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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

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Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.


Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories


Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org.

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  • College essay
  • College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn’t

College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't

Published on November 8, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on August 14, 2023.

One effective method for improving your college essay is to read example essays . Here are three sample essays, each with a bad and good version to help you improve your own essay.

Table of contents

Essay 1: sharing an identity or background through a montage, essay 2: overcoming a challenge, a sports injury narrative, essay 3: showing the influence of an important person or thing, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student’s identity and background. The writer builds her essay around the theme of the five senses, sharing memories she associates with sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

In the weak rough draft, there is little connection between the individual anecdotes, and they do not robustly demonstrate the student’s qualities.

In the final version, the student uses an extended metaphor of a museum to create a strong connection among her stories, each showcasing a different part of her identity. She draws a specific personal insight from each memory and uses the stories to demonstrate her qualities and values.

How My Five Senses Record My Life

Throughout my life, I have kept a record of my life’s journey with my five senses. This collection of memories matters a great deal because I experience life every day through the lens of my identity.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

My classmate pulls one eye up and the other down.

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention to my discomfort, anger, and shame. How could he say such a mean thing about me? What did I do to him? Joseph’s words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Soaking in overflowing bubble baths with Andrew Lloyd Webber belting from the boombox.

Listening to “Cell Block Tango” with my grandparents while eating filet mignon at a dine-in show in Ashland.

Singing “The Worst Pies in London” at a Korean karaoke club while laughing hysterically with my brother, who can do an eerily spot-on rendition of Sweeney Todd.

Taking car rides with Mom in the Toyota Sequoia as we compete to hit the high note in “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera . Neither of us stands a chance!

The sweet scent of vegetables, Chinese noodles, and sushi wafts through the room as we sit around the table. My grandma presents a good-smelling mixture of international cuisine for our Thanksgiving feast. My favorite is the Chinese food that she cooks. Only the family prayer stands between me and the chance to indulge in these delicious morsels, comforting me with their familiar savory scents.

I rinse a faded plastic plate decorated by my younger sister at the Waterworks Art Center. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. I actually don’t mind this daily chore.

I taste sweat on my upper lip as I fight to continue pedaling on a stationary bike. Ava’s next to me and tells me to go up a level. We’re biking buddies, dieting buddies, and Saturday morning carbo-load buddies. After the bike display hits 30 minutes, we do a five-minute cool down, drink Gatorade, and put our legs up to rest.

My five senses are always gathering new memories of my identity. I’m excited to expand my collection.

Word count: 455

College essay checklist

Topic and structure

  • I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • My essay reveals something different from the rest of my application.
  • I have a clear and well-structured narrative.
  • I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

Writing style and tone

  • I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of tells.
  • I’ve used appropriate style and tone for a college essay.
  • I’ve used specific, vivid personal stories that would be hard to replicate.
  • I’ve demonstrated my positive traits and values in my essay.
  • My essay is focused on me, not another person or thing.
  • I’ve included self-reflection and insight in my essay.
  • I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Making Sense of My Identity

Welcome to The Rose Arimoto Museum. You are about to enter the “Making Sense of My Identity” collection. Allow me to guide you through select exhibits, carefully curated memories from Rose’s sensory experiences.

First, the Sight Exhibit.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention as my lip trembles and palms sweat. Joseph couldn’t have known how his words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Ten years later, these same eyes now fixate on an InDesign layout sheet, searching for grammar errors while my friend Selena proofreads our feature piece on racial discrimination in our hometown. As we’re the school newspaper editors, our journalism teacher Ms. Riley allows us to stay until midnight to meet tomorrow’s deadline. She commends our work ethic, which for me is fueled by writing一my new weapon of choice.

Next, you’ll encounter the Sound Exhibit.

Still, the world is my Broadway as I find my voice on stage.

Just below, enter the Smell Exhibit.

While I help my Pau Pau prepare dinner, she divulges her recipe for cha siu bau, with its soft, pillowy white exterior hiding the fragrant filling of braised barbecue pork inside. The sweet scent of candied yams, fun see , and Spam musubi wafts through the room as we gather around our Thankgsiving feast. After our family prayer, we indulge in these delicious morsels until our bellies say stop. These savory scents of my family’s cultural heritage linger long after I’ve finished the last bite.

Next up, the Touch Exhibit.

I rinse a handmade mug that I had painstakingly molded and painted in ceramics class. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. For a few fleeting moments, as I continue my nightly chore, the pressure of my weekend job, tomorrow’s calculus exam, and next week’s track meet are washed away.

Finally, we end with the Taste Exhibit.

My legs fight to keep pace with the stationary bike as the salty taste of sweat seeps into corners of my mouth. Ava challenges me to take it up a level. We always train together一even keeping each other accountable on our strict protein diet of chicken breasts, broccoli, and Muscle Milk. We occasionally splurge on Saturday mornings after interval training, relishing the decadence of everything bagels smeared with raspberry walnut cream cheese. But this is Wednesday, so I push myself. I know that once the digital display hits 30:00, we’ll allow our legs to relax into a five-minute cool down, followed by the fiery tang of Fruit Punch Gatorade to rehydrate.

Thank you for your attention. This completes our tour. I invite you to rejoin us for next fall’s College Experience collection, which will exhibit Rose’s continual search for identity and learning.

Word count: 649

  • I’ve crafted an essay introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay uses a narrative structure to recount how a student overcame a challenge, specifically a sports injury. Since this topic is often overused, the essay requires vivid description, a memorable introduction and conclusion , and interesting insight.

The weak rough draft contains an interesting narrative, insight, and vivid imagery, but it has an overly formal tone that distracts the reader from the story. The student’s use of elaborate vocabulary in every sentence makes the essay sound inauthentic and stilted.

The final essay uses a more natural, conversational tone and chooses words that are vivid and specific without being pretentious. This allows the reader to focus on the narrative and appreciate the student’s unique insight.

One fateful evening some months ago, a defensive linebacker mauled me, his 212 pounds indisputably alighting upon my ankle. Ergo, an abhorrent cracking of calcified tissue. At first light the next day, I awoke cognizant of a new paradigm—one sans football—promulgated by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

It’s been an exceedingly taxing semester not being able to engage in football, but I am nonetheless excelling in school. That twist of fate never would have come to pass if I hadn’t broken my ankle. I still limp down the halls at school, but I’m feeling less maudlin these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, emboldened by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

Five months ago, right after my ill-fated injury, my friends’ demeanor became icy and remote, although I couldn’t fathom why. My teachers, in contrast, beckoned me close and invited me on a new learning journey. But despite their indubitably kind advances, even they recoiled when I drew near.

A few weeks later, I started to change my attitude vis-à-vis my newfound situation and determined to put my energy toward productive ends (i.e., homework). I wasn’t enamored with school. I never had been. Nevertheless, I didn’t abhor it either. I just preferred football.

My true turn of fate came when I started studying more and participating in class. I started to enjoy history class, and I grew interested in reading more. I discovered a volume of poems written by a fellow adventurer on the road of life, and I loved it. I ravenously devoured everything in the writer’s oeuvre .

As the weeks flitted past, I found myself spending my time with a group of people who were quite different from me. They participated in theater and played instruments in marching band. They raised their hands in class when the teacher posed a question. Because of their auspicious influence, I started raising my hand too. I am no longer vapid, and I now have something to say.

I am certain that your school would benefit from my miraculous academic transformation, and I entreat you to consider my application to your fine institution. Accepting me to your university would be an unequivocally righteous decision.

Word count: 408

  • I’ve chosen a college essay topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • I’ve respected the essay word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

As I step out of bed, the pain shoots through my foot and up my leg like it has every morning since “the game.” That night, a defensive linebacker tackled me, his 212 pounds landing decidedly on my ankle. I heard the sound before I felt it. The next morning, I awoke to a new reality—one without football—announced by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

My broken ankle broke my spirit.

My friends steered clear of me as I hobbled down the halls at school. My teachers tried to find the delicate balance between giving me space and offering me help. I was as unsure how to deal with myself as they were.

In time, I figured out how to redirect some of my frustration, anger, and pent-up energy toward my studies. I had never not liked school, but I had never really liked it either. In my mind, football practice was my real-life classroom, where I could learn all I ever needed to know.

Then there was that day in Mrs. Brady’s history class. We sang a ridiculous-sounding mnemonic song to memorize all the Chinese dynasties from Shang to Qing. I mumbled the words at first, but I got caught up in the middle of the laughter and began singing along. Starting that day, I began browsing YouTube videos about history, curious to learn more. I had started learning something new, and, to my surprise, I liked it.

With my afternoons free from burpees and scrimmages, I dared to crack open a few more of my books to see what was in them. That’s when my English poetry book, Paint Me Like I Am , caught my attention. It was full of poems written by students my age from WritersCorps. I couldn’t get enough.

I wasn’t the only one who was taken with the poems. Previously, I’d only been vaguely aware of Christina as one of the weird kids I avoided. Crammed in the margins of her high-top Chuck Taylors were scribbled lines of her own poetry and infinite doodles. Beyond her punk rock persona was a sensitive artist, puppy-lover, and environmental activist that a wide receiver like me would have never noticed before.

With Christina, I started making friends with people who once would have been invisible to me: drama geeks, teachers’ pets, band nerds. Most were college bound but not to play a sport. They were smart and talented, and they cared about people and politics and all sorts of issues that I hadn’t considered before. Strangely, they also seemed to care about me.

I still limp down the halls at school, but I don’t seem to mind as much these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, excited by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

My broken ankle broke my spirit. Then, it broke my ignorance.

Word count: 512

This essay uses a narrative structure to show how a pet positively influenced the student’s values and character.

In the weak draft, the student doesn’t focus on himself, instead delving into too much detail about his dog’s positive traits and his grandma’s illness. The essay’s structure is meandering, with tangents and details that don’t communicate any specific insight.

In the improved version, the student keeps the focus on himself, not his pet. He chooses the most relevant stories to demonstrate specific qualities, and the structure more clearly builds up to an insightful conclusion.

Man’s Best Friend

I desperately wanted a cat. I begged my parents for one, but once again, my sisters overruled me, so we drove up the Thompson Valley Canyon from Loveland to Estes Park to meet our newest family member. My sisters had already hatched their master plan, complete with a Finding Nemo blanket to entice the pups. The blanket was a hit with all of them, except for one—the one who walked over and sat in my lap. That was the day that Francisco became a Villanova.

Maybe I should say he was mine because I got stuck with all the chores. As expected, my dog-loving sisters were nowhere to be found! My mom was “extra” with all the doggy gear. Cisco even had to wear these silly little puppy shoes outside so that when he came back in, he wouldn’t get the carpets dirty. If it was raining, my mother insisted I dress Cisco in a ridiculous yellow raincoat, but, in my opinion, it was an unnecessary source of humiliation for poor Cisco. It didn’t take long for Cisco to decide that his outerwear could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I took off one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his ensemble more when we had to walk through snowdrifts to get his job done.

When my abuela was dying from cancer, we went in the middle of the night to see her before she passed. I was sad and scared. But, my dad let me take Cisco in the car, so Cisco cuddled with me and made me feel much better. It’s like he could read my mind. Once we arrived at the hospital, the fluorescent lighting made the entire scene seem unreal, as if I was watching the scene unfold through someone else’s eyes. My grandma lay calmly on her bed, smiling at us even through her last moments of pain. I disliked seeing the tubes and machines hooked up to her. It was unnatural to see her like this一it was so unlike the way I usually saw her beautiful in her flowery dress, whistling a Billie Holiday tune and baking snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained at the foot of the bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that seemed more effective at communicating comfort and compassion than the rest of us who attempted to offer up words of comfort that just seemed hollow and insincere. It was then that I truly appreciated Cisco’s empathy for others.

As I accompanied my dad to pick up our dry cleaner’s from Ms. Chapman, a family friend asked, “How’s Cisco?” before even asking about my sisters or me. Cisco is the Villanova family mascot, a Goldendoodle better recognized by strangers throughout Loveland than the individual members of my family.

On our summer trip to Boyd Lake State Park, we stayed at the Cottonwood campground for a breathtaking view of the lake. Cisco was allowed to come, but we had to keep him on a leash at all times. After a satisfying meal of fish, our entire family walked along the beach. Cisco and I led the way while my mom and sisters shuffled behind. Cisco always stopped and refused to move, looking back to make sure the others were still following. Once satisfied that everyone was together, he would turn back around and continue prancing with his golden boy curly locks waving in the chilly wind.

On the beach, Cisco “accidentally” got let off his leash and went running maniacally around the sand, unfettered and free. His pure joy as he raced through the sand made me forget about my AP Chem exam or my student council responsibilities. He brings a smile not only to my family members but everyone around him.

Cisco won’t live forever, but without words, he has impressed upon me life lessons of responsibility, compassion, loyalty, and joy. I can’t imagine life without him.

Word count: 701

I quickly figured out that as “the chosen one,” I had been enlisted by Cisco to oversee all aspects of his “business.” I learned to put on Cisco’s doggie shoes to keep the carpet clean before taking him out一no matter the weather. Soon after, Cisco decided that his shoes could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I removed one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his footwear more after I’d gear him up and we’d tread through the snow for his daily walks.

One morning, it was 7:15 a.m., and Alejandro was late again to pick me up. “Cisco, you don’t think he overslept again, do you?” Cisco barked, as if saying, “Of course he did!” A text message would never do, so I called his dad, even if it was going to get him in trouble. There was no use in both of us getting another tardy during our first-period class, especially since I was ready on time after taking Cisco for his morning outing. Alejandro was mad at me but not too much. He knew I had helped him out, even if he had to endure his dad’s lecture on punctuality.

Another early morning, I heard my sister yell, “Mom! Where are my good ballet flats? I can’t find them anywhere!” I hesitated and then confessed, “I moved them.” She shrieked at me in disbelief, but I continued, “I put them in your closet, so Cisco wouldn’t chew them up.” More disbelief. However, this time, there was silence instead of shrieking.

Last spring, Cisco and I were fast asleep when the phone rang at midnight. Abuela would not make it through the night after a long year of chemo, but she was in Pueblo, almost three hours away. Sitting next to me for that long car ride on I-25 in pitch-black darkness, Cisco knew exactly what I needed and snuggled right next to me as I petted his coat in a rhythm while tears streamed down my face. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained sitting at the foot of the hospital bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that communicated more comfort than our hollow words. Since then, whenever I sense someone is upset, I sit in silence with them or listen to their words, just like Cisco did.

The other day, one of my friends told me, “You’re a strange one, Josue. You’re not like everybody else but in a good way.” I didn’t know what he meant at first. “You know, you’re super responsible and grown-up. You look out for us instead of yourself. Nobody else does that.” I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t trying to do anything different. I was just being me. But then I realized who had taught me: a fluffy little puppy who I had wished was a cat! I didn’t choose Cisco, but he certainly chose me and, unexpectedly, became my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Word count: 617

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

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Top 10 YouTubers With the Best Advice for College Applications

5 min read • november 18, 2021

Layna C.

Tips From the Best Youtubers for College Applications

Applying to college: the nail-biting process that high school students encounter sooner or later 😱As much as we wish our applications would fill out themselves, it is up to us to get those apps in on time. It can be hard to know where to start or even navigate parts of the application process. Here are 10 YouTubers to check out to help you through the college app process! Their channels collectively cover each part of the college application process, including choosing college essay topics, writing personal statements, and SAT/ACT testing. Get insider tips about the college admissions process and strategies on how to approach your essay and interviews. 

#1 SuperTutorTV 


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SuperTutorTV is a channel that posts a plethora of helpful resources for high school students and specializes in ACT/SAT and college application videos. They have videos that will help you not only decide what colleges to apply to and how, but they also have tips on what to include in your application and what admission officers look for in an applicant.

#2 College Essay Guy


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The College Essay Guy host, Ethan Sawyer, aids students in writing essays and prompt responses to help you rock your college app. Ethan Sawyer is a nationally recognized college essay expert and the author of the Amazon bestsellers College Essay Essentials and College Admission Essentials. Follow his videos to write an essay that will set you apart from the rest. Ethan is also partnering with Fiveable in our College program, where he will join us live! Learn more HERE . 

#3 CollegeAdvisor


CollegeAdvisor features students and former Admissions Officers from Ivy League and other top schools to guide students like you on the right path to college applications. You get the inside scoop from Ivy League students on how they navigated the college application process. They've got you covered for everything from standardized test prep to essay writing. This channel will also be beneficial for international students who are looking to apply to United States colleges and universities! 

#4 Rich Blazevich


Rich Blazevich is a content creator on YouTube with a playlist about College Admissions Tips. He takes questions that college admissions officers ask in interviews and provides you with different strategies to answer in a way that will blow your admissions officer away. He focuses on the top 5 questions asked in interviews and essays. With his videos, “Tell me why” questions will come easy, and you’ll be prepared for your college interview! 

#5 Team Lyqa


Coach Lyqa Maravilla is an online educator, a motivational speaker, and an author. Her #StudyHack series has useful information about college applications and interview tips. She also has productivity videos to help keep you going through the college application process. Her channel is also a great resource for ESOL students who are navigating the college application process. 

#6 The Princeton Review


The Princeton Review , famously known for its ACT/SAT preparation resources, has an amazing college process Learning Playlist covering everything from financial aid to nailing your essay. In “College Admission 101,” The Princeton Review’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Franek walks you through parts of the college process that have proven to be most difficult for students. Who better to get tips from than the experts?

#7 Keeping Up with Ken


Makenna Turner is a Computer Science major at Stanford University. Her channel is dedicated to sharing information for college applications, such as statistics needed for top colleges and the financial aid process. She also has content about her academic journey at Stanford. Makenna is also a 2020 Coke Scholar Scholarship recipient. She has numerous videos on the Coke Scholar selection process and strategies for securing other scholarships. 

#8 Federal Student Aid


Federal Student Aid has content dedicated to helping students navigate the financial aid process and secure funding for college. Paying for college is something that a lot of people struggle with. Walkthrough videos of the nation's most used financial aid resource will help make this part of the process easier. You can learn about different types of aid, how to apply for aid, and how to access your FAFSA account from the videos posted on this channel. 

#9 College Essay Advisors


College Essay Advisors gives tips for every step of the college essay writing process and covers other parts of the college application process. Their videos are short and easy to understand, and they’ve been in the college admissions game for 10+ years, so you can be sure you’re getting the inside scoop! 

#10 Dyllen Nellis


Dyllen Nellis is a content creator who makes videos about the college application process and writing an amazing essay that will make your application stand out. She works to empower students to discover their sense of self and communicate their personal values through well-crafted college essays.

College Application Tips: Conclusion

As scary as the college application process may be, these YouTubers create insanely helpful videos for students. Topics that cover every aspect of the college application process will guide you and help you put your best foot forward. These videos will guide you through the process and make it a little less scary.

Next: watch these top 10 Tiktoks for the college application process , read these best Tweets for college application tips , and view these top 15 Twitter threads for the best college advice! If Pinterest is more of your thing, check out these Pinterest Boards on the college process.

Happy watching! 🙌


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3 Standout Barnard Essay Examples

Barnard College is not only one of the oldest women’s colleges in the country, but also one of the few that remains all women. Students can, however, take classes and even major at Columbia University, which is located just across the street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

With a very low acceptance rate, Barnard is incredibly selective. When applying to such a competitive school, writing strong essays is one way of ensuring that your application will stand out.

In this post, we will share three Barnard essays written by real students. We will break down what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement to give you a clearer idea of what approach you should take with your own essay! 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Barnard essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 

Essay Example #1

Prompt:  At Barnard, academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited and why do they interest you? Tell us how you would explore these questions at Barnard. (300 words)

There are some questions that can’t be answered through classes. 

Why does cereal taste better in a cup? 

How many bottles of kombucha can I brew in my dorm room? 

Is hitting snooze self care or sabotage? 

These are questions best answered after midnight, half delirious in the dorms as you struggle through math homework. 

Shower questions though, tend to lend themselves more to philosophical discussions. 

Is it ethical, even hypocritical, to make pro-recycling posters out of printer paper? 

If the Bible says everyone is a sinner, why is homosexuality seen as “more sinful”? 

Is it anti-feminist to study primarily male philosophers? 

I’d love to explore these questions at Barnard, in classes like Philosophical Problems of Climate Change, Philosophy, Justice and Social Activism, or Sexuality, Sin and Spirituality, though I’m more certain the discussions would carry on as I sit in Hewitt with friends, discussing how climate change is inherently tied to capitalism and why oat milk is better than almond milk. 

But Barnard would also allow me to explore other facets of my interests. Through classes in the Political Science department like Colloquium on Gender and Public Policy, I can explore questions like how does race and gender affect policy, and how is race and gender affected by policy? I’d also take classes in the English department, seeking to answer deep questions like how can I channel my experiences regarding heavy topics like generational trauma or climate change through art? The class What’s Your Story Anyway?—Trauma Resistance through Creative Writing would help me do just that. 

In short, the multifaceted nature of Barnard, from classes themselves to the way students are encouraged to be more than one thing; student, activist, leader, makes it so exciting to me. Given the chance, I’d love to be bold at Barnard. 

What the Essay Did Well

This essay is captivating, entertaining, and perfectly encapsulates this student—not an easy feat to accomplish in under 300 words! The student could have easily picked one or two questions, but instead she enriched her essay with quirky questions to make for an exciting hook, and then delved into an array of more serious questions that perfectly aligned with the opportunities at Barnard. Opening the essay with cereal, kombucha, and snooze buttons humanizes her and draws in the reader with humorous topics we can relate to.

The philosophical questions are beautifully interwoven with related classes that would provide her with the answers; this is a concrete way to demonstrate exactly how you will explore your questions at Barnard. Again, she offers up five different philosophical questions in the latter half of the essay, and each reveals a new layer of her personality.

The use of succinct and detailed questions allows the reader to gain insight into what this student finds important without lengthy sentences explaining their interests and values. “ Is it ethical, even hypocritical, to make pro-recycling posters out of printer paper?” shows us their passion for climate justice and protesting with the posters they make. We might conclude they are religious and possibly have an identity that contrasts with their faith from this question: “ If the Bible says everyone is a sinner, why is homosexuality seen as “more sinful”?”

Because this student chose her questions with intention, each one brings a new element to the essay and helps the reader piece together all the different aspects of her personality.

What Could Be Improved

While this essay is very strong, one thing the student could have considered is including opportunities at Barnard besides exclusively referring to classes. She was able to draw very strong connections between her questions and the classes, but discussing other resources at Barnard that would allow her to explore her questions would have demonstrated even more interest in the school. Discussing a club or a professor who might know the answer to her question would be a nice way to incorporate other aspects of the campus community into the essay to show how well this student would fit in.

Essay Example #2

Prompt: Pick one woman — a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual — to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. Why does this person intrigue you? What would you talk about? What questions would you ask them? (300 words)

She loved so fiercely that she carried her husband’s calcified heart with her wherever she went.  Her most famous work is responsible for countless spinoffs, discussions, and derivations, approached from every angle. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, pioneer of the sci-fi genre, daughter of anarchist feminists, Gothic badass, and perpetually star-crossed lover, represents to me the multiplicity of womanhood. 

We remember her today for her intellectual prowess in the literary and political fields. Less often noted is the fact that her irrational, Romantic instincts guided her throughout her life. Both were instrumental in her character, as I know they are in mine. Thus, our conversation  would revolve around the relationship between head and heart. 

Growing up, I struggled to reconcile my ambitions with what I deemed the “irrational” side of me. My emotions and impulse contradicted so greatly with my goal to be the “strong female  protagonist” of my own life, someone who could compartmentalize a publicly infallible and privately sensitive persona. 

But I’ve learned since from women like Mary that my vulnerabilities can and should be an asset. We could discuss how her experiences as a mother and daughter shaped Frankenstein the same way that I draw on my experiences to deepen my extracurricular passions, how her life was guided by pursuits of both love and intellectualism, how I’ve learned that even my academic or public responsibilities are inextricably tied to my identity as a woman, how we contain multitudes — emotional, intellectual, vulnerable, strong — that are all crucial to our  conceptions of womanhood.

From the very first sentence, the author uses vivid, engaging language to draw her reader in, and it continues through the essay. The first paragraph is a strong hook that builds suspense and anticipation before we are even told who the famous figure is. Not only does her description of Shelley’s distinguishing features at the beginning reveal what the author means by her representing the “ multiplicity ” of women, but it also reveals the traits that are most important to this student like being a feminist, a badass, and a lover.

After hooking her reader with a lively description of Shelley in the first paragraph, the author clearly states her personal connection to Shelley. Additionally, here the author uses simple, direct language. In this instance, that is a good choice, because the dichotomy she is describing is fairly complex and she has to ensure her reader understands her meaning.

The essay ends with her concisely summarizing Shelley’s impact on her own life: Shelley has helped her accept that there are many ways to be a woman, and that womanhood is not defined by any one attribute.  This final line gives the reader a clear takeaway, which is incredibly helpful, as they would have no problem answering what the essay was about. When your reader finishes your essay, they shouldn’t have any confusion about what you were trying to communicate. 

One weakness in this essay is it is too vague at times, thus it would benefit from the inclusion of anecdotes or elaboration about this student. For example she says, “ I draw on my experiences to deepen my extracurricular passions ,” and “ I’ve learned that even my academic or public responsibilities are inextricably tied to my identity as a woman ” but the reader has no indication what those experiences are or how this student learned about her responsibilities being linked to her gender.

Let’s take the third paragraph as an example to see how anecdotes could improve this essay.

The current phrase at the beginning of the paragraph, “ growing up ”, is generic and uninformative. Consider instead something along the lines of “ I have often struggled to reconcile my ambitions with what I deemed the ‘irrational’ side of me. Despite my desire to be the ‘strong female protagonist’ of my own life, I couldn’t help but feeling intimidated when I walked into my first debate practice and immediately realized I was the only girl. My public persona may have been infallible, but privately I worried that I was being overly sensitive. ”

Essay Example #3

Prompt:  What factors encouraged your decision to apply to Barnard College and why do you think the college would be a good match for you? (300 words)

There’s a certain energy palpable at protests, each chant a powerful reminder that you are not alone in a seemingly futile fight- it’s why I love organizing. On Barnard’s campus you will be sure to find me teaching environmental education with Sprout Up (gotta start them young), or even protesting through the streets of New York. *Fun fact I may have marched through Wall Street with a “no economy on a dead planet” sign at one point. A power move if you ask me.

Barnard’s history of trailblazing through boundaries, creating space for *revolutionary* ideas and actions comfort me, knowing that however far I try to push boundaries, to create change, Barnard will give me the space and support I need to accomplish my goals, especially with the help of the Athena Center. 

Despite my love for grassroots activism, I often feel frustrated in the weeks following a protest; despite overwhelming support for change, be it climate action, BLM, Indigenous sovereignty, it often feels like our cries fall upon deaf ears. In order for substantial change to occur, leaders and policymakers need to reflect the diversity and interests of the public. As an Asian American woman, I seldom see myself reflected in leadership. Studying at Barnard will equip me to be that leader, a role model for the next generation of girls, Asian or not.

Having the tools to understand both the science and ethnography of issues like climate change is something I believe will be invaluable to study in the Environment & Sustainability program. Using the knowledge I gain from classes like BC3932 Climate Change, Global Migration & Human Rights in the Anthropocene , which bridges my interest in anthropology with the environment, I can be a better informed leader, learning from the past to preserve the resources we still have. 

Something that sets this essay apart from typical “ Why School? ” essays is how the student’s interests and anecdotes are weaved through the essay along with the offerings at Barnard. Many students follow a basic structure with an introductory anecdote, elaboration on their interests, and then conclude with listing a slew of opportunities at the school that relate to their passion.

By incorporating Barnard from the first paragraph to the last, it makes the school feel like an integral part of this student’s story and allows her to connect each part of her identity to the school. This makes for a much more fluid and easy to follow essay. We aren’t bombarded with a list of the student’s passions and then asked to recall them when she discusses resources at the school. We can see her passion for protesting and then get told exactly what activities she will join on campus to fulfill that passion. Then we move onto her thirst for breaking boundaries and are told about a leadership center she wants to engage with. Each idea is secluded and given the space it needs to be fully understood. 

Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student is honest about who she is, for the sake of both adding humor and establishing significance. “ Fun fact I may have marched through Wall Street with a “no economy on a dead planet” sign at one point. A power move if you ask me,”  is a great sentence from the way it’s framed as a fun fact, to the emphasis on the may, to calling her own actions a power move. On the flip side, “ As an Asian American woman, I seldom see myself reflected in leadership ” brings a sense of solemnity to the essay. The author is being forthright with her identity, and the struggles with it, so the reader can appreciate where her motivation stems from.

It would be nice if this essay had a conclusion that wrapped up the essay, rather than leaving it as is with no sense of closure. We know—word counts are the worst. This essay is at 299 of 300 words, so to add a conclusion would require cutting down on other words or reworking sentences to save space.

One area that could be reworked is this sentence: “ Barnard’s history of trailblazing through boundaries, creating space for *revolutionary* ideas and actions comfort me, knowing that however far I try to push boundaries, to create change, Barnard will give me the space and support I need to accomplish my goals.”   It could be shortened by providing a concrete example, instead of talking about boundaries as hypotheticals, like this: “ As the first female captain of the Ma thletes, I saw the need to challenge the status quo—something which Barnard encourages.” 

Simple changes like this to make the essay more concise would give the author 20 or so words to write a quick one-liner to conclude the essay and express how Barnard will allow them to become the person they have always dreamed of.

Where to Get Your Barnard College Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your Barnard College essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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The Loss of Things I Took for Granted

Ten years into my college teaching career, students stopped being able to read effectively..

Recent years have seen successive waves of book bans in Republican-controlled states, aimed at pulling any text with “woke” themes from classrooms and library shelves. Though the results sometimes seem farcical, as with the banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus due to its inclusion of “cuss words” and explicit rodent nudity, the book-banning agenda is no laughing matter. Motivated by bigotry, it has already done demonstrable harm and promises to do more. But at the same time, the appropriate response is, in principle, simple. Named individuals have advanced explicit policies with clear goals and outcomes, and we can replace those individuals with people who want to reverse those policies. That is already beginning to happen in many places, and I hope those successes will continue until every banned book is restored.

If and when that happens, however, we will not be able to declare victory quite yet. Defeating the open conspiracy to deprive students of physical access to books will do little to counteract the more diffuse confluence of forces that are depriving students of the skills needed to meaningfully engage with those books in the first place. As a college educator, I am confronted daily with the results of that conspiracy-without-conspirators. I have been teaching in small liberal arts colleges for over 15 years now, and in the past five years, it’s as though someone flipped a switch. For most of my career, I assigned around 30 pages of reading per class meeting as a baseline expectation—sometimes scaling up for purely expository readings or pulling back for more difficult texts. (No human being can read 30 pages of Hegel in one sitting, for example.) Now students are intimidated by anything over 10 pages and seem to walk away from readings of as little as 20 pages with no real understanding. Even smart and motivated students struggle to do more with written texts than extract decontextualized take-aways. Considerable class time is taken up simply establishing what happened in a story or the basic steps of an argument—skills I used to be able to take for granted.

Since this development very directly affects my ability to do my job as I understand it, I talk about it a lot. And when I talk about it with nonacademics, certain predictable responses inevitably arise, all questioning the reality of the trend I describe. Hasn’t every generation felt that the younger cohort is going to hell in a handbasket? Haven’t professors always complained that educators at earlier levels are not adequately equipping their students? And haven’t students from time immemorial skipped the readings?

The response of my fellow academics, however, reassures me that I’m not simply indulging in intergenerational grousing. Anecdotally, I have literally never met a professor who did not share my experience. Professors are also discussing the issue in academic trade publications , from a variety of perspectives. What we almost all seem to agree on is that we are facing new obstacles in structuring and delivering our courses, requiring us to ratchet down expectations in the face of a ratcheting down of preparation. Yes, there were always students who skipped the readings, but we are in new territory when even highly motivated honors students struggle to grasp the basic argument of a 20-page article. Yes, professors never feel satisfied that high school teachers have done enough, but not every generation of professors has had to deal with the fallout of No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Finally, yes, every generation thinks the younger generation is failing to make the grade— except for the current cohort of professors, who are by and large more invested in their students’ success and mental health and more responsive to student needs than any group of educators in human history. We are not complaining about our students. We are complaining about what has been taken from them.

If we ask what has caused this change, there are some obvious culprits. The first is the same thing that has taken away almost everyone’s ability to focus—the ubiquitous smartphone. Even as a career academic who studies the Quran in Arabic for fun, I have noticed my reading endurance flagging. I once found myself boasting at a faculty meeting that I had read through my entire hourlong train ride without looking at my phone. My colleagues agreed this was a major feat, one they had not achieved recently. Even if I rarely attain that high level of focus, though, I am able to “turn it on” when demanded, for instance to plow through a big novel during a holiday break. That’s because I was able to develop and practice those skills of extended concentration and attentive reading before the intervention of the smartphone. For children who were raised with smartphones, by contrast, that foundation is missing. It is probably no coincidence that the iPhone itself, originally released in 2007, is approaching college age, meaning that professors are increasingly dealing with students who would have become addicted to the dopamine hit of the omnipresent screen long before they were introduced to the more subtle pleasures of the page.

The second go-to explanation is the massive disruption of school closures during COVID-19. There is still some debate about the necessity of those measures, but what is not up for debate any longer is the very real learning loss that students suffered at every level. The impact will inevitably continue to be felt for the next decade or more, until the last cohort affected by the mass “pivot to online” finally graduates. I doubt that the pandemic closures were the decisive factor in themselves, however. Not only did the marked decline in reading resilience start before the pandemic, but the students I am seeing would have already been in high school during the school closures. Hence they would be better equipped to get something out of the online format and, more importantly, their basic reading competence would have already been established.

Less discussed than these broader cultural trends over which educators have little control are the major changes in reading pedagogy that have occurred in recent decades—some motivated by the ever-increasing demand to “teach to the test” and some by fads coming out of schools of education. In the latter category is the widely discussed decline in phonics education in favor of the “balanced literacy” approach advocated by education expert Lucy Calkins (who has more recently come to accept the need for more phonics instruction). I started to see the results of this ill-advised change several years ago, when students abruptly stopped attempting to sound out unfamiliar words and instead paused until they recognized the whole word as a unit. (In a recent class session, a smart, capable student was caught short by the word circumstances when reading a text out loud.) The result of this vibes-based literacy is that students never attain genuine fluency in reading. Even aside from the impact of smartphones, their experience of reading is constantly interrupted by their intentionally cultivated inability to process unfamiliar words.

For all the flaws of the balanced literacy method, it was presumably implemented by people who thought it would help. It is hard to see a similar motivation in the growing trend toward assigning students only the kind of short passages that can be included in a standardized test. Due in part to changes driven by the infamous Common Core standards , teachers now have to fight to assign their students longer readings, much less entire books, because those activities won’t feed directly into students getting higher test scores, which leads to schools getting more funding. The emphasis on standardized tests was always a distraction at best, but we have reached the point where it is actively cannibalizing students’ educational experience—an outcome no one intended or planned, and for which there is no possible justification.

We can’t go back in time and do the pandemic differently at this point, nor is there any realistic path to putting the smartphone genie back in the bottle. (Though I will note that we as a society do at least attempt to keep other addictive products out of the hands of children.) But I have to think that we can, at the very least, stop actively preventing young people from developing the ability to follow extended narratives and arguments in the classroom. Regardless of their profession or ultimate educational level, they will need those skills. The world is a complicated place. People—their histories and identities, their institutions and work processes, their fears and desires—are simply too complex to be captured in a worksheet with a paragraph and some reading comprehension questions. Large-scale prose writing is the best medium we have for capturing that complexity, and the education system should not be in the business of keeping students from learning how to engage effectively with it.

This is a matter not of snobbery, but of basic justice. I recognize that not everyone centers their lives on books as much as a humanities professor does. I think they’re missing out, but they’re adults and they can choose how to spend their time. What’s happening with the current generation is not that they are simply choosing TikTok over Jane Austen. They are being deprived of the ability to choose—for no real reason or benefit. We can and must stop perpetrating this crime on our young people.

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The Chronicle

Duke no longer giving numerical rating to standardized testing, essays in undergraduate admissions

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Duke is no longer giving essays and standardized testing scores numerical ratings in the undergraduate admissions process.

The change went into place this year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag wrote in an email to The Chronicle. He explained that essays are no longer receiving a score because of a rise in the use of generative artificial intelligence and college admissions consultants.

When asked about how the admissions office determines if an essay is AI-generated or written by consultants and if applicants are hurt if the office determines so, Guttentag answered that "there aren't simple answers to these questions." 

Despite the changes, Guttentag wrote that essays and standardized testing scores are still considered in the admissions process. 

“Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant, we’re just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability,” he wrote. “Standardized tests (SAT or ACT) are considered when they’re submitted as part of the application.”

According to Guttentag, essays will now be used to “help understand the applicant as an individual rather, not just as a set of attributes and accomplishments.” He also wrote that the admissions office now values essays that give “insight into who the unique person is whose application we’re reading” and that “content and insight matter more than style.”

“Because of that they are not given a numerical rating, but considered as we think holistically about a candidate as a potential member of the Duke community,” he wrote. 

Previously, the Duke admissions office would assign numerical ratings of one to five on six different categories: curriculum strength, academics, recommendations, essays, extracurriculars and test scores. Applicants would then receive a total score out of 30 by adding up each category’s numerical rating.

According to Guttentag, the only categories given numerical ratings now are the four categories that remain: “the strength of a student’s curriculum, their grades in academic courses, their extracurricular activities and the letters of recommendation.”

“There are naturally many, many more factors that are taken into account when making admissions decisions — these are just a partial but useful way of thinking [of] applicants in the context of the pool as a whole,” he wrote. “I suppose it may be something similar to looking at a player’s various statistics, which only give you a partial picture of the player’s contribution to the team.”

Guttentag noted that historically, numerical ratings have been “valuable in helping to identify competitive applicants.”

Admissions processes for colleges across the country have seen changes and experimentation recently due to a variety of factors, most notably the Supreme Court’s overturning of race-based affirmative action in June 2023 and changes to standardized testing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Supreme Court decision was absolutely not a factor in how we decided to approach essays,” Guttentag wrote. Duke remained test-optional for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. 

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Every FAFSA Delay Puts College Further Out of Reach

An illustration of a figure wearing a varsity jacket emblazoned with the words “Insufficient Funds.”

By Justin Draeger and Ted Mitchell

Mr. Draeger is president and C.E.O. of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Mr. Mitchell is president of the American Council on Education and a former U.S. under secretary of education.

Each year, more than 17 million students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, hoping to secure the financial support they need to afford college. But this year, operational glitches and repeated delays in the U.S. Department of Education’s “Better FAFSA” rollout threaten to harm the very students and families that financial aid is intended to help. Despite promises of an easier, more straightforward application process, students and families so far have been met with glitches and delays, and still today, there are entire groups of students blocked from even completing the form.

The department notified schools on Jan. 30, the day that they were supposed to get detailed information to determine how much aid was available for each student, that schools would not receive that data until sometime in the first half of March, leaving colleges scrambling to determine how best to issue aid offers as soon as possible. Students may not receive financial aid offers until April and are typically expected to make a decision about where to attend college by May 1. The traditional “college decision day” simply may not work for students this year since many will not have had the time they need to consider all of their financial options.

This problematic rollout is causing more than just an administrative headache. For students — and even schools themselves — the ripple effect could be catastrophic. Federal financial aid programs were created to open the doors to higher education, bringing a dream within reach for some who would otherwise be unable to unlock that future. Those who can least afford to pay for college will be the most adversely affected.

Some students may be pressured into making one of the most significant financial decisions of their lives without having a complete picture of their options. Others may delay enrolling in college for another year, once the aid application process is running more smoothly. Or, worse yet, some students may become so frustrated by the complexity and confusion of this year’s financial aid process that they give up altogether, forgoing pursuit of a postsecondary degree or credential that would add to their earnings and provide all the other benefits that come with additional education.

Meanwhile, many colleges and universities are stuck in a holding pattern. Schools, state agencies and private scholarship providers rely on FAFSA data to determine how to distribute their own financial aid dollars. Without that information, financial aid offices can’t begin the work of putting together aid offers for students or even precise timelines about when students will receive them.

And without those aid offers, students can’t — really, shouldn’t — decide where to enroll. Financial aid offices are feeling pressure from students and families who are rightfully frustrated and confused as to why they haven’t been given any information on aid packages, as well as from institutional leaders who are eager to finalize their incoming class and budget for the year ahead.

Colleges and universities must now move to take corrective action, and fast. That is why we and other higher education association leaders are urging schools to extend financial aid and enrollment deadlines beyond the traditional May 1 date.

For years, students, families, college guidance and admissions professionals and researchers have known that the FAFSA was too complicated, lengthy and daunting, causing many qualified students to skip filling out the form and miss out on the aid they’re entitled to. In 2020, Congress ordered the Department of Education to overhaul the form by asking fewer questions and relying on technology to obtain key information already gathered by other federal agencies, such as the I.R.S.

Congress provided no additional funds to help roll out a new FAFSA. At the same time, Federal Student Aid, the office in the Department of Education responsible for the FAFSA, was working to revamp the student lending system while creating numerous new loan forgiveness efforts, including the expansive plan that was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court last summer. Big ambitions and limited resources most likely contributed to the problems we’re seeing now.

Given these challenges, Congress granted the department an extra year to pull off this huge system overhaul. But even with a three-year development runway, when the 2024-25 FAFSA finally “soft launched” nearly three months later than usual on Dec. 30, 2023, it did so with very limited availability: less than an hour a day for the first couple of days. While the form is now available 24/7 and more than three million students have been able to complete it, some applicants in special family circumstances and those who make simple mistakes on the form still cannot log back in to correct and resubmit.

Moving forward, the Department of Education must meet its own timelines, putting aside blame and finger-pointing to provide the higher education community with better, continuing and more proactive communication about the FAFSA rollout. Colleges, financial aid offices, high school guidance counselors and millions of students simply cannot make plans around last-minute delays and surprises.

The responsibility to make sure that students and families get the information they need, when they need it, in time to make educated decisions about college cannot be delayed.

Justin Draeger is president and C.E.O. of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Ted Mitchell is president of the American Council on Education and a former U.S. under secretary of education.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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  • Home Internet

Best Internet Providers in College Station, Texas

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Updated Feb. 21, 2024 6:00 a.m. PT

Headshot of writer Hallie Seltzer

Our expert staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and evaluates our top picks. The order in which our top picks are presented may be impacted by partnerships, and we may get a commission if you buy through our links. How we test ISPs

What is the best internet provider in College Station?

College Station's largest cable internet provider, Optimum, is CNET's top pick for residential internet for most households. Optimum serves many College Station addresses and offers some of the cheapest and fastest plans in the area. T-Mobile Home Internet and Frontier Fiber are other options for home broadband, but it will depend on what's available at your location. Nextlink may also be accessible at select homes, but its prices are more expensive than T-Mobile's fixed wireless service.

Are you shopping for the most affordable plans or the fastest speeds in College Station? We've also found those. Optimum's 300 megabits per second plan, which costs only $40 per month, is the cheapest. For lightning-fast connectivity, check out Frontier Fiber's $155-per-month service, which offers symmetrical download and upload speeds up to 5 gigabits.

Our methodology

CNET considers speeds, pricing, customer service and overall value to recommend the best internet service in College Station across several categories. Our evaluation includes referencing a proprietary database built over years of reviewing internet services. We validate that against provider information by spot-checking local addresses for service availability. We also do a close read of providers' terms and conditions and, when needed, will call ISPs to verify the details.

Despite our efforts to find the most recent and accurate information, our process has some limitations you should know about. Pricing and speed data are variable: Certain addresses may qualify for different service tiers, and monthly costs may vary, even within a city. The best way to identify your particular options is to plug your address into a provider's website. 

Also, the prices, speed and other information listed above and in the provider cards below may differ from what we found in our research. The cards display the full range of a provider's pricing and speed across the US, according to our database of plan information provided directly by ISPs. At the same time, the text is specific to what's available in College Station. The prices referenced within this article's text come from our research and include applicable discounts for setting up automatic payments each month -- a standard industry offering. Discounts and promotions might also be available for signing a term contract or bundling multiple services. 

To learn more about how we review internet providers, visit our full methodology page .

Best internet in College Station, Texas, in 2024

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Best internet provider in College Station, TX

Our take - According to data from the Federal Communications Commission, Optimum is available to over 76% of households in College Station. Optimum's network offers three plans, ranging in download speeds from 300Mbps up to 940Mbps. Prices start at $40 per month, the cheapest home internet available in the area.

  • High speeds with competitive pricing
  • No data caps, no contracts
  • Two-year price guarantee
  • Fiber service available to 1.6 million homes
  • Low customer satisfaction score
  • Slow upload speeds for cable internet customers
  • Unlimited data on some plans
  • low price increase


T-Mobile Home Internet

Best fixed wireless in college station, tx.

Our take - T-Mobile Home Internet and Nextlink go head-to-head for College Station's No. 2 spot -- with T-Mobile Home Internet beating out its competition. While its speeds only reach 245Mbps, this fixed wireless provider is especially enticing for eligible mobile users who can save $20 per month. Plus, T-Mobile Home Internet has no data caps, contracts or equipment fees.

  • No contracts
  • No data caps
  • Simple, affordable pricing
  • Aggressively competitive with its terms and perks
  • Speeds may vary
  • Max download speeds don't match fiber and cable
  • Home internet customers deprioritized over mobile
  • Unlimited data
  • equipment included
  • no contracts
  • no additional fees


Frontier Fiber

Best fiber internet in college station, tx.

Our take - Frontier Fiber will be your best bet if you're searching for a fiber connection in College Station. In addition to offering symmetrical speeds of up to 5 gigabits and prices as low as $45 per month, all plans come with unlimited data, equipment and no yearly commitment. Just ensure you're not getting stuck with this provider's much slower DSL network.

  • Wi-Fi router rental included in the price
  • Fast fiber speeds
  • Spotty DSL speeds
  • Poor, but improving, customer satisfaction record
  • Term agreement required to get signup bonuses
  • no equipment fee

College Station internet providers compared

Source: CNET analysis of provider data.

What’s the cheapest internet plan in College Station?

How to find internet deals and promotions in college station.

The best internet deals and top promotions in College Station depend on what discounts are available during that period. Most deals are short-lived, but we look frequently for the latest offers. 

College Station internet providers, such as Optimum, Nextlink and Rise Broadband, may offer lower introductory pricing or streaming add-ons for a limited time. Others, however, such as Frontier, run the same standard pricing year-round. 

For a more extensive list of promos, check out our guide on the best internet deals . 

TriciaDaniel/Getty Images


Fastest internet plans in College Station

What’s a good internet speed.

Most internet connection plans can now handle basic productivity and communication tasks. If you're looking for an internet plan that can accommodate videoconferencing, streaming video or gaming, you'll have a better experience with a more robust connection. Here's an overview of the recommended minimum download speeds for various applications, according to the FCC . Note that these are only guidelines -- and that internet speed, service and performance vary by connection type, provider and address.

For more information, refer to our guide on how much internet speed you really need .

  • 0 to 5Mbps allows you to tackle the basics -- browsing the internet, sending and receiving email, streaming low-quality video.
  • 5 to 40Mbps gives you higher-quality video streaming and videoconferencing.
  • 40 to 100Mbps should give one user sufficient bandwidth to satisfy the demands of modern telecommuting, video streaming and online gaming. 
  • 100 to 500Mbps allows one to two users to simultaneously engage in high-bandwidth activities like videoconferencing, streaming and gaming. 
  • 500 to 1,000Mbps allows three or more users to engage in high-bandwidth activities at the same time.

How CNET chose the best internet providers in College Station

Internet service providers are numerous and regional. Unlike the latest smartphone , laptop , router or kitchen tool , it’s impractical to personally test every ISP in a given city. So what’s our approach? We start by researching the pricing, availability and speed information, drawing on our own historical ISP data, the provider sites and mapping information from FCC.gov .

But it doesn’t end there. We go to the FCC’s website to check our data and ensure we consider every ISP that provides service in an area. We also input local addresses on provider websites to find specific options for residents. We look at sources, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index and J.D. Power, to evaluate how happy customers are with an ISP’s service. ISP plans and prices are subject to frequent changes; all information provided is accurate as of publication.

Once we have this localized information, we ask three main questions:

  • Does the provider offer access to reasonably fast internet speeds?
  • Do customers get decent value for what they’re paying?
  • Are customers happy with their service?

While the answer to those questions is often layered and complex, the providers who come closest to “yes” on all three are the ones we recommend. When selecting the cheapest internet service, we look for the plans with the lowest monthly fee, though we also factor in things like price increases, equipment fees and contracts. Choosing the fastest internet service is relatively straightforward. We look at advertised upload and download speeds and also consider real-world speed data from sources like Ookla and FCC reports .

To explore our process in more depth, visit our page on how we test ISPs .

College Station internet provider FAQs

What's the best internet service provider in College Station?

Although Optimum's wide coverage makes it stand out above the rest of College Station's providers, Optimum also offers simple service details and cheap broadband prices.

Is fiber internet available in College Station?

Fiber internet is available to just under 37% of College Station addresses . Frontier Fiber is the largest fiber provider in the area, but select households may be serviceable under Pavlov Media's fiber network.

What's the cheapest internet provider in College Station?

Optimum offers the cheapest internet plan in College Station, costing $40 per month for 300Mbps.

Which internet provider in College Station offers the fastest plan?

Frontier Fiber's 5-gigabit plan is the fastest speed available in College Station, which costs $155 per month with no data caps.

Home Internet Guides

Internet Providers by City

  • Best Internet Providers in Los Angeles
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  • Best Internet Providers in Chicago
  • Best Internet Providers in San Francisco
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Internet Providers and Services

  • Google Fiber Internet Review
  • Xfinity vs Verizon Fios
  • Verizon 5G vs. T-Mobile Home Internet
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  • Best Rural Internet
  • Best Cheap Internet and TV Bundles
  • Best Speed Tests
  • AT&T Home Internet Review
  • Best Satellite Internet
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Internet Routers

  • Best Mesh Wi-Fi Routers
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  • TP-Link Review
  • Nest Wi-Fi vs. Google Wi-Fi
  • Best Wi-Fi Extender
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  • Best Wi-Fi Routers

Helpful Internet Resources

  • What is 5G Home Internet?
  • Home Internet Cheat Sheet
  • Your ISP May Be Throttling Your Internet Speed
  • How to Switch ISPs
  • Internet Connection Types
  • Internet for Apartments
  • Top 10 Tips for Wi-Fi Security
  • How to Save Money on Your Monthly Internet Bill
  • How Much Internet Speed Do You Need?
  • Sometimes a provider is available in your Zip code, but not at your exact address
  • See what exact plans are available at your home

provider image


[Re]considering the male gaze in Italian Baroque sculpture

photo of Baroque style bust statue

The Lamar Dodd School of Art directs us to this essay written by art history student Gabriela Diaz-Jones published in The Classic Journal, the Franklin College Writing intensive Program's journal of undergraduate writing and research, “ Baroque Women in Marble as Intimate or Intricate.” Diaz-Jones explores the objectification of female sitters sculpted in marble during the Italian Baroque era, focusing on two busts, one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the other by Alessandro Algardi:

The two artworks are borne from nearly opposite contexts. Algardi created a poised, almost lifeless portrait, befitting of its likely funerary purpose. Bernini, on the other hand, carved a work that is stunningly intimate and energetic, gesturing to his secret sexual relationship with Costanza. Bernini’s invention of the “speaking likeness,” the concept of ownership regarding women’s jewelry and clothing during this period, sexual connotations of women’s hair, the myth and symbolism of Medusa, and the legacy of men’s signing images of women as assertions of ownership all come into play when examining and interrogating these works. The tenor of this paper will be that both busts, while they have entirely opposite approaches to depicting women (formal versus intimate, reserved versus dynamic) are still stunningly alike. In both artworks, male artists used sculpture to construct an idealized version of a woman, either moral or seductive. Ultimately both “constructions” are fictions, not reflective of reality but rather, reflections of the role they wanted these women to play (deceased wife of a patron, or lover.) Bernini and Algardi both brought marble to life in the quintessential Baroque style, but the “life” that they imbued into the rock was, without a doubt, not their subjects’ own.

Read the entire essay .

Image: Algardi, Alessandro.  Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica , 1640, marble, 90 x 61.3 x 29.2 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California (Artstor, ITHAKA).

Support Franklin College

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