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A good college essay example
Best College Essay Examples. One of the hardest things to write on your college application is the personal statement. The personal statement is the most abstract section of the form as it has little to no guidance on how to fill it in and is the most open-ended of all sections. If you are struggling to write the admission essay, the best guidance would be from the essays of students who were accepted previously. They were accepted into the college so their admission essays must have worked, and there are blueprints for what the colleges are looking for from a candidate. They have achieved the success you are looking to replicate and can form the basis of your essay. This article will look at the criteria that generally makes for a great personal statement while giving you a huge list of successful essays that have been accepted at a number of different institutions. By breaking down these example essays, this article will examine why they were successful, and how you can employ these techniques yourself. The Common Features Successful College Essay Contain. A Clear Structured Plan. Having a clear and structured plan is the basis for any good piece of writing, and a college essay is no different. Sit down, think about the story you want to write. Write in bullets, and expand from there. Start Small – Then Expand. It is best to have a narrow, and focused start to the essay. This will provide you with a solid foundation to build from. This narrow focus is common and formulaic in most successful applications. The writer begins with a detailed story that describes an event, a person or a place. These descriptions usually have heavy imagery. The essay then extends outward from this foundation. It uses this scene and connects it to the author's present situation, state of mind, or newfound understanding. Story Telling. These authors know how to tell a tale. Only a very few of them relate to a once in a lifetime event. Most focus on mundane events that happen in everyday life. The trick is to set yourself apart by telling the story in an interesting way. Let us take on of the most mundane and awful tasks on the planet – ironing - how would you construct an interesting tale around that? Would you increase the drama by giving yourself a strict deadline you have to meet or invent an impossible struggle against a difficult shirt you need as flat as a pancake? Would you look at how to present it in a funny and interesting way like a time your ironing board broke, and you had to find inventive ways to flatten out your clothes such as sitting on them? Would you write a harrowing tale about how you were doing it for charity? Think about how you want to present yourself, and what the essay says about your life. When reading the sample essays always analyze them with this in mind. Hook them with the First Sentence. A killer first sentence will draw the reader in from the start. You have their attention and investment from the get-go. The punchier the sentence, the better it is. The best sentences act as teasers to make the reader progress. To make them want to read what comes next. Think of them as cliffhangers that introduce an exciting scene or a bizarre situation that has no logical conclusion. Here are twenty-two of the best hooks Stanford applicants have to offer. Don’t you want to know how they ended? Find Your Voice. Writing is a method of communicating and building a rapport with the reader. The reader, in this case, is an underpaid and overworked admissions officer who has to slog through thousands of essays a day. You should aim to have an interesting and entertaining statement that makes you stand out from the crowd, and doesn’t bore your reader to death. You need to grab their attention and the best way to do that is by writing in your own voice. Use interesting and unique descriptions, describe the world as you see it, avoid clichés, idioms, and frozen metaphors – when you read the essay you should think, yes – that’s me. Be Technically Correct. Your personal statement should be a thing you've slaved over and cherished. As such it should read like it has been proofread a few thousand times. Make sure it has no spelling mistakes, the grammar is correct, the syntax flows in the right order and punctuation is used correctly. The best way to spot errors is by getting someone else to read your work. Have your parents, teachers, mentors, and even your friends check over the work to help eliminate those pesky comma splices. Colleges advise getting the application checked over by others, as they know how hard it is to spot your own mistakes. Published Essay Collections. Colleges regularly publish accepted essays as an example and guideline for students to use when they are formulating their own college applications. Find a few links below for some of the best essays we found online. These articles are a great resource for you to use when you are crafting your personal statement. It is important to note that some of these statements may be using prompts that are no longer accepted by colleges. Here are some of the Common Application Prompts taken from Common App another great resource to use: 2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts. 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. [No change] 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? [Revised] 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking ? What was the outcome ? [Revised] 4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change] 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised] 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. [New] These questions are regularly updated or revised, so it is best to check the current questions yourself. Carleton College. University of Chicago. The University of Chicago is known for its strange and oddball approach to supplementary questions. Here is a collection of thoughtful answers to these questions. Connecticut College. Hamilton College. Johns Hopkins. These applications are answers to former prompts from both the Common Application and the Universal Application as John Hopkins accepts both. Smith College. Smith College gives its applicants a prompt for a 200 words essay. The prompt varies each, and this collection of essays comes from 2014’s prompt: “Tells us the about the best gift you’ve ever given or received.” Tufts University. Tufts asks applicants to answer three short essay questions in addition to the Common Application essays. Two of these questions are mandatory and the other one is selected from a list of prompt questions. Here is the writing supplement list for the class of 2022 . And here are some previous answers to these writing supplements. If the school you are applying to is not listed above, do not despair. Check their website and see if they have published any admission essays for you to read through and analyze. How to Analyze Admission Essays to Help Your Personal Statement. This section will examine two essays from the examples that were collected above so we can pull them apart and investigate the criteria that make for a great college application essay. We'll dissect each case and examine what makes these essays tick. Example One. I had never broken into a car before. We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van. Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back. “Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?” “Why me?” I thought. More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window’s seal like I’d seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I’d been in this type of situation before. In fact, I’d been born into this type of situation. My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. “The water’s on fire! Clear a hole!” he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I’m still unconvinced about that particular lesson’s practicality, my Dad’s overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns. Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don’t expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night. But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt. Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: “How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?” The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me. Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence. An Amazing Hook. ‘I had never broken into a car before.’ This has everything we talked about earlier, in the Hook Section. It describes a scene – he is standing next to a car, and he is about to break in, it has a hint of danger and drama – he is making a transgression – and then there is cliffhanger too – how will it turn out, will he get caught? Strong Visual Language. ‘We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van. Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back. “Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?” “Why me?” I thought. More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window’s seal like I’d seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.’ Stephen uses extremely detailed language to build up a visual scene that really makes this experience come to life. He used specific language to provide details rather than use general words; for example, we know it's ‘Texas BBQ' which will invoke the reader’s senses more than a more general term such as food or take out. We can smell the BBQ. The ‘author’ describes how the ‘coat hanger’ comes from a dumpster making this more a crime of opportunity than careful planning. Stephen also chooses strong verbs that have strong connotations and creates a visual image such as ‘Jiggles.’ These strong words do not need adverbs, and this creates a concise, flowing sentence that is easy to read. These details aid us in imaging the emotions of the people in the scene. Stephen is given the coat hanger, and then that person takes a few steps back – it shows that he isn’t just nervous but afraid and looking for someone else to take charge. Stephen also captures the tone of a teenager in the dialogue he has written. It grounds the piece in reality and makes it so easy to picture and visualize in your mind. Insightful Analysis of the Situation. ‘Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I’d been in this type of situation before. In fact, I’d been born into this type of situation.’ Stephen demonstrates his inventiveness and resourcefulness in two ways here. Firstly, in a practical way – his resourcefulness has resulted in him unlocking the car door. Secondly, he demonstrates it by his clever usage of ‘click’ which plays on the word having two different meanings. In this playful way, he is changing the situation from the narrow story to the broader deeper aspects. The insight he has gained from it. His personal growth. Ground Abstract terms by Using Concrete Examples. ‘My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.’ That section opens up with very abstract terms ‘Unpredictability and chaos.’ Abstract terms can be interpreted in a number of ways, and could quite possibly mean anything from living in an atmosphere of violence to dealing with issues of abandonment (or even living with some kind of mental instability). Stephen clarifies what he means in the next sentence which limits the number of inferences the reader can make by providing a detailed and visual scene of the chaos: ‘family of seven' and ‘siblings arguing, dog barking, phone ringing.' It is easy to see the abstract notions Stephen is describing. Humor to Entertain the Reader. ‘My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.’ The humor relaxes the reader and actually draws them closer to the essay writer while providing details about the author's life. Learning how to clear burning oil from the water surface isn't a skill most nine-year-old children need to know, and Stephen plays on this by using a flippant statement – ‘in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.’ This tongue in cheek tone makes the reader aware he is okay with the strict environment, and in fact, makes fun of it. The ‘you know’ is really important too, as it makes the statement sound more like a spoken informal conversation but introducing colloquial phrases. Another thing to take notice of is that this type of humor and phrasing is kept to a minimum in the statement, and is only used around topics where the reader could feel discomfort to relax them. The moderate amount of humor helps keep the prose meaningful and serious rather than flippant. Insightful About His Own Behavior. ‘But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: “How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?” The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me. Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.’ Stephen ends his essay by reflecting on how his life has prepared him to deal with the future. His dad’s approach to parenting and the chaos of his family life has given him the skills to succeed in an unpredictable world that he cannot control. Stephen connects his past experience to his current maturity through self-knowledge. All great personal essays contain this key element. Maturity and awareness of your own behavior is something that all colleges desire in their applicants. They indicate that a student will be able to adapt to the independence that is required in college classes, will be responsible for their own lives and actions. How This Essay Could Have Been Better. No piece of writing is ever perfect. Most writers would be happy revising pieces of writing for the rest of their life if there was a deadline they had to meet. So, what would you have done differently with this essay? What would you change to give it that little extra piece of oomph? Cliched Language Usage. Stephen uses a lot of prefabricated language in his essay such as idioms and common phrases examples are – ‘twists and turns’ and ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’ Remember what we said about creating a unique voice, describing the world as you see it? These block phrases work against this and dampen the author's unique voice to just one among the crowd. This can make your writing tired and predictable if used in large amounts. More Examples. The essay demonstrates how Stephen is adaptable to the situation and that he is not afraid to use his inventiveness to adapt to and thrive in difficult situations. This is a great example, and very well used. Stephen also makes several claims later in his essay that he did substantiate through examples. Remember to make abstract claims concrete, so the reader knows exactly what you mean. We are left wondering what he truly meant when he claimed ‘he was different things to different people.’ By providing us with examples of this it would have given us some context and a way to visualize and understand the roles he plays. Example Two. ‘I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it. In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World. While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire. I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR. Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me. Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees. I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school. A self-admitted Phys. Ed. addict, I volunteered to help out with the Adapted PE class. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students. To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. I love working with the students and watching them progress. When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World. Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper. So, maybe I'll be like Sue Storm and her alter-ego, the Invisible Woman. I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile. My childhood self would appreciate that.’ Compare and Contrast. When you compare Bridget's essay to Stephen's, the two approaches are very different. The main thing they have in common is they use lifetime event language to build an engaging and interesting narrative. And they are the two keys to any great essay. A Simple Flowing Structure. The story told in the essay unfolds in chronographic order. His stead unfolding of time is signed post at the of each paragraph: Paragraph 1: “after a long day in first grade” Paragraph 2: “in elementary school” Paragraph 3: “seven years down the road” Paragraph 4: “when I was a freshman in high school” Paragraph 5: “when senior year arrived” This flow natural structure lets the reader know when they are, and understand the narrative with simplicity and ease. One Central Conceit and Theme ‘I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who acc >[. ] Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me. I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was dec > Humor. Br >‘In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World.’ ‘All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR.’ Coined Words. Br > Syntax. Br >‘The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR.’ Here she narrates the thoughts she had as a child. She switches her style with the unexpected short sentence ‘It made perfect sense!’ This serves to reflect this realization was sudden and indicates it was a rationalization she had made on the spot. The use of the exclamation mark gives the sentence that Eureka moment. ‘As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they?. A similar shift in sentence length is used when she begins to discuss her present-day aspirations. Br >‘To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked.’ A short sentence is used to create the emotional resolution of the admission essay. Here Bridget goes from being nervous about helping students with disabilities to being hooked. The short sentence ‘Long story short, I got hooked’ takes away a lot of the potential for a cliched and cheesy moment. The slang also emphasizes this area of the letter. So, by changing the sentence structure, Bridget is emphasizing her feelings and drawing attention to her personality and emotional drive. This endows the admission essay with a fantastic and unique voice. How could this essay have been better? Even though Bridget’s essay is extremely well written, there are still a few tweaks that could improve it. The Car Connection. Bridget starts her essay by telling us about her loves of car rides, but this doesn’t seem to be connected to much the essay – which is centered around the idea of ‘Fixer-Uppers.' Nor does the car seem connected to the idea of working with disabled children. To make the hook work better, Bridget needed to explain why cars were connected to the idea more or maybe have deleted the thing about cars and used the space from some more relevant. Give More Details Around Teaching Experience. The crux of the essay is this experience that gave her the confidence and knowledge of what she wanted to help fix in the world. Despite this Bridget glosses over the what it was about the experience that made her feel this way, and what the experience really entailed in the essay. Where she could have impressed the admission officer with her drive or understanding of the satisfaction she derived from her experience, she says ‘Long story short’ which leaves us wondering – what exactly did she enjoy? What exactly was her experience here? Tips for Writing Your Own Essay. Are you wondering how this resource and the stockpile of old letters can make your own admission essay better? Here are some ideas on how to use the information we have provided here. Dissect the Other Essays on Your Own. Here is a checklist of questions that will help you analyze and think about the other essays that we have collected. By learning to take things apart and critique, you’ll also learn how to write the statements better. Examine the opening sentence and explain why it works so well? How does it hook you and make you want to read on? How does the author describe the anecdote? What senses does the author use to convey the story? Do these sensual descriptions make the story visual? Where does the narrow anecdote expand into the larger perspective of the author? How does the author connect the narrow experience to the larger picture? And what trait, characteristic or skill does the anecdote emphasis and how? What is the tone of the essay? And how does it evoke this tone? Is it funny – if so where does the humor come from? Is it sad and moving? Can you find the imagery that describes this feeling? How does the word choices add to the tone of the piece? How would you improve the essay? Is it missing something? Is the voice unique? If they were asking you for advice, how would you advise them? Find the Moment. These essays rely on creating an emotional connection with the reader by the author describing a scene from their life in great detail. It doesn't matter if the scene is dramatic or from a slice of everyday life; it should be personal and revealing about you. It should make your individuality shine through, and the reader should see you through it. Edit, Edit, and Edit again. It may sound strange but writing isn’t about writing, but more about editing. The best pieces of writing only emerge when something has been rewritten a few thousand times. As such it best to start writing your admission letters early. I’d advise finishing your first draft a couple of months before the admission deadline. This way you have time to pass it around, get feedback and rewrite. The best advice when editing anything is to put in a drawer for a few days and just forget about it and come back to it with fresh eyes. Read through it and use the checklist above to dissect and analyze as if it was someone else’s work. Is there anything that isn’t needed? Is there something that is needed? Is there anything that’s in the wrong place? Does everything make sense? Are the words strong? Is your voice there? Edit it, put away for a few days and repeat the cycle.
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