College Essay Examples, Why They Worked, and Essay Tips

examples of college admissions essays

College Essay Examples, Why They Worked, and Essay Tips

Published July 21, 2023 | Last Updated April 20th, 2024 at 03:51 pm

examples of college admissions essays

Your application essay is pivotal in distinguishing yourself from other candidates in the competitive college admissions landscape. College essays offer a unique opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and aspirations to admissions officers. 

This article explores why college essays matter, presents examples of successful college essays to inspire and guide you, and provides tips for writing yours.

Why College Essays Matter

College essays can make you stand out from the crowd. College admissions officers review countless applications, and a well-crafted essay can help you leave a lasting impression.

While your grades and extracurricular activities provide valuable information, your essay offers a glimpse into your character, values, and potential contributions to the campus community. It allows you to showcase your individuality and make a personal connection with the admissions committee.

Admissions officers seek essays demonstrating your ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and present who you are. They seek a compelling narrative showcasing your self-awareness, maturity, and growth. Additionally, they want to see evidence of your passion, intellectual curiosity, and unique perspective. You can tailor your essay to meet their expectations by understanding what admissions officers seek.

How to Use Essay Examples Effectively

When writing college essays, some people debate whether it’s helpful or not to read other students’ college application essay examples for inspiration.

It’s worthwhile to read essay examples ONLY if there’s a critique of what worked or didn’t work in the essay. Otherwise, reading other students’ essays can be confusing since you won’t know if it was their style, topic, or approach that worked with admissions officers.

Helpful College Application Essay Examples

In particular, we’re huge fans of Johns Hopkins articles on “Essays That Worked,” since admission officers detail why they thought the college admission essay examples were effective.

Also included is some general advice on answering the “Why This College” essay, as it’s important for students to explain why a particular school can be a good fit for them.

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

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).

How to Write a Strong College Essay

Do your research first. Review examples that explain why the essay worked. Reflect on that, and then choose your topic. It should reflect your core values and make you stand out from the crowd. Be specific. Use details, not vague generalities. Finally, edit and proofread.

Here are the details on how to write a standout college essay:

  • Review examples and why they succeeded: Use the above examples for precisely this reason. They explain why they worked. Without explanations, it’s too easy to get confused.
  • Pick a meaningful topic: Choose one that is meaningful to you and allows you to showcase your personality, values, or experiences. Consider significant moments, challenges you’ve overcome, or transformative experiences that have shaped your outlook on life. Selecting a topic that resonates with you will make it easier to convey your emotions and capture the reader’s attention.
  • Keep the focus on you: While it’s important to mention external experiences or people that have influenced you, remember that the essay should primarily focus on your own thoughts, reflections, and growth. The admissions officers want to understand who you are and how you navigate the world. Be introspective and demonstrate self-awareness throughout your essay.
  • Use specific details and examples: General statements can dilute the impact of your essay. Instead, use vivid descriptions, specific examples, and anecdotes to illustrate your points. By providing concrete details, you paint a vivid picture that engages the reader and helps them understand your experiences more deeply.
  • Reveal something unique about yourself: Admissions officers read countless essays, so it’s crucial to stand out. Highlight your distinctive qualities, perspectives, or skills that make you unique. Avoid clichés and focus on what sets you apart from other applicants. Show your passion, originality, and authenticity.
  • Tell a story: Craft your essay as a compelling narrative that captivates the reader from beginning to end. Engage the reader with a powerful opening, maintain their interest through a well-structured middle section, and leave a lasting impression with a memorable conclusion. A compelling story showcasing your personal growth or transformation will have a lasting impact.
  • Edit and proofread: Writing a strong essay is the first step; revising and proofreading are equally important. Review your essay for clarity, coherence, grammar, and spelling errors. Seek feedback from trusted teachers, mentors, or family members who can offer constructive criticism. Make sure your essay is polished and error-free before submitting it.

Other Resources

Look at Big Future‘s (via College Board) advice and answers to frequently asked college admissions essay questions.

And if professional help is needed, check out our 1:1 essay coaching sessions.

– Contributor Jackie Palochko contributed to this report.


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