Picture this before you plop yourself down in front of your computer to compose your college application essay: A winter-lit room is crammed with admissions professionals and harried faculty members who sit around a big table covered with files. The admissions people, often young and underpaid, buzz with enthusiasm; the professors frequently pause to take off their glasses and rub their eyes.
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.)
Everything we’re talking about here—writing, noticing mistakes, correcting them—will take you at least three and as many as five or six drafts to get right. So, Tip #6: Don’t treat your early drafts like anything close to final. That means you’re going to have to get comfortable with simply putting idea to paper, and with cutting entire paragraphs or “points” within the essay. You’ve probably never written anything like the personal statement before, and you have to promise yourself to be iterative—otherwise, you’ll lock yourself into a weaker version of the essay.
College application essay prompts are written with this goal in mind. Admissions officers want to give you the chance to share your interests, aspirations, and views on the world, so most prompts ask about how your experiences have shaped you or what you're excited about studying or doing in college. I've collected a ton of examples below and provided some analysis to help you begin planning and crafting your own essays.
In order to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores but also a strong personal statement. Why? Your Personal Statement is the single loudest ‘qualitative’ element of your application. It brings to life the student—you!—behind your statistics and demographics. It’s the way you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and as a potential member of the campus community. With more people applying to colleges every year, admissions officers know they can have their pick of bright and motivated students. In addition to seeing your talents and achievements on paper, they need a chance to imagine what you might be like as a walking, talking human being.
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.
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Each graf was 45 words long and contained substantively the same information (applicant has wanted to be a librarian since she was a young girl). But they are extraordinarily different essays, most strikingly because the former is generic where the latter is specific. It was a real thing, which happened to a real person, told simply. There is nothing better than that.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition is a contest designed to motivate high school students to excel in education. The Competition encourages students to express their views on a preselected topic and focuses on the ability of the students to communicate orally and in writing. The contest is also designed to give young people experience in public speaking [...] More

Award Amount: $1,000 The Love Your Career Scholarship is available to students attending an accredited college or university. You must submit an essay of at least 1,000 words describing at least three steps that you plan to take in the next year to start a path towards having a career that you love in order to qualify for this award. Topics may include: What are your passions that could be turned into a career? What are some ideas you have for a business based on things that you love and are skilled at? You must also interview a professional in your chosen field that has at least three years of experience. Learn more about the Love Your Career Scholarship.


The Jill M. Balboni Memorial Scholarship is dedicated to the memory of Jill Marie Balboni who lost her life long battle with cystic fibrosis in July 2013 at the age of 36. Jill was a lover of life and lover of learning. Jill received her Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D and still managed to enjoy every day with a smile while spending time with her family and friends between her time in the Tri-Delta [...] More


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.
The Knudson Churchill Scholarship is designed to promote and support education in the fields of print journalism or automotive technology. Endowed by the New England MG T Register, the program will present the best applicant with a monetary award to an, accredited, post-secondary school of winner's choice in order to study in one of these two areas. Applicants who demonstrate an interest and [...] More
Beginning freshmen are considered based on: class rank (generally top 10 percent); ACT/SAT (generally a minimum ACT of 27 and SAT of 1260); participation in high school Honors, AP, or Gifted & Talented classes; quality of essays; extracurricular activities; service to school and community; letters of recommendation; and for those selected as finalists an on-campus interview. Entering freshman [...] More
The Virginia Zank Scholarship: Submit a 500-word essay describing your relationship to writing. What do you write? Why do you write? What are your writing goals for college? What are your writing goals after college? How will the Virginia Zank Scholarship help you achieve your goals? Applicants must be incoming English majors with a 21 ACT score or higher (and/or SAT Critical Reading and Math [...] More
I learned so much from these games beyond the obvious. I learned how to lose, and win, graciously. I learned to enjoy the process, regardless of the outcome. I learned how to take cues from other people but think on my own, both creatively and strategically. I learned how to cope with failure and turn it into a lesson. I learned that true victory stems from hard work and persistence. And I learned that the strongest and most meaningful relationships are not based on indulgence but on honesty and respect.
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
If you’re starting to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your essay, take a break and do something else. A short walk around your neighborhood can help clear your mind and help you brainstorm new ideas for your composition. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, do something completely unrelated to your essay and forget about it completely for a while. If you try to work through the stress, you may end up producing subpar work.
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