How To Write a College Essay? Great College Application Essay Instructions. College Admission Essay Samples

How To Write a College Essay?

The college essay is an important component of the college application process. Most colleges require at least one essay from applicants, and several schools require two or three. We checked in with Jodi Then, High School Counselor at Boston Green Academy, to ask her advice on crafting the best college essay. Jodi has several years of experience guiding Massachusetts students through the college admissions process, and she offers some wise words (and great ideas) below.

You already know how to write an academic essay: you start with an introduction, throw in a thesis statement, find about three paragraphs’ worth of evidence, and wrap it all up with a tidy conclusion…

Here's the thing: your college application essay needs to breathe life into your application. It should capture your genuine personality, explaining who you are beyond a series of grades, test scores, and after-school activities. But that’s not nearly as scary as it seems, because you get to choose what to share and how to share it.

Take a minute and think about the college or university admission officers who will be reading your essay. How will your essay convey your background and what makes you unique? If you had the opportunity to stand in front of an admission committee to share a significant story or important information about yourself, what would you say? The college application essay is your chance to share your personality, goals, influences, challenges, triumphs, life experiences, or lessons learned. Not to mention why you're a good fit for the college or university—and why it's a good fit for you. These are the stories behind the list of activities and leadership roles on your application.   

So what does set you apart?

You have a unique background, interests and personality. This is your chance to tell your story (or at least part of it). The best way to tell your story is to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that has meaning for you. Be honest and genuine, and your unique qualities will shine through.

Admissions officers have to read an unbelievable number of college essays, most of which are forgettable. Many students try to sound smart rather than sounding like themselves. Others write about a subject that they don't care about, but that they think will impress admissions officers.

You don't need to have started your own business or have spent the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail. Colleges are simply looking for thoughtful, motivated students who will add something to the first-year class.

One of the most common struggles students encounter is resisting the urge to squeeze everything they’ve seen, done, and heard into their essay. But your application essay isn’t your life story in 650 words. Instead, pick one moment in time and focus on telling the story behind it.

Timeline for Writing Your Essay

  1. Start freewriting about your essay topic—brainstorm without self-judgement.
  2. Pick a topic/thesis/statement that addresses the application question.
  3. Write a draft and let it sit for a week.
  4. Go back to edit it. Cut mercilessly.
  5. Show this draft to your college English teacher, your counselor, your Transfer Center director, or a relative who will be brutally honest. Ask this reader if your essay sounds like you, is interesting to read, wanders off the topic anywhere, and is vivid and coherent.
  6. Rewrite it.
  7. Show it to your readers again.
  8. Now you probably have something good. Mail it.

How to Pick a College Essay Topic

The first, and sometimes most daunting, step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.

There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.

The essay isn't a complete autobiography, says Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.
Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are or illustrates an aspect of their background.

Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.

What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.

So, no matter what topic students choose, they'll ultimately be writing about themselves, says Ethan Sawyer, founder of the College Essay Guy website which offers free and paid essay-writing resources. "What we think of as the topic is just the frame or the lens that we're using to get into other parts of you."

If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What do you think differentiates me?" Or, "What are my quirks?"

The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say. So students should ensure they're writing about something that isn't mentioned elsewhere in their application, perhaps in the activities section, or expand greatly on the topic if it is noted elsewhere.

Admission officers realize that writing doesn’t come easily to everyone, but with some time and planning, anyone can write a college application essay that stands out. One way to do that is to work step-by-step, piece-by-piece. The end result should be a carefully designed, insightful essay that makes you proud. Take advantage of being able to share something with an audience who knows nothing about you and is excited to learn what you have to offer. Brag. Write the story no one else can tell.

Preparing to Write Your College Essay

The old saying goes, “Those who fail to prepare prepare to fail.” Why spend time and energy cleaning up a mess when you can avoid making one in the first place?

  • Make sure you understand the assignment. There’s no shame in asking your professor to clarify. Your success depends on understanding what she wants.
  • Research and create a basic outline as you go. Roll research and the initial outlining process into one simple step. As you research, create an info dump—a bullet-pointed list of the topics you want to cover. Add links to articles and citations as you go so you can refer to them easily.
  • Figure out what you want to say. What’s the main argument or idea you’ll express? You need to know before you begin. In order to make a point, you have to have one.
  • Create a classic, canonical outline. Once you have a clearer vision for your central idea or argument, it’s time to organize your info-dump. Prune out anything irrelevant and organize your outline into the classic structure.

Choosing which story to tell

Experts like Watson and Urrutia Gedney agree that the everyday challenges students face often make the most compelling essay topics of all. “The thing I see most often with first-generation kids is that they think they don’t have a story to tell,” says Watson, “but most have had rich experiences that colleges are going to want to hear.”

These experiences might include taking care of younger siblings every day after school, for example, or picking up groceries for a grandparent, or working an after-school job to help the family cover rent. In rapidly gentrifying urban areas across the country, low-income families are often displaced, which means that students must leave neighborhoods they’ve known all their lives and start over at a new school or endure a long commute. Such experiences demonstrate qualities that colleges are looking for, including courage, grit, responsibility, leadership, and resilience.

“By asking deeper questions, we try to help students see that they do have a story to tell,” Watson says. “I ask kids, ‘What have you learned from helping your mom pay the bills? What has that weekend or after-school job taught you? How are you going to use that knowledge going forward?’ It often takes some digging to help them get there.”

For Ernesto Ye Luo, it took many drafts and a college rejection to help him get there. Ye Luo lived in Panama until the age of 10, when his family moved to San Francisco. He says his original essay, which he submitted to Middlebury College in his early decision application, covered too many topics. “I talked about moving from Panama to San Francisco,” he recalls. “I talked about my life in Panama. I talked about summer programs I’d done. Nick and the other writing coaches at ScholarMatch told me to focus on just one topic, but I guess I didn’t understand what they meant. My essay was all over the place.”

Ye Luo wasn’t accepted at Middlebury and he was devastated. Looking back, he thinks he may have been rejected, at least in part, because his essay was so scattered. He went back to ScholarMatch, and this time he wrote about his family’s move from Panama, and the challenges he faced starting over in a new country where he didn’t speak the language.

Ye Luo had a compelling story to tell. As a Chinese person in Panama, he never felt that he fit in. But in the US, he felt just as out of place. “Kids made fun of me because I was a Chinese kid who could only speak Spanish,” he says. His family was very poor and lived in a cramped, one-room apartment. They shared a bathroom and kitchen with other tenants. Ye Luo became withdrawn and discouraged, and he was failing in school.

His parents helped him turn things around. His family is Hakka, a Chinese ethnic group that has always faced discrimination. His parents told him, “We Hakka people move everywhere around China and around the world, and we adapt to new environments all the time. That is our history.”

Ye Luo says that their words gave him a sense of pride and determination to succeed. “It was the first time I really looked at myself,” he recalls. “I started to work hard in school. Up until then, I wasn’t trying. I tried to adapt socially and academically.” Ye Luo enjoyed high school far more than middle school, he made friends, joined the wrestling team, and took his GPA from a 1.9 to a 4.0.

After Ye Luo rewrote his essay with a narrower, deeper focus, he was accepted by a number of colleges, including Wesleyan University, where he is now a freshman. He hasn’t yet declared a major, but he’s studying Chinese in Wesleyan’s College of East Asian Studies.

What colleges want to know

At ScholarMatch, Watson uses freewriting exercises to help students start their essays. Students come to ScholarMatch workshops feeling nervous about the process. Freewriting helps kids relax and simply write; it also usually helps elicit an essay topic. For the exercises, Watson asks students to write whatever comes into their minds. From the freewriting, he and other writing coaches help students identify points they can develop into an essay.

At 826LA, Urrutia Gedney and volunteer coaches help students identify essay topics by asking questions like the following:

  • What responsibilities do you have at home and in your family?
  • What do you enjoy doing that makes you feel happy?
  • What do you consider your greatest joy?
  • What are you proud of?
  • Do you have a greatest accomplishment?
  • What do you do when you don’t have enough (money, time, help, etc.) to do the things you have to do/wish to do/dream of doing?

“We listen to their experiences and give them feedback,” says Urrutia Gedney. “Like, ‘I learned x, y, and z about you. These are the kinds of things colleges want to know,'” says Urrutia Gedney.

Editing and Submitting the College Essay


While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills. So students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.

"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."

When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Doe says. This means students should aim to show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do.

After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts say.

While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. However, there may be options to defray the costs; Sawyer, for example, says he offers scholarships to students from low-income families that cover the cost of one-on-one essay consultations.

Make your essay correct and beautiful

Dates should look good, too. You can make your essay beautiful by giving thought to a few things. Use a font that is readable. Consider whether or not bold type face could make your essay easier to read. Don’t crowd your essay near the top of the page, but balance it on the page and attend to soothing margins. Provide the essay prompt at the opening. Separate paragraphs in a consistent way, either by indenting each paragraph or by using block style, keeping all the words to the left margin but spacing extra between paragraphs.

If there are a lot of mistakes in your essay, it can not be pretty. Make sure you have spelled everything correctly. Make sure your basic punctuation is correct.

Did you separate dialogue correctly from the rest of your text? Did you use capitalization correctly? Check out our article on the most common mistakes in college essays for more tips to ensure your essay reads well.

1. Get to know your prompt

Ease yourself into the essay-writing process. Take time to understand the question or prompt being asked.

The single most important part of your essay preparation may be simply making sure you truly understand the question or essay prompt. When you are finished writing, you need to make sure that your essay still adheres to the prompt.

College essay questions often suggest one or two main ideas or topics of focus. These can vary from personal to trivial, but all seek to challenge you and spark your creativity and insight.

  • Read the essay questions and/or prompts. Read them again. Then, read them one more time.
  • Take some time to think about what is being asked and let it really sink in before you let the ideas flow.
  • Before you can even start brainstorming, define what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Is this essay prompt asking you to inform? Defend? Support? Expand upon?
  • If it doesn’t already, relate the question back yourself by asking, “How does this—or how could this—apply to me?”
  • Avoid sorting through your existing English class essays to see if the topics fit the bill. These pieces rarely showcase who you are as an applicant.

2. Brainstorm

Get your creative juices flowing by brainstorming all the possible ideas you can think of to address your college essay question.

Believe it or not, the brainstorming stage may be more tedious than writing the actual application essay. The purpose is to flesh out all of your possible ideas so when you begin writing, you know and understand where you are going with the topic.

  • Reflect. You have years to draw from, so set aside time to mentally collect relevant experiences or events that serve as strong, specific examples. This is also time for self-reflection. “What are my strengths?” “How would my friends describe me?” “What sets me apart from other applicants?”
  • Write any and all ideas down. There’s no technique that works best, but you’ll be thankful when you are able to come back to ideas you otherwise might have forgotten.
  • Narrow down the options. Choose three concepts you think fit the college application essay prompt best and weigh the potential of each. Which idea can you develop further and not lose the reader? Which captures more of who you really are?
  • Choose your story to tell. From the thoughts you’ve narrowed down, pick one. You should have enough supporting details to rely on this as an excellent demonstration of your abilities, achievements, perseverance, or beliefs.

3. Create an outline

Map out what you’re going to write by making an outline.

Architects use a blue print. A webpage is comprised of code. Cooks rely on recipes. What do they have in common? They have a plan. The rules for writing a good essay are no different. After you brainstorm, you’ll know what you want to say, but you must decide how you’re going to say it. Create an outline that breaks down the essay into sections.

  • All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Shape your story so that it has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Following this natural progression will make your essay coherent and easy to read.
  • Strategize. How are you going to open your essay? With an anecdote? A question? Dialogue? Use of humor? Try to identify what the tone of your essay is going to be based on your ideas.
  • Stick to your writing style and voice. It’s particularly important when writing a piece about yourself that you write naturally. Put the words in your own voice. By planning the layout of your essay ahead of time, you’ll avoid changing your writing style mid-story.

4. Write the essay

Once you are satisfied with your essay in outline format, begin writing!

By now you know exactly what you will write about and how you want to tell the story. So hop on a computer and get to it. Try to just let yourself bang out a rough draft without going back to change anything. Then go back and revise, revise, revise. Before you know it, you will have told the story you outlined—and reached the necessary word count—and you will be happy you spent all that time preparing!

  • Keep your essay’s focus narrow and personal. Don’t lose your reader. Start with your main idea, and follow it from beginning to end.
  • Be specific. Avoid using clichéd, predictable, or generic phrases by developing your main idea with vivid and detailed facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons.
  • Be yourself. Admission officers read plenty of application essays and know the difference between a student’s original story and a recycled academic essay, or—worse—a piece written by your mom or dad or even plagiarized. Bring something new to the table, not just what you think they want to hear. Use humor if appropriate.
  • Be concise. Don’t use 50 words if five will do. Try to only include the information that is absolutely necessary.

5. Proofread

The last step is editing and proofreading your finished essay.

You have worked so hard up until this point, and while you might be relieved, remember: your essay is only as good as your editing. A single grammatical error or typo could indicate carelessness—not a trait you want to convey to a college admission officer.

  • Give yourself some time. Let your essay sit for a while (at least an hour or two) before you proofread it. Approaching the essay with a fresh perspective gives your mind a chance to focus on the actual words, rather than seeing what you think you wrote.
  • Don’t rely solely on the computer spelling and grammar check. Computers cannot detect the context in which you are using words, so be sure to review carefully. Don’t abbreviate or use acronyms or slang. They might be fine in a text message, but not in your college essay.
  • Have another person (or several!) read your essay, whether it’s a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or trusted friend. You know what you meant to say, but is it clear to someone else reading your work? Have these people review your application essay to make sure your message is on target and clear to any audience.
  • Read your essay backwards. This may sound a bit silly, but when reading in sequential order, your brain has a tendency to piece together missing information, or fill in the blanks, for you. Reading each sentence on its own and backwards can help you realize not only typos and mistakes in grammar, but that you may have forgotten an article here and there, such as “a” or “the.”
  • Read your essay out loud. This forces you to read each word individually and increases your chances of finding
  • a typo. Reading aloud will also help you ensure your punctuation is correct, and it’s often easier to hear awkward sentences than see them.
  • Check for consistency. Avoid switching back and forth from different tenses. Also, if you refer to a particular college in the essay, make sure it is the correct name and is consistent throughout the piece. You don’t want to reference two different schools in the same paper!

6. Tie up loose ends

Celebrate finishing what you started.

Writing the college essay takes time and effort, and you should feel accomplished. When you submit your essay, remember to include your name, contact information, and ID number if your college provided one, especially if you send it to a general admission e-mail account. Nothing is worse than trying to match an application essay with no name (or, worse, an e-mail address such as donutsarelife@domain.com) to a file. Make sure to keep copies of what you sent to which schools and when—and follow up on them! Be certain the college or university you are applying to received your essay. You don’t want all that hard work to go to waste!

College Essay Example #1: A Tale of Two Cities

Prompt: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

With moments to spare, I catch a glimpse of the boarding platform for my train. Like a captain frantically seeking port in a storm, I haul myself through the turbulent ocean of people, trying to avoid being stranded – or trampled – in the dustiest city in the world: Beijing, capital of both China and smog.

Luckily, I board my train with seconds to spare, and without being turned into a pancake – always a plus. The conductor welcomes me aboard. At last, it is time to return home to Shanghai.

It is the summer of 2012, and Shanghai isn’t to be home for much longer. In another week I will cross the globe to start a new life in a foreign land called Charlotte.

Which is home? The place I am leaving or the place I am going? Arrival or departure? Like a compass with a broken magnetic strip, I can’t decide my true North.

Unsettled, I turn to my ever-present book for comfort. Today it is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, already worn and slightly crumpled. They say the best books tell you what you already know, resonating with your own thoughts and emotions. As I read, it is as if the tempest of my thoughts is spelled out on paper. The overflowing sense of hyper-reality in Tim O’Brien’s words of warfare spills into my world. His words somehow become my words, his memories become my memories. Despite the high speed of the bullet train, my mind is perfectly still – trapped between the narrative of the book and the narrative of my own life.

I feel like I should feel disturbed, but I’m not. I read the last page and close the book, staring out the window at the shining fish ponds and peaceful rice paddies. I feel like a speck of dust outside the train, floating, content and happy to be between destinations.

I am at home between worlds. I speak both English and Chinese: Chinese is for math, science, and process, but I prefer English for art, emotion, and description. America owns my childhood, filled with pine trees, blockbuster movies, and Lake Tahoe snow; China holds my adolescence, accompanied by industrial smog, expeditious mobility, and fast-paced social scenes.

We are drawing into Shanghai Hong Qiao station. My reverie isn’t at an end, but I have the answer to my question. Home is neither arrival nor departure, neither America nor China. Home is the in-between, the cusp of transition – that is where I feel most content.

What works?

 Too often, such essays are formulaic and uninspiring – after all, while it’s certainly a challenge to learn a new language and culture, millions of people do it every day, so it simply isn’t something that sets a student apart.

This essay is an example of how to tell the story of moving to America in a unique way. This student focused on a single question – where is home? – and showed the reader a lot about who he is as a person. Through this skillfully crafted essay, we learn that the student has led a very international life, the student has a way with words, the student loves literature, the student is bilingual, and the student is excited by change. The essay is a joy to read, sharing a detailed glimpse of the student’s personality without feeling like it’s trying to list positive personal qualities.

College Essay Example #2:

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

State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

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

This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

College Essay Example #3:

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

I won “Most Original” pumpkin at a Halloween party years ago. I have the “Most Original” award. It’s a consolation prize. You can’t be the best, or the prettiest, so you have to be “original.” I’ve won the “Most Original” award a fair number of times. I was even named “Most Original” at a basketball awards banquet. What does that even mean? How can anybody be “Most Original” when she’s playing basketball?

Recognizing the “Most Original” award for the pity-prize that it was, I grew increasingly hostile toward the very word “original.” If you win this cursed award, everyone around you offers feigned sympathy or, even worse, insincere congratulations. Phrases like “oh, bummer” or well-intentioned but half-hearted “well, good for you” circle the recipient, creating a cyclone of regret from which the “winner” will never recover.

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting – but I cannot for the life of me understand that award. “Most Original” always let me down, and as a result, I hated to be original in any context. In my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, where normality was…well, the norm, I tried to be a typical student – absolutely, perfectly normal. I blended into crowds, the definition of typical. I became a person who refused to surprise people. Just another brick in the wall.

Dull.

And then I moved to Berkeley for six months. It’s an odd, vibrant place with odd, vibrant people. Originality is celebrated there – not in the half-hearted “good for you” way, but in the full-throated “GOOD FOR YOU!” way. One of the first of my fellow students to befriend me wore corset tops and tutus and carried a parasol with which she punctuated her every utterance. Her best friend was a boy with purple hair who once wore a shirt with built in LED lights for Christmas. They were the most popular people in school, in direct contrast to all that was socially acceptable in New Haven. Our peers recognized them as being unique, but instead of ostracizing them or pitying them, the students in Berkeley celebrated them.

In Berkeley, I learned the value of originality: Those who celebrate their individuality are not only unique but strong. It takes great strength to defy the definitions of others, and because of that strength, those who create their own paths discover a different world than those who travel the same worn road.

I returned to New Haven a changed person. My appearance was certainly different – red streaks in my hair and a newfound fondness for tutus certainly made me stand out. But the change went deeper than that: I had embraced the idea of being myself, no matter what others thought was cool or “normal.” Spending time in a place where “Most Original” was the highest compliment allowed me to explore myself without fear of being different or lesser, and I liked what I had found.

I’m still skeptical about the “Most Original” award. In the context of an award ceremony, it’s still just a meaningless consolation prize. But I don’t think of being “Most original” as an insult anymore – I wear it as a badge of honor, proof that I am myself and no one else.

A friend recently joked, “If there were a ‘Quirkiest’ award in the yearbook, you’d definitely win.” We were standing outside of a classroom, and I was wearing a pair of gold, glittery shorts that definitely caught the eye. “Quirkiest?” I said. “How about ‘Most Original.’”

What Works

This writer’s style clearly shows off her sense of humor. If one of the purposes of a college essay is to make yourself come to life off the page, then this essay hits the mark. Far from seeming unfinished or unedited, the somewhat stream-of-consciousness style establishes a humorous and self-deprecating tone that makes the reader instantly like the applicant. More than anything else, it is this writing style that elevates what could have been a fairly superficial statement of personal growth into a truly informative story that showcases the author’s personality.

College Essay Example #4: Baked with Love

Prompt: Describe a place or environment where you feel perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

The sweet smell of cinnamon resonated through the house. A wave of heat washed over my face as I opened the oven door to reveal my first batch of snickerdoodles. Small domes of sugary cookies shyly peeked from the edge of the door. I smiled as I thought about the joy these cookies would bring to my friends. They like to compare me to the witch in Hansel and Gretel, joking that I fatten children up and then forget to eat them. I don’t particularly love being in the same company as an evil witch, but any rancor I might feel at this comparison is overwhelmed by my enjoyment of their anticipation of my baked goods.

There is something about the warmth of a kitchen filled with the buttery smell of pastry that evokes a feeling of utter relaxation. I find joy in sharing this warm and homey experience by showering the people around me with sweets. The smile that ticks up the corners of someone’s mouth as they bite into my food gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment.

For as long as I can remember, baking has been an integral part of my life. Thanks to busy parents and hungry siblings, I was encouraged to cook from a relatively young age. Time spent in the kitchen naturally piqued my interest in baking, and that glimmer of interest blossomed into a heart-warming hobby that rejuvenates my stressful days, improves upon even the happiest moments, and brings joy to the people around me.

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It has been my experience that the way to ANYONE’S heart is through the stomach. To me, food is not simply about sustenance. The time that I spend in my kitchen, the effort and care that I pour into my confectionary creations, is a labor of love that brings me just as much satisfaction as it does my hungry friends and family.

What Works?

This essay doesn’t share many life-defining revelations; we learn, as a brief aside, that the author often cared for her younger siblings, but little beyond that. Yet despite its relative lack of major information, it reveals a lot about who the author is. We learn that the author knows how to turn a phrase, the author is a warm and caring person, the author has a sense of humor, and the author will bring us cookies if we admit her to our imaginary college. All in all, we see a student who is a skilled writer with a warm heart – positive traits, to be sure.

College Essay Example #5: 

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

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

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

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

References:

[1] Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay https://www.acm.edu/uploads/cms/documents/ten_tips_for_writing_a_college_essay.pdf

[2] How To Write An Amazing College Essay | University of the People https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/how-to-write-an-amazing-college-essay/

[3] Writing the College Essay | King's College https://www.kings.edu/admissions/hs_sophomores_and_juniors/applying_to_college/the_essay

[4] How to Write a College Essay | HEATH Resource Center https://www.heath.gwu.edu/how-write-college-essay