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!


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.
Another example could be “language,” discussing how it has evolved and changed over the course of history, how it allows you to look deeper into different cultures, and how learning different languages stretches the mind. A tip for expanding on these topics and achieving specificity is to select particular details of the topic that you find intriguing and explain why.
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To surmise, domestic violence is often kept quiet within minority communities. As a whole, we have to be proactive and reactive in order to fight the current problem with abuse. Nevertheless, we have to be the change we want to see.Ultimately, domestic violence is not an issue that can be completely rid of, but we can make a true difference through education and prevention. Some issues have to be dealt with in house before we see a major turn around.

The Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir ISNA Scholarship Program was established because of the strong belief in the value of education by Dr. Shakir. He dedicated himself to education and specifically to working with inner city youth, introducing students to Islam and the Arabic language. He was a true leader and arranged for this scholarship fund to be established to support freshman students in their [...] More
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. 
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The class quickly degenerated into anarchy. I spent the first twenty minutes watching as elbows sent pencils overboard and handmade tattoos crawled up arms. With chaos mounting, I was paralyzed by the inability to speak. I forced myself to listen, as their conversations progressed to artistic ideas: Spiderman ornaments, Batman Christmas cards, ninja star origami. I expected a stir of artistic energy as their art took shape, but all I heard was the crinkling of paper and scattering of markers as ideas never became reality.  
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.
The International Franchise Association Foundation individual selected will be invited to IFA's Annual Convention in February and will receive a travel stipend up to $1,500 to attend. Must be a sophomore, junior or senior enrolled in a U.S. accredited college or university with studies in business, hospitality or franchise management. For more information or to apply, please visit the scholarship [...] More
Essay Prompt: Please explain a personal hardship or catastrophic life event that you have experienced. How did you manage to overcome this obstacle? What did you learn and how did you grow from it? This answer is critical to your application as Change a Life Foundation’s vision is to assist individuals who have persevered and overcome a hardship/catastrophic life event.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
The Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation seeks to encourage young people to treasure our Jewish heritage, reflect on our Jewish values, and better understand our contribution to civilization and culture. To this effort, the Foundation sponsors an annual essay contest open to both junior high and high school students. The Foundation also issues grants to a wide variety of educational, scientific [...] More
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
As a psychobiology major, I hope to continue building a strong, fundamental understanding of the mental aspects of human well-being to complement with a growing knowledge of the physical aspects involved in bodily development. While learning, I plan to integrate and enhance an expanding grasp of psychological concepts within my volunteer and extracurricular activities, as I find new organizations and clubs that allow me to teach children and gain further insight into how psychological ideas can impact the health of a child.
For this prompt, stay away from figures that are likely to be written about by hundreds of potential students (presidents, Mother Teresa, etc.), and pick a figure you are actually passionate about and interested in, rather than what you think sounds most academic. If you want to go personal and choose a family member, make sure you have a memorable and unique reason. 
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].
Your grammar and usage do not have to be perfect. However, your essay should be polished and free of conspicuous errors, such as typos and spelling mistakes. In addition to having reviewers spot any issues with clarity and readability, Southwestern University Dean of Admission and Enrollment Services Christine Bowman suggests, “print out your essay, and read it aloud to make sure you have not missed any key words or punctuation. Sometimes we type faster than our thoughts get onto the page.” Seeing your essay printed in hard copy can help you see what you might miss on screen; reading it aloud can help you “hear” errors that your eyes might skip.
While a postsecondary degree or credential has become indispensable for entry into professional careers and the middle class, the cost of college continues to increase. Student Veterans of America is proud to partner with Rockwell Collins to award three $2,500 scholarships to student veterans that are interested in pursuing a STEM degree path. This scholarship will not only build a diverse talent [...] More

The first question focuses on your personality traits — who you are. The second question targets your progression throughout high school (an arc or journey). The third question is more difficult to grasp, but it involves showing why your personality traits, methods of thinking, areas of interest, and tangible skills form a unique combination. The fourth question is a concluding point that can be answered simply, normally in the conclusion paragraph, i.e., “Running matters to me” or “Ethical fashion matters to me.”
Write one personal essay for all the schools to which you apply via the Coalition 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. You can start working on your essay at any time and save drafts in your MyCoalition Locker. While there is no perfect length for an essay, Coalition recommends that you aim for 500 to 550 words. 
A scholarship available to any lesbian or gay undergrad student from the state of Alabama. The scholarship applies to attendance at any institute of higher learning in the United States. The essay should be no more than five 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 [...] More
For this essay: BE SPECIFIC! Colleges can tell when your essay is just a form essay. Make sure your essay mentions specific and unique aspects of the college/university you’re applying to so it’s clear that your essay is not just generic. There’s so much information out there on the Internet that there’s really no excuse for a poorly researched response. 
Though not every school uses the Common App—many state or public schools often have their own systems—the work you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you in every other component of the process, including non-Common App schools (e.g., University of California [UC] schools) as well as the secondary and supplemental essays that go along with the Common App. (Schools that don’t use Common App may still ask for essays or short answers.)
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.
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Collaborative endeavors are the proving grounds for Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The shredded beef, which was supposed to be tender, was still hard as a rock after an hour on the stove. With our unseasoned cooking minds, all ideas were valid. Put more salt in? Sure. Cook it at a higher temperature? Go for it. Collaboration requires people to be receptive. It demands an open mind. All ideas deserve consideration.
In 200–400 words, you’ll be asked to describe your academic and career plans and any special interest (for example, undergraduate research, academic interests, leadership opportunities, etc.) that you are eager to pursue as an undergraduate at IU. Also, if you encountered any unusual circumstances, challenges, or obstacles in pursuit of your education, share those experiences and how you overcame them.
My search for the answer began quite unintentionally. When I was initially recommended to serve on the Youth Council my junior year of high school, my perspective on civic engagement was one of apathy and a complete lack of interest. I couldn’t understand how my passion for the medical field had any correlation with serving as a representative for the students at my school and actively engaging within the political sphere. I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a physician, and I was perfectly content embracing the safety net of my introverted textbook world.

Will polyphonic notes resonate in college? Yes. For instance, balancing a creative narrative with scientific facts will make a more believable story. I want to bring together different kinds of students (such as music, film, and English majors) to create more meaningful art. Understanding fellow students’ perspective, talents, and ideas are what build a great community.


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After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. During my first weeks in America, I discovered HomeNow, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with HomeNow children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees. It was there that I met Laya, a twelve­-year-­old Iraqi girl. In between games and snacks, Laya would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging. Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself.”
I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.
One part of creating the best products is bringing a diverse group of people together. To bring more gender diversity to the technology industry, we are pleased to invite applications for the inaugural Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship. The Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship recognizes outstanding undergraduate female students anywhere in the world who are studying [...] More
If you run into a blog post with an interesting headline and then read a boring first sentence, what do you do? You search for a better way to spend your time. That first sentence is just as important in admission essays. Just as in newspaper editing, the first sentence should provide a quick summary of what your essay will be about, and any important details to grab attention.

This is a heavily revised version of one of 2016’s prompts, which asked students to describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The purview of the inquiry has been expanded to ask about personal growth in general, leaving the lessons and timing of an applicant’s transformation more open-ended. Students are also now free to reflect on a “realization” in addition to an “event” or “occurrence.” While a realization that changes your understanding of the world will likely be sparked by a concrete marker (i.e., an event or accomplishment), we are happy to receive the added flexibility from you, Common App. Thank you very much.
3. A wider relevance or a ‘lesson.’ Your essay doesn’t have to demonstrate that you underwent some great metamorphosis or epiphany as a child or teenager, but does your possible topic have a takeaway to work with? You’re looking for something that you can put in your pocket and carry into the future, and in an impressive and ideal world, something that the reader of the essay can say: “wow, I like that way of thinking, and I might even return to that one day.”
A scholarship available to any lesbian or gay undergrad student from the state of Alabama. The scholarship applies to attendance at any institute of higher learning in the United States. The essay should be no more than five 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 [...] More
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had lost so much more. Upon my father’s passing, he left us with funeral and medical expenses that his insurance would not cover. Because he did not have any form of life insurance, the financial burden of his death was now the responsibility of my mother and me. Even though my mother works night shifts as a neonatal nurse and her commute is nearly two hours, she was forced to pick up extra shifts to support my family. Though I already had a job and I worked about ten hours a week, I now work anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five hours a week, and I am also a full-time high honor student. Even though the death of my father forced me to realize the importance of cherishing time with my family, I do not see them very often because of our busy schedules. I also sacrificed my social life and the joy that every senior in high school should experience. Instead of football games and homecoming, I had to deal with mourning and the possibility that I would not attend college because of my family’s financial troubles.
The purpose of our scholarship program is to provide support to individuals that are legal residents of the United States of America, under the age of 25, who have been diagnosed with or treated for cancer, a chronic, or life threatening debilitating disease within the past five years. Applicant must write an essay on how their diagnosis has impacted their life and their future goals.
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Essay Prompt: Discuss in your essay any challenges or obstacles you have dealt with and overcome in life and how this will help you succeed in college and beyond. Describe how volunteer, community service or extra-curricular activities have shaped who you are today and what it has taught you. May also include future educational plans and career goals. [250-500 Words]
The First County Bank Richard E. Taber Citizenship Award honors high school students, living in the lower Fairfield County area, who consistently demonstrate good citizenship at school, at home, and in the community. The recipient of this award must be a high school senior and have been accepted to an accredited two or four-year college/university, as well as be a current resident of Stamford, [...] More
All Common App essays must show your personality, identity, and aspirations, as well as spark discussions on interests, character, values, and community. The goal for any Common App essay is to impart a lasting, authentic image and sense of yourself on the reader. When you’re writing and hit a mental block, don’t hesitate to refer back to the Core Four questions a good Common App essay must answer, and always check whether or not the ideas in your essay reflect the characteristics you want to convey about yourself.

Student #1: Ramya: Ramya intends to be pre-med in college, but isn’t sure if she wants to major in biology or something else entirely. She’s spent her high school years participating in a variety of activities. She played soccer, but wasn’t the star player. She was involved in student government, performed in cultural shows as a dancer, and did speech events.
With a mid-length scholarship essay, you have more space to explain how your past has influenced your present and future goals. You should have rom for an intro paragraph, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion (maybe incorporated into the last body paragraph). Think of a few main points you want to touch on, and write those down first. If you still have room, you can add more details about yourself.

But why college? I want a higher education. I want more than just the textbook fed classrooms in high school. A community which prizes revolutionary ideals, a sharing of multi-dynamical perspectives, an environment that ultimately acts as a medium for movement, similar to the punk rock community. I do not see college as a mere stepping stone for a stable career or a prosperous life, but as a supplement for knowledge and self-empowerment; it is a social engine that will jettison us to our next paradigm shift.
From its good-natured bruise-counting competitions to its culture of hard work and perseverance, ice skating provided the nurturing environment that made my other challenges worthwhile. Knowing that each moment on the ice represented a financial sacrifice for my family, I cherished every second I got. Often this meant waking up every morning at 4 a.m. to practice what I had learned in my few precious minutes of coaching. It meant assisting in group lessons to earn extra skating time and taking my conditioning off-ice by joining my high school varsity running teams. Even as I began to make friends and lose my fear of speaking, the rink was my sanctuary. Eventually, however, the only way to keep improving was to pay for more coaching, which my family could not afford. And so I started tutoring Spanish.
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.
The Profile in Courage Essay Contest challenges students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. The maximum word count is 1,000 with a minimum of 700, not including citations and bibliography. Use at least five varied sources such as government documents, letters, newspaper articles, [...] More

Kim is a recognized national expert on the college application essay and speaks to high school and parent groups about the role of the college essay within the competitive admission world. Kim is also a frequent guest speaker at industry conferences, and has planned and moderated expert panel discussions on the college essay with admission professionals from the nation’s top universities. Kim conducts monthly webinars for parents and represents Wow during webinars and interactive social media events (Twitter Chats, Google Hangouts, etc.) sponsored by community service organizations, test prep organizations, and financial aid companies.  


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Overall, this prompt is what we at College Essay Advisors call a “choose-your-own-adventure” prompt. It has historically served as a fabulous catch-all for subjects that don’t fit within the confines of the other prompt options. A recent addition to the Common App’s prompt selection now offers even more freedom to applicants (more on that later), but students should still think of Prompt #1 as a topic of immense choice, reeled in by a few helpful guidelines.


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.

Unlike the rest of your application, which consists largely of objective facts like grades and test scores, your application essay allows you to truly showcase what makes you unique as a student and a person. Use your own voice and your own stories to illustrate why you would be an asset to the school. Don’t fall into the trap of sanitizing your speech and your opinions for risk of offending an admissions officer. Although you do need to use proper spelling and grammar, your college essay is a perfect place for creative metaphors, witty turns of phrase and humor.
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