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.
A few years earlier, my family of nine had been evicted from the home we had been living in for the past ten years. With nowhere else to go, we moved into our church’s back room for three months, where I shamefully tried to hide our toothbrushes and extra shoes from other church members. Right then I made a commitment to my family to contribute financially in whatever way I could. My sacrifice translated to a closer bond with my siblings and deeper conversations with my parents, helping me understand the true meaning of a unified family and the valuable part I play in that.
For Peterfriend, one essay that stood out came from a student who taught skiing to a disabled and nonverbal child. He wrote about how they communicated, and how he felt when he got to see the child ski down his first slope. He wrote that he didn’t realize how much joy he could receive by helping someone else. The story reflected compassion and self-growth.
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Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.
This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.
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!
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window’s seal like I’d seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I’d been in this type of situation before. In fact, I’d been born into this type of situation.
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Not just humor, but the overall tone of your application essay is remarkably important. It's also difficult to get right. When you are asked to write about your accomplishments, those 750 words on how great you are can make you sound like a braggart. Be careful to balance your pride in your achievements with humility and generosity towards others. You also want to avoid sounding like a whiner -- use your essay to show off your skills, not to explain the injustices that lead to your low math score or failure to graduate #1 in your class.
To me, personal stuff is the information you usually keep to yourself, or your closest friends and family. So it can be challenging, even painful, to dig up and share. Try anyway. When you open up about your feelings—especially in response to a low point—you are more likely to connect with your reader(s). Why? Because we've all been there. So don't overlook those moments or experiences that were awkward, uncomfortable or even embarrassing. Weirdly, including painful memories (and what you learned from them!) usually helps a personal statement meet the goals of a college application essay—you come across as humble, accessible, likable (this is HUGE!), and mature. Chances are, you also shared a mini-story that was interesting, entertaining and memorable.
There is added value in mixing things together. I realized this when my brother and I won an international Kavli Science Foundation contest where we explained the math behind the Pixar movie “Up”. Using stop motion animation we explored the plausibility and science behind lifting a house with helium balloons. I like offering a new view and expanding the way people see things. In many of my videos I combine art with education. I want to continue making films that not only entertain, but also make you think.
This can be challenging. Like most 16- and 17-year-olds, you and your friends are probably thinking about your future, travel plans, jobs, where you want to live, or just what movie you want to see tonight. You’re probably not reflecting on your life and what it’s meant thus far. (Then again, maybe you are, especially if you’re the journal-keeping type!)
As a whole, this prompt lends itself to reflective writing, and more specifically, talking the reader through your thought processes. In many cases, the exploration of your thought processes and decision-making is more important than the actual outcome or concept in question. In short, this essay is very much about “thinking,” rumination, and inquisition. A good brainstorming exercise for this prompt would be to write your problem on a sheet of paper and then develop various solutions to the problem, including a brief reason for justification. The more thorough you are in justifying and explaining your solutions in the essay, the more compelling your response will be.
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“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.
“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.”
Filling out this application, and my college applications, has forced me to face head on the realities that I've grown up in. Looking back and describing my life I see all the ways in which I am disadvantaged due to my socioeconomic status. But I think it's important to note that I wasn't fully aware of any of it growing up. I knew that my parents couldn't buy me everything, but I also knew that they hardly ever said no. I was a very normal child, asking for chicken nuggets and looking at mom and dad any time I was scared or unsure of something. As I've grown I've learned to fight my own monsters but I now also battle the ones that frighten my parents, the monsters of a world that they weren't born into. Monsters of doubt and disadvantage that try to keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty; thriving in a world that casts them to the side and a society that, with its current political climate, doesn't welcome them with the warmest hello.
Adding feelings to your essays can be much more powerful than just listing your achievements. It allows reviewers to connect with you and understand your personality and what drives you. In particular, be open to showing vulnerability. Nobody expects you to be perfect and acknowledging times in which you have felt nervous or scared shows maturity and self-awareness.
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The other reason this instance of essay recycling works is because the ApplyTexas and Coalition applications have compatible word limits. In general, you can't reuse a 600-word essay for a prompt with a 250-word limit. Why? Because by the time you've cut out that many words, you'll usually be left with something that either doesn't make much sense or that doesn't show much about you (since you've only left enough of the story to explain what happened).
Secondary or supplemental essays: these are the essays that schools can choose to have you fill out on top of the core Common App Essay. They might invite you to talk more about an extracurricular activity on your resumé, or to reflect on a quote from a famous alumna/alumnus of the college and share your thoughts. They’re wide-ranging, and we’ll be covering them in an upcoming guide!
Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Bridget emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.
For many high school seniors, it can be maddeningly frustrating to choose the “right” Common App essay topic because the options are so broad. Take a look at the seven available essay prompts for the 2018-19 Common App. (These prompts are unchanged from the 2017-18 application season.) As we noted in a previous blog post, prompt number 7 actually grants students permission to write their own essay question and respond to it. How open-ended can you get?
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While I was volunteering I met a woman who happened to live in the same building as my aunt. Unemployed with two young children, and a husband earning minimum wage at a fast food restaurant, she struggled to get by every day. I thought to myself – many in my community are just like her. Then I realized I could do something to help. How? I can start a financial literacy program, which teaches Hispanic women to earn and manage money. Once a woman becomes financially literate, she is capable of making good personal and profession decisions, empowering her to improve her family’s financial well-being. Moreover, such a program will help Hispanic women become competitive employees, even in a slow recovering economy such as the one we are experiencing now.
While in college, I hope to impact my own learning experience and that of the student body around me by taking an active listening approach. Rather than sink back to my high school mindset that purely focused on soaking in knowledge and regurgitating it for grades, I plan to adopt a posture of employing my listening abilities to curate and act upon a stronger understanding of the lives and perspectives of my campus. Whether it be reciprocating the advice I receive in my summer transition program to my future roommates or finding campus opportunities best fit for my classmates while in conversation with upperclassmen, I believe that I will be able to positively impact both my own individual growth and the intellectual development of others by harnessing my observations and parlaying them into new opportunities, connections, and insights for others.
There’s no reason to rush your essay. You won’t score extra point with the admissions department for finishing your essay in an hour. Unless you’ve helped write the State of the Union, your admissions essay will likely be the most influential essay you’ve written so far, at least as it relates to your own life. Give yourself at least a week to compose your essay.