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What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

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A Strong College Application essay Will make you stand out from the crowd.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night. But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power.

Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder.

Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt. Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo.

Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me. Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness.

My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence. It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why! I had never broken into a car before. In just eight words, we get: Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight? Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: The humor also feels relaxed.

This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant. There's been an oil spill! This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Stephen's first example breaking into the van in Laredo is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies.

We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in. I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home.

As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it. In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World.

While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire. I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in.

It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR. Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings.

Using my DSLR camera, I track down and photograph obscure and hidden places I find in my town, on family trips, and even on day trips to nearby cities. I carefully catalogue the locations so other people can follow in my footsteps. Documentation, after all, is another important part of exploring space in a starship. Both versions communicate the same things about the imagined destination, but the second essay does a much better job showing who Eleanor is as a person.

All we really learn from the first excerpt is that Eleanor must like Star Trek. We can also infer that she probably likes leadership, exploration, and adventure, since she wants to captain a starship. Admissions officers shouldn't have to infer who you are from your essay—your essay should lay it out for them. In the second essay, on the other hand, Eleanor clearly lays out the qualities that would make her a great Command officer, and provides examples of how she exemplifies these qualities.

She ties the abstract destination to concrete things from her life such as hapkido and photography. This provides a much more well-rounded picture of what Eleanor could bring to the student body and the school at large. Remember to tie your imaginative destination to concrete details about your special qualities! A future as a driving coach for motorcoach drivers was a no-brainer for the founding member of the homonym club.

Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area? This essay topic is trying to ask as broadly as possible about an experience with art that has moved you in some way.

This means that your options for answering the question are quite varied. So what are the two different parts of this prompt?

Let's take a look. Think of a time you experienced that blown-away feeling when looking at something man-made. This is the reaction and situation the first part of the essay wants you to recreate. You can focus on a learning experience, which includes both classes and extracurricular activities, or you can focus on a direct experience in which you encountered an object or space without the mediation of a class or teacher.

The only limit to your focus object is that it is something made by someone other than you. Your reaction should be in conversation with the original artist—not a form of navel-gazing. The key for this part of the essay is that your description needs to segue into a story of change and transformation.

When you see the Angkor Wat Temple, you can't help but be psyched that at least humans haven't wasted all their time on earth. This brings us to the second part of the essay prompt: What qualities, philosophy, or themes do you now try to infuse into what you create? You have some choice, too, when it comes to answering, "What have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?

Or you could describe investigating new media or techniques to emulate something you saw. Or you could discuss learning about the period, genre, school, or philosophical theory that the original piece of art comes from in order to give yourself a more contextualized understanding.

At the same time, this essay is asking you to show your own creative readiness. Describe not only the work you have produced but also your ability to introduce new elements into that work—in this case, inspired by the piece you described. What are some best practices for teasing out the complexities of art in written form? Here are some helpful tips as you brainstorm and write your essay. For example, you could write about something you learned on your own from a documentary, museum visit, or art book.

If you're writing about a direct experience with art, don't necessarily fixate on a classical piece. Alternatively, you could discuss a little-known public sculpture, a particularly striking building or bridge you saw while traveling, or a gallery exhibition. Whatever you end up writing about, make sure you know some of the identifying details. The make-it-or-break-it moment in this essay will be your ability to explain what affected you in the object you're writing about.

Do you think it or you was in the right place at the right time to be moved by it, or would it have affected you the same way no matter where or when you saw it? Be careful with your explanation since it can easily get so vague as to be meaningless or so obscure and "deep" that you lose your reader. Before you start trying to put it down on paper, try to talk out what you plan to say either with a friend, parent, or teacher. When you think about what you've been making or thinking about making during your high school career, what is the trajectory of your ideas?

How has your understanding of the materials you want to work with changed? What about the message you want your works to convey? Or the way you want your works to be seen by others? What is the reason you feel compelled to be creative? Just as nothing ruins a joke as explaining it does, nothing ruins the wordless experience of looking at art as talking it to death does. Still, you need to find a way to use words to give the reader a sense of what the piece that moved you actually looks like —particularly if the reader isn't familiar with the work or the artist that created it.

Here is my suggested trick for writing well about art. First, be specific about the object. Second, step away from the concrete and get creative with language by using techniques such as comparative description. Use your imagination to create emotionally resonant similes. Is there a form of movement e. Does it remind you of something from the natural world e. If the work is figurative, imagine what has been happening just before the moment in time it captures.

What happened just after this point? Using these kinds of non-literal descriptors will let your reader understand both the actual physical object and its aesthetic appeal. There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application.

Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.

UT Austin allows its applicants to mix and match essays from the ApplyTexas application from its own option: This essay prompt states that the additional information you might want to share with the admissions team can be either positive or negative—so long as it qualifies as "exceptional" in some way.

In fact, the prompt actually uses the word "exceptional" twice to really cement the idea that the everyday challenges or successes are not what this essay should highlight. In this sense, determining whether your experiences qualify for this prompt is a matter of degrees.

For example, did you manage to thrive despite being raised by a single parent? But what if you flourished despite living in multiple foster families and aging out of the system during your senior year of high school? Such a narrative is arguably more appropriate for Topic S. Well done, and feel free to tell your story for Topic C.

But if you were the youngest black belt in the history of the sport to win a national title, you're better off writing about this for Topic S. The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. If you're one of these two guys, you definitely qualify for this essay topic.

Let's run through a few tricks for ensuring that your essay to Topic S makes the most of your exceptionalism. Although there are many different moving, emotionally impactful experiences we can have, some of these are actually quite common.

Wondering whether what you went through counts? This might be a good time to run your Topic S idea by a parent, sibling, school counselor, or trusted teacher. Do they think your experience is widespread? And do they agree that you truly lived a life less ordinary? The majority of your answer to the Topic S prompt should be telling your story and its impact on you and your life.

One of the reasons that the admissions office wants to find out which of the applicants has been through something unlike most other people is that they're hoping to increase the number of perspectives in the student body. Think about, and include in your essay, how you will impact campus life. This can be very literal—if you're, say, a jazz singer who's released several acclaimed albums, you might want to perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique—if you're disabled, for example, you'll be able to offer a perspective that differs from the able-bodied majority.

You can do this by picking a specific moment during your hardship or accomplishment to narrate as a small short story. Your goal is to make the extraordinary into something at least somewhat relatable—and the way you do that is by making your writing down to earth.

As I've already described, the most important feature of any topic for this prompt is that it must be genuinely exceptional. I've listed some examples below. Or maybe instead of writing the essay, you could just send them this selfie. UT Austin also has two special prompts specifically for nursing applicants Topic N and for social work applicants Topic W. These prompts are quite similar, and we will go over both of them briefly here. Considering nursing as your first-choice major, discuss how your current and future academic activities, extracurricular pursuits and life experiences will help you achieve your goals.

Discuss the reasons you chose social work as your first-choice major and how a social work degree from UT Austin will prepare you for the future.

Admissions officers will be looking for evidence that you're genuinely interested in this career and that you have an aptitude for it. So i f you have any relevant clinical, research, or volunteer experience, admissions officers definitely want to know this!

It's OK to take a broad view of what's relevant here. Anything that involves working with people is a relevant experience for prospective nursing and social work students. Admissions officers also want to know that you're really interested in the UT Austin program, so be sure to identify features of the program nursing or social work that appeal to you. In other words, why UT Austin? What makes you a good fit here? Finally, they're looking for individuals who have clear goals as well as a general idea of what they want to do with their degree.

Are you interested in working with a specific population or specialty? What led you to this conclusion? UT Austin also includes its own prompt Topic S , in addition to Topics N and W, which are for nursing and social work applicants, respectively. Curious about the other college essay choices out there? If your target college also accepts the Common Application, check out our guide to the Common App essay prompts to see whether they would be a better fit for you.

Interested to see how other people tackled this part of the application? Stuck on what to write about? Read our suggestions for how to come up with great essay ideas. Working on the rest of your college applications? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score.

Download it for free now:. Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Score on SAT Math. Score on SAT Reading. Score on SAT Writing. What ACT target score should you be aiming for? Anna Wulick Jun 2, 8: To help you navigate this long guide, here is an overview of what we'll be talking about: Give us a call: Sample College Application Essays Get accepted to your top choice university with your outstanding essay. Read The Sample Essays.

Read Sample Application Essays: Pay close attention to the consistent format of these pieces: A Strong College Application essay Will make you stand out from the crowd.


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Top College Officials Share Notes on Great Application Essays Learn why application essays stood out to admissions officials from some of the top 15 U.S. News Best Colleges. By Alexandra Pannoni, Staff Writer | May 25, , at a.m.

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Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. 16 Common Application essays from the classes of Hamilton College. Want to build the best possible college application? We can help. The Common Application has announced that the personal statement essay prompts will be the same as the prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as students, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts.

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May 12,  · Each year, we issue an open casting call for high school seniors who have dared to address money, work or social class in their college application binclouddownloadernl.ga the large pile that arrived this. The Common Application Announces Essay Prompts We are pleased to share the Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of Common App member colleges and more than 5, other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and .