Please Note: This guide is intended to help you brainstorm and begin writing your college essays. This is a 4 part detailed guide. This is the 3rd article, the other three articles are below:
- Part 1: Brainstorming for College Essays
- Part 2: The Perfect College Essay Structure
- Part 4: Supplemental College Essays
Sample Essay 1
Since I was little, I lacked what adults and athletic teachers refer to as hand-eye coordination. Thankfully, my dream wasn’t in sports. My dream was to play drums in a rock ’n’ roll band. I didn’t care that almost all rock ’n’ roll drummers are men, nor that drums required at times all four of my limbs to operate asynchronously. The walls I had to break down were made of my own doubts.
First step: Win Dad over. It took him a very long two minutes, and the following week I went to my first drum lesson. I was 14, and on my way to being the greatest drummer in the world. In my dreams, I was the queen of hand-eye coordination. It’s no wonder that a drum stool is known as a throne.
Then came the reality of learning. Starts and stops, unintended rimshots, and like all beginners, I was crash cymbal crazy. I knew nature was working against me, so I leaned on nurture. Lots and lots of nurture. I devoured musical theory and learned every symbol for every beat. I practiced with a metronome, and learned to never push the beat, which is what I always wanted to do. Go faster. Learn more. My left hand proved weaker than my right, so I used my right hand to teach my left hand by forcing them to play equally complex patterns. As time passed, my insecurities became a distant memory.
Then a new semester began and my teacher recommended I take the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). It required a lengthy research paper with no topic limitations. I had so many ideas, but then I remembered that when playing drums, I would have difficulty playing songs that required opposing movements from my hands and feet, and I had my topic. I would write about the relationship between inter-limb coordination and the brain. I wanted to know why my body struggled to separate what my arms and legs were doing, and how I could improve my speed and hand-eye coordination. I learned that our brain can control our movements, and that meant I could handle any drum beat, no matter how complex. When multiple limbs are involved, as with inter-limb movement, activity in the brain increases rapidly. For the drummer, this brain activity is especially high, given the complex nature of playing even the simplest of beats.
They say “practice makes perfect,” but that phrase refers to the result of focused repetition. After my research project, I understood the scientific basis behind that phrase. My research also showed me that my initial fears were myopic in nature. I now see inter-limb coordination as something that can be taught and improved upon by attacking the problem from a more intellectual point of view. And understanding something intellectually — for example, knowing the beat I want to produce — is not the same as being able to actually perform it, so I adapted my thinking to be able to play in the most effective and efficient way. I want my four years in college to build upon this experience. The most rewarding challenges come not from an easily answered query, but from learning how to think about different, and even contradictory ideas. Next time you see someone drop a pass, throw the ball again, and don’t stop. Sooner or later, they’ll catch it.
Why I love this essay:
- Great conversational tone that is inviting to the reader and feels very authentic
- The student took one of their interests but zeroed in on a specific challenge for them. I think the topic of hand-eye coordination is also relatable for many people.
- Essay does a lot of great “showing” through the storytelling. For instance, it tells us the student is someone who doesn’t give up easily, has intellectual curiosity (researched the subject), and was able to learn from the whole experience.
- Great conclusion discussing what they learned and how that applies to college
Sample Essay 2
Back when I was a chubby, glowing, little girl, I was enchanted by a wooden shape sorting cube that included three-dimensional stars, hearts, cubes, and circles. It was a toddler’s game, made to improve shape recognition, dexterity and matching skills; a toy that proved to be fun and intellectual. Although it was a fairly simple game, my three-year-old self could never figure it out.
Frustrated beyond relief, I tried to put the heart in the star--shaped outline, or the circle in the square, time and time again. I remember my mom patiently grabbing the right shape, putting it in my hand, and bringing it to its proper outline, while saying, “Heart goes with heart, star goes with star, circle with circle, and square in square.” Confused by her statement, I would cry out, “But why? Why!?” and she would always answer, “Because that where it fits.”
Eventually, I learned to put the heart in the heart outline, the star in the star, and so on… But the same question stayed with me, pulsing in the back of my
Why does human nature require mankind to categorize itself into a certain form? People reduce their infinite self to create a person that fits into a mold, into the shape that society thinks appropriate for them. Why? Because it’s comfortable. It’s easier to be the person that others sketch you out to be than to search inside of you and create a person from the materials that you’re given. It’s even easier to become complacent of your limitations than to continuously challenge them.
I think I constantly ask myself why because of the situations that I’ve experienced growing up. Being a diplomat’s child exposed me to a myriad of cultures, each with its own traditions and people. Every time I enrolled in a new school, I remember being asked where I was from, yet being scolded when I said I was Venezuelan. They would rephrase the question, asking where I was born, and I would answer United States. That time I wouldn’t get chided, and no further questions would be asked. But I had questions, lots of them. Why couldn't I identify as Venezuelan even though I was born in the United States? Why can’t I speak fluent English and not be called a gringa in
my native country? The answer was always obvious to me. Who ever said that the exact place where you were born is the place where you are from? Life experiences determine me, not something as static as DNA or the location of my birth. That’s why I consider myself Venezuelan, and I stay true to my roots by keeping my language alive, by keeping my culture alive, my traditions and my family always on my mind.
It’s disheartening that harsh stereotypes continue in our modern world, trying to restrict us and beat us down into a specialized form. Someone is always trying to sort us, but it’s up to us to agree to it or not. Why must people fit into a certain outline when life is so uncertain? They shouldn’t. So whenever I remember the wooden shape sorting toy, I remind myself that just because other people need to put shapes in their proper places, I don't have to. I don’t have to conform to other people’s expectations because I get to choose where my bar is set. Because even back then, when my mother wasn’t watching, I would keep trying to put the heart in the star, the circle in the square. In the end, I would always open the lid, and put all of the shapes inside the cube, looking down with satisfaction at the vibrant blue circles, the red squares, the yellow stars, the red hearts, all mixed with one another without judgement, without bias, shaping one another and filling the cube to its brim.
Why I love this essay:
- Takes a very simple object/game that many people have seen and uses it to make some great points
- The opening story is very descriptive and the reader can easily visualize it
- We learn several things about the student: culture is important, they are
- individualistic/independent, they’ve already formed some philosophies about life
- The conclusion is strong and again visual, driving home the point/philosophy
Sample Essay 3
(Lights up. A man stands on a bare stage, costumed in jeans and a maroon shirt. Next to him lay a striped hat, a black vest, a candelabra. These are pieces of his life, people he’s been. He speaks:)
A character. A collection of words, actions, and appearances; in plays, words beneath a name on a page. Literary engineers attempt to condense life into letters; yet, the letters refuse to remain static, ceaselessly shifting to chronicle an ephemeral, ever-changing narrative. Therein lies my truth. A defiant actor may ask himself, “Who is this person? What do they want?” I ask myself, “Who am I?”
An answer in three acts.
(He puts on the vest.)
“There are so many things you can try…”
–Leading Player, Pippin
Exploration. As the Leading Player, I pushed Pippin to find himself by trying new things. I myself explore a maze of confounding paths: student, musician, debater, performer. Parallel to the personas I play, everything I’ve immersed myself in has left a kink in the chain of my personality. Case study: policy debate. Endlessly intellectual, policy has helped me stand my ground and firmly adhere to my beliefs. Its longstanding impact is exemplified in my ability to engage in conversations about Nietzsche’s philosophies or Queer Futurity.
The arts are a microcosm for this exploration, too. My love for the creative process led me to playwriting and directing. Whether it’s a pantomime or a scene, I’m addicted to the vision, the incubation, and the journey to the final product.
(He picks up the hat. Nostalgia.)
“It’s possible. Anything’s possible.”
–The Cat in the Hat, Seussical
Like the Cat, I believe anything is possible – all it takes is commitment, dedication, and effort. My first audition was, in fact, for Seussical. Surrounded by new students and a new teacher, I strived to make a great first impression. I decorated a fuzzy white hat with red stripes, wearing it for every audition. The process went smoothly – monologues, songs, nothing new. Then the dance audition came. I labored for hours until I was confident in my performance. It paid off: The Cat in the Hat was one of my favorite performances, illuminating that comedic, crowd-riling, fun-loving piece of my heart.
I’ve applied this diligence throughout my life, from schoolwork to exercise. Hard work takes extra energy, but it’s the great enabler of opportunity. Tell me it’s difficult, and I’ll only be challenged to work at it even more.
(He picks up the candelabra. A soft glow.)
“You must speak from the heart.”
-Lumiere, Beauty and the Beast
I’ve never cried more than when I heard about the Orlando shooting last summer. I heard the news during Debate Nationals, where I would perform a Duo Interpretation about homophobic assault. Ironic, isn’t it? Filled with intense pain and a longing to purge the hate, I discovered an outlet in performance. People later sought us out to tell us our Duo had moved them. That was worth immeasurably more than any trophy I could’ve won.
I’ve always had a sensitive heart, and perhaps that’s what drives my love for performing. Theater is exposure. It’s humanization, escape, confrontation. I want people to feel something. I want to personalize issues and make people say, “Huh, I’ve never thought of it that way.” I want to share my heart– the heart that speaks with the voice of passion.
(A translucent curtain falls, but the lights do not fade. The show is not over. The man is pacing, mulling over his performance. Was it enough? He crawls underneath the curtain, back on stage. A spotlight.)
You ask who I am. I tell you, quite frankly, that I don’t know. I will explore, because my narrative will never stop unfolding. I will be determined, because I see greatness at the end of the arduous path. I will be vulnerable, because I am real.
Why I love this essay:
- Major points for creativity and originality, which grabs attention.
- We learn a lot about the student, some things in a straightforward way, such as their love for learning, their hard-working nature, and their sensitivity. We also learn some things that aren’t said directly – the student is a deep thinker and is creative and they are self-reflective, understanding that they don’t yet know everything about themselves