What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Reed College
Reed College
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

3 Strong Reed College Essay Examples

Reed College is a liberal arts college in Portland that heavily emphasizes independent inquiry, independent art, and independent political activism: essentially, an “indie” Mecca. Since the 1960s, Reed has gained a reputation as a crucible for counterculture movements and alternative lifestyles. 


That said, Reed’s programs definitely stress the “thinker” portion of “free-thinker.” Reed values academic rigor, even if it de-emphasizes traditionalist measures like grades and rank. Notably, its expansive core curriculum and mandatory senior thesis showcase how far Reed pushes its student intellectuals. A high number of Reed graduates end up pursuing careers in academia, theory, and scholarship. 


This push-and-pull of creativity and discipline, fun and grind, tradition and iconoclasm is the soul of Reed. Call it the Reed Balance. And this concept will be the most important thing to keep in mind while writing your Reed essay. 


In this post, we’ll share three essays real students have submitted to Reed and explain what each essay did well and where each could improve. The hope is that looking at these examples will give you inspiration to help you craft your Reed response.


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 Example #1


Prompt: For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? (200-500 words)


“No! Make it stop! Get me out!” My 5-year-old self waved my arms frantically in front of my face in the darkened movie theater. Swarms of beetles scurried across the screen, their tiny forms flying straight at me. Their stark coloration patterns and blown-up eyes dominated my field of vision, their antennae whiskering toward my vulnerable being. To the understanding of my fellow movie-watchers frustrated at this outburst, this was my first 4-D movie experience, a memory ingrained into my being so potently that I still flinch at the sight of a harmless roach scuttling along my family’s patio floor outside. And don’t get me started on the time I woke up to a cricket sleeping on my arm. Oh man, those shrieks are still buried in the back of my mind. 


We are familiar with meat and vegetables as sources of our nutrition, but it seems that such a concept does not apply to the class of animals that make up 80% of the world’s total animal population. But with the rise of greater concern for where our food comes from, many sustainability enthusiasts have turned to these pests as a nutrition source. Not only are they high in protein, but they’re everywhere. It’s time for me to face my fears and the inevitable truth: bug farming is on the horizon. 


For my Paideia “It’s a Bug’s Life,” these little critters take center stage in an integrated lecture/hands-on seminar style focused on growing awareness for food sustainability and learning to cook savory bug-riddled meals. Recipes from Chef Hugo Ortega’s Mescal Worm Tacos (Houston, Texas) to Chef Cesar Moreno’s Grasshopper Almond Flour Cake (New York City, New York) will be dissected and recreated in an attempt to understand the insect harvesting process and proper (and sanitary!) methods of preparation. I hope that this class ultimately aids in breaking the Western stigma against the consumption of our fellow fuzzy creatures (which is already practiced in more than half of the world by population), as well as provide a platform for exploring sustainable food sourcing and consumption practices. 


Gone are the days where I flinch at the flutter of an insect’s wings. Bon appetit! Your cuisine des petites bêtes (see: dish of little beasts) has been served. 


What the Essay Did Well


This essay checks off many boxes: there is a unique topic that reflects a broader social issue, the student’s enthusiasm comes across, and it is a fun and entertaining read!


The point of a Paideia is so teach about something you love, but to demonstrate to the Reed admissions officers that you academically inclined and socially conscious, you need to bring some weight to your course to show the impact it would have. This student does that beautifully by connecting a fun fascination with eating bugs to the global issues of sustainable farming and food insecurity. Citing statistics and referencing Western bias and nutrition concerns demonstrate this student’s level of knowledge about a larger issue that they hope to address with their class.


Another positive is the level of enthusiasm this student conveys for the topic through their narrative and emotions. In fact, their enthusiasm for bug food (“savory!” “Bon appetit!”) comes across as more rewarding because they begin with the contrasting emotions of fear (“swarms,” “shrieks”). Including the anecdote at the beginning allows the reader to see the student’s emotional maturity grow over time, making their interest in eating bugs all the more commendable.


From the first line to the last, this student injects plenty of their personality, giving the reader an amusing essay. They didn’t have to include an anecdote about their history with bugs, but by including the fears and actions of a young child, the student comes to life. The fun continues with a callback to nostalgia by naming their course “It’s a Bug’s Life.” Additionally, all of the student’s interjections and use of French bring a light-hearted, casual energy to the essay, making it much more enjoyable to read.


What Could Be Improved


Yes, this essay did a good job, but no essay is perfect! There are a couple of ways this essay could be honed in more.


Most importantly, we’d recommend you include more academic materials than this example essay. Imagine how much more intellectual the course would be with a documentary on the nutritive benefits of insects, a study of Western stigmas against eating insects, and maybe some articles on the need for more global protein sources. This would also show admissions readers that the applicant is capable of doing sound research. 


We also recommend more structure: Paideia, after all, is a weeklong learning festival, so a proper syllabus should lay out plans for each day. Theming readings and assigning them to certain days/themes would show a lot of forethought and powers of organization. 


Essay Example #2


Prompt: For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? (200-500 words)


Under the setting winter sun, I rode my horse across the meadow while the snow began to thicken. Upon receiving a prized, famous axe from my close friend Ulfric, he requested that I return to a metropolitan city to converse with members who agreed with us regarding the status of the political landscape within our country in order to join their movement. Suddenly, though, I was knocked off my horse by a blow from my left. I unsheathed my weapon while hearing shouts from every direction. I lept off my horse and pulled my sword back to make the first blow, but just as I…


“Dinner!” my dad swept me out of my absorption with what, unfortunately, was not an exorbitantly unique experience from real life, but rather “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” an open world action video game within a fictional universe. I was beginning the quest “Joining the Legion” which would solidify my role as a supporter of the Empire and ban me from joining the rebellion. 


As I sat down to eat my beef with broccoli, the recent quest was still on my mind. Making the decision as to whether or not I ought to join the rebellion or defend the Imperial Legion felt extremely rushed, and after being brutally attacked, I wondered if I made the right one. I realized that I required a much more nuanced look at the actuality of the issue’s development to make an educated decision, both for fascinating gameplay and political context. Delving into online resources, I gradually understood the background of the war, but I also realized how complex and multifaceted the history of the game was. The 9 major cities, countless towns and settlements, 273 quests, and six historical periods ensure there is never a dull moment, but also present the ideal means through which to examine complex historical developments, movements, and periods of an entire Empire.


So, I would teach a history of Skyrim course, also known as “Nords, Daedras, Alchemy and Everything In Between”. Not only would this multifaceted understanding of the background to major questlines be indispensable to successful game play, but the skills required to understand the development and effects of diverse historical developments could be utilized for other history and social science courses. Immersing oneself directly in the material through gameplay would provide a unique perspective on the events at hand which would be supplemented by the history-course-like style of the class. With countless online materials ranging from the Elder Scrolls Wiki to Gamepedia and, of course, Reddit, there would be no shortage of resources to utilize for assignments. 


Thus, although my experience of nearly being knocked off my horse outside the gates of Whiterun was not necessarily real, the introspection and research which this experience prompted were. I can’t wait to join Reed’s campus next year and share my experience as a member of the Imperial Legion with the diverse Nords, Redguards, and Khajit around me. 


What the Essay Did Well


Wow! This essay starts with a captivating description of what playing Skyrim is like, setting us up for the journey the rest of the essay takes us on. The introductory paragraph is a fabulous example of what we mean when we say show don’t tell. The reader becomes so swept up in the action of the game that when the essay breaks its momentum with the interjection of “Dinner!” we feel the same sense of disappointment and interruption as the student.


We see this student’s passion for this video game very clearly in this essay. From the way they speak about the quests their character goes on as personal missions (“I was beginning the quest “Joining the Legion” which would solidify my role as a supporter of the Empire and ban me from joining the rebellion“) to their description of the intricacies of their thought-process consuming their mind during dinner, the reader appreciates just how meaningful this topic is. 


Although this student is choosing a video game for their Paideia, a topic which could easily be considered trivial by admissions officers, they avoid that by explaining real skills they have acquired through playing. This sentence is a nice admission from the student that shows their critical thinking and ability to understand the importance in things considered puerile: “Although my experience of nearly being knocked off my horse outside the gates of Whiterun was not necessarily real, the introspection and research which this experience prompted were.” If you can demonstrate your appreciation for things beyond your Paideia topic, you can pretty much pick whatever you want.


What Could Be Improved


The biggest issue with this essay is the imbalance between setting up Skyrim and the student’s passion and the content of the course. There was only one paragraph that focused on the student’s Paideia, and even then, it wasn’t as detailed as it could have been.


These are just a few ways this student could have elaborated on their course in greater detail:


  • They say “historical developments could be utilized for other history and social science courses” so they could describe two or three historical references in the game and connect them to real courses at Reed
  • They describe a “history-course-like style of the class” so they could map out the different time periods they will cover
  • They reference “online materials ranging from the Elder Scrolls Wiki to Gamepedia and, of course, Reddit” but it would have been nice to include real books that address the topics covered in the game to show a deeper understanding of the real-world implications rather than fan material
  • They mention having “assignments” but it would be better if they included sample essay prompts, class activities, or a final project


Essay Example #3


Prompt: For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? (200-500 words)


What’s Up With Those Socks?: A Nalbinding Primer


The ancient textile technique nalbinding goes by many names: naelbinding, nålbinding, cross-knit looping, and knotless netting. All of these terms refer to what is essentially the same practice. In many cases, it seems there are more names for the technique than there are useful tutorials available online. Representation of the technique is just as sparse in academia. Often, studies of the craft are more concerned with preserving and analyzing ancient textile samples rather than preserving and analyzing the technique as it is practiced today. As a result, nalbinding has faded into obscurity in the past eight or so centuries and is now considered an endangered craft. If it is not passed on, the craft could die out within a few generations. 


In this course, students will start with an abridged history of nalbinding around the world, from its origins with bast fibers to its present dwindling popularity. Then, students will begin practical work with a small pouch made using the York stitch. Once students have worked with York stitch for a while, they will be introduced to the slightly more complex Oslo stitch as well as basic shaping techniques, through a pair of simple wristwarmers. In the remaining time, students are free to explore other projects and applications. Potential topics for this time include mathematic applications, creating flat textiles, working on traditional mittens, or colorwork. 


Learning to nalbind will afford Reedies all the benefits of learning a craft. Its simplicity makes it a convenient, and productive, fidget for when you can’t keep your hands still. The repetition, much like knitting and crochet, can take on an almost meditative quality as muscle memory takes over from step-by-step planning. Nalbinding can also provide an inroad for Reedies to explore global indigenous and prehistoric cultures through their crafts, as well as track the histories of knitting and crochet. The technique also provides a creative outlet on the cheap, as all that’s needed is a darning needle and cotton yarn.


Sample lectures and practical sessions:


Vikings, Egyptians, and the Nazca: A Global Overview of Nalbinding and Related Techniques


A Humble Tube: Starting with the York Stitch


Colors, Shapes, and Stitches, Oh My!: Adding Flair to a Project


Required reading/viewing: 


“Nålbinding: A Short History of an Ancient Craft” by Penelope Hemingway


“Nalbinding Socks from Late Roman Egypt (3rd-7th CE)” video from the Royal Ontario Museum


“The Complexities of Cross Looping” by Elena Phipps


Optional reference material: Stitch tutorials on en.neulakintaat.fi


What the Essay Did Well


This essay draws its strength from how thought-out the Paideia course is. From describing the history of nalbinding, to the types of stitches, to the connections with other classes, this student treated their passion with the seriousness and respect a Reed professor gives to their courses. Simultaneously, this student flexes the depth of knowledge they have on this unique craft and teaches the reader the basics of nalbinding—living up to the name of the course (“A Nalbinding Primer“).


Especially when you are focusing on a niche topic, it is important to include as many practical details as you can to help the admissions officers reading your essay grasp concepts they are possibly only just learning about. Telling us the different names (“naelbinding, nålbinding, cross-knit looping, and knotless netting”) and types of stitches (“York” and “Oslo“) helps to familiarize the reader with nalbinding.


The student also does a good job of showing us why we should care about this obscure topic. They dedicate an entire paragraph to the “so what?”; providing multiple benefits for students from the “meditative quality” to the ability to “explore global indigenous and prehistoric cultures” to a “creative outlet on the cheap“!


Perhaps the best way this student demonstrates the knowledge and care they will bring to their Paideia is through the carefully curated list of lectures and readings. This is an excellent tactic for this essay! Including the names of lesson plans is a quick way to demonstrate your creativity and the key aspects of your topic, while listing readings shows the level of research you have conducted. If you are going to the lengths of drafting lectures, assignments, or activities for your class, it signals just how excited you are at the prospect of sharing your passion with others.


What Could Be Improved


While this essay is good, there are a couple of tweaks and additions that could be beneficial. The first would be to clean up the lectures and readings at the end. Just adding bullet points and italics for the titles of the readings would give the end of the essay a more aesthetic look. Creating variation for the eye helps the reader quickly pick up on changes, so having indented bullets to group together the lessons and readings would be an easy change that would have a large impact.


The other thing we would like to see this essay include is an explanation about why this student cares about nalbinding. They do a very nice job explaining its significance to society and the Reed community, but they never share what got them into nalbinding in the first place or why they are choosing this topic over any of their other passions. You aren’t explicitly asked to demonstrate the importance of your course subject to you, but great essay will do so. Don’t forget this is still a college essay: take every opportunity you get to share information about yourself with admissions officers! 


Where to Get Your Reed College Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Reed College essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.