While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.
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.
The most popular essay prompt of the 2017-2018 application year (through January 5, 2018) is "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6%), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5%), and "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4%). 
Now, taking your chosen topic, it’s time to outline it. Outlining works great for some people as a pre-writing tactic, and we always recommend it. For others, it can be harder than simply getting down to writing. If you’re really struggling to outline and would rather just follow the pen to a first draft, that’s fine, but do yourself a favor and make outlining your second draft step. At some point, everyone needs an outline, but it’s your call when to do it. Let’s follow this through with Ramya’s essay on the Patriots. The model we’ll use for this essay is a five-paragraph, anecdote-driven essay.

There are a few things to note when unpacking this prompt. Keep in mind that the words “accomplishment” and “event” leave themselves open to interpretation; thus, an essay inspired by this question can tackle anything from a formal event to a very small occurrence. A formal event or accomplishment might include anything from obvious landmarks like birthdays or weddings to achievements like earning an award or receiving a promotion. More informal examples might include something as simple as meeting a special person in your life, taking a car ride, or eating a particularly meaningful meal. We have often found that smaller, less formal events make for more surprising and memorable essays; but as with any of the other prompts, as long as you can answer with originality and put a unique twist on your subject matter, all ideas are fair game.
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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.
To succeed with the scholarship essay, it is critical to follow the prompt the way admissions officers post it. Mind the smallest details like format and word count. Every element mentioned in the assignment’s prompt is critical for the final grade, and a student can check it in the grading rubric. Experts recommend reading the instruction several times not to miss a detail.
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
However, a simple walk on a hiking trail behind my house made me open my own eyes to the truth. Over the years, everything--even honoring my grandmother--had become second to school and grades. As my shoes humbly tapped against the Earth, the towering trees blackened by the forest fire a few years ago, the faintly colorful pebbles embedded in the sidewalk, and the wispy white clouds hanging in the sky reminded me of my small though nonetheless significant part in a larger whole that is humankind and this Earth. Before I could resolve my guilt, I had to broaden my perspective of the world as well as my responsibilities to my fellow humans.   

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In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.
Scholarships from the Cancer Survivors' Fund are granted to cancer survivors for their college educations. Recipients are selected by a committee based on applicants' personal hardship and financial need. Applicants must be a cancer survivor or currently diagnosed with cancer, and does not have to be receiving treatment to qualify. Must be enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in an accredited [...] More
Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? What images are important for someone who has never been to your hometown/neighborhood/community to see? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chik-Fil-A every block?
The David Womack Memorial West Virginia LGBT Scholarship is available to any gay or lesbian undergraduate student who is a resident of West Virginia. The essay should be no more than five (5) 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 information or to apply, please visit [...] More
The Amos and Edith Wallace Scholarship was founded to reward young, bright African-American students who have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to service and education. In order to apply, you must be an African-American student who is a KHS graduating senior; have a minimum 2.8 GPA and will attend a four-year accredited college/university in the fall. A 400-600 word essay must also be [...] More
My father left when I was one year old and I will soon be turning 17; I did the math and found that for about 5900 days he has neglected me. He was able to sleep 5900 nights without knowing whether or not I was dead or alive. Even though he’s been gone for 5900 days,  my life did not get put on hold. In those 5900 days I learned how to walk, talk, and I became a strong young man without the provider of my Y Chromosome because he is nothing more to me than that.
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.
Award Amount: $1,000 The Blades of Green Scholarship Fund is open to undergraduate and graduate students. You must be pursuing education in environmental studies or related fields and submit a 350 to 500 word letter of intent describing your career path, passion for your intended field and what inspired your pursuit of your field in order to be considered for this award. Learn more about the Blades of Grass Green Scholarship Fund.
Cutting the first photograph, I make sure to leave a quarter inch border. I then paste it onto a polka-dotted green paper with a glue stick. For a sophisticated touch, I use needle and thread to sew the papers together. Loads of snipping and pasting later, the clock reads three in the morning. I look down at the final product, a full spread of photographs and cut-out shapes. As usual, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride as I brush my fingers over the crisp papers and the glossy photographs. For me, the act of taking pieces of my life and putting them together on a page is my way of organizing remnants of my past to make something whole and complete.
Verbs jump, dance, fall, fail us. Nouns ground us, name me, define you. “We are the limits of our language.” Love your words, feed them, let them grow. Teach them well and they will teach you too. Let them play, sing, or sob outside of yourself. Give them as a gift to others. Try the imperative, think about your future tense, when you would have looked back to the imperfect that defines us and awaits us. Define, Describe, Dare. Have fun.
That day around six o’clock, juvenile combatants appeared in Kyung Mountain for their weekly battle, with cheeks smeared in mud and empty BB guns in their hands. The Korean War game was simple: to kill your opponent you had to shout “pow!” before he did. Once we situated ourselves, our captain blew the pinkie whistle and the war began. My friend Min-young and I hid behind a willow tree, eagerly awaiting our orders.

Unrelated elements of your personal life. In most cases, you should not mention your significant other in the essay. You might mention a spouse if you need to reference your children or a turning point in your life, but these personal details do not fit most essays. Any information that seems frivolous or ill-placed should be removed from the essay.
Tips to consider: Feel free to address anything you want the Office of Admissions to know about your academic record so that we can consider this information when we review your application. You can discuss your academic work, class rank, GPA, individual course grades, test scores, and/or the classes that you took or the classes that were available to you. You can also describe how special circumstances and/or your school, community, and family environments impacted your high school performance.

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.
If you’re like many high school students, you’ve been putting off this part of your application. Maybe it’s because you’re not inspired by the various prompts. Perhaps you’re procrastinating because trying to express your character, personality, worldview, passions, writing skill, and desire to go to a particular school all within just a few hundred words feels overwhelming. Or maybe you’re stressed because you know a lot rides on this part of your application but you don’t consider yourself a strong writer.
That second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide.
As a child I would often compare my life to my peers; I would often go through all of these hypothetical scenarios in my mind thinking, “If my dad were around I could be like all of the other boys.” As the years went by I always had a sense of optimism that one day I would meet him and he would tell me “I love you and I’ll never leave your side again.” But when the time came and I met him on January 2014 I learned that a man can reject his only son not once, but twice.
If my father had a life insurance policy, we would not have to work ourselves to the bone and sacrifice our physical and emotional well-being to keep up with expenses. I would not have to worry so intensely about the future of my education on top of the crippling grief that I have felt over the last five months. If this devastating experience has taught me anything, it is this: financial planning for these situations is absolutely invaluable. I will not soon forget the stress and despair that I have experienced, and I now realize that to have a life insurance policy is to throw your surviving family members a crucial lifeline. Though no one can ever prepare you for the trauma of losing a parent, life insurance allows you to grieve without the constant stress of financial burden, and for that reason, it is an absolutely essential precaution.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
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