Sample College Admission Essays
This section contains two examples of good college essays.
- College Essay One
- College Essay Two
- College Essay Three
College Essay One
Prompt: Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen State University and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).
State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.
In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.
This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
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College Essay Two
Prompt: What motivates you?
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.
Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.
Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
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College Essay Three
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.
The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.
In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.
In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.
As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.
My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.
My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.
Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.
From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.
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Big Red Flag on this New
Common Application Prompt 6!
The Common Application added two new prompts for 2017-18.
Now students can choose from seven prompts (instead of five) to inspire their personal statement “Common App” essay.
The seventh new Common Application prompt basically allows you to write about anything you want, and you can learn more about it and the new prompts in New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18.
The other prompt, the new Common Application Prompt 6, essentially asks you to write about one of your intellectual passions.
The New Common Application Prompt 6
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?
I like Common Application prompt 6 because it gives you a chance to highlight your heady side (how you think).
Because it has a more concept-related theme and is new, I believe many students will be attracted to it.
However, I believe there could be a potential pitfall in writing an essay about one of your intellectual passions.
No matter how much you love any “topic, idea or concept,” it can still be challenging to write about in a way that is interesting and compelling.
It’s not impossible, but can be tricky.
First, there’s the trap of writing an essay that is more like an academic essay instead of a personal statement because the topic itself is “intellectual.”
It’s critical that whatever “topic, idea or concept” you write about for Common Application prompt 6 allows you to make most of the essay about YOU—as opposed to a report-like essay simply about whatever “topic, idea or concept” you decide to write about.
For example, if you want to write about the “topic” of climate change (because you feel passionately about that topic), try not to make your essay a piece only about what that is, why it’s a concern and why it fascinates you.
Instead, search for a way to make the topic more personal in your essay; to personalize your topic. The goal is to use your “topic, idea or concept” to showcase your “intellectual curiosity.”
“Intellectual curiosity” is a fancy way of saying how you think and learn.
How to Personalize Common Application Essay Prompt 6
Two Hot Tips for Common Application prompt 6: Include a story and a problem (usually these go together anyway).
Look for a personal story to illustrate the main point you want to make about whatever “topic, idea or concept” you write about.
(Don’t believe the Common Application folks are looking for real-life stories in these essays? They stated it directly on their web site announcing the new essay prompts for 2017: The goal of these (essay prompt) revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts.)
Find a real-life experience or moment to illustrate what inspired your interest or something related to your interest in this topic. That way, the essay naturally shifts to being more about you than simply the topic.
One idea would be to start your essay recreating one of the moments when you “lost track of time” or were “captivated” by your “topic, idea or concept.”
Then you can go onto explain why it “captivates” you so much (ie, why you love it so much), and then share how you sought to learn more.
Here’s another Red Flag
for Common Application Essay prompt 6:
If you simply answer each of the questions in this prompt, you will have a potentially bland explanation of why the “topic, idea or concept” excites you.
You will only “tell” us about it and how you learned more about it. Good chance this won’t reveal a lot about you and how you think (reason, analyze, etc.) and what you value—your “intellectual curiosity.”
That is why it’s helpful to work in some type of challenge/problem/obstacle related to your “topic, idea or concept” so you create a platform in your essay to share your intellectual curiosity beyond a general explanation.
Ideally, you want to show your critical thinking, reasoning, analytical ability and insights in action in a personal statement and your essay for Common Application prompt 6.
Just because whatever topic, idea or concept you chose to write about is fascinating, both on its own and to you personally, does not necessarily mean your essay will be equally compelling.
It’s up to you to find a way to feature your own personality as it relates to the “topic, idea or concept” to make your essay meaningful.
How to Inject Interest in Common Application Prompt 6
to Create Interest
Another way to inject interest into an essay about what turns you on intellectually is to think of a “time” that you faced any type of obstacle (which is a type of problem) learning more about the “topic, concept or idea” you are writing about.
Or any “time” where your passion or pursuit of learning more caused you some type of problem or challenge.
By introducing a problem or obstacle related to your passion or curiosity in a certain “topic, concept or idea,” you can then go onto explain how you handled that issue and what you learned from it.
(When you share what happened with that problem or obstacle, you will naturally tell a little story. Bingo! You will have both an engaging personal story and an interesting problem to feature in your essay.)
I know this sounds hard, but I guarantee that using some type of problem related to your “topic, idea or concept” will juice up your essay in a natural way, and help you work in more about yourself and how you think, feel and learn.
What you don’t want is an essay that goes…
When I learned about the concept of quantum physics in high school, I was hooked. It was so complex and interesting, and made me think in ways I never did before. I went home and read as much as I could on the Internet and checked out books from the library to learn as much as I could….
Your fascination for quantum physics could be a good topic, but you would need to make it personal. The writing above was too general, and didn’t reveal anything about the writer’s personality or character.
Notice how there was nothing personal or specific. No story and no problem. Dullsville,
Quantum physics is fascinating, but why did it hook YOU? That’s where you need to inject something about your background or experience that shows the reader more about your interest.
After you include a story the relates to the “topic, idea or concept” you are passionate about, and how you pursued learning more about it, don’t stop there.
Shift into what you learned from that pursuit to dig deeper into your intellectual curiosity.
Here are a few questions you could ask related to your “topic, idea or concept”:
- Did you learn anything you never expected to learn about it, or YOURSELF?
- Share both the good and the bad about what you learned. (Nothing is black and white.)
- Did you learn any life lessons from delving into your “topic, concept or idea” (something you learned about YOURSELF)?
- Why does what YOU learned about your “topic, idea or concept” matter–to you, to others and to the world?
- Did learning about this topic, concept or idea lead you to other ideas or passions in your life?
- While trying to learn more about your topic, concept or idea, what did you learn about YOURSELF and how you think and learn?
- Looking back at your exploration of this topic, concept or idea, what did you learn about what YOU value most in your life?
- Are you still learning about this topic, idea or concept? Is so, why is that good, too?
For college admission counselors, English teachers, parents and educational counselors who have worked with the Common Application prompts in the past:
This new Common Application prompt 6 reminds me of the old Common App prompt: “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.”
It was ditched by The Common Application folks last year, purportedly because it failed to inspire strong personal statements.
Word on the street among admissions counselors and college application essay wonks like myself (and based on what I saw with my students) was that it prompted dull and often sappy essays.
I believe this new Common Application prompt 6 has the same potential pitfalls.
Instead of describing a place, it asks about a “topic, idea or concept.” Instead of being “perfectly content” there, it should make you “lose all track of time.” Same ideas. Same pitfall.
People like to say, oh yay, a positive prompt like this Common Application prompt 6 because it doesn’t directly ask the students to include some type of problem or “bad thing”.
But there’s a good reason for soliciting problems in essays. (Notice almost all the other prompts include some type of problem, in the form of obstacles, stories, setback, challenge, failure, problem, question, etc.)
There’s good reason for this: When students wrote about their blissful places, the essays were often terrible because they were boring.
It’s hard to write an essay about what you love if nothing happens. I love the library, or I love visiting my grandparents or I love hiking in the woods. Those are great things to love, but if all you write about is how much you love them and why, chances are the essay isn’t all that compelling.
What makes essays interesting are stories. Something has to happen. And for something to happen, something has to go sideways—a problem.
If you knocked over a shelf of books onto the head librarian, or your grandparents home flooded during a hurricane or you came face-to-face with a mama bear on your hike, then your essay could be interesting.
Why? Because we suddenly feel for you and want to know how you handled the problem and what happened. This is why real-life stories are so powerful and the best college admissions essays include them.
My guess is that Common Application prompt 6 will inspire a lot of dull essays for the same reason as the old “perfectly content” one: It asks students to write about something they love.
It will be up to counselors, teachers and parents to help students push themselves with this essay prompt to make sure something happens, that it includes not only reflection and thinking but an experience or moment.
This is a generalization, but I believe the very students who will want to write about Common Application prompt 6 are the same ones who will need to be encouraged and coached to make sure to not let it get too scientific or weighed down in esoteric or technical language or theme.
These are often the same students (those who are interested in chemistry, gaming, engineering, technology, physics, computer science, etc.) who need that extra push to find ways to make their essay readable, personal and non-academic.
The magic bullet?
Find a juicy problem (a personal experience) that related to whatever “topic, idea or concept” you write about!
Once you have a little story, you are on your way to an excellent essay.
Here’s a sample outline that is intended to help you get started and make sure to address the questions in the prompt. There are many ways to approach your essay, so use this if it makes sense and feel free to take it in any direction you want.
Here’s a Sample Outline for Common Application Essay Prompt 6
- Start by sharing a moment, incident or experience that illustrates something about (or is related to, or an example of) the topic, idea or concept you are writing about. Try to include some type of problem (an obstacle, challenge, mistake, setback, etc.) This is called an “anecdote.” (1 to 2 paragraphs)
- Back story: Now provide some background or context for that moment, incident or experience and explain more about your topic, idea or concept. Include your main point: Why you love it so much.
- Share more about your experience with this topic, idea or concept using other real-life examples that further support your main point (Why you love it so much). If you included some type of “problem” related to your topic, idea of concept, explain how you handled it.
- Go onto share the steps you took to learn more about your topic, idea or concept. If you included a problem, this is where you can go into the step you took to deal with it—and then share what you learned. Include how you thought about it, how you felt, who you worked with, etc.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Reflect (look back) on this experience related to your topic, idea or concept and describe what you learned—not just about the topic, idea or concept–but what you learned about yourself (how you learn, what you value, etc.)
- Link back to the start of your essay and give a status update on that problem or moment you described at the start of your essay. Then restate the main point that you learned about your topic,idea or concept and about YOURSELF. End with how you expect to apply what you learned in your future dream and goals.
Please don’t let all my warning scare you off this prompt if it speaks to you.
More Brainstorming Tips for Common App Prompt 6
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