8 Strong Ivy League Essay Examples
- Ivy League Essay Examples
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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, Cornell, Brown, and Dartmouth.
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 some of the most competitive schools in the country, your essays are crucial for you to showcase aspects of yourself that might not be apparent from other parts of your application.
In this post, we’ll provide a strong essay example for each Ivy and explain what each did well and where they could be improved. 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
Prompt: 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.
Essay #2: Cornell
Prompt: 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)
Storytime with my grandfather was a terrifying thing. With astounding skill, he would seep blood into our carpet and perforate our walls with bullets from a civil war fought before I was born. But what truly frightened me about storytime was my grandfather, who spoke of massacres gloriously, almost with nostalgia, like the people who had died were not real.
He told the child I was every story he knew about that war but would not tell me about the battle that took his legs.
This was the reason I sat by his stumps each night and listened to stories I hated—because I wanted to know. But it was also because I understood that his storytelling was a kind of exorcism for him. He had not walked since 1970, would never walk again for a country that had not improved, a country spitting on the bloody sacrifices he and his generation had made of their innocence, their limbs, their lives. How does one live with that? My grandfather does not; he has created a different reality for himself where the war was a beautiful, worthy thing, and he lets me into it. The story of his legs did not belong in this reality, so I lusted after it with the brand of hunger I reserved for things I subconsciously knew I would not get.
My grandfather deserved a reality he could cope with enough to admit. I couldn’t reverse the war, couldn’t raise the friends he had lost, but I thought he should walk, that a man deserved to move his feet upon the land he loved.
Although there were indeed prosthetics in Nigerian hospitals, he had no income source whatsoever and could barely even afford a bag of rice to sustain himself.
Day by day, I searched for answers in my introductory science textbook, but to no avail. I carried on this search in high school and made my biology textbook my companion. I studied the body systems in-depth for clues, but I found nothing. One day, I came across Biomechanics, and seeing that it had my answer made me want to study it in college.
Then came another mammoth task of deciding my place of study. I kept searching and researching, without seeming to find any place fit for me until I came across Cornell’s novel 3D printed prosthetic limbs in the “Silicon Review.” Light, flexible, and cost-effective –a miracle, just what grandpa needed. I had found my home, the home of this model – Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.
I intend to channel the research experience I gained from Pioneer Academics into Cornell’s undergraduate research programs at Sibley – specifically, the research on orthopedic biomechanics currently ongoing at the Van der Meulen lab. I hope to work with intellectual, goal-driven scholars at Cornell and develop better and safer models of the 3D prosthetic. Also, Cornell’s Tech Summer Research Experience gives me an opportunity to work with engineers in different disciplines, thus diversifying my abilities and improving my innovation. I hope to work at the Nikolaos Bouklos faculty, where I would learn about the model’s unpredictability and explore ways to stabilize it while receiving guidance from Cornell’s world-class faculty mentors.
My life as a Cornell engineer would not be about theory alone. I intend to gain hands-on experience for medical school from the Hospital for Special Surgery and work with body systems to understand the physical, electrical and chemical connections between limbs and prosthetics – a fantastic opportunity for an outstanding, well-rounded education! I love to play soccer, and I hope to learn from the Big Red and become better while contributing my skills to give our opponents the claw.
Fearless and brave, grandpa has been more than an inspiration to me. I hope to repay him in the best way possible, and a Cornell education is what I need to actualize my dream.
What the Essay Did Well
So often, “Why Major?” and “Why School?” essays like Cornell’s include one anecdote showing a student’s interest in a topic and then spend the majority of the essay listing offerings at the school that don’t necessarily connect back to the anecdote. That can not be said for this essay.
The beauty of this essay is how focused it is around one central idea, yet it still has a captivating and heart-wrenching anecdote, an explanation of the student’s passion, and a variety of opportunities they plan to take advantage of. Everything in this essay stems from this student’s selflessness and compassion for their grandfather. The anecdote is extremely pertinent to the piece as a whole because the end goal of their major is to develop a prosthetic to help their grandfather.
An important part of the essay is to discuss resources and opportunities at Cornell, and this student accomplishes that so effectively because every resource they describe relates back to the idea of building and improving prosthetics. From working with prosthetic models in a lab to learning about implementation and the body in a hospital, this student frames every opportunity in the light of helping their grandfather. The reader knows exactly what this student intends to do, and what is motivating each extracurricular choice.
This essay leaves us with such a strong impression of who this student is and what motivates them. Their selflessness and dedication to their family has been a driving force throughout high school and will continue to be one in college. They are determined to persevere and want to use their education to help those around them. By revealing so much of their character in this essay, it demonstrates to admissions officers that this is the student they want on their campus.
What Could Be Improved
In general, this is a very strong response and there is little to change. However, in such a highly-focused essay where every detail connects, this sentences feels very out of place: “I love to play soccer, and I hope to learn from the Big Red and become better while contributing my skills to give our opponents the claw.“
While the student was likely trying to demonstrate a non-academic passion they will bring to Cornell, haphazardly throwing in a singular sentence without connecting it to anything else disrupts the momentum they have built throughout the essay. This essay was so strong because everything related to the common thread of helping their grandfather, but playing soccer is irrelevant to the other points being made. Since this sentence doesn’t tie into any other part of the essay, it would be better off without it.
This is a good example of not including details for the sake of including them. Admissions officers will see your accomplishments in other parts of the application, so you don’t need to work it into your essay if it doesn’t relate. Especially when the topic of the essay is so strong and focused, throwing in extraneous details will only confuse your readers and diminish the overall impact of your essay.
Essay #3: Yale
Prompt: 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.
Essay #4: Brown
Prompt: Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (200-250 words)
My mother exclaimed in shock as she saw the title American Murder: The Family Next Door as the latest title on our Netflix watch list. “Why on earth would you want to watch that?” It made no sense to her that I spent free time watching documentaries about the psychopathic tendencies of serial killers.
From listening to neuropsychology podcasts on my long runs to reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I’ve been eager to explore the intersection between neuroscience, society, and the role they play in human nature. Brown’s Open Curriculum would allow me to double concentrate in Neuroscience and Science, Technology, and Society with a theme in Health and Medicine. Classes like Philosophy of Biology and The Moral Brain would begin to answer my questions about the relationship between neuroscience and human ethics. Perhaps I’ll finally understand why Raskolnikov thought he could get away with his crimes.
As an eight-year Latin scholar and five-time Percy Jackson reader, I hope to take classes in the Brown Classics department. I’m also intrigued by Ancient Greek Philosophy, and I plan to explore classic texts such as Plato’s Symposium in Introduction to Greek Literature. Courses like Hippocratic Medicine would allow me to learn about connections between the Classical world and medicine today.
The brain’s unique composition creates an intricate link between science, history, and modern society that I can only explore at Brown. More importantly, Brown’s diverse environment would introduce me to people with entirely different opinions about Raskolnikov’s motives.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay is structured incredibly well. The author uses an anecdote to explain their interests in the opening paragraph. “My mother exclaimed in shock,” is the beginning of an opening sentence that draws the reader in, as the reader wants to learn the reason behind the mother’s shock. This opening allows the writer to speak about an interest of theirs, murder documentaries, then tie it to what they’re interested in studying.
When discussing an academic interest, the author does a great job of providing specific examples connected to Brown. This allows the writer to share how they plan to take advantage of Brown’s unique Open Curriculum. They write, “Classes like Philosophy of Biology and The Moral Brain would begin to answer my questions about the relationship between neuroscience and human ethics.” By sharing specific classes, it’s clear that the author has done some research about Brown and is truly interested in attending.
The writer chooses to spend their last paragraph sharing more interests and how they could pursue these interests at Brown. They did a great job sharing a variety of interests, and they made it fun by writing that they’re a “five-time Percy Jackson reader.” Sharing details like this about yourself can help make your essays stand out because you come across as relatable, and your essay becomes more engaging and entertaining for the reader!
What Could Be Improved
While it’s nice that the writer mentions various interests, including both neuroscience and classics, there doesn’t seem to be a strong connection between the two topics. The essay would be better if the author improved the transition between the second and third paragraphs. They could say how it’s not common to be able to study both neuroscience and classics because of how different the subjects are but that Brown’s open curriculum lets you pursue both.
More simply, the writer could share why they want to study both topics. Will they both be relevant for their career goals? Are they just curious about exploring a variety of subjects and classes at Brown? No matter the reason, a connection between their interests and a better transition would strengthen this essay.
Additionally, the essay prompt asks students to talk about both topics that interest them and “embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar.” It’s always important to keep the prompt in mind when outlining or writing it. This student wrote a lot about their interests, but it’s a little unclear how they plan to embrace topics with which they’re unfamiliar. Clarifying which topic in this essay the writer hasn’t studied would improve the response and ensure that it directly answers the prompt.
Essay #5: UPenn
Prompt: How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)
There’s a certain energy palpable at protests, each chant a powerful reminder that you are not alone in a seemingly futile fight- it’s why I love organizing. At Penn you will be sure to find me advocating for environmental education in local school districts with Eco Reps (gotta start them young), or even marching through the streets of Philly to demand climate action.
Despite my love for grassroots activism, I often feel frustrated in the weeks following a protest as the buzz dies down; despite overwhelming support for change, be it climate action, BLM, gun control, or Indigenous sovereignty, it often feels like our cries fall upon deaf ears.
I believe in order for tangible change to occur, our leaders and policymakers need to reflect the diversity and interests of the public. Penn will equip me to be that leader.
Having the tools to understand both the science and history within issues like public health or climate change is something I believe will be invaluable to study in the Environmental Policy and Application program at Penn. Using the knowledge I gain from classes like Natural Disturbances and Human Disasters, which bridges my interest in the environment with the very tangible effects of human-made and natural disasters, I can be a better informed leader, learning from past mistakes to create preventative solutions for future catastrophes through policy.
Integrated into West Philly, to me, the lack of barriers between campus and the city symbolizes the infinite space for growth and exploration. At Penn, I can study politics while also indulging in the arts at the Arthur Ross Gallery, or how to integrate principles of sustainability in an urban environment. And, of course, being able to admire the beautiful gothic architecture as I sit in class (gotta love that dark academia aesthetic) while also being able to experience the rich culture and diversity of the urban environment of Philadelphia is definitely a plus (I mean, Chinatown and cheesesteaks? Come on!).
UPenn’s emphasis on global education is especially appealing to me; solving the climate crisis cannot and will not fall upon one country; it must be a collective effort. With that comes the need to understand (and learn from) sustainability in other countries, therefore, having the opportunity to take classes like Politics of the Global Environment in the Political Science program will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of international policy and approaches to environmental issues in different countries, where they intersect and how they differ.
I believe as global citizens it is crucial to approach learning from a global perspective as opposed to a nationalistic one; I believe UPenn will help me do just that.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay does a very nice job of laying out what led this student to pursue politics and what they hope to get out of each opportunity at UPenn. We can see their strong sense of civic duty in the first paragraph when they discuss the excitement of protests, but telling us they feel “frustrated in the weeks following a protest as the buzz dies down” helps us understand their need to take things into their own hands.
When discussing different opportunities at Penn, this student chooses depth over breadth—describing why a small number of offerings are important to them and will be beneficial rather than providing a laundry list of items. For example, when they mention a class they are interested in, they elaborate by saying it “bridges my interest in the environment with the very tangible effects of human-made and natural disasters.” Similarly, they demonstrate their forward-thinking approach when discussing global opportunities by noting their need to “gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of international policy and approaches to environmental issues in different countries.“
Another positive aspect is how strong this student’s voice is throughout the essay. We see their passion and love for protesting at the beginning, they clearly express their position on representation in politics, and they inject a lot of humor into the paragraph about Philly. Having conviction and making an essay casual yet impactful is a hard balance to strike, but this student does a nice job of that.
What Could Be Improved
Although it’s important to not just focus on academic opportunities, students can sometimes make the mistake of writing about a city, rather than a school, when they discuss extracurriculars. The paragraph about the opportunities awaiting this student in Philly was great for including their personal voice, but it isn’t specific to Penn.
Rather than making art galleries and cheesesteaks the primary focus of the paragraph, the student should have discussed a club or organization that is unique to Penn. Something related to climate justice would fit in nicely with the rest of their essay and would give the author the opportunity to further elaborate on what they hope to accomplish out of the classroom. They can still find a way to work in some humor, but it shouldn’t be the main aspect of the paragraph.
Essay #6: Dartmouth
Prompt: 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)
As a child, darkness meant nightmares, so I would pester my grandmother to tell me stories while the sun was trapped amongst silver hues. My religious grandmother would proceed to tell me about the Supreme Being in Hindu mythology, made of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Together, these Gods defined the cyclical nature of mortal existence through creation and destruction – life and death.
Although I found this idea interesting, each year in my life brought on a better understanding of these Gods’ purposes – I only had a certain number of years before I faced my life’s “destruction.”
My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters. I was a member of a motorcycle club, a terminally-ill teenager, and much more than what I could be in my physical life. Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own.
So, hello! I’m Navya – named after a star shining the night I was born. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with the idea that we each experience life only once before our own lives are destroyed, but books have helped me find a way to live thousands of lives. I am an aspiring author and want to write historical fiction books that cheat the Gods, who said that everything must be destroyed, because my characters will never fade. And all this happened because of my grandmother and her love of Hindu mythology. Mythology sparked a quest for me to find how I could get the most out of my life but my mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending. I have more lives to experience and more lives to write.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay beautifully combines this student’s life story with their passion for physical stories. Connecting these two types of stories gives extra depth and nuance to the essay, showing this student’s ability to think creatively. The idea that her life story revolves around fictional stories shines through in sentences like: “My only answer to living more in my one life was to stuff my head into pages filled with the journeys of fictional characters.”
Our stories aren’t just comprised of the past though, and this essay does a great job of transitioning from the past to the future. Telling the reader “Authors let me experience hundreds of lives through literature, therefore, inspiring me to create fictional lives of my own” lets us appreciate how deeply engrained literature is in this student’s personal story. The admissions officers reading this essay walk away knowing exactly what this student hopes to do one day and where the inspiration for that career came from.
The idea of stories are woven throughout this essay, making it exceptionally well-connected. Although the beginning is meant to introduce a sense of fear at mortality this student encountered, it is done so through a story her grandmother told about her culture. Then the student explains the sanctuary and inspiration she found through famous stories, and finally it concludes with her describing the stories she will tell. Combined, all these pieces of mythology and literature form this student’s personal story.
What Could Be Improved
The only real weakness in this essay is the conclusion. While it is well-written and nicely summarizes everything the author has explained, it doesn’t contribute anything new to the essay. The only new pieces of information the reader gains is that the student wants to “write historical fiction books” and that her “mo’olelo is nowhere near its ending.”
To avoid redundancy, the conclusion could have been made stronger if it was simply focused on the future. Discussing this student’s aspirations to be a historical fiction writer—maybe including possible stories or time periods she dreams about—would have made the finale more focused and also have given the same amount of attention to the future of her story as she did the past and present. Then, the essay would chronologically follow this student’s life story from when she was young, to her current passion, to her future goals, allowing the reader to seamlessly see the progression, rather than having it restated for us.
Essay #7: Columbia
Prompt: 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.
Essay #8: Harvard
Prompt: You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics: 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.
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