Sample College Admission Essays
This section contains two examples of good college essays.
- College Essay One
- College Essay Two
- College Essay Three
College Essay One
Prompt: Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen State University and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).
State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.
In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.
This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
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College Essay Two
Prompt: What motivates you?
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.
Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.
Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
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College Essay Three
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.
The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.
In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.
In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.
As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.
My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.
My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.
Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.
From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.
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Factors to Consider When Choosing a College or University
You have probably heard it over and over again: choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. And it's true. Where you attend college will have a lasting impact on your personal and professional life.
But the truth is, many students select a college based on emotion or a very limited set of criteria-sometimes just a gut feeling. While this won't preclude you from academic success, such an important decision should probably undergo a higher level of scrutiny.
If you're shopping around for colleges, you're going to want to consider a broad range of factors, such as location, size, cost, academic quality, campus safety, choice of majors, as well as other factors that are important to you personally.
Below are some important factors to consider when choosing a college. These factors start general and get more specific. As you narrow down your list of schools, you're going to want to ask more detailed questions and dig deeper to find out if that school will be a good fit for you.
AccreditationBefore you spend any time investigating a college, first make sure it is accredited. This means that an officially licensed organization has vetted the school and reviewed its curriculum to verify that it meets basic academic standards for higher education.
Most schools will readily provide this information on their website-usually on the About or Admissions pages. If you're having trouble finding it, just call or email the admissions department.
A college or university can be nationally or regionally accredited. Within a college, specific schools, departments or programs can also have their own accreditation. This ensures that your degree will be recognized by employers and other institutions of higher education.
Type of SchoolThe real question is, what type of education do you want? Most students would respond that they don't know yet. But you don't have to choose a major or decide on a career…not just yet.
Take a step back and ask yourself some basic questions: Where do your interests and abilities lie? Are you better suited for liberal arts subjects or more technical fields, such as math, science and engineering? By the time you're a junior or senior in high school, you probably have an idea.
Most colleges and universities lean in one direction or another. A small liberal arts college will not have much to offer a student that wants to be an engineer. She will want to apply to larger research universities that have the resources for engineering, as well as other technical and scientific fields.
Think of the type of school as your broadest level of criteria. It is very general and is geared to narrow down your list. Once you apply it with other factors, described below, your options will become clearer.
Geographic LocationMost students have an idea as to whether they would like to stay close to home or not. Do you want live in a big city or somewhere a little quieter? Does a party campus sound like a fun part of the college experience or just a distraction? What about weather and regional culture?
Perhaps most importantly, can you afford to go out-of-state, especially to a more expensive big city? We'll discuss cost in more detail below, but choosing to attend college outside of your home state will automatically make everything more expensive.
Geographic location can have a big impact on your overall college experience. Even if you like the school, if you hate where it's located the next four years could be tough. If you're looking at schools in a particular city, make sure you actually like it there. If you haven't visited in a while, you should probably schedule a trip.
Also consider crime and safety, not just for the city but the campus itself. Almost every major school will provide crime statistics for campus, and many will include surrounding areas. You might think of college as a safe and fun place, and it is. But crime happens, and crime rates vary widely from school to school.
Size of SchoolThere are thousands of quality schools out there and they come in practically all sizes. A school's size can tell you a lot about it. And much like type of school and geographic location, you probably have some sort of idea about the size of school you'd like to attend.
Large colleges usually have more resources. This can include campus facilities such as student housing, libraries, computer access, health centers, athletic facilities, culture and entertainment. Large research universities also tend to have large budgets to invest in faculty, classroom technology and research and development labs for science, engineering and other fields of study.
Perhaps most importantly, large institutions usually provide more academic options, including hundreds of different majors and concentrations. This can be especially attractive if you haven't settled on a major or are looking to pursue an interdisciplinary major.
Small colleges have plenty to offer that larger institutions cannot. Many colleges stay small so they can specialize in liberal arts education or even a certain discipline within liberal arts. The campus and the class sizes will be smaller, and the overall college experience is usually much more intimate.
Remember, a small and cozy school can still be located in a big, bustling city. And a big public university can be located in a small town (these are often the party schools). It's important to judge the size of the school in the context of the surrounding environment.
Overall CostOther factors may be more important to you personally, but in the end, cost may trump them all. There are so many education options out there, and they all require a substantial financial investment. But some will put you into debt for years, while others will take decades to pay for.
Private schools are usually more expensive than public colleges and state universities. However, private schools tend to have larger endowments and offer more grants and scholarships. This can even out the cost of tuition to some degree.
Tuition is only about half of the overall cost of attending college. Housing, food, transportation, books and other cost-of-living expenses contribute to a much higher “sticker price.” If you're looking at schools in expensive cities like New York or Los Angeles, you're likely to be paying 2 or 3 times more in rent.
Remember Geographic Location? Hopefully you have given some thought not only to where you would like to go, but where you can afford to go. Attending college out-of-state is automatically more expensive. The tuition will be subject to non-resident fees, but you will also probably spend more on cost of living.
If money is more of an obstacle, you may want to consider living at home and studying your general requirements at a community college. It has become very common, not just for affordability. Across the board, community colleges have improved academic standards and made it easier to transfer credits to four-year universities. Many studies even show community college students going on to greater academic success than their university counterparts.
Academic QualityAcademic quality is further down on this list, but not because it is less important. It is more specific. The factors listed above will help you narrow down your list. Academic quality may very well be the determining factor in your ultimate decision.
One thing that happens when you search for colleges is you learn more about college itself. Conducting the search will help inform your ideas about what you want to study and what you want to gain from your college experience. As your list gets shorter and shorter, you should be giving more scrutiny to the academics at each school.
If your high school offers guidance counseling, you should absolutely take advantage of it. A counselor will sit down with you and help you clarify what you're looking for. They will also have literature and resources for you, including reviews of different colleges and academic programs.
Do some online research of your own. Don't just read general descriptions of colleges, but look into specific departments and programs. You should be able to find plenty of information about almost any school out there.
Rankings are fun, but they can be misleading. Publications like U.S. News & World Report have their own criteria for determining rankings. They might have different opinions than you about what is important in a college. It doesn't hurt to look at rankings, but you're going to want to dig deeper.
If you know what field you would like to study, use that to your advantage. Get the school's job placement statistics for various departments. What percentage of students is able to find jobs after graduation? If possible, seek out career professionals in that field and their input. You may get recommendations to great colleges you've never heard of.
FacultyAcademic quality and faculty go hand in hand. A college professor can be much more than just a teacher. In addition to instilling valuable skills that will prepare you for adult life, they are training you for a career and in some cases, acting as a mentor.
If you have an inkling of what you'd like to study, take a good look at the faculty in related departments. It can be hard to know how to judge faculty members without actually taking their class. Just start reading about different professors at different schools and soon you will develop a basis of comparison. If you have campus visits scheduled, try and meet with faculty members personally.
Obviously you want well-qualified teachers, but you also want personal attention. Many professors at larger universities are more focused on research and delegate teaching to graduate students. Smaller universities and community colleges tend to have more focus on the classroom and offer students greater access to their professors.
Also look at the student-to-teacher ratio and the average class size. Student/teacher ratios will give you an overall balance of the college, but can be skewed if professors focus on research. If possible get class size numbers for specific departments. Also keep in mind that freshman classes tend to be bigger, while classes in your major will be more intimate.
Academic MajorsOne of the worst situations you can get yourself into is enrolling in a college and discovering something you'd love to study, only to find out it is not offered as a major. You will have to choose a different major or transfer schools, which can be costly and extend your college career.
You've been searching for colleges based on general interests (see “Type of School” above), but now it's time to narrow it down to a few potential majors. You don't have to decide on one, just have a range of options in mind. Later on, you might be looking at two different schools. One offers all the majors on your list, the other doesn't. Having criteria like this can make your eventual decision much easier.
Ideally, if you already have a major selected you can search for a college based on that. This will give you the advantage of searching for schools in the context of a larger career/life plan. You can investigate academic departments more thoroughly and carefully select a school that's a perfect fit for you.
But that's in an ideal world. Most students only declare a major during their sophomore year and don't have that information when choosing a college. That's okay. If you've been considering all the factors listed above and have a general idea of what you want to study, you shouldn't have too many surprises.
This may be a little different if you're applying to a very small school with a limited academic focus. In that case you probably want to have a specific major in mind when you enroll. If you end up deciding on a completely different discipline-a common occurrence-then you may find yourself stuck with few alternatives.
In the end, choosing a major is the part of the process that gets down to the nitty-gritty specifics. You'll want to do plenty of research and weigh all the factors described above before devoting too much time to this topic.
PerspectiveChoosing a college is a massive undertaking with lots of different factors to consider. Many students don't give the process enough time or thoughtful consideration. This can make the selection process much more stressful and your eventual choice much more miserable.
But if you carefully weigh all of these factors, as well as some of your own, you will eventually navigate your way through the process. Take it step by step. Start general and, as you learn more about yourself and your range of options, get more and more specific. In the end, what started out as hundreds of options will be narrowed down to just a few, and you will find a great college for you.