Sample Essays

The following essays offer a sampling of stories, structures, voices, and themes. They do a nice job of illustrating the qualities that colleges are looking for: passion, purpose, curiosity, creativity, intellectual vitality, diversity, drive, adaptability, resilience, work ethic, impact, authenticity, enthusiasm, character, initiative, humor, maturity, open-mindedness, inclusivity, warmth, courage, and generosity.

Sample Common App Essay #1 (Barnard College)

I have learned the most about myself, the world, and the human experience from complete strangers I know I will never see again.

As an only child of two workaholic parents who never had the time, nor the inclination, to take me anywhere, Uber has been my primary mode of transportation since sixth grade. Always too curious to heed the “don’t talk to strangers” warning, I found myself diving into conversations with drivers about everything from Seth Rogen comedies to the heartbreaking experience of losing a child to a drunk driver.

Every time I climbed into the backseat of someone’s car, it was like I was climbing into a new world, and every time I left forever altered and expanded. Maybe it was because we weren’t looking at one another, which suspended judgment, or perhaps it was because we knew we wouldn’t see each other again, but in these moments of uninhibited candor, I felt a sense of human connection unlike anything I’d ever experienced. As I moved through the liminal space between where I was coming from and where I was going, I entered into a liminal zone where I relinquished my personal biases and opened my perspective to a new way of seeing through the eyes of another.

The more people opened up to me, the more I opened up to them, and the deeper my questions became. These encounters were so impactful that I knew I had to do something with them, so, in 2019, I started a personal project recording these interviews. With my drivers’ consent, I memorialized the stories of people from all walks of life, from ex-convicts to DACA recipients to teen mothers, each offering their own wit and wisdom.

One Sri Lankan refugee, whose young life was horribly disrupted by civil war, was the most content of all the drivers I met. When he shared, “It’s all relative…without experiencing sadness, you can’t appreciate happiness,” his words changed my life. I witnessed another driver—a formerly-affluent, newly-divorced woman—cry because of how alone she felt, and seeing an adult break down made me feel less alone in my own difficult feelings. We then communed on how change and responsibility can be hard but also bring a new sense of purpose. Another day, I found myself in a car with an anti-vax extremist. Though I was initially repulsed by his ramblings, I realized he was really just scared of the things he couldn’t control. That was a fear I could relate to. By not giving up on a conversation with someone so different from me, I began to build a bridge between us.

I have now done seventy-eight properly recorded interviews. I don’t yet know if I will one day turn them into a book or podcast or movie, but I do know that my drivers’ honesty, vulnerability, and depth of reflection have inspired in me a passion to learn about the world through the eyes of others. One day, I hope to make art that showcases the beauty, chaos, joy, and pain of the human experience and facilitate exchanges that allow for a plurality of contrasting opinions and understandings. In a world of small talk, social identifiers, and things you aren’t supposed to say, I have discovered that we all share one imperative: a search for connection. So, I will proudly keep asking daring questions and knocking down boundaries in my constant crusade to connect in a disconnected world.

There’s one more piece of my story I haven’t yet shared: my parents haven’t spoken a single word to one another since I was nine. All of their fighting has been silent and taken the form of court motions. I truly believe if they sat down and talked openly, they could resolve their issues. Because they won’t, I commit myself every day to meaningful, challenging discourse and open-ended conversation approached with true humility and gratitude.

Sample Common App Essay #2 (Harvard University)

One muggy and oppressively hot summer afternoon in the 1950s, my Great Uncle Irwin and my Grandfather Leon knocked on the door of an inn in northwestern Massachusetts. Irwin had come from New York City because he wanted to hear Leonard Bernstein conduct Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony at Tanglewood. Leon was only there because he knew how to drive their Ukranian father’s car. The inn door was opened by a plump woman who informed the brothers that there were no available rooms, but they could sleep in the barn if they wanted to. They did. Two generations later, Irwin was the only person in my huge family who understood me, because he and I were the only two musicians of the bunch. So when I found out that I had been accepted into Tanglewood Institute’s Composition Program, I chose to spend the day before the program began in New York with Uncle Irwin before saying goodbye and heading north.

My days at Tanglewood were filled with ardent musical study. I sat in on master classes with visiting composers, studied music theory for hours on end, and wrote the most music I have ever been able to get out onto paper. I bonded with my fellow musicians in the program and created friendships that will last forever. On the evening of July 15th, I was sitting in the dining hall when I got the call that Uncle Irwin had passed away earlier that evening. I was devastated. It was as if, in such a place of creativity and collaboration, the music stopped. The only family member that I could deeply relate to was gone. It felt finite; the double bar had been etched in black ink.

The following week, when the ideas for final projects were due, I decided that I was going to write a surrealist memorial to my uncle—a requiem of sorts—to commemorate his beginnings in the very place where I was now studying. I named the piece “hot summer night [requiem for a passed new england evening]” and wrote it in about ten days as the music flowed from the ether of my imagination onto the page. It was both the hardest and easiest piece I have ever written. It took the form of three movements, which included electronically sampled crickets, a male choir, a string quartet, percussion, and a barbershop quartet that aimed to create a sonic world that would fulfill the memory of a man who found the greatest joy in music. Although I faced many challenges with the practical production of the piece—scheduling rehearsals, convincing people to show up, even finding rehearsal space in a rain storm—there was nothing like the sound of the thirty-five musicians performing it at the final concert. It culminated in a feeling of fulfillment like nothing else in the entire world.

Participating in Tanglewood Institute’s Composition Program was an amazing opportunity. I learned how to be firm in my intention but flexible in my execution. I was dealing with other musicians my age who had busy schedules in addition to my rehearsals. I figured out how to coordinate and inspire people to give it their all while creating something significant. I practiced humility while treating the piece as a living breathing creation, which fostered even more collaboration, eventually leading to a successful performance.

Though Uncle Irwin never lived to hear the piece performed, he continues to live on in the music. He began his musical journey at Tanglewood and metaphorically ended it with the closing notes of my piece in the very same place. The piece sings of joy, hope, and fond memory as well as sadness and the resolute finality of death. My summer, and the piece itself, confirmed that music will always be a unifying and grounding force in my life and a way to explore and share my truth with the world.

Sample Common App Essay #3 (Amherst College)

To feel a part of something bigger than yourself is one of the most empowering emotions ever. I experienced this when walking in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City. While growing up in New York, I had never personally encountered blatant or violent racism like these victims of police brutality had, but I had experienced the long-term effect of micro-aggressions and interracial misunderstanding. So when I stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands of New Yorkers who looked nothing like me, I was filled with hope because my immediate community recognized the urgent call to all for social action.

My own call to action began years earlier as I made the transition from middle to high school. Before freshman year, I was only familiar with the Upper West Side and Harlem. So when I travelled a mere 3.7 miles to Chapin, my new school on the Upper East Side, I was stunned to encounter a completely foreign culture.

During the first weeks of school, I felt like an outsider amongst my new friends because of the color of my skin. In one conversation, we compared the small changes we’d have to make to our appearances to look more like actress Blake Lively, our image of physical perfection. One friend commented on changing the shape of her nose. Another mentioned lightening her eyes one shade of blue. Then I realized I must be the least beautiful of all because I would have to endure the most drastic changes. Over time, I observed my classmates’ carefully constructed facades and materialistic mindsets and started to lose faith in the possibility of true friendships here. But I am not one to give up easily. By continuing to meet the girls with my innate curiosity and open mind, I eventually discovered our common humanity and formed authentic, gratifying, and invaluable relationships. I now recognize that going to Chapin was one of the most challenging and beneficial experiences of my life. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and strengthened my abilities as a student, friend, and leader.

Last summer I sought out an opportunity to pay forward these hard-earned skills as I helped develop and worked as a counselor at Fun and Friends, a camp for students of color, ages 5-12, who attend private schools in New York City. The counselors–all private high school students of color–cultivated an environment where campers could see role models who looked like them.

As a counselor, I facilitated a lesson on education activist Malala Yousafzai. With the younger campers, we brainstormed traits we shared with Malala, and many kids walked away feeling more confident that they too possess leadership qualities. With the older campers, we explored Malala’s perseverance in the face of violence and discussed oppression and gender inequality. It was incredibly rewarding to successfully create a safe space where campers made powerful connections between the struggles in Malala’s life and the events and difficulties of their own.

After thirteen years of attending predominantly white, private schools, I wish a program like Fun and Friends had been around when I was younger. Getting to know other kids at school who looked like me would have eased the small doubt I felt of whether or not I belonged in the classes I had been a part of my entire childhood. And yet I can’t help but feel grateful for the lessons I learned while facing these hardships, because they inspired me to persevere through tough situations, reach past differences to commonalities, and act on my deep passion for racial equality.

Bob Dylan once sang, “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” When it comes to the painful obstacles I will face in my life, I am determined not to feel that rain. Rather, I will only allow it to get me wet as I work to help my community survive, thrive, and grow.

Sample Common App Essay #4 (California State University, Sonoma)

I am cruising down the freeway in the green ‘71 Nova I just bought with my entire life’s savings when I hear a loud pop followed by banging. Right off, I know my tire has blown. Though I have not had the Nova for long, she is not lovin’ me tonight.

When the tow truck arrives, the Hispanic driver sees my car and smiles from ear to ear.“Oh, man, is that a Nova?”

I nod and smile back.

“My cousin had the same exact car, same exact color.”

As he opens my trunk to check the spare tire, a huge smile spreads across his face.

“It smells like my childhood.”

As the driver tows me, he laughs as he explains that in Spanish “no va” means “no go,” and then I get his entire life story. As he reminisces, I see how a small thing like my car can take someone back to such a happy time.

Before the driver leaves, he tells me I made his day, and I tell him he made mine as well. Just like that, a terrible night turns into one I will never forget. And I realize that all it takes is a good attitude.

Not long after that night, I work my first shift at a little pizza joint called Tonino’s Place. When I arrive, I expect the owner to hand me a manual. Instead, she says, “Make yourself busy!” So I do. I throw on an apron, scrub a mountain of pots and pans, and get soaking wet in the process. I teach myself how to bus tables, clean windows, and pack To Go orders. Then I get very good at loading and unloading the dishwasher.

Over time, I come to love my job because there is always something to do or something new to learn. Sometimes when I have a moment, I get Mario, the pizza chef, to teach me how to knead the dough. If Yuri, the cashier, feels lazy, I take over and learn how to ring up customers. When the time comes to deliver pizzas, I pack the bags, load the address into my GPS, and away I go. No matter how much I enjoy working in rhythm with the team in the kitchen, nothing tops the feeling of handing someone a hot pizza after they’ve had an obviously rough day.

At the end of each shift, I put the chairs up, sweep, and mop. The toughest part of my shift comes last: the trash. I take a deep breath and hold it, carry three giant bags into the alley, open the dumpster filled with rotting meat, and fling the bags in.

It’s true that my job is not glamorous, and the average person might think it stinks. But I love it. Because during every single shift, I turn something bad into something good and make every situation fun for everyone.

When I go to college, I know I won’t arrive with 4.0 GPA. But I will arrive with other valuable qualities. If I walk into a room full of strangers, I can talk to anyone and make friends with everyone. Of the roughly 700 kids in my graduating class, I can say with supreme confidence that I can name ninety percent of them. When I have a job to get done, I give it my all. I am capable and curious, smart and motivated.

For as long as I can remember, my classes and goals have been assigned by the adults in my life. But college will be my chance to choose my own classes and goals based on my real interests and passions. I can’t wait to work hard, make the most of my time and abilities, and pursue the knowledge and ambitions that matter to me. With my positive attitude, I know I will take the world by storm.

Sample Common App Essay #5 (Boston University Honors Program)

I arrived in China with a limited vocabulary and an aching heart. I came here to follow my love of Mandarin Chinese and also to escape family conflict when my parents divorced, my dad started a new family, and I was left to care for my mom and younger brother. I sought this opportunity to reinvent myself. I expected living in China to expand my vocabulary and my independence, but I didn’t expect this experience to heal my heart.

When I arrived in Beijing, I was shocked by the chicken feet in “hutong” carts and overwhelmed by the wafting aroma of foul smelling tofu. My Chinese host family welcomed me into their tiny apartment, then ushered me into the kitchen where together we wrapped dumplings and drank tea. Late nights were spent lying on my bed gossiping in Chinese with my host sister. During my free time I’d wander Beijing alone, elated by my newfound freedom.

Everywhere I went, I started conversations with cabbies, students, and people in cafes. Each day I learned 30-40 new Chinese characters and watched my language skills evolve from “the weather is good” to formally debating euthanasia. Small but culturally significant differences such as always wearing slippers at home and drinking hot water instead of cold challenged my experience of “the way things are supposed to be.”

Throughout the year I travelled with my host family and school, but the most meaningful trips were ones I planned myself. My curiosity took me to the Terracotta Warriors, Buddhist cave sculptures, and unrestored sections of the Great Wall. I took a plane, train, bus, and shuttle to hike ten kilometers in brutal heat to the top of Mt. Huangshan, where I gladly slept on a dirty bed in a cold hostel, sharing a single bathroom with sixty-four people, in order to see a legendary, spectacular sunrise at 4:50am.

In China I made startling discoveries daily, but the most profound realization arose gradually as I spoke, thought, and even dreamed in Mandarin.

Chinese grammar doesn’t distinguish “what was” from “what is” from “what will be.” In this way I came to understand language and life as fluid. Words do exist in the Chinese language to describe “right now” and “some day,” but a single verb tense is used in describing past, present, and future, smoothing out rigid time distinctions. Instead of saying, “I was sad when my parents divorced,” in Chinese we might say, “The time my parents divorce I am sad.”

The very structure of English separates and immobilizes events in time. Paradoxically, the structure of Chinese language, with its continuity of time and memory, supports graceful change, because you can evolve without losing who you have been. Before China, I could only wish my parents were still together and resist accepting my fractured family. While in China, I began to appreciate the joy of my once intact family without struggling to recreate it. The very fact that I live in the US now, I lived in China a year ago, and I lived in Israel years ago affirms change has occurred. In Chinese I say, “I live in US, I before live in China, I before live in Israel,” where “live” remains unbound by time – this experience is always with me, so I can move freely.

Boarding my plane back to California, I understood that we don’t get to control what happens in our lives, but we do have the power to see all the beauty and possibilities in what exists. When I opened the front door of my Mill Valley home, I found I was not only able to feel love for what was, I was also able to discover the beauty in my new family. The fluidity of the Chinese language nourishes the idea that life is one long opportunity for change and growth. As it is linguistically, so it is for me personally.

Sample Common App Essay #6 (UC Berkeley)

It is night time, and the sky is filled with flickering constellations. As I lie on my back, I hear crickets, smell pine trees, and see the silhouettes of raccoons and foxes. It is a perfect moment.

When I joined boy scouts in eighth grade, I started going on campouts and instantly fell in love with the wilderness. I learned to identify plants, make fires, build shelters, and I especially liked kayaking and sailing. When the water was clear, I could see a large seaweed bed on the ocean floor, and, if I was lucky, I saw seals and dolphins on the surface. While I attended a boy scout summer camp in Emerald Bay, I enrolled in environmental science and oceanography merit badge courses. This interactive education taught me about marine geology, sea life, and ways to control pollution in these ecosystems to maximize their longevity. Feeling so connected to the natural environment that surrounded me, I came to live by the scouting principle leave no trace, both with my troop and in my community.

During the summer before freshman year, my two sisters and I (together, we are triplets) went with my father to visit his childhood home in Trinidad, where he taught us how to surf. It was a terrifying experience, as I was only a novice surfer at the time and the waves were enormous. Despite my fears, I was fascinated by the unpredictability of the ocean, how in one hour the waves could break relatively softly and in the next they could crash with a vengeance. As I became more observant and my understanding of the tides gradually grew, I started to catch waves consistently. I felt free.

When we returned to Los Angeles, my sisters and I began to surf even more. We bonded while in the ocean, challenging each other to mock surf competitions and including friends as well. Together we formed our school’s surf club, and I took on a leadership role; now I host surf lessons twice each month to spread our passion for surfing to our school community.

While teaching lessons at Venice Beach, I noticed how dirty the water was and how piles of trash littered the shoreline. So, I joined Heal the Bay, an organization dedicated to protecting our coastline, and I had our surf club partner with them. Now, I regularly promote beach cleanups on social media to my school and surf communities. Twice a month, we show up at our local beaches and participate in cleanups, where we are especially on the lookout for microplastics that could harm sea life. While picking up trash, I have also spread awareness to the public about marine pollution and the steps people can take to re-purify these ecosystems.

This year, moved by my previous experiences in nature and hungry for more knowledge, I signed up for Honors Environmental Science. So far, I’ve enjoyed learning about the earth’s major subsystems: the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and what causes them to be endangered. The more I learned, the more I realized that I want to dedicate myself to developing new and efficient ways to protect the environment with the end goal of slowing down devastating pollution around the globe. While in college, I plan to devote myself to the study of environmental science. After, I will strive to have a positive impact in our world.

Twenty years from now, I hope to lie on my back in the wilderness beside my children, look up at flickering constellations, listen to crickets, and see silhouettes of raccoons and foxes. Between now and then, I will completely dedicate myself to making that possible, so they too can experience their own perfect moments.

Sample Common App Essay #7 (Stanford University)

“Numbers Can Take You Anywhere” goes a little something like this: a man counts to the highest number he knows; in search of new ones, he boards a spaceship and visits many planets in his quest. (Spoiler: he finds the sought-after higher numbers and counts to his heart’s content.) My late father loved stories, especially this one, courtesy of four-year-old me. At our dinner table, he passed stories around like cauliflower, always as many servings as I wanted.

Narrative is at the center of how we relate to each other as people, and how my dad taught me to live in this world. I watched him use stories as a means of connection; nightly, he’d bring dinner companions into a laugh or a sigh, pulling everyone together. My dad told me I had that power, too. With his help, I began to write my stories down: Ms. Freckles, Lily and her Dinosaur, Georgia from the DMV in Wichita. As I grew up, I tried on different stylistic hats. (Please don’t remind me of my preteen Gothic phase, suffocating in adverbs!) After middle school, I stepped out of my high-strung attitude and into a more natural, relaxed pace. My writing followed.

I saw for myself how storytelling brings us together. Surrounded by other creative people at the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2018, I found warmth, camaraderie, and confidence. That community now lives in Instagram DMs and Google Docs, alive as ever. I felt it at the Iowa Young Writers Studio this year, too. In cross-country Zooms, we challenged each other to be uncomfortable, write boldly, and try! new! things!

Storytelling is a powerful tool to communicate the truth. When I joined my school newspaper in ninth grade, I found I could write about real issues and help solve them. Why is our campus so hostile to conservatives? How can we foster dialogue? Why have school districts across the nation banned so many books? How can we challenge their curricula? My voice was heard, and journalism offered a new way to connect organically with the student body.

As an editor, I delighted in raising up the voices of others so they could be heard just as I was. I learned that good editors actively listen and create space for others to share. Now, as Editor-in-Chief, I train new editors in the craft: succinctness, collaboration, and most importantly, listening. The school paper led me to join the Editorial Board of jGirls, an online magazine by and for Jewish girls. Working with teen contributors across the world, most of whom I will never meet, together we pursue meaningful change through allyship and narrative.

It was my dad’s encouragement that sparked my creative writing and his illness that halted it. When he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in March of 2019, my two sure, inextricable companions—him and writing—felt as far away as ever. Mired in grief, I couldn’t eke out even a line of poetry.

It was lonely, without my words. But I used that time to reflect: reading, meditating, throwing myself into editing. I learned creative energy is a gift that is sometimes depleted. I learned patience. My dad passed away in March 2020. After, life inched back, and I found a new sense of vigor slowly replace the writer’s block.

At my family’s dinner table, my dad’s chair is now empty. It was here that he set me on a path. He raised me to carry myself past him, to honor his memory by setting out in my voice. It’s the laughter as I spear a piece of fruit with my fork; it’s the wild gesticulations of one hand as the other passes the cauliflower; it’s looking at family, friends, and strangers turned new friends, and holding that moment of connection. It is—and always will be—stories.

Sample Common App Essay #8 (USC)

On the night of my twelfth birthday, at my very first concert, I discovered that listening to a band play great music for an enthusiastic crowd made me feel more alive than I’d ever felt before. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be up on stage, I just didn’t know how I’d get there.

The next day, my friend Benny and I decided to start a band. He had been learning to play guitar, and, eager to join, I began telling people I was a drummer. Problem was, I didn’t actually know how to play the drums. So, I started taking lessons and eventually taught myself through YouTube videos and websites. Throughout seventh and eighth grade, we began as most bands do, playing horrible Led Zeppelin covers in my garage.

Though no band came out of middle school, high school was a different story. Freshman year, we came to the conclusion that we were finally good enough to start a real band. We invited our friends Elliot, who claimed he could sing, and Noah, who played the bass. The awful Zeppelin covers continued, but much to my parents’ and neighbors’ delight, we started practicing at Noah’s house, as he had all the required equipment and instruments.

In the early stages, we struggled through many songs, often ending up with something that barely resembled the song we set out to play. Thankfully, we only received encouraging words from our friends and family, so we kept at it. We called ourselves Ampersand, and as we continued to practice, we began to improve and build chemistry with each other. By the spring of our freshman year, we decided to try to book our first show.

I reached out to many different venues, and after what felt like hundreds of emails yielding either rejection or no reply, I finally booked our first gig at the Whiskey A Go Go on the Sunset Strip. During the weeks before the concert, I was eager but nervous. We put together a setlist of mostly covers and one original. I signed our first contract, and we began to sell tickets. To our shock, we sold over 150, which only fed my stage fright.

The night of the concert, I was terrified. As I walked on stage, I felt like everyone I knew was in the crowd, and I was hit by a wave of dread. What if we sounded horrible? What if I messed up? What if we disappointed? But as the first song began, I tuned out the crowd and my own nervous thoughts and focused on what I knew: the drums.

The concert was a blur. Coming off stage, we felt like we could do anything. The Whiskey was eager to book us for more shows, and, as our name got out, we were invited to play other venues in Los Angeles, including The Mint, The Federal, The Rose, and a few local music festivals. Now, the stage fright was replaced with comfort; when playing in front of a crowd, we felt in our element, and it was reflected in our sound. We wrote music, practiced, and played shows until the stage felt like our second home. We even recorded and released our first song, Ponder.

While starting a band, I discovered that independence is key. Navigating the process without guidance and learning from our mistakes allowed us to gain knowledge and understanding and grow as a band and as individuals.

On my twelfth birthday, I dreamed of being on stage. I now live that dream every time I perform. I happily look back to our early days of jamming to Led Zeppelin, amazed and thrilled to see how we’ve made those lyrics our own.

“My, my, my, I’m so happy,
I’m gonna join the band,
We gonna dance and sing in celebration,
We are in the promised land.”
(Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin)

Sample Common App Essay #9 (UC Berkeley)

It is a warm July day in the forest of West Virginia, and a summer storm is brewing. I hear thunder and see rain begin to fall. On this particular day, I’m home alone with my grandmother, and when our conversation unexpectedly turns from the weather to feminism and abortion rights, I am suddenly aware that I am a seventeen-year-old girl from Los Angeles talking politics with an eighty-year-old woman from West Virginia. I have no idea how this is going to go.

Every summer since I was two, my family and I have visited Ripley, West Virginia, the town where my dad grew up. Going back has always been filled with great food, good times with family, and fun neighborhood kids. But last summer, I began to realize just how different I am from those neighborhood kids, and the differences nearly brought me to tears.

While I grew up surrounded by family friends of different races, sexualities, and religions, the neighborhood kids grew up in a vastly different environment. They casually tossed out stories about wearing confederate flag hoodies to school, posting about the “sin” of homosexuality, and wearing shirts with sexist jokes on them. Seeing that these kids didn’t recognize the offense of their words and actions, or perhaps didn’t care, and hearing that this behavior was still tolerated, broke my heart. It had never occurred to me that this was possible in the place I knew and loved. But what could I do?

I am not a lover of conflict, but I am one of open discussion. So, each time a comment with a racist, sexist, or homophobic undertone presented itself, I didn’t fight. I questioned. “Do you know what that flag actually stands for?” “I don’t believe that. Why do you?” “What’s wrong with being gay?” Instead of trying to tell them what they should think, I got them to question themselves. And I encouraged everyone to see a different perspective and keep an open mind.

Last summer, for the first time, I also had a conversation with my grandmother about women’s rights. I learned that while raising three kids, she worked as a nurse in a hospital where she faced sexism and sexual harassment. When I asked what she thought about abortion rights, I was stunned to learn she is in favor. “I don’t agree with it personally for me,” she said, “but who am I to say if anybody else needs to do that? I don’t believe anyone should be restricted.” I was so happy to discover how similar our viewpoints were. We went on to discuss how pro-life advocates want to force women to have babies they aren’t able to care for. She even mentioned one of most disturbing images she’d seen in her lifetime: a photo of an 11-yr-old girl on a swing, pregnant from incest, losing her childhood because she wasn’t allowed to get an abortion.

This conversation opened up so much for me. It made me realize that my grandmother and I—who are usually separated by 2400 miles and sixty-three years—share the same empathy. It encouraged me to critically examine the larger experience of going back to West Virginia and make room for complexity. I know now I can appreciate the good, acknowledge the bad, and make change where I am able. I recognize the parallels and perpendiculars between the kids in West Virginia and me, which has helped me learn what I stand for. Most importantly, I discovered I can love people I disagree with.

I want to spend my life questioning the world around me. When I encounter people who think differently from me, I will always feel compelled to ask why and be willing to listen and really hear their side of the story. Because I’ve learned that giving hate only leads to more hate, but giving love opens us all up to more love.

Sample Common App Essay #10 (Washington and Lee University)

Weathered, beat up, an octagonal stick with a sandpapery feel. Six feet tall, like me, but with a stiff white scoop and malleable net. Just holding it fills me with adrenaline and joy.

Some of my happiest moments have been while playing lacrosse. I love the sport’s athleticism, skill, and nuance, and when I joined my high school team as a freshman, I couldn’t have been more excited. Yet, freshman year was overshadowed by our team’s seniors, who disregarded the underclassman and were notorious for their use of drugs and alcohol. This made it difficult to follow their leadership.

Sophomore year I earned a starting spot on the varsity defense, and I was both thrilled and terrified to play with and against bigger and more experienced players. However, this year’s seniors were the nicest group of guys who generously guided underclassmen on the field and happily included us in activities off the field.

Junior year, when I was named one of two varsity captains, I had to stretch my playful, chill nature to assume huge responsibilities. Right away I vowed to teach and mentor the underclassmen. When a sophomore started vaping, I expressed my concerns. When a freshman’s father passed away, I sat with him at lunch and drove him home from practice every day. As a leader, I strived to make the season fun for everyone.

In ten years of playing lacrosse, I’ve had only one experience that made me question my love for the game. Sophomore year, my team traveled to Colorado to play the top ranked team in the West. When we came up short, I was bummed, but I felt optimistic that my performance was improving and happy to be with friends. On our way to the bus, my coach overheard me laughing and commented, “I guess you don’t care. And since you don’t care, you won’t mind being benched for the next game.” Hearing those words hurt me deeply and caused tears to well up in my eyes. It made me wonder if there was a place on the team for a dedicated yet laid-back player like me.

When we returned from Colorado, I tried to be serious and focused at practice. I didn’t laugh or mess around. As a result, I didn’t feel like myself, and I didn’t play well. One day, my coach grew frustrated and kicked me out of practice. I felt so confused. I didn’t know what he wanted or who I should be. Worst of all, I’d lost sight of why I was even playing. Finally, I asked my coach to sit down and talk. I made him understand that while our personalities differed—he was an intense guy who didn’t let losses go, while I was an easy-going guy who learned from mistakes and moved on—I also passionately wanted to succeed. From that point forward, everything improved. I returned to my old self, started having fun again, and played the best I’d ever played. By the end of the season, our team made it to the championship, and my coach and I reached a mutual understanding.

Lacrosse has offered me the tightest brotherhood I’ve ever known. It’s inspired in me a relentless discipline, outrageous joy, and dedication to working toward collective goals, treating all people with respect, and having a positive impact. But the most important lesson I’ve learned has also been the most unexpected one: to stay true to myself. Playing lacrosse has challenged me to think about who I am and how and why I do things. It’s revealed that to make a difference in my community, it’s not enough to share my physical abilities and intense work ethic. I must also share my humanity: my unique personality, kindness, humor, and desire to connect, support, and have fun with everyone. Learning this lesson hasn’t always been easy, but mastering it has allowed me to be me.

Sample Common App Essay #11 (UC Irvine)

“Why are we learning this?”

I used to ask this question a lot and struggled to see why we spent time learning many things in school. In science and math, everything felt rote because it didn’t seem to help me in any practical way. It seemed like the only point was to memorize just to be tested, and once I was tested, it was okay if I forgot what I’d learned. For a while, there was a disheartening tinge on my school experience.

As an antidote to feeling boxed in at school, I’d spend hours at the library meandering. I could always count on stumbling across an interesting looking book that would capture my imagination for hours. I loved reading nonfiction because the writers were so in love with their subjects that they wouldn’t leave a crevice unexplored. In one, I learned about the history of weather control: how scientists used specific molecules and procedures to create a new field called cloud seeding to make it rain artificially. Reading books like Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery sparked my lifelong love of music and sent me down yet another rabbit hole: biographies of musicians such as Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, and even Mozart. I wanted these authors’ passion for learning for myself and KNEW I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t find it.

Sadly, during the Covid-19 quarantine, learning in virtual school felt even more distant and rote. Worse yet, my escape hatch—the library—was closed. One day, my mom brought my grandfather’s books down from the attic. One caught my eye: a worn out red book called The American Electrician’s Handbook. This timeless edition opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities and wonders. It taught me the basics of electronic components and circuitry; more importantly, it went beyond ideas I could read about and showed me the possibilities of what I could do. Soldering my first wires together, designing my own circuits, powering a motor, it was all so enchanting. Wanting to learn more drove me to YouTube, where engineers showed how they made designs like mine more efficient using integrated circuits and programming. Suddenly, I was teaching myself how to use code to further sophisticate my projects.

When faced with the epic problem of my mom barging into my room and catching me playing video games when I was supposed to be doing homework, I put my knowledge to use. Outside my bedroom, I set up an infrared sensor system. When it detected a certain level of heat, I programmed it to send a notification to my laptop to instantaneously warn me of my mother’s approach so I could quickly shut my laptop and avoid an argument, vastly improving our relationship!

At this point, not only was my passion for electronics sparked but also my desire to understand how it worked. PBS Space Time and Robert Murray-Smith launched me into the fundamentals of electromagnetism and physics. Carlo Rivelli’s book Helgoland taught me the history of quantum physics’ discovery in the 1920s and how little we still know. Excited, I graduated to the Feynman Lectures Volume II on electromagnetism. Although this behemoth’s concepts are so advanced that I am still tackling it today, I absolutely love it.

So, where did all my meandering lead me? Ironically, right back to the classroom, where I now find myself powerfully motivated to learn, because I understand that every math and science class I take will ultimately help me further develop my passion for physics. One example: in order to comprehend how Maxwell’s equations describe electric and magnetic fields, I happily signed myself up for Calculus AB to learn how to solve differential equations! The natural world is so intricate, I know I will never fully comprehend it, but that’s the point. There will always be something new to discover in science—and I’ll never feel boxed in again.

Sample Common App Essay #12 (Lewis and Clark College)

The day before my half-sister was born, I had issues with the idea of my family changing. I felt angry and hurt at the idea of my dad starting a new family and, in my mind, leaving behind the one he had already made. I did not want another sister. The day my half-sister was born, we were stunned to learn that she had Down syndrome. My feelings of anger immediately felt ridiculous, and my thinking shifted from, “I don’t want this baby,” to “What can I do to help?”

During my junior year, another major aspect of my life shifted unexpectedly. Coming from a family of artists, I had always placed painting, ceramics, drawing, and photography at the center of my world. But as I thought about a career, I longed for something that would combine intellectual engagement with my love of the arts. I just couldn’t figure out what that might be.

Because I love all types of art, when I learned of internships at two different museums, I decided to apply. At my first internship at the Craft Contemporary Museum, I was one of fifteen students from across Los Angeles who was selected to make ceramics and learn how a museum runs. While there, I gained an appreciation for the effort that goes into mounting a show. And for the first time, I started to think about how important the placement of art was, because it influences how the viewer interprets the pieces.

A few months later, I was accepted into a two-year paid internship at The Huntington Museum. It has been an amazing experience that combined my love of art and nature. Every weekend, I worked a six-hour shift helping to coordinate a program for teen volunteers. My main task was creating activities for volunteers, and my hope was to offer more than surface-level knowledge about the museum. I wanted to challenge the interns to learn and understand how to analyze art. One activity I created was about symbolism in Grand Manor portraits, which included how artists used visual metaphors to reveal details about their subjects. Another activity was providing information and examples of the elements of art such as line, shape, and form, so volunteers could see how such elements were used in the paintings around them.

One day, as I walked through the museum, I saw a staircase I’d never noticed. As I approached it, a magnificent stained-glass window came into view, with ten panels illuminating values such as generosity, truth, and love. Climbing the stairs, which were flooded in brilliant colored light, I felt my breath being taken away. Not just by the art, but from the realization that I had not accidentally stumbled upon the stained-glass window but had been drawn there intentionally; by enticing me up the stairs, the curator helped me discover the window and made me feel as if I alone had found this hidden gem. At that moment, I was filled with wonder and delight. I recognized the creativity and intellectual rigor that goes into displaying art, and I realized I wanted to create that experience for others. I transformed from an artist into someone with a new purpose to study Museum Studies and pursue curatorial work.

Last December, when my sister arrived so different from how I had expected her, everything inside me rearranged itself not only to make room for her in my life but to embrace her exactly as she is. I know now that things don’t always happen the way we expect or plan, and sometimes change can be scary. At other times, it can feel like opportunities are materializing all around us. Either way, I will be okay, because I’ve learned that in every transformation, I leave a piece of myself behind to make room for new growth, possibility, and even love…which gives me reason always to have hope.

Sample Common App Essay #13 (Chapman University Dodge Film School)

When I started high school, I was a bit lost, yearning for a purpose I could call my own. Then, one Friday, my music teacher sat in front of us and played the Bob Dylan classic, Maggie’s Farm. The feeling radiating out of him was one of pure brilliance, and it inspired me to strive past the struggle of learning to play guitar as I follow this passion that I now call my own.

Over the last two years I’ve practiced guitar relentlessly, using everything I could get my hands on to further my abilities. I’ve watched theory lessons, live concerts, and heroes of mine playing their own songs. During the summer before eleventh grade, I couldn’t wait to return to campus and start band class, where everyone would finally be together in a room to build intimate relationships and play for hours.

Junior year, I signed up for the orchestra for the school musical with zero experience. When I got there, I was one of two students playing among professional musicians hired by the school. I was admittedly out of my depth, but with the help of the orchestrator I translated the sheet music into guitar tablature.

Surprisingly, the place where I reflected most thoughtfully on music was in my English class. During the fall of my junior year, my English teacher had us read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and asked us to write a paper relating the play’s literal witch hunt to a modern-day equivalent. As I sifted through possible options, McCarthyism and recent politics were full of evidence I could use to back up a thesis. But it wasn’t until I learned about the 1980s Senate hearings over the Parental Advisory Explicit Content Label that I connected the subject back to my own life.

To start out, I researched the players involved and the cultural climate of the time. When Al Gore’s wife Tipper was upset over risqué lyrics in her daughter’s Prince album, Purple Rain, she and the Parents Music Resource Center sought to ban music with lyrics they believed to be “delivered from Satan” to the doorsteps of young Americans. At hearings before the Senate, musicians including Frank Zappa, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and even country icon John Denver were questioned. As I watched their court testimony defending their music, I saw how unexpectedly bright and eloquent they were and recognized that they advocated for their ideals more powerfully than any of the paid professionals who were interrogating them. I realized then that even if you don’t like a person’s music, art, appearance, or politics, you can’t assume anything about their character. Despite the artists’ affecting testimonies, the Senate moved forward with the Parental Advisory Explicit Content Label, which sadly resulted in reduced artists’ sales and tragically limited freedom of speech and expression.

On the day I heard my music teacher play Dylan’s song, I was only thinking of the intricate guitar playing in front of me. But after learning about the Explicit Content Label, it has been Dylan’s lyrics that have really resonated with me:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm, no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm, no more
Well, I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you to be just like them.

Reflecting on my own experiences playing guitar, and those of the musicians brought before the Senate, I realized that to truly innovate, artists must be willing to express their unique truth, experiment, and jump off the ledge into the unknown. Changing content to please others or eliminating language and ideas that might offend minority fringe groups is the death of art. I believe we must protect openness for the greater industry, individual artists, and listeners. Society must get comfortable with art making some people uncomfortable, as only then can minds and ideas about one another be changed.

Sample Common App Essay #14 (Rutgers University Honors College) 

When I cry, my dad gives my mom a look: the corners of his mouth begin to twitch upwards, and he can barely contain a full-belly laugh. If I ask him about it, my beloved father—in all his eternal wisdom—playfully responds, “Suffering is hilarious.” Because that makes total sense.

In August before my freshman year, I sprained my left ankle. Two weeks later, I sprained my right ankle. This injury didn’t heal and my downward spiral began. When I started a new school, “Wheelchair Girl” wasn’t the nickname I’d hoped for. By January, my ankles’ faithful pulsing pain was replaced with an intense burning. After weeks of MRIs, blood tests, and doctors paying us little mind, a rheumatologist told us I had Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), otherwise known as the incurable ‘Suicide Disease.’

Sophomore year, my condition got exponentially worse, and my mental health swished around the kitchen drain. I spent 9-11 hours every day paralyzed by pain and the remaining time fighting to keep up with school. In the very moments when I was supposed to discover who I was, I lost all physical and emotional strength.

Then, my mom found the Spero Clinic, one of the only places offering treatment beyond nerve blockers and opiates, so my family packed up and moved to Arkansas. On weekdays, I spent hours retraining and building muscles I hadn’t used in years; on weekends, my family defiantly went out to find some fun.

Six months later, the pain spikes had dimmed. I formally rejoined the class of 2023 in January 2022. Going back to school was exciting and tiring, and soon I created a new normal with friends, better memory, and a semi-functioning stomach.

The best thing about going through tragic situations is the funny stories they bring you. One day at school, my friend and I were in the Culinary Academy’s walk-in fridge when, without warning, I passed out. Lucky for me, my Princess Charming caught me. When I came to in a dizzy haze, I noticed she looked panicked. So, I gently patted her arm and cheerfully announced, “It’s okay, this happens all the time!”

Gradually, my experiences helped me recognize the ironic ability of comedic media to tell heart-wrenching stories. While watching the television show Fleabag, I found its central character—an unlikeable woman who deals with her grief by making jokes about it—deeply comforting. The creative command that writer/director/actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge exercised over her work was beautiful, and I realized screenwriter was a label I wanted more than any other. So, I watched hours of YouTube videos on the art of foreshadowing, the impact of verisimilitude, and the fact that a joke always has a victim. The more I learned, the more excited I became about turning my crazy experiences into main character moments.

So, I plan to write a TV show about my life with CRPS through a dark comedy lens, exploring the vulnerable, human, and hysterical aspects in all their gory glory. I imagine four seasons, one for each year of high school, using a mock documentary style. As my older self narrates, my younger self will struggle through outrageous health, school, and social challenges: doing tippy-toe-to-squat exercises while cramming for a final, having my little brother constantly steal my knee scooter to ride laps around the living room, fighting for my life but being affronted by having to miss the Spring Fling. Throughout it all, my character will slowly find her voice just as I have found mine.

They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. When life gives me pain, I turn it into punchlines and pratfalls. Because I’d rather be the victim of a joke than a victim of CRPS. And now, when my dad’s lip starts to twitch upwards and he can barely contain a full-belly laugh, I gleefully beat him to it: “Suffering is hilarious.”

Sample Common App Essay #15 (University of San Francisco) 

The lifelong struggles of never fitting in instilled in me a fear of new people. Kids being kids would quickly label the queer and trans Latino kid as weird, placing the bullying target on my back. Expressing my true self always seemed to make things worse. New people scared me. Large crowds frightened me. Speaking aloud paralyzed me. However, my curiosity prevailed over these fears, day by day.

When I learned of the Getty Teen Gallery Guides Program, I knew it would place me in a group of strangers and force me to speak to new people in one of the most crowded museums in LA. It was all my worst fears rolled into one experience, but how could I pass up the opportunity to be surrounded by art for months? I took a risk, applied, and labeled my brother’s school collage as my favorite work of art. After all, if you can’t access the “great works of the world,” you have to find them within your surroundings. My unique and inclusive approach to art is what got me accepted as one of only fifteen students out of 350 applicants. For once, my differences were celebrated and accepted by my soon-to-be supervisors, but would my peers think the same?

A football player, a queen bee, Valley kids, and churchgoers. It was an eclectic group of people, all different from me, and I wanted to give them a chance. I made conversation and tried to build connections. Though I’d never done this before, I knew deep down I was capable of it all. Day One, I learned my way around the museum, studied the extraordinary art, and worked up the courage I would need to lead tours for K-12 students. I also went home with two new best friends, both outrageously different from me, but just as unique and kind.

Taking yet another leap on Day Two, I asked the other interns if they wanted to go to the beach together. Before that, I’d never gone out with friends, so I immediately felt adrenaline and fear course through my veins. Miraculously, they thought it was a great idea. And that Saturday, I found myself with these people I’d been scared of only a week before, having the time of my life. We swam, danced, ate, and got closer as the evening progressed. It was a joy unlike any other.

Late that night, I lay in bed thinking about how fortunate I was to have found this new family. That singular day taught me a lesson in high stakes yielding great rewards. As the internship went on, we had deep conversations. We opened up to each other and revealed our darkest secrets and traumas, the things you don’t usually tell others out of fear that they’ll see you differently. I did so, too, but nothing changed between us. I learned to be vulnerable, to trust that people weren’t always out to get me, and that people could accept me.

Every day, I’m glad I opened my heart to those fourteen beautiful strangers. We worked together to curate experiences for others, lead them on tours, and demonstrate our passion for art in hopes that others would leave with newfound appreciation. It was a group effort with a great payout.

By stepping out of my comfort zone and landing an internship at The Getty, I learned more about art than I thought possible. I also learned about the art of humanity. A small group of people helped me reshape how I felt about the world, and myself. They taught me I am perfect as I am. Every aspect of who I am is something I should be proud of, and those who made me feel less than weren’t the people I should be seeking validation from. Love and acceptance don’t come from pursuit, they come from good people and, most importantly, from within.