6 Strong Ivy League Essay Examples

“Ivy League” is a common buzzword that anyone is bound to hear at some point during the college admissions process. 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, and are ranked by U.S. News & World Report’s National Universities list as follows: 

 

School Name Location US News Ranking
Princeton University Princeton, NJ 1
Harvard University Cambridge, MA 2
Columbia University New York, NY 3
Yale University New Haven, CT 4
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 8
Dartmouth University Hanover, NH 13
Brown University Providence, RI 14
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 18

 

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 an Ivy League essay example, written by a real applicant to Princeton. We’ll explain what admissions officers are looking for, and we’ll analyze the sample essay’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ll also have the opportunity to download more Ivy League essay examples. Read on to learn more about how to craft a compelling narrative!

 

Princeton University Supplemental Essay Prompt

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

This essay prompt is general in that it supplies applicants with multiple prompt options and suggests they use them as “starting points.” Many colleges choose this strategy ー rather than asking for a specific story, they provide rough guidelines that give you freedom to share nearly anything about you. 

 

For this particular essay prompt, you’re asked to discuss a person, event, or experience. If you choose to write about a person, a typical pitfall is writing more about the person than about yourself. For an event or an experience, a common error is going into too much background detail or providing excess contextual information. To avoid these mistakes, choose an essay topic that you can briefly outline in the beginning, and then interweave and develop alongside your analysis, rather than separate from it. 

 

Rather than focusing on the words of the prompt itself, try to brainstorm by finding a compelling story that is not apparent from your application. As the prompt itself mentions, avoid writing about something that even slightly overlaps with your Coalition or Common Application essay. For example, if you write about your leadership in a certain club or sport, avoid mentioning that activity entirely in this next essay. 

 

Rather, write about something that cannot be so easily gleaned from the other portions of your application. You can touch on family life, your social and emotional growth, or a shift in your perspective. Whatever you choose, try to focus in on a particular moment in time that properly epitomizes what you are trying to convey about yourself. 

 

Once you have chosen your topic, roughly outline how you plan to go about your response. With these types of open-ended prompts, there are a myriad of ways to approach the essay format. However, a tried-and-true manner of addressing the prompt goes as follows:

 

Start in medias res with an anecdote that epitomizes your essay theme. Provide descriptive, immersive details that draw readers in and demonstrate your writing prowess. Then, zoom out as you continue with your anecdote, pointing at the greater theme while relaying more of your anecdote. Then, talk about specific steps you have taken that represent your overall theme; these should be tangible actions you have taken in your community that build on the character traits. Basically, you want to build upon the theme of your original anecdote while providing more insight in a slightly less story-like, more reflective format. Finally, conclude with what you learned or gained from the experience at hand, and end with some thoughts on how this impacts your life moving forward.

 

Even if you follow this skeleton structure, there are ways to make the essay uniquely your own. The types and level of detail you provide, as well as the topic and direction you choose, are all up to you. The following essay example does just that ー let’s take a look at how this applicant crafted a compelling narrative for an Ivy League school.

 

Ivy League Essay Example

“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.

Breaking Down This Ivy League Essay Example

 

To analyze this essay further, let’s break it down:

 

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.

 

This is a fantastic introduction for multiple reasons. The author launches into their essay with multisensory imagery that draws the reader in. This approach allows for an immersive essay that engages readers while also illustrating the author’s unique way of looking at the world. Before starting your essay, take time to hone in on a defining, action-filled moment and write out the different sensations you felt. Then, choose a few to intertwine in your introduction to set up a descriptive scene for your audience.

 

After the initial sentence, you can provide more logistical context – here, the author provides a time of day and location, while simultaneously providing more audiovisual context (laughter, street vendors) that keep the scene alive in readers’ minds.

 

The author ends by contrasting the external scene around them with how they felt internally. Furthermore, they vary their sentence structure by using a shorter sentence after a couple lengthy ones. This stylistic choice keeps readers’ attention and allows the author to allude to the overarching theme of their essay.

 

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. 

 

The author continues to incorporate a story-like quality in their essay while giving readers more insight into their mental state. They are able to show how they are feeling, rather than simply telling readers, by explaining the actions they took in the moment and the thoughts that are racing through their mind. Their word choice as they describe their actions cultivates suspense and communicates the fear they felt without them explicitly stating it.

 

While it can be difficult to recollect your thoughts at a certain moment, it can be a vital step in helping readers understand the overall theme of your essay. If you wish to communicate something that is deeply personal, showing your vulnerability is key in generating an empathetic response from readers. Whether you are discussing a terrifying or exhilarating moment, providing insight into how you process your surroundings is an invaluable tactic to draw out the compelling aspects of your narrative.

 

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. 

 

The author provides a personal account of their own experiences with harassment. This establishes 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.

 

Their evaluation of the current efforts to combat harassment against women addresses the prompt without directly identifying a strategy, which exemplifies the nuance needed to handle the issue. 

 

A central part of this prompt is problematizing the issue in question rather than trying to solve it. This author accomplishes that by emphasizing the need to critically evaluate the complexities of the issue without proposing a “perfect” solution.

 

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. 

 

This next portion encompasses a shift in the essay, in which the author transitions from setting up the context of the problem to how they have personally gone about understanding and resolving it. They give concrete examples of how they implemented their activism at the high school level.

 

Admissions officers understand that for most of the teens applying, a large-scale project or global impact is not a feasible feat. Thus, writing about how you fomented change within your school, family, or another small community is completely acceptable. Rather than conjecturing about how you plan to make the most impact, it is important to focus on the steps you have already taken to foster positive change.

 

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.

 

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.

 

The author concludes with a future-facing paragraph that explains how they plan to pursue this activism going forward. This speaks to the complexity of the issue and addresses the prompt’s wording. By problematizing the issue but then offering a hopeful conclusion, the author is able to cultivate the correct energy needed to conclude their narrative while effectively responding to this prompt.

 

The last sentence offers a poignant statement that reestablishes the author’s personal stake in this issue. The sentence nods to their introductory anecdote in a way that provides a natural flow and effectively wraps up their essay.

 

More Ivy League Essay Examples

 

If you’re looking for more Ivy League essay examples from real students, you can view the other five essays by entering your email and graduation year below. Then, links to the PDFs will appear on the right side of the box.

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