The College Essay
Write them a brief letter of advice to your younger self based on
your academic, social, and/or personal experiences thus far. In
other words, what is a meaningful lesson you’ve learned?
What does a GOOD college essay
What do you think an admissions councilor (the person reading your
essay) looks for??
Admission Council Panels
What do these essays do well?
What do these essay do poorly?
Are they unique, cliché?
What stands out about the writing?
What does it reveal about the writer?
#1: The Background Story
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their
identity that they believe their application would be incomplete
without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
#2: Learning from Failure
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did
it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
#3: A Belief or Idea
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What
prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
#4: A Place or Environment
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.
What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to
#5: The Transition to Adulthood
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that
marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your
culture, community, or family.
In the post, Dave Marcus quotes several admissions officers on what makes for good and not-sogood essays, including these tidbits:
For many seniors, choosing the topic for a personal statement is more difficult than actually writing
the piece. But don’t fret. “Some of the more mundane moments in life make great essays,”
Christopher Burkmar, Princeton University’s associate dean of admissions, assured guidance
counselors at a conference last month. For example, Mr. Burkmar said he had recently savored a
few hundred words about a family’s dinner conversations. “The best essays make us laugh, cry or
wince,” said Matthew Whelan, Stony Brook University’s assistant provost for admissions and
financial aid. “They help us understand why we want the applicant here.”One of Mr. Whelan’s
current favorites: “The young man who puts his siblings on the bus in the morning because both
parents are working, then gets them off the bus, cooks them dinner and helps with homework
because both parents are still working.”
Students: Tell us about the everyday moments from your life that might make for good essay
material. If you are applying to college, how might you use something “mundane” to show who
you are and what is important to you? Or, what about your life might make an admissions officer
“laugh, cry or wince”?