Throughout this guide, we’re going to refer to a few example essays. Some of these are made up but others are closely based on essays we have worked with students on over the past ten-plus years—and these students successfully met their admissions goals, including getting into multiple Ivy League and other top-tier schools. Let’s meet our students now!
As I was so young when I came to the US, I didn’t know how American society functioned, specifically elementary school. I was the only immigrant in a class of forty, barely spoke English, and had no friends because of these limitations. Every day of those first few years, I felt an almost physical divide between my peers and myself. I never experienced a sense of belonging, despite my efforts. Already a double minority as a woman and a Black person, I tried to relinquish my language and culture in favor of American language and values to better fit in the crowd. By doing this, however, I almost completely lost my cultural identity as both a Haitian and an immigrant, and also my language.
The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between 2013 and 2016, but it returned again with the 2017-18 admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them. Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content.
In an ideal world, you can start writing and planning for your college essays the summer before your senior year. But many students have prior commitments that make following a six-month (June-December) timeline difficult. So here are a few adjusted timelines that can allow you to take advantage of the brainstorming and freewriting process even if you don’t have the full six-month window.
Admission officers already know your grades. They can see which sports and clubs you’ve joined from your college application. They know what types of courses are offered at your high school, and whether your neighborhood is wealthy, poor, or somewhere in the middle. They can even figure out which types of books you’ve read, depending on your classes. Your transcript provides them with a wealth of information.
Write one personal essay for all the schools to which you apply via the Common App. This essay is important, as it provides you with an excellent opportunity to reflect and to communicate to colleges what they should know about you. As you will have only one major essay to write, we hope it will represent your best efforts. Write your Common Application essay in essay format, with a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650 words.
Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the listprovided.
It may be only 500 words — or sometimes only 100-250 words — but the admissions essay(s) portion of a college application can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. How you write your personal essay shows the admissions committee why you are different from other applicants. It provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular pursuits just cannot. 

CSHEMA offers a $3,000 scholarship (and a waiver to attend the CSHEMA annual conference) to encourage the study of environmental and occupational health, safety, and related disciplines. The program is open to all college undergraduate students preferably enrolled in majors geared toward an EHS career (such as, but not limited to, environmental science, fire protection, health physics, industrial [...] More
The Common Application, used for undergraduate admissions by many American colleges and universities, requires a general admissions essay, in addition to any supplemental admissions essays required by member institutions. The Common Application offers students six admissions essay prompts from which to choose.[3] All of the essays – and even the way you put things in order throughout the application – should be directed towards getting one "big idea", a personal thesis that will be remembered after the entire package is read.[4] According to Uni in the USA, the Common Application essay is intended as a chance to describe "things that are unique, interesting and informative about yourself".[5]
"Don't bury the lede!" The first few sentences must capture the reader's attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading. Think about any article you've read—how do you decide to read it? You read the first few sentences and then decide. The same goes for college essays. A strong lede (journalist parlance for "lead") will place your reader in the "accept" mindset from the beginning of the essay. A weak lede will have your reader thinking "reject"—a mindset from which it's nearly impossible to recover.
What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child’s idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author’s future aspirations. It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time.
Here, again, the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question. With the ability to write about an "intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma," you can essentially write about any issue that you find important. Note that you do not have to have solved the problem, and some of the best essays will explore problems that need to be solved in the future. Be careful with that opening word "describe"—you'll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it. This essay prompt, like all of the options, is asking you to be introspective and share with the admissions folks what it is that you value.
The William Vatavuk Scholarship will be awarded to a deserving high school senior who currently attends an accredited North Carolina high school and plans on attending a two- or four-year college or university. Students must be a high school senior who has a minimum 3.0 GPA. Three written essays of 400-600 words each are also required; essay prompts can be found on the scholarship application. [...] More
The Knudson Churchill Scholarship is designed to promote and support education in the fields of print journalism or automotive technology. Endowed by the New England MG T Register, the program will present the best applicant with a monetary award to an, accredited, post-secondary school of winner's choice in order to study in one of these two areas. Applicants who demonstrate an interest and [...] More
Award Amount: $1,000 The $1,000 Financial Freedom Scholarship is open to current full-time college students. You must submit an essay of between 1,000 and 2,000 words on what financial freedom means to you, why it is important and how you will achieve it in order to be considered for this award. Learn more about the $1,000 Financial Freedom Scholarship.
Student #4: Michael: Michael lives in a small coastal town and attends a big public high school. After school he has a job scooping ice cream, and though he’s not expected to contribute to his family’s income, he doesn’t have much time for clubs or sports, which aren’t very important at his school. He generally likes chemistry, but he isn’t sure what he wants to do with that. He doesn’t want to be pre-med, and he can’t imagine being a chemist, so he’s undecided about what to major in.
UGA’s 2017 Commencement speaker Ernie Johnson (Class of ’79) told a story from his youth about what he refers to as blackberry moments. He has described these as “the sweet moments that are right there to be had but we’re just too focused on what we’re doing … and we see things that are right there within our reach and we neglect them. Blackberry moments can be anything that makes somebody else’s day, that makes your day, that are just sweet moments that you always remember.” Tell us about one of your “blackberry moments” from the past five years.
Some admission officers pore over your application; others spend only minutes reading your documents. Whatever your reader’s process, you need to grab their attention. And a snore-mongering list of extracurriculars is not the way to hook your audience. As Southwestern University Associate Director of Admission Dana Marchant suggests, “Do not reiterate all the activities and involvement you have completed during your high school year. Focus on one experience and the skill it has taught you. It may be very big (e.g., being adopted) or small (e.g., a jarring conversation at an after-school club meeting), but focus on the life lessons you learned from that experience. Some of the best essays I have read have been about a simple experience, but students have been able to put me in that moment with them and then expounded on how it changed them.”
Answer: Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else. Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say—if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it. An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.

The Ruth Miller Distance Education Challenge Scholarship recognizes the important role that distance education has played in Ruth Miller's life, both personally and professionally. Applicants must be a degree-seeking student enrolled in the UW-Platteville Distance Learning Center's Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program; have transferred in a minimum of 30 credits to [...] More


The purpose of the high school seniors English essay contest is to promote effective writing by, about, and/or for queer youth. The theme of the competition is pink ink: "We write not only about different things; we also write differently" Brecht. The contest is open only to students aged 18 and under who have not yet graduated from high school. You must affirm that you are not a high school [...] More

This will also give you time to craft an outline, which can help your essay stay concise and on target. Think of two or three main points you want to make in response to the essay question, add some supporting information under each of them, and consider a sentence or two of introduction and conclusion. Before you know it, you'll have built the structure and thesis of your essay, and you won't have to rush to write it.


Another way of thinking about this is: your essay is about how your past influences your future, or the way you think now. Michael has settled on his grandfather teaching him to surf: That’s a fruitful topic—not just because it contains two characters (Michael and his grandfather), but also a place (the ocean, or, say, a surf shop), a plot (Michael couldn’t surf in the beginning, then learned in the middle, now at the end Michael can surf and tell us about it), but also because the end includes a lesson and a chance to spin that forward, perhaps by talking about how the sport has taught Michael how to be calm and collected under pressure.
The George Washington University encourages students to think critically and to challenge the status quo. Thus, civil discourse is a key characteristic of our community. Describe a time when you engaged others in meaningful dialogue around an issue that was important to you. Did this exchange create change, new perspectives, or deeper relationships?
Write one personal essay for all the schools to which you apply via the Common App. This essay is important, as it provides you with an excellent opportunity to reflect and to communicate to colleges what they should know about you. As you will have only one major essay to write, we hope it will represent your best efforts. Write your Common Application essay in essay format, with a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650 words.
2) When I realized I cannot understand the world. I recently debated at the Orange County Speech League Tournament, within the Parliamentary Division. This specific branch of debate is an hour long, and consists of two parties debating either side of a current political issue. In one particular debate, I was assigned the topic: “Should Nation States eliminate nuclear arms?” It so happened that I was on the negative side and it was my job to convince the judges that countries should continue manufacturing nuclear weapons. During the debate, something strange happened: I realized that we are a special breed of species, that so much effort and resources are invested to ensure mutual destruction. And I felt that this debate in a small college classroom had elucidated something much more profound about the scale of human existence. In any case, I won 1st place at the tournament, but as the crowd cheered when my name was called to stand before an audience of hundreds of other debaters, and I flashed a victorious smile at the cameras, I couldn’t help but imagine that somewhere at that moment a nuclear bomb was being manufactured, adding to an ever-growing stockpile of doom. And that's when I realized that the world was something I will never understand.
The battlefield was a scrap-littered felt carpet, white fold-up chairs graffitied by permanent marker and frozen yogurt bowls full of worn-down pencils. Ahead, lied the lone boys’ art class at my church. I was the lone volunteer, deploying only two open ears as a weapon, and had to coax their participation in the annual Christmas craft bonanza that they dreaded for weeks. My first and most impactful lesson in teaching had begun.
The essay is your megaphone — your view of the world and your ambitions. It’s not just a resume or a regurgitation of everything you’ve done. It needs to tell a story with passion, using personal, entertaining anecdotes that showcase your character, your interests, your values, your life experiences, your views of the world, your ambitions and even your sense of humor.
Keep in mind that the personal statement alone won’t be enough to get you in—your grades and test scores are still the most important factors in your application. That being said, a stellar essay can help bring a borderline applicant over the top or give an excellent but not extraordinary student the opportunity to stand out in a competitive applicant pool.

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.
There is only one recipe for admission essay writing that never fails: share a compelling personal experience that shows how you’re ready to build your future in this school. You can always lean into how you have always been of fan of the school sports team, or it’s been a family tradition to attend this school. Most schools love nostalgia and personal connections to their university.
In order to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores but also a strong personal statement. Why? Your Personal Statement is the single loudest ‘qualitative’ element of your application. It brings to life the student—you!—behind your statistics and demographics. It’s the way you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and as a potential member of the campus community. With more people applying to colleges every year, admissions officers know they can have their pick of bright and motivated students. In addition to seeing your talents and achievements on paper, they need a chance to imagine what you might be like as a walking, talking human being.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
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