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8 Strong Ivy League Essay Examples

What’s Covered:


The Ivy League consists of eight private institutions on the East Coast, known for having extremely competitive admissions rates. The following schools are in the Ivy League: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, UPenn, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell.


These schools all have their own supplemental essays, ranging from typical topics like “Why This College?” to more unique topics that change from year to year. Because the Ivies are competitive, these essays are opportunities for you to showcase aspects of yourself that might not be apparent from other parts of your application. 


In this post, we’ll be going over 7 strong Ivy League essay examples. Read on to learn more about how to craft a compelling narrative!


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. 


Essay 1: Princeton


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. (250-650 words)


“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


The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 


My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 


At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 


Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 


Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky.


What the Essay Did Well


There are many positives to this essay. To begin with, launching into the essay with multi sensory imagery in the anecdote was really effective at drawing the reader in. The audiovisual context (laughter, street vendors) keeps the scene alive and fully immerses the reader, while the internal narration illustrates how this student looks at the world. The contrast between the imagery of the external scene and the internal thoughts and feelings fully immerses the reader in the essay and alludes to the overarching theme of things being more complicated than they seem on the outside.


Another good thing this essay did was provide a personal account of this student’s experiences with harassment. This established their authority to speak on the topic and underscores their essay with authenticity. They then “zoom out” to provide relevant background information that supplies additional context for readers who might not be that familiar with the extent of the issue at hand. By relating their personal stories to the large-scale issue at hand, they simultaneously develop a personal connection while demonstrating an understanding of a serious global issue.


What really could’ve made or broken this essay was the quote the student chose. Allowing you to choose any quote, this is an extremely open-ended prompt which gives students the opportunity to write about whatever they choose. This student did an excellent job of picking a quote that isn’t well-known or significant, but fit perfectly into the narrative they were trying to express in this essay. The approach the student likely took with this prompt is figuring out what experience they wanted to discuss and finding a quote that fit, rather than picking a quote first. This approach made for an essay that existed independently from the quote and didn’t rely on it as a crutch.


All together, the essay feels cohesive with every part relating back to the overarching theme of diving deeper than the surface level of things. The student’s vulnerability and personal reflection throughout the essay helps carry the theme through each paragraph. Even the conclusion does a great job of circling back to the anecdote at the beginning, bringing the societal problem the student addressed back down to the personal level to remind the reader the student’s personal stake in the issue.


What Could Be Improved


One potential criticism of this essay could stem from the ratio of background to active work. The author spends a lot of time setting up their personal connection and the global context of the issue; however, their essay could stand to gain from more content centered on their actual actions towards fighting harassment against women. They could discuss another small-scale discussion or project they led or elaborate more on their current inclusion. Dedicating two paragraphs to this rather than one gives admissions officers a better idea of their leadership skills and active role in fighting harassment.


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Essay 2: Cornell Engineering


Tell us about your interest in engineering or what you hope to achieve with a degree in engineering. Describe what appeals to you about Cornell Engineering and how it specifically relates to your engineering interests or aspirations. (650 words) 


High above me, the gigantic metal ball (a Hoberman sphere, I later learnt) continued to expand and contract. Its joints folded and unfolded continuously as I stood open-mouthed beneath it, fascinated by its simultaneous complexity and simplicity. 


I felt this same awe again at my first model rocket launch, as my rockets shot gracefully (and loudly) into the sky. As I watched, I crossed my fingers and hoped the recovery mechanisms weren’t faulty–hopes that were dashed a few moments later, as one of them crashed to the ground rather spectacularly, the parachute inexplicably not opening; thankfully, I later found that–apart from a few dents and scratches–my rocket was largely unharmed. 


This mishap stuck in my head, not as a painful reminder of a failure, but as an exciting opportunity for improvement–even more exciting than my one successful launch. I pulled out and inspected the (singed) parachute from the body of my rocket, talked to many experienced rocketeers about recovery systems, and surfed the internet for explanations. What had originally been a source of horror was now a new conquest: a new difficulty to overcome. 


That’s why I like engineering–because each failure is never the end, but simply an opportunity to learn something new. It presents a never-ending stream of unique challenges–the possibilities are endless! 


My LLRISE (summer program) team’s portable radar collected SAR imaging data fine one day, but it didn’t the next–why? It turned out to be the composition of our surroundings–the amount of reflective objects near to us were preventing accurate readings for distances further away. The wind turbine I built for the innovation fair, though built on the laws of elementary physics, didn’t power the lightbulb–why? I eventually found that my weak magnets and insufficient number of wire coils were to blame. 


Engineering holds the electrifying excitement and satisfying ‘click’ of a well-solved problem. Whether by screwing in screws or watching equations fall gracefully together, being an engineer would help me answer the thousands of questions I have about the world around us. From the modern-day accessibility of Iron Man’s suit to the external enhancement of singers’ vocal chords, it would turn my everyday curiosity into a thrilling adventure for answers. 


I want to begin this adventure at Cornell, a school with a philosophy based on open inquiry and interdisciplinary exploration; a school with a great sense of humor (as evidenced by the Squirrel Watcher Watchers Club); a school with a collaborative, energetic, balanced environment. Where students band together to create gigantic dragons (and phoenixes!) to parade around campus and write hilarious satire for the CU Nooz, I know I will find like-minded peers with the same curious mindset and interdisciplinary philosophy to collaborate with throughout my college years. Whether I endeavor to launch a startup with Cornell’s available accelerators or innovate solutions to pressing real-world issues through Cornell’s engineering-based service clubs, I know I will find success with the opportunities that Cornell Engineering offers—from the available robotics minor to the (insanely cool!) novel projects (like the miniornithopter). The nerdy but not narrow minds, the stimulating but not cutthroat environment, and the diverse but still tight-knit community draw me to Cornell Engineering, and Cornell as a whole—a place that would enable me to ask bigger questions, and find bigger answers. 


What the Essay Did Well


One of the major strengths of this essay is how it not only conveys why this student is fascinated with engineering, but walks the reader through this student’s process of handling engineering challenges. Through the anecdote about the failed rocket, the student reveals how they respond to a problem: investigating the cause of the issue, turning to mentors for advice, and searching for previously implemented solutions to try. Engineering is all about problem solving, so demonstrating the steps they take when addressing a problem gives insight into how they think and the type of student they would be.


It’s also evident in this essay that this student has clearly done their research on the academic and extracurricular offerings at Cornell. Because of this, their excitement comes through as genuine. The reader can feel the anticipation in the student’s writing and gets the sense they will be an engaged member of the community, both inside and outside the classroom.


Their personality shines through in the last paragraph especially, but throughout the whole essay the student injected their personality. This student added multiple humorous interjections that might earn a chuckle or two out of admissions officers. Although not as obvious as humor, the student’s resilience and perseverance also shines through as they only discuss engineering failures. Including personal voice made the entire essay feel authentic and made this student jump off the page as a real person, instead of another carbon-copy applicant.


What Could Be Improved


The largest fault with this essay is that is tells the reader why they like engineering. The reader should be able to see their passion naturally shine through without any explanation required. The story of the rocket provided good background, but then the student proceeded to clearly spell out why they like engineering. 


This student should have allowed the reader to come to the conclusion of why they like engineering themselves—never assume your readers need to be spoon-fed answers to the prompt! There was already enough background from the rocket anecdote to piece together this student enjoys learning from their failures, but they could have made it even more evident why that particular story represents their love for engineering with more details.


Space to include a more detailed description of their failed rocket (that really immerses the reader in the launch and investigation of its failure) could have come from removing the first paragraph. The story about the Hoberman sphere doesn’t connect to the rest of the essay or demonstrate problem solving associated with engineering, so it doesn’t make for a strong hook. Instead, the student could open with sensory descriptions of a loud explosion coming from the rocket and the smell of smoke filling the air to bolster the current anecdote.


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Essay 3: Yale


Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience could help you address it. (250 words)


A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears. The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas.


As a daughter of immigrants, I have heard countless stories of migrants being turned away by a country they desperately seek to love. After seeing the abhorrent conditions migrants face upon arriving in the U.S., I began volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and provides necessities to undocumented immigrants. This year, my experiences collecting donations and working at pop-up soup kitchens have made me realize that the communities in South Texas promote true American values of freedom and opportunity. The U.S. government, however, must do better.


During my university career, I aspire to learn how our immigration system can be positively reformed by considering the politics and economics that shape policy-making. Particularly, classes such as Institutional Design and Institutional Change will prepare me to effect change in existing institutions by analyzing various methods to bolster the economy. 


Additionally, I hope to join the Yale Refugee Project that volunteers at the southern border and prepares asylum cases for court. With the numerous opportunities offered by YRP, I will be part of a generation of activists and lawmakers that builds a more empathetic immigration system.


What the Essay Did Well


One of the benefits of this essay is how the student establishes the issue in detail prior to explaining her personal connection to it. The hook uses detailed imagery, typically seen in personal anecdotes, to describe the issue. Describing the issue at hand instead of an experience the student had helps the reader grasp the issue so they know exactly what the student is referring to when she explains her personal connection.


Having already established the issue, it then becomes much easier for the reader to understand the significance to the student without being explicitly told what it is. The combined details of her family’s background and the actions she has taken to address the issue help display her dedication to the issue and passion for solving it. The student never gives the reader an explanation as to why she cares so deeply about this issue, but through her writing, that reveals her internal identity and external actions, it becomes evident.


Another positive aspect was that the essay only discussed two resources at Yale that would be beneficial to the student. For “Why This College” essays, it’s all about quality over quantity. Elaborating on what the specific classes and the Yale Refugee Program will offer her in terms of professional development provides much more insight than if she had listed a bunch of Yale opportunities with no explanation of what made them special to her. 


What Could Be Improved


Something this essay was missing was a conclusion to wrap up the essay. It ends by discussing the Yale Refugee Program, but fails to connect back to the student or the larger issue at hand. It’s understandable that she was pressed for space with a limited word count, but the ending felt abrupt. Adding one sentence to the end that shifts focus back to the student or how Yale as a whole would allow her to better the world would make the essay feel complete, leaving the reader satisfied.


There are many ways this student could tie the essay together in the conclusion, but one way would be to connect back to the observation the student made earlier that the “U.S. government, however, must do better.” This line isn’t really elaborated on and without a connection to how she plans to fix the mistakes of the current government it feels unnecessary. Saying something along the lines of “With the tools Yale would give me I could tear down the barriers to immigration and construct new systems to steer federal immigration policy in an inclusive direction” would provide a satisfying conclusion and an explanation of how this student will use her public policy degree to improve the government. 


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Essay 4: Princeton


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. 


“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill” (Renascence and Other Poems, 1917) 


My teenage rebellion started at age twelve. Though not yet technically a teenager, I dedicated myself to the cause: I wore tee shirts with bands on them that made my parents cringe, shopped exclusively at stores with eyebrow- pierced employees, and met every comforting idea the world offered me with hostility. Darkness was in my soul! Happiness was a construct meant for sheep! Optimism was for fools! My cynicism was a product of a world that gave birth to the War in Afghanistan around the same time it gave birth to me , that shot and killed my peers in school, that irreversibly melted ice caps and polluted oceans and destroyed forests. 


I was angry. I fought with my parents, my peers, and strangers. It was me versus the world. 


However, there’s a fundamental flaw in perpetual antagonism: it’s exhausting. My personal relationships suffered as my cynicism turned friends and family into bad guys in my eyes. As I kept up the fight, I found myself always tired, emotionally and physically. The tipping point came one morning standing at the bathroom sink before school. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the tired, sad girl that looked back with pallid skin and purple eye bags. That morning, I found my mother and cried in her arms. I decided that the fight was over. 


I took a break from fighting. I let go of my constant anger about global problems by first focusing on the local ones that I could do something about, and then learning to do things not because they fixed a problem, but for the simple joy of trying. I apologized to friends that I wronged previously, said yes when my mom asked me to go grocery shopping with her, and spent afternoons alone in the park, just reading. I baked brownies in the kitchen because it made me happy. I slept in on weekends when I could, but I also made an effort to get out of bed and move. I made an effort to be nice-optimistic, even-with the people around me, but more importantly, I made an effort to be nice to myself. 


After a period of self-care, the fight in me recharged, but this time I didn’t rush to spend it in anger. Now, it’s a tool I use wisely. I’ve channeled it into tangible causes: I don’t want the feeling of loneliness and anger to fester inside of anybody else, so I work with school administration to create community-building events for my senior class. From being the first to implement a class messaging system to starting a collaborative playlist with all 800 of my peers, I’ve turned my energy into positive change in my community. 


I’ve still got a few more years of teenage angst in me, but the meaning of my rebellion has changed. It’s not about responding to a world that’s wronged me with defiance, anger, and cynicism, but about being kind to myself and finding beauty in the world so that I can stay charged and fight for the real things that matter. 


I’ve realized that the world is my afternoon on a hill, full of sunlight and optimism if only I can see them. Now, I am the gladdest thing under the sun! I can be vulnerable and open, and I can show my passion to the world through love. I will touch a hundred flowers, seize a hundred opportunities, and love a hundred things. I will not pick just one. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay does a really nice job of providing an overview of this student’s personality and how it came to be. The reader sees clear growth in the student as they progress through the essay. They weren’t afraid to be vulnerable, sharing details about feeling exhausted and lonely, which helped build empathy for the journey of self-discovery and reflection they’ve been on. Understanding their past personality allows readers to understand how confronting that personality formed their new, positive outlook on life.


There was a noticeable shift in the tone from the first paragraph to the second that brought the vulnerability with it. The beginning reads as a funny anecdote where the stereotype of a moody teenager is established. What the reader doesn’t expect is the sharp turn towards discussing the emotional impact of being a moody teenager. The tone shift subverts the reader’s expectations by surprising them with deep, personal reflection that makes them read the rest of the essay with more empathy.


This essay really captures the student’s outlook on life in different stages of their development, which provides so much insight to the admissions officers reading it. They reveal so much about themselves by continuously focusing the essay on how their internal feelings dictated their external actions.


What Could Be Improved


One thing this essay could have done better was work the quote into the piece as a whole. The essay had a great story, but it was difficult to piece together how the story was connected to the quote until the student explicitly explained it in the last paragraph. It would’ve been helpful to keep the theme of the quote running through the entire essay so the reader could draw a connection. For example, using metaphors of sunshine and flowers throughout the piece would have called attention back to the quote and reminded the reader of why this quote is so important. 


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Essay 5: UPenn NETS


Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the Internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words)


In 9th grade, I made my most astonishing work of art.


Funnily enough, it wasn’t for any class related to the arts. It was for my statistics class. I created it to answer a simple question: are people happier when they have more friends? To answer that question, my group and I surveyed 240 students. That month, the ink from my printer was running as dry as my body was soaked with sweat from running around the school collecting questionnaires. We compiled all results into a spreadsheet with hundreds of thousands of cells. It was the largest amount of data I had ever handled. I started analyzing it, cell by cell. The method of analysis? A node network graph. It was something new to me at the time and I didn’t know what to expect. The final result was an intensely vivid web of color composed of 240 nodes connected by thousands upon thousands of lines. It was magnificent to behold. It was intensely surreal as I witnessed the abstract concept of friendship manifested in something tangible and visual. This chaotic and hypnotizing mess of dots and lines was a snapshot of the relationships between an entire batch of students! From the graph, I could immediately discern that people aren’t automatically happier if they have more friends. It’s the quality of your friendships that matter. Ever since that project, I have been constantly seeking new ways to make the invisible structures around us visible.


Over the years, this interest has driven me to study the effects of the internet in greater depth. This is because the internet, for the past few decades, has been the biggest black box that our society has ever created. It has been credited for both promoting democracy and blamed for destroying it. It has been praised for spreading information, and decried for spreading misinformation. All of the confusion surrounding what the internet actually is stems mostly from the fact that it’s very hard to see the full extent of how it actually works and how it affects people. Media coverage of Google’s use of data or Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, services I use every day, have left me wondering how we can improve the internet and make it more transparent for the people who use it.


As a policy-minded thinker and problem solver, I have done a lot of research and contemplation on the current problems and benefits of these platforms and services. I read about how Youtube has served as a platform for populist strongmen. I read about how Facebook enabled the Arab Spring. So far, all that I have learned is that the problem is an incredibly complex and nuanced one, with a lot of different actors and moving parts. It involves multinational companies, governments, and billions of individual users. In order to maximize the potential of these networks and minimize their harms, we have to be tactical in our approach. From figuring out data privacy to figuring out whether these companies are platforms or basic services, almost all aspects of the role of these networks fascinate me. It is also a topic that I have debated competitively in the past. I have participated in motions ranging from “This house would ban Google from retaining search data” to “This house believes news media outlets should use AI for the production and presentation of its news content”. I am highly invested in the role of social networks in today’s society; rather than their complexity pushing me away, it is what draws me in. 


The costs of not understanding social networks in this era is incredibly high. This is why I am willing to dedicate myself to studying it and uncovering the ways of how to deal with it. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay did a good job of addressing the prompt by describing the student’s interest in the internet and technology. The sheer amount of details this student is able to pack into this essay—whether about how node network graphs look, the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, or Youtube enabling populism—demonstrates to the reader that this student has studied technology and is fascinated by multiple aspects of it. They also pull in their experience debating technology-related issues, providing further evidence of this student’s interest.


While this essay doesn’t make use of that much creative language or imagery, it is still a good essay because the student’s interest jumps off the page. Sharing concrete examples of concepts and ideas that stick in their mind makes their excitement evident to the reader. The essay also discusses this student’s desire to reform technology to improve social networks throughout the essay. Continuously working in their goals really shows that this is their passion.


The student also has a very nuanced understanding of social networks’ affects on society. They mention how the internet both promotes and destroys democracy and has created a fine line between information and misinformation. Bringing up the complicated nuances of the topic demonstrates their ability to think critically. Admissions officers will walk away from this essay with the impression that this student has the intellect and curiosity they are looking for because they are able to see issues in more than just black and white. 


What Could Be Improved


One issue with this essay is the anecdote the student chose. Although it is a well-written anecdote that shows the student’s prior experience working with data and technology, it doesn’t connect to the rest of the essay. That being said, there is an underlying theme of social networks in the anecdote that this student could have brought forward to connect their personal research to the larger topic of technology impacting society.


Rather than discussing the findings of their research on happiness, the student could have used the space to create a smoother transition. They could have discussed how their research on in-person social networks made them curious about the effects of online networks. However they tackle the transition, the paragraph needs to end by bridging the gap between their focused, in-person networks and larger, global, virtual social networks. Establishing that connection would make the whole essay feel more unified.


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Essay 6: Dartmouth


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. (250-300 words)


My earliest memory is spinning in circles with folk dancers in a flurry of gold, red, and green embroidered on black dresses. We weren’t in a dance hall, but in a gymnasium, twirling on three-point arcs and free throw lines. The Bohemian Hall has tons of contradictions like that. In their beer garden, they serve chicken schnitzel and buffalo chicken wings, macaroni and cheese and tlachenka (head cheese). Happy drunken twenty-somethings pass by little kids and nobody thinks anything of it.


Like the Bohemian Hall, the apartment complex I grew up in had its own contradictions. Our Czech landlord, Jardo, was the stereotypical Slavic badass from the movies. Chatting up a crowd drinking their umpteenth Pilsners, he insulted a tenant that dared complain about asbestos in his apartment. After all, asbestos only spreads if you cut the old pipes. Hung on the walls of Jardo’s basement were works of all shapes and sizes, from the lush, rolling hills of Moravian landscapes to the curves of the female body in… suggestive posters. 


Jardo smelled of cigarettes and beer, which my mom told me to avoid at all costs. I wondered why she befriended him. But then I realized that he reminded her of home. We couldn’t go to the Bohemian Hall everyday, but we could always go to Jardo’s basement and talk Czechoslovak celebrity gossip. 


I am constantly brought back to my Slovak heritage, but it is influenced by American lifestyle. I eat goulash at Thanksgiving dinner, speak a mix of English and Slovak (Slovglish?) with my great aunt, and say Na zdravie! instead of Cheers! when I drink champagne on New Year’s Day. My Slovak-American heritage was, and always will be, perfectly contradictory.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay made good use out of the theme of contradiction throughout the essay. The irony of mixing “chicken schnitzel and buffalo chicken wings” or eating “goulash at Thanksgiving dinner” sets up the two worlds this student comes from and how they both coexist with one another. Using concrete examples of food and customs makes it very easy to see the contrast of the two cultures. 


There’s also a lot of vivid imagery that strengthens the essay. The detailed description of Jardo and his apartment made the reader feel like they were sitting in the room across from him. The essay engaged many of the senses while describing Jardo: visual (the posters on the walls), auditory (chatting up drinkers and insulting tenants), and olfactory (smelling of cigarettes and beer). Combining multiple sensory descriptions creates a far more immersive experience than just describing one or two. The reader gets a thorough understanding of Jardo and can picture him in their mind because of the student’s vivid depiction.


What Could Be Improved


Unfortunately, too much of this essay is focused on the student’s landlord and not on the student themself. The prompt specifically asks students to “introduce yourself”, but this essay reveals very little about the student. A good response to this prompt should cover the student’s thoughts and feelings, have personal reflection, and demonstrate how past experiences influenced who the student is today. This essay doesn’t do any of these things. 


Rather than just telling the reader about their contradictory life, the student should have delved into how they feel about balancing their contradicting cultures or whether they enjoy connecting to their heritage at dances and their landlord’s apartment. Two of the four paragraphs are wasted on establishing Jardo’s character and explaining why their mom enjoyed talking to him, but nothing about the student is revealed in either of these paragraphs.


In a short essay with a limited word count, there is simply no space to discuss something that can’t be used to show the student’s feelings or serve as a basis for reflection. Everything about Jardo could have been boiled down to one sentence saying, “I always had a daily reminder of my Slovak heritage when my mom dragged me down to our landlord’s basement—reeking of cigarettes and adorned with posters not exactly suitable for a child’s eyes—to share Czechoslovak celebrity gossip.” Replacing the two paragraphs with a sentence like this would free up a lot of space for the student to answer the prompt: introduce themself.


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Essay 7: Columbia


For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words)


The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.


After watching the program, I recited the foreign word until it was no longer unfamiliar—”profiler”. I stayed up all-night searching the meaning; my eyes sparkled with the dim light of the monitor as I read the tales of Pyo Chang Won and his Sherlock-like stories. From predicting the future of criminals and knowing the precise vicinity of a killer on the loose, he had saved countless lives; living in communities riddled with crimes in my youth then and even now, I dreamed of working against crimes. However, the traditional path of a lawyer or a police officer only reinforced the three-step cycle of arrest, trial, and jail which continued with no fundamental changes for years; I wanted to work with the psyche of criminals beyond courts and wondered about the inner workings of the mind. 


Such admiration and interest led me to invest my time in psychology. Combined with working with the likes of the Victim Witness Agency, I decided to pursue psychology as my major for my undergraduate education. Later on, I want to specialize my research and education on behavioral/forensic psychology and eventually branch out to my childhood dream of becoming a criminal profiler. 


What the Essay Did Well


A major positive of this essay is how it is focused on one moment in time. This student goes into depth about the night they first fell in love with criminal psychology which allows the reader to feel like they are there watching TV with the student and researching afterwards. Having the essay focus on a snapshot of the student’s life opens the door to include more imagery and delve into the internal monologue of the student, thus creating a more engaging and personable essay. 


The student’s genuine fascination for the topic is evident through what they show the reader. They explain that they stayed to finish the show after their parents left, they stayed up all night researching what they just learned, and their eyes sparkled the more they learned about criminal psychology. Providing all these details shows the student’s fascination and passion for this topic without them ever having to explicitly say they were excited about it. 


This essay also does a good job of expanding past the requirements of the prompt to explain what they hope to accomplish with their degree. Including their goals reinforced their passion to pursue this field to admissions officers. It also demonstrated that they are a goal-oriented person who wants to make a difference in the world.


What Could Be Improved


One thing that could be improved in this essay is the grammar. There were a few sentences where there were either typos or just clunky sentences that could be tightened up. In order to catch grammatical errors, you should always give your essay to at least one other person to read. CollegeVine offers essay reviews that allows students to receive feedback on the grammar, structure, and content of their essays. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes read your essay to catch mistakes that might go unnoticed by you. Having someone review this essay would have likely helped this student fix their grammatical errors.


Table of Contents

Essay 8: Harvard


Prompt: Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities


A scream in the night.



In the town of Montagu, South Africa, the sun had set hours ago, leaving its place to a deep dark sky. Everything was peaceful and quiet. In a little lodge, a family of four people had just finished eating on a dimly lit terrace. The heat was so intense even the black silence seemed to suffocate – only a few crickets dared to break its density. The mother asked something to her daughter, who stood up, and bypassed the table. That’s when she screamed. An intense, long scream, that reverberated in the little town of Montagu.


How do I know that? It was me. 

Me, miserable as I had fallen down the terrace… into a plantation of cacti! I couldn’t move. I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body. The plants were engulfing me into the darkness. I was suffocating, trying to grasp some of the hot, heavy air. Until I felt her hand. My mom’s. 


She and my father organized this trip to South Africa. Valuing experiences more than material wealth, they liked to organize trips to foreign, far away countries. In addition to South Africa, I visited Cuba, Nepal and China. Four countries where landscapes and cities are dissimilar to France’s. Four countries that allowed me to discover numerous communities, recipes and traditions. Four countries where I met animals, plants and humans I had never seen before.


I am a city girl. As a little girl, I was never really fond of flora or fauna. However, during my trips, I was lucky to see animals in freedom and to interact with nature. A baboon broke into my car in South Africa and walked all over me – literally. I held an iguana in Cuba, did a safari in South Africa and talked with a parrot in Nepal. I saw the sun rising on the Machapuchare. I ultimately understood that all I had experienced was thanks to Nature. I realized its preciousness and its urgency to be saved. I gained proximity to the environment that I had always lacked. My blood turned green thanks to travels. 


In addition to animal discoveries, travels are encounter engines. From little to aged humans, from all genders, from everywhere, travels allowed me to meet incredible people. The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me in Ghorepani, Nepal. I had walked for seven hours that day, and was waiting for dinner, sitting on a bench. She slowly advanced towards me.


“What’s your name?” I asked the white figure in the obscurity.


The little girl stopped moving. Dark curly hair, dark deep eyes, white clothes covered in mud among the deep dark night. Our eyes locked in each other’s, the sound of our breathing floating in the dense silence, everything seemed to be suspended. After what felt like dozens of hours, she looked at me and silently walked away, a star in the ink black sky. 


Every person encountered made me grow. Some like the Nepalese little girl simply disrupted me, some opened my eyes on poverty, others opened my eyes on racism. Every person I met had a story to share, a fact to transmit. I visited an orphanage in a township in South Africa. The teacher, a frail and tiny woman, explained that racism was still so profound in the country that black and mixed race people were fighting to death in the neighbourhood. Centuries of abuse towards people of color, for children to pay the price, growing up parentless in the orphanage. The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem. Wet furrows appeared as raindrops were racing on every cheek:


‘Let us live and strive for freedom,

In South Africa our land.’


Traveling is ultimately a chance. It is an opportunity to understand the complexity of the world by getting close to it. Traveling allowed me to realize the differences between each country and region. But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world. Being away brought me closer to my home and my family and friends, my newspaper team, every community I’m involved in. Traveling represents a learning process. I integrated leadership and diligence in Nepal, watching children and old men transport wood on their back. Speaking foreign languages allowed me to acquire experience and put my theoretical skills to practise. I acquired a lot of adaptability through travels as part of their greatness comes from its unpredictability. Traveling truly enriches the intellect of those who have the chance to do it.



What the Essay Did Well


This is overall a delightful, very readable essay. The author starts with a dramatic hook to capture the reader’s attention, and they build on that initial story with vivid imagery like “I felt as if each cactus thorn contained poison that spread through my back, my arms, my entire body.” In general, the language is strong throughout the entire essay. Other beautiful gems include, “The sound of the rain was echoing on the metal houses as the children sang their anthem” and, “The uncanny apparition of a mysterious little girl particularly touched me.” The author has a way with words, and they proudly demonstrate it in their response. 


In addition to strong imagery, the author also does a satisfactory job at answering the prompt. The open-ended question not only means that students could answer in a variety of ways, but also that it might be easy to fall into a trap of answering in an unrelated or uninteresting manner. The author here does a good job of directly answering the prompt by providing clear examples of their travels around the world. Their response also goes beyond merely listing experiences; rather, they tell stories and describe some of the notable people they have met along the way. By telling stories and adopting a whimsical tone that evokes the wanderlust of travel, they elevate the impact of their response. 


We also learn a fair amount about the author through their stories and personal reflections. We see that they are concerned about social justice through their retelling of the interactions in South Africa. We see them reflecting on the universal joys of singing and dancing: “But beyond those dissimilarities, I saw singing, dancing and laughing everywhere in the world.” In the closing paragraph, we learn that they are adaptable and willing to undergo lifelong learning. Thus, another reason this essay shines is because it not only tells us what travels/experiences the author has engaged in, but it provides deeper introspection regarding how they have grown from these experiences.


What Could Be Improved


While the essay is beautiful, and the fast-moving pace matches the feeling of seeing unfamiliar places for the first time, the narrative runs the risk of being too wide-ranging. The introductory story of falling onto a bed of cacti could warrant an entire essay unto itself, yet the author does not return to it anywhere else in their response. They missed an opportunity to bring the response full circle by ruminating on that once more in their conclusion. 


Another thing to be careful of is how the privilege inherent in international travel might cause the author to see the life through a certain lens. Although they remark upon how their family prioritizes experiences over material wealth, the fact is that extensive international travel relies on having material wealth to pay for costs like airfare and housing. It is important to demonstrate humility and awareness of privilege when responding to college essay prompts, and this is no exception. 


Where to Get Your Essays Edited for Free


At top schools like the Ivies, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision after you clear the academic thresholds. Why is this? Most students applying to the Ivy League will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.


After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to judge 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!

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