That said, a response to this prompt can be incisive and deeply personal, as it was for a student who stood up to her parents’ old-fashioned outlook on feminism. Applicants who can articulate their thoughts and feelings while showcasing malleability and willingness to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others will likely stand out as valuable additions to any campus. If this prompt jumps out at you because you have a very specific story to tell or opinion to voice, run with it!
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"Selby Scholars" are undergraduate students with exceptional potential who embrace Mr. and Mrs. Selby's values of leadership and service. Like all of our funding, this scholarship program is only available to residents of Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte or DeSoto counties. Applicants must be either a graduating senior or a graduating Associate degree students from any state college in the four [...] More
Some colleges ask for a personal statement, and others provide a choice of topics, or prompts, for a student to write about. The Common Application, which students can use for more than 700 colleges, gives a choice of seven essay prompts this year that include recounting a challenge, setback or failure and what was learned from the experience; a time when the student questioned or challenged a belief or idea; and a problem the student would like to solve.
Before you dive (or cannonball!) into our pool of essay advice, we’d like to leave you with one last little secret: the prompts are not actually as important as you think they are. In fact, in our instructional writing course and private advising, we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later. This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here. For now, the main point we want you to take away is this: The prompts don’t really matter. What matters is the story you want to tell. (And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run.) We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story (or two or twelve!) to communicate to admissions. All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the 2018-19 application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them (really!) as you explore the endless possibilities.
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The Educational Scholarship Foundation was founded in 2005 by the California Association of Collectors (CAC). The scholarship requires a simple one-page application and essay on "The Importance of Establishing and Maintaining Good Credit During Your College Years". The scholarship is awarded to California high school seniors for their use as full-time students at any accredited college, [...] More
Also, keep in mind why colleges are asking for an essay: they want to get to know you better. Nearly all selective colleges and universities (as well as many that aren't overly selective) have holistic admissions, and they consider many factors in addition to numerical measures such as grades and standardized test scores. Your essay is an important tool for presenting something important to you that may not come across elsewhere in your application. Make sure your essay presents you as the type of person a college will want to invite to join their community.
The Live Out Loud Educational Scholarship was created to provide financial support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth who are pursuing a college degree. Students must be graduating high school seniors from the Tri-State area including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Awards are based on leadership, community service/involvement, academic achievement, personal [...] More
Earlier, I mentioned that you shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills within your essay. Similarly, don’t exaggerate the importance of the essay itself: it is only one part of your college application, and it is rarely the sole reason a student gets admitted or denied. A particularly strong essay won’t balance out a consistent record of underwhelming academic performance, and a less-than-award-winning essay will not necessarily cancel out an otherwise stellar application filled with excellent grades, commitment to community service, and compelling recommendations. Admission staff aren’t looking for the perfect topic or essay; rather, they just want to get a better sense of each applicant’s passions, opinions, and ways of thinking so that they can fill each incoming class with a diverse group of interesting classmates and roommates. So work hard and carefully on your college-application essay, but don’t obsess over it.
A: A manicured green field of grass blades cut to perfectly matched lengths; a blue expanse ornamented with puffy cotton clouds; an immaculately painted red barn centered exactly at the top of a hill--the chicken gazes contentedly at his picturesque world. Within an area surrounded by a shiny silver fence, he looks around at his friends: roosters pecking at a feast of grains and hens lounging on luxurious cushions of hay. As the nice man in a plaid shirt and blue jeans collects the hens’ eggs, the chicken feels an overwhelming sense of indebtedness to him for providing this idyllic lifestyle.
Experiencing science at an early age, I became enthralled with each new experiment, captivated by the chemistry of it all. I watched longingly as my older siblings created their science fair projects. Too young to enter the school science fairs, I took to my family. Force-feeding different animal food to my siblings and parents, I graphed their favorite types. While I was only six, my family has never forgiven me; my “experiments” remain the family joke. Nevertheless, I have progressed from my dog food days, leaving taste tests for DNA gel electrophoresis experiments.
“Why can’t you be more like Jon?” my grandmother used to nag, pointing at me with a carrot stick. To me, Jon was just cocky. He would scoff at me when he would beat me in basketball, and when he brought home his painting of Bambi with the teacher’s sticker “Awesome!” on top, he would make several copies of it and showcase them on the refrigerator door. But I retreated to my desk where a pile of “Please draw this again and bring it to me tomorrow” papers lay, desperate for immediate treatment. Later, I even refused to attend the same elementary school and wouldn’t even eat meals with him.
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.
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 13 different schools. Finally, I’ll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 125 full essays and essay excerpts, this article will be a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!
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 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.
It is a cliché to say that I’ve always known what I want to do with my life, but in my case it happens to be true. When I first visited Sea World as a young child, I fell in love with marine animals in general. Specifically, I felt drawn to manatees. I was compelled by their placid and friendly nature. I knew then and there that I wanted to dedicate my life to protecting these beautiful creatures.
By zeroing in on one particular aspect of what is, invariably, a long story, you may be better able to extract meaning from the story. So instead of talking generally about playing percussion in the orchestra, hone in on a huge cymbal crash marking the climax of the piece. Or instead of trying to condense that two-week backpacking trip into a couple of paragraphs, tell your reader about waking up in a cold tent with a skiff of snow on it. The specificity of the story not only helps focus the reader’s attention, but also opens the door to deeper reflection on what the story means to you.
Just before 5 pm on Sunday, October 13, 2013, I was sitting in a bar, holding on to a feeling of optimism that was fading fast. But wait—it’s not what you think. I didn’t turn to drink—I turned to the TV screen. The score was 27-23, and the Patriots had missed too many opportunities. With just over a minute left to play, my dad—the man responsible for bringing me, a 15-year-old, to a bar—dejectedly asked me if we should leave. I reminded him a true sports fan never gives up on her team, no matter the situation. And after a miracle of a drive finished with an unforgettable pass into the corner of the endzone by my idol, Tom Brady, a swell of elated cheering and high-fiving from the fans in the bar ensued regardless of whether we had previously known one another. Loyalty brought us all together.
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People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you’re startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
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.
It’s not a bad start, but it brings us to Common Error #1: beginning the essay by introducing oneself, instead of introducing the story, AKA, starting too broad. Ramya begins by trying to tell us who she is in a big, introductory, throat-clearing way, instead of choosing a specific route into who she is. It’s sweet that she’s small, but there’s a lot in here that we don’t need: we don’t need her height, nor do we need to know that she used to get the games in one particular way or another. We just need to know that she’s at the bar.
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.
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.
"Identity" is at the heart of this prompt. What is it that makes you you? The prompt gives you a lot of latitude for answering the question since you can write a story about your "background, identity, interest, or talent." Your "background" can be a broad environmental factor that contributed to your development such as growing up in a military family, living in an interesting place, or dealing with an unusual family situation. You could write about an event or series of events that had a profound impact on your identity. Your "interest" or "talent" could be a passion that has driven you to become the person you are today. However you approach the prompt, make sure you are inward looking and explain how and why the story you tell is so meaningful.
You may not be thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer before your senior year on college applications. But getting going in June after your junior year and committing to a few exercises over the summer will be like spring training for summer athletes. By the time you get to August, when you’re drafting your Common App Essay and your secondary essays in full, you will be warmed up, and much of the hardest work—that is, the reflection, figuring out what you want to say—will be done for you.
Above all, my family is the most important thing in my life. The meaning of family may differ for everyone, but for me, my family is life. I almost died in the 2010 Haitian earthquake, as Jacmel was one of the worst damaged areas, had it not been for my grandmother and my mom. Later, if it was not for my uncle, my mom would not have been able to come to America to give me a better life. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here. I am forever indebted to their sacrifices, and I am so grateful that I have their eternal love and support.
I also participated in a fellowship program at Africa University, where I gained greater insight into social development by teaching courses on entrepreneurship, free market economics, and development in needy communities. I worked with women in rural areas of Zimbabwe to setup income-generating projects such as the jatropha soap-making project. Managing such a project gave me great insight into how many simple initiatives can transform lives.
Colleges and other types of organizations often award scholarships to students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and also have financial need. Letters written for this type of program should emphasize outstanding academic accomplishment in terms of grades and financial need, as well as extracurricular activities and community involvement.
You might be familiar with The Common Application, Common App for short, which serves as a single application that over seven-hundred colleges, including every Ivy League school (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and Stanford, share. The Common App allows you to fill out things like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more, just once for every school that uses it. It is also where you’ll encounter “The Common App Essay,” otherwise known as your personal statement (PS), which is what this guide will focus on.
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A lot is working here! It’s short, clear, and leads us to—Tip #3: define your terms. Ramya wants to talk about an abstract concept—loyalty. Many young writers wish to reflect on things like charity, service, leadership, loyalty, friendship, kindness, morality, etc—these are big topics. But Ramya isn’t just talking about loyalty, a word which could mean many different things to many different people. She’s defined loyalty for the purposes of this essay, which means now we are playing in her house.
I was an avid reader early on, devouring book after book. From the Magic Treehouse series to the too real 1984, the distressing The Bell Jar, and Tagore’s quaint short stories, I accumulated an ocean of new words, some real (epitome, effervescence, apricity), and others fully fictitious (doubleplusgood), and collected all my favorites in a little journal, my Panoply of Words.
Your organization has a history of awarding scholarships to promising young students from the developing world in order to bring knowledge, skills and leadership abilities to their home communities. I have already done some of this work but I want to continue, and with your assistance, I can. The multidisciplinary focus of the development programs I am applying to in the US will provide me with the necessary skills to creatively address the economic and social development challenges and develop sound public policies for Third World countries. I thank you for your time and consideration for this prestigious award.
After graduating, I will apply for work as a dispatcher in a state organization, such as the Office of Drug Control Policy or the Department of Criminal Investigation. While my ultimate goal is to work as a forensic analyst or crime scene investigator, those positions usually only go to people within the organization. Dispatch is the most direct option for career entry, giving me the best chance to pursue my dream career.
While being able to write about whatever you wish sounds great in theory, some students find—especially at the beginning of the brainstorming process—that they are debilitated by the “topic of your choice” option because it offers too much choice. If that is the case, fear not! Use some of the other prompts as starting points for your brainstorming and free writing journeys. Begin keeping a diary (now!) and jot down subjects, events, and memories as they float to the surface. Now that you have read our handy-dandy prompt guide and understand what admissions is looking for from these prompts, you could very well have a notebook filled with ideas that are ripe for expansion by the time you sit down to write.
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.