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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary

Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on November 4, 2022.

If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.

Table of contents

What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.

Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.

We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.

This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.

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

When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!

Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.

Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”

That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.

“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”

I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.

I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”

I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”

She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”

“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.

“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.

I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.

The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.

The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.

That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.

I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.

Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.

I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.

It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.

Word count: 601

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This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I never had a choice.

My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.

We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.

I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.

However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.

My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.

“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”

I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”

“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”

“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.

Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.

I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.

Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.

Word Count: 553

This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”

I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:

“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”

As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!

Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.

I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:

Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.

During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.

During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.

I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.

Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.

He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked up.

“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”

He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”

We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.

I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.

Word count: 626

The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D. 

Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name. 

I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:

“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.” 

I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always. 

Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down. 

Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow. 

I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”

“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”

“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”

The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“Darwin, can we talk?” 

He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?” 

“Then why’d you do it?” 

“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.” 

“So I know you’re not trying.”

I locked eyes with him and glared. 

“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”

“So you give me a D?!”

“It got your attention.”

“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”

“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.” 

I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques. 

Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down. 

Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.” 

I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best . 

AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes. 

Word Count: 627

This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.

Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.

I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.

One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”

My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.

“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”

My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.

“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”

I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.

Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.

After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.

After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.

A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.

I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.

From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.

Word count: 622

This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

The worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.

It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.

I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.

Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.

Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune. 

The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.

Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.

While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.

Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.

Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!

Word count: 607

In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition

The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?

This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.

And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.

So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”

Appetizer: My first leadership experience

A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.

Main course: My best leadership experience

Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.

Dessert: My future leadership hopes 

The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.

Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.

Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Time’s up! 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.

Word count: 612

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

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Below are a number of links that provide examples of Common App essays. We hope they inspire you and help you to write your own unique essay for your college application . Please do not copy them, as this is plagiarism.

Essay Example #1 - Japanese Puzzle

Watching the news with my parents one night, I heard a story about Japan, which included an interview with a man speaking Japanese. Suddenly entranced, I struggled to make sense of the incredible sounds tumbling out of his mouth and immediately knew that the language was a puzzle I needed to solve. Read more >

Essay Example #2 - Camping Lesson

The 90-degree summer heat beat down on my shoulders, but that was the least of my problems. A six-year old boy had just disrupted a yellow jacket nest by the lake and children were getting stung left and right. If it had been any other summer I would have sat back and let an adult take care of the problem, but as the only camp counselor in the vicinity, I was suddenly the closest grown up around. Read more >

Essay Example #3 - EMT Efficiency

Patience has never been my strong suit, and while I have always wanted to be a healer, I could never imagine waiting to finish college and medical school before actually working with patients. So after a lifetime of hearing stories from my mom’s best friend about life in the ambulance as an emergency medical technician, I decided to jump in and sign up for my local training program last year. Read more >

Essay Example #4 - Trigonometry Trouble

While not everything in life is within our control, that doesn’t mean we should let those things hold us back from success. I have never been particularly adept at math, but always managed to do well enough with a little extra effort. That is, until I signed up for trigonometry. I managed to keep a grasp on the lessons for the first few weeks, but my understanding of the topic slowly ebbed away as the semester wore on. Read more >

Essay Example #5 - A Shakespearean Shambles

A “C+” might not constitute a technical failure, but for an honors student with a constant eye on my GPA, my grade on the English group project certainly felt like an “F.” I should start from the beginning. Last year, I was excited when my English teacher announced that she was assigning a group project for our Shakespeare unit. Read more >

Essay Example #6 - The Substitute

Sitting outside of the principal’s office, my stomach lurched and my palms felt sweaty. I wasn’t about to get in trouble; in fact, the situation was the exact opposite. I sat there waiting to report what had just happened in my history class.

90 minutes earlier, I arrived at class to discover we had a substitute teacher for the period. Admittedly, I felt a moment of relief at the thought of a less taxing lesson than usual. Some of my classmates thought the same thing, but chose to express it a little more vocally. Slamming his fist on the teacher’s desk, the substitute responded by screaming to be heard over the din of the class. Read more >

Essay Example #7 - A Catholic Conundrum

Raised in a proud, traditional Catholic family, I wasn’t sure where to turn when I began to question the Church two years ago. There was no cataclysmic event that caused me to do so; rather, some of the dogma began to feel exclusionary and overly judgmental. I just couldn’t imagine God caring about much that the Church espoused as doctrine.

The first time I voiced a challenge was in my weekly catechism class. The teacher stated that anyone who didn’t believe in God would go to hell. “What about people in Africa?” I asked. Read more >

Essay Example #8 - Refugee Report

Immigration is an enormous issue in America, with people arguing about every possible angle to the challenges facing successful policy reform. The recent ISIS attacks in Paris helped to fuel anti-refugee sentiments throughout the U.S., despite there being no evidence that accepting Syrian refugees would pose any real threat to our nation. Read more >

Essay Example #9 - Driving License Journey

Many of my friends seem to be in no rush to get their driver’s license, with many of their 16th birthdays passing by without even mention of beginning to drive. I, on the other hand, viewed my driver’s license as the next step in becoming an adult. Read more >

Essay Example #10 - A Mexican Affair

Forget MTV’s images of spoiled girls picking out multi-thousand dollar dresses. That was not my quinceañera. Yes, many girls I know in my Mexican American community hold ostentatious events that look like they should be on the cover of a magazine. But when I celebrated my 15th birthday, it was a deeply-rooted cultural affair celebrating my transition into adulthood alongside my family and closest friends. Read more >

Essay Example #11 - The Teachings of Employment

I would have loved to be on the high school yearbook staff, work on the school paper, run for student government, play a sport, or have enough time to devote to my studies.  But my high school experience was much different.   I worked twenty to thirty hours a week from the time I was fourteen to help support my family and save for college.  My father died when I was ten leaving my mother with three children to support and so, as the oldest, I tried my best to help. Read more >>

Essay Example #12 - Tough Game

I love the game of football and in sixth grade I decided I wanted to play on a team.   I was sure it would be great.  I picked up my equipment a few days before the first practice and strolled in thinking this would be easy. However, it was a disaster!  I was out of shape, the coach yelled all the time, and I was completely unprepared.  I went home devastated and refused to go back. Read more >>

Essay Example #13 - Jeep Journey

I grew up tinkering with anything I could get my hands on.  At a young age, I took apart radios, toasters, and other household items to learn how they worked.  As I got older, I moved on to small motors and engines, and rebuilt our lawn mower.  But, at fourteen, I received my greatest challenge that not only taught me how to solve some complex problems, but helped me understand what I want to do for a career. Read more >>

Essay Example #14 - Truth & Politics

I am a politically disenfranchised Millennial.   I want to believe that my vote matters.  I want to believe that politicians are dedicated to public service and intellectualism, and the media is more than another self-interested business pushing its own agenda.  However, I do not believe these things.  So what is the answer?  Am I forced to accept this “reality” or is there some way to make a difference? Read more >>

Essay Example #15 - Dance Dilemma

I have heard many of my fellow students say it would be nice to join a high school club or activity, but they frequently find an excuse for not getting involved.  As a freshman, I decided that I did not want to be one of those people, but instead wanted to live my high school life to its fullest.  I learned about the many options available and purposely choose four activities that were different from each other and would help me to meet a diverse group of people. Read more >>

Further information

For more tips and advice on putting together your common application for college, please see:

10+ Outstanding Common App Essay Examples

10+ Outstanding Common App Essay Examples

Learn to write a successful common application essay by reading and analyzing these awesome common app essay examples from winning applications.

If you’re working on your college application, the Common Application prompts are in your future.

Even if you aren’t using the Common App , many schools require you to answer some version of the question “Who are you, and what do you value?”

Having helped thousands of students answer this question, I thought it would help to share some of my favorite Common App essay examples.

But first..

What is the Common Application?

The Common App is the most popular online system used by colleges and universities to help students apply to their college.

Hundreds of colleges and universities accept the Common App, and using it can save you a ton of time. Why? The essay you write for the Common App is sent to basically every school that you apply to.

The Common App essay is 650 words, and you have 7 prompts to pick from. (But note: It doesn’t matter which prompt you pick. In fact, I recommend you write your essay first and then choose the prompt to match it.)

Here are those Common App prompts:

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

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

So before diving into our Common App essay examples, here’s what to keep an eye on.

College admissions officers are looking for three things in your essay:

Who is this person?

Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?

Can this person write?

The reader should get a clear picture of what you value and how you’ll put those values into action.

How do you write a great common app essay?

I’ve got so much to say about how to write a Common App essay that it would make your head spin. But, here are the basics.

Brainstorm (I think it’s the most important step).

Structure your essay according to your topic.

Draft. Revise. Repeat.

Common App essay word limit.

The word limit for the Common App essay is 650. That doesn’t mean you need to use all 650 words—many of the great example essays below don’t. But as a general guideline, it’s a good idea to use most of that word count, since this essay is one of the primary ways a college gets a sense of who you are.

If you just want to see some great Common App essay examples, keep scrolling.

Be warned: some of these common application essay examples may inspire you.


Note that almost none of these students actually titled their essays; for the Table of Contents, I’ve simply titled them based on their first line or general topic.

Common App Essay Example #1 Home

(note: bold added to words added by us—see Tips + Analysis)

As I enter the double doors, the smell of freshly rolled biscuits hits me almost instantly. I trace the fan blades as they swing above me, emitting a low, repetitive hum resembling a faint melody. After bringing our usual order, the “Tailgate Special,” to the table, my father begins discussing the recent performance of Apple stock with my mother, myself, and my older eleven year old sister. Bojangle’s, a Southern establishment well known for its fried chicken and reliable fast food, is my family’s Friday night restaurant, often accompanied by trips to Eva Perry, the nearby library. With one hand on my breaded chicken and the other on Nancy Drew: Mystery of Crocodile Island, I can barely sit still as the thriller unfolds. They’re imprisoned! Reptiles! Not the enemy’s boat! As I delve into the narrative with a sip of sweet tea, I feel at home .

“Five, six, seven, eight!” As I shout the counts, nineteen dancers grab and begin to spin the tassels attached to their swords while walking heel-to-toe to the next formation of the classical Chinese sword dance. A glance at my notebook reveals a collection of worn pages covered with meticulously planned formations, counts, and movements. Through sharing videos of my performances with my relatives or discovering and choreographing the nuances of certain regional dances and their reflection on the region’s distinct culture, I deepen my relationship with my parents, heritage, and community. When I step on stage, the hours I’ve spent choreographing, creating poses, teaching, and polishing are all worthwhile, and the stage becomes my home .

Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. This pulse mimics the beating of my heart, a subtle rhythm that persists each day I come into the lab. Whether I am working under the fume hood with platinum nanoparticles, manipulating raw integration data, or spraying a thin platinum film over pieces of copper, it is in Lab 304 in Hudson Hall that I first feel the distinct sensation, and I’m home . After spending several weeks attempting to synthesize platinum nanoparticles with a diameter between 10 and 16 nm, I finally achieve nanoparticles with a diameter of 14.6 nm after carefully monitoring the sulfuric acid bath. That unmistakable tingling sensation dances up my arm as I scribble into my notebook: I am overcome with a feeling of unbridled joy.

Styled in a t-shirt, shorts, and a worn, dark green lanyard, I sprint across the quad from the elective ‘Speaking Arabic through the Rassias Method’ to ‘Knitting Nirvana’. This afternoon is just one of many at Governor’s School East, where I have been transformed from a high school student into a philosopher, a thinker, and an avid learner. While I attend GS at Meredith College for Natural Science, the lessons learned and experiences gained extend far beyond physics concepts, serial dilutions, and toxicity. I learn to trust myself to have difficult yet necessary conversations about the political and economic climate. Governor’s School breeds a culture of inclusivity and multidimensionality, and I am transformed from “girl who is hardworking” or “science girl” to someone who indulges in the sciences, debates about psychology and the economy, and loves to swing and salsa dance. As I form a slip knot and cast on, I’m at home .

My home is a dynamic and eclectic entity. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers, and intellectuals. While I may not always live within a 5 mile radius of a Bojangle’s or in close proximity to Lab 304, learning to become a more perceptive daughter and sister, to share the beauty of my heritage, and to take risks and redefine scientific and personal expectations will continue to impact my sense of home .

Tips + Analysis:

Precise details = efficient storytelling. Another writer may have written that they simply “worked in a lab” or that they “danced”, but not this writer. This writer knows how to quickly and deeply reveal the insights of lived experience. She’s not simply “working in a lab,” but she’s “spraying a thin platinum film over pieces of copper” and “monitoring the sulfuric acid bath.” Using those key, precise, “showing” details , she brings us into those moments in the lab, such that we can really see what her time there looks like. The result is that readers get a more comprehensive understanding of what those experiences have taught the writer.

Know your thread. In a montage essay , a writer uses a guiding thread to tie together different experiences from their life. Look at the bolded words in the essay to see how this writer builds her guiding thread: places where she feels at home. At the end of each paragraph she explains how the example she described relates to her experience of “home.” But notice the variability in her phrasing. She doesn’t simply end each paragraph by saying “I feel at home when X because Y.” She changes her phrasing up, but still always gets at the same idea (i.e., feeling at home). “But wait,” you might say, “why did she change her use of “home” in that lab paragraph.” Answer: because ending all four of the body paragraphs with “home” (notice that she saves her intro for the end—more on that in a moment) could easily feel repetitive. So she weaves “home” into the middle of the paragraph and at the end describes “ That unmistakable feeling…” (emphasis added). In using this phrase, she evokes the concept of home by injecting familiarity into the reflection—what is unmistakable is familiar, and what is familiar, to this writer, is home.

Get forward-looking with your ending . Your English teacher may have told you to conclude your essays by restating your thesis. While that can be great advice for certain types of writing, you might want to try and get a bit more nuanced with your personal statement. For example, this writer actually saves what would normally be an intro for the final paragraph/conclusion , and doesn’t simply restate all the main points of her essay, but she explains how the lessons she’s learned will inform future actions . She does this most explicitly by saying that each experience she’s touched on in the essay will “continue to impact [her] sense of home.” With that phrase she makes clear to readers that she knows how to apply the lessons learned in this essay to her future.

Learn how to write your common app essay here

Common app essay example #2 easter.

It was Easter and we should’ve been celebrating with our family, but my father had locked us in the house. If he wasn’t going out, neither were my mother and I.

My mother came to the U.S. from Mexico to study English. She’d been an exceptional student and had a bright future ahead of her. But she fell in love and eloped with the man that eventually became my father. He loved her in an unhealthy way, and was both physically and verbally abusive. My mother lacked the courage to start over so she stayed with him and slowly let go of her dreams and aspirations. But she wouldn’t allow for the same to happen to me.

In the summer before my junior year I was offered a scholarship to study abroad in Egypt. Not to my surprise, my father refused to let me go. But my mother wouldn’t let him crush my dreams as well. I’d do this for myself and for my mothers unfulfilled aspirations. I accepted the scholarship.

I thought I’d finally have all the freedom I longed for in Egypt, but initially I didn’t. On a weekly basis I heard insults and received harassment in the streets, yet I didn’t yield to the societal expectations for women by staying indoors. I continued to roam throughout Egypt, exploring the Great Pyramids of Giza , cruising on the Nile, and traveling to Luxor and Aswan. And before I returned to the U.S. I received the unexpected opportunity to travel to London and Paris. It was surreal: a girl from the ghetto traveling alone around the world with a map in her hands And no man or cultural standards could dictate what I was to do. I rode the subway from Cambridge University to the British Museum. I took a train from London to Paris and in two days I visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and took a cruise on the Seine. Despite the language barrier I found I had the self-confidence to approach anyone for directions.

While I was in Europe enjoying my freedom, my mother moved out and rented her own place. It was as if we’d simultaneously gained our independence. We were proud of each other. And she vicariously lived through my experiences as I sent her pictures and told her about my adventures.

Finally, we were free.

I currently live in the U.S with my mother. My father has gradually transformed from a frigid man to the loving father I always yearned for. Life isn’t perfect, but for the moment I’m enjoying tranquility and stability with my family and are communicating much better than ever before.

I’m involved in my school’s Leadership Council as leader of our events committee. We plan and execute  school dances and create effective donation letters. I see this as a stepping-stone for my future, as I plan to double major in Women’s Studies and International Relations with a focus on Middle Eastern studies. After the political turmoil of the Arab Spring many Middle Eastern countries refuse to grant women equal positions in society because that would contradict Islamic texts. By oppressing women they’re silencing half of their population. I believe these Islamic texts have been misinterpreted throughout time, and my journey towards my own independence has inspired me to help other women find liberation as well.

My Easter will drastically differ from past years. Rather than being locked at home, my mother and I will celebrate outdoors our rebirth and renewal.

Use details to hook the reader. An effective hook should do two things: engage the reader’s attention, and set up the direction/focus of the essay. This writer uses details to successfully do both of those things. Learning that her father had “locked [her and other mother] in the house, our attention is grasped by the apparent severity of the situation. Starting with this example also previews the exploration of freedom and independence later in the essay, setting the writer up to…

…End with a full-circle flourish. After the first paragraph, the essay moves away from that specific moment in the bathroom, not returning to it until the last paragraph. But they didn’t completely abandon the ideas of the opening in the middle paragraphs, right? Right—they used the  middle to expand on and clarify the ideas suggested by the intro. By doing this, we come to see the opening as one of a few examples of men trying to control the writer’s life. By revisiting that locked-bathroom anecdote at the essay’s end, the writer crystallizes what they’ve learned through the events of the essay. In celebrating “outdoors [her and her mother’s] rebirth and renewal,” she asserts her newfound independence, confidence, and power. (See “Back to the beginning, but something’s changed” for more on this guide to different ways to end a personal statement .)

Keep the focus on you (even when others are involved). Your personal statement is about you. Other people may have been involved in the story you want to tell, but they shouldn’t be the stars of your essay’s show. For example, it’s clear that this writer’s mother played a key role in this essay, but the focus remains on the writer’s actions and learnings. She uses the second paragraph to provide just enough context on her family dynamic before pivoting to the “What I Did” part of the essay. There, our attention is focused mostly on how the writer responded to the essay’s challenges: she “continued to roam throughout Egypt”, “rode the subway from Cambridge University to the British Museum” and later became “involved in [her] school’s Leadership Council as leader.” By using those key details, she keeps her story focused on her.

Spanish Version of “EASTER”:

Era Pascua y deberíamos haber estado celebrando con nuestra familia, pero mi padre nos había encerrado en casa. Si él no iba a salir, tampoco mi madre e yo.

Mi madre vino a los EE.UU. desde México para estudiar Inglés . Había sido una estudiante excepcional y tenía un futuro brillante por delante de ella . Pero se enamoró y se fugó con el hombre que sería mi padre. La amaba pero de una manera destructiva, y era a la vez física y verbalmente abusivo. Mi madre no tuvo el valor para empezar de nuevo así que se quedó con él y poco a poco puso a un lado sus sueños y aspiraciones. Pero ella no permitiría que me ocurriera lo mismo que a ella.

El verano pasado, en mi primer año me ofrecieron una beca para estudiar en el extranjero en Egipto. No, para mi sorpresa , mi padre se negó a dejarme ir. Pero mi madre no permitió que mi padre arruinara mis sueños también. Yo haría esto no sólo por mí sino también por mi madre y sus aspiraciones que no había cumplido. Acepté la beca.

Pensé que por fin tendría toda la libertad que anhelaba en Egipto, pero al principio no lo tuve. Diario escuché los insultos y recibí el acoso en las calles, pero no me someti ante las expectativas que la sociedad tenia para las mujeres por quedarme en casa. Seguí viajando por todo Egipto, las grandes pirámides de Giza, crucero por el Nilo, y viajes a Luxor y Aswan. Y antes de regresar a los EE.UU. recibí la inesperada oportunidad de viajar a Londres y París. Fue surrealista: una chica del barrio viajaria sola por el mundo con un mapa en sus manos y ningún hombre o norma cultural podría dictar lo que iba o podía a hacer. Me subí a un tren desde la Universidad de Cambridge hasta el Museo Británico. Tomé un tren de Londres a París y en dos días visité la Torre Eiffel, el Louvre , la Catedral de Notre Dame, y tomé un crucero por el río Sena. A pesar de la barrera del idioma me di cuenta que tenía la confianza en mi misma para acercarme a cualquier persona en mi camino.

Mientras estaba en Europa disfrutando de mi libertad, mi madre se mudó y alquiló su propio lugar . Era como si al mismo tiempo habíamos ganado nuestra independencia. Nos sentimos orgullosos de una misma. Y ella vivía vicariamente a través de mis experiencias por media de las fotos que le envié lo que le conté de mis aventuras.

Finalmente, éramos libres.

Ahora vivo en los EE.UU. con mi madre. Mi padre se ha transformado gradualmente de un hombre frígido a el padre amoroso que siempre anhelaba . Mi vida no es perfecta, pero por el momento estoy disfrutando de la tranquilidad y la estabilidad con mi familia y nos comunicamos mucho mejor que antes.

Yo estoy involucrada en el Consejo de Liderazgo de mi escuela como líder de nuestro comité de eventos. Planificamos y ejecutamos los bailes escolares y creamos cartas de donación efectivas. Veo esto como un comienzo hacia mi futuro , ya que tengo pensado en obtener una doble licenciatura en Estudios de la Mujer y Relaciones Internacionales con énfasis en estudios de Medio Oriente. Después de la rebeldía civil de la primavera Árabe muchos países del Medio Oriente se negaron a concederles a las mujeres la igualdad en posiciones en la sociedad, ya que estaría en contradicción con la religión de Islam. La opresión de la mujer está silenciando a la mitad de la población. Creo que estos textos islámicos han sido mal interpretados a través del tiempo, y mi trayecto hacia mi propia independencia me ha inspirado a ayudar a otras mujeres a encontrar su liberación también.

Mi Pascua cambió drásticamente en comparación con los últimos años. En lugar de estar encerrados en casa, mi madre y yo celebramos al aire libre nuestro renacimiento y renovación.


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Common App Essay Example #3 Makeup

In eighth grade, I was asked to write my hobbies and career goals, but I hesitated. Should I just make something up? I was embarrassed to tell people that my hobby was collecting cosmetics and that I wanted to become a cosmetic chemist. I worried others would judge me as too girlish and less competent compared to friends who wanted to work at the UN in foreign affairs or police the internet to crack down on hackers. The very fact that I was insecure about my "hobby" was perhaps proof that cosmetics was trivial, and I was a superficial girl for loving it.

But cosmetics was not just a pastime, it was an essential part of my daily life. In the morning I got up early for my skincare routine, using brightening skin tone and concealing blemishes, which gave me the energy and confidence throughout the day. At bedtime I relaxed with a soothing cleansing ritual applying different textures and scents of liquids, creams, sprays, and gels. My cosmetic collection was a dependable companion - rather than hiding it away, I decided instead to learn more about cosmetics, and to explore.

However, cosmetic science wasn't taught at school so I designed my own training. It began with the search for a local cosmetician to teach me the basics of cosmetics, and each Sunday I visited her lab to formulate organic products. A year of lab practice taught me how little I knew about ingredients, so my training continued with independent research on toxins. I discovered that safety in cosmetics was a contested issue amongst scientists, policy makers, companies, and consumer groups, variously telling me there are toxic ingredients that may or may not be harmful. I was frustrated by this uncertainty, yet motivated to find ways of sharing what I was learning with others.

Research spurred action. I began writing articles on the history of toxic cosmetics, from lead in Elizabethan face powder to lead in today's lipstick, and communicated with a large readership online. Positive feedback from hundreds of readers inspired me to step up my writing, to raise awareness with my peers, so I wrote a gamified survey for online distribution discussing the slack natural and organic labeling of cosmetics, which are neither regulated nor properly defined. At school I saw opportunities to affect real change and launched a series of green chemistry campaigns: the green agenda engaged the school community in something positive and was a magnet for creative student ideas, such as a recent project to donate handmade organic pet shampoo to local dog shelters. By senior year, I was pleased my exploration had gone well.

But on a recent holiday back home, I unpacked and noticed cosmetics had invaded much of my space over the years. Dresser top and drawers were crammed with unused tubes and jars — once handpicked with loving care — had now become garbage. I sorted through each hardened face powder and discolored lotion, remembering what had excited me about the product and how I'd used it. Examining these mementos led me to a surprising realization: yes, I had been a superficial girl obsessed with clear and flawless skin.

But there was something more too.

My makeup had given me confidence and comfort, and that was okay. I am glad I didn't abandon the superficial me, but instead acknowledged her, and stood by her to take her on an enlightening and rewarding journey. Cosmetics led me to dig deeper into scientific inquiry, helped me develop an impassioned voice, and became a tool to connect me with others. Together, I've learned that the beauty of a meaningful journey lies in getting lost for it was in the meandering that I found myself.

Find uncommon connections . Some content is more well-trodden than others. For example, many people write about how X sport taught them Y lesson about hard work, resulting in a dreaded “cliché” essay. There are a few remedies for avoiding cliché topics. This writer successfully employs “uncommon connections” to make her essay unique. When an application reader enters an essay about makeup, they’re likely not thinking that they’re going to read an essay about the value of scientific inquiry. This is one of the things that makes this essay so strong: it manages to connect ideas seldom connected. For your own essay, you might ask yourself, “what would the cliché version of my story focus on?” Or maybe even “what are the values one would expect an essay about X to focus on?” Then, try to come up with a few less-common values that you feel connect to your story.

Find the glue (between paragraphs) . We enter each paragraph understanding how it’s going to relate to the ideas of the previous paragraph. How? This writer makes some great transitions . Take the start of paragraph two, for example. She begins with this: “But cosmetics was not just a pastime , it was an essential part of my daily life ”. We’ve underlined the parts of that sentence that make it such a strong transition. By saying cosmetics were “not just a pastime,” the writer references the idea she used to end paragraph one. Then, by clarifying that cosmetics were “an essential part of [her] daily life,” she explains how she’s going to explore the significance of cosmetics in this next paragraph. The result is that we’re able to follow a clear train of thought: at first, cosmetics seemed like just a pastime, but I later realized they were an essential part of daily life.

Build an arc. Notice how this writer’s relationship to cosmetics develops over the course of the essay. She opens by noting that she was “insecure” for her love of cosmetics, thinking it made her “superficial.” The next middle paragraphs then explain how specific experiences provided more nuance to her relationship with cosmetics. Finally, when we get to that ending paragraph, we see a familiar but importantly different relationship with cosmetics: yes, she thinks she was “superficial,” but her experiences have led her to express gratitude for that past version of herself, not shame.

gap year essay common app examples

Common App Essay Example #4 Transformers Are Not Just for Boys

Transformers are not just for boys. I loved these amazing robots that could transform into planes and cars the first time I saw them in the toy store. The boys had all the samples, refusing to let me play with one. When I protested loudly to my mother, she gently chided me that Transformers were ugly and unfeminine. She was wrong.

When I moved from China to Canada, my initial excitement turned to dismay as my peers were not as understanding of my language barrier as I’d hoped. I joined the robotics team in a desperate attempt to find a community, though I doubted I would fit into the male-dominated field. Once I used physics to determine gear ratio, held a drill for the first time, and jumped into the pit to fix a robot, I was hooked.

I went back to China that summer to bring robotics to my friends. I asked them to join me in the technology room at my old school and showed them how to use power tools to create robot parts. I pitched my idea to the school principal and department heads. By the time I left China, my old school had a team.

Throughout the next year, I guided my Chinese team-only one of three that existed in the country-with the help of social media. I translated instructions, set building deadlines and coached them on how to answer judges’ questions.

I returned to China a year later to lead my team through their first Chinese-hosted international competition. Immediately upon arrival to the competition, I gave the Chinese head official important documents for urgent distribution. I knew all the Chinese teams would need careful instructions on the rules and procedures. I was surprised when the competition descended into confusion and chaos. Government policies against information sharing had blocked the Chinese teams from receiving information and the Chinese organizers hadn’t distributed my documents. I decided to create another source of knowledge for my fledgling robotics teams.

It took me several weeks to create a sharing platform that students could access through the firewall. On it, I shared my experience and posted practical practice challenges. I received hundreds of shares and had dozens of discussion questions posted.

My platform’s popularity created an unintended issue; it garnered the attention and reprimand of the Chinese robotics organizations. When a head official reached out to my Canadian mentors, warning them to stop my involvement with the Chinese teams, I was concerned. When a Chinese official publicly chastised me on a major robotics forum, I was heartbroken. They made it clear that my gender, my youth, and my information sharing approach was not what they wanted.

I considered quitting. But so many students reached out to me requesting help. I wanted to end unnecessary exclusion. I worked to enhance access to my platform. I convinced Amazon to sponsor my site, giving it access to worldwide high-speed servers. Although I worried about repercussions, I continued to translate and share important documents.

During the busy building season, my platform is swamped with discussions, questions and downloads. I have organized a group of friends to help me monitor the platform daily so that no question or request is left unanswered. Some of my fears have come true: I have been banned from several Chinese robotics forums. I am no longer allowed to attend Chinese robotics competitions in China as a mentor. The Chinese government has taken down my site more than once.

Robotics was my first introduction to the wonderful world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am dedicated to the growth of robotics in places where it is needed and wanted. I have used my hands and mind to tear down all barriers that separate people, no matter gender or nationality, from the inspiration and exploration of STEM.

Transformers, robotics and STEM are for boys and girls, even in China.

Vary your structure. No matter how interesting its content might be, few people greet the text-wall of a 20 sentence paragraph with joy. Shorter, clearly-purposed, digestible paragraphs often make for more approachable writing. The above writer knows this. She takes her time when she needs to develop key examples, like she does in paragraph five, and is quick and efficient when she’s building to a point, like she does in two-sentence paragraph four (and yes, one or two sentence paragraphs are totally fine on a college personal statement). She does this not only with her paragraphs, but with her sentences, too. The punchiness of “She was wrong” at the end of the first paragraph is achieved by its contrast with the longer, more-complex previous two sentences.

Get clear on what you did. “What did you do in your volunteer work?” asks the admissions officer reading your essay. “I helped out,” you respond, failing to seize a moment to tell us about the awesome things you actually did. The writer of this essay certainly “helped out” with her robotics team, but she did so much more than that, yes? How do we know this? Well, she uses some really strong action verbs along the way to show us what she did. Take paragraph four, for example. The first sentence introduces the general idea of her being a “guide” for her robotics team in China, and then the second sentence gives us some very-specific examples of what that guidance looked like. She “ translated instructions,” “ set building deadlines”  and “ coached” her teammates on how to answer judges’ questions.” Want to attain that level of clarity in your own writing? Consider checking out our epic list of verbs for some guidance on how to clearly describe actions you took in your application essays. 

Show us the effect you had. This writer doesn’t only use clear verbs and details to show us what she did, she also uses them to show us the effects her actions had. Look at paragraph six for a great example of this. Describing the effects of her creating an online sharing platform, she writes, “I received hundreds of shares and had dozens of discussion questions posted.” Later, she notes that “The Chinese government has taken down my site more than once.” She could have simply written that “a lot of people used her platform,” or that “The Chinese government took issue with my website,” but she doesn’t. Instead, she uses key details to show the effects of her actions.

Common App Essay Example #5 The Instagram Post

On “Silent Siege Day,” many students in my high school joined the Students for Life club and wore red armbands with “LIFE” on them. As a non-Catholic in a Catholic school, I knew I had to be cautious in expressing my opinion on the abortion debate. However, when I saw that all of the armband-bearing students were male, I could not stay silent.

I wrote on Instagram, “pro-choice does not necessarily imply pro-abortion; it means that we respect a woman’s fundamental right to make her own choice regarding her own body.”

Some of my peers expressed support but others responded by calling me a dumb bitch, among other names. When I demanded an apology for the name-calling, I was told I needed to learn to take a joke: “you have a lot of anger, I think you need a boyfriend.” Another one of my peers apparently thought the post was sarcastic (?) and said “I didn’t know women knew how to use sarcasm.”

One by one, I responded. I was glad to have sparked discussion, but by midnight, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Completely overwhelmed by the 140+ comments, I looked to my parents for comfort, assuming they would be proud of me for standing up for my beliefs. But instead, they told me to remove the post and to keep quiet, given the audience. I refused to remove the post, but decided to stay silent.

For months, I heard students talking about “The Post,” and a new sense of self-consciousness felt like duct tape over my mouth. As I researched the history of Planned Parenthood (to respond to someone accusing it of “the genocide of black babies”), I became interested in the history of the feminist movement. At the same time, I was studying the Civil Rights Movement in my history class, and researching my feminist critique of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House . I gradually began to realize that refusing to conform to the conventions of society is what propels us toward equality. Martin Luther King was arrested nearly thirty times for ‘civil disobedience’ and Susan B. Anthony for ‘illegal voting.’ Letting the social media backlash silence my own fight for social justice seemed silly and unacceptable.

Before The Post, I naïvely thought that sexism was dead, but I came to see its ubiquity, whether it’s painfully conspicuous or seemingly innocuous. Knowing that young girls are especially vulnerable to constricting gender stereotypes, I Googled “girls empowerment programs” and called Girls on the Run to see how I could help. As a junior coach, I spend my Monday and Thursday afternoons with middle school girls, running, singing Taylor Swift songs, discussing our daily achievements (I got 100 on my math test!), and setting goals for the next day. The girls celebrate their accomplishments and talk about themselves positively, fully expressing their self-esteem.

After The Post, I also Googled ‘how to be politically active,’ and signed petitions for the Medicare for All Act, the Raise the Wage Act, and the EACH Woman Act, among others. In response to the transgender military ban, I called the White House (they hung up as soon as I said “as a human rights advocate...,” but I tried). It feels good to sign petitions, but I’m still not doing enough. I want to fight for social justice in the courtroom.

My role model Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “dissent[ers] speak to a future age... they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” Retrospectively, I realize that The Post was my voice of dissent―through it, I initiated a campus-wide discussion and openly challenged the majority opinion of my school for the first time. As I aspire to become a civil rights attorney and the first Asian woman on the Supreme Court (I hope it doesn’t take that long!), I am confident that I will continue to write and speak out for justice ―for tomorrow.

Keep the focus on action and outcome. In this narrative essay , the writer uses roughly the first ⅓ of her story to describe challenges, and the effects of those challenges. By the time we get to the “One by one…” paragraph, she pivots to start describing specific things she did to respond to those challenges, weaving in things she learned along the way. Notice the ratio there: ⅓ of the essay focuses on the problem, leaving a whole ⅔ of the word count to discuss actions, and the outcomes of those actions. If you’re writing a narrative essay, let that ratio be a guide. Application readers are interested in learning about your challenges, but are most interested in how you responded to them.

Use clear verbs to show us what you did. Maybe you and your friends ‘worked hard’ on a project during your junior year of high school. That’s great! But simply telling us that you ‘worked hard’ doesn’t really tell us much about what happened. So how do you give us a better sense of what you did? Use clear action verbs. Notice how many action verbs this writer uses: “ I wrote on Instagram”, “ I demanded an apology”, “ singing Taylor Swift songs”, “ I called the White House.” There are many more, all of which give us an easy-to-see sense of what this writer did. Need some help thinking of verbs for your own essays? Check out our epic list of verbs for some ideas.

Keep your timeline in order . In this narrative essay, the writer chronologically organizes her paragraphs, making it easy for us to follow along with the sequence of events. She starts with the origins of that Instagram post, discusses people’s reactions to it, shows how she responded to those reactions, and finally tells us what she learned. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the structure—a lot of thought likely went into the ordering of ideas. By precisely choosing which moments in the timeline to show us, the writer keeps control of the story. Look at the transition from paragraph four to paragraph five, for example. When the writer says “for months, I heard students talking about ‘The Post…’”, we get the sense that a lot has transpired since she made that Instagram post. But she doesn’t tell us about every whisper she heard in the hallway, or every comment made in class, does she? Instead, she’s precise, telling us only the details necessary to move the action forward.


Common app essay example #6 ¡ya levantate.

“¡Mijo! ¡Ya levantate! ¡Se hace tarde!” (Son! Wake up! It's late already.) My father’s voice pierced into my room as I worked my eyes open. We were supposed to open the restaurant earlier that day.

Ever since 5th grade, I have been my parents’ right hand at Hon Lin Restaurant in our hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico. Sometimes, they needed me to be the cashier; other times, I was the youngest waiter on staff. Eventually, when I got strong enough, I was called into the kitchen to work as a dishwasher and a chef’s assistant.

The restaurant took a huge toll on my parents and me. Working more than 12 hours every single day (even holidays), I lacked paternal guidance, thus I had to build autonomy at an early age. On weekdays, I learned to cook my own meals, wash my own clothes, watch over my two younger sisters, and juggle school work.

One Christmas Eve we had to prepare 135 turkeys as a result of my father’s desire to offer a Christmas celebration to his patrons. We began working at 11pm all the way to 5am. At one point, I noticed the large dark bags under my father’s eyes. This was the scene that ignited the question in my head: “Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”

The answer was no.

So I started a list of goals. My first objective was to make it onto my school’s British English Olympics team that competed in an annual English competition in the U.K. After two unsuccessful attempts, I got in. The rigorous eight months of training paid off as we defeated over 150 international schools and lifted the 2nd Place cup; pride permeated throughout my hometown.

Despite the euphoria brought by victory, my sense of stability would be tested again, and therefore my goals had to adjust to the changing pattern.

During the summer of 2014, my parents sent me to live in the United States on my own to seek better educational opportunities. I lived with my grandparents, who spoke Taishan (a Chinese dialect I wasn’t fluent in). New responsibilities came along as I spent that summer clearing my documentation, enrolling in school, and getting electricity and water set up in our new home. At 15 years old, I became the family’s financial manager, running my father’s bank accounts, paying bills and insurance, while also translating for my grandmother, and cleaning the house.

In the midst of moving to a new country and the overwhelming responsibilities that came with it, I found an activity that helped me not only escape the pressures around me but also discover myself. MESA introduced me to STEM and gave me nourishment and a new perspective on mathematics. As a result, I found my potential in math way beyond balancing my dad’s checkbooks.

My 15 years in Mexico forged part of my culture that I just cannot live without. Trying to fill the void for a familiar community, I got involved with the Association of Latin American students, where I am now an Executive Officer. I proudly embrace the identity I left behind. I started from small debates within the club to discussing bills alongside 124 Chicanos/Latinos at the State Capitol of California.

The more I scratch off from my goals list, the more it brings me back to those days handling spatulas. Anew, I ask myself, “Is this how I want to spent the rest of my life?” I want a life driven by my passions, rather than the impositions of labor. I want to explore new paths and grow within my community to eradicate the prejudicial barriers on Latinos. So yes, this IS how I want to spend the rest of my life.

Use structure to your advantage. Take a moment to count the number of sentences in each paragraph of this essay. Really, do this. I’ll wait… Good? Okay, let’s talk about what you might have noticed. Rather than the bulkier paragraphs one may produce in a literary analysis paper in English class, this writer keeps the paragraphs short and sweet—the shortest ones are one sentence long, the longer ones are four-ish sentences. This has a lot of effects on the story. Here are two of important ones: 1. It simply makes the essay look more inviting. You could have the most engaging story ever, but if it comes in the form of a 10 sentence wall-of-text, you’re going to be putting your readers off. 2. It enables the writer to emphasize certain ideas. Check out paragraph five, for example: “The answer was no.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing. And, sandwiched between the longer paragraphs four and six, it calls attention to what it says, emphasizing the significance of this realization in the writer’s life. 

Start with tension, then fill us in later. This essay hooks our attention by starting us in a moment of high tension. Reading those first lines, we think “Someone’s yelling? Why?” It’s our desire for context that propels our attention into the next paragraph. There, the writer quickly clarifies what’s going on in the opening sentences: he fulfills many responsibilities in his family’s restaurant, and so he often needs to wake up early to work. 

What story can your activities list not tell? We like to think of your personal statement as the heart of your application . It’s an opportunity to show readers the essence of who you are as a person. This means it’s a great opportunity to let people in on the motivations behind what you do in your day to day life. I’m going to bet that this writer has included his experiences with MESA and the Association of Latin American Students on his Common App Activities List. I’m also going to bet that he didn’t discuss anything about his deeper motivations for doing those activities in his activities list (he wouldn’t really have space to do that anyway). You know what is a great space to dig into the backstory of those activities? Your personal statement. That’s what this writer does, right? What made him want to be a part of the Association of Latin American Students? Well, he was “trying to fill the void for a familiar community.” What prior experiences informed his work with MESA? Well, he was quite comfortable “balancing [his] dad’s checkbooks.”

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Common App Essay Example #7 No Stranger to Contrast

I’m no stranger to contrast. A Chinese American with accented Chinese, a Florida-born Texan, a first generation American with a British passport: no label fits me without a caveat.

But I’ve always strived to find connections among the dissimilar. In my home across the sea, although my relatives’ rapid Mandarin sails over my head, in them I recognize the same work ethic that carried my parents out of rural Shanghai to America, that fueled me through sweltering marching band practices and over caffeinated late nights. I even spend my free time doing nonograms, grid-based logic puzzles solved by using clues to fill in seemingly random pixels to create a picture.

It started when I was a kid. One day, my dad captured my fickle kindergartner attention (a herculean feat) and taught me Sudoku. As he explained the rules, those mysterious scaffoldings of numbers I often saw on his computer screen transformed into complex structures of logic built by careful strategy.

From then on, I wondered if I could uncover the hidden order behind other things in my life. In elementary school, I began to recognize patterns in the world around me: thin, dark clouds signaled rain, the moon changed shape every week, and the best snacks were the first to go. I wanted to know what unseen rules affected these things and how they worked. My parents, both pipeline engineers, encouraged this inquisitiveness and sometimes tried explaining to me how they solved puzzles in their own work. Although I didn’t understand the particulars, their analytical mindsets helped me muddle through math homework and optimize matches in Candy Crush.

In high school, I studied by linking concepts across subjects as if my coursework was another puzzle to solve. PEMDAS helped me understand appositive phrases, and the catalysts for revolutions resembled chemical isotopes, nominally different with the same properties.

As I grew older, my interests expanded to include the delicate systems of biology, the complexity of animation, and the nuances of language. Despite these subjects’ apparent dissimilarity, each provided fresh, fascinating perspectives on the world with approaches like color theory and evolution. I was (and remain) voracious for the new and unusual, spending hours entrenched in Wikipedia articles on obscure topics, i.e. classical ciphers or dragons, and analyzing absurdist YouTube videos.

Unsurprisingly, like pilot fish to their sharks, my career aspirations followed my varied passions: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand-up comedian. When it came to narrowing down the choices, narrowing down myself, I felt like nothing would satisfy my ever-fluctuating intellectual appetite.

But when I discovered programming, something seemed to settle. In computer science, I had found a field where I could be creative, explore a different type of language, and (yes) solve puzzles. Coding let me both analyze logic in its purest form and manipulate it to accomplish anything from a simple “print ‘hello world’” to creating functional games. Even when lines of red error messages fill my console, debugging offered me the same thrill as a particularly good puzzle. Now, when I see my buggy versions of Snake, Paint, and Pacman in my files, I’m filled paradoxically with both satisfaction and a restless itch to improve the code and write new, better programs.

While to others my life may seem like a jumble of incompatible fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to become something more. However, there are still missing pieces at the periphery: experiences to have, knowledge to gain, bad jokes to tell. Someday I hope to solve the unsolvable. But for now, I’ve got a nonogram with my name on it.

Consider how structure can relate to your content. Much of this essay is about a certain kind of chaos, right? Let me suggest that the writer’s sentence structure often (intentionally, and to great effect) mimics that chaos. Let’s look at a sentence from paragraph seven: 

Unsurprisingly, like pilot fish to their sharks, my career aspirations followed my varied passions: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand-up comedian.

Notice how many twists and turns this sentence makes amidst the commas:; after  each one, the writer introduces a new idea. In this way, the structure mirrors the content. Compare that with the simplicity of a sentence that comes soon after in the next paragraph:

But when I discovered programming, something seemed to settle.

This reads quite differently than the other sentence, right? It’s calmer. It’s more simple. It maybe even sounds like the writer himself has “settled.” See what’s happening there? The writer uses sentence structure to enhance the argument they’re about to make about computer science. 

Seek insight in the everyday . Your college application is rife with opportunities to brag about yourself. Your activities list, for example, is a place where you tell people about all sorts of extracurriculars you do. But life’s made up of significant moments outside of what fits on an activities list (right?!). This writer probably didn’t mention anything about nonograms, Candy Crush, or Wikipedia research anywhere else in their application. And yet those experiences are essential to the argument they’re making here. People often feel like they need to have gone through some wild, extraordinary experiences to make for compelling personal statement content. While that content certainly can work, the success of your personal statement is just as (perhaps more) dependent on how you write about your experiences. So yes, skydiving with sharks can be great content. So too can playing Candy Crush (if you can find the insight in it).

Common App Essay Example #8 The “Not Black Enough” East-Asian Influenced Bibliophile

Growing up, my world was basketball. My summers were spent between the two solid black lines. My skin was consistently tan in splotches and ridden with random scratches. My wardrobe consisted mainly of track shorts, Nike shoes, and tournament t-shirts. Gatorade and Fun Dip were my pre-game snacks. The cacophony of rowdy crowds, ref whistles, squeaky shoes, and scoreboard buzzers was a familiar sound. I was the team captain of almost every team I played on—familiar with the Xs and Os of plays, commander of the court, and the coach’s right hand girl.

But that was only me on the surface.

Deep down I was an East-Asian influenced bibliophile and a Young Adult fiction writer.

Hidden in the cracks of a blossoming collegiate level athlete was a literary fiend. I devoured books in the daylight. I crafted stories at night time. After games, after practice, after conditioning I found nooks of solitude. Within these moments, I became engulfed in a world of my own creation. Initially, I only read young adult literature, but I grew to enjoy literary fiction and self-help: Kafka, Dostoevsky, Branden, Csikszentmihalyi. I expanded my bubble to Google+ critique groups, online discussion groups, blogs, writing competitions and clubs. I wrote my first novel in fifth grade, my second in seventh grade, and started my third in ninth grade. Reading was instinctual. Writing was impulsive.

I stumbled upon the movies of Hayao Miyazaki at a young age. I related a lot to the underlying East Asian philosophy present in his movies. My own perspective on life, growth, and change was echoed in his storytelling. So, I read his autobiographies, watched anime, and researched ancient texts— Analects, The Way, Art of War . Then, I discovered the books of Haruki Murakami whom I now emulate in order to improve my writing.

Like two sides of a coin, I lived in two worlds. One world was outward—aggressive, noisy, invigorating; the other, internal—tempestuous, serene, nuanced.

Internal and external conflict ensued. Many times I was seen only as an athlete and judged by the stereotypes that come with it: self-centered, unintelligent, listens to rap. But off the court, I was more reflective, empathetic and I listened to music like Florence and the Machine. I was even sometimes bullied for not acting “black enough.” My teammates felt that my singular focus should be basketball and found it strange that I participated in so many extracurriculars.

But why should I be one-dimensional? I had always been motivated to reach the pinnacle of my potential in whatever I was interested in. Why should I be defined by only one aspect of my life? I felt like I had to pick one world.

Then I had an ACL injury. And then another. And then another.

After the first ACL surgery, my family and I made the decision to homeschool. I knew I wanted to explore my many interests—literature, novel writing, East Asian culture, and basketball—equally. So I did. I found time to analyze Heart of Darkness and used my blog to instruct adult authors how to become self-published authors. I researched Shintoism, read dozens of books on writing and self-improvement. My sister and I had been talking for a while about starting a nonprofit focused on social awareness, education, and community outreach. Finally, we had the time to do it.

While basketball has equipped me with leadership skills and life experiences, it is only one part of who I am. As a socially aware, intellectual, and introspective individual, I value creative expression and independence. My life’s mission is to reach my full potential in order to help others reach their own.

Look for your evidence. I’m guessing you leave the first paragraph knowing that basketball was a big part of this writer’s life. But ask yourself this question: how do I know basketball was a big part of her life?. The answer is in the evidence. Look at all those specific things she shows us: “two solid black lines”, “Gatorade and Fun Dip”, “tournament t-shirts.” We know she was so intimately intertwined with basketball because she proves it by showing us what her life consisted of. Maybe you want to tell people you loved computer programming or horseback riding. What evidence can you point to to prove that love?

This writer plays with our expectations . After they prove their deep acquaintance with basketball in paragraph one, they make an essential pivot by saying this: “but that was only me on the surface.” This comes as a bit of a surprise given how much they discussed basketball in the previous paragraph. They set readers up to expect an essay about how much they love basketball, but then quickly and succinctly clarify that the essay is about to turn in a very different direction (which is a nice hook technique ).

An ending can reframe an opening . You may have heard in your English class that you’re supposed to conclude your essays by restating your thesis. We heard that a lot, too. And while this can work for some papers, you have a lot of options for ending your personal statement. Take a look at what this writer does, for example. Earlier in the essay, she said “that was only me on the surface” when talking about her relationship with basketball. That could essentially serve as the thesis for this essay. But then she ends by returning to that idea in a similar, yet importantly different way, saying “While basketball has equipped me with leadership skills and life experiences, it is only one part of who I am.” In a way, she does restate a concept she opened the essay with, but she does so by more fully fleshing out the idea, clarifying not only that the basketball player was the “surface” version of herself, but those opening details weren’t even indicative of the main things she learned from basketball (which are “leadership skills and life experiences”).

Common App Essay Example #9 Superpowers

When I was a little girl, I imagined I had superpowers. Deadly lasers would shoot from my eyes pulverizing the monsters hiding under my bed. Mom would wonder where I had magically disappeared to after I turned invisible as she forced me to eat that plate of broccoli. It was the wish I made on every birthday candle and upon every bright star.

Who knew my dream would come true.

I discovered my first power when I turned 14. My mom had been diagnosed with Ovarian cancer my freshman year of high school. Seated alone in my room, I became lost in a cycle of worry and panic. In the midst of my downward spiral, I reached out for a small bristled paintbrush, guiding it across the canvas—the motion gave me peace. My emotions spilled out onto the canvas, staining my clothes with a palette of blues and blacks. A sense of calm replaced the anxiety and fear which had gripped me tightly for so many months. Painting gave me the power to heal myself and find peace in a scary situation.

Little did I know, sharing my superpower would lead me to unfamiliar parts of my city. I was alerted to trouble at an elementary school in Dallas where students’ access to the arts was under threat from budget cuts. I joined forces with the principal and the school’s community service representative to create an afterschool arts program. From paper masks in October to pots of sunshine crafts in March, it did more than teach students to freely draw and color; it created a community where kids connected with the power of art to express joy, hope, and identity. The program, now in its third year, has succeeded in reaching kids deprived of art. Sharing art with these students has given me the power to step outside of my familiar surroundings and connect with kids I never would have met otherwise. I am grateful for the power of art to not only heal but to also connect with others.

I knew my powers worked on a local level but I wanted to reach out globally. For four years, I have been searching for a way to defeat the scourge of child marriage, a leading cause of poverty in rural India. I discovered a formula in which girls’ education successfully defeats child marriage as part of my capstone project through the Academy of Global Studies (AGS) program at my school.

I took my powers overseas, flying 8,535 miles to arrive at a dilapidated school in the bleak slums of Jaipur, India. While conducting interviews with pre-adolescent girls stuffed into dusty classrooms, I learned of their grey routines: rising early to obtain well-water, cooking, cleaning and caring for younger siblings prior to rushing to school. Despite the efforts of keeping these girls in school to prevent child marriage, their school relied on rote memorization without any creative arts programming. As I organized my art project for these girls, I was unsure if my powers would reach them. Their initial skepticism and uncertainty slowly transformed into wonder and joy as they brought their bright paper fish cut-outs to life. The experience opened my eyes to the power of art to form universal connections, and it inspires me to share and strengthen its force within the lives of all children.

Much of the little girl yearning for superpowers remains a part of me. But now I have moved beyond wishing for powers to acquiring a deeper understanding of how superpowers work. While I never fulfilled my wish to run at lightning speeds or shoot spiderwebs from my fingers, my experiences with art have taught me that the greatest superpowers lie within each of us—the powers to create, express, and connect in meaningful ways. Every girl deserves the chance to dream, I am just lucky mine came true.

The metaphor stays consistent. One of the joys of this essay is that the writer applies fantastical language to real events. In doing this, she demonstrates how her desire for fantastical “superpowers” in her youth actualized as her real-life, art-related superpowers. But notice how subtly she manages to keep the “superpower” concept in our heads. Phrases like “alerted to trouble,” “joined forces,” and “defeat the scourge” show a nice degree of craft , and couple with her more overt mentioning of “powers” to illustrate her perception of herself as a superhero. By making these small moves throughout the essay, she not only keeps a consistent metaphor running throughout, but she also achieves…

…a surprising but inevitable ending, two characteristics we encourage you to keep in mind when thinking about ways to end your personal statement . What’s inevitable about this ending? Well, consider those subtle moves with metaphor we talked about above; all throughout the essay, she’s essentially been making the argument that she has developed her own superpowers. When we get to the end, it feels like there’s no other option but for her to realize this. What’s surprising? Notice the shift in her desires from the essay’s outset. In the opening paragraph, her younger self conceives of superpowers as having to do with “deadly lasers” shooting from her eyes and “pulverizing” literal “ monsters.” That’s changed at the end, hasn’t it? She concludes by making clear that she still kind of wants to be able to “run at lightning speeds,” but more than that, she’s found gratitude for superpowers she thinks are more important: expression, creation, connection (showing maturation through insight ).

Common App Essay Example #10 Does Every Life Matter?

Does every life matter? Because it seems like certain lives matter more than others, especially when it comes to money.

I was in eighth grade when a medical volunteer group that my dad had led to Northern Thailand faced a dilemma of choosing between treating a patient with MDR-TB or saving $5000 (the estimated treatment cost for this patient) for future patients. I remember overhearing intense conversations outside the headquarters tent. My dad and his friend were arguing that we should treat the woman regardless of the treatment cost, whereas the others were arguing that it simply cost too much to treat her. Looking back, it was a conflict between ideals—one side argued that everyone should receive treatment whereas the other argued that interventions should be based on cost-effectiveness. I was angry for two reasons. First, because my father lost the argument. Second, because I couldn’t logically defend what I intuitively believed: that every human being has a right to good health. In short, that every life matters.

Over the next four years I read piles of books on social justice and global health equity in order to prove my intuitive belief in a logical manner. I even took online courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. But I failed to find a clear, logical argument for why every life mattered. I did, however, find sound arguments for the other side, supporting the idea that society should pursue the well-being of the greatest number, that interventions should mitigate the most death and disability per dollar spent. Essentially, my research screamed, “Kid, it’s all about the numbers.”

But I continued searching, even saving up pocket money to attend a summer course on global health at Brown University. It was there that I met Cate Oswald, a program director for Partners in Health (PIH), an organization that believed “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” It was like finding a ray of light in the darkness.

Refueled with hope, I went back to find the answer, but this time I didn’t dive into piles of books or lectures. I searched my memories. Why was I convinced that every life mattered?  

When the woman with MDR-TB came to our team, she brought along with her a boy that looked about my age. Six years have passed since I met him, but I still remember the gaze he gave me as he left with his mother. It wasn’t angry, nor was it sad. It was, in a way, serene. It was almost as if he knew this was coming. That burdened me. Something inside me knew this wasn’t right. It just didn’t feel right. Perhaps it was because I, for a second, placed myself in his shoes, picturing what I’d feel if my mother was the woman with MDR-TB.

Upon reflection, I found that my answer didn’t exist in books or research, but somewhere very close from the beginning—my intuition. In other words, I didn’t need an elaborate and intricate reason to prove to myself that health is an inalienable right for every human being—I needed self-reflection.

So I ask again, “Does every life matter?” Yes. “Do I have solid, written proof?” No.

Paul Farmer once said, “The thing about rights is that in the end you can’t prove what is a right.” To me, global health is not merely a study. It’s an attitude—a lens I use to look at the world—and it’s a statement about my commitment to health as a fundamental quality of liberty and equity.

What’s the big idea? Here’s a writer who thoroughly understands their own argument, knowing everything from its broader applications to its minute components. They kinda state the essay’s big idea right at the beginning, don’t they? By asking “does every life matter?”, they immediately frame the essay with its two key values : health and equity. 

Clear challenges lead to clear actions. The writer pretty explicitly articulates the essay’s challenge at the end of the second paragraph, saying that “[they] couldn’t logically defend what [they] intuitively believed: that every human being has a right to good health.” Having so clearly established the essay’s challenge makes it easy for them to show how experiences and activities (e.g., “summer course on global health at Brown…”) were done in response to those challenges. Think about it this way: someone else taking that summer course at Brown may have been there for completely different reasons, right? Rather than equity, maybe that person was more motivated by a love of scientific innovation in medicine. That’s great for that person, but it doesn’t feel like an accurate description of what put this writer there, yes? We know what they care about, and because of this, we understand the motivations behind the actions they show us.

Be cautious when using quotes. A lot of writers are tempted to include famous quotes right at the beginning of their essays. This quote is perfect! I imagine them thinking, it aligns clearly with my values! That may be true, and while you may really want to encourage others to “be the change they want to see in the world,” or understand that a “penny saved is a penny earned,” using quotes in this way risks making your essay sound cliché . This is not to say that you can’t use quotes at all. Rather, if you are going to use them, you need to think of uncommon ways to include them. This writer accomplishes this for two reasons:

The quote comes at the end of the essay. When starting an essay with a quote, it often has the effect of putting the focus on someone besides the essay’s writer. By including at the end, the writer uses the quote as a way to show something they’ve learned. 

It’s not a super-common quote. At least when compared to some of the more often used quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or Ben Franklin.

Common App Essay Example #11 The Daily Show

For over two years, my final class of the day has been nontraditional. No notes, no tests, no official assignments. Just a twenty-three minute lecture every Monday through Thursday, which I watched from my couch. Professor Jon Stewart would lecture his class about the news of the day, picking apart the absurdities of current events.

The Daily Show inspired me to explore the methods behind the madness of the world Stewart satirized. Although I’d always had a passion for the news, I evolved from scrolling through Yahoo ’s homepage to reading articles from The New York Times and The Economist . I also began to tie in knowledge I learned in school. I even caught The Daily Show inexcusably putting a picture of John Quincy Adams at a table with the founding fathers instead of John Adams! Thanks, APUSH.  

Clearly, The Daily Show has a political slant. However, Stewart convinced me that partisan media, regardless of its political affiliation, can significantly impact its viewers’ political beliefs. I wrote a psychology paper analyzing the polarizing effects of the media and how confirmation bias leads already opinionated viewers to ossify their beliefs. As a debater, I’ve learned to argue both sides of an issue, and the hardest part of this is recognizing one’s own biases. I myself had perhaps become too biased from my viewing of The Daily Show , and ultimately this motivated me to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, allowing me to assimilate information from opposing viewpoints.

           I embraced my new role as an intellectual moderator in academic discourse… at my friend’s 17th birthday party. It was there that two friends started arguing over the Baltimore riots. One argued that the anti-police rhetoric of the protest was appalling; the other countered by decrying the clear presence of race discrimination still in the country. Both had their biases: the friend who argued on behalf of the police was the son of a police officer, while my friend who defended the protests personally knew people protesting in Baltimore. I questioned both on their positions, and ultimately, both reconsidered the other’s perspective.

     However, I began to wonder: was I excusing myself from the responsibility of taking a position on key issues? Perhaps there are times that I shouldn’t merely understand both sides, but actually choose one. In biology, for example, we studied the debates over evolution and climate change. Is it my role, as an informed student, to advocate both sides of the debate, despite one side being overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence? Maybe I must sometimes shed my identity as Devil’s advocate and instead be an advocate for my own convictions.

           Although I don’t have a news (or fake news) network where I can voice my opinions, I look towards further assessing my own viewpoints while maintaining my role as an impartial academic debater. I am eager to delve into an intellectual environment that challenges me to decide when to be objective and when to embrace my bias and argue for my own beliefs.

Practice precision in your examples. When applying to college, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you haven’t done as many cool things as your peers. I haven’t even started a lion training club! you might think, what school will want me? Don’t fret. Your examples don’t need to be extravagant. They can just be precise. Take a look at this writer’s examples, for example (ha!). Adhering to the proverbial “ show don’t tell ,” they show us fairly commonplace experiences: they watched The Daily Show , they wrote a paper on bias in their psychology class, they moderated discussion at a birthday party. Not to belittle this writer’s experiences, but you agree this is all far from lion training, yes? And yet the examples work well because they feel genuine and specific . So when you’re on the edge of the “I haven’t done enough!” thinking-trap, consider that authenticity can take precedence over grandeur.

Questions can show development . Towards the end of the essay, the writer asks this key question: “was I excusing myself from the responsibility of taking a position on key issues?” When we get to that question, consider what’s changed from the opening paragraphs. They initially described themselves as entertaining all viewpoints in an effort to reduce their bias. But when they ask this question, they offer one of the essay’s insights: they’ve learned that they simply can’t stomach being a devil’s advocate for some issues. Some issues, they realize, compel them to advocate, not speculate.

Turn the essay’s ideas toward the future . The final paragraph gets forward looking . This writer hasn’t articulated what they want to major in or what kind of career they aspire to, and yet we’re able to see how the lessons they’ve learned will inform their future actions. They do this when they explain that they are “eager to delve into an intellectual environment that challenges [them] to decide when to be objective and when to embrace [their] bias and argue for [their] own beliefs.” They’re telling readers something crucial about the kind of person they will be when they get to college. It’s easy for me to see this writer engaging in lively discussions in the dining halls and the dorms. So even if you’re not quite sure what you want to major in yet or what career you want to pursue, ask yourself this question: what are you “eager to delve into” when you get to college? Your own forward-looking ending may come from reflecting on that question.


Common app essay example #12 mazes.

My story begins at about the age of two, when I first learned what a maze was. For most people, solving mazes is a childish phase, but I enjoyed artistically designing them. Eventually my creations jumped from their two dimensional confinement, requiring the solver to dive through holes to the other side, or fold part of the paper over, then right back again. At around the age of eight, I invented a way for mazes to carry binary-encoded messages, with left turns and right turns representing 0s and 1s. This evolved into a base-3 maze on the surface of a tetrahedron, with crossing an edge representing a 2. For me, a blank piece of paper represented the freedom to explore new dimensions, pushing the boundaries of traditional maze making.

I found a similar freedom in mathematics. Here's what I wrote when I was 9:

N+B=Z M^2=P E-(L+B)=G C/Y=Z-Q B+B=Y (D-V)^9-(P*L)=J W=(I-V)^2 Y+B+C=R O^2+(Y*O)=T F^3-(T+W)=F^2 V-R=H-U A^3-C=N Y^2+B=L J^2-J=J+(P+I) Y^3=X X-R=M-O D*A-B-(V+Y)=E U-X-O=W P/P=B S-A=U (Z+B)*C=P C(+/-)B=A U+C=H R-L=S-T

The object of puzzles like these was to solve for every letter, assuming they each represented a unique positive integer, and that both sides of each equation are positive. These are not typical assumptions for practical mathematics, and I didn't even need 26 equations. Upon formally learning algebra, I was dismayed that "proper math" operated under a different set of assumptions, that two variables can be equal, or be non-integers, and that you always need as many equations as variables. Yet looking back, I now see that mathematics was so inspirational because there really is no "proper" way, no convention to hold me from discovering a completely original method of thought. Math was, and still is, yet another way for me to freely express my creativity and different way of thinking without constraint.

It's all about freedom. The thoughts are there, they just need a way to escape. The greatest single advancement that delivered even more freedom was my first computer, and on it, one of the first computer games I ever played: "Maze Madness." It was a silly and simple game, but I remember being awed that I could create my own levels. Through the years, I've made thousands (not exaggerating) of levels in a variety of different computer games. I get most excited when I discover a bug that I can incorporate to add a new twist to the traditional gameplay.

A few years ago I grew tired of working within the constraints of most internet games and I wanted to program my own, so I decided to learn the language of Scratch. With it, I created several computer games, incorporating such unordinary aspects of gameplay as the avoidance of time-travel paradoxes, and the control of "jounce," the fourth derivative of position with respect to time. Eventually, I came to realize that Scratch was too limited to implement some of my ideas, so I learned C#, and my potential expanded exponentially. I continue to study programming knowing that the more I learn, the more tools I have to express my creativity.

To me, studying computer science is the next step of an evolution of boundary breaking that has been underway since my first maze.

Show us where it all started. This essay is an origin story of sorts. It’s kind of like a mini-movie that shows us the development of the writer’s interests in computer science. Because of this, it features elements of both our montage and narrative approaches, not neatly fitting into either category (though leaning more to the montage side, using “mazes”—and other things that are maze-like, such as mathematics and CS—as a thematic thread). Normally, we suggest this “origin story” approach for people writing in response to the “ why major? ” supplemental essay prompt, but this writer makes it work for their personal statement. How? They go deeper into their examples than the tighter word limit of a supplemental essay would allow, and they also go broader with the essay’s implications: they frame their interest in computer science as a natural “evolution” of the “boundary breaking that has been underway since [their] first maze.”

Consider artifacts from your past. Before you even read the essay, your eye is drawn to that math maze. It functions as a kind of artifact; it’s not an example of what the writer WOULD create, but a literal recreation of what the writer CREATED when they were nine. It’s almost like the writer taped a photograph in the middle of the essay. But before you go digging through old family photos to find the one of you in the Harry Potter pajamas, consider why this works in this essay. Firstly, the writer is able to easily recreate it simply by typing it out. You can’t (yet) put images in your personal statement, so if you’re thinking about including “artifacts” in your essay, they’d need to be easily understood as text. Secondly, it’s a perfect example. As we touched on in the tip above, the writer’s goal here is to show us that they’ve been “breaking boundar[ies]” since they were young. The math maze isn’t a novelty included for its own sake, but organically arrived at “proof” of the writer’s overarching argument.

Walk the context-line. If you’re like us, when you think “maze,” you think about manicured hedges creating confusing patterns of travel. It becomes clear, though, that those aren’t the kinds of mazes this writer has in mind. This shift in thinking doesn’t really inhibit our understanding of the content though, does it? This is because the writer manages to provide just enough context that we can follow along without getting lost. The third sentence of the essay is a great example of this: “Eventually my creations jumped from their two dimensional confinement, requiring the solver to dive through holes to the other side, or fold part of the paper over, then right back again.” Phrases like “two dimensional” and “fold part of the paper,” clarify that when this writer talks about mazes, they’re not talking about hedges. Rather, they’re talking about puzzles created with pieces of paper. The clarification is economical, as they never give us a sentence that says something to the effect of this: whereas many people think of mazes as things you walk through, I’ve created mazes out of paper since I was a kid . They don’t give us that sentence because they don’t need to . They fill us in along the way, and are thus able to save their word count to develop bigger ideas rather than getting bogged down in clarification.

Common App Essay Example #13 Growing Up in Lebanon

I am [Student’s name]. I was named after my father and grandfather. I was born, raised and currently reside in the Phoenician city of Sidon, a port city in the south of Lebanon along the Mediterranean. I was raised speaking Arabic and, at age 6, I began attending French Community School where the language of instruction is French. Thus, English is my third language.

While I have been fortunate in many ways, I have had my share of challenges growing up in Lebanon. In 2006, I witnessed my first war, which broke in the south of Lebanon and resulted in the displacement of thousands of people into my hometown. Hearing the bombs and seeing the images of destruction around me certainly impacted me. However, the greater impact, was working with my father to distribute basic aid to the refugees. I visited one site where three families were cramped up in one small room but still managed to make the best of the situation by playing cards and comforting each other. Working with the refugees was very rewarding and their resilience was inspiring. The refugees returned home and the areas destroyed were largely rebuilt. This experience showed me the power of community and the importance of giving back.

I am blessed with a family who has supported my ambitious academic and social pursuits. My parents have always worked hard to provide me with interesting developmental opportunities, be it a ballet performance at the Met, a Scientific Fair at Beirut Hippodrome, or a tour of London’s Houses of Parliament. Because of the value they placed on education, my parents placed me in a competitive Catholic school despite my family’s Muslim background. Today, my close friends consist of my classmates from various religious and social backgrounds.

In 2012 and 2013, I had the opportunity to attend summer programs at UCLA and Yale University. The programs were incredibly rewarding because they gave me a taste of the excellent quality and diversity of education available in the United States. At Yale University, my roommate shared with me stories about the customs in his hometown of Shanghai. Other experiences, such as the mock board meeting of a technology company to which students from different backgrounds brought in divergent business strategies, affirmed my belief in the importance of working toward a more inclusive global community. I believe the United States, more so than any other country, can offer a challenging, engaging and rewarding college education with opportunities for exposure to a diverse range of students from across the globe.

I intend to return to Lebanon upon graduation from college in order to carry on the legacy of my grandfather and father through developing our family business and investing in our community. My grandfather, who never graduated from high school started a small grocery store with limited resources. Through hard work, he grew his business into the largest grocery store in my hometown, Khan Supermarket. My father, who attended only one year of college, transformed it into a major shopping center.

Like my father, I grew up involved in the business and have a passion for it. I’ve worked in various roles at the store, and, in 2012, I worked on a project to implement an automated parking system, contacting vendors from around the globe and handling most of the project on my own from planning to organization and coordination. I enjoyed every bit of it, taking pride in challenging myself and helping my father.

My hard work has driven me to become the top-ranked student in my school, and I am confident that my ambition and desire to contribute to the community will ensure my success in your program. I look forward to learning from the diverse experiences of my peers and sharing my story with them, thus enriching both our learning experiences. And I look forward to becoming the first man in my family to finish college.

What makes for a good narrative topic? One of the more (most?) challenging parts of writing a personal statement is deciding what to write about. This essay features a topic that fulfills the two criteria we think make for an effective narrative topic : it features compelling challenges and great insight. In the context of college admissions essays, not many students are writing about experiences with war. Now, just because you may have not experienced war doesn’t mean you need to preclude yourself from writing a narrative essay. But do understand how a story about, say, not making the soccer team, may sound to an admissions officer who just read this essay. To be clear, we’re not saying that failing to make the soccer team was an easy experience for you. We are saying that it’s a topic that will be more difficult to stand out with. So if this essay checks the “compelling challenges” box, it checks the “insight” box by showing us how…

…the origins of the values prove motivation for future action. Ask yourself why the writer describes “[distributing] basic aid to the refugees” in his hometown. It’s an example of something, yes? But what does he want it to be an example of? Stuck? Look towards the end of that paragraph, where he writes that “This experience showed me the power of community and the importance of giving back.” Okay! So he wanted to give us an example of where his valuing “community” and “giving back” came from. Later on in the essay, do you ever get the sense that “community” and “giving back” has to do with what he hopes to do in the future? Take a look at the fifth paragraph. There, he writes that he “intend[s] to return to Lebanon upon graduation from college in order to carry on the legacy of [his] grandfather and father through developing [their]  family business and investing in [their] community.” See the development there? Obviously, a bunch of necessary things happen in the middle, but by focusing on those two moments we see the “aha!” behind the insight: his experiences distributing aid were the origins of his core values, which clearly relate to what he hopes to do in the future.

Ending by returning to the beginning. At first, it may feel like the writer tells us about his name simply to give us a bit of background on himself. But his ending digs a bit deeper into his name, doesn’t it? Opening by telling us that he was “named after [his] father and grandfather” creates an immediate connection to those two male role models in his life. He ends the essay by clarifying a key aspect of this connection: he wants to “carry on the legacy of [his] grandfather and father” by “becoming the first man in [his] family to finish college.” So his ending isn’t simply him restating that he was named after his father and grandfather, but rather an expansion on the significance of that fact.

Common App Essay Example #14 Endodontics

As a kid I was always curious. I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.

And it didn’t stop in second grade.

A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white. Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.

In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones. Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard, or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.

And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars. Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.

My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.

I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.

I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.” A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.

You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?

Wrong. Well, kind of.

Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with the tooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.

The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference. In the future I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.

The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?

A clear claim, supported by comprehensive examples. Here’s an essay that states one of its core arguments early on: the writer has always been “obsessed with the details of design.” A key goal of the paragraphs following that claim is to show readers what detail-obsession looked like for this writer, specifically. They pull on varied examples to accomplish this goal, showing us everything from their obsession over what shade of white to use for a shoe to their stitching threads on car seats. Notice how these examples come from different parts of the writer’s life. Starting all the way back in second grade, they focus on different moments from their life in chronological order that show something about their detail-oriented mindset. The result is that we understand not simply that the writer is “obsessed with the details of design,” but that they have always been this way.

A career can lead to your thread. The core of a montage essay is its guiding thread, the idea that ties all the examples together. Later on in the essay, it becomes clear that this writer has a confident sense of what career they want to pursue: endodontics. But the thread of this essay isn’t exactly endodontics itself—rather, they use various qualities they think are vital to the work of an endodontist—like obsession over details and compassion—as the guiding thread. Tying together their examples in this way makes clear to readers how informed this writer is about their aspirations, while allowing for some surprise with the ending (more on that in a sec). They know key characteristics an endodontist must have, and have deeply reflected on how they embody those characteristics.

Addressing the reader requires finesse. Toward the end of the essay the writer does something so confidently and seamlessly that you may not have stopped to consider how unique it was: they address the reader. What? They did? You may be asking. Yes, they did: “ You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?” (bold added). So what? You may be asking. Well, we’ve seen a lot of essays where this kind of thing doesn’t work. In an effort to be cheeky and coy, writers put their foot in their mouth asserting something about how the reader perceives them. The thing is that you need to be in total control of how you have presented yourself in order to make a move like this. This writer has that control. Readers are thinking that the writer would want to be an engineer or designer, and so the subtle move works, making the ending both surprising and, in hindsight, inevitable .

Common App Essay Example #15 With Debate

The clock was remarkably slow as I sat, legs tightly crossed, squirming at my desk. “Just raise your hand,” my mind pleaded, “ask.” But despite my urgent need to visit the restroom, I remained seated, begging time to move faster. You see, I was that type of kid to eat French Fries dry because I couldn’t confront the McDonalds cashier for some Heinz packets. I was also the type to sit crying in front of school instead of asking the office if it could check on my late ride. Essentially, I chose to struggle through a problem if the solution involved speaking out against it.

My diffidence was frustrating. My parents relied on me, the only one able to speak English, to guide them, and always anticipated the best from me. However, as calls for help grew, the more defunct I became. I felt that every move I made, it was a gamble between success and failure. For me, the fear of failure and disappointment far outweighed the possibility of triumph, so I took no action and chose to silently suffer under pressure.

Near meltdown, I knew something needed to be done. Mustering up the little courage I had, I sought ways to break out of my shell—without luck. Recreational art classes ended in three boring months. I gave up Self Defense after embarrassing myself in class. After-school band, library volunteering, and book clubs ended similarly. Continued effort yielded nothing. 

Disillusioned and wrung dry of ideas, I followed my mom’s advice and joined a debate club. As expected, the club only reaffirmed my self-doubt. Eye contact? Greater volume? No thanks.

But soon, the club moved on from “how to make a speech” lessons to the exploration of argumentation. We were taught to speak the language of Persuasion, and play the game of Debate. Eventually, I fell in love with it all.

By high school, I joined the school debate team, began socializing, and was even elected to head several clubs. I developed critical and analytical thinking skills, and learned how to think and speak spontaneously.

I became proud and confident. Moreover, I became eager to play my role in the family, and family relations strengthened. In fact, nowadays, my parents are interested in my school’s newest gossip.

Four years with debate, and now I’m the kid up at the white board; the kid leading discussions; and the kid standing up for her beliefs.

More importantly, I now confront issues instead of avoiding them. It is exciting to discover solutions to problems that affect others, as I was able to do as part of the 1st Place team for the 2010 United Nations Global Debates Program on climate change and poverty. I take a natural interest in global issues, and plan to become a foreign affairs analyst or diplomat by studying international affairs with a focus on national identity.

In particular, I am interested in the North-South Korean tension. What irreconcilable differences have prompted a civilization to separate? Policy implications remain vague, and sovereignty theories have their limits—how do we determine what compromises are to be made? And on a personal level, why did my grandfather have to flee from his destroyed North Korean hometown--and why does it matter?

I see a reflection of myself in the divide at the 38th parallel because I see one part isolating itself in defense to outside threats, and another part coming out to face the world as one of the fastest- developing nations. Just as my shy persona before debate and extroverted character after debate are both part of who I am, the Korean civilization is also one. And just as my parents expect much from me, the first of my family to attend college, I have grand expectations for this field of study.

An image can tell your story. Here’s a statement the writer could have used to describe herself when she was younger: “I was shy.” But here’s the thing: a lot of other people could have written the same thing to describe themselves, too. General assertions like “I was shy”, “I am devoted to basketball” or “I am Catholic,” miss an opportunity to show readers more about you, specifically . This writer uses short, clear images to seize that opportunity. Take a look at the opening paragraph, where she says that she was the “type of kid to eat French Fries dry because I couldn’t confront the McDonalds cashier for some Heinz packets.” Now THAT’S a great way to show us what shyness looked like for this writer, specifically. 

Expand the activity to other parts of your life. Your extracurriculars may be really important to you. The thing is, there are a few different places in your college application to show readers what you do in and outside of school (your activities list , for example). Because of this, you should think of the personal statement as a way to expand on , not simply repeat, what comes up in other parts of your application. It’s virtually guaranteed “debate club” is on this writer’s activities list. But you know what that writer probably couldn’t have included on that activities list entry? How debate led her to “[begin] socializing”, be the “kid up at the white board”, or become “eager to play [her] role in [her] family.” She’s using her personal statement to add nuance and context and meaning to her activities, not simply list the things she does.  

What a good “going broad” ending can look like. An English teacher may have told you to end your analysis essays by “going broad.” Ours did. Here’s something you may be happy to hear: “going broad” is one way to end your personal statements, too. This writer does this to great effect, using the metaphor of the divide at the 38th parallel to refer to her own development throughout the essay. How can this work for you? Well, first you need to be clear on what you’re saying has changed about you in your own personal statement. Then you might ask yourself this question: where else in my life have I seen similar dynamics at play, either internally or externally? Reflecting on her Korean identity, this writer found the means to broaden the ideas of her essay to other contexts—and upleveled  her writing nicely by doing so.

S pecial thanks to my friend Nick Muccio for the great analysis in this post.

gap year essay common app examples

Rather than candy, Nick (he/him) went searching for people’s vacuum cleaners when trick or treating. He’s since found other ways to help people clean, usually involving their essays (though he has great ideas on carpet maintenance, too). He earned a degree in Psychology from Bates College, where he rowed boats and acted in plays. Teaching high schoolers English for seven years taught him about the importance of presence and knitting sweaters. He sweats a lot, usually on purpose, and usually involving running shoes, a bike, or a rock climbing harness. His greatest fear? Heights. His greatest joys? Numerous, though shared laughter is up there.

gap year essay common app examples

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gap year essay common app examples

Common App gap year essay (250 words)

Why i took gap year.

gap year essay common app examples

OP Sungbin Moon 2 / 3   Sep 18, 2020   #3 @Holt Thank you for your advice!

MIT student blogger Vincent A. '17

Why I Took A Gap Year by Vincent A. '17

some things you just can't predict

March 12, 2014

For most of high school, the US was just a vague blip on the radar of my imagination. My friends and I sometimes imagined what the experience of studying in the US would be like, but we spoke in the offhanded, dreamy tone people usually use to describe things like “winning the lottery” or “running for president”. I had read one of the MIT blogs once, stumbling onto Anna’s post, “Being Qualified for MIT”, but only with distant fascination, fascination because it was such good writing and MIT seemed like such an amazing place, distant because I didn’t seriously think that I could attend a university whose site I had stumbled onto from a friend’s Google search of “World’s Best Universities.”

And then one morning, towards the end of the first trimester of high school senior year, I was sitting in the library, studying for a Geography exam when someone ran up to me and said I had a package awaiting me in the secretary’s office.

I rarely received packages of any sort, so I was pretty curious. Not being a cat, I ran quickly to the office and seconds later, was tearing off DHL-branded tape from what appeared to be a thick file. The file was from the University of Pennsylvania, and inside I found several brochures, and a letter. The contents of the letter went along the lines of, “You seem like a pretty motivated student; you just might be the kind of student we’re looking for! We encourage you to seriously consider applying to Penn.”

It was the first time I had heard of Penn, and my mind hadn’t yet been cultured to the term “Ivy League” or anything of that sort. I knew nothing about the US admissions process, and hadn’t been searching, but the idea that a college thousands of miles away would send me mail of this heartwarming sort was unbelievable. I called my parents and more or less ranted about it. I was given rare access to the internet to find out more about Penn. I checked out the university’s website and Wikipedia page. I found CollegeConfidential links to angst-filled posts covering the spectrum of Penn from its prestige to its exclusivity.

I did try to think of why they had contacted me. I had taken the SAT nearly a year ago, but that had been routine process for my high school (which was partly owned by the Turkish Government), and only because a bunch of Turkish universities required the SAT. There had also been the AMC and AIME, which I think may have contained some random clause about sharing scores with universities and scholarship organizations. Regardless of the reason, I was glad some university out there seemed interested in me. Deadline was already fast approaching, so I hastily worked on my Common Application, and sent it to Penn within days of their mail. I also sent in my SAT scores and registered for the SAT Subject Tests.

I could barely wait the three months to find out the status of my application. In that time, I joined CollegeConfidential, and began to read more about Penn. I found old admit and reject threads and, for the first time since receiving the package, was daunted. My SAT score from 11th grade had been 2080. It was possibly the reason Penn had contacted me, and I was pretty fine with it. But then there were all these amazing scores…2350…2390… even perfect scores …getting rejected or waitlisted. And CollegeConfidential was full of pages upon pages of these drab stories, rejected applicants whose achievements transcended some exam to cover a host of truly amazing feats. It was my first real introduction to the holistic mechanism of the US admissions process, and it created a whirlpool of uncertainty.

Did Penn make a mistake? Did Penn really send me that package?

It was all I could do to balance my sanity between the fear precipitated by the high scores on the reject threads, and the glimmer of hope induced by the relatively lower scores on some parts of the admit threads. I went back to my application, and with some clarity of mind I must have gained in the past couple of weeks, cringed at some of my essays. To one of them asking why I wanted to be at Penn, I had started thus:

“I am one of several applicants aspiring to become a member of the prestigious UniPenn (!). To begin, I feel like the resources the university has to offer are unparalleled relative to anything I’ve seen before…”

Was this enough? Would this be enough?

It was a little while before Penn’s decision date when the results for the AMC12   contest were released, and I saw that I had placed at the 99th percentile worldwide, and had qualified to the AIME. I was pretty excited, and after a while, in a realm of elation separate from mere joy at this achievement, I realized that the news could also “boost my chances”. Excitedly, I sent an e-mail to one of the admissions officers that had contacted me some weeks back, informing him of the news. He replied a few days later, saying that it would be considered with the rest of my application.

March 29th, 2012 was a Thursday. Penn’s decision was hours away. The anxiety, the pure, crazy anxiety permeating the pages of CollegeConfidential was this charged cloud you could feel poking your sides. I was tense; I was crazy. I played the “will they-won’t they” game in my mind. I posted like crazy on CC, asking one of the common “What are my chances” post. Some said I had a decent shot but it was hard to tell. Others said everyone had a low shot. A few were highly cynical of the post itself. All these really just combined to feed the worry.

My friends were around me, and they had nothing but positive comments: “You’ll get in; it’s you!” and “They’ll be crazy to reject you!” I didn’t know what to think, but the closer the decisions came, the more encouraging my friends got, and from their words, a real glimmer of hope emerged.

You do have a chance , I told myself. Penn encouraged you to apply!

A while later, I was somehow standing beside my vice-principal while he logged onto Penn’s website. Drums banged in my chest and throat. Three close friends crowded behind me. I typed in my initials, my hands so shaky it took two tries to get the password right. And text suddenly appeared, text that read:

“Dear Vincent, After careful review of your application, we are unfortunately unable to offer you admission into Penn’s class of 2016…”

My heart calmed. My body went very still. A friend behind me groaned and flung his books. I rose and said in a falsely nonchalant voice, “Well, I tried.” My friends mumbled words I didn’t really hear. I walked out of the office and sadness overwhelmed me. *** The week following Penn’s rejection was long and slow. I was moody. Classes seemed to trudge. I realized that for the past four months, regardless of my fears regarding the Penn outcome, I had absentmindedly imagined myself as a student there, a Penn Quaker, soaking sun in the quad and screaming cheers in the Franklin Field. It didn’t seem fair. It didn’t seem right.

In the weeks that progressed however, what was left of school took over my mind. Writing stories took over my mind. Olympiad classes took over my mind. Penn faded. *** I finally convinced myself that I’d been indulging in wishful thinking by imagining that I could study in the US. I decided to face my local exams and gain admission into an awesome Nigerian university. Admission into a Nigerian university is different and purely quantitative, depending on a combination of three necessary components—an exam called WAEC , taken by most West African High school students, a localized examination called JAMB and the concerned university’s own examination (usually called post-JAMB).

Due to great restriction on the number of Nigerian universities I could send my JAMB scores to, and a number of post-JAMB conflicts, I only really had one Nigerian university I could apply to, which of course depended on me passing its post-JAMB. So imagine my shock when, at a hotel in Amsterdam for the International Math Olympiad 2012, I decided to check the post-JAMB schedule and saw something quite interesting: the exam was set to take place in about five days. It was the beginning of IMO, and there was clearly no way I’d make it back to Nigeria in time. I spoke to my mom in distress about this, but in the sweet, soothing tone that parents often use, she assured me that I’d be fine. *** Just shortly before graduation, my high school had held an annual Nigerian-Turkish cultural event. Activities bloomed throughout the day, with tasty food on standby for the hungry or tired. My mom came for the event, which was nice since I attended a pretty secluded boarding high school, and rarely got the chance to see her. Towards the end of the day, she made a friend called Mrs. Jimoke. As they chatted about the school, my mom told Mrs. Jimoke about most of the academic things I’d been up to, including taking the SAT. Mrs. Jimoke insisted that I reconsider applying to US universities, and gave my mom the contact information of one of her friends—Shade Adebayo—who worked in an educational sector of the United States Embassy.

So after I missed my post-JAMB and after it became clear that I would have to wait at least a few months before I could apply anywhere else, Shade insisted that I apply to US universities. At first I was reluctant, but I realized that a world of possibilities did exist out there, and even if Penn hadn’t accepted me, I could probably find some other institution that would. Shade, energetically, vehemently, believed so.

I consciously avoided considering extremely selective colleges, and did as much research as I could on the others. Since I was so far away, campus tours and admission information sessions were out of the question. I toured CC, read up several college-related books Shade let me borrow from the US Embassy. I went through websites and Wikipedia pages and more detailed places like Unigo. And I came upon UW-Madison. It had a strong engineering program and a campus that seemed to pulse with unique life. As I became more and more entrenched in UW-Madison, reading up its online newspapers, poring over CC threads, I realized an important difference in the way I was attached to UW-Madison and the way I had been attached to Penn. My obsession with Penn had stemmed from both the strange joy of being reached out to and the beauty of the idea that I could be an undergraduate there. I was overwhelmed by the sense of prestige it possessed and some awareness that it had amazing resources I felt I could only find in few other places. I merely had a general sense of what Penn could be for me, a generality that translated into my barely specific essays. But getting to consciously choose to apply to UW-Madison, I did so on the heels of a more developed sense of what the university and its culture were about. I applied for the Spring 2013 term and was accepted. I was speechless with joy when I saw the letter of acceptance. My parents were jubilant.

But of course, there was a problem. *** UW-Madison did not offer aid to international students, and my parents would have to pay just a little over forty thousand dollars per year. They assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, but my mom did wonder if I wanted to apply anywhere else. I was somewhat vehement about my choice of UW-Madison, having grown deeply attached to it, and she assured me that as long as I was sure, it was fine.

I spoke to Shade afterward. She told me something my mom had confided in her. My parents were willing to pay forty thousand dollars, but it was really money they didn’t have. They had begun contemplating possible assets they could sell to fork up some of the money, and the only reason they hadn’t divulged this to me had been a result of my endless excitement with the acceptance news. Shade told me that it would be worth it, absolutely worth it, if I could let UW-Madison go in favor of some university, any other university, that wouldn’t cost as much. Later that night, I sat alone in my room and thought of my parents’ willingness to sacrifice that much for my happiness. I thought of how my educational future, once bright and limitless, now seemed and felt infinitely more constrained. I was overwhelmed by weariness and a strange sense of loss. And so I sat on my bed and cried. I cried for a while, and my mom slipped into my room while I lay hunched over, just feeling deflated. She held me really close. She told me things would be alright. She told me that I would end up where I wanted and needed to be, and that she would walk to the ends of the Earth to secure my happiness. I believed her, every word. I held her closer.

The next day, I declined UW-Madison’s offer of acceptance. *** And that’s the bulk of it. That’s why I took a gap year. I applied for the fall term to US universities. I meticulously compiled a small list, considering two important personal factors—cost and culture. Culture in the sense of its people, culture in the sense of energy, culture in the sense of challenge. I had spent most of high school taking extracurricular olympiad classes that pushed me to work late hours at night. I had felt most ingrained in the learning process when I raced with those challenges constantly, and especially with my classmates. I wanted an environment like that. I wanted an atmosphere built on merit and challenge and collaboration, one that could let me push myself, because I understood I could thrive there.  I also needed a place I could afford.

I took the SAT for a second time, attaining a score of 2390. I wrote more, feverishly, stories and novellas and ultimately a novel. I spent that year primarily outside of classes, although I did do a few things   like teaching and attempting to burn down the kitchen cook. I grew closer to my family. I grew closer to myself. More clearly than ever, I began understanding what I wanted.

Princeton accepted me Early Action. Harvard rejected me. MIT accepted me on Pi Day, and I will never forget ten words that kept sinking into my mind when I saw that letter of acceptance: We think that you and MIT are a great match . I will never forget the sheer look of joy on my parents’ face when they saw the letter of acceptance and the immensely generous financial aid offer that had come with it. I will never forget them enclosing me, the world vanishing, for that moment of intimacy to take over, a moment that told me in no uncertain terms that things were fine. Things were good. *** I’m not really going to talk about CPW or about making the choice of college in this blog post, because that’s not really what it’s about. I’ll tell you what I hope this post is about.

It’s about the frightening rollercoaster that the college application is. This process is merely more than just typing up words and hitting a ‘submit’ button. You’re sending away, with each application, a little investment of emotions, and a little bit of life that washes into some machinery and potentially shapes the next four years. Yes, the applications are important, and yes, it’s alright to be invested. If this is about where you will spend a good chunk of your life, I daresay it’s necessary to be invested.

But at the same time, you’ll need to distance yourself from the process a bit. Care about it but not to the extent that it intricately wraps itself around your self-worth.  For colleges as deeply selective as MIT, there’s a lot out of your control, and regardless of what that letter you see on Pi Day says, it really won’t matter in the long run. If it’s a yes, congratulations. You’ve been given a great opportunity. MIT deeply believes in you. If it’s a no, that’s fine. It’s not a declaration of your worth; it’s not MIT saying that you don’t belong; it’s not a testament to some kind of skewed outlook your future will take. A long time ago, I did all the wrong things. I worried about the little details and applied without a true sense of what I was applying for. I tried to put greater meaning into “scores” and “stats” than they really held. I was obsessed with “getting in” to the point that it somehow became the center of my daily thoughts. And when rejection did come, I was stunned and upset. I felt denied of some deserved right, when it was really more privilege than right.

Genuinely care about the places you apply to, and if you do find that a certain college has no room for you at this point in time, then I’ll tell you what my mom told me: you will be fine . Penn’s rejection tore me down, but if I’d known then what I know now, not about where I would end up, but about how I can rise above a letter of rejection, I’d have handled it a whole lot better. And I do want you to know. With tenacity of will, the future will shape itself to suit you and your inner strength. Life delights in throwing stumbling blocks. But where wounds may be inflicted, scars heal and strength grows. *** Another thing I hope this post is about: time, people. The people that have been there with you from the get-go, the friends that you made in high school, the parents that have held you close and whispered assurances; they’ve forged themselves into your life before now, and they will for a long, long time. Every step of the way that led to MIT, for every rejection and acceptance and moment of uncertainty, I had friends and family who wiped away my tears when tears came and held me high when joy arrived. Time with the people we love is a truly beautiful gift. Consider the extent of the things they have done and could do, will do , for you, and learn to appreciate them every day.

Life is much bigger than what will happen soon, more unpredictable than whatever signs that hang in your mind try to suggest. For now, try not to fret. Keep doing the things you love. Keep writing. Keep playing trombones. Keep making slam-dunks. Keep singing. Keep watching your favorite TV shows. Keep laughing. And keep the people you love close to you.

I took a gap year out of necessity. At the time, it felt like the worst thing that could happen. It felt too long and the question of where I would end up seemed very subject to chance. But I kept living. I kept pushing forward. And somehow, I’m here right now, typing from a place that had once felt too large to be a dream.

Whatever happens in the next couple of days, you will find that you do have the strength to keep living, that you will be where you need to be, and that you will thrive. Don’t overanalyze the steps leading to that point. Some things you just can’t predict.

And even though it may not always feel like it, trust me. You’ll be fine. ***

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Gap Year Essay Examples

Gap year is a year or a few months of vocation which is taken after high school or university. It aims at learning from experience in various activities, like volunteering, sightseeing and working etc. Taking a gap year is popular among youngsters nowadays. This essay...

A gap year is a period of time when students break form their education to do something else: working, saving money for the tuitions, travelling. Gap year allows people to develop communication, knowledge, independence and autonomy. Besides, this enables to improve and learn foreign languages....

Is a gap year worth it? People can see gap years from different points of views. A chance to explore and enjoy life or an exercise in self-indulgence. I’m going to be talking about different arguments such as expenses, skills, home or away and benefits...

In today’s society, the word gap year has gained more and more significance. It is now considered as an important period for an individual to cope with many structured activities, like volunteering, part-time working, Military training and vocational trainings. A gap year is defined as...

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