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❶Maturity and awareness of your own behavior is something that all colleges desire in their applicants. Write in bullets, and expand from there.

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

A Strong College Application essay Will make you stand out from the crowd.
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Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. 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? 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.

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

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.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. I actually succeeded in springing it. 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. 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.

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: 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.

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. 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! I had never broken into a car before. In just eight words, we get: Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?

Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. 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. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. 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: The humor also feels relaxed. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant. There's been an oil spill! This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays.

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due. 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. Stephen's first example breaking into the van in Laredo is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service.

We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League.

We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in. 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. 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.

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.

I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. 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.

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.

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: 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.

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. This has everything we talked about earlier, in the Hook Section. It describes a scene — he is standing next to a car, and he is about to break in, it has a hint of danger and drama — he is making a transgression — and then there is cliffhanger too — how will it turn out, will he get caught?

Stephen uses extremely detailed language to build up a visual scene that really makes this experience come to life. We can smell the BBQ. These details aid us in imaging the emotions of the people in the scene.

Stephen also captures the tone of a teenager in the dialogue he has written. It grounds the piece in reality and makes it so easy to picture and visualize in your mind. Stephen demonstrates his inventiveness and resourcefulness in two ways here. Firstly, in a practical way — his resourcefulness has resulted in him unlocking the car door. In this playful way, he is changing the situation from the narrow story to the broader deeper aspects. The insight he has gained from it.

Stephen clarifies what he means in the next sentence which limits the number of inferences the reader can make by providing a detailed and visual scene of the chaos: The humor relaxes the reader and actually draws them closer to the essay writer while providing details about the author's life. Another thing to take notice of is that this type of humor and phrasing is kept to a minimum in the statement, and is only used around topics where the reader could feel discomfort to relax them.

The moderate amount of humor helps keep the prose meaningful and serious rather than flippant. Stephen ends his essay by reflecting on how his life has prepared him to deal with the future. Stephen connects his past experience to his current maturity through self-knowledge. All great personal essays contain this key element. Maturity and awareness of your own behavior is something that all colleges desire in their applicants.

They indicate that a student will be able to adapt to the independence that is required in college classes, will be responsible for their own lives and actions. No piece of writing is ever perfect. Most writers would be happy revising pieces of writing for the rest of their life if there was a deadline they had to meet. So, what would you have done differently with this essay? What would you change to give it that little extra piece of oomph? These block phrases work against this and dampen the author's unique voice to just one among the crowd.

This can make your writing tired and predictable if used in large amounts. The essay demonstrates how Stephen is adaptable to the situation and that he is not afraid to use his inventiveness to adapt to and thrive in difficult situations. This is a great example, and very well used. Stephen also makes several claims later in his essay that he did substantiate through examples. Remember to make abstract claims concrete, so the reader knows exactly what you mean.

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.

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. 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.

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. When you compare Bridget's essay to Stephen's, the two approaches are very different.

The main thing they have in common is they use lifetime event language to build an engaging and interesting narrative. And they are the two keys to any great essay.

The story told in the essay unfolds in chronographic order. His stead unfolding of time is signed post at the of each paragraph:. A short sentence is used to create the emotional resolution of the admission essay.

Here Bridget goes from being nervous about helping students with disabilities to being hooked. The slang also emphasizes this area of the letter. So, by changing the sentence structure, Bridget is emphasizing her feelings and drawing attention to her personality and emotional drive. This endows the admission essay with a fantastic and unique voice. To make the hook work better, Bridget needed to explain why cars were connected to the idea more or maybe have deleted the thing about cars and used the space from some more relevant.

The crux of the essay is this experience that gave her the confidence and knowledge of what she wanted to help fix in the world. Despite this Bridget glosses over the what it was about the experience that made her feel this way, and what the experience really entailed in the essay.

What exactly was her experience here? Are you wondering how this resource and the stockpile of old letters can make your own admission essay better? Here are some ideas on how to use the information we have provided here. Here is a checklist of questions that will help you analyze and think about the other essays that we have collected.

Examine the opening sentence and explain why it works so well? How does it hook you and make you want to read on? How does the author describe the anecdote? What senses does the author use to convey the story?

Do these sensual descriptions make the story visual? Where does the narrow anecdote expand into the larger perspective of the author? How does the author connect the narrow experience to the larger picture? And what trait, characteristic or skill does the anecdote emphasis and how? What is the tone of the essay? And how does it evoke this tone? Is it funny — if so where does the humor come from? Is it sad and moving?


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Finally, I’ll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. Want to build the best possible college application? We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service.

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Your essay can give admission officers a sense of who you are, as well as showcasing your writing skills. Try these tips to craft your college application essay. Read selected examples of essays that worked, as nominated by our admissions committee. The essays can be the most important components of your application. Read selected examples of essays that worked, as nominated by our admissions committee. I was choosing the best photos I’d taken around town during the presidential election.

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Top College Officials Share Notes on Great Application Essays Learn why application essays stood out to admissions officials from some of the top 15 U.S. News Best Colleges. Sample College Application Essays. Get accepted to your top choice university with your outstanding essay. Read The Sample Essays.