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College Admissions , College Essays

best college essays that worked

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 145 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

Hamilton College

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

Tufts University

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

Emory University

Smith College

Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.


Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

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.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

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.

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.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

best college essays that worked

Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

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.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

best college essays that worked

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

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.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

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.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

best college essays that worked

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

best college essays that worked

An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of h ow to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

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, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

best college essays that worked

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#3: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

What's Next?

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2022–2023)

College essay examples from students accepted to harvard, stanford, and other elite schools.

best college essays that worked


Responding effectively to college essay prompts is quite different from other essay writing. The combined challenge of addressing a question in an interesting way while staying focused and making yourself stand out, all within a limited number of words, is something that students struggle with every year. With a wide variety of prompts used by each school, alongside the Common App essays , it can be overwhelming to write strong, memorable essays.

However, there are some standard practices that will help elevate your essay:

Directly address any questions the prompt asks. Many essay prompts will ask you to write about extracurricular experiences in your life or to list interests such as your favorite movies or music. Be sure to include the answer to any questions and don't get distracted while providing context or other extra information.

Use specific information. Make sure to mention the specific volunteer program you worked at or the name of your favorite instructor from your summer STEM camp. While it's important not to overburden your essay with small details, peppering in a few specifics will highlight what's important to you both academically and personally.

Create a narrative. Just like with any story or news article, you want to start your essays with a good hook. Setting the stage for your experiences, including anecdotes to drive home a point, or carrying a thematic element throughout your essay will help keep the reader interested and will show off your creativity.

Reuse material. There’s no reason to write completely new essays for every school you’re applying to. Many schools ask the same questions with slightly different wording, like the commonly used “diversity essay” which essentially asks how you contribute and benefit from diversity. With some editing, a single essay could answer multiple prompts — and cut down on your stress!

Here are some example essays from some of the thousands of students we've helped get accepted to their dream school.

Note: Some personally identifying details have been changed.

College essay example #1

This is a college essay that worked for Harvard University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Harvard Undergrad )

This past summer, I had the privilege of participating in the University of Notre Dame’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program . Under the mentorship of Professor Wendy Bozeman and Professor Georgia Lebedev from the department of Biological Sciences, my goal this summer was to research the effects of cobalt iron oxide cored (CoFe2O3) titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles as a scaffold for drug delivery, specifically in the delivery of a compound known as curcumin, a flavonoid known for its anti-inflammatory effects. As a high school student trying to find a research opportunity, it was very difficult to find a place that was willing to take me in, but after many months of trying, I sought the help of my high school biology teacher, who used his resources to help me obtain a position in the program.

Using equipment that a high school student could only dream of using, I was able to map apoptosis (programmed cell death) versus necrosis (cell death due to damage) in HeLa cells, a cervical cancer line, after treating them with curcumin-bound nanoparticles. Using flow cytometry to excite each individually suspended cell with a laser, the scattered light from the cells helped to determine which cells were living, had died from apoptosis or had died from necrosis. Using this collected data, it was possible to determine if the curcumin and/or the nanoparticles had played any significant role on the cervical cancer cells. Later, I was able to image cells in 4D through con-focal microscopy. From growing HeLa cells to trying to kill them with different compounds, I was able to gain the hands-on experience necessary for me to realize once again why I love science.

Living on the Notre Dame campus with other REU students, UND athletes, and other summer school students was a whole other experience that prepared me for the world beyond high school. For 9 weeks, I worked, played and bonded with the other students, and had the opportunity to live the life of an independent college student.

Along with the individually tailored research projects and the housing opportunity, there were seminars on public speaking, trips to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and one-on-one writing seminars for the end of the summer research papers we were each required to write. By the end of the summer, I wasn’t ready to leave the research that I was doing. While my research didn’t yield definitive results for the effects of curcumin on cervical cancer cells, my research on curcumin-functionalized CoFe2O4/TiO2 core-shell nanoconjugates indicated that there were many unknown factors affecting the HeLa cells, and spurred the lab to expand their research into determining whether or not the timing of the drug delivery mattered and whether or not the position of the binding site of the drugs would alter the results. Through this summer experience, I realized my ambition to pursue a career in research. I always knew that I would want to pursue a future in science, but the exciting world of research where the discoveries are limitless has captured my heart. This school year, the REU program has offered me a year-long job, and despite my obligations as a high school senior preparing for college, I couldn’t give up this offer, and so during this school year, I will be able to further both my research and interest in nanotechnology. 

College essay example #2

This student was admitted to Harvard University.

I believe that humans will always have the ability to rise above any situation, because life is what you make of it. We don’t know what life is or why we are in this world; all we know, all we feel, is that we must protect it anyway we can. Buddha said it clearly: “Life is suffering.” Life is meant to be challenging, and really living requires consistent work and review. By default, life is difficult because we must strive to earn happiness and success.

Yet I've realized that life is fickler than I had imagined; it can disappear or change at any time. Several of my family members left this world in one last beating symphony; heart attacks seem to be a trend in my family. They left like birds; laughing one minute and in a better place the next.

Steve Jobs inspired me, when in his commencement address to Stanford University in 2005, he said "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking." I want to make mistakes, because that is how I learn; I want to follow the beat of my own drum even if it is "out of tune." The important thing is to live without regrets, so when my heart ceases to beat, it will make one last happy note and move on.

I want to live my life daily. Every day I want to live. Every morning when I wake up, I want to be excited by the gift of a new day. I know I am being idealistic and young, and that my philosophy on life is comparable to a calculus limit; I will never reach it. But I won't give up on it because, I can still get infinitely close and that is amazing.

Every day is an apology to my humanity; because I am not perfect, I get to try again and again to "get it right." I breathe the peace of eternity, knowing that this stage is temporary; real existence is continuous. The hourglass of life incessantly trickles on and we are powerless to stop it.

So, I will forgive and forget, love and inspire, experience and satire, laugh and cry, accomplish and fail, live and die. This is how I want to live my life, with this optimistic attitude that every day is a second chance. All the time, we have the opportunity to renew our perspective on life, to correct our mistakes, and to simply move on. Like the phoenix I will continue to rise from the ashes, experienced and renewed. I will not waste time for my life is already in flux.

In all its splendor The Phoenix rises In a burst of orange and yellow It soars in the baby blue sky Heading to that Great Light Baptized in the dance of time Fearless, eternal, beautiful It releases a breathtaking aurora And I gasp at the enormity

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College essay example #3

This is a college essay that worked for Duke University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Duke )

As soon as the patient room door opened, the worst stench I have ever encountered hit me square in the face. Though I had never smelled it before, I knew instinctively what it was: rotting flesh. A small, elderly woman sat in a wheelchair, dressed in a hospital gown and draped in blankets from the neck down with only her gauze-wrapped right leg peering out from under the green material. Dr. Q began unwrapping the leg, and there was no way to be prepared for what I saw next: gangrene-rotted tissue and blackened, dead toes.

Never before had I seen anything this gruesome–as even open surgery paled in comparison. These past two years of shadowing doctors in the operating room have been important for me in solidifying my commitment to pursue medicine, but this situation proved that time in the operating room alone did not quite provide a complete, accurate perspective of a surgeon’s occupation. Doctors in the operating room are calm, cool, and collected, making textbook incisions with machine-like, detached precision. It is a profession founded solely on skill and technique–or so I thought. This grisly experience exposed an entirely different side of this profession I hope to pursue.

Feeling the tug of nausea in my stomach, I forced my gaze from the terrifying wound onto the hopeful face of the ailing woman, seeking to objectively analyze the situation as Dr. Q was struggling to do himself. Slowly and with obvious difficulty, Dr. Q explained that an infection this severe calls for an AKA: Above the Knee Amputation. In the slow, grave silence that ensued, I reflected on how this desperate patient’s very life rests in the hands of a man who has dedicated his entire life to making such difficult decisions as these. I marveled at the compassion in Dr. Q’s promise that this aggressive approach would save the woman’s life. The patient wiped her watery eyes and smiled a long, sad smile. “I trust you, Doc. I trust you.” She shook Dr. Q’s hand, and the doctor and I left the room.

Back in his office, Dr. Q addressed my obvious state of contemplation: “This is the hardest part about what we do as surgeons,” he said, sincerely. “We hurt to heal, and often times people cannot understand that. However, knowing that I’m saving lives every time I operate makes the stress completely worth it.”

Suddenly, everything fell into place for me. This completely different perspective broadened my understanding of the surgical field and changed my initial perception of who and what a surgeon was. I not only want to help those who are ill and injured, but also to be entrusted with difficult decisions the occupation entails. Discovering that surgery is also a moral vocation beyond the generic application of a trained skill set encouraged me. I now understand surgeons to be much more complex practitioners of medicine, and I am certain that this is the field for me.

College essay example #4

This is a supplemental essay that worked for Stanford University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Stanford Undergrad and How to Ace the Stanford Roommate Essay )

In most conventional classrooms, we are taught to memorize material. We study information to regurgitate it on a test and forget it the following day. I thought this was learning. But this past summer, I realized I was wrong.

 I attended the SPK Program, a five-week enrichment program with New Jersey’s best and brightest students. I lived on a college campus with 200 students and studied a topic. I selected Physical Science. On the first day of class, our teacher set a box on the table and poured water into the top, and nothing came out. Then, he poured more water in, and everything slowly came out. We were told to figure out what had happened with no phones or textbooks, just our brains. We worked together to discover in the box was a siphon, similar to what is used to pump gas. We spent the next weeks building solar ovens, studying the dynamic of paper planes, diving into the content of the speed of light and space vacuums, among other things. We did this with no textbooks, flashcards, or information to memorize.

During those five weeks, we were not taught impressive terminology or how to ace the AP Physics exam. We were taught how to think. More importantly, we were taught how to think together. Learning is not memorization or a competition. Learning is working together to solve the problems around us and better our community. To me, learning is the means to a better future, and that’s exciting.

College essay example #5 

This is a college essay that worked for University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into UPenn )

When I was thirteen and visiting Liberia, I contracted what turned out to be yellow fever. I met with the local doctor, but he couldn’t make a diagnosis simply because he didn't have access to blood tests and because symptoms such as “My skin feels like it’s on fire” matched many tropical diseases. Luckily, my family managed to drive me several hours away to an urban hospital, where I was treated. Yellow fever shouldn’t be fatal, but in Africa it often is. I couldn’t believe that such a solvable issue could be so severe at the time—so I began to explore.

The exploration led me to the African Disease Prevention Project (ADPP), a non-profit organization associated with several universities. I decided to create the first high school branch of the organization; I liked its unique way of approaching health and social issues. Rather than just raising money and channeling it through third parties, each branch “adopts” one village and travels there to provide for its basic needs. As branch president, I organize events from small stands at public gatherings to 60-person dinner fundraisers in order to raise both money and awareness. I’ve learned how to encourage my peers to meet deadlines, to work around 30 different schedules at once, and to give presentations convincing people why my organization is worth their donation. But overall, ADPP has taught me that small changes can have immense impacts. My branch has helped raise almost $3,000 to build water sanitation plants, construct medical clinics, and develop health education programs in the small village of Zwedru. And the effect doesn’t stop there—by improving one area, our efforts permeate into neighboring villages as they mimic the lifestyle changes that they observe nearby—simple things, like making soap available—can have a big effect. The difference between ADPP and most other organizations is its emphasis on the basics and making changes that last. Working towards those changes to solve real life problems is what excites me.

I found that the same idea of change through simple solutions also rang true during my recent summer internship at Dr. Martin Warner’s lab at UCLA. Dr. Martin’s vision involves using already available digital technologies to improve the individualization of healthcare. By using a person’s genome to tailor a treatment for them or using someone’s personal smartphone as a mobile-monitor to remotely diagnose symptoms, everyday technology is harnessed to make significant strides forward. At the lab, I focused on parsing through medical databases and writing programs that analyze cancerous genomes to find relationships between certain cancers and drugs. My analysis resulted in a database of information that physicians can use to prescribe treatments for their patients’ unique cancerous mutations. Now, a pancreatic cancer patient does not need to be the “guinea-pig” for a prototype drug to have a shot at survival: a doctor can choose the best treatment by examining the patient individually instead of relying on population-wide trends. For the first time in my science career, my passion was going to have an immediate effect on other people, and to me, that was enthralling. Dr. Martin’s lab and his book, Digital Healthcare: A New Age of Medicine, have shown me that changing something as simple as how we treat a disease can have a huge impact. I have found that the search for the holy grail of a “cure for cancer” is problematic as nobody knows exactly what it is or where to look—but we can still move forward without it.

Working with Project ADPP and participating in medical research have taught me to approach problems in a new way. Whether it’s a complex genetic disease or a tropical fever, I’ve found that taking small steps often is the best approach. Finding those steps and achieving them is what gets me excited and hungry to explore new solutions in the future.

College essay example #6

This student was admitted to UC Berkeley .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into UC Berkeley and How to Write Great UC Essays )

The phenomenon of interdependency, man depending on man for survival, has shaped centuries of human civilization. However, I feel, the youth of today are slowly disconnecting from their community. For the past few years, human connection has intrigued me and witnessing the apathy of my peers has prompted me to engage in various leadership positions in order to motivate them to complete community service and become active members of society.

Less than a year before ninth grade began, my cousin and close friend passed away from cancer, and in the hodge-podge of feelings, I did not emotionally deal with either death. However, a simple tale helped me deal with these deaths and take action. 

I was never fully aware of how closely humans rely upon each other until I read The Fall of Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia in freshman year. The allegory is about a leaf that changes with the seasons, finally dying in the winter, realizing that his purpose was to help the tree thrive. After reading it, I was enlightened on the cycle of life and realized the tremendous impact my actions had on others. 

Last year, I joined the American Cancer Society‘s Relay for Life, a twenty-four-hour relay walk-a-thon designed to raise funds for cancer research and create awareness about its early detection. I started a team at school, gathered thirty students and chaperones, and raised $800 for the cause. I watched as each student created friendships with other students on our team and members of the Phoenix community. This year, I let a team in the relay for life again with the schoolwide team of 95 members, and we raised $2,900 for the cure for cancer. At first the group leader ship consisted of only my advisor in me; however, I gained the support of the administrators. I spent well over an hour a day preparing for the event, and it was all worth it! 

The Sonora Eagles were students of different grade levels, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and educational ability. We joked and played football while volunteering. The most important moment occurred during the night’s luminaria ceremony, during which cancer patients of the past and present were commemorated. Our whole team gathered around, and I asked people to share how they have been affected by cancer. As I went through the crowd, their faces illuminated by candlelight, their cheeks were wet with cleansing tears, I realize the impact I had on them, the purpose I was fulfilling; but most importantly, I realized the impact they had had on me. The Sonora Eagles were my means for dealing with the death of my loved ones to cancer. 

The theme for relay for life is a hope for a cure. Through this experience as a leader, I have come to realize, as a community, we hope together, we dream together, we work together, and we succeed together. This is the phenomenon of interdependency, the interconnectedness of life, the pivotal reason for human existence. I have continued this momentum by starting a Sonora High School chapter of American Cancer Society Youth, a club dedicated to youth involvement and several aspects of the American Cancer Society, including the recent Arizona Proposition 45. 

Each one of us leaves find a legacy as we for fill our purpose in life. I believe my purpose as a student is to encourage others to become active community members and motivate them to reach new heights. As a student of the University of California, I will contribute my understanding of the human condition and student motivation to help strengthen student relationships within the campus and throughout the community.

College essay example #7

This is a college essay that worked for Cornell University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Cornell )

My fingers know instinctively, without a thought.  They turn the dial, just as they have hundreds of times before, until a soft, metallic click echoes into my eardrum and triggers their unconscious stop.  I exultantly thrust open my locker door, exposing its deepest bowels candidly to the wide halls of the high school. The bright lights shine back, brashly revealing every crevice, nook, and cranny, gleaming across its scintillating, bare surfaces.  On this first day of senior year, I set out upon my task. I procure an ordinary plastic grocery bag from my backpack. The contents inside collectively represent everything about me in high school – they tell a story, one all about me.

I reach in and let my fingers trail around the surfaces of each object.  I select my first prey arbitrarily, and as I raise my hand up to eye level, I closely examine this chosen one.  A miniature Flamenco dancer stares back at me from the confines of the 3-D rectangular magnet, half popping out as if willing herself to come to life.  Instantly, my mind transports me back a few summers before, when I tapped my own heels to traditional music in Spain. I am reminded of my thirst to travel, to explore new cultures utterly different from my familiar home in Modesto, California.  I have experienced study abroad in Spain, visited my father’s hometown in China five times, and traveled to many other places such as Paris. As a result, I have developed a restlessness inside me, a need to move on from four years in the same high school, to take advantage of diverse opportunities whenever possible, and to meet interesting people.

I take out the next magnet from my plastic bag.  This one shows a panoramic view of the city of Santa Barbara, California.  Here, I recall spending six weeks in my glory, not only studying and learning, but actually pursuing new knowledge to add to the repertoire of mankind.  I could have easily chosen to spend my summer lazing about; in fact, my parents tried to persuade me into taking a break. Instead, I chose to do advanced molecular biology research at Stanford University.  I wanted to immerse myself in my passion for biology and dip into the infinitely rich possibilities of my mind. This challenge was so rewarding to me, while at the same time I had the most fun of my life, because I was able to live with people who shared the same kind of drive and passion as I did.

After sticking up my magnets on the locker door, I ran my fingers across the bottom of the bag, and I realized that one remained.  It was a bold, black square, with white block letters proclaiming my motto, “Live the Life You Imagine.” In my four years at Cornell University, I will certainly continue to live life as I imagine, adding my own flavor to the Cornell community, while taking away invaluable experiences of my own. 

College essay example #8

This student was admitted to Northwestern University .

As I sip a mug of hot chocolate on a dreary winter’s day, I am already planning in my mind what I will do the next summer.  I briefly ponder the traditional routes, such as taking a job or spending most of the summer at the beach. However, I know that I want to do something unique.  I am determined to even surpass my last summer, in which I spent one month with a host family in Egypt and twelve days at a leadership conference in New York City  The college courses I have taken at Oregon State University since the summer after 7th grade will no longer provide the kind of challenge I seek.

Six months later, I step off the airplane to find myself surrounded by palm trees, with a view of the open-air airport.  I chuckle to myself about the added bonus of good weather, but I know I have come to Palo Alto, California, with a much higher purpose in mind.  I will spend six weeks here in my glory, not only studying and learning, but actually pursuing new knowledge to add to the repertoire of mankind.  Through the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program, I will earn college credit by conducting original molecular biology research, writing my own research paper, and presenting my findings in a research symposium.

I decided to spend my summer doing research because I knew that I liked scientific thought, and that I would passionately throw myself into any new challenge.  I always want to know more – to probe deeper into the laws of the universe, to explore the power and beauty of nature, to solve the most complicated problems. I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire to delve deeper down in the recesses of my intellect.  At the Summer Research Program, I found out how much I enjoy thinking critically, solving problems, and applying my knowledge to the real world. 

While pursuing research in California, I was also able to meet many similarly motivated, interesting people from across the United States and abroad.  As I learned about their unique lifestyles, I also shared with them the diverse perspectives I have gained from my travel abroad and my Chinese cultural heritage.  I will never forget the invaluable opportunity I had to explore California along with these bright people.

I could have easily chosen to spend that summer the traditional way; in fact, my parents even tried to persuade me into taking a break.  Instead, I chose to do molecular biology research at Stanford University. I wanted to immerse myself in my passion for biology and dip into the infinitely rich possibilities of my mind.  This challenge was so rewarding to me, while at the same time I had the most fun of my life, because I was able to live with people who share the same kind of drive and passion as I do.

College essay example #9

When I turned twelve, my stepdad turned violent. He became a different person overnight, frequently getting into fights with my mom. I didn’t deal with it well, often crying to my mom’s disappointment, afraid that my life would undo itself in a matter of seconds. You might say that my upbringing was characterized by my parents morphing everyday objects into weapons and me trying to morph into the perfect white walls that stood unmoving while my family fell apart.

This period in my life is not a sob story, but rather, the origin story of my love of writing. During a fight once, my stepdad left the house to retrieve a baseball bat from his truck. He didn’t use it, but I’ll never forget the fear that he would, how close he’d gotten. And in that moment, I did not cry as I was prone to do, but I pulled out a book, and experienced a profound disappearance, one that would always make me associate reading with escapism and healing.

Soon I came to write, filling up loose ruled paper with words, writing in the dark when we didn’t have money to pay for electricity. And as I got older, I began to think that there must be others who were going through this, too. I tried to find them. I created an anonymous blog that centered what it meant for a teenager to find joy even as her life was in shambles. In this blog I kept readers updated with what I was learning, nightly yoga to release tension from the day and affirmations in the morning to counter the shame that was mounting as a result of witnessing weekly my inability to make things better at home.

At that time, I felt uncertain about who I was because I was different online than I was at home or even at school where I was editor of my high school literary journal. It took me a while to understand that I was not the girl who hid in the corner making herself small; I was the one who sought to connect with others who were dealing with the same challenges at home, thinking that maybe in our isolation we could come together. I was able to make enough from my blog to pay some bills in the house and give my mom the courage to kick my stepfather out. When he exited our home, I felt a wind go through it, the house exhaling a giant sigh of relief.

I know this is not the typical background of most students. Sharing my story with like-minded teens helped me understand what I have to offer: my perspective, my unrelenting optimism. Because even as I’ve seen the dark side of what people are capable of, I have also been a star witness to joy and love. I do not experience despair for long because I know that this is just one chapter in a long novel, one that will change the hearts of those who come across it. And I can’t wait to see how it will end.

College essay example #10

This student was accepted at Yale University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Yale )

I was a straight A student until I got to high school, where my calm evenings cooking dinner for my siblings turned into hours watching videos, followed by the frantic attempt to finish homework around 4 am. When I got an F on a chemistry pop quiz my mom sat me down to ask me what was happening. I told her I couldn’t focus or keep track of all my materials for classes. I thought she would call me lazy, accuse me of wasting the gift of being an American that she and my father gave me. Instead, she looked around at the walls covered in sticky notes, the index cards scattered on the computer desk, the couch, the table, and she said, “How are your friends managing it?” 

It turned out while my peers were struggling to juggle the demands of high school it didn’t seem like they were working as hard to complete simple tasks. They only had to put things in a planner, not make sure the deadlines were placed in multiple locations, physical and digital. At my next doctor’s appointment my mom mentioned that I had a learning problem, but the doctor shook his head and said that I didn’t seem to have ADHD. I was just procrastinating, it’s natural.

My mom took off from her grocery store job to take me to two more appointments to ask about ADHD, the term the doctor had used, but other doctors were not willing to listen. I had As in every class except for World Literature. But I knew something was wrong. After our third doctor visit, I worked with the librarian after school to sift through research on ADHD and other learning disabilities until we came across the term executive functioning. Armed with knowledge, we went to a new doctor, and before my mom could insist that we get testing or get referred to a specialist, the doctor handed us a signed referral. She asked me about the folder in my hand. I told her it was full of my research. My mom mentioned that some doctors had refused to refer us to a specialist because my grades were too high. “It’s because we’re Asian,” she added. 

I was shocked at this revelation. The last three doctors had mumbled something about grades but had never said a thing about race. Before I could deny it fervently, the doctor, who was from Taiwan, nodded sympathetically. She said it’s common to miss learning disabilities among different races due to biases. And some adolescents learn to mask symptoms by building systems. “You don’t have to prove anything to me. I believe you should get tested.” My mom thanked her fervently and the doctor said to her, “She’s going to be a great lawyer.”

The semester following the confirmation of my learning disability diagnosis was challenging to say the least. My school switched me out of all of my IB courses to “accommodate my special needs,” and I went back to the library, working with the librarian with numerous index cards and stacks of books to make a case for discrimination. The librarian, who had become my close confidante, introduced me to an academic tutor who specialized in learning disabilities and taught me skills like using redundancy and time management to make it easier for me to grapple with moving parts. He noted that with ADHD, the problem wasn’t always the inability to focus but rather the difficulty focusing without adequate perceived reward. It wasn’t that I was not capable but that I had to make myself sufficiently interested or reiterate why something mattered. This reframe changed my life, and when I came back to the library with my new schedule in hand, the most advanced courses my school had to offer, the librarian said, “You’re going to make a great lawyer.”

I smiled and said, “I’ve heard that before.”

College essay example #11

This student was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania.

My brother and I are exactly one year and one day apart. We look like twins — people confuse us — but we couldn’t be any more different. As children we wore the same clothes, received the same haircut. By the time we got to middle school it was clear that my older brother preferred quiet, indoor activities, while I was a born performer who preferred the theatrical, even when off stage. I took his relative silence to be disinterest and found it offensive. To the chagrin of my parents, we simply didn’t get along. 

I didn’t mind having a tense relationship with my brother because I was involved at school. In particular I delved into the world of musical theater in addition to regularly singing solos at our high school choir concerts. I spent hours after school preparing for shows. And when I came home, I practiced as well, falling into a rigorous routine I thought I needed to remain at my best and be competitive for parts. 

My bedroom was far enough from my parents so as not to disturb them, but space to practice became an issue with my brother because, well, we shared a room. Imagine him meditating on a window seat while I am belting, trying to sustain a high note. Needless to say, this created tension between us. From my point of view he could have meditated in the living room or while I was at practice, but he wasn’t willing to budge. From his point of view, high school was hard enough without the constant sound of Glee arrangements.

At the start of the semester, I practiced “Circle of Life” for a concert audition. While I could sing it fine in its original key, I had a hard time singing it along with the music because the arrangement of the song we were working on had a key change that was out of my range. I couldn’t change key without my voice cracking as I switched to a head voice. This was the first time I struggled to learn a song, and I was a week from the audition. I was irritable in that period and stopped practicing, declaring I had reached the height of my singing career. My brother experiencing quiet when I got home for the first time in years. 

After a couple days of this, when I got home, he asked me to join him in meditation. And feeling my anger at my inability to navigate this song gracefully, I did. It was difficult at first. I was trying to clear my head. Later my brother told me that wasn’t the point. When your mind drifts away, you simply come back, no judgment. I liked the sound of that, and it became my new philosophy. I kept trying at the song, no longer getting angry at myself, and just in time for the audition I was able to maintain power in my voice despite the key change. It was important for me to learn you don’t have to always get everything right the first time and that good things come with continual effort. As for my brother, we no longer argue. I now understand why he prefers the quiet. 

College essay example #12

This student was admitted to Brown University .

(Suggested reading: How to Get Into Brown )

My parents are aerospace engineers, humble even as their work helps our society explore new frontiers. They believe that you make a stand through the work that you do, not what you say. This is what they taught me. This is what I believed until my sophomore year when I was confronted with a moment where I could not stay quiet. 

I live outside of a major city in a small, rural town that’s majority white but for a small South Asian population. My high school wasn’t diverse by any standards. Some students were openly the children of skinheads. After a racist exchange with a student who insulted her and refused to sit at the same lunch table, my best friend, who was Muslim, did not stand for the pledge of allegiance in homeroom the next day.

I hadn’t heard about the encounter that sparked this move on her part and was surprised when she didn’t stand up beside me, hand against her heart, mouth chanting an oath. She hadn’t mentioned any mounting discomfort to me, nor had I noticed anything. Unlike my “patriotic” peers, I was less upset by her refusal to stand up for the pledge of allegiance and more upset that she didn’t share with me that she was hurting and what she was going to do to protest how she was treated because of her beliefs and the color of her skin. 

She was suspended for insubordination and when I called her, she said that surely in this situation I might find a way to think of more than my own feelings. I felt ashamed. It didn’t even occur to me to seek to understand what was behind her decision in the first place. I apologized, asking how to best support her. She said it was just important that I listen and understand that she could not thrive in an environment that promoted sameness. She spoke to me with a vulnerability I had never heard before. At the end of our conversation, I apologized profusely. She said she did not need my words and what she needed from me was to take a stand.

This was the opposite of the belief my parents drilled in me. I felt conflicted at first, as if by speaking about the situation I was doing something wrong. However, my friend had to deal with a reality that I did not. And perhaps taking a stand would allow my institution and everyone in it to learn to be a more inclusive space for everyone. Maybe there was a way to take a stand and to do the necessary work to change things.

I started a petition with my friend’s permission to end her suspension and to take disciplinary action instead on the student who had taken racist actions in the first place. Of the 1000 students at my high school, over 200 signed, a number that far exceeded my expectation. When I shared the results with my friend, she said to me, “Because of who you are, you will always have supporters. Use your power to do good.”

Since then, I have tried to be more aware that not everyone experiences comfort in the same environments that I do. Rather than assume everyone feels safe and supported, it’s best to create space to listen and to ask how you can be supportive. My friend and I created a club to foster cross-cultural dialogue. In the past year two other clubs of its kind began at other local schools. More than anything I am proud that I have learned to be a better friend and a more thoughtful community member in a way that honors who I am and what I value.

College essay example #13

This is a college essay that worked for Washington University in St. Louis (WashU).

I held my breath as my steady hands gently nestled the crumbly roots of the lettuce plant into the soil trench that I shoveled moments before. Rainwater and sweat dripped from my brow as I meticulously patted and pressed the surrounding earth, stamping the leafy green creature into its new home. After rubbing the gritty soil off of my hands, I looked at Brian, a co-volunteer and nonverbal 20-year-old with autism, who extended his arm for a high-five. In the year that I’ve been working with him, I’ve watched him revel in planting, nurturing, and eventually harvesting his veggies, especially the grape tomatoes, which we enjoy eating fresh off the vine! Upon walking to the next row of hollowed cavities, we were not contemplating the lengthy work that lay ahead, but rather, we sought to liberate the helpless lettuces, imprisoned in produce cartons that were too small for them to grow in. Finally, after taking a step back to admire the day’s last plant, my chest swelled as a wave of contentment flushed through my body. 

My love for gardening began when I moved to Georgia during my sophomore year. In the time I’ve spent learning how to garden, I’ve developed an affinity for watching my vegetables grow to maturity, eager to be harvested and sold at the Saturday market. Though many see gardening as tedious busywork, I find it meditative, as I lose track of time while combining peat moss and soil in the garden’s compost mixer. Saturday morning garden work has become a weekend ritual, ridding me of all extraneous responsibilities. My body goes into autopilot as I let my mind wander. I don’t actively focus on focusing, but rather I observe myself internally digest the week’s events. I’m a bystander to fireworks of thought that explode in my mind as my perception of important matters becomes trivial. Sometimes, it’s the physics midterm that suddenly seems less daunting or the deadlines I need to meet for my Spanish project that push back farther. Other times, I contemplate alternative endings to conversations or make perfect sense of the calculus answer that was at the tip of my tongue in class. 

I met Brian, a close friend of mine who also basks in the tranquility of nature, through my gardening endeavors. While we aren’t able to communicate verbally, we speak the language of earth, water, peat, and seedlings. He doesn’t speak with words, but his face tells stories of newly found purpose and acceptance, a pleasant contrast to the typical condescension and babying he feels by those who don’t think he’s capable of independent thought. 

Throughout my time in the garden with Brian, I began to understand that he, like everyone, has a particular method of communicating. There are the obvious spoken languages, body languages, facial expressions, and interactions we share on a day-to-day basis that reflect who we are and communicate what we represent. Brian expresses himself through various manifestations of unspoken language that he uses to signal how he feels or what he wants. But the nuanced combinations of different methods of communicating are oftentimes overlooked, raising a barrier to mutual understanding that prevents one from being capable of truly connecting with others. I began to understand that in order to reach people, I have to speak in their language, be it verbally or otherwise. Working with Brian over the past year has made me more aware that people can have difficulty expressing themselves. I found that I can positively lead people if I can communicate with them, whether on the track or in my Jewish youth group discussions. As I move into the next phases of my life, I hope to bring these skills with me because, in order to effectuate positive change in my community, I learned that I must speak in the language of those around me. Those are the words Brian taught me.

College essay example #14

This student was accepted at Brown University.

It felt like I threw myself out of a plane without a parachute. My eyes firmly shut, I feared for my life as I plummeted towards the ground. In hindsight, perhaps half coming out at a public restaurant wasn’t the brightest idea. Then again, living as the half-closeted queer kid meant that I was all too familiar with intimidating situations.

I asked my mom: “What would you do if I had a girlfriend?” She instantly replied that she couldn’t understand. Immediately, my heart dropped and the emotional free fall began. She explained that Americans choose to be gay for personal enjoyment, which in my Korean culture is an attitude that is severely frowned upon. I sat there like a statue, motionless and afraid to speak, blindly hurtling towards a hard reality I hadn’t expected. Rejection cut me deeply and I started to feel the itch of tears welling in my eyes, yet I had to contain myself. I couldn’t let the pain seep through my facade or else she would question why I cared. All I could do was keep looking down and shoveling food into my mouth, silently wishing I could just disappear. That night, I realized it would be a long time before I could fully come out to my mom. My eyes tightened as I continued to fall.

In the following weeks, I started noticing how discomfort played a natural part in my life. I recognized the anxious reactions of my classmates as I argued with my Christian friends when they said my queerness is a sin. I observed the judgmental glances my mentors gave me as I passionately disagreed with my conservative lab mates over my sister’s abortion. Eventually, my friends decided to censor certain topics of discussion, trying to avoid these situations altogether. I felt like vulnerability was the new taboo. People’s expressions and actions seemed to confine me, telling me to stop caring so much, to keep my eyes closed as I fall, so they didn’t have to watch.

Had others felt uncomfortable with me in the same way I had felt uncomfortable with my mom? Do they feel that our passions might uncover a chasm into which we all fall, unsure of the outcome?

Perhaps it was too raw , too emotional .

There was something about pure, uncensored passion during conflict that became too real. It made me, and the people around me, vulnerable, which was frightening. It made us think about things we didn’t want to consider, things branded too political, too dangerous. Shielding ourselves in discomfort was simply an easier way of living.

However, I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t my comfort, but rather, my discomfort that defined my life. My memories aren’t filled with times where life was simple, but moments where I was conflicted. It is filled with unexpected dinners and unusual conversations where I was uncertain. It is filled with the uncensored versions of my beliefs and the beliefs of others. It is filled with a purity that I shouldn’t have detained.

Now, I look forward to tough conversations with a newfound willingness to learn and listen, with an appreciation for uncertainty. I urge others to explore our discomfort together and embrace the messy emotions that accompany it. I try to make our collective discomfort more navigable. Since that dinner, my relationship with my mother is still in free fall. It’s dangerous and frightening. Thankfully, the potentially perilous conversations I’ve had with my friends has given me a newfound appreciation for my own fear. I’ll admit, part of me still seeks to close my eyes, to hide in the safety I’ll find in silence. Yet, a larger part of me yearns to embrace the dangers around me as I fall through the sky. I may still be falling, but this time, I will open my eyes, and hopefully steer towards a better landing for both my mom and me.



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11 College Essays That Worked

College essay examples: 11 that worked.

Bonus Material: 30 College Essay Examples

In this regularly updated post, we share the college essays that helped students get into their dream schools — including Ivy League colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and others.

But this isn’t simply a collection of college essay examples.

We also provide a link to in-depth profiles of the authors who wrote the essays, providing you with the most comprehensive picture available of the nation’s most successful applicants.

While you should always craft the best essay you are capable of, please remember that the essay is one component of the application process!  The essays you’ll read below are all of varying quality, but each one of these students gained admission to the most selective schools in the country.

You can also find 19 more college essay examples below.

Download 30 College Essay Examples

Here’s what we cover in this post:

What is the College Essay? Our Expert Definition

  • College Essay Example #1 – “It takes more than wishing upon a star”
  • College Essay Example #2 – “I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier”
  • College Essay Example #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”
  • College Essay Example #4 – “I’m still questioning”
  • College Essay Example #5 – “My place of inner peace”
  • College Essay Example #6 – “So this is what compassion is all about”
  • College Essay Example #7 – “I believe that every person is molded by their experiences”
  • College Essay Example #8 – The California Cadet Corps
  • College Essay Example #9 – “I never want to lose what we had in that corner”
  • College Essay Example #10 – “It is the effort that counts, not the result”
  • College Essay Example #11 – “The problem of social integration”

What These College Essay Examples Have in Common

  • How to Write an Essay Like These Examples
  • Bonus: 30 College Essay Examples

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition .

Regardless, both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer .

College Essay Prompts 2021-2022

What do these questions all have in common? They all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal.

Take a look at some of these buzzwords from these prompts to see what we mean:

  • Understanding
  • Belief / Idea
  • Contribution

These are big words attached to big, personal concepts. That’s the point!

But because that’s the case, that means the college essay is not an academic essay. It’s not something you write in five paragraphs for English class. Nor is it a formal statement, an outline of a resume, or a list of accomplishments.

It’s something else entirely.

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences.

The college essay is fundamentally personal and creative. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness. It can have elements of academic writing in it, such as logical organization, thesis statements, and transition words. But it is not an academic essay that fits comfortably into five paragraphs.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller–and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

One of the easiest ways to understand what the personal statement is all about is to read through some college essay examples — essays that exemplify the 7 qualities of a successful college essay .

The 11 college essay examples below do just that!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #1 – It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star

Author: Erica Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Williams College, Duke University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Boston College, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University

best college essays that worked

I hung up the phone with a smile plastered on my face. Never mind that I was barely eleven, that my portfolio consisted of a few half-page poems from elementary school, or that the contest was taking place on another continent, I was determined to write the most extraordinary fantasy novel ever created. For months afterward the sight of me was accompanied by the tap, tap, tap of my fingers flying across the keyboard, and the sharp glint of obsession in my eyes. The contest in London closed, a winner was chosen. I didn’t care. I kept writing. After a year I had stretched my writing project into a three hundred page novel. I scraped together a few dollars of allowance money, slapped it in my mom’s hand, and asked her to have Staples print a bound copy of the manuscript.

She handed me my magnum opus when I got home from school that day. I ran my fingers across the shiny laminate over the cover page, caressed the paper as if it were some sacred tome. After more than fourteen months fleshing out characters and cultivating mythologies, I was ready to publish. With the copy in hand I ran to my dad. “Read it and tell me what you think!” I said, imagining the line of publishing companies that would soon be knocking down my door.

Within two weeks my father handed it back to me, the pages now scrawled over in bright red ink. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told me, with his typical soul-wrenching brusque.

I stared at him for a moment, jaw locked tight, eyes nearly brimming with tears. He proceeded to list for me all the things I needed to revise for my next draft. Less colloquial dialogue, vivid descriptions, more complex subplots, the list went on and on.

“A serious author doesn’t get offended by constructive criticism,” he said, “whether you take my advice or not will prove whether or not you are one.”

My dreams fell like the Berlin wall. What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Today, six years, 10 drafts, and 450 pages later, I am finally close to finishing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Erica’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #2 – I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier

Author: Emma Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I’m not referring to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table.

Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank’s Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend’s grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn’t always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures.

I’m not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it’s simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Emma’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these for free below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #3 – “You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Author: Shanaz Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

“You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros.

Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles.

Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems. I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger.

I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk.

Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me?

Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes.

Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty.

Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d’état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war.

Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease.

Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination.

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I’ll never witness, people I’ll never meet, and beliefs I’ll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful.

Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system.

I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Shanaz’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #4 – “I’m still questioning”

Author: Aja Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? School Acceptances: Princeton University, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College and City College

I walked down the pale pink stone pathway, up a ramp, past the library building, and towards the Student Activities Center of the college campus, carrying a large brown cardboard box. People might’ve taken note of the load I was carrying, and particularly the other high school students with whom I ate my dinner. Out of the box I grabbed my meal, which was wrapped in two separate plastic airplane meal style trays; one container for the side and one for the main. I tried not to call attention to myself as I unwrapped the tight double wrapping of plastic around both trays.

My actions and practices were the same, but for the first time I stood out. While I was eating my meals, in the lab, or during the lectures, I began to ask myself some questions.

Was it worth continuing to strictly observe my customs in such an environment?  I thought.

Could I afford to take time away from the lab to walk to the kosher restaurant to pick up lunch? Was continuing to dress in a long skirt, on hot summer days and with additional lab dress codes, worth the discomfort? Was it worth standing out from most other people?

The science experiment that I performed that summer in a way mirrored the experiment that I “performed” to test my practices. My lab partner and I researched the current issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which left certain bacterial infections without an effective cure; this was our observation. We then hypothesized that an alternative mechanism of destruction, by physically slicing the bacterial membrane, would be more efficient. Similarly, I hypothesized that an alternative life path without my religious practices might be an “effective” life path for me, as it had been for the students that I met, with the added social benefits of fitting in. I hypothesized that perhaps my own life would be “effective” or fulfilling without these practices, as it was for the students whom I had met. Wearing our purple nitrite gloves, our safety goggles pressing against our faces, my partner and I began to prepare our tiny metal chips, containing a thin coating of polymer blends, which would prick the membranes of the bacteria cells.

In my personal experiment, the “testing” stage became tricky. I didn’t put on my lab coat, and start spin casting my solutions or pipetting liquids onto surfaces. I didn’t even try eating some food that was not kosher, or actively violate my practices. My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. We talked about our very different lives, genuinely interested in one another’s.

I’m still questioning, and I think the process does not end, which is part of what makes my religious practice important to me – it urges me to constantly reflect on my values and the moral quality of my actions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish that “experiment,” but by experiencing and valuing the practices and lifestyles of other people, I also got to reflect on my own. That summer showed me that the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Aja’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #5 – My place of inner peace

Author: James Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word “comfortable”. There is something special about a rowing race; that 6 minute, 2000 meter tour de force that many who have truly experienced one (and all who have emerged victorious) will describe as the most painful, and yet the most thrilling activity they have ever been a part of.

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it’s all out, everything you’ve got, from start to finish), but at the same time it’s long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. The mental toughness required to drag oneself through this ordeal, from the moment it starts to hurt 30 seconds in to the moment you cross the finish line, is immense. The psychological state that is entered into during a race is one of unparalleled focus, drive, and will to win.

The race begins with six boats lined up side by side, tensed and ready to pounce. The umpire then makes the call, “Attention. Row” in a tone that seems entirely too casual for the occasion, and the bows spring forward. What was moments before an atmosphere of complete silence is transformed into a world of noise. Here is a short list of things one hears at the start of a rowing race: the authoritative yell of the coxswains, the rhythmic click of the oars, the fluid swish of the water under the boat, the roar of the officials’ launches falling in behind the boats. I always find it funny though, that while the tense silence of the pre-race moments dissolves so quickly into noise from every direction, a rower can only actually hear any of it for a surprisingly short period of time. This is because at about two minutes into a race, a rower begins to lose his senses. Scent disappears completely, touch is negligible, hearing dissolves into nothing but the calls of the cox, and sight reduces itself to a portrait of the back of the rower in front of you. It is in this bizzare state of mind and body that I am truly in my “comfort zone”.

The pain is intense, yes, but I have felt it before. I feel it quite regularly, actually. The training a rower goes through to prepare for a race begins months in advance and consists of pushing oneself to the limit; repeatedly putting oneself in positions of pain and discomfort so that when crunch time comes, a rower is truly without fear of what lies ahead of him. This is how I feel when the going gets tough at around two minutes in: fearless. In these moments I feel invincible; I feel like I was born to do exactly what I am doing right then and there. In these moments I am completely and totally content.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out James’ story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #6 – So this is what compassion is all about

Author: Amanda Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Rutgers University

So this is what compassion is all about? Piece of cake.

Joey was a sweet, ten-year-old boy who could derive pleasure even in the most prosaic of activities: catching a balloon, listening to music, watching other children run, jump, and play. But Joey himself was confined to a wheelchair – he would never be able to participate in the same way that his friends without physical disabilities could.

Joey was the first child assigned to me when I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children. Right from the start, I was grateful for being matched up with this sweet, easy-going child; I felt immense relief at how effortless my volunteering commitment with Joey could be. Simply by wheeling my friend through tiled halls and breezy gardens, I simultaneously entertained him and inspired others with my acts of kindness.

Piece of cake.

Truthfully, though, during my time with Joey, I felt more than a little virtuous and pleased with myself. There I was, able to impress everyone with my dedication to Joey, with only minimal effort on my part. My experience with Joey led me to mistakenly believe that I had, by the age of thirteen, attained a complete understanding of what a word like “empathy” really meant. I was complacent in my comfort zone, confident that I understood what compassion was all about.

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was.

Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

One day, after an unsuccessful attempt to break up a brawl between Robyn and another girl, I found myself taking dazed steps towards the administrator’s office. I was near my breaking point, ready to quit. In that moment, though, I vividly recall looking up and seeing Robyn’s parents walking down the hall coming to pick her up. Tired eyes. Weary, but appreciative smiles. A realization then struck me: I was only with Robyn for one day a week. During the rest of the week, Robyn was the sole responsibility of her parents. The same parents who once confided in me that Robyn behaved no differently at home than she did at the Friendship Circle with me.

Robyn’s parents undeniably loved her. There were even moments when Robyn transformed into one of the sweetest children I had ever met. But she was no Joey. Sweet, easygoing Joey. Joey who I thought had taught me true empathy. If I was such a saint, how could I give back to Joey’s parents, but not to Robyn’s? How could I not provide them a brief respite every week, from the labors of caring for her? Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Progress exists in steps. The first steps were the ones I took with Joey, my earliest experience in volunteering. But the steps I took away from the administrator’s office, the steps I took back toward Robyn, were the steps of a different person, I like to think.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Amanda’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples  that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these essays below.

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #7 – I believe that every person is molded by their experiences

Author: Martin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances:  Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, University of California Santa Cruz, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University

I believe every person is molded by their experiences whether they be positive or negative. I have been impacted by many events and challenges, both personally and socially, that have made me who I am today.

I was born in Concepcion de Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico. My dad did not always live with us and worked doing manual labor in the United States every three months to provide income for us transitioning between the United States and Mexico when he could. When I was six, my Spanish-speaking family immigrated to the United States. Once here in the United States, I found English difficult to learn at school since it was brand new to me. English-speaking students always had to translate for me which motivated me to become fluently proficient by third grade.

In addition to the language barrier at school, my family would constantly move due to apartment rent increase, so I never grew accustomed to a group of friends.  Because of this, I had social difficulties in elementary school.  I remember hardly speaking in class and not playing any recess games unless invited. I recall playing tetherball mostly by myself and observing the children with longing eyes. In the sixth grade, my social life began to change; I met my best friend, Luz. We fostered a tight-knit bond immediately, and my confidence developed little by little each day. As each year passed, I acquired more confidence to become more sociable, but my awkwardness did not completely go away.

My earlier language barrier, my soft-hearted and quiet personality, and my social self-consciousness found me drawn to playing with girls and not sports with the other boys. I soon began to feel excluded by boys asking me why I played with girls; it made me feel small and different from the rest. Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

In my freshman year I began to come out of my shell and develop self-confidence, largely due to my participation in choir and drama class. In these classes I could be myself and found my real voice. Here I felt a connection to a family not connected by blood but by a unifying passion in the creative arts.  That connection allowed me to confide in my friend Luz my struggle with my personal identity. One day I messaged her: “I have something to tell you… I think I might be bisexual.” My heart pounded as I waited anxiously for her reply. She responded: “How long have you been thinking of this?”  In her response I felt reassured that the she would not reject me.  From that moment my best friend thanked me and said our friendship was now stronger as a result. I felt so relieved to get that secret off my chest; it was a cathartic moment in my life and a significant turning point!

Throughout high school, I have become more open about who I am, and my confidence and acceptance in myself has grown tremendously. Although I still have not told my parents about my sexuality, I will when I am ready.  I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Martin’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #8 – The California Cadet Corps

Author: Justin Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSD

During my freshman year at Cajon High School, I enlisted in the California Cadet Corps (CACC). The CACC is essentially a JROTC program based on a state level. Every summer, the CACC holds a summer encampment at Camp San Luis Obispo. A myriad of leadership schools are offered: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, Officer-Candidate School (OCS), etc. I participated in OCS my freshman year, Survival my sophomore year, and Marksmanship last summer. Of those three, Survival was definitely my biggest challenge and marked my transition from childhood to adulthood.

Within the CACC, there’s an honor so admirable that those who receive it are inducted into an order of elites: the Red Beret. It signifies completion of survival training, the most rigorous and difficult training course within the CACC. With a heart mixed with excitement and fear, I stepped onto the bus headed for Camp San Luis Obispo in June of 2015.

After basic instruction, we were transported to arid Camp Roberts to begin field training. Upon arrival, we were separated into groups of four with one leader each (I was designated as team leader). We then emptied our canteens, received minimal tools, and set off. Our immediate priority was finding areas to build our shelter and latrine. Then, we needed to locate a clean source of water. After, we had to find food. It was truly a situation that required making everything from scratch. As the day drew to a close and night advanced, I felt seclusion and apprehension envelop me.

As the days drew on, constant stress and heat along with lack of food took a toll on my sanity and drove me almost to my breaking-point. At one moment, I remembered a handwritten phrase that had been on my desk: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” At this moment, it hit me: I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to overcome this challenge and show myself that I have what it takes to survive for five days using nothing but my wits.

On the morning of the sixth day, my team and I reported to headquarters to complete training. With pride, I received the honor of wearing that glorious Red Beret on my head.

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. Additionally, being isolated from mass civilization and relying heavily on my companions gave me an appreciation for my friends and for the absolute necessity of teamwork. Being the leader of my team meant that they all looked to me for motivation, inspiration, and a will to survive; I got first-hand experience on how important a leader can be in a situation of literal life and death. Most importantly, however, I gained priceless insight into the amount of effort and work my parents put in for me every day.

As demonstrated, survival training taught me essential lessons to survive successfully as an adult. Looking back, it’s absolutely unbelievable how one week affected me so profoundly. Even today, I remember the phrase that motivated me that day: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” Thinking of that, I go to school and say to myself, “Justin, you truly are an amazing young man!”

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Justin’s story here ]

You can read 19 additional college essay examples that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these essays for free below!

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #9 – I never want to lose what we had in that corner

Author: Jonah Class Year: Princeton University 2019 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? School Acceptances: Princeton University, Swarthmore College

The squeaks of whiteboard markers have now replaced the scritch-scratch of chalk, but the hubbub of voices is always the same. For millennia, the great thinkers of their day would gather and discuss. In ancient Greece, it was Socrates debating about philosophy; centuries later it was Newton lecturing at Cambridge on fluxions and physics. This summer Paul Steinhardt and his eminent colleagues sat down for a panel about inflationary theory at the World Science festival- though there was neither chalk nor markers there. Though we make no claim to be the greatest thinkers of our day and our school in no way resembles the hallowed edifices of science, my friends and I have staked out a corner of our AP Calculus room where we can have our own discussions. We even have a whiteboard.

It started small: just myself, Avery, and Sam and a problem set that didn’t take us long enough. Appropriately enough, we were working on one of Newton’s problems: differential equations describing cooling curves. His solution is fairly simple, perhaps overly simple, which prompted me to ask Avery what he thought. We had both taken Chemistry the year before, and Newton’s equation didn’t take into account thermal equilibrium; (to be fair to Newton, adding thermal equilibrium doesn’t appreciably change the solution at normal conditions). Since we were slightly bored and faced with an empty hour ahead of us, we started to modify the equation. We had learned in Chemistry that both the surroundings and the actual cooling object both change temperature, which Newton had ignored. We wrote up a first attempt on the infamous whiteboard, paused a second, and then started laughing as we realized that our inchoate equation meant a hot cup of coffee could plummet Earth into another Ice Age. This disturbance in an otherwise fairly quiet classroom drew the attention of Sam. He too was amused with our attempt and together we began to fix the poor thing. Huddled around the back of the classroom, we all pondered. It wasn’t an important problem, it wasn’t due the next day, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. But we loved it.

The three of us had been friends since middle school, which in many ways seems astounding. Avery, a track runner, Sam, a Morris dancer, and myself, a fencer. Our interests could not be more diverse. Avery was an avid programmer while Sam was fascinated by the evolution of language. I always had a soft spot for physics. Luckily for us, we had found each other early on in middle school and our discussions started soon after. As we learned more math, read more books, and culled more esoteric facts from our varied experiences, the quality of our rebuttals has dramatically improved. The laughter is immutable.

In the back of algebra class in eighth grade, Avery taught me how to program calculators in TIBasic while I traded theories with him about the Big Bang. From Sam I learned the phonetic alphabet and more recently the physics of bell ringing. Since then our dynamic has always stayed playful no matter how heated the discussion; only our arguments have changed. I may have learned as much in the back of classes with my friends as I learned from my teachers. Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and I could not agree more. In the myriad hours Avery, Sam, and I spent together, the neuron-firing was palpable, the exuberance impossible to miss.

But not only did I learn linguistics, Python, and philosophy with Avery and Sam, I learned a little more about myself. I never want to lose what we had in that corner. Our interplay of guessing and discovering and laughing seemed like paradise to me. I looked for other opportunities in my life to meet brilliant and vivacious people, to learn from them, and to teach them what I loved. I co-founded a tutoring program, participated in original research, and taught lessons in Physics and Chemistry as a substitute.

I expected to be nervous, I expected to embarrass myself. Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Jonah’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #10 – It is the effort that counts, not the result

Author: John Class Year: Princeton University 2021 Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement – The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? School Acceptances: Princeton University

For as long as I can remember, wrestling has been an important part of my life. I can recall playing dodgeball after wrestling practice, summer wrestling camps, hard practices with my older brother, and hundreds of wrestling tournaments as cornerstones of my childhood. From a young age I was determined to be the best; and quickly concluded that meant winning a PIAA state championship. When I entered Junior High, I discovered that only ten wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania had won a state championship each year of their high school careers – and becoming the eleventh became my personal ambition.

Entering high school, I centered my life around the goal of winning a state title my freshman year. I became disciplined in every aspect of my life: from how many hours of sleep I got, to what exact foods I ate. I was obsessed with my intensive training regimen, and fell asleep each night to the dream of my hand being raised in the circle of the main mat on the Giant Center floor.

As the season progressed, I experienced success. My state ranking climbed steadily and by the time the state tournament began, I was projected to finish third. I wrestled well throughout the tournament, advancing to the semifinals where I defeated the favorite 11-0. At last: I was to wrestle in the final match for the state championship. I prepared for my opponent, whom I defeated the week before. However, when the match began, I wrestled nervously, was unable to fully recover, and ended up on the short end of a 3-1 decision.

In just a few short minutes, my dream was shattered. For me, it felt like the end of the world. I had based my whole identity and lifestyle on the dream of winning four state titles. It felt as though the sport I loved most had ripped out my heart,  and on live television, in front of thousands of people. I was upset after the match.  I was depressed and felt worthless, devoid of my passion for and love of wrestling.

After a month or perhaps more of introspection, and some in depth conversations with the people closest to me, I began to realize that one lost wrestling match, at age fifteen, was not the end of the world. The more I reflected on my wrestling journey, the more gratitude I developed for all of my opportunities.   I realized that wrestling had helped forge some of the most important relationships of my life, including an irreplaceable fraternity with my older brother, teammates, and coaches. My setback in the state finals also helped me to understand all of the lessons learned through wrestling, and that there was much more I could still accomplish. Wrestling helped me learn the value of hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. But most important, I learned that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, including the outcome of a wrestling match. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction, attitude, actions, and effort. In the words of my father, “it is the effort that counts, not the result.”

Hence, through my experience of failure I learned an invaluable lesson applicable to every walk of life. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity to compete, to represent myself and my school, and to lay all my hard work on the line. The process of striving to become a state champion taught me more than achieving this title ever could, and my failure in the state finals was a blessing in disguise.

[ Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out John’s story here ]

COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #11 – The problem of social integration

Author: Harry Class Year: Princeton University 2020 Type of Essay: Universal Common Application Personal Statement – How do we establish common values to promote harmony in an increasingly diverse society? School Acceptances: Princeton University

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

This cold blooded murder provides a clear example of what can happen when people lose their human connection to the society that they’re a part of and instead pursue hate and violence on a pretence to a higher purpose (killing in the name of religion). I think suggestible minds are undoubtedly most prone to this, and the two British men who killed Rigby, previously Christians, are examples of how minds devoid of any instilled social values are fertile ground for the fomentation of harmful ideas.

What I find particularly worrying is the distinct danger of allowing a largely atomised society to develop, where conflicts such as this one begin to characterise the interaction between the different parts. It’s imperative that we avoid this situation and work towards social unity, and so I think a long-term and complex solution to social integration must be found. Given the upward trends in multiculturalism and globalisation, it is going to be paramount that my generation takes on the problems of integration and cultural diversity to create a harmonious society.

The solution will no doubt be an ongoing process, involving years of detailed and thoroughly considered legislation, but I think that in working towards it, we should focus on certain things.

With regard to the role of religion, I think its relationship with the state needs to be clarified and communicated to everyone. As the case of Lee Rigby quite bluntly reveals, where religion triumphs over civic duty, there’s a potentially dangerous situation, especially when put into the context of radical fundamentalism. By the same token however, it’s neither desirable nor feasible to have a society where politics trumps religion, so I think that when addressing the issue of social cohesion there must be an overarching commitment to other people within society that’s established – humanity must transcend any form of politics or ideology, and bind the two camps so their incompatibility does not become entrenched.

I think that this has to be done primarily through education: both within the formal curriculum which all citizens of a democratic nation state should be compelled to follow until at least the age of 16, and in the wider sense through more promotion of cultural programmes nationally that encourage the nation’s population to participate in the continuing discussion and examination of our core, shared values. We have to work at this constantly since identity is itself always in a state of flux and accept that this continuing ‘conversation’ will always require us to confront some very difficult questions about freedom and responsibility. People need to understand these ideas not simply as abstract questions, but also as issues of practical, pragmatic relevance, deconstructing them into how we actually treat each other, the true test of how civilised and tolerant we are.

You’ve read through these 11 college essay examples. What do they all have in common? What’s the secret sauce that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance?

Remember: the college essay is only one part of the college application.

The admissions officers reading these essays thus were considering other aspects of the writers’ applications , including extracurricular distinction and academic achievement.

That being said, we’ve done the research and pinpointed the 7 qualities of successful college essays that all of these pieces exemplify.

  • Introspective and reflective
  • Full of a student’s voice
  • Descriptive and engaging
  • Unconventional and distinct
  • Well-written

How to Write an Essay Like These College Essay Examples

What can you do to write a personal statement in line with these stellar college essay examples?

First, let’s talk about how to actually read one of these college essay examples.

If you’re at this point in this post, you’ve likely read at least one of the examples in this post at least once. Now, return to that essay and read it a second time with a more critical eye.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What do you like? What do you not like?
  • How does the essay make you feel?
  • How is the essay structured?
  • How does the writer craft the introduction? The conclusion?
  • What’s unique about this college essay example?
  • What value(s) does the writer express? Key takeaways?
  • Is there anything unexpected or surprising?
  • Do any writing techniques stick out to you?

Pay attention to your answers to these questions, and reflect on the qualities that surface. Compare them to the 7 qualities of a successful college essay . What do you notice?

Complete this exercise for several other college essay examples — you can download 19 additional college essay examples right here!

This can help you understand exactly what it it takes to write a compelling college essay, including what impact a strong essay has on a reader.

It’s also a great first step to take in the college essay writing process, which we’ve boiled down to these 10 simple steps . 

You can check out even more college essay examples by successful applicants! For 19 additional essays, download PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays That Worked .

With this document, you’ll get:

  • The essays included in this post
  • 19 additional full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Need some additional help? Check out our college essay service and work with one of our Master Consultants .

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.

Greg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


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Essays That Worked

best college essays that worked

The essays are a place to show us who you are and who you’ll be in our community.

It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you and tell the admissions committee more about your background or goals. Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. In each of these essays, students were able to share stories from their everyday lives to reveal something about their character, values, and life that aligned with the culture and values at Hopkins.

Hear from the Class of 2025

These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.

best college essays that worked

Lifelong Learning

Rozanne’s essay showcases how pursuing a new hobby, crochet, is analogous to her larger efforts to find her passions. She’s able to reflect that, while both processes may seem messy and confusing at first, putting in the requisite effort and time leads to greater and more meaningful outcomes.

best college essays that worked

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Samuel’s essay is a reflection on pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone which is not only an important life lesson but also something that Hopkins students do every day. Our students push the boundaries of discovery, are faced with challenges in and out of the classroom, and pursue newfound passions.

best college essays that worked

Red Over Black

Many students want to share about an important person or family member in their life in their college essays. The challenge with this is making sure that the essay is still about the applicant, not just the important person. Elizabeth does a great job of incorporating that important person, her grandmother, while still keeping the focus on herself, what she learned from that specific moment, how that impacted her life.

best college essays that worked

Queen's Gambit

Dante’s essay makes it clear to the reader that he is very curious and has many interests by showing more than telling. He thoughtfully connects the lessons he’s learned from chess to his performance on the soccer field and does a great job of focusing on what he learned as opposed to a blow-by-blow recount of the entire chess match or soccer game.

best college essays that worked

Left and Right Don't Exist

Stella begins this essay by discussing her experience learning to fly. This anecdote, however, is less about the act itself as it is what the experience taught her in regards to perspective and points of view. She’s then able to connect these takeaways to another aspect of her life – her love of journalism.

best college essays that worked

Dancing Together

In Dayann’s essay, we learn a few things about him. First, he loves to participate. Despite his insistence that he cannot dance, we see him dancing throughout his essay. Second, he realizes that he can in fact dance, but needs to work with others to bring out the best in himself, and in the group. And third, he then is able to connect this to his future.

More essays that worked

We share essays from previously admitted students—along with feedback from our admissions committee—so you can understand what made them effective and how to start crafting your own.

best college essays that worked

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Our interactive workshops—on topics like the college search process and essay preparation—will help you build your strongest application when you’re ready to apply.


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21 College Essay Topics & Ideas That Worked (Guide + Examples)

21 College Essay Topics & Ideas That Worked (Guide + Examples)

Looking for some amazing college essay topics and ideas? We’ve got all the brainstorming exercises and sample topics to help you generate you write an amazing college application essay.

You’re looking for a giant list of college essay topics to choose from.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find at the bottom of this page.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I gave you two great brainstorming exercises to help you find your own college essay topics?

I’ll answer that rhetorical question: Yes.

And that’s what you’ll find before we get to that giant list.

How do I know these exercises work? Because over the years I’ve worked with thousands of students, many of whom (like you)...

Have decent grades and a pretty good but not perfect SAT score

Are afraid they don’t have outstanding extracurricular activities to write about

Feel like their essay could make a difference in their college application but aren’t sure where to start.

Sound familiar?

My hope is that, by going through these step-by-step brainstorming exercises, you’ll find a topic that’s elastic, meaning that it’s stretchy enough to talk about lots of different parts of you, which is a characteristic you’ll find in most outstanding personal statements.

Great brainstorming is key to a great application. Want to see an example of a student’s brainstorming exercises, and the essays and application that brainstorming led to? Go here .

Pro Tip: Download your own blank template of that list and fill it in here.

All right, let’s do this.


  • Topic Brainstorming: The Values Exercise
  • Topic Brainstorming: The Essence Objects Exercise
  • Topic Brainstorming:"Everything I Want Colleges to Know About Me" List
  • Essay Topics and Ideas

The Values exercise

This exercise is useful for identifying both your core values and your aspirations by answering this question: WHAT DO I VALUE?

The Essence Objects Exercise

This is one of my favorite brainstorming activities for generating college essay ideas. Why?

It’s one of the most efficient ways I know to help create a TON of content for your personal statement and also add texture to bring your essay to life.

Also, it’s just fun to do and a great way to reflect.

Ready to do it?

Click here for a list of questions to help you with the exercise.  Then, watch the video below.

What’s one of your essence objects?

The ‘Everything I Want Colleges to Know About me’ Exercise

Make a list of all the things you want colleges to know about you.

How? You can do this either:

in a bulletpoint format (organized, easy to read)

on a blank sheet of paper (with drawings, get creative)

on a timeline

For more detailed instructions, head here .

College Essay Topic Samples

Here’s a list of essay topics and ideas that worked for my one-on-one students:

Essay Topic: My Allergies Inspired Me

After nearly dying from anaphylactic shock at five years old, I began a journey healing my anxiety and understanding the PTSD around my allergies. This created a passion for medicine and immunology, and now I want to become an allergist so no other child will have to feel the same.

To read the full essay, click here.

Essay Topic: My Foreign Exchange Experience

My 28 months in America living with five families helped me develop five values: open mindedness, spending quality time with family, understanding, discipline, and genuine appreciation.

Essay Topic:  Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I’ve created my own essay prompt: why did the chicken cross the road? In short, the chicken discovers that her idyllic world is not all it seems, and she must cross the road to discover her true purpose in life. She may come to realize that the world is more terrible and beautiful than she’s ever known.

To read the full essay, click here .

Essay Topic: A Palestinian Hunger Strike Turns Into a Purpose

My experience supporting a hunger strike in my native land, and watching my fellow students slowly lose interest in the strike and my protest, taught me to be passionate about social justice and inspired the creation of my own ethical clothing company.

Essay Topic: Lessons From My Pilgrimage to Mecca

My pilgrimage to Mecca taught me that I am valuable and family is centrally important. Now, I'm proud of my heritage, passionate about languages, and excited to bring all of it to college.

Essay Topic: From Homeschool to the Football Field

Instead of my original plan of playing football in high school, I freed myself of my fear of social interactions and my age gap by discovering a love for coaching.

Essay Topic: My First Flight Failed, But My Love Was Born

While my attempt at flight when I was five years old ended in disaster, my passion only grew as I became older. My love of engineering has taught me collaboration, social justice, curiosity, and diligence.

Essay Topic: Poop, Animals, and the Environment

I don’t mind being pooped on, bitten or scratched because my passion for animals is bigger than all of that. I know the world is rife with environmental problems, and I’m ready to spend my life making a difference.

Essay Topic: A Word a Day, A Life of Imagination

The NYT word of the day reminds me of something: my own imagination. My curiosity has taught me to love playing basketball, the violin, and inventing new words.

Essay Topic: Where I’m Home

I find myself feeling at “home” wherever I am, whether it’s spending quality time eating chicken with my family, diligently working on my chemistry research in the lab, or expanding my world through my college electives at Governor's School East.

Essay Topic: Easter, Travel, and Dad

Despite my abusive father’s wishes, I took a trip abroad and discovered my independence. Now, I want to pursue international relations and women’s studies to help women around the world discover who they are.

Essay Topic: My Cosmetic Journey

Although I initially saw my interest in cosmetics as a superficial obsession, through research and advocacy I’m now a community leader and online advocate for ethical cosmetics testing and labeling.

Essay Topic: Transformers Are Not Just for Boys

Being punished for playing with transformers because they “aren’t for girls” didn’t stop me from becoming passionate about robotics, where I created and fought for an open source platform that educates children about robotics around the world.

Essay Topic: The Instagram Post

Being publicly shamed for my pro-choice stance taught me to be passionate about my point of view, and now I understand that, while dissent and social justice are sometimes painful, they are sometimes necessary.

Essay Topic: My Grandmother Passing

My grandmother is my source of inspiration. When she passed away I couldn’t help but reflect on my love of family, passion for education, and my volunteering experiences at a cancer treatment center.

Essay Topic: My Self-Proclaimed Identity

I love writing, philosophy, speech and debate... and punk rock music. But I am not any one of these things, because I am all of them. I call myself a “punk-rock philosopher.”

Essay Topic: My Grandma’s Kimchi

I’ll always remember the passion and attention to detail my grandmother put into making kimchi. Watching my grandmother eventually lose her ability to make this important dish made me reflect on memory, death, and the importance of family. Now I’m the one who makes the kimchi.

Essay Topic: How Traveling Led to My Love of Language

My experiences traveling around the world influenced my interest in  language and human connection. That interest is what I want to bring into my dual majors of foreign language and linguistics.

Essay Topic: A Girl Muses on a Dead Bird

One day, my cat attacked a bird in the front yard. In my vain attempt at saving its life, I was forced to reconcile with losing one of my best friends in a tragic accident years ago.

Essay Topic: I Shot My Brother

My lifelong jealousy towards my little brother erupted when I shot him with a bb gun. Haunted with guilt, I sought to treat my brother with newfound respect and love, and learned the importance of family.

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Essay Tips from Andrew K. Strickler, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

Over the years, students who tell me they absolutely love to write have said they struggle with the application essay. So if you’ve been biting your nails or tearing your hair out even a little, you’re not alone.

The good news is, I can help. I’ve been in the admission business long enough to have gleaned a few tips that I think are worth passing along. I also want to recommend you take a look at our Essays that Worked: real essays submitted by real students who have since matriculated at Connecticut College. These essays are terrific, and you can find them listed on the right side of this page.

Now for my tips.

  • Allow yourself plenty of time to write the essay. Do not wait until the last minute. I know this sounds absurdly simple, but it really does make a difference to be as relaxed as possible when you sit down to write.
  • Choose the prompt that comes closest to something you’d like to write about. The purpose of the prompt is to help you reflect on something that matters to you. Your application will be full of information that illuminates dimensions of you and your abilities, but only the essay gives you a vehicle to speak, in your own voice, about something personally significant. Choose something you care about and it will flow more naturally. (a) Fallacy: If you haven’t experienced a life-changing event, you have nothing to write about. Wrong. You care about things now. Write about one of them and show us why it matters to you. (b) Fallacy: If you haven’t had a major international service experience, you’re sunk. Wrong again. If you’ve had such an experience and you feel it says something important about you, great. If you haven’t, just choose something that says something important about you. That’s all.
  • When you’ve written a first draft, let it sit. Then go back to it another day. Ask people you trust for their feedback, but don’t let anyone else tell you how you should write it. This is your story, or some small but significant part of it, as told or reflected upon by you.
  • When you’ve revised it to your heart’s content, proofread with care. Spellcheck isn’t always the most reliable friend, as I have learned on occasion with a quickly typed email that gets sent before it was proofread!
  • Submit it, and treat yourself to something nice — like your favorite film, a run, quality time with your dog or whatever it is that you enjoy.

That’s it for tips. Now you should read the Essays that Worked, and be inspired by their example!

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best college essays that worked

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50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, 5th Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice Paperback – May 9, 2017

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Fifty all-new essays that got their authors into Harvard - with updated statistics, analysis, and complete student profiles - showing what worked, what didn’t, and how you can do it, too. With talented applicants coming from top high schools as well as the pressure to succeed from family and friends, it’s no wonder that writing college application essays is one of the most stressful tasks high schoolers face. To help, this completely new edition of 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays , edited by the staff of the Harvard Crimson , gives readers the most inspiring approaches, both conventional and creative, that won over admissions officers at Harvard University, the nation’s top-ranked college. From chronicling personal achievements to detailing unique talents, the topics covered in these essays open applicants up to new techniques to put their best foot forward. It teaches students how to: - Get started - Stand out - Structure the best possible essay - Avoid common pitfalls Each essay in this collection is from a Harvard student who made the cut, is accompanied by a student profile that includes SAT scores and grades, and is followed by a detailed analysis by the staff of the Harvard Crimson that shows readers how they can approach their own stories and ultimately write their own high-caliber essay. 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays ’ all-new examples and straightforward advice make it the first stop for college applicants who are looking to craft essays that get them accepted to the school of their dreams.

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  • Publication date May 9, 2017
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ St. Martin's Griffin; 5th edition (May 9, 2017)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9781250127556
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1250127556
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 7 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.45 x 0.75 x 8.2 inches
  • #25 in College Guides (Books)
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best college essays that worked

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Top College Essay Ideas for an A Grade

Updated 14 Dec 2022

College essay is standard requirement in admission process run by US colleges. It is a piece of writing that offers chance to provide meaningful description of who you are as an individual. This paper type helps demonstrate valuable or unique ideas, beliefs, background, experience, life story, interests, inspiration, achievements, or abilities. Given that it is direct account of who you are as a person, represents very important component in evaluating application complementary to academic achievement scores.

Given this, choosing appropriate topic can be very difficult and stressful task. When considering what to write about and choosing the best service for helping to write essay for me , it is wise to follow a set of general recommendations to produce top college essay ideas as described below and eventually you can develop your writing skill enough to get paid to write essays .

best college essays that worked

Choose College Essay Ideas and Create Perfect Essays!

Features of Great Essay Topic

Given how diverse human intelligence patterns are, it is unlikely that an exhaustive explanation or universal formula may be given for how to pick interesting college essay topics. Still, there are a few generic traits that interesting titles tend to share:

Ideas for Common Application Essay Prompts

Here are some useful themes that will inspire and give some tips on how to write a college paper .

1. Examine anatomy of  your own achievement.

If you are lucky enough to have already accomplished something meaningful, it is probably the wisest paper type to write. It demonstrates not only ideals and beliefs but also means to turn them into reality. This achievement does not have to be big but you should do your best to talk about motivation as well as challenges encountered and how you managed to overcome them, what conclusions or life lessons one took from this that are applicable to your future.

2. Overcoming personal obstacle

A relatively popular but still valid story idea is that of pursuing high academic achievement despite bad circumstances, for instance, growing in an underprivileged community/ neighborhood. This is also considered as valuable achievement but which is limited to your person rather than to external world.

The fact that one managed to overcome this problem means you understand the challenges and potentially help others do the same. You can work towards meaningful changes in respective communities by having deep understanding of them. It is important to mention constructive attitude, how you went about overcoming challenges, lessons learned in process but also don’t hesitate to highlight strengths acquired during process and that might even be owed to this community.

3. Describe strong interest/curiosity

Share your passion regardless of whether this is fractal geometry or problem of the origin of life on Earth. Don’t be afraid to make impression of a nerd – today’s world is very complex and there are multiple niche areas of knowledge advancing which may revolutionize fields that you could never even think about (did you know that Velcro was created by a guy who decided to closely examine burrs his dog caught during a walk?). Here, it is important to demonstrate your passion with evidence, explain why and how you pursue your interests ideas, what it means, how you see importance of this topic.

4. Describe a transformative failure

What makes most people successful is often not exceptional talent but persistence in their path and any path without exception involves failures (big or small). Wisdom is ability to recover after each failure with better resilience, an updated perspective (new understanding) on problem or situation, and an undeterred motivation to pursue your goals or new ideas. Mention how you failed, what was the reason for doing so, what was the new understanding acquired, and how the latter changed you or made you stronger.

5. Describe how you overcame common misconception

Here in the US, or anywhere else in the world, we, humans, are all victims to multiple stereotypes, many of which we are not even aware of. Yet sometimes in our lives, things (or thoughts) happen that make us question. If you have such an inspirational story, feel free to expand on it by indicating what you thought (or what you didn’t) about the issue originally, what triggered the change in your worldview, what implications it had, and how you acted after its acceptance. This paper would be especially successful if you could demonstrate the transformative role of this worldview change (on yourself or others) in practice (in real life). To emphasize the right aspects of this, you may need help from a professional essay editor .

College Application Essay Topics to Inspire

Below you can find a list of examples of essay topics for college applications:

Note that in case you have trouble identifying college application essay themes, capstone project ideas , or have questions regarding other assignments you can make use of our writing services.

Need more writing assistance?

Connect with our top writers and receive a paper sample crafted to your needs.

Create Your Topic With Brainstorming Techniques

Even the best of the writers can suffer from occasional blocks, especially when starting to work on given topic. Fortunately, there are a number of brainstorming techniques specifically designed to enhance creativity, produce lots of ideas, and efficiently explore imagination. If you're unwilling to buy college essays online for now, you may find these techniques useful:

If, despite these suggestions, you find yourself in the middle of creativity crisis, go ahead and get help of an online college essay tutor to get things going.

We Can Help You Right Now

College essay is crucial element that determines your application’s success. There are a number of rules to follow to ensure the chosen topic is appealing. Starting with generic prompt or essay topic is a sound idea as long as you can build your strong individual story. To help with this, a few creative brainstorming techniques should be employed to explore your imagination and produce best topic for college essay.

Given the importance it can play in your future as well as the time needed and stress associated with writing it, you might also consider ordering paper from a professional college essay writing service  specializing in writing these. The extensive experience our service has in writing such papers along with strict requirement in selecting our writers guarantees a high quality of work (unlimited free revisions are possible until the desired outcome is obtained).

Select your preferred writer from those bidding on your order and provide continuous guidance ensuring that paper maximally reflects your personality (watch the results as they are being produced by receiving outlines and drafts). Also, feel safe about your finances with a full money back guarantee and payments being released only after satisfactory results are achieved. If you feel this is a fair offer, don’t hesitate to place an order.

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Written by James Collins

He is one of those great authors who remember well how hard it can be while making it through college. It is one of the reasons why James explores the improvement of existing educational concepts and the life of modern students. As a writer, he loves sharing tips for college students and helping them feel better about their daily responsibilities and challenges that we all face.

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best college essays that worked

College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.

A front view of a young teenage girl in her bright bedroom surrounded by notes and homework she is looking down at her computer taking part in virtual and E-Learning to help with her studies during the lockdown.

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 900 schools. (Getty Images)

Not only is the college essay a place to showcase writing skills, it's one of the only parts of a college application where a student's voice can shine through.

Unlike test scores and transcripts, the college admissions essay offers students a chance to showcase their personality.

"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.

Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.

This can feel like a lot of pressure.

"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."

That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test-optional in the past year, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.

But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.

"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."

Essay writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.

From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college essay.

Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a College Application Essay

Getting Started on the College Essay

A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.

Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 900 schools.

In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.

Students will want to budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.

"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says, noting there may be additional questions on an application requiring thoughtfully written responses.

How Long Should a College Essay Be?

Though the Common App – which students can submit to multiple colleges – notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words.

"While we won't as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.

The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.

How to Pick a College Essay Topic

The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.

There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.

The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.

Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.

Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay, a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.

What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.

So, no matter what topic students choose, they'll ultimately be writing about themselves, says Ethan Sawyer, founder of the College Essay Guy website, which offers free and paid essay-writing resources. "What we think of as the topic is just the frame or the lens that we're using to get into other parts of you."

If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics , they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What do you think differentiates me?" Or, "What are my quirks?"

The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say. Students should ensure they're writing about something that isn't mentioned elsewhere in their application, perhaps in the activities section, or expand greatly on the topic if it is noted elsewhere.

Writing the College Essay

Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing.

But there isn't one correct way of doing things, says Sara Newhouse, senior consultant at Enrollment Research Associates and former vice president for admission and financial planning at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama.

"Your writing process is your own," she says. Newhouse encourages students to use whatever process worked for them in the past when they completed writing assignments for English and other high school classes.

The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."

If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.

Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:

"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."

"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."

But Sawyer cautions that students shouldn't get so caught up in writing the perfect hook that they neglect the rest of their essay. He also says he's read some essays that were excellent overall, even though they had what he would consider mundane hooks.

Editing and Submitting the College Essay

While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.

"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."

When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Doe says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do.

After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees.

However, there may be options to defray the costs. Sawyer, for example, says he offers scholarships to students from low-income families that cover the cost of one-on-one essay consultations.

The availability of and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.

Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.

Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay.

Newhouse says it works well to have other people proofread an essay in two stages. The first stage focuses on content. Readers should look for information gaps in the essay – anything they are confused about. Once the content is nailed down, the second proofing stage focuses on style, including grammar, punctuation and spelling.

But proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.

And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else rewrite your essay is not.

When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.

Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."

Strong College Essay Examples

Below are two examples of strong essays written by students accepted into Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

"This is a personal statement, so what works in these essays works because of who the student is and how it fits into the rest of his or her application," notes Ellen Kim, dean of undergraduate admissions at Johns Hopkins.

Hover over the circles along the sides of the letters to read more about what worked.

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Essays that Worked

As we’ve done on occasion through the years, Hamilton is proud to present a few exceptional admission essays written by members of the latest class of incoming students. These essays offer a glimpse into the diverse backgrounds and experiences, as well as the writing talents, so many students bring to College Hill.

Aubrey Wallen ’26

Lakeland, tenn..

75,000 flipped pages. 11,520 packed boxes. 6 school maps. 

I began measuring my life in flipped pages, packed boxes, and school maps when I was 6. As my family and I flitted between states and coasts for my father’s job over the last decade, I shielded myself with fantasy novels. With my head propped on the baseboard near my nightlight and a book held up in front of me by aching arms, I would dance in whimsical forests, fight daring battles, and rule dangerous courts long after dark. In my fantastic universe, I could take turns being the queen, the knight, the hero, and even the villain. These books helped me express the happiness, anger, sadness, and queerness I could not have even begun to imagine alone.

The characters I discovered in novels as I toured libraries and Barnes & Noble stores in strip malls around the country taught me resilience and empowered me to nourish my strengths. Mare Barrow showed me the power of determined women, and I unapologetically strove for academic excellence and obtained a GPA of 4.4. Tane, from The Priory of the Orange Tree , inspired me to push the limits of my own body, so I’ve traversed approximately 1,544 miles in cross-country races and practices. Evelyn Hugo’s unapologetic character compelled me to want to embrace and feel free with my queerness rather than shelter it away in a shameful corner. Even further, this year I am adding a third dimension to my love of fantasy by interpreting Mrs. White in my school’s production of Shuddersome and The Monkey’s Paw with assistance from Anne of Green Gables, my first fictional idol, who massively influenced my personality and tendency for dramatics. But above all, Leigh Bardugu, my favorite author, gave me permission to even dare to write and to dream that I can. 

What began as a safety net in my adolescence has grown to something more, a true passion for English and all that it can express. Language is power and I wish to wield it like a mighty sword. I want to be the puppetmaster, the speaker, and the leader in a world that is crafted in ink. I want to be a New York Times bestseller and to know that whatever I do is impactful and that it creates a difference, no matter how small. I want to walk down a crowded street and see “my book” spread open in a passing person’s hands, as they refuse to put it down, just like I did so many times in the hallways of my middle school. A writer, a college professor, a publishing lawyer: I want it all, the riots of failure, and the pride of success. 

Without the assistance of literature, I wouldn’t be who I am today. If I hadn’t grown up fueled on library hauls I wouldn’t have discovered that I love English. I wouldn’t get shivers when I fret for a favorite character or celebrate their triumphs, be as ready to face obstacles, or be as adventurous as I am. Without the moves around the country and back, I wouldn’t have become so resilient and open to change, so adaptable to life, but most importantly I wouldn’t have become so in love with language. With every move I burrowed in books, and with every book I became me. Literature has made me in every way, and the only way I can repay it is to become the penman. 

Nicholas “Cole” Wassiliew ’26

Bethesda, md..

I dreaded their arrival. The tyrannical cicadas swarmed DC and neighboring areas in 1987, 2004, and again in 2021. I was freaking about Brood X, the worst of them all. Brood X is a cluster of cicadas that descend on Washington, D.C., every 17 years. I live in the epicenter of their swarm. Cicadas battled with mosquitoes for first place in the top tier of the human annoyance pyramid. I hate these off-brand cockroaches.

For 17 years, cicadas live underground feasting off of sap, running free of danger. Then, they emerge and face the real world. That sounds familiar. I have lived in the same house, in the same town, for 17 years, with my parents feeding me pasta and keeping me safe.

Is it conceivable that I have more in common with cicadas than I previously thought? Cicadas have beady, red eyes. After a year of enduring Zoom classes, attending tele-health appointments, and spending too much time on social media and video games, I too feel a little blurry-eyed and disoriented. But what about their incessant hum and perpetual noise? That is not me. OK, maybe I do make protein shakes with a noisy blender at all hours of the day. Maybe I do FaceTime vehemently with friends, blare music while I shower, and constantly kick a ball around both inside the house and out.

At least I do not leave damaged wings, shedded skin, or rotting carcasses everywhere. Smelly soccer socks on the clean carpet after a long practice? Check. Pools of turf in the mudroom after sliding all over the field? You got it. Dirty dishes and trail mix stains after accidentally sitting on a mislaid M&M are hardly as abhorrent as cicada remains, right?

The more I reflected, the more I realized these bugs and I are more alike than different. After 17 years of being cooped up, we are both antsy to face new experiences. Of course, cicadas want to broaden their wings, fly, and explore the world, even if it means clumsily colliding into people’s faces, telephone poles, and parked cars. Just like I want to shed my skin and escape to college, even if it means getting lost on campus or ruining a whole load of laundry. Despite all my newbie attributes, I am proceeding to the next phase of my life whether I am ready or not.

Only the hardiest of cicadas survive their emergence and make it to trees to mate, lay eggs, and ensure the existence of their species. I want to be a tenacious Brood X cicada. I will know what it means to travel into the wrong classroom before getting laughed at, bump into an upperclassman before dropping textbooks everywhere, fail an exam after thinking I aced it. I may even become the cicada of the lecture hall by asking a professor for permission to go to the bathroom. Like cicadas, I will need time to learn how to learn.

No matter what challenge I undergo that exposes and channels my inner-cicada, novice thought process, I will regroup and continue to soar toward the ultimate goal of thriving in college.

When I look beyond our beady red eyes, round-the-clock botherment, and messy trails, I now understand there is room for all creatures to grow, both cicadas and humans. Cicadas certainly are on to something ... Seventeen years is the perfect amount of time to emerge and get ready to fly.

Catherine “Cate” van den Beemt ’26

Freeland, md..

I was born to two moms. One, my biological mom, Meredith. One, my mom who adopted me, Mary. Because they were a same-sex couple, the law required that Mary adopt me in order to be my parent. They used Sperm Donor 3311. All I know about my “father” is that he didn’t have a familial history of cancer, he has a twin brother who is 6'4", and he studied math in school. This is all background information; I don’t even know his name. He doesn’t know mine, nor does he know that I even exist. People often ask “What does your father do for a living?” and I’m forced to respond “I actually have two moms,” triggering reactions like that of my driving instructor, “Oh, well that must be different.” I’m 17-years-old and still don’t know how to respond to these comments. 

When I was 5, Mary, who had been sick for a long time with leukemia, passed away, and my life was turned upside down. I was old enough to understand grief, and yet I still question why it happened. It was terrifying seeing my mom break down while saying, “Mom died last night.” I wonder what I missed out on and carry guilt that I don’t remember much about Mary, because we just didn’t have enough time together. Many say grief gets easier with time, however, I think the way you grieve just changes over time. 

The world kept spinning and, in 2011, my biological mom met another woman, who soon became my stepmom. However, to me, Kerry is also my mom. No longer do I reveal the fact that I have two moms; now I get reactions to the fact that I have three. 

Not knowing my father doesn’t leave a void in my life. “Dad” didn’t sing “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” and tickle me when the old lady swallowed the spider, my moms did. He didn’t take me to Gunpowder Friends Meeting where I shook hands and spent time with 80-year-old friends from the retirement home, my moms did. He didn’t console me when I began crying at the dry-erase board at school because it reminded me of white boards Mom wrote on when she was unable to talk. He didn’t teach me that love is love. He didn’t teach me who I was becoming, my moms did that. 

I’ve never known my father or that I was supposed to have one , so why would I think my life is any different from the so-called “norm?” If there’s one thing I have learned from my parents, it’s that I have developed a love for difference. I openly accept all those around me and excitedly anticipate the relationships that I will build in my future. There is no such thing as a normal family structure, and my upbringing has given me that greater world view. My moms have raised me to believe that I can accomplish anything. There are still limits, though. My family chooses not to travel to Jamaica because we aren’t accepted there. Before each family vacation, we must research to see if it is a gay-friendly place. I don’t know the answers to questions about my dad’s side of the family. But I don’t let those kinds of things get to me because instead I can talk about the people who raised me. The world is changing as we speak. “Normal” is fading, but it has already disappeared for me. I don’t want anything different than the family I have, and I own that every day

Daniel “Deni” Galay ’26

London, england.

“The difference between an anti-personnel and an anti-tank mine is not that complicated,” I am told casually, in halting Russian, by a boy even younger than I am during a walk through the Chechen mountains. I am freshly 14 and visiting my father’s homeland for the first time, unfamiliar with the harsh realities that kids half my age already know ironclad. My guide points out the areas where the grass is overgrown and the fruit trees abundant. People and animals alike know to avoid them; someone has learned of landmines the hard way. It shouldn’t surprise me — the scars of war on this rugged country are omnipresent — but it is so jarringly different from my life in London that it is nevertheless hard to digest.

It also differs from my father’s rosy stories about his childhood in Katyr-Yurt, stories that made me wish to swim carefree in icy rivers, devour handfuls of fresh sour cherries straight from the tree, and see nights dense with stars. I still experience these beauties of place, but my eyes are now open to the less romanticized parts, both enriching and complicating my connection to my family’s past. Suddenly, too, I am made uncomfortably aware of the conflicting layers of my familial identity. It is the Russian of my Muscovite, Jewish mother that I grew up speaking at home. Yet the Chechen children speak in broken Russian, and the grownups who are more fluent in it are not keen to communicate in the enemy’s language. Seeing the ugly scars of war, both physical and psychological, I cannot help but feel like an intruder, ashamed not only of my Russianness but also of my city-boy naivete. Despite this shame, I yearn to discover what it means to be Chechen, to see their home through their eyes, and through this desire, I begin to feel a deep connection all of my own to this beautiful, fraught land. 

In Moscow, my new awareness of conflicting identities only intensifies, but now on account of the maternal side of my heritage. Relatives there largely see Chechens as terrorists and raise an eyebrow when they hear where I have spent my summer. Babushka’s neighbour, a nurse who witnessed the carnage from the theatre siege in Moscow, turns away disgustedly when she overhears me relate the beauty of the mountains and the notable generosity of the people. Once again, I register the fear and distrust of “the other” that reigns in the more homogeneous cultures in Russia, making me appreciate the diversity of London all the more. 

When I return there, I cannot slip back into life as normal as I have done after past summers. I find myself pondering the question of identity and the way people interpret their own past, informed just as much by collective emotion and memory as by fact. The cosmopolitanism of London is just as I remembered it, but the things I loved about it I now see in a new light. I had always revelled in the fact that, despite our differences in heritage, my peers and I had seen each other as the same — bound together by being Londoners first and foremost. Now I am interested in conversations that I would never have considered previously, wanting not only to share my newfound experiences but also learn about the personal histories of my friends, many of whom, like me, are the children of immigrants to the UK. When did they come to explore and interrogate their own complicated identities? How did these discoveries make them feel? What does it mean to carry the stories, the poetry, and the pain of so many places within them? Questions like these, which were so important for me to answer about myself, also became a powerful place from which to understand more deeply the people around me and the complex world we share.

Zachary Yasinov ’26

Syosset, n.y..

I know that I had prepared well for this moment. For two arduous months, I readied my fingers for an exciting concert. No anxiety could undermine my confidence in my preparation, and my piano recital’s success was “in the bag.” I selected three pieces for my repertoire: the ambience of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 as the opener, a somber contemplation of Beethoven’s First Movement of the Moonlight Sonata , and Bach’s light and surreal Prelude in C Major for the conclusion.

My shining moment arrived, and I strode purposefully toward the piano. The building in which my performance was held was new, but its dwellers were old. Respect and prestige permeated the atmosphere as I took each stride to my seat. As I sat down, the chair creaked and moaned as if in sympathy with the audience’s aching desire to hear me play. I prepared my sheet music and commenced my epic moment.

Never was such an exhilarating performance heard. All of the little techniques and tricks that I practiced were executed perfectly. I captured the dynamics I wanted to express in Satie’s phonological experiment with each chord to which I applied varying pressure. Moving onto one of Beethoven’s most famous works, I crafted the cascading arpeggios of each new chord, which resonated unity uninterrupted in me and in the audience. When I concluded with the airy prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier , the room swelled with bliss. Having poured my heart and soul into each piece, I beamed with pride.

As customary for a stellar show, I rose to bow to the audience to thank them for their eruption of applause. Flowers were thrown, cheers elicited, and standing ovations bestowed. From the subsiding din came a faint question to rain on my parade: “Could you play something more lively, darling, say, a Neil Diamond song?”

I work on weekends at a long-term-care facility, and my geriatric audience, although a pleasure with whom to interact, can be brutally honest. Begrudgingly, I thanked Mrs. Hersch for her request, promised her better next time, and stewed in my own irrelevance. Going home that day, my feathers were ruffled. How could any civilized listener, after such a superb medley, disregard such time-honored compositions? The notion was absurd.

Yet perhaps more outlandish, as I later acknowledged, was my visceral reaction to the events that had transpired. Why did I react hesitantly to a simple request made in earnestness? It would have been easier, in fact, to practice “Sweet Caroline” than to break my fingers over Beethoven’s work. Then, in my moments of introspection, I concluded that my choice of musical pieces mattered little as long as my audience enjoyed them. Whether it meant recreating the most tortured and heinously composed pop song or a masterfully crafted Romantic concerto, I vowed to play them all.

Throughout my life, my adult mentors have succored me with platitudes when most needed, which laid the foundation for my confidence. Yet, while working with people who have lived five times longer than I have, experiencing so much more than I can imagine, I know that the world does not revolve around my tastes and interests. I’m okay with that. Thus, for a couple of hours each day in the living room, unlucky family members passing by are subjected to the torment of my tenth run-through of “Sweet Caroline” as I prepare for my next recital for an audience that has taught me more about personal preferences, and myself, than I anticipated.

Katherine “Katy” Appleman ’26

Pittsburgh, pa..

I have never felt such palpable emotion, such profound grief emanating from a space, as I did while hiking through the forest fire scorch in Philmont, New Mexico. A universe had once existed under the protection of these Ponderosa Pine, now black and crusted, turning brittle in the wind. It was a landscape that didn’t sing its laments, but whispered of its loss through every pile of scalded timber and skinny, wavering shadow cast by the hollow towers of ash.

I felt prepared when I made the decision to become a scout. I love nature and camping. I love the Scouts BSA program. I love the people. I was definitely not prepared, however, for the numerous challenges I would face during my years as a scout.

I was the first female “boy scout” in my town, which continues to be both my greatest honor and a constant reminder of the isolation and insecurity that comes with being any “first.” I became a symbol, whether for good or bad, and my actions not only spoke of me, but of the future young women in Scouts BSA. I felt like an imposter.

I wasn’t a strong-willed leader like those who usually have “first” stitched into their title. My seventh-grade acting career did little to veil a shy and insecure girl who crumbled at overheard comments on how I didn’t belong or how girls like me were poisoning BSA’s spirit. As time passed, I found myself waiting to develop the toughened heart that the leaders that I knew held. As my troop and I backpacked in Philmont Scout Ranch this past summer, my doubts and insecurities seemed to echo from this inky forest.

Coming from Pittsburgh, I had expected the kind of desert with raspy air and coat hanger cacti. Nothing quite shattered this expectation as much as putting on my last pair of dry socks before the fourth day of downpours. We navigated steep cliffs and vibrant meadows, and pulled ourselves up peak after peak. As the sun set on one of our final evenings, the flat, mountain-ornamented horizon gave way to a modest footpath, daring into a new forest. This forest, differing from the field of burnt pines we had seen prior, had burned several decades ago. The fire had cleared everything and had left its signature singed onto the bottom 10 feet of every tree. The forest floor was clean. Wild grasses with accents of purple and blue flowers blanketed the ground below the pines like snow, which had fallen while the world was asleep, completely untouched and extending to infinity. Above the burnt limbs of the trees, thick bundles of green needles soared into the sky.

Not long after Philmont, I was awarded my Eagle Rank, the culmination of my experience as a scout. I believe that my time in Scouts BSA has been the first to the forest that is my life. Though scars remain from my experience, new change and strength have flourished out of the damage.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not always the fierce leader who becomes a “first.” It is the extra hours. It is finding a way to listen to criticism and try harder, rather than feel the thorns. It is using one’s own feeling of isolation to see others who feel alone. It is the act of going through the fire and staying with it, allowing it to advance you, which changes people who dare to be a “first” into the leaders that they go down in history as being.

As I think back on my experience in Philmont, the first forest we saw, this blackened graveyard, is what I picture. I remember the charcoaled ground so vividly, but more so, I remember the soft purple wildflowers hidden in the desert soil. Though few and far between, against the grieving timber, they were stars.

Claire Lazar ’26

New york, n.y..

I’m 6. The sounds of hornpipe and laughter drift across the gymnasium-turned-cafeteria-turned-auditorium. Mum caught me dancing to some of her old Irish tapes — the Chieftains, Sinead O’Connor. She asked me if I wanted to do it for real. I said sure and went back to dancing. Now a freckled woman digs around in a cardboard box and pulls out a pair of dusty, worn black shoes. “Don’t worry,” she says, “you’ll learn eventually.” The shoes are too big; they sag at the toes. I approach the stage. Twenty-five pairs of eyes fix on me. In a room bustling with motion, everything stands still. It doesn’t matter that I feel like a clown in an ill-fitting costume. All that matters is the dancing.

I’m 9. I sit in the hallway of the Times Square Marriott watching girls in big wigs and sparkly dresses run around, squawking like glamorous, unhinged chickens. In my tartan skirt and simple bun, I feel like an ugly duckling. The bobby pins dutifully securing my bun in place make my scalp ache. My hands slide to my shoes. They’re too tight. Mum put them on her feet to “try and stretch them out a little.” I pass some over-enthusiastic dance moms who put the “mother” in “smother.” I reach the stage. A hundred pairs of eyes fix on me. In a hotel bustling with motion, everything stands still. It doesn’t matter that I’m out of place. All that matters is the dancing.

I’m 12. My brain won’t stop flipping through disastrous scenarios as I stand with my teammates in a hotel in Orlando, Florida. We’ve trained for months, sacrificed everything for this moment. I try to think of happy things: the pride on Dad’s face when he watches me dance, the freedom of flying across a stage on invisible wings. We recite our steps like a poem, the sequences like a song that carries us through an ocean of fiddles, pipes, and drums. My parents sacrificed a lot to send me here. I want to make them proud. I want to make myself proud. We approach the national stage. A thousand pairs of eyes fix on me. In a world bustling with motion, everything stands still. It doesn’t matter that I feel like a fraud. All that matters is the dancing.

I’m 15. An Irish accent lilts through the ballroom of the World Championships. It sounds like mashed potatoes and Sunday bests and the green hills of home that I know so well. We mutter a prayer. I’m not sure I believe in God, though I should. I look at my partner and wish we were more than friends. She smiles. I don’t think God believes in me. We ascend the stage. A million pairs of eyes fix on me. In a universe bustling with motion, everything stands still. It doesn’t matter that I’ll never be enough. All that matters is the dancing.

I’ll be 18. Murmuring voices will hover in the air of the gymnasium-turned-cafeteria-turned-auditorium. A little girl will approach me timidly, wearing a very old tartan skirt. I’ll reach out softly, adjusting her bun to soothe her aching scalp. Then, I’ll slide my hands toward her feet, toward a pair of small, dusty shoes. “You’ll learn,” I’ll say. They’ll sag at the toes, but I’ll reassure her: “Don’t worry. You’ll grow into them.” Then, she and I will look at my own beloved shoes. They’ll be worn, but I’ll tell her the creases are like a map, evidence of the places I’ve been, the heartbreaks I’ve suffered, the joy I’ve danced. My life is in these shoes. We’ll hear the music begin to play, the tide of fiddles, and pipes, and drums. I’ll take her hand and, with a deep breath, we’ll climb the stage. “Ahd mor.” It won’t matter that this is the end. All that has ever mattered is the dancing.

Katherine “Kat” Showalter ’26

Los altos, calif..

The black void descends toward the young girl standing in the grassy field. It slowly creeps up on her, and as it reaches for her perfectly white dress … Swipe . I quickly wipe away the paint without a thought except for panic. Before I realize what I have done, the black droop becomes an ugly smear of black paint. The peaceful picture of the girl standing in the meadow is nowhere to be seen. Even though I successfully avoid having the spilled paint touch the dress, all I can focus on is the black smudge. The stupid black smudge . As I continue to stare at the enemy in front of me, I hear Bob Ross’s annoyingly cheerful voice in my head: “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” At this moment, I completely disagree. There is nothing happy about this, only frustration.

Actually, there is one other emotion: excitement . Don’t get me wrong; I’m not excited about making a mistake and definitely not happy about the accident. But I am thrilled at the challenge. The black smudge is taunting me, challenging me to fix the painting that took me hours to do. It is my opponent, and I am not planning to back off, not planning to lose.

Looking back at the painting, I refuse to see only the black smudge. If lacrosse has taught me one thing, it is that I will not be bested by my mistakes. I snatch my picture and run downstairs, carefully setting it against the living room window. The TV newscaster drones in the background, “California continues to be engulfed in flames as the fires continue to burn.” I slowly step back from my painting. California fires , I think, as I look up into the blood-orange sky. California Fires! I look at the painting, imagining the black smudge not as a black void, but smoke creeping up on the girl as she watches the meadow burn.

I grab my painting and run back to my room. The orange sky casts eerie shadows as I throw open my blinds. My hands reach first toward the reds, oranges, and yellows: reds as rich as blood; oranges as beautiful as California poppies; yellows as bright as the sun. I splatter them on my palette, making a beautiful assortment of colors that reminds me of one thing: fire. A rich, beautiful, bright thing, but at the same time, dangerous. My hand levitates toward the white and black. White, my ally: peaceful, wonderful, simple white . Black, my enemy: annoying, frustrating, chaotic black . I splat both of them onto a different palette as I create different shades of gray.

My brush first dips into red, orange, and yellow as I create the flame around the girl. The flame engulfs the meadow, each stroke of red covering the serene nature. Next is the smoke, I sponge the dull colors onto the canvas, hazing over the fire and the trees, and, most importantly, hiding the smudge.

But it doesn’t work. It just looks like more blobs to cover the black smudge. What could make the gray paint turn into the hazy clouds that I have been experiencing for the past several days? I crack my knuckles in habit, and that’s when a new idea pops into my head. My calloused fingers dip into the cold, slimy gray paint, which slowly warms as I rub it between my fingers. My fingers descend onto the canvas, and as they brush against the fabric, I can feel the roughness of the dried paint as I add the new layer. As I work, the tension from my body releases. With each stroke of my fingers, I see what used to be the blobs turn into the thing that has kept me inside my house for weeks. As I lift my last finger off the canvas, I step back and gaze at my new creation. I have won.

These essays were published in the Fall 2022  Hamilton magazine and illustrated by Andrew Vickery. These essays follow four similar collections from the Class of 2022 ,  Class of 2018 , Class of 2012 , and Class of 2007 .

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College Essay Examples: 7 Essays From Students Who Got Into Top Schools

Torrey Kim

7 College Essays That Worked

What makes a great college essay? It's more art than science, but these essay examples can give you a sense of what makes a good essay.

Starting your college admissions essay can feel like a monumental task, and staring at a blank screen may only make things worse. To help inspire you, College Confidential is relaunching a series in which we share personal essays from students who were admitted to college during a prior admissions cycle. Read on to see real essays that got students into top schools, including: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Stanford, NYU, Northeastern, University of Virginia, and Tufts.

UNC Chapel Hill Admissions Essay Example

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The student that wrote this essay was admitted to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. College Confidential is sharing this essay with his permission

Picture this: A small, 13-year-old boy soaked in sweat, throwing his body onto a handrail in the blistering heat. Whereas the initial thought of this seems jarring, the reality was that everyone nearby continued to go about their business, not really noticing the kid.

That boy was me — on one of the most memorable days I had ever experienced.

As a beginner to the skateboarding world, I was trying repeatedly to master a trick that would allow me to take my board down a handrail and onto a ramp. Each time I attempted the trick, I landed on the hot concrete with a thud. However, the sound of my body hitting the pavement didn't rattle those around me — they'd probably tried the same trick themselves and had definitely seen newcomers like me working diligently to master it.

When I decided to take a break, I watched from the sidelines as the more experienced skaters made their way effortlessly across the ramps, performing kickflips and ollies with the ease of someone who was simply walking. But another dichotomy also struck me. Sitting on the sidelines, my brand-new skateboard and shiny new helmet were practically gleaming in the light of the sun.

When I had decided to try skateboarding earlier that month, I'd dipped into my allowance savings and picked up the equipment I needed. However, the most experienced skaters at the park were skating on the shabbiest boards that looked like they might splinter at any moment.

As I was making this observation, one of the gods of the skate park glided toward me. Everyone knew Steve — he was sponsored by a skate company and knew every possible trick. "Nice work," he said. I looked around to confirm he was talking to me. I couldn't believe he had noticed my attempts at working the handrail.

"I'm trying," I said, slightly embarrassed that he had seen me falling to the ground repeatedly. "Do you have any tips?"

He shook his head. For a minute I was feeling dejected, as if he didn't want to help me. "You're doing it the only way there is, man," he told me. "Just keep trying."

He patted me on the back and grabbed his worn-down board, hopping on it to drop back into the skate bowl. I looked back at my brand-new board. Ever since I was a child, I had always thought that skateboarders were some of the coolest people out there, and Steve's encouragement only solidified that belief.

It became clear to me that this was one sport where it didn't matter if you could afford coaches or fancy equipment — there was no way to get a leg up in skating without putting in the work. Skateboarding is the great equalizer — if you practice, you'll succeed — that's all there is to it. Even if I came from more of a place of privilege than some of the other skaters, the reality was that I was privileged just to be part of this community.

My experiences in the skating world have now spanned more than four years, and I have spent upwards of 12 hours at a time at that skate park. I've learned all the tricks I set out to master, but more importantly, I have developed a diverse and extensive group of friends. We may be from different backgrounds and neighborhoods, but what unites us is that we are all working toward the same goals, and we've forged deep connections along the way.

I have taken the lessons from the sense of community in the skating world into my other pursuits as well. Where there may be a group of very different people in any gathering, there will always be a thread that unites us, and I will consistently be looking for that connection.

Stanford Admissions Essay Example

stanford university

The student that wrote this essay was admitted to Stanford University . College Confidential is sharing this essay with her permission.

When my parents met, my mom was a 16-year-old, straight-A student from Indiana and my father was a 26-year-old convenience store employee. "Don't date him," they told her. "He's too old for you, and it will be nothing but trouble." My mom didn't listen. But those people were right. He was nothing but trouble. He isolated my mother from her family and convinced her that things would be better if she moved in with him. Before long, she was pregnant with me. "Don't have the baby," they told her. "He'll just leave and you'll be raising the baby on your own." My mom didn't listen.

But those people were right. My father left shortly after I was born, and she was alone with me at 17 years old. "Don't drop out of school to raise the baby," they told her. "It will be too hard and you won't be able to make to make it work without an education." My mom didn't listen.

But those people were right. By the time I was in middle school, my mother was selling drugs to pay the bills, and she used them as well. She thought I didn't know, but she wasn't very good at hiding it. "The daughter is going to end up just like the mother," they said. "Her father's gone and her mom's a drug dealer, she'll never amount to anything."

But those people were wrong.

I may not have had parents to guide me, but I had books that showed me a better way. I could see myself in the characters and experience the same range of emotions that I read on each page. I learned about things that were possible with hard work, and envisioned worlds that existed only in fantasy. But in every book, I got inspiration.

Whereas some people saw tragedy when they read about Anne Shirley being sent to Green Gables, I saw a young woman who put in the work to achieve her goals and disprove everyone who made assumptions about her. And when I read about Mary Lennox's quest to find the Secret Garden, I didn't see a spoiled rich girl. Instead, I saw a young woman who used imagination and inspiration to create her own happy endings.

Reading was the one thing I could do without having to ask for money, or a ride to the bookstore. I could check out an eBook from my library and download it right to my phone as I sat on my front porch. I was able to tune out everything else going on in my life and focus on what was possible. And it wasn't just the characters who inspired me, but the writers as well. I decided that if these strangers could create stories that captivated and motivated readers, then I could do it too.

Instead of reading every day, I started writing. Paragraphs became pages, which became chapters. By the time summer arrived, I had written an entire book with 36 chapters and an array of adventures. I hope to share the book with young adults in the future so they can be as inspired by my words as I have been by the writing of others.

But my book isn't ready for its debut yet. It sits in a file on my computer, waiting for the right time to bring it to light. What's important is that it's there, telling the story of a young girl who overcame her challenges and went on to life of strength. Her family's situation didn't pre-define her, and the opinions of others didn't shape who she became.

It's a story that I'm proud to have written, and I'm not worried about whether anyone ever reads it. What matters is that it's possible for a girl like me to create my own ending.

NYU Admissions Essay Example


The student who wrote this as his essay was accepted to New York University , and we are sharing it with his permission.

"It's a mammoth tusk," my friend said.

I held up the item that I'd just dug out of the ground and examined it against the light. It was only a few inches long, beige in color, and hard as a rock. "Mammoth tusks would be huge," I told him, stuffing it into my pocket to examine later.

When I got home that day, I set the item on a shelf in my room where I stored all of my artifacts. Even then, in second grade, I had at least 25 different things in my collection. Some of them were simple to identify: A marble, a plastic comb, some fake coins from Chuck E. Cheese. But all of them were mine – dug from the ground in the woods around my neighborhood and cleaned off by me for later inspection.

My tools weren't fancy. I had a small metal garden shovel that my parents no longer needed, an old paintbrush, and a metal tool that I assumed was a stainless steel chopstick (found previously in the dirt at a playground). My method was pretty simple: Use the shovel to dig a hole, and if it hit anything, I'd use the chopstick to pry it out. After that, I'd dust it off with the paintbrush and take it home.

My best finds were the things I couldn't identify. Did I dig up a piece of an old parachute? Or was it just someone's sock that fell out of a backpack during a hike? Is someone looking for this item, or was it purposely discarded? I would go over these unidentifiable objects repeatedly, touching and polishing them to try and get their history to flow into my body. Sometimes I'd have a dream where I definitively diagnosed my items. I'd wake up and say "Oh that's right, the rusted metal I found on Tuesday wasn't an old beer can – it was discarded war ammunition." Then I'd realize that this insight came from my dream, not from real life, and I'd be back to square one.

My hobby continued for years, and eventually my grandparents bought me a metal detector. I took it out on a dig in sixth grade, eager to bring up a tub filled with gold and silver coins, but the only things I detected with it were a belt buckle and an old crucifix pendant, which my brother assured me was cursed, so I put it back where I'd found it.

Even though those were decent finds, I felt like the metal detector was taking part of the fun out of my digs. After a few weeks, I put it in the garage and grabbed my previous tool bag. Armed with my shovel and other materials, I could once again dig holes throughout the woods, with or without my friends, and make discoveries.

My collection of archeological items is smaller now. When we moved, I had to part with a few things, but I was sure to keep the ones I couldn't identify. Into the trash went the marbles and belt buckles. Onto the shelf in my new house went the tusk, the parachute, the ammunition and other items that had been ambiguously ID'd by me.

Last year, while cutting through the woods to my friend's house, I lost a soapstone keychain. I looked for days, but never located it. Sometimes I wonder if a second grader out digging may have found it.

"Is it a tusk?" he asked his friend.

Then, in my dream, he proudly put it on a shelf to fuel his own sense of wonder, never knowing who left it there or why, only to create his own stories about it.

Northeastern University College Essay Example


The student who wrote this was accepted to Northeastern University , and we are sharing it with the student's permission.

Successfully creating this source of warmth and light has eluded even the most skilled survivalists from time to time, due to the delicate balance of fuel, oxygen and ignition required.

Despite the knowledge that creating a fire was a well-known challenge, it was my job to generate one out of the materials I could find on my grandfather's farm, and I only had one night to make it happen.

"You're gonna do what the cavemen couldn't," my father told me. I didn't point out that he was actually incorrect. Cavemen had successfully built fires, I'd learned in school — but if I shared that information, it would only make me look worse if I was unable to create one on my own.

Some kids learn how to make a fire in Boy Scouts or on Outward Bound excursions, but that wasn't going to be my experience. "We aren't joiners," my dad liked to tell people. "We do things on our own."

That meant learning to swim in nearby lakes and rivers. While other kids participated on swim teams, I would be at the edge of an algae-ridden pond, clinging to a tree root as water snakes slipped past my feet. It also meant I'd spent my afternoons building a horse pen with my brothers while my classmates made shoe racks in the after-school woodworking club. Whereas the "joiners" came home with a sanded, stained and varnished Father's Day gift to proudly offer their dads, I worked with my father on unexpected first aid concepts as I came into contact with thorns, stray staples and rusty nails during my building project.

After telling me that my new task was to create a fire and ensure that it burned all night long, my dad disappeared back into the house. The only tool I had was the knowledge I'd gained from watching my parents and grandparents make fires for the prior 15 years of my life.

I gathered leaves, sticks, dried grass and logs from around the property and took them to a rock-encircled area where we'd made many fires before. I set up my tepee of materials over the black stain that showed me where our previous fires had burned. I organized my tinder, kindling, logs and leaves in a perfect formation.

I walked into the woods to seek material that might work as a fireboard when I saw something unexpected. A small stream of smoke was rising from a part of the woods we'd always described as "no man's land." It was where local teenagers would gather, and from the looks of the trash they often left behind, to drink beer and smoke. They'd obviously done exactly that this very night, around a fire, which they'd since abandoned.

The fire was clearly winding down to the "nearly just embers" stage. I sat down and threw some leaves on it, and then blew on it to ensure that the new flames would grow. After that, I put a branch with dead leaves into it. Once it lit up, I took that flaming torch and walked back to the logs I'd set up around our family fire pit.

Back on my family's property, I held the torch against my tinder and watched it ignite, blowing on it and rearranging my setup to ensure that my fire would take hold. As the flames traveled from the dry grass to the leaves to the kindling to the logs, I leaned back to watch it.

I kept that fire burning all night long, and the next morning, when my dad asked how things went, I told him the truth, although I knew there might be a chance I'd have to start over again.

He stared at me for a few seconds and then smiled before he spoke.

"We may not be joiners, but we're not idiots either."

UVA Admissions Essay Example


The student who wrote this as her essay was accepted to the University of Virginia , and we are sharing it with her permission.

I once made the mistake of sitting down during ballet class. My thighs were quivering from the petit allegro combination, my forehead stung from the unyielding pull of my excessively hair-sprayed ballet bun, and the raw skin on my toes was peeking out all bloody and tender from being shoved in wood pointe shoes for the past two hours. My ten-year-old body throbbed off-beat to the pianist's Prokofiev. I slid my sweaty back down the wall of my ballet classroom, and sat. Big mistake. Although my attempt for physical reprieve was evanescent, my Hungarian teacher experienced an ardent, even possessing, rage because of it. This fairy-like woman transformed into a red-faced banshee who lectured me vehemently about the disrespectfulness of my action. Sentenced to the corner, I was instructed to reflect on "what I had just done."

Sitting down during ballet class may seem trivial to most people, pretty much all people actually, but ballet enjoys a historic strictness that includes classroom etiquette. The austerity of the art is not limited to a ten-year-old-sitting policy: Ballet is rules -- complex, detailed, and painstaking rules. Laymen may not believe there is a right way for me to position my pinkie during a pirouette, but I assure them there is. Weirdly, the stringent intricacy of ballet is what made me fall in love with dance. The structured consistency provided me with comfort during times when everything was changing. When I moved from London to Ohio, I was faced with myriad cultural differences that were unsurprisingly unsettling. Ballet, however, was not one of them. A plié was still a plié. The consistency of dance was a soothing reminder of home in a foreign place.

Ballet continued to play an anchoring role in my life, but by seventeen it was less solace inducing and had taken on the more literal properties of an anchor. Training pre-professionally was all-encompassing. The time commitment alone was immense, topping twenty hours weekly, but beyond that I dedicated my physical, emotional, and mental self to ballet because the art demanded I do so. Ballet was in charge; I performed as it instructed: think color-by-number painting. This rigidity that once brought me peace grew dull and monotonous, even suffocating. Eventually, dance lost its color. As time went on, ballet increasingly conflicted with the independent and open-minded woman I was becoming. It exacerbated a paradox in my life: what was pushing me the hardest was also holding me back. High school to me meant student government, team sports, and art club. Ballet disagreed; it became jealous and possessive. I resented its control, and I fell out of love with the art. It was time for us to break up.

Ballet's departure from my daily life left a void, but simultaneously freedom. I finally had time to try the extracurricular activities that characterize the high school experience. Participating in cheer and French club, as well as my other endeavors, allowed me to diversify my high school experience in a way pre-professional ballet never would have allowed.

However, the funny thing about my relationship with dance is that it is entirely cyclical. I left my ballet program to immerse myself in my high school community, but in the process of doing so I came right back to it. I started AHS Moves, a drop-in beginner-oriented dance club for any and everyone at my school. What I could not have predicted was the way in which taking ownership of this group would heal my relationship with dance. Directing and choreographing for kids who do not have formal training, and quite frankly do not care, has enabled me to enjoy dance without the pressure of a pre-professional ballet environment. I have realized that my issue with dance was not actually that I did not love it, but that I wanted to do it on my own terms. And now I can.

Tufts Essay That Worked


The student who wrote this as his essay was accepted to Tufts University , and we are sharing it with his permission.

"Do you only own one shirt? Or do you have a whole closet full of the same one?"

Over the last 11 years, I have fielded this question hundreds of times. Although it's now common knowledge that Apple founder Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day of his professional life, I certainly wasn't aware of that when I created my "uniform" back in first grade. That was when my mom took me back-to-school shopping and I picked out just one white T-shirt and one pair of blue jeans. When she asked what else I wanted, I said that was going to be my outfit for the year.

We picked up two weeks' worth of the same shirt and pants, and that's what I wore every day, the whole year. When second grade rolled around, I changed up the shirt to make it a blue polo, but kept the blue jeans. I even slept in my uniform. Other kids may have thought it was weird, but other than asking questions, they never said anything negative about it.

Some school years, I was still so enamored with the previous year's outfit that I kept it a second year. Old class photos indicate that my black T-shirt/ light blue jeans combo endured for both fourth and fifth grades, but I shifted to a gray henley before moving to middle school. That helped me segue into the green henley I adopted in tenth and eleventh grades. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt in the heat of the summer may have seemed odd to some people. But I would even wear it to the beach without a second thought.

I have to assume my parents and teachers figured I'd outgrow this habit eventually. In pretty much every other way, I was a normal kid. But each August when the school clothes purchases were made, I went for just one look. One year, the school yearbook staff interviewed me about my fashion choice. Was it a comfort to have the same outfit all the time — almost like a pacifier or blanket?

No, I told them. It just made my life easier and gave me fewer things to worry about. I never had to decide what to wear — I always knew what the choice would be. But I also think it has something to do with my strong interest in art. As an artist, I like to express myself using the minimum number of tools. When I am trying to perfect an animation, I can tweak a character's eyebrow ever so slightly to convey sadness or elation. If I'm sketching an animal, the curve of its mouth can make the difference between it being relaxed or ready to pounce.

It's the same thing with me. The outfit is the one constant, so I can observe others while blending into the background. But if I want to stand out on a particular day, I have to consciously emote more with my expressions, my words and my movements. I can't rely on a snappy new pair of shoes to show people I'm ready to dance, since I wear the same maroon Vans on a daily basis.

As I write this essay, I'm already considering options for senior year of high school. Do I come into twelfth grade with a bang, sporting a silver jacket each day or an off-the-beaten-path pair of overalls? Should I really shock everyone and just buy a variety of clothes? As a student at an arts high school, I could probably wear a Batman costume every day with no issues.

Maybe that uncertainty every August is part of the joy of my uniform — I even surprise myself with each year's choices. Whatever prompted this decision over a decade ago is now something I embrace. I like that no matter what path I take in life, I won't have to decide which outfits to pack.

University of Michigan Essay Example


The student who wrote this essay was accepted to the University of Michigan , and we are sharing it with her permission.

"What's a seven-letter word to describe a specialist in equine hoof care?"

After I typed "farrier" into the answer key, I sat back and surveyed my work. As the final clue in the custom crossword puzzle that I created for my state's equestrian association, it took a bit of coordination to get everything right, but I was able to create enough clues to make a puzzle of intermediate complexity, just as the client had requested.

Having a job creating custom crossword puzzles is one part trivia and one part strategy. Sometimes I get so into the client's request that I'll research a topic for hours, coming up with hundreds of possible clues on the specific subject I've been assigned to cover. But then when the time comes to design the "Across" and "Down" grids, I struggle to line everything up perfectly and have to scrap my well-established intentions and start over.

But that's part of the fun of being a crossword puzzle designer, which is how I describe myself on the business card that I hand out to pretty much everyone I meet. I started out making puzzles for fun, then I offered to make one for my brother's robotics team when I was 14. After that, his teacher asked if I could make one for his bowling league's Christmas party, and word began to spread from there. Before long, I had requests coming in not only from people in my local community, but from those in other states, regarding topics I didn't know existed.

For example, although I'd never considered how asphalt was made in the past, I learned phrases like "hot mix" and "aggregate" after making a crossword for a local paving firm. While pickleball had never been on my radar screen before, I picked up terms like "chop" and "backspin" while designing a crossword for the local seniors' community pickleball team. As my business grew, so did the skepticism from those who seemed to think I was pursuing an odd method of making money. Not only that, but people began offering opinions about how my self-employment would affect my free time.

"If you keep making crosswords for other people, you won't enjoy solving them anymore," my uncle warned me one Sunday as I completed the New York Times' crossword puzzle. But as I entered the phrase "Pick up the Pacer" in response to the clue "Give a ride to an Indiana hoopster," I knew he was incorrect.

For me, creating crosswords is just as fun as solving them – maybe even more so. When I look at an empty crossword grid, it must be the same way a farmer feels when viewing an open field. I see all of the possibilities and potential before me as a challenge and a gift. The world is mine to create, and each word that I put on the page is like a seed planted in the dirt. It doesn't have just one sole purpose. It feeds into the rest of the clues, providing much-needed vowels and consonants to the words that will intersect it.

Although I haven't yet found a way to work "cruciverbalist" into a crossword, I hope to make it happen someday, because that's the word that describes me. I'd like the clue for it to be listed first when I get to design the ultimate puzzle — one for a crossword enthusiast's association. I can see it now: "1 Across: A person who is skilled at solving or creating crossword puzzles."

Certainly the crossword enthusiasts will smile as they complete that clue, content in the fact that someone "gets" them. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

This essay series was originally published in Spring 2020.

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23 College Essay Tips to Stand Out

What do outstanding essays have in common? Here are our 23 most effective strategies based on lessons from admitted students.

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23 College Essay Tips To Stand Out

Over the years, we've read and helped students write thousands of essays that worked.

And one thing has become clear: there's no "rules" or magic formulas to writing outstanding essays.

Great college essays come in all sorts of varieties, and that uniqueness is what makes them great.

In this guide, you’ll learn 23 easy-to-implement strategies that actually help your essays stand out, including:

...And much more!

These strategies are based on the advice from admissions officers, expert college counselors, and most importantly: the real essays of admitted students.

Apply these tips to your own college essays and watch they become more engaging and interesting.

Let’s get started!

Only write from your perspective

Don’t try to write like a novel, or other books you may have read in the past.

In describing moments, avoid writing from outside of your own perspective.

Don't write:

I grimaced when I heard the bad news

How could you be seeing yourself react? Who is watching you in that moment?

Your college essays are personal pieces, so only write from your perspective. Don’t write from outside your own perspective, or about things you wouldn’t be able to perceive.

Since your essays are written in the 1st person, you should tell your reader what you feel. Describe what you felt, and let the reader infer the meaning.

Instead try:

I felt a pang in my gut when I heard the bad news

By writing from your perspective only, you will automatically show, not tell.

Your essay will always be stronger if you show the physical actions, details of your characters, and your feelings. Allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.

Watch out for this subtle difference, which can have a big impact on how your essays read.

Use specific and nerdy words

You shouldn’t dumb down your knowledge when writing your personal essay.

Instead, showcase your understanding by naming things specifically and using some jargon or technical language. Rather than saying:

My biggest fear is being unengaged.

You could try:

My slimy, monolithic, Lovecraftian fear is unengagement.

As long as it is authentic, you should make specific references to your interests, passions, or knowledge.

It shouldn’t be “over the top” or forced, but doing this sparingly throughout your essay can showcase your character.

Writing specifically (while not being overly detailed) also automatically makes your essay more interesting to read.

Tell a story, tell many stories

Humans are naturally drawn to stories, and great stories stay with us after reading them.

You want the admissions officers to remember and think about your essays after reading them, and stories help you do just that.

Remember these additional tips for writing stories in a personal essay:

Here’s a technique for reflecting on your stories and experiences:

Write a story in the past tense. Then add, “Now I realize...” and continue writing.

This phrase will get you to reflect, and later while revising you can remove it.

Remember that your stories needs conflict, setting, and context. At the end of your story, you need to answer the question “Why does it matter?”

Write stories, lots of stories, and use them as the starting point for your essays. They shouldn’t take up too much of your final essay though.

This gets to my next tip about finding the best essay ideas...

The best ideas come while you write

Here’s the truth about getting brilliant essay ideas: you need to write first , and ideas will come later.

Our brains are great at making connections , and by writing you’re putting material in front of your brain, which lets it start coming up with connections (AKA your ideas).

Human brains are not as great at spurring up ideas on the spot. It’s nearly impossible to just sit down and force yourself to think up great, unique ideas.

Your best ideas will likely come about while you’re writing. Often, those interesting ideas are the spontaneous ones.

That’s why most students need 4-10+ drafts to write an outstanding personal statement.

Why write so much? Because your initial drafts are just for thinking out ideas. Expect not to use 90% of what you write at the start.

And writing to get ideas is actually easier than thinking to get ideas, because you’ll end up getting to good ideas faster.

So choose a topic and start writing. It’s the most effective way to start getting ideas.

Paragraph breaks are your friend

Paragraph breaks make it easier for the reader to read. Spaces help your eyes from skipping over dense blocks of text.

Use paragraphs to organize your ideas into groups. Then, you can move them around and see what works best. Small changes in placement can have a big impact on how your essay flows.

Avoid “writing like a suburb,” which is writing with lots of evenly sized paragraphs (1). This can make for a boring reading experience.

Instead, use paragraph breaks freely and make your essay be like Paris, with a variety of paragraph lengths.

If your paragraphs are too dense, they’ll also be easier to skip over. Having longer paragraphs is good, but make sure to have a balance.

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MIT Essays that Worked

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MIT Essays that Worked – Introduction

In this guide, we’ll provide you with several MIT essays that worked. After each, we’ll discuss elements of these MIT essay examples in depth. By reading these sample MIT essays and our expert analysis, you’ll be better prepared to write your own MIT essay. Before you apply to MIT, read on for six MIT essays that worked.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university in Cambridge , Massachusetts. Since its founding in 1861, MIT has become one of the world’s foremost institutions for science and technology . With MIT ranking highly year after year, the low MIT acceptance rate is no surprise. Knowing how to get into MIT means knowing about MIT admissions, the MIT application, and how to write MIT supplemental essays.

MIT Supplemental Essay Requirements

The MIT application for 2022–2023 requires four short essays. Each essay should be up to 200 words in length.

MIT essay prompts :

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it., describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). how has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations.

MIT changes the wording of these prompts a little bit every year. As a result, our MIT essay examples may look a little different from the prompts to which you will be crafting your own responses. However, there is a lot of overlap between current and past prompts and often the underlying questions are the same. In other words, even if the prompts differ, most of our MIT essays that worked are still helpful. Even MIT essay examples for prompts that are gone can be useful as a general sample college essay.

As one of the best universities worldwide, MIT is nearly impossible to get into without a good strategy . Even if you don’t have a stellar ACT or SAT score , your essays may impress admissions officers. Let’s briefly analyze each prompt so we know what to look for in MIT essays that worked.

MIT Essay Prompt Breakdown

best college essays that worked

1. Extracurricular essay

First, you’ll write about an activity you enjoy, whether it’s baking, doing magic tricks, or writing fanfiction. Remember, strong MIT essay examples for this prompt show genuine enthusiasm and explain why the activity is meaningful. Choose a hobby you can write about with gusto while also showing what it means to you.

2. Your Background Essay

Next, we have a prompt asking about your background. This is a classic question; in every other sample college essay, you find answers to this prompt. This question is intentionally open-ended, allowing you to write about any aspect of your background you’d like. In the MIT essays that worked, the “world” has something important to say about the author’s values or outlook.

3. Community Essay

Then, the third essay asks how you work with diverse groups to contribute to a larger community. MIT wants to see that you can work toward community goals while valuing diverse perspectives. But don’t worry. They don’t expect you to have solved world hunger—pick something that demonstrates what community means to you.

4. Significant Challenge Essay

Lastly, we have the failure essay, which seeks to answer how you persist in the face of adversity. Notice the prompt doesn’t mention “overcoming,” so this can be a time that you completely flat-out failed. Everyone handles setbacks differently, so effective MIT essay examples illustrate the author’s unique way of managing failure. It doesn’t have to be a particularly unique or unusual failure, although that may help you stand out .

How to Apply to MIT

mit essays that worked

MIT doesn’t accept the Common or Coalition Application. Instead, there’s a school-specific application for all prospective students. The 2022 Early Action MIT application deadline was November 1. The Regular Action MIT application deadline is usually January 1, but it’s been extended this year to January 5, 2023. The financial aid information deadline is February 15, 2023.

Depending on your admissions round, you need to submit all materials to the Apply MIT portal by the specified deadline.

MIT application requirements

Furthermore, interviews are offered to many—but not all—students; not being offered an interview doesn’t negatively reflect on your application. At the end of this article, we compile more resources regarding the rest of the application. If you have specific questions about your application, reach out to the MIT admissions office .

Now that we’ve discussed the prompts and MIT admissions process, let’s read some MIT essays that worked. We have six sample MIT essays to help you learn how to write MIT supplemental essays.

MIT Essay Examples #1 – Cultural Background Essay

The first of our MIT essay examples responds to a prompt that isn’t exactly on this year’s list. Let’s take a look. The prompt for this MIT essay that worked is:

Please tell us more about your cultural background and identity in the space below (100 word limit). If you need more than 100 words, please use the Optional section on Part 2.

Although the wording isn’t identical to any of this year’s prompts, it is similar to prompt #2. Remember, essay prompt #2 asks about the world you come from, which is essentially your background. However, MIT essay examples for this prompt speak more specifically about cultural background. With a shorter word limit, concise language is even more critical in MIT essays that worked for this prompt.

MIT Essays That Worked #1

My dad is black and my mom is white. But I am a shade of brown somewhere in between. I could never wear my mom’s makeup like other girls. By ten, I was tired seeing confused stares whenever I was with my dad. I became frustrated and confused. I talked to my biracial friends about becoming confident in my divergent ancestral roots. I found having both an understanding of black issues in America and of the middle class’ lack of exposure gave me greater clarity in many social issues. My background enabled me to become a compassionate, understanding biracial woman.

Why This Essay Worked

MIT essays that worked effectively show that the author can think about the bigger picture. This author describes their experiences as a biracial woman while addressing the wider scope of racial issues. While you shouldn’t reach to reference irrelevant societal problems, MIT essays that worked do often incorporate big ideas.

In addition, this author mentions conversations with biracial friends. MIT essay examples often include collaboration and community, and this one is no different. Often, sample MIT essays about cultural background will connect that heritage with one’s community. It shows that you value what makes you unique and can find it in others.

Lastly, strong MIT essay examples display reflection and personal growth. Do you understand the ways your experiences have shaped you, and can you write about them? Can you point to areas where you’ve grown as a result of your experiences? MIT essays that worked link the topic and the writer’s personal growth or values.

MIT Essays That Worked #2 – Activities Essay

The second of our MIT essay examples answers a prompt that’s on this year’s list.

In other words, write about a hobby or extracurricular activity—and what it says about you. As we mentioned above, MIT essays that worked for this prompt aren’t all about lofty ambitions. If you don’t read textbooks in your spare time, don’t write an essay claiming that’s your hobby. Be honest, thoughtful, and enthusiastic while finding a way to make your uniqueness show through. Let’s read one of many MIT essays that worked for this prompt.

MIT Essays That Worked #2

Adventuring. Surrounded by trees wider than I am tall on my right and the clear, blue lake on my left. I made it to the top after a strenuous hike and it was majestic. There is no feeling like the harmony I feel when immersing myself in nature on a hike or running through the mud to train for my sprint triathlon or even fighting for a pair of cute boots on black Friday. I take pleasure in each shade of adventure on my canvas of life, with each deliberate stroke leading me to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

MIT essays that worked use precise language to appeal to readers’ emotions. Note words like “strenuous,” “majestic,” “harmony,” and “deliberate.” The strategic use of vivid words like this can strengthen MIT essay examples and heighten their impact. But don’t overuse them—like paintings use a variety of shades, you should play with the intensity of your words.

Another benefit of colorful language is conveying meaning more deeply and precisely. Well-written MIT essay examples layer on meaning: this author likes adventuring through nature as well as life. With effective diction, you can make the most of the words you’re given. Consider using metaphors like in this MIT essay conclusion, comparing life to a canvas.

Now, think about your impression of the author after reading this. They’re active, ambitious, and, above all, adventurous. We know they like to challenge themselves (training for a triathlon) but also like fashion (buying cute boots). And we see from their concluding sentence that they have no intention of slowing down or pulling back. In under 100 words, we’ve got a clear snapshot of their worldview and see their adventuring spirit fits MIT.

MIT Essay Examples #3 – Why Major Essay

The third of our MIT essays that worked answers a prompt that isn’t on our list for 2022.

Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why?

This is a classic “Why Major” essay, asked by hundreds of colleges every year. Obviously, the prompt asks about your academic interests . However, it subtly asks about school fit : why is MIT the best place for you to pursue this interest? Although this sample college essay prompt isn’t in this cycle, you should read as many sample MIT essays as possible. MIT essays that worked for the “Why Major” essay prompt illustrated the author’s academic interests and motivations. Let’s see what the next of our sample MIT essays has to say.

MIT Essays That Worked #3

My first step in to the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research was magical. My eyes lit up like Christmas lights and my mind was racing faster than Usain Bolt. I was finally at home, in a community where my passions for biology, chemistry, math, and engineering collided, producing treatments to save lives everywhere.

I pictured myself in a tie-dyed lab coat, watching a tumor grow in a Petri disk then determining my treatment’s effectiveness. If I am admitted to MIT, I look forward to majoring in bioengineering and shaping and contributing to the forefront of bioengineering research.

Earlier, we said that MIT essays that worked use vivid language to drive home their point. This sample college essay is no different. Describing their instantaneous reaction, the author pulls us into their headspace to share in their delight. Following that, they show us their vision for the future. Finally, they state directly how they’ll work toward that vision at MIT.

This author points out that bioengineering aligns with their interests across math and the sciences. There’s no rule saying you can’t be purely into math, but MIT strives to cultivate the world’s leading minds. Many MIT essays that worked present the author as a multifaceted person and intellectual. If you write a Why Major essay for a STEM field, it may be worth your while to take an interdisciplinary angle.

Among other parts of these MIT essays that worked in the author’s favor is the mention of an experience. Many model MIT essay examples directly reference the author’s life experiences to connect them with their interest. For instance, this author frames their essay with a visit to a cancer research institute. We don’t know if it’s a tour or an internship—the reason for their visit is less important than the impact.

MIT Essay Examples #4 – Community Essay

mit essays that worked

At this point, we’ve gone through half of our MIT essay examples. Moving on, we’ll read three MIT essays that worked for prompts (nearly) identical to this year’s. Next, we’ve got a prompt asking about community contributions.

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways,  from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc.

It’s very similar to this year’s third prompt, with one crucial difference. The current prompt asks for “one way you have collaborated with people who are different from you .” While past MIT essay examples for this prompt could have focused on individual efforts, now you should focus on group efforts. In particular, groups where “people who are different from you” also play key roles. This is intentionally open-ended, allowing for endless kinds of differences.

With that said, let’s continue with our MIT essay examples.

MIT Essays That Worked #4

“I’m going to Harvard,” my brother proclaimed to me. My jaw dropped. My little brother, the one who I taught to pee in the toilet, the one who played in the pool with me every day of the summer for 7 years, the one who threw me in the trash can 3 months ago, had finally realized the potential I have seen in him since he was a little kid. And I was thrilled.

He told me that after attending the Harvard basketball program, he knew that attending college was the perfect opportunity for him to continue playing the sport he loved as well as get a very good education. His end goal (this is where I almost cried) was to become an engineer at Nike. The best part, though, is that he asked me to help him achieve it. 

I was astounded that he thought so highly of me that he trusted me to help him. That night, we began discussing various fields of engineering that he could pursue, as well as the internship opportunities that he classified as “so cool.” As soon as school started, I bought him a planner and taught him to keep his activities organized. I go over homework with him and my baby brother almost every night.

I love using my knowledge to contribute to my family with my knowledge. I am so proud of my brother and our progress. I cannot wait to see him grow as he works to achieve his dream.

Perhaps while reading the prompt, you thought all MIT essays that worked discussed setting up a food bank or working at a hospital. Not so! What really matters for this essay is the impact the community has on you. In sample MIT essays like this one, we see just how important the writer’s family is to them. If your family means the world to you, don’t shy away from writing about them!

On the other hand, while many sample MIT essays discuss family, the best ones remember to center the author. It may seem selfish, but in an applicant pool of over 30,000 , you must stand out. You have to beat that low MIT acceptance rate by putting your best foot forward. Notice how the author’s feelings and thoughts show through in their interactions and reactions. Even in recounting their past with their little brother, you see them as a caring, playful older sibling. They’re thoroughly proud of their brother, his ambitions, and the trust he’s placed in them.

MIT Essay Examples #5 – Describe Your World 

The fifth of our MIT essay examples answers a prompt in circulation this year. Hooray!

This “world” is open-ended to allow writers to explore the communities and people that have shaped them. This essay calls for deep introspection; can you find a common thread connecting you to your “world”? Some MIT essays that worked discuss family traditions, other city identities, etc. Whatever you choose, it should reflect who you are now and who you want to become.

MIT Essays That Worked #5

I was standing on the top row of the choir risers with my fellow third graders. We were beside the fourth graders who were beside the fifth graders. My teacher struck the first chords of our favorite song and we sang together, in proud call and response “Ujima, let us work together. To make better our community. We can solve! Solve our problems with collective work and responsibility.”

Then the students playing African drums and the xylophones on the floor began the harmonious percussion section and we sang again with as much passion as nine-year-olds can muster. This was my world. As a child, my community was centered around my school. At my school we discovered that if you love something enough, and work hard enough for it, you can do great things for both yourself and others around you.

In the years since I left, I reflected back on the lessons I learned at school. I determined I wanted to focus on the things I love – mathematics, science, and helping others. I also want to harmonize my abilities with those of other people so that we can work together to make the world a better place. Today I aspire to work in integrative research as a bioengineer to address the pressing medical issues of today.

For those who don’t know, ujima is the Swahili word for collective work and responsibility. The most well-crafted MIT essay examples employ narrative devices like framing and theme to leave a lasting impression. This essay, for example, introduces ujima with the choir scene—which itself is collective work—then reflects on the general concept. In every sentence, this writer works with the idea of collaboration and the positive power of the collective.

Among sample MIT essays, this can be challenging if you haven’t thought critically about your past and present. This writer clearly values collective responsibility and sees their future through that lens. They speak directly to their interests and their aspirations of bioengineering. All in all, they show careful consideration of ideas that have influenced them and the direction they want to take.

MIT Essay Examples #6 – Significant Challenge

The last of our MIT essays that worked answers a prompt nearly identical to one from this year.

Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? 

The only difference is that this year’s prompt indicates you should feel comfortable sharing what you write about. This seems obvious, but you may be surprised how many students dredge up traumatic experiences in sample college essays. The issue isn’t that these experiences are unpleasant to read; on the contrary, they may be painful to write about. Although many MIT sample essays are somewhat vulnerable, you don’t have to write about experiences you’d rather keep to yourself.

With that said, let’s read the last of our MIT essay examples.

*Please be advised that the following essay example contains discussions of anxiety and panic attacks. 

Mit essays that worked #6.

Ten o’clock on Wednesday, April 2016. Ten o’clock and I was sobbing, heaving, and gasping for air. Ten o’clock and I felt like all my hard work, passion, and perseverance had amounted to nothing and I was not enough. It was ten o’clock on a Wednesday, but it all started in August of 2015. I moved cities in August 2015. I knew the adjustment would be hard, but I thought if I immersed myself in challenging activities and classes I loved, I would get through the year just fine.

I was wrong. With each passing month I experienced increased anxiety attacks, lack of satisfaction in any and every activity, and constant degradation of my personal happiness. By April, I was broken. Naked, bent over the toilet, sweating, shaking, choking on the tightening of my own throat, thinking “not enough, not enough, not enough.” 

It was extremely challenging to pick myself up after such a hard fall. When I finally made it out of the bathroom, I crawled to my room and read “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Her struggle encouraged me to rise to this challenge stronger than I had been before. I prioritized my own happiness and fulfillment, taking care of my body and mind.

I finally realized I did not have to do everything on my own, and began collaborating with my peers to finish the year strong and begin initiatives for the next year. I became a stronger, more confident woman than ever before.

Now, you may understand why this year’s wording includes “that you feel comfortable sharing.” While the author’s vivid description helps immerse us in the moment, a reader may hope they’re okay now. Again, you don’t need to strictly avoid traumatizing moments—but don’t feel obligated to share anything you don’t want to. In any case, the diction is indeed very precise and helps convey just how shaken the author was.

Furthermore, we see how the author dealt with this challenge: they were inspired by Maya Angelou. This ability to seek and find strength beyond yourself is crucial, especially in an ever more connected world. At the end of the essay, the writer notes how they’ve changed by working with others to accomplish goals. Their renewed confidence has made them even stronger and more willing to face challenges.

MIT Essay Examples – Key Takeaways

mit essays that worked

So after reading six sample MIT essays, what do you think? What are the takeaways from these MIT essays that worked? It goes without saying that you should read more sample MIT essays if you can. Additionally, when you draft your own MIT essays, take time to revise them and have other people read them.

MIT Essays that Worked Takeaways

1. discuss experiences.

The best MIT essay examples keep it real by talking about the author’s experiences. Can you think critically about how they have made you who you are? Find ways to address the prompt with your background and life experiences. You may also find sample MIT essays easier to write when they’re rooted in your reality.

2. Use precise language

Two hundred words are, in fact, not that much space. MIT essays that worked use every word to paint a vivid picture of the writer and their world. Mark Twain said it best: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” Choose your words carefully to refine your meaning and strengthen your impact.

3. Reflect on yourself

In college essays, it’s all about you and your personal narrative . So don’t miss any opportunity to introspect on your experiences, community, and personal growth. Demonstrate that you know yourself well enough to point to specific influences on your worldview. We all move through the world in different ways—why do you move the way you do?

4. Be genuine

You’ve heard this a thousand times, and we’ll say it again: be yourself . While you hear all about the typical MIT student and what MIT looks for , we’re all unique individuals. As, or even more, important than good scores or a huge activities list is an accurate representation of you . Write about extracurriculars and subjects and communities that are important to you—not what you think will sound impressive.

Additional MIT Resources from CollegeAdvisor

We have a wealth of resources on how to get into MIT here at We’ve got a comprehensive article on the MIT admissions process, from the MIT acceptance rate to deadlines.

MIT Admissions

Speaking of the acceptance rate, we take a closer look at that, too.

MIT Acceptance Rate

If you’re wondering about MIT tuition and costs, read our breakdown .

MIT Tuition & MIT Cost

Finally, we’ve got a guide covering application strategy from start to finish.

Strategizing Your MIT Application

MIT Essays that Worked – Final thoughts

Placing among the top American universities, we see MIT ranking highly every year, and for good reason. By the same token, it’s very challenging to get admitted. So, in order to get in, you need to know how to write MIT supplemental essays.

We read through several MIT essays that worked and identified strengths in our MIT essay examples. Use these tips when writing your own essays to craft a strong application!

best college essays that worked

This article was written by  Gina Goosby . Looking for more admissions support? Click  here  to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how  can support you in the college application process.

best college essays that worked

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IELTS Exam: Best Tips for Preparation


What is IELTS

Today we have gathered to discuss the holy grail of the international study process. The golden ticket without which all the other exams lose their meaning. International English Language Testing System, famously known by its acronym IELTS assesses the language abilities of non-native English speakers who aspire to study or work in English-speaking countries.

Widely accepted by educational institutions, companies, and immigration authorities, the test measures four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The test is available in two formats: Academic and General Training. While the former is designed for those who wish to attain an academic degree, the latter is designed for those who want to work in English-speaking countries.

The test is scored on a scale of 0-9. Each segment is given an individual band score, and the total band score is calculated by taking the average of the four segment scores.

Now that we have answered the question 'what is IELTS?', let's thoroughly examine the process of IELTS preparation. In this article, we will provide the most effective tips, the best IELTS study material, and all the useful ways and techniques to help you better prepare for the exam.

After you get into your desired college, contact our paper writing services and get instant help on any issue.

How to Prepare for the IELTS Exam

If you have encountered this article, you are most likely looking for the most effective ways to prepare for an important exam.

Where should I start? What should I pay more attention to? Where can I find the practice tests? If these questions are giving you anxiety, don't worry. We've all been through it. Based on our shared experience and knowledge, we have drafted a roadmap for IELTS exam preparation, leading you to the highest score. 

ielts strategies

Understand the Structure of IELTS

As trivial as it sounds, understanding the structure of IELTS test is the first step to boosting your final score. Anything unknown is always scary and anxiety-inducing. Knowing and being familiar with the subject matter will help you be more confident, calm, and focused.

The IELTS listening test comes first, followed by the reading test and writing segment. You will get no breaks in between. According to the testing center's timetable, the speaking test may be conducted up to 7 days before or after the other sections.

The listening segment consists of four sections with 40 questions overall. You must respond to 10 questions after listening to four recordings of fluent English speakers. You will get 30 minutes for this segment, including 10 minutes to transfer the answers to the answer sheet.

The reading segment consists of three sections with 40 questions in total. You'll be required to read passages and respond to questions using the text's details. You will get 60 minutes for this segment.

The writing segment contains two tasks. For Task 1, you must describe a chart, graph, or diagram. For Task 2, you must write an essay responding to a prompt. You will get 60 minutes for this segment as well. While we are at it, check out our article on how to quickly write an essay and sharpen your skills.

The speaking segment is a face-to-face interview with an examiner. There are three parts: an introduction and interview, a short talk, and a discussion. You will get 10-15 minutes for the speaking part.

Let's further discuss how to prepare for IELTS. We have more tips on the best way to prepare for IELTS.

Practice With the Sample IELTS Training Exams

In the beginning stages of IELTS training, you must identify two very critical variables:

You'll be able to manage your time better if you can identify your skill set and shortcomings. Knowing your initial answering speed will help you track your progress.

Now that we've brought this up, you presumably want to know how to find those indicators. Well, there are plenty of mock tests off and online. Some of those are paid samples, but you can find various free tests on the internet. You will be able to recognize your skills and weaknesses by taking as many practice examinations as you can. Some find IELTS writing very easy and the speaking part super challenging. If you are one of those people, you must spend more time practicing speaking and less on writing.

Trust us; your initial answering speed will be slow. It takes a lot of practice to get better at this ability. Take your time and try not to put too much pressure on yourself initially. So what if you exceed the timeframe of the IELTS test format? Over some time, after practicing persistently, you will nail it and even have some extra time for revision.

We hope you are no longer confused about how to start IELTS preparation. Trust the experience of many test takers who recommend preparation IELTS online.

IELTS Preparation Strategies for Each Part

As you know, the official IELTS test consists of four different segments. Some skills you need for IELTS speaking tests will not be useful for the writing section and vice versa. You must ensure you enter the exam room prepared for each part.

The following section will discuss each segment individually and provide IELTS exam tips for every module.

IELTS Training: Writing Tips

IELTS experts suggest that the IELTS writing test is not intuitive, and IELTS takers need to sharpen their pens to meet the established standards.

Practice writing and follow the tips below:

IELTS official practice materials can help you better prepare for the test day. Remember, don't wear yourself out; practice makes perfect.

IELTS Training: Reading Tips

Academic reading text can get quite tricky. IELTS reading tests are designed to test your comprehension and analytical skills. When preparing for the academic reading part of the exam, you need to focus on various aspects simultaneously.

Here are some IELTS exam tips to help you get the most out of your IELTS learning process:

It will be hard initially, but practicing will accelerate your speed and improve your IELTS score. If you find preparing on your own hard, you can always take the IELTS preparation course.

IELTS Training: Speaking Tips

There is no English language proficiency without proof of your speaking abilities. The IELTS speaking test evaluates your oral English and capacity for self-expression.

IELTS general study material provides various practice topics for the speaking segment. Search for official IELTS practice materials to determine the topics you will discuss during an exam.

IELTS Training: Listening Tips

The structure of IELTS test is designed in a way that it simultaneously tests your speaking and reading, writing, and reading abilities. Just because you are done with one segment does not mean those skills won't be tested in the following module. Last but not least, it's time to give IELTS test tips for the IELTS listening test.

Practice, keep calm, control time, and be confident; a good IELTS score will be within reach.

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FAQs on IELTS Preparation

The initial stages of IELTS learning are full of confusion for everyone. You are not alone. We have gathered the most frequently asked questions by the test takers in one space, so you don't have to go through the trouble of researching.

Explore the list below and gain more clarity on vital aspects of EILTS preparation.

What is the Best IELTS Exam Preparation Book?

The internet contains IELTS practice tests, but not all are quality products. Many test takers wonder what the best IELTS exam preparation book is. There is no answer to this question, but we have gathered a list of trustworthy sources to help you prepare for the exam day.

ielts prep

The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS – Centered on the information provided by the people who have taken the IELTS test, this book helps you better understand the test structure, gives you valuable advice on strategies, and comes with a DVD containing speaking and listening exercises.

IELTS Trainer – Designed specifically for the IELTS academic tests, this book has six full practice tests, two fully guided. If you have decided to take a journey alone, IELTS Trainer is a great help in building your success.

Barron's IELTS Superpack – Rated as one of the best practice books by test takers, Barron's IELTS Superpack provides you with the best tips and strategies. This book is not for beginners, but its comprehensive nature will help you get a high score.

For official IELTS practice resources, always visit the IELTS website.

What is the Best IELTS Preparation App?

A lot of test takers do IELTS preparation at home. They are searching for the best IELTS preparation app to pass the test successfully. We have done some research for you. Below you will find the top 3 most recommended apps:

IELTS Prep App by British Council - Offers a wide range of IELTS practice tests with over 100 interactive exercises and mock tests. Provides personalized feedback and tips for improvement.

Magoosh IELTS Prep App - Provides access to over 200 video lessons and practice test questions with explanations. Offers a progress tracker to help test takers stay on track with their studies.

IELTS Practice and Preparation from Cambridge English - Offers a variety of practice tests and exercises for all four sections of the IELTS exam. The app also provides instant feedback on answers and offers explanations.

If you are taking the IELTS test for postgraduate studies, our dissertation writing services will come in handy.

What is the Recommended IELTS Preparation Time?

Many people wonder how long it takes to enter the test center. The recommended IELTS preparation time depends on the individual's English proficiency level. It is important to set realistic expectations.

We recommend taking at least 6 to 8 weeks for IELTS preparation. In this timeframe, you will be able to become familiar with the test format, enrich your vocabulary, and outline the strategy.

However, the IELTS preparation time will be longer for people with lower English language proficiency levels. In this case, it will take 2-6 months before you visit the exam hall.

If IELTS practice takes much time, our college essay writers can help you keep your grades up.

What is a Good IELTS Score?

Of course, the ultimate question is, 'what is a good IELTS score?'. Knowing what to aim at will keep you focused and determined.

For all purposes, 7.0 or higher, with 6.5 in each module, is considered a good score. 8.0 or above is an excellent score, and 9.0 can get you an 'expert' title.

For academic purposes, a good IELTS score is usually 7.0 or higher. But some universities have their specific requirements, so make sure to check that out.

For employment purposes, a good score depends on a person's job. If it does not involve as much communication in English, a score lower than 7.0 may be acceptable.

Use Our Academic Expert Help

The most valuable lesson from this article is that practice makes perfect. It's okay to be slow and make mistakes in the beginning. IELTS training takes patience. You can do anything if you have the necessary discipline and tenacity.

Meanwhile, if you need a custom research paper writing service, just say, ' write my essays ,' and our expert writers will deliver a paper tailored to your specific requirements in no time. Let us take the stress out of academic writing.

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