College Admission Essay Science In Our Daily Life

Scoring the winning touchdown. Volunteering for blood drives or building houses. What you learned about poverty on your $9,000 trip to Africa.

These are a few topics on independent consultant Arun Ponnusamy’s list of what not to write about in your college application essay. (A few more: Don't write about mom and dad's divorce, and no general philosophizing—you're 17, get over yourself.) Admissions season is under way, and with early applications deadlines starting November 1, you've only got a few more days to polish your make-or-break essay. Straight As and stellar SAT scores won't be enough. In a year where 10 brilliant kids are vying for every one slot at your average Ivy League school (yes, that statistic is accurate), the personal essay has become a tipping point that can turn a deferral into an acceptance letter.

So The Daily Beast tracked down seven college admissions essays that did work—seven essays that helped get the kids who wrote them into one of the country's top schools. The essays were slipped to us by college professors, high-school guidance counselors, independent admissions consultants, and even staffers at student newspapers. For confidentiality reasons, admissions officers can't talk about these essays expressly, so we chose essays that demonstrate the most salient principles to abide by when writing them. (Scroll down to read the essays, unedited and in full.)

You'll need the help: Competition at these schools is fiercer than ever. For every kid who’s hung prayer flags on a mountain summit in Tibet, there are a dozen others who’ve studied a Bantu language in Rwanda, worked with Guatemalan orphans, cooked with a celebrity chef, or been on reality TV. "To be honest," says Ponnusamy, "if you're thinking about the most selective of schools in the country and the most interesting thing in your life is your parents' divorce, you're not going to get in anyway.”

But even if your life hasn't been filled with experiences worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, you can salvage an essay about a ho-hum subject by having a novelist's eye for detail. For Greg Roberts, the admissions dean at University of Virginia, one of the most memorable essays he read was about a single at-bat in a high-school baseball game. The applicant wasn’t the star of the team, Roberts remembers, and didn’t even like playing baseball much. “But he talked about being nervous and excited at the same time, about how the freshly cut grass reminded him of his grandfather,” Roberts says. “I just felt like I knew him.”

Roberts worries that students tend to be too conservative with essays and are afraid to take risks. “There are no wrong answers here, and the last thing you want is a dry or boring essay,” he says. “We have 22,000 applications, so it’s easy to blend into the crowd.”

• Kathleen Kingsbury: The Best College Food• Kathleen Kingsbury: How to Choose a College RoommateThis year that may mean students want to reconsider before giving their take on the recent financial meltdown or the national health-care debate. At California’s Pomona College, the admissions staff anticipates an influx of essays on the economy, similar to what they saw post-September 11, 2001, when nearly half the applications essays dealt with the terrorist attacks.

“But it’s a different story if you watched the towers collapse from science class at [New York City’s] Stuyvesant High School than if you live on a farm in Iowa,” Pomona’s admissions dean Bruce Poch says. “Families are going through hell right now, and it’s the very personal experiences that will resonate the most.” Then again, Poch adds, “Sympathy isn’t the only reason we let kids in.”

Despite what admissions guidebooks tell you, there's no surefire formula to the college essay. Poch confesses even a small error or two will not necessarily kill your chances of getting in—as long as it's not on purpose. "I once heard one [essay-writing] professional brag about slipping in mistakes to throw off admissions officers," he says. "That's just disgusting."

Rule #1: When Tackling a Global Issue, Make it Personal

Brown Freshman Nawal Traish could have chosen to write about U.S. relations with Libya or general unrest in the Muslim world. Instead, she speaks to her personal relationship with Libya, her father's homeland, and her own understanding of her Islamic faith. "It's a mistake for students to think that they have to come up with any deep or life-altering topic," says University of Virginia's Greg Roberts, who expects to read essays this year on Afghanistan, health care, and other hot political issues. Instead, Roberts advises, "It's OK to take on serious topics, but tell us how it relates directly back to you." ( Click here to read Nawal's essay.)

Rule #2: Show That You Have Some Perspective

Hallie Jordan knew not to pretend she'd had a hard-knock life with no options. If you're a white, middle-class kid, it never hurts to show that you realize how lucky you are—and that you sought out diversity. "I remember in the days after [Hurricane] Katrina, I had an otherwise thoughtful and engaged kid sitting across from me bemoaning how the kids in New Orleans were 'going to have awesome essays,'" says Ponnusamy. "This sense amongst upper-middle-class kids that 'nothing bad has ever happened to me' is always amusing. I don't care who it is, they all have 750 words of something compelling to say to an admissions officer." He adds, "They need to relax, think about what means a lot to them or gets them fired up, and then write about it." ( Click here to read Hallie's essay.)

Rule #3: Essays Succeed or Fail in the Details

The "hand-cranked" ice cream. The Richard Serra installation. The baby clothes she cut up and made into a quilt. The essay that got Isabel Polon into Yale swells with appealing and insightful details that show her meticulous nature. "If the essay mentions you going to dinner, I want to know what you were eating," says Ponnusamy. Adds UVA's Roberts: "A standout essay starts with good writing. Be as descriptive as possible about the moment you're writing—we want to see it, smell it, touch it." ( Click here to read Isabel's essay.)

Rule #4: Make Sure You're the Hero of the Story

By emphasizing her own personal challenges and then showing how she wouldn't allow them to subsume her, Hannah Edwards was able to make herself look good without bragging. "It's fine to talk about your dad being a coke fiend or your stint in rehab with your favorite WB crush," Ponnusamy says, "but unless you end up as the 'hero' in the essay, you will have done nothing to help you and it's the one place you're guaranteed to have the opportunity to speak in the first-person." ( Click here to read Hannah's essay.)

Rule #5: Make Your Intellectual Curiosity Clear

Rahul Kishore wanted Cornell to know how obsessively devoted he was to science, and his essay describes in great detail his fascination. "Talking about something meaningful can make you more likeable," says independent college consultant Stephen Friedfeld, "but it has to be executed to demonstrate your academic rigor." ( Click here to read Rahul's essay.)

Rule #6: Know Your Audience

Morgan Doff wasn't applying to a Christian school or one in an area that might take offensive to her lack of interest in religion, so she put it right out there on the page. "Students regularly conjure up who admissions officers are, what they look like and what they're interested in," says Pomona's Bruce Poch. "We purposely have a diverse staff with a variety of interests and backgrounds." That said, had Morgan been applying to, say, a school in the Deep South, she might have chosen her words more carefully. ( Click here to read Morgan's essay.)

Rule #7: Don't Be Afraid to Show You're Not Perfect

Abigail Hook was applying to Harvard—the one school you don't want to tilt your hand near. And yet she chose to write her essay about giving up on ballet, rather than persevering once she'd tired of it. "It's OK to let down your guard, not be safe and sanitized," says Poch. "It can allow us to relate to you as a real human being. ( Click here to read Abigail's essay.)

Nawal Traish Brown University Class of 2013

One glance out the window, where palm trees swayed as cars sped by, and I could have been at LAX. But when my gaze shifted to meet that of Muammar al Gadhafi behind his signature aviator sunglasses, I knew I was more than a few smoggy miles from Tinseltown. The larger-than-life portrait of the Libyan dictator sent chills down my spine, and I almost didn’t hear my older sister telling me to follow her through the customs line in her broken Arabic. Fumbling for a safety pin, I quickly converted my neck scarf into a traditional headscarf, unaware that my views on diversity would soon undergo a similar transformation as I assimilated into Libyan culture for two weeks.

It was my first time entering the country my father fled thirty years before due to political upheaval involving the man staring at me from the wall, and while I had met my paternal relatives as a child, I was apprehensive about doing so in their own country now that I had matured into a very American teenage girl. My siblings and I were raised as Muslims, but we adhere selectively to the various practices—fasting during Ramadan but not praying five times a day, attending the mosque but not covering our heads in public, and I sometimes feel guilty about wanting to handpick from both worlds—an American lifestyle but Islamic beliefs—because they are often seen as irreconcilable.

From the moment we touched down on Libyan sand, I saw that others didn’t have the same luxury of separating lifestyle from beliefs if they so wished. The call to prayer every morning at 4:30 left me sleep-deprived but more in awe at the homogeneity of the country’s devotion; the haunting Arabic wail penetrated the pre-dawn sky from minarets at every corner the same way McDonald’s jingles infiltrate American living rooms. The Mediterranean heat was oppressive under long-sleeve shirts and pants in early August, when I’m used to wearing shorts and T-shirts, but the fact that everyone else was donning the same conservative dress made me feel like I was part of something larger than myself and more important than the latest Pac-Sun fashions. However, as I constantly adjusted my head cover, I seriously questioned the rationale behind some of the cultural and religious practices I witnessed. I deeply admired the connection to their religion that my relatives showed, stopping to prostrate in prayer even at the beach, but also wondered whether the internal belief of five million Libyans could possibly be as parallel as their outward expressions of it.

Being in Libya impressed upon me that it is often such circumstantial, unchosen factors as place of birth that largely determine the paradigms by which we live our lives. As much as I enjoyed the exotic experience of being in North Africa and the not-so-exotic experience of reconnecting with my family, my time in Libya paradoxically strengthened the latter half of my Arab-American identity. I had taken for granted the fact that we are free to practice Islam the way we want here in the U.S. next to neighbors lighting menorahs and friends who are atheists, and upon my return to Boston I found myself immediately appreciating this diversity at a new level, starting with the group of strangers with whom we waited at baggage claim. We all shared frustration and eyes peeled for our suitcases, but fortunately, not much else. As I pursue my passions of philosophy and theology as an undergraduate, I will approach with a more open mind the vast array of angles from which people view the world now that I have experienced life in a country so different from the one I call home, yet one that has inevitably shaped my own perspectives as I’ve grown up.

Hallie Jordan Rice University Class of 2012

Standing on the second floor hall of my high school, I watch my fellow students swarm into the campus as the bell rings for the passing period. Leaning against the railing, observing, I reflect on how my life might be different had I chosen to attend a different high school. The scene below me feels like a little slice of the real world. A couple walks by and my ear quickly notices that they speak in Korean. I spot my Ethiopian friend Ike, almost dancing, as he moves through the crowd on the floor below me; his real name is so long no one can pronounce it. Later, my best friend will present me with some homemade Mexican Christmas ponche full of sugarcane to chew on. I reluctantly stop people watching and proceed to class. It always nice to stop and imagine all the different cultures and backgrounds can be found at my small school of barely 2,000 people. Everyone, I have realized, has their own distinct way of life defined by various situations from trying to succeed as a first generation immigrant to working to help their family make ends meet each month. There is nothing sheltered about Spring Woods High School.

Unlike many of my friends, I am a “privileged child.” I was born an American citizen. My parents have steady jobs. I live in a neighborhood zoned, if only barely, to a school called Memorial High School—the shiny, rich abundant school of the district. From my early childhood my parents had planned on me attending this high school, as supposedly it provides one of the best public school educations in Houston. At the end of 8th grade, a pivotal moment presented itself: I had to decide between the touted Memorial High School with all its benefits and clout or the “ghetto” Spring Woods where most of my closest friends were going. After much debate I finally settled on Spring Woods. Coming from a very small charter middle school, high school was rather shocking. I did not like it, and I blamed my unhappiness on my school—I thought I had made the “wrong decision.” At the beginning of the second semester, I choose to switch to the school I was supposed to go to—feeling that I would receive a “better” education.

On my first day I was astounded by the other kids. They all looked and acted alike. Almost all had the same clothing, hair styles, necklaces, flip-flops and backpacks with their names monographed on them. Nearly all of them also had iPods, this was almost four years ago when it was not so common to see iPods everywhere. I was amazed at how they treated their iPods so carelessly, when I have a friend who carefully saved her lunch money for months just to be able to buy one. Needless to say, she is very protective of it. Sitting in the cafeteria, I felt like I was back in fifth grade. Everyone brought nice neat little lunches, packet perfectly in expensive lunch boxes. Mothers stood at the lunch line selling cookies to raise money for various organizations, as stay at home moms they had nothing else to do with their time. Buying a school lunch, I found, was something only the “reject” kids did. I lasted only a week at this place. Suddenly I missed everything from Spring Woods, even its “ghetto” identity. I missed the teachers who taught about ideas instead of forcing us to merely memorize. I missed the general accepting feeling that comes from such a heterogeneous mixture of people. There are no “reject” kids at Spring Woods. I could now see that though.

Isabel Polon Yale Class of 2011

In kindergarten, I was the only kid who knew milk didn’t originate in the supermarket. This I attribute to my time at Emandal, a family-run farm that has opened its gates each summer since 1908 to those seeking an alternative vacation.

For the past 13 years my family has made the pilgrimage to Willits, California, to spend the second week of August at Emandal. What inspires a family to spend their hard-earned cash picking vegetables or milking cows while residing in prehistoric cabins without indoor plumbing? Well, only at Emandal can I husk corn at 5 p.m. to find it steaming on the dinner table at 6:30. Nowhere else do 13-year-old boys agree to square dance with their mothers or take the time to realize the solitude in knitting. It’s the only place where the national college debate champion enjoys the company of his oldest friend, a videogame-dependent junior college student who subsists on red meat, Coca-Cola and Red Vines. It’s where Berkeley yuppies and working class Oaklanders bake Snickerdoddles while discussing who’s gotten pregnant or divorced since last summer. At Emandal there are no social boundaries, no class distinctions. Any cabin’s the same as the one next-door.

It’s the satisfaction I came to associate with Emandal’s hands-on reality that inspired me to mark “agriculture” as my freshman PSAT preferred major. Following months of bombardment with pamphlets from Iowa State, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to “live off the land.” Without a local bookstore, Pad-Thai or a Richard Serra installation, my life would definitely be lacking some favored flourishes. But even in LA, Emandal has developed into a sort of Jiminy Cricket I interplay with daily. At Emandal, if there’s extra milk we drink hot chocolate. If fried chicken remains from dinner last night, you can count on it mysteriously resurfacing as Chicken Curry at lunch.

My boyfriend refers to me as “the doggy-bag-date.” I print rough drafts on the reverse side of harp music from last year’s winter concert. When my mother threatened to give away my baby clothes, I cut them up and made my sister a quilt for her birthday. Emandal’s compost lifestyle has caused me to realize creative forms of recycling beyond cans and cereal boxes, and embrace resourcefulness in every pursuit.

But the best part of Emandal is the food. With fresh bread at every meal, heirloom tomatoes the size of my head, hand-cranked ice cream over pie made from Emandal’s wild blackberries, no one refrains from unbuttoning their pants after dinner. But it’s the ideology behind the menu that makes it all the more appealing: the tangible connection with the food you eat. Long before the farmer’s market fad, my family went religiously each Saturday. We exchange CDs with Joel the carrot guy and the Japanese greens lady saves us the last bag of cucumbers. It’s a unique satisfaction and an exceedingly rare connection to be able to shake the hand of the person who grows your food, and in effect, “grew you”.

In my 13th year, when I had reached the stage where crucifixion was preferable to being seen with my parents, they asked whether I still wanted to go to Emandal. Thank goodness something inside of me was still smart enough to say yes. For it is there I have deduced what’s essential to harmonious living with our earth and all kinds of folks, erudition I can attribute only to Emandal.

Hannah Edwards UC-Berkeley Class of 2013

“Beautiful. B to the back, b to the back. So b first. beautiful. Next, it’s that French thing. Gosh ... Uea, no e … a … u. Eau. So beau. Beautiful. Ti. That’s easy. Beauti. Beautiful. Full. No not full: ful. They chop that l off, so b-eau-ti-ful.”

I’ve just spent 30 seconds agonizing over how to spell one of the more basic words in the English language and a good part of that time trying to remember how to write the letter b. That sequence is partially a flash back to a fourth grade spelling test, but honestly, it’s a thought process I will have to go through about a hundred times this year with equally basic words because I am, and always will be, dyslexic.

I have never been able to spell, but it wasn’t until 4th grade that I found out the, ironically hard to spell, word for my condition. When everyone did realize what was going on and why it was that I got Cs in spelling, I was packed off to resource room (i.e. Special Ed) to learn how to write pretty.

At first I liked it. Resource room gave me an excuse not to do well in spelling, and it let me spend class time doing silly spelling exercises. It let me avoid my problem and at the same time pretend I was doing something to correct it, but in all honesty it was just a waste of time. I didn’t want to recognize its futility at first, but eventually I couldn’t ignore it and had to come to terms with the fact that resource room was aspirin for a broken arm: It made things seem a bit better, but it did nothing to fix the problem. When I came to terms with this I convinced my mother to take me out of resource room and that I could take responsibility for my own problem, and that is exactly what I did, and have done ever since.

I was freed from resource room on the condition that I get A's on every other spelling test that year, which I did. Since then I have realized that I can never allow myself to live life in a metaphorical resource room. I must take accountability and responsibility for myself, and not accept special treatment where there is anyway I can avoid it. This philosophy was tested last year when I was signing up for the SAT.

My mother was handing over her credit card when she asked me if I thought extra time would be useful on the SAT.

“Well, yeah,” I said smiling as I took her credit card, “that essay is insane, 25 minutes makes for some nasty results.”

“Why don’t you apply to get some extra time? If it will help you should,” she suggested, “you’re eligible.”

“No. It’s an artificial compensation that would only last as long as schools are forced to provide it; the real world can’t make those kind of concessions so I can’t take that crutch.”

My mother offered no resistance to my stance and I typed in her AmEx number while I reflected on the implications of my denial. I have spent a lot of time agonizing over how to spell the simplest words, and I doubt anyone has quite attained my level of red underlines in a word document, but that just means checking the dictionary and an age spent poring over SpellCheck. I have never taken extra time or other benefits on standardized tests and I never will, because that is not how I want to succeed. I want to sink or swim on my own and not use water wings to get through the world. I don’t want to do well for someone with dyslexia; I want to do well period. At this point my inability to spell is more of a punchline to my friends’ jokes than a disability and I am determined to keep it that way, because I have worked too hard to let something so trivial in the grand scheme define me.

Rahul Kishore Cornell University Class of 2012

Complexity. Life is complex all the way down to the atomic level. Organ systems comprised of bits of tissue, formed by cells, made up of organelles, formed by carbon compounds. Throughout high school, I have been fascinated by the complexity of life. The relationships between micro organism and macro organism, and how nature, by trial and error, has created structures that allow us to hear, feel, and see.

My freshman biology teacher inspired me to think of the human body not simply as a single structure, but rather the mesh of different systems, working together to produce life. The human body, I realized, is beautiful in its complexity and cohesiveness. An organism was no longer just an animal, it was a complex machine comprised of millions of parts. I saw vivid pictures of organ systems neatly packed into organisms to meet their function.

I pursued my passion for science outside of textbooks. I shadowed the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, standing next to him as he performed a triple bypass. Most of the operating room was consumed by the heart and lung machine, a device designed to replace the body’s own heart and lungs during a surgery while both organs are temporarily shut down. The machine is infinitely larger than the actual organs, giving me a greater appreciation for how much each organ is expected to do. Since my experience in the operating room, I have volunteered at Stanford University Medical Center. During my first summer, a pathologist showed me a seemingly empty petri dish, swabbed it with a QTip and made a slide and put it under the microscope. The images I saw were amazing—thousands of microscopic organisms, moving together in large colonies. I realized that life could be as simple and small as a bacterium or as large and complex as a human being.

“Any Person, Any Study” is what I have been told by alumni from Cornell. The famous quote by Erza Cornell best describes the opportunities that Cornell provides. But for me, “Any Person, Any Study” means something very different. Cornell University has a long academic tradition of teaching the young and hopeful minds of a new generation the beauty of education. Cornell graduates question, they analyze, they comprehend.

Cornell for me is something more than just a university or an opportunity to further my understanding of Biology. Cornell is an opportunity to realize truths about the world, and about every field of learning. I see Cornell as a chance to expand the horizons of my thought, to think about the world as a bigger place, to think about its problems in a logical way, and see life as an opportunity to understand the world around us. A Cornell education provides a basis in many things, the ability to draw conclusions from Locke, Kant, or Smith, and use these ideas in conjunction with an in depth knowledge of one topic to excel in a field. Cornell will provide me the opportunity to understand Biology in an uncommon way. Cornell is a place to discover a new way of thinking, and also a place to find passion for a study. I want to learn about Biology beyond a textbook. I want to make those discoveries at Cornell.

Morgan Doff Reed College Class of 2010

“Morgan, say it slower and pronounce each word.”

I breathed deeply and began again. “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, / Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch, / If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you . . .”

When I was 6 years old, I had a slight speech impediment that made me far too shy to read aloud in front of my peers. My father immediately decided the only way for me to overcome my fear would be to practice reading out loud. Every day, my father and I sat together, and I read to him. After a few days of children’s books, my father—sick of listening to fairytales—gave me a book of poems. I read Kipling’s “If” over and over to him, and it become my favorite poem. I was incredibly grateful to him for not only helping me to overcome my fear of public reading but also for instilling in me a love of reading and words.

This love was consuming and when I was 12, I saw another child wearing a bracelet that read, “WWJD.” Excited, I asked if it referred in some way to JD Salinger, and if so, did the bracelet pertain to one character in particular? Maybe Holden? Franny? The other child just looked at me baffled and said, “It means, ‘What Would Jesus Do.’” I turned away sheepishly, as apparently my knowledge of literature had surpassed my awareness of religious catchphrases.

However, occurrences like these didn’t deter me from a zealous approach to reading. The more I learned to appreciate the beauty in a beginning, middle, and end of a story, the more I felt a desire to create my own. Now, I’m a storyteller—a far departure from my days of near silence. I like to play with words. I love knowing that everyone is listening to my story. In my writing, I’m honest; I don’t hide anything; I don’t want it to be guarded. I want my stories to demonstrate imperfection, because I believe it makes my writing more realistic. When I read words with a similarly imperfect tone, I feel comforted, knowing that someone else has felt the same way I have.

In my writing, I strive to infuse another kind of comfort as well—the reassuring feeling that comes when someone overhears what you are saying and agrees with you. I was once in a hotel elevator in France, complaining to my sister about how I had gotten lost earlier that day, and recounting wandering aimlessly in Paris and not speaking the native language. I was shocked when suddenly, a beautiful woman on the elevator said, “Pas le bien-aimé d’inquiétude, je me suis perdu une fois dans Amérique, je sais la sensation.”

I began to cry, because I knew she was trying to be helpful, and at the sight of my tears, the woman quickly said in perfect English, “Don’t worry sweetheart, I once got lost in America. I know the feeling.” To this day, I still clearly remember the feeling of relief that the stranger’s words gave me. I knew that I wasn’t the only person to ever feel overwhelmed in a foreign place or situation. I strive to capture that feeling—the soothing sense of comfort that the stranger gave me—in my writing.

I still sit and read aloud to my father. We sit on the same burgundy velvet sofa, my father on the left, and I as close to him as possible. The only differences are that now, he complains that I’m “too big to sit on his lap,” and that we no longer read fairytales or Kipling, but my stories instead.

Abigail Hook Harvard University Class of 2013

This past summer I was poised to jump. I was sure. I had convinced not only myself, but everyone around me that I was done. Come end of summer, I would pack away hundreds of pointe shoes in dejected cardboard boxes and they would instantly transform into unwanted memorabilia, identified only by a careless scrawl of Sharpie. My sweat and dedication were to be laid aside. I was through with pain, through with foot surgeries and obsessions and disappointments, and saying goodbye to a lifelong pursuit of ballet would be no exception. After the usual last six weeks of intensive summer training, my adieus were to be quick and painless; I would make sure of it.

And then Serenade happened to me.

Having made up my mind, I loyally warded off anything that might jeopardize my decision. My usual passion and enthusiastic spark were gone, replaced by a deep longing to understand why exactly I had ever fallen in love with this painful profession and an intense need for stability when my world was moving out from beneath my sore feet. Serenade took the remains of me, a frustrated and tired dancer whose only instinct was to fight, and gently illuminated the silver lining in my painful disaster.

My first exposure to the piece came from the splintery wood cabinet in the corner of the studio. I never liked using the sound system. Growing up in an intensely musical family who preferred to sing the nightly prayer, recordings frustrated me. Tonight the ribbons on my pointe shoes were as frayed as my sanity, and I was trying desperately to get motivated. Ballet had taught me from an early age that pain is only in the mind, and motivation is only a matter of psychological tricks. This ideology was working well for me, until I heard it. My sense of stoicism was instantly shattered. Something was amiss. I had witnessed my fair share of beautiful music and never cried. Yet Serenade for Strings in C Major sounded nothing like the Nutcracker or Swan Lake. The music was weeping and soaring and tired and energetic and everything, everything I was feeling. And that made all the difference. Serenade reminded me that beauty existed in the “why” of my pursuit of perfection; why I had done this—this crazy-overworked dream of a thing—and why I knew I would treasure it for the rest of my life.

Then I started dancing. George Balanchine somehow has captured the ephemeral, tragic side of beauty that Serenade sang of and transformed it into living art, and for a few weeks, I was his medium. For the first time I could remember I was looking forward to rehearsal at the end of eight-hour days; to those first few measures of music in which 17 girls simply stood, each hand raised to heaven, eyes searching through divine stratosphere, their light blue tulle—angelic. As the curtain rose opening night, the audience let out a murmur—a subtle appreciation for beauty in the raw. For weeks afterward I would enthusiastically lend my iPod to friends, brightly anticipating that they too would experience a revelation. I was mildly disappointed. For the most part they would smile sympathetically and say, “Oh yes, isn’t it beautiful?” and move on.

But then I realized, amidst my confusion, that the reassurance, the hope that I hadn’t just wasted my childhood, was something I so uniquely needed. Yes the music and choreography were genius, but Serenade’s magic lay in the ability it had to nudge me from frustrated to appreciative, from grief to celebration.

Perhaps Balanchine had seen this doubt, this questioning in a student before. Or perhaps this is how art works: One will never understand the power it has for the individual but not his neighbor, for the dancer but not the audience member, for the mother but not the daughter. I do know the experience of becoming that music—what seemed my story this summer—was paramount in my understanding of the person ballet has made me, and even when it came time to hang up my pointe shoes in exchange for a college education, Serenade reminded me of the power of pursuing a dream and the gifts that come with saying goodbye.

Kathleen Kingsbury covers education for The Daily Beast. She also contributes to Time magazine, where she has covered business, health, and education since 2005.

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I’ll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 13 different schools. Finally, I’ll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 125 full essays and essay excerpts, this article will be a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

 

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

 

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You’ll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author’s present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author’s world, and for how it connects to the author’s emotional life.

 

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don’t take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don’t want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don’t bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

 

Enchanted Prince Stan decided to stay away from any frog-kissing princesses to retain his unique perspective on ruling as an amphibian.

 

Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you’re in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

 

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 (plus some essay excerpts!).

 

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. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

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.

 

Carleton College

 

Connecticut College

 

Hamilton College

 

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Universal Application, both of which Johns Hopkins accepts.

 

Tufts University

 

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 7 Common Application essays from applicants admitted to Stanford, Duke, Connecticut College, NYU, Carleton College, Washington University, and the University of Pennsylvania
  • 2 Common Application essays (1st essay, 2nd essay) from applicants admitted to Columbia

 

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a smaller collection of essays that are college-specific, plus 22 essay excerpts that will add fuel to your essay-writing fire.

 

Smith College

Each year, Smith asks its applicants to answer a different prompt with a 200-word essay. Here are six of these short essays answering the 2014 prompt: "Tell us about the best gift you’ve ever given or received."

 

Tufts University

On top of the Common Application essays students submit, Tufts asks applicants to answer three short essay questions: two mandatory, and one chosen from six prompts.

 

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is well known for its off-the-wall, often wacky supplementary essay prompts. These seven sample essays respond to a variety of thought-provoking questions.


 

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

I had never broken into a car before.

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

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.

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.

 

Coat hangers: not just for crows' nests anymore! (Götz/Wikimedia)

 

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.

 

"Mr. President? There's been an oil spill!" "Then I want our best elementary school students on it, STAT."

 

An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

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.

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.

 

Example #2: By Bridget Collins, Tufts Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 608 words long)

I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it.

In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World. While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire. I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR.

Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.

Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees. I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school. A self-admitted Phys. Ed. addict, I volunteered to help out with the Adapted PE class. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students. To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. I love working with the students and watching them progress.

When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World. Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper. So, maybe I'll be like Sue Storm and her alter-ego, the Invisible Woman. I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile. My childhood self would appreciate that.

 

What Makes This Essay Tick?

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

 

A Structure That’s Easy to Follow and Understand

The essay is arranged chronologically. Bridget starts each paragraph with a clear signpost of where we are in time:

  • Paragraph 1: “after a long day in first grade”
  • Paragraph 2: “in elementary school”
  • Paragraph 3: “seven years down the road”
  • Paragraph 4: “when I was a freshman in high school”
  • Paragraph 5: “when senior year arrived”

This keeps the reader oriented without being distracting or gimmicky.

 

One Clear Governing Metaphor

I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back.

Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.

I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. …But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper.

What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child’s idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author’s future aspirations. It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time.

 

Every childhood Fixer-Upper ever. Ask your parents to explain the back row to you. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

 

An Engaging, Individual Voice

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

Technique #1: humor. Notice Bridget's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks her 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).

In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World.

I was like a ten-year-old FDR.

Technique #2: invented terminology. The second technique is the way Bridget coins her own terms, carrying them through the whole essay. It would be easy enough to simply describe the people she imagined in childhood as helpers or assistants, and to simply say that as a child she wanted to rule the world. Instead, she invents the capitalized (and thus official-sounding) titles “Fixer-Upper” and “Emperor of the World,” making these childish conceits at once charming and iconic. What's also key is that the titles feed into the central metaphor of the essay, which keeps them from sounding like strange quirks that don’t go anywhere.

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

The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers.

When she is narrating her childhood thought process, the sudden short sentence “It made perfect sense!” (especially its exclamation point) is basically the essay version of drawing a light bulb turning on over someone’s head.

As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they?

Similarly, when the essay turns from her childhood imagination to her present-day aspirations, the turn is marked with “Or do they?”—a tiny and arresting half-sentence question.

Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.

The first time when the comparison between magical fixer-upper’s and the future disability specialist is made is when Bridget turns her metaphor onto herself. The essay emphasizes the importance of the moment through repetition (two sentences structured similarly, both starting with the word “maybe”) and the use of a very short sentence: “Maybe it could be me.”

To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked.

The last key moment that gets the small-sentence treatment is the emotional crux of the essay. As we watch Bridget go from nervously trying to help disabled students to falling in love with this specialty field, she undercuts the potential sappiness of the moment by relying on changed-up sentence length and slang: “Long story short, I got hooked.”

 


The best essays convey emotions just as clearly as this image.

 

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Bridget's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Explain the car connection better. The essay begins and ends with Bridget's enjoying a car ride, but this doesn't seem to be related either to the Fixer-Upper idea or to her passion for working with special-needs students. It would be great to either connect this into the essay more, or to take it out altogether and create more space for something else.

Give more details about being a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. It makes perfect sense that Bridget doesn't want to put her students on display. It would take the focus off of her and possibly read as offensive or condescending. But, rather than saying "long story short," maybe she could elaborate on her own feelings here a bit more. What is it about this kind of teaching that she loves? What is she hoping to bring to the lives of her future clients?

 

3 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

 

#1: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it. Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

 

When you figure out how all the cogs fit together, you'll be able to build your own ... um ... whatever this is.

 

#2: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

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.

 

#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!

 

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:

 

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