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College Essays

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Most colleges and universities in the United States require applicants to submit at least one essay as part of their application. But trying to figure out what college essay topics you should choose is a tricky process. There are so many potential things you could write about!

In this guide, we go over the essential qualities that make for a great college essay topic and give you 50+ college essay topics you can use for your own statement . In addition, we provide you with helpful tips for turning your college essay topic into a stellar college essay.

What Qualities Make for a Good College Essay Topic?

Regardless of what you write about in your personal statement for college , there are key features that will always make for a stand-out college essay topic.

#1: It’s Specific

First off, good college essay topics are extremely specific : you should know all the pertinent facts that have to do with the topic and be able to see how the entire essay comes together.

Specificity is essential because it’ll not only make your essay stand out from other statements, but it'll also recreate the experience for admissions officers through its realism, detail, and raw power. You want to tell a story after all, and specificity is the way to do so. Nobody wants to read a vague, bland, or boring story — not even admissions officers!

For example, an OK topic would be your experience volunteering at a cat shelter over the summer. But a better, more specific college essay topic would be how you deeply connected with an elderly cat there named Marty, and how your bond with him made you realize that you want to work with animals in the future.

Remember that specificity in your topic is what will make your essay unique and memorable . It truly is the key to making a strong statement (pun intended)!

#2: It Shows Who You Are

In addition to being specific, good college essay topics reveal to admissions officers who you are: your passions and interests, what is important to you, your best (or possibly even worst) qualities, what drives you, and so on.

The personal statement is critical because it gives schools more insight into who you are as a person and not just who you are as a student in terms of grades and classes.

By coming up with a real, honest topic, you’ll leave an unforgettable mark on admissions officers.

#3: It’s Meaningful to You

The very best college essay topics are those that hold deep meaning to their writers and have truly influenced them in some significant way.

For instance, maybe you plan to write about the first time you played Skyrim to explain how this video game revealed to you the potentially limitless worlds you could create, thereby furthering your interest in game design.

Even if the topic seems trivial, it’s OK to use it — just as long as you can effectively go into detail about why this experience or idea had such an impact on you .

Don’t give in to the temptation to choose a topic that sounds impressive but doesn’t actually hold any deep meaning for you. Admissions officers will see right through this!

Similarly, don’t try to exaggerate some event or experience from your life if it’s not all that important to you or didn’t have a substantial influence on your sense of self.

#4: It’s Unique

College essay topics that are unique are also typically the most memorable, and if there’s anything you want to be during the college application process, it’s that! Admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications, and the essay is one of the only parts that allows them to really get a sense of who you are and what you value in life.

If your essay is trite or boring, it won’t leave much of an impression , and your application will likely get immediately tossed to the side with little chance of seeing admission.

But if your essay topic is very original and different, you’re more likely to earn that coveted second glance at your application.

What does being unique mean exactly, though? Many students assume that they must choose an extremely rare or crazy experience to talk about in their essays —but that's not necessarily what I mean by "unique." Good college essay topics can be unusual and different, yes, but they can also be unique takes on more mundane or common activities and experiences .

For instance, say you want to write an essay about the first time you went snowboarding. Instead of just describing the details of the experience and how you felt during it, you could juxtapose your emotions with a creative and humorous perspective from the snowboard itself. Or you could compare your first attempt at snowboarding with your most recent experience in a snowboarding competition. The possibilities are endless!

#5: It Clearly Answers the Question

Finally, good college essay topics will clearly and fully answer the question(s) in the prompt.

You might fail to directly answer a prompt by misinterpreting what it’s asking you to do, or by answering only part of it (e.g., answering just one out of three questions).

Therefore, make sure you take the time to come up with an essay topic that is in direct response to every question in the prompt .

Take this Coalition Application prompt as an example:

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

For this prompt, you’d need to answer all three questions (though it’s totally fine to focus more on one or two of them) to write a compelling and appropriate essay.

This is why we recommend reading and rereading the essay prompt ; you should know exactly what it’s asking you to do, well before you start brainstorming possible college application essay topics.

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53 College Essay Topics to Get Your Brain Moving

In this section, we give you a list of 53 examples of college essay topics. Use these as jumping-off points to help you get started on your college essay and to ensure that you’re on track to coming up with a relevant and effective topic.

All college application essay topics below are categorized by essay prompt type. We’ve identified six general types of college essay prompts:

Why This College?

Change and personal growth, passions, interests, and goals, overcoming a challenge, diversity and community, solving a problem.

Note that these prompt types could overlap with one another, so you’re not necessarily limited to just one college essay topic in a single personal statement.

  • How a particular major or program will help you achieve your academic or professional goals
  • A memorable and positive interaction you had with a professor or student at the school
  • Something good that happened to you while visiting the campus or while on a campus tour
  • A certain class you want to take or a certain professor you’re excited to work with
  • Some piece of on-campus equipment or facility that you’re looking forward to using
  • Your plans to start a club at the school, possibly to raise awareness of a major issue
  • A study abroad or other unique program that you can’t wait to participate in
  • How and where you plan to volunteer in the community around the school
  • An incredible teacher you studied under and the positive impact they had on you
  • How you went from really liking something, such as a particular movie star or TV show, to not liking it at all (or vice versa)
  • How yours or someone else’s (change in) socioeconomic status made you more aware of poverty
  • A time someone said something to you that made you realize you were wrong
  • How your opinion on a controversial topic, such as gay marriage or DACA, has shifted over time
  • A documentary that made you aware of a particular social, economic, or political issue going on in the country or world
  • Advice you would give to your younger self about friendship, motivation, school, etc.
  • The steps you took in order to kick a bad or self-sabotaging habit
  • A juxtaposition of the first and most recent time you did something, such as dance onstage
  • A book you read that you credit with sparking your love of literature and/or writing
  • A school assignment or project that introduced you to your chosen major
  • A glimpse of your everyday routine and how your biggest hobby or interest fits into it
  • The career and (positive) impact you envision yourself having as a college graduate
  • A teacher or mentor who encouraged you to pursue a specific interest you had
  • How moving around a lot helped you develop a love of international exchange or learning languages
  • A special skill or talent you’ve had since you were young and that relates to your chosen major in some way, such as designing buildings with LEGO bricks
  • Where you see yourself in 10 or 20 years
  • Your biggest accomplishment so far relating to your passion (e.g., winning a gold medal for your invention at a national science competition)
  • A time you lost a game or competition that was really important to you
  • How you dealt with the loss or death of someone close to you
  • A time you did poorly in a class that you expected to do well in
  • How moving to a new school impacted your self-esteem and social life
  • A chronic illness you battled or are still battling
  • Your healing process after having your heart broken for the first time
  • A time you caved under peer pressure and the steps you took so that it won't happen again
  • How you almost gave up on learning a foreign language but stuck with it
  • Why you decided to become a vegetarian or vegan, and how you navigate living with a meat-eating family
  • What you did to overcome a particular anxiety or phobia you had (e.g., stage fright)
  • A history of a failed experiment you did over and over, and how you finally found a way to make it work successfully
  • Someone within your community whom you aspire to emulate
  • A family tradition you used to be embarrassed about but are now proud of
  • Your experience with learning English upon moving to the United States
  • A close friend in the LGBTQ+ community who supported you when you came out
  • A time you were discriminated against, how you reacted, and what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again
  • How you navigate your identity as a multiracial, multiethnic, and/or multilingual person
  • A project or volunteer effort you led to help or improve your community
  • A particular celebrity or role model who inspired you to come out as LGBTQ+
  • Your biggest challenge (and how you plan to tackle it) as a female in a male-dominated field
  • How you used to discriminate against your own community, and what made you change your mind and eventually take pride in who you are and/or where you come from
  • A program you implemented at your school in response to a known problem, such as a lack of recycling cans in the cafeteria
  • A time you stepped in to mediate an argument or fight between two people
  • An app or other tool you developed to make people’s lives easier in some way
  • A time you proposed a solution that worked to an ongoing problem at school, an internship, or a part-time job
  • The steps you took to identify and fix an error in coding for a website or program
  • An important social or political issue that you would fix if you had the means

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How to Build a College Essay in 6 Easy Steps

Once you’ve decided on a college essay topic you want to use, it’s time to buckle down and start fleshing out your essay. These six steps will help you transform a simple college essay topic into a full-fledged personal statement.

Step 1: Write Down All the Details

Once you’ve chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay . These could be things such as the following:

  • Emotions you felt at the time
  • Names, places, and/or numbers
  • Dialogue, or what you or someone else said
  • A specific anecdote, example, or experience
  • Descriptions of how things looked, felt, or seemed

If you can only come up with a few details, then it’s probably best to revisit the list of college essay topics above and choose a different one that you can write more extensively on.

Good college essay topics are typically those that:

  • You remember well (so nothing that happened when you were really young)
  • You're excited to write about
  • You're not embarrassed or uncomfortable to share with others
  • You believe will make you positively stand out from other applicants

Step 2: Figure Out Your Focus and Approach

Once you have all your major details laid out, start to figure out how you could arrange them in a way that makes sense and will be most effective.

It’s important here to really narrow your focus: you don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) discuss every single aspect of your trip to visit family in Indonesia when you were 16. Rather, zero in on a particular anecdote or experience and explain why and how it impacted you.

Alternatively, you could write about multiple experiences while weaving them together with a clear, meaningful theme or concept , such as how your math teacher helped you overcome your struggle with geometry over the course of an entire school year. In this case, you could mention a few specific times she tutored you and most strongly supported you in your studies.

There’s no one right way to approach your college essay, so play around to see what approaches might work well for the topic you’ve chosen.

If you’re really unsure about how to approach your essay, think about what part of your topic was or is most meaningful and memorable to you, and go from there.

Step 3: Structure Your Narrative

  • Beginning: Don’t just spout off a ton of background information here—you want to hook your reader, so try to start in the middle of the action , such as with a meaningful conversation you had or a strong emotion you felt. It could also be a single anecdote if you plan to center your essay around a specific theme or idea.
  • Middle: Here’s where you start to flesh out what you’ve established in the opening. Provide more details about the experience (if a single anecdote) or delve into the various times your theme or idea became most important to you. Use imagery and sensory details to put the reader in your shoes.
  • End: It’s time to bring it all together. Finish describing the anecdote or theme your essay centers around and explain how it relates to you now , what you’ve learned or gained from it, and how it has influenced your goals.

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Step 4: Write a Rough Draft

By now you should have all your major details and an outline for your essay written down; these two things will make it easy for you to convert your notes into a rough draft.

At this stage of the writing process, don’t worry too much about vocabulary or grammar and just focus on getting out all your ideas so that they form the general shape of an essay . It’s OK if you’re a little over the essay's word limit — as you edit, you’ll most likely make some cuts to irrelevant and ineffective parts anyway.

If at any point you get stuck and have no idea what to write, revisit steps 1-3 to see whether there are any important details or ideas you might be omitting or not elaborating on enough to get your overall point across to admissions officers.

Step 5: Edit, Revise, and Proofread

  • Sections that are too wordy and don’t say anything important
  • Irrelevant details that don’t enhance your essay or the point you're trying to make
  • Parts that seem to drag or that feel incredibly boring or redundant
  • Areas that are vague and unclear and would benefit from more detail
  • Phrases or sections that are awkwardly placed and should be moved around
  • Areas that feel unconvincing, inauthentic, or exaggerated

Start paying closer attention to your word choice/vocabulary and grammar at this time, too. It’s perfectly normal to edit and revise your college essay several times before asking for feedback, so keep working with it until you feel it’s pretty close to its final iteration.

This step will likely take the longest amount of time — at least several weeks, if not months — so really put effort into fixing up your essay. Once you’re satisfied, do a final proofread to ensure that it’s technically correct.

Step 6: Get Feedback and Tweak as Needed

After you’ve overhauled your rough draft and made it into a near-final draft, give your essay to somebody you trust , such as a teacher or parent, and have them look it over for technical errors and offer you feedback on its content and overall structure.

Use this feedback to make any last-minute changes or edits. If necessary, repeat steps 5 and 6. You want to be extra sure that your essay is perfect before you submit it to colleges!

Recap: From College Essay Topics to Great College Essays

Many different kinds of college application essay topics can get you into a great college. But this doesn’t make it any easier to choose the best topic for you .

In general, the best college essay topics have the following qualities :

  • They’re specific
  • They show who you are
  • They’re meaningful to you
  • They’re unique
  • They clearly answer the question

If you ever need help coming up with an idea of what to write for your essay, just refer to the list of 53 examples of college essay topics above to get your brain juices flowing.

Once you’ve got an essay topic picked out, follow these six steps for turning your topic into an unforgettable personal statement :

  • Write down all the details
  • Figure out your focus and approach
  • Structure your narrative
  • Write a rough draft
  • Edit, revise, and proofread
  • Get feedback and tweak as needed

And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your college essays!

What’s Next?

Writing a college essay is no simple task. Get expert college essay tips with our guides on how to come up with great college essay ideas and how to write a college essay, step by step .

You can also check out this huge list of college essay prompts  to get a feel for what types of questions you'll be expected to answer on your applications.

Want to see examples of college essays that absolutely rocked? You're in luck because we've got a collection of 100+ real college essay examples right here on our blog!

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Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.

Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now :

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

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

Pamela Reynolds

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

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

So, what does this mean for you?

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

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

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

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

Be Authentic

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

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

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

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

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

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

Grab the Reader From the Start

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

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

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

Focus on Deeper Themes

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

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

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

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

Show Don’t Tell

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

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

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

Try Doing Something Different

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

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

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

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

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Write With the Reader in Mind

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

Use transitions between paragraphs.

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

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

Write Several Drafts

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

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

Read It Aloud

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

Don’t Repeat

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

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

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

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

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

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

Pay Attention to Form

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

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

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

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

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

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

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

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

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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10 College Admissions Essay Ideas to Inspire You

A laptop sitting on the lap of a young man with brown skin.

With summer upon us, rising high school seniors have to think about college applications and the dreaded essays.

Many colleges require at least one short essay about yourself to showcase your writing abilities and to see your unique, individual personality.

Most essays require a range of 250–650 words, but it varies between each college. Some colleges also have you choose your own topic, while others have you select one (or more) from a list.

Whatever the case, these college application essay topics are based on the Common App essay topics from previous years, so it’s possible you could find one close enough to a selected topic to use for your essay!

#1: Your meaningful background

A classic college essay, this idea gives you a broad prompt where you can choose something from your own life (a background, interest, talent, etc.) that you think your application would be incomplete without.

At first, it may be hard to think of something to write about. Or, you may have a perfect idea; for example, you’re very passionate about something like writing or being part of a sports team. If you have a hobby that you think defines you as a person when you express it, this is the perfect place to put that!

College application overseers aren’t just looking for high marks – they’re often looking for unique personalities or people with passion and drive that they think would be a good addition to their school.

#2: A time you faced a challenge

Another classic college application essay, but sometimes one of the hardest ones to write, this idea is to write about a challenge, obstacle, or failure you’ve faced. This one is a good chance to show what sort of person you are, and how you overcame (or coped) with something bad that happened.

Most people tend to think of specific incidents, like when you had a project due and your group wasn’t doing their work so you had to lead the team or do it yourself. This could work, but like the first idea, you want to make sure whatever you’re writing about shows who you are as a person.

The challenge doesn’t have to be academic-related. You could write about any challenge, obstacle, or failure you’ve experienced in your life. Maybe it was work-related, or it was had to do with something going on at home or with friends.

When I applied for college, I wrote about dealing with discrimination in my workplace at the time. It was something that, although many people unfortunately have to experience and overcome, I could write with my own perspective and show the college what I did about it.

Of course, you don’t have to write that seriously. Sometimes a minor setback is all you need, as long as you can show how you  handled it.

#3: Questioning your beliefs

This topic isn’t quite as common in my experience but is one of the best chances to talk about you as a person. This idea is to write about a time you questioned your belief in something and how you dealt with that. It can be something religious or political, or even a time when your peers were challenging you.

It doesn’t matter whether you ended up changing your views or not; what this topic does is it gives you a chance to show how you thought something through and made a choice accordingly.

One of the most personal struggles there is is to have your beliefs challenged, so how you were able to process that and make a change or stand in your resolve can tell a college a lot about who you are.

#4: A problem you solved (or would like to solve)

This topic is similar to the second one but differs in that it’s a bit more open-ended. The idea is to write about a problem in your life (or even in the world) that you’ve solved or would like to solve.

The scale on this problem can be as big or small as you would like, so there are lots of opportunities to write about something meaningful to you.

If you’re writing about something in your life, you could focus on an ongoing issue and how you want to solve it. Whether that’s something going on at school or at home, everybody has struggles, and your own voice can shine when you bring your story into it.

Alternatively, you could write about something much larger in scale, like an issue with society or current events. However, something that does relate to you in some way will let your passion for the issue shine through, which is more appealing to colleges.

#5: Describe an accomplishment (and how you grew from it)

This topic is all about describing a time you achieved or won something, preferably something you worked hard for. It may be tricky for some people who don’t consider themselves to have achieved much (I only ever won participation trophies through high school), but the emphasis here is how you grew from the accomplishment.

There are lots of options for what to write here, like winning an award in sports or completing a difficult assignment, but what colleges are looking for is how you grew from that achievement.

For example, a sports award likely entailed a lot of hard work, so you could discuss how you put in that work and how it changed your mindset on perseverance.

#6: Be a nerd about something

This was my personal favorite topic to use when writing my essays. Just be a nerd about something!

Write about what captivates you and what you’re so interested in you just can’t get away from it. If you’re a nerd, this is absolutely your time to shine. (This isn’t just for sci-fi or academic nerds; it could be about sports, animals, or anything you’re truly interested in!)

What colleges are looking for from this is to see a focused passion and drive from you. The important thing here is that while you get to discuss something you love, you want to remain calm and collected enough that the college sees you can rationally discuss it and why it’s so important to you. It’s a great way for your personality to come through your writing!

#7: What moment did you go from child to adult?

This is a much more specific question than the other topics, and it may not relate to you. It’s perfectly okay to not have a specific moment that transitioned you from childhood to adulthood, so it’s best to skip this topic if not.

If you can think of a specific event or moment of your life when you were faced with the real world, this is the place to write about it. It’s similar to topics two and four, but this is specifically for what thing triggered you to mature.

This could be a hard subject for some, but it offers a great perspective into your life and gives you a chance to write about how you grew from the event into who you are now.

#8: Describe a choice made in a book or movie; what did you think about it?

This is more analytical than the other topics as you’re writing about what you thought of a choice made by a character in a book or a movie. But, it offers the perfect opportunity to show your logic and reasoning skills to the college!

For example, The Hunger Games (which is widely chosen for essay topics and I would recommend choosing something else unless you have a unique perspective) has many difficult decisions that the characters must face.

Katniss makes the decision to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, and that sparks the entire story. If this was your topic, you could write about why you think Katniss made that choice.

The point is to show the college you can think rationally and logically and that you can analyze something for a deeper meaning.

#9: What’s your life goal?

This topic is very open-ended and there is a wide range of things you could write about. You could discuss anything from emotional goals to physical goals including your dream career.

As always, colleges are looking for essays that showcase your personality, and your life goal is one of the most personal things there is.

#10: Choose a past essay

Some colleges let you choose a past essay you’ve written that you believe showcases your writing ability and voice regardless of topic. It’s quite possible your high school had you write practice essays for college applications, and something like that would be perfect here.

If you’ve learned anything from all these topics, it should be that colleges are looking for unique personalities and strong voices that shine past the other applicants!

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8 Strong Ivy League Essay Examples

What’s covered:.

  • Essay 1: Princeton
  • Essay 2: Cornell
  • Essay 3: Yale
  • Essay 4: Brown
  • Essay 5: UPenn
  • Essay 6: Dartmouth
  • Essay 7: Columbia
  • Essay 8: Harvard
  • Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

The Ivy League consists of eight private institutions on the East Coast, known for having extremely competitive admissions rates. The following schools are in the Ivy League: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, UPenn, Cornell, Brown, and Dartmouth.

These schools all have their own supplemental essays, ranging from typical topics like “ Why This College? ” to more unique topics that change from year to year. Because the Ivies are some of the most competitive schools in the country, your essays are crucial for you to showcase aspects of yourself that might not be apparent from other parts of your application. 

In this post, we’ll provide a strong essay example for each Ivy and explain what each did well and where they could be improved. Read on to learn more about how to craft a compelling narrative!

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

Essay #1: Princeton

Prompt: Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay. (250-650 words)

“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” 

– Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University . 

The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 

My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 

At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 

Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 

Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.

What the Essay Did Well

There are many positives to this essay. To begin with, launching into the essay with multi sensory imagery in the anecdote was really effective at drawing the reader in. The audiovisual context (laughter, street vendors) keeps the scene alive and fully immerses the reader, while the internal narration illustrates how this student looks at the world. The contrast between the imagery of the external scene and the internal thoughts and feelings fully immerses the reader in the essay and alludes to the overarching theme of things being more complicated than they seem on the outside.

Another good thing this essay did was provide a personal account of this student’s experiences with harassment. This established their authority to speak on the topic and underscores their essay with authenticity.  They then “zoom out” to provide relevant background information that supplies additional context for readers who might not be that familiar with the extent of the issue at hand. By relating their personal stories to the large-scale issue at hand, they simultaneously develop a personal connection while demonstrating an understanding of a serious global issue.

What really could’ve made or broken this essay was the quote the student chose. Allowing you to choose any quote, this is an extremely open-ended prompt which gives students the opportunity to write about whatever they choose. This student did an excellent job of picking a quote that isn’t well-known or significant, but fit perfectly into the narrative they were trying to express in this essay. The approach the student likely took with this prompt is figuring out what experience they wanted to discuss and finding a quote that fit, rather than picking a quote first. This approach made for an essay that existed independently from the quote and didn’t rely on it as a crutch.

All together, the essay feels cohesive with every part relating back to the overarching theme of diving deeper than the surface level of things. The student’s vulnerability and personal reflection throughout the essay helps carry the theme through each paragraph. Even the conclusion does a great job of circling back to the anecdote at the beginning, bringing the societal problem the student addressed back down to the personal level to remind the reader the student’s personal stake in the issue.

What Could Be Improved

One potential criticism of this essay could stem from the ratio of background to active work. The author spends a lot of time setting up their personal connection and the global context of the issue; however, their essay could stand to gain from more content centered on their actual actions towards fighting harassment against women. They could discuss another small-scale discussion or project they led or elaborate more on their current inclusion. Dedicating two paragraphs to this rather than one gives admissions officers a better idea of their leadership skills and active role in fighting harassment.

Table of Contents

Essay #2: Cornell

Prompt: Tell us about your interest in engineering or what you hope to achieve with a degree in engineering. Describe what appeals to you about Cornell Engineering and how it specifically relates to your engineering interests or aspirations. (650 words) 

Storytime with my grandfather was a terrifying thing. With astounding skill, he would seep blood into our carpet and perforate our walls with bullets from a civil war fought before I was born. But what truly frightened me about storytime was my grandfather, who spoke of massacres gloriously, almost with nostalgia, like the people who had  died were not real.

He told the child I was every story he knew about that war but would not tell me about the battle that took his legs.

This was the reason I sat by his stumps each night and listened to stories I hated—because I wanted to know. But it was also because I understood that his storytelling was a kind of exorcism for him. He had not walked since 1970, would never walk again for a country that had not improved, a country spitting on the bloody sacrifices he and his generation had made of their innocence, their limbs, their lives. How does one live with that? My grandfather does not; he has created a different reality for himself where the war was a beautiful, worthy thing, and he lets me into it. The story of his legs did not belong in this reality, so I lusted after it with the brand of hunger I reserved for things I subconsciously knew I would not get.

My grandfather deserved a reality he could cope with enough to admit. I couldn’t reverse the war, couldn’t raise the friends he had lost, but I thought he should walk, that a man deserved to move his feet upon the land he loved.

Although there were indeed prosthetics in Nigerian hospitals, he had no income source whatsoever and could barely even afford a bag of rice to sustain himself.

Day by day, I searched for answers in my introductory science textbook, but to no avail. I carried on this search in high school and made my biology textbook my companion. I studied the body systems in-depth for clues, but I found nothing. One day, I came across Biomechanics, and seeing that it had my answer made me want to study it  in college.

Then came another mammoth task of deciding my place of study. I kept searching and researching, without seeming to find any place fit for me until I came across Cornell’s novel 3D printed prosthetic limbs in the “Silicon Review.” Light, flexible, and cost-effective –a miracle, just what grandpa needed. I had found my home, the home of this model – Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

I intend to channel the research experience I gained from Pioneer Academics into Cornell’s undergraduate research programs at Sibley – specifically, the research on orthopedic biomechanics currently ongoing at the Van der Meulen lab. I hope to work with intellectual, goal-driven scholars at Cornell and develop better and safer models of the 3D prosthetic. Also, Cornell’s Tech Summer Research Experience gives me an opportunity to work with engineers in different disciplines, thus diversifying my abilities and improving my innovation. I hope to work at the Nikolaos Bouklos faculty, where I would learn about the model’s unpredictability and explore ways to stabilize it while receiving guidance from Cornell’s world-class faculty mentors.

My life as a Cornell engineer would not be about theory alone. I intend to gain hands-on experience for medical school from the Hospital for Special Surgery and work with body systems to understand the physical, electrical and chemical connections between limbs and prosthetics – a fantastic opportunity for an outstanding, well-rounded education! I love to play soccer, and I hope to learn from the Big Red and become better while contributing my skills to give our opponents the claw.

Fearless and brave, grandpa has been more than an inspiration to me. I hope to repay him in the best way possible, and a Cornell education is what I need to actualize my dream.

So often, “Why Major?” and “Why School?” essays like Cornell’s include one anecdote showing a student’s interest in a topic and then spend the majority of the essay listing offerings at the school that don’t necessarily connect back to the anecdote. That can not be said for this essay.

The beauty of this essay is how focused it is around one central idea, yet it still has a captivating and heart-wrenching anecdote, an explanation of the student’s passion, and a variety of opportunities they plan to take advantage of. Everything in this essay stems from this student’s selflessness and compassion for their grandfather. The anecdote is extremely pertinent to the piece as a whole because the end goal of their major is to develop a prosthetic to help their grandfather.

An important part of the essay is to discuss resources and opportunities at Cornell, and this student accomplishes that so effectively because every resource they describe relates back to the idea of building and improving prosthetics. From working with prosthetic models in a lab to learning about implementation and the body in a hospital, this student frames every opportunity in the light of helping their grandfather. The reader knows exactly what this student intends to do, and what is motivating each extracurricular choice.

This essay leaves us with such a strong impression of who this student is and what motivates them. Their selflessness and dedication to their family has been a driving force throughout high school and will continue to be one in college. They are determined to persevere and want to use their education to help those around them. By revealing so much of their character in this essay, it demonstrates to admissions officers that this is the student they want on their campus.

In general, this is a very strong response and there is little to change. However, in such a highly-focused essay where every detail connects, this sentences feels very out of place: “ I love to play soccer, and I hope to learn from the Big Red and become better while contributing my skills to give our opponents the claw. “

While the student was likely trying to demonstrate a non-academic passion they will bring to Cornell, haphazardly throwing in a singular sentence without connecting it to anything else disrupts the momentum they have built throughout the essay. This essay was so strong because everything related to the common thread of helping their grandfather, but playing soccer is irrelevant to the other points being made. Since this sentence doesn’t tie into any other part of the essay, it would be better off without it.

This is a good example of not including details for the sake of including them. Admissions officers will see your accomplishments in other parts of the application, so you don’t need to work it into your essay if it doesn’t relate. Especially when the topic of the essay is so strong and focused, throwing in extraneous details will only confuse your readers and diminish the overall impact of your essay.

Essay #3: Yale

Prompt: Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience could help you address it. (250 words)

A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears. The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas.

As a daughter of immigrants, I have heard countless stories of migrants being turned away by a country they desperately seek to love. After seeing the abhorrent conditions migrants face upon arriving in the U.S., I began volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and provides necessities to undocumented immigrants. This year, my experiences collecting donations and working at pop-up soup kitchens have made me realize that the communities in South Texas promote true American values of freedom and opportunity. The U.S. government, however, must do better.

During my university career, I aspire to learn how our immigration system can be positively reformed by considering the politics and economics that shape policy-making. Particularly, classes such as Institutional Design and Institutional Change will prepare me to effect change in existing institutions by analyzing various methods to bolster the economy. 

Additionally, I hope to join the Yale Refugee Project that volunteers at the southern border and prepares asylum cases for court. With the numerous opportunities offered by YRP, I will be part of a generation of activists and lawmakers that builds a more empathetic immigration system.

One of the benefits of this essay is how the student establishes the issue in detail prior to explaining her personal connection to it. The hook uses detailed imagery, typically seen in personal anecdotes, to describe the issue. Describing the issue at hand instead of an experience the student had helps the reader grasp the issue so they know exactly what the student is referring to when she explains her personal connection.

Having already established the issue, it then becomes much easier for the reader to understand the significance to the student without being explicitly told what it is. The combined details of her family’s background and the actions she has taken to address the issue help display her dedication to the issue and passion for solving it. The student never gives the reader an explanation as to why she cares so deeply about this issue, but through her writing, that reveals her internal identity and external actions, it becomes evident.

Another positive aspect was that the essay only discussed two resources at Yale that would be beneficial to the student. For “Why This College” essays, it’s all about quality over quantity. Elaborating on what the specific classes and the Yale Refugee Program will offer her in terms of professional development provides much more insight than if she had listed a bunch of Yale opportunities with no explanation of what made them special to her. 

Something this essay was missing was a conclusion to wrap up the essay. It ends by discussing the Yale Refugee Program, but fails to connect back to the student or the larger issue at hand. It’s understandable that she was pressed for space with a limited word count, but the ending felt abrupt. Adding one sentence to the end that shifts focus back to the student or how Yale as a whole would allow her to better the world would make the essay feel complete, leaving the reader satisfied.

There are many ways this student could tie the essay together in the conclusion, but one way would be to connect back to the observation the student made earlier that the “ U.S. government, however, must do better. ” This line isn’t really elaborated on and without a connection to how she plans to fix the mistakes of the current government it feels unnecessary. Saying something along the lines of “ With the tools Yale would give me I could tear down the barriers to immigration and construct new systems to steer federal immigration policy in an inclusive direction ” would provide a satisfying conclusion and an explanation of how this student will use her public policy degree to improve the government. 

Essay #4: Brown

Prompt: Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (200-250 words) 

My mother exclaimed in shock as she saw the title American Murder: The Family Next Door as the latest title on our Netflix watch list. “Why on earth would you want to watch that?” It made no sense to her that I spent free time watching documentaries about the psychopathic tendencies of serial killers.

From listening to neuropsychology podcasts on my long runs to reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment , I’ve been eager to explore the intersection between neuroscience, society, and the role they play in human nature. Brown’s Open Curriculum would allow me to double concentrate in Neuroscience and Science, Technology, and Society with a theme in Health and Medicine. Classes like Philosophy of Biology and The Moral Brain would begin to answer my questions about the relationship between neuroscience and human ethics. Perhaps I’ll finally understand why Raskolnikov thought he could get away with his crimes.

As an eight-year Latin scholar and five-time Percy Jackson reader, I hope to take classes in the Brown Classics department. I’m also intrigued by Ancient Greek Philosophy, and I plan to explore classic texts such as Plato’s Symposium in Introduction to Greek Literature. Courses like Hippocratic Medicine would allow me to learn about connections between the Classical world and medicine today. 

The brain’s unique composition creates an intricate link between science, history, and modern society that I can only explore at Brown. More importantly, Brown’s diverse environment would introduce me to people with entirely different opinions about Raskolnikov’s motives.

This essay is structured incredibly well. The author uses an anecdote to explain their interests in the opening paragraph. “ My mother exclaimed in shock ,” is the beginning of an opening sentence that draws the reader in, as the reader wants to learn the reason behind the mother’s shock. This opening allows the writer to speak about an interest of theirs, murder documentaries, then tie it to what they’re interested in studying. 

When discussing an academic interest, the author does a great job of providing specific examples connected to Brown. This allows the writer to share how they plan to take advantage of Brown’s unique Open Curriculum. They write, “ Classes like Philosophy of Biology and The Moral Brain would begin to answer my questions about the relationship between neuroscience and human ethics .” By sharing specific classes, it’s clear that the author has done some research about Brown and is truly interested in attending. 

The writer chooses to spend their last paragraph sharing more interests and how they could pursue these interests at Brown. They did a great job sharing a variety of interests, and they made it fun by writing that they’re a “ five-time Percy Jackson reader. ” Sharing details like this about yourself can help make your essays stand out because you come across as relatable, and your essay becomes more engaging and entertaining for the reader!

While it’s nice that the writer mentions various interests, including both neuroscience and classics, there doesn’t seem to be a strong connection between the two topics. The essay would be better if the author improved the transition between the second and third paragraphs. They could say how it’s not common to be able to study both neuroscience and classics because of how different the subjects are but that Brown’s open curriculum lets you pursue both.

More simply, the writer could share why they want to study both topics. Will they both be relevant for their career goals? Are they just curious about exploring a variety of subjects and classes at Brown? No matter the reason, a connection between their interests and a better transition would strengthen this essay.

Additionally, the essay prompt asks students to talk about both topics that interest them and “embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar.” It’s always important to keep the prompt in mind when outlining or writing it. This student wrote a lot about their interests, but it’s a little unclear how they plan to embrace topics with which they’re unfamiliar. Clarifying which topic in this essay the writer hasn’t studied would improve the response and ensure that it directly answers the prompt.

Essay #5: UPenn 

Prompt: How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)

There’s a certain energy palpable at protests, each chant a powerful reminder that you are not alone in a seemingly futile fight- it’s why I love organizing. At Penn you will be sure to find me advocating for environmental education in local school districts with Eco Reps (gotta start them young), or even marching through the streets of Philly to demand climate action.

Despite my love for grassroots activism, I often feel frustrated in the weeks following a protest as the buzz dies down; despite overwhelming support for change, be it climate action, BLM, gun control, or Indigenous sovereignty, it often feels like our cries fall upon deaf ears. 

I believe in order for tangible change to occur, our leaders and policymakers need to reflect the diversity and interests of the public. Penn will equip me to be that leader.

Having the tools to understand both the science and history within issues like public health or climate change is something I believe will be invaluable to study in the Environmental Policy and Application program at Penn. Using the knowledge I gain from classes like Natural Disturbances and Human Disasters , which bridges my interest in the environment with the very tangible effects of human-made and natural disasters, I can be a better informed leader, learning from past mistakes to create preventative solutions for future catastrophes through policy. 

Integrated into West Philly, to me, the lack of barriers between campus and the city symbolizes the infinite space for growth and exploration. At Penn, I can study politics while also indulging in the arts at the Arthur Ross Gallery, or how to integrate principles of sustainability in an urban environment. And, of course, being able to admire the beautiful gothic architecture as I sit in class (gotta love that dark academia aesthetic) while also being able to experience the rich culture and diversity of the urban environment of Philadelphia is definitely a plus (I mean, Chinatown and cheesesteaks? Come on!). 

UPenn’s emphasis on global education is especially appealing to me; solving the climate crisis cannot and will not fall upon one country; it must be a collective effort. With that comes the need to understand (and learn from) sustainability in other countries, therefore, having the opportunity to take classes like Politics of the Global Environment in the Political Science program will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of international policy and approaches to environmental issues in different countries, where they intersect and how they differ. 

I believe as global citizens it is crucial to approach learning from a global perspective as opposed to a nationalistic one; I believe UPenn will help me do just that. 

This essay does a very nice job of laying out what led this student to pursue politics and what they hope to get out of each opportunity at UPenn. We can see their strong sense of civic duty in the first paragraph when they discuss the excitement of protests, but telling us they feel “ frustrated in the weeks following a protest as the buzz dies down ” helps us understand their need to take things into their own hands.

When discussing different opportunities at Penn, this student chooses depth over breadth—describing why a small number of offerings are important to them and will be beneficial rather than providing a laundry list of items. For example, when they mention a class they are interested in, they elaborate by saying it “ bridges my interest in the environment with the very tangible effects of human-made and natural disasters .” Similarly, they demonstrate their forward-thinking approach when discussing global opportunities by noting their need to “ gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of international policy and approaches to environmental issues in different countries. “

Another positive aspect is how strong this student’s voice is throughout the essay. We see their passion and love for protesting at the beginning, they clearly express their position on representation in politics, and they inject a lot of humor into the paragraph about Philly. Having conviction and making an essay casual yet impactful is a hard balance to strike, but this student does a nice job of that. 

Although it’s important to not just focus on academic opportunities, students can sometimes make the mistake of writing about a city, rather than a school, when they discuss extracurriculars. The paragraph about the opportunities awaiting this student in Philly was great for including their personal voice, but it isn’t specific to Penn. 

Rather than making art galleries and cheesesteaks the primary focus of the paragraph, the student should have discussed a club or organization that is unique to Penn. Something related to climate justice would fit in nicely with the rest of their essay and would give the author the opportunity to further elaborate on what they hope to accomplish out of the classroom. They can still find a way to work in some humor, but it shouldn’t be the main aspect of the paragraph.

Essay #6: Dartmouth

Prompt: The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)

As a child, darkness meant nightmares, so I would pester my grandmother to tell me stories while the sun was trapped amongst silver hues. My religious grandmother would proceed to tell me about the Supreme Being in Hindu mythology, made of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Together, these Gods defined the cyclical nature of mortal existence through creation and destruction – life and death.

Although I found this idea interesting, each year in my life brought on a better understanding of these Gods’ purposes – I only had a certain number of years before I faced my life’s “destruction.”

My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters. I was a member of a motorcycle club, a terminally-ill teenager, and much more than what I could be in my physical life. Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own.

So, hello! I’m Navya – named after a star shining the night I was born. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with the idea that we each experience life only once before our own lives are destroyed, but books have helped me find a way to live thousands of lives. I am an aspiring author and want to write historical fiction books that cheat the Gods, who said that everything must be destroyed, because my characters will never fade. And all this happened because of my grandmother and her love of Hindu mythology. Mythology sparked a quest for me to find how I could get the most out of my life but my mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending. I have more lives to experience and more lives to write. 

This essay beautifully combines this student’s life story with their passion for physical stories. Connecting these two types of stories gives extra depth and nuance to the essay, showing this student’s ability to think creatively. The idea that her life story revolves around fictional stories shines through in sentences like: “ My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters .”

Our stories aren’t just comprised of the past though, and this essay does a great job of transitioning from the past to the future. Telling the reader “ Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own ” lets us appreciate how deeply engrained literature  is in this student’s personal story. The admissions officers reading this essay walk away knowing exactly what this student hopes to do one day and where the inspiration for that career came from. 

The idea of stories are woven throughout this essay, making it exceptionally well-connected. Although the beginning is meant to introduce a sense of fear at mortality this student encountered, it is done so through a story her grandmother told about her culture. Then the student explains the sanctuary and inspiration she found through famous stories, and finally it concludes with her describing the stories she will tell. Combined, all these pieces of mythology and literature form this student’s personal story.

The only real weakness in this essay is the conclusion. While it is well-written and nicely summarizes everything the author has explained, it doesn’t contribute anything new to the essay. The only new pieces of information the reader gains is that the student wants to “ write historical fiction books ” and that her “ mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending .”

To avoid redundancy, the conclusion could have been made stronger if it was simply focused on the future. Discussing this student’s aspirations to be a historical fiction writer—maybe including possible stories or time periods she dreams about—would have made the finale more focused and also have given the same amount of attention to the future of her story as she did the past and present. Then, the essay would chronologically follow this student’s life story from when she was young, to her current passion, to her future goals, allowing the reader to seamlessly see the progression, rather than having it restated for us. 

Essay #7: Columbia

Prompt: For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words)

The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.

After watching the program, I recited the foreign word until it was no longer unfamiliar—”profiler”. I stayed up all-night searching the meaning; my eyes sparkled with the dim light of the monitor as I read the tales of Pyo Chang Won and his Sherlock-like stories. From predicting the future of criminals and knowing the precise vicinity of a killer on the loose, he had saved countless lives; living in communities riddled with crimes in my youth then and even now, I dreamed of working against crimes. However, the traditional path of a lawyer or a police officer only reinforced the three-step cycle of arrest, trial, and jail which continued with no fundamental changes for years; I wanted to work with the psyche of criminals beyond courts and wondered about the inner workings of the mind. 

Such admiration and interest led me to invest my time in psychology. Combined with working with the likes of the Victim Witness Agency, I decided to pursue psychology as my major for my undergraduate education. Later on, I want to specialize my research and education on behavioral/forensic psychology and eventually branch out to my childhood dream of becoming a criminal profiler. 

A major positive of this essay is how it is focused on one moment in time. This student goes into depth about the night they first fell in love with criminal psychology which allows the reader to feel like they are there watching TV with the student and researching afterwards. Having the essay focus on a snapshot of the student’s life opens the door to include more imagery and delve into the internal monologue of the student, thus creating a more engaging and personable essay. 

The student’s genuine fascination for the topic is evident through what they show the reader. They explain that they stayed to finish the show after their parents left, they stayed up all night researching what they just learned, and their eyes sparkled the more they learned about criminal psychology. Providing all these details shows the student’s fascination and passion for this topic without them ever having to explicitly say they were excited about it. 

This essay also does a good job of expanding past the requirements of the prompt to explain what they hope to accomplish with their degree. Including their goals reinforced their passion to pursue this field to admissions officers. It also demonstrated that they are a goal-oriented person who wants to make a difference in the world.

One thing that could be improved in this essay is the grammar. There were a few sentences where there were either typos or just clunky sentences that could be tightened up. In order to catch grammatical errors, you should always give your essay to at least one other person to read. CollegeVine offers  essay reviews that allows students to receive feedback on the grammar, structure, and content of their essays. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes read your essay to catch mistakes that might go unnoticed by you. Having someone review this essay would have likely helped this student fix their grammatical errors.

Essay #8: Harvard

Prompt:   You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:  Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities.

A scream in the night.

In the town of Montagu, South Africa, the sun had set hours ago, leaving its place to a deep dark sky. Everything was peaceful and quiet. In a little lodge, a family of four people had just finished eating on a dimly lit terrace. The heat was so intense even the black silence seemed to suffocate – only a few crickets dared to break its density. The mother asked something to her daughter, who stood up, and bypassed the table. That’s when she screamed. An intense, long scream, that reverberated in the little town of Montagu.

How do I know that? It was me. 

Me, miserable as I had fallen down the terrace… into a plantation of cacti! I couldn’t move. I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body. The plants were engulfing me into the darkness. I was suffocating, trying to grasp some of the hot, heavy air. Until I felt her hand. My mom’s. 

She and my father organized this trip to South Africa. Valuing experiences more than material wealth, they liked to organize trips to foreign, far away countries. In addition to South Africa, I visited Cuba, Nepal and China. Four countries where landscapes and cities are dissimilar to France’s. Four countries that allowed me to discover numerous communities, recipes and traditions. Four countries where I met animals, plants and humans I had never seen before.

I am a city girl. As a little girl, I was never really fond of flora or fauna. However, during my trips, I was lucky to see animals in freedom and to interact with nature. A baboon broke into my car in South Africa and walked all over me – literally. I held an iguana in Cuba, did a safari in South Africa and talked with a parrot in Nepal. I saw the sun rising on the Machapuchare. I ultimately understood that all I had experienced was thanks to Nature. I realized its preciousness and its urgency to be saved. I gained proximity to the environment that I had always lacked. My blood turned green thanks to travels. 

In addition to animal discoveries, travels are encounter engines. From little to aged humans, from all genders, from everywhere, travels allowed me to meet incredible people. The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me in Ghorepani, Nepal. I had walked for seven hours that day, and was waiting for dinner, sitting on a bench. She slowly advanced towards me.

“What’s your name?” I asked the white figure in the obscurity.

The little girl stopped moving. Dark curly hair, dark deep eyes, white clothes covered in mud among the deep dark night. Our eyes locked in each other’s, the sound of our breathing floating in the dense silence, everything seemed to be suspended. After what felt like dozens of hours, she looked at me and silently walked away, a star in the ink black sky. 

Every person encountered made me grow. Some like the Nepalese little girl simply disrupted me, some opened my eyes on poverty, others opened my eyes on racism. Every person I met had a story to share, a fact to transmit. I visited an orphanage in a township in South Africa. The teacher, a frail and tiny woman, explained that racism was still so profound in the country that black and mixed race people were fighting to death in the neighbourhood. Centuries of abuse towards people of color, for children to pay the price, growing up parentless in the orphanage. The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem. Wet furrows appeared as raindrops were racing on every cheek:

‘Let us live and strive for freedom,

In South Africa our land.’

Traveling is ultimately a chance. It is an opportunity to understand the complexity of the world by getting close to it. Traveling allowed me to realize the differences between each country and region. But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world. Being away brought me closer to my home and my family and friends, my newspaper team, every community I’m involved in. Traveling represents a learning process. I integrated leadership and diligence in Nepal, watching children and old men transport wood on their back. Speaking foreign languages allowed me to acquire experience and put my theoretical skills to practise. I acquired a lot of adaptability through travels as part of their greatness comes from its unpredictability. Traveling truly enriches the intellect of those who have the chance to do it.

This is overall a delightful, very readable essay. The author starts with a dramatic hook to capture the reader’s attention, and they build on that initial story with vivid imagery like “ I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body. ” In general, the language is strong throughout the entire essay. Other beautiful gems include, “ The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem ” and, “ The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me. ” The author has a way with words, and they proudly demonstrate it in their response. 

In addition to strong imagery, the author also does a satisfactory job at answering the prompt. The open-ended question not only means that students could answer in a variety of ways, but also that it might be easy to fall into a trap of answering in an unrelated or uninteresting manner. The author here does a good job of directly answering the prompt by providing clear examples of their travels around the world. Their response also goes beyond merely listing experiences; rather, they tell stories and describe some of the notable people they have met along the way. By telling stories and adopting a whimsical tone that evokes the wanderlust of travel, they elevate the impact of their response. 

We also learn a fair amount about the author through their stories and personal reflections. We see that they are concerned about social justice through their retelling of the interactions in South Africa. We see them reflecting on the universal joys of singing and dancing: “ But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world. ” In the closing paragraph, we learn that they are adaptable and willing to undergo lifelong learning. Thus, another reason this essay shines is because it not only tells us what travels/experiences the author has engaged in, but it provides deeper introspection regarding how they have grown from these experiences.

While the essay is beautiful, and the fast-moving pace matches the feeling of seeing unfamiliar places for the first time, the narrative runs the risk of being too wide-ranging. The introductory story of falling onto a bed of cacti could warrant an entire essay unto itself, yet the author does not return to it anywhere else in their response. They missed an opportunity to bring the response full circle by ruminating on that once more in their conclusion. 

Another thing to be careful of is how the privilege inherent in international travel might cause the author to see the life through a certain lens. Although they remark upon how their family prioritizes experiences over material wealth, the fact is that extensive international travel relies on having material wealth to pay for costs like airfare and housing. It is important to demonstrate humility and awareness of privilege when responding to college essay prompts, and this is no exception. 

Where to Get Your Essays Edited 

At top schools like the Ivies, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision after you clear the academic thresholds. Why is this? Most students applying to the Ivy League will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.

After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to judge your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt. 

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

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60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications

Ideas to inspire every college applicant.

Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.

Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees. Every one of these questions is taken from real college applications for the 2023-2024 season, so they’re meaningful and applicable to today’s high school seniors.

Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts

2023-2024 coalition for college essay prompts, life experiences college essay prompts, personal college essay prompts, academics college essay prompts, creative college essay prompts.

Hundreds of colleges and universities use the Common App process . For many schools, this includes responding to one of several college essay topics, which can change each year. Here are the essay prompts for the current application cycle (check with your chosen school/s to see if an essay is required).

  • 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.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.- college essay prompts

  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process . Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024.

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Answer these questions by sharing specific examples from your own experience.

  • Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
  • Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
  • Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.

Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.- college essay prompts

  • Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
  • What are the best words of advice you have received? Who shared them, and how have you applied them in your own life?
  • Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
  • Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
  • Who do you agree with on the big, important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
  • Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
  • When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
  • Discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
  • Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

  • Describe a time you did not meet expectations and what impact the experience had on you.

These essay topics give schools a better sense of who you are, what you value, and the kind of student citizen you might be.

  • What drives you to create, and what do you hope to make or have you made?
  • Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or nonfiction) seems made for you? Why?
  • What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
  • How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?

How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?- college essay prompts

  • Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
  • What would you want to be different in your own country or community to further principles of equality, equity, or social justice?
  • What strength or quality do you have that most people might not see or recognize?
  • If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why?
  • What gives meaning to your life?
  • If you wrote a letter to yourself to be opened in 20 years, what would it say?
  • If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

  • Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  • What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
  • Explain how a text you’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literature of any kind—has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.

Topics like these show your academic interests and demonstrate your commitment to learning and discovery.

  • What does it mean to you to be educated?
  • What is your motivation for pursuing higher education?
  • Describe your reasons for wanting to attend the specific school you’re applying to. Who or what factored into your decision?
  • 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?

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?- college essay prompts

  • What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
  • If you decide to take a “gap year” between high school and college, what would you do during that time?
  • Many schools place a high value on diverse student populations. How can you contribute to and support a diverse and inclusive student population at your chosen school?
  • Imagine you were just awarded a research grant for a project of your choice. What are you researching and why?
  • What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

  • Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Use these college essay topics to show off your creativity and innovative thinking.

  • You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

  • Pick one person—a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual—to converse with for an hour, and explain your choice.
  • If you could witness a historic event (past, present, or future) firsthand, what would it be and why?
  • If you could have a theme song, what would it be and why?
  • Discuss a book that you would call a “great book.” What makes the book great in your view?
  • If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
  • If I could travel anywhere, I would go to …
  • My favorite thing about last Tuesday was …
  • Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.
  • If you had 10 minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your TED Talk be about?
  • What are your three favorite words in the English language? Explain what they mean to you.
  • Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?

Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?- college essay prompts

  • Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?
  • If you could create a college course that all students would take, what would it be about and why?
  • What website is the internet missing?

How do you help your students prepare their college application essays? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, check out  the ultimate guide to college scholarships.

Looking for writing ideas for your college application? These college essay prompts offer inspirational topics that let every student shine.

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Helping Students Pick a Unique College Admission Essay Topic

Many college admission essays are the same, but these exercises can help students find topics that make them stand out.

Teenager writing at his desk in his bedroom

“But my life is so boring!” “Nothing has ever happened to me!” 

My students are less than thrilled when I tell them they’ll be writing college application-style essays—those short, personal narratives intended to give admissions and scholarship committees insight into students’ unique qualities.

Like many high school teachers, I help my students prepare for the arduous college admission process by having them write application essays during their junior year. Many students struggle when told to write about themselves, complaining that their lives are ordinary and boring. Without guidance, many will choose to write about the same worn-out subjects: recovering from an injury, winning the big game, or learning how to drive. 

Students are surprised to hear that strong application essays often aren’t about universal big moments or extreme situations. Instead, an effective essay often depicts a small moment that offers a unique insight into the student’s experiences, personality, and values. A few simple exercises can help guide students to find novel essay topics. 

Brainstorming Possibilities

One strategy to generate topics is to instruct students to label a paper A–Z, and for each letter, they write a word or phrase with which they feel a connection. The connection needs to be substantial; they shouldn’t put “apple” for A solely because they occasionally eat the fruit for lunch. However, if apple picking is a long-standing family tradition, then “apple” could be a good choice. 

Most students gravitate toward tangible nouns: people (Amy, your boss at the sub shop), places (your camping trip in Arizona), and things (your first album). Encourage students to consider all parts of speech, including intangible nouns (adventure), adjectives (ambitious), and verbs (to attempt). 

After they finish their lists, students pick the three items that are most meaningful, and I ask for volunteers to share their ideas with the class. A peer sharing about tagging along to her mom’s office often reminds other students about their unique first-job experiences; another referencing the value of his sister during their parents’ messy divorce may inspire a student to write about her aunt’s impact on her life.

Another topic-generating exercise is to ask students to imagine that a documentary filmmaker will be making a movie of their life. What unique scenes would appear in the film? They cannot list a scene that would appear in their classmates’ movies unless their scene would offer a unique point of view on the experience. 

I encourage students to focus on scenes related to their relationships, such a story about their grandma teaching them how to make pierogis, or their passions, such as a narrative about writing their first Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Examining Model Texts

The internet is full of sample college application essays, but these often aren’t useful to my students because either they’re written with a level of artistry my students can’t match or they focus on extreme events like climbing Mount Everest. Instead, many of the students’ best ideas are inspired by their peers. 

I save excellent essays from previous years and, with the students’ permission, share them with my current classes. Reading a fantastic essay from a peer they can relate to often gives them encouragement in their own pursuit. In my classroom, there are two former students’ essays that I frequently share: one about donning a Speedo for the first time, and another about mulching a family member’s yard. I’ve had many students riff off these topics to create unique and engaging essays. Students are encouraged to write down any ideas inspired by reading models or hearing their friends’ ideas.

Clarifying the Topic

From the brainstorming activities, students should have six to eight ideas. For each idea, students should then ask three questions:

  • Is this topic specific to me? Is it one that no one else could write?
  • Is there a specific story I can tell?
  • Would this story reveal a positive quality about me to a college?

If a student cannot answer yes for each question, that topic should be eliminated. This process helps students narrow their topics to two to three potential ideas. I then conduct a one-to-two-minute individual conference with each student to narrow his or her ideas down to one. During this conference, I focus primarily on whether the student’s topic has specific narrative elements (characters, setting, conflict) and can be told within the confines of a short essay. My final question is always, “What about you will this essay ‘sell’ to an admissions committee?” Our goal is a unique, story-driven essay that illustrates in what way the student would contribute to an academic community.

Picking a good topic doesn’t guarantee a successful college application essay, but it is a crucial first step, and often the most difficult to accomplish. Because of that, teachers can play an important role in setting students up for success.

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19 College Essay Topics and Prompts

Not sure what to write for your college essay? We've got you covered with a number of topics and prompts to help shape your unique story.

[Featured image] A woman works on her college essay with a pen, notebook, and laptop computer.

As part of your college application materials, you'll likely be asked to submit a college essay. These tend to be between 250 and 650 words , and are a unique opportunity to showcase your personality. Admissions panels are typically looking for students who will positively represent the school as a whole. In the end, your goal is to show them that you and the college are a good match. 

When drafting your college essay, you may be expected to answer a prompt or come up with a topic on your own. In this article, we've rounded up several ideas to get you thinking—and writing.

19 college essay topics

Each school sets different requirements around the college essay, so it's important to review the expectations around every application you intend to submit. Some give you creative freedom, while others expect you to respond to a pre-developed prompt. Either way, a strong college essay conveys to the admissions team who you are, why you want to attend that particular school, and what matters to you. It's a way to personalize an application that often focuses on quantitative data, such as GPA and SAT scores.

If you're given the creative freedom to write about whatever you want, consider a college essay topic that allows you to be honest and original. We've compiled the following ideas to help you brainstorm:

What's an important issue you care about? How have you gotten involved?

Have you changed your mind about something in recent years? What was it and why?

What's a situation that caused you to grow?

Explain a time when you failed. What did you learn from that moment?

Share a surprising pastime or hobby and what interested you about it.

What extracurricular activity are you involved in that speaks to your personality?

Detail a meaningful volunteer experience.

Dive into a meaningful travel experience.

Who do you most admire and why?

If you have a unique background, share a bit about it. How did you get where you are?

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Was there ever a time when you had to stand up for something—or someone?

What's something you might change about the world to make it better?

What do you hope to accomplish by attending college?

Is there something you want to do after graduating college?

Have you ever made or created something? Talk about it.

Do you have a big idea that could potentially impact your community?

What is most valuable to you? Dive into your values and share an example.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

Pre-developed college essay prompts

Some colleges and universities will give you a series of prompts to choose from. These will vary from school to school, and can either be questions or statements. Here are a few examples of both.

Sample question prompts:

What excites your intellectual curiosity?

How has your upbringing shaped the person you are today?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Sample statement prompts:

Talk about an unusual circumstance in your life

Share how you hope to use your college education

Discuss a list of books you have read in the last year

Common App essay prompts

Common App is an online platform designed to simplify the college application process. Over 900 colleges use Common App, making it possible for you to fill out one application that's then submitted to multiple schools.

If you choose to complete the Common App, you'll have a choice of several distinctive prompts that change every academic year. Here's a sample of the 2022-2023 essay prompts [ 1 ]:

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

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Stick to the prompt.

No matter what type of prompt you receive, it's your job to stick to it. The admissions team has a lot of essays to read, so you'll have a better chance of standing out if you develop a cohesive response that stays on topic.

Start by identifying the prompt's main topic, then spend some time brainstorming to find the idea that resonates most with you. For many people, it's the topic that makes them feel some sort of emotion or reminds them of an entertaining story. Understanding what you're being asked to write about should make staying on topic throughout the entire composition easier.

5 additional college essay tips

Once you decide what you'd like to write, follow the tips below to craft a standout essay. You can also find more advice about college essays in our article College Essay Format: Writing and Editing Tips .

1. Be considerate with humor.

Showing off your sense of humor lets your personality show through your words and can make reading the essay more entertaining. Try including a few sentences that you think will bring a smile to the reader's face, or use adjectives to insert some colorful comedy.

2. Offer insight.

Beyond recounting an event, experience, or memory, a great essay shows insight aka an ability to highlight meaningful takeaways. For example, if you choose to write about your unique hobby, try to discuss what you've learned from that pastime—or how you've grown as a result of it.

3. Add details

Great essays also invite the reader to connect with the story on an emotional level. With that in mind, it can help to recount a specific memory rather than answer a prompt without those colorful details. More than discussing something on a surface level—or vaguely—you want to provide enough particulars to keep your readers engaged. For example, if you choose to write about the best advice you ever received, set the scene and take the reader back to that moment.

4. Have an editor.

Your essay should ideally be error-free. Ask a trusted friend or family member to review your essay and suggest edits. An editor can help you catch grammatical errors or points out ways to better develop your response.

Avoid passing your paper along to too many people, though, so you don't lose your own voice amid all of the edits and suggestions. The admissions team wants to get to know you through your writing and not your sister or best friend who edited your paper.

5. Revise your essay.

Your first draft is just that: a draft. Give yourself plenty of time to read and revise your first pass and make sure you fully developed your response, stayed on topic, and shared your personality.

When revising your essay, you may find it helpful to read it aloud so you hear the words as you're saying them. Some people prefer to print a copy on paper and write notes by hand. Both options give your brain a new way to process the information to catch details you may miss if you keep everything in your head and on the computer.

Watch to find out why the essay many admission counselor's favorite part of the application:

Next steps: Apply with confidence

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Article sources

Common App. " First-year essay prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/apply/essay-prompts." Accessed February 8, 2023.

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3 Examples of Unique and Successful College Essays

Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine Karydes

Lead admissions expert, table of contents, successful college essays.

Stay up-to-date on the latest research and college admissions trends with our blog team.

3 Examples of Unique and Successful College Essays

For some students, looking at examples of successful college essays is incredibly helpful during their application process. The reasons for this vary—for instance, to trigger inspiration, to provide context, or simply to understand more realistic benchmarks. What’s more, college essay examples can be instrumental in overcoming your writer’s block. If you’re stumped with where to start, know that many students spend a lot of time debating the topic of their essays for college applications. While your topic matters, it doesn’t matter as much as how you answer the question put before you. For students struggling to write their college essays, reading examples of unique and successful college essays can get you started.

As you read these, notice that all of these sample essays have a couple of key traits in common:

  • They are personable in tone.
  • They are well-written and contain few or no mistakes.
  • The reader understands who the author is as a person outside of their grades and scores.
  • They give the reader an emotional connection or reaction.
  • They provide context for the rest of the college application.

There are other traits that make these essays compelling and wonderful that we’ll discuss after each individual read. So while you’re reading for yourself, see if you can get a sense of what makes these unique and successful college essays!

If you have extra time or are looking for more college essay examples, each of these links will point you to a few more unique college essays. Empowerly’s Student Portal also contains a full archive of successful student college essays available to read. Reach out to our team to learn more!

1. “I wonder if Princeton should be poorer…”

Written by Shanti, for Princeton University.

This essay takes a risk by criticizing the very institution she’s applying to, but she does it well and manages to demonstrate thoughtful maturity! Additionally, you’ll notice that the length of this creative college essay allows Shanti to incorporate several different themes into her overall narrative. This approach might not translate to a shorter essay.

Throughout her points, Shanti demonstrates a deep understanding of Princeton’s offerings, from its professors to its endowments to its values. She references specific detail to support her broader points.

Furthermore, her personal thesis shows how emotions and education collide, and how the former can better the latter. Not to mention, she demonstrates an understanding of the world at large. This global scope is valuable.

Shanti’s writing is compelling to read. She employs a diverse vocabulary and varied syntax. Rich with sensory detail, the tone is also personable yet intellectual.

2. “ While the World Sleeps “

Written by Anonymous.

Ultimately, the reader understands who the author is and what they care about because of cross-country running. This is a relatively straightforward topic choice—if you have a hobby or sport that has significantly shaped your personality and/or goals, it’s probably great essay material!

As you know, essays are a great place to demonstrate characteristics about yourself , and this essay displays tenacity, commitment, and motivation. She includes specific insights about her experiences that make the writing original.

It further suggests what they might like to do in college, or what the author could offer the college as a student. The qualities of this student come through in her mental approach to the challenges and her strong internal locus of motivation to succeed, as well as her sense of discipline.

This essay captures the student’s voice and emotions very well. The hook of this essay sets a detailed scene with conflict and surprise. These elements draw the reader in! This is a medium-length essay, and the author makes use of the room.

3. “ Lifelong Learning “

Written by Rozanne, for Johns Hopkins University .

As one of the more creative college essays, Rozanne uses her hobby of crocheting as a metaphor for how she approaches life. By taking time to create a finished product, and having faith that the process can be messy at first, Rozanne parallels her crocheting to her education. This helps put her multi-disciplinary background of varied interests into context!

The details of what activities have caught her interest so far create a picture of a curious individual. The detail in her descriptions of crocheting, as well, demonstrates that she is genuinely dedicated to this craft.

Rozanne also looks forward to how she can thrive on a college campus. She knows that she will need to continue pushing outside her comfort zone, which is a very valuable trait in a college candidate.

It’s a wise move to write about activities that have shaped your personality as a student that AREN’T featured on your resume or activities section already! Rozanne was eager to introduce “other aspects of myself such as my hobbies (crochet, origami, and reading),” to help the admissions officer understand her better.

Final thoughts

Too many students try to answer essay questions head-on, but these essays demonstrate how you can show something greater about yourself. If you still feel stuck or are looking for more inspiration, you can always look up more sample successful college essays! After all, having a greater understanding of what works in a college essay and why it works can help spark your own creativity, which in turn will help you write a killer college essay. Hopefully these examples of successful colleges have provided you with a jump start.

If you’re looking for other ways to improve your essay drafts and bring them to the next level, Empowerly can help. For many students, gaining admission at a school of their choice is about standing out from the rest of the pile! A creative college essay can make a huge difference on the success of your overall application strategy. Not only can our counselors work with you one-on-one to develop the strongest ideas, our essay editing team will give you line-by-line feedback on how to improve. Don’t leave it up to chance—work with the experts.

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College apps can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. empowerly college counseling is in it with you., related articles.

Writing College Essays for Different Applications

Writing College Essays for Different Applications

How To Get Into Harvey Mudd College

How To Get Into Harvey Mudd College

Sophia Minhas

How to Write the NYU Supplemental Essay

Personal statements are an important part of your college application. Not only do they help personalize the admissions process, but they also allow you to stand out from your peers and leave a lasting impression. Many students are unsure how to write a good college essay and often wonder what to write their college essay on. 

If you are wondering how to write a good essay for college applications, read on! In this article, we will discuss components of a strong personal statement, as well as practical writing tips — such as how to write a college essay introduction.

What makes a good college essay?

A personal statement is not the same as your typical, 5-paragraph, high school essay. You do not need to include a formal thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph (in fact, you probably shouldn’t). Likewise, avoid using overly technical or intellectual language. Now is not the time to show off your SAT vocabulary! Instead, use your personal statement to communicate who you are as a person.

The best way to communicate who you are as a person is to infuse your language with personality. An effective personal statement should be memorable. College admissions officers want to gain a more thorough understanding of who you are; your personal statement is your opportunity to give them this opportunity. 

One of the most important tips for knowing how to write a good college application essay is to focus on cultivating your narrative voice. Showing the way that you think, using your standard vocabulary, and conveying warmth, honesty, and humor are great ways to cultivate a personal style and sense of overall voice. In short, when you are trying to focus on how to write a good essay for college applications, consider these five steps:

  • Choose a meaningful topic 
  • Write an engaging introductory paragraph
  • Cultivate a strong narrative voice
  • Be genuine and authentic
  • Reveal an important insight or lasting takeaway

unique college admissions essays

4 Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools

Click here to read more

How to choose your essay topic

Do not repeat information that can be found elsewhere in your application. Use every aspect of your college application as a unique opportunity to share something important about yourself. Sometimes students feel pressured to choose an “impressive” topic and use “impressive” vocabulary in their college essays. This is not necessary. Your SAT and ACT test scores, high school transcripts, and GPA will speak to your academic capabilities. Your college essay should speak to your passions, personality, and sensibilities. 

College essay topics that stand out

As you consider unique college essay topics and college essay topics that stand out, review these four winning college essay examples . Reviewing various college essay topic examples and successful sample essays is an important step to take while brainstorming. 

The most important thing to remember when thinking about creative college essay topics is that how you write about the topic is just as important as the topic itself. Many successful essays discuss seemingly unremarkable topics in remarkable ways. For example, you might choose to write about your passion for theater in an essay that features stage directions. 

In short, it’s okay if you don’t have an extraordinary topic, such as spending the summer with your grandmother in Argentina and learning her secret family recipes. As long as your topic is meaningful to you and you try to find an engaging, unique way to approach your topic, your personal essay will likely be successful.

College essay topics to avoid

  • Romantic relationships
  • Illegal activities/bad judgment​
  • Sports cliches​

unique college admissions essays

When considering college essay topics to write about, you will also want to avoid trying to tell your entire life story. Pick a small piece and focus on that. After all, this is a brief essay.

Personal statement writing tips

Personal statements are an important admissions factor. Give yourself plenty of time to write several drafts and think deeply about the prompts. Here are some important writing tips to consider while writing your personal statement.

  • Start your essay early
  • Write several drafts
  • Seek feedback from teachers, peers, and mentors
  • Focus on organization, transitions, sentence fluency, and narrative voice
  • Make sure your essay is clear and easy to follow
  • Choose a meaningful topic and explain why it is meaningful
  • Summarize key points in your conclusion, while also ending with something unique and memorable
  • Always proofread!

Remember, it is important to focus on writing a strong, compelling introduction and a meaningful, conclusive final paragraph. 

How to write about yourself

What makes a great college essay? There are lots of answers to this question. One of the most important factors to consider, however, when crafting a successful personal statement, is learning how to write a good college essay about yourself . Sometimes it can feel awkward or intimidating to write about yourself.

First, take plenty of time to reflect on the essay prompt. Take notes, write down your stream of consciousness, and discuss the topic with people you trust. Do your best to write the way you speak. You might even want to try brainstorming out loud so you can reflect on your natural voice and tone before you sit down to write the essay. The most important thing is to be thoughtful and genuine. There is no one right way to write about yourself, just as there is no one right way to be yourself.

Write several drafts and ask trusted individuals — such as your parents, peers, high school guidance counselors, and/or teachers — if the essay sounds like you. This will be a good indicator of whether your essay requires further revisions.

How to write a good “why this college” essay

Now that we’ve discussed how to write a college narrative essay, as well as what makes a good university essay, let’s focus on one of the most popular supplemental essay prompts: Why this college? There are lots of factors to consider when focusing on how to write a good “why this college” essay . Some of the most important ones are listed below:

  • Research your college carefully
  • Become knowledgeable about: your academic program, affiliated internships, research and study abroad opportunities, campus culture, etc.
  • Have lots of clear, compelling reasons why you want to attend
  • Discuss your goals for the future and how the college will help you reach these goals
  • Explain how you are a good fit
  • Explain how you will contribute to the overall campus culture

It’s important to use lots of specific details in this essay. Show that you have properly researched the school by sharing specific programs and opportunities that excite you and tie into your overall academic and professional goals. This is also a great opportunity to show why you would thrive at this particular school and what you would contribute to the school and campus culture. 

Key takeaways and moving forward

There are lots of components involved when one considers what makes a good college essay. Most notably, you want to cultivate a strong narrative voice while discussing a meaningful topic. Be genuine and authentic. You don’t need to select an “impressive” essay topic that you don’t care about to stand out. Stand out by demonstrating your passion and personality.

If you are struggling with any part of the college application process, or feel you could benefit from professional attention, reach out to learn more about our services . Similarly, if you are set on attending an Ivy League college , many students work carefully alongside a college counselor as they prepare their college application materials.

  • June 24, 2022
  • College Admissions , Personal Statement

Components of a Strong Personal Statement: How to Write a Unique College Essay

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University of Bridgeport News

what to write a college essay about

How to Write a College Admissions Essay

Whether you are a student applying to college or a parent seeking to help their child , the college admissions process is filled with challenges and excitement as students and parents prepare for the next two to four years.

Colleges and universities look at various factors when admitting students, such as high school grade point averages (GPA), extracurricular activities, test scores, and college essays, which can be the tipping point in favor of a student’s admission.

These college essays, along with letters of recommendation, allow students to distinguish themselves from other students and show admissions teams why they should be accepted into their chosen school and program.

Let’s discuss what an admissions essay is, as well as six tips on how to write an admissions essay.

What is an Admissions Essay?

College admissions essays are essays or personal statements that students must write as part of their college application.

Students can showcase and share their personality, goals, and why they are an excellent fit for the school or program they are applying to. This essay is the perfect opportunity for students to introduce themselves to the admission committee by sharing who they are and what they believe. Students can also highlight their academic achievements, strengths, and other personal aspects about themselves and their lives.

In turn, admissions committees reading college essays can distinguish and remember qualified and memorable candidates over potentially forgettable ones. While each college or university will differ in whether they require an essay or personal statement, students are strongly encouraged to submit one to help strengthen their application overall.

Six Tips for Writing a College Essay

College essays are the perfect opportunity to speak about yourself as a person and more than a student, as they go beyond what grades and transcripts can show.

While thinking of what will “wow” the reader can be challenging, students can write a compelling college admissions essay with preparation, support, and the following tips.

Tip #1: Start Early

Students will need first to research when their college applications and admissions essays are due, whether on a specific due date or on a rolling basis. Keep in mind that the earlier students submit, the better likelihood they will be considered for grants and scholarships.

Now that they know the deadline, students can start planning by creating a timeline of when they will need to write an outline, write the college essay, edit, have others proofread, and re-write to implement any changes or suggestions.

Starting early and planning for each stage of the writing process will ensure you have enough time to write your essay without rush or extra stress. Generally speaking, a month is a great goal, but applicants should be honest with themselves and their writing ability so that they can give themselves as much time as possible to do their best work.

Tip #2: Understand the Prompt

Before writing one word, students should make sure they have read the instructions, prompt, and formatting requirements multiple times and understand what the college wants from them.

Not only is the college essay the perfect time to highlight you as a person and student, but following the instructions can show admissions professionals your attention to detail and ability to follow directions.

In addition to the prompt itself, pay attention to the following instructions and requirements:

  • Word count minimums and maximums
  • Questions or themes the essay wants applicants to address
  • Font choice
  • Margin size

Tip #3: Develop a Strong Opener

The opener is one of the trickiest and most essential parts of the college admissions essay. A strong opener will encourage and excite the reader to keep reading, whereas a weak opener will discourage them from reading further or feel like the essay is uninteresting, weakening a student’s chances of being accepted.

Thus, students must choose a topic they are passionate about and dedicate more time to the opening paragraph of their essay, as it sets the tone for the rest of the essay. Writing an essay about a subject or topic that means something will also generate more authenticity and enthusiasm, making it enjoyable for the student and reader.

Start your essay with a bold statement, descriptive scene, thoughtful quote, or question that will pique the reader’s interest and present them with a strong thesis statement as to the purpose of your essay.

Tip #4: Stay on Topic

Similarly, students should be cautious of filling their essay with their entire life story or talking in circles, especially when writing many college applications and college admissions essays.

Make sure you fully understand each essay prompt. Because while it is tempting to repurpose one college admissions essay to fit another topic, it often makes essays feel generic or confusing.

Instead, give yourself enough time to write distinct, unique, and compelling essays for each application with specific details and examples pertaining to that topic or subject.

Tip #5: Show, Don’t Tell

One of the biggest mistakes students make when deciding what and how to write an admissions essay is telling the reader what happened rather than showing them.

What we mean by this is instead of telling what happened or sharing a list of accomplishments or activities, set the scene with an opening hook or bold beginning and provide personal anecdotes of how you felt as the events in your story played out. Common themes and story ideas may involve:

  • Awkward situations
  • Difficult decisions
  • Overcoming challenges or situations
  • Moments of bravery and inspiration

Tip #6: Be Unique

College admissions essays are not the time to pick a generic topic or subject. Instead, use them to share your specific, unique, and one-of-a-kind experience and point of view. Write the subject from an entirely new perspective that inspires you, not what you think the admissions team wants to hear.

Don’t be afraid to share a time where you lost and how that impacted you, or share a moment where you had to make a tough decision or answer a challenging question. While it’s common to write about sports or volunteer-related obstacles or success, implement a fresh approach and perspective.

Students should share what matters to them and maximize who they are rather than minimize their experiences and accomplishments. Declare yourself in a vibrant, compelling, and unique way that will convince the college you are applying to that you are who they want in a student.

While college admissions essays are merely one piece of the college application process puzzle, they are often understood as the most essential element. Since admission essays allow students to showcase who they are beyond numbers and data.

Visit University of Bridgeport’s site to learn which programs encourage students to write an essay as part of their application .

The Washington Post

Can ChatGPT get into Harvard? We tested its admissions essay.

ChatGPT’s release a year ago triggered a wave of panic among educators. Now, universities are in the midst of college application season, concerned that students might use the artificial intelligence tool to forge admissions essays.

But is a chatbot-created essay good enough to fool college admissions counselors?

To find out, The Washington Post asked a prompt engineer — an expert at directing AI chatbots — to create college essays using ChatGPT. The chatbot produced two essays: one responding to a question from the Common Application, which thousands of colleges use for admissions, and one answering a prompt used solely for applicants to Harvard University.

We presented these essays to a former Ivy League college admissions counselor, Adam Nguyen, who previously advised students at Harvard University and read admissions essays at Columbia University. We presented Nguyen with a control: a set of real college admissions essays penned by Jasmine Green, a Post intern who used them to get into Harvard University, where she is currently a senior.

We asked Nguyen to read the essays and spot which ones were produced by AI. The results were illuminating.

Can you figure out which one was written by a human?

Computer science and college admissions experts say that AI created essays have some easy tells — helpful for admissions offers who are prepping for an uptick in ChatGPT-written essays.

Responses written by ChatGPT often lack specific details, leading to essays that lack supporting evidence for their points. The writing is trite and uses platitudes to explain situations, rather than delving into the emotional experience of the author. The essays are often repetitive and predictable, leaving readers without surprise or a sense of the writer’s journey. If chatbots produce content on issues of race, sex or socioeconomic status, they often employ stereotypes.

At first, Nguyen was impressed by the AI-generated essays: They were readable and mostly free of grammatical errors. But if he was reviewing the essay as part of an application package, he would’ve stopped reading.

“The essay is such a mediocre essay that it would not help the candidate’s application or chances,” he said in an interview. “In fact, it would probably diminish it.”

Here is how Nguyen evaluated ChatGPT’s essay.

Nguyen said that while AI may be sufficient to use for everyday writing, it is particularly unhelpful in creating college admissions essays. To start, he said, admissions offices are using AI screening tools to filter out computer-generated essays. (This technology can be inaccurate and falsely implicate students, a Post analysis found .)

But more importantly, admissions essays are a unique type of writing, he said. They require students to reflect on their life and craft their experiences into a compelling narrative that quickly provides college admissions counselors with a sense of why that person is unique.

“ChatGPT is not there,” he said.

Nguyen understands why AI might be appealing. College application deadlines often fall around the busiest time of the year, near winter holidays and end-of-semester exams. “Students are overwhelmed,” Nguyen said.

But Nguyen isn’t entirely opposed to using AI in the application process. In his current business, Ivy Link, he helps students craft college applications. For those who are weak in writing, he sometimes suggests they use AI chatbots to start the brainstorming process, he said.

For those who can’t resist the urge to use AI for more than just inspiration, there may be consequences.

“Their essays will be terrible,” he said, “and might not even reflect who they are.”

About this story

Jasmine Green contributed to this report.

The Washington Post worked with Benjamin Breen, an associate professor of history at the University of California in Santa Cruz who studies the impact of technological change, to create the AI-generated essays.

Editing by Karly Domb Sadof, Betty Chavarria and Alexis Sobel Fitts.

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

College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't

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

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

Table of contents

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

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

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

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

How My Five Senses Record My Life

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

“Chinese! Japanese!”

My classmate pulls one eye up and the other down.

“Look what my parents did to me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word count: 455

College essay checklist

Topic and structure

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

Writing style and tone

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

Making Sense of My Identity

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

First, the Sight Exhibit.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

“Look what my parents did to me!”

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

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

Next, you’ll encounter the Sound Exhibit.

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

Just below, enter the Smell Exhibit.

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

Next up, the Touch Exhibit.

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

Finally, we end with the Taste Exhibit.

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

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

Word count: 649

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

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word count: 408

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

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

My broken ankle broke my spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word count: 512

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

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

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

Man’s Best Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word count: 701

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

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

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

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

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

Word count: 617

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

Academic writing

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  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

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  • Ms, mrs, miss
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  • I hope this email finds you well
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 Parts of speech

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A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College admissions trends: ai, college essays and going international.

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Arush Chandna is the co-founder of Quad Education .

Last year was a landmark year for college admissions. The Supreme Court’s end on affirmative action took center stage and conjured up the most confusion and uncertainty among colleges and students alike. But the year was also marked by other key developments—the first-ever rise in undergraduate enrollment since the pandemic, a dramatic bump in early admissions, finally ending the year with a thud—a series of events leading to the ousting of Harvard University President Claudine Gay on January 2, 2024.

With these developments at the altar, 2024 is looking no less than a beast of a year for college admissions. After all, it will be the first year where applications go through the admissions process without affirmative action. And other trends too will either make an entry or continue to have a significant impact this year. Let’s find out what’s in store in 2024.

Colleges And Universities Warming Up To AI

With the onset of AI, one of the biggest concerns was students using it to whip up their college application essays. But at the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing an increasing number of colleges and universities using AI in their admissions review process. In 2023, 50% of admissions offices in higher education reported using AI for reviewing applications, according to a survey from Intelligent . For 2024, 80% of officials in higher education said they would integrate AI into their review process this year. What’s AI being used for? Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Pennsylvania developed a “ series of artificial intelligence tools that can scan through essays in college applications, picking out evidence of key personal traits.” These may include leadership and perseverance. According to the co-author of the study, these tools are not currently deployed at any institution but when done under the right conditions, have the potential to recognize applications that might have all the required traits but can still go unnoticed when evaluated by humans.

Those currently using AI, according to the Intelligent survey, report using it for reviewing transcripts and recommendation letters. Other popular reasons for using AI are reviewing personal statements, weeding out student essays written by AI, and conducting preliminary interviews with applicants. This confidence in using AI in admissions grew even in the short time between early and late 2023. So, it might be safe to say that admissions officials will continue to get comfortable with using AI while still having some reasonable ethical concerns.

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Universities can include an ethical component in the AI courses/curriculum, using an interdisciplinary method to ensure some semblance of rigor and an organized approach to this relatively new technology. Universities can partner with the government and industry to incorporate federal/industrial guidelines that should be implemented across all AI developments in the education space.

Students Striving To Write More Authentic Essays

The Supreme Court’s ruling to end affirmative action has caused a great deal of consternation among people of color in the nation. While there is no box to tick on applications anymore, students are left wondering if they should talk about race at all in their essays. As for university leaders, it means that they have to work harder to ensure a diverse campus—one that is reflective of real-time America. One way to do this for universities is to focus on varied aspects of the application to get a holistic picture—leadership, extracurricular activities, academics, community service and so on. At my company, even before the Supreme Court’s decision, we have encouraged students to represent their most authentic selves in their essays. What that means is if a student’s race, religion or culture has influenced who they are today, they should write about it but never lean on it as a sole indicator of any trait or quality. For example, if a student did not learn English in school and took the onus of teaching themselves to the level where they are an award-winning debater today, they must talk about it without worrying whether it provides an insight into their race because it highlights magnificent qualities valued by admissions officials.

Colleges and universities should consider including supplemental questions that spur this thinking among students and allow them to evaluate students holistically.

American Students Looking Outward

Many of our admissions consultants have recently observed an increased interest among students to explore destinations like Europe for their higher education—the reasons being a parallel academic experience at a fraction of the cost, reach and the added element of adventure. For example, while an undergraduate degree at Harvard costs a whopping $54,269 annually, Cambridge University’s tuition ranges from £25,734 to £39,162 annually . Students also save one year’s worth of tuition, as programs are typically three years long compared to four years in the U.S. Cambridge’s acceptance rate is also higher than Harvard’s 3% at 10%.

U.S. higher education must address the numbers of students who are defecting to colleges and graduate programs outside of the U.S. by determining if it is due to the higher costs of education or due to the perceived quality of higher education in the U.S. This research should/must include an assessment of relative cost to value: What is a degree worth when compared with the cost of paying off loans, etc. And how are global institutions keeping their costs competitive. Second, if the deflection is due to high costs, our U.S. campuses must work with the government to subsidize the cost of public colleges and universities while also ensuring that the degrees granted at each institution will provide a career path that will make students self-sufficient upon graduation.

Final Thoughts

In my experience as the founder of an ed tech business, I can say that college admissions never fails to excite. Tasked with the job of shaping students’ futures, this industry is constantly developing and presenting exhilarating challenges. Since the pandemic, many developments in this space have been monumental and will most likely continue to be so in the coming years. This year is promising to be another mega year with trends like a deeper integration of AI, thought-provoking college essays, the many implications of the end of affirmative action, students’ ever-intriguing aspirations around what they seek from the college experience and many more. It’s a year to watch out for.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

Arush Chandna

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Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that taking race into consideration in college admissions was unconstitutional, but the court left room for applicants to write about their race in admissions essays. College advisors have told us they’re encouraging applicants to discuss their communities and identities with universities. 

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Will Students for Fair Admissions End Affirmative Action?

unique college admissions essays

Scholars predict that colleges may continue affirmative action practices despite contrary Supreme Court decision.

A student “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” So wrote U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts last June in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard ( SFFA ), a case that functionally overturned decades of precedent permitting schools to consider race in college admissions.

But will SFFA stop schools from engaging in race-based affirmative action?

It may not, argue Guha Krishnamurthi , professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law , and Peter N. Salib , professor at the University of Houston Law Center , in a recent article .

Krishnamurthi and Salib assert that SFFA could have little practical effect on admissions policies because of other, older Supreme Court cases, such as Washington v. Davis and McCleskey v. Kemp . The Court held in these cases that only direct evidence of an intent to discriminate can establish a claim for unlawful discrimination. Under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Krishnamurthi and Salib emphasize , plaintiffs must show more than a statistical overrepresentation in admitted students from any one racial group to prove discrimination. They contend that only schools that admit to engaging in affirmative action would be liable under existing precedent.

In SFFA, the Court held that the race-conscious admissions policies used by Harvard College and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill violated the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI. Although the Court stopped short of expressly overruling precedents that authorized race-conscious admissions policies, Krishnamurthi and Salib explain that both the majority and dissenting opinions “strongly suggest that the holding functionally accomplishes exactly that.”

The decision’s critics assert that SFFA will spell the end of affirmative action and undermine racial equality in education. Krishnamurthi and Salib, however, predict that SFFA is unlikely to eliminate—or even decrease—the use of race-conscious admissions programs.

Although after SFFA affirmative action is now illegal, the decision permits schools to admit students according to what Krishnamurthi and Salib call “multifactorial, discretionary, and ultimately obscure criteria.” In addition, schools may still invite an applicant to discuss how “race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” Indeed, Harvard has announced plans to do exactly that, Krishnamurthi and Salib point out .

Despite the Court’s insistence that schools may not use application essays to circumvent SFFA’s ruling, furthermore, Krishnamurthi and Salib predict that schools that engage in affirmative action in this way may avoid liability. Krishnamurthi and Salib explain that because admissions decisions are based on holistic assessments of applicants, schools easily can obscure the use of race in a particular admissions decision. In fact, Krishnamurthi and Salib note that the multi-year SFFA litigation failed to uncover that schools made any individual admissions decision on the basis of race.

Although Krishnamurthi and Salib concede that statistical evidence may demonstrate that a school has systemically used affirmative action, they assert that any such demonstration is legally irrelevant.

Under Davis and McCleskey , Krishnamurthi and Salib explain , statistical evidence that a challenged practice resulted in a racially disparate impact alone cannot establish a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. A plaintiff alleging such a violation must provide direct evidence of an intent to discriminate.

In Davis, two Black applicants to the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia alleged that the Department’s application exam was racially discriminatory because four times as many Black applicants failed the verbal exam as did white applicants. The Court held that evidence of a racially disparate impact could not on its own establish a constitutional violation, Krishnamurthi and Salib explained . Rather, the plaintiffs needed to demonstrate that the Department had acted with an intent to discriminate.

In McCleskey, the Court rejected a Black death row inmate’s claim that statistical evidence demonstrated that Black defendants were sentenced to death more frequently than white defendants. Krishnamurthi and Salib note that the Court in McCleskey reinforced Davis by holding that a party alleging an equal protection violation must demonstrate that “the decision-makers … acted with discriminatory purpose.” The Court also emphasized that statistical evidence alone cannot support an inference that the decision-makers in a particular case acted with discriminatory purpose.

Krishnamurthi and Salib describe how later cases have applied the same principles announced in Davis and McCleskey to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by any program or activity receiving federal funding and, unlike the Equal Protection Clause, applies to private schools. Accordingly, a plaintiff alleging that a school’s admissions policy violates Title VI must provide “direct proof of discriminatory intent,” just as if they were alleging a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Krishnamurthi and Salib clarify .

Krishnamurthi and Salib note that progressives have long condemned Davis and McCleskey as roadblocks to racial equality—precedents that have allowed government officials to carry out systemic racial discrimination.

But Krishnamurthi and Salib contend that SFFA has turned the tables. They predict that even though Davis and McCleskey may have been once “a thorn in the side of progressive impact litigators,” the cases may soon “be a curse on conservative opponents of affirmative action” by opening the door broadly to legal challenges of racially unequal programs, including traditionally progressive targets like criminal punishment.

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    Published on October 25, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on July 3, 2023. A strong essay topic sets you up to write a unique, memorable college application essay. Your topic should be personal, original, and specific. Take time to brainstorm the right topic for you.

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    The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars. What do colleges look for in an essay?

  10. 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

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

  11. 10 College Admissions Essay Ideas to Inspire You

    Many colleges require at least one short essay about yourself to showcase your writing abilities and to see your unique, individual personality. Most essays require a range of 250-650 words, but it varies between each college. Some colleges also have you choose your own topic, while others have you select one (or more) from a list.

  12. How to Make Your College Essay Stand Out

    An exceptionally written essay will stand out from the crowd, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it. To write a standout essay, you can use literary devices to pull the reader in and catch their attention. Literary devices often complement each other and can be woven together to craft an original, vivid, and creative ...

  13. 8 Strong Ivy League Essay Examples

    Prompt: Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay. (250-650 words) "One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we ...

  14. 35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts

    Use your essays to empower your chances of acceptance, merit money, and scholarships.". This college essay tip is by Dr. Rebecca Joseph, professor at California State University and founder of All College Application Essays, develops tools for making the college essay process faster and easier. 15. Get personal.

  15. 4 Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools

    College essay example #2. This second essay was submitted to Hamilton College during the 2021 college admissions cycle: I dreaded their arrival. The tyrannical cicadas swarmed DC and neighboring areas in 1987, 2004, and again in 2021. I was freaking about Brood X, the worst of them all.

  16. 60+ College Essay Prompts for 2023-2024 Applicants

    Aug 28, 2023 Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees.

  17. Helping Students Pick a Unique College Admission Essay Topic

    Students are surprised to hear that strong application essays often aren't about universal big moments or extreme situations. Instead, an effective essay often depicts a small moment that offers a unique insight into the student's experiences, personality, and values. A few simple exercises can help guide students to find novel essay topics.

  18. 19 College Essay Topics and Prompts

    As part of your college application materials, you'll likely be asked to submit a college essay. These tend to be between 250 and 650 words, and are a unique opportunity to showcase your personality.Admissions panels are typically looking for students who will positively represent the school as a whole.

  19. 3 Examples of Unique and Successful College Essays

    February 22, 2017 Reading time: 5 min Essays Successful College Essays For some students, looking at examples of successful college essays is incredibly helpful during their application process. The reasons for this vary—for instance, to trigger inspiration, to provide context, or simply to understand more realistic benchmarks.

  20. Components of a Strong Personal Statement: How to Write a Unique

    An effective personal statement should be memorable. College admissions officers want to gain a more thorough understanding of who you are; your personal statement is your opportunity to give them this opportunity. One of the most important tips for knowing how to write a good college application essay is to focus on cultivating your narrative ...

  21. 21 College Essay Topics & Ideas That Worked

    Here's a list of essay topics and ideas that worked for my one-on-one students: Essay Topic: My Allergies Inspired Me. After nearly dying from anaphylactic shock at five years old, I began a journey healing my anxiety and understanding the PTSD around my allergies. This created a passion for medicine and immunology, and now I want to become ...

  22. How to Write a College Admissions Essay

    Tip #6: Be Unique. College admissions essays are not the time to pick a generic topic or subject. Instead, use them to share your specific, unique, and one-of-a-kind experience and point of view. Write the subject from an entirely new perspective that inspires you, not what you think the admissions team wants to hear.

  23. Can ChatGPT get into Harvard? We tested its admissions essay.

    We presented Nguyen with a control: a set of real college admissions essays penned by Jasmine Green, a Post intern who used them to get into Harvard University, where she is currently a senior ...

  24. College Essay Examples

    Essay 1: Sharing an identity or background through a montage This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student's identity and background. The writer builds her essay around the theme of the five senses, sharing memories she associates with sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

  25. College Admissions Trends: AI, College Essays And Going ...

    Last year was a landmark year for college admissions. The Supreme Court's end on affirmative action took center stage and conjured up the most confusion and uncertainty among colleges and ...

  26. Did your college application essay mention race? Talk to us about it

    Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that taking race into consideration in college admissions was unconstitutional, but the court left room for applicants to write about their race in admissions essays. College advisors have told us they're encouraging applicants to discuss their communities and identities with universities.

  27. Will Students for Fair Admissions End Affirmative Action?

    A student "must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race." So wrote U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts last June in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (SFFA), a case that functionally overturned decades of precedent permitting schools to consider race in college admissions.. But will SFFA stop schools from engaging in race-based ...

  28. Yale adopts "test-flexible" admissions policy

    The policy will go into effect next admissions cycle. A statement emailed to Inside Higher Ed and posted publicly early Thursday morning explained that after four years of test-optional policies, which Yale adopted alongside the vast majority of colleges at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, university officials saw both the benefits of test ...