EssaysThatWorked.com

25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)


Essay Examples: Writing the Common App Essay

Applying to competitive colleges? You'll need to have a stand-out Common App essay.

In this article, I'm going to share with you:

  • 25 outstanding Common App essay examples
  • Links to tons of personal statement examples
  • Why these Common App essays worked

If you're looking for outstanding Common App essay examples, you've found the right place.

Ryan
by Ryan ChiangUpdated Mar. 18, 2023

If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay.

Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

Whether you're a student working on your Common App essay, or a parent wondering what it takes, this article will help you master the Common App Essay.

What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2023?

There are seven prompts for the Common App essay. Remember that the prompts are simply to help get you started thinking.

You don't have to answer any of the prompts if you don't want (see prompt #7).

Here's the seven Common App essay questions for 2022, which are the same as previous years:

  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.

The last prompt is a catch-all prompt, which means you can submit an essay on any topic you want.

Use the Common App prompts as brainstorming questions and to get you thinking.

But ultimately, you should write about any topic you meaningfully care about.

What makes an outstanding Common App personal essay?

I've read thousands of Common App essays from highly motivated students over the past years.

And if I had to choose the top 2 things that makes for incredible Common App essays it's these:

1. Being Genuine

Sounds simple enough. But it's something that is incredibly rare in admissions.

Authenticity is something we all know when we see it, but can be hard to define.

Instead of focus on what you think sounds the best to admissions officers, focus on what you have to say—what interests you.

2. Having Unique Ideas

The best ideas come about while you're writing.

You can't just sit down and say, "I'll think really hard of good essay ideas."

I wish that worked, but it sadly doesn't. And neither do most brainstorming questions.

The ideas you come up with from these surface-level tactics are cheap, because no effort was put in.

As they say,

"Writing is thinking"

By choosing a general topic (e.g. my leadership experience in choir) and writing on it, you'll naturally come to ideas.

As you write, continue asking yourself questions that make you reflect.

It is more of an artistic process than technical one, so you'll have to feel what ideas are most interesting.

25 Common App Essay Examples from Top Schools

With that, here's 25 examples as Common App essay inspiration to get you started.

These examples aren't perfect—nor should you expect yours to be—but they are stand-out essays.

I've handpicked these examples of personal statements from admitted students because they showcase a variety of topics and writing levels.

These students got into top schools and Ivy League colleges in recent years:

Table of Contents

Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration

This student was admitted to Dartmouth College. In this Common App essay, they discuss their immigrant family background that motivates them.

Although family is a commonly used topic, this student makes sure to have unique ideas and write in a genuine way.

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)

Show Annotations

The three, small, purple seeds sat on the brown soil. Ten feet from me I could see my grandpa with his yunta and donkeys. They were in unison: the two donkeys, the plow, and him. My grandpa commanded; the donkeys obeyed. I began to feel tired. Exhausted. My neck was being pierced by the Mexican sun as I dropped seeds for hours.

I can’t complain; I wanted to do this.

I placed three tiny seeds, imagining the corn stalk growing while the pumpkin vines wrapped around it; both sprouting, trying to bear fruit. I clenched a fistful of dirt and placed it on them. “Más,” my grandpa told me as he quickly flooded the seeds with life-giving dirt.

Covered. Completely trapped.

My grandfather has been doing this ever since he was a little boy. Fifty-five years later and he still works hard on the field. There isn’t much else to do in the small town of Temalac, Guerrero. All he could do was adapt; something my parents never did. They sacrificed everything and left their home, never to return again. With no knowledge of what would come tomorrow, with only their clothes on their backs, they immigrated to the US. They had to work on unknown soil, hoping their dedication will help sprout the new seeds they’d soon plant. They did this for me. They wanted me to worry about my education, not if there would be enough rain to satisfy the thirst of the crops.

I have a thirst.

A thirst to be the vessel for my family into a better future. I must be the crop that feeds them. All these thoughts rushed into my soul as I looked back down the aluminum bucket. I could never be a farmer. I’m grateful my parents were.

They planted a seed. A tiny seed with no instructions but to succeed. I’m the first-born son of two immigrant parents. I had a clean sheet to become anything. I could’ve fallen into my town’s influence, joined a gang, and become another statistic. Regardless of the dirt I come from, I began to sprout. Ever since I was eight years old I was entrusted with responsibilities. We were lucky that school was a three-minute walk; yet it was a stressful journey for a child. I had to wake up my brother, give him breakfast, make sure his clothes were ready, and that he was doing well in school.

Growing up, I always fell behind in school. I had to take summer classes to match my peers’ intellect; while others were reading to learn, I was merely learning to read. My parents weren’t able to teach me English; I grew up solely developing my Spanish accent. My bilingual brain hadn't yet matured and lacked the English tongue. Entrusting a child to be the translator-of-all-matters for his parents robs him of his childhood. I had to help my parents navigate an English system unknown to them. From the day I learned to speak I had to learn to advocate not just for myself, but for my parents.

I’m the type of person my family tree hasn’t seen. Staying in high school, getting good grades, and being a responsible individual are aspects that make people around me think that I have sprouted. But I have not yet bloomed into the being I wish to become. In fact, I have merely tunneled my roots onto the Earth; roots that have been solidified by the determination my parents instilled in me as a child. Nothing I ever accomplished was handed to me. It’s the fact that I have come this far without the advantages other students have that fills me with pride.

(614/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A-
Very Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Shows Unique Background:

    Everyone has a unique family history and story, and often that can make for a strong central theme of a personal statement. In this essay, the student does a great job of sharing aspects of his family's culture by using specific Spanish words like "yunta" and by describing their unique immigration story. Regardless of your background, sharing your culture and what it means to you can be a powerful tool for reflection.

  • Reflects Deeply And Meaningfully:

    This student focuses on reflecting on what their culture and immigrant background means to them. By focusing on what something represents, rather than just what it literally is, you can connect to more interesting ideas. This essay uses the metaphor of their family's history as farmers to connect to their own motivation for succeeding in life.

  • Shows Gratitude And Maturity:

    This essay has an overall tone of immense gratitude, by recognizing the hard work that this student's family has put in to afford them certain opportunities. By recognizing the efforts of others in your life—especially efforts which benefit you—you can create a powerful sense of gratitude. Showing gratitude is effective because it implies that you'll take full advantage of future opportunities (such as college) and not take them for granted. This student also demonstrates a mature worldview, by recognizing the difficulty in their family's past and how things easily could have turned out differently for this student.

  • Compelling Structure And Flow:

    This essay uses three moments of short, one-sentence long paragraphs. These moments create emphasis and are more impactful because they standalone. In general, paragraph breaks are your friend and you should use them liberally because they help keep the reader engaged. Long, dense paragraphs are easy to gloss over and ideas can lose focus within them. By using a variety of shorter and longer paragraphs (as well as shorter and longer sentences) you can create moments of emphasis and a more interesting structure.

What They Might Improve:

  • Off-Putting Conclusion:

    This conclusion is somewhat off-putting because it focuses on "other students" rather than the author themself. By saying it "fills me with pride" for having achieved without the same advantages, it could create the tone of "I'm better than those other students" which is distasteful. In general, avoid putting down others (unless they egregiously deserve it) and even subtle phrasings that imply you're better than others could create a negative tone. Always approach your writing with an attitude of optimism, understanding, and err on the side of positivity.

Common App Essay Example #2: Color Guard

This student was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Check out their Common App essay that focuses on an extracurricular:

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)

Sweaty from the hot lights, the feeling of nervousness and excitement return as I take my place on the 30-yard line. For 10 short minutes, everyone is watching me. The first note of the opening song begins, and I’m off. Spinning flags, tossing rifles, and dancing across the football field. Being one of only two people on the colorguard means everyone will see everything. It’s amazing and terrifying. And just like that, the performance is over.

Flashback to almost four years ago, when I walked into the guard room for the first time. I saw flyers for a “dance/flag team” hanging in the bland school hallway, and because I am a dancer, I decided to go. This was not a dance team at all. Spinning flags and being part of the marching band did not sound like how I wanted to spend my free time. After the first day, I considered not going back. But, for some unknown reason, I stayed. And after that, I began to fall in love with color guard. It is such an unknown activity, and maybe that’s part of what captivated me. How could people not know about something so amazing? I learned everything about flags and dancing in that year. And something interesting happened- I noticed my confidence begin to grow. I had never thought I was that good at anything, there was always someone better. However, color guard was something I truly loved, and I was good at it.

The next year, I was thrown into an interesting position. Our current captain quit in the middle of the season, and I was named the new captain of a team of six. At first, this was quite a daunting task. I was only a sophomore, and I was supposed to lead people two years older than me? Someone must’ve really believed in me. Being captain sounded impossible to me at first, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing my best. This is where my confidence really shot up. I learned how to be a captain. Of course I was timid at first, but slowly, I began to become a true leader.

The next marching season, it paid off. I choreographed many pieces of our show, and helped teach the other part of my guard, which at the time was only one other person. Having a small guard, we had to be spectacular, especially for band competitions. We ended up winning first place and second place trophies, something that had never been done before at our school, especially for such a small guard. That season is still one of my favorite memories. The grueling hours of learning routines, making changes, and learning how to be a leader finally paid off.

Looking back on it as I exit the field after halftime once again, I am so proud of myself. Not only has color guard helped the band succeed, I’ve also grown. I am now confident in what my skills are. Of course there is always more to be done, but I now I have the confidence to share my ideas, which is something I can’t say I had before color guard. Every Friday night we perform, I think about the growth I’ve made, and I feel on top of the world. That feeling never gets old.

(553/650 words)

Common App Essay Example #3: Big Eater

This Common App essay is a successful Northwestern essay from an admitted student. It has a unique take using the topic of eating habits—an example of how "mundane" topics can make for interesting ideas.

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)

Show Annotations

"A plate of spaghetti, six pieces of chicken nuggets, a bowl of fish soup, and a plate of French fries covered in chili sauce. And, don't forget the dessert, make it warm chocolate with milk. Oh... I could also use that 500ml lemonade as you process the order please."

The disbelief printed in the face of the waiter as he scribbled my order confirmed to me that he definitely heard me right. I get that look a lot and I kind of got used to it. In fact most of my friends have teased that my extremely huge appetite is a genetic disorder. Well if you ask me, I think they just envy me.

I come from a family that most people would refer to as humble although I think we eat as "Royalty". Ma spends her day either preparing for the next meal or cleaning up after the previous one. Meals are the only time, if you were lucky enough, you could slip in a request to Papa and at least get a promise. Further, when anyone got sick, they would first be served with twice their average consumption as the first medication; if symptoms persisted then you could see a physician. The "chiemo", Ma's name for our meals, was guided by one rule, "Your plate had to be cleared regardless of how much food you were served." Probably that and Ma's belief that food consumption was directly proportional to physical and intellectual growth, are responsible for my eating tendencies.

As I grew older and started going to school, I picked up a habit that anytime something made me uncomfortable, whether it was a sum or Sam the bully, I would seclude myself and devour whatever Ma had packed in my lunch box. Surprisingly once I was satisfied, my mind was composed and I could think straight or face my fears. I rode under this without noticing any oddity till I got to high school.

School was thousands of miles from home. All my conscious childhood memories were made inside our camp bubble and I hadn't as much as stepped out the camp let alone travelled that far. Papa and Ma hadn't gone to high school and had no advice whatsoever to help me cope. I remember Ma looking into my teary eyes promising to bring me as much food as she could the next time she was allowed into the school.

The subsequent weeks were rough as I not only kept unsuccessfully asking for extra portions but also had to bear the perplexed stares from fellow students. When I eventually adapted to the rations, I had a change of perspective. I got a deeper understanding of addictions as mind illusions that we are totally dependent on some amounts of different substances which couldn't be further than the truth. That prompted me to join my school's guidance and counselling team where I shared my story to counsel fellow students who were reported to be drug addicts.

Since then through my appetite for different taste of food I have learnt to identify and appreciate different cultures in my country. For instance when served beef I could identify the economic activity, geographic location, and even guess the mood of the cook by looking at the sizes, the amount of soup in the stew, and how precisely the spices have been added respectively. This has led me to appreciate our different cultures in defining who we are and celebrating our diversity.

However, control over my appetite doesn't mean it got any smaller. When I miss home, I eat. When I code, I eat. When I am worried, I eat. When people get worried that I eat too much, I eat. The only difference is I have a choice, but mostly I still chose to eat.

(633/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B+
Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a satisfactory display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is competent but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered favorably by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Central Theme:

    This essay uses their relationship with food to explore how their perspective has changed through moving high schools far away. Having a central theme is often a good strategy because it allows you to explore ideas while making them feel connected and cohesive. This essay shows how even a "simple" topic like food can show a lot about your character because you can extrapolate what it represents, rather than just what it literally is. With every topic, you can analyze on two levels: what it literally is, and what it represents.

  • Creates a "Voice" and Personality:

    Admissions officers want to get a sense of who you are, and one way to convey that is by using natural-sounding language and being somewhat informal. In this essay, the student writes as they'd speak, which creates a "voice" that you as the reader can easily hear. Phrases like "I kind of got used to it" may be informal, but work to show a sense of character. Referring to their parents as "Ma" and "Papa" also bring the reader into their world. If you come from a non-English speaking country or household, it can also be beneficial to use words from your language, such as "chiemo" in this essay. Using foreign language words helps share your unique culture with admissions.

  • Exemplifies Their Ideas:

    Rather than "telling" the reader what they have to say, this student does a great job of "showing" them through specific imagery and anecdotes. Using short but descriptive phrases like "whether it was a sum or Sam the bully" are able to capture bigger ideas in a more memorable way. Showing your points through anecdotes and examples is always more effective than simply telling them, because showing allows the reader to come to their own conclusion, rather than having to believe what you're saying.

What They Might Improve:

  • Clarity of Ideas:

    This student's first language is not English, which does make it challenging to express ideas with the best clarity. Although this student does an overall great job in writing despite this hindrance, there are moments where their ideas are not easily understood. In particular, when discussing substance addiction, it isn't clear: Was the student's relationship with food a disorder, or was that a metaphor? When drafting your essay, focus first on expressing your points as clearly and plainly as possible (it's harder than you may think). Simplicity is often better, but if you'd like, afterwards you can add creative details and stylistic changes.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #4: Love for Medicine

Here's another Common App essay which is an accepted Dartmouth essay. This student talks about their range of experiences as an emergency medical responder:

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)

Show Annotations

“How do you keep going after days like this?” a tear-stricken woman asked me after watching me put all my effort into attempting to resuscitate her husband after he had committed suicide. I‘ve grappled with my answer to her question for many years, but I may finally have one.

I wish I could truthfully say that I have grown accustomed to the catastrophic calls. I wish I could say the weight of the words “I’m sorry for your loss” lessens after saying them countless times to heartbroken families. But that is not the reality.

“Days like this” come often in emergency medicine; people call 911 on the worst day of their lives, when their baby stops breathing or their loved one suddenly collapses. Being one of the youngest medical responders ever certified in [Location], I have spent the majority of my adolescence running toward car crashes, flaming buildings, and into ditches while most sane people bolt in the opposite direction. While I am no stranger to cardiac arrest, severed limbs, and failing organs, it isn’t the mutilated patients that stand out in my memory, but the moments when I get a pulse back during CPR, the hugs from grateful family members, and the few, but treasured “thank you’s.”

This steel box that flies down the road at seventy miles per hour is where I grew up, where I fell in love with emergency medicine. It was a whole new world of insatiable curiosity and gut-wrenching adrenaline; where I became fascinated by the actions of presents a new puzzle—a new person to heal.

I never knew I had the courage to talk a suicidal sixteen-year-old boy down from the edge of a bridge, knowing that he could jump and take his life at any moment.

I never knew I had the strength to hold the hand of a dying man encased in the wreckage of his car while he spoke his last words to me.

I never knew I had the confidence to stand my ground and defend my treatment plan to those who saw me as less than capable because of my age or gender.

The emergency services brought me to places that I never could have imagined and introduced me to patients and people who broadened my worldview. I found myself in frigid rivers pulling unresponsive people into boats and laughing at the incredible sense of humor of a homeless man. It didn’t matter where people came from or who they were when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status and labels fell away. Whether I was performing CPR or helping a frail old woman off her kitchen floor, I knew I was changing a stranger’s life even if all I could offer was a hand to hold.

I have an innate passion to heal. I am continuously enthralled by the complexity and endless beauty of the human body and I could spend my whole life studying it, but I will only scrape the surface of its wonders. I could engineer cells to produce missing proteins; I could grow stem cell hearts, livers, and kidneys; I could create tumor destroying medications; I can heal people one person at a time until I help eliminate the word ‘incurable’ from the dictionary. I answer that catastrophic call day after day because to love medicine is to love humanity and no one has ever really lived until they have done something for someone who can never repay them.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B
Satisfactory
The essay is written competently and demonstrates a reasonable display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as compelling as other essays. It is likely to be considered adequately by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Specific Examples:

    This essay has lots of detailed moments and descriptions. These anecdotes help back up their main idea by showing, rather than just telling. It's always important to include relevant examples because they are the "proof in the pudding" for what you're trying to say.

What They Might Improve:

  • Tricky Subject Matter:

    This topic deals with a lot of sensitive issues, and at certain points the writing could be interpreted as insensitive or not humble. It's especially important when writing about tragedies that you focus on others, rather than yourself. Don't try to play up your accomplishments or role; let them speak for themselves. By doing so, you'll actually achieve what you're trying to do: create an image of an honorable and inspirational person.

  • Lacks Reflection:

    This essay touches on a lot of challenging and difficult moments, but it lacks a deep level of reflection upon those moments. When analyzing your essay, ask yourself: what is the deepest idea in it? In this case, there are some interesting ideas (e.g. "when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status...fell away"), but they are not fully developed or fleshed out.

Common App Essay Example #5: Cultural Confusion

This student's Common App was accepted to Pomona College, among other schools. Although this essay uses a common topic of discussing cultural background, this student writes a compelling take.

This student uses the theme of cultural confusion to explain their interests and identity:

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)

Show Annotations

An obnoxiously red banner with Chinese characters hangs in front of a small, unassuming diner close to home. I stroll inside Grand Lake, this bustling hive with waitresses scuttling hurriedly and tables shaking lightly, the din of laughter from families mixing with the aromas of Chinese food. A lady with a notepad impatiently beckons my family to sit at one of the free tables, and as soon as we’re all settled in, she begins addressing me in Mandarin - possibly asking what I wanted for a drink. I look at her blankly, and she returns the confused expression. “I don’t speak Chinese,” I laugh forcibly after a tense moment. She doesn’t find the humor in my apology. From thereafter, our order is taken in broken English, our chopsticks switched out for the standard fork and knife, and I feel the burning gaze of the waitresses judging my family as we eat our Sunday brunch in silence.

Cultural confusion is commonplace. Being born in Peru and raised in Venezuela makes no difference in how most people see and treat us. Focusing on my slanted, almond eyes and ebony hair, I’m automatically pegged as an Asian wherever I go. Touring Peruvian artisan markets is always a test of wit and cleverness, as vendors try to over-price items we’re interested in simply because we look Asian, and therefore must also have Crazy Rich Asian bank accounts. Pulling out a simple credit card at a Caracas mall once got us chased by three armed motorcyclists on the highway, and my mother risked collision as she wove in and out of the cramped lanes like a Formula One race car driver. Since when did my appearance jeopardize my life?

My ancestry traces back to both Chinese and Japanese roots, its imprint burrowed deep in my face and DNA. But I’m a third generation, Peruvian-born girl with the fire to prove it. Over time, our Asian culture diluted and was replaced with a vibrant, Latino lifestyle. With each generation, the immigrant language faded, folktales blurred, spices dulled, and all things Asian abandoned. I celebrated Noche Buena as a kid, not Chinese New Year’s. My favorite childhood dishes were anticuchos and papa huancaína, not onigiri rice balls or sushi rolls. Everyone assumes that I am a math prodigy, shy and antisocial, a black belt karate master, and a laughingstock on the dance floor. But actually, I struggle hardest in my math class, studying twice as much as others for the same grade. My personality, although sweet, is bold and gregarious. I am a three-year kickboxer and a five-year Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor. Turn on Marc Anthony and I may just get a spot on So You Think You Can Dance. I’m Latina, just packed in a cute, little Bento box.

There is one Asian stereotype that I fit into, even though its backstory is completely misguided: playing the piano. In reality, piano musician culture was not developed in any Asian region, rather in European countries with pioneers such as Bach and Haydn. Statistically, there is an equal amount of Asian and non-Asian musicians in the professional world. I came across the piano through my own curiosity and will, not through my parents bludgeoning me to play it like it’s portrayed with all young Asians. I actually studied South American music for an international piano competition in Peru, finished as a finalist, and grew to love the radiant and eccentric style of Latino modern music. But I digress-- my potential should be evaluated separately from my appearance.

I am a musician born by passion, not by race. I am a human defined by my achievements and experiences, not physical assumptions. Leave your preconceptions by the welcome mat and size me up by the sound of my Rachmaninoff sonata or Enrique Iturriaga solos, and let my character sing your first and final impressions of me.

(645/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B
Satisfactory
The essay is written competently and demonstrates a reasonable display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as compelling as other essays. It is likely to be considered adequately by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Common App Essay Example #6: Football Manager

Here's a UPenn essay that worked for the Common App:

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)

Show Annotations

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.

(634/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
C
Fair
The essay may lack in showcasing of ideas and genuine personality, and the writing style may not be as effective. It is likely to require revisions before given a more favorable consideration by the admissions committee
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • 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.

What They Might Improve:

  • 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.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #7: Coffee

This student was admitted to several selective colleges, including Emory University, Northwestern University, Tufts University, and the University of Southern California. Here's their Common Application they submitted to these schools:

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)

Show Annotations

I was 4.

Blue blanket in one hand, cookie monster in the other, I stumbled down the steps to fill my sippy cup with coffee. My diplomatic self gulped down his caffeine while admiring his Harry Potter wands. My father and I watched the sunrise through the trees and windows. I cherished this small moment before my father left, disappearing in and out of my life at the wave of a wand, harassing my seemingly broken, but nevertheless, stronger, family.

I was 10, and my relationship with coffee flourished as my father vanished. I admired the average, yet complex beverage and may have been the only ten-year-old to ask for a French-press for his birthday. Nonetheless, learning to craft intricate cups of coffee became my favorite pastime. I spent hours studying how to “bloom” the grounds in a Chemex or pour a swan. Each holiday, I would ask for an aeropress, an espresso machine. I became a coffee connoisseur, infinitely perfecting my own form of art.

As the years went by--I was 11, 12, 13--I began to explore the cafes in Pittsburgh with my grandmother, capturing them through our shared love for photography. Coffee (one of the few positive memories I have of my father) is also the bridge that allows my grandmother and I to converge our distinctly different backgrounds into one harmonious relationship. Inside quaint coffee shops, we would discuss pop culture, fashion, and the meaning of life. We made it our mission to visit every cafe and document them not only through the camera lens, but also through the conversations we shared.

I was 16 years old, and working at a family-owned coffee shop training other employees to pour latte art. Making coffee became an artistic outlet that I never had before. I always loved math, but once I explored the complexities of coffee, I began to delve into a more creative realm--photography and writing--and exposed myself to the arts--something foreign and intriguing.

When my father left and my world exploded, coffee remained a light amongst the darkness. As the steam permeates my nostrils and the bitterness tickles my tongue, I learn a little more about myself. The act of pouring water over grounds allows me to slow down time for a moment, and reflect upon my day, my life, my dreams, and my future. When I dive into a morning cup, I take a plunge into the sea of the self, and as I sip, am struck with the feeling that coffee is a universal link between cultures. I picture my great grandmother sitting on her front porch in Rome, slurping LaVazza and eating her coffee-soaked biscotti. Every cup takes me back to my heritage, forces me to reflect upon where I came from and where I must go, and who else, in another world, is sipping the same drink and reflecting upon the same principles. You see, coffee is like the ocean. It bridges two culture, two lands, two brains, all through conversation, exposure, exploration, but by one medium. I do not see it as simply a beverage, but rather, a vehicle for so much more.

At 18, coffee is a part of who I am--humble, yet important, simple, yet complex, and rudimentary, yet developed. As I explore new coffee shops, I explore a new part of myself, one once hidden beneath the surface of my persona. My grandmother and I--we are conquistadors of the cafe scene, conquering the world one coffee shop at a time and, in the process, growing endlessly closer to each other and ourselves. Coffee has allowed our relationship to flourish into a perpetual story of exploration and self-reflection.

Now, I often think about my father and how someone whom I resent so much could have introduced me to something I love so much. It is crazy to think that it took losing him for me to find my true self.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B
Satisfactory
The essay is written competently and demonstrates a reasonable display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as compelling as other essays. It is likely to be considered adequately by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Unique Metaphors:

    This essay uses coffee as a metaphor for this student's self-growth, especially in dealing with the absence of their father. Showing the change of their relationship with coffee works well as a structure because it allows the student to explore various activities and ideas while making them seem connected.

  • Specific Details:

    This student does a great job of including specifics, such as coffee terminology ("bloom the grounds" and "pour a swan"). Using specific and "nerdy" language shows your interests effectively. Don't worry if they won't understand all the references exactly, as long as there is context around them.

What They Might Improve:

  • Unclear Main Idea:

    While coffee is the central topic, the author also references their father extensively throughout. It isn't clear until the conclusion how these topics relate, which makes the essay feel disjointed. In addition, there is no strong main idea, but instead a few different ideas. In general, it is better to focus on one interesting idea and delve deeply, rather than focus on many and be surface-level.

  • Tells, Not Shows:

    Near the conclusion, this student tells about their character: "humble, yet important, simple, yet complex..." You should avoid describing yourself to admissions officers, as it is less convincing. Instead, use stories, anecdotes, and ideas to demonstrate these qualities. For example, don't say "I'm curious," but show them by asking questions. Don't say, "I'm humble," but show them with how you reacted after a success or failure.

Common App Essay Example #8: Chicago

Here's another Northwestern essay. Northwestern is a quite popular school with lots of strong essay-focused applicants, which makes your "Why Northwestern?" essay important.

To write a strong Why Northwestern essay, try to answer these questions: What does NU represent to you? What does NU offer for you (and your interests) that other schools don't?

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)

Show Annotations

Chubby fingers outstretched and round cheeks flattened against the window, I leaned further into the plexiglass. Although I could feel a firm hand tugging at my shirt, urging me to sit back in my seat - at ten, I possessed little concept of manners (or sanitary awareness), both of which I abandoned as I refused to cease standing on the chair of the CTA train - at the moment, all that mattered was that I was soaring above the streets of Chicago. Eyes darting across the ever changing expanses of the city, I refused to lift my gaze in fear of missing anything.

For the first time, I was taking a trip in the belly of a gargantuan silver beast, known familiarly to most Chicagoans as the “L.” What distinguishes the L from its relatives - the Tube, le Métro, the MTA - is its ability to burst through concrete and asphalt streets to rise above, guided only by wood and steel, and glide through the towering skyscrapers that dot the Chicago skyline. It elevates and cultivates a sense of infinite wonder in its riders, from the all-too-serious businessmen I’ve caught gazing dreamily out the windows to the young children futilely yet passionately attempting to balance in the center of the car as the train weaves throughout the city. From that first ride to the present day, my fascination with the inner and outer workings of the L and its passengers has refined itself to an infatuation.

Each ride presents a chance to ponder the overlooked, to question the seemingly mundane: You can quantify the number of people that find themselves teeming through the L’s sliding doors, but can you quantify their experiences? Who is that woman, man, student, small rodent, and what is their story? I adopt the lenses of journalists, economists, marketers, sociologists, historians, and the mere fellow passenger to analyze: the placement of an ad for Planet Fitness adjacent to an ad for Pizza Hut, the change in the racial makeup of passengers as the train travels North to South, the origin of unassuming stains or abandoned books. More recently I pondered, if they say the beat of a butterfly’s wings can induce a hurricane halfway across the world, can a five minute train delay get me into college?

The L is a catalyst between my vim mind and the seemingly elusive outer world, a seventy-five cent silver chariot that I can ride to whatever adventure I see fit. Since that first ride, I persist in search of the optimal collection of train stops, forging a mental map of Chicago shaped by my life experiences - all accessible by a simple swipe of a ventra card. The multitude of train lines that branch from the L’s “Loop” are dotted with my discoveries. The boathouse, where I strain my vocal chords from hours of training (and hours of laughing with my teammates).

The school, where I test the waters of political responsibility, explore the depths of socioeconomic research, and conquer the wakes of edits delivered on my reporting for the newspaper. The small urban farm, located in a former project, that I help create and cultivate each spring and summer.

My thirst and and hunger for the knowledge of anything and everything was, and remains, insatiable. This train, this beating artery, pumping from the birthplace of the city to its outer reaches, is what quenches my thirst and satiates my hunger. Riding the L not only gave me the access to pursue rowing, a liberal education, and volunteerism; it forged a sense of adventurousness deep into the synapses of my nerves, a sense driving me into the intersections of journalism, student government, fashion, and aiding my beautiful city. That first L ride instilled the interests that lie within me, passions that subsist on experiencing life at its fullest and engaging my sponge-like intellectuality. I thrive on discovery; It defines who I am.

(654/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A+
Exceptional
The essay is well-written, thoughtful, and showcases an impressive display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is creative and engaging. It stands out from other essays and is likely to make a strong impression on the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Great Vocabulary:

    This essay uses a variety of descriptive and compelling words, without seeming forced or unnatural. It is important that you use your best vocabulary, but don't go reaching for a thesaurus. Instead, use words that are the most descriptive, while remaining true to how you'd actually write.

  • Compelling Metaphors:

    This essay is one big metaphor: the "L" train serves as a vehicle to explore this student's intellectual curiosity. Throughout the essay, the student also incorporates creative metaphors like "the belly of a gargantuan silver beast" and "seventy-five cent silver chariot" that show a keen sense of expression. If a metaphor sounds like one you've heard before, you probably shouldn't use it.

  • Connects to Activities & Achievements:

    This student does a fantastic job of naturally talking about their activities. By connecting their activities to a common theme—in this case the "L" train—you can more easily move from one activity to the next, without seeming like you're just listing activities. This serves as an engaging way of introducing your extracurriculars and achievements, while still having the focus of your essay be on your interesting ideas.

  • Takes You Into Their World:

    Admissions officers are ultimately trying to get a sense of who you are. This student does a great job of taking the reader into their world. By sharing quirks and colloquialisms (i.e. specific language you use), you can create an authentic sense of personality.

Common App Essay Example #9: Mountaineering

Here's a liberal arts college Common App essay from Colby College. Colby is a highly ranked liberal arts college.

As with all colleges—but especially liberal arts schools—your personal essay will be a considerable factor.

In this essay, the student describes their experience climbing Mount Adams, and the physical and logistical preparations that went into it. They describe how they overcame some initial setbacks by using their organizational skills from previous expeditions.

This Colby student explains how the process of preparation can lead to success in academics and other endeavours, but with the potential for negative unintended consequences.

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)

Show Annotations

The night before I climb to the summit, I pack my bag carefully, making sure all my equipment is in its rightful place. Headlamp in the left pocket. Clif Bar (nauseating but necessary) next to my sleeping bag. Three unlocked carabiners on my harness. Extra layers, ropes, and ice axes diligently packed away. After a few hours of sleep, I wake up under the midnight moon, my brain foggy in the high altitude and grateful for the extra preparation.

Although I would love to say this sense of organization comes naturally, it only became habit after my first major mountaineering expedition. The summer after freshman year, I flew to Washington to climb Mt. Adams, a lofty 12,000-foot peak in the shadow of Rainier. My backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing experience gave me the technical skills I would need for mountaineering, which is essentially a combination of those three sports. But physical skills alone could not compensate for the logistical skills I lacked. Just twenty minutes before starting the climb, I scrambled to pack under the faint beam of my headlamp. My one a.m. brain betrayed me; I left all my food at base camp. I climbed as far as I could, but had to descend to camp before long. It was not safe for me to continue on without food.

This anecdote was not unique to one summit attempt, or the outdoors in general. In middle school, I constantly neglected to make flashcards and write down homework, and my grades, though good, suffered as a result. I left behind a trail of forgotten ski coats and misplaced textbooks, and few were surprised when parent-teacher conferences revolved around the word ‘careless’. But after that failed summit attempt, I created organizational systems for every subsequent kayaking, hiking, and mountaineering trip, and began to apply them beyond the trailhead. While high school isn’t exactly comparable to climbing mountains, I pack my backpack the night before, make flashcards weeks before tests, and always stash extra snacks for cross country. The preparation steals a few precious minutes of sleep, but in return, means honors societies and academic excellence.

These processes have led to academic success, but weren’t without flaw. I spent hours preparing for each challenge, and in return expected an A on every test and a successful summit of each mountain. I felt that the outcome should be in exact proportion to my effort. I failed to recognize that I can’t control every variable. Heading into a difficult summit attempt of Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in Washington’s Olympic Range, I was certain it would go my way. I was in great shape, had practiced all my knots and rope skills, and, of course, had packed the night before. Despite it being the most difficult mountain, I had attempted, I thought that due to the work I had put in, it was my right to summit. I was wrong.

The glacier leading up to the summit was calving, or shedding ice, too quickly. These glacial avalanches would be deadly, there was no other way to the summit, and it was totally out of my control. I was devastated. We ate Snickers, normally enjoyed on the summit, on the glacier staring up at the peak. Below our feet, swimming through the glacial crevasses, were ice worms: tiny, endemic invertebrates. I transformed my disappointment into an opportunity to slow down and research glaciers and their tiny microorganisms. Looking back, I’m not upset I didn’t summit. I learned about ice worms and watermelon snow algae, but more importantly that while I can’t control every outcome, I can always control my attitude. I won’t reach the peak of every mountain, ace every test, or win every cross-country race, no matter how hard I prepare. But I can do my best, enjoy the process, and embrace the outcome, even if it’s not exactly what I expected.

(647/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B+
Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a satisfactory display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is competent but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered favorably by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Central Theme and Metaphor:

    This essay does a great job of having a cohesive theme: mountaineering. Often times, great essay topics can be something simple on the surface, such as your favorite extracurricular activity or a notable experience. Consider using the literal activity as a sort of metaphor, like this essay does. This student uses mountaineering as a metaphor for preparation in the face of upcoming challenge. Using an overarching metaphor along with a central theme can be effective because it allows you to explore various ideas while having them all feel connected and cohesive.

  • Shows Vulnerability In Failure:

    Admissions officers want to see your self-growth, which doesn't always mean your successes. Often times, being vulnerable by expressing your struggles is powerful because it makes you more human and relatable, while providing the opportunity to reflect on what you learned. The best lessons from come failures, and writing about challenge can also make your later successes feel more impactful. Everyone loves to hear an underdog or zero-to-hero story. But counterintuitively, your failures are actually more important than your successes.

What They Might Improve:

  • Surface-Level Reflections:

    This essay has some nice ideas about focusing only on what's in your control: your attitude and your effort. However, these ideas are ultimately somewhat generic as they have been used countless times in admissions essays. Although ideas like this can be a good foundation, you should strive to reach deeper ideas. Deeper ideas are ones that are specific to you, unique, and interesting. You can reach deeper ideas by continually asking yourself "How" and "Why" questions that cause you to think deeper about a topic. Don't be satisfied with surface-level reflections. Think about what they represent more deeply, or how you can connect to other ideas or areas of your life.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #10: Boarding School

This personal essay was accepted to Claremont McKenna College. See how this student wrote a vulnerable essay about boarding school experience and their family relationship:

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)

I began attending boarding school aged nine.

Obviously, this is not particularly unusual – my school dorms were comprised of boys and girls in the same position as me. However, for me it was difficult – or perhaps it was for all of us; I don’t know. We certainly never discussed it.

I felt utterly alone, as though my family had abruptly withdrawn the love and support thatI so desperately needed. At first, I did try to open up to them during weekly phone calls, but what could they do? As months slipped by, the number of calls reduced. I felt they had forgotten me. Maybe they felt I had withdrawn from them. A vast chasm of distance was cracking open between us.

At first, I shared my hurt feelings with my peers, who were amazingly supportive, but there was a limit to how much help they could offer. After a while, I realized that by opening up, I was burdening them, perhaps even irritating them. The feelings I was sharing should have been reserved for family. So, I withdrew into myself. I started storing up my emotions and became a man of few words. In the classroom or on the sports field, people saw a self-confident and cheerful character, but behind that facade was someone who yearned for someone to understand him and accept him as he was.

Years went past.

Then came the phone call which was about to change my life. “Just come home Aryan, it’s really important!” My mother’s voice was odd, brittle. I told her I had important exams the following week, so needed to study. “Aryan, why don’t you listen to me? There is no other option, okay? You are coming home.”

Concerned, I arranged to fly home. When I got there, my sister didn’t say hi to me, my grandmother didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to see me and my mother was nowhere to be seen. I wanted to be told why I was called back so suddenly just to be greeted as though I wasn’t even welcome.

Then my mother then came out of her room and saw me. To my immense incredulity, she ran to me and hugged me, and started crying in my arms.

Then came the revelation, “Your father had a heart attack.”

My father. The man I hadn’t really talked to in years. A man who didn’t even know who I was anymore. I’d spent so long being disappointed in him and suspecting he was disappointed in me, I sunk under a flood of emotions.

I opened the door to his room and there he was sitting on his bed with a weak smile on his face. I felt shaken to my core. All at once it was clear to me how self-centered I had become. A feeling of humiliation engulfed me, but finally I realized that rather than wallow in it, I needed to appreciate I was not alone in having feelings.

I remained at home that week. I understood that my family needed me. I worked with my uncle to ensure my family business was running smoothly and often invited relatives or friends over to cheer my father up.

Most importantly, I spent time with my family. It had been years since I’d last wanted to do this – I had actively built the distance between us – but really, I’d never stopped craving it. Sitting together in the living room, I realized how badly I needed them.

Seeing happiness in my father’s eyes, I felt I was finally being the son he had always needed me to be: A strong, capable young man equipped to take over the family business if need be.

(551/650 words)

Common App Essay Example #11: My Father

This Cornell University essay is an example of writing about a tragedy, which can be a tricky topic to write about well.

Family and tragedy essays are a commonly used topic, so it can be harder to come up with a unique essay idea using these topics.

Let me know what you think of this essay for Cornell:

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)

Show Annotations

One in three victims of a heart attack don’t show any symptoms before it happens. Ninety-five percent of cardiac arrests that occur outside a hospital are fatal. These are not merely statistics. A heart attack redefined my life on November 21st, [Date].

It was a warm autumn morning, and I was raking leaves with my Boy Scout Troop to fundraise for our high adventure patrol’s 50-mile hike to summit Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I had left my house on my bike early, without telling my mom—she was asleep, and my dad was at work.

About an hour into raking, I saw my mother park nearby, and braced myself for a lecture about how my absence had freaked her out. No part of me imagined why she was actually there. Two words, delivered with the force of a Mack truck, “Dad died.” That morning on his routine break, his cardiac arteries became terminally obstructed. A heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest ensued. That was it. No goodbye, no I love you, none of that.

From there, my mind spiraled downward into an emotional void. I began to question my entire life—and how my father played into it. What did I last say to him? Did he know how much I loved him? I wanted to pinch myself and end the nightmare. But no, it was real life. In the subsequent weeks, there was no clarity or closure. The path I was travelling on was engulfed by thick fog. I questioned everything about life as I knew it: why do bad things happen to good people?—what does life mean?—how can I move forward?—how can the universe be so cruel? Three years later, I’m still searching for answers.

My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.

Looking at my reflection in my dresser mirror one afternoon, I was examining my bloodshot, teary eyes when I noticed an old sticker of a black and white eye. When I was ten or eleven, I had gotten into trouble for playing video games too much, cursing, or some other youthful infraction. I was in my room as punishment after being scolded, when my dad came in. He placed this simple sticker on the mirror, and said, “Just remember, I’m always watching over you, no matter where I am.” When this happened, I knew he was being contextual about making sure I didn’t misbehave—but after his death, it seemed so omniscient and transcendental. When I look at that sticker, I know he’s with me.

One of my dad’s favorite adages was, “If you really think you’re doing your best—and it’s still not enough—make your best better.” When he would scold me about my grades, I always thought he was just being a “stickler,” demanding perfection. I know now that he was just encouraging me to do and be my best. His words have become my credo. During the entire year after his death, there were more than a few “firsts without dad”—first Christmas, first birthday, first Father’s Day, but also the first time I truly motivated myself. I think of my dad often, but never more than when I am pushing myself to succeed.

One in three victims are unaware they’re about to have a heart attack? Ninety five percent of cardiac arrest victims die? These statistics are just not good enough for me. As my dad would say, it’s time to make our best better to combat heart disease. My father is more than a statistic. His wisdom lives within me. When I face life’s obstacles, I know I can conquer them with him on my side.

(634/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A-
Very Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Deals With Tragedy, Without Garnering Sympathy:

    Writing about tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, is a tricky topic because it has been used countless times in college admissions. It is difficult to not come off as a "victim" or that you're trying to garner sympathy by using the topic (i.e. a "sob story"). This essay does a great job of writing about a personal tragedy in a meaningful and unique way by connecting to values and ideas, rather than staying focused on what literally happened. By connecting tragedy to lessons and takeaways, you can show how—despite the difficulty and sorrow—you have gained something positive from it, however small that may be. Don't write about personal tragedy because you think "you should." As with any topic, only write about it if you have a meaningful point to make.

  • Brings You Into Their World:

    This essay is effective at making the reader feel the similar emotions as the author does and in bringing the reader into their "world." Even small remarks like noting the the "firsts" without their loved one are powerful because it is relatable and something that is apparent, but not commonly talked about. Using short phrases like "That was it. No goodbye, no I love you..." create emphasis and again a sense of relatability. As the reader, you can vividly imagine how the author must have felt during these moments. The author also uses questions, such as "What did I last say to him?" which showcase their thought process, another powerful way to bring the reader into your world.

  • Shows Change In Perspective:

    Admissions officers are looking for self-growth, which can come in a variety of forms. Showing a new perspective is one way to convey that you've developed over time, learned something new, or gained new understanding or appreciation. In this essay, the student uses the "sticker of a black and white eye" to represent how they viewed their father differently before and after his passing. By using a static, unchanging object like this, and showing how you now view it differently over time, you convey a change in perspective that can make for interesting reflections.

Common App Essay Example #12: DMV Trials

Here's a funny Common App essay from a Northwestern admitted student about getting their driver's license.

This topic has been used before—as many "topics" have—but what's important is having a unique take or idea.

What do you think of this Northwestern essay?

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)

Show Annotations

Seatbelt on. Mirrors adjusted. Key in the ignition. I am ready to roll. I am sitting in the parking lot of a DMV with a small Hispanic lady with overly drawn-on eyebrows in the passenger seat. In her hands, she holds a beige clipboard and a pen that looks as though it has been half-eaten by some underfed pomeranian. Oh wait, it’s not the pomeranian, it’s her. She is now gnawing on her pen. Oh gosh, Emily don’t focus on that; focus on how you’re going to pull out of this parking lot. I am panting heavily. All of the sweat that was once flowing from my body is now on the steering wheel.

Breath, Emily, breath. I drive to the exit and face a four-lane roadway. “Turn left,” my passenger says.

“Okay,” I mutter back. I can do this. I can totally do this. I am Emily [Name] for goodness sake. The Emily [Name] who is president of student council, Failure is not in my vocabulary; it never has been, and it never will be. I proceed in driving. “Stop!” Oh no. I look to my right to see the examiner grip the ceiling handle with all her might; her eyes simulate the expression her penciled-on eyebrows were portraying all along. I am in the middle of the roadway; cars are heading towards me in all directions. At that moment, I know I failed.

March 25, [Date], is a day that will live in infamy. The day I experienced failure. Unaccepting of my loss, I blamed my driving incompetence on my mother’s Chrysler minivan, which had what I liked to call “touchy brakes.” My father was good at agreeing with me, adding on with “it’s too foggy out” and “maybe you’re wearing the wrong shoes.” Assigning responsibility for my ineptitude to a pair of sneakers was far easier than admitting that I just wasn’t good at driving. So, with my ego still at large, I decided to take the driver’s test again the following weekend.

April 1, [Date], is another day that will live in infamy. The day I experienced failure for the second time. I failed my road test again, but not for the same reason as before. This time I actually made it out of the parking lot. However, I did in fact run over a curb and blow a stop sign. I didn’t receive as much sympathy as I did for my earlier attempt. It wasn’t the car nor the shoes this time. It was me. I failed my driver’s test all on my own. Now, any normal, rational human being would probably call this “not a big deal,” but to my high-strung sixteen-year old-self, it was a big deal. How could I have failed something that ninety percent of my class mastered on their first try?

My entire life, I had been accustomed to excelling in whatever I did. Whether it was in school work or extracurriculars, my life ran on a simple input-output system. I would put the hard work in and out would come immediate success.

On July 29, [Date], I finally got my license. After the April debacle, I practiced driving almost every week. I learned to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets, the things I apparently didn’t know how to do during my first two tests. When pulling into the parking lot with the examiner for the last time, a wave of relief washed over me.

“Third time’s the charm,” the lazy-eyed instructor told me. I was ecstatic! For the first time in my life, I was licensed in driving as well as licensed in resilience. My experiences at the DMV taught me that failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward. As I peer down the long road ahead, I am no longer afraid to conquer any bump in my path.

(668/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
C+
Needs Improvement
The essay is written competently but may be lacking in areas such as showcasing of ideas and genuine personality, and the writing style may not be as engaging. It is likely to require revisions before given a more favorable consideration by the admissions committee
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Strong Storytelling:

    This essay does a good job of having a compelling narrative. By setting the scene descriptively, it is easy to follow and makes for a pleasant reading experience. However, avoid excessive storytelling, as it can overshadow your reflections, which are ultimately most important.

What They Might Improve:

  • Overly Critical/Negative:

    This essay has some moments where the author may come off as being overly critical, of either themselves or of others. Although it is okay (and good) to recognize your flaws, you don't want to portray yourself in a negative manner. Avoid being too negative, and instead try to find the positive aspects when possible.

  • Lacks Reflection:

    More important than your stories is the answer to "So what?" and why they matter. Avoid writing a personal statement that is entirely story-based, because this leaves little room for reflection and to share your ideas. In this essay, the reflections are delayed to the end and not as developed as they could be.

  • Failure Is Good:

    In this essay, it comes across that failure is negative. Although the conclusion ultimately has a change of perspective in that "failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward," it doesn't address that failure is ultimately a positive thing. Admissions officers want to see failure and your challenges, because overcoming those challenges is what demonstrates personal growth.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #13: Ice Cream Fridays

This Columbia essay starts off with a vulnerable moment of running for school president. The student goes on to show their growth through Model UN, using detailed anecdotes and selected moments.

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)

Show Annotations

“Ice cream Fridays!” “Two hours of recess!” 500 middle schoolers stood and cheered, pounding their feet on the bleachers. Declan was the popular star quarterback and my opponent for school president. He looked like an adult in a tailored suit, gesturing with his hands, never checking his notes, casting looks at the girls sitting in the front row. He had long wavy hair, a smooth complexion, and charisma. I sat in my polyester blue blazer and rumpled khakis. I was becoming more emasculated and filled with self-doubt with each chant.

I had the best platform ideas and my aunt helped paint two dozen campaign posters. The year before, I carried the weight in student council while Declan skipped half our meetings. I was sure I could win. I clomped to the mic in my dad’s dress shoes. I read my long speech from my notes without enthusiasm. My only applause came from a couple of friends who felt bad for me.

Later, in high school, math and programming made sense to me — people didn’t. At a Model UN meeting, confident upperclassmen talked about the power of persuasion and public speaking. I felt like I didn’t belong, but their command of the stage made me want to be a part of it. At my first conference, representing Brazil’s humanitarian policies, I had developed what I thought was a brilliant proposal. I was confident and was the first to raise my placard. I had so many ideas but when I took the mic, I didn’t know where to start. I rambled on about background and never got to my main points. I felt foolish for thinking I was going to be so effective. My highwater pants and my sleeves hanging over my fingers added to my insecurity.

I continued this pattern of my speaking skills not matching my confidence in the quality of my ideas. To compensate, I increased the intensity of my preparation. I’d fill a binder with hundreds of research documents, I immersed myself in my roles. I mistakenly assumed that good ideas alone would be enough to win. At one conference, two delegates asked me to join their bloc to get access to my ideas with no intention of giving me a meaningful role. They saw me purely as a policy wonk.

My fascination with geopolitical and economic issues were what kept me committed to MUN. But by the end of sophomore year, the co-presidents were fed up. “Henry, we know how hard you try, but there are only so many spots for each conference...” said one. “You’re wasting space, you should quit,” said the other.

Nevertheless, I persisted. My junior year I ran for club secretary. Automating attendance and quantitative projects were my inclination. But members saw me as a younger, less intimidating officer, and started coming to me for guidance. When Gabby, a freshman, came to me for advice, I tried to pass her off to the co-presidents. She was terrified of speaking at conferences, and I didn’t know how to express my empathy. “They aren’t going to take me seriously, I don’t have charisma, I’m too short!” I saw my own insecurities in her. I didn’t feel like I was qualified to help, but I reminded her of the passion she had shown in meetings. Gradually, I became a mentor to her and many others. I was enjoying supporting them and was gratified by guiding their growth as delegates. One sophomore even anointed me “MUN soccer mom.”

On the bus to her first conference, Gabby was in a panic, but throughout the day I saw her confidence grow. When she won Outstanding Delegate, beyond anyone’s expectations, our whole row erupted in wild cheers. When my name was also called shortly after, it felt anticlimactic. I was far more proud of succeeding in my new role as a mentor than I was of my own award.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B+
Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a satisfactory display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is competent but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered favorably by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Strong Narrative:

    This essay has a compelling story, starting from this author's early struggles with public speaking and developing into their later successes with Model UN. Using a central theme—in this case public speaking—is an effective way of creating a cohesive essay. By having a main idea, you can tie in multiple moments or achievements without them coming across unrelated.

  • Shows Humility:

    This student talks about their achievements with a humble attitude. To reference your successes, it's equally important to address your failures. By expressing your challenges, it will make your later achievements seem more impactful in contrast. This student also is less "me-focused" and instead is interested in others dealing with the same struggles. By connecting to people in your life, values, or interesting ideas, you can reference your accomplishments without coming off as bragging.

What They Might Improve:

  • Needs More Reflection:

    This essay has moments of reflection, such as "math and programming made sense... people didn't". However, most of these ideas are cut short, without going much deeper. When you strike upon a potentially interesting idea, keep going with it. Try to explain the nuances, or broaden your idea to more universal themes. Find what is most interesting about your experience and share that with admissions.

  • Unnecessary Descriptions:

    Stories are important, but make sure all your descriptions are critical for the story. In this essay, the author describes things that don't add to the story, such as the appearance of other people or what they were wearing. These ultimately don't relate to their main idea—overcoming public speaking challenges—and instead are distracting.

Common App Essay Example #14: Key to Happiness

Here's a Brown University application essay that does a great job of a broad timeline essay. This student shows the change in their thinking and motivations over a period of time, which makes for an interesting topic.

Let me know what you think of this Brown essay:

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (250-650 words)

Show Annotations

If you are not the first, you are one of the rest. I always thought this was the key to happiness. Even when I was an infant, my mom used to say that I chose the people who could carry me. There were only two people: my mom and my sister, not even my dad.

Growing up, I always wanted to be the best in everything. And I was for the most part. I have a bunch of certificates: first in elocution competition, debates, patriotic song competitions, fancy dress, story narration, top 1% in the Macmillan math Olympiad, etc. In all the parent-teacher meetings, every teacher would say that my parents were blessed to have such a child and no one else stood a chance.

Everything went great until I came second in the fifth grade in the annual examination. I just could not admit that I got defeated, that someone else was better than me. As the middle school period is when “who is the prettiest girl in class” came up, I lost there as well. Since that mattered a lot during the puberty stage, that cost me my confidence. I stopped talking to my friends because I thought they had this perception of me being ugly. It went to such an extent that I thought my parents felt the same way, so I’d never let them attend the parent-teacher meetings. I stopped participating in many activities.

Then the ultimate burst: my sister, the one whom I’d let hold me, moved to the United States. That was the rock bottom; I felt so lonely and lost. I just isolated myself because I felt so insecure. I was afraid to be with myself. Still, I lingered on and immersed myself in something I knew I was good at and did not have to be social: academics. Then came the eighth grade. This was the most crucial period of my life. Just keep reading and you’ll know why.

This was when I was introduced to programming, and since I was always inclined to problem-solving and logical analysis, I was fascinated. When I could solve the problems my tutor gave me, I felt like I was solving problems in my real life and started to regain control (as I was when I was a baby). That’s how my passion for programming started. I delved further into this. This made me come out of that pitch-black pit. In my tenth-grade board exam, I was one among the few to get the perfect score in computer science. But I wasn’t ready to let this go after the tenth grade. I gave up a relaxed life for the Android development classes during my tenth-grade summer vacations.

When I published my first app in the Google play store, I realized that this was the happiest I had ever been. So, does it make you happy if you are the best at everything? When was I the happiest— when I was the best at everything or when I was programming? The truth is that the former happiness was fleeting. It was for those few words of my teachers or my peers, but the latter was real. It’s true, that was harder to achieve but when I did come past all those little runtime errors and crashes, it made my day. So, the answer to the question is ‘no’. What makes you happy is you pursuing your passion.

The outcome: my attitude towards life changed. Nothing could pull me down anymore. Even if I didn’t top my class, I was happy because I knew my happiness was independent. The sheer spirit of chasing my dreams makes me happy. I will work hard to achieve them. You create your own destiny.

(622/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
C+
Needs Improvement
The essay is written competently but may be lacking in areas such as showcasing of ideas and genuine personality, and the writing style may not be as engaging. It is likely to require revisions before given a more favorable consideration by the admissions committee
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • English As A Second Language:

    This student's first language is not English, which provides some insight into why the phrasing may not seem as natural or show as much personality. Admissions officers are holistic in determining who to admit, meaning they take into account many different factors when judging your essays. While this essay may not be the strongest, the applicant probably had other qualities or "hooks" that helped them get accepted, such as awards, activities, unique background, etc. Plus, there is some leniency granted to students who don't speak English as their first language, because writing essays in a foreign language is tough in and of itself.

What They Might Improve:

  • Overly Self-Confident:

    It's good to be confident in your achievements, but you don't want to come across as boastful or self-assured. In this essay, some of the phrasing such as "when I was the best at everything" seems exaggerated and is off-putting. Instead of boosting your accomplishments, write about them in a way that almost "diminishes" them. Connect your achievements to something bigger than you: an interesting idea, a passionate cause, another person or group. By not inflating your achievements, you'll come across more humble and your achievements will actually seem more impactful. We all have heard of a highly successful person who thinks "it's no big deal," which actually makes their talents seem far more impressive.

  • Lacks Unique And Deep Ideas:

    This essay has some takeaways and reflections, as your essay should too, but ultimately these ideas are unoriginal and potentially cliché. Ideas like "what makes you happy is pursing your passion" are overused and have been heard thousands of times by admissions officers. Instead, focus on getting to unique and "deep" ideas: ideas that are specific to you and that have meaningful implications. It's okay to start off with more surface-level ideas, but you want to keep asking questions to yourself like "Why" and "How" to push yourself to think deeper. Try making connections, asking what something represents more broadly, or analyzing something from a different perspective.

  • Unnecessary And Repetitive Sentences:

    You don't need to preface your ideas in your essay. Don't say things like "I later found out this would be life-changing, and here's why." Instead, just jump into the details that are most compelling. In this essay, there are moments that seem repetitive and redundant because they don't add new ideas and instead restate what's already been said in different words. When editing your essay, be critical of every sentence (and even words) by asking: Does this add something new to my essay? Does it have a clear, distinct purpose? If the answer is no, you should probably remove that sentence.

Common App Essay Example #15: Discovering Passion

Here's a Johns Hopkins essay that shows how the student had a change in attitude and perspective after taking a summer job at a care facility.

It may seem odd to write about your potential drawbacks or weaknesses—such as having a bad attitude towards something—but it's real and can help demonstrate personal growth.

So tell me your thoughts on this JHU Common App 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)

Show Annotations

"If I'll have to be around the old people, I'm not working there. I just don't feel comfortable around them. I mean, I can't even understand what they're saying half the time!"

Dismissively, I rejected my father's nagging proposal that I apply for a summer job at a local long-term care center, arguing that I'd lose my patience much too quickly in attempting to interact with elderly residents. However, with my father being, well, my father, I reluctantly filled out a job application, reluctantly attended an interview, and, 5 days later, reluctantly commuted to an orientation for my position as a 'resident partner'. Although I initially viewed the job as a prison sentence which I had been condemned to serve for 8 hours per day, the care center would eventually come to serve as a clarion call, challenging each and every preconceived notion I held in regards to a globally misunderstood population, and by extension facilitate the development of a more socially conscious personal character.

From the moment I stepped foot in the care center that would soon become a home-away-from-home for the length of my summer, the entirety of my perspective concerning senior citizens was entirely turned upon its head. These elderly persons were nothing near the stereotypical portrayals of the generational group which I had taken at face value and had accepted to be unalterably true; these individuals appeared to be exactly that: individuals. These individuals laughed as if no-one were watching, grinning from ear to ear. These individuals wore expressions of abandonment, fighting against tears of sorrow. These individuals engaged in enthusiastic conversation with acquaintances, recounting the latest achievement of a granddaughter. These individuals engaged in solitary introspection, attempting (albeit unsuccessfully) to piece together distant memories of a late wife. Where I had inserted my simplistic view of senior citizens as a static monolith, these individuals showcased a mosaic of human emotion, destroying the ideological box I had structured around their collective identity.

Nonetheless, while the past notions which I had nurtured were quickly deprived of their vitality as a direct consequence of the myriad behaviors exhibited by the care center's residents, I developed a more comprehensive and impactful understanding of the elderly population through my interactions with residents suffering from neural afflictions, namely a frail, endearing woman named Constance.

Resultant of the frequency with which Constance and her wheelchair seemed to bump into me, it happened that a friendship blossomed between she and I. Revealing to me one afternoon that she had endured a stroke decades ago, Constance passively lamented the implications of such an experience, among which existed a speech impediment compromising the ease with which she could engage in conversation. For some odd reason or another, this confession served as a catalyst, utterly decimating any remnant of my elementary view in regards to this social demographic. Perhaps owing to the intimate nature of such a statement, or perhaps owing to the period of introspection such a statement encouraged within me, Constance's words facilitated a realization of the depth of the innumerably varied experiences undergone by senior citizens. Not only did Constance demonstrate to me the dynamic, rounded character of elderly individuals; Constance unwittingly offered me a glimpse into the unfortunate reality that neural diseases are deeply misunderstood, resulting in the reduction of afflicted persons to the definition and symptoms of their disease.

Armed with a newfound awareness of the subtle dehumanization suffered by those found in circumstances mirroring Constance's, my interest in the function and coordination of the brain and its activity was magnified. Moreover, my tentative decision to pursue a career in neurology—in order to reduce the marginalization of elderly individuals by means of amplifying general knowledge concerning neurological diseases—was solidified.

Regardless of whether this aspiration comes to pass, or I head down a different path, it will remain true that I left my summer job with so much more than a paycheck.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B
Satisfactory
The essay is written competently and demonstrates a reasonable display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as compelling as other essays. It is likely to be considered adequately by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Compelling Introduction:

    This student uses vulnerability in admitting that they held preconceived notions about the elderly before this experience. The quote introduces these preconceived notions well, while the description of how this student got their job in the care facility is also engaging.

  • Shows Human Connection:

    Admission officers love to see your interactions with others. Showing how you interact reveals a lot about your character, and this essay benefits from reflecting upon the student's relationship with a particular elderly individual.

What They Might Improve:

  • Overly Descriptive Writing:

    It is good to be descriptive, but only when it supports your expression of ideas. In this essay, the author uses adjectives and adverbs excessively, without introducing new ideas. Your ideas are more important than having a diverse vocabulary, and the realizations in this essay are muddled by rephrasing similar ideas using seemingly "impressive," but ultimately somewhat meaningless, vocabulary.

  • Too Repetitive:

    This essay touches on some interesting ideas, but on multiple occasions these ideas are repeated just in different phrasing. If you have already expressed an idea, don't repeat it unless you're adding something new: a deeper context, a new angle, a broadened application, etc. Ask yourself: what is the purpose of each sentence, and have I expressed it already?

  • Potentially Cliché Topic:

    It's true that almost any topic can make for a strong essay, but certain topics are trickier because they make it easy to write about overly used ideas. In this essay, the main idea can be summarized as: "I realized the elderly were worthy humans too." It touches upon more interesting ideas, such as how people can be reduced down to their afflictions rather than their true character, but the main idea is somewhat surface-level.

Common App Essay Example #16: "A Cow Gave Birth"

This Common App essay for the University of Pennsylvania centers on the theme of womanhood. Not only is it well-written, but this essay has interesting and unique ideas that relate to the student's interests.

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)

Show Annotations

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland. While my country-bound aunt and cousin were barely phased, the scene struck my young and sheltered eyes. Along with a whirlwind of emotions, the unrestrained act of parturition triggered a feeling of warmth I will never forget.

Years later I learned in biology that all women are biologically nurturing, physically and emotionally. What did that mean? At that point in my life, I could truly make no connection. My idea of femininity was locked in what society had shown me thus far. Femininity was wearing dresses, applying makeup, cheerleading, and giggling near the most popular jock in the entire middle school. In other words, things I did not exactly partake in.

But as I sat in the classroom, I didn’t think about my gender or how I relate to what society considers to be female. Rather, the discussion brought me back to that hot car, parked in front of that special birthing cow. I witnessed the essence of biological femininity as that cow radiated love and affection to her calf immediately after his arrival into the world. The cow represented the epitome of femininity: nurturement and selflessness.

As I have considered the idea of “biological femininity”, I have for years questioned how I fit in with that term. Admittedly, I stray far from the stereotypical female. However, according to developmental neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and studies of sex-based cognitive differences, I am empathetic and intuitive, and prefer language over logic— and that was all I needed. Through the birth of a calf, I realized that I did not need to be interested in “girl things” to be a girl. I did not need a characterized maternal figure to show me how to be a young lady. I certainly did not need a man to tell me how to be a woman. The qualities I possess internally give me all the femininity I need to be a female. There was no definition beyond that, nothing society could paint. That, I believed, was absolutely beautiful.

The future is female. Now that I am beginning to understand the fluidity of femininity, hearing those words empowers me. There are endless ways to live the female experience, no one experience more valid than another. Creativity, intuition, kindness, and love are the roots of femininity, while whatever blooms is up to the individual. With my roots firmly planted, I only need the opportunity to grow to create my future.

When I began thinking of a future field of study and career, I didn’t hesitate; I knew I wanted to work with women. After my struggle with femininity, nothing else intrigued me more. The birth of the cow seven years ago was my inciting incident. My story must include the love, warmth, and beauty of that day. To be a part of the birth story of others entering this world and to study the life and love that preceded is my goal. Eventually, through whatever it takes, I will become an OB/GYN so I can work with women daily, helping teenagers through puberty and educating on sexuality, supporting women through their personal challenges, and assisting in the life-changing act of childbirth. I am dedicated to the future of women.

A cow gave birth and I watched. That experience helped me to become the powerful, strong-minded, and passionate young woman I am today. In pursuing a doctorate I hope to encourage and guide other women to be their own best self and show through my actions and story that there is no one version of womanhood that is “right”, perhaps influencing a new generation.

(641/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A-
Very Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #17: Robotics

This Common App essay was for Washington University in St. Louis.

This student writes about their experience creating and using an engineering notebook to better document their robotics progress. They share the story of how their dedication and perseverance led to winning awards and qualifying for the national championships.

Lastly, they reflect on the importance of following one's passions in life and decision to pursue a business degree instead of a engineering one.

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)

Show Annotations

My drooping eyes fluttered, biding time before my inevitable descent into a well-deserved slumber. My hand scratched on with determination as I reflected on the past VEX robotics season in my engineering notebook. As I penned my final entry, the once heavy strokes of ink regressed into nothingness, and the cartridge breathed its last, one final victim of my notebook. With an internal salute, I disposed of the pen and retrieved another to finish my reflection. When finally content with my writings, I clicked my pen shut and let out a deep sigh of closure before sauntering up to my bed. As I lay down, I realized that my dedication to my engineering notebook had concluded a crucial leg in my journey toward further education and adulthood. My mind wandered back to the beginning.

Going into my freshman year, my high school's VEX Robotics program personified the proverbial David facing other organizations’ Goliaths. With only one adviser, our poorly funded team struggled to compete with the private clubs who could access high-tech engineering rooms stocked abundantly with building materials. Despite the program’s frugality, my team successfully qualified for the Wisconsin State Championship in my freshman and, then, sophomore year. During those years we earned respect throughout the VEX community, but we never procured any awards that would solidify our program’s competitiveness. To win awards, teams must document their robotics progress in an engineering notebook. During my junior year, with the desire to improve my VEX club’s prestige, I volunteered to create the notebook. At the time, I feared the commitment, never anticipating the unforeseen rewards.

As I progressed through my junior year, I crafted the engineering notebook assiduously; I set timetables, documented brainstorming sessions, and sketched potential designs all in hopes of winning an award to validate my team. With the first competition approaching, my team spent countless hours building and coding the robot, constantly overcoming the challenges presented by our lack of building materials. In spare moments between schoolwork and VEX, I worked feverishly on the notebook. When competition day arrived, I worried that all our hard work would be unavailing. Despite my apprehensions, we performed exceptionally, and we went on to win the tournament.

Furthermore, my team won the Design Award, which recognizes the best engineering notebook. I felt momentarily overjoyed, but I realized that perseverance could potentially multiply our success. Upon arriving home, I withdrew to my room and continued my meticulous work in my engineering notebook. By the time the State Championship arrived, teams from around Wisconsin respected our program. We were no longer underdogs; rather, we were fierce competitors. At State, we won the CREATE Award for a well-documented and creative design solution, and we qualified for the CREATE US Open Championship. Representing Wisconsin at the national level was the greatest honor of my life. Reshuffling my pillow, my reverie ceased as I considered how my experience creating the engineering notebook taught me invaluable life lessons of tenacity and diligence. I thought about how I no longer bore a childish fear of commitments; instead, I embraced new challenges. Moreover, I realized the notebook enhanced my time management skills both in the short-term and in the long-term. I often worked ahead on homework to leave time for writing, and I learned to make decisions about the overall timeline of our project.

Above all, however, the notebook helped me realize that I should study business instead of following the typical VEX participant’s engineering path. I found my niche when I focused on project management with the notebook instead of concentrating on the specifics of the robot. In a final wink of consciousness, I felt true happiness knowing that my hard work had paid off. Then I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

(628/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
C+
Needs Improvement
The essay is written competently but may be lacking in areas such as showcasing of ideas and genuine personality, and the writing style may not be as engaging. It is likely to require revisions before given a more favorable consideration by the admissions committee
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

What They Might Improve:

  • Lacks Deep Ideas Or Reflection:

    This essay touches on various lessons that they've learned as a result of their experience doing robotics. However, these lessons are ultimately surface-level and generic, such as "I embraced new challenges." Although these could be a starting point for deeper ideas, on their own they come off as unoriginal and overused. Having interesting ideas is what makes an essay the most compelling, and you need to delve deeply into reflection, past the surface-level takeaways. When drafting and brainstorming, keep asking yourself questions like "How" and "Why" to dig deeper. Ask "What does this represent? How does it connect to other things? What does this show about myself/the world/society/etc.?"

  • Glosses Over Details/Topic:

    Although this essay is focused on "VEX robotics," the details of what that activity involves are not elaborated. Rather than focusing on the surface-level descriptions like "We competed and won," it would be more engaging to delve into the details. What did your robot do? How did you compete? What were the specific challenges in "lacking building materials"? Use visuals and imagery to create a more engaging picture of what you were doing.

  • Weak Intro/Conclusion:

    The hook and ending sentences of "drifting off to sleep" feel arbitrary and not at all connected to any ideas throughout the essay. Instead, it comes off as a contrived choice to create a "full circle" essay. Although coming full circle is often a good strategy, there should be a specific purpose in doing so. For your intro, try using a short sentence that creates emphasis on something interesting. For the conclusion, try using similar language to the intro, expanding upon your ideas to more universal takeaways, or connecting back to previous ideas with a new nuance.

Common App Essay Example #18: Lab Research

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)

Show Annotations

I remove the latex gloves from my hands. I oscillate between looking at the rats enclosed in the acoustic startle chambers to my right, and my team project advisor to my left. A silver lab table, cluttered with syringes, vials, and countless notes, separates me and him. A lab rat’s cage sits at the center like a cornucopia. I begin to sit on a cold lab stool, and upon confirming that the Startle Reflex software is indeed running, I settle into my seat. Though the atmosphere smells faintly of urine, I am comfortable.

These lazy afternoons collecting data defined my experience at the Governor’s School in the Sciences. Our team would spend hours with the acoustic startle chambers, startling rats in the presence of anxiogenic pheromones from other rodent urine in order to evaluate their altered behavioral responses — freezing, excessive grooming, urination, that sort of thing. Turns out, scaring rats enough to pee their pants takes a long time.

My team project advisor, Zach, made these long hours, not only bearable, but pivotal in my understanding of the applied sciences. Zach was the youngest counselor at GSS and was definitely the easiest to talk to. He would always entertain me and my peers with tales of his college club’s calls for divestment in the fossil fuel industry. He relayed to us an inspiring tale: one day, while completing some organic chemistry assignment, Zach felt the commanding urge to start a protest. Against the backdrop of the divisive presidential election of 2016, Zach felt increasingly frustrated by a general feeling of listlessness amid a rapidly transforming world. He eventually found environmental activism, drawing on his scientific background, as a vehicle to make tangible change in the global landscape. And while Zach’s angsty musings were easy to tease, always ornamented with quintessential frat-boy idiosyncrasies, like the overuse of the words “bro” and “yo,” they forced me to consider my own passions in the context of scientific inquiry. Zach, motivated by the pregnant intersection between environmental science and civic engagement, oriented my own career goals in a very profound way.

Prior to GSS, I had always found myself trying to mediate between my interests in public policy and science, from obsessively reading about America’s diplomatic relations to Middle East, to madly teaching myself about the neuroscientific underpinnings of behavior. Zach’s endeavors, his involvement in activism while studying science, revealed an entire sphere between two worlds where my own passions in both could finally coincide. The fruitful conversations I had with Zach demanded that I consider the pragmatic applications of the research we were doing, engaging with the real world in the same manner he had.

Researching chemical signaling in rodents was an exploration of the social transmission of fear in humans — a study with numerous political applications, especially in today’s age of demagogic political rhetoric. Indeed, a rat gaining awareness of a fearful situation is analogous to a human’s awareness of a fearful situation; hysteria in large groups has often lent to social chaos, falling victim to the same conspecific negotiations as in our rodent study. Application of our study in a political context made me realize that my interests are interwoven, though kaleidoscopic.

At GSS, whether it be in the lectures I listened to or the labs I did, my professors borrowed ideas from all fields alike; political implications arising in neuroscientific research, cultural anthropology in human evolution — even philosophical inquiries appeared in courses on special relativity. I loved every academic excursion onto these intellectual, peripheral avenues, as they always contextualized science in a broader sense. This interdisciplinary way of thinking is where I have found my passions to reside, inspired by Zach’s ruminations on activism amid a place of such intellectual vitality; I know this is, not only where complex solutions to the world's problems reside, but where my future does too.

(644/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B-
Adequate
The essay is written competently but may not showcase a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered as average by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Common App Essay Example #19: Carioca Dance

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)

Show Annotations

Watching my coach demonstrate the drill, it seemed so simple. But when I tried to do the Carioca drill (it sounds like “karaoke”, but doesn’t involve wailing into a microphone - it’s more like shuffling sideways while doing the Irish jig), everything fell apart.

Left foot back, right foot in front, left foot...where does it go again? Too late, I realized - I tripped over my feet and fell flat on my face as my teammates started laughing. “Saad, let’s see you dance again!” my teammate called out to me as we got ready to repeat the drill on the way back.

Everyone grinned and watched in anticipation. I swallowed my pride and tried to Carioca in the other direction and stumbled yet again, as my teammates continued to laugh. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this drill”, I thought to myself.

As the practices wore on, the drill changed. Instead of being called Cariocas, the drills were now named after me - “Saads”. Pretty ironic, right? At the start of every practice, I would try the Carioca like everybody else and miserably fail. I would stumble, or trip, or, worse, I would end up doing a full frontal.

In order to avoid embarrassment, I began doing the drills as fast as possible. My “diving in head first” approach (literally and figuratively) definitely wasn’t working. Then at the start of the new season, I tried something different. As everyone quickly did the Carioca across the field, I slowly put each foot in front of the next. It was painstakingly slow, and everyone laughed as I practically crawled across the field. I began doing this every practice. It was a painful process - everyone laughed day after day as I tried to slowly work on perfecting Cariocas. With each practice, I got better. I gradually began stumbling over my own feet less. Until one day, I was doing them at full speed.

I’ve become more flexible and quicker on my feet now that I can do Cariocas and It was like the pattern of the Cariocas, but instead of my feet, it was my mouth that made me afraid I would look clumsy. Like the Cariocas, avoiding or rushing through the problem wasn’t helping me. Instead, I practiced talking in front of stuffed animals, then in front of the mirror, and before I knew it, I was giving a presentation at a Future Business Leaders of America conference in front of judges who gave me great reviews.

Other places off of the lacrosse field, I found myself stumbling there also – interacting with customers at Kohl’s or with patients at the hospital. Instead of tripping over my feet with customers, now working at Kohl’s I find myself being able to connect and assist customers much better – something that seemed so easy to do, but I always tried to rush through because of my fear of embarrassment. I had become a robot programmed to ask how someone's day was, instead of actually engaging and meeting new, interesting, complex people.

Now, I can “Carioca” with them, as well as all of the patients at the hospital I volunteer at. I’ve stopped tripping over my own feet, and it’s led to me not being afraid to connect and interact with patients and customers or present in front of large crowds. Life is just one long Carioca – you might stumble at first, but if you keep pushing, the right feet will find themselves in the right place.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A
Excellent
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to be very well-received by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Conversational Tone:

    Having a natural-sounding style of writing can be a great way of conveying personality. This student does a fantastic job of writing as they'd speak, which lets admissions officers create a clear "image" of who you are in their head. By writing naturally and not robotically, you can create a "voice" and add character to your essay.

  • Central Theme and Metaphor:

    This student chooses a unique activity, the Carioca drill, as their main topic. By choosing a "theme" like this, it allows you to easily and naturally talk about other activities too, without seeming like you're simply listing activities. This student uses the Carioca as a metaphor for overcoming difficulties and relates it to their other activities and academics—public speaking and their job experience.

  • Uses Humor and Humility:

    Showing a sense of humor can indicate wit, which not only makes you seem more likeable, but also conveys self-awareness. By not always taking yourself 100% seriously, you can be more relatable to the reader. This student acknowledges their struggles in conjunction with using humor ("the drills were not named after me—'Saads'"), which shows a recognition that they have room to improve, while not being overly self-critical.

Common App Essay Example #20: Chinese Language

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)

Show Annotations

A few weeks before freshman year of high school, I stood and stared wide eyed in front of the fortress that is Lincoln. I was there on a mission. Today, I would choose the language I’d take for the next four years.

The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”

About an hour prior, my mom told me, “You need to take Spanish! You could do so much with it.” A couple days before that, multitudes of people advised me that I would regret taking anything other than Spanish.

There’s nothing wrong with Spanish, but I didn’t have a hunger for it. It didn’t seem appetizing. At first glance, I knew what I wanted. I wanted Chinese, and it was mine the moment I laid eyes on it.

I excelled in Chinese class. I passed every test with flying colors. I remembered Chinese characters like they were the names of my best friends. I could converse. Chinese attached itself to every part of my life. I translated anything I could get my hands on, like magazines and menus. It even infiltrated my dreams. I dreamt of radicals and the past life of every character. The only thing I had to do now was visit China.

China was like a far off wish, though. Until it wasn’t. A trip to China was in our school’s future. My mom couldn’t pay for a trip, though. She can’t work because of her disabilities, and I have three other siblings as well as a nephew all in one house. But I didn’t let that dissuade me, because China was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let slip away. I started a GoFundMe page, did other fundraisers, and asked for personal donations until I finally reached the whopping total of $5,500. That money covered a passport, visa, plane ticket, and a 9-day guided educational tour as well as extra spending money.

As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.

Everywhere I looked there were people who spoke the language I loved, Mandarin, so I did what any rational person would do. I made conversation. I talked to moms, kids, seniors, middle schoolers, high schoolers, store clerks, food vendors, and grocery attendants. The list could go on.

Being able to talk with people who had a completely different background than I did astounded me. Some of us had nothing in common but this wonderful language. I shared stories and personal views with so many people I didn’t know, and in return I got innumerable ones from them. The Chinese gave me a piece of their culture and accepted me with open arms. There were so many things in the world that I had never experienced, but these people had. Their stories would be the ones I’d share with my children and grandchildren.

This trip helped me realized how I’m just one person--one small speck--in this world. There is so much more to learn and experience. My trip to China is the reason I want to teach English abroad. The connections I made were because I was able to communicate. Having a second or third language at your disposal makes you an asset. Whole new cultures are open to you. I want kids and adults to be able to make lifelong connections just as I did when I was in China.

“Junzi zhi xin bù sheng qí xiao, ér qìliàng hángài yish.” (Géyán lián bì) is a Chinese proverb that reminds us that we should not act for our own selfish desires, but rather try to serve the greater good.

(649/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B+
Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a satisfactory display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is competent but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered favorably by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Unique Metaphors:

    Using creative metaphors can be an effective way of conveying ideas. In this essay, the metaphor of "Chinese characters...were the names of my best friends" tells a lot about this student's relationship with the language. When coming up with metaphors, a good rule of thumb is: if you've heard it before, don't use it. Only use metaphors that are specific, make sense for what you're trying to say, and are highly unique.

  • Exemplifies Their Points:

    Whenever you "tell" something, you should try and back it up with anecdotes, examples, or experiences. Instead of saying that "I made conversation," this student exemplifies it by listing who they talked to. Showing is always going to be more compelling than telling because it allows the reader to come to the conclusion on their own, which makes them believe it much stronger. Use specific, tangible examples to back up your points and convince the reader of what you're saying.

What They Might Improve:

  • Lacks Deep Reflection:

    Although this essay has reflections, they tend to be more surface-level, rather than unique and compelling. Admissions officers have read thousands of application essays and are familiar with most of the ideas students write about. To stand out, you'll need to dive deeper into your ideas. To do this, keep asking yourself questions whenever you have an interesting idea. Ask "Why" and "How" repeatedly until you reach something that is unique, specific to you, and super interesting.

  • Contrived Conclusion:

    Avoid writing a conclusion that only "sounds nice," but lacks real meaning. Often times, students write conclusions that go full circle, or have an interesting quote, but they still don't connect to the main idea of the essay. Your conclusion should be your strongest, most interesting idea. It should say something new: a new perspective, a new takeaway, a new aspect of your main point. End your essay strongly by staying on topic, but taking your idea one step further to the deepest it can go.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #21: Kiki's Delivery Service

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.

I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.

Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.

(520/650 words)

Common App Essay Example #22: Museum of Life

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

Show Annotations

Stepping inside the converted railway station, I am transported to another world. Amidst gorgeous Beaux-Arts architecture, statues pose on pedestals, and thousands of paintings line the adjacent rooms. The Musée d’Orsay is one of the most magical museums on Earth. I am immediately drawn to the impressionist exhibits to explore the land of Degas and Monet. Dancers stand in rehearsal. Water lilies bask in a pond. The sun sets on Notre Dame. The Little Dancer sculpture I have always dreamed of seeing stands in its glass case. I am overwhelmed with beauty, moments in time painted into immortality and hung up on the wall. Close enough to marvel at the brush strokes taken by the artists who painted my favorite famous works of art in existence, I am seeing dreams that have come to fruition, paintings that have impacted the world with their presence.

A naturalistic observation at an art museum may not sound like it would be effective, but art museums are the best place to observe and learn about a person. My exploration of one gives insight into my aptitude for working in the medical field.

Some people cannot stand art museums. They find no value in looking at pictures on a wall for hours and trying to interpret their meaning. These people prefer more concrete ideas in life rather than the abstract and do not enjoy the unknown or the unsolved. Others go to say that they went. They simply take a picture with the most famous work in the museum and call it a day. Some are lucky enough to appreciate the art’s meaning, but many of these people are most concerned with their appearance and others' opinions on it. Finally, some spend hours absorbing the stories, culture, and beauty that hang on the walls.

I take time interpreting new ideas and perspectives and appreciating the history that lies before me. This reflects my open-mindedness, my thirst for knowledge, and simply my appreciation for art. I am proud to call myself one of the creatives of the world: an imaginative, curious soul.

If people were to watch me experience the art museum, they would see me pass half of the exhibits to get to the ones I am truly enamored by, where I can feel my heart beating out of my chest and the gears of my brain going into overload to take in all of the history and frozen moments in time that surround me. I carefully examine and stop to ponder at the works that truly strike me, and simply take a glance at others. If they were to attempt to create a summary of me based on their observations, I am sure they would be perplexed.

I always gravitate towards what matters most to me, the impressionist exhibits of life: my passions, the people I love, and discovering new things at every chance I get. I live to collect moments, just as the moments in paintings hang on the wall for everyone to see for themself. I enjoy when topics are up for interpretation but find comfort in knowing the fundamentals and studying what is already known. Above all, I want to help others and bring smiles to their faces. I would love to see my impact on the world through the happiness of those I touch around me. This is why pursuing medicine is the perfect future for me.

Like solving a puzzle from the inside-out to give patients a fresh canvas, it is a scientific art. I want to carry my love for art into my practice of medicine, to find creative ways to interpret issues that most would say are unsolvable. My painting, my impact on the world, will be creating those blank canvases for others to continue to paint on, working to give others their own chance to walk through the art museum we call life.

(647/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B-
Adequate
The essay is written competently but may not showcase a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered as average by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Descriptive Imagery:

    Using visuals can be a way to add interesting moments to your essay. Avoid being overly descriptive, however, as it can be distracting from your main point. When drafting, start by focusing on your ideas (your reflections and takeaways). Once you have a rough draft, then you can consider ways to incorporate imagery that can add character and flavor to your essay.

What They Might Improve:

  • Off-Putting Tone:

    Admissions officers are people, just like you, and therefore are drawn to personalities that exhibit positive qualities. Some of the most important qualities to portray are: humility, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and passion. In this essay, there are several moments that could be interpreted as potentially self-centered or arrogant. Avoid trying to make yourself out to be "better" or "greater" than other people. Instead, focus on having unique and interesting ideas first, and this will show you as a likeable, insightful person. Although this is a "personal" statement, you should also avoid over using "I" in your essay. When you have lots of "I" sentences, it starts to feel somewhat ego-centric, rather than humble and interested in something greater than you.

  • Lacks Meaningful Reflection:

    This essay does a lot of "telling" about the author's character. Instead, you want to provide evidence—through examples, anecdotes, and moments—that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about who you are. Avoid surface-level takeaways like "I am open-minded and have a thirst for knowledge." These types of statements are meaningless because anyone can write them. Instead, focus on backing up your points by "showing," and then reflect genuinely and deeply on those topics.

  • Unclear Connection To Area of Study:

    This essay is focused on art museums and tries to tie in a connection to studying medicine. However, because this connection is very brief and not elaborated, the connection seems weak. To connect to your area of study when writing about a different topic, try reflecting on your topic first. Go deep into interesting ideas by asking "How" and "Why" questions. Then, take those ideas and broaden them. Think of ways they could differ or parallel your desired area of study. The best connections between a topic (such as an extracurricular) and your area of study (i.e. your major) is through having interesting ideas.

Common App Essay Example #23: French Horn

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

Show Annotations

Holton is my best friend. He may be a bit worn down, but he is an old soul with a story to tell. With him, I have enjoyed Russian folklore, romantic escapades, and renowned classics. With him, I have succeeded and failed. At times, we have had arguments, but when I look back on our time together, it’s the magical moments that resound. When I moved schools, I lost contact with many of my old friends, but I never lost Holton.

At first, I was a bit hesitant about our relationship, but my teacher advised me that Holton and I would grow into great friends if we just gave each other a chance. How could I say no? Since then, I have never looked back. We have taken trips to New York City every weekend, with each passing day bringing a new adventure. Eventually, people began to express worry that all the time we spent together would hinder my academics and hold me back from other pursuits; I didn’t care. Nothing could break our bond.

Sometimes I reminisce about the day I first met Holton. The old adage goes, gold is first and silver is second. With Holton, this notion was turned upside down. When I walked into the shop, it was all gold. It was as if King Midas had touched everything in the store. However, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Was that a silver among the golds? He is not your standard image of perfection without that golden shine. However, I knew not to judge anything at face value but rather by the story that it tells; it was this silver horn that possessed the hauntingly golden sound.

Holton is my french horn. Not a shiny new one, but one that has travelled far and experienced much. He has been with me ​under the bright lights of Lincoln Center and Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and has always given my right arm a good workout as I carry him from class to class, rehearsal to rehearsal, performance to performance.

Through Holton, I have experienced failure. My failed New Jersey Youth Symphony audition as a sixth grader fueled my motivation to practice harder. I still remember my dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances. Such failures invariably led to success. Acceptance into the Juilliard Pre-College program will always be one of my happiest memories. However, no success comes without sacrifice. In my early childhood, I participated in every activity that I liked. Basketball, choir, piano...if I enjoyed it, I did it. Mandatory all-day attendance every Saturday at Juilliard with my friend Holton in company, meant I had to give up some other things that I loved. I could no longer be a part of the New Jersey Y​outh Chorus, the beloved choir in which I had sung for seven years. I would not be able to try out for freshman basketball, one of my high school goals. I would not be able to participate on the debate team in earnest, something that I fell in love in my freshman year. ​But Holton has been worth these sacrifices and more.

The journey I am experiencing with him more than makes up for anything else I had to give up, and I cannot wait to continue our journey in my college years.

Soon, my high school experience will be over, and as I bid adieu to the friendly walls of [School], I will hit the road to wherever this application process takes me. Among all the suitcases in the trunk will be a black, worn-down horn case; inside will be Holton, ready for more adventures. Many college-bound seniors wish for good roommates. I know that in Holton I will have, at the very least, one great one. He will always hold a special place in my life and in my heart as my first prize silver.

(650/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B+
Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a satisfactory display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is competent but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered favorably by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Unique Topic and Structure:

    This student chose the creative idea of personifying their French horn as their central theme. Using this personification, they are able to write about a multitude of moments while making them all feel connected. This unique approach also makes for a more engaging essay, as it is not overly straightforward and generic.

  • Connects to Accomplishments:

    It can be challenging to reference your achievements without seeming boastful or coming across too plainly. This student manages to write about their successes ("acceptance into the Julliard Pre-College program") by using them as moments part of a broader story. The focus isn't necessarily on the accomplishments themselves, but the role they play in this relationship with their instrument. By connecting more subtly like this, it shows humility. Often, "diminishing" your achievements will actually make them stand out more, because it shows you're focused on the greater meaning behind them, rather than just "what you did."

  • Shows, Not Tells:

    This student does a good job of exemplifying each of their ideas. Rather than just saying "I experienced failure," they show it through imagery ("dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances"). Similarly, with their idea "no success comes without sacrifice," they exemplify it using examples of sacrifice. Always try to back up your points using examples, because showing is much more convincing than telling. Anyone can "tell" things, but showing requires proof.

What They Might Improve:

  • Stronger Conclusion:

    This essay has a decent conclusion, but it could be stronger by adding nuance to their main idea or connecting to the beginning with a new perspective. Rather than repeating what you've established previously, make sure your conclusion has a different "angle" or new aspect. This can be connecting your main idea to more universal values, showing how you now view something differently, or emphasizing a particular aspect of your main idea that was earlier introduced.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

Join 4,000+ students and parents that already receive our 5-minute free newsletter, packed with top-20 essay examples, writing tips & tricks, and step-by-step guides.

Students

Common App Essay Example #24: Dear My Younger Self

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)

Show Annotations

Younger Anna,

My advice is not scientifically-proven, mother-tested, or kid-approved. However, I think it will make your life easier. But take this advice — as anyone would from a 17 year old — with a grain of salt. It is only as reliable as my own experiences. So here it is:

  1. Speak Portuguese. It’s frustrating to know that I lost such a valuable skill because I deemed it too “embarrassing” to use in front of my kindergarten classmates. Fluency in another language is not only uncommon, but it also would have allowed you to communicate with your Brazilian relatives.
  2. Don’t live your life as if you're constantly being watched and criticized. Chances are, no one is even paying attention to you.
  3. Experiment with your interests early. Now is the perfect time to try different interests and see which ones you like. Take up something that pushes you out of your comfort zone: bagpipes, rock climbing, musical theater, literally anything. Eventually, you will find something you love.
  4. Sing.
  5. Take comfort in the fact that no matter what obstacle you encounter, it’s happened to everyone. You’re not the first person to get a 70 on your paper, trip in public, or rip your pants. Although, try to keep the pants-ripping to minimum.
  6. You don’t need to be exactly like your father. I am a spitting image of him. I may have inherited his intelligence, but that came with his ego as well. You can learn just as much from his mistakes as his achievements.
  7. Wear your retainer.
  8. Empathy makes your life easier. People who are inexplicably cruel are suffering just as much as the recipients of their abuse. Understanding this makes your interactions with these people less painful.
  9. Skip the “I want to be an anesthesiologist” phase — you don’t.
  10. Comparing yourself to your classmates is counterproductive. Sometimes you will forge ahead, other times you will lag behind. But ultimately, you’re only racing yourself.
  11. Your intelligence is not defined by your grades and test scores.
  12. I am passive aggressive when I lack the confidence to express something that upsets me. Learn to communicate effectively. It saves you from the endless “what if” contemplations that keep you awake at night. If you are successful, tell me how.
  13. Speak up to your stepmom.
  14. Try not to identify too strongly with material items. I ran into this issue when my hair defined me: friends often stated that they just couldn’t imagine me without my large and poofy hair. When it started falling out after a stressful period, I had to reestablish the image my hair had made.
  15. Always eat the cake. I couldn't tell you how many times I’ve turned away a slice of cake, only to regret it the next day. If you really can’t commit, do yourself a favor and take a slice home with you.
  16. Recognize and appreciate your privilege. There is no limit to the opportunities you have and that amazes me.
  17. Cherish your grandparents.
  18. Forgive your mother. Harboring resentment hurts you just as much as her. All the time I spent being angry at her could’ve been spent discovering her strengths.
  19. Cut off worried thoughts with “what if things work out?” In periods of change, acknowledge the fact that things may go according to plan. This isn’t an ignorant overlook of reality. Anticipate that this change will be bring some good with it.
  20. Accept inevitable truths: You will get older. Your friends will come and go. You will struggle and triumph. You will encounter heartache, joy, and everything in between. This list will continue to grow.
(596/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
A-
Very Good
The essay is well-written and demonstrates a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is engaging and effective. It is likely to make a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Creative Structure:

    This essay chose a unique structure in the form of a letter addressed to themselves with a list of lessons they've learned. This structure is unique, and also allows the student to explore a variety of topics and ideas while making them all feel connected. It is tricky to not seem "gimmicky" when choosing a creative structure like this, but the key is to make your essay well thought-out. Show that you've put effort into reflecting deeply, and that you aren't choosing a unique structure just to stand out.

  • Focuses On Reflection:

    This essay is highly focused on lessons they've learned, which shows a deep level of reflection. Your ideas and takeaways from life experience are ultimately most compelling to admissions officers, and this essay succeeds because it is focused almost entirely on those reflections. This student also manages to incorporate anecdotes and mini stories where appropriate, which makes their reflections more memorable by being tangible.

  • Humble And Self-Aware Attitude:

    Showing humility and self-awareness are two highly attractive traits in college admissions. Being able to recognize your own flaws and strengths, while not making yourself out to be more than what you are, shows that you are mature and thoughtful. Avoid trying to "boost yourself up" by exaggerating your accomplishments or over-emphasizing your strengths. Instead, let your ideas speak for themselves, and by focusing on genuine, meaningful ideas, you'll convey a persona that is both humble and insightful.

What They Might Improve:

  • Ideas Spread Thin:

    The drawback of having a structure like this, where lots of different ideas are examined, is that no one idea is examined in-depth. As a result, some ideas (such as "intelligence is not defined by your grades") come across as trite and overused. In general, avoid touching on lots of ideas while being surface-level. Instead, it's almost always better to choose a handful (or even just one main idea) and go as in-depth as possible by continually asking probing questions—"How" and "Why"—that force yourself to think deeper and be more critical. Having depth of ideas shows inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and ultimately are more interesting because they are ideas that only you could have written.

Common App Essay Example #25: Monopoly

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)

Show Annotations

Sliding the scottie dog across “Go!” past Boardwalk and Park Place, I immediately exhale. I am safe for another round; far more importantly, though, my younger brothers have not surpassed me.

After passing by the weekend of “GO,” I begin the next lap around the board of challenge, success, and strategy. My next turn stops me at a chance card that reads: “Psychology project, physics assignment, and precalc test tomorrow. You will not be home from riding until 10 PM, but be at school at 6:30 a.m. for an NHS meeting. Go.” Solving for f’(x) atop a tack trunk in between riding my horses, Cinda and Coco, and writing about Milgram’s prison experiment by the light of my phone on the way back home, I’ve managed to make it through this round, but not before falling asleep, pencil in hand.

My next turn is greeted with a bit more docility as I land on my brother’s property, and begrudgingly pay my rent of driving him to and from lacrosse practice. I return home to finish updating a client’s website, and complete my homework before re-organizing my closet to be sorted chromatically (I suppose I am the slightest bit type A...). Later, I pass out while on FaceTime with my bestfriend, Stephen, only to have a nightmare filled unsolvable physics problems: which way does the pulley go?! The world may never know!

However, my next roll is not as kind: I land on the tile that reads “GO TO JAIL!” The night before the most important math test of the year, I discover that my dad, with whom I have a very distant relationship, has become homeless. Questioning what I was doing as I continued to study—and consuming an entire bag of jolly ranchers in the process—I remind myself that I cannot control what others around me choose to do. With luck on my side and doubles on the first role, I take the test the next day to discover I have studied all of the right problems and receive a 98%. I am still in the game for another turn.

Feeling a bit weary from my last roll of the dice, I cross my fingers with the “FREE PARKING” square in sight. As luck has it, I smoothly glide past the hotels to have my best horse show yet- earning multiple wins against stiff competition and gaining points to qualify for five different national finals this year.

The game of Monopoly runs parallel to my life in many ways. It is a game of strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge. These factors result in a game filled with tests and questions around every corner, keeping me on my toes. Through good and bad “turns,” I have learned when to multitask and when to focus, when to take risks and when to play it safe, when to have a poker face and when to ask for help. Most importantly, I know that in moments of doubt or confusion, I can rise to the occasion. Whether I am faced with a befuddling essay prompt, a difficult course in the horse show ring, or even unfortunate decisions by people in my life, I know I can always attack any situation with confidence and vigor.

As I embark on my next trip around the board, I reflect on the past properties I have purchased, taxes I have paid, and hotels I have built. Through the rounds I have played thus far, I learned how to deal with whatever numbers I roll and spaces I land on, whether that be “GO TO JAIL” or “FREE PARKING”. I pick up the chance card from my last turn with confidence: “Take what comes and enjoy the ride” I smile. I am ready.

(633/650 words)
We give this essay an overall rating of:
B-
Adequate
The essay is written competently but may not showcase a strong display of ideas and genuine personality. The writing style is functional but may not be as engaging as other essays. It is likely to be considered as average by the admissions committee.
Learn about how we evaluate essays →

Why This Essay Works:

  • Unique Metaphor:

    This essay uses the board game "Monopoly" as a metaphor for their life. By using a metaphor as your main topic, you can connect to different ideas and activities in a cohesive way. However, make sure the metaphor isn't chosen arbitrarily. In this essay, it isn't completely clear why Monopoly is an apt metaphor for their life, because the specific qualities that make Monopoly unique aren't explained or elaborated. Lots of games require "strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge," so it'd be better to focus on the unique aspects of the game to make a more clear connection. For example, moving around the board in a "repetitive" fashion, but each time you go around with a different perspective. When choosing a metaphor, first make sure that it is fitting for what you're trying to describe.

  • Connects to Activities Naturally:

    You want to avoid listing your activities or referencing them without a clear connection to something greater. Since you have an activities list already, referencing your activities in your essay should have a specific purpose, rather than just emphasizing your achievements. In this essay, the student connects their activities by connecting them to a specific idea: how each activity is like a mini challenge that they must encounter to progress in life. Make sure your activities connect to something specifically: an idea, a value, an aspect of your character.

What They Might Improve:

  • Surface-Level Takeaways:

    This essay lacks depth in their reflections by not delving deeply into their main takeaways. In this essay, the main "idea" is that they've learned to be persistent with whatever comes their way. This idea could be a good starting point, but on its own is too generic and not unique enough. Your idea should be deep and specific, meaning that it should be something only you could have written about. If your takeaway could be used in another student's essay without much modification, chances are it is a surface-level takeaway and you want to go more in-depth. To go in-depth, keep asking probing questions like "How" and "Why" or try making more abstract connections between topics.

  • Tells, Not Shows:

    In the final two paragraphs, this essay does a lot of "telling" about the lessons they've learned. They write "I know that in moments of doubt...I can rise to the occasion." Although this could be interesting, it would be far more effective if this idea is shown through anecdotes or experiences. The previous examples in the essay don't "show" this idea. When drafting, take your ideas and think of ways you can represent them without having to state them outright. By showing your points, you will create a more engaging and convincing essay because you'll allow the reader to come to the conclusion themselves, rather than having to believe what you've told them.

What Can You Learn from These Common App Essay Examples?

With these 25 Common App essay examples, you can get inspired and improve your own personal statement.

If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your Common App essays needs to be its best possible.

What makes a good Common App essay isn't easy to define. There aren't any rules or steps.

But using these samples from real students, you can understand what it takes to write an outstanding personal statement.

Let me know, which Common App essay did you think was the best?

Ryan

Ryan Chiang, Founder of EssaysThatWorked

Want to read more amazing essays that worked for top schools?

Hey! 👋 I'm Ryan Chiang, the founder of EssaysThatWorked.

Get our 5-minute free newsletter packed with essay tips and college admissions resources, backed by real-life examples from admitted students at top-20 schools.

Ryan

Meet the Author

Ryan Chiang

I'm Ryan Chiang and I created EssaysThatWorked - a website dedicated to helping students write college essays they're proud of. We publish the best college admissions essays from successful applicants every year to inspire and teach future students.

23 College Essay Tips to Stand Out
Free Guide:
23 Tips To Make Your College Essays Stand Out

What do outstanding essays have in common?
Here are our 23 most effective strategies based on lessons from admitted students.

I am a...
Role
Your Name:
Email:
Graduation Year:

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

By signing up you agree to Terms and Privacy Policy

Now available for November 2023...

The College Essay Workshop

Join my on-demand step-by-step course for crafting outstanding college admissions essays, plus 1-on-1 help.

Here's everything needed to write essays worthy of Top-20 colleges.

Register Risk-Free →

Join our students who have earned acceptances to schools like...

See exactly how students wrote admitted essays for top schools.

Our 231 essay examples show you how ordinary students wrote outstanding essays that helped their applications - all in their own words.

These aren’t just essay examples - but real acceptance stories, from real students who share their most intimate details with you - down to their real essays and exact profiel stats.

How do I find a unique topic? How do I write a great essay? And how do I stand out?

Our 231 essay examples break down these exact questions. Every type of essay prompt, student, and school.

You’ll realize these students are just like you - and that, deep down, you can do it too.

Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...