The mission of the Coastwise Prize Scholarship is to promote and inspire financial education among students to help them become more competent, aware and wise when managing personal finances and investments. By creating an incentive for students to research and explore these important lifelong money management concepts, the Coastwise Prize for Investing Excellence will assist in developing [...] More

“Show, don’t tell” is vital to writing an engaging essay, and this is the point students struggle with most.  Instead of saying, “I struggled to make friends when I transferred schools,” you can show your emotions by writing, “I scanned the bustling school cafeteria, feeling more and more forlorn with each unfamiliar face. I found an empty table and ate my lunch alone.”
The first board game I ever played was Disney Princess Monopoly against my mother. It was a shocking experience. My otherwise loving and compassionate mother played to win. Though she patiently explained her strategies throughout the game, she refused to show me any mercy, accumulating one monopoly after another, building house after house, hotel after hotel, and collecting all my money until I was bankrupt, despite my pleas and tears that I was her daughter and only five years old. I remember clearly the pain I felt from losing, but I remained eager to play and determined to one day beat her. Eventually, we left the princesses behind and graduated to the regular, then the deluxe, editions of Monopoly, and expanded to Rummikub. Every time we played, I carefully observed my mother’s moves and habits while considering my own options. Over the years, she continued to beat me in both games, but the contests became more competitive and my losses more narrow. Finally, at twelve, I won for the first time, at Rummikub no less, a game at which she claimed to be undefeated! I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, which was only magnified when I saw the same emotion in my mother’s face.

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.
A way to do this is to do your research. Learn about the school, their student climate, sports teams, values, awards and recognitions. You can always start with their social media accounts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. With that information, the paper could be relevant to the school’s mission and values. So yes, you’ll have to write a different admission essay for every school you apply to.
As a former college admissions officer, I read thousands of essays—good and bad. The essays that made the best impressions on me were the essays that were real. The students did not use fluff, big words, or try to write an essay they thought admission decisions makers wanted to read. The essays that impressed me the most were not academic essays, but personal statements that allowed me to get to know the reader. I was always more likely to admit or advocate for a student who was real and allowed me to get to know them in their essay.
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The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

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It can be hard to identify weak sentences and awkward phrasing when you’ve been looking at your own writing for a long time. This clever app acts as a second set of eyes for your editing process. Just paste your text onto the page and it will highlight run-on sentences, common errors, phrases written in passive voice, and adverbs. You can also format your text directly in the app. So handy!
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.
Resolving the Specific Experience Essay requires a student to point to some kind of realization garnered as a result of the experience. It doesn’t have to be an enormous Eureka! or epiphany, and in fact, it can come later. Michael’s reflection on the experience of learning to surf with his grandfather occurs over a decade after he first hit the waves. Anita’s comes during an English class two years later when she first reads the poetry of John Keats and William Wordsworth and realizes these writers were engaging with exactly what she experienced during her solo in the wilderness. The trick Michael and Anita each pull off is spinning the experience forward so that it means something for the rest of their lives. Michael writes about how he understands meditative headspace as a result of standing on the board all those hours with his grandfather, and how his grandfather’s legacy will always be with him. Anita goes small with her reflection: she talks about how she learned to see art, and artful experiences, in her everyday life, and in small, quiet moments. (This is especially good for Anita because it expands her away from just the hyper-intense mock trial competitor she might come across as.)
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
One of our consultants described his ignorance of his brother’s challenges—the writer assumed that because his brother Sam was sociable, Sam was adjusting fine to their family’s move. After an angry outburst from Sam and a long late-night conversation, the writer realizes his need to develop greater sensitivity and empathy. He now strives to recognize and understand others’ struggles, even if they’re not immediately apparent.

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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.
What does it mean to be an advocate? I didn’t find the answer in any sort of textbook. Not the anatomy textbook that lay across the foot of my bed, filled with Post-Its and half-drawn diagrams. Nor the chemistry textbook that sat on top of it, covered in streaks of blue highlighter. Not even Principles of Biology, overflowing with illegible notes and loose worksheets, had the answer. Yet, in a few years, I will be promising to do just that: be the ultimate advocate for my patients.
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This prompt is difficult to answer because most high schoolers haven’t participated in the types of iconoclastic protests against societal ills that lend themselves to an awe-inspiring response. A more tenable alternative here could be to discuss a time that you went against social norms, whether it was by becoming friends with someone who seemed like an outcast or by proudly showing off a geeky passion.
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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. 
In a sea of otherwise identical college applications, your college application essay gives you a chance to show why you deserve a coveted spot at your preferred university. Giving yourself plenty of time, focusing on the specific details of your life, and showcasing your unique personality can help you craft the perfect college application essay. A strong essay can give you the best chance to get into the school of your dreams.
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