How To Write Great Ivy League Essays (With Examples)

Sep 26, 2021

Introduction

College admissions are a tiresome process. The decision-making processes of hyper-selective Ivy League schools can seem mostly cloudy to applicants. 

You may have heard about the Common App Essay, and supplemental college application essays provide the opportunity for students to display some of the harder-to-summarize, technical aspects of their application. Through such essays, students give a chance to admissions officers to display a sense of their personality, likings that fall outside the scope of their resume, or moments that matter to them.

When nearing the personal statement and supplemental essays for hyper-selective schools, parents and students often wonder what Ivy League schools are be looking for. 

This article will discuss successful Ivy League essays’  qualities and offer step-by-step guidance to help you produce such work.

Let’s start by identifying what makes Ivy League applications and expectations qualitatively different from the others. There’s a type of trickle-down effect that we can see from Ivy League schools to liberal arts schools, so preparing your child for top schools’ applications can train them to apply to mid-tier schools as well.

But, mainly, we notice that the most selective colleges ask for students to demonstrate strong passion, leadership, competence, initiative, and memorability.

Admissions committees evaluate these essays as part of a holistic narrative of a student—a good essay doesn’t guarantee admission. Admissions—especially at Ivy League schools—is a complicated, multi-faceted, and ever-changing process. What might make one essay perfect in any given year might not apply to essays in upcoming years.

Keeping that in mind, we’ve collected successful Ivy League essays from applicants who were accepted into one or more Ivy League or Ivy+ institutions (such as Stanford, MIT, UChicago). By properly going through these essays, we’ve compiled a list of strategies for writing essay competition in a highly selective applicant pool.

Ivy League essay prompts

Supplemental prompts change a little bit every year. But we’ve systemized a list of the prompts from Ivy League schools from the 2018-2019 Common App. Between all of these questions and the Personal Statement, you will easily find several routes into demonstrating your best qualities. 

Keeping that in mind, we’ve first listed all of the prompts for the Ivy League schools. 

(Note: Cornell University is excluded from this list because their prompts vary by program.)

Princeton University essay prompt

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat the essay you wrote for the Common Application in whole or in part.

1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

2.“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.

3. “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.

4. Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title, and author at the beginning of your essay.

Harvard University essay prompt

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science, or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
  • The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to choose whether to act with integrity and honesty. 
  • The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission? 
  • Each year, many students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do? 
  • Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development, or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates. 

Columbia University essay prompt

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the print, electronic publications, and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures, and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

MIT essay prompt

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (100 words or fewer)

Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? (100 words or fewer)

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities differently, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being good friends. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)

Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)

Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

University of Chicago essay prompt

Choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response. 

1. In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia, created a ''tree-mail'' service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you'd send to your favorite. 

Inspired by Hannah Lu, Class of 2020

2. You're on a voyage in the thirteenth century, sailing across the stormy seas. What if, suddenly, you fell off the edge of the Earth?

Inspired by Chandani Latey, AB'93

3. The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words ''floccu,'' ''naucum,'' ''nihilum,'' and ''pilus'' - all words meaning ''of little use.'' Coin your word using parts from any language you choose, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.

Inspired by Ben Zhang, Class of 2022

4. Lost your keys? Alohomora. Noisy roommate? Quietus. Feel the need to shatter windows for some reason? Finestra. Create your spell, charm, jinx, or other means for magical mayhem. How is it enacted? Is there an incantation? Does it involve a potion or other magical object? If so, what's in it, or what is it? What does it do?

Inspired by Emma Sorkin, Class of 2021

5. Imagine you’ve struck a deal with the Dean of Admissions himself, Dean Nondorf. It goes as follows: you’re guaranteed admission to the University of Chicago regardless of any circumstances that arise. This bond is grounded on the condition that you’ll obtain a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and draw, write, sketch, shade, stencil, paint, etc., anything and everything you want on it; your only limitations will be the boundaries of both sides on the single page. Now the catch… your submission will always be the first thing anyone you meet for the first time will see for the rest of your life. Whether it’s at a job interview, a blind date, arrival at your first Humanities class, before you even say, “Hey,” they’ll already have seen your page and formulated that first impression. Show us your page. What’s on it, and why? If your piece is essentially or exclusively visual, please make sure to share a creator's accompanying statement of at least 300 words, which we will happily allow to be on its own, separate page. PS: This is a creative thought experiment, so please note: selecting this essay prompt does not guarantee your admission to UChicago or forgive poor grades, criminal mischief, or any other “circumstances” that “may” “arise.” 

Inspired by Amandeep Singh Ahluwalia, Class of 2022

6. In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought-provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, a citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun. You can find our past prompts here.

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Yale University essay prompt

What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

Please respond in no more than 200 characters (approximately 35 words) to each of the following questions: 

1. What inspires you?

2. Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?

3. You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?

4. Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What do you hope to add to your suitemates' experience? What do you wish they will add to yours?

Please choose two of the following topics and respond to each in 250 words or fewer. 

1. Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it? 

2. Reflect on your engagement with the community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?

3. Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage local, national, and international issues. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it. 

Stanford University essay prompt

  • What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50-word limit)
  • How did you spend your last two summers? (50-word limit)
  • What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50-word limit)
  • What five words best describe you?
  • When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50-word limit)
  • Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50-word limit)
  • Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50-word limit).
  • The Stanford community is curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100 to 250 words)
  • Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – know you better. (100 to 250 words)
  • Tell us about something meaningful to you and why. (100 to 250 words)

University of Pennsylvania essay prompt

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words) 

Dartmouth University essay prompt

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, some love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?

Choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

  • “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.
  • The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story,” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself.
  • “You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.
  • In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?
  • In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.
  • Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet, the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

Brown University essay prompt

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? (You may share with us a skill or concept that you found challenging and rewarding to learn or any experiences beyond course work that may have broadened your interest.) (250-word limit)

What do you hope to experience at Brown through the Open Curriculum, and what do you wish to contribute to the Brown community? (250-word limit)

What do all of the prompts mentioned above have in common? 

Remember the qualities we talked about above? Intense passion, leadership, competence, initiative, and memorability! Every one of these prompts is, in some way, planned to get you reflecting on something original and enthusiastic manner. 

After doing the close-reading of the Ivy+ prompts, we can notice a few key things.

Whether it’s Yale asking about something you are “intellectually excited” about, or Brown speaking about something to reflect on the particularities of the Open Curriculum, or Stanford extracting a note to a roommate, these schools want you to detail their most particular obsessions, and to be able to speak about them in a way that shows intelligence and unique way of thinking. 

They want to be sure that you will share your passions with your classmates, roommates, etc.

Yet again, these are the things any university school would love to see in your Common App PS. But the Ivy+ colleges’ questions are mainly to test such qualities.

What follows is advice that can apply to both the PS and the supplementals, given the wide range of topics one can address across each type of essay.

How to pick an Ivy League essay topic

Successful students write about what interests them. The topic shouldn’t be something weird or reflects the student’s central academic and extracurricular activities. It should be about something the student can write about with belief, excitement, and specificity.

We’ve four examples of students who pulled off successful admissions cycles to Ivy+ schools. Let’s see how they chose their subject matter.

Our first example student is Angela. Angela is passionate about the environment, though she’s also involved in activities like playing basketball, and she is also part of the French club. When choosing a topic for supplemental essays, one might expect Angela to select something related to her interest or that in some way reflects on her academic prowess in the humanities. 

Instead, in one of her supplemental essays, Angela chooses to write about a topic that may at first seem unrelated to her application. She decided to write about one of her favorite teachers, who significantly impacted her life.

Our second example student is Jenna. She’s interested in politics and history.  For her supplemental essays, she decided to write about her love for the musical.
Hamilton.

In each essay, the students’ genuine interest in the subject shines through. By way of their interests, we learn, indirectly, more about each student herself.

In other words, it’s not so much the topic but the voice and tone in which these students write about their chosen subject that will give an admissions committee insight into their personalities and characters. In the next section of this post, we’ll break down how Angela and Jenna use tone, voice, and detail to communicate something about themselves while writing about Hamilton or a favorite teacher.

Our third student, Simon, his grades and test scores are high in math, science, and history. In extracurricular he has achieved in a mock trial but has also succeeded in art competitions. One of his supplemental essays for Princeton asked that he respond to a quotation of his choosing.

Like Angela and Maria, Simon didn’t pick anything they used to do regularly: he introspected and chose something that had genuinely piqued his curiosity in the things he’d studied in the past few years. In response to the quotation, the resulting essay is associative and spontaneous rather than a rehash of Simon’s impressive resume.

Let’s look at another example of a student name Rhea, who is the opposite of Simon. Rather than being “well-rounded,” Rhea is what the Harvard Admissions website might call “well-lopsided.” She loves writing and reading and has shown interest through her involvement with her school’s slam poetry team and national writing competitions. Besides that, she struggles in subjects like math. Rhea’s supplemental essay for Yale underlines the quality that makes her “well-lopsided”—she writes about it with pure intensity. 

In short, you should try to choose a topic you’re excited to talk about. What could you talk about with your friends endlessly for hours? How you spend your free time? Who’s the person in your life in your everyday life that has influenced or changed you? Are there moments in your life that have made you feel part of something larger?

How to decide on an essay structure

Once you have chosen a topic that you’re interested in, the next step is to decide the proper structure for the essay. An Ivy League-quality essay is not just about five paragraphs. An Ivy+ quality essay takes narrative and storytelling thoughtfully. It must read like beautiful fiction.

If you are genuinely passionate about your subject matter, an organic design can emerge—indicating that they weren’t just following a static set of building blocks. While we can’t backpedal engineer passion, we can give you some advice regarding storytelling brain rather than their resume-summary brain.

Let’s start with Jenna’s Hamilton essay and her supplemental essay about her favorite teacher. The first design element that makes these essays successful is the opening.

Strategy 1: A “Hook”

Jenna starts her essay with a hook that 1) draws the reader in and 2) forms her voice and enthusiasm instantly. Here’s the opening to her Hamilton essay:

A coal scuttle. A woman on stage, crying, singing, and burning a series of old-looking papers the tea color. All this: a way to tell the audience about someone history has forgotten. This is what happens at one of the emotional climaxes of my favorite musical: Eliza Hamilton, spurned by her husband, removes herself from the historical narrative by burning their letters. I saw Hamilton when my father won a lottery for tickets on a visit to New York City. A drama nerd, I was thrilled to get a chance to see the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning production. I didn’t know how much it would affect how I thought about the past and the present.

For comparison, let’s look at Angela’s opening to the essay about her favorite teacher:

Uncertainty could be my guiding light.” – U2

Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda.

Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” – Hannah Montana.

A broad group of unconnected aphorisms? Not at all. More like drops of inspirational “Zachary-isms” splashing the drab cinderblock walls with colorful insights.

Observe that these essays open with a focus on something beyond the student: they start by stealing the reader’s attention. They also start small. Rather than declaring what the essay is “about,” Angela and Jenna focus on the specific images to draw the reader in.

It can be unsettling to sit in front of a blank page, trying to convey a big idea. The subject of Jenna’s essay is Hamilton. The idea she communicates in the rest of the essay is that she’s into drama. As a way to take the spotlight and settle for your best self, this musical showed her how through entertainment, she could communicate big ideas about history and politics while inspiring present-day audiences to remember that they’re living through history all the time. She put an essay that subtly links back to her favorite interests while not always keep talking about them too directly.

Observe, that she initiates the essay not by instantly making her love for Hamilton into a metaphor. Instead, she starts with a concrete detail—the climax of the show.

If you are stuck—say you’re trying to write an essay about how your desire for antique shopping taught you to listen to different people, brainstorm specific details about the things they like and are enthusiastic about. What do they know, particularly, about this thing? Jenna knows about the type of prop used onstage because she geeked out and asked around when she dreamt of putting on her version of the show at her high school.

Starting small and going big is a great idea. Also, a successful essay opening can also begin to big. Simon’s essay, which is written in response to a Machiavelli quotation he chose, begins with the following. 

The cosmos call to me. Whether in a city, where only the brightest stars break through the noise, or away from all distractions, where their number can overwhelm, I welcome the perspective the heavens bestow. Even though I try to tame the sky with books or a telescope, it never ceases to make me feel powerless. 

Establishing your essay with the cosmos is about as big as you can get. But a critical similarity between Simon’s opening and Angela’s is that he still uses a particular image, provided with curiosity and joy. It communicates to admissions committees: this guy knows what they’re talking about, and they’re talking about it from a place of intellectual vitality.

Strategy 2: Establish Larger Significance

So, you started your essay. You finally settled on a topic that excites you. You’ve written an attention-grabbing hook that uses specific knowledge, a sensory image, or fs the essay’s perspective. What next? 

Yes, the essay is about the student’s selected topic, but it’s about the student. The next section of the essay, after the hook, should fulfill two things. First, it should exhibit the student’s voice. Second, it should show that the student has thought about why this thing might grab their interest.

Let’s begin with that first goal, establishing voice.

Jenna’s voice comes even in her hook, but her voice becomes even more vital as the essay goes ahead past the hook into the second paragraph. 

What defines a unique student voice in an admissions essay? It’s things like word choice, word repetition, and when the student writes more formally vs. more informally. 

Sometimes students writes using a formal SAT-word-strewn language in order to impress an admissions committee. On the contrary, ideally, using informal language can humanize the candidate and give the essay a voice. Here’s an example, from Jenna’s Hamilton essay:

Okay, okay. Musical theater can be hammy and campy. I should have learned to love history in school, right? But every year, my class began with the same old recitations about documents that seemed ancient. It wasn’t until I watched Eliza Hamilton rendered with such humanity onstage that I connected to what I later learned was called “historiography,” or how we write history.

Jenna’s voice easily blends the informal—phrases like “Okay, okay” and “right?”—with specific formal language—words like “rendered” and “historiography.” She displays a grasp of vocabulary without coming across as stiff or like a know-it-all.

Repetition can also be a good idea in structuring an essay and establishing voice. Let’s return to Rhea, our “well-lopsided” aspiring writer. One of her supplemental essays for Yale takes as its subject the realization that she uses the written word to understand herself and learn about her family history. The essay begins on a broad, personal note, with an organizing topic sentence in the second paragraph:

When I reflect on my life, everything ties back into the power of the written word.     

As the essay goes ahead, it opens up—Rhea links the personal importance of writing to something larger. Thi happens through repetition:

Words make me who I am. The terms of my grandparents told me how lucky I am to be growing up in America, instead of Nazi-occupied Poland or Stalinist Russia, like they did.

In both Jenna and Rhea’s essays, repetition and “opening up” to a larger topic are vital in establishing voice and great significance—both of which will help admissions committees gain a better sense of the students.

How to write Ivy League essay

Now that we’ve done a deep dive into structure—hook, voice, more considerable significance, takeaway—we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of what makes successful Ivy League essays not only structurally compelling but also fascinating and richly textured.

Tip 1: Mention lots of detail

Essays that are successful in the Ivy League stock often use very precise details to impress the essay. You should avoid cliché and generalizations as you write essay.

Let’s look back at Angela’s essay about her favorite teacher. Here’s how she presents him:

The rays beating onto his back seem to infuse him with an enthusiastic energy which he passes on to his drowsy students. The well-worn spine of The Brothers Karamazov is plopped in one open hand, complete with the ubiquitous highlighted passages and illegible margin notes. The other madly gesticulates.

Observe that Angela sets the scene here. We can see the teacher she’s describing: the sun rays, the tired high school students. Instead of saying “a book” she mentions a a specific title. She zooms in to show not just details, but telling details. 

We know that this is an lively and dedicated teacher from the description of his gesticulation and the description of the marginalia. Not only do these details tell us something about the teacher: by saying us what Angela see and admires about the teacher, we learn more about Angela. She’s the kind of  person who admires devotion to one’s work. 

Tip 2: Go with the a humble tone

Essays are not the place to brag. You are in the Ivy League pool, and the non-qualitative parts of the application—the Common App, the resume, etc.—will give the admissions committee idea about your accomplishments.

On the contrary, the essay is a good place to acknowledge faults, contradictions, and uncertainty.

Take Rhea. She writes: 

Words are the thread that ties me to the people and events around me. Words help me understand a universe that is at once united and divided. Words remind me that I am at once minusculeseesThese. Insignificant, and at the same time, an essential link in the chain of history.

In the last paragraph of the essay, Rhea ends by introspecting on her own insignificance, which can be a counterpart to an application geared to show an admissions committee how she stands out from the crowd. This ending suggests modesty, humility and perspective, as well as a contradiction. Writing is essential to her in part because she’s good at it, but also because it reminds her that the world is much bigger than herself.

Tip 3: Switch up your word choice

Simon and Jenna’s essays seldom repeat keywords—unless, as in Jenna’s, the repetition is helpful to establish voice. Don’t reach for formal words, but do try to use language that’s firm and particular.

Remember that, as former Princeton Dean of Admissions Janet Lavin Rapelye writes, your essay not only communicates something about you, but also should showcase your writing skills: “Your ability to write well is critical to our decision because your writing reflects your thinking. No matter what question is asked on a college application, admission officers see how well you convey your ideas and express yourself in writing. It is our window to your world.”

Tip 4: make your message simple and clear

You have to avoid bragging in these essays, but it’s essential that you are clear and confident in the subject matter and the message you’re conveying. We’ve touched on the “takeaways” as a practical structural element of a successful essay. It can also be helpful to pepper these “takeaways” throughout the essay.

Here’s an example line from Rhea’s essay: “Words have whispered to me my whole life. They have been my comfort, my refuge, my outlet, my joy.

At first glance, this might seem like an generalization. But this clarity and communicates vital information to an admissions committee: this person is serious about their interests.

Tip 5: Add a title

In the full-length essays mentioned below, some successful essays have a title. This suggests that you have put extra effort into highlighting the essay’s central idea, and you consider it a complete, polished piece of writing.

Tip 6:  Try to read interesting people’s college essays

The students we’re highlighting in this post are great writers in part because they’ve been genuinely occupied with the narrative for many years. Check out a few essays by genuinely great writers. Not writers of college essays, but the great ones 

Try James Baldwin’s ‘Letter from A Region in My Mind’ or ‘Notes of a Native Son,’ Joan Didion’s ‘Goodbye to All That’ or ‘Notes from a Native Daughter,’ Nora Ephron’s ‘A Few Words About Breasts,’  Annie Dillard’s ‘Total Eclipse,’ or any number of essays by David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, John McPhee, David Sedaris, Meghan Daum, Maggie Nelson, or Anne Fadiman.

Ivy League essay example

Check out successful college essay examples on our site.

Here’s Jenna’s essay on her favorite teacher:

Mr. Zachary’s Opus

“Uncertainty could be my guiding light.” – U2

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda.

“Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” – Hannah Montana.

An eclectic group of unrelated aphorisms? Not at all. I like to think of them as drops of inspirational “Zachary-isms” splashing the drab cinderblock walls with colorful insights. To call room 134 a “classroom” is an understatement. I prefer to think of it as a sanctuary where students are free to disagree, take risks, and derive their own sense of meaning.

Room 134? Hardly. It’s an extension of Mr. Zachary himself.

Each English class with “Zac Attack” is a unique experience. He sits on the windowsill digging his elbows into his knees, a panorama of hazy trees stretched behind him in the early morning sunlight. The rays beating onto his back seem to infuse him with an enthusiastic energy which he passes on to his drowsy students. The well-worn spine of Great Expectations is plopped in one open hand, complete with the ubiquitous highlighted passages and illegible margin notes. The other madly gesticulates through the air as he conveys the literary beauty of the passage he’s reading aloud to his awakening audience. He reads faster and faster, gradually increasing the intensity in his voice until suddenly he stops—catching us all by surprise with his silence. A smile spreads across his face as he watches the words he’s just spoken permeate our thawing brains. That is Mr. Zachary in his pure, unadulterated genius.

He finds subtle ways to sneak in references to his proud Irish-Catholic roots. One day, he recited all of Yeats’ “Second Coming” from memory. I could almost see the “widening gyre” behind his dancing eyes. Remarkably, he never intimidates with his boundless knowledge. To be honest, most of the ti, I forget he’s my teacher. I’m genuinely convinced Mr. Zachary is a kid stuck in an adult’s body. He’s the only teacher I know who will walk you to the cafeteria if a conversation spills over into the lunch period. He’s the only teacher I know who conducts class from a beach chair on Fridays. He the only teacher I know who has snappier wisecracks than the class clown. Mr. Zachary is half-Yeats, half-Bono—the perfect Irish combination of intellect with that classic “cool dude” persona.

His passion is contagious. Never before have I felt so liberated sitting in front of a blank computer screen. One of Mr. Zachary’s “inviolate rules” is to write for yourself, not for a grade. He’s taught me to catch the thoughts in my head and crystallize them on paper. He’s taught me to harness the therapeutic power of words flying across the page. He’s taught me to be unafraid of words—to love words. He’s helped me find the writer in myself. He’s a sage, a muse, a bard, a mentor, and a savant. More importantly, he’s my friend. 

In the end

No one totally figures how you out what the Ivy League wants. 

But here’s a summary of the strategies we’ve learned based on over a decade of working with successful Ivy League applicants. We’ve also mentioned the ways your begin outlining and prewriting for an Ivy League essay that impresses the admissions committee.

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  • Framework to help you Audit your College Essays
Download the College Essay Guide