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College Essays

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Just as there are noteworthy examples of excellent college essays that admissions offices like to publish, so are there cringe-worthy examples of terrible college essays that end up being described by anonymous admissions officers on Reddit discussion boards.

While I won't guarantee that your essay will end up in the first category, I will say that you follow my advice in this article, your essay most assuredly won't end up in the second. How do you avoid writing a bad admissions essay? Read on to find out what makes an essay bad and to learn which college essay topics to avoid. I'll also explain how to recognize bad college essays—and what to do to if you end up creating one by accident.

What Makes Bad College Essays Bad

What exactly happens to turn a college essay terrible? Just as great personal statements combine an unexpected topic with superb execution, flawed personal statements compound problematic subject matter with poor execution.

Problems With the Topic

The primary way to screw up a college essay is to flub what the essay is about or how you've decided to discuss a particular experience. Badly chosen essay content can easily create an essay that is off-putting in one of a number of ways I'll discuss in the next section.

The essay is the place to let the admissions office of your target college get to know your personality, character, and the talents and skills that aren't on your transcript. So if you start with a terrible topic, not only will you end up with a bad essay, but you risk ruining the good impression that the rest of your application makes.

Some bad topics show admissions officers that you don't have a good sense of judgment or maturity , which is a problem since they are building a class of college students who have to be able to handle independent life on campus.

Other bad topics suggest that you are a boring person , or someone who doesn't process your experience in a colorful or lively way, which is a problem since colleges want to create a dynamic and engaged cohort of students.

Still other bad topics indicate that you're unaware of or disconnected from the outside world and focused only on yourself , which is a problem since part of the point of college is to engage with new people and new ideas, and admissions officers are looking for people who can do that.

Problems With the Execution

Sometimes, even if the experiences you discuss could be the foundation of a great personal statement, the way you've structured and put together your essay sends up warning flags. This is because the admissions essay is also a place to show the admissions team the maturity and clarity of your writing style.

One way to get this part wrong is to exhibit very faulty writing mechanics , like unclear syntax or incorrectly used punctuation. This is a problem since college-ready writing is one of the things that's expected from a high school graduate.

Another way to mess this up is to ignore prompt instructions either for creative or careless reasons. This can show admissions officers that you're either someone who simply blows off directions and instructions or someone who can't understand how to follow them . Neither is a good thing, since they are looking for people who are open to receiving new information from professors and not just deciding they know everything already.

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College Essay Topics To Avoid

Want to know why you're often advised to write about something mundane and everyday for your college essay? That's because the more out-there your topic, the more likely it is to stumble into one of these trouble categories.

Too Personal

The problem with the overly personal essay topic is that revealing something very private can show that you don't really understand boundaries . And knowing where appropriate boundaries are will be key for living on your own with a bunch of people not related to you.

Unfortunately, stumbling into the TMI zone of essay topics is more common than you think. One quick test for checking your privacy-breaking level: if it's not something you'd tell a friendly stranger sitting next to you on the plane, maybe don't tell it to the admissions office.

  • Describing losing your virginity, or anything about your sex life really. This doesn't mean you can't write about your sexual orientation—just leave out the actual physical act.
  • Writing in too much detail about your illness, disability, any other bodily functions. Detailed meaningful discussion of what this physical condition has meant to you and your life is a great thing to write about. But stay away from body horror and graphic descriptions that are simply there for gratuitous shock value.
  • Waxing poetic about your love for your significant other. Your relationship is adorable to the people currently involved in it, but those who don't know you aren't invested in this aspect of your life.
  • Confessing to odd and unusual desires of the sexual or illegal variety. Your obsession with cultivating cacti is wonderful topic, while your obsession with researching explosives is a terrible one.

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Too Revealing of Bad Judgment

Generally speaking, leave past illegal or immoral actions out of your essay . It's simply a bad idea to give admissions officers ammunition to dislike you.

Some exceptions might be if you did something in a very, very different mindset from the one you're in now (in the midst of escaping from danger, under severe coercion, or when you were very young, for example). Or if your essay is about explaining how you've turned over a new leaf and you have the transcript to back you up.

  • Writing about committing crime as something fun or exciting. Unless it's on your permanent record, and you'd like a chance to explain how you've learned your lesson and changed, don't put this in your essay.
  • Describing drug use or the experience of being drunk or high. Even if you're in a state where some recreational drugs are legal, you're a high school student. Your only exposure to mind-altering substances should be caffeine.
  • Making up fictional stories about yourself as though they are true. You're unlikely to be a good enough fantasist to pull this off, and there's no reason to roll the dice on being discovered to be a liar.
  • Detailing your personality flaws. Unless you have a great story of coping with one of these, leave deal-breakers like pathological narcissism out of your personal statement.

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Too Overconfident

While it's great to have faith in your abilities, no one likes a relentless show-off. No matter how magnificent your accomplishments, if you decide to focus your essay on them, it's better to describe a setback or a moment of doubt rather that simply praising yourself to the skies.

  • Bragging and making yourself the flawless hero of your essay. This goes double if you're writing about not particularly exciting achievements like scoring the winning goal or getting the lead in the play.
  • Having no awareness of the actual scope of your accomplishments. It's lovely that you take time to help others, but volunteer-tutoring a couple of hours a week doesn't make you a saintly figure.

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Too Clichéd or Boring

Remember your reader. In this case, you're trying to make yourself memorable to an admissions officer who has been reading thousands of other essays . If your essay makes the mistake of being boring or trite, it just won't register in that person's mind as anything worth paying attention to.

  • Transcribing your resume into sentence form or writing about the main activity on your transcript. The application already includes your resume, or a detailed list of your various activities. Unless the prompt specifically asks you to write about your main activity, the essay needs to be about a facet of your interests and personality that doesn't come through the other parts of the application.
  • Writing about sports. Every athlete tries to write this essay. Unless you have a completely off-the-wall story or unusual achievement, leave this overdone topic be.
  • Being moved by your community service trip to a third-world country. Were you were impressed at how happy the people seemed despite being poor? Did you learn a valuable lesson about how privileged you are? Unfortunately, so has every other teenager who traveled on one of these trips. Writing about this tends to simultaneously make you sound unempathetic, clueless about the world, way over-privileged, and condescending. Unless you have a highly specific, totally unusual story to tell, don't do it.
  • Reacting with sadness to a sad, but very common experience. Unfortunately, many of the hard, formative events in your life are fairly universal. So, if you're going to write about death or divorce, make sure to focus on how you dealt with this event, so the essay is something only you could possibly have written. Only detailed, idiosyncratic description can save this topic.
  • Going meta. Don't write about the fact that you're writing the essay as we speak, and now the reader is reading it, and look, the essay is right here in the reader's hand. It's a technique that seems clever, but has already been done many times in many different ways.
  • Offering your ideas on how to fix the world. This is especially true if your solution is an easy fix, if only everyone would just listen to you. Trust me, there's just no way you are being realistically appreciative of the level of complexity inherent in the problem you're describing.
  • Starting with a famous quotation. There usually is no need to shore up your own words by bringing in someone else's. Of course, if you are writing about a particular phrase that you've adopted as a life motto, feel free to include it. But even then, having it be the first line in your essay feels like you're handing the keys over to that author and asking them to drive.
  • Using an everyday object as a metaphor for your life/personality. "Shoes. They are like this, and like that, and people love them for all of these reasons. And guess what? They are just like me."

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Too Off-Topic

Unlike the essays you've been writing in school where the idea is to analyze something outside of yourself, the main subject of your college essay should be you, your background, your makeup, and your future . Writing about someone or something else might well make a great essay, but not for this context.

  • Paying tribute to someone very important to you. Everyone would love to meet your grandma, but this isn't the time to focus on her amazing coming of age story. If you do want to talk about a person who is important to your life, dwell on the ways you've been impacted by them, and how you will incorporate this impact into your future.
  • Documenting how well other people do things, say things, are active, while you remain passive and inactive in the essay. Being in the orbit of someone else's important lab work, or complex stage production, or meaningful political activism is a fantastic learning moment. But if you decide to write about, your essay should be about your learning and how you've been influenced, not about the other person's achievements.
  • Concentrating on a work of art that deeply moved you. Watch out for the pitfall of writing an analytical essay about that work, and not at all about your reaction to it or how you've been affected since. Check out our explanation of how to answer Topic D of the ApplyTexas application to get some advice on writing about someone else's work while making sure your essay still points back at you.

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(Image: Pieter Christoffel Wonder [Public domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

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Too Offensive

With this potential mistake, you run the risk of showing a lack of self-awareness or the ability to be open to new ideas . Remember, no reader wants to be lectured at. If that's what your essay does, you are demonstrating an inability to communicate successfully with others.

Also, remember that no college is eager to admit someone who is too close-minded to benefit from being taught by others. A long, one-sided essay about a hot-button issue will suggest that you are exactly that.

  • Ranting at length about political, religious, or other contentious topics. You simply don't know where the admissions officer who reads your essay stands on any of these issues. It's better to avoid upsetting or angering that person.
  • Writing a one-sided diatribe about guns, abortion, the death penalty, immigration, or anything else in the news. Even if you can marshal facts in your argument, this essay is simply the wrong place to take a narrow, unempathetic side in an ongoing debate.
  • Mentioning anything negative about the school you're applying to. Again, your reader is someone who works there and presumably is proud of the place. This is not the time to question the admissions officer's opinions or life choices.

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College Essay Execution Problems To Avoid

Bad college essays aren't only caused by bad topics. Sometimes, even if you're writing about an interesting, relevant topic, you can still seem immature or unready for college life because of the way you present that topic—the way you actually write your personal statement. Check to make sure you haven't made any of the common mistakes on this list.

Tone-Deafness

Admissions officers are looking for resourcefulness, the ability to be resilient, and an active and optimistic approach to life —these are all qualities that create a thriving college student. Essays that don't show these qualities are usually suffering from tone-deafness.

  • Being whiny or complaining about problems in your life. Is the essay about everyone doing things to/against you? About things happening to you, rather than you doing anything about them? That perspective is a definite turn-off.
  • Trying and failing to use humor. You may be very funny in real life, but it's hard to be successfully funny in this context, especially when writing for a reader who doesn't know you. If you do want to use humor, I'd recommend the simplest and most straightforward version: being self-deprecating and low-key.
  • Talking down to the reader, or alternately being self-aggrandizing. No one enjoys being condescended to. In this case, much of the function of your essay is to charm and make yourself likable, which is unlikely to happen if you adopt this tone.
  • Being pessimistic, cynical, and generally depressive. You are applying to college because you are looking forward to a future of learning, achievement, and self-actualization. This is not the time to bust out your existential ennui and your jaded, been-there-done-that attitude toward life.

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(Image: Eduard Munch [Public Domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

Lack of Personality

One good question to ask yourself is: could anyone else have written this essay ? If the answer is yes, then you aren't doing a good job of representing your unique perspective on the world. It's very important to demonstrate your ability to be a detailed observer of the world, since that will be one of your main jobs as a college student.

  • Avoiding any emotions, and appearing robot-like and cold in the essay. Unlike essays that you've been writing for class, this essay is meant to be a showcase of your authorial voice and personality. It may seem strange to shift gears after learning how to take yourself out of your writing, but this is the place where you have to put as much as yourself in as possible.
  • Skipping over description and specific details in favor of writing only in vague generalities. Does your narrative feel like a newspaper horoscope, which could apply to every other person who was there that day? Then you're doing it wrong and need to refocus on your reaction, feelings, understanding, and transformation.

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Off-Kilter Style

There's some room for creativity here, yes, but a college essay isn't a free-for-all postmodern art class . True, there are prompts that specifically call for your most out-of-left-field submission, or allow you to submit a portfolio or some other work sample instead of a traditional essay. But on a standard application, it's better to stick to traditional prose, split into paragraphs, further split into sentences.

  • Submitting anything other than just the materials asked for on your application. Don't send food to the admissions office, don't write your essay on clothing or shoes, don't create a YouTube channel about your undying commitment to the school. I know there are a lot of urban legends about "that one time this crazy thing worked," but they are either not true or about something that will not work a second time.
  • Writing your essay in verse, in the form of a play, in bullet points, as an acrostic, or any other non-prose form. Unless you really have a way with poetry or playwriting, and you are very confident that you can meet the demands of the prompt and explain yourself well in this form, don't discard prose simply for the sake of being different.
  • Using as many "fancy" words as possible and getting very far away from sounding like yourself. Admissions officers are unanimous in wanting to hear your not fully formed teenage voice in your essay. This means that you should write at the top of your vocabulary range and syntax complexity, but don't trade every word up for a thesaurus synonym. Your essay will suffer for it.

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Failure to Proofread

Most people have a hard time checking over their own work. This is why you have to make sure that someone else proofreads your writing . This is the one place where you can, should—and really must—get someone who knows all about grammar, punctuation and has a good eye for detail to take a red pencil to your final draft.

Otherwise, you look like you either don't know the basic rules or writing (in which case, are you really ready for college work?) or don't care enough to present yourself well (in which case, why would the admissions people care about admitting you?).

  • Typos, grammatical mistakes, punctuation flubs, weird font/paragraph spacing issues. It's true that these are often unintentional mistakes. But caring about getting it right is a way to demonstrate your work ethic and dedication to the task at hand.
  • Going over the word limit. Part of showing your brilliance is being able to work within arbitrary rules and limitations. Going over the word count points to a lack of self-control, which is not a very attractive feature in a college applicant.
  • Repeating the same word(s) or sentence structure over and over again. This makes your prose monotonous and hard to read.

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Bad College Essay Examples—And How to Fix Them

The beauty of writing is that you get to rewrite. So if you think of your essay as a draft waiting to be revised into a better version rather than as a precious jewel that can't bear being touched, you'll be in far better shape to correct the issues that always crop up!

Now let's take a look at some actual college essay drafts to see where the writer is going wrong and how the issue could be fixed.

Essay #1: The "I Am Writing This Essay as We Speak" Meta-Narrative

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine. I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

In my junior year, I always had in mind an image of myself finishing the college essay months before the deadline. But as the weeks dragged on and the deadline drew near, it soon became clear that at the rate things are going I would probably have to make new plans for my October, November and December.

Falling into my personal wormhole, I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!" I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

I fell into a state of panic. My college essay. My image of myself in senior year. Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there. My heart lifted, I took his advice and listed three of my greatest achievements - mastering my backgammon strategy, being a part of TREE in my sophomore year, and performing "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance in public. And sure enough, I felt inspiration hit me and began to type away furiously into the keyboard about my experience in TREE, or Trees Require Engaged Environmentalists. I reflected on the current state of deforestation, and described the dichotomy of it being both understandable why farmers cut down forests for farmland, and how dangerous this is to our planet. Finally, I added my personal epiphany to the end of my college essay as the cherry on the vanilla sundae, as the overused saying goes.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal. Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In the middle of a hike through Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, I realized that the college essay was nothing more than an embodiment of my character. The two essays I have written were not right because they have failed to become more than just words on recycled paper. The subject failed to come alive. Certainly my keen interest in Star Trek and my enthusiasm for TREE are a great part of who I am, but there were other qualities essential in my character that did not come across in the essays.

With this realization, I turned around as quickly as I could without crashing into a tree.

What Essay #1 Does Well

Here are all things that are working on all cylinders for this personal statement as is.

Killer First Sentence

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine.

  • A strange fact. There are different kinds of tornadoes? What is a "landspout tornado" anyway?
  • A late-night-deep-thoughts hypothetical. What would it be like to be a kid whose house was destroyed in this unusual way?
  • Direct engagement with the reader. Instead of asking "what would it be like to have a tornado destroy a house" it asks "was your house ever destroyed."

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Gentle, Self-Deprecating Humor That Lands Well

I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

The author has his cake and eats it too here: both making fun of himself for being super into the Star Trek mythos, but also showing himself being committed enough to try whispering a command to the Enterprise computer alone in his room. You know, just in case.

A Solid Point That Is Made Paragraph by Paragraph

The meat of the essay is that the two versions of himself that the author thought about portraying each fails in some way to describe the real him. Neither an essay focusing on his off-beat interests, nor an essay devoted to his serious activism could capture everything about a well-rounded person in 600 words.

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(Image: fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons .)

Where Essay #1 Needs Revision

Rewriting these flawed parts will make the essay shine.

Spending Way Too Long on the Metanarrative

I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal.

Look at how long and draggy these paragraphs are, especially after that zippy opening. Is it at all interesting to read about how someone else found the process of writing hard? Not really, because this is a very common experience.

In the rewrite, I'd advise condensing all of this to maybe a sentence to get to the meat of the actual essay .

Letting Other People Do All the Doing

I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!"

Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there.

Twice in the essay, the author lets someone else tell him what to do. Not only that, but it sounds like both of the "incomplete" essays were dictated by the thoughts of other people and had little to do with his own ideas, experiences, or initiative.

In the rewrite, it would be better to recast both the Star Trek and the TREE versions of the essay as the author's own thoughts rather than someone else's suggestions . This way, the point of the essay—taking apart the idea that a college essay could summarize life experience—is earned by the author's two failed attempts to write that other kind of essay.

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Leaving the Insight and Meaning Out of His Experiences

Both the Star Trek fandom and the TREE activism were obviously important life experiences for this author—important enough to be potential college essay topic candidates. But there is no description of what the author did with either one, nor any explanation of why these were so meaningful to his life.

It's fine to say that none of your achievements individually define you, but in order for that to work, you have to really sell the achievements themselves.

In the rewrite, it would be good to explore what he learned about himself and the world by pursuing these interests . How did they change him or seen him into the person he is today?

Not Adding New Shades and Facets of Himself Into the Mix

So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In both of these passages, there is the perfect opportunity to point out what exactly these failed versions of the essay didn't capture about the author . In the next essay draft, I would suggest subtly making a point about his other qualities.

For example, after the Star Trek paragraph, he could talk about other culture he likes to consume, especially if he can discuss art forms he is interested in that would not be expected from someone who loves Star Trek .

Or, after the TREE paragraph, the author could explain why this second essay was no better at capturing him than the first. What was missing? Why is the self in the essay shouting—is it because this version paints him as an overly aggressive activist?

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Essay #2: The "I Once Saw Poor People" Service Trip Essay

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive. My whole outlook on life changed after I realized that my life was just being handed to me on a silver spoon, and yet there were those in the world who didn't have enough food to eat or place to live. I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness. But my most vivid memory was the moment I first got to the farming town. The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water? As these questions rolled around my already dazed mind, I heard a soft voice asking me in Spanish, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" I looked down to see a small boy, around nine years of age, who looked starved, and cold, wearing tattered clothing, comforting me. These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate ahead of themselves. It was at that moment that I saw how selfish I had been. How many people suffered like this in the world, while I went about life concerned about nothing at all?

Thinking back on the trip, maybe I made a difference, maybe not. But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

What Essay #2 Does Well

Let's first point out what this draft has going for it.

Clear Chronology

This is an essay that tries to explain a shift in perspective. There are different ways to structure this overarching idea, but a chronological approach that starts with an earlier opinion, describes a mind changing event, and ends with the transformed point of view is an easy and clear way to lay this potentially complex subject out.

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(Image: User:Lite via Wikimedia Commons)

Where Essay #2 Needs Revision

Now let's see what needs to be changed in order for this essay to pass muster.

Condescending, Obnoxious Tone

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive.

This is a very broad generalization, which doesn't tend to be the best way to formulate an argument—or to start an essay. It just makes this author sound dismissive of a huge swath of the population.

In the rewrite, this author would be way better off just concentrate on what she want to say about herself, not pass judgment on "other teenagers," most of whom she doesn't know and will never meet.

I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Coming from someone who hasn't earned her place in the world through anything but the luck of being born, the word "compassion" sounds really condescending. Calling others "less fortunate" when you're a senior in high school has a dehumanizing quality to it.

These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate in front of themselves.

Again, this comes across as very patronizing. Not only that, but to this little boy the author was clearly not looking all that "fortunate"—instead, she looked pathetic enough to need comforting.

In the next draft, a better hook could be making the essay about the many different kinds of shifting perspectives the author encountered on that trip . A more meaningful essay would compare and contrast the points of view of the TV commercials, to what the group leader said, to the author's own expectations, and finally to this child's point of view.

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Vague, Unobservant Description

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness.

Phrases like "cries of the small children from not having enough to eat" and "dirt stained rags" seem like descriptions, but they're really closer to incurious and completely hackneyed generalizations. Why were the kids were crying? How many kids? All the kids? One specific really loud kid?

The same goes for "filthy rags," which is both an incredibly insensitive way to talk about the clothing of these villagers, and again shows a total lack of interest in their life. Why were their clothes dirty? Were they workers or farmers so their clothes showing marks of labor? Did they have Sunday clothes? Traditional clothes they would put on for special occasions? Did they make their own clothes? That would be a good reason to keep wearing clothing even if it had "stains" on it.

The rewrite should either make this section more specific and less reliant on cliches, or should discard it altogether .

The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality.

If this is the "most vivid memory," then I would expect to read all the details that have been seared into the author's brain. What did their leader tell them? What was different in real life? What was the light like? What did the houses/roads/grass/fields/trees/animals/cars look like? What time of day was it? Did they get there by bus, train, or plane? Was there an airport/train station/bus terminal? A city center? Shops? A marketplace?

There are any number of details to include here when doing another drafting pass.

body_blur.jpg

Lack of Insight or Maturity

But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water?

Without a framing device explaining that this initial panic was an overreaction, this section just makes the author sound whiny, entitled, melodramatic, and immature . After all, this isn't a a solo wilderness trek—the author is there with a paid guided program. Just how much mortality is typically associated with these very standard college-application-boosting service trips?

In a rewrite, I would suggest including more perspective on the author's outsized and overprivileged response here. This would fit well with a new focus on the different points of view on this village the author encountered.

Unearned, Clichéd "Deep Thoughts"

But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

Is it really believable that this is what the author learned? There is maybe some evidence to suggest that the author was shaken somewhat out of a comfortable, materialistic existence. But what does "there is more to life than just being alive" even really mean? This conclusion is rather vague, and seems mostly a non sequitur.

In a rewrite, the essay should be completely reoriented to discuss how differently others see us than we see ourselves, pivoting on the experience of being pitied by someone who you thought was pitiable. Then, the new version can end by on a note of being better able to understand different points of view and other people's perspectives .

body_thethinker.jpg

The Bottom Line

  • Bad college essays have problems either with their topics or their execution.
  • The essay is how admissions officers learn about your personality, point of view, and maturity level, so getting the topic right is a key factor in letting them see you as an aware, self-directed, open-minded applicant who is going to thrive in an environment of independence.
  • The essay is also how admissions officers learn that you are writing at a ready-for-college level, so screwing up the execution shows that you either don't know how to write, or don't care enough to do it well.
  • The main ways college essay topics go wrong is bad taste, bad judgment, and lack of self-awareness.
  • The main ways college essays fail in their execution have to do with ignoring format, syntax, and genre expectations.

What's Next?

Want to read some excellent college essays now that you've seen some examples of flawed one? Take a look through our roundup of college essay examples published by colleges and then get help with brainstorming your perfect college essay topic .

Need some guidance on other parts of the application process? Check out our detailed, step-by-step guide to college applications for advice.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Bad College Essay Examples: 5 Essay Mistakes To Avoid

my college essays are bad

Grades, GPA, and transcripts are important components when applying to college. But numbers only tell part of the story. The  college admissions essay  plays a much more powerful role in telling your personal story to college admissions officers. So while university admissions departments may set initial cut-offs based on numbers, they make their final decision based on your college personal statement essay.

At Wordvice, we know college admissions essays. Every year, we receive tens of millions of words to edit from students applying to college. Therefore, we know what good college essays, bad college essays, and great college essays look like–and what students should do in their essays to get the attention of admissions officers.

Here we will cover  how to write a good college personal statement  by looking at some  common college admission essay mistakes to avoid  and discuss ways to improve your college application essays.

What does a good college application essay look like?

Before looking at some essay mistakes to avoid (or “bad college essays” to be a bit more blunt), let’s discuss what a good admissions essay does. Effective college personal statements give broad, comprehensive insights into your personal and academic background, provide college admissions counselors with an overview of your goals, and answer the college prompt directly and clearly. 

One of the best ways to learn how to write a good college application essay is to look at what successful students wrote.  

Check out a few powerful  examples of successful personal statements  so you can recognize what a great college application essay looks like. Reading examples of college essays can help you to understand exactly what college admissions officers are looking for.

bad college essay examples

Useful Tips on How to Write a College Admissions Essay

Once you take a look at what some successful college essay examples look like, the second step should be looking at some useful tips and checklists. This will help organize your college essay writing process, so look at these tips  before  you start writing and check them off as you go. 

  • Quick Tips to Conquer the College Application Essay
  • Six Tips for Proofreading your College Admissions Essay

Why it’s Important to Avoid Mistakes in Your College Essay

Even if you include all of the above positive tips in your college application essay, you still need to be aware of and avoid common college application essay mistakes. The importance of this cannot be understated. 

Negativity bias  is the concept in psychology that people will remember, dwell on, and act upon unpleasant thoughts and emotions as compared to positive or correct ones. Therefore, applicants should focus on the positive and productive elements of their personal narrative in the essay, even if this story includes some negative events or circumstances.

What does this mean for your college application essay?

Your personal statement is not only scanned by AI-powered grammar and spell checker apps to weed out simple mistakes outright, they are also read, interpreted, and graded by real human college admissions officers. These are seasoned professionals who will reject your college essay for any reason they deem fit. 

Randi Heathman, an independent education consultant, gives a clear summary of  why application essays are rejected :

Weak essays get skimmed. If a student’s essay isn’t great OR good, the admission officer will probably just skim past the essay and move right on to your transcript and your test scores to evaluate your candidacy for admission. Bad essays don’t get read. Period. A bad essay will prompt an admission officer to assume one of two things: 1) either you don’t care enough about your future at their school to take the time to write a good essay or 2) you aren’t academically up to attending their college or university. Neither of those assumptions will help you get admitted.

Do you see a theme here? Your college admissions essay needs to not only engage in and answer the prompt but also not give admissions officers any reasons to discard it. 

For this reason, students must actively  avoid the following college admissions essay mistakes.

Common College Essay Mistakes To Avoid

Below is a list and analysis of the types of mistakes to avoid on your college personal statement and avoid writing a bad college essay that will likely NOT get you into your program of choice.

bad college essay examples, broken plate metaphor

Your Application Essay Repeats the Essay Prompt

Many universities have strict word counts that are designed to make the admissions process more efficient but also force you to write concisely. 

For example,  Villanova University has two application essays . The free choice essay is limited to 250 words while its “Why Nova?” essay is limited to just 100 words! 

So if you really want to ruin your chances of admission, repeat the essay prompt. Veteran college admissions officers will instantly trash your essay. It shows laziness and is interpreted as you not respecting their time. You need every opportunity to show who you are, your goals, and how you align with your target university. The best students have plenty to write about, and so should you.

Your Application Essay Uses Cliches

One of the biggest mistakes to avoid in your college admissions essay would be including tired clichés that don’t add interesting points or content. Don’t try to sound profound, exclusive, or postmodern in your writing. This will be obvious to the reader, and you probably will also not be the best writer or candidate on paper they have seen. What’s actually important is to demonstrate your self-awareness, your self-confidence, and your priorities and goals. 

Trying desperately to sound special will make you end up sounding like every other applicant, and admissions officers are experts at spotting fakes. You have plenty of resources to work with. Make sure your ideas are your own.

Example of clichés in an essay

When explaining a personal setback or a difficult decision, instead of writing, “This event was a disparate result antithetical to my character,” show some personal ownership and be straightforward. Here is a better way to phrase this sentiment:  “This is a decision I am not proud of, but it helped me learn a valuable lesson and put me in a better place today. Without this formative experience, I wouldn’t be the kind of person who applies myself in every challenging circumstance.”  

Need extra help improving your essay writing? Check out these  14 tricks to make your writing clearer and more engaging :

writing tips for essays

Your Admissions Essay Shares Too Much Personal Information

You have probably read everywhere that your personal statement should be, well, personal. Colleges want to get to know not just your academic background but also your personal worldview and interactions with successful people. 

This doesn’t mean you should discuss deeply personal issues at length or in too great of detail. Even controversial topics such as religion and politics are often welcomed if your perspective is well reasoned and fair. However, you must be able to demonstrate you can respect, recognize, and maintain personal boundaries. That is a key life skill that college admissions committees are looking for. 

Examples of sharing too much personal information

  • Don’t discuss your sexual experiences.  Your sexual orientation may be a key part of your overall identity. However, limit this by keeping out details of personal activities. Use common sense and understand that most admissions officers are members of the general public who might not respond favorably to explicit details of your personal life. 
  • Don’t confess to strange, illegal, or immoral behaviors or beliefs.  If you have a strange obsession, keep it to yourself. Only include unique aspects about your character or preferences if are key parts of how you view the world or your success as a student.
  • Don’t insult subgroups of people . You never know who your college admissions officer will be. You want to show you know how to interface with the world, and your college application is a big first step to showing your maturity and inclusive views.

Your Admissions Essay is a Sympathy Essay

This essay mistake is very similar to oversharing personal information. These types of essays are usually a long list of all the terrible things that have happened to you with the hope that the admissions committee will take pity because they feel bad for you. 

Newsflash: the “sympathy approach” likely is not going to work. A lot of prospective students have gone through the divorce of their parents, the death of a friend or family member, medical issues, disabilities, mental health issues, accidents, etc. 

If you do want to include these life-changing or identity-forming events, they must be used to explain how they shaped you as a person, what you learned, and how you handled adversity. Show how you grew as a person or how your worldview and character were altered to make you into the excellent college candidate you are today.

Examples of “sympathy essays”

  • “Everyone around me kept me from succeeding.”  Like the lyrics of an early-2000’s rock song, some application essays foreground their experiences on a canvas of pain and oppression by all the people around them. This is just self-defeating. Even if something happened that changed your plans, upset you, or harmed you in some way, reframe your story to show how you were able to shift your priorities and succeed after you learned what you were unable to do.
  • “Becoming injured my senior year ruined my plans.”  If you are an athlete and suffered a career or scholarship-ending injury, that is a big deal. But your potential doesn’t just disappear because of a setback. Whatever events and influences made you who you were before are still more important than a single unfortunate occurrence in your past. 

stanley from the office, bad college essay examples

Your Application Essay Gives You All the Credit

While you may have top SAT scores, a high GPA, and lots of awards, don’t forget this one simple truth: there are always bigger fish in the sea. No matter how good of an applicant you are, there will be someone better based on whatever metric you are proud of. 

So what should you write about in your college application essay to stand out from the many overachievers?

Try humility and perspective. Don’t forget to give credit where credit is due. No person is an island, so in your essay you can give recognition to those who helped you along the way. Try not to belittle or minimize the contribution of your high school teachers or mentors. Admissions counselors, as educational professionals, will be looking to see if you are ready to interact with the next level of academic educators. So including friends, family members, and mentors who helped you grow and develop could be a good topic for your college personal statement.

Examples of “giving yourself all the credit” in an essay

  • “I was valedictorian and did it all by myself.”  You should be proud of your academic achievements, as they are important for your college application among other goals. However, give credit to someone who helped you learn. You didn’t teach yourself!
  • “In the end, I found the only person I could rely on was myself.”  Some students come from very tough backgrounds, and so it can be tempting for these students to stress this in their essay. But remember that college admissions offices want you to add value to the university community as a college student at their school. Even the smartest students cannot do this if they fail to acknowledge the contributions of others. 

Your Personal Statement Has Not Received Proofreading or Editing

A sure way to get your college essay thrown aside is to have it full of grammar and spelling mistakes. The college admissions process is very competitive, and you need every edge you can get. You should spend a substantial portion of your essay preparation editing and proofreading after writing your personal statement.

Start by reviewing and revising the essay yourself. Read it aloud. Run it through a couple of online spelling and grammar checkers. And start early on each college application–at least two weeks before the application deadline. You should also consider giving your admissions essay to a friend, parent, or teacher to review. This can help you improve your essay in many ways because other people can give quite different perspectives. 

Check out the  Benefits of Peer Review vs Self-Editing .

Finally, you should look into using an application essay proofreading and editing service to revise and improve your application essay. Just as peer review is superior to self-editing alone, professional proofreading services and application essay editing services are superior to peer review. The hard truth is that too many other students (your competition) are going above and beyond in preparing these important essays. Being short on time and expertise makes using an editing and proofreading service a good solution.

How Does Wordvice Improve Your College Application Essay?

Wordvice editors  are required to have graduate or postgraduate degrees. This means you are getting guaranteed expertise compared to other services, which typically only require editors to hold a bachelor’s degree. Wordvice is also among the top-rated  essay editing services  and personal statement editing services by Wired.com. We achieved this recognition by following the  Wordvice Customer Promise . That means providing value to every student and every personal statement we edit. 

Additional Admissions Essay Steps to Take

We hope you learned a lot from these examples of successful college personal statements. So what’s next?

I want to learn more about the college admissions process

Interested in learning more tips from experts about the college admissions process, personal statements, or letters of recommendation? Check out the  Wordvice Admissions Resource blog .

I am interested in professional editing for my personal statement

We also got you covered! Check out our  English editing services to get started on improving your college essays. Or jump straight in and use our  editing price calculator to get an editing price quote and start the ordering process.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, what are the biggest mistakes made on college essays.

Hey everyone! I'm starting to write my college essays, and I want to avoid any common mistakes. What do you think are the biggest no-no's when it comes to writing college application essays?

Hello! It's great that you're thinking about mistakes to avoid in your college essays. One of the most common errors with college essays is choosing a cliche topic. While you don't need to find a topic admissions officers have never seen before, as they read so many thousands of applications each year that that would be practically impossible, there are some tropes that are so common they're unlikely to do much of anything to help you stand out from the crowd. You can read about some of those topics to avoid on CollegeVine's blog: https://blog.collegevine.com/cliche-college-essay-topics

Additionally, many students forget to proofread their college essays for grammar and spelling errors. To make the best impression, ensure your essay is polished and revised multiple times. You can also check out CollegeVine's peer review essay service, which is free and allows other students to read over your essay, or submit your essay for a paid, expert review from one of our many excellent advisors.

Finally, not showcasing your authentic self is another significant mistake. While being honest about who you are with a bunch of strangers can be intimidating, trying to appear perfect or say "what they want to hear" will backfire on you, as you'll end up just blending into the background with all the other students who are catering their response around what they think admissions officers want rather than who they actually are.

Good luck with your essays, and don't hesitate to reach out for further advice!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

College Application Essays Don’t Matter as Much as You Think

Correction appended, November 14.

Parents: sit down before you read this. Kids: deep breaths. You know that beautifully crafted, deeply felt, highly unusual college application essay you’ve been polishing? It might not make a difference for your college admission chances.

Stanford sociologist Mitchell Stevens spent 18 months embedded with admissions officers at an unnamed top-tier liberal arts college and found that, even in cases where students were within the admissible range in terms of scores and grades, officers rarely looked to the personal essays as a deciding factor. He wrote about his experience for The New Republic , and here’s the most interesting part:

Yet even in these middling cases, personal essays rarely got even cursory attention from admissions officers. There were simply too many files to consider in too small a time frame, and too many other evaluative factors that mattered much more. How likely was an applicant to accept our offer of admission? Had we already accepted anyone from his or her remote zip code? Had the applicant received any special endorsement from a college alumnus or a faculty member? Did someone in the office owe a favor to the applicant’s guidance counselor? Those are the questions that get debated before a verdict is reached. But during the hundreds of deliberations I sat in on over two admission cycles, I literally never heard a decision made on the basis of a personal essay alone.

The good news? Three former admissions officers I spoke to told me that, contrary to Steven’s observations, officers read every essay that comes across their desks. “We definitely read the essays,” says Joie Jager-Hyman, president of College Prep 360 and former admissions officer at Dartmouth College. “You don’t do that job unless you enjoy reading the essays. They’re kind of fun.” Elizabeth Heaton, senior director of educational counseling at admissions-consulting firm College Coach, and former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, says she took notes on every single piece of writing a student submitted, whether she advocated for them or not.

The bad news? No matter how gorgeous your prose is, you can’t get into college based on the strength of your essay alone. “No-one ever gets into college because you write a great essay,” Heaton says. “You can not get in because you write a really bad one.”

And even Joan Didion herself wouldn’t get into college on her writing skills if she had lackluster grades or scores. The officers told me they did sometimes look to the essays to explain weaknesses in the application (like if there was a year of bad grades that coincided with an illness,) but they said that kind information was usually best kept in the “additional information” section of the application.

Some officers recalled moments when they were so moved by an essay that they advocated for the student to be admitted despite other weaknesses on the application, but none had ever recalled a time where that strategy had worked. “There were a couple of incidents were I really wanted to admit a student and recommended that they move forward because their writing and personal qualities were so interesting, but I was not successful,” says Shoshana Krieger, a counselor for Expert Admissions who formerly worked in the admissions office at the University of Chicago and at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. “There are certain cases where if a student is simply too far off academically, it’s then just not going to make a difference.”

“I never saw a phenomenal essay suddenly make up for everything” Heaton agreed. “These days, there’s just so little wiggle room to be able to make that call.” She also noted that it looks suspicious when a kid with mediocre grades and scores submits a spectacular essay, and raises doubts that the student might not have written it herself.

Later in his piece, Steven notes that the college essay may be more of a psychological outlet than a practical asset in the college application process, since it’s one of the only things that’s still in the applicant’s control during the fall of their senior year (most of their transcript and scores are already behind them.) Joie Jager-Hyman said she agreed with that assessment. “There’s so much anxiety right now in the air,” she said. “It’s the thing they feel like they have power over.” She also noted that focus on the essay could help kids become better writers in the long-run, even if it might not necessarily make or break their college admissions chances, and “that’s not totally a bad thing.”

So even if all the revising and nitpicking on the college essay may not help your kid get into college, it will almost certainly make him or her a better writer. So don’t put away that red pen yet.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated the location of Trinity University in Texas. It is in San Antonio.

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Last updated March 5, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Have you ever wondered what goes through an admissions officer’s mind as they read college essays?

Now’s your chance.

This post takes you behind that dark, mysterious admissions curtain to show you what exceptional, good, and “bad” college essays look like. And we don’t just show them to you.

We’ve asked our team of former admissions officers to read through the essays, analyze them, offer editing ideas, and assign them grades.

So join us on this college essay example journey so you know what to do (and what not to do) as you write all your college essays this fall.

Let’s get started.

How to Use College Essay Examples

Here’s the thing. People in college admissions have lots of different opinions about whether students should read example essays. But we believe that reading example essays is a crucial step in the college essay writing process.

If you don’t know what a college essay looks like, then how should you expect yourself to write one?

So reading examples is important.

However! There’s a caveat. The point of reading college essay examples isn’t to copy them or even to get inspiration from them. It’s to analyze them and apply what you’ve learned to your own college essay.

To help you do that, our team of former admissions officers has taken this super-comprehensive compilation of college essay examples and pointed out exactly what you need to know before you start writing.

Let me break down how this post works:

Categories:

We’ve put together a great variety of college essay examples and sorted them into three categories, including…

  • Best college essay examples: these examples are the creme-de-la-creme. They’re written by a small percentage of students who are exceptional writers.
  • Good college essay examples: these examples are solid. They do exactly what they need to do on the admissions committee floor. You’re aiming to write a good college essay.
  • “Bad” college essay examples: these examples illustrate a few of the most common college essay mistakes we see.

Our former admissions officers have assigned each essay a letter grade to help you understand where it falls on the scale of “bad” college essays to exceptional college essays.

Alongside our categorization and grades, our former admissions officers have also annotated the essays and provided concrete feedback about what works and what could be improved.

The majority of essays you’ll see here are written in response to the Common Application personal statement prompts. We’ve also included a few stellar supplemental essays at the end of the post.

How an Admissions Officer Reads College Essays

All admissions officers are different. And all institutions ask their admissions officers to read in different ways.

But there are a few strategies that shape how the majority of admissions officers read college essays. (If you want a look behind the mysterious admissions curtain, read our post about how admissions offices read tens of thousands of applications every year .)

First, we need to talk about application reading as a whole.

Remember that admissions officers are reading your college essays in the context of your entire application. It’s likely that by the time they get to your essay, they’ve already glanced at your background information, activities , and transcript . They may have even looked at your letters of recommendation or additional information.

Why is this detail important? It matters because your college essays need to be in conversation with the rest of your application. We refer to this strategy as adopting a “ cohesive application narrative .” Your unique personal brand—who you are, what you’re good at, what you value—should emerge across all of your application materials.

To summarize: your college essays don’t exist in a vacuum. Your admissions officers learn about who you are from your entire application, and your college essays are the place where you get to tell them exactly what you want them to know. You should write them in a way that creates balance among the other parts of your application.

So once your admissions officers get to your college essays, what are they looking for?

They’re looking for several things. Each of your essays doesn’t have to address all of these points, but they are a great place to start:

  • Personal narrative that explains who you are and where you come from
  • Details about specific activities, accomplishments, or inclinations
  • Personality traits that make you who you are
  • Lessons you’ve learned throughout your life
  • Values that you hold dear
  • Information about how you interact with the world around you
  • Highlights about what makes you special, strong, interesting, or unique

What do all of these points have in common? They revolve around your core strengths . We’ve written more extensively about core strengths in our college essay writing guide . But for now, just know this: your college essays should tell admissions officers something positive about yourself. They want to know who you are, what motivates you, and why you would be an active contributor to their campus.

As we go through the following example essays, remember: college essays are read alongside the rest of your application, and college admissions officers read your essays to learn about your core strengths.

Okay, let’s get to it. Ready? Buckle up.

The Best College Essay Examples

As an admissions officer, every so often you come across an essay that blows you away. It stops you in your tracks, makes you laugh or cry, or resonates deeply with you. When exceptional essays come through your application bin, you’re reminded what an honor it is to get these fleeting glimpses into incredible students’ lives.

As an applicant, you may be wondering how to write this kind of exceptional college essay. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula. You can’t “hack” your way into it. You have to write vulnerable, authentically, and beautifully—which is much easier said than done. We have a whole guide on how to write a personal statement that stands out, so we recommend that you start there.

For now, let’s take a look at some of our favorites.

College Essay Example #1: The Gospel of Steve

The first college essay we'll look at got an A+ grade and is about the writer's experience with depression and... Steve Irwin. It's a common application essay. Check it out:

" In sophomore year, I struggled with depression((While this is a fantastic essay, this hook could definitely be stronger.)) . I felt like I was constantly battling against the darkness that seemed to be closing in on me. Until, that is, I found solace in the teachings of Steve Irwin.((This unusual last sentence drew me in when I read this for the first time.))

When I first discovered Steve Irwin and his show "The Crocodile Hunter," I was captivated by his passion for wildlife. He was fearless, jumping into danger without hesitation to save an animal in need. But it was more than just his bravery that inspired me; it was his infectious energy and love for life. Watching him on TV, I couldn't help but feel a little bit better about my own struggles.((This explicit reflection does a fantastic job connecting the writer’s experiences to this Steve Irwin reference.))

But it wasn't until I read his biography that I truly felt the impact Steve had on my life. In the book, he talked openly about his own struggles with depression. He talked about the dark moments in his life, when he felt like he was drowning in despair. But he also talked about how he fought back against the darkness, how he refused to let it consume him, and how he turned his depression into a career that allowed him to follow his biggest passions.

Reading Steve's words, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.((Another beautiful transition)) I wasn't alone in my struggles if someone as brave and fearless as Steve had faced similar challenges. And that gave me the courage to keep going. I started visiting a therapist, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness meditation. Day by day, I lifted myself out of my depression–all with a healthy dose of “Crocodile Hunter” each evening after I finished my homework((The writer does a great job focusing on action steps here.)) .

One of the things that I admired most about Steve was his ability to find joy and laughter in the most unlikely places. He was always cracking jokes, even in the face of danger. He taught me that laughter and humor can be a powerful tool in the fight against depression. I went looking for the humor in my own struggles. I started learning about how stand-up comedy works, and wrote my own five-minute skit finding the humor and silver lining((The writer expands their connection to Steve Irwin even more through this comedy thread.)) in my depression. I wasn’t a great comic, let me tell you. But being able to channel my experience into something positive—something that helped others laugh—was extremely gratifying to me.

Depression((The reflection in this paragraph is exactly what writers need to tie all the information together before reaching the conclusion.)) is a bizarre thing. One day, you’re besieged by it from every side and it looks like there’s no way out. Then, two months later, if you’re diligent, you look around the world and wonder what you ever had to be upset about. You find goodness and light in the things around you—your friends, your family, your habits, and your hobbies. These forces act as buttresses to keep you standing up and moving forward.

As silly as it may sound, I credit Steve Irwin with that first buttress. His experience and outlook on life gave me the push I needed to cultivate bravery and resilience in the face of my struggle with mental health. My eternal goal is now to practice the gospel of Steve—to always pass along humor, passion, and encouragement to others, especially to those who seem down and out. Thank you, Steve."

Word Count: 525

Admissions Officer Notes on The Gospel of Steve

This essay captured my attention because of its unique pairing of a tough subject—depression—with a light-hearted and endearing topic—Steve Irwin.

The writer doesn’t dwell in the experience of depression but instead finds hope and light by focusing on how their favorite TV star changed their perspective. Why this essay stands out:

  • Great organization and sign-posting . The essay clearly progresses through each part of the writer’s journey. The first sentence of each paragraph signals to the reader what that paragraph will be about.
  • Focus on action steps. It’s very apparent that this writer is a do-er. The focus of the essay is on the way they emerged from their depression, not on the depression itself.
  • Meaningful reflection. Especially in the second-to-last paragraph and conclusion, the writer beautifully reflects on what depression and hope mean to them.
  • Core strengths. From this essay alone, I gather that the writer is a sage archetype . They clearly show their wisdom and ability to persist through challenges.

Most importantly, they’ve written the essay around communicating their core strengths.

College Essay Example #2: The Embroidery Scientist

This essay is about a writer's Etsy store and the connection she draws between fashion and science.

I stretch the thin fabric over my hoop and pull it tight, wedging the nested rings between my legs to secure them shut with my other hand((This hook is compelling. It makes us ask, “What in the world is the writer doing?” We are compelled to read on to find out.)) .

Next I get out the thread. Each color is wound tightly around a paper spool and stored in a container whose original purpose was to store fishing tackle.

I look at the pre-printed design on the fabric and decide what colors to select. Orange, red, pink, yellow–this design will be as bright and happy as I can make it.

Embroidery is where the STEM and creative parts of my identity converge((Here we get a clear, explicit statement of the writer’s main point. This isn’t always necessary, but it can help your reader navigate your essay more easily if you have a lot going on.)) . My STEM side is calculated. She meticulously plans the designs, mocks them up in photoshop, and painstakingly transfers them onto the fabric. She organizes each thread color by its place in ROYGBIV and cuts every piece to an identical length of 18”. Her favorite stitch is the French Knot, with its methodical “one, two” wrap sequence. For her, art is about precision.

My creative side, on the other hand, is messy. She throws thread scraps on the floor without hesitation, and she haphazardly adds design elements in pen. She does a Lazy Daisy stitch very lazily while adding an indescribable flourish to a simple backstitch. Her methods are indeed madness: she’ll border a design with glitter glue, hang a finished project upside down, or stitch a big red X over a perfectly good embroidery. For her, art is about meaning.

While these two sides of myself may seem at odds((Seamless transition to talking about Etsy accomplishment)) , they actually complement each other perfectly. At least, that’s what 3,000 of my Etsy customers think. From three-inch hoops to massive wall hangings, my Etsy shop is a compilation of the best embroidery I’ve ever done. My precision and meaning have earned me hundreds of five-star reviews from customers whose lives I’ve impacted with my art. And none of that art would have been possible without STEM me and creative me.

My STEM and creative side complement each other in more than my embroidery life too. What began as a creative side hustle has actually made me a better scientist((Another good transition to discussing passion and talent for science)) .

Before I started embroidering, I approached the lab bench with an eye like a ruler. Poured a millimeter too much liquid? Better get a pipette. Went a degree over boiling? Time to start over. My lab reports demonstrated my knowledge, skill, and care, but they didn’t show any innovation or ingenuity. My precision led me to be a good scientist but not an exceptional one.

I realized that to be exceptional, I needed to think like a real scientist. While scientists are careful and precise, they are also interrogators. They constantly question the world around them, identifying previously unseen problems and finding creative solutions. To become the scientist I wanted to be, I needed to allow myself to be more creative((This is a good example of what reflection throughout the essay should look like.)) .

When I had this realization, I had just begun my embroidery business. I didn’t understand that my creativity could also be so useful in the lab. I set out on a new path to use more creativity in the pursuit of science.

To inspire myself, I brought an embroidery project to the lab. On it, I stitched a compound microscope and a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Marie Curie. It reads, “ I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”

In the lab now, I’m not afraid to take risks and try new things((Here we see clear personal growth.)) . When I boil my mixture too long, I still start over. But occasionally, when my teacher permits, I do a second experiment on the rejected liquid just to see what will happen. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes it results in utter failure. But other times, my mistakes create blue, green, and purple mixtures, mixtures that bubble and burst and fizz. All of these experiments are stitches in my quest to become a cancer researcher. They are messy, but they are beautiful((The conclusion ties beautifully back to the beginning, and we also learn what the writer is interested in pursuing in the future.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on "Embroidery Scientist"

This writer has done an excellent job talking about two very different aspects of their identity. What I love about this essay is that the structure of the essay itself shows the writer’s creativity and precision. The essay is well-organized and precise, but the writing has a unique and creative flair. It demonstrates the writer’s point exactly. I also appreciate how the writer doesn’t just talk about these parts of their identity. They explicitly connect their creativity and precision to their future goals as a scientist.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Creative approach: The writer doesn’t just say, “I have two identities: creative and logical.” Instead, they illustrate that point through the wonderful example of embroidery. Connecting embroidery with science also shows this creativity.
  • Attention-grabbing hook : The introductory paragraphs place readers immediately into the essay. We’re drawn in because we’re curious what the writer is doing and how it will evolve into a more meaningful message.
  • Connection between personal and academic interests: The writer makes it clear why this story matters for their life in college. The creative and precise personalities aren’t inconsequential—they have a real effect on who this person wants to be.
  • Forward-looking conclusion: The writer ends by subtly telling admissions officers what they’re interested in doing during and after college.

College Essay Example #4: Poetry Slam

When I first met Simon, he was neither speaking nor singing. He was doing something in between(( This hook is a good “statement” hook that raises more questions than it answers.)) . With words that flowed together like an ancient tributary, he spoke music. His hands grasping a microphone, he swayed slowly from side to side. He was a poet. But unlike that of Yeats or Dickenson, Simon’s poetry wasn’t meant to be read on a page—it was meant to be experienced like an aural work of art. And I had never experienced anything more beautiful. Disheartened, I realized that my words would never sound like Simon’s(( These two sentences are essential because otherwise the introduction would be all about Simon, not the writer.)) .

I sat in my on-deck seat. Forgetting that I was up next, I admired his craft. The crescendos and decrescendos that mirrored his pacing, the quick staccatos that punctuated each stanza, the rhymes so subtle they almost disappeared—every second of his spoken word pulled me further from reality. I listened to his words like a devout in church(( This is good sentence pacing. A long, winding sentence is followed by a short one that keeps our attention and propels us forward.)) . Closing my eyes, I joined my hands together to count the syllables. From the outside, it probably looked like I was praying. And maybe I was. When Simon’s poem ended, the audience, though betrayed by the silence, erupted into applause.

It was my turn. I had spent an entire year perfecting my poem. My sister had grown accustomed to kicking me under the dinner table when someone asked me a question. She knew that my mind was in my beloved poetry notebook, mentally analyzing my latest draft. I’ve never been one for living in the moment. My report cards usually feature comments like, “She’s a good student but has trouble paying attention.” I’m always the first one out in dodgeball because my mind is completely absent from the school gym. But what seems like inattention to my teachers is actually a kind of profound focus(( This reflection widens the essay’s scope and reveals more about who the writer is as a person.)) .

When writing slam poetry, I become completely consumed. I like to start with the words. The rhythm and intonation come with time. For me, it’s about translating a feeling into language. It’s no easy task, but it feels like an obligation. Once the words come into being, they’re like a twister in my mind(( Good (and sparing) use of figurative language.)) . They spin and spin, destroying every other thought in their path. I can’t focus on anything else because, in the aftermath of a twister, nothing else exists.

And there on the stage, nothing else existed besides me and my poem. I spoke it into existence. Like Simon, I wrapped my hands around the microphone, willing my poem to be heard. The twister exited my mind and entered the world.

A few weeks ago(( Excellent signposting)) , I watched the recording of my first poetry slam, that slam two years ago when I saw Simon perform for the first time. I saw myself climb on stage from the dark abyss of the audience. I looked small, all alone on that big stage. My voice shook as I began. But soon, my poem rendered the stage smaller and smaller. I filled the darkness with words.

As I watched myself on my computer, I thought about how I felt that day, awe-struck in the audience by Simon’s work. I felt like I’d never be able to sound like him. And I was right. My poem didn’t sound like Simon’s, and none of my poems ever would. But in this moment, I realized that they were just as beautiful. My words sounded like me(( Beautiful conclusion that really drives home just how much this person has grown. They don’t need to sound like Simon. They need to sound like themself.)) .

Word Count: 552

Admissions Officer Notes on Poetry Slam

We would call this essay a “sacred practice” essay. It’s clear that slam poetry is deeply meaningful to the writer. They even call it “an obligation.” It’s a beautiful essay that also reflects the writer’s interest in poetry. They have some nice figurative language that adds interest to the story—it’s almost like the essay is in some ways a poem itself. And the story is a good one: it demonstrates the writer’s fears, strengths, and growth.

  • Deeply meaningful: We say it all the time because it’s true: college essays should be vulnerable and deeply meaningful. This essay oozes meaning. The writer even connects their love of slam poetry to who they are as a person.
  • Good organization and signposting: The narrative in this essay is a little complicated as the writer switches between the slam poetry event, reflection on past events, and reflection during current day. But because each paragraph is about a single topic, and because they use very clear topic sentences and transitions, it’s easy to follow the narrative thread.
  • Theme: The main theme in this essay is that the writer found their own voice through slam poetry. They had to experience growth to come to this realization. The very last sentence of the essay wonderfully ties back to the introduction and wraps up the entire essay.

College Essay Example #4: The Muscle Show

My parents are the scrapbooking type(( I’m intrigued by this hook! It makes me ask, “Where is this essay going?”)) . The crafty, crazy-cut scissors and construction paper, okay-everyone-make-a-silly-face-for-this-picture type.

Every summer, my entire family rents a small house in Wildwood, New Jersey for a week to catch up and enjoy the beach and good company. My favorite part is spending time with my cousin Steven, who is one year older than me. To us, there is nothing better than two pockets full of quarters, strolling down the boardwalk headed to an arcade, licking an ice cream cone, and laughing at all the novelty t-shirts for sale(( This sentence beautifully gives us a sense of place. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, too.)) .

We have a “down the shore” scrapbook proudly displayed on our coffee table that holds memories from each of our family vacations. The scrapbook(( Ah-ha. A quick answer to our scrapbooking question.)) is such a fixture in our house that it blends in with its surroundings and I fully forgot it existed until this past March. I happened to pick it up and look at pictures from the first year we went. I was four, Steven was five, and there we were, shirtless in the living room, proudly displaying our kid “muscles” in front of a handmade sign that said “WELCOME 2 THE MUSLE SHOW”.

I cried when I saw it.

No, not because we spelled muscle wrong. The four-year-old in that picture had such a small and fragile frame. I was the kind of child who almost looked like they had six-pack abs because they are so slim. There was so much naivety in that picture that no longer exists(( With this sentence, our writer begins to embark on their journey.)) .

I started gaining weight–a lot of weight–around the fifth grade. My parents are wonderful role models in the way they treat others, but they aren’t exactly paragons of healthy eating. Looking through the scrapbook, none of the adults in my family were particularly healthy. I distinctly remember my dad saying to me sometime in elementary school, “what do these people go to the gym for, anyway? What are you going to do with all those muscles?” I spent elementary and middle school on a steady diet of McDonald’s, Doritos, and video games.

I hit 200 pounds at age 14. One day in my least favorite class, PE, we had to do a push-up competition. Not only could I not do one, I was out of breath just getting up and down from the floor. Something had to change(( And here is our inciting incident in this narrative arc)) .

I turned to one thing I was good at to figure out a solution: reading. I read books like “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes and started to learn the science behind calories, carbs, insulin, and soon, exercise. Even though neither of my parents had ever been inside a gym, I convinced them to buy me some training sessions and a membership that Christmas.

It’s remarkable what happens when you suddenly stop consuming fried chicken and soda, go for a daily 20-minute power walk, and exercise a few times a week. Progress in losing weight actually came sooner than I expected. By sophomore year, I was lifting weights four times a week after school and felt more comfortable in the gym than anywhere else.

I also noticed my attitude towards schoolwork was changing(( This is a good transition to widen the scope of the essay and talk about the broader implications of this journey on the writer’s life.)) . I felt like I had control in my life for the first time. I had spent countless hours trying to “level up” fake characters in video games (OK, I still do that…). But leveling up myself–my own body and mind–was life changing. So much in life is out of our control, but realizing that, at least to an extent, my own health is within my control brought a new sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.

Today, I’m at a healthy weight, my grades have improved, and I have even taken several of my friends to the gym for their first time. I look forward to continuing my healthy trend in college and beyond.

I’ll see Steven again at this summer’s beach trip. We have decided to recreate the “musle show” picture–this time with better spelling and in better health(( This short conclusion wraps everything up and has a great callback to the beginning of the essay.)) .

Admissions Officer Notes on The Muscle Show

What I like about this essay is how it weaves together multiple parts of this writer’s life. We get their family background, their sense of self, and their values, interests, and goals. The writer takes us on a journey with them. We see their determination in finding solutions to the problems they’re facing, and we also clearly see their personality and voice.

  • Upward-trending growth structure : This writer nails this essay structure. We clearly see that they begin at a “point A” where things aren’t so great, and they steadily make their way to “point B.” By the end, we truly get a sense of how they’ve grown through the journey.
  • Connections: This essay isn’t just about the writer’s health journey. It’s also about their “sense of purpose, responsibility, and pride.” Their changes expanded to even more parts of their life, and we can see that they are a person who takes initiative and gets creative with solutions.
  • Conclusion: I especially love the way this conclusion brings everything full-circle. The “musle show” reference at the end ties the journey nicely together with a bow and ends with a sense of forward movement.

College Essay Example #5: The Stop Sign

While some high schoolers get in trouble for skipping class, I get in trouble for arguing with my local government officials on Twitter. But when lives are at stake, I can take the heat(( Very catchy, humorous, and personality-filled hook)) .

I live at the intersection of 33rd and Spruce. The intersection itself sits between a large bend and a bundle of white oak trees—a recipe for obstructed views. Drivers careen around the corner, Indy 500-style, and are abruptly met with oncoming traffic. Neither can see the other through the oaks. What is otherwise a beautiful intersection makes for awfully dangerous driving conditions.

Living by this intersection my whole life, I’ve heard countless crashes and collisions. The screeching tires and cacophony of crushing car parts is seared in my mind. As neighbors, we are often the first on the scene. Cell phone in hand, I’ve run out to help several motorists who didn’t know what was coming. After the most recent crash, where a car flipped into the ditch, I knew that something had to change(( The writer has set the scene with a vivid description, and these sentences draw our attention to what’s at stake. They need a stop sign, and it’s clear that the writer is on a mission to get one.)) . We needed a stop sign.

I began with a google search, which led me to my local Stop Sign Request Form. According to the form, a government official would reach out to me. If they deemed it appropriate, we’d work together to assess whether the intersection qualified for a stop sign.

Their response took months. While I waited, I began collecting evidence on my own(( The writer’s initiative shines through.)) . After noticing that the security camera on my house pointed toward the intersection, I decided to put the skills I’d been developing in AP Computer Science to work. I wrote a simple code that tabulated the number of cars that passed through the intersection each day(( Here we see the technical skills the writer is developing.)) . Briefly reviewing the footage each night also helped me determine how many cars were likely going over the posted speed limit of forty miles per hour. Alongside these statistics, I went back into our cloud history to find footage of the crashes that had occurred.

When I finally heard back from the city, I was ready to make my case. My confidence deflated as soon as I opened the email(( Oh no! There’s a roadblock. Things aren’t progressing as the writer hoped.)) : Thank you for filling out a Stop Sign Request Form , the email read. At this time, we do not have reason to believe that the intersection of 33rd Street and Spruce Street meets the criteria for a two-way stop sign. The city had disagreed with my recommendation and denied my request.

I took a moment to collect myself. How could the city not care about the safety of its citizens? Were human lives not worth looking into a simple stop sign? I took to Twitter, posting statistics from my research, photos of the obstructed view, and a security camera compilation of cars speeding by. I tagged my local representatives, and I asked for help(( But the writer doesn’t focus on the problem. They continue to focus on their action steps and solutions. That’s exactly how you talk about a personal challenge in a college essay.)) .

While not all of them were receptive to my post, one particularly helpful representative connected me with my city’s City Engineer. The representative instructed me to send the City Engineer all of the evidence I had collected along with another copy of my Stop Sign Request Form.

The engineer was impressed with the code I wrote and the tracking system I’d put together, and she agreed to meet me at my house to do an inspection of the intersection. I accompanied her on the inspection so I could watch what she did. After working so hard to advocate for my community, it felt good to have my opinions heard.

In the end, I got my stop sign(( The writer emphasizes that it wasn’t just about winning the stop sign debate. It was about the community impact. And what do admissions officers want to see? Yep, community impact.)) . Drivers still occasionally speed, but I was astounded by the outpouring of thanks I received after my neighborhood was alerted of the change. My foray into local government was an eventful but rewarding one. And even though I’ve secured my stop sign, I’ll still be doing stop sign research this summer— this time as an intern at the City Engineer’s office(( And the writer pops in this awesome opportunity they’ve earned as a result. As an AO, I would see that they are continuing to prepare for college as their high school career is coming to a close.)) .

Word Count: 641

Admissions Officer Notes on The Stop Sign

This essay combines a story of personal strengths with an impactful accomplishment. It’s not necessary to write about one of your accomplishments in your college essays, but if that’s the route you want to go down, then this approach is a good one. Notice how it focuses on concrete action steps, emphasizes the skills the writer learned and used, and highlights how their actions impacted their community. A stop sign may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but the writer shows just how important this effort was.

  • Community impact: The accomplishment this writer chose to write about is an impressive one. Admissions officers are always looking at how applicants interact with their communities , so this story showcases the writer’s willingness to help and engage with those around them.
  • Strengths: Above all, we see that the writer is solutions-oriented. They are a “founder” or “builder” archetype and aren’t afraid to tackle hard problems. The writer also explicitly shows how they solved the problem using impressive skills.
  • Narrative momentum : This essay is easy to read because we’re always wondering what’s going to happen next. The hook is very catchy, the ups and downs of the writer’s struggle to solve this problem are clear, and the conclusion points to the overall significance of the story and looks toward its future impact.

College Essay Example #6: Fran’s Flower Farm

Surrounded(( The hook is interesting and vivid.)) by carnations, dahlias, and marigolds, I laid down on the hard dirt, sweating from the midday sun. While my garden was a labor of love, it was still a labor. I’d spent months during the beginning of the pandemic researching how to set up beds correctly, choose seeds and fertilizers, and run a small business(( We get plopped right into the story without wasting any time.)) . A year later, this summer would be the second harvest of Fran’s Flower Farm.

As I prepared the yield for my small table at that week’s farmers market, I reflected on how far I had come(( This transitional phrase is a quick and convenient way to incorporate reflection.)) . Prior to the pandemic, I had never even dug in the dirt. I didn’t know anything about seed germination or nitrogen levels. I had my own Instagram, but I had never had to market anything or think about overhead costs. I was a total and complete newb.

But my life, like everyone’s, changed in spring of 2020. Lockdown rendered me depressed and hopeless until one day when my mom ordered me a bouquet of flowers along with our grocery delivery. The bouquet was a simple grocery store arrangement of sunflowers. A few petals were wilting at the ends, and the stems were smashed from the flour that had been in the same plastic bag. But they were perfect. Such a small and thoughtful gesture, that bouquet inspired me to get to work(( Nice—here we learn about the “inciting incident” that compelled the writer to get started on their flower farm.)) .

Lucky enough to have space for flower beds, I mapped out four different six-foot beds in my backyard. Garden tools stolen from my mom and borrowed from socially-distanced neighbors in hand, I added compost, arranged my seeds, watered, and mulched. I laid protective plastic over my beds, tucking them in like a child, and wrapped the garden in decade-old chickenwire I found in our barn. My garden was imperfect–compost trailed between beds, my hose wrapped around my shovel in a heap on the ground, and the chickenwire was dented and rusty. But it was all mine, and it was alive(( I like this paragraph because we really see the writer’s personality. They are determined, innovative, and grateful.)) .

As the pandemic waged on, I tended to my flowers. Each morning, I’d peek under the plastic to see how they had fared throughout the night. They gave me routine and purpose when the days seemed droning and neverending. The longer I kept them alive, the more their sprouts brought me life, too(( This is a very nice and poetic point.)) . In a world that seemed to come to a halt, my flowers showed me that growth wasn’t just possible–it was happening right in front of me.

The business side came soon after(( The transition here could be a touch smoother.)) . Later that summer, once my first crop had bloomed, I set up a roadside stand outside of my house. At that point, I had to put my flower buckets across the driveway from my stand to keep everyone safe. But my flowers brightened the days of hundreds of passing motorists. With growing confidence, I secured a spot at the farmer’s market by July, my business boomed(( I’d like to see some specific details here about how well the business was doing.)) . Returning all profits to my garden, I’ve expanded my operations to include two more flower beds this year.

I’m proud of how far my gardening and business skills have come, but what has been most fulfilling about Fran’s Flower Farm have been the connections I’ve made. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for healthcare workers. As the child of a healthcare worker myself, these challenges have been close to home. Knowing how greatly that bouquet of sunflowers affected me, I make sure to donate flowers(( And this sweet gesture shows another one of the writer’s strengths.)) to my local hospital in thanks every week.

Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d own my own flower farm. It’s brought me so many joys, challenges, and friends. I know I won’t be able to bring my flower farm with me to college. But the heart of the farm is more than the flowers(( Here, the writer wraps up the main theme of the essay and makes sure the reader really understands the point.)) . It’s about me learning and using my skills to help others. Wherever I’m planted, I know that I will bloom(( This phrasing is cliche. The writer could re-write the idea in their own words.)) .

Word Count: 643

AO Notes on Fran’s Flower Farm Grade: A

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to buy a bouquet of flowers from this student! While the ending is a bit cliche, we really see how far this student has come in their journey as a farmer and a business person. We also see the magnitude of their impact. They not only grew a successful small business, but they also gave back to the healthcare workers in their community. The student is definitely one I could see thriving in a campus community.

  • Topic and accomplishments : Like The Stop Sign, this essay conveys an impressive accomplishment. But the essay isn’t bragging about it or overstating its significance. It works well because the writer tells a genuine story about a passion they developed.
  • Variety: The writer also manages to show us two distinct strengths in one essay. We see their strength as a DIY farmer and as a business person. They are clearly a founder archetype.
  • Organization and style: The essay opens with a beautiful description, and we get a lot of good language throughout. The writer is able to go through a fairly complicated timeline in a concise and digestible way.

Good College Essay Examples

Not every student can write an exceptional college essay. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not one of your priorities or in your particular skill set.

Thankfully, college essays don’t have to be exceptional to earn admission. They can simply be good. You can still write a solid college essay that does everything you need it to do.

So what’s the difference between the best college essays and good college essays? Usually it’s writing style. Some writers have a gift for writing or have spent years practicing their craft, and those are usually the writers who produce essays that make admissions officers gasp.

But admissions officers recognize good, solid writing and storytelling, too.

So writing a good college essay should always be your main goal. Focus on the basics first before trying to level up to an exceptional essay.

College Essay Example #7: My Emotional Support Water Bottle

I had a stuffed animal named Elephant when I was a child(( This hook makes a statement that compels me to read on so I can figure out what they’re referring to.)) . I’ve long since outgrown Elephant, but now I have a new object that I keep around for comfort: my emotional support water bottle. A gray thirty-two-ounce wide-mouth Hydroflask, my emotional support water bottle accompanies me everywhere.

The water bottle was a gift last Christmas after I begged my mom for one. The brand had become extremely popular at my school, and I wanted in on the trend. When I opened the package that Christmas morning, I was elated. I felt an immediate attachment, and I was proud that I could finally fit in with the other kids at my school(( Here we learn about the connection between the waterbottle and the writer’s values)) .

I had always felt like an outsider(( In this paragraph, the writer zooms the focus out to their life in general. We need this reflection to understand why the topic matters so much to the writer.)) . Other students seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a picture that matched my piece. I envied the tight-knit friendships I saw among my peers.

As soon as I unwrapped my water bottle, I decided that I needed stickers to match. The kids at my school always had stickers on theirs. I found the perfect pack. It had animated depictions of every famous literary character imaginable. Jane Austen characters, Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Montag, Jane Eyre, and more. I couldn’t believe my luck.

No matter how disconnected I felt from my classmates, I could always find a community on my bookshelf(( The writer introduces another topic, literature, that tells us more about who they are.)) . I sat in the courtroom with Atticus Finch, walked through the streets of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov, and watched the revolution unfold alongside Satrapi. My literary friends kept me optimistic through difficult times, and I was glad to see them every day on my beloved Hydroflask.

After winter break ended, I couldn’t wait to debut my new accessory. I placed it atop my desk in each class, angling my favorite stickers outward in hopes of connection. I was profoundly comforted by its presence—I could always take a sip of water when I felt thirsty or uncomfortable, and its stickers promised to draw people in.

To my dismay(( This paragraph serves an important plot function. We see that everything, in fact, did not work out perfectly. By highlighting this challenge, we really get a sense of the writer’s problem-solving and resilience.)) , weeks went by, and no one noticed my Hydroflask or stickers. The school was filled with dozens more Hydroflasks after the holidays, so mine didn’t seem so special. What had once filled me with so much hope and support transformed into a reminder of an unfulfilled promise of friendship.

I coped with the disappointment by re-reading one of my childhood favorites, Le Petit Prince . Near the end, when the little prince returns to water his flower, I had a realization. I couldn’t wait around for people to come to me(( Ding, ding, ding! Here we have it. The main lesson the writer has learned. What’s great, too, is that they’ve stated it so clearly.)) . I had to bring the water to them.

The next day at school, I held my Hydroflask close and gathered all my courage. I headed into the lunch room and spotted Jordan, one of the people I’d chatted with in class. She was sitting alone at a table, reading a book I couldn’t identify. I asked if I could join her. Nodding, she told me about her book, White Teeth . When I placed my Hydroflask on the lunch table, she noticed my stickers(( This sentence is crucial because it ties all these threads together: the waterbottle, stickers, literature, and friendship/fitting in.)) . Together, we went through every sticker and talked about the character’s book.

Jordan and I spent the next day’s lunch exchanging laughter and book recommendations. She had a water bottle of her own, too. It was a classic Nalgene without a single sticker. As our friendship grew stronger, I brought Jordan the last sticker from my collection(( With this small gesture, we see a) the writer’s kindness and b) the writer’s personal growth.)) , a rainbow bookmark that read, “BOOKWORM.”

I’ve always looked to the world around me for comfort instead of finding courage within myself. Elephant still sits on my shelf, I continue to be an avid reader, and I always carry my Hydroflask around for hydration. But this learning process has taught me the importance of having confidence and finding the ability to reach out to others. I can’t wait to carry this skill with me to college— after I get some more stickers(( The conclusion ties all these threads together beautifully, and this final statement adds some spunk and forward movement.)) .

Word Count: 648

Admissions Officer Notes on My Emotional Support Waterbottle

Ah, the emotional support water bottle. We’ve all had one! This writer does a wonderful job connecting an otherwise simple object to a larger story about an important part of their life. We also learn a lot about the student, their background, their goals, and their interests from this essay. I especially like how the essay shows the writer’s academic passion (literature) without being an explicitly academic-focused essay.

What makes this essay good:

  • Storytelling: With their love of reading, it’s no wonder this writer is a good storyteller. As readers, we get a very clear sense of how the events progressed and changed the reader’s perspective.
  • Compelling hook: This essay’s introduction is attention-grabbing and quirky. It compels readers to continue on in the essay to find out what, exactly the writer is talking about.
  • Clean conclusion: The conclusion is a fantastic example of what college essay conclusions should do. It reflects back on the essay, ties up loose ends, and looks forward to how these lessons will apply to the writer’s future.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Core Strengths: While we learn a lot about the writer from the essay, there could be a stronger sense of core strengths. We see that they are a strong reader, but that strength doesn’t necessarily connect to their overall message. We also see that they are eager to connect and become a good friend with Jordan, but they don’t all connect seamlessly into a specific archetype or two. A good question to ask yourself is: how would the strengths I show in this essay convince an admissions officer that I will be a good addition to their campus?

College Essay Example #8: Party of One

The sun shone through my airplane window, hitting the tray table exactly right to reveal the greasy handprint of a child. Beside me, a woman cleared her throat as she rifled through her purse, and the tween next to her tapped away on an iPad. The knees of the tall man behind me pushed against the back of my chair. Together, we headed to Pennsylvania(( We open with clear scene-setting, and the final sentence jumps right to the point: we’re on a journey to PA.)) .

This wasn’t my first trip to Pennsylvania, and it wouldn’t be my last. But it was my first trip traveling as a party of one. Barely past the unaccompanied minor cutoff, I departed for a month-long and court-ordered trip to my dad’s house. I wasn’t eager to travel alone. I felt afraid, too young to do this by myself. I wanted to go back home. But I decided to embrace the journey as an adventure(( This explicit reflection helps us, the reader, understand what mindset the writer is at at the beginning of this journey.)) .

With the growing whirr of the engines, the plane ascended. All around me, my neighbors breathed sighs of relief when we reached cruising altitude. I tightened my seatbelt across my lap, steadying myself for the five-hour trip, and took in the scene. Always the quiet and careful observer(( And here we really learn about who the writer is)) , a full flight was my Sistine Chapel.

The woman to my right was wearing all black. She extracted her laptop from her bag the moment the flight attendants permitted, and she created a PowerPoint presentation from scratch before the drinks cart had even started down the aisle. She was all business. I imagined that she signed her emails with nothing but her name, that she read Keynes in her free time, and that people listened when she spoke. She was everything I longed to be(( While the majority of this paragraph is about the writer’s seat mate, this final sentence brings the focus back to the writer. We learn that the description, in fact, was about the writer themself—everything they “longed to be.”)) .

Next was the tween, only a few years younger than I was. Clearly afraid of flying, the tween reached across the aisle to a man who was presumably her father. I found it endearing that she reached out in fear. The dad’s reassurance didn’t just comfort the tween. It comforted me. So far from home, his quiet calm reminded me of the parent waiting to pick me up at the other end of this journey. I remembered reaching out for my own father’s hand when we flew to Pennsylvania for the first time(( Here we have more great reflection about the writer’s relationship with their dad. )) . Now, I watched the dad squeeze the tween’s hand. I felt guilty for the frustration I felt about the trip. I was excited to see my dad.

And finally, there was the man behind me. Aside from the brief glimpse I got during boarding, I didn’t know what he looked like. But there were two things I knew to be true. First, he was tall. The longer the flight went on, the more apologetically his knees bumped against my seat. Second, I felt emboldened by his ability to take up space. With each nudge forward, I spread myself a little bigger(( The writer’s encounter with this man nudged their growth forward. At the beginning, they felt small and timid. Now, they’re more able to take up space.)) , daring to exist in a world I normally wanted to hide from.

Four hours into the flight, turbulence hit. The long-legged man yelped as his knee hit the metal of the seat. Bigger now(( And that growth is solidified even more through this brief transition statement.)) , I was able to brace myself against the impact. I looked to the tween, who I expected to be a wreck. Instead, I saw a calm girl handing napkins to her dad, whose drink had spilled in the commotion. Her care for him mirrored the care he had shown for her. The woman next to me, who had seemed so steadfast, gasped when the plane shot downward. Her hand reached for her chest as she caught herself, surprised. I moved my arm from our shared armrest, giving her space(( This last part gives a very subtle look at the writer’s growth, too. We see that the person the writer admired isn’t as strong as she had seemed. In fact, the writer’s growth has enabled them to help the woman in her moment of weakness.)) . She smiled in appreciation.

After the turbulence had ended, I looked at myself. My hands were folded neatly in my lap. I realized that although I was flying solo, I was surrounded by strangers whose stories intersected with my own(( This point could be more specific.)) . When we landed, I ran into my dad’s arms. “ You’ve grown ,” he smiled.

Admissions Officer Notes on Party of One

This essay is an endearing story about the writer’s first solo plane ride. The narrative is what we would characterize as a “going on a journey” essay—both literally and figuratively. As the writer makes this cross-country trip, they also go through a long personal journey. I especially like the tie between the introduction and conclusion. Along the way, we also learn about the writer through their observations of the other people on the flight.

  • Introduction: The first two paragraphs draw the reader in, descriptively set the scene, and establish what is at stake for the writer. We are dropped right into the journey alongside them.
  • Vivid language: Throughout the essay, the writer uses interesting and vivid language that helps draw the reader in. The details aren’t overwhelming but add depth to the narrative.
  • Reflection throughout: One of the most challenging parts of writing this kind of essay is figuring out how to incorporate your reflection throughout. Many writers mistakenly save it all to the end. But this writer does it the right way by adding reflection at each stop along their journey.

Focus on the self: As-is, this essay tells us a lot about the writer. But it’s nearing on committing one of the biggest college essay writing faux pas: focusing on people other than yourself. I think the writer is getting close to that line but doesn’t yet cross it because of the reflection throughout. But to make the essay even better, the writer could still draw more focus to their own experiences.

College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent

I’m a klutz(( Quirky but not too out-there hook that has a lot of personality)) —that’s it, that’s my greatest talent. I’ve honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life.

When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over. (“This is why we can’t have nice things!” my mom used to scream, half in jest and half in exasperation.) My parents used to joke that I was the only person who could trip on a flat surface. But unfortunately for me, despite doing my due diligence into flat-earth theory(( Here’s more humor that adds some interest and voice to the essay.)) , I found that there was a prevailingly devilish curve to everything around me. If it had a lip, an edge, or a slick spot, I found it.

As I got older(( Excellent signposting to guide the reader through the narrative)) , my talent for being a klutz grew. I managed to trip over my own backpack on a daily basis, and I once fell down a flight of stairs while holding a tray of cookies (I was trying to be a good hostess, but it didn't end well). My friends and family came to expect it, and after those first few years of irritated glances, they began to meet my clumsiness with a laugh and an extended hand.

Being a klutz isn't all bad(( Here, the writer flips our expectations on their head. We’re about to learn about how being clumsy is, in fact, a talent.)) . In fact, it has some pretty decent perks. For one thing, it’s helped me become more empathetic. I know what it feels like to stumble and fall (and stumble and fall, and stumble and fall, and…), and I’m always ready to offer a kind word and a hug to someone who’s having a tough time. I also have a great sense of humor(( We’ve already seen this strength in action at the beginning of the essay, so it’s another good one to highlight.)) —a defense mechanism thanks to all of the embarrassing moments that I’ve created for myself. And let's not forget the fact that I am never bored. There is always something to trip over or knock over. Neither I nor anyone around me ever lacks for entertainment.

One of the biggest benefits of being a klutz is the unexpected friendships(( Friendship is another good strength. But at this point, the essay is starting to feel somewhat list-like. It may have been better to delve more deeply into fewer strengths rather than try to cover so much at once.)) it has given me. For example(( This is a good concrete anecdote that demonstrates the point, though.)) , I once tripped and fell into a ditch while hiking with a group of near-strangers I had met at a trailhead. Surrounded by brambles and thorns, three of them jumped right down with me to hoist me out. My graceless tumble became an inside joke of the trip and we all ended up becoming good friends. I was still embarrassed, of course, but I’m grateful that my clumsiness opened up a new door for friendship that day.

Being a klutz has also taught me to be patient with myself(( Again, we have another good strength, but it’s a lot to cover in one short essay.)) , and to not take myself too seriously. It has taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected, and to always have a good sense of humor. And most importantly, it has taught me to be kind to others(( And yet another strength! Especially since these are related, combining them in a more substantial way may have been more effective.)) , especially when they are having a tough time.

So, if you are looking for someone who’s a little bit quirky and a lot of fun, I’m your girl. I may not be the most graceful person on the planet, or on your campus, but I am confident, kind, and always up for a good laugh. Anyway, where's the fun in being graceful? Just, please, if you do accept me—I’d really appreciate some foam bumpers on the sharp surfaces in my dorm(( More wonderful personality to wrap things up hete. It's approaching being too informal, though.)) .

Word Count: 548

Admissions Officer Notes on My Greatest Talent

This essay is kind of a goofy one. I’ve included it as an example because I want to show you that it’s okay for your college essay to have some personality! Your college essay doesn’t have to be a big, serious rumination on some deep topic. Especially if you’re a goofy person yourself, it’s completely okay for you to choose a more light-hearted topic that showcases your personality. If you do, just be sure to follow this writer’s lead and still write an essay that showcases your strengths.

  • Topic choice and personal voice: When we read this essay, we get a crystal clear picture of who the student is because the topic allows them to really write in their own voice. I feel like I know the student after reading it.
  • Strengths: All college essays should communicate a core strength to the reader. This essay does an exceptional job at transforming something most people would consider a weakness—being clumsy—into clear strengths—empathy, humor, friendship, patience. Overall, we see that the writer
  • Writing style: The biggest tweak this writer could make would be leveling up the writing style. As it is now, it reads like a five-paragraph essay: first I did this, then this, and then this third thing. Changing up the organization and topic sentences could help the writing come across as more mature.

College Essay Example #10: Counting Cards

I am a psychic who thinks in terms of fours and threes(( This hook raises a lot of questions: What is the writer referring to? It does read, however, as a bit disingenuous and overly quirky.)) . Deal me any hand of Gin, and I can guarantee I’ll have you beat. I stare at the cards in my hand and see numbers moving in my mind. Like a mathemetician at a chalkboard, I plan out my next move. I use logic, memory, and a little bit of luck to guess exactly what your hand looks like. The possible combinations seem endless—four Kings and a run of three, three nines and four Queens, a run of four and three sevens, and many, many more. What I love most about playing Gin is the predictability. While I may not know what’s coming, I can use what I already know to strategize, adapt, and have fun along the way(( Here we have a clear gesture toward the essay’s overall theme.)) .

My Gin career began as a small child. My aunt taught me how to play the game while we were camping. My hands were so small that we had to use a chip clip to keep the cards in place(( These first three sentences are very choppy because they all have the same length and structure.)) . I was at first intimated by the “big kid game,” as I called it then, but soon I couldn’t get enough. I forced my entire family to play, and I even roped in the kids at the campsite next to us. My aunt, a mathematician, is a skilled Gin player. She passed her tips and tricks along to me. After a few years of playing, she was the only opponent I couldn’t beat.

Last summer was the first time it finally happened. I bested her. I had a hand with three Aces and a run of Spades. I needed another Ace or a three or seven of Spades. When I drew that final Ace from the deck, I could hardly believe it. I paused to count my cards again(( This description paints a wonderful picture of the writer, their aunt, and the relationship between them.)) . I drew my hands to my chest, looked up at my aunt slowly and triumphantly, and calmly declared, “Gin.” My aunt squealed and embraced me, proud of all the progress her protegee had made.

This win came from a year of hard work(( This is an effective transition that allows the writer to talk about all the work they put in.)) . I read every book on Gin I could find at the library, watched countless YouTube videos, and became an expert on Gin’s more lively counterpart, Gin Rummy. Learning and practicing drew me into a huge online community of Gin enthusiasts. I never thought that I’d meet some of my best friends through a card game, but I did. Every night, we’d compete against each other. And with each match, my skills would sharpen like a knife on a honing steel. When I finally beat my aunt, I hadn’t just won the game. I’d won lifelong friends and greater reasoning skills(( And here is a bit of reflection sprinkled in at the end. There definitely could be more reflection throughout.)) .

Gin players aren’t internationally recognized for their intellectual prowess like chess or Scrabble. I’ve learned other games and played them successfully, but nothing has come close to the joy and challenge I feel while playing Gin. I love predicting what your opponent holds and what you’ll draw next, betting on your perfect card being in the draw deck, chatting with your opponent as you deal the next round, and earning bragging rights after winning a match—all of it is the perfect mix of strategy and community. When I head off to college in the fall, the first thing I’ll pack will be a deck of cards(( This is a sweet ending that looks forward to the future. The conclusion could have touched more specifically on why all of this is so meaningful to the writer.)) .

Word Count: 549

Admissions Officer Notes on Counting Cards

This essay chronicles a writer’s journey learning how to play the card game Gin. I really like how much the writer and their personality shine through. Like the My Greatest Talent essay, Counting Cards is a great example of how to write a fun, light-hearted essay that still speaks to your strengths.

  • Topic: Admissions officers see lots of essays about chess and sports. But it’s pretty rare to see one about Gin. The topic (and enthusiasm with which the student writes about the topic) give this essay a good personal voice.
  • Connections: The writer also makes stellar connections between a simple game and the people who are most meaningful to them: their family and friends.
  • Strengths: Even with a topic as simple as a card game, the writer manages to highlight their strengths of work ethic and camaraderie.
  • Higher stakes: We see that the game of Gin is really important to the writer. We also see how the game is connected to their relationship with their aunt and to the new community they found online. But I’m left wanting a little bit more reflection and vulnerability about why Gin is so meaningful to this writer.

College Essay Example #11: Golden Hills Animal Clinic

On my best days at work, I’m surrounded by puppies, kittens, and rainbows(( This hook is interesting, but it's quite cliche.)) . On my worst, I watch people say tearful goodbyes to their best friends. Working at the front desk of Golden Hills Animal Clinic, I’ve seen it all. I’ve learned a lot about people through their pets. I’ve also learned a lot about myself(( Here, we get straight to the point of what this essay is going to be about.)) .

I began working in the clinic two summers ago. I’m known in my family as the “ Snow White(( What a sweet detail about this writer’s background)) ” because I’ve always had a special connection with animals. I had nearly started a new colony of stray cats in my backyard by the time I was nine. I’ve nursed more sick and injured birds than I can count. I’ve discovered all kinds of insects, snakes, and lizards in my neighborhood. Now, at the front desk, I get to welcome the animals and their humans. I share in their joys and console them at their lows.

After(( This topic sentence does a good job structuring the paragraph, but it could be clearer how this paragraph connects to the overall idea of the essay.)) watching thousands of animals struggle, you think you’d get used to the pain and suffering. But each hurt, injured, or elderly animal I check in stings just the same. When I’m in the back room helping prepare the animals for surgeries or procedures, I look into their eyes and desperately try to communicate that everything will be okay. The worst part is knowing that the animals can tell something is wrong but don’t understand what is happening. And when their owners walk past my front desk, I reassure them that we’re treating their pets as our own.

But with life’s hard moments also come the happiest ones. It’s easy to become dejected by the sad times, but working at the clinic has actually given me more hope(( Ah-ha! We learn that even though the writer witnesses a lot of sadness at the clinic, the experience has actually given them more hope.)) . There’s nothing like seeing small puppies, feet too big for their bodies, prance through the waiting room. I’ve witnessed children comfort cats through holes in carriers, and I’ve become inspired by the assertiveness with which our veterinarians make critical decisions to help animals. Through all this, I’ve learned that those little pockets of happiness, care, and determination are what make life worth living(( This sentence helps ground the reader in the writer’s theme.)) .

I’ve also learned that veterinary medicine is as much about the people as it is the pets. Sometimes owners have to be convinced about the best care plan for their pets. Sometimes others aren’t able to afford the care they desperately want to get. People come in worried about nothing or not worried enough. Part of managing the front desk is having the ability to read where a person is coming from the moment they start speaking. Seeing things from customers’ perspectives helps me provide better customer service to the people and the pets. If I sense that a customer is worried about cost, I can talk to them about payment plans. If someone seems overwhelmed by the options, I ask if they’d like to speak with the vet again. In all these cases, I feel proud to provide as much help as I can. Doing so makes sure that our animals receive the best care possible(( We get a good sense of the writer’s strengths in this paragraph, but by the end, it still doesn’t really connect back to the theme.)) .

Now, as an aspiring veterinarian myself(( And with this small note, we learn all that’s at stake: the writer wants to be a vet in the future, so all of these experiences are important preparation .)) , I know that the rest of my career will be filled with the happiest and saddest moments of people’s lives. My care for animals will turn tragedies into miracles. I’ll console owners of sick pets, and I’ll help bring new life into the world. Veterinary medicine is a lot like life in general. You can’t have the good without the bad. But I’ve never met a pet owner who wouldn’t trade the pain of animal loss for even one fleeting, happy moment with their furry friend. Animals make the world a better place. Like Snow White(( Clever call back to tie the essay together)) , I’ll continue listening to animals so I can make their world a little better too.

Word Count: 615

Admissions Officer Notes on Golden Hills Animal Clinic

This essay tells a good story about this writer’s time working at an animal clinic. What I like about this essay is that the writer doesn’t sugar coat things, but they also don’t dwell on the sadness that passes through the clinic. They are real about their experiences, and they draw valuable lessons from them. They also show the importance of this story by connecting it to their future goals.

  • Strengths: We clearly see the strengths this writer brings to the clinic. They are understanding, patient, and positive. We also clearly see how these strengths will help the writer be a good veterinarian in the future.
  • Topic sentences and transitions: Although the paragraphs get unwieldy at times, the writer’s clear topic sentences and transitions help us seamlessly progress through the narrative.
  • Being more direct and concise: At times, it feels like the writer rambles instead of making clear, direct points. Rambling can distract the reader from the main point you’re trying to make, so it’s best to stay on track in each paragraph.
  • Fewer cliches: Relying on cliches shows immaturity in your writing. Cliches like “puppies, kittens, and rainbows” and “with the bad comes the good” get in the way of the writer’s own voice.

College Essay Example #12: The Filmmaker

Eye to the lens, I feel in complete control. The old camera weighs heavy in my hands as I quietly point my leading actor to the other side of the frame. Taking a moment to look at the world through my own eyes rather than a lens, I make a decision. I back up, careful not to trip, and capture the wide, panning shot I had envisioned. Filmmaking allows me to show others exactly how I see the world. With an odd angle or lingering aside, I can take my audience on a journey through my eyes(( This introduction raises a lot of questions that propel us forward through the essay: what is the writer doing? What is it that they want to show the world? Why does this all matter?)) .

What’s beautiful about filmmaking is that there are several art forms occurring simultaneously(( We begin with a paragraph that dives deep into the writer’s interest.)) . At the foundation of a scene is the script. Words that draw a viewer in and keep them there, the script is an essential act of creative writing. Next there’s the acting. An art of performance, acting brings the script to life. A good actor will make an audience feel as if they are with the characters, feeling what they feel and doing what they do. Then there’s the direction and filmmaking. Choices about how to translate a three-dimensional world to pixels on a screen drastically affect the audience’s experience. And, finally, there’s the editing. Editing is where all of the other art forms converge, selected and chopped up and stitched back together to create something even better than the original.

I’ve never been one for writing or acting. But the latter two, filmmaking and editing, are where my passions lie(( And here we learn about the writer’s main passion, inspirations, and journey as a filmmaker.)) . Inspired by my favorite movie, ET , I began filmmaking in elementary school. Borrowing my mom’s Flip UltraHD camera, I’d run around my home, filming everything in sight. Soon after, I started gathering my neighborhood friends in my backyard and directing them in made-up film productions. Our films took us on journeys around the world. We were pirates in the Atlantic, merchants in Paris, and kangaroos in Australia. We learned how to tell stories and create and resolve conflicts. In the process, we learned about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

My love for editing didn’t come until later(( This is an okay topic sentence that helps us understand where we’re at in the narrative, but the paragraph as a whole could more clearly relate to the writer’s overall theme.)) . When my family upgraded our ancient Gateway 2000 to a sleek iMac, I became an iMovie aficionado. I learned how to use all the features and enter in keyboard shortcuts. I became a sculptor. Instead of clay, my material was digital. I’d split clips in half, manually zoom in to my subject, and add filters that changed the whole tone of a shot. Shift + Command + F, and I’d play my clips in full screen, evaluating them with the eye of a film critic. Was my shot effective? Are the actors convincing? Is there anything odd in the background? If I had never seen this, what would I think and feel? Then I’d repeat the process, over and over again.

Some people might say that dedicating myself to filmmaking is frivolous in a world with more pressing problems. But filmmaking is a way to spread messages and give people hope. From the change wrought by An Inconvenient Truth to the laughter Mr. Bean has incited in millions, filmmaking is a way to bring art, truth, and laughter to everyone. More accessible than books or newspapers, film and TV couldn’t be more essential media to confront the problems of today. With the passion of my ten-year-old self, the films I’ll continue to make will have an impact(( We conclude by learning about the writer’s interest in using filmmaking to impact the world. The writer could dig a little deeper here—it stays mainly on the surface.)) .

Word Count: 563

Admissions Officer Notes on The Filmmaker

In this essay, we get a great sense of how excited the writer is about filmmaking. They take us on their journey learning about filmmaking, and they explain how their interest will serve them in the future. I especially enjoy how this essay oozes passion. By the end of the essay, we have no doubt about what this writer sees as their life’s calling.

  • Organization: The introduction , background, explanation, and discussion of personal growth all cohere perfectly. The writer walks us through each step of their journey in a clear and logical way.
  • Voice: Through all the rich descriptions of the writer’s childhood, we really see their personality and voice.
  • Significance and meaning : While it’s clear that this topic is one the writer is passionate about, the essay could evoke more meaning. It’s not apparent what’s truly at stake. The writer should ask and answer the question: “So what?” In answering that question, they’ll be able to be more vulnerable throughout the essay.

“Bad” College Essay Examples

“Bad” is in quotation marks here because writing is always relative.

In the case of these examples, we have categorized them as “bad” because they don’t adequately meet the expectations of a college essay. That doesn’t mean that they’re objectively bad or that their writers are bad writers. It means that the essays need some more attention.

“Bad” essays can always become good essays. Sometimes they can even become the best essays. What matters most is identifying what’s not working and putting in a lot of effort to address the problems.

Across the thousands of college essays we read as admissions officers, there are several issues that arise again and again. Learning from these issues can help you avoid them.

We have a whole post about those biggest college essay mistakes. But the following examples commit three different writing faux pas:

  • Too much metaphor and not enough substance
  • No main point or clear organization
  • About a topic that is important to the writer but not actually that high-stakes

With these mistakes in mind, let’s do some analysis.

College Essay Example #13: Lost in the Forest

I look into the forest, moss wet on my feet(( This is an intriguing hook.)) . There’s fog everywhere—I can barely see the glasses that sit on my nose. I feel a cool breeze rustle against my coat. I am cold and warm all at once. The sun shines through the fog, casting the shadow of a tree whose roots know no end. At the entrance to the forest, I stand frozen in time and space. I can’t see what’s ahead of me or behind me, only what is(( After this sentence, the metaphor becomes unclear.)) . And what is suddenly transforms into what could be. I see a fork in the pathway in front of me. The noise—the noise is so loud. Crickets and owls and tigers, oh my(( Avoid cliche phrases.)) . My thoughts scream even louder. I can’t hear myself think through the sounds of the forest of my mind. Off in the distance, I see a figure. It’s a shadow figure. It’s my mother. She’s walking towards me. I take a step into the forest, fearlessly ready to confront any overwhelming obstacle that comes my way(( This is a nice sentence that encapsulates the main theme of the essay.)) .

When I was a child, I used to play in the forest behind my house. Until one day when I caught my mom sneaking a cigarette outside. She tried to hide it behind her back, but I could see the smoke trailing over her head like a snail. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran farther into the forest. I am used to being disappointed by her. I ran and ran and ran until I tripped over a tree branch that fell in the storm the week before. I laid on the cold, hard ground. The back of me was soaked. Would I turn into my mom? After that, I decided to turn back. The cold was encroaching. I got home and saw my mom in the kitchen. We agreed not to speak of what I saw(( This paragraph could use some more details about what’s at stake: why does all of this matter? As readers, we need more information about the writer’s relationship with their mom to understand why this confrontation was so significant.)) .

While taking a history test, I looked around at my classmates. The gray desk was cold against my skin. I started counting the people around me, noting those who I knew well and those I had never really talked to. I looked at all the expensive backpacks and shoes. After our test, I asked the person next to me how she thought she did. She said it was a difficult test, and I agreed. Every class period, we’d talk more and more. We became friends. We started hanging out with another friend from biology class. We were inseparable, like three peas in a pod. We’d study together and hang out together and dance. They were the best friends I ever had. We liked to play soccer after school and sing loudly to music in my room. But one day it all stopped. They both stopped talking to me((It's not clear how this anecdote relates to the anecdote about the writer’s mother. The significance of the forest metaphor could also be drawn out more.)) . It was like I had been yanked out of the forest and thrown on to the forest floor. I became moss, the owls pecking at my spikey green tendrils. They found two other friends, and I sat alone at my desk in history again. It was like another test, but this time a history of my own.

Things went on like this for years. Over and over again I got put back into the forest. My friends who I thought were my friends actually were just drama machines. Life is foggy when you don’t know what’s going on. And I live in a forest that’s always foggy. Try as I might to find myself, it’s easy to get lost in all the trails and hills. I’m climbing a mountain each and every day. But I keep going back into the forest, looking for answers(( The return to the metaphor almost works here. But because the metaphor has gotten in the way of the main point, we need more explicit reflection to tie everything together.)) .

Word Count: 603

Admissions Officer Notes on Lost in the Forest

So. Writers know that college essays should be meaningful reflections and exercises in creative writing. But sometimes writers take this advice to the extreme and write essays that are too metaphorical and too focused on internal reflection.

This essay is the perfect example of what happens when a writer goes over the top with metaphor. The forest metaphor could be a useful tool given the writer’s topic, but as it is now, everything else gets lost within the metaphor. It’s difficult to extract what the writer actually says about their life.

The writer’s reflection is also deep and removed from specific examples. After reading the essay, I still don’t feel like I know the writer. The topic also changes halfway through the essay, so following the thread throughout is challenging.

What this essay does well:

  • Topic: Even though the writer’s topic switches in the middle of the essay, it’s clear that the topics are both meaningful to the writer. The first topic especially may still be grounds for a great college essay.
  • Vulnerability: The writer’s vulnerability shines through. They are willing to share an important part of themselves.

What the writer could improve upon:

  • Pick a main topic and stick with it: Part of what makes this essay challenging to follow is that it’s doing too many things at once. Narrowing the topic would help the writer focus all their thoughts on communicating one overall idea.
  • Use the metaphor sparingly: Remember that metaphors are best when used sparingly. Pulling off an overarching metaphor is very difficult, so it’s generally easier for writers to sprinkle in small references to the metaphor throughout. A great way to accomplish this is the “bookend technique,” where you introduce a metaphor in the introduction and return to it in the conclusion. 
  • Tighten up each paragraph : All of the paragraphs in this essay have a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily flow logically from one sentence to the next. My final recommendation would be to edit the paragraphs themselves for clarity. The writer should think about what information is essential and cut the rest.

College Essay Example #14: The Chemist

You(( There are always different opinions about addressing your reader. Sometimes it can work okay, but this instance doesn't work quite as well.)). may be wondering why I’ve taken so many chemistry classes. Well, that’s because I love chemistry. I used to hate chemistry with a fiery passion but now I love it more than anything. I remember that I used to struggle through every single chemistry assignment I ever got. My sister would try to help me but I’d just get upset, like I really just didn’t understand it and that was so frustrating so I just kept not wanting to do more but eventually I started to think “oh chemistry is at the foundation of everything that makes up our universe,” and isn’t that just fascinating?(( Whew—that was a long sentence! This is a run-on sentence, but we do learn about the writer’s primary motivation for studying chemistry.)) So then I decided to make a change and actually try to learn chemistry. I started paying attention in class and asking my teacher for help after class and finally one day my sister said, “Wow, you’re really improving.” And that meant so much to me. When my great-grandparents immigrated to the United States(( This reference is nice, but it's an abrupt topic change. It’s not clear why the writer is bringing up their great-grandparents.)) , they had no idea what would be in store for their great-grandkids. We really don’t learn chemistry in school until high school, so it’s no wonder I didn’t understand it in high school when I started taking it. Electrons and atoms and acids and alcohols. There’s so much to learn. I really have never been good at math so I’d say that’s one of my biggest challenges in chemistry now is learning how to do the equations and figuring out how the math works. In fifth grade I used to be in advanced math but then it just got worse from there until I learned about tutoring. I started doing tutoring through the high school when I was in ninth grade and it helped a lot because I just needed a little more help for each lesson to really understand it. But even with that the math part of chemistry is still hard for me. But I always keep trying! That’s the most important thing to me I think is to keep trying(( This is a good statement of values.)) . Even when problems are hard and I can’t solve them I try to have a good attitude because even if I can’t get it right, doing chemistry is about unlocking the secrets of the universe and that really is interesting even if you can’t completely understand them. When I started taking chemistry in my sophomore year I almost gave up but I was also really inspired by my teacher who guided me through everything. She gave me extra time to do my lab work and was even my lab partner a couple times because our class has an uneven number of students. My favorite part of chemistry lab is mixing solutions and testing them. I don’t like the lab report writing so much but I know it’s an important part. So I try to just get through that so I can get back to doing experiments and such. My favorite experiments was about building a calormieter to measure how many calories is in our food(( Pay attention to small errors and typos like this one.)) . Calories are energy so you burn your food to measure how much energy they have. Then you write up a report about how many calories each food item like bananas, bread, a cookie, had. The best part of doing labs is having your lab partner there with you. You’re both wearing goggles and lab coats and gloves and you feel really like a professional chemist and it’s nice that you’re not doing it alone. You just read the lab instructions and do each of the steps in order. It’s like baking a cake! You just follow the recipe. But you don’t eat the results! You might use beakers or bunsen burners to hold liquid or burn or heat up whatever it is you’re experimenting on. And when I say “find the meaning of the universe” I really mean it(( The writer is trying to return to a bigger reflection here, but the transition needs to be much smoother.)) . It’s amazing how much chemistry is in everything. Cooking is doing chemistry because you’re changing up the properties of the food. The air we breathe, the way plants get energy, the medicines we take, we understand it all because of chemistry. I know that becoming a chemist is hard work and isn’t easy. But I know that it’s rewarding and that’s why I want to do it. Helping people is so important to me and I think that chemistry can help me get there(( Here, we also learn about the writer’s values and motivations.)) . I also like the health and beauty industry and I think it would be fun to get to develop new products or perfumes or medicines.

Word Count: 746

Admissions Officer Notes on The Chemist

There’s no easy way to say it, but this essay just doesn’t meet the mark. That’s why it gets an F. It reads like a free write rather than an essay because it is stream-of-consciousness and doesn’t really make a clear point. I learn that the writer loves chemistry, but the overall message is not clear.

  • Ideas : All hope is not lost! Once we dig into what each sentence of the essay is saying, there are some good ideas that the writer can turn into a more cohesive topic.
  • Organization: I hesitate to make any extreme claims about college essays, but I feel pretty confident in saying that the vast majority of college essays should always be more than one paragraph. You need paragraphs to break up your thoughts into digestible chunks. Each paragraph should contain a single point you’re trying to convey to the reader. This writer should break all these ideas up into several paragraphs.
  • Theme: We see that the topic of the essay is chemistry, that chemistry is interesting because it’s the foundation of everything, and that chemistry can help people. But we don’t really get any deeper meaning from the writer. They haven’t made an attempt to be vulnerable or to show us something significant about themself.
  • Length: The essay is almost a hundred words over the word count. The writer needs to pare things down as they organize and clarify their ideas.

Supplemental Essay Examples

In addition to your personal statement, many colleges will also have you write what are called “supplemental essays.”

These essays do exactly as the name implies: they supplement your personal statement. They’re the perfect opportunity for you to tell admissions officers even more about yourself beyond the information you put in your personal statement. Specifically, ou can use them strategically to highlight even more of your strengths.

There are no universal supplemental essay prompts like there are for the Common Application personal statement.

Instead, colleges provide their own supplemental essay prompt(s) as part of their applications.

The good news, however, is that these prompts generally fall into a few common categories: Why Us, Community, Personal Challenge, Extracurricular Activities, Academic Interest, Diversity, and Why this Major prompts.

If you want to learn more about what these prompts entail, or about how to even write a supplemental essay in the first place, check out our complete guide to writing supplemental essays (it’s really good).

For now, let’s take a look at standout example essays for four of the most common supplemental prompt types.

Community Essay: The DIY-ers

Prompt from MIT: Describe the world you come from (for example, your family, school, community, city, or town). How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

225 words or fewer"

I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers(( Straightforward but attention-grabbing. Nice!)) . In part, this lifestyle is one of necessity. Hiring professionals isn’t cheap, after all. But our DIY proclivities are also a product of a longstanding family tradition of ingenuity.

My first DIY was a fix on my Cozy Coupe, whose steering wheel had fallen off. Since then, my DIYs have become larger scale. With my dad, I’ve replaced loose bike chains, put in a new car clutch, and re-tiled our kitchen.

But our biggest DIY to date has been building a six-foot telescope(( Great topic choice that connects to the writer’s academic interests)) together. Made of scraps and spare parts, it’s not the most beautiful telescope. But our focus is on the stars anyway. My entire family has evening picnics, taking turns to look through the makeshift eyepiece. Occasionally the eyepiece falls off, and we all laugh(( I love the personality that emerges with this detail.)) as I run over to replace it.

Coming from a DIY family has made me self-reliant. And when the fixes just aren’t working, my dad reminds me to take a step back and think creatively about solutions. It’s from this mindset that my dream of being an environmental engineer has evolved(( The writer could get to this point sooner.)) .

I know that engineering isn’t just about fancy gadgets. It’s about ingenuity. I want to adapt my DIY ingenuity, mind and hand(( A cheeky nod to the school’s motto—interesting!)) , to even bigger projects that mitigate climate change and lead to a safer tomorrow(( I also like this gesture to the broader significance of their dreams and aspirations.)) .

Word Count: 220

Admissions Officer Notes

  • Topic: The writer has chosen a pretty interesting topic for this community essay that will most likely stand out among other candidates. More importantly, the community they’ve chosen to write about is one that they hold dear and have learned a lot from. The story connects in specific ways to who they are as a person and what their dreams and aspirations have come to be.
  • Growth: The prompt asks how the community has “shaped” your dreams and aspirations. This writer focuses on the progression of their aspirations while telling endearing stories about their relationship with their family members.
  • Future goals: The writer explicitly states how this community has shaped how and what they want to do in the future.

What it could improve on:

  • Pacing: Aside from describing your community, the main question of the prompt is how that community has shaped your dreams and aspirations. While the writer does get to an answer, they could spend more time in the essay focusing on that answer.

Diversity Essay: Bumpass

Prompt from Duke:  We seek a diverse student body that embodies the wide range of human experience. In that context, we are interested in what you’d like to share about your lived experiences and how they’ve influenced how you think of yourself.

There((A great, interesting hook that also jumps into a connection with Duke.)) are more traffic lights on the Duke University campus than there are in my entire hometown.

I don’t actually know how many traffic lights Duke has, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it has more than zero, which is how many we have here in Bumpass, Virginia.

Yes, Bumpass. Pronounced “bump-us”.

I’m from a weird little lake town in central Virginia((This paragraph gives us a clear picture of the writer's lived experiences.)) that has two types of residents: part-timers (that’s what we call them), mostly from DC, Richmond, or Charlottesville, with million-plus dollar homes on Lake Anna. They swim and boat on the private side of the lake, which is heated (yes, the lake is heated) by a nuclear power plant. And then there are families like mine. The locals. I’ve always thought “working class” was a nice way for rich people to call poor people poor, but that’s what we are. Families like mine clean the power plant. I’ve never swam in the private side, and our boat is a canoe.

Officially((And this paragraph gives us a good sense of how those lived experiences have influenced them.)) , I’ve had a job since my 16th birthday, which is the legal age in Virginia. But I’ve worked cleaning rental homes and fixing boats for part-timers with my uncle since I was old enough to use a Swiffer and turn a wrench. I’ve cleaned homes that cost more than my extended family’s combined net worth, but oddly I enjoy it. When I see inside their homes, I have something to aspire to, and that’s more than most of my hometown peers can say.

Success around here means making it through community college. Doing so in two years all without abusing alcohol or drugs? I don’t know many people who have done that. But I want to bring my Bumpass experience to Duke.((Nice job bringing the story back to the connection with Duke.)) I know how to rise before the sun and get a day’s worth of work in before noon. I know how to talk to goat farmers and postal workers (my best friend’s parents) just as well as neurosurgeons and pilots (my favorite part-timers whose docks I maintain in the off-season).

I’m looking forward to learning from the diverse body at Duke, making friends from around the world, and gaining a better understanding of the world beyond Bumpass((This conclusion ties the essay together nicely and communicates good school fit.)) .

  • Humor and personality: From the topic of the town’s name to the introduction, the writer uses humor (when appropriate) and clearly shows their own voice. They take an authentic approach to the diversity essay prompt. I feel like I know the student after reading this, which is always good.
  • School Connections: While there aren’t a ton of references to Duke here, the prompt doesn’t necessarily ask for them. The writer still does a good job connecting their lived experience to how they see themself at Duke.

Personal Challenge Essay: Tutoring Charlotte

Prompt from Brown: Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)

Asking Charlotte to answer a math question was like asking a cat to take a bath. Her resistance was almost instinctual. When I first met her, I had been doing after-school tutoring for about six months. The program paired up high school students with middle schoolers who were falling behind in their classes. Charlotte was my first student and biggest challenge(( Nice wording to make it abundantly clear that the writer is answering the prompt)) .

At first, her unwillingness to try came across as lazy(( This sentence gets at what the prompt is asking for: “a perspective that differed from your own”)) . I used everything I had in my tutoring arsenal. I encouraged her to give her confidence, and I even brought candy to bribe her. To my dismay, nothing worked. Each time I introduced a new problem, Charlotte simply refused.

My frustration grew so immense that I caught myself being curt with her. When I saw the look of betrayal in her eyes, I was ashamed at my impatience(( Here we have an inciting incident and growth that resulted from a realization. The writer begins to address the “how did you respond?” part of the prompt.)) . I realized that Charlotte’s struggles weren’t her fault. Math has always come easy to me. Whereas every math problem I encounter is like a code I’m excited to crack, Charlotte sees math problems as threats. After years of struggling, it’s no wonder that she stopped trying.

Once I understood that we approach math from different perspectives, I tried something new. I got rid of the math book and graph paper, and I brought out gummy bears. We did an algebra problem without her even knowing it. Together(( The writer zooms the focus out to a larger reflection about what they learned from this interaction. Nice.)) , we worked to overcome her fear of math. Along the way, I learned to teach the person, not the subject matter.

World Count: 247

  • Topic choice: Personal Challenge prompts can be some of the most difficult, especially if you don’t have a specific challenge you’ve faced in your life. This writer’s topic choice works great. They show that you don’t have to have a life-altering challenge to answer this prompt well.
  • Clear narrative: This prompt is a lengthy one, but the writer has clearly read it and used it to structure the story. As a reader, it’s easy to follow along as the writer identifies the problem, works toward a solution, overcomes hurdles, and eventually comes out successful in the end.
  • Connections: Different prompts require different levels of connections to the school. This writer incorporates some of Brown’s institutional values, but, especially since the prompt says so much about Brown’s community, the writer could have made more effort to connect their story to Brown.

Extracurricular Essay: Working Retail

Prompt from Vanderbilt:  Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

“ Would(( Beginning any essay with dialog can be hit or miss. But this is a hit. The dialog quickly captures the essence of working in retail and plops the reader directly into the writer’s extracurricular activity.)) you like another size? Sure thing, I’ll get a medium.”

“Are you interested in saving 10% today with an Old Navy Card? No, no worries…”

“I can clean the bathrooms if someone covers the fitting room!”

I didn’t expect much from my first job. Mostly, I expected to earn $12 an hour and improve my denim folding skills at Old Navy. I didn’t think I could learn so much about people and develop life skills.

As(( This paragraph could be a little more specific to the writer rather than their coworkers.))  odd as it may sound, retail work brought people together during COVID. I started in July of 2020. Our store had always met for monthly meetings, but everyone emphasized how much closer they’d become since the pandemic. Stepping up to cover someone’s shift when they got sick–or their spouse or child did–used to elicit a quick “thank you!”, but took on a more profound meaning in 2020. Though I started mid-pandemic, everyone I worked with remarked that, with a few notable exceptions, the overall demeanor of the clientele was much more empathetic. My coworkers seemed to go from sales associates to brave workers keeping the economy afloat overnight.

After about seven months of dutiful work, I was promoted(( The writer seamlessly incorporates the information that they earned a promotion after a relatively brief time of working at the store.)) to senior associate and had new responsibilities of closing and opening the store. Sure, I had dreams of working in an infectious disease lab. But having adults put real trust in me to account for several thousand dollars and secure a major outlet made me value and understand work perhaps even more than the research internship I missed out on(( I appreciate the perspective here. The writer makes a good argument for the importance of retail work, especially in relation to their academic interests.)) .

I am thankful for this opportunity to work and learn with a dedicated staff. Now, I look forward to pursuing more experiences that will relate to my career in biotech in college. Oh, and I won’t miss soliciting credit card sales with each purchase(( This humor bookends the essay wonderfully and adds some extra personality.)) !

  • Focus on strengths: Maintaining the right focus in extracurricular essays can be tricky. It can be easy to get caught up in the details of the activity and brag too much or not enough. Especially with extracurricular activities that aren’t based in competition, it can be challenging to draw out strengths. But this writer finds the perfect way to talk about their accomplishments and strengths (being promoted and being a team player) while also seeming personable and humble.
  • Connection to future goals : Importantly, the writer doesn’t just leave the story at their retail job. They show the admissions officer how they see this job as contributing toward their future goals.
  • Transitions: The transitions between paragraphs and into the detail about a future biotech career could be smoother.

Why this Major: Watchers

Prompt from USC: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)

As a child(( I like how the writer takes a more creative approach to a standard “why this major” essay.)) , I always got in trouble for staring. My mom would nudge me whenever I looked at someone too long. My uncontrollable staring was an embarrassment for her, but it’s one of the things I love most about myself. Whereas some people are do-ers, I am a watcher, a listener, and a documenter(( We learn a lot about the writer’s personality here.)) . Like introverts and extroverts, the world needs both kinds of people.

Watchers have an admirable task: to see what exists and give it meaning. That’s exactly what I want to do while pursuing my academic interests in anthropology(( And at this point, we jump quickly into the connections between the opening story and the writer’s academic interests. )) . In particular, I’m interested in learning about art, language, and culture in Russia. Pursuing a research career in anthropology would open up opportunities for me to do research for government offices and move toward my ultimate goal(( Incorporating a future goal that they’re working towards is an effective approach.)) of working for the United Nations.

As(( This paragraph has a number of specific, detailed, and relevant connections to the school.)) a Visual Anthropology and Russian double major at USC, I would hone my social scientist skills and improve my Russian language abilities. I’m also eager to participate in a directed internship and to connect with fellow watchers in the Anthropology and Global Studies club. The Center for Visual Anthropology, minor in Folklore and Popular Culture, and the anthropology-focused study abroad opportunity in St. Petersburg all converge to make USC the ideal place for me to learn.

With USC’s global focus and emphasis on creativity, research, and public service, I know that I could develop my watching skills into a successful anthropology career(( And the writer concludes by drawing on some of the institution’s core values, which helps ground all of those disparate connections into something meaningful that the writer aligns themself with.)) .

  • Writing style and storytelling: This essay shows that supplemental essays don’t have to be boring. The writer opens with an interesting hook and writes about their major interest in a compelling way.
  • School research and connections: The writer does a good job specifically answering the “how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC” part of the prompt. It’s clear that they’ve done their research, and the connections they’ve chosen to focus on make sense in the context of the story they’ve told. They also incorporate school values in addition to simple facts.
  • Writing about school connections : To take this essay to the next level, the student could write about the school connections in a slightly more elegant way. As they are now, they feel quite list-like.

Academic Interest: Everyday History

Prompt from Barnard: 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. (max 300)

As I walked through the ancient city of Pompeii(( This is a beautiful hook that stops and makes the reader think, too.)) on a family vacation, I thought about the children. I imagined how scared they must have been when the volcano erupted, how they must have reached out to their caregivers for protection. When a large group of people mobbed through the alley next to us, I reached out to my own mother(( With a simple phrase, the writer shows the connection between themself and the people of the past who have captured their attention.)) as an anchor.

What interests me most about history is that the people of the past(( The writer adeptly transitions from a poetic introduction to a straightforward answer to the prompt.)) were just like us. They had likes and dislikes, they became frightened and love-struck and tired. While the history of royalty and great wars captures most people’s attention, what I want to study is the history of everyday people.

What(( These questions respond exactly to what the prompt is asking for. )) was it like to be a child in Pompeii? How did prisoners feel on their way to Australia? What kinds of recipes did the Aztecs cook?

I know that with Barnard’s culture of multidisciplinarity, discovery, and creative thinking, I’d be able to pursue these questions and more(( The writer draws on Barnard’s own values and connects their interests, goals, and questions to specific offerings at Barnard.)) . In classes like Gender and Empire, I’ll learn about the ways European expansion was gendered. And in Children and Childhood in African History or Reproducing Inequalities: Family in Latin American History, I’ll be able to ask questions about the history of the family: How have family structures varied across time and place? What historical role have children played? In what ways have parenting practices changed and why?

While they may seem inconsequential for life today, I believe that answering these questions helps us better understand ourselves. With Barnard’s Building Strong Voices(( And they also reference out-of-the-classroom opportunities.)) mission, I’ll learn how to present my research and advocate for the importance of history.

The world needs more histories of everyday people. We have a lot to learn from them, and Barnard’s offerings will help me lead us to better historical and current understandings(( With this conclusion, it’s clear how Barnard will help the writer accomplish their goals. )) .

Word Count: 299

  • Introduction: Academic interest essays are your chance to go all-in. The introduction to this essay does just that. We’re immediately transported into this writer’s academic interest, and we begin to ask these questions alongside them.
  • Answering all parts of the prompt: This can be a tricky feat when responding to complex prompts like Barnard’s. But this writer does just that. They tackle each part of the prompt in order, and they make clear transitions between them.

College Essay Example Takeaways

Whether you’re writing a personal statement or supplemental essay, reading and analyzing college essay examples is an important tool. Good examples can give you insight into the proper form and structure to use. And bad examples can be just as helpful by showing you what not to do.

All admissions officers will approach your college essays from different perspectives. But hopefully the grades and comments—provided by our team of former admissions officers and professional writing coaches—have helped you understand what works, what doesn’t work, and why.

As you’ve seen, there are so many essays, topics, personalities, approaches—you can write a college essay about almost anything.

Remember that the key to any successful college application is a cohesive application narrative . 

And if you want to take your own college essays to the next level, join the Essay Academy for an entire course of professional guidance.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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How to Write a College Essay (Exercises + Examples)

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College essays need to start strong. They’re competing for an admissions officer’s attention, and you don’t want to lose your reader before your story ever really gets going. Here are five opening college essay examples to avoid, in other words, what's more likely to lose a reader’s interest.

It's that time of year again. The point in the application timeline where students are, or should be, getting ready to write drafts of their essays. Crafting strong essays for the application can be difficult for students, even the most skilled writers. Especially with students expected to write multiple essays with very different styles, it can feel overwhelming to submit a confident essay.

Just remember that first impressions matter in life and in college essays.

Personal Statement vs. Supplemental Essays

When applying through the Common Application, students are typically expected to write one personal statement submitted to every college and at least one supplemental essay per college.

The supplemental essay(s) demonstrate cultural and institutional fit for admissions officers. Many students refer to these essays as the 'why us' essays. And simply put, admissions officers want to learn why students are interested in the college and what makes them a great addition to their campus.

The personal statement, however, is an opportunity to show college admissions committees who the student is beyond the four walls of their classroom. Typically 650 words in length, the personal statement is, well, unique to each student. There is no 'right way' to write the personal statement, but we have a few tips to help students maximize their writing and avoid crafting a weak opening for their college essay. Each tip will also include an example of a real opening written by a former Collegewise student to demonstrate the tips we share!

To learn more about how to crack the supplemental essay, watch our Cracking the Supplemental Essays video!

1. An Introduction to Your Story

Imagine a student is telling a friend a story about life as a pitcher on the baseball team. The student wouldn’t start with, “Often in life, we face difficult situations that ultimately benefit us. While we may not see it at the time….” The speaker would lose the person’s interest before ever getting to the good stuff.

College essays work the same way. They’re stories, and stories need a beginning, not an introduction; instead of writing a general introduction to warm the reader up to a particular topic, starting with a clear opening that ties to the story are the best way to pique an admissions officer's interest in what they might learn from reading the essay further.

Real college essay example: " The worst part about being the slowest runner on my school’s cross country team is that I occasionally fall so far behind that I have to stop and ask for directions."

2. A Famous Quote

An essay that begins, “John F. Kennedy once said…” is already on the wrong track. Unless the quote was actually directed at the writer, the reader cares a lot more about what the student has to say than they do about any famous person’s pithy words. The one exception? Quotes can be effective when they’re part of the story. Say a student is writing about their experiences on a sports team, including a quote from one of their coaches can make their story more impactful. 

Real college essay example: " My baseball coach always says, “We’re going to play smart baseball, gentlemen because dumb baseball is no fun to play and even less fun to watch.”

3. A Definition

Opening with a definition like “Persistence is defined as…,” will probably not be a strong start. The reader, an admissions officer, doesn’t need the student to define words; they need them to tell a story that will help them learn all about who they are. If the personal statement is about persistence, explain how that trait is personified. Additionally, with the limited space students are given to share their stories, focusing on providing necessary details and leaving definitions to Google will help them maximize their writing. 

Real college essay example: " I hate heights. I am a complete scaredy-cat when it comes to heights. It must be genetic because there’s not much else that scares me. I’m usually pretty calm and composed. I have to be. There’s no time to be scared when you’re in the back of a speeding ambulance doing chest compressions on a nineteen-year-old motorcycle accident victim who’s just gone into full cardiac arrest. I did that last week.” 

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4. Being Too Creative & Lacking Clarity

Some students try so hard to be creative, or to entice the reader with a sense of intrigue, that they sacrifice clarity. If the reader is one paragraph in and thinking, “I don’t have a clue what this student is talking about,” the arousing interest has moved to confusion. It’s certainly possible and often effective to begin an essay with a description that piques interest without necessarily revealing exactly what the description is about. What's important to remember is that although the personal statement is a unique essay, a student should stay true to the writing style they feel most comfortable with. 

Real college essay example: " Once you know what the chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken looks like before it’s cooked, you will never want to eat it again. I love my part-time job, and I’ve worked there for almost three years. But I really don’t enjoy looking at that chicken before it’s cooked."

5. Anything that Would Show Up on Google

You might think you’ve read or heard the perfect opening someplace else—a book of sample essays, a speech, a line in your favorite movie, etc. But pirating someone else’s writing is plagiarism, and every college I can think of would frown on an applicant who steals other people’s work without crediting the source. There’s always that chance that your reader could recognize what you’re sharing. And if they have even the slightest suspicion, the answer will always be just a Google search away.

FAQs & Final Thoughts

While there is no 'right' way to start any college essay, a few approaches may not be the best use of the limited space students have. Our list is just a few of the many tips we share with our students to ensure they're submitting confident essays to the admissions committees. In addition to our essay don'ts, we've come across a few frequently asked questions regarding college essays or the personal statement.

What are the Common App Essay Topics?

Each year the Common App releases its 7 essay prompts from which students can choose and write. Although they usually stay the same, there may come a year where one of two may change. That's why it's important to review the prompts early. 

To read through the Common App's 2021-22 essay prompts, read our Common App Essay Topics blog!

Are there Essay Topics To Avoid?

In short, yes! What's important to remember is that admissions officers read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays every application year, and they've read it all. Students need to write about their experiences and what helped shape them to be who they are rather than what they feel admissions officers want to read. 

How Personal Should The Personal Statement Be?

Although the personal statement is a unique story for every student, many students write about personal struggles, challenges they face, and situations they overcame. And while there is no set list of topics to avoid, it is important to note that students should share how much they are comfortable with. After all, a stranger will be reading this essay.

Additional readings:

  • Is a Personal Struggle an Appropriate Essay Topic?
  • Is Your College Essay Ready to Submit?
  • Tackling the Common App Personal Essay

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College essay don’ts: 37 Things to Avoid In a college essay

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Knowing what not to write about in a college essay is just as important as knowing what to write about!

This post is all about college essay don’ts , including college essay topics to avoid and how not to write your college application essays. 

It’s so important to know what NOT to write about in your college application essay. Whether you’re crafting your essay for the Common App or writing shorter college-specific essays, you need to know how not to write a college essay. 

Choosing the wrong topic for your college application essays could mean that you don’t get admitted to your dream school or you miss out on scholarship money. 

Since you really only have one chance to get it right, you need to know what topics to avoid in your college admissions essays, general college essay don’ts, and what other pitfalls to avoid when writing your college essays.

Essay writing may feel overwhelming and stressful, but knowing what not to do will help you write a great college essay!

What not to write in your college application essay

So you know exactly what not do in college admissions essays, here are 37 college essay tips about college essay don’ts. Follow this advice to know what not to write about in your college essay!

1. Don’t restate the Essay prompt

Start your essay with a hook. Start with dialogue. Start by setting the scene.

Don’t start by restating the essay topic! The reader knows the essay prompts, so just start telling your story. 

A great story will immediately grab the attention of the admission officers and make them want to keep reading!

2. Don’t try to be funny in your college admissions essay

There’s a good chance that what you think is funny may not be funny to the admissions officer. And even if your admissions officer thinks it’s funny, the dean of admissions may not agree.

Clever writing that naturally tells a funny story will get you further than trying too hard to make everyone laugh. 

my college essays are bad

3. Don’t swear

You might not mind vulgar language, but many people do. It will come off as tasteless and crass. Simply put, curse words should not be part of your college admissions essay. 

4. Don’t just tell the reader what you think

Tell the reader what you did, how you felt, how you changed—not just what you think. Admissions officers don’t want to read about what you think in the abstract.

They want to know what has happened to you in life, how that’s affected you, and what you did as a result. 

Write an engaging, interesting story that shows the reader how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned.

5. Don’t try to Appear perfect

It’s okay that your life is messy and you don’t have it all together. It’s okay that you’re not super organized and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up.

Your college essay doesn’t need to be about how awesome you are (really, it shouldn’t be!). It just needs to be about the real you. Remember, your personal essay for college should be just that—personal! 

6. Don’t brag

Your achievements are all listed on your resume.

Writing about how great you are, how you saved the day, or how you’re a hero to others is not going to make a positive impression on the reader.

Leave the bragging to the people who wrote your letters of reference. 

7. Don’t emphasize status

Avoid topics that emphasize your financial privilege. Voluntourism trips to aid people living in poverty in far-flung areas of the world is a key example of this.

Don’t write about going on a mission trip to a third world country to volunteer to help the less fortunate and how you learned how privileged you are. Just don’t. 

my college essays are bad

8. Don’t lie

Don’t inflate your accomplishments. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

If you write something dishonest in your essay, it won’t match the other parts of your application. If you were found to have been dishonest when writing your essay, you will not be offered admission at that college. 

9. Don’t reveal too much

If you have faced personal challenges, like addiction, mental health struggles, or learning disabilities, those struggles are part of you. You should feel proud of overcoming them.

But your college admissions essay is not the place to share your most deeply personal experiences. 

Some college admissions officers may read about your challenges and want to welcome someone with your tenacity and spirit to their campus.

Unfortunately, most admissions officers will read about your challenges and worry that you will face similar issues at their university. 

Many colleges choose not accept applicants who have demonstrated past mental health issues. This might not seem fair, but it is reality. Don’t hide your true self or be dishonest, but carefully consider how much you want to reveal in your admissions essay about your private struggles. 

10. Don’t write about illegal activities

It’s a safe bet that most colleges do not want to admit students who have a history of participating in illegal activities.

Even if you plan to talk about drug use, alcohol use, jail time, or committing crimes as a way to show growth and discuss lessons learned, illegal activities show a lack of maturity and questionable judgement.

Writing about criminal behavior will not reflect well on you as a candidate for admission. Illegal activities make bad topics for college essays.

11. Don’t summarize your resume

This is one of the biggest college essay don’ts! Your college essay is your opportunity to tell the college admissions office who you really are and what really matters to you.

Your resume already lists your activities, and your transcript details your grades. Your college essay isn’t the place to review these facts; it’s your chance to stand out by telling your story. 

12. Don’t tell a general story

Be specific. In fact, be very specific. Focusing on the details of your story will help make your college essay unique so that it stands out.

A good college essay will tell a story that could only have been written by you—no one else. 

Instead of telling a biopic story of your life, focus on one aspect of your life—your beliefs, a meaningful experience, a key event—that explains who you are and what matters to you. 

my college essays are bad

13. Don’t write about cliché topics

Avoid writing about the sports victories and defeats. Winning a big game or losing a championship game might mean a lot to you, but sports are common topic and best avoided.

Don’t write about overcoming an academic setback or a romantic breakup.  

14. Don’t write about something controversial

You don’t know who will be reading your college admissions essay, and they might not agree with your views on controversial topics.

Moreover, your reader might not appreciate how you approach a sensitive topic. You might appear close-minded and unempathetic. 

The last thing you want to do is make the admissions officers reading your essay think you would bring discord to the campus community.

15. Don’t undervalue the small stuff

Great essays can be crafted from the small, personal details of daily life.

Don’t underestimate what interesting essays can be written about your morning routine, your favorite family recipe, your relationship with your sibling, or what you do on a snow day. 

In fact, some of the most memorable, best essays have been about a random item, food, or daily routine.

16. Don’t go negative

Criticizing other people, your current school, or anything else will probably just make a bad impression on your readers.

Don’t whine about your life. Negativity says more about you and how you perceive the world around you than it does about anything else. Certainly don’t criticize the college you’re applying to!

If you do want to write about negative experiences you’ve had, quickly move on to discussing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result of those experiences.

17. Don’t be pompous

Never assume that you know better than your readers or that your approach is the only way.

Don’t tell your reader what they should think. Avoid making generalized value judgements. 

18. Don’t go completely off topic

Don’t try to stand out by submitting a poem or creative writing sample.

Write a thoughtful, well-crafted essay about yourself, just like they asked for.

Show that you respect the school admissions committee’s request and can follow directions. 

19. Don’t ignore the prompt

College admission essay topics are designed to allow you a lot of freedom in how you answer. Craft a story that tells something about you, within the framework of the prompt. 

Just double check that your essay answers the prompt, to make sure you didn’t veer off topic as you wrote and edited the essay. 

Also know that you can write about whatever you’d like to . In your essay writing process, if you find that the first prompt you chose isn’t working out, choose a different one and start again.

20. Don’t get the tone wrong

Your college admissions essay is not an expository essay, formulaic and devoid of warmth. Nor is it the right time for you to use all the fancy words you’ve been studying for the SAT.  

Your college admissions essay should be engaging, show your personality, and sound like you—a teenager reflecting on your life thus far. 

21. Don’t write a trite conclusion

If your essay has done its job, you shouldn’t need to sum it all up for the reader in a neat little final sentence.  

If you have shown your reader what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, or who you are, you don’t need to say it explicitly at the end of your essay. 

The conclusion is often the hardest part of the essay to get just right, so don’t worry if it’s hard to find the perfect words. Take a break from writing it and come back in a few days to get a fresh perspective on what you’re trying to say.

22. Don’t wait until the last minute to Write

Start writing your college admissions essay weeks, if not months, before its due. Senior year is an incredibly busy time, so it’s a great idea to get started on your college admission essays as early as possible.

Leave plenty of time to think about what you want to say, revise and edit, and finalize the essay. You’ll be amazed at how your essay can improve if you allow ample time to work on it.

If you’re going to apply early decision or early action, consider starting to work on your main essay the summer after junior year, before your senior year even starts, or early in the fall of senior year.

23. Don’t ignore the word count

You don’t want to write too much or too little. Aim to be within a few words of the word limit. Express yourself clearly and concisely.

my college essays are bad

24. Don’t repeat your resume

When you’re writing your personal statement essay, don’t just repeat your high school resume.

Your personal essay is your chance to talk about an aspect of your personality or life experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in your college application. 

The list of courses you’ve taken (and your grades) tell about your academic interests. So there’s no need to turn your essay into a list of your academic achievements!

Your extracurricular activities show what you’re interested in and how you use your time. If you want to discuss how your extracurricular activities have been formative experiences for you, focus on one particular example. Don’t re-list all your volunteer experiences!

Your personal statement essay should reveal something about you that doesn’t show up in the rest of your application. 

25. Don’t write about an “example” topic

If you have read some amazing examples of college essays, and you’re thinking that you could write on that same topic, don’t.

Chances are, if your English teacher pointed out those examples, or you found them via a Google search, every other high school senior (and every school admission officer) has seen those essays too! 

Instead, dig deep and write your own amazing personal statement !

26. Don’t copy and paste

It’s completely fine to use the Common App to submit your personal essay to every school on your list (as long as they accept the Common App, of course). 

But for each college’s specific essays, tailor your essay to each school. Include specific details about each college that make you want to go there. And make sure your responses are appropriate to the culture of each college. 

If you do copy and paste your essays, be sure the essay doesn’t refer to the wrong school!

27. Don’t overuse the thesaurus

Everyone gets stuck using the same words over and over again, and it’s fine to check a thesaurus when you’re writing. 

But don’t use big words just in an attempt to impress the college admissions officers. Don’t use words you don’t really understand to try to sound smart.

For a great college application essay, write naturally in your own voice and let your true personality show. 

28. Don’t plagiarize

If you’re submitting someone else’s college essay as your own, you’re giving up the chance to share your unique story with the admissions office.

You’re also risking an automatic rejection if you’re caught!

29. Don’t be fake

Use your essay to tell the admissions officers what you want them to know about you.

Don’t try to guess what the admissions officers would like for you to say or try to be someone you’re not. 

Don’t invent a tragic event in your past, claim to have done hours and hours of community service you haven’t done, or exaggerate any aspect of your life.

Be authentic, write with your own voice, and craft an essay that stands out from the other applicants.

Simply take your time to craft a thoughtful essay that tells your personal story. Talk about your unique perspective on one specific experience in your life, using your authentic voice.

30. Don’t write a school essay

Your college admissions essay is not a five-paragraph expository essay that you would write for English class.

A winning college essay should have a beginning and an end, but the part in the middle should tell a good story, not make an argument in three points. 

The expository essay style of writing might be what your English teacher wants, but it makes for bad college essays.

For a college application, a well-written essay will examine your personal growth, your unique experience in life, and the different perspectives through which you see the world. And you should do this by crafting an intriguing story about a specific moment or experience that was significant to you.

my college essays are bad

31. Don’t Avoid feedback 

If you’re feeling stuck, feel free to ask someone else—a teacher, parent, family member, or friend—to read your essay. Getting feedback on your entire essay is the best way to get a sense of how admissions officers will respond to reading it.

Feedback does not mean that they tell you what to write or how to write it.

Feedback should mean getting input from someone else can help you learn where your essay veers off point or where you need to dig deeper to tell a better story. 

32. Don’t skip editing

Please allow enough time to write AND edit your essay. Ideally, you will write a first draft of your essay, then edit it, then get feedback, then edit it again, then write a final draft (then proofread it—see below). 

Expect to write at least three or four, and maybe many more, drafts of your college application essay. Your essay will improve with each round of editing.

The essay writing process can be time consuming, but in the end you’ll have a strong essay to share with college admissions offices, so it will be worth it!

33. Don’t overedit

What? Didn’t I just tell you to edit?

Yes, absolutely. Just be sure that after you’ve shown your essay to trusted readers and you’ve made your edits, your story still remains.

The essay should still have your voice and should tell the story you want to tell. 

34. Don’t skip proofreading

After you make your edits and write a “final draft,” you might want to click send and submit your essay. But not so fast! 

Take time to do a final proofread of your essay.

Better yet, ask a teacher, college counselor, or someone with excellent grammar and spelling skills to proofread your essay. Having a fresh set of eyes on your essay will help ensure it is error-free. 

35. Don’t just rely on Spellcheck

It’s really important to have an actual person proofread your essay.

Spellcheck and other editing software won’t necessarily catch grammar errors, typos, or poorly structured arguments.

It’s always a good idea to trust the final proofread of your essay to a person, rather than technology. 

36. Don’t submit your essay at the last minute

You never know when a website will get glitchy!

Don’t take a chance that the Common Application or an individual university’s website won’t act up at a crucial moment. Do your best to upload your college essay at least a day before it’s due!

The admissions process is stressful enough without adding in technical errors. Don’t risk missing the deadline by procrastinating!

37. Don’t submit an incomplete essay

When you’re in the Common App website or a specific college’s application portal, and you attach your admission essay, scan it quickly before hitting the submit button.

Be sure you attached the correct file or that the complete essay transferred when you copied and pasted it into the online form.  

It won’t matter if you write a great essay if you don’t submit it correctly!

Final thoughts on college essay don’ts and what not to write in your college essay

Personal essays are a key part of the college application process. College admissions counselors, especially at smaller colleges, use college essays to learn more about the applicants applying for admission at their school. 

An amazing college essay might not make up for bad grades or a lack of extracurriculars, but a poorly written essay may push your application into the reject pile. This is especially true now that test scores are usually optional.

Successful essays allow admissions officers to learn about your personal qualities, your take on global issues, and how you might contribute to campus life.

Writing a great college admission essay is the most important thing you can do to make a great impression on the admissions team.

After looking at so many college applicants, test scores, GPAs, and awards all blend together. It’s the personal essays that stand out when admission counselors are deciding which high school seniors will be accepted.

So, it’s worth taking your time to write the best college admissions essays you can.

By avoiding all these college essay don’ts, you’ll know what not to write in your college essay. 

9 tips for How to Write a College Essay That Stands Out

9 tips for How to Write a College Essay That Stands Out

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Can I use the same essay for different colleges?

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How to Choose a Unique College Essay Topic

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

  • Brainstorming tips for your college essay
  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
  • Taking your college essay to the next level
  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
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  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
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Video transcript

Waitlisted? No Brags. No Updates. Learn About Ivy Coach's Letter of Continued Interest

The Ivy Coach Daily

  • College Admissions
  • College Essays
  • Early Decision / Early Action
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Standardized Testing
  • The Rankings

November 4, 2013

Bad College Essays

Terrible College Essays, Horrible College Essays, Bad College Admissions Essays

Curious to know what bad college essays look like? Pick any college essay at random submitted to a college — even the highly selective ones — and there’s a great chance that you’ll pull out a bad essay. And why’s that? Because high school students just plain can’t write. It’s a conclusion we came to years ago, one reinforced over the last several years. In fact, in all of our years helping students with their college admissions essays, we can remember one (one!) essay that was actually great before we started helping with revisions. The writing of American high school students (and the international applicants are way worse!) is, quite frankly, horrible.

Let’s give our readers an example of some bad college essay writing. Here is a sample paragraph from an essay. Tell us what you think is wrong with it in the Comments section below: Winning the race was a really big accomplishment for me. It made me really proud to stand on the podium and wave to the crowd, surrounded by so many people I love. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget that win. It taught me so many valuable life lessons about never giving up and about what it takes to succeed. In this way, sports symbolize life.

And let’s hear your comments on this sample paragraph from a terrible college essay that we’re making up on the spot: Being first chair violin can, at times, be very stressful. If I mess up a note, the whole orchestra can follow my lead. I sit right by the conductor. I am who the audience is looking at. There is so much pressure. And yet I love it. Playing the violin makes me feel alive.

So what’s wrong with these sample paragraph? Is anything right? Definitely not! If you thought anything was right, you might want us to have a look at your college essays. We promise that they’re a whole lot closer to these sample paragraphs than you might think!

Need help with your college essays ? We’re offering a college essay package. Email [email protected] for information.

You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.

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11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

←11 Stellar Common App Essay Examples

5 Awesome College Essay Topics→

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What makes a good college essay? It’s a question many high school seniors ask while going through the application process. A winning college essay engages admissions officers and shares with them the student’s identity and personality, painting a picture that goes beyond grades and test scores—compelling the reader to become an advocate for the student’s admission. 

The Four Core Questions are at the heart of college essays and answering them is critical. Those questions are: 

  • Why am I here?
  • What is unique about me?
  • What matters to me? 

By answering these questions, a student is able to share information that is otherwise hard to ascertain with admissions officials—things like personality traits, personal journey, interests, skills, and ambitions. A well-conceived and well-written essay is a way for students to separate themselves from other applicants; conversely, an ineffective essay does nothing to distinguish a student, which is why it’s so important to avoid writing a cliché college essay. 

Cliché College Essay Topics to Avoid + How to Fix Them

1. résumé of your life and achievements.

Résumés are an effective method to demonstrate achievements, but they’re boring to read. This is why, in the professional world, résumés are often accompanied by a cover letter. A college application is essentially a student’s résumé—it contains their grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities—which makes an essay listing achievements redundant. 

A better strategy is for students to pick one experience that stands above the rest and write about how it shaped the person they are today. This is especially effective for any experiences that would benefit from further explanation, or those that have an interesting backstory. For example, maybe you participate in a unique extracurricular that most people aren’t familiar with, such as being on a Chinese yoyo/diabolo team. You might choose to focus on that aspect of your identity and what it means to you. Or, maybe you love math, but never had the chance to explain on your application that you used to hate math, until a tutor showed you a different way to appreciate it (and that’s one of the reasons you want to become a math teacher). This would be another strong topic.

You don’t necessarily have to focus on one specific event, but your essay should be cohesive. Another traditional essay structure is telling a narrative over an extended period of time. This structure incorporates a handful of different experiences that are joined by a common thread. If you have a story of growth, change, or development, this is the classic essay structure for you. An example of this might be a football player who was embarrassed to admit he liked writing and poetry, but how he eventually became a published author, and came to accept and own his identity as a poet.

2. Sports injury, challenge, or success

Coaches on every level are known for telling their athletes about how the lessons learned on the field/court/ice translate to life. Unfortunately, these lessons and stories have been told in numerous movies and books, along with countless college essays

To successfully write a college essay about sports, it’s important to steer clear of the common themes.

  • Overcoming adversity
  • Trusting teammates
  • Refusing to quit
  • The thrill of victory
  • The agony of defeat

For example, instead of an applicant talking about how their team trained and improved to beat their rivals or win a championship, they should write about a unique way that sports shaped who they are. For example, here’s an unexpected way to write about a sports injury: maybe tearing your ACL in a soccer game actually led you to start a podcast while you were recovering, which became one of your biggest passions. 

Along a similar line, a student could write about discovering their motivation for playing sports.  Maybe they always played basketball because they were good, or their parents expected them to play, but they realized they didn’t enjoy the competitive nature of the sport and wanted to gravitate toward less competitive activities like hiking or surfing. 

3. Immigrant story

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and while not every student has an immigrant story, a lot of them do. Consequently, these immigrant themes are ones that every admissions officer has read before:

  • Learning a new language
  • Adapting to new customs
  • Adjusting to a new lifestyle
  • Struggling to fit in

Asian students, in particular, should avoid immigrant-themed essays, as they have a harder time getting into college due to demographics, and this topic only calls attention to their background. 

To make an immigration essay work (and avoid being another cliché college essay), a student needs to make it extremely unique or incredibly personal. One tactic is to write about a singular experience—moments of conflict are always an interesting topic. For example, a student might write about a time they were made to feel unwelcome in the U.S. and how they responded to that moment, such as volunteering at the community cultural center or creating a welcoming committee for new immigrants. 

Another essay opportunity is to write about an experience that is truly unique. Perhaps, when a student first came to the U.S., they didn’t have access to a vehicle or public transportation and needed to walk to school or their job. That student could use their college essay to focus on what they learned on their walks and the ambitions it sparked—such as tenacity to succeed against all odds, or a desire to found a program for immigrants in a similar position.  

4. Tragedy – death, divorce, abuse

Tragedies are formative experiences, which in theory make them a natural theme for a college essay; however, tragedies are often a universal experience. Furthermore, essays on this topic are too often centered on the tragedy itself, rather than the applicant.

It is possible to write a college essay about a tragedy that isn’t cliche, however. The key is to keep it focused on the applicant and highly personal. To start, avoid overused themes like “life is short” and “make every day count.” Instead, highlight how the tragedy affected the writer. For example, if you had a friend who passed away from substance abuse, an essay centered around your subsequent commitment to drug prevention programs and advocacy is an interesting angle. 

In the case of an applicant who had a parent pass away, writing about shifting family dynamics, new responsibilities, and increased challenges are all great themes. For example, a student went from worrying just about academics to becoming the other adult in the house—preparing meals for their siblings, sending them off to school, and helping them with their homework.

5. Working hard in a challenging class

Working hard in a challenging class doesn’t work as an essay topic for a handful of reasons. If you’re applying to a highly ranked institution, it’s likely that most of their applicants took tough classes and worked hard. They also likely faced challenging classes, struggled, and ultimately succeeded. Another reason to avoid this topic? The traits conveyed are likely covered by recommendation letters: 

  • Perseverance
  • Work ethic 
  • Intellectual ability

Instead of writing your essay about overcoming a tough class, think about the personality traits you want to highlight. If you feel that your determination is already covered in other aspects of your application, pick another trait to feature in your essay. Or maybe, you feel like your determination isn’t emphasized enough. Which other experiences highlight this trait?

Another idea is to make the essay less about the class and more about the writer. Instead of sharing how you struggled to understand Crime and Punishment in your advanced lit class, you might detail how the class inspired a desire to write, or how the works covered made you reflect on your own life. 

You could also pick a problem or research question you want to solve, as per the fourth Common App essay prompt. Just remember that while the topic is an intellectual problem, your essay should still highlight your personality, identity, and way you think about the world. Pick something that is deeply personal to you and your background. For instance, maybe you want to create a proposal to solve food deserts in your county. This would allow you to share your personal experiences growing up in a food desert, your passion for increasing access to healthy food, and your analytical abilities.

6. Someone you admire (a person you know or historical figure)

The primary pitfall of writing about an admired person is that the essay is often focused more on the other person than the applicant. Even if students steer the essay toward themselves, they usually find themselves covering familiar themes:

  • Learning something about themselves
  • Learning something about life
  • Learning something about the world

The key to keeping writing about another person from becoming another cliché college essay is to keep the focus on the applicant. A great way to do this is to highlight a specific moment where they exemplified an attribute or action that they commend in a person that they admire. For example, if an essay writer admires their father’s ethos of standing up for what is right, an excellent essay theme is the time they stood up for another student who was being bullied, even though they knew they risked losing popularity, or finding themselves in the crosshairs of the bully as the result. 

If the person they admire is historical, they can talk about how they are trying to live their life according to those ideals. For example, the aspiring writer can focus their essay on how they adopted Hemingway’s ritual of writing every morning as soon after first light as possible, and what they’ve learned from that process. 

7. Volunteer trip

Building a winning essay about a volunteer trip is tricky—at best, these essays come off as cliché; at their worst, they can make an applicant seem pretentious, condescending, and privileged. Like other topics, the key is for the writer to focus on themself, not the group they volunteered for or the place they went. 

One way to avoid the cliché volunteer essay is to write about a specific moment on your trip, rather than giving a chronological account of your time. Get really specific and bring the reader into the moment and share with them how it affected you. An attention-grabbing essay will show the reader how you changed, instead of telling them. 

Another trick for turning volunteer essays from cliché to eye-catching is focusing on an unusual experience that happened during the volunteer trip. For example, a delayed flight while travelling home that left you stranded in a foreign city all alone and how it’s a parable for stepping on campus for the first time.

8. Moving to a different part of the country 

Similar to the immigrant story, writing about moving to a new place is also an overly-done topic. Countless students move or switch schools each year. Many have trouble fitting in or adjusting to a new place, but eventually make new friends. 

If moving was really integral to your high school experience and identity, think about why that is. Did it push you to try new interests or become more outgoing? Focus your essay less on the move itself and your adjustment, and more on how exactly it changed your life. 

For instance, some more original ways of spinning this topic would be:

  • How moving led you to start an organization that picks up unwanted furniture for free, and resells or donates items in good condition. For items in bad condition, you find ways to repair and upcycle them. This was motivated by all the trash you saw your family produce during the move.
  • At your new school, you joined the gymnastics team because you were known as the uncoordinated, awkward girl at your old school, and you wanted to shed that image.
  • After moving, you decided to go by the proper pronunciation of your Spanish name, rather than the anglicized version. You could write your essay on why you made this decision, and how it impacted your experience in your new community.

9. Your religious institution or faith

Religion is generally a very tricky topic, and it’s difficult to cover it in an original way in your essay. Writing about your faith and reflecting on it critically can work, but basic religious essays about why your faith is important to you are a little more clich é . 

It’s important to also remember your audience. If you’re applying to a religious school, essays about your faith will likely be expected. If you’re applying to a super liberal school, you might want to avoid writing your essay about your conservative religious views.  

Regardless of your situation, if you decide to write an essay on religion, share your personal relationship with your faith. Anyone can write broadly about how much their faith means to them or how their life changed when they found religion, but only you can share your personal experiences, thoughts, and perspectives.

10. Romantic relationships and breakups

Your college essays should be personal, but romantic relationships and breakups are a little too personal. Remember that applying to college is kind of like applying to a job, and you want to present yourself in a professional light. This means that writing about your romantic life is a bad idea in general. 

Unlike the other clich é topics, there are not really any directly-relevant alternatives. If you wanted to write your essay on your relationship, think about what traits that story would’ve brought out. For a breakup, was it your ability to overcome a setback? For a happy relationship, is it being emotionally intelligent or finding a compromise during conflict? Think about how you could still write an essay that conveys the same aspect of your identity, without mentioning this cliché topic.

11. Family pressure to pursue a particular major or field

Many students unfortunately experience family pressure to do certain activities or choose specific career paths. If this is the case for you, you shouldn’t focus your essay on this topic—it will only make it look like you lack independence from your parents. This is not a good sign to admissions committees, as they want a campus full of students who have the autonomy to make their own decisions. 

That’s not to say that parental input isn’t valid—you may have very legitimate reasons to follow your parents’ advice to pursue a particular career, especially if your family is low-income and you need to provide for them. But there are absolutely better topics to share your identity and background, beyond parental pressure.

Some ways to make this topic more original are:

  • If you have strict parents, discussing how you became more independent from them, and an example of when you did something for your personal development that they might not have agreed with at the time.
  • For those whose background influenced their decision to choose a “practical” field, you might talk about your situation growing up and how that influences your perspective and choices. Of course, you should still try to show genuine interest in your plans, as you don’t want to make it seem like you’re being “forced” to do something. 

Wondering if your personal essay topic is cliché? You can ask for the advice of peers and experts in our free  Q&A forum . If you’re looking for feedback on your essay, you can also get your essay  peer-reviewed for free . Just  sign up for your free CollegeVine account  to get started!

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Frequently asked questions

Can i use my college essay to explain bad grades.

If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.

However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.

Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

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 your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .

Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.

In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.

The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.

A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.

For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.

Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.

Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .

In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .

You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.

Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.

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.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:

  • For early action applications and the first round of early decision applications, the deadline is on November 1 or 15. Decisions are released by mid-December.
  • For the second round of early decision applications, the deadline is January 1 or 15. Decisions are released in January or February.
  • Regular decision deadlines usually fall between late November and mid-March, and decisions are released in March or April.
  • Rolling admission deadlines run from July to April, and decisions are released around four to eight weeks after submission.

Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .

Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.

Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.

Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.

To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:

  • Two reach schools that might be difficult to get into
  • Four match schools that you have a good chance of getting into
  • Two safety schools that you feel confident you’ll get into

The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .

At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:

  • Your personal information
  • List of extracurriculars and awards
  • College application essays
  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores
  • Recommendation letters.

Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.

You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.

Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.

If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .

You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.

Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.

You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.

A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.

After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.

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

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.

The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.

The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.

You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

  • Use a standard, readable font
  • Use 1.5 or double spacing
  • If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
  • Stick to the word count
  • Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches

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.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.

Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.

Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.

If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.

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.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.

However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.

Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.

Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

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Should college essays touch on race? Some say affirmative action ruling leaves them no choice

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When she started writing her college essay, Hillary Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education , it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color, instantly more was riding on the already high-stakes writing assignment. Some say they felt pressure to exploit their hardships as they competed for a spot on campus.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 29: Kashish Bastola, a rising sophomore at Harvard University, hugs Nahla Owens, also a Harvard University student, outside of the Supreme Court of the United States on Thursday, June 29, 2023 in Washington, DC. In a 6-3 vote, Supreme Court Justices ruled that race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are unconstitutional, setting precedent for affirmative action in other universities and colleges. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

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Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life’s hardest moments to show how far she’d come. But she and some classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action. The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - OCTOBER 27, 2023: High school senior Sam Srikanth, 17, has applied to elite east coast schools like Cornell and Duke but feels anxious since the competition to be accepted at these elite colleges has intensified in the aftermath of affirmative action on October 27, 2023 in El Segundo, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, his first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child. Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “I wrestled with that a lot.”

Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and being made fun of for listening to “white people music.”

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Ore., had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

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But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word Is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word Is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” wrote Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane in New Orleans because of the region’s diversity.

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court’s ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

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It’s been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The first drafts of her essay didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said. Her final essay describes how she came to embrace her natural hair. She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“Criticism will persist,” she wrote “but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!”

Collin Binkley, Annie Ma and Noreen Nasir write for the Associated Press. Binkley and Nasir reported from Chicago and Ma from Portland, Ore.

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Hamas Took Her, and Still Has Her Husband

The story of one family at the center of the war in gaza..

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.

I can’t remember the word, but do you know the kind of fungi connection between trees in the forest? How do you call it?

Mycelium. We are just — I just somehow feel that we are connected by this kind of infinite web of mycelium. We are so bound together. And I don’t think we really realized that until all this happened.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

It’s quite hard to explain, to me in a sense, because some people would say, oh, I’m so hoping your father will come, and then everything will be OK. And it’s very hard to explain that really this group of people decided to bring us up together, shared all their resources over 75 years, grow into each other, fight endlessly with each other, love and hate each other but somehow stay together. And their children will then meet and marry and make grandchildren.

And there’s so many levels of connection. And I’m sitting here in the room, and I see their faces, some of them. And we are incredibly — it’s hard to explain how much these people are missing from our kind of forest ground. [CHUCKLES SOFTLY]

From “The New York Times,” I’m Sabrina Tavernise, and this is “The Daily.”

It’s been nearly six months since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and took more than 200 people into Gaza. One of the hardest hit places was a village called Nir Oz, near the border with Gaza. One quarter of its residents were either killed or taken hostage.

Yocheved Lifshitz was one of those hostages and so was her husband, Oded Lifshitz. Yocheved was eventually released. Oded was not.

Today, the story of one family at the center of the war.

It’s Friday, March 29.

OK, here we go. OK.

Good morning, Yocheved. Good morning, Sharone.

Good morning.

Yocheved, could you identify yourself for me, please? Tell me your name, your age and where you’re from.

[SPEAKING HEBREW]

OK, I’ll translate. My name is Yocheved Lifshitz. I’m 85 years old. I was born in 1938. When I was 18, I arrived at kibbutz Nir Oz. I came alone with a group of people who decided to come and form and build a community on a very sandy territory, which was close to the Gaza Strip.

And my name is Sharone Lifschitz. I am 52 years old. I was raised in kibbutz Nir Oz by my mom and dad. So I lived there until I was 20. And I live for the last 30-something years in London.

And, Sharone, what do you have next to you?

Next to me I have a poster of my dad in both English and Hebrew. And it says, “Oded Lifshitz, 83.” And below that it says, “Bring him home now.” And it’s a photo where I always feel the love because he is looking at me. And there’s a lot of love in it in his eyes.

And why did you want to bring him here today, Sharone?

Because he should be talking himself. He should be here and able to tell his story. And instead, I’m doing it on his behalf. It should have been a story of my mom and dad sitting here and telling their story.

The story of Oded and Yocheved began before they ever met in Poland in the 1930s. Anti-Semitism was surging in Europe, and their families decided to flee to Palestine — Yocheved’s in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, and Oded’s a year later. Yocheved remembers a time near the end of the war, when her father received news from back home in Poland. He was deeply religious, a cantor in a synagogue. And he gathered his family around him to share what he’d learned.

And he said, we don’t have a family anymore. They’ve all been murdered. And he explained to us why there is no God. If there was a God, he would have protected my family. And this means that there is no God.

And suddenly, we stopped going to synagogue. We used to go every Saturday.

So it was a deep crisis for him. The shock and the trauma were very deep.

Abstention.

Abstention. Soviet Union? Yes. Yes. The United Kingdom? Abstained.

Yocheved’s father lived long enough to see a state establish for his children. The UN resolution of 1947 paved the way for a new country for Jews. And the next spring, Israel declared its independence. Yocheved remembers listening to the news on the radio with her parents.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has made its decision on Palestine.

We had a country. So now we’ll have somebody who’s protecting us. It’s a country for the people, to rebuild the people. This was the feeling we had.

In other words, if God could not protect you, this nation maybe could?

Yes. But the next day, it was already sad.

Israel was immediately forced to defend itself when its Arab neighbors attacked. Israel won that war. But its victory came at a great cost to the Palestinian Arabs living there. More than 700,000 either fled or were expelled from their homes. Many became refugees in Gaza in the south.

Suddenly, Yocheved and Oded saw themselves differently from their parents, not as minorities in someone else’s country, but as pioneers in a country of their own, ready to build it and defend it. They moved to the south, near the border line with Gaza. It was there, in a kibbutz, where they met for the first time.

The first time I met him, he was 16, and I was 17. And we didn’t really have this connection happening. But when we arrived at Nir Oz, that’s where some sort of a connection started to happen. And he was younger than I am by a year and a half. So at first I thought, he’s a kid. But for some reason, he insisted. Oded really insisted. And later, turned out he was right.

What was it about him that made you fall in love with him?

He was cute.

He was a cute kid. He was a cute boy.

What’s so funny?

He was a philosopher. He wrote a lot. He worked in agriculture. He was this cute boy. He was only 20, think about it.

And then I married him. And he brought two things with him. He brought a dog and he brought a cactus. And since then we’ve been growing a huge field of cacti for over 64 years.

What did it feel like to be starting a new life together in this new country? What was the feeling of that?

We were euphoric.

And what did you think you were building together?

We thought we were building a kibbutz. We were building a family. We were having babies. That was the vision. And we were thinking that we were building a socialist state, an equal state. And at first, it was a very isolated place. There were only two houses and shacks and a lot of sand. And little by little, we turned that place into a heaven.

Building the new state meant cultivating the land. Oded plowed the fields, planting potatoes and carrots, wheat and cotton. Yocheved was in charge of the turkeys and worked in the kitchen cooking meals for the kibbutz. They believed that the best way to live was communally. So they shared everything — money, food, even child-rearing.

After long days in the fields, Oded would venture outside the kibbutz to the boundary line with Gaza and drink beer with Brazilian peacekeepers from the UN and talk with Palestinians from the villages nearby. They talked about politics and life in Arabic, a language Oded spoke fluently. These were not just idle conversations. Oded knew that for Israel to succeed, it would have to figure out how to live side by side with its Arab neighbors.

He really did not believe in black and white, that somebody is the bad guy and somebody is the good guy, but there is a humanistic values that you can live in.

Sharone, what was your father like?

My father was a tall man and a skinny man. And he was —

he is — first of all, he is — he is a man who had very strong opinion and very well formed opinion. He read extensively. He thought deeply about matters. And he studied the piano. But as he said, was never that great or fast enough for classical. But he always played the piano.

[PIANO MUSIC]

He would play a lot of Israeli songs. He wound play Russian songs. He would play French chansons.

And he had this way of just moving from one song to the next, making it into a kind of pattern. And it was — it’s really the soundtrack of our life, my father playing the piano.

[PLAYING PIANO]:

[CONVERSATION IN HEBREW]:

[PLAYING PIANO]

So one side of him was the piano. Another side was he was a peace activist. He was not somebody who just had ideals about building bridges between nations. He was always on the left side of the political map, and he actioned it.

[NON-ENGLISH CHANTING]:

I remember growing up and going very regularly, almost weekly, to demonstrations. I will go regularly with my father on Saturday night to demonstrations in Tel Aviv. I will sit on his shoulders. He will be talking to all his activist friends. The smoke will rise from the cigarettes, and I will sit up there.

But somehow, we really grew up in that fight for peace.

Yocheved and Oded’s formal fight for peace began after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Israel had captured new territory, including the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip. That brought more than a million Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Oded immediately began to speak against it. Israel already had its land inside borders that much of the world had agreed to. In his view, taking more was wrong. It was no longer about Jewish survival. So when Israeli authorities began quietly pushing Bedouin Arabs off their land in the Sinai Peninsula, Oded took up the cause.

He helped file a case in the Israeli courts to try to stop it. And he and Yocheved worked together to draw attention to what was going on. Yocheved was a photographer, so she took pictures showing destroyed buildings and bulldozed land. Oded then put her photographs on cardboard and drove around the country showing them to people everywhere.

They became part of a growing peace movement that was becoming a force helping shape Israeli politics. Israel eventually returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982.

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Whenever there is a movement towards reconciliation with our neighbors, it’s almost like your ability to live here, your life force, gets stronger. And in a way, you can think of the art of their activism as being a response to that.

And why did he and your mother take up that fight, the cause of the land? Why do you think that was what he fought for?

My father, he had a very developed sense of justice. And he always felt that had we returned those lands at that point, we could have reached long-term agreement at that point. Then we would have been in a very different space now. I know that in 2019, for example, he wrote a column, where he said that when the Palestinians of Gaza have nothing to lose, we lose big time. He believed that the way of living in this part of the world is to share the place, to reach agreement, to work with the other side towards agreements.

He was not somebody who just had ideals about building bridges between nations. Two weeks before he was taken hostage, he still drove Palestinians that are ill to reach hospital in Israel and in East Jerusalem. That was something that meant a lot to him. I think he really believed in shared humanity and in doing what you can.

Do you remember the last conversation you had with your father?

I don’t have a clear memory which one it was. It’s funny. A lot of things I forgot since. A lot of things have gone so blurred.

We actually didn’t have a last conversation. The last thing he said was, Yoche, there is a war. And he was shot in the hand, and he was taken out. And I was taken out. I couldn’t say goodbye to him. And what was done to us was done.

We’ll be right back.

Yocheved, the last thing Oded said was there’s a war. Tell me about what happened that day from the beginning.

That morning, there was very heavy shelling on Nir Oz. We could hear gunfire. And we looked outside, and Oded told me, there are a lot of terrorists outside. We didn’t even have time to get dressed. I was still wearing my nightgown. He was wearing very few clothes. I remember him trying to close the door to the safe room, but it didn’t work. He wasn’t successful in closing it.

And then five terrorists walked in. They shot him through the safe room door. He was bleeding from his arm. He said to me, Yoche, I’m injured. And then he fainted. He was dragged out on the floor. And I didn’t know if he was alive. I thought he was dead. After that, I was taken in my nightgown. I was led outside. I was placed on a small moped, and I was taken to Gaza.

And we were driving over a bumpy terrain that had been plowed. And it didn’t break my ribs, but it was very painful.

And I could see that the gate that surrounds the Gaza Strip was broken, and we were driving right through it.

And as we were heading in, I could see so many people they were yelling, “Yitbach al Yahud,” kill the Jews, slaughter the Jews. And people were hitting me with sticks. And though the drivers on the moped tried to protect me, it didn’t help.

What were you thinking at the time? What was in your mind?

I was thinking, I’m being taken; I’m being kidnapped. I didn’t know where to, but this decision I had in my head was that I’m going to take photographs in my mind and capture everything I’m seeing so that when I — or if and when I am released, I’ll have what to tell.

And when I came to a stop, we were in a village that’s near Nir Oz. It’s called Khirbet Khuza. We came in on the moped, but I was transferred into a private car from there. And I was threatened that my hand would be cut off unless I hand over my watch and my ring. And I didn’t have a choice, so I took my watch off, and I took my ring off, and I handed it to them.

Was it your wedding ring?

Yes, it was my wedding ring.

After that, they led me to a big hangar where the entrance to the tunnel was, and I started walking. And the entrance was at ground level, but as you walk, you’re walking down a slope. And you’re walking and walking about 40 meters deep underground, and the walls are damp, and the soil is damp. And at first, I was alone. I didn’t know that other people had been taken too. But then more hostages came, and we were walking together through the tunnels.

Many of whom were from kibbutz Nir Oz. These were our people. They were abducted but still alive. And we spoke quietly, and we spoke very little. But as we were walking, everybody started telling a story of what had happened to him. And that created a very painful picture.

There were appalling stories about murder. People had left behind a partner.

A friend arrived, who, about an hour or two hours before, had her husband murdered and he died in her hands.

It was a collection of broken up people brought together.

So you were piecing together the story of your community and what had happened from these snapshots of tragedies that you were looking at all around you as you were walking. What’s the photograph you’ll remember most from that day?

It would be a girl, a four-year-old girl. People kept telling her — walk, walk, walk. And we tried to calm her down. And her mom tried to carry her on her arms. It was the most difficult sight to see a child inside those tunnels.

What were you feeling at that moment, Yocheved?

Very difficult.

Where did they lead you — you and your community — from Nir Oz.

They led us to this chamber, a room, that they had prepared in advance. There were mattresses there. And that’s where we were told to sit.

I saw people sitting on the mattresses, bent down, their heads down between their hands. They were broken. But we hardly spoke. Everybody was inside their own world with themselves, closed inside his own personal shock.

Yocheved was without her glasses, her hearing aids, or even her shoes. She said she spent most days lying down on one of the mattresses that had been put out for the hostages. Sometimes her captors would let her and others walk up and down the tunnels to stretch their legs.

She said she was given a cucumber, spreading cheese, and a piece of pita bread every day to eat. They had a little bit of coffee in the morning and water all day long.

One day, a Hamas leader came to the room where she and others were being held. She said she believes it was Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, who is believed to be the architect of the October 7 attack. Two other hostages who were held with Yocheved also identified the man as Sinwar, and an Israeli military spokesman said he found the accounts reliable.

He came accompanied with a group of other men. He just made rounds between the hostages, I suppose. And he spoke in Hebrew, and he told us not to worry, and soon there’s going to be a deal and we’ll be out. And others told me, don’t speak. And I said, what is there for me to be afraid of? The worst already happened. Worst thing, I’ll be killed.

I want to say something, and I spoke my mind. I told Sinwar, why have you done what you just did to all of the same people who have always helped you? He didn’t answer me. He just turned around and they walked off.

Were you afraid to ask him why Hamas did what it did, to challenge him?

I wasn’t afraid.

I was angry about the whole situation. It was against every thought and thinking we ever had. It was against our desire to reach peace, to be attentive and help our neighbors the way we always wanted to help our neighbors. I was very angry. But he ignored what I said, and he just turned his back and walked away.

In this entire time, you had no answers about Oded?

What was the hardest day for you, the hardest moment in captivity?

It’s when I got sick. I got sick with diarrhea and vomiting for about four days. And I had no idea how this will end. It was a few very rough days. And probably because of that, they decided to free me.

They didn’t tell me they were going to release me. They just told me and another girl, come follow us. They gave us galabiya gowns to wear and scarves to wear over our heads, so maybe they’ll think that we are Arab women. And only as we were walking, and we started going through corridors and ladders and climbing up we were told that we’re going home.

I was very happy to be going out. But my heart ached so hard for those who were staying behind. I was hoping that many others would follow me.

It’s OK. Let’s go. It’s OK. Let’s go.

You go with this one.

Shalom. Shalom.

There was a video that was made of the moment you left your captors. And it seemed to show that you were shaking a hand, saying shalom to them. Do you remember doing that?

I said goodbye to him. It was a friendly man. He was a medic. So when we said goodbye, I shook his hand for peace, shalom, to goodbye.

What did you mean when you said that?

I meant for peace.

Shalom in the sense of peace.

An extraordinary moment as a freed Israeli hostage shakes hands with a Hamas terrorist who held her captive.

I literally saw my mom on CNN on my phone on the way to the airport. And it was the day before I was talking to my aunt, and she said, I just want to go to Gaza and pull them out of the earth. I just want to pull them out of the earth and take them. And it really felt like that, that she came out of the earth. And when she shook the hand of the Hamas person, it just made me smile because it was so her to see the human in that person and to acknowledge him as a human being.

I arrived in the hospital at about 5:30 AM. My mom was asleep in the bed. And she was just — my mom sleeps really peacefully. She has a really quiet way of sleeping. And I just sat there, and it was just like a miracle to have her back with us. It was just incredible because not only was she back, but it was her.

I don’t know how to explain it. But while they were away, we knew so little. We were pretty sure she didn’t survive it. The whole house burned down totally. So other homes we could see if there was blood on the walls or blood on the floor. But in my parents’ home, everything was gone — everything. And we just didn’t know anything. And out of that nothingness, came my mom back.

It was only when she got to the hospital that Yocheved learned the full story of what happened on October 7. Nir Oz had been mostly destroyed. Many of her friends had been murdered. No one knew what had happened to Oded. Yocheved believed he was dead. But there wasn’t time to grieve.

The photograph she had taken in her mind needed to be shared. Yocheved knew who was still alive in the tunnels. So she and her son called as many families as they could — the family of the kibbutz’s history teacher, of one of its nurses, of the person who ran its art gallery — to tell them that they were still alive, captive in Gaza.

And then in November came a hostage release. More than 100 people came out. The family was certain that Oded was gone. But Sharone decided to make some calls anyway. She spoke to one former neighbor then another. And finally, almost by chance, she found someone who’d seen her father. They shared a room together in Gaza before he’d gotten ill and was taken away. Sharone and her brothers went to where Yocheved was staying to tell her the news.

She just couldn’t believe it, actually. It was as if, in this great telenovela of our life, at one season, he was left unconscious on the floor. And the second season open, and he is in a little room in Gaza with another woman that we know. She couldn’t believe it.

She was very, very, very excited, also really worried. My father was a very active and strong man. And if it happened 10 years ago, I would say of course he would survive it. He would talk to them in Arabic. He will manage the situation. He would have agency. But we know he was injured. And it makes us very, very worried about the condition in which he was — he’s surviving there. And I think that the fear of how much suffering the hostages are going through really makes you unable to function at moment.

Yocheved, the government has been doing a military operation since October in Gaza. You have been fighting very hard since October to free the hostages, including Oded. I wonder how you see the government’s military operation. Is it something that harms your cause or potentially helps it?

The only thing that will bring them back are agreements. And what is happening is that there are many soldiers who have been killed, and there is an ongoing war, and the hostages are still in captivity. So it’s only by reaching an agreement that all of the hostages will be released.

Do you believe that Israel is close to reaching an agreement?

I don’t know.

You told us that after the Holocaust, your father gathered your family together to tell you that God did not save you. It was a crisis for him. I’m wondering if this experience, October 7, your captivity, challenged your faith in a similar way.

No, I don’t think it changed me. I’m still the same person with the same beliefs and opinions. But how should I say it? What the Hamas did was to ruin a certain belief in human beings. I didn’t think that one could reach that level that isn’t that much higher than a beast. But my opinion and my view of there still being peace and reaching an arrangement stayed the same.

You still believe in peace?

Why do you believe that?

Because I’m hoping that a new generation of leaders will rise, people who act in transparency, who speak the truth, people who are honest, the way Israel used to be and that we’ll return to be like we once were.

I go to many rallies and demonstrations, and I meet many people in many places. And a large part of those people still believe in reaching an arrangement in peace and for there to be no war. And I still hope that this is what we’re going to be able to have here.

Bring them home now! Bring them home now! Bring them home now! Bring them home now! Bring them home! Now! Bring them home! Now! Bring them home! Now! Bring them home!

Yocheved is now living in a retirement home in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. Five other people around her age from Nir Oz live there too. One is also a released hostage. She hasn’t been able to bring herself to go back to the kibbutz. The life she built there with Oded is gone — her photographs, his records, the piano. And the kibbutz has become something else now, a symbol instead of a home. It is now buzzing with journalists and politicians. For now, Yocheved doesn’t know if she’ll ever go back. And when Sharone asked her, she said, let’s wait for Dad.

So I’m today sitting in this assisted living, surrounded by the same company, just expecting Oded, waiting for Oded to come back. And then each and every one of us will be rebuilding his own life together and renewing it.

What are you doing to make it a home for Oded?

We have a piano. We were given a piano, a very old one with a beautiful sound. And it’s good. Oded is very sensitive to the sound. He has absolute hearing. And I’m just hoping for him to come home and start playing the piano.

Do you believe that Oded will come home?

I’d like to believe. But there’s a difference between believing and wanting. I want to believe that he’ll be back and playing music. I don’t think his opinions are going to change. He’s going to be disappointed by what happened. But I hope he’s going to hold on to the same beliefs. His music is missing from our home.

[SPEAKING HEBEW]:

[SPEAKING HEBREW] [PLAYING PIANO]

I know that my father always felt that we haven’t given peace a chance. That was his opinion. And I think it’s very hard to speak for my father because maybe he has changed. Like my mom said, she said, I hope he hasn’t changed. I haven’t changed. But the truth is we don’t know. And we don’t the story. We don’t know how the story — my father is ending or just beginning.

But I think you have to hold on to humanistic values at this point. You have to know what you don’t want. I don’t want more of this. This is hell. This is hell for everybody. So this is no, you know? And then I believe that peace is also gray, and it’s not glorious, and it’s not simple. It’s kind of a lot of hard work. You have to reconcile and give up a lot. And it’s only worth doing that for peace.

[PIANO PLAYING CONTINUES]

After weeks of negotiations, talks over another hostage release and ceasefire have reached an impasse. The sticking points include the length of the ceasefire and the identity and number of Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for the hostages.

[BACKGROUND CONVERSATION IN HEBREW]:

Here’s what else you should know today. Sam Bankman-Fried was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday, capping an extraordinary saga that upended the multi-trillion-dollar crypto industry. Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, was convicted of wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering last November.

Prosecutors accused him of stealing more than $10 billion from customers to finance political contributions, venture capital investments, and other extravagant purchases. At the sentencing, the judge pointed to testimony from Bankman-Fried’s trial, saying that his appetite for extreme risk and failure to take responsibility for his crimes amount to a quote, “risk that this man will be in a position to do something very bad in the future.”

Today’s episode was produced by Lynsea Garrison and Mooj Zaidie with help from Rikki Novetsky and Shannon Lin. It was edited by Michael Benoist, fact checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Marion Lozano, Dan Powell, Diane Wong, Elisheba Ittoop, and Oded Lifshitz. It was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. The translation was by Gabby Sobelman. Special thanks to Menachem Rosenberg, Gershom Gorenberg, Gabby Sobelman, Yotam Shabtie, and Patrick Kingsley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. See you on Monday.

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Hosted by Sabrina Tavernise

Produced by Lynsea Garrison and Mooj Zadie

With Rikki Novetsky and Shannon Lin

Edited by Michael Benoist

Original music by Marion Lozano ,  Dan Powell ,  Diane Wong and Elisheba Ittoop

Engineered by Alyssa Moxley

Listen and follow The Daily Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music

Warning: this episode contains descriptions of violence.

It’s been nearly six months since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel, when militants took more than 200 hostages into Gaza.

In a village called Nir Oz, near the border, one quarter of residents were either killed or taken hostage. Yocheved Lifshitz and her husband, Oded Lifshitz, were among those taken.

Today, Yocheved and her daughter Sharone tell their story.

On today’s episode

Yocheved Lifshitz, a former hostage.

Sharone Lifschitz, daughter of Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz.

A group of people are holding up signs in Hebrew with photos of a man. In the front is a woman with short hair and glasses.

Background reading

Yocheved Lifshitz was beaten and held in tunnels built by Hamas for 17 days.

There are a lot of ways to listen to The Daily. Here’s how.

We aim to make transcripts available the next workday after an episode’s publication. You can find them at the top of the page.

Fact-checking by Susan Lee .

Additional music by Oded Lifshitz.

Translations by Gabby Sobelman .

Special thanks to Menachem Rosenberg, Gershom Gorenberg , Gabby Sobelman , Yotam Shabtie, and Patrick Kingsley .

The Daily is made by Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Sydney Harper, Mike Benoist, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rachelle Bonja, Diana Nguyen, Marion Lozano, Corey Schreppel, Rob Szypko, Elisheba Ittoop, Mooj Zadie, Patricia Willens, Rowan Niemisto, Jody Becker, Rikki Novetsky, John Ketchum, Nina Feldman, Will Reid, Carlos Prieto, Ben Calhoun, Susan Lee, Lexie Diao, Mary Wilson, Alex Stern, Dan Farrell, Sophia Lanman, Shannon Lin, Diane Wong, Devon Taylor, Alyssa Moxley, Summer Thomad, Olivia Natt, Daniel Ramirez and Brendan Klinkenberg.

Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Paula Szuchman, Lisa Tobin, Larissa Anderson, Julia Simon, Sofia Milan, Mahima Chablani, Elizabeth Davis-Moorer, Jeffrey Miranda, Renan Borelli, Maddy Masiello, Isabella Anderson and Nina Lassam.

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  • The Case for Marrying an Older Man

A woman’s life is all work and little rest. An age gap relationship can help.

my college essays are bad

In the summer, in the south of France, my husband and I like to play, rather badly, the lottery. We take long, scorching walks to the village — gratuitous beauty, gratuitous heat — kicking up dust and languid debates over how we’d spend such an influx. I purchase scratch-offs, jackpot tickets, scraping the former with euro coins in restaurants too fine for that. I never cash them in, nor do I check the winning numbers. For I already won something like the lotto, with its gifts and its curses, when he married me.

He is ten years older than I am. I chose him on purpose, not by chance. As far as life decisions go, on balance, I recommend it.

When I was 20 and a junior at Harvard College, a series of great ironies began to mock me. I could study all I wanted, prove myself as exceptional as I liked, and still my fiercest advantage remained so universal it deflated my other plans. My youth. The newness of my face and body. Compellingly effortless; cruelly fleeting. I shared it with the average, idle young woman shrugging down the street. The thought, when it descended on me, jolted my perspective, the way a falling leaf can make you look up: I could diligently craft an ideal existence, over years and years of sleepless nights and industry. Or I could just marry it early.

So naturally I began to lug a heavy suitcase of books each Saturday to the Harvard Business School to work on my Nabokov paper. In one cavernous, well-appointed room sat approximately 50 of the planet’s most suitable bachelors. I had high breasts, most of my eggs, plausible deniability when it came to purity, a flush ponytail, a pep in my step that had yet to run out. Apologies to Progress, but older men still desired those things.

I could not understand why my female classmates did not join me, given their intelligence. Each time I reconsidered the project, it struck me as more reasonable. Why ignore our youth when it amounted to a superpower? Why assume the burdens of womanhood, its too-quick-to-vanish upper hand, but not its brief benefits at least? Perhaps it came easier to avoid the topic wholesale than to accept that women really do have a tragically short window of power, and reason enough to take advantage of that fact while they can. As for me, I liked history, Victorian novels, knew of imminent female pitfalls from all the books I’d read: vampiric boyfriends; labor, at the office and in the hospital, expected simultaneously; a decline in status as we aged, like a looming eclipse. I’d have disliked being called calculating, but I had, like all women, a calculator in my head. I thought it silly to ignore its answers when they pointed to an unfairness for which we really ought to have been preparing.

I was competitive by nature, an English-literature student with all the corresponding major ambitions and minor prospects (Great American novel; email job). A little Bovarist , frantic for new places and ideas; to travel here, to travel there, to be in the room where things happened. I resented the callow boys in my class, who lusted after a particular, socially sanctioned type on campus: thin and sexless, emotionally detached and socially connected, the opposite of me. Restless one Saturday night, I slipped on a red dress and snuck into a graduate-school event, coiling an HDMI cord around my wrist as proof of some technical duty. I danced. I drank for free, until one of the organizers asked me to leave. I called and climbed into an Uber. Then I promptly climbed out of it. For there he was, emerging from the revolving doors. Brown eyes, curved lips, immaculate jacket. I went to him, asked him for a cigarette. A date, days later. A second one, where I discovered he was a person, potentially my favorite kind: funny, clear-eyed, brilliant, on intimate terms with the universe.

I used to love men like men love women — that is, not very well, and with a hunger driven only by my own inadequacies. Not him. In those early days, I spoke fondly of my family, stocked the fridge with his favorite pasta, folded his clothes more neatly than I ever have since. I wrote his mother a thank-you note for hosting me in his native France, something befitting a daughter-in-law. It worked; I meant it. After graduation and my fellowship at Oxford, I stayed in Europe for his career and married him at 23.

Of course I just fell in love. Romances have a setting; I had only intervened to place myself well. Mainly, I spotted the precise trouble of being a woman ahead of time, tried to surf it instead of letting it drown me on principle. I had grown bored of discussions of fair and unfair, equal or unequal , and preferred instead to consider a thing called ease.

The reception of a particular age-gap relationship depends on its obviousness. The greater and more visible the difference in years and status between a man and a woman, the more it strikes others as transactional. Transactional thinking in relationships is both as American as it gets and the least kosher subject in the American romantic lexicon. When a 50-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman walk down the street, the questions form themselves inside of you; they make you feel cynical and obscene: How good of a deal is that? Which party is getting the better one? Would I take it? He is older. Income rises with age, so we assume he has money, at least relative to her; at minimum, more connections and experience. She has supple skin. Energy. Sex. Maybe she gets a Birkin. Maybe he gets a baby long after his prime. The sight of their entwined hands throws a lucid light on the calculations each of us makes, in love, to varying degrees of denial. You could get married in the most romantic place in the world, like I did, and you would still have to sign a contract.

Twenty and 30 is not like 30 and 40; some freshness to my features back then, some clumsiness in my bearing, warped our decade, in the eyes of others, to an uncrossable gulf. Perhaps this explains the anger we felt directed at us at the start of our relationship. People seemed to take us very, very personally. I recall a hellish car ride with a friend of his who began to castigate me in the backseat, in tones so low that only I could hear him. He told me, You wanted a rich boyfriend. You chased and snuck into parties . He spared me the insult of gold digger, but he drew, with other words, the outline for it. Most offended were the single older women, my husband’s classmates. They discussed me in the bathroom at parties when I was in the stall. What does he see in her? What do they talk about? They were concerned about me. They wielded their concern like a bludgeon. They paraphrased without meaning to my favorite line from Nabokov’s Lolita : “You took advantage of my disadvantage,” suspecting me of some weakness he in turn mined. It did not disturb them, so much, to consider that all relationships were trades. The trouble was the trade I’d made struck them as a bad one.

The truth is you can fall in love with someone for all sorts of reasons, tiny transactions, pluses and minuses, whose sum is your affection for each other, your loyalty, your commitment. The way someone picks up your favorite croissant. Their habit of listening hard. What they do for you on your anniversary and your reciprocal gesture, wrapped thoughtfully. The serenity they inspire; your happiness, enlivening it. When someone says they feel unappreciated, what they really mean is you’re in debt to them.

When I think of same-age, same-stage relationships, what I tend to picture is a woman who is doing too much for too little.

I’m 27 now, and most women my age have “partners.” These days, girls become partners quite young. A partner is supposed to be a modern answer to the oppression of marriage, the terrible feeling of someone looming over you, head of a household to which you can only ever be the neck. Necks are vulnerable. The problem with a partner, however, is if you’re equal in all things, you compromise in all things. And men are too skilled at taking .

There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath. A boy married to my friend who doesn’t know how to pack his own suitcase. She “likes to do it for him.” A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colors, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach him. All while she was working, raising herself, clawing up the cliff-face of adulthood. Hauling him at her own expense.

I find a post on Reddit where five thousand men try to define “ a woman’s touch .” They describe raised flower beds, blankets, photographs of their loved ones, not hers, sprouting on the mantel overnight. Candles, coasters, side tables. Someone remembering to take lint out of the dryer. To give compliments. I wonder what these women are getting back. I imagine them like Cinderella’s mice, scurrying around, their sole proof of life their contributions to a more central character. On occasion I meet a nice couple, who grew up together. They know each other with a fraternalism tender and alien to me.  But I think of all my friends who failed at this, were failed at this, and I think, No, absolutely not, too risky . Riskier, sometimes, than an age gap.

My younger brother is in his early 20s, handsome, successful, but in many ways: an endearing disaster. By his age, I had long since wisened up. He leaves his clothes in the dryer, takes out a single shirt, steams it for three minutes. His towel on the floor, for someone else to retrieve. His lovely, same-age girlfriend is aching to fix these tendencies, among others. She is capable beyond words. Statistically, they will not end up together. He moved into his first place recently, and she, the girlfriend, supplied him with a long, detailed list of things he needed for his apartment: sheets, towels, hangers, a colander, which made me laugh. She picked out his couch. I will bet you anything she will fix his laundry habits, and if so, they will impress the next girl. If they break up, she will never see that couch again, and he will forget its story. I tell her when I visit because I like her, though I get in trouble for it: You shouldn’t do so much for him, not for someone who is not stuck with you, not for any boy, not even for my wonderful brother.

Too much work had left my husband, by 30, jaded and uninspired. He’d burned out — but I could reenchant things. I danced at restaurants when they played a song I liked. I turned grocery shopping into an adventure, pleased by what I provided. Ambitious, hungry, he needed someone smart enough to sustain his interest, but flexible enough in her habits to build them around his hours. I could. I do: read myself occupied, make myself free, materialize beside him when he calls for me. In exchange, I left a lucrative but deadening spreadsheet job to write full-time, without having to live like a writer. I learned to cook, a little, and decorate, somewhat poorly. Mostly I get to read, to walk central London and Miami and think in delicious circles, to work hard, when necessary, for free, and write stories for far less than minimum wage when I tally all the hours I take to write them.

At 20, I had felt daunted by the project of becoming my ideal self, couldn’t imagine doing it in tandem with someone, two raw lumps of clay trying to mold one another and only sullying things worse. I’d go on dates with boys my age and leave with the impression they were telling me not about themselves but some person who didn’t exist yet and on whom I was meant to bet regardless. My husband struck me instead as so finished, formed. Analyzable for compatibility. He bore the traces of other women who’d improved him, small but crucial basics like use a coaster ; listen, don’t give advice. Young egos mellow into patience and generosity.

My husband isn’t my partner. He’s my mentor, my lover, and, only in certain contexts, my friend. I’ll never forget it, how he showed me around our first place like he was introducing me to myself: This is the wine you’ll drink, where you’ll keep your clothes, we vacation here, this is the other language we’ll speak, you’ll learn it, and I did. Adulthood seemed a series of exhausting obligations. But his logistics ran so smoothly that he simply tacked mine on. I moved into his flat, onto his level, drag and drop, cleaner thrice a week, bills automatic. By opting out of partnership in my 20s, I granted myself a kind of compartmentalized, liberating selfishness none of my friends have managed. I am the work in progress, the party we worry about, a surprising dominance. When I searched for my first job, at 21, we combined our efforts, for my sake. He had wisdom to impart, contacts with whom he arranged coffees; we spent an afternoon, laughing, drawing up earnest lists of my pros and cons (highly sociable; sloppy math). Meanwhile, I took calls from a dear friend who had a boyfriend her age. Both savagely ambitious, hyperclose and entwined in each other’s projects. If each was a start-up , the other was the first hire, an intense dedication I found riveting. Yet every time she called me, I hung up with the distinct feeling that too much was happening at the same time: both learning to please a boss; to forge more adult relationships with their families; to pay bills and taxes and hang prints on the wall. Neither had any advice to give and certainly no stability. I pictured a three-legged race, two people tied together and hobbling toward every milestone.

I don’t fool myself. My marriage has its cons. There are only so many times one can say “thank you” — for splendid scenes, fine dinners — before the phrase starts to grate. I live in an apartment whose rent he pays and that shapes the freedom with which I can ever be angry with him. He doesn’t have to hold it over my head. It just floats there, complicating usual shorthands to explain dissatisfaction like, You aren’t being supportive lately . It’s a Frenchism to say, “Take a decision,” and from time to time I joke: from whom? Occasionally I find myself in some fabulous country at some fabulous party and I think what a long way I have traveled, like a lucky cloud, and it is frightening to think of oneself as vapor.

Mostly I worry that if he ever betrayed me and I had to move on, I would survive, but would find in my humor, preferences, the way I make coffee or the bed nothing that he did not teach, change, mold, recompose, stamp with his initials, the way Renaissance painters hid in their paintings their faces among a crowd. I wonder if when they looked at their paintings, they saw their own faces first. But this is the wrong question, if our aim is happiness. Like the other question on which I’m expected to dwell: Who is in charge, the man who drives or the woman who put him there so she could enjoy herself? I sit in the car, in the painting it would have taken me a corporate job and 20 years to paint alone, and my concern over who has the upper hand becomes as distant as the horizon, the one he and I made so wide for me.

To be a woman is to race against the clock, in several ways, until there is nothing left to be but run ragged.

We try to put it off, but it will hit us at some point: that we live in a world in which our power has a different shape from that of men, a different distribution of advantage, ours a funnel and theirs an expanding cone. A woman at 20 rarely has to earn her welcome; a boy at 20 will be turned away at the door. A woman at 30 may find a younger woman has taken her seat; a man at 30 will have invited her. I think back to the women in the bathroom, my husband’s classmates. What was my relationship if not an inconvertible sign of this unfairness? What was I doing, in marrying older, if not endorsing it? I had taken advantage of their disadvantage. I had preempted my own. After all, principled women are meant to defy unfairness, to show some integrity or denial, not plan around it, like I had. These were driven women, successful, beautiful, capable. I merely possessed the one thing they had already lost. In getting ahead of the problem, had I pushed them down? If I hadn’t, would it really have made any difference?

When we decided we wanted to be equal to men, we got on men’s time. We worked when they worked, retired when they retired, had to squeeze pregnancy, children, menopause somewhere impossibly in the margins. I have a friend, in her late 20s, who wears a mood ring; these days it is often red, flickering in the air like a siren when she explains her predicament to me. She has raised her fair share of same-age boyfriends. She has put her head down, worked laboriously alongside them, too. At last she is beginning to reap the dividends, earning the income to finally enjoy herself. But it is now, exactly at this precipice of freedom and pleasure, that a time problem comes closing in. If she would like to have children before 35, she must begin her next profession, motherhood, rather soon, compromising inevitably her original one. The same-age partner, equally unsettled in his career, will take only the minimum time off, she guesses, or else pay some cost which will come back to bite her. Everything unfailingly does. If she freezes her eggs to buy time, the decision and its logistics will burden her singly — and perhaps it will not work. Overlay the years a woman is supposed to establish herself in her career and her fertility window and it’s a perfect, miserable circle. By midlife women report feeling invisible, undervalued; it is a telling cliché, that after all this, some husbands leave for a younger girl. So when is her time, exactly? For leisure, ease, liberty? There is no brand of feminism which achieved female rest. If women’s problem in the ’50s was a paralyzing malaise, now it is that they are too active, too capable, never permitted a vacation they didn’t plan. It’s not that our efforts to have it all were fated for failure. They simply weren’t imaginative enough.

For me, my relationship, with its age gap, has alleviated this rush , permitted me to massage the clock, shift its hands to my benefit. Very soon, we will decide to have children, and I don’t panic over last gasps of fun, because I took so many big breaths of it early: on the holidays of someone who had worked a decade longer than I had, in beautiful places when I was young and beautiful, a symmetry I recommend. If such a thing as maternal energy exists, mine was never depleted. I spent the last nearly seven years supported more than I support and I am still not as old as my husband was when he met me. When I have a child, I will expect more help from him than I would if he were younger, for what does professional tenure earn you if not the right to set more limits on work demands — or, if not, to secure some child care, at the very least? When I return to work after maternal upheaval, he will aid me, as he’s always had, with his ability to put himself aside, as younger men are rarely able.

Above all, the great gift of my marriage is flexibility. A chance to live my life before I become responsible for someone else’s — a lover’s, or a child’s. A chance to write. A chance at a destiny that doesn’t adhere rigidly to the routines and timelines of men, but lends itself instead to roomy accommodation, to the very fluidity Betty Friedan dreamed of in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique , but we’ve largely forgotten: some career or style of life that “permits year-to-year variation — a full-time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not feasible.” Some things are just not feasible in our current structures. Somewhere along the way we stopped admitting that, and all we did was make women feel like personal failures. I dream of new structures, a world in which women have entry-level jobs in their 30s; alternate avenues for promotion; corporate ladders with balconies on which they can stand still, have a smoke, take a break, make a baby, enjoy themselves, before they keep climbing. Perhaps men long for this in their own way. Actually I am sure of that.

Once, when we first fell in love, I put my head in his lap on a long car ride; I remember his hands on my face, the sun, the twisting turns of a mountain road, surprising and not surprising us like our romance, and his voice, telling me that it was his biggest regret that I was so young, he feared he would lose me. Last week, we looked back at old photos and agreed we’d given each other our respective best years. Sometimes real equality is not so obvious, sometimes it takes turns, sometimes it takes almost a decade to reveal itself.

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  5. Do's and Dont's for College Essays

    Don't: Try to Impress. Every single year, multiple students ask me what kind of topic would impress a college admissions office. And, every single year, my answer is the same: what will impress them is whatever story you're most excited to tell. Entering the college essay-writing process by choosing a topic you think will look impressive is ...

  6. Bad College Essay Examples: 5 Essay Mistakes To Avoid

    Period. A bad essay will prompt an admission officer to assume one of two things: 1) either you don't care enough about your future at their school to take the time to write a good essay or 2) you aren't academically up to attending their college or university. Neither of those assumptions will help you get admitted.

  7. Most College Essays Are Not Very Good

    There is a sub-genre for beating the college essay that clocks in at over 4,000 books because doing even a little bit better than mediocre can give you an edge. In a study of Michigan's early 2000s essay topic on diversity, the researchers went out of their way to stress just how bad the essays were. "Many essays did not read as though ...

  8. What are the biggest mistakes made on college essays?

    You can also check out CollegeVine's peer review essay service, which is free and allows other students to read over your essay, or submit your essay for a paid, expert review from one of our many excellent advisors. Finally, not showcasing your authentic self is another significant mistake. While being honest about who you are with a bunch of ...

  9. College Essay Examples

    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.

  10. Your College Essay Doesn't Matter As Much As You Think

    No matter how gorgeous your prose is, you can't get into college based on the strength of your essay alone. "No-one ever gets into college because you write a great essay," Heaton says ...

  11. 20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

    College Essay Example #9: My Greatest Talent. I'm a klutz —that's it, that's my greatest talent. I've honed my clumsiness to perfection, putting in more than my 10,000 hours over the last… 17 years of my life. When I was six or seven, I was always the one tripping over my own feet, knocking things over.

  12. 5 College Essay Examples & What to Avoid

    Real college essay example: "My baseball coach always says, "We're going to play smart baseball, gentlemen because dumb baseball is no fun to play and even less fun to watch.". 3. A Definition. Opening with a definition like "Persistence is defined as…," will probably not be a strong start. The reader, an admissions officer, doesn ...

  13. College essay don'ts: 37 Things to Avoid In a college essay

    Follow this advice to know what not to write about in your college essay! 1. Don't restate the Essay prompt. Start your essay with a hook. Start with dialogue. Start by setting the scene. Don't start by restating the essay topic! The reader knows the essay prompts, so just start telling your story.

  14. Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

    If you're filling out the common App, here at the 2016 - 2017 essays: 1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2.

  15. On the Bright Side: My Bad College Essay

    Pretentious Essays. The whole point of this essay is to make yourself look good, and it can be really easy to go from making yourself look good to coming off as pretentious, snobbish, or just downright unpleasant. Admissions officers admit people, not just some cardboard cutout of "the perfect college student.".

  16. Bad College Essays

    Let's give our readers an example of some bad college essay writing. Here is a sample paragraph from an essay. Tell us what you think is wrong with it in the Comments section below: Winning the race was a really big accomplishment for me. It made me really proud to stand on the podium and wave to the crowd, surrounded by so many people I love.

  17. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Revised on June 1, 2023. Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words. You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  18. 11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

    9. Your religious institution or faith. Religion is generally a very tricky topic, and it's difficult to cover it in an original way in your essay. Writing about your faith and reflecting on it critically can work, but basic religious essays about why your faith is important to you are a little more cliché.

  19. What Not to Write About in a College Essay

    Sometimes, what makes a topic a bad college essay is that it doesn't really do anything new. And that's the case when it comes to the cliche immigration essay. We say "cliche" because the vast majority of college essays focusing on immigration emphasize the same things: moving to a new home, feeling out of place, and eventually learning ...

  20. Can I use my college essay to explain bad grades?

    If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson. However, some college applications offer an additional ...

  21. Hilariously Awful College Admissions Essays

    The girl prepared to pull a Harry Potter. "When I was working in admissions at a university, I dealt strictly with international students. I had a young woman who applied to the university and ...

  22. College essays are so unnecessarily draining : r/ApplyingToCollege

    College essays are so unnecessarily draining. Rant. I hate that we live in a culture where our college essays have to be this unique work of art. I hate it I hate it hate. Like I'm working on my drafts, and reading them back I'm thinking to myself "hm this isn't really original but I think it's pretty well done" but I'm CONSTANTLY ...

  23. Race in college essays? Some feel ruling leaves them no choice

    When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color ...

  24. Opinion

    How the SAT Changed My Life. Ms. Nietfeld is the author of the memoir "Acceptance.". This month, the University of Texas, Austin, joined the wave of selective schools reversing Covid-era test ...

  25. Hamas Took Her, and Still Has Her Husband

    It's been nearly six months since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel, when militants took more than 200 hostages into Gaza. In a village called Nir Oz, near the border, one quarter of residents ...

  26. Age Gap Relationships: The Case for Marrying an Older Man

    A series about ways to take life off "hard mode," from changing careers to gaming the stock market, moving back home, or simply marrying wisely. Illustration: Celine Ka Wing Lau. In the summer, in the south of France, my husband and I like to play, rather badly, the lottery. We take long, scorching walks to the village — gratuitous beauty ...