Inspiration College Essay

 

This is the time of year when my former students drop me emails letting me know where they have been accepted for the fall.

I love hearing from them, and am emboldened by how many land in their dream schools.

And I usually ask if I can share their essays with future students.

In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn how to write your own than by reading sample college application essays.

Are you just starting this dreaded process?

If you’re a high school junior, you are wise to start thinking about your essay.

At least start learning what makes a great college application essay and brainstorming your own ideas.

By reading sample college application essays, you can see the type of “slice-of-life” essays that usually start with anecdotes to power their pieces.

Notice the everyday topics and the less formal style of these essays.

Below are two terrific essays by students who just sent me emails this last month letting me know where they are heading this fall.

Believe it or not, they were where you are now one year ago, stressing about their college application essays and wondering whether they could find that special topic and write an effective essay.

Both these students were very focused in their college searches, and put in the time and energy to brainstorm great topics and work on their rough drafts. And it shows.

 

 

They also trusted my advice to share a story in their college application essays.

Instead of writing about impressive achievements and accomplishments, they stuck with simple, everyday experiences to illustrate their personal qualities.

Above all, they got personal.

If you do the same, you, too, will be receiving acceptance letters from amazing colleges and universities about this same time next year.

Here are two sample college application essays from former students from last year.

The first was written by Hannah Metzler, who got accepted to 13 of the 14 college and universities she applied to (including University of Pittsburgh and Loyola University of Maryland), and is excited to be attending the University of Scranton next year to study neuroscience.

The second was written by Andrew Aldaz, who received a full 4-year ROTC scholarship to UCLA, USC, and UCI, along with an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is thrilled to be headed to West Point.

Two Sample Essay College Application Essays:

The Party
By: Hannah Metzler
Exton, PA
(Submitted for The Common Application)

 

While bringing out the orders for my party of six, I set down a cup of soup in front of one of the women. Virginia glanced down at the clam chowder, and then scowled up at me.

“Hannah, I asked for a half cup of soup,” she said, sounding as if the world was ending. “You are always so slow. I don’t know how you always mess up our orders.”

I politely mumbled an apology, hoping the rest of her group did not notice how upset I was or how personally I took her comment. It was only a cup of soup, and an honest mistake, but I felt like such a disaster.

Residents at the high-end senior living facility where I waited tables several nights a week expected nothing less than a five-star dining experience and my small mistake was not to be tolerated.

When I first started working at Shannondell last summer, I was already shy and couldn’t stand the idea that someone didn’t like me. Early on, when residents would scold or criticize me, I felt like crawling under a rock. Even when I clearly was in the right, I would bite my lip and try harder to please them.

The most difficult guests by far were a group of six well-heeled women who the servers nicknamed “The Party.” They came in every night, dressed to the nines, decked with diamonds and attitude. As the staff stood by the podium waiting for residents to arrive, every server in line prayed that the hostess would not call out their name.

At first, “The Party” seemed friendly. They seemed to want to get to know me personally, compared to the other residents who would barely say anything at all. But this was all for show. They were rude and demanding. Special orders were a daily occurrence: a rare end piece of prime rib or a chicken Caesar salad without lettuce. They snapped their fingers and tapped their silverware on glasses to get my attention. I would leave the dining room distraught almost every night.

Senior residents, in general, had a difficult time making a decision, either figuring out what to order or sometimes forgetting what they had ordered once it arrived. I used to get annoyed because twenty minutes to take a dessert order seemed excessive and unnecessary. With experience, though, I’m learning patience and compassion.

It must be very difficult for residents to feel as though they were losing their independence. They used to be able to get around easily, but many of them were pushing walkers or confined to wheelchairs. I realized that many cared for others their whole lives and now it was hard to accept others caring for them.

Somehow those rough nights started to change me. Without really trying, I have become more outgoing and self-assured. The residents depend on me and my “confident” smile. Some days, I’m the one person with whom they can share stories of their past. I used to have trouble speaking in front of a group and would be shy when I did. Now, I have no problem walking up to a table of fourteen people and making conversation as if I had known them my whole life.

I give credit to “The Party” for putting me in a situation where I had no choice but to smile and carry on. I know now that not everyone will like me, and that’s okay. I’ve learned that, while I will always treat people with respect and dignity, their behavior toward me may be more about their own personal circumstances rather than anything I have done. Today, when I see “The Party” being seated in my section, I still flinch a little inside, but then I pull back my shoulders, lift my chin and march up to them ask, “What’s it going to be today, ladies.”

 

Proud to Be Humble
By Andrew Aldaz
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
(personal statement essay for University of California)

 

During a Gestalt-type exercise in my psychology class, it was my turn on the infamous hot seat. After sitting in the chair in the center of the room, my teacher and peers started firing away with questions.

“What is your GPA?”

“What do you do for fun?”
“ What do you want to do after high school?”
“What did you do this past summer?”

I responded to each question with simple, straightforward answers, thinking it was a breeze.

Then I had heard someone shout from the back of the room, “So you think you’re perfect?”

I was puzzled. I felt blood rush to my face and I broke into a sweat. The second it took for me to respond felt like an eternity.

“Of course not,” I replied.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I returned to my seat.

“Why would anyone be under the impression that I was perfect or that I would ever see myself as such?” I thought to myself.

The last thing I wanted was for someone to think that I was full of myself. I was mortified. I realized later that I had come off as somewhat egotistical or self-centered because I had shared my long list of extra-curricular activities, academic performance, and hopes for the future. Even though I knew this was not at all the case, I felt ashamed.

Humility was the quality within myself that I cherished the most. I understood that I may have accomplished a great deal and maintain high goals for my future, but I did not want to be seen as boastful or overly proud in any way. Ever! That day, on the hot seat, I knew that I would need to work harder to exude those qualities of meekness and servility which I strive for.

Every year since I was five years old, my father had taken me to the annual air show in Mirimar, California. The first time I attended the air show I had seen service members of different branches; in each of them I had seen one thing that will be carried on with me for the rest of my life. Humility. These men and women, deemed heroes by society, sought no recognition for their sacrifice and willingness to serve.

Attending these air shows not only pushed me to be humble and serve my nation as these men and women had, but also helped me realize there were plenty of other devoted service members within our society, such as policemen, firemen, and politicians. In high school, I also had seen this numerous times with the judges and lawyers I interacted with as I helped struggling teens in Youth Court, and when I befriended those involved in state politics while I interned for Senator Mike Morrell.

The truth is I’ve been extremely lucky, but I have jumped at every opportunity that has been available to me. Whether taking college courses, working in state politics, or playing for a sports team in a winning season, this should not make me any better than anyone else. I just wish to be as successful as possible while serving my nation to the best of my abilities and staying humble in all that I do, no matter where life may take me. While I can’t help but aim for perfection in all that I do, I hope to maintain that glorious face of humble pride.

* * * * *

What Did You Think of These Sample College Application Essays?

Did you like them?

Yes?

Well, that’s most likely what the admissions officers felt as well. And what you want to emulate in your own essay.

Like Hannah and Andrew, trust your real-life stories!

By sharing a small moment or incident from their past, each student went on to develop their essay to give a sense of who they are, how they think and feel, and what they value.

This is exactly what you want to do with your essay to connect with the college admissions officers, and make a meaningful and memorable impression.

Everything you need to learn how to write your own narrative style essay is in this blog.

If you want to learn about my proven writing methods in a more digestible package, check out my writing guides and online course.

You can read 50 real-life sample college application essays in my collection, called Heavenly Essays.

Good luck, and congratulations on getting an early start!

 

Check Out These Related Posts!

The essay is perhaps the most daunting part of college applications, alongside standardized tests. SATs and essays essentially act as bookends to the admissions process. While students will not be let in on their SAT or ACT scores alone, for many selective colleges these results function at least as a simple “sorting hat” that divides the possible admits from the merely hopeful. Similarly, while an outstanding personal essay will probably not overcome the weight of poor grades or lukewarm letters of recommendation, they help admission officers choose from among a surfeit of strong candidates.

They’re mattering a lot more. The percentage of all colleges, public and private, for which the essay is a significant factor in selectivity, has increased from 14% in 1993 to 25% in 2012, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling in its latest annual report. Inevitably, the more selective private institutions with their growing pools of high-performing applicants tend to review applications more holistically and, therefore, place the most emphasis on non-quantitative elements such as the personal statement.

Given the opaque but obviously significant role of personal essays in American applications, it is not surprising that a recent blog post that revealed essays written by students admitted to Columbia’s class of 2017 elicited the vitriolic response that it did. While some decried the release of these “sacred texts” and the public mockery of their young writers, others pointed to the banality, absorption and self-aggrandizement of the published examples.

Admission officers at highly selective institutions like Columbia are well aware of the skill, social breadth and intellectual depth they can reasonably expect from some of the world’s highest performing students. But they also remain deeply conscious that they are poring over the writings of high school children.

Meanwhile, a recent decision by the Common Application (the online application used by 400 universities) to radically overhaul the personal statement has once again highlighted the role of the essay in an American college application. Some counselors responded strongly to the new absence of an open-ended “topic of your choice,” while others sighed in relief on behalf of admission officers who will have fresh horizons of teenage angst to explore as questions change each year. Many others, including me, have pointed out that the new questions are effectively asking students to address the same essential ideas, and perhaps that is a good thing.

Inevitably, as admission officers slog through literally thousands of essays, they will continue to develop a personal catalog of the kind of essays that annoy, bore or simply leave the reader cold. In my own experience as a former Ivy League admission officer, the worst college essays tend to fall into definable categories within which they can be tagged by type. They leave the reader with questions about the creativity, good judgment and depth of the writer.

  • The road less traveled is oddly crowded. The problem with countless essays about courageously traveling off the beaten path and boldly exploring new places is not that admission readers will doubt the students’ sincerity, but rather the fact that teenagers usually lack the perspective to know that notwithstanding their desire to be different, others have already arrived at the same places, explored the same worlds, and wrote essays about it.
  • Poor but happy peasants. Summer trips and mission tours to exotic locales, both overseas and in the Deep South, have become grist for the college essays of both affluent Americans and their counterparts in countries like France and Singapore, where students still refer to their activities by blunt reference to “charity” work. However good their intentions, or those of the parents footing the big bills, these students’ essays often persuade readers that their experiences have been so sheltered that they return home with no deeper understanding of the impact of their unequal access to resources on those they went to serve.
  • I have overcome. Many students apply to US colleges having struggled against and having overcome astonishing odds. Such inspirational accounts leave those who have lived happy, secure lives casting around, however, for a hook on which to hang their own stories of growth and change. Admission officers will not doubt the sting a teenager felt on being overlooked for the varsity captaincy or on scoring a poor grade, but they can and do expect bright 17-year-olds to take the relative measure of their suffering.
  • Take me to your leader. Given their recruitment pitches, admission officers often have only themselves to blame when they are deluged by essays in which students treat leadership not as a process in which they participate and their hard work is reflected in the regard of their peers, but as a trophy to achieve and display on the mantle piece that is a college resume.

In contrast, admission officers will recall great essays in specific details. The teenager who sits on a Queens rooftop at night to ponder her city; the Boston boy who sees in the condition of his mother’s feet, her sacrifices on the factory floor on his behalf; the wannabe comic honing his skills in comedy clubs, usually with mixed success; the mathematician trying to describe the beauty he sees in Mandelbrot sets—these are essays I still remember because each offered a distinctive insight into the specific experience of an individual teenage life. But even the exceptional essays play a role only within a broader narrative that encompasses all the academic and social choices a student made throughout high school. They are the exclamation points to that story, not the centerpiece.

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *