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For your convenience, we have divided our database of free essays into popular academic disciplines. Select the subject you are interested in, go to it and you will find a list of all the essays we have.

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We have also divided our database of free essays into popular topics that are asked in schools, colleges and universities. Select the topic you are interested in, go to it and you will find a list of all the essays we have.

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Crucible
  • The Great Gatsby
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Frankenstein
  • Social Issues
  • Importance of Education
  • Gun Control
  • Death Penalty
  • Environmental Issues
  • Climate Change
  • Global Warming
  • Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution
  • Plastic Pollution
  • Deforestation
  • World War 2
  • First Amendment
  • Declaration of Independence
  • World War 1

Latest Papers

Navigating the ethical terrain, name some ethical dilemmas presented by the patient’s situation., moral and practical considerations of punishment, literary naturalism in crane’s “maggie”, liberal internationalism: human rights and the birth of global justice, leading and motivating a team effectively, kapuskasing community in canada, indigenous health: indigenous people are disproportionately affected by diabetes, human growth and development through bio-psychosocial lens: adolescents, how did ireland transform itself into a financial and it hub throughout the years, gender matters in the insanity defense., enhanced segment reporting standards, exploring the societal constructions of fatherhood: a critical reflection on two articles, evaluation of the proposal for a new dialysis center, evaluation of technology-enabled interventions to increase cervical screening participation among underserved populations, popular essay topics.

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Free essay database for inspiration

Most popular essay topics.

In this section, you can find free samples of some of the most popular essay topics. The papers are written by English-speaking students from a variety of backgrounds.

Recent Essays Samples

Loitering laws: a focus on florida and their impacts.

Introduction Loitering is defined as the act of lingering in a public location for a lengthy period for no apparent reason. The loitering laws in…

Healthcare Manager’s Responsibilities in the Management of Human Resources

The position of health manager is one of utmost importance in human resources management. Ensure that employees and their families remain healthy and that their…

Burglary Under the New York State Penal Code

Introduction Tom Jones was angry after losing the election to Richard Davis. He went to his house while Davis and his family were away celebrating…

The Animal Skulls: Anthropological Discovery

Ancient cultures and living organisms that inhabited the planet before modern humans are particularly interesting to anthropologists. Any discoveries can answer old unsolved questions about…

Russian Cinema and Political Significance of Censorship

Introduction Governments have long recognized cinema’s ability to advance social and political agendas, shape public opinion, and shape national identities. The Russian government has a…

Representing Diversity in Beauty Campaigns: Obligation of Brands?

Abstract Organizations must accurately represent their customer base to serve and appeal to their target demographic. However, many beauty companies overlook the importance of featuring…

The Stock Market: Investment Instrument

Recently, the stock market has become one of the most interesting and main instruments for investing and raising capital by companies and investors. Most companies…

Operation Geronimo Against Terrorism

In May 2011, former US President Obama ordered an operation that eliminated the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The process, known as “Geronimo,”…

Nursing Care: The Ethical Issues

The situation that involves an ethical issue may be depicted as follows. An Arabic family has come for a medical checkup of their daughter. However,…

Psychoanalytic Theories and Their Differences

In psychoanalysis, there are many theories, on the basis of which therapists successfully build their practice. However, those that lose their level of relevance and…

The Lucy v. Zehmer Unintentional Contract

Contractual Element Zehmer argued that the signed document was not a legally binding contract because the contractual requirement of mutual assent was absent. A document…

Policy Change Regarding Multilingualism in US

Introduction Diversity and multiculturalism have become essential characteristics of modern American society. The United States has been referred to as the ‘melting pot’ of cultures,…

Teaching Home Depot Employees Business Etiquette in Nigeria

Introduction I would like to discuss the specifics of Nigerian business etiquette. Although some people may consider the topic of my speech quite simple and…

The History and Work of Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham was a well-known American director and performer. He began his dance career in the twentieth century as an associate of Martha Graham’s company…

Navigating Legal Boundaries: Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Job Interview Employers might be constrained by the law and are required to follow specific criteria while interviewing prospective workers, notwithstanding their desire to pick…

Recruitment and Branding: Apple, Netflix, Google, and Amazon

Recruitment is the method by which organizations pursue and acquire personnel for their various job positions. The duration of the process depends on the company…

Plato’s View of Art: Philosophies of Art and Beauty

Plato was known for being concerned about society and its morals. He knew that art had a great influence on the youths, which is why…

Addictions Within Society: Applying a Critical Lens

Introduction Individuals’ addictions can be discussed as a serious problem faced by the population in many countries in the world, including the United States. Addictions…

The Four Frames of Organizational Change

The first frame essential to organization change is human resource. The specific barrier to change is that people feel incompetent and needy (Bolman & Deal,…

King’s Rhetoric in His Letter from Birmingham Jail

Introduction Racism and discrimination are acute social issues that have impacted every individual throughout the history of the United States. However, while nowadays, society is…

Peculiarities of Telehealth in Healthcare

Introduction. Telehealth and Its Preculiarities This presentation will describe the features of a new healthcare approach called telehealth, which has dramatically advanced the development of…

Alzheimer’s Disease: The Case Study

The patient described in this paper is my family member, who has experienced Alzheimer’s for the last three years. It is a 69-year-old man suffering…

Dehumanization and Eugenics in Mexican Gothic

Introduction Historically, minor races such as Blacks have faced a lot of inhumane experiences in the US. At one time in North Carolina, a 20-year-old…

SCADA and DCS Control Systems’ History and Future

The history and evolution of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and DCS (Distributed Control Systems) can be traced back to the 20th century. DCS…

Concrete- and Formal-Operational Periods of Cognitive Development

Introduction Human intelligence is determined by both genetic and environmental factors, whose influence can vary in different life cycles. Operational and formal-operational periods are two…

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Free Essay Examples

The comparison of roman and mongol empires.

  • Subjects: History Medieval History
  • Words: 1783

The Catholic Church and the Black Death in the 14th Century

  • Words: 2655

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: Film Techniques and Vertigo Cinematography Analysis

  • Subjects: Art Film Studies
  • Words: 1463

Essay on Sustainable Agriculture

  • Subjects: Agriculture Sciences
  • Words: 1464

Iphone Demand and Supply Theories

  • Subjects: Business Case Study
  • Words: 1268

Air Rights in New York City: Definition and History

  • Subjects: Law Law Practice Management
  • Words: 1429

The United States from the Late 1790s to the Early 1800s

  • Subjects: History United States

The Ephesians 6:10-20 Exegetical Analysis

  • Subjects: Religion Religious Writings
  • Words: 2857

Andrew Jackson’s Performance in the Battle of New Orleans

  • Subjects: American Ex-Presidents History
  • Words: 1966

“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Article by Carr: Rhetorical Analysis

  • Subjects: Rhetoric Sociology

Reasons Why People Went on Crusade

  • Subjects: Religion Religion History
  • Words: 1379

Toyota Motor Corporation: Impacts of Globalization

  • Subjects: Business Company Analysis
  • Words: 3136

The “Land of Pharaohs” Film by Howard Hawks

  • Subjects: Art Historical Drama
  • Words: 1103

Violations of Psychological Code of Conduct

  • Subjects: Challenges of Psychology Psychology

The Film “Battle of the Sexes” by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

  • Words: 1581

“The Great Commission to Worship” by David Wheeler and Vernon Whaley

  • Subjects: Literature on Religion Religion
  • Words: 1469

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

  • Subjects: Ancient History History

Bridgestone’s “Hands” TV Advertising

  • Subjects: Advertising Entertainment & Media

The International Mission Board Foundations Magazine

  • Subjects: Literature World Literature

Is the UN an Effective International Organization?

  • Subjects: International Organizations Politics & Government

Pluralism and the Uniqueness of Jesus

  • Subjects: Religion Religion, Culture & Society

Sportswear Merchandise in UK

  • Subjects: Business Industry
  • Words: 2502

The Significance of the Colosseum to Ancient Rome: Image Commentary

The “migrant mother” photo collection by dorothea lange.

  • Subjects: Art Photography
  • Words: 1128

“Rape of the Lock” the Poem by Alexander Pope

  • Subjects: British Literature Literature
  • Words: 1448

The European Union Infringement Procedure

  • Subjects: International Law Politics & Government
  • Words: 1472

Demand and Supply Analysis of Used Cars in Australia

  • Subjects: Economics Microeconomics

Islam and Christianity: A Comparative Analysis

  • Subjects: Religion World Religions

Sensitive Periods for Learning

  • Subjects: Aspects of Education Education

Verbalizations with the Young Child, Montessori

  • Subjects: Approach to Learning Education
  • Words: 1110

Needs Assessment: Nursing Education and Care Techniques

  • Subjects: Health & Medicine Nursing
  • Words: 2366

Buddhism and Christianity: Comparison and Contrast

Keeping the law with paul’s teachings, hinduism as the oldest religion in the world, diageo and the recession.

  • Subjects: Business Management
  • Words: 2673

Carbon Footprint and Sustainable Living

  • Subjects: Environment Human Impact
  • Words: 1002

Enterprise Corporation’s Salary Negotiations

  • Subjects: Business Business Communication

Londa Hotel Customer Relationship Management

  • Words: 2130

Modern War and Successful Warfare

  • Subjects: Modern Warfare Warfare
  • Words: 1369

Understanding and Witnessing Other Religions

The dismissal of miss ruth brown book by robbins.

  • Words: 2428

The Principle of Non-Intervention in Contemporary International Law

  • Words: 1484

Waitrose’s Price Strategy

  • Subjects: Business Marketing

Pakistan History and Current Affairs

  • Subjects: Countries Studies Sciences
  • Words: 3033

Islamic Marriage and Divorce

  • Subjects: Family, Life & Experiences Marriage
  • Words: 1839

Gender Roles in South Korean Laws and Society

  • Subjects: Gender Inequality Sociology
  • Words: 1139

Graffiti and History of Street Art

  • Subjects: Art History of Art
  • Words: 1940

Germany’s Aims in the First World War

  • Subjects: Warfare World War I
  • Words: 1657

Customer Relationship Management Software

  • Words: 3207

Medical Negligence and Its Basic Characteristics

  • Subjects: Health Law Law
  • Words: 2365

“Be Filled with the Spirit” Article by S. J. Land

  • Subjects: Religion Theology

Limitations in Intercultural Communication

  • Subjects: Culture Study of Cultural Differences

“Four Views on the Apostle Paul” by Michael Bird

Believer’s baptism: sign of the new covenant in christ by thomas schreiner and shawn wright.

  • Words: 1499

Soteriology: The Concept of Doctrine

Theology: love of god, the poona pact and the issue of dalit representation.

  • Subjects: History World History
  • Words: 2469

Tourism Information System

  • Subjects: Tourism World Tourism
  • Words: 4454

Apple Company and Its Impact on Society

Ancient greek culture, philosophy and science.

  • Subjects: Philosophy Philosophy of Science
  • Words: 2755

The Confessions of St. Augustine on Friendship

  • Subjects: Literature World Philosophy Literature
  • Words: 2497

Industrial Development of Dubai

  • Subjects: Economic Development Economics
  • Words: 1188

History of Rock Music: Aerosmith

  • Subjects: Art Music
  • Words: 1863

The Unknown American Revolution

  • Subjects: American Revolution Period History

Pro Forma Statement Preparation Case Study

  • Subjects: Accounting Business

Phone Systems Inc. Case Study

The significance of the iron curtain at world war ii and the cold war.

  • Words: 2301

Paradise Lost by John Milton

  • Subjects: Philosophical Works Philosophy
  • Words: 2119

Fertilizer Plant Explosion Assessment

  • Subjects: Accidents & Protection Tech & Engineering
  • Words: 1439

“In Pursuit of Excellence”

  • Subjects: Family, Life & Experiences Personal Experiences

The Treatment of Foot Ulcers in Diabetic Patients

  • Subjects: Diagnostics Health & Medicine

The Evolution of Women’s Rights Through American History

  • Subjects: History Women Studies
  • Words: 1142

Indian Business Law

  • Subjects: Business & Corporate Law Law
  • Words: 5634

The Blackwell v .Blackwell Case

  • Words: 2107

Aviation Industry: Past and Present

  • Subjects: Aviation Tech & Engineering

The National Gallery History

  • Subjects: Art Art Exhibitions
  • Words: 2221

Saudi Arabian and Israeli Women Empowerment

  • Subjects: Gender Studies Sociology
  • Words: 1852

The Love Concept in 1 John of Bible

  • Words: 1302

Tort Questions: Booby-Trapped Weapons and Intruders

  • Subjects: Criminal Law Law
  • Words: 1220

Mueller’s “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’”

  • Subjects: Political Ideologies Politics & Government
  • Words: 3388

Settler Colonialism and Canada’s Indigenous History

Understanding culture and tradition as an effective way of teaching indigenous history.

  • Subjects: Education Learning Specifics

Islam Akhun and His Relationship With Aurel Stein in the Silk Road

Personality assessment: myers-briggs type indicator.

  • Subjects: Psychology Psychology and Personality

The Experiment on Substitution Reactions of Alcohols

  • Subjects: Chemistry Sciences
  • Words: 2059

The Politics of Abortion in Modern Day Jamaica

  • Subjects: Sociological Issues Sociology
  • Words: 5141

Change Management Process: Downsizing and Outsourcing in an Oil Refinery

  • Words: 2577

Tourist Program: Sustainable Development of the Spiritual Model for Tirupati, the Religious Center of India

  • Subjects: Tourism Trips and Tours
  • Words: 3267

The Art of Communication as the Language of Leadership

  • Words: 2697

Responsibility of Christians With Regards to Geopolitics

Musical themes in “conan the barbarian” (1982).

  • Subjects: Entertainment & Media Movies
  • Words: 2455

“The Scarlet Letter” a Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Subjects: American Literature Literature
  • Words: 1941

‘Gladiator’ by Ridley Scott: Plot and Historical Facts

  • Words: 1907

Women Objectification in Films: “The Hunger Games” and “Wonder Woman”

  • Subjects: Art Films Comparison
  • Words: 1929

“The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir

  • Subjects: Gender in Literature Literature

Ivan Turgenev: Intergenerational Conflict in “Fathers and Sons”

  • Words: 1161

Application of Communication Theories at Ped’s Kafe

  • Subjects: Communications Sociology
  • Words: 1356

Theories of Occupational Health and Safety

  • Words: 1288

Global Governance in the Twenty-First Century

  • Subjects: International Relations Politics & Government
  • Words: 1146

Lester B. Pearson, the 14th Prime Minister of Canada

  • Subjects: Historical Figures History
  • Words: 1565

Gifford Pinchot: The First Chief of the US Forest Service

  • Words: 2725

King’s Life: Alexander the Great

  • Words: 1643

The Life and Music of Frederic Chopin

  • Words: 1069

A Closer Look at the Life of Princess Diana

  • Words: 3000

Ulysses S. Grant’s Life and Career

Albert einstein, his life and career.

  • Words: 1152

Otto von Bismarck: Life and Significance

  • Words: 2748

Desmond Tutu, South African Theologian

  • Subjects: Civil Rights Activists History
  • Words: 1371

Victoria, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain

  • Words: 1413

Michael Jackson: His Life and Career

  • Words: 2773

The Boston Symphony Hall Review

  • Subjects: Architecture Design

Scientific Traditions: Isaac Newton and Galileo

  • Subjects: Sciences Scientific Method

Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation

  • Words: 1121

Researching the Law of Contract

  • Words: 1012

Aboriginal Australia: Indigenous History Writing

  • Subjects: History Native Americans History
  • Words: 1320

Substitution Reactions of Alcohols

  • Words: 2743

Urbanization Negative Impacts

  • Subjects: Sociological Theories Sociology

“The Thatcher Revolution” by Earl A. Reitan

  • Subjects: History Western Europe
  • Words: 1900

Robert Brenner on the Development of Capitalism

  • Subjects: Politics & Government Social & Political Theory

The First Nations Women in Canada

  • Words: 1816

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

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

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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

Visible Signs of Planning

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

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

Stellar Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Links to Full College Essay Examples

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

Common App Essay Samples

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

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

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

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

Connecticut college.

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

Hamilton College

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

Johns Hopkins

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

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

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

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

Other Sample College Essays

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

Babson College

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

Emory University

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

University of Georgia

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

Smith College

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

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Books of College Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

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

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

I had never broken into a car before.

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

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

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

"Why me?" I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes This Essay Tick?

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

An Opening Line That Draws You In

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

Great, Detailed Opening Story

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

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

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

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

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

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

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

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

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

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

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

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

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

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

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

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

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

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

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

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

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

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Clear Governing Metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

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

#1: Get Help From the Experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

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

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

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

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What's Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent reviews, last added papers, studymoose is a free essay examples database platform for everyone.

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Final Thoughts

StudyMoose believes that learning should be accessible to everyone. That’s why we’ve created a database of completely free essays online that learners may use to improve their ‘penmanship’ skills. With it, they may find inspiration for writing. StudyMoose reviews show that the presented instruments make the process of studying easier.

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Get inspired by our free writing samples. Thousands of examples available on any subject and topic.

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