College Essays That Work And Why

When writing college essays some people debate whether it’s helpful or not to read other students’ essays for inspiration. When it comes to college admissions essays, we think it’s worthwhile ONLY if there is a critique of what worked or didn’t work in the essay. Otherwise, reading other students’ essays can be confusing, not knowing if their style, topic, or approach worked with admissions officers.

Here’s a collection of some of the best advice we found online for writing college essays. In particular, we’re huge fans of Johns Hopkins articles on “Essays That Worked” since admissions officers detail why they thought the example essays were effective. Also included is some general advice on answering the “Why This College,” essay, as it is an important essay for students to explain why a particular school can be a good fit for them.

Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked

Tufts Essays That Worked  

You Be the Judge: Essay 1

You Be the Judge: Essay 2

How to Answer “Why This College?”Essay: Part 1

How to Answer “Why This College?”Essay: Part 2

How to Answer “Why This College?”Essay: Part 3

For the past 3 years, The New York Times invited students to share their college admissions essays on the topic of money, class, working and the economy, followed up with reaction and thoughts on the effectiveness of the essays by Ron Lieber. 

2013 essays and reaction: Standing Out From The Crowd

2014 essays and reaction: Four Standout College Essays About Money

2015 essays and reaction: Essays About Work and Class That Caught A College’s Eye

In summary, here are Lieber’s main points about why he liked these essays:

  • “They took brave and counterintuitive positions” on their topics.
  • They were all “talking openly” about issues that are “emotionally complex and often outright taboo.”
  • They had “an appetite for risk.” (One student wrote about the application process itself, a topic that is usually discouraged.)
  • They were bold (with their ideas, language and opinions).
  • They kept their edges (meaning, they didn’t allow parents or counselors or editors to over-edit their pieces and retained their unique, though sometimes rough, teenage voices).
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