Also, every year we create free guides on “How to Write X School’s Essays” for the top 100 schools. In these guides, we give you tips and tricks on how to approach each prompt. As such, our prompt database below also contains a link to each school's Essay Breakdown. If a school doesn’t have an Essay Breakdown yet, sign up on the sidebar to get alerted when new posts for the schools you care about are live.
And yet, during this time of vocabulary enrichment, I never thought that Honors English and Biology had much in common. Imagine my surprise one night as a freshman as I was nonchalantly flipping through a science textbook. I came upon fascinating new terms: adiabatic, axiom, cotyledon, phalanges…and I couldn’t help but wonder why these non-literary, seemingly random words were drawing me in. These words had sharp syllables, were challenging to enunciate, and didn’t possess any particularly abstract meaning.

It is good to be afraid of cliché—but one of the truisms about clichés is that they become trite because they reiterate feelings we’ve all had. That also means that buried beneath many clichés is some authentic, particular, and personal relationship you have to your topic. If you’re working with a teacher, counselor, or advisor on your statement, they can help you discern whether you’re in cliché territory or whether you’ve bypassed it to a more fruitful realm.
The Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest awards five high school juniors or seniors a $1,000 scholarship award to be used toward their higher education plus a Signet Classics Library for their school. Essays must be submitted by a high school English teacher on behalf of students who write an essay on one of five topics for this year's competition book, The Tempest. The contest is [...] More
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.
According to a report from the College Board, an applicant’s grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the top factors, but all universities believed the essay to be of considerable importance in determining the most qualified students. In fact, a compelling and well-written essay can also tip the scales when all else is equal between competing applicants. Therefore, read on to find the top college application essay tips to help you compose an exceptional essay that will stand out to the admissions committee.
She’s only got 650 words. Which leads us to Tip #1: Take refuge in the anecdote, in the specific, in the particular: everything gets easier if you choose something specific. Many writers—of college essays and other media—get stressed out, believing that they must convey their entire selves in an essay. This just isn’t possible to do in the capsule of space that is your Common App personal statement. And, it will ironically accomplish the opposite—it’ll cause your essay to look shapeless and meandering, therefore communicating very little about you. If you instead use an individual story as a stand-in for something larger, or for something else, your essay becomes a kind of parable or lesson that educates your reader both about you and, hopefully, about a part of the world they’ve never previously considered.
RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. No sentence fragments. It’s imperative to always avoid split infinitives. Ending on a preposition is the sort of English up with which teachers will not put. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book. You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

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.)
All applicants to Yale are asked to respond to a few Yale-specific short answer questions. Those applying with the Coalition Application are asked to upload a digital file of their creation along with a short reflection. Those applying with the Common Application are asked to respond to two short essay prompts. Those applying with the QuestBridge National College Match Application are asked to complete a short Yale QuestBridge Questionnaire, available via the Yale Admissions Status Portal after an application is received and a student activates his/her status portal. See additional details below.
ASDSO Senior Undergraduate Scholarships will be awarded for the upcoming school year and have ranged from $5,000-$10,000 in recent years. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and enrolled full-time at the senior level (during the upcoming year) in an accredited civil engineering program, or in a related field as determined by ASDSO, and must demonstrate an interest in pursuing a career in hydraulics, [...] More
One option is to discuss a formal accomplishment or event (whether it is a religious ritual or social rite of passage) that reflects personal growth. If you go this route, make sure to discuss why the ritual was meaningful and how specific aspects of said ritual contributed to your personal growth. An example of this could be the meaning of becoming an Eagle Scout to you, the accomplishment of being elected to Senior Leadership, or completing a Confirmation. In the case of religious topics, however, be sure to not get carried away with details, and focus on the nature of your personal growth and new understanding — know your audience.

Applicants must be the child, stepchild, spouse, or grandchild, or other DoD recognized dependent of a graduate of NAVSCOLEOD. NAVSCOLEOD graduates are not eligible for scholarship awards. Active Duty personnel are not eligible for scholarship awards. Military academy students are not eligible to receive EODMF Scholarships. Students may apply in case they are not accepted or decide not to attend [...] More
The Marguerite Young Endowment Fund was established to provide assistance for students pursuing theology. Marguerite Young was a sincere Christian woman who was a faithful member of her church and an unwavering supporter of theological education for the training of faithful Christian ministers. Applicants must pursue a degree or studies in Theology and be enrolled full-time in a [...] More

IvyWise empowers students to live up to their highest possible potential, both academically and personally. For over 20 years, IvyWise has been dedicated to helping students find the schools that will be a good fit for them, where they will be happy and succeed. Our team has over 150 years of combined experience and we have worked with thousands of students.


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.”


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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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.
You may have heard the phrase “holistic” admissions thrown around—many universities follow this model, which means they don’t necessarily have an ACT or SAT cutoff score, nor do they require a certain number of AP/IB/Honors courses. Instead, they’re trying to get to know candidates as humans. Admissions officers are people—people who would be horribly bored if their job came down just to numbers, statistics, cutoffs, and counting up your AP and SAT and ACT scores.
The Telegraph Herald Scholastic Journalist Awards are presented to high school seniors studying within the Telegraph Herald's circulation area (roughly a 50-mile radius of Dubuque, Iowa). Applicants must be active in the editorial aspect (news, web, sports, features, photo and art/graphics) of newspapers and submit portfolios demonstrating experience, talent, and leadership in newspaper [...] More
In addition to focusing on my studies full-time, I am also involved in a number of campus and community activities. I am involved in the ______________ and ______________ organizations at my school, and have also volunteered with ________________ during school breaks. I also hold down a part-time job as a ________________, where I have an opportunity to learn valuable skills that will help me in my Widget Making career while earning money to fund my education.
The Wynetta A. Frazier Sister-to-Sister Scholarship was created to provide financial assistance to mature African American women in their pursuit of post-secondary education. An applicant must be a returning student, whose education was interrupted by family responsibilities or other personal demands and is now ready to complete college or one who is entering college for the first time because of [...] More

The Common App’s Prompt #1 is the Old Faithful of essay questions. It’s been around for years and offers all the flexibility an applicant could ask for from a prompt, with just enough direction to get those creative fountains flowing. Focus on the key words, “background,” “identity,” “interest,” and “talent,” and use them as launch points for your brainstorming. What about your history, personality, hobbies, or accomplishments might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? It can be something as small as seeing an episode of a television show (are you living life in the Upside Down?) or as large as the struggle of moving to a foreign country (especially if you had to leave behind grandma’s cooking). The most important thing to consider for this prompt is that your subject and/or perspective is dynamic and specific to you and who you are and no one else.
This scholarship provides assistance to students with financial need who have resided in, or have substantial ties to, Larimer County and have an interest in the study of law or our system of government, debate or other similar law-related educational activities. Students attending Windsor High School are eligible to apply. Requires an essay submission.

Some instruments are built to make multiple notes, like a piano. A saxophone on the other hand doesn’t play chords but single notes through one vibrating reed. However, I discovered that you can play multiple notes simultaneously on the saxophone. While practicing a concert D-flat scale, I messed up a fingering for a low B-flat, and my instrument produced a strange noise with two notes. My band teacher got very excited and exclaimed, “Hey, you just played a polyphonic note!” I like it when accidents lead to discovering new ideas.
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We’ve bought it, but it didn’t stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
When brainstorming this particular essay, a tip would be to use a web diagram, placing the topic in the middle and thinking about branching characteristics, themes, or concepts related to the topic that are directly engaging and captivating to you. In doing so, you’ll be able to gauge the depth of the topic and whether it will suffice for this prompt.

There are a few different kinds of loyalty. Loyalty to a team, to an establishment, to other people—even to oneself. Sitting in that bar over the last year, I feel like I’ve glimpsed them all. As a Boston-born girl, my loyalty to the Patriots seems natural—even if it’s not so common for a teenage Indian-American-Californian girl to be as much of a sports junkie as I am. But I’ve seen that loyalty tested plenty of times. I’m completely invested in the Pats; I’ve been known to be giddy when they win, and tearful when they lose. However, finding a true home to watch Patriots games in California isn’t easy. So I owe Dee's Sports Bar a surprising amount. By the end of the season, the staff knew what we wanted to eat, and where we wanted to sit, so the sports bar felt like a second home.
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The application essay is not a résumé, nor is it an epic. And by “not an epic,” I mean both  “not fiction” and “not a grand adventure story about an extraordinary protagonist.” Some students might feel pressured to invent tragic past experiences or monumental achievements to heighten the emotional appeal of their essays, but admission officers can detect bovine feces. They also don’t expect you to have survived trauma or carried out heroic feats by your senior year in high school. So always represent yourself in the best way possible, but make sure you keep that depiction truthful.  
One of the most common questions at parent meetings is “what’s better college or university”? This question did not make sense to me, I then realized that parents want to know the difference between community college and a four year. Concepts like financial aid, grants, loans, are all foreign concepts as most of our parents never went to college. As a student ambassador, I help bridge that gap. We often hold meetings where we explained resources available and different options for each student. I have learned, that as a student, I can provide assistance to my own community through my knowledge. I am the communication necessary for further successes, using my personal knowledge and experience to help uplift and educate others in similar situations. My pursuit is to not only go to college but thrive and come back ready and able to help students like myself that have to fight for their seat in the lecture hall.
“Since I opened the first page of the book titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” I have realized how to write a scholarship essay to win a day. I realized the true essence of being a journalist. Despite my attitude to writing, I had some doubts regarding the future career because my parents did not treat the profession of the writer as something successful. I will explain why I am the one who deserves a scholarship at Yale University.”

Homeschooling laid a firm foundation; my values are firmly rooted. My work ethics are strong. I can stand on my own two feet and function independently. I have the skills to manage both my education and my personal life outside of my home. I have the skills necessary to be a successful college student and to pursue a higher level of learning. I give much of this credit to the experience I received as a homeschooled student early on in my formative years.”
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High school seniors residing in Shelby County (Ohio) and attending a school in Shelby County (Ohio) who will be a first-generation student (neither parent has a bachelor's degree or higher). You must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and will be enrolling as a full-time student in an accredited college or university in the coming academic year. The required essay cannot exceed 500 words. For more [...] More
Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.

When I came out to my sister-in-law, she told me that people who are really set in their ways are more likely to be tolerant to different kinds of people after having relationships with these people. If my uncle can learn to love me, to learn to love one queer/poly person, he can learn to love them all. If I can be an example to my family, I can be an example to my classmates. If I can get the opportunity to travel abroad, I can be an example to the world. Not just through my relationships, but through my art. Give me a camera and a screen and I will carry the message of tolerance from the audiences of Mezipatra in Prague to my parent’s living room.
The Ruth Miller Distance Education Challenge Scholarship recognizes the important role that distance education has played in Ruth Miller's life, both personally and professionally. Applicants must be a degree-seeking student enrolled in the UW-Platteville Distance Learning Center's Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program; have transferred in a minimum of 30 credits to [...] More
Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don’t sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring. 
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What values did you grow up holding dear? Are they the same ones today? Tell the story of the first time you learned about these values—say, a morning at Sunday School or a conversation with a grandparent. If they’ve changed, tell the story of the moment (as best you can place it) when they changed—say, in a classroom, in a conversation with a friend, etc.
Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the listprovided.
This doesn’t mean that losses don’t sting. I was devastated when my hockey team lost the championship game by only one goal when I was the last one to control the puck. But I was still incredibly proud of my team’s cohesiveness, the fluid effort we put into the season, and my own contribution. More importantly, the camaraderie and support of my teammates is ongoing and something I will always cherish more than a win. I didn’t dwell over what could have been. Instead, I focused on what I was going to take with me into the next season.

Maine helped me branch out in my own community now as a Student Ambassador. From this experience, I’ve learned that I can represent my high school and have the responsibility to assist staff at events for prospective students and organize presentations for parents. I spend a lot of time interpreting for parents at meetings and explaining the current events that are ongoing and new educational opportunities that students should take advantage of. I have had the privilege to work alongside office staff and the Principal, where I get to positively dedicate my time to parents who have general questions regarding the schools upcoming events. By dedicating my time as a Student Ambassador, I have allowed myself to excel at communicating with others and improving my customer service skills. I want my education to change the negative stigmas surrounding my community, by showing that it's possible to expand your access to the world and allow you to leave, by choice, through receiving a post-secondary education. I am someone who has grown up in an area with limited resources fostering limited mindsets. My neighborhood has 4 elementary schools, 2 high schools, and a strip club feet away from a library. What message does that send to children? It's normal in my community to have pregnant classmates in high school. People aren't aware of the world outside, they aren't encouraged to ever leave.
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The most important things to keep in mind when searching for these moments are the elements of growth, understanding, and transformation. The event, accomplishment, or realization you discuss should be something that helped you understand the world around you through a different, more mature lens. And, as with Prompt #4, be sure to answer all parts of the question.
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.

Every year, the college application process seems to get more complex, and more intense. If you’re a student, you might be reviewing rumors and horror stories about that classmate of yours with perfect grades and a 1500 SAT score who somehow got rejected from every Ivy League school. If you’re a parent, you might be afraid of how much the college admissions system has changed and grown more competitive since you were your kids’ age, or perhaps you never had to navigate this system at all.
The Daughters of the Cincinnati have contributed generously to the scholarship fund for over a century. Applicants must be daughters of career commissioned officers in the United States military. If you are eligible, you must apply during your senior year in high school. The application process includes an essay, secondary school report, a letter of recommendation from a member of the applicant’s [...] More
3. Body paragraph #1: In this paragraph, Ramya will tell us something more about loyalty, and why it matters. She’ll add context. So she will zoom away from Dee's and tell us that throughout high school, she started noticing a lot of her friends getting caught up in social drama, becoming competitive with one another, fighting about romantic situations; set against all this, as well as bullying, depression, and other difficult parts of high school, Ramya’s loyalty to the Patriots and Dee's served as a sanctuary—one of the things that kept her sane.
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.
Answer: Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else. Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say—if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it. An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.
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Anna Frutiger will always be remembered for her dedication to her friends and family, her education and her love for serving her community. She graduated from Alma High School in 2005 as a valedictorian of her class and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 2009. Anna had just completed her first year of dental school at [...] More
My name is Sarah, and I spent the better part of my childhood on the wrong medication. I am a survivor of a common problem in clinical psychology – misdiagnosis. From antiquated testing methods to limited education, there are many reasons why professionals provide inaccurate diagnoses. I want to help change that. Therefore, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology so I can open my own psychological testing facility.
We would like to award one undergraduate student affected by cancer with a $2,000 scholarship for the coming academic year. The scholarship is for any undergraduate student who has been affected by cancer in any way (be it themselves, a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc.) and they must also be attending their undergraduate in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, [...] More
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.

The VABA Aviation Scholarship is awarded to a well deserving Virginia resident high school, technical school senior, or college/university undergraduate who is pursuing an aviation-related career in an accredited institution. You must submit a completed essay, typed, double-spaced between 250-500 words on the subject: "Why I Wish to Pursue a Career in Aviation" or "Why Aviation is Important to [...] More
Now that I am getting ready for college, I feel the effect that Germinal had on me more than ever. I've read it three times since I first discovered it and each time I seem to learn new things. It isn't just that I have a pet rabbit named Poland or that I have a pen-pal who is an orphaned miner's daughter. It goes much deeper than that. Germinal has changed the way I look at myself and the world around me. No other book has done that.
I’ve danced ballet since I when I was seven-years-old. But, even after almost eight years, I could still barely extend my legs as high as my peers nor could do as many pirouettes as them. My flexibility was incredibly subpar and I easily wore out my Pointe shoes, making them unwearable after a couple of months. Where the average lifespans of my peers’ pointe shoes extended into months, mine could barely last ten classes. I was the weakling of my class at Ballet Etudes, and I was too absorbed in my insecurities to do anything to better myself to become the dancer I aspired to be.
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].
According to a report from the College Board, an applicant’s grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the top factors, but all universities believed the essay to be of considerable importance in determining the most qualified students. In fact, a compelling and well-written essay can also tip the scales when all else is equal between competing applicants. Therefore, read on to find the top college application essay tips to help you compose an exceptional essay that will stand out to the admissions committee.
The second was different. The cloudy morning following election night seemed to shroud the school in gloom. In the mist, however—a golden face, with dark hair and two moon-shaped eyes, faces the camera. Her freckles, sprinkled like distant stars across the expanse of her round cheeks, only accentuated her childlike features and added to the soft feel of the photo. Her eyes bore into something beyond the lens, beyond the photographer, beyond the viewer—everything is rigid, from the jut of her jaw, to her stitched brows, her upright spine and arms locked across her chest, to her shut mouth.
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