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.

The Iranian Scholarship Foundation (ISF) provides scholarships to students of Iranian descent in the United States who demonstrate exceptional academic promise, significant financial need and a dedication to community service. We believe that the future of the global Iranian community rests in the hands of our younger generation and the Iranian Scholarship Foundation is committed to providing the [...] More


4. Some connection between your past, your present, and your future. It’s common to see a student choose an important experience in their past, narrate the whole thing beautifully, but then forget to tie it to the present. Before you even start writing, think about whether your potential topic is influencing the way you think about the present, and, crucially, the future. Take Michael, again. He writes beautifully about his grandfather teaching him about the waves, but he’s not a pro surfer, and might even be going to college in the middle of the country. Does that matter? Not as long as he tells us how surfing influences him—as he did in extracting a wider lesson.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation congratulates the 16 college-bound high school seniors who won this year's essay competition. FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010. Seniors were asked to pick from two topics: "The challenges of growing up a freethinker," or "Why Boy Scouts of America should welcome [...] More
What most intrigues me about engineering is not just the math or the technology, but the practical application. It is through engineering that I can fix up my car... and facilitate submarine navigation. Engineering, in fact, is a lifestyle --  instead of lingering over hardships, I work to solve them and learn from them. Whether the challenge is naval defense or family finances or even just a flat tire on my bike before another night shift, I will be solving these problems and will always be looking to keep rolling on.  

But that safety net was ripped wide open the day I walked through the sliding double doors of City Hall for my first Youth Council meeting. I assumed I would spend my hour flipping through flashcards and studying for next week’s unit test, while a bunch of teenagers complained about the lack of donuts in the student store. Instead, I listened to the stories of 18 students, all of whom were using their voices to reshape the distribution of power within their communities and break the structures that chained so many in a perpetual cycle of desperation and despair. While I spent most of my time poring over a textbook trying to memorize formulas and theorems, they were spending their time using those formulas and theorems to make a difference in their communities. Needless to say, that meeting sparked an inspirational flame within me.
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.  

Last year, it finally happened: the return of the “topic of your choice” (second only to the return of the Jedi). Feared by some, coveted by others, and legendary in its existence; regardless of where you stand on the issue, this was a newsworthy addition to the 2017-18 Common App prompt choices. For years, students have been treating Prompt #1 (which asks about your background, etc.) as topic of your choice *light*—it wasn’t exactly the delicious, full-freedom version students were looking for, but they were able to make it work in a pinch. Applicants around the world likely let out a big exhale when they saw they could serve up a big scoop of Prompt #7 to admissions last year. And this year will be no different.
This experience was not the only reason I wanted to study criminal justice, but it did play a big part. I started exploring the career more when I decided that a desk job just wasn’t for me. Throughout high school I struggled because of the routine nature of it all. I saw the same people and attended the same classes every single day. I knew I didn’t want a job that would be that stagnant. That’s when I got the idea to work in law enforcement, because there would always be a new challenge for me to tackle. After researching the field even more, I set my sights on crime scene investigation.

I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile.
I look around my room, dimly lit by an orange light. On a desk in the left corner, a framed picture of an Asian family is beaming their smiles, buried among US history textbooks and The Great Gatsby. A Korean ballad streams from a pair of tiny computer speakers. Pamphlets of American colleges are scattered about on the floor. A cold December wind wafts a strange infusion of ramen and leftover pizza. On the wall in the far back, a Korean flag hangs besides a Led Zeppelin poster.
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 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.
The Carl R. Morris Memorial Scholarship is a $1,000 scholarship offered to Calhoun County students who are committed to education and community, and currently attend, or are planning to attend, either Alderson-Broaddus College, Glenville State College or West Virginia University. The student must also have a minimum 3.0 GPA and demonstrate financial need.
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.

This prompt may seem to go against everything that you've learned on your path to college. It's far more comfortable in an application to celebrate successes and accomplishments than it is to discuss setbacks and failure. At the same time, you'll impress the college admissions folks greatly if you can show your ability to learn from your failures and mistakes. Be sure to devote significant space to the second half of the question—how did you learn and grow from the experience? Introspection and honesty are key with this prompt.


With 100 words, you can only focus on one or two elements of your life. Think about your biggest selling points – the things that show you are the ideal candidate. Start by introducing yourself and your educational status. Then jump into the main topic of the essay. You may not have room to mention how the scholarship will help your education. Instead, mention how your education can help your career. The other information will be implied.
One of our consultants wrote about how growing up in a poor Vietnamese immigrant family inspired her to seize big opportunities, even if they were risky or challenging. She describes the emotional demand of opening and running a family grocery store. (Note: all of the following essay excerpts have been shortened and edited for this post. Names have also been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.)

The Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship for Mystery Writing seeks to nurture talent in mystery writing - in fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, and screenwriting. The scholarship is open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. Membership in Mystery Writers of America is not required to apply. The McCloy Scholarship is intended for serious aspiring mystery writers who wish to improve their writing [...] More


I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child because I had trouble focusing in school. My doctor prescribed medication to improve my symptoms, but all it did was make me numb to the world around me. I couldn’t think or process emotions, and most of the time, I had no emotions at all. I went through this for several years until my parents finally decided to get a second opinion.

Your organization stands for what I believe in. Like your organization, I hope to help animals for the rest of my life. To reach my goals, I need as much help as possible. I already have the moral support of my family and friends, but that is not quite enough to make my dream come true. I hope that your organization can help me reach this dream by awarding me your scholarship.


Before you begin to write, brainstorm some ideas. Most likely, the university gave you a prompt or a choice of prompts to write about. Take your time to carefully consider each prompt. If you feel yourself drawn to a particular prompt, think about why you’re being drawn to it. Reflect on your life to find any personal anecdotes that work well with that prompt.
×