How to Write the Emory University Essays 2021-2022
Emory University has two required prompts for all applicants. The first prompt asks what major you are interested in, while the second prompt allows applicants to pick their own prompt from five options.
At a top school like Emory, your essays are one of the chief ways admissions officers decide who to admit amongst a sea of applicants with the same GPAs and test scores. In this post, we’ll share how you can write compelling essays for a competitive school like Emory.
Read these Emory essay examples to inspire your writing.
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How to Write the Emory Supplemental Essays
In addition to a Personal Statement, Emory University requires applicants to write two short supplemental essays. The first essay asks about your academic interests, while the second essay allows you to choose a prompt from the provided list.
What academic areas are you interested in exploring in college? (200 words)
Please answer one of the following questions:
Option A: Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
Option B: When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
Option C: If you could witness a historic event (past, present or future) first-hand, what would it be, and why?
Option D: Share a time when you were awestruck.
Option 5: Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) seems made for you? Why?
Before You Begin
As Emory’s website states in regard to these essays, “We encourage you to be thoughtful and not stress about what the right answer might be. We simply want to get to know you better.” This space is an opportunity for you to present yourself as a complex and unique human being. Remember that before reading your essays and recommendations, your admissions officers will only have seen data points and test scores that describe you. While these numbers are important, you are so much more than a test score. Admission officers want to sympathize with you. They want to root for. They want you to give them a reason to admit you. And this is such a great place for you to give them one! Don’t be afraid to be your true, gloriously weird self.
It’s worth noting that the word limit for these essays is only 150 words. That’s not a lot of space, so the name of the game is brevity. This is not the place for purple prose or modifiers — instead of very hungry, try famished. Consider using sprinted instead of ran as fast as possible. It may seem like a small change, but every word is important here. We recommend that you try to get as close to the 150 word count as possible, and stay within 10-15 words of the limit.
What academic areas are you interested in exploring in college? (200 words)
This is a very straightforward “Why This Major?” prompt that should follow the typical structure for an essay of this archetype. A good response needs to do three things: (1) show your interest in the major through an experience, (2) explain how the major will help you achieve your goals, and (3) demonstrate what resources at the school will help you achieve your goals.
1. Show your interest in the major
You want to start your essay by showing admissions officers your excitement and engagement in the major you have chosen. What positive (or even negative) experiences have you had with this subject that have influenced you?
A student interested in Creative Writing might talk about how she sees characters in people walking down the street, mythical lands in the places she’s traveled, and new stories that must be told whenever she listens to conversations around her.
A student interested in Nutrition Science could describe how understanding the science behind the food he ate through independent research helped him turn around his life and lose weight. The easiest way to convey your interest is to use a strong, detailed, and meaningful anecdote.
2. Explain how this major will help you
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s okay to not know exactly what you want, but you should have a pretty decent idea of what field you are interested in or what type of work you see yourself enjoying.
If you know that you want to generate cleaner forms of energy to solve the climate crisis, you would mention how majoring in Environmental Sciences will teach you not only the ecological origins of issues facing the world, but how to think creatively to develop feasible solutions.
Maybe you’re not sure what you want to do, but you are deeply concerned by racial injustice. You could describe how the African American Studies major will allow you to learn about the history of oppression in this country, so you can gain a better understanding of where you could devote your time to do the most good one day. For this section, it’s important you establish a link between your current interests and your future.
3. Demonstrate how Emory can help you
This final step shows the admissions officers that you are genuinely interested in their school and took the time to do outside research. You will want to include resources (classes, professors, research opportunities, study abroad, extracurriculars, etc) that are specific and unique to Emory that you plan to take advantage of while on campus. Just casually mentioning three different resources you will use doesn’t add anything to your essay. You need to connect these resources to your future goals by elaborating on how they will help you.
For example, a student who is fascinated by the economic causes of war could say they want to work with Professor Caroline Fohlin on her research of pre-war Germany to learn how the economy can predict conflicts.
Another student who wants to apply AI to smart homes one day would write about their excitement to take the Artificial Intelligence class at Emory since it is solely dedicated to a topic they are interested in. Remember, what you choose to highlight should align with your reasons for applying to this major in the first place.
You can think of the entire essay like a bridge. On one side you have your past experiences and passion for a topic. On the other side, your future career goals and aspirations await you. The only way to get to the other side is by studying your intended major at Emory and utilizing the resources available to you, or crossing the bridge.
These prompts ask you to either reflect on a moment or period of growth in your life, or describe yourself. Though they have different spheres of focus, each prompt requires you to reveal who you are as a person. Whether you are demonstrating your personal development through a unique experience, or discussing your favorite book, a well-written essay for these prompts should showcase your identity, beliefs, and values.
Option A: Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness. (150 words)
This prompt is ideal for those who have prioritized cultural sensitivity and have engaged with people from diverse backgrounds.
This prompt is a little bit more specific and directed than the other two, because it requires you to think about a time when you intentionally expanded your horizons. While all three prompts address growth, this one requires you to reflect on an instance where you did something deliberate that catalyzed your growth. For example, my lab partner had a different cultural background than me would no longer be applicable since you didn’t actively do something. Think instead of a time when you consciously made the decision to expand your cultural awareness — like the time you went out of your way to sit with the “different” kid or the time you studied abroad.
When talking about cultural awareness, a lot of people throw around the term “cultural competency.” While this has been a big buzzword in academia in recent years, you might consider reaching instead for a term like “cultural humility.” Acknowledge that you will never know everything there is to know about other cultures and the best thing you can do is to commit to growth and learning, which is exactly what all of these prompts are about.
When talking about experiences with those different from us, it’s important to acknowledge some cliches that exist. Many applicants have had a voluntourism experience — that is, a volunteer mission trip. Not only can voluntourism stories come off as cliche, they can also make you sound privileged and condescending. Every admissions officer has ready countless “I was there to teach them, but really they taught me” essays. That said, you can still talk about your service trip experience! Try to put a unique spin on it, by focusing on a personal anecdote that only happened to you. The more specific, the better. Acknowledge your privilege and explain how you grew from it.
With a prompt like this, it’s easy to focus on another individual (such as your lab partner). But with only 150 words, don’t waste too much space talking about someone else. Remember that you are the protagonist of this story and you are the one applying to Emory. If you’re wondering if you’ve fallen into the trap of spending too much time describing someone else, look at your verbs. You should be the subject of most of those verbs, because you are the star of the story. For example, you might consider changing “My lab partner taught me about her culture and allowed me to grow” to “By engaging in vulnerable conversations, I developed into an empathetic and sensitive ally.”
Option B: When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true? (150 words)
Here, admission officers want you to talk about a time when you realized you were wrong about something. Now, you may be wondering, why on Earth would I spend 150 words explaining why I was wrong about something when I’m trying to convince the reader that I’m good enough for their school? Emory is looking for a few things here: self-awareness, humility, and honesty. All of these require confidence and a lot of introspection—all things that make an applicant more likely to succeed in college. For that reason, this prompt is good for those who are particularly introspective and are comfortable being a little bit more vulnerable.
For this essay, you’ll want to think of something personal and specific. Offering up such an anecdote requires a great deal of vulnerability, but it is this humanity that lets you connect with admission officers on a more personal level. Maybe you grew up believing in one religion based on your family’s affiliation, but later realized another religion better suited your personal beliefs. Maybe you were a supporter of abstinence-only sex-ed until your friend had an unplanned pregnancy. By sharing this story, you’re giving readers the opportunity to learn more about your core values and to see your strengths as an independent thinker.
However, not all stories have to be so serious, so don’t shy away from this prompt just because there’s never been as drastic a change in your life. For example, maybe you used to identify as a Ravenclaw but now see yourself more as a Hufflepuff! Using a lighter topic like this still gives you ample opportunity to express your personal values and explain who you are. It even allows you to use humor, which can be a useful tool to win over admission officers.
It’s important that your response includes what your original belief was, what led you to challenge it, and how it felt or any internal struggles you grappled with in the process. You might also want to include if this experience was the first time you challenged an idea and if there are other beliefs you think you might challenge one day. Your response should definitely demonstrate your growth as a critical thinker.
Option C: If you could witness a historic event (past, present or future) first-hand, what would it be, and why? (150 words)
This prompt is perfect for any history buffs, but you don’t need to be a prospective history major to tackle this one. One approach is to pick a historic event that has always spoken to you—maybe you’ve always been fascinated by the building of the Great Pyramids, and would’ve loved to see them built. Or maybe you have a friend who thinks the moon landing was fake and you wish you could witness it yourself to prove them wrong! There are so many different directions to take this prompt.
However, if nothing is jumping out at you, you might consider thinking about what you want to say to the admissions committee that hasn’t already been said. Let’s say that you’re really passionate about gender equality and that’s not really indicated anywhere else in your application. This essay would be a great place to talk about how you’d love to have been a part of the women’s suffrage movement, and then explain why.
The prompt also includes that the event could take place in the future. Maybe you want to witness the opening ceremonies of the Olympics at Paris in 2024 because you love the combination of competition and global unity represented by the Olympics. You could also take a creative approach and write about how you want to be in the room when NASA first makes contact with alien life. Or perhaps you want to re-attend your Presidential Inauguration because you were so worried about saying the oath correctly you forgot to enjoy the moment.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure that your essay is accurate. Fact check anything you say with a quick google search. You don’t want to accidentally say, for example, that you would’ve loved to have been in DC when the Declaration of Independence was signed, when it was really signed in Philadelphia.
Whatever event you pick, make sure that you have some sort of personal connection to it. Spending 150 words talking about how great Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech was is not only boring, it’s not relevant to you. Everyone knows that it was an incredible moment, and any student could have written that essay. But more importantly, MLK isn’t applying to college—you are. So, spend maybe a sentence or two praising MLK and then move on to why it matters to you.
Option D: Share a time when you were awestruck. (150 words)
If none of the other prompts speak to you, this one offers a lot of freedom. You could take your essay in a variety of different ways. What made you awestruck? Was it excitement? Jubilation? Terror? If you choose this prompt, you will want to make sure your response is detailed and captivating. The admissions officers reading your essay should be just as awestruck as you were in the moment.
A good, descriptive anecdote will be your best friend for this prompt. Including anecdotes will make your readers feel as if they are living the moment with you, and hopefully they will get caught off guard with whatever surprised you. Your essay should also include your emotions and the thoughts running through your mind in the moment. Admissions officers should get a sense of how you handle new information or overcome obstacles. Don’t spend 150 words building up to a reveal without including any insight into your personal character or development from that experience.
A student might write his essay on the terror he felt when his parents said he was moving. He could go into detail about his morning routine, thinking it was just like any other day until he got downstairs and his parents delivered the explosive news. He would include the emotions he felt in the moment: betrayal from his parents and a pit in his stomach that grew throughout the day at school when his friends asked him what was wrong. If the student came to terms with the shocking news and experienced growth, he might end by discussing how he was too quick to blame his parents, and once he gave a new experience a try, he realized he loved it.
Option E: Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) seems made for you? Why? (150 words)
This is a great prompt for people who have a piece of media that they feel really strongly about—and let’s face it, most of us are at least a little obsessed with some kind of media. Think about a piece of media that you feel like you can identify with on a deep, personal level. You should then go a step further and think about why you identify so strongly with that person or thing. What does it say about you?
Once you have your what (or who) and your why, search for an anecdote that explains your personal connection to this piece of media. For example, maybe you really identify with Katniss Everdeen (your who) because you’re super protective of your little sister (your why), so then you can tell the story about that time that you drove 45 minutes late at night to pick your sister up because she was uncomfortable at a party. The more specific the anecdote, the more the admissions officers will get to know you (“Wow what a responsible and selfless sibling this applicant is!”).
A really easy trap to fall into with a prompt like this is to give the answer that you think admissions officers are looking for. Like maybe you think the admissions officers are looking for you to say that you just love studying so much, so you choose Hermione Granger even though you don’t even like Harry Potter. As in life, you should always be true to yourself in your essays because a) you’re amazing as you are, so you should let people get to know the real you and b) admissions officers will be able to identify essays that are not authentic, so writing a disingenuous response will only reflect poorly on you.
Where to Get Your Emory Essays Edited for Free
Do you want feedback on your Emory essays? After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt.
You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!