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College Essay Examples for 12 Schools + Expert Analysis

    • The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended.

      One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students that already got in - college essays that worked.
      After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.
      These entries are distinct and unique to the individual writer; however, each of them assisted the admissions reader in learning more about the student beyond the transcripts and lists of activities provided in their applications. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original and creative as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.

      In this article, I’ll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 12 different schools. Finally, I’ll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why they work and how they work.

      Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle.

      With links to over 120 full essays and essay excerpts, this article will be a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

      What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

      Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from each other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

      Visible Signs of Planning

      Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You’ll see a similar structure in many of the essays.

      Having addressed the issues of light and water, I focused on the need to circulate air. Leaving the door closed would provide essentially no circulation and would create a hot and moist environment, making the plants more susceptible to mold. After experimenting with various designs and a 3D printed prototype, I came up with an extension of the latching mechanism on the inside of my locker, which I called the “strawberry jamb.” The jamb, which I cut using our school’s CNC router, sufficiently boosts airflow by allowing the door to remain ajar about two inches while still maintaining the integrity of the existing locking mechanism. I made a beautiful wooden box, emblazoned with the laser-cut engraving “Strawberry Fields Forever” and provided proper drainage onto a tray inside the locker to avoid water damage to school property. The strawberry plants are now growing in my partially open locker providing a topic of conversation and much commentary from students walking by.

      The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author’s present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.
      The secret to any savory wrap lies in how its flavor is contained. Regardless of what outside influences are imposed upon it, the pita bread expertly holds all of its ingredients without allowing them to spill. Hopkins opposes outside pressures, unapologetically supporting individuals who are unafraid to break tradition. The OUTlist, an online database for Hopkins affiliates who openly identify themselves as members of the LGBT community, revolutionized the visibility of LGBT individuals in higher education and created a support network at the university. For students who are struggling with their identity (due to the fear of coming out to their families or friends), I want to help them express themselves and understand that they are not alone. I want to serve as an advocate as well as a source of comfort, like a homemade pita that is warm and soft, yet tenacious.

      Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author’s world, and for how it connects to the author’s emotional life.

      Fortunately, there is not much going on this week, which means I have some wiggle room with what I can say. The loud buzz of the intercom whines throughout the school, and the silent apprehension of the day is met, somewhat unexpectedly, with a greeting of 20 “yo’s” and a long, breathy pause. I artfully maneuver someone else’s writing into my own words, keeping the original intent but supplementing the significant lack of humor with a few one-liners. I conclude by reminding everyone that just because the weather is miserable today does not mean that we have to be as well.

      Stellar Execution

      A killer first sentence. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. You have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy.

      In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates - and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.

      They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don’t take my word for it - check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don’t want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

      A lively, individual voice.

      Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours, and will read thousands after.
      The most exciting time to live in Vermont is mid-February. This is the time when one is given the privilege of a 30-minute walk to school in sub-zero temperatures, with a 30-minute trudge home in the dark after a long day. It’s been four months since winter began, and it’ll be two more until it’s over. The firewood is being rationed to keep the house at a barely livable temperature, a steamy 50 degrees, and colds are so rampant that people lose half their body weight in phlegm each day. Yet, however dull Vermont may seem to students and teachers as they wrap themselves in layer after layer of flannel, make no mistake, today is the beginning of an era. Today is the day when Isaac (that’s me) starts his job of putting smiles on grim faces as the reader of the morning announcements.

      Your goal? Don’t bore your reader. Use interesting description, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations - anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

      Enchanted Prince Stan decided to stay away from any frog-kissing princesses to retain his unique perspective on ruling as an amphibian.

      Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus - each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly.

      Later on, I turned my attention toward circuit configurations, which I explored through AP Physics and LC’s Robotics Team. My design, assembly, and programming capabilities compelled me to identify new applications for my skills. With Cooper Union’s Summer STEM Program, I explored other engineering branches through the development a hydraulic-powered Rube Goldberg Marble Machine. These lessons sparked my curiosity for renewable energy and led to the creation of a self-powered hydraulic ram prototype capable of delivering water to isolated communities, like my hometown in Thai Binh, without using electricity. Although my contraption is not perfect, these variegated episodes widened my perception of Electrical Engineering, its mission, and my role in the field.

      If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you’re in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice.
      Life shouldn’t have to be a dreary winter day; it should be the satisfaction of a good saxophone solo or the joy of seeing one’s friends every day at school. It is the enthusiasm of a biology teacher, the joy of a sports victory, and even the warm messages of a disembodied voice on the intercom. I use that message to help freshman feel less nervous at their first race or to encourage my friend to continue taking solos in jazz band. And in the most dismal time of year, I use that message in the daily announcements.

      Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

      Links to Full College Essay Examples

      Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

      Common App Essay Samples

      Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are:

      1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

      2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.

      What began as a seemingly improbable idea fed my passion for creative thinking and mechanical engineering. This project not only allowed me to practically apply isolated academic principles I had studied, but it also pushed me to traverse multiple disciplines to creatively solve problems. Furthermore, it’s uniqueness beckoned for community input and collaboration, allowing me to access resources to achieve fiscally responsible solutions and ultimate success. For me, it was invigorating to propel a project that many deemed impossible into the realm of possible. I intend to continue to explore and invent because only then are new realities possible.

      Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

      3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

      4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve.

      It’s one of the most important components of your application—the essays. It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you. Ultimately, the essays should convey to the admissions committee why Hopkins could be a good fit for you, and how you might contribute to the campus community.

      It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
      My cranes mattered to me. As an outlet for expression, they served as a way to defuse frustration and sadness, and a source of pride and joy. Their creation allows me to bring beauty to the world and to find a sense of order in the bustle and chaos of life. There is a lot of beauty to be found in tiny things. I’m reminded that little gestures have a lot of meaning. I have given away cranes to my friends as a pick-me-up on bad days, and I have made cranes to commemorate people, such as the dark green crane I made the day my grandmother died. They are a symbol of hope to remind me what I have accomplished.

      5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

      More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try.

      After the hummus follows the influx of diced tomatoes, onions, and parsley, all varied in taste, combining to form the tabouli sauce. Tabouli is accepting of its ingredients, which when combined, bring to it a taste that is unparalleled by any other ingredient of wrap. I hope to spend my next four years in the Hopkins community learning alongside students from backgrounds starkly different from my own, who, like each component of tabouli sauce, bring their varied perspectives to discussions, an invaluable trait when studying how English has been adapted by different cultures.

      I slid the hanger into the window’s seal like I’d seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it) The other was the realization that I’d been in this type of situation before. In fact, I’d been born into this type of situation.
      State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

      My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

      This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but - perhaps more importantly - the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.

      My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water.
      In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.

      My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. “The water’s on fire! Clear a hole!” he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I’m still unconvinced about that particular lesson’s practicality, my Dad’s overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.
      For the rest of the month, I work to make sure that people hear my message: even though we are at the time when school and winter are beginning to seem endless, there are still reasons to grin. I urge people to attend basketball games or sign up for spring sports. I announce birthdays and other special events. Before every day, I make sure I have a message that will make people think, “you know, today might not be so bad after all.” After my month ends, the announcements have been changed. The next readers tell jokes or riddles, or sing songs and invite others to sing with them. I watch the announcements evolve from an unfortunate but necessary part of the day to a positive and inspiring event. It is now more than just a monotonous script; it becomes a time to make sure that everyone has at least one thing to smile about.

      Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don’t expect perfect fairness.

      Next on our wrap is the core layer of hummus, lathered on the pita and heavy with expectation. Being the most renowned staple of the Mediterranean diet comes with its pressures, but hummus handles it well, always stepping up to the plate, ready for any intimidating food critic. Similarly, Hopkins’s academic diversity lives up to its reputation and more. The Classics Department offers 83 different undergraduate courses, with varied paths that students can take in the pursuit of cultural and literary knowledge. I hope to study the interrelationship of modern literature and culture and its classical roots in Latin by examining international texts in courses such as Latin Literature Beyond Hermeneutics taught by Professor Butler. I intend to further facilitate international communication—a modern necessity—by researching how English is adapted by different cultures. I can imagine narrowing my research from World Englishes to the fundamentals of the English language that bring about its malleability under Professors Celenza or Roller of the Classics Department.

      So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

      But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power.

      Due to the lack of electricity and direct sunlight, I decided to use a solar panel paired with a light sensor on the outside of my locker to power a strong, blue LED light, which is best for photosynthesis and plant growth. A friend taught me how to solder and helped me create the solar panel setup, which turns on the blue light only when it is dark outside so the plants experience the proper light cycles. I also set up a system to slowly water the plants automatically. This involved a series of drip bottles—which another friend had for his old, now deceased, pet guinea pig—arranged to drip into each other and then onto the soil.

      Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder.
      The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.

      Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

      Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: “How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?”

      The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo.

      Having explored the myths from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, my curiosity was piqued in eighth grade by a simple legend from Japanese lore. If you fold one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant you one wish. I took it as a challenge. My previous forays into origami had ended poorly, but I was so excited to begin my quest that this detail seemed inconsequential. My art teacher loaned me a piece of origami paper and, armed with an online tutorial, my quest began. Like an early prototype of the airplane, I ascended towards my dreams for a glorious moment before nose-diving into the ground. The first crane was a disastrous failure of wrinkly lines and torn paper. Too embarrassed to ask for another, I turned to my stack of Post-it notes. By the third attempt, I ended up with a sticky pink paper crane. Holding that delicate bird, I was flooded with triumph and elation.

      Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

      Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose.

      Ebola Kits. Rubber gloves, masks, and bleach, shrink-wrapped together inside a sturdy bucket, instructions in pictures to bridge the languages of Mende, French, Krio, Fula, and Susu. While the kits contained only the bare necessities, they would allow people to care for family and neighbors without inviting the spread of Ebola. Doing nothing was genocide, with generations of families disappearing overnight. The images haunted me, lifeless bodies in dirt, oblivious to the flies swarming around them, as everyone watched from a safe distance. I pitched my idea to The Afya Foundation, a global health NGO I have worked with since the 2010 Haiti earthquake. I was on a mission. Ebola kits in every village. Easy to assemble and ship. Potential to save thousands. While I received an enthusiastic response to my idea, Afya’s team sent me on a different mission: obtaining body bags, the unfortunate reality of people who were invisible in a world that waited far too long to see them.

      It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness.
      Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.

      My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

      What Makes This Essay Tick?

      It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective.

      The first two hundred cranes were all crafted from Post-it notes. Armed with a pack of highlighters, I decorated each piece of paper individually. I folded cranes at home, between classes, and in the car. My fingers were permanently sticky from the glue I scraped off every square. Slowly, my collection grew: first ten, then fifty, then one hundred. Before the task could become monotonous, I started experimenting. How small was it possible for a crane to be? Smaller than a golf ball? Smaller than a dime? Small enough to sit on the end of a pencil? Any size was attainable. I could make a crane smaller than almost any arbitrary form of measurement. Soon I could finish a crane in fifty seconds or with my eyes closed. Anything square and foldable became my medium. Paper towels, candy wrappers, and aluminum foil joined my vibrant menagerie of carefully folded paper. I was unstoppable; that wish was as good as mine.

      Let's find out why!

      An Opening Line That Draws You In

      I had never broken into a car before.

      In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

      Great, Detailed Opening Story

      We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

      So, I pushed myself to keep working and to keep folding one crane at a time. My determination paid off, and in the summer after sophomore year, my passion was reinvigorated. One month before the end of junior year, I folded my thousandth paper crane. As I leaned over the open drawer brimming with origami pieces in a multitude of sizes and colors, I felt a rush of satisfaction and triumph. Not only was 1,000 cranes an achievement in its own right, but I proved to myself that I can finish what I start.

      Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

      “Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?”

      “Why me?” I thought.

      More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try.

      My experiences also helped me see that the essence of engineering lies in serving social needs. As an Electrical Engineering major and History of Science & Technology (HOST) minor, I will harness JHU’s multidimensional platform to fulfill my purpose as engineer and citizen.

      I slid the hanger into the window’s seal like I’d seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

      It’s the details that really make this small experience come alive.

      I grew up dreaming and writing (and thinking they were the same) about being a Hermione Granger with Harry as my sidekick battling twenty Voldemorts (twenty!); my stories were dynamic.

      Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren’t going to get food or dinner, they’re going for “Texas BBQ.” The coat hanger comes from “a dumpster.” Stephen doesn’t just move the coat hanger, he “jiggles” it.

      Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene.

      In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.

      The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn’t just uncomfortable or nervous, he “takes a few steps back” - a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop.
      Instead, I buried myself in the books hidden under my bed, away from Mom, about girls in high school who didn’t do anything besides fall in love. So, to improve my own story, I decided to fall in love with the first boy to call me pretty.

      Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

      Coat hangers: not just for crows' nests any more! (Image: Götz/Wikimedia)

      Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

      Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it) The other was the realization that I’d been in this type of situation before. In fact, I’d been born into this type of situation.

      My shoulders slumped as the voice on the phone offered me camera bags instead. I was sixteen and had just returned from an infectious diseases course at Emory University, where my final presentation was on Ebola. Within weeks, the first infected American arrived at Emory for treatment. Our country panicked, while thousands lay dying in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, their last visions strangers in spacesuits. I ached for the people, especially the children, who were dying alone, and I needed to help. Drawing on my new knowledge of Ebola’s pathology, I had an idea that I thought might work.

      Not only does Stephen make the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, but he makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word “click.

      I spent two weeks calling body bag suppliers after school. Treatment centers were desperate, wrapping bodies in garbage bags with duct tape and tossing them mindlessly into the ground. It was disrespectful, even inhumane, because West African burials include washing, touching, and kissing the bodies. Without these rituals, West Africans believe the spirit of the deceased can never be at peace. Culture and medicine were colliding head-on, and there was no easy solution. While Ebola made these rituals lethal, at least body bags allowed people to be safely buried and not treated like garbage. After many failed attempts, I reached a funeral home director who donated body bags from his own supply.

      Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

      My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

      Luckily, the principal loves it. And despite the fact that I urge everyone to interrupt my history teacher’s classes to wish him a happy birthday, I get to keep my job for another day. I have people coming up to me left and right, telling me that I made them smile. When I hear that, I smile back.

      “Unpredictability and chaos” are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. Not only that, but they could mean any number of things - violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like “family of seven” and “siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing,” Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture - a large noisy family.

      Beyond the classroom, JHU’s legacy as America’s first research university merges theory with practice, transforming abstraction into reality. The Spur Scholar or Provost Awards facilitate cooperation with faculty and in-depth exploration of various interests. Similarly, student-led initiatives like Hopkins Baja promote teamwork and the active exchange of ideas with peers of diverse intellectual and social backgrounds. Alongside my teammates, I will work toward the perfection of nimble race cars. Furthermore, internships and the Vredenburg Scholarship will expand my career choices and ease my transition into the workforce.

      Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

      My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water.

      During this magnificent, glorious streak of writing, dreaming, and pretending, I learned that 40,000 words make a novel.

      My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

      Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every nine-year-old needs to know.

      I had to do it. Once I get published, everybody would get a taste of my sublimity. Mom and Dad would be so impressed. I’d probably even become famous! Hence, I became fervently obsessed with word count and cared for little else.

      To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: “in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.” The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase “you know,” so it sounds like he is talking to us in person.
      My horticultural roots stem from my mother and elementary level biology. It wasn’t until this year that my knowledge expanded beyond this casual level into a realm where biology, chemistry, and physics found beautiful, synergistic intersections. I was determined to apply what I had learned and got to work.

      This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father’s strictness - since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is okay. Notice though that this doesn’t occur very much in the essay.
      I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

      This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

      "Mr. President? There's been an oil spill!" "Then I want our best elementary school students on it, STAT."

      An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

      But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: “How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?”

      The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo.

      From Yonkers to Accra, I have met the most amazing people from all walks of life, and I feel a deep and stirring sense of purpose in my global health work. I am empowered and proud of my contributions, but I also experience humility at a level that transforms me. I am blessed that I have found my passion, one that combines my intellectual curiosity, determination, and my moral compass. I am optimistic for the future and the journey that lies ahead, as I do everything in my power to make basic healthcare a reality for the world.

      Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

      Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose.

      Suddenly, I couldn’t keep pretending that crafting a fictitious version of my life on paper could replace what is real.

      It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness.
      I don’t write to create the next Hermione, become the best cliché, or impress Mom and Dad. I write to express the thoughts that are most real to me, ones I cannot confine any longer.

      My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

      The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen’s life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad’s approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can’t control.

      A JHU education integrates intellectual and personal lessons that will alleviate Vietnam’s and the world’s needs. With the creation of effective, affordable, and sustainable engineering solutions, I hope to make a difference in the 21st century.

      This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

      Public health is one of the most pressing and complex issues we face as a global society, and it is my passion. I am disturbed that not all lives are valued equally. I cannot accept the fact that children die from preventable diseases, simply because they are born in countries with less wealth and stability. In America, we are curing cancer with a mutated poliovirus strain, but we haven’t eradicated polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We come together in crises, highly publicized earthquakes and tsunamis, but we haven’t come together to solve the problem of basic human health, a right for every person on earth. Ensuring our health is complicated and daunting and requires the mass coordination of agencies and governments to build sustainable infrastructures with local citizens in charge. I want to be part of the solution and am engaging in public health in every way I can: in the field, in the classroom, and through global health charities.

      What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

      Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished" - just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

      Replace some of the clichéd language.

      By six hundred cranes, the increasing demands of high school academics caused my pace to slow. I despaired. I wouldn’t let this be another ambitious project that I couldn’t finish.

      Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don’t sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.
      Perhaps that’s why, at fifteen, I paid no mind to my grandpa’s deteriorating health or my dad’s anxiety. Because these were not the kinds of pain I had ever read about, I didn’t find them good enough to write about.

      Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo, or in another context.

      I have always loved riding in cars.

      A question that every high school senior is familiar with is: “What kind of college is the right fit for you?” My criterion doesn’t appear in the deluge of admissions pamphlets; that’s because I want my school to resemble my favorite dish: the hummus-tabouli wrap.

      After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window.
      Growing strawberries in a high school locker seemed fairly simple at first. Despite knowing that this is not the typical habitat for strawberry plants, I knew from my green-thumbed mother that strawberries are among the easiest fruits to grow. Many students and teachers became interested in my project, yet were skeptical of my botanical prowess and quick to conclude that a plant could not possibly receive its basic necessities in a locker, which didn’t have proper ventilation, was hot and humid, and was shielded from both sunlight and any source of water. Still, I was determined to make this work. The unfriendly habitat and logistical obstacles did not deter me.

      Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it.

      In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World. While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire.

      Because engineering does not exist in a vacuum, a HOST minor will complement my work by helping me understand the sociopolitical, cultural, and ethical issues that drive scientific developments. Equipped with this holistic vision, I will be able to adopt technically-sound yet socially responsible methodologies toward the solution of different problems.

      I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time.
      My quest begins with an introduction to the fundamental building blocks of engineering. Courses like “Digital Systems Fundamentals” unravel important concepts in logic and design that are applicable to more advanced research initiatives. Meanwhile lectures in “Introduction to Renewable Energy Engineering” unlock ways to improve Vietnam’s outdated energy sources, opening new opportunities for other industries to grow with the new technology.

      The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in.
      My mom once joked that I should audition for the role of Cho Chang. I threw a chopstick at her. Cho Chang was weak, so terribly weak that Harry dumped her.

      It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR.

      Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat.

      In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.

      As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt.
      From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.

      Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.

      Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees.

      Prompt: Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen State University and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).

      I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school. A self-admitted Phys. Ed. addict, I volunteered to help out with the Adapted PE class. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students.
      My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.

      To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program.
      As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.

      I love working with the students and watching them progress.

      When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World.

      The world is filled with big numbers. College tuition, monthly rent, and car prices deal in the many thousands. Those figures are incomprehensible to someone who has never interacted with anything so large, and I wanted to understand them. A thousand will never simply be a number to me: it is hundreds upon hundreds of hand-folded cranes combined with years of effort.

      Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life.
      At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

      He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper.
      One day this year, as I was walking by my perpetually empty locker, I was struck by an idea. I cannot identify what sparked its conception, but as my idea started to grow, thinking of possible solutions and analyzing and assessing feasibility issues began to consume me. My father calls this a “designer’s high,” and it was very familiar to me. I’ve experienced it often while collaborating with my robotics team, and in the hours I’ve spent with my father on design concepts for his prefabricated homes. Still, nothing I had worked on before was similar to the feeling this “out of the box” idea had triggered.

      So, maybe I'll be like Sue Storm and her alter-ego, the Invisible Woman. I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile.
      In the entire novel, I didn’t come across a single Cho Chang. What took the place of sublimity, instead, were real people. Mothers and daughters who breathe and hurt and love.

      My childhood self would appreciate that.

      What Makes This Essay Tick?

      Bridget takes a somewhat different approach than Steven, but her essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of her essay.

      So what did I wish for? It turns out, I didn’t need the wish. I learned I have the power to make things happen for myself.

      A Structure That’s Easy to Follow and Understand

      The essay is arranged chronologically. Bridget starts each paragraph with a clear signpost of where we are in time. Paragraph 1: “after a long day in first grade,” paragraph 2: “in elementary school,” paragraph 3: “seven years down the road,” paragraph 4: “when I was a freshman in high School,” paragraph 5: “when senior year arrived.

      Having served as prefect, residential assistant, and student council advocate I will join the Student Government Association. Given my experiences with poverty and inequality in Vietnam, I will also my share leadership and mentorship skills to empower underprivileged children in the Baltimore vicinity through involvement with Alternative Learning Coaches.

      ” This keeps the reader well-oriented without being distracting or gimmicky.

      One Clear Governing Metaphor

      I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time.

      This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.

      The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back.

      Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat.

      In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.

      As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles.
      This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

      Maybe it could be me.

      I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life.

      My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.

      …But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper.

      What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child’s idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author’s future aspirations.

      So, I went looking for better inspiration—for more mockeries of love, ways to validate my insecurities, and priorities that shouldn’t have been labeled as such.

      It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time.
      In this world of flavorful foods and people, the delectable allure of Johns Hopkins University entices the palate of my mind. And I hope to eat my fill.

      Every childhood Fixer-Upper ever. Ask your parents to explain the back row to you. (Image: JD Hancock/Flickr)

      An Engaging, Individual Voice

      This essay uses many techniques that make Bridget sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know her.

      Technique #1: humor. Notice Bridget's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks her younger self’s grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay - you could never mistake one writer for the other).

      In a fit of spite, I killed my Hermione, realizing I could never be her.

      In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World.

      I was like a ten-year-old FDR.

      Technique #2: invented terminology. The second technique is the way Bridget coins her own terms, carrying them through the whole essay. It would be easy enough to simply describe the people she imagined in childhood as helpers or assistants, and to simply say that as a child she wanted to rule the world.

      The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

      Instead, she invents the capitalized (and thus official-sounding) titles “Fixer-Upper” and “Emperor of the World,” making these childish conceits at once charming and iconic. What also key is that the titles feed into the central metaphor of the essay, which keeps them from sounding like strange quirks that don’t go anywhere.

      Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is using sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essays written in standard English, using grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Bridget emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

      But then I turned seventeen and finally began to process what I had experienced years earlier. I had been witness to my grandpa, reduced to flesh and bones (but hardly any flesh), barely clinging to life in a maggot-infested hospital in Dengzhou—something I had forced myself to forget.

      The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in. It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers.

      For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.

      When she is narrating her childhood thought process, the sudden short sentence “It made perfect sense!” (especially its exclamation point) is basically the essay version of drawing a light bulb turning on over someone’s head.

      I wrote about my real thoughts, my family, the times I was happy, and the times I was not. I wrote about my grandpa.

      As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings. Or do they?

      Similarly, when the essay turns from her childhood imagination to her present-day aspirations, the turn is marked with “Or do they?” - a tiny and arresting half-sentence question.

      Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.

      Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me.

      The first time when the comparison between magical fixer-upper’s and the future disability specialist is made is when Bridget turns her metaphor onto herself.

      I knew why she said it though—I rarely existed in books and when I did, I was the Cho Chang, the inconsequential, insignificant Asian girl who could never assert herself.

      The essay emphasizes the importance of the moment through both repetition (two sentences structured similarly, both starting with the word “maybe”) and through the use of a very short sentence: “Maybe it could be me.”

      To be honest, I was really nervous.

      Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab - and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.

      I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked.

      The last key moment that gets the small sentence treatment is the emotional crux of the essay. As we watch Bridget go from nervously trying to help disabled students to falling in love with this specialty field, she undercuts the potential sappiness of the moment by relying on changed up sentence length and slang: “Long story short, I got hooked.

      My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.


      The best essays convey emotions just as clearly as this image.

      What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

      Bridget's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

      Explain the car connection better.

      The power of writing, I believed, existed solely in one’s ability to pursue the sublime. So I wrote to create different, better manifestations of my life.

      The essay begins and ends with Bridget enjoying a car ride, but this doesn't seem to be related either to the Fixer-Upper idea or to her passion for working with special needs students. It would be great to either connect this into the essay more, or to take it out altogether and create more space for something else.
      Somebody once told me to read The Joy Luck Club but I never bothered. A book about a bunch of Cho Changs couldn’t possibly be sublime.

      Give more details about being a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. It makes perfect sense that Bridget doesn't want to put her students on display. It would both take the focus off of her, and could possibly read as offensive or condescending.

      I am real and I care about being real—that is my power, not just as a writer but as a person.

      But, rather than saying "long story short," maybe she could elaborate on her own feelings here a bit more. What is it about this kind of teaching that she loves? What is she hoping to bring to the lives of her future clients?

      Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

      How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource.

      Take apart the other essays in the links.

      • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
      • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
      • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight or information about the author.
      How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
    • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

    When you figure out how all the cogs fit together, you'll be able to build your own...um...whatever this is.

    Find your "A-ha!" moment. All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

    Start early, revise often. Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least 2 months early. Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take apart and rearrange. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it.

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