We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Accordingly, Prompt #2 essays should be predominantly filled with a student’s response, outlook, and demeanor when presented with one of life’s many hurdles, rather than a detailed account of the hurdle itself. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables. While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (the inability to achieve an A on an exam and/or secure tickets to that Drake concert) or that illustrate a lapse in good judgment (that time you crashed your car or ate 15 bags of Cheetos in one sitting). Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore.
This past summer, I had my first substantive work experience interning at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, researching and writing about treatments and therapies. Working there was certainly not a game, but my strategy was the same: work hard, remain focused, be mindful and respectful of those around me, deal with the inevitable curveballs, and take constructive criticism to heart, all in pursuit of a meaningful goal. At first, I found it intimidating, but I quickly found my footing. I worked hard, knowing that what I took away from the experience would be measured by what I put into it. I studied my co-workers: how they conducted themselves, how they interacted with each other, and how they approached their respective jobs. I carefully reviewed redlines on my writing assignments, tried not to get discouraged, and responded to the comments to present the material more effectively. I absorbed the stories relayed by Parkinson’s patients regarding their struggles and was amazed at how empowered they felt by their participation in clinical trials. Through them, I discovered what it really means to fight to win. I have also come to understand that sometimes a game never ends but transforms, causing goals to shift that may require an adjustment in strategy.
1. Anecdote and specificity. As you saw in the prompts above, we’re big advocates of beginning with a particular story or anecdote. This is NOT the only way to start an essay, but it’s a classic one. Journalists call this a “lede”—it’s a hook that brings the reader into a wider topic. Your essay will always go beyond the anecdote, but an anecdote offers a reader an easy, smooth way into your personal statement.
Scholarships from the Cancer Survivors' Fund are granted to cancer survivors for their college educations. Recipients are selected by a committee based on applicants' personal hardship and financial need. Applicants must be a cancer survivor or currently diagnosed with cancer, and does not have to be receiving treatment to qualify. Must be enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in an accredited [...] More
Sometimes an unconventional essay can capture Admissions Officers’ attention and move them in a profound way; other times, the concept can fly completely over their heads. Be sure to execute the essay clearly and justify your decision by seeking high-quality feedback from reliable sources. As always, the essay should demonstrate something meaningful about you, whether it is your personality, thought process, or values.
When tailoring responses to individual college prompts, it’s important to use specific details you’ve learned through visiting and research. Not only does this show colleges that you’ve have done your homework, but it also demonstrates your interest in the college – and colleges want to admit students who are likely to enroll. Show your knowledge of the college by mentioning specific courses, professors, places of interest, and more. Show how you fit into the campus culture and how you will impact the community through specific examples.
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Technique #2: invented terminology. The second technique is the way Bridget coins her own terms, carrying them through the whole essay. It would be easy enough to simply describe the people she imagined in childhood as helpers or assistants, and to simply say that as a child she wanted to rule the world. Instead, she invents the capitalized (and thus official-sounding) titles “Fixer-Upper” and “Emperor of the World,” making these childish conceits at once charming and iconic. What's also key is that the titles feed into the central metaphor of the essay, which keeps them from sounding like strange quirks that don’t go anywhere.
The host mom Shellie was a single mom who had two of her own sons and two Russian daughters that she had adopted. The kids always had something warm to eat, and were always on their best behavior at home and in school. It would be fair to say that this was all due to Shellie’s upbringing. My room was on the first floor, right in front of Shellie’s hair salon, a small business that she ran out of her home. In the living room were six or seven huge amplifiers and a gigantic chandelier hung from the high ceiling. The kitchen had a bar. At first, the non-stop visits from strangers made me nervous, but soon I got used to them. I remember one night, a couple barged into my room while I was sleeping. It was awkward.
Balancing talking about your experiences and traits with describing what excites you about the school can be tricky, but it's vital that you touch on both. If you don't talk about yourself, you're missing your chance to give the admissions committee a sense of who you are and how you would fit in to their community. And if you don't discuss the school itself, you risk coming off as uninterested. So make sure to do both!

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While it's important to be thoughtful and mature, you don't want your college application essay to be too heavy. Try to lighten up the essay with a clever metaphor, a well-placed witticism, or a little self-deprecating humor. But don't overdo it. The essay that is filled with bad puns or off-color jokes will often end up in the rejection pile. Also, humor isn't a substitute for substance. Your primary task is to answer the essay prompt thoughtfully; the smile you bring to your reader's lips is just a bonus (and a tear can sometimes be effective too). Many students have been rejected for failing to take the prompt seriously and writing essays that end up being more foolish than clever.

Take a minute and think about the college or university admission officers who will be reading your essay. How will your essay convey your background and what makes you unique? If you had the opportunity to stand in front of an admission committee to share a significant story or important information about yourself, what would you say? The college application essay is your chance to share your personality, goals, influences, challenges, triumphs, life experiences, or lessons learned. Not to mention why you're a good fit for the college or university—and why it's a good fit for you. These are the stories behind the list of activities and leadership roles on your application.   
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Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better-perhaps related to a community you belong to or your family or cultural background-we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke. (250 word limit)
The Jill M. Balboni Memorial Scholarship is dedicated to the memory of Jill Marie Balboni who lost her life long battle with cystic fibrosis in July 2013 at the age of 36. Jill was a lover of life and lover of learning. Jill received her Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D and still managed to enjoy every day with a smile while spending time with her family and friends between her time in the Tri-Delta [...] More
- First and foremost when looking at an essay, you're going to be looking things like, their ability to write well and their appropriation for college. But we're also using that information to kind of see things like, their resilience and their love of learning and their intellectual curiosity. - I always tell a student, you know, if you had the chance to come meet with the admissions committee and present yourself in person, would you want to do it? And without fail students say, yeah I'd love to have that opportunity. And when I ask why? They say because if they were able to get know the admissions committee, the admissions committee would want to admit because they would know them and they would get to know what their about and what makes them unique and special. - The essay is really neat in that it's one of the only places in the application where they have complete control. Where they can write about the things that they've been involved in and things that they've done. - One piece of advice I would give to every student is to ask someone who know's them a little bit, to read their essay and to tell them what impressions they have of you after reading the essay. - I think the essays that work best are actually quite simple. I think students get really caught up in thinking that this essay has to emcompass your entire life and it has to be groundbreaking and, you know, publishable quality. And that's a lot to ask of a high school student. So I always advice students to stick to the simple things that you know. And the essays that stand out the most in my mind are about simple, simple things, very everyday topics. - I have seen some amazing essays about things like students walking their dog, or even their bus ride to school. - I think our hope is that if a student were to drop the essay on the floor of their high school and someone were to pick it up. It didn't have your name on it. That they'd say for sure, oh I know that is so and so's essay, because it speaks so much about your voice and your experiences and your perspective. - I think my favorite essay that I've ever read came from a student in the midwest. And he wrote about working at a fast food restaurant. And he wrote about how people were treating him as they went through the drive through. And how he was treating them back. He called himself an undercover anthropologist, which admittedly was a little nerdy in a Brown sort of way. But I liked his essay because, I was able to see what he was seeing and feel what he was feeling. So for the purposes of the application, where we as admish officers are trying to get to know the applicant, that's a great essay.
This essay immediately pulls the reader in and makes him/her want to know more. We want to know how Joseph’s definition of a good doctor has changed and also why it has changed. Hooking your reader from the beginning is the best way to make sure they keep reading and a solid structure, like many of these scholarship essay examples have, is the best way to ensure there’s no confusion along the way.
College application essays are meant to help college admissions officers get to know students outside of the information already available on the college application, and can provide some context into students’ interests, goals, and motivations. Supplements are also a great way to help students demonstrate their informed interest. While some quirky college application essay prompts might seem weird and irrelevant, students have the chance to get creative and revel something about themselves that can’t be found anywhere else in the application.

But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level. I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin.
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.

This means your essays are not a place to restate what can already be found on your resumé, CV, or Common App Activities Section. They’re also not a place to prove that you’ve had some major epiphany, changed the world, seen the Truth of reality, etc, at eighteen. They can be but do not have to be—by any means—about a major traumatic experience. They can but need not discuss family, identity, race, gender, or class. They are a place to give the admissions committee a chance to see the you that your friends, classmates, teachers, teammates, and family know. We’ve seen students write about the New England Patriots, the poetry of John Keats, their grandparents’ village, their obsession with keeping too many Google Chrome tabs open, how grilling meats represented a rite of passage, and many more topics that range from the super-serious to the lighthearted but still meaningful.
Another Common Error (#3!) that Ramya made was: Mixing up the conclusion’s sentiment with the billboard paragraph. Her second paragraph, in the original essay, read: “I want to thank Dee's Sports Bar for teaching me life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for showing me the importance of loyalty, relationships, and laughter.” That’s a sentiment, but it’s not a thesis. And that sentiment is fine—it may have a place at the end of the essay—but it doesn’t belong in the second paragraph, because it doesn’t guide our reading of the rest of the essay. It isn’t strong and declarative yet.
For example, if you’re passionate about cooking or baking, you could use specific details by explaining, in depth, the intricate attention and artistry necessary to make a dish or dessert. You can delve into why certain spices or garnishes are superior in different situations, how flavors blend well together and can be mixed creatively, or even the chemistry differences between steaming, searing, and grilling.

I remember in ninth grade thinking how cool it’d be to be on yearbook. Yearbook kids knew which classes everyone was in, they knew which kids were into what extracurricular, and perhaps most importantly, they knew everyone at school. From freshmen to seniors to faculty, yearbook gave them a connection to everyone. Yearbook kids radiated serene confidence in themselves and their work. At my school, that’s how it is: yearbook is a mini-company of 20.
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.

The David Womack Memorial West Virginia LGBT Scholarship is available to any gay or lesbian undergraduate student who is a resident of West Virginia. The essay should be no more than five (5) pages and discuss the applicant's background, educational history, goals for the future and why the applicant believes he or she should receive the scholarship. For more information or to apply, please visit [...] More
I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile.

Don’t let unusual college application essay and short answer prompts intimidate you. This is a chance to get creative so take some time to think about what you want to convey with your essays or short answer questions. If you need any help with the college application process, contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for seniors and younger high school students!
One of our consultants wrote about how growing up in a poor Vietnamese immigrant family inspired her to seize big opportunities, even if they were risky or challenging. She describes the emotional demand of opening and running a family grocery store. (Note: all of the following essay excerpts have been shortened and edited for this post. Names have also been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.)

The Texas Wildlife Association Foundation (TWAF) and the San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Inc. (SALE) have joined forces to offer five Natural Resource-Excellence in Education Scholarships in the fall. The scholarships will be awarded to five freshmen at Texas universities who are majoring in natural resource related field such as agricultural science, wildlife science, forestry, range science, [...] More


That second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide.
You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.
The Americanism Educational Leaders and Pepperdine University Libraries are pleased to announce its annual collegiate essay contest. The mission of AEL is in its strong belief in "American exceptionalism", i.e., that our country is exceptional in the history of the world. All of our programs are meant to encourage students to learn about, understand, and appreciate some aspect of the American [...] More
We encourage you to try something unconventional for this prompt, like comparing your personality to a Picasso painting, using an extended philosophical metaphor to describe your four years of high school, or writing in a poetic style to display your love of poetry. If you are extremely passionate about a topic or an expert in a certain area, for example Renaissance technology or journalism during World War II, you can use this prompt to show your authority on a subject by discussing it at a high level.
College application essays are meant to help college admissions officers get to know students outside of the information already available on the college application, and can provide some context into students’ interests, goals, and motivations. Supplements are also a great way to help students demonstrate their informed interest. While some quirky college application essay prompts might seem weird and irrelevant, students have the chance to get creative and revel something about themselves that can’t be found anywhere else in the application.
4. The Mini-Odyssey Essay: The last classic and powerful module is the good old problem-driven essay. In this type of essay, our hero (you, the writer) meets a challenge in the first paragraph and then the essay is devoted to showing us how it is solved. Let’s say Michael wanted to write not about learning to surf from his grandfather but about learning when his grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There’s a lot of narration that will be required for Michael to tell us about losing his grandfather—it’s too much to cram into the first paragraph. So Michael might distribute the narration chronologically, showing us first the bad news [the problem]—then zooming out to reflect; then showing us how he faced it [addressing the challenge], probably failing to adequately face it perfectly the first time, and then eventually facing it successfully [the solution].
I was born in Mexico to two Spanish speakers; thus, Spanish was my first language. We then moved to Spain when I was six, before finally arriving in California around my thirteenth birthday. Each change introduced countless challenges, but the hardest part of moving to America, for me, was learning English. Laminated index cards, color-coded and full of vocabulary, became part of my daily life. As someone who loves to engage in a conversation, it was very hard to feel as if my tongue was cut off. Only at the ice rink could I be myself; the feeling of the cold rink breeze embracing me, the ripping sound of blades touching the ice, even the occasional ice burning my skin as I fell—these were my few constants. I did not need to worry about mispronouncing “axel” as “aksal.” Rather, I just needed to glide and deliver the jump.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
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