It may be only 500 words, but the admissions essay portion of a college application can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. How you write your personal essay shows the admissions committee why you are different from everybody else. It provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular pursuits just cannot. You can use the essay to describe a favorite activity, to tell a story about yourself, or even a story about your dog, but make sure to really use it — in a way that captures the readers attention and shows that you are exceptional.
Sample Essay Questions from Real Colleges
1. Describe your most rewarding or unrewarding educational experience.
2. Ask and answer your own question.
3. How do you envision your freshman year?
4. Write a page of your own autobiography.
5. Discuss an issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
6. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence.
7. How do you see your world of 2020?
8. Describe how a song, poem, piece of art, book, etc. influenced your life.
9. Select two ideals listed in our literature and relate them to your personal beliefs and convictions.
10. Evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has special meaning to you.
11. How have you taken something you’ve learned in the classroom and integrated it into your nonacademic life?
12. If you could meet anyone, real or imaginary, who would it be?
13. How will your knowledge of other cultures affect your studies?
14. Describe a situation in which your values were challenged.
15. Describe an experience that illustrates a proverb, maxim, or quote that has special meaning to you.
16. Pick a recent event and relate it to a turning point in your life.
17. Relate your future goals to studying at our school.
18. Once you’ve completed your education, would you return to your hometown to begin your adult life? Why or why not?
19. Tell about an unsuccessful situation and what you learned from the experience.
20. Find a picture and write why it is important to you.
21. What are your interests, and how do you plan on continuing them in college
Sample Admission Essays
College Admission Essay #1
By Merdit Ebrani
I’m a tomato and the problem is, everyone else is an onion. I discovered this from watching the grown-ups when I was young. Whenever we went out to restaurants or the movies, I would notice things about their behavior. They were so different, yet oddly enough, they all seemed to act the same way. Adults were onions, protected by a layer of skin so that no one could see who they really were. And I was a tomato, as fragile and new to the world as could be. The slightest touch left an imprint on my mind, whether it was an insinuation or an insult. And I started thinking about it.
We’re all born tomatoes. By age eleven, the change to onionhood is already underway. The whole process is very subtle, and it is seldom thought about afterwards. It begins with authority figures, any of the major influences in a child’s life: parents, friends, school, and television. In order to feel accepted by these figures, children have to adapt to certain rules. Girls learn to be thin. Guys learn to impress girls. Everyone learns to get the right answer at school. And if they fail to meet any of these criteria, they get embarrassed. This is the “red onion” phase, halfway between tomatohood and onionhood.
Soon enough, kids begin inventing ways to escape criticism. The girl can choose not to eat or she can pretend that she doesn’t care about . The guy can choose to imitate someone famous or he can pretend that he hates girls. The kids who usually gets the right answers at school find ways to seem like they always get the right answers; and the kids who rarely get the right answers find ways to show that they don’t care. This is the skin of the onion developing. And by the beginning of high school, the mature onion has formed. With time, its skin grows thicker. Some onions even realize that they are onions, but are hesitant to peel for fear of losing their safety.
Occasionally I’ll catch myself onionizing, especially if something really bothers me. In my freshman year of high school, I was scared that I wouldn’t make any friends so I convinced myself that I was the loner type. For months I refused to meet anybody because I had already decided that we wouldn’t get along. It felt awful to finally confront my fear. But I didn’t avoid doing it. I knew it was going to leave a bruise on me, and that was fine because it was better than covering up my problem. And once I opened up, I had an easier time meeting people to than I would have ever imagined. That’s the way tomatoes are. We never try to hide who we are or how we think.
College, where one learns to question the status quo, seems like it would be the perfect place for a tomato living in a . Yet I also recognize that the coming time will be a challenge. I will be confronting new ideas, new situations, and new fears, and will have to assimilate these experiences without changing the fabric of my mind. I will have to keep my vision of the world fresh and open, and not succumb to the hardening of established ideas, or onionizing, that I see occurring around me all the time.
In the end, it is possible that tomatoes and onions do have something in common: a comfort in the usual way of doing things, a resistance towards change. These next four years will be a shock for me, as I explore new intellectual realms and my mind continues to mature. And although I will never stop being a tomato, I hope that college will at least help me to ripen a bit.
College Admission Essay #2
By Allison Katz
Ms. Kanfer was the reason why I liked fifth grade. Some mornings she would march into the classroom with a stern look on her face and sit quietly down at her desk. We all knew what this meant: we were in trouble. Everyone would scramble to get to their seats, fold their hands in their laps, and get busy on some kind of work. After about a minute of silence, just when the tension in the air was palpable, she would move just a little. Kids would fidget and shake their knees, preparing themselves for a scolding. And then, out of nowhere, she’d cross her eyes, put her hands up at her ears, and make the funniest fish face we had ever seen. The classroom would erupt with laughter.
Her enthusiasm carried over into her teaching. Social Studies, Science, and even Math were suddenly liberated from their musty old place in academia and brought into Ms. Kanfer’s colorful world of personalized worksheets, hands-on experiments, and engaging class discussions. For the first time ever, learning was not a task; it was something to look forward to. If any of us were lagging behind in a subject, Ms. Kanfer knew how to make us feel like it was our duty to catch up. She could be firm—even intimidating at times—but during her lessons, when it mattered most, she knew how to have a good time.
I knew that no teacher could ever match up Ms. Kanfer. Yet interestingly enough, it was not until our second encounter, when I was 17 years old, that I realized how much she had inspired me.
In my senior year of high school, I interned with the Town Clerk of North Hempstead, managing a research project on the history of the school system. There, I got the opportunity to work with original letters and documents from over a century ago. I was entrusted with a letter to the Great Neck Superintendent of Schools from the Nassau County School Commissioner, written in 1907 about , enacting changes based on an 1874 law that mandated education for all children up to fourteen years old. I was also responsible for reviewing attendance records on the kids who were impacted by this law. Many times, a note from their parents was included, explaining that their child could not come to school because they could not afford shoes or because they needed him to look after his brothers and sisters. It was fascinating to see how the history I’ve learned about and in books applied to real people’s lives and to work with primary historical documents that many people do not get the chance to see.
The challenge of the internship was that, when it was finished, I had to turn all of the documents I had reviewed into a presentation at a , which I would then deliver to an elementary school class. I spent weeks compiling data, creating visuals, and practicing my delivery.
However, when all of my research was complete, I realized that I had only prepared my presentation in theory; I had never thought about how I would actually deliver the information, or the feeling I would get when I entered the classroom. With one day left in my internship, I began to panic. Not only was I unprepared, but I was having trouble mentally placing myself in the role of a teacher. What if I screwed something up? Would the kids notice? Would they laugh at me? Public speaking had never been my forte.
The day of the presentation, I drove over to an elementary school I had never seen before, taking a few minutes to myself before exiting the car. “You can do this” I told myself. When I entered the school, I suddenly had a rush of nostalgia as I pictured myself back in Ms. Kanfer’s classroom, transfixed by her unique style of teaching. That was just the motivation I needed. When I entered the classroom, I immediately began imitating Ms. Kanfer’s style, greeting the students with great excitement but a note of authority in my voice.
The presentation went over fabulously. At first the students seemed bored by the mention of “historical documents”; but when they were able to see how students in the 1890s were very similar to them except for the difficult conditions in which they lived, their features lit up with sympathy. Afterwards, I had the distinct feeling that my hard work had paid off. The positive input the students gave me encouraged me in knowing that my job was worthwhile.
In fact, my presentation was so well-received that I got permission to give a similar talk at my own elementary school. This time, instead of teaching just one class, I had to teach all the fourth grade classes in the school in a filled auditorium. As I nervously set up the presentation and the number of people in the room grew, I looked up and saw Ms. Kanfer enter the room with her own class of fourth grade students. I got pins and needles for a moment as I realized that, after all these years, our roles had been reversed. For the next couple of hours, Ms. Kanfer became my pupil.
10 Great Opening Lines from Stanford Admissions Essays
• I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
• When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read.
• While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
• I have old hands.
• I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
• I almost didn’t live through September 11th, 2001.
• The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
• I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
• I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
• I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.”
As you can see, these all are ‘hooks.’ They are a way of bringing in your reader, who wants to be excited to hear what you have to say. The rest of the essay needs to be good, of course, but if you can catch your reader’s interest in the first sentence, you’re golden.
Whenever I work with students on their admission essays, either for private school or college, it’s always a struggle. It doesn’t matter how smart the child is, how creative, or how good a student. No one knows what to write in these things. Do I try to impress with my travels? Appear humble and altruistic with my charity work (even if that only includes required community service hours)? Try to get creative with it and throw some obscure references into the mix?
But, then, the question becomes: How do I sound? I don’t want to be snobby, and I don’t want to be boring, trite, or saccharine. How can I portray myself best?
Yes, worry about how you want to be portrayed, but think about this: the people reading these just want to know you’re a person, a person with some thoughts and insights and individuality. If you can prove that you are someone with a story to tell, they will want to learn more. The essay is just a way to catch their attention, because your grades, test scores, and recommendations are going to show them you can handle the academic rigors of their school.
They just want to know you can give them something beyond numbers–you are a *person* who can bring something to their school, and that’s all you need to prove.