Skip Nav

SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

❶Is the essay interesting? Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement.

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Your Jackpot Could be Waiting!
Choose Your Test
Don't have an Account?

As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: Get one-on-one help from former Ivy League and top tier admission officers. Our College Admission Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school. Connect with our featured colleges to find schools that both match your interests and are looking for students like you.

We know that great scores take work. We love our teachers, and so will you. Teach or Tutor for Us. The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University. Privacy Terms of Use Site Map. 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. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.

How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? 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. These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Universal Application, both of which Johns Hopkins accepts. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them. We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up.

Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van. Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back. More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try.

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. I actually succeeded in springing it. My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water.

My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned.

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

Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt. Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo.

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

My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence. I had never broken into a car before. In just eight words, we get: Is he headed for a life of crime?

Is he about to be scared straight? Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one.

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

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

This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant. This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays.

But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit.

We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in. It could be an experience, a person, a book—anything that has had an impact on your life. Anyone can write about how they won the big game or the summer they spent in Rome.

When recalling these events, you need to give more than the play-by-play or itinerary. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you. A student who can make an admissions officer laugh never gets lost in the shuffle. What you think is funny and what an adult working in a college thinks is funny are probably different. We caution against one-liners, limericks and anything off—color. Set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer: Is the essay interesting?

Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant?

Tips for a Stellar College Application Essay

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

Need Help With Your College Application Essays? Ask the Experts College admissions counselors spill the beans on writing a good essay.

Privacy FAQs

It may be only words — or sometimes only words — but the admissions essay(s) portion of a college application can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. How you write your personal essay shows the admissions committee why you are different from other applicants.

About Our Ads

College essay help is the solution to your college essay writing problem! Writing a college essay is not an easy task. College essay service is a powerful tool for making a good name for yourself in high school, college or university. College admissions officers read thousands of college application essays. These tips and strategies can help you make a strong impression. Tips for Writing a Winning College Application Essay.

Cookie Info

Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay Most selective colleges require you to submit an essay or personal statement as part of your application. It may sound like a chore, and it will certainly take a substantial amount of work. solar power essay Admission College Essay Help Journalism how to write a personal statement where can i buy watermarked paper.