3 Standout Barnard Essay Examples
Barnard College is not only one of the oldest women’s colleges in the country, but also one of the few that remains all women. Students can, however, take classes and even major at Columbia University, which is located just across the street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
With a very low acceptance rate, Barnard is incredibly selective. When applying to such a competitive school, writing strong essays is one way of ensuring that your application will stand out.
In this post, we will share three Barnard essays written by real students. We will break down what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement to give you a clearer idea of what approach you should take with your own essay!
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our Barnard essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Essay Example #1
Prompt: At Barnard, academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited and why do they interest you? Tell us how you would explore these questions at Barnard. (300 words)
There are some questions that can’t be answered through classes.
Why does cereal taste better in a cup?
How many bottles of kombucha can I brew in my dorm room?
Is hitting snooze self care or sabotage?
These are questions best answered after midnight, half delirious in the dorms as you struggle through math homework.
Shower questions though, tend to lend themselves more to philosophical discussions.
Is it ethical, even hypocritical, to make pro-recycling posters out of printer paper?
If the Bible says everyone is a sinner, why is homosexuality seen as “more sinful”?
Is it anti-feminist to study primarily male philosophers?
I’d love to explore these questions at Barnard, in classes like Philosophical Problems of Climate Change, Philosophy, Justice and Social Activism, or Sexuality, Sin and Spirituality, though I’m more certain the discussions would carry on as I sit in Hewitt with friends, discussing how climate change is inherently tied to capitalism and why oat milk is better than almond milk.
But Barnard would also allow me to explore other facets of my interests. Through classes in the Political Science department like Colloquium on Gender and Public Policy, I can explore questions like how does race and gender affect policy, and how is race and gender affected by policy? I’d also take classes in the English department, seeking to answer deep questions like how can I channel my experiences regarding heavy topics like generational trauma or climate change through art? The class What’s Your Story Anyway?—Trauma Resistance through Creative Writing would help me do just that.
In short, the multifaceted nature of Barnard, from classes themselves to the way students are encouraged to be more than one thing; student, activist, leader, makes it so exciting to me. Given the chance, I’d love to be bold at Barnard.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay is captivating, entertaining, and perfectly encapsulates this student—not an easy feat to accomplish in under 300 words! The student could have easily picked one or two questions, but instead she enriched her essay with quirky questions to make for an exciting hook, and then delved into an array of more serious questions that perfectly aligned with the opportunities at Barnard. Opening the essay with cereal, kombucha, and snooze buttons humanizes her and draws in the reader with humorous topics we can relate to.
The philosophical questions are beautifully interwoven with related classes that would provide her with the answers; this is a concrete way to demonstrate exactly how you will explore your questions at Barnard. Again, she offers up five different philosophical questions in the latter half of the essay, and each reveals a new layer of her personality.
The use of succinct and detailed questions allows the reader to gain insight into what this student finds important without lengthy sentences explaining their interests and values. “Is it ethical, even hypocritical, to make pro-recycling posters out of printer paper?” shows us their passion for climate justice and protesting with the posters they make. We might conclude they are religious and possibly have an identity that contrasts with their faith from this question: “If the Bible says everyone is a sinner, why is homosexuality seen as “more sinful”?”
Because this student chose her questions with intention, each one brings a new element to the essay and helps the reader piece together all the different aspects of her personality.
What Could Be Improved
While this essay is very strong, one thing the student could have considered is including opportunities at Barnard besides exclusively referring to classes. She was able to draw very strong connections between her questions and the classes, but discussing other resources at Barnard that would allow her to explore her questions would have demonstrated even more interest in the school. Discussing a club or a professor who might know the answer to her question would be a nice way to incorporate other aspects of the campus community into the essay to show how well this student would fit in.
Essay Example #2
Prompt: Pick one woman — a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual — to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. Why does this person intrigue you? What would you talk about? What questions would you ask them? (300 words)
She loved so fiercely that she carried her husband’s calcified heart with her wherever she went. Her most famous work is responsible for countless spinoffs, discussions, and derivations, approached from every angle. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, pioneer of the sci-fi genre, daughter of anarchist feminists, Gothic badass, and perpetually star-crossed lover, represents to me the multiplicity of womanhood.
We remember her today for her intellectual prowess in the literary and political fields. Less often noted is the fact that her irrational, Romantic instincts guided her throughout her life. Both were instrumental in her character, as I know they are in mine. Thus, our conversation would revolve around the relationship between head and heart.
Growing up, I struggled to reconcile my ambitions with what I deemed the “irrational” side of me. My emotions and impulse contradicted so greatly with my goal to be the “strong female protagonist” of my own life, someone who could compartmentalize a publicly infallible and privately sensitive persona.
But I’ve learned since from women like Mary that my vulnerabilities can and should be an asset. We could discuss how her experiences as a mother and daughter shaped Frankenstein the same way that I draw on my experiences to deepen my extracurricular passions, how her life was guided by pursuits of both love and intellectualism, how I’ve learned that even my academic or public responsibilities are inextricably tied to my identity as a woman, how we contain multitudes—emotional, intellectual, vulnerable, strong—that are all crucial to our conceptions of womanhood.
What the Essay Did Well
From the very first sentence, the author uses vivid, engaging language to draw her reader in, and it continues through the essay. The first paragraph is a strong hook that builds suspense and anticipation before we are even told who the famous figure is. Not only does her description of Shelley’s distinguishing features at the beginning reveal what the author means by her representing the “multiplicity” of women, but it also reveals the traits that are most important to this student like being a feminist, a badass, and a lover.
After hooking her reader with a lively description of Shelley in the first paragraph, the author clearly states her personal connection to Shelley. Additionally, here the author uses simple, direct language. In this instance, that is a good choice, because the dichotomy she is describing is fairly complex and she has to ensure her reader understands her meaning.
The essay ends with her concisely summarizing Shelley’s impact on her own life: Shelley has helped her accept that there are many ways to be a woman, and that womanhood is not defined by any one attribute. This final line gives the reader a clear takeaway, which is incredibly helpful, as they would have no problem answering what the essay was about. When your reader finishes your essay, they shouldn’t have any confusion about what you were trying to communicate.
What Could Be Improved
One weakness in this essay is it is too vague at times, thus it would benefit from the inclusion of anecdotes or elaboration about this student. For example she says, “I draw on my experiences to deepen my extracurricular passions,” and “I’ve learned that even my academic or public responsibilities are inextricably tied to my identity as a woman” but the reader has no indication what those experiences are or how this student learned about her responsibilities being linked to her gender.
Let’s take the third paragraph as an example to see how anecdotes could improve this essay.
The current phrase at the beginning of the paragraph, “growing up”, is generic and uninformative. Consider instead something along the lines of “I have often struggled to reconcile my ambitions with what I deemed the ‘irrational’ side of me. Despite my desire to be the ‘strong female protagonist’ of my own life, I couldn’t help but feeling intimidated when I walked into my first debate practice and immediately realized I was the only girl. My public persona may have been infallible, but privately I worried that I was being overly sensitive.”
Essay Example #3
Prompt: What factors encouraged your decision to apply to Barnard College and why do you think the college would be a good match for you? (300 words)
There’s a certain energy palpable at protests, each chant a powerful reminder that you are not alone in a seemingly futile fight- it’s why I love organizing. On Barnard’s campus you will be sure to find me teaching environmental education with Sprout Up (gotta start them young), or even protesting through the streets of New York. *Fun fact I may have marched through Wall Street with a “no economy on a dead planet” sign at one point. A power move if you ask me.
Barnard’s history of trailblazing through boundaries, creating space for *revolutionary* ideas and actions comfort me, knowing that however far I try to push boundaries, to create change, Barnard will give me the space and support I need to accomplish my goals, especially with the help of the Athena Center.
Despite my love for grassroots activism, I often feel frustrated in the weeks following a protest; despite overwhelming support for change, be it climate action, BLM, Indigenous sovereignty, it often feels like our cries fall upon deaf ears. In order for substantial change to occur, leaders and policymakers need to reflect the diversity and interests of the public. As an Asian American woman, I seldom see myself reflected in leadership. Studying at Barnard will equip me to be that leader, a role model for the next generation of girls, Asian or not.
Having the tools to understand both the science and ethnography of issues like climate change is something I believe will be invaluable to study in the Environment & Sustainability program. Using the knowledge I gain from classes like BC3932 Climate Change, Global Migration & Human Rights in the Anthropocene, which bridges my interest in anthropology with the environment, I can be a better informed leader, learning from the past to preserve the resources we still have.
What the Essay Did Well
Something that sets this essay apart from typical “Why School?” essays is how the student’s interests and anecdotes are weaved through the essay along with the offerings at Barnard. Many students follow a basic structure with an introductory anecdote, elaboration on their interests, and then conclude with listing a slew of opportunities at the school that relate to their passion.
By incorporating Barnard from the first paragraph to the last, it makes the school feel like an integral part of this student’s story and allows her to connect each part of her identity to the school. This makes for a much more fluid and easy to follow essay. We aren’t bombarded with a list of the student’s passions and then asked to recall them when she discusses resources at the school. We can see her passion for protesting and then get told exactly what activities she will join on campus to fulfill that passion. Then we move onto her thirst for breaking boundaries and are told about a leadership center she wants to engage with. Each idea is secluded and given the space it needs to be fully understood.
Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student is honest about who she is, for the sake of both adding humor and establishing significance. “Fun fact I may have marched through Wall Street with a “no economy on a dead planet” sign at one point. A power move if you ask me,” is a great sentence from the way it’s framed as a fun fact, to the emphasis on the may, to calling her own actions a power move. On the flip side, “As an Asian American woman, I seldom see myself reflected in leadership” brings a sense of solemnity to the essay. The author is being forthright with her identity, and the struggles with it, so the reader can appreciate where her motivation stems from.
What Could Be Improved
It would be nice if this essay had a conclusion that wrapped up the essay, rather than leaving it as is with no sense of closure. We know—word counts are the worst. This essay is at 299 of 300 words, so to add a conclusion would require cutting down on other words or reworking sentences to save space.
One area that could be reworked is this sentence: “Barnard’s history of trailblazing through boundaries, creating space for *revolutionary* ideas and actions comfort me, knowing that however far I try to push boundaries, to create change, Barnard will give me the space and support I need to accomplish my goals.” It could be shortened by providing a concrete example, instead of talking about boundaries as hypotheticals, like this: “As the first female captain of the Mathletes, I saw the need to challenge the status quo—something which Barnard encourages.”
Simple changes like this to make the essay more concise would give the author 20 or so words to write a quick one-liner to conclude the essay and express how Barnard will allow them to become the person they have always dreamed of.
Where to Get Your Barnard College Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Barnard College essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!