One of the things I’m asked most often by my students is how to approach the essay portion of their college applications and if I have any essay examples they can look to for inspiration. And honestly, I get it. Unlike your high school transcript and your standardized test scores, writing a personal statement for the college of your dreams is probably one of the most stressful parts of the whole application process. You go in knowing that the admissions committee will be reading thousands of essays and you need yours to make an impact. Today, we’re going to talk about the do’s and don’ts of essays and I’m bringing plenty of essay examples with me.

What Your College Essay Needs to be Successful

Before I bring my essay examples, I want to take the time to break down what it takes for your college essay to be successful, because unfortunately, it’s not as simple as siting down at a computer, free writing, and sending it on its way. Trust me. These admissions committees read more than their fair share of essays and they can spot a BS-ed essay from a mile away. In order to send off an essay you can be proud to have other people read, it needs the following:

Signs That You Actually Planned This Essay

Beautiful essays are created, not born. Some of the best essay examples I’ve read expand from a very specific focus, complete with a detailed description or story of an event that ties into your present situation. Your essay needs to show how you’ve grown from that initial story, how you’ve become more mature, or even a revelation that indicates why you’re the kind of student this particular university needs. You also need to be a good storyteller. Your writing needs to show humor, your personality, and your own unique perspective on the proposed question.

An Impact That Will Knock Their Socks Off

Another common thread in the best essay examples you’ll find is that the first sentence pulls you in and before you know what’s happening, the essay is over. It has to make your reader curious; it has to grab their attention. Let’s take a look at some of the best starting sentences taken from essays for Stanford University:

Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

Sounds pretty dramatic and hilarious, right? Let’s look at another one.

When I was eight years old, I shocked my family and a local archaeologist by discovering artifacts dating back almost 3,500 years.

I don’t know about you, but that one not only made me smile, but made me want to find out what this person found and where. And finally, let’s look at this one.

Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.

This one is another good stab at humor. I’m left wanting to know why this father was different, what this student was doing with those chemicals, and how did they get into the garage.

Your Voice and Some Technical Perfection

If comedy isn’t really your strong point, that’s okay! Don’t try to force funny if your humor is naturally dry or if the story that you want to tell is serious. One of the most important things you need to remember is that this essay must sound like you and you have to be true to your voice. If your voice is sarcastic and dry, write that. If your voice is happy and motivating, play to that.

Also make sure your essay is grammatically sound, free of spelling errors, and contains no strange syntax marvels. Your essay needs to be personal and lively, but still show that you know the difference between there, their, and they’re.

A Massive List of Essay Examples Just For You

I promised essay examples and I am going to deliver. But I do want you to keep a few things in mind. Some of these prompts aren’t in use anymore so please don’t plan your essay around these prompts! They’re separated by the college or university they were submitted to unless otherwise noted.

Carleton College

Connecticut College

Columbia University

Hamilton College

Johns Hopkins

Smith College

Stanford University

Tufts University

Miscellaneous

The essays in this particular subsection don’t belong to a single university, because some of these links are compilations and worked for more than one university.

Once you click the links and realize there are usually multiple essays contained in each, these links become much more impressive. Read them over and see if you can identify some of the things I talked about that make up an amazing college essay.

College essays are intimidating, but by following the guidelines I’ve outlines and with practice and review, you’ll be able to write an essay that will catch the attention of any admissions officer lucky enough to read it.

Are you excited to write your college essay? Do you have any other tips you want to share? Leave them in the comment section below! We are always here to help.