College Application Essay Examples

Here are three actual college application samples, all of which have successfully landed spots in their dream schools.

This first essay was written by a girl named Rachel. Here, she showcases the mastery and value of hard work and persistence, which she acquired from the experience of losing to her mom’s gaming skills. Amidst the frustration, we learn about how she grew and the determination that came along with that. Rachel now knows how to apply these strategies to various aspects of her life, and she understands the relevance of connecting all the lessons she learns from others to overcome challenges. This is vital to the college experience. Read her masterpiece:

Learning to Play Well and Fair

I remember the first board game I ever played with my mom – it was a Disney Princess Monopoly game. Despite its simple rules and sparkly pieces, I was shocked. My compassionate and ever-loving mother played hard to win. She, despite being ruthless, patiently explained strategies to me and how they worked throughout the duration of the game, but she hardly showed me any mercy. She accumulated property after property, built houses, hotels, and collected all my money until I went bankrupt. I remember crying hard, trying to make her understand and remember that I was her daughter and only five years old. I remember that pain I felt from losing, but I remained motivated to play again in the hopes of beating her one day. We left the princesses eventually, and adapted to the regular edition of Monopoly, and soon expanding to Rummikub. With every game, I carefully observed all my mother’s moves and habits, and I eventually learned to do that while I considered my own options. As years pass, though, she continued to beat me, but the competition became more and more competitive. Finally at twelve, I won my first game at Rummikub! It was significant to me as mom claimed she was undefeated in it. I remember the sense of pride I felt at my winning moment, which was magnified when I saw the very same emotion written in my mother’s face.

I learned a lot from these games beyond the strategies and habits. The game taught me how win and lose graciously, and helped me realize to enjoy the process regardless of the results. I learned how to observe others and take cues, and think on my feet, both strategically and creatively. I learned how it means to fail, coping with it, and turning it into a lesson. More importantly, I learned that true success comes from persistence and hard work. Playing with my mother also taught me that the most meaningful and strongest relationships are based on honesty and respect, not from indulgence.

These learnings don’t mean that losing doesn’t hurt, though. It completely broke me when my hockey team lost a championship game. It was only by one goal, and the puck was on me. I was proud of my team’s cohesiveness, though, and the insurmountable effort we’ve dedicated throughout the season, and of course, my own contribution. The support my teammates and I get from each other is something I’ll always be grateful for more than a win – I didn’t dwell on what could have been the outcome, but focused on what I could take with me next.

The previous summer, I had my first ever work experience. I interned at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, where they research and write about treatments and therapies. As what I expected, working there was not like Monopoly, but I employed the same strategy. I worked hard and remained focused. I was mindful and respectful of the people around me, and readily dealt with unavoidable stumbles. I took constructive criticism to heart, knowing that it will be in favor of a meaningful goal. I was extremely intimidated at first, but soon enough, I found my footing. I continued to strive hard, knowing that what I will take away from that experience will be directly affected by the effort I put into it. I observed my co-workers: how they presented themselves, how they interacted with one another, and how they executed their jobs. I scrutinized redlines on writing assignments, and tried hard not to get discouraged. I responded to the comments made to my material positively. I read and understood stories on Parkinson’s patients, most of which centered on their struggles. Their participation in clinical trials made them feel empowered despite their conditions, and I was amazed. Through them, I finally discovered what it really means fighting to win. Sometimes, a game never ends but transforms instead, which causes you to shift goals and adjust strategies.

Mom and I still play games regularly, and we always play to win. The matches now are more balanced, however, and I’ve noticed my mother watching my moves and habits, and I can only asses that she’s trying to learn a few things from me, as I had with her. 


The second essay is by a girl named Stephanie, where she used her college application essay as platform to show her readers about her openness to new interpretations. This greatly reflects of the creative thinker within, a person who is very much eager to make a positive impact. Her essay also provides a bit of context of her academic activities and extracurricular commitments, along with her colorful character. This gives the admissions board plenty to work with as they get to know her better.

Superheroes

Comic books, lore, and legends feature protagonists of different features – mystical, beautiful, mysterious, and super beings. They can be outspoken Greek goddesses, powerful Chinese maidens, and talented swordswomen. I remember as a child, I looked to the skies and soared with my angel wings. I battled demons with my sharp katanas, and helped defeat evil every day (I also had a hot boyfriend by my side). To put it simply, I wanted to save the world.

Growing up, however, shifted my definition of a superhero. I found my friends praising people who loudly fight against inequality, and rallied against hatred and violence. I tried to become one of them, and as a journalist on a magazine dedicated to social justice, I spent more time present at protests, and interviewing and understanding their causes – but I rarely felt inspired by their work.

I was devastated, and then I realized that I wasn’t a superhero.

I’m really just a 17-year-old girl, equipped with a Nikon camera and a notepad. I liked it that way.

But I still want to save the world.

This realization did not come to me as a bright, loud, and thundering Eureka moment. It settled quietly between the sheets on a warm night, just before my 17th birthday. I was crafting my journalism portfolio, carefully choosing the best photos I took around town during the 2016 presidential elections. Here, I discovered two significant shots.

The first photograph was from a peace march. My classmates painted rainbows on their cheeks, and wrapped their bodies in American flags. One of them had a raised bullhorn, her lips forming into a resounding word. And I still hear her voice, even months after.

The second photograph was different, though. The morning following election night was a cloudy one. It shrouded the school in deep gloom. In the mist, though, there stood a golden face with dark hair and moon-shaped eyes. She faced the camera, and her freckles looked like little stars sprinkled on the surface of her round cheeks. This accentuated her childlike features, and added to the softness captured by the photo. I examined the photograph further, looking at her eyes. They bore into something beyond the lens, the photographer, and the viewer. Everything else looked rigid, from her stitched brows, jutted jaw, upright spine, and arms across her chest, and  a mouth shut firmly.

Without hesitation, I picked that second photo.

As a photojournalist, I always went for those action shots: someone down on the ground, enthusiastic gestures of a the school president discussing plans, a passionate pastor preaching to the people, a group of teenagers shouting in favor of love and freedom. In my perspective, the most energetic of photos always carried the best stories. Capturing these made me feel significant as I’m part of those moments. I capture those superheroes, and I become the avenue to share their moments with everyone else. All the soft moments paled, and I even thought of them as insignificant. 

It only took a second to tear down a career’s worth of belief.

The realization fell upon me as I was lost within the weight behind the eyes of the girl – the moments that speak loudest are not the most energetic, or the noisiest. Often times they come in the quiet, peaceful, and softest moments.

As someone only with seventeen years of experience, I don’t completely understand who I am yet, much less who I want to be, but let’s be honest – who does? I’m certain I’m not a superhero, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t save the world. There are just more than one way to do it. You don’t always have to scream, or be loud, in order to bring about change. Sometimes, change begins quietly, like the scrape of pen on paper, the sound of a shutter clicking. It comes with a beautiful photograph, and an intricately written passage. I’ve come to realize the importance and impact of creativity, and how powerful it can be to harness it.

With this in mind, I yearn to inspire people to think and understand everything that surrounds them. I take up the role of the devil’s advocate as I join discussions on politics and ethics. I work hard to persuade people to think beyond what they already know, and make them feel. 

So, with that, I make people think and understand those surrounding them. I become the devil’s advocate in certain discussions, especially in politics. I convince people to think past what they know into the scary territory of what I’m more than determined to inspire people to ponder on how they can be their own superheroes, maybe even more.

That’s how I want to save the world.


This last essay is written by a girl named Anushka, which dedicates her essay to sharing her ambition of becoming a physician. She goes beyond this, however, as she begins her journey to understanding advocacy in its rawest, such as civic engagement through the Youth Council. She expresses how she learned to be a better advocate by participating in the real world, instead of just memorizing words and concepts. 

Looking Through Better Lenses

What does it really mean to be an advocate? I’ve searched all kinds of textbooks, but haven’t found any answers. There are no answers written in my anatomy book lying at the foot of my bed, full of random Post-Its and drawn concepts. It’s not in my chemistry book either, lying open with blue streaks of highlighter. It’s not even in my Guide to Biology, which is hanging loosely because of torn worksheets decorated by scribbles. I yearned for the answer, because in a few years, I will be that – an advocate for my patients.

My quest for the answer actually began unintentionally. When I was recommended to serve on the Youth Council in my junior year of high school, I looked at the opportunity with complete apathy and lack of interest. What do I know about civil engagement, anyway? I couldn’t place how my passion for medicine connected with being a representative serving the student body, and actively participating in politics. I was certain that my career path is towards becoming a physician, and I was more than content with reverting back to my comfort space in the presence of my textbooks.

That very comfort zone was torn apart that day I walked through the City Hall for my first ever Youth Council meeting. I was under the impression that I would be spending the hour flipping through pages and studying, while the rest of them complained about the lack of soda in the cafeteria. I was completely prepared for that, but instead, I found myself listening to students like me, all of them dedicated to deciphering how to reshape the distribution of power in their respective communities. They wanted to break wheels which kept people stuck in cycles of pain and despair. While I immersed myself in textbooks trying to memorize theories and concepts, these people use a bulk of their time trying to make a difference. I walked away from that meeting completely renewed. 

When the next Youth Council meeting came rolling around, I started asking questions. I provided some feedback. I observed what the students at my school struggle with, and for the first time, I joined drug prevention assemblies, and dedicated myself to helping my friends run mental health workshops. The more involved I became, the more that I realized and understood how being an advocate to your community is the same as being an advocate to your patients. I started volunteering at the hospital every week, and there I learned to pay attention to my patients, in the simples of ways like if whether or not they wanted ice in their water. Here, I met many patients and saw them as human beings. 

Youth Council isn’t something I chose to participate in, but I never would have thought that it would leave such an impact in my life. It changed the way I view patient care, and as an advocate, I must look beyond IV tubes and hospital gowns – I must look at them in their eyes, their lives, and how they’re counting on me. I’m treating a person, not getting rid of diseases, which is why compassionate care is the top priority. All my classes will teach me cellular respiration and lumbar parts, but I refuse to remain confined concepts and theories. More than anything, I must be an advocate for my patients.

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