Writing your college essays can be challenging.
And in 2023, with many schools dropping test scores from their application, your college essays are one of the most important parts of your application if you want to get accepted.
That means there's a whole lot more opportunity for students without the best SAT or ACT scores to boost their chances of admission by writing outstanding essays.
One of the best ways to write your own successful essays is to read and learn from past essays that worked.
Here's 20 of our favorite college essays examples. From Personal Statement examples to "Why this college?" supplements, find any type of essay you're looking for.
I've chosen these examples because they represent almost every type of essay you'll need to write.
Plus, they are all high-quality examples that have an authentic voice, one of the most important parts of a great essay.
Table of Contents
Ready to get inspired to write the next great admissions essays?
Let's jump right in.
Your Personal Statement essay is arguably the most important essay you'll write.
Since it's sent to every college you apply to, you need to carefully choose how you use your 650 words.
In this section, I'll show you several examples of successful Common App essays accepted into the most selective colleges.
Let’s dive right in.
Most students write their personal statement essay on their Common Application.
That's why it's called your Common App essay.
If you're having trouble starting your essay, be sure to check out some Common App inspiration.
Here are some of the best Common App essay examples that have gotten students into top colleges.
Below are some of our favorite personal statement essay examples from the Ivy League and other top-20 colleges.
This Common App personal statement was accepted into Stanford University.
Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)
For my entire life, I have had the itch: the itch to understand.
As a kid I was obsessed with a universe I knew nothing about. In elementary school, my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums for kids. Like the Pythagoreans who had marveled at the perfect ratios of musical notes, I was enamored with the mathematical symmetries of fulcrums. The book inflamed my itch but I had no means to scratch it.
I was raised a San Francisco Hippie by musicians and artists. I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words I used. Without guidance from any scientific role models, I never learned what it meant to do science, let alone differentiate science from science-fiction. As a kid, it was obvious to me a flying car was equally as plausible as a man on the moon. When my parents told me my design for a helium filled broomstick would not fly, they could not explain why, they just knew it wouldn’t. My curiosity went unrewarded and I learned to silence my scientific mind to avoid the torture of my inability to scratch the itch.
Then, in Sophomore year, I met Kikki. Before Kikki, “passion” was an intangible vocab term I had memorized. Ever since she lost her best friend to cancer in middle school, she had been using her pain to fuel her passion for fighting cancer. When you spoke to her about oncology, her eyes lit up, she bounced like a child, her voice raised an octave. She emanated raw, overwhelming passion.
I wanted it. I was enviously watching another person scratch an itch I couldn’t.
I was so desperate to feel the way Kikki did that I faked feeling passionate; AP Physics 1 with Mr. Prothro had sparked my old Pythagorean wonder in mathematics so I latched on to physics as my new passion and whenever I talked about it, I made my eyes light up, made myself bounce like a child, purposefully raised my voice an octave.
Slowly, my passion emerged from pretense and envy into reality.
Without prompting, my eyes would light up, my heart would swell, and my mind would clear. One night, I was so exhilarated to start that night's problem set that I jumped out of my seat. I forgot to sit back down. I spent that night bent over at my desk, occasionally straightening out, walking around and visualising problems in my head. Five whiteboards now cover my walls and every night, I do my homework standing up.
Once learning became my passion, my life changed. Old concepts gained new beauty, the blues became a powerful medium of expression. Mathematics became a language rather than a subject. I rocketed from the kid who cried in class while learning about negative numbers to one of two juniors in an 800-person class to skip directly into AP Physics C and AP Calculus BC. I founded [School] Physics Club, which became one of the largest clubs in the school. Over the summer at Stanford, I earned perfect marks in Ordinary Differential Equations, Energy Resources, an Introduction to MATLAB, and an environmental seminar, all the while completing the Summer Environment and Water Studies Intensive. Now in my senior year, I am earning my AS in Mathematics and Physics at the City College of San Francisco.
As I enter college, the applicability of my field of physics offers me a broad array of high-impact careers. Given that by 2050, 17% of Bangladesh's land will be underwater displacing twenty million people, I have settled on energy resources engineering.
All of this is natural progression from one development - I learned to scratch my itch.
- Unique Central Metaphor:
This essay is all based upon the metaphor of "the itch" representing a desire to understand the world. By using a central theme, such as a metaphor, you can create a thread of ideas that run throughout your essay. If you want to use a metaphor, make sure it clearly relates to the idea you're trying to express, rather than choosing one just because it is a creative or unique approach. In this case, there is perhaps no better metaphor than "the itch" which would capture their main idea, so it works well.
- Specific Language And Tangible Examples:
Instead of "telling" their ideas, this essay does a lot of fantastic "showing" through specific anecdotes. Sentences like "I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words..." capture a lot about the author's character and background without having to say it outright. By showing the reader, you allow them to draw their own conclusions rather than just having to accept what you're telling them. Using specific language also creates a more vibrant and interesting essay. Rather than saying "I loved learning as a kid," this student shows it using a concrete example: "my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums".
- Shows Interaction With Others:
Writing about other people in your essay can be a great way to tell things about yourself. Known as a literary "foil," by describing other people you can show your own values without stating them plainly. In this essay, the author shows their value (of being passionate about learning) by first recognizing that value in somebody else, "Kikki" in this case. By writing about people in your life, you can also create a sense of humility and humanity. Nobody is an "island," meaning that everyone is influenced by those around us. Showing how you draw inspiration, values, or lessons from others will show more about your character than simply telling admissions would.
- Lists Activities, But Connects Them:
In general, listing activities in your essay is a bad strategy, because it is repetitive of your activities list and comes across boring. However, this essay manages to list their activities in the 3rd-to-last paragraph by connecting them to a central idea: how their newfound passion for learning sparked all these new engagements. Listing activities can be okay, but only if they have a clear purpose in doing so. In this case, the purpose is to show how these activities are representative of their new passion for learning. But the purpose for listing activities could also be to show a specific value, provide examples for your idea, demonstrate your new perspective, etc.
This Common App personal statement was accepted into Williams College.
Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)
“And you thought you could paint,” whispered the indistinguishable mass of colors in front of me, which was meant to represent a window. I looked down at the paint-stained printed image that I held with my trembling hand and back again to the unsuccessful attempts I had made to capture it on the canvas. My eyes scanned the wet paint avidly, attempting to find a solution to a problem I didn’t, couldn’t, solve. The more I looked at it, the more my mind wandered, focusing on the imperfections and confusion that the task of creating my first oil painting caused. Thoughts dashed through my brain like bullets, creating a knot of insecurity so tight that all of the pressure seemed to accumulate until I couldn’t hold it any longer. The pressure exploded, followed by several fat tears that spurted from my eyes. “Why would you do something you’re clearly not good at?” yelled my thoughts. I dropped my paintbrush on the floor, the paint splattering around me along with my tears.
I had never encountered anything like the painting that lay in front of me. My little projects were generally characterized by the quick learning of new skills, after which I would easily succeed at achieving in the activity. Never had I struggled solving math problems, never had my words faltered while conjuring up a last minute essay. It was this previous success and my ability to learn things quickly that made this encounter with a challenge so difficult. When looking at an obstacle in the eyes, I was a coward. I was unable to face difficulty in the fear that I’d be unable to succeed. I turned around and walked away, the smell of wet paint fading along with the determination my eyes had once held.
The colors would remain alone for the next few weeks, calling to me from the corner of my bedroom where they lay, discarded. It was not until that cloudy Sunday afternoon, common during rainy season, when the voices would finally reach my ears and guide my hands back to the paintbrush. It would take, however, 3 weeks and the development of a new friendship.
I met Mirjana through an exchange programme between my school and a school hidden amongst the mountains of Panama, which aimed at providing a better education to teens from poor areas. She was pretty and soft-spoken, with white teeth and sparkling, brown eyes. She liked to read, and we hit it off right away. Her stay with us was filled with laughter and discussions about latin-american novelists, and it was amongst these that we grew to become the best of friends. Mirjana told me about her hobbies, her friends from back home, her dreams, but most of all, her fears.
We spent long afternoons in bed, the soft breeze outside creating twists in our hair as it crawled through the window and listened to our conversations, the rain’s silent messenger during April. Mirjana told me about her fear of not being able to provide for her family and her homesickness while being at boarding school. It was during these conversations about fear that I began to look back at my painting attempts. Fear, that little whisper on the back of my ear, the fear of failure, had stopped me in my tracks when I had encountered a setback.
Our conversations during these calm afternoons continued, and my thoughts about the fear of failure intensified. Why was failure so scary to me? Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered? These thoughts would reach a climax that cloudy Sunday afternoon, where my hands would find the paintbrush and dip it into the creamy mixture of oil paint. And although I did learn how to paint, my biggest achievement was learning how to push fear out of the way to let the water flow and the paint dance.
- Compelling Writing Style:
This student uses figurative language, particularly personification, which makes their writing more engaging. Rather simply telling a story plainly, implementing aspects of creative writing such as metaphors, personification, and symbolism, can engage the reader in your story.
- Shows Vulnerability:
This essay deals with their struggles—particularly in overcoming fear of failure while painting. By showcasing your challenges, you not only create a more relatable persona, but it makes your successes far more impactful. Everyone has struggles, and reflecting upon those challenges is what will help you convey self-growth.
- Lacks Reflection:
Although this student reflects on the concept of fear, they don't go much deeper than surface-level reflections. This essay does pose some interesting questions, like "Why was I afraid of something I had not yet encountered?" but these questions are cut short and not satisfyingly explored. Admissions officers are impressed with genuine, deep reflection. To get there, you need to push past surface-level takeaways and try taking your ideas always one step further.
- Too Repetitive:
"Fear" is a central theme of this essay, but the main idea of overcoming fear is repeated excessively, without adding new ideas. It is important that your essay "goes somewhere" and doesn't stay stuck at the surface of your ideas. You want to go deep into your ideas, which means avoiding repetition at all costs, and only referencing a previous idea if you're adding something new: a new perspective, context, nuance, broader application, etc.
This Common App personal statement was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania.
Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)
When I watched the Patriots and Falcons play in the Super Bowl in February of [Date], I had no idea that the next time I watched a football game I would be on the sidelines, right in the middle of all the action. However, that’s exactly what happened, and my experience as a football manager is not one that I will ever forget.
At the end of my junior year, the head football coach, Coach Cotter (who was also my AP Government teacher), asked me if I wanted to be a manager for the football team. He told me I would have to be at all the practices and games during the summer and throughout the school year. He made a compelling offer, but I turned him down because I didn't think I would have enough time during the summer with my classes, work, and vacation. One of my friends, however, took him up on his offer. In the middle of July, after hearing her talk about how much she enjoyed it, I asked her if she thought I would be able to join. After we spent a little bit talking about it, she asked if I wanted to go with her and see what it was like. I agreed, and I loved it. I asked Coach Cotter if he would mind if I joined, and I can still hear him saying, "Absolutely, the more the merrier!" in my head. The weeks of practice that followed, and then eventually the long Friday nights, proved to be an unforgettable experience.
The job of a football manager does not sound glamorous. Being at football practice for six hours every day during the summer and then three hours after school, surrounded by 47 sweaty football players and seven coaches who are constantly shouting is not how I planned to spend my summer and the fall of my senior year. But there was no way for me to know that this experience would teach me valuable lessons about life, regarding teamwork, hard work, and discipline.
In late July it was evident that some of the players were new and unsure of what to do. I watched as day after day the upperclassmen helped them learn their positions and become better players. This demonstration of teamwork impressed me, because instead of laughing at the younger players for not knowing what to do, they helped them become the best players they could be to make the team stronger. Once, three of our seniors got in trouble for some off field activities, and they had to sit out the first game, along with losing their helmet stickers that are given out for exceptional performances. I witnessed the effect that the consequences had on these players, and I heard one of our coaches after we lost the game tell them “Now you see how the consequences of your actions affected the entire team. Don't ever underestimate your importance to this team.” After that game, I saw the hard work that those boys put in to earn back their reputations and their helmet stickers. They taught me that even if I make mistakes, I will always learn from them no matter how much hard work it takes.
We managers go by many names: watergirls, team managers, hydration specialists. But none of these monikers can capture the rush of emotion I feel after a hard fought game, or the feeling of connectedness that comes every time we celebrate as a team after a victory, ringing our bell and blasting “Party in the USA.” My sense of school spirit has never been stronger. Throughout the summer, the three hours after school, and the seven hours I spend on game days with the players, I have learned lessons and developed relationships that I will never forget.
- Shows Sense of Humor:
This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.
- Surface-Level Ideas:
The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.
- Vague And Impersonal Writing :
Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.
- Unnecessary Storytelling:
More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.
- Don't Preface Your Ideas:
In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.
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This Common App personal statement is an accepted Tulane essay.
Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)
Piano Man plays on repeat in Used To Be’s Island Eatery, a high-volume bar and restaurant in the town of [Location] on the Jersey shore. Balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools, chatting and laughing about their lives.
From my hostess stand I can see it all. To my left is the restaurant portion of the building. It is dimly lit but there is enough light to see the customers’ expressions, from the time I seat them until their plates have been cleared. It’s fascinating to watch how much people change from the time they approach me at the stand, hungry and impatient, to when they are smiling and telling me to have a good night, plucking a mint from the silver bowl as they leave.
I’ve learned that the demeanors of the staff shape the mood of the restaurant. When the waitresses have come from the beach and have plans with their friends later that night, there is a sense of calmness and ease among the staff and the customers. On the other hand, when one waitress trudges in fifteen minutes late on a rainy afternoon and recites her endless list of the day’s unfortunate experiences, the entire mood drops. I’ve discovered that restaurants are all about putting on a happy face, even if you’re secretly envisioning hurling a rude customer's plate across the restaurant like a frisbee and watching ravioli spray across the room.
My dad has always told me to be positive, but I never really understood how truly meaningful that was until I started working as a host. I’ve learned that positivity and friendliness are crucial to making any situation more enjoyable, and especially in making stressful ones more bearable. So, even if I have eighteen reservations and a dozen takeout orders to handle, I plant a smile on my face and ask the elderly couple that walks in the door how they are doing. What I’ve discovered is that when they smile back at me and ask me about myself, it brightens my mood, and I end up having a simple and sweet conversation with complete strangers. Their kindness is uplifting, and I love hearing about a couple’s recent vacation, or talking and laughing with the father of a baby who just tried to eat a lemon.
I was anxious about starting my first job. However, I quickly found that hosting not only suited my strengths, but also taught me more about myself and how others behave in stressful environments. Hosting requires perception, observation and organization, qualities that play to my strengths. While the waitresses are distracted taking orders or bringing food, I’m the one who watches over the entire restaurant, making sure that tables are cleaned and little kids have paper and crayons. On the other hand, this job also taught me that sometimes I need to keep my mouth shut and deal with issues on my own, even if it means defusing an uncomfortable conversation with a customer who has had too much to drink. This response is generally counterintuitive to what I’ve been taught in school, which is to speak up and seek help from peers or teachers. In this business, one is often told to “figure it out yourself” or “just fix it”. Initially this was challenging, but I soon discovered that it taught me to have faith in myself and be more independent.
I absolutely loved this job. I discovered how much I enjoy working with and learning from other people. Hosting taught me the value of being totally engaged and fully present, which allowed me to commit myself to the people and environment around me. This job took me out of my comfort zone, but I have no doubt that what I learned will help me in every stage of my life, including when I go back next summer.
- Uses Anecdotes to Show Ideas:
Rather than "telling," it's important to always back up your points by "showing." This means using anecdotes, examples, and specific references to help the reader come to the same conclusion as you. Anybody can "tell" things, but by showing them you are giving proof, which makes your points more convincing and compelling.
- Reflects On Lessons:
An effective strategy for having interesting ideas is to reflect upon what you've learned as the result of an activity or experience. Lessons are important because they show self-growth, which admissions officers are looking for. It can also be a good idea to compare and contrast your lessons with other areas of your life. For example, how do your lessons from an extracurricular activity differ or translate over to your academics? Or vice versa?
- Lacks Deep Reflection:
One of the most common "mistakes" in essays is to not go deeper into your ideas. Most students gravitate towards surface-level ideas, which can be a good starting point, but should ideally be taken further. Admissions officers have read thousands of essays, so it's important that your ideas are unique, specific to you, and interesting. To get to those "deeper" ideas, keep asking yourself questions. For example, if you start with the idea of "positivity is key for this job," then keep asking yourself "Why?" Repeat that process many times and think critically, and eventually you'll come to more interesting and compelling ideas.
- Unnecessary Descriptions:
Avoid writing like fiction books, which have lots of descriptions that build a world or environment. Instead, only describe the things that matter to your main point. Since you have a limited number of words to use, it is vital that each sentence has a clear purpose. In this essay, many descriptions are ultimately unnecessary to their main point. Does it matter that "balding men and blonde women sway to the song as they sit on the wooden barstools"? No, and this only distracts from what is ultimately more valuable: your ideas and reflections.
Want to read more Common App essay examples?
If you're looking for more outstanding Common App essays, check out our Common App guide with examples.
For more, check out our list of top personal statement examples.
Your UC essays are more important in 2022, now that UC's have dropped SAT and ACT scores from your application.
And if you're looking to write great UC essays, the best place to start is by learning from essays that worked in the past.
If you're looking for tons of UC essay examples, you're in the right place.
Every student applying to University of California must write four Personal Insight Questions. Each short essay must be fewer than 350 words each.
Within those posts, you'll be able to read dozens of the best UC Personal Insight Questions.
This essay was accepted into UCLA.
UC PIQ #1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words max)
Each summer for the last eight years, I have attended a four-week residential summer camp on Orcas Island, first as a camper and more recently as a staff member. As a counselor-in- training last summer, my role shifted from one centred around my own enjoyment to one catering to the fulfilment of others. I welcomed this change of pace gladly, as the ability to positively impact the next generation of campers in a similar way to how my own counselors impacted mine thrilled me.
At first, I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself, as I was daunted by my new responsibility as staff. However, my uncertainty dissipated when one of the campers I had worked closely with in the sailing classes I taught wrote me a heartfelt letter towards the end of the session claiming that spending time with me had been one of the highlights of his summer. This small affirmation struck me deeply, and I was incentivised to continue putting all my energy into hopefully similarly affecting as many others as I could.
One of the most challenging parts of the summer was when I acted as an assistant counselor to a group of six 2nd-grade boys for a week, living with and supervising them for the whole time. I recall one particular moment when all six started yelling over the minor grievance of whose turn it was to take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen that meal. I tried diffusing the situation peacefully but, in the end, it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down. It was tough for me to take a harder line with them, but it was a valuable lesson that being assertive, yet still kind, is an effective method for future situations.
I cannot wait to apply for a full counselor position next summer, as each year I learn more from camp about what it is to be a compassionate leader, a convincing role model, and a team player.
Why This Essay Works:
- Specific Example: For UC essays, it's important to directly and clearly answer the prompt. This student does a good job of using a specific moment that clearly answers the prompt.
- Honest About Challenges: You don't have to present yourself as a perfect human being. Instead, by showing your flaws and challenges, it makes you more relatable. This student does that well by admitting: "I was unconvinced that I was being the role model I had envisaged of myself."
What They Might Change:
- Give More Details: In addition to stating "...it required a firmer stance to get them to calm down," it's better to show this. How did you act in that moment? How can you illustrate that assertiveness, without just stating it?
This essay was accepted into UCLA.
UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)
My greatest talent is teaching. I love the opportunity to help others and seeing them develop and improve as a result of my input is always so rewarding.
My principle teaching outlet is as a diving coach. My favourite part about this job is that it is so dynamic, and each session is different. Some days the divers are in a great mood, dive impressively, and will jest with you nonstop which, being extroverted, fills me with energy and is a genuinely enjoyable evening. These sessions are so easy to coach as you can present yourself as a friend to the divers and deepen the trust that exists between you. However, other nights the kids are tired and unenthusiastic and coaching becomes far more challenging. I have to be stricter with them while simultaneously finding ways to motivate them, such as introducing little competitions or rewards for training hard. Over time, I have gotten much more confident at adjusting my coaching attitude towards the signals I pick up from the divers and it has made my job significantly easier.
This year, I have taken on the additional responsibility of leading the Learn to Dive squad, the largest group of divers at my club. At first, it was tough for me to adjust to my new role as it entailed more work with other coaches, helping them to develop their own coaching ability and monitoring the progression of their divers, as well as with kids of my own. However, I have grown to love this new element of my job, despite the challenge of instructing coaches older than myself, as it has forced me to develop my teaching ability in new ways. I have had to analyse my own teaching methods in order to explain them to other coaches and this both helped them to understand how to improve, but also allowed me to refine and develop how I coach my own divers.
Teaching is such an important part of my life because it allows me to learn and increase my own knowledge while making a positive impact on others.
This Personal Insight Question essay was accepted into UCLA among others.
UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)
While reading Tolkien's The Silmarillion, I was struck by the elegance of the Elvish script he included. Upon further research, I discovered that he had created an entire language – Quenya – to accompany the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The idea that a language could be crafted and cultivated like a piece of art was both illuminating and inspiring to me. I had heard of Esperanto previously, but I believe Tolkien wasn’t trying to change the world with his creation. His goal was simply to create a language for the pleasure of it, and to enrich his storytelling and worldbuilding.
The revelation that language could be more than just a tool for communication triggered a love for linguistics that persists to this day. I voraciously tore through reference grammars and college textbooks alike, including An Introduction to Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell.
I even tried to emulate Tolkien and create a language of my own. Whether at school taking classes in Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, and Ancient Greek, or at home studying the phonology of Brazilian Portuguese on my own, languages excited and motivated me to learn more. I was awarded the Arthur Beatty award for outstanding linguist in the year as a result of my dedication to the language program at school.
Watching Game of Thrones reintroduced me to conlanging in the form of Dothraki and rekindled my interest, prompting me to write my IB extended essay on the historical etymology of Spanish. It was a challenging project, but I loved every minute of my research. While my friends were lamenting their boredom at poring over endless journals on topics they didn’t enjoy, I was studying a subject for which I am truly passionate. I hope to continue my study of language in university, and one of my goals in life is to be trilingual. I have no doubt that languages will continue to inspire me throughout life, and I hope to be able to share some of this passion with others along the way.
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Here's another UCLA essay that worked.
UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)
Throughout my time at school, I have tried to share my passions and interests with others in various ways.
With the help of a friend, I reinvigorated and reinvented the school linguistics society, transforming it from a dull discussion of past exam questions to a seminar-style session where I have presented and analysed various interesting aspects of language. We have covered topics ranging from phonetics to historical sound change, and it has attracted a loyal troop of linguists who relish the weekly meetings almost as much as I do.
I have also channelled my passion for teaching into volunteering as a Spanish teacher at another local elementary school. Leading a class of thirty students can be a challenge, mainly as that many students are often hard to control. Nevertheless, I have planned and carried out lessons there each week for the last three years and have learnt a lot from it. I have found that as my confidence has grown, so the students have started to listen to and respect me more. They gain more from the lessons, as is evident from their progress at the end of each semester, and my enjoyment and fulfilment has risen. I am glad to have had a positive impact on their learning, and that I have been able to teach a subject that genuinely interests me.
Finally, I was appointed as a school prefect for senior year. In this role, I have been involved with a number of charity initiatives, such as organising bake sales and sponsored sporting events to raise money for the Make a Wish foundation, as well as various pastoral activities such as mentoring incoming freshman and guiding prospective parents around the campus. I love being a prefect as it allows me to give something back to the school that has been a huge part of my life for the last several years. I hope my legacy is that students feel more comfortable and confident in the school environment, and that they are inspired to become leaders as I have been to give back to the community in turn.
This essay was accepted into UC Berkeley.
UC PIQ #1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words max)
Seconds after our teacher announced our project groups I heard the familiar, pitchy voice of the most irritating person in the class yell my name. Just like my worst nightmare, I had been put in a group to work with Eva; the annoying girl who had a weird obsession with horses. At that moment, I knew that it was going to be the longest project of my life.
Eva was extremely difficult to work with; she would always interrupt me, stubbornly stuck to what she wanted, and did not listen to a thing I said. Two weeks of tension and no progress flew by until one day during class, Eva went on another ramble about her horses.
Although I wasn't ready to hear her talk about horses again, I let her continue. What was another rant about horses turned into a conversation about the mental disorders Eva faced and how she relied on horse riding as therapy. After that conversation, our progress took a complete 180. I was eager to learn more, and we finished the project with more purpose and meaning. My perspective changed entirely.
I was moved by Eva’s passion for horse riding and encouraged her to start a club on campus where she could share her passion with others. Beyond this project, I helped Eva defend her riding center during city council meetings because it was on the verge of being shut down. In exchange, working with Eva taught me how to be more open-minded, more patient, more understanding; values of which I personally lacked my entire life. I began to cooperate with people with a more accepting and considerate mentality, understanding that people work in different ways.
I’m glad I chose to work through the project with Eva because I grew as a leader in a way that I would have never expected. I know I could have easily done the project by myself, but instead, I worked through our disagreements and bickering. Sharing this experience with Eva unearthed my ability to lead using patience and understanding, which are now essential assets to my leadership capabilities.
Many top colleges require students to supplemental essays.
Each school may ask different prompts or none at all. And often your answers will be more specific and directly about the school.
In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts, from "Why this college?" to major and area of study questions
Let's jump into the essays.
In addition to the your personal statement or statement of purpose (SOP), many colleges also require supplements.
These supplemental essays are often specific to the school and ask you to answer a specific question, such as "Why this college?" or "Why this major?"
In this section, you'll find supplemental essay examples from top universities. I've included a variety of prompts to cover common supplemental prompts that you may encounter.
This supplemental essay was accepted into Cornell University.
Prompt: Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in. (250-650 words)
I was thirteen sitting in my eighth grade geometry class, when I first heard of Fermat’s Last Theorem. We were discussing Pythagorean triples, whole number solutions to the Pythagorean Theorem, and conversation arose about the possibility of solving for exponents larger than two. What about three, four, or five? Eventually, this led to the teacher saying, “This is called Fermat’s Last Theorem. You won’t learn about it until you are much older.” With a dismissal like that, I naturally spent the whole night researching it instead of reading A Separate Peace for English. My fascination for this theorem was two-fold. The theorem is a seemingly simple concept, while on the other hand, it is notorious for being one of the most difficult proofs in all of mathematics. Fermat, himself, claimed he knew how to prove it, but promptly died leaving no evidence to back up his assertion. For over three and a half centuries, mathematicians were stumped by a seemingly impossible problem. Until it wasn’t.
Fermat’s Last Theorem was the impossible math proof, but overtime, collective mathematical knowledge grew. In 1993, British mathematician Andrew Wiles combined others’ theorems and conjectures to show that Fermat’s Last Theorem was a special case of semi-elliptical curves and that the theorem was a modular form. As a result, Fermat’s Last Theorem was proven to be correct. Consequently, once the mathematical community reviewed Wiles’ proof, it was widely agreed that Fermat could not have proven the theorem, because the general mathematical understanding in 1637 was not developed enough yet. Though the story of its eventual solution is exhilarating, to me, this episode underscores a more important lesson that is as true in science and engineering as it is in mathematics: it is not through individual genius, but collective effort and exploration that impossible problems become solvable.
Impossibilities surround us in the world. Here’s my impossibility—developing a solution to the global management of heart disease. Every year, millions die of cardiovascular complications, but nobody has a large-scale solution. My father’s death opened my eyes to the limited treatment options for cardiovascular disease, in that medicine can diagnose the disease, but current preventative measures are inefficient, as it is still the leading cause of death in America. Like Fermat’s Last Theorem, however, this problem does not have to remain unsolvable. Biomedical engineering applications enable us to foresee biological and physiological phenomena, and conceive system-oriented solutions to problems that have previously been treated symptomatically. I aspire to find new ways to track the growth of arterial plaque and blood clots throughout the body to better maintain blood flow, reducing, maybe someday eliminating, heart attacks, cardiac arrests, and strokes.
I see Cornell as my next step towards accomplishing this aspiration. My brother, Matt, went to Cornell Engineering for his B.S. ([Date]) and M.S. ([Date]), and his accomplishments are what initially drew me to the College of Engineering. He was a member of the DARPA Robotics team that built an autonomous vehicle. Cornell’s theoretical approach to systems allowed him to find new ways of visualizing the world when solving problems. Although my brother and I have differing interests, I see through him how a Cornell education fosters a mindset not just to improve the status quo, but to reimagine it.
Cornell researchers are already pioneering the future of cardiovascular engineering, where professors and students are researching “heart-assist technology” to discover better solutions to pediatric heart problems. That project is already seeking answers to many of the questions that motivate me, and I’m excited about the prospect of joining the effort. The college’s theoretical approach combined with its project teams offers a way for students like me to not just learn how to build things, but to understand the conceptual principles underlying each problem. With this two-pronged method, Cornell Engineering will allow me to solve my personal Fermat’s Last Theorem of developing better methods to combat heart disease.
- Specific Ways They'd Be Involved:
For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to show ways you imagine being involved on campus. This student does a great job of showing that they've done their research about Cornell, by connecting their passion for studying heart disease to specific initiatives already taking place on campus. Try researching what events, research, or programs are being conducted. By referencing those specifics, you can create convincing reasons of why this school is fit for you.
- Introduces a Problem, Potential Solutions:
When discussing your intended area of study, one effective strategy is to identify a problem that you see. This problem can be in the field itself, your community, or the world. Then, you can connect this problem to yourself by showing how you'd want to help solve it. Don't try to tackle it entirely yourself, but show how you'd "take bites" out of this larger problem. It is also important that you identify potential solutions to the problem. You definitely don't (and shouldn't) have all the answers, but what do you see as potential steps for combatting the issue?
- Jargon and "Nerdy" Language:
Using technical language, such as referencing "semi-elliptical curves" and "modular form" in this essay, will help show your in-depth knowledge and passion. Don't be afraid to use technical jargon like this, and don't worry if admissions officers may not know all the terms. As long as they have context and knowing the terminology isn't critical to understanding your point, including "nerdy" language will make your essay more engaging and demonstrate your intelligence.
- Shows Personal Connections:
If you have personal connections to the school you're applying to (such as legacy, family members who work there, students or faculty you're close with), it can be a good idea to reference those connections. Showing personal connections to the school makes admissions think, "They're already practically one of us!" Just make sure that these connections aren't contrived: only write about them if you have a clear purpose within your essay for introducing them. In this essay, the student references their brother who attended Cornell, but does so in a way that naturally ties into the rest of their reasons for "why Cornell."
Here's another Cornell essay that worked.
Prompt: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (650 words max)
Since seventh grade, I’ve been obsessed with making others smile. That year was tough on my 12-year-old, bewildered self. It was the first time I’d struggled through anything major in my life. Someone important in my life passed away. Several relationships were beaten up and broken down. My once-straight-A grades took a turn for the worse as the magnet school experience bore down upon me. And ever since I was forced to be that one kid who cried through lunch with her head down on the table, I decided to make sure nobody else would have to be that kid.
I’ve tried everything to hear someone’s laugh, from biting sarcasm to the pain of a bad pun. But when I think about when my friends and I are laughing the most, it’s all together, in a call at midnight. We’re playing computer games and listening to silly music and laughing at the expense of each other as we die at the hands of the enemy team in the most ridiculous ways.
I started playing League of Legends late last year. It was a way for me to feel strong and unstoppable when I felt powerless in reality. The gameplay was what initially hooked me, but everything else about the game was equally, if not more, fascinating. The design of the maps, champions, and skins. The precise animations and detail in every interaction. The engrossing theme songs and background music, especially ones like Aurelion Sol’s intro (highly recommend, by the way; it’s a beautifully written, insistent orchestral piece). The concept of worldbuilding and forever expanding upon the backstories of over a hundred characters and their universe. The way gaming brings all sorts of people together and lets them really laugh.
I once read a throwback article, called “Total Recall, or: That Time We Disabled Ranked,” that was written by product managers, designers, and producers. It covered an intensive bug that forced the company to work nearly 28 hours straight in order to restore the game and discussed the processes behind bugfixing. It was this article that truly incensed my interest in game design.
When reading about the majors and programs that Cornell provides, I felt a rare yet very real spark of excitement for college and my future. I’d heard of the notoriety of the Computer Science major at Cornell, but the option to follow the major within the School of Arts and Sciences eased my mind. As a right-brained student, I’ve always felt the struggle to succeed academically, especially within maths and sciences, while still pursuing my artistic interests. The BA CS major gives the ability to major in what I want to do while also getting exposure to a larger breadth of courses in other schools. I believe that Cornell will be able to reconcile my passions and style of learning by providing an environment in which I can thrive.
But what caught my eye the most was the specific game design minor that I could pursue alongside a major in computer science. It seems pretty unique to the school and is exactly what I’ve been wanting from a prospective school. Through this route, I’d be able to further my current understanding of programming and learn how to apply this to the world of design and animation. I’d be worlds closer to not only bringing my ideas to life, but also bringing the same happiness, excitement, and immersion that I feel to other gamers like me.
Gaming is what brings a smile to my face, as it does to millions of other people around the globe. I want my efforts to inspire happiness and infectious laughter to reach the world by doing what I love. And now, it truly feels as though Cornell has given me a real chance at being able to make someone smile by doing what they love.
If you enjoyed the UPenn Common App essay, here's a supplement that was also accepted into the University of Pennsylvania.
Prompt: How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (650 words max)
When I first started seriously thinking about college during sophomore year, I didn’t want to go anywhere outside of Ohio. I thought I would be too far away from home. But the more mail I received from different colleges, the more I realized that some of my best opportunities were going to come from outside of my comfort zone, from outside of Ohio. One pamphlet from the University of Pennsylvania in particular caught my eye, and although I was a bit skeptical at first, as I did my research I realized that the University of Pennsylvania is a top tier university that holds many unique opportunities for its students.
One of the first things I noticed when I began to research Penn was their emphasis on interdisciplinary studies. This appealed to me because I have never been interested in only one subject. The fact that a third of my classes would be taken outside of the Wharton School tells me that I will be able to explore a variety of classes in virtually any subject. For example, although I do not want to major in it, I have always been interested in computer coding. Hopefully I will able able to take some introductory level computer programming or coding classes at Penn even though it is not directly related to finance, my potential concentration. I am also excited about the availability of foreign languages at the University of Pennsylvania. I started learning French in eighth grade, and since my school only offers four years of French, I wasn’t able to take it my senior year, and I really miss it. I also started learning Portuguese during high school because I want to travel to Brazil one day. I want to continue learning both of these languages at the University of Pennsylvania. I am very excited about the opportunities that the emphasis on interdisciplinary studies will give me at Penn.
Another aspect of Penn that I found fascinating was their different programs regarding political science. At one point, I wanted to major in political science. But when I took an Introduction to Global Politics class at the Ohio State University during the summer before my senior year, I didn’t know if I could honestly see myself studying that for four years. However, during my time researching political science at Penn, I found out about an amazing program that I could participate in: Penn in Washington. Political science is currently my second choice major, and if I decide that’s what I want to major in, it would be with a concentration in American Politics, so the Penn in Washington program would be perfect for me to find an internship and learn about how the different parts of government work together in the heart of America’s government. However, if I choose not to major in political science, I would still be interested in the American Public Policy minor, which is offered through the political science department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School, which is where I will possibly be pursuing a degree in finance. Penn seems to match perfectly with what I want to study in college. I am really excited for the opportunities that the University of Pennsylvania will give me. From the interdisciplinary studies to the foreign languages and political science programs, I will have plenty of chances to explore my diverse interests here at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Honest And Likable Tone:
This essay does a great job of conveying a thoughtful and candid applicant. Their phrasing, although verbose in some places, comes across genuine because the author walks you through how they learned about the school, what they're looking for in a school, and why the school would offer those specific things. Phrases like "I didn't know if I could honestly see myself studying that" are conversational and natural-sounding, which help create a sincere tone.
- References And Connects Specific Opportunities :
By referencing specific programs, like "Penn in Washington" as well as various minors and concentrations, it is clear this student has done their research about the school. One of the most important aspects for a "Why Us" essay is to find specific and unique opportunities and name them in your essay. These could be things like specific professors and their work, campus and its location, interesting classes, unique internship/study-abroad/job programs, special events, and many more. The key is referencing things that are entirely unique to the school and not many other schools too. Avoid broad terms like "renowned faculty" or "interdisciplinary studies" because virtually all colleges offer things like this, and these are some of the most over-used and artificial reasons used in "Why Us" essays.
- Overly Wordy and Repetitive:
This essay has many moments of repetition that are unnecessary. In general, avoid repeating your ideas and when editing, ask yourself of each sentence: does this add something distinctly new and important to my essay? There are two common mistakes that often create repetition: prefacing your ideas and summarizing your ideas. Unlike academic writing, you don't need to "prepare" the reader for what you're going to say, and you don't need to conclude it with a summary. By doing so, you only create unnecessary repetition and take up words which could otherwise be used to include new specific details or ideas.
- Needs More Unique Reasons "Why":
This essay spends nearly half of its words explaining the "interdisciplinary" opportunities at UPenn. However, this reason is quite superficial and not at all unique to Penn, as almost all colleges offer some sort of interdisciplinary study (i.e. combining your interests or studying multiple fields). Talking about "interdisciplinary study" is one of the most common reasons students use in their "Why Us" essay, and it often comes across as generic and unoriginal. Instead, look for offerings that no other (or very few other) schools provide. Narrow down your reasons "why" to make them more specific to the school, even if they are smaller scale. You can mention things like "interdisciplinary studies" or "diverse student body" briefly as a reason why, but don't make them one of your primary reasons why, unless you have something particularly unique about it.
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This interesting essay is a Dartmouth essay that was admitted. Enjoy!
Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)
My name is Eoin Hourihane and my entire life, no one has ever pronounced my name correctly. My genealogy is Irish and my name is spelled this way because every male in the Hourihane family, for the past seven generations, has been named John. Since my older brother's name is John, my dad decided to honor his heritage, which gives me my dual citizenship, and name me the old Gaelic for John: Eoin.
I am the youngest of six which brings with it the never-ending comparisons, teasing, and constant bickering; add to that being small for my age until the age of twelve, and you can imagine my household. We have all been raised to be independent, to love nature (except Princess Ali), and to work our hardest at everything we do.
I have always loved math, playing hockey (ice or floor), matzah ball soup, the Beatles and Queen. As a kid, I was into Percy Jackson and a series of books with titles that all ended in “-ology,” the churros at the hockey rink in Jamestown, Bang party snaps, t-shirts by Tobuscus, and my two stuffed cats - one with a mortarboard, and the other with a Star of David on its front left paw. I have dreamt of being a biomedical engineer and creating a glass eye that can see, knowing the intricacies of the human body and its responses to environmental and internal stimuli, and performing surgery on the brain.
I have celebrated Chanukah and Christmas, honoring my Jewish mother and my Catholic father, but not truly affiliating with either. I am a liberal thinker who follows current events closely, and I am eager to explore the world outside of Buffalo, NY, participate in an academic environment that will challenge me, and live among a community of learners.
This supplement was accepted into Columbia University.
Prompt: List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words max)
Filled with activity around the clock. A place to come home to.
Trying to get past locked doors (literal and metaphorical).
Offering intellectual freedom and curiosity, without forcing specialization. Accommodating students who are unwilling to wait to make a difference. Willing to look critically at itself.
Socially conscious and politically active.
Never taking its eye off the national or global stage.
Buzzing with so much life it flows beyond the campus into the outside world.
So much life that sometimes it intimidates, that it yearns for more hours in the day. With too many options to choose from, Too much to do in four years.
Filled with clever eyes that see new ideas in the lessons of history.
Diverse of origin, of culture, of opinion, of religion, of personality, Diverse like an international center of thought and ideas and passions. An urban wonderland.
Supporting of extraordinary ambitions.
This essay was accepted into Columbia University. To read more exceptional Columbia essays, be sure to check out our list for more Columbia essay examples.
Prompt: For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words max)
Studying computer science gives me the opportunity to be in a field that evolves so quickly I can always be on the forefront and do cutting-edge work. This summer at an ad-tech company, I moved the data science team’s analysis programs to a novel cluster-computing engine (Kubernetes), which can manage and distribute tasks across thousands of computers at once. Kubernetes is so new that barely any information has circulated about it. Because of this novelty, I was able to publish the first existing documentation of a data science pipeline in Kubernetes.
Computer science can also automate the manual drudgery of life. For example: to manage my clubs, I’ve written a program that checks for emails from members with excuses for missing meetings and automatically logs their absences.
Since computers have become the platform for every science, coding allows me to contribute to numerous fields. When I started at Einstein College of Medicine last year, I knew nothing about computational biology. Our project showed me that basic programming was all I needed to find fascinating results in the mostly unstudied mountains of genomic data.
As a person, I’m drawn to seemingly impossible challenges, in particular, the quest to teach machines and create mechanical consciousness. When I started taking online courses in AI, I became fascinated by the gradient descent method in machine learning. The method casts complex input data (e.g. photos) as thousand-dimensional surfaces and attempts to descend to the lowest points (minima) of those surfaces. It works best on data with underlying patterns, like pictures of human faces. This indicates that, in some way, the very nature of what a ‘face’ is, what unique structure is shared by nearly all faces, is found in the minima that AI models descend towards. My dream is to do foundational artificial intelligence research.
This essay was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Want to read more UNC essay examples? Check out our list of the best UNC essays for this year.
Prompt: We hope you’ll share with us the activities that you’ve found especially worthwhile. We also hope you won’t feel compelled to tell us everything you’ve ever done or, worse yet, to do things that mean little to you just because you think we expect them.
Low-profile pursuits can be just as meaningful as ones that draw more attention, and fewer activities can be just as good, and sometimes even better, than more activities. For example, although starting a new club can be a great experience and helpful to others, so can caring for siblings, parents, or grandparents, working outside the home to put food on the table, or being a good and caring friend.
For these reasons, although we’re glad to receive complete résumés, we don’t require or encourage them. Instead, if you choose to submit something that goes beyond what you’re providing through your Common Application, keep it brief; focus less on including everything and more on choosing and explaining the things that have meant the most to you; and upload it here. (650 words max)
Everywhere I looked, I saw a sea of white coats and scrubs; there was constant beeping of the heart monitors, and the smell of disinfectant was strong.
There I stood - a diminutive, awkward high school kid - lacking in experience and confidence, ready to begin volunteering at Vidant Medical Center. Perhaps the very same qualities that made me nervous were what put patients at ease. Many patients, especially younger ones who were uncomfortable speaking with medical professionals, seemed much more comfortable in my presence. I have learned this quality is how I have been able to make a difference - by connecting with many of the younger patients who were nervous just like me. I’ll always remember the two eight-year-old brothers who were waiting as their father got an MRI.
In some ways, they were also like me - they loved sports, and had an interest in math and science. As they were waiting, we talked about everything, from who they thought would win the NBA championship title to me giving them tips on how to remember their multiplication tables. This interaction put them at ease and kept them from becoming restless.
Every time I step into the hospital, I strive to connect with people. I find that I am able to make a difference not strictly due to my tasks of escorting and discharging patients but because of connection and rapport that I establish with them.
My initial nervousness about whether or not I would be able to assist sick and injured patients soon gave way to relief and gratification as I learned that I was indeed able to help them, by bringing a smile to those I escort, discharge, or deliver meals . I’ve met people I might never have met otherwise, and we’ve shared our thoughts and talked about our experiences. I have come to look forward to their company, who, despite their conditions, are still able to smile every day and enjoy engaging in conversation with me - and vice versa.
Even when volunteering in areas of the hospital where I’m not in contact with patients as often, such as doing food preparation, I always make sure to visit the patients I escort after my shift, to talk to them and uplift their spirits. Volunteering at a hospital reminds me every day how fortunate I am to be in good health and of the rewards of helping those who aren’t. While my job as a volunteer at the hospital may not result in the discovery of a cure for cancer, I am happy to have had an opportunity to contribute to improving the experiences of the children and young adults coping with their hospital stays.
This essay was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University. Want to read more essays that worked for CMU? Check out our list of Carnegie Mellon essays that worked.
Prompt: Why Carnegie Mellon? (650 words max)
As a child who hid behind her parents and never uttered a word whenever strangers were near, I was no stranger to people deeming me shy. As I got older, however, I found my voice more comfortably through music, through art, and through writing.
Playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto in the Kennedy Center, for instance, unleashed a swell of emotions through the intricate art of storytelling with my violin. I was drawn to writing stories and sharing ideas with my peers, starting my editor career in fifth grade. Five years later, I co-founded my high school’s literary magazine, Muses, which provides a platform for all voices while fostering connections among students.
I was twelve years old when a HTML class through John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth program introduced me to a modern language of communication: computers and the Internet. Falling in love with coding and website design, I utilized my newfound knowledge to design a website for my National History Day project, which won the school competition. In high school, I joined programming club, took the rigorous computer science classes, and designed Muses’ website. This year, I created a conceptual online boutique store, which won first place in Maryland Future Business Leader Association’s E-business competitive event.
In the summer of [Date], I interned in a NCI melanoma research lab. This experience completed changed how I viewed the importance of technology to modern communication. We had obtained genotypes from thousands of melanoma patients and controls, but a new question arose: how could we extract the useful information from a massive data file, akin to finding a needle in a haystack? Under the guidance of a bioinformatician, I performed an association test between melanoma associated variants and survival outcome to identify the risk loci that might affect patient survival.
Catering to the needs of the scientists, I wrote an app by R code that organizes and manages melanoma genotype information; extracting the information of a particular genotype and its association with melanoma was now a couple clicks away. From this work, I learned how to translate large data into solutions, while using the correct data format and data structure. I realized that modern technology not only helps us communicate more efficiently, but also provides a system upon which we can solve global problems.
With a strong background in computer science and communications, I hope to incorporate both into a future career of building data systems, conducting research, and consulting for organizations that serve underrepresented citizens.
One project I want to tackle is the modification of social media algorithms so that media created by minorities and/or for minorities will appear on users’ radars. The algorithm would analyze the user’s demographics and deliver news relevant to those traits, such as discoveries about Asian health issues showing up on Asian users’ feeds. Carnegie Mellon’s encouragement of interdisciplinary studies under the Information Systems major would allow me to accomplish this and so much more. As someone who attacks calculus and creative writing with equal enthusiasm, IS’ objective of providing students with a broad background in the humanities and sciences is very appealing. As someone who learned to work as a team in a research lab, CMU’s emphasis on collaboration and student innovation would push me to further improve my teamwork and problem-solving skills.
In particular, I hope to take advantage of CMU’s Technology Consulting in the Global Community program, receiving guidance from both CMU’s renowned faculty and international technology experts. To that end, the Social and Decision Sciences major, my second choice, would also prepare me to utilize similar decision-making and analysis skills to solve social problems.
We live in a world where communication through technology connects communities across the globe, more so than ever before. The future of exploration and innovation requires us to develop efficient ways of communication - we need a combination of scientific expertise and knowledge grounded in the humanities to accurately convey ideas, solve problems and make the planet a better home for us all. An education at Carnegie Mellon would propel me in this endeavor.
- Specific Details Showing Knowledge:
Specific details and anecdotes will almost always be more compelling than less specific ones. In this essay, the student does a great job of including specific, "nerdy" details, such as "an association test between melanoma associated variants and survival outcome." These details demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of an area and make your essay more engaging.
- Addresses Bigger Picture:
This essay does a fantastic job of addressing real-world problems and emphasizing the "bigger picture" impact of their studies. Rather than just explaining what they want to study, this student explains how their education will help them have an impact on the world. Make an argument for what problems you see in the world and how you could potentially help solve them.
- References School-Specific Offerings:
For "Why Us?" college essays, one of the most important parts is to reference unique aspects to the school. Almost all colleges have strong academics, great faculty, etc. So instead of referencing those points, reference what makes the school unique and different. In this essay, the student talks about "CMU's Technology Consulting in the Global Community" program, which is both highly specific to CMU and relevant to their own interests.
- Don't Just List Accomplishments:
In general, you should avoid simply listing your achievements. This student has many remarkable activities and experiences, but it comes across less interesting because the first half of the essay is simply describing these accomplishments.
- Talk About Campus Culture or Mission:
For "Why Us?" essays, it is also a good idea to reference the values the school represents. Each school has a different "culture" and type of student body, and admissions wants to know how you will fit in.
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This essay was accepted into New York University. Writing your NYU essays doesn't have to be stressful if you get inspired by these examples.
Prompt: Why NYU?
We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand - Why NYU? (400 words max)
Living in a suburb my whole life, I've always felt as if I lived in a two-dimensional plane. I can go left, right, forward, and backward.
In a suburb, however, it is nearly impossible to get any meaningful altitude. Upon visiting New York City during the summer before my senior year, however, I found myself gazing up at the skyscrapers soaring high above me. I've always loved the views mountains and buildings; both from above and below. I also have spent time studying Mandarin, and Shanghai would offer a unique opportunity to further my linguistic studies while engaging in cultural immersion.
Beyond settings, NYU has the capacity and the resources available for me to engage in research in quantum computation. Playing video games got me into math and science beyond just playing with my calculator as a baby. There were practical applications of the numbers, and I wanted to understand how it all worked in order to get the best equipment and maximize ammo efficiency. I would watch "Mythbusters" and try to come up with my own hypothesis and see if it matched their conclusion.
In 8th grade, I figured out that I loved science along with math, but I didn't exactly know what science I loved. At the time I was in "physical science" and I did enjoy the class a lot, but I always thought of physics as "speed distance time" triangles which were no fun at all. I was convinced to take AP Physics in my junior year with my friends, and I loved it. It was almost every week we would learn something that completely altered my perception of the universe.
Once I learned about quantum physics and how it basically destroys our understanding of everything, I knew I wanted to pursue it further, and be at the forefront of quantum research.
At NYU, not only can I take courses to learn about the subject, but I can also participate in research through the "Center for Quantum Phenomena". Taking advanced courses and conducting research in a new setting, such as New York or Shanghai, can offer me a new perspective and a breath of fresh air. Conversely, I can help over NYU a new perspective on critical thinking and problem-solving. I chose to apply to NYU because NYU is fit for me, and I am fit for NYU.
This essay was accepted into Pomona College. Check out this Pomona supplement that worked.
Prompt: For Pomona students, the College’s location in Southern California is integral in shaping their experience. Tell us about a location, real or fictional, that has shaped you in a meaningful way. (650 words max)
Inside every bedroom is the Swiss Army knife of the sleeping world: blankets. You can take them with you anywhere and they always come in handy. My blankets are dark blue with square tribal patterns, knitted from the finest pima cotton by Peruvian artisans. I fluff them up for a soft snuggle, throw them over myself to deter the monsters under the bed, or use them as a ShamWow for tears. Yet they also helped me overcome the biggest obstacle—the moving target— in my life.
I’ve moved within and between countries ten times. I’ve changed schools so often that I’ve never been in a classroom for more than two years. I have felt loneliness and isolation, while my classmates had playdates and tea parties in a language I struggled to speak. Nothing was mine, not in school where local kids decorated their lockers, not in our rented house where everything belonged to the landlord, and not in the bedroom I slept in, where furniture and wall colors constantly switched from cream to light tan to stale beige.
The only thing that followed me from house to house were my two blankets.
As I started middle school, I began to resent moving. I took my anger out on my parents, despising them for ripping me away from newly made friends, the eighth-grade boyfriend who held my hand and gifted me Godiva chocolates, and the bedroom overlooking the Via Paloma, whose bare, white walls and street noises were beginning to feel familiar. I had no safe space or anchor to rely on when new cultures and languages overwhelmed me.
As I finished middle school, my dark blue blankets were brimming with tears of anger and frustration. One night I rolled myself up into a pitiful cocoon of ill-thoughts and sadness, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. The scent of clean cotton swirled inside my lungs, relaxing me. Memories morphed: The spacious apartment in the Andes mountains of Venezuela, the cozy cabin in the hills of Peru, and the lush single story homes in Palm Beach and Miami. Each stop carried its own memories like a distinctive aroma. I remembered the first hike along the Andean mountains in Caracas, sliding down the sand dunes in Lima, and savoring deep fried Oreos at the South Florida Fair. A nostalgic smile formed on my face as I continued to remember.
In retrospect, moving was my passport to exciting new ideas, tastes, and hobbies. I lived through vastly different cultures, and over the course of my country-hopping journey, I blended them to create a unique lifestyle of arroz con pollo, salsa, and Costco bulk shopping. I was exposed to new angles on belief and opinions, which opened my eyes to the diverse perspectives of the world. Changes of place, language and altitude have gifted me with an open-minded and thoughtful nature.
My blankets have followed me to every new home, to every new bedroom. They were my emotional anchors when I felt adrift, they were my safe harbors. They reminded me that it’s not important to own everything around you to feel in control of your own life. It’s okay for things to change, as long as you hang on to your values. The battle between bare white and dark blue has shaped me into a person that can accept and adapt to unfamiliar situations.
I’ll haul my weathered blankets to new adventures and apartments, hopefully to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and the gritty streets of East LA. Wherever I go, I can count on them to wrap me in their familiar arms, making the undiscovered feel like home.
- Connects to School Subtly:
In supplements where they aren't specifically asking you to write about the school, it can still be a good idea to connect to the school subtly. In this prompt, Pomona isn't asking for "Why Pomona," but the author still manages to imply their interest in the school by referencing Pomona's location near the "San Gabriel Mountains" and "East L.A." This is a subtle way of making the essay feel targeted for Pomona specifically, rather than this essay being reused for other schools, without answering the prompt in a way they aren't looking for.
- Unique Metaphor And Symbolism:
This essay starts off with a strong metaphor, comparing a "Swiss Army knife" to blankets, which implies the many uses of blankets. This is a captivating hook because it is creative and makes sense when thought about, but isn't something immediately obvious. Throughout the essay, "blankets" become a symbol of being able to adapt to new locations and environments. By using "blankets" as a common thread through the essay, it makes their writing about various locations still feel connected. Even though the prompt is asking for "a location," this manages to work because "blankets" becomes the unifying symbol that ties together multiple locations.
- Over-Emphasizes Their Privilege:
By describing the luxurious-sounding places they've traveled, this essay could come across as privileged. Although coming from privilege isn't necessarily a bad thing for applying to colleges, emphasizing that privilege (especially nonchalantly) could come across as "entitled." This essay doesn't necessarily come across that way, but over-emphasizing your privilege could come across as not recognizing that privilege or "out of touch" with others who may come from less privilege. Instead, it may be better to acknowledge your privilege and show gratitude—emphasizing how those opportunities have allowed you to make a positive impact on others.
Here's another liberal arts essay that worked, again for Pomona College.
Prompt: Most Pomona students enter the College undecided about a major, or they change their minds about their prospective major by the time they graduate. Certainly we aren’t going to hold you to any of the choices you’ve made above. But, in no more than 250 words, please tell us why you’ve chosen the academic programs (or undecided!) that you have listed. (250 words max)
I’m sitting backstage at my first international piano competition, anxiously awaiting my turn to perform. Unconsciously, I massage my right wrist, still recovering from a recent injury. The young man beside me feels my nervousness and starts a conversation.
As we whisper, I notice him rub his hands together uncomfortably. “What’s wrong?” I ask, quickly leaving my own wrist alone. He suppresses a nervous laugh, then quietly details the long and unsuccessful surgery that shattered his dream of becoming a professional musician. His hands were permanently damaged.
“Alessandra Fang,” the judges call. I stand up, walk to the main stage and look back to see him encourage me with a stiff, crooked thumbs-up. As my fingers dance on the keys, I observe the fragile muscles and ligaments under my skin.
I realize in that moment that it is not in a massive concert hall where I wanted to change people’s lives, but on a smaller stage: an operating room. As an artist who has had her share of painful, music-related injuries, my goal is to become a musician’s physician, and blend my greatest two passions so that I might bring relief to those around me, while understanding their musical and anatomical plight.
I wish to pursue both Biology and Music programs at Pomona College. I want to become a hand surgeon while still developing my artistry on the piano. After all, surgery also has its own cadence, complexity and composition.
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