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College Essays

Examples of College Essays

15 min readseptember 10, 2021


College Essay Examples (that worked!)

There are many elements to building a successful college application–one of the most important being your essays 📝! Whether it’s the personal statement you submit with your Common & Coalition application or answering the supplemental prompts provided by your colleges of choice, essays give you a space to tell your story. You get to show admissions officers who you are 🤗 in ways that they can’t detect in other parts of your application. 

2021-22 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common App provides students with a set of essay prompts for each application cycle. The following are the set of prompts for 2021-2022. 
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Essay Examples 

Reading examples of other students' essays that worked can be a really great way to get a better feel for what you want to write. Check out some of these amazing YouTubers to hear college essay advice directly from people who wrote exemplary essays!
Common App Essay Prompts #1 & #7
When I was very little, I caught the travel bug. It started after my grandparents first brought me to their home in France and I have now been to twenty-nine different countries. Each has given me a unique learning experience. At five, I marveled at the Eiffel Tower in the City of Lights. When I was eight, I stood in the heart of Piazza San Marco feeding hordes of pigeons, then glided down Venetian waterways on sleek gondolas. At thirteen, I saw the ancient, megalithic structure of Stonehenge and walked along the Great Wall of China, amazed that the thousand-year-old stones were still in place.
It was through exploring cultures around the world that I first became interested in language. It began with French, which taught me the importance of pronunciation. I remember once asking a store owner in Paris where Rue des Pyramides was. But when I pronounced it PYR–a–mides instead of pyr–A–mides, with more accent on the A, she looked at me bewildered. {...}
Interestingly, after studying foreign languages, I was further intrigued by my native tongue. Through my love of books and fascination with developing a sesquipedalian lexicon (learning big words), I began to expand my English vocabulary. Studying the definitions prompted me to inquire about their origins, and suddenly I wanted to know all about etymology, the history of words. My freshman year I took a world history class and my love for history grew exponentially. To me, history is like a great novel, and it is especially fascinating because it took place in my own world.
But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level. I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin.
I want to study foreign language and linguistics in college because, in short, it is something that I know I will use and develop for the rest of my life. I will never stop traveling, so attaining fluency in foreign languages will only benefit me. In the future, I hope to use these skills as the foundation of my work, whether it is in international business, foreign diplomacy, or translation.
I think of my journey as best expressed through a Chinese proverb that my teacher taught me, “I am like a chicken eating at a mountain of rice.” Each grain is another word for me to learn as I strive to satisfy my unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Today, I still have the travel bug, and now, it seems, I am addicted to language too.
Common App Essay Prompt #6 
Fire! 
Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 
Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 
Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 
That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

Resources:

2021-22 Coalition App Essay Prompts

The Coalition App provides students with a set of essay prompts for each application cycle. The following are the set of prompts for 2021-2022. 
  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  4. What is the hardest part of being a student now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Essay Examples

Prompt #4
The clock slowly ticks on… 
Tic, toc, tic, toc….
It’s 3:30 am and everything seems to be asleep. Normally, I’m coding at my desk with a glass of orange juice. What am I coding? Depends on the night, but you can tell from my whiteboard, as each night there is something new on it. This week it was modeling the flow of a rules engine for validating bank wires, one part of my work for Microsoft. The week before it was filled with data-flow models from my React UI to a SQL database for an app my school asked me to build. 
Tic, toc, tic, toc….
But why am I doing all of this so late into the night?
I’m battling time. Seeing how much territory I can claim before my moments are up. 
Tic, toc, tic, toc….
I didn’t know how to handle the idea of time as a kid and, when it became too much, I’d hide with my two stuffed dogs, my white blanket, warm vanilla milk, and the Calvin and Hobbes book The Days Are Just Packed. Under that blanket I would curl up and lose myself in Calvin’s antics as Spaceman Spiff.
Tic, toc, tic, toc….
Eventually, I found a much better way to deal with time: through soccer. Each day I would come home and rush through homework so I could go outside and practice until it got so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But after suffering twelve major injuries in between 6th and 11th grade I could feel all the time that I’d lost while recovering. This led to a burnout and caused me to transition away from soccer. So I did. During my recovery time I’d learned to code through personal projects and CodeAcademy. As I entered high school, coding started to take over, and all the time I’d poured into soccer instead went to coding, which led to some exciting personal projects such as a physics equation solver, a chip8 emulator and a compiler for my own language. {...}
Time never stops, so why should I? Why should I stop learning? I don’t think I should. I plan to continue waging my battle against time by learning everything that I can. And I will. But I also won’t forget things I love: Calvin’s sled, homemade pastas, lacing up cleats, and tinkering into the night. ”

What about Supplemental Essays?

Supplemental essays vary from college to college in number, word count, and topics! Here are a couple of example prompts and essays from universities 🏫 across the USA.

Supplemental Essay Examples 

UCLA, California: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Ever since I was little, I have possessed a unique fascination for nature and the way it interacts with itself. As I sat in the prickly seats of old tour buses and the bilingual tour guide has silenced himself for the dozens of passengers that have closed their curtains and fallen into deep slumber, I would keep my eyes glued to the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of wild animals and admiring the beautiful scenery that mother nature had pieced together. 
At Outdoor Science Camp, while most of my friends were fixated on socializing and games, I was obsessed with finding every organism in the book. Nothing else caught my attention quite like ecology. As high school dragged on and the relentless responsibilities, assignments, and tests washed away the thrill of learning, ecology was one interest that withstood the turmoil. At the end of a draining day, I would always enjoy relaxing to articles detailing newly discovered species or relationships between species.
This past summer, I was able to further this interest when a unique opportunity to volunteer abroad caught my eye. Flying over to the beautiful tropical shorelines of the Dominican Republic, I was able to dive into the frontlines of the battle against climate change, dwindling populations, and habitat destruction brought about by mankind, and I enjoyed every moment of it. 
While everyone was obviously ecstatic about snorkeling in the crystal blue waters, only I was able to retain that same excitement about trekking through knee thick mud and mosquito infested forests to replant mangrove trees. While tracking animal populations, my heart leaped at the sight of every new species that swam right in front of my eyes. Even when it came to the dirty work of building structures to rebuild coral and picking up trash along the beach, I always found myself leading the pack, eager to start and do the most. From this experience, I realized that pursuing the field of ecology was what I could picture myself doing far into the future, and this was how I was going to impact the world.
UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina: What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
There aren’t many places where everyone is free from prejudice. One exception is a basketball court. The first time I stepped on a basketball court, I was expecting the usual joke about my race or the judgmental questions about my culture. But they never came. Everyone I met had unique perspectives on everything, from basketball itself to politics, and they were open and willing to share. I began to open up more about my background – how I couldn’t tie my own shoes until I was 10 and that I’m the only person in my family who loves hip-hop music. I was willing to share my experiences because there were no judgments made about me.
Despite living in an ethnically homogenous area, on the court, I met and connected with people who have different backgrounds and interests. Coleman, now one of my best friends, who is in love with Greek architecture, or Gavin, who is the only member of his family who isn’t a Packers fan. The culture of unity and acceptance that is fostered is not due to the courts themselves, but due to the common goal everyone shares. I hope my community will find ways to build more places that promote what I have experienced on the basketball court – areas where everyone is respected for their perspectives rather than judged by their race, religion, or beliefs.
Columbia University, New York: Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why?
Computer science is at the core of my academic passions and my life ambitions. What I value in life is being around brilliant technologists. At Columbia, I have worked with and befriended the most driven and gifted programmers I’ve ever met. In January, I formed a team with three Columbia freshmen for MIT’s annual strategy-game-playing artificial intelligence competition. Ben, Ryan, Koh and I spent the month reviewing matches, debating approaches and tweaking our models. More than once we coded through the night. Their caliber was clear in the subtle insights that their multi-disciplinary backgrounds gave them and they gave me something to aspire to.
I have many interests that lie outside of my intended major but that I want to continue to pursue, and Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions. Recently, while at a Columbia math club meeting with Ben, I ran into a political science major, Mathieu. He was elated to point out the insights that a love of math granted him in his courses and his conviction encouraged me to explore the peculiar intersection of the two fields.
I love teachers who love to teach. At Columbia, I’ve seen faculty who have a love for what they do and who care about students. While touring, I sat in on a quantum mechanics lecture. Professor Norman Christ strode into the room at eight on-the-dot and jumped into a discussion of WKB complex value approximation. For three straight hours, he guided us through the intricate world of QM without any notes. His enthusiasm brightened that drizzling Monday morning. That I could follow the lecture at all is a testament to his lucid explanations and extraordinary knowledge. When I came to him with questions afterward, he helped me truly understand a topic that initially felt years out of reach.
Writing a great "Why This College" essay with a prompt similar to the one above is one great way to show demonstrated interest.
Emory University, Georgia: What is your favorite fiction or non-fiction work (film, book, TV show, album, poem, or play)? Why?
There’s a moment in the 2017 film ​The Florida Project ​where our young protagonist, seven-year-old Moonee, stands with a friend in front of a cow pasture.
See, ​she says triumphantly, gesturing to the grazing animals as if presenting prizes on a game show. I took you on a safari. ​Without hesitation, she runs toward the cows, laughing: ​Let’s go.
In Moonee’s world, ordinary cows are majestic creatures, and she wants nothing more than to chase them. She plucks small pleasures from the mundane, turning dilapidated pastures into exotic landscapes.
She pursues these things with a rare kind of love: pure, exuberant, fiercely determinate. ​The Florida Project encourages me to chase the small things in my life with immense passion, with a Moonee-esque determination to live breathlessly, unhesitatingly. This film beckons me to run forward to the cows, nudging me into the world as if to say: ​Let’s go.
University of Southern California, California: What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?
The sounds of my knife striking kale unnerves my cat asleep in the corner. He quickly runs over to examine the situation but becomes instantly uninterested when he sees green and smells bitterness. Unfortunately, my family has this same reaction every day of every week.
They question, “It’s bad enough that you’re going to eat kale, but do you really have to massage it?” I respond with a deep breath, during which I recall information from nutritionfacts.org. I begin to explain, “Well you see, it takes away the bitterness, because kale is composed of cellulose, so when you massage it with a strong acid–”but as I continue to delve into my rather scientific and oftentimes molecular rationale behind transforming myself into a masseuse to make a salad, everyone begins snoring. I guess no one has ever understood my immense love for the science behind cooking (and probably never will).
Sure, my family, friends, small, undiverse and traditional high school all look at me like I am crazy, but I guess that is because I am. I do not look at kale and think “dark green, bitter, disgusting plant.” Instead, I see proteins and anticarcinogenic properties--analyzing the anatomy of food seems to occupy my mind.
Cooking is an art, visual, creative and instinctive. My favorite nights are spent with knife in hand and sweet potatoes in the oven. Food is my artist outlet, and one of the few things to feed my soul (and my stomach, too).

Resources:

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