How To Help Students With Writing The College Essay

November 6, 2023

Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.

Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.

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Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.

Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.

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Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.
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Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.

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Colleges receive thousands of applications each year from qualified candidates, many of whom have good grades, a range of extracurricular activities, and test scores within the average range for a particular school. The college essay can be one of the most powerful ways for students to set themselves apart or help an application committee get to know them beyond a resume or transcript. 

Choosing what to focus on in a college essay can be stressful as many students get caught up on what they think an admissions committee wants to read. Students often feel like they need a significant event or talent or challenge to write about in order to impress an admissions office. This is simply not true. 

Colleges, instead, want to read an authentic, thoughtful response from a student. They want to see that a student is able to coherently answer the prompt in a way that shows self-reflection and awareness. And, they want to feel like they are getting to know a student on a more personal level and understand more deeply who they are and what they might bring to a college community. 

Counselors can share the tips below with students to help guide them on writing a strong and unique college essay: 

Choose a topic and prompt that fits you rather than what you think the admissions office wants to read. The Common Application, along with many colleges, offer several different essay prompts students can choose to answer. A great essay topic can be something seemingly very mundane as long as you are able to use it as a way to share more about yourself or spotlight a particular theme. It might be a memory you have from childhood or you might focus on how your place as the oldest or youngest child in a family has impacted who you are as a person. The most important component is that you choose a topic that is meaningful to you. 

Think about how the essay fits with the other components of the application. When selecting what to write about, it is important to consider how the essay fits with the other parts of your application. The essay or essays can be a great opportunity to either expand on things in a resume or to share something that might not have a place on a resume or transcript but is an important component of who you are. This might include a personality trait, hobby, challenge you’ve overcome, or something unique to your family background. 

Start with an interesting hook. These essays are not very long, and admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of them each year. It is critical to find a way to capture the attention of the reader from the very start. Beginning with an interesting story or anecdote can be very effective. But, it is also important that you use the creative start to introduce the theme you are working to convey in the essay. 

Find your voice. Colleges really do want to get to know you more through the essay. It is critical for you to have your voice come through in what you share and how you write. This is not a formal, five paragraph essay for English class. Rather, it is a way for you to offer a more personal view of who you are and what you will bring as a friend, student, and community member. 

Start early and have others review. The best essays typically go through many iterations of writing, editing, and revisions. You might begin during the summer by looking at the Common Application prompts and simply making a list of bullet points or sentence fragments in response to one or more questions that you can eventually turn into formed prose. Ask others to review and give you feedback. This might be an English teacher, counselor, family member, or friend. 

Sample Essays That Worked

Each year, Johns Hopkins University publishes actual student essays from successful applications. Here are a few that highlight a creative approach or use an accessible topic to develop thoughtful and reflective themes about who they are. Included in the links are the essay, comments form the admissions committee, and a student reflection on why they chose the topic. Use these samples to inspire your writing!

  • My Rock by Kashvi: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love. 
  • My Spotify Playlist by Alyssa: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM. 
  • And the Secret Ingredient is: (From the Johns Hopkins site) Mathias is able to describe important aspects of collaboration, such as considering new ideas and finding a way to synthesize everyone’s input. Through the metaphor of cooking empanadas as a novice, his essay effectively conveys the message that collaboration ‘demands an open mind’ and that by being receptive to other opinions, tackling any kind of puzzle—whether culinary or academic—becomes more doable. This tells us that, as a student, Mathias values the contributions of his peers and strives to bring people and ideas together to accomplish obstacles.