guide, not a final product.

Several essay mills declined or didn't respond to requests to be interviewed by NPR. But one answered questions by email and offered up one of its writers to explain her role in the company, called EduBirdie.

"Yes, just like the little birdie that's there to help you in your education," explains April Short, a former grade school teacher from Australia who's now based in Philadelphia. She has been writing for a year and a half for the company, which bills itself as a "professional essay writing service for students who can't even."

Some students just want some "foundational research" to get started or a little "polish" to finish up, Short says. But the idea that many others may be taking a paper written completely by her and turning it in as their own doesn't keep her up at night.

"These kids are so time poor," she says, and they're "missing out on opportunities of travel and internships because they're studying and writing papers." Relieving students of some of that burden, she figures, allows them to become more "well-rounded."

"I don't necessarily think that being able to create an essay is going to be a defining factor in a very long career, so it's not something that bothers me," says Short. Indeed, she thinks students who hire writers are demonstrating resourcefulness and creativity. "I actually applaud students that look for options to get the job done and get it done well," she says.

"This just shows you the extent of our ability to rationalize all kinds of bad things we do," sighs Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. The rise in contract cheating is especially worrisome, he says, because when it comes to dishonest behavior, more begets more. As he puts it, it's not just about "a few bad apples."

Felicity Huffman And 12 Other Parents To Plead Guilty In College Cheating Scandal

Felicity Huffman And 12 Other Parents To Plead Guilty In College Cheating Scandal

"Instead, what we have is a lot ... of blemished apples, and we take our cues for our behavior from the social world around us," he says. "We know officially what is right and what's wrong. But really what's driving our behavior is what we see others around us doing" or, Ariely adds, what we perceive them to be doing. So even the proliferation of advertising for essays mills can have a pernicious effect, he says, by fueling the perception that "everyone's doing it."

A few nations have recently proposed or passed laws outlawing essay mills, and more than a dozen U.S. states have laws on the books against them. But prosecuting essay mills, which are often based overseas in Pakistan, Kenya and Ukraine, for example, is complicated. And most educators are loath to criminalize students' behavior.

"Yes, they're serious mistakes. They're egregious mistakes," says Cath Ellis, an associate dean and integrity officer at the University of New South Wales, where students were among the hundreds alleged to have bought essays in a massive scandal in Australia in 2014.

"But we're educational institutions," she adds. "We've got to give students the opportunity to learn from these mistakes. That's our responsibility. And that's better in our hands than in the hands of the police and the courts."

Staying one step ahead

In the war on contract cheating, some schools see new technology as their best weapon and their best shot to stay one step ahead of unscrupulous students. The company that makes the Turnitin plagiarism detection software has just upped its game with a new program called Authorship Investigate.

The software first inspects a document's metadata, like when it was created, by whom it was created and how many times it was reopened and re-edited. Turnitin's vice president for product management, Bill Loller, says sometimes it's as simple as looking at the document's name. Essay mills typically name their documents something like "Order Number 123," and students have been known to actually submit it that way. "You would be amazed at how frequently that happens," says Loller.

Using cutting-edge linguistic forensics, the software also evaluates the level of writing and its style.

"Think of it as a writing fingerprint," Loller says. The software looks at hundreds of telltale characteristics of an essay, like whether the author double spaces after a period or writes with Oxford commas or semicolons. It all gets instantly compared against a student's other work, and, Loller says, suspicions can be confirmed — or alleviated — in minutes.

"At the end of the day, you get to a really good determination on whether the student wrote what they submitted or not," he says, "and you get it really quickly."

Coventry University in the U.K. has been testing out a beta version of the software, and Irene Glendinning, the school's academic manager for student experience, agrees that the software has the potential to give schools a leg up on cheating students. After the software is officially adopted, "we'll see a spike in the number of cases we find, and we'll have a very hard few years," she says. "But then the message will get through to students that we've got the tools now to find these things out." Then, Glendinning hopes, students might consider contract cheating to be as risky as plagiarizing.

In the meantime, schools are trying to spread the word that buying essays is risky in other ways as well.

Professor Ariely says that when he posed as a student and ordered papers from several companies, much of it was "gibberish" and about a third of it was actually plagiarized.

Even worse, when he complained to the company and demanded his money back, they resorted to blackmail. Still believing him to be a student, the company threatened to tell his school he was cheating. Others say companies have also attempted to shake down students for more money, threatening to rat them out if they didn't pay up.

The lesson, Ariely says, is "buyer beware."

But ultimately, experts say, many desperate students may not be deterred by the risks — whether from shady businesses or from new technology.

Bertram Gallant, of UC San Diego, says the right way to dissuade students from buying essays is to remind them why it's wrong.

"If we engage in a technological arms race with the students, we won't win," she says. "What are we going to do when Google glasses start to look like regular glasses and a student wears them into an exam? Are we going to tell them they can't wear their glasses because we're afraid they might be sending the exam out to someone else who is sending them back the answers?"

The solution, Bertram Gallant says, has to be about "creating a culture where integrity and ethics matter" and where education is valued more than grades. Only then will students believe that cheating on essays is only cheating themselves.

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Old Essay Written by a Teenage Travis Scott Surfaces, He Talks Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Ye and More

Travis Scott was a huge hip-hop buff even in his teenage years. In an old college essay that surfaced online, the famed rapper-producer wrote about Kid Cudi , Big Sean , Ye and more.

Travis Scott Writes About G.O.O.D Music, Big Sean and More

On Sunday (May 26), Travis Scott's 2009 college essay about G.O.O.D Music record label members Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Ye and more was leaked on social media. The Houston rhymer, who attended The University of Texas at San Antonio and dropped out during his sophomore year, penned a four-page paper in December of 2009, to what seems to be his English teacher.

In the essay, which can be seen below, Travis Scott explained that although Big Sean and Kid Cudi had different approaches to their music, they shared a love for hip-hop.

"Good Music is known all around the world," Travis Scott wrote in the essay's first sentence. "Rappers such as Big Sean and Kid Cudi are well-known rappers that had similar lifestyles but different messages. What they had in common carried them an opportunity to get sign to an multi-million dollar company called G.O.O.D MUSIC."

According to Travis' following excerpt, Big Sean and Kid Cudi's passion for rhymes led them to bet on themselves and blindly approach Kanye West for an opportunity to get recognized and signed.

"Both of these rappers had enough courage to step up to the famous Kanye West and rap there heart which led them to instant success," Travis continued. "Even though these two moguls are sign to the same label and are part of the same music family there styles and there background are different but they were brought together by a beautiful sound we call music."

La Flame even gave a background story about Cudi and Sean Don's upbringing and explained how they both caught Ye's eye. The overarching theme in Travis' paper is for people to create their own opportunities instead of waiting for one.

"Success is not something that is given out," the 33-year-old artist wrote in his last paragraph. "You must go out and take what you want."

The G.O.O.D Music record label was founded by Ye in 2004.

Read More:  Travis Scott's Utopia Immediately Draws Comparisons to Kanye West's Yeezus Album

Ye performs during travis scott's circus maximus tour.

Ye and Travis Scott seem to still have a close-knit relationship after all these years. In February of 2024, Ye joined the artist on stage during Travis Scott's Circus Maximus Tour stop in Orlando, Fla. In the video, which can be seen below, the Yeezy founder performed "Runaway," "All of the Lights" and "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1." Sometime later, Ye was joined by Ty Dolla $ign and Bump J to perform their "Vultures" single.

In August of 2023, Travis Scott brought out Ye during his tour stop at Circus Maximus in Rome, Italy, as well. Before bringing Ye out, he praised him for sticking by him through thick and thin. The visual can be seen below.

Read More:  Travis Scott Brings Out Kanye West at Circus Maximus Concert - Watch

Take a look at Travis Scott's college essay below.

See Travis Scott's Old Essay Where He Talks Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Ye and More

Watch ye perform "runaway,"  "vultures" and more at travis scott's concert, watch travis scott bring out kanye west to perform during his circus maximus tour, see 50 of the greatest hip-hop album covers, more from xxl.

Ye’s Attorney Clowns Alleged Sexual Harassment Victim’s Appearance, Accuses Her of Blackmail

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    Check out Episode 2: The Essay, in which a student gets feedback in real time on their essay from a former Princeton director of admissions and a panel of experts talk about essay dos and don'ts. The episode is 26 minutes long. The College Essay Trap: Rescue Your College Application Essay From the "Maybe" Pile.

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    College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent. I'm a klutz —that's it, that's my greatest talent. I've honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life. When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over.

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    Looking for college essay help? This guide explains who and how to ask so you can get the best advice on your personal statement. Call Direct: 1 (866) 811-5546 ... Colleges can tell the difference between a 17-year-old's writing and a 50-year-old's writing. Not only that, they have access to your SAT or ACT Writing section, so they can compare ...

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

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    Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement. Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying "no" to other interests. Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness. Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself.

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    Prompt 2: Overcoming challenges. Prompt 3: Questioning a belief or idea. Prompt 4: Appreciating an influential person. Prompt 5: Transformative event. Prompt 6: Interest or hobby that inspires learning. Prompt 7: Free topic. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about college application essays.

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    Common App Essay Examples. Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts. Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without ...

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    Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays. The truth is that a "good" college essay topic varies by individual, as it really depends on your life experiences. That being said, there are some topics that should work well for most people, and they are: 1. A unique extracurricular activity or passion.

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    Want free help with your college essay? UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar. Learn More about UPcheive.

  17. Fans Go Sicko Mode On Travis Scott After Old College Essay About ...

    Travis Scott is the internet's current target for jokes after one of his alleged old college essays surfaced online. The 33-year-old rapper wrote about Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music label and its ...

  18. 4 Very Convincing Reasons to Keep Your Old Essays

    Image via College Admissions Strategy. One of the best reasons to keep your old papers is to incorporate them into your portfolio. Some students, mainly Writing and English majors, already keep their great essays to be used in portfolios, as a good writing portfolio can be used to impress future employers or admissions representatives for your ...

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    If you do choose a common topic, ensure you have the following to craft a unique essay: Surprising or unexpected story arcs. Interesting insight or connections. An advanced writing style. Here are a few examples of how to craft strong essays from cliché topics. Common topic.

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    Applying to College Common and Coalition Application. FG13 October 4, 2009, 4:30pm 1. <p>Hey, I was wondering if there was any way to access the essays I had written to apply for college about two years ago. I cannot find them saved on my computer so wanted to know if there was a way to retrieve them (including supplement essays.)

  21. 53 Stellar College Essay Topics to Inspire You

    Once you've chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay. These could be things such as the following: Emotions you felt at the time. Names, places, and/or numbers. Dialogue, or what you or someone else said.

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  23. Trash, the Library and a Worn, Brown Table: The 2019 College Essays on

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  24. 73 Best Colleges Without Supplemental Essays

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  25. Buying College Essays Is Now Easier Than Ever. But Buyer Beware

    Concern is growing about a burgeoning online market that makes it easier than ever for students to buy essays written by others to turn in as their own work. And schools are trying new tools to ...

  26. Travis Scott's Old Essay Surfaces, Talks Kid Cudi, Ye, Big Sean

    In an old college essay that surfaced online, the famed rapper-producer wrote about Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Ye and more. Travis Scott Writes About G.O.O.D Music, Big Sean and More.