How to Write the Emory University Essays 2023-2024
Emory University has two required essay prompts for applicants, one of which is the same question for all applicants with the other having six different options for applicants to choose from. The prompts are relatively short, clocking in at 200 words and 150 words, respectively, meaning every word counts in making your application stand out.
Read these Emory essay examples to inspire your writing.
Emory University Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: What academic areas are you interested in exploring at Emory University and why? (200 words)
Prompt 2: Please answer one of the following questions: (150 words)
- Option A: Which book, character, song, monologue, or other creative work (fiction or non-fiction) seems made for you? Why?
- Option B: Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
- Option C: Emory University aspires for all students to flourish on campus. Reflect on what flourishing at Emory means to you.
- Option D: Emory University’s core mission calls for service to humanity. Share how you might personally contribute to this mission.
- Option E: Emory University has a strong commitment to building community. Tell us about a community you have been part of where your participation helped to change or shape the community for the better.
- Option F: Reflection is a central tenet of Emory University’s values. Craft a personal email giving advice to yourself in your first year of high school.
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.
Prompt 2, Option A
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.
Prompt 2, Option B
Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness. (150 words)
This prompt is ideal for those who have prioritize cultural sensitivity and/or have engaged with people from diverse backgrounds, as you are being asked to think about a time when you intentionally expanded your horizons, and how that deliberate action catalyzed your growth.
So, think of a time when you consciously made the decision to expand your cultural awareness. For example, perhaps your lab partner was a foreign exchange student whose first language was not English, and rather than simply getting through the term as best you could, you used it as an opportunity to recognize your privilege as a native English speaker, and appreciate the culture of a non-English speaking country.
Do be careful that you don’t come across as self-absorbed by suggesting this experience taught you everything there is to know about cultural awareness. Admissions officers aren’t expecting that, and if anything taking that stance could make you come across as naive to the world’s complexity. Instead, acknowledge that you will never know everything there is to know about other cultures, but you are committed to continually growing and learning, as that openness is what colleges do value.
Along those same lines, as you brainstorm, keep in mind that college essays, like any other genre of writing, have cliches. Many applicants have had a “voluntourism” experience — that is, a service trip that benefited the student more than the community they were visiting. Not only are voluntourism stories cliche, they can also make you sound privileged and condescending. Every admissions officer has read countless “I was there to teach them, but really they taught me” essays.
That said, you can still talk about your service trip experience! Just 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, and make sure your reader comes away actually knowing something substantive about your personality, not just that you once spent a month in Thailand.
Finally, with a prompt like this, it’s easy to accidentally spend too much of the essay talking about someone else (such as your lab partner). But remember that you only have 150 words, and ultimately you’re the one applying to Emory, so you should be the protagonist of this story. 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 about the challenges of communicating in a new setting, I became more empathetic to the challenges non-native English speakers face every day in the United States.”
Prompt 2, Option C
Emory University aspires for all students to flourish on campus. Reflect on what flourishing at Emory means to you. (150 words)
This is a variation on a typical “Why This College?” essay, but rather than simply asking you why you want to attend Emory, the prompt instead asks what it means to “flourish” at Emory – essentially, what it means to be an Emory student. As such, this is a great prompt to answer for students with an unusually special connection to or interest in Emory, particularly those who want to showcase that Emory is one of their top choices without necessarily applying Early Decision.
This question requires both self-reflection, like any college essay, and a bit of research. Start with the self-reflection, by asking yourself what you hope to gain from your college experience. This can be at Emory specifically, or just at college in general. Are you hoping to find your passion? Do you already know what you want to do and want to connect with professors and mentors in your field of interest? Do you hope to get involved in tons of student organizations and extracurriculars on campus? Or start your own? Really imagine your dream life at college, and think about what makes you most excited to start your journey in higher education.
Once you feel like you have a grasp on why you want to attend college in general, it’s time to narrow your focus to Emory in particular. Browse the school’s website, to find different resources Emory has to help you reach your goals. For example, if you’re interested in studying film, you could write about the “Emory Cinematheque”, a series of professional film screenings open to all Emory students that features various directors, genres, and eras of film.
To avoid simply name-dropping something that sounds cool, make sure you expand on exactly how a particular resource would help you reach your goals. In this example, you could write about how the Emory Cinematheque and related opportunities would help you synthesize your class material in new and exciting ways, and give you insight into films and media that you previously haven’t encountered.
The last and most important thing to keep in mind when answering this prompt is that you must address the word “flourishing”. Reflect on what that word means to you, and make sure to go into some depth–your goal in this essay is to distinguish yourself from other applicants, and just saying you want to get good grades won’t do that. Rather, what particular skills do you hope to gain that you haven’t already learned in high school? What experiences do you hope to have that are going to move you closer to your personal and professional goals? The more specific you can be, the better. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about here, here’s an example of what you could write, based off the example given above:
“Engaging with resources such as the Emory Cinematheque would give me access to knowledge I wouldn’t otherwise encounter, and connect with people who can offer different perspectives on that knowledge. Flourishing on campus means being unafraid of the unknown, so that I can take full advantage of the innumerable resources available at Emory that will help me become an iconoclastic yet conscientious film director one day.”
Prompt 2, Option D
Emory University’s core mission calls for service to humanity. Share how you might personally contribute to this mission. (150 words)
This is a standard “Community Service” essay, which asks you to share how you will embody Emory’s commitment to community service and humanitarian efforts. It’s a great option if you have a robust history with community service, or even just one experience that was highly formative.
Brainstorming Your Topic:
Research opportunities for service that already exist at Emory. The school’s website summarizes service opportunities for students, from break trips, to organized volunteer efforts in Atlanta, to service trips abroad.
You can also think about things you’re personally invested in, even if nothing on Emory’s site quite aligns with it. For example, if you’re passionate about children’s literacy, maybe you want to talk about your goal of organizing a book drive for elementary school students in Atlanta.
Remember you’re not expected to save the world in your response. In fact, the simpler and more feasible your proposed service opportunity is, perhaps the better. Emory admissions wants to hear what you’re genuinely most interested in, and how you will actually make an impact in the Emory community, and writing about something you could realistically accomplish in college will answer those questions better than saying you’d like to wipe out world hunger.
Tips for Writing Your Essay:
Once you have an idea of what you want to write about, it’s time to organize it into a response. The best way to start is by sharing a little bit about yourself and your connection with community service. This can come in the form of a personal anecdote about a time you volunteered, an issue you’ve encountered in your community or elsewhere that has inspired you, or something you’ve found on Emory’s website that resonates with you on a personal level.
After you share your personal connection with service, tie in the initiative you brainstormed, while also explaining the importance of service to your life as a whole. Here’s an example of how to do that:
“I grew up in a town bordering the Ohio River, well-regarded as the most polluted river in America. As such, I’ve been involved with sustainability efforts since I was little. My parents would take me on river sweeps,’ where we’d travel up and down the river, clearing the water of any debris or litter we could find. At first I thought of it as just a family bonding activity, but now I see environmental service as the foundation upon which my future, and the future of the world, depends. At Emory, I will remain committed to building towards a greener future, by rallying my peers for river sweeps at the Chattahoochee, joining Emory’s various sustainability organizations such as AltKEY, and using my electives to take courses in the Environmental Sciences program. I’m ready to make an impact not just on the community where I grew up, but on Atlanta as well, and eventually, communities all across the country.”
Mistakes to Avoid:
One of the biggest mistakes students make in “Community Service” essays is talking about yourself as a savior to an “underprivileged” community or a community “in need”. Doing so paints a self-aggrandizing portrait of your efforts, which can make admissions officers question your motivation for engaging in service work. To avoid this, focus less on the differences, economic or otherwise, between yourself and the community you helped, and more on what you learned from the experience, rather than projecting an exaggerated sense of gratitude onto the recipients of your service work.
Prompt 2, Option E
Emory University has a strong commitment to building community. Tell us about a community you have been part of where your participation helped to change or shape the community for the better. (150 words)
This prompt tasks you with describing a community that has both helped you grow, and given you the opportunity to shape its future. Unlike the previous prompt, this is not a “Community Service” essay, as your job is not to talk about how you served a community, but rather how you fit into one.
Brainstorming Your Topic:
“Community” can be defined in many different ways. It can be an extracurricular that you’ve been involved with for many years, an aspect of your identity that you feel is important to you, a cultural, religious, or ethnic background you share with others, or something else you’ve sought out as a way to belong. Community is what you define it as, so don’t limit yourself when brainstorming your topic. Instead, think about what you would say to someone who asked you to introduce yourself and explain the kind of things you’re interested in. What comes to mind? What could you not imagine living without? Or, who could you not imagine living without?
You could also approach the prompt by thinking about some of your personal achievements that you’ve been proud of. This is a two-pronged prompt: you’re tasked with describing not just a community you’re a part of, but also your own contributions to that community. If anything, the second piece of the prompt is the more important one, as Emory admissions officers want to know how you’ll contribute to their overall campus community and the smaller communities that exist all across the college. So it’s imperative that whichever community you choose to write about is one that you’ve been actively engaging with for some time.
As such, it’s perhaps better to do away with writing about family or anything else that you don’t plan to take with you to Emory. While sharing that you and your family’s weekly Shabbat dinners have been a stable outlet for you to lean on your family and get in touch with your religion and wider religious community shows a thoughtful, touching sentimentality, it doesn’t actively exemplify how you’ve changed or shaped a community at large.
That being said, perhaps you’ve invited friends from school to your dinners, or attended some of theirs. You could write about how what started as a family tradition eventually led you into a much broader community, and how you hope to attend Shabbat at Emory Hillel to broaden your Jewish community even further.
Tips for Writing Your Essay:
As with many other prompts, starting with an anecdote is a surefire way to quickly engage the reader and put them into your shoes. You can write about the time you found or joined the community, a time you felt most proud of your community, or a time you felt most indebted to or grateful for your community. Whatever you choose to do, remember details – what did you see, feel, taste, smell, and so on and so forth.
“Standing on stage, with our foreheads sweating under the bright spotlights, I looked around at my castmates and felt I was home.”
Without having to say it explicitly, it’s obvious that the student’s chosen community is a theater group, and that the community gives the student a sense of great pride and comfort. Now it’s time to dive into greater detail about the significance of this community.
“But it’s hard not to think about how recently I was a freshman in the ensemble, feeling in over my head, not knowing a single soul, but feeling they were all more talented than me. But the seniors, who were all cast as leads, made it a point to make me and the other freshman feel not just included, but like an essential part of the machine.”
Here, the student starts to explain not just what the community is, but how it has helped them grow, and which lessons they’ll take from their experiences in it to college. To continue answering these more specific questions, they might go on to say something like:
“When I became an upperclassman myself, I knew I had big shoes to fill. Whether it be by organizing movie nights outside rehearsal, having younger cast members lead warmups, or even just encouraging the cast to sit together at lunch, my goal is that whenever any member of our group looks at the stage, they’ll know they’re a part of a community that will last forever.”
Prompt 2, Option F
Reflection is a central tenet of Emory University’s values. Craft a personal email giving advice to yourself in your first year of high school. (150 words)
This is an open-ended prompt that gives you the chance to reflect upon your high school experience, both its triumphs and failures. The purpose of this prompt is to show the admissions reader your growth throughout high school and how you would approach it differently, if at all, if given a second chance.
Brainstorming Your Topic:
The prompt may initially feel overbearingly profound, but your answer can really be quite simple. The more honest you are in your response, the more accurate a picture you will paint for Emory admissions officers, and while it may feel strange to show vulnerability to a complete stranger, remember that you’re not expected to have all the answers–you’re simply being asked to give advice to a past version of yourself.
That being said, it’s important to show perspective throughout your response. What lessons has high school taught you? Which moments were most pivotal? What aspects or experiences will you carry forward into college? Most specifically, reflect on your freshman year and what assumptions about high school you had that may have proved to be inaccurate. What fears did you have going in? Where did you find community, and how did you find it? What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? There are so many routes to follow when answering this prompt, which is exactly why it’s so important to be genuine, as if you try to write “what they want to see”, you’ll be cutting yourself off from some promising approaches.
Tips for Writing Your Essay:
Unlike many of the other options here, your letter requires no introduction or conclusion, connection to Emory or college in general, or acknowledgment that it’s even hypothetical. Treat the prompt as reality, and write exactly as if you were writing to your freshman year self.
Due to its informal structure, don’t be afraid to incorporate niche aspects of your personality, or even a touch of sarcasm or some other distinctive tone, into your letter. In fact, we recommend doing so as much as you can, as that will showcase a side of you that probably doesn’t show up anywhere else in your application. Whether by relying on humor, sincerity, or bluntness, make this response truly your own. Certainly, keep in mind that the people reading your essay will be complete strangers, but as long as you aren’t saying anything offensive, get in touch with what you would actually say to your past self. For example:
I know how you must be feeling. I know, because, well, I’m you. You’re wide awake, watching Steph Curry highlights at 3 am while trying (and failing) to imagine him as an anxious teenager before his first day of high school. Unfortunately, I have to be honest with you–even now, you’re no closer to being the greatest shooter of all time. Actually, you’re probably further away… you ended up as the manager of the team, not the star. Sorry about that. But that shows what you have become: unafraid to embrace an unexpected path forward, and humble enough to contribute to things you love in a way that won’t make any headlines. So try to get some sleep tonight. Most of us will never be Steph, but nobody would ever know how many points he scored if his manager wasn’t keeping track.
Where to Get Your Emory Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Emory 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!