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most overused college essays

11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

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What makes a good college essay? It’s a question many high school seniors ask while going through the application process. A winning college essay engages admissions officers and shares with them the student’s identity and personality, painting a picture that goes beyond grades and test scores—compelling the reader to become an advocate for the student’s admission. 

The Four Core Questions are at the heart of college essays and answering them is critical. Those questions are: 

  • Why am I here?
  • What is unique about me?
  • What matters to me? 

By answering these questions, a student is able to share information that is otherwise hard to ascertain with admissions officials—things like personality traits, personal journey, interests, skills, and ambitions. A well-conceived and well-written essay is a way for students to separate themselves from other applicants; conversely, an ineffective essay does nothing to distinguish a student, which is why it’s so important to avoid writing a cliché college essay. 

Cliché College Essay Topics to Avoid + How to Fix Them

1. résumé of your life and achievements.

Résumés are an effective method to demonstrate achievements, but they’re boring to read. This is why, in the professional world, résumés are often accompanied by a cover letter. A college application is essentially a student’s résumé—it contains their grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities—which makes an essay listing achievements redundant. 

A better strategy is for students to pick one experience that stands above the rest and write about how it shaped the person they are today. This is especially effective for any experiences that would benefit from further explanation, or those that have an interesting backstory. For example, maybe you participate in a unique extracurricular that most people aren’t familiar with, such as being on a Chinese yoyo/diabolo team. You might choose to focus on that aspect of your identity and what it means to you. Or, maybe you love math, but never had the chance to explain on your application that you used to hate math, until a tutor showed you a different way to appreciate it (and that’s one of the reasons you want to become a math teacher). This would be another strong topic.

You don’t necessarily have to focus on one specific event, but your essay should be cohesive. Another traditional essay structure is telling a narrative over an extended period of time. This structure incorporates a handful of different experiences that are joined by a common thread. If you have a story of growth, change, or development, this is the classic essay structure for you. An example of this might be a football player who was embarrassed to admit he liked writing and poetry, but how he eventually became a published author, and came to accept and own his identity as a poet.

2. Sports injury, challenge, or success

Coaches on every level are known for telling their athletes about how the lessons learned on the field/court/ice translate to life. Unfortunately, these lessons and stories have been told in numerous movies and books, along with countless college essays

To successfully write a college essay about sports, it’s important to steer clear of the common themes.

  • Overcoming adversity
  • Trusting teammates
  • Refusing to quit
  • The thrill of victory
  • The agony of defeat

For example, instead of an applicant talking about how their team trained and improved to beat their rivals or win a championship, they should write about a unique way that sports shaped who they are. For example, here’s an unexpected way to write about a sports injury: maybe tearing your ACL in a soccer game actually led you to start a podcast while you were recovering, which became one of your biggest passions. 

Along a similar line, a student could write about discovering their motivation for playing sports.  Maybe they always played basketball because they were good, or their parents expected them to play, but they realized they didn’t enjoy the competitive nature of the sport and wanted to gravitate toward less competitive activities like hiking or surfing. 

3. Immigrant story

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and while not every student has an immigrant story, a lot of them do. Consequently, these immigrant themes are ones that every admissions officer has read before:

  • Learning a new language
  • Adapting to new customs
  • Adjusting to a new lifestyle
  • Struggling to fit in

Asian students, in particular, should avoid immigrant-themed essays, as they have a harder time getting into college due to demographics, and this topic only calls attention to their background. 

To make an immigration essay work (and avoid being another cliché college essay), a student needs to make it extremely unique or incredibly personal. One tactic is to write about a singular experience—moments of conflict are always an interesting topic. For example, a student might write about a time they were made to feel unwelcome in the U.S. and how they responded to that moment, such as volunteering at the community cultural center or creating a welcoming committee for new immigrants. 

Another essay opportunity is to write about an experience that is truly unique. Perhaps, when a student first came to the U.S., they didn’t have access to a vehicle or public transportation and needed to walk to school or their job. That student could use their college essay to focus on what they learned on their walks and the ambitions it sparked—such as tenacity to succeed against all odds, or a desire to found a program for immigrants in a similar position.  

4. Tragedy – death, divorce, abuse

Tragedies are formative experiences, which in theory make them a natural theme for a college essay; however, tragedies are often a universal experience. Furthermore, essays on this topic are too often centered on the tragedy itself, rather than the applicant.

It is possible to write a college essay about a tragedy that isn’t cliche, however. The key is to keep it focused on the applicant and highly personal. To start, avoid overused themes like “life is short” and “make every day count.” Instead, highlight how the tragedy affected the writer. For example, if you had a friend who passed away from substance abuse, an essay centered around your subsequent commitment to drug prevention programs and advocacy is an interesting angle. 

In the case of an applicant who had a parent pass away, writing about shifting family dynamics, new responsibilities, and increased challenges are all great themes. For example, a student went from worrying just about academics to becoming the other adult in the house—preparing meals for their siblings, sending them off to school, and helping them with their homework.

5. Working hard in a challenging class

Working hard in a challenging class doesn’t work as an essay topic for a handful of reasons. If you’re applying to a highly ranked institution, it’s likely that most of their applicants took tough classes and worked hard. They also likely faced challenging classes, struggled, and ultimately succeeded. Another reason to avoid this topic? The traits conveyed are likely covered by recommendation letters: 

  • Perseverance
  • Work ethic 
  • Intellectual ability

Instead of writing your essay about overcoming a tough class, think about the personality traits you want to highlight. If you feel that your determination is already covered in other aspects of your application, pick another trait to feature in your essay. Or maybe, you feel like your determination isn’t emphasized enough. Which other experiences highlight this trait?

Another idea is to make the essay less about the class and more about the writer. Instead of sharing how you struggled to understand Crime and Punishment in your advanced lit class, you might detail how the class inspired a desire to write, or how the works covered made you reflect on your own life. 

You could also pick a problem or research question you want to solve, as per the fourth Common App essay prompt. Just remember that while the topic is an intellectual problem, your essay should still highlight your personality, identity, and way you think about the world. Pick something that is deeply personal to you and your background. For instance, maybe you want to create a proposal to solve food deserts in your county. This would allow you to share your personal experiences growing up in a food desert, your passion for increasing access to healthy food, and your analytical abilities.

6. Someone you admire (a person you know or historical figure)

The primary pitfall of writing about an admired person is that the essay is often focused more on the other person than the applicant. Even if students steer the essay toward themselves, they usually find themselves covering familiar themes:

  • Learning something about themselves
  • Learning something about life
  • Learning something about the world

The key to keeping writing about another person from becoming another cliché college essay is to keep the focus on the applicant. A great way to do this is to highlight a specific moment where they exemplified an attribute or action that they commend in a person that they admire. For example, if an essay writer admires their father’s ethos of standing up for what is right, an excellent essay theme is the time they stood up for another student who was being bullied, even though they knew they risked losing popularity, or finding themselves in the crosshairs of the bully as the result. 

If the person they admire is historical, they can talk about how they are trying to live their life according to those ideals. For example, the aspiring writer can focus their essay on how they adopted Hemingway’s ritual of writing every morning as soon after first light as possible, and what they’ve learned from that process. 

7. Volunteer trip

Building a winning essay about a volunteer trip is tricky—at best, these essays come off as cliché; at their worst, they can make an applicant seem pretentious, condescending, and privileged. Like other topics, the key is for the writer to focus on themself, not the group they volunteered for or the place they went. 

One way to avoid the cliché volunteer essay is to write about a specific moment on your trip, rather than giving a chronological account of your time. Get really specific and bring the reader into the moment and share with them how it affected you. An attention-grabbing essay will show the reader how you changed, instead of telling them. 

Another trick for turning volunteer essays from cliché to eye-catching is focusing on an unusual experience that happened during the volunteer trip. For example, a delayed flight while travelling home that left you stranded in a foreign city all alone and how it’s a parable for stepping on campus for the first time.

8. Moving to a different part of the country 

Similar to the immigrant story, writing about moving to a new place is also an overly-done topic. Countless students move or switch schools each year. Many have trouble fitting in or adjusting to a new place, but eventually make new friends. 

If moving was really integral to your high school experience and identity, think about why that is. Did it push you to try new interests or become more outgoing? Focus your essay less on the move itself and your adjustment, and more on how exactly it changed your life. 

For instance, some more original ways of spinning this topic would be:

  • How moving led you to start an organization that picks up unwanted furniture for free, and resells or donates items in good condition. For items in bad condition, you find ways to repair and upcycle them. This was motivated by all the trash you saw your family produce during the move.
  • At your new school, you joined the gymnastics team because you were known as the uncoordinated, awkward girl at your old school, and you wanted to shed that image.
  • After moving, you decided to go by the proper pronunciation of your Spanish name, rather than the anglicized version. You could write your essay on why you made this decision, and how it impacted your experience in your new community.

9. Your religious institution or faith

Religion is generally a very tricky topic, and it’s difficult to cover it in an original way in your essay. Writing about your faith and reflecting on it critically can work, but basic religious essays about why your faith is important to you are a little more clich é . 

It’s important to also remember your audience. If you’re applying to a religious school, essays about your faith will likely be expected. If you’re applying to a super liberal school, you might want to avoid writing your essay about your conservative religious views.  

Regardless of your situation, if you decide to write an essay on religion, share your personal relationship with your faith. Anyone can write broadly about how much their faith means to them or how their life changed when they found religion, but only you can share your personal experiences, thoughts, and perspectives.

10. Romantic relationships and breakups

Your college essays should be personal, but romantic relationships and breakups are a little too personal. Remember that applying to college is kind of like applying to a job, and you want to present yourself in a professional light. This means that writing about your romantic life is a bad idea in general. 

Unlike the other clich é topics, there are not really any directly-relevant alternatives. If you wanted to write your essay on your relationship, think about what traits that story would’ve brought out. For a breakup, was it your ability to overcome a setback? For a happy relationship, is it being emotionally intelligent or finding a compromise during conflict? Think about how you could still write an essay that conveys the same aspect of your identity, without mentioning this cliché topic.

11. Family pressure to pursue a particular major or field

Many students unfortunately experience family pressure to do certain activities or choose specific career paths. If this is the case for you, you shouldn’t focus your essay on this topic—it will only make it look like you lack independence from your parents. This is not a good sign to admissions committees, as they want a campus full of students who have the autonomy to make their own decisions. 

That’s not to say that parental input isn’t valid—you may have very legitimate reasons to follow your parents’ advice to pursue a particular career, especially if your family is low-income and you need to provide for them. But there are absolutely better topics to share your identity and background, beyond parental pressure.

Some ways to make this topic more original are:

  • If you have strict parents, discussing how you became more independent from them, and an example of when you did something for your personal development that they might not have agreed with at the time.
  • For those whose background influenced their decision to choose a “practical” field, you might talk about your situation growing up and how that influences your perspective and choices. Of course, you should still try to show genuine interest in your plans, as you don’t want to make it seem like you’re being “forced” to do something. 

Wondering if your personal essay topic is cliché? You can ask for the advice of peers and experts in our free  Q&A forum . If you’re looking for feedback on your essay, you can also get your essay  peer-reviewed for free . Just  sign up for your free CollegeVine account  to get started!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

most overused college essays

College Essay Journal

The 10 Most Overused Essay Topics

As students prepare to apply to college, writing the personal statement tends to loom large. Personally, I think this has a lot to do with feeling a lack of control in the admissions process. By senior year, you can’t go back and change your grades from freshman year. You aren’t able to add 8 activities and be the captain/president/leader of all of them. You have no control over what your teachers write about you (just pick ones who like you, and it will be fine!). But the essay… that’s where you can still have an impact. So it makes sense that applicants end up putting lots of time and energy into the writing process.

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But, while essays are crucial pieces of the evaluation process, please remember that they are just one piece that admissions officers take into consideration.

It’s important to understand that “holistic review” or “whole person evaluation” means many factors are weighed in an admission decision. To name a few: academics, extracurricular involvement, letters of recommendation, essays, and (potentially) interviews are all considered. For more on this, see our post on the Anatomy of a College Application . 

Ultimately, what all that means is this… The best essay in the world won’t get someone admitted if they aren’t academically qualified for that institution. And a “weak” or “overdone” essay won’t necessarily lead to a student’s denial if they’re a great fit for other reasons.

With all of that said, there’s no “secret essay topic” or formula that will guarantee an acceptance. I’m sorry! Yet, there are some essay topics you can actively avoid. These are ones that admissions officers tend to see over and over. And, when that happens, they can lose their impact.

In this blog post, I’m going to hone in on 10 of the most overused essay topics . The goal is to help you avoid some common easy downfalls! However, please take everything here with a grain of salt. Schools have absolutely admitted students who wrote about some of these topics (parents: don’t worry if this was you!), but generally these pieces don’t move the needle forward or build a strong case for admission. 

Remember: schools are reading thousands of amazing applications, and they’re looking for reasons to admit students rather than deny them. So just think carefully about what you write and ultimately try to put your best foot forward.

Feel free to use this Checklist when brainstorming your essay topics!

10) Résumé Recap

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Clubs, jobs, internships, research, travel… these are all topics that seem like good ideas at first. I get it! It makes sense to want to write about experiences you’ve had or involvement that’s impacted you. Yet, for some reason, when you smash them together into a 600+ word essay, it typically falls flat.

That’s because this type of essay can easily become a list of activities or cross into “braggy” territory. And that’s unnecessary. Remember, admissions officers already have your extracurricular list in the application! 

The Résumé Recap is the most straightforward and frequently seen essay type on the overused list. In fact, this happens so often that you may not even realize you’ve done it at first. Or maybe your essay started out strong, but the second half turns into a list of accomplishments. Truly, it happens all the time . That’s why this one comes in at number 10: because it’s not necessarily a negative, but it rarely helps a student stand out. You can think of the Résumé Recap as a missed opportunity.

9) Telling not Showing

“I started out shy but over time became more confident.”

How did that growth happen? Why is that a good thing? What lessons were learned? What do you do differently because of it?

The Telling not Showing essay is another missed opportunity. Students often tell application readers a lot of personal traits or provide a narrative of a specific experience. But they fail to show the admissions committee how those things came to be and why that experience matters today. Admissions officers want to see the person you’ll be on their campus. So you need to show them that. Explain how an experience or interest has made you who you are today.

Did you discover a love of chemistry and use that to take a leadership position in a chemistry club or to tutor others who are struggling? Or did you simply take the class, like it, and now you want to take more in college? Those are two distinct essay paths that give the person reading your application very different views of how you might engage on their campus.

8) Shock Value Piece

From a real essay I read a few years ago: “my best friend and I injure each other about once per week.”

WHAT?! That doesn’t sound healthy. Or like a good friendship… I didn’t learn until two paragraphs later that the two friends are circus performers who practice dangerous stunts at their weekly class. Now that could have been a really interesting essay! But why did the author start the response this way?

Sometimes applicants think they need to find a way to stand out from the very first sentence. So they’ll decide to write something really wild or concerning to capture the reader’s attention. Some examples include:

Starting the essay off with an outrageous, scandalous, or offensive claim

Swearing or writing something inappropriate

Answering the “who would you be for a day” question with an antagonist (i.e. Lord Voldemort or worse)

Honestly, in all my years reading applications, I haven’t seen the Shock Value Essay ever work the way it was intended. In most cases, it becomes a hurdle that the admissions office has to overcome rather than something that gets the committee excited. I recommend staying far away from this tactic.

7) The “Grandma” Essay

When I was in high school a college rep came to visit and told us not to write our personal statement about our grandmas. I thought that was a ridiculous statement. I love my grandma immensely, but I couldn’t fathom this being a real thing people did. Yet here I am, years late, writing this paragraph. I truly can’t believe it! Years after that visit, the Grandma Essay is still here to stay.

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I’ve seen so many beautifully written essays that describe a friend or family member’s journey. Parents who immigrated to the United States. A grandparent who was the first person in the family to graduate from college. A mentor who overcame incredible hurdles and now gives back to the community. These people sound amazing. I want to admit those parents, grandparents, and mentors. Yet, I often leave the essay feeling like I learned nothing about the student who is actually applying to college. The stories of others can play a role and don’t have to be avoided, but you should remain the focus of the personal statement.

6) Narrowly Focused

Otherwise known as “premed, premed, premed.” To be clear, narrow isn’t negative. But there’s a big difference between an interesting hobby that you want to dive into and discuss (i.e. your town’s annual mushroom picking event, advocating for sustainable fishing, researching the effects of body image on dancers) versus mapping out an entire life path at age 17. 

Of course, the Narrowly Focused piece doesn’t just apply to premed. However, students with an interest in the professions (medicine, law, business) or engineering are where I see this happen most often. And, the funny thing is, it’s not a rare interest or hobby. For example, numerous students participate in hospital shadows, volunteer at a clinic, or have experienced a medical issue that led them to explore health as a career path.

These are all great things to get involved in if you care about others or really want to pursue medicine! Yet, in many ways, it’s the oversaturation of those experiences and writing about them that brings this to #6 on the “overused essay” list. 

I also want to point out that the majority of students will change their mind and major at least once after getting to college. What you do after college is far away. I’d recommend focusing on the next four years rather than the four after that. I also encourage you to stay away from locking yourself into a certain path or career before you’ve had a chance to explore the hundreds (if not thousands) of classes available to you on a college campus.

5) Far too Graphic

  Prior to 2015, the Common Application had an essay prompt that asked students to “describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.” I cannot tell you how many essays I read that answered this question with “the bathroom.” No! Just no. How could this possibly end well?

Fun fact: even though the prompt has been eliminated, I still read at least half a dozen bathroom essays each year.

I also once read an essay where the student imagined what his own birth would have been like. In very graphic detail. I had to stop reading for the day after that one.

Even more common will be the dissection essays. Fetal pigs, cats, sharks, human cadavers… Who knew high schoolers were doing so much dissection?! Just writing this gives me shivers. While students who love science are awesome, please remember that not everyone has a strong stomach for graphic descriptions. Do us (and our stomachs) a favor and dial down the graphic descriptions just a bit. Thank you!

4) Overly Thesaurus’d

Garrulous, Inchoate, Exigent, Convivial, Ignominious, Expurgate, Phlegmatic…

Do you know what these words mean? If so, you have a much more extensive vocabulary than I do. Or perhaps, you’ve been recently studying for the SAT? 

Long story short: I like to think I’m a pretty normal human being with a slightly above average vocabulary. If I have to look up the words you’re using in an essay, it’s going to be more frustrating than impressive. Admissions officers want to get to know who you are not how well you use a thesaurus or can memorize those vocab words.

See this article for 22 Hilarious Examples of How Not to Use a Thesaurus

3) The Walk Through

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If we were grabbing coffee as friends, then I’d love to learn about what’s on your bookshelf, in your closet, how you organize your locker, what songs are on your playlist, what you keep in your desk, and the meaning behind the pictures on the walls of your bedroom. 

As an admissions officer, reading an essay that describes these things tells me a lot about a student’s environment, but not very much about who they are as a person.

When reading applications, I am hoping to learn what applicants have experienced and how they think. I want to see the ways they apply those experiences or thought processes to everyday life. The Walk Through essay tends to get stuck on what items are in the room/bookshelf/closet/desk/playlist rather than why or how they got there and what impact they’ll have going forward. 

This is the cousin of the Name Essay , where applicants connect their names to items or personal characteristics. Try to avoid this one as well!

2) Stuck in the Past

I could go on all day about this one! It’s probably the most common mistake that applicants make and takes infinite forms. Here are a few:

A chronicle that starts the day someone was born and ends in present day

A story that clearly relies on someone else’s memories (she can’t possibly remember walking for the first time! Or a thunderstorm that happened when he was 3?!)

Essays that describe a childhood event, but never quite make it to the present or future

I completely understand wanting to recall an influential past event, to start off with a narrative story, or focus on showing growth from a few years ago. This is perfectly fine! But admissions officers generally want essays to come to the present pretty quickly.

A pro tip would be to have the essay catch up to the present no later than 1/3 of the way through. We want to know who you are now rather than who you were at age 12.

1) Reflecting on Failure

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It’s a trap! The end.

For real though, I’d strongly advocate for steering clear of this topic choice. It often gets stuck in the negative experience rather than the positives that have come out of it.

And every “failure” essay tends to sounds incredibly similar or has the same story arch. Generally, it goes something like “I failed to make the varsity soccer team my sophomore year. So I worked really hard over the next year, tried out again, and made it my junior year. Now, as a senior, I’m captain!” You can replace soccer with debate club, first chair violin in the orchestra, or a hundred other activities.

If we’re talking about missed opportunities, this is the biggest one in my opinion. Definitely not the way to stand out from the crowd or the queue of applications.

Bonus: The Class Paper

Don’t get me wrong, we love English teachers! But sometimes there’s a school, state, or nationwide curriculum that they have to follow. Because of this, students to tend to submit a previously written school paper as their college essay. Unfortunately, admissions officers won’t learn much about you through your beautifully written analysis of The Great Gatsby. And colleges often end up getting lots of personal statements that have the same topic or theme (and isn’t a Common Application or Coalition Application essay choice!).

I actually think this is where the Walk Through essay started back in the day. Even worse, sometimes the Class Paper is just a school report or research paper that isn’t even about the student! It might be an easy solution to submitting an essay, but it’s not worth it in the long run.

Tl;dr: If it was written for a class assignment, be careful about submitting it as your personal essay.

If all of these topics are off the table, then what should you write about? The College Essay Journal is a great place to start figuring that out!

What does “liberal arts” really mean?

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College Admissions Essay Topics to Avoid

Make your admissions essay stand out by avoiding these topics that are overused on college applications..

Kathryn Knight Randolph

October 03, 2023

College Admissions Essay Topics to Avoid

College Admissions Essay Topics to Avoid:

A summary of your accomplishments, highly polarized or sensitive topics, you’re so lucky or #blessed, volunteer experiences & trips, self-expression, illegal or illicit behavior, the most important [person, place, thing] in my life, you might also like.

most overused college essays

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.

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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

most overused college essays

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

most overused college essays

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

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#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Break Free from Overused College Essay Topics

As high school seniors embark on their college application journey, they face the daunting task of crafting compelling and unique essays that capture the attention of admissions officers. But certain topics have become so overused that they risk blending into a sea of sameness. Writing about a creative and unique topic catches the attention of the admissions officer, making you a more memorable and appealing candidate. Let’s examine some of the most overused college essay topics and provide insights on how to approach them in a unique and authentic way.

The sports triumph:

One of the most common essay topics centers around athletic achievements. While discussing sports can showcase dedication and teamwork, it's important to transcend the surface level and delve into the personal growth, values, or lessons learned from the experience. Consider focusing on the transformative power of sports, or how they have shaped your character beyond the scoreboard.

The travel epiphany:

Writing about transformative travel experiences has become increasingly popular. To avoid falling into the cliché trap, delve deeper into the cultural or personal impact of your travels. Reflect on how these experiences shaped your worldview, challenged your assumptions, or inspired a sense of empathy and understanding. 

The community service savior:

Community service essays often revolve around the act of volunteering itself rather than the personal growth or impact it had on the writer. To break free from this cliché, highlight the specific moments or interactions that deeply influenced you. Discuss how these experiences sparked a commitment to social change, instilled empathy, helped you decide on a career path, or fostered your passion for making a difference.

The academic epiphany:

Essays centered solely on academic achievements risk becoming predictable and generic. Instead, showcase your intellectual curiosity and growth by delving into the inspirations behind your academic pursuits, the challenges you've encountered, or the interdisciplinary connections you've made. Unveil the personal significance of your academic journey beyond the accolades.

The tragedy and triumph:

While overcoming personal hardships can be a powerful narrative, it has also become a common theme. To differentiate yourself, focus on the growth and resilience that emerged from these challenges. Share insights gained from navigating adversity, highlighting the personal strength and determination that have shaped your character.

The role model homage:

Essays centered on influential individuals in your life may risk overshadowing your own story. Instead, use these figures as a springboard to showcase your own values, accomplishments, and aspirations. Discuss how their impact inspired your personal growth and motivated you to become a role model for others.

While it is still possible to write a compelling college essay on one of these topics, adding your own personal flare will help you to stand out from the crowd. ESAI can help you take a basic essay topic, and infuse it with a fresh, original perspective.

Crafting a college essay that stands out requires avoiding the pitfalls of overused topics and embracing a fresh, authentic approach. By delving deeper into your experiences, focusing on personal growth, reflecting on the broader impact, and highlighting unique insights, you can breathe new life into these common topics. Remember, the goal is to captivate the admissions officers and provide them with a genuine glimpse into your character, passions, and aspirations. ESAI’s College Application Tool can help you take an overused topic, and turn it into a unique, personal, standout essay.

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  • Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples

Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples

Published on October 25, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A strong essay topic sets you up to write a unique, memorable college application essay . Your topic should be personal, original, and specific. Take time to brainstorm the right topic for you.

Table of contents

What makes a good topic, brainstorming questions to get started, discover the best topic for you, how to make a common topic compelling, frequently asked questions about college application essays, other interesting articles.

Here are some guidelines for a good essay topic:

  • It’s focused on you and your experience
  • It shares something different from the rest of your application
  • It’s specific and original (not many students could write a similar essay)
  • It affords the opportunity to share your positive stories and qualities

In most cases, avoid topics that

  • Reflect poorly on your character and behavior
  • Deal with a challenge or traumatic experience without a lesson learned or positive outlook

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Spend time reflecting on and writing out answers to the following questions. After doing this exercise, you should be able to identify a few strong topics for your college essay.

Writing about yourself can be difficult. If you’re struggling to identify your topic, try these two strategies.

Start with your qualities

After identifying your positive qualities or values, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.

Start with a story

If you already have some memorable stories in mind that you’d like to write about, think about which qualities and values you can demonstrate with those stories.

Talk it through

To make sure you choose the right topic, ask for advice from trusted friends or family members who know you well. They can help you brainstorm ideas and remember stories, and they can give you feedback on your potential essay topics.

You can also work with a guidance counselor, teacher, or other mentor to discuss which ideas are most promising. If you plan ahead , you can even workshop multiple draft essays to see which topic works best.

If you do choose a common topic, ensure you have the following to craft a unique essay:

  • Surprising or unexpected story arcs
  • Interesting insight or connections
  • An advanced writing style

Here are a few examples of how to craft strong essays from cliché topics.

Here’s a checklist you can use to confirm that your college essay topic is right for you.

College essay topic checklist

My topic is focused on me, not on someone else.

My topic shares something different from the rest of my application.

My topic is specific and original (not many students could write a similar essay).

My topic reflects positively on my character and behavior.

If I chose to write about a traumatic or challenging experience, my essay will focus on how I overcame it or gained insight.

If I chose a common topic, my essay will have a surprising story arc, interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style.

Good topic!

It looks like your topic is a good choice. It's specific, it avoids clichés, and it reflects positively on you.

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

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The 5 Most Overused College Essay Topics

The 5 Most Overused College Essay Topics

most overused college essays

One of our counselors referred to his last year working in admissions at a highly-selective college as the “year of the blood drive essay.” That year, an unusually high number of applicants told the same tale of how one on-campus blood drive changed their lives and made them appreciate the importance of serving humanity. Writing such grandiose statements into your essays won’t help you stand out. The statements sound cliché. So here are the five most overused clichés we—and every admissions officer we’ve spoken with—see most often and which you should avoid.

1. The aforementioned “blood drive essay” or “How community service taught me the importance of helping others” Colleges appreciate students who are concerned about their communities. But one blood drive does not a humanitarian make. A claim to have learned how important it is to help people needs to be substantiated with evidence of a sincere, long-term commitment to actually helping people. Otherwise, your message loses some oomph . If you had an experience during your community service that really meant a lot to you, say so. And be honest. Otherwise, consider doing a good deed for admissions officers and avoid the community service cliché.

2. “Hard work always pays off,” and other life lessons learned while playing sports The problem with many sports essays is they explain what life is like for every athlete. You go to practice. You work hard. You compete. Then the student makes it worse by saying sports taught him the importance of hard work and commitment, which is almost certainly not something he would say to his friends. Be original. Tell your sports story that nobody else can tell. If you can’t find a story you own, just write about something else.

3. “How my trip to another country broadened my horizons” This essay essentially says, “France is very difference from the United States—the food, the language, the customs. But I learned to appreciate the differences and to adapt to the ways of the French.” Visiting a country and noticing that it is different is not a story that you own. The admissions office doesn’t want to read your travel journals. Instead, make yourself, not the country, the focus of the essay. One of my students who had never previously ventured onto any sort of dance floor wrote that his trip to Spain was the first time he’d ever danced in front of other people. That wasn’t an essay about how Spain was different—it was an essay about how he was different in Spain.

4. “How I overcame a life challenge [that wasn’t really all that challenging]” Essays can help admissions officers understand more about a student who has overcome legitimate hardship. But far too many other students misguidedly manufacture hardship in a college essay to try to gain sympathy or make excuses (e.g., for low grades). This approach won’t work. If you’ve endured a hardship and you want to talk about it, you should. Otherwise, it’s probably better to choose a different topic. Note: The pet eulogy falls into this category. Lovely if you want to write one. Just don’t include it as part of your college essay.

5. Anything that doesn’t really sound like you Your essays are supposed to give the readers a sense of your personality. So give your essays a sincerity test. Do they sound like you, or do they sound like you’re trying to impress someone? Don’t use words you looked up in the thesaurus. There really is no place for “plethora” in a college essay. Don’t quote Shakespeare or Plato or the Dali Lama unless that is really you. If your best friend reads your college essay and says it sounds just like you, that’s probably a good sign.

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Choosing a topic for my college essay

Hey y'all, I'm starting to brainstorm ideas for my college essay, but I'm having trouble deciding what to write about. What are some tips on narrowing down a topic that reflects who I am and makes for a compelling essay?

Hi there! It's great that you're starting to brainstorm for your college essay. Choosing a topic that reflects you and is compelling can be challenging, but here are some tips to help you narrow down your ideas:

1. Make a list of your interests, values, and experiences: Begin by writing down things that you're passionate about, your core values, and unique experiences you've had. These can include hobbies, challenges you've faced, or memorable moments in your life.

2. Identify a common thread: Look for a connecting theme among these items. This might be a singular idea or experience that has shaped who you are, or a recurring pattern in your life. The common thread will help you focus your essay on a central narrative or message.

3. Reflect on personal growth: Consider experiences that have led to personal growth and a deeper understanding of yourself. This could be an accomplishment, a failure, or a turning point in your life. Colleges are interested in seeing how you've evolved as a person, so highlighting these moments can create a compelling essay.

4. Think about what makes you unique: Admissions officers read thousands of essays, so it's important to stand out. Ask yourself what sets you apart from others, or what experiences and perspectives you can bring to a college campus that are unique to you.

5. Avoid cliché topics: There are certain topics that are overused in college essays, such as sports victories or injuries, moving to a new school, or the immigrant story. While these can still make for a great essay, it's important to approach them from a unique angle or focus on a specific, personal moment within the larger context of these themes.

6. Seek feedback from others: Once you have a few potential essay ideas, share them with friends, family, or teachers. They can provide valuable insight into which ideas resonate the most and offer suggestions for refining your chosen topic.

7. Be authentic: Lastly, remember to stay true to yourself as you determine your essay topic. Write about something that genuinely matters to you and feels authentic to your experiences, even if it's not the most dramatic or unusual story.

Once you have your core idea, focus on telling a detailed, engaging story that showcases your personality and values. Best of luck in the brainstorming process and with your college essay!

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Grammar Do's, Don't of College Application Essays

Wise use of words, grammar and punctuation can help you write a strong, compelling essay.

College Application Essay Grammar Tips

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When writing a college application essay it's best to avoid using contractions, slang or cliches.

Serious college applicants spend a lot of time crafting and telling their stories in application essays. But it’s also critically important that the essay is well written as much as it is well planned, because a few spelling, grammar or style mishaps can give the reader a poor view of an otherwise amazing personal statement.

Just like you could spend months designing the perfect outfit for the prom but have it ruined by wrinkles or stains, you’ll want to make sure that your application essays are free from distracting elements that detract from what you want your audience to see of you.

As you edit your college essay, use this checklist to ensure you produce your best work.

  • Write in active voice.
  • Vary punctuation.
  • Balance paragraphs.
  • Don't use contractions, slang or cliches.
  • Don't try to sound like Shakespeare.
  • Don't jump around chronologically.

Write in Active Voice

In English, many actions can be expressed in either passive voice or active voice. For instance, you can say, “I was accepted by NYU” (passive) or “NYU accepted me” (active).

While the passive voice has its place in writing, the active voice is usually more desirable on college applications. Not only is it more concise, but it also reads as more powerful and proactive.

Consider, for example, the difference in meaning between “I was offered an internship opportunity” and “I pursued an internship opportunity.” The active voice works better because it highlights the applicant’s take-charge attitude, an attribute that colleges value.

Vary Punctuation

A few less-common yet well-placed punctuation marks can give your application essay a sophisticated edge.

For example, consider adding a semicolon to connect two closely related sentences, a colon to introduce an explanation for a claim or a set of em dashes to enclose an important interruption within a sentence. The key is to not get carried away repeating the same mark too many times or using rarer marks where a simple comma or period would do the trick.

Before submission, check your essay for comma splices, the mistake that occurs when a comma is used to separate two full sentences.

Balance Paragraphs

Even though the content may be high quality, an essay containing some short paragraphs and some lengthy ones is visually unpleasing. Readers — admissions counselors, in particular — like to see relative uniformity, or balance, in writing. Because these individuals often skim hundreds of essays a day, coming across a particularly long paragraph can be daunting.

So, keep your paragraphs on the shorter end of the spectrum. Try to limit them to five to seven sentences each, or fewer if your sentences are long. Your paragraphs do not all need to be the same length, but you should avoid significant differences in length that could be jarring.

Don’t Use Contractions, Slang or Cliches

Avoid contractions like "don’t," "it’s" and "they’re" in your essay because they will give your writing an informal feel. Instead, separate and write out the full words.

For this same reason, avoid slang and overused words like “cool” or “amazing” and replace them with longer and less-common words, such as "exhilarating" or "memorable." Also, steer away from cliches, well-known expressions such as “the last straw” or “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Rather than using recycled language, try to express the idea in your own words.

Don’t Try to Sound Like Shakespeare

In response to the previous tip, students sometimes take formal language to an extreme, endeavoring to include as many four- or five-syllable words as possible in their essay. However, this is ill-advised because it will make your essay read as stuffy and unnatural.

Your essay should sound like something you wrote, but have a few sophisticated words peppered throughout it. To that end, you may wish to consult a thesaurus a few times as you craft your essay or after you are finished. This step will help you to substitute common words for more elegant ones. However, you should not change so many words that readers would need a dictionary to make sense of your essay.

Don’t Jump Around Chronologically

In a college application essay, it is inevitable that you talk about the past (your experiences), the present (your interests) and the future (your goals). As you outline your essay, give some thought to how you will order these ideas.

Many students prefer to start with the past and progress chronologically toward the future. Others may start with the present, then discuss the past and end with the future. There is no right or wrong sequence; the order of events should match the type of narrative you want to tell.

However, jumping around too often — for example, from past to future to present within the same paragraph — could dizzy your reader. Therefore, it may be best to limit each paragraph to one general time frame.

10 Ways to Discover College Essay Ideas

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Bad Opening Lines for College Essays: an Explanation

Yesterday we published this blog post detailing 10 bad opening lines for college essays. After much thought, we’ve decided to go through the examples individually and explain exactly why they don’t work. Keep reading for our breakdown:

“There have been many experiences throughout my life that prove that I am a tolerant person who is good at communicating” 

The best common app essays tell stories about who you are as a person. This also means that your essay should read like a story. Have you ever read a non-fiction book, and chapter one tells you exactly what the story should be about? Neither have we. Instead of telling the reader what they’re about to read, just start your story from the very beginning.

“Throughout history….”

The very mention of these two words means that you’re looking outward. You’re going back, not just in time, but in the literal history of the world. If your common app essay is about something that happened in the past, that’s fine. As long as the “something” happened to you, and in your life.

“Barack Obama once said…”

We’ve cautioned against writing about famous people and family members many times before. Your common app essay should be about you, not an influential figure. Another word of advice: keep the audience in mind because you never know how they’re going to feel about someone. And this advice doesn’t apply to our former president, but you should also avoid writing about, or quoting, someone polarizing. 

“Due to the fact that I’ve moved multiple times, I’m able to connect with everyone I encounter.”

If you were considering writing something like this, please reread our advice for #1. This introduction would bore the reader, and give away what’s to come. We suggest figuring out which qualities that you’re trying to express (in your head,) and then writing a story that best demonstrates those traits. In other words, let the story speak for itself.  

“The ACLU just reported updated statistics on voter suppression in 2020. They suggest that…”

Mentioning statistics is a surefire way to make your essay about an issue, and not yourself. It’s good to be passionate about causes, but your common app essay is not the best place to write about them. There are tons of supplements that ask questions about what you care about, so if something is truly important to you, you can likely find a home for that information there.

“You might think that it’s impossible for someone who is the student body president and the head of the robotics team to run a book club for fun, but I do.”

Humility is important, and bragging is not good. If you do want to write about an actual setback that you’ve overcome, please make that you’re focusing on the steps you took instead of focusing the essay on the problem you’ve faced. Focus on how you moved forward.

“There has never been a more influential figure than Susan B. Anthony.”

Susan B. Anthony is not applying to college—you are. See #3. No matter how “good” we perceive a person to be, writing exclusively about someone other than yourself is never a good idea. If you are going to introduce a secondary character, you should know them personally, and they should only act as a mirror for the personality trait that you’re trying to get across.

“All that glitters is not gold.”

Cliché phrases and common sayings are not ideal starting points because they’ve all been heard before. These “themes” are often overused, and when essays fall into this trap, you’re placed into a bucket. Instead of actually writing the phrase, think about what it means to you, and tell your story.

“I have wanted to go to X school since I could walk, and the rest of my essay will explain exactly why”

Most notably, your common app essay will go to every single school that you apply to that uses that common app. So, you certainly don’t want to dedicate that essay to just one school. Also, the goal is to write about the soft skills that you’ll be bringing to college. Be true to who you are and let your personality shine, and then use your supplements to explain why you’re a perfect fit for X school.

“HEY LOOK AT ME”

Shock value will get you noticed, but it will not be in a positive way. There is such a thing as bad press. We’ve been sent essays via our blog that aim to get our attention, and sometimes, the writers don’t even agree with the outlandish statement that they’re making. Please, do not go this route.

Our goal with going through these examples with a fine-tooth comb is to help our blog readers write common app essays that make sense. Remember: tell a story, don’t give it away at the beginning, and focus on yourself.

Need help? Contact us here.

35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts

Best college essay tips for your college application from college application experts. There are over 35 tips to browse in this list!  How was your college application journey? Let us know over at collegeessayguy.com

This blog has several hundred posts.

Know what that means?

It means we’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about college essays.

But guess what?

A lot of other people have too.

So we reached out to some of our favorite college admissions experts—some current and former admissions officers—and ask one simple question:

WHAT’S your favorite piece of advice about writing a college essay?

Below are the results.

TABLE OF CONTENTS University Admissions Administrators College Application Experts College Essay Guy's College Essay Tips

College essay tips from university admission administrators.

1. know that the best ideas for your essay—the perfect opener, a great twist, a brilliant insight—often come when you least expect them.

That’s why it’s a good practice to keep a reliable collection system with you at all times as you’re preparing to write your essay. It could be your phone. It could be index cards. It could be a Moleskine notebook (if you really want to do it with panache). Just don’t store it in your own brain thinking that you’ll remember it later. Your mind may be a magnificently wonderful idea-making machine, but it’s a lousy filing cabinet. Store those ideas in one place outside your brain so that when inspiration hits you in the bathroom, in the car, on a hike—wherever—you’ll have a place to capture it and come back to it later when you need it.

This college essay tip is by Ken Anselment, Marquette University graduate and Vice President for Enrollment & Communication at Lawrence University .

2. Do not feel pressure to share every detail of challenging experiences, but also do not feel that you need to have a happy ending or solution .

Your writing should provide a context within which the reader learns about who you are and what has brought you to this stage in your life. Try to tie your account into how this has made you develop as a person, friend, family member or leader (or any role in your life that is important to you). You may also want to make a connection to how this has inspired some part of your educational journey or your future aspirations.

This college essay tip is by Jaclyn Robins, Assistant Director of admissions at the University of Southern California. The tip below is paraphrased from a post on the USC admissions blog .

3. Read it aloud.

There is something magical about reading out loud. As adults we don’t do this enough. In reading aloud to kids, colleagues, or friends we hear things differently, and find room for improvement when the writing is flat. So start by voice recording your essay.

This college essay tip is by Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admissions at Georgia Tech. The tip below is paraphrased from a post on the Georgia Tech Admission blog .

4. We want to learn about growth.

Some students spend a lot of time summarizing plot or describing their work and the "in what way" part of the essay winds up being one sentence. The part that is about you is the most important part. If you feel you need to include a description, make it one or two lines. Remember that admission offices have Google, too, so if we feel we need to hear the song or see the work of art, we'll look it up. The majority of the essay should be about your response and reaction to the work. How did it affect or change you?

This college essay tip is by Dean J, admissions officer and blogger from University of Virginia. The tip below is paraphrased from a post on the University of Virginia Admission blog .

5. Be specific.

Consider these two hypothetical introductory paragraphs for a master's program in library science.

“I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Okoboji because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.”

“When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me something that changed my life: a library of about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent arranging and reading her books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian.”

Each graf was 45 words long and contained substantively the same information (applicant has wanted to be a librarian since she was a young girl). But they are extraordinarily different essays, most strikingly because the former is generic where the latter is specific. It was a real thing, which happened to a real person, told simply. There is nothing better than that.

This college essay tip is by Chris Peterson, Assistant Director at MIT Admissions. The tip below is paraphrased from the  post “How To Write A College Essay” on the MIT blog .

6. Tell a good story.

Most people prefer reading a good story over anything else. So... tell a great story in your essay. Worry less about providing as many details about you as possible and more about captivating the reader's attention inside of a great narrative. I read a great essay this year where an applicant walked me through the steps of meditation and how your body responds to it. Loved it. (Yes, I'll admit I'm a predisposed meditation fan .)

This college essay tip is by Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admissions at Tulane University and health and fitness nut.

7. Write like you speak.

Here’s my favorite trick when I’ve got writer’s block: turn on the recording device on my phone, and just start talking. I actually use voice memos in my car when I have a really profound thought (or a to do list I need to record), so find your happy place and start recording. Maybe inspiration always seems to strike when you’re walking your dog, or on the bus to school. Make notes where and when you can so that you can capture those organic thoughts for later. This also means you should use words and phrases that you would actually use in everyday conversation. If you are someone who uses the word indubitably all the time, then by all means, go for it. But if not, then maybe you should steer clear. The most meaningful essays are those where I feel like the student is sitting next to me, just talking to me.

This college essay tip is by Kim Struglinski, admissions counselor from Vanderbilt University. The tip below is paraphrased from the excellent post “Tips for Writing Your College Essay ” on the Vanderbilt blog .

8. Verb you, Dude!

Verbs jump, dance, fall, fail us. Nouns ground us, name me, define you. “We are the limits of our language.” Love your words, feed them, let them grow. Teach them well and they will teach you too. Let them play, sing, or sob outside of yourself. Give them as a gift to others. Try the imperative, think about your future tense, when you would have looked back to the imperfect that defines us and awaits us. Define, Describe, Dare. Have fun.

This college essay tip is by Parke Muth , former associate dean of Admissions at the University of Virginia (28 years in the office) and member of the Jefferson Scholars selection committee.

9. Keep the story focused on a discrete moment in time.

By zeroing in on one particular aspect of what is, invariably, a long story, you may be better able to extract meaning from the story. So instead of talking generally about playing percussion in the orchestra, hone in on a huge cymbal crash marking the climax of the piece. Or instead of trying to condense that two-week backpacking trip into a couple of paragraphs, tell your reader about waking up in a cold tent with a skiff of snow on it. The specificity of the story not only helps focus the reader’s attention, but also opens the door to deeper reflection on what the story means to you.

This college essay tip is by Mark Montgomery, former Associate Dean at the University of Denver, admissions counselor for Fort Lewis College, founder of Great College Advice , and professor of international affairs at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Kansas.

10. Start preparing now.

Yes, I know it’s still summer break. However, the essay is already posted on our website here and isn’t going to change before the application opens on September 1. Take a look, and start to formulate your plan. Brainstorm what you are going to tell us — focus on why you are interested in the major you chose. If you are choosing the Division of General Studies, tells us about your passions, your career goals, or the different paths you are interested in exploring.

This college essay tip is by Hanah Teske, admissions counselor at the University of Illinois. This tip was paraphrased form Hanah’s blog post on the University of Illinois blog .

most overused college essays

11. Imagine how the person reading your essay will feel.

No one's idea of a good time is writing a college essay, I know. But if sitting down to write your essay feels like a chore, and you're bored by what you're saying, you can imagine how the person reading your essay will feel . On the other hand, if you're writing about something you love, something that excites you, something that you've thought deeply about, chances are I'm going to set down your application feeling excited, too—and feeling like I've gotten to know you.

This college essay tip is by Abigail McFee, Admissions Counselor for Tufts University and Tufts ‘17 graduate.

college essay tips

College Essay Tips from College Admissions Experts

12. Think outside the text box!

Put a little pizazz in your essays by using different fonts, adding color, including foreign characters or by embedding media—links, pictures or illustrations. And how does this happen? Look for opportunities to upload essays onto applications as PDFs. It’s not always possible, but when it is, you will not only have complete control over the ‘look’ of your essay but you will also potentially enrich the content of your work.

This college essay tip is by Nancy Griesemer, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University graduate and founder of College Explorations who has decades of experiencing counseling high schoolers on getting into college.

13. Write like a journalist.

"Don't bury the lede!" The first few sentences must capture the reader's attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading. Think about any article you've read—how do you decide to read it? You read the first few sentences and then decide. The same goes for college essays. A strong lede (journalist parlance for "lead") will place your reader in the "accept" mindset from the beginning of the essay. A weak lede will have your reader thinking "reject"—a mindset from which it's nearly impossible to recover.

This college essay tip is by Brad Schiller, MIT graduate and CEO of Prompt , which provides individualized feedback on thousands of students’ essays each year.

14. I promote an approach called “into, through, and beyond.”

(This approach) pushes kids to use examples to push their amazing qualities, provide some context, and end with hopes and dreams. Colleges are seeking students who will thrive on their campuses, contribute in numerous ways, especially “bridge” building, and develop into citizens who make their worlds and our worlds a better place. So application essays are a unique way for applicants to share, reflect, and connect their values and goals with colleges. Admissions officers want students to share their power, their leadership, their initiative, their grit, their kindness—all through relatively recent stories. I ask students: “Can the admissions officers picture you and help advocate for you by reading your essays?” Often kids don’t see their power, and we can help them by realizing what they offer colleges through their activities and life experiences. Ultimately I tell them, “Give the colleges specific reasons to accept you—and yes you will have to ‘brag.’ But aren’t you worth it? Use your essays to empower your chances of acceptance, merit money, and scholarships.”

This college essay tip is by Dr. Rebecca Joseph, professor at California State University and founder of All College Application Essays , develops tools for making the college essay process faster and easier.

15. Get personal.

Important note: “Getting personal” doesn’t necessarily mean sharing your deepest, darkest secrets, or describing traumatic experiences. It could mean sharing something you care about a lot, or details about one (or more) of the ways you identify.

For even more ideas on how to reveal your skills, qualities, and values without focusing on trauma, check out Why You Don’t Have to Write about Trauma in Your College Essay to Stand Out—and What You Can Do Instead .

16. Just make sure that the story you’re telling is uniquely YOURS .

I believe everyone has a story worth telling. Don’t feel like you have to have had a huge, life-changing, drama-filled experience. Sometimes the seemingly smallest moments lead us to the biggest breakthroughs.

This college essay tip is by Maggie Schuh, a member of the Testive Parent Success team and a high school English teacher in St. Louis.

17. Keep it simple!

No one is expecting you to solve the issue of world peace with your essay. Oftentimes, we find students getting hung up with “big ideas”. Remember, this essay is about YOU. What makes you different from the thousands of other applicants and their essays? Be specific. Use vivid imagery. If you’re having trouble, start small and go from there. P. S. make sure the first sentence of your essay is the most interesting one.

This college essay tip is by Myles Hunter, CEO of TutorMe , an online education platform that provides on-demand tutoring and online courses for thousands of students.

18. Honor your inspiration.

My parents would have much preferred that I write about sports or youth group, and I probably could have said something interesting about those, but I insisted on writing about a particular fish in the pet store I worked at—one that took much longer than the others to succumb when the whole tank system in the store became diseased. It was a macabre little composition, but it was about exactly what was on my mind at the time I was writing it. I think it gave whoever read it a pretty good view of my 17 year-old self. I'll never know if I got in because of that weird essay or in spite of it, but it remains a point of pride that I did it my way.

This college essay tip is by Mike McClenathan, founder of PwnTestPrep , which has a funny name but serious resources for helping high school students excel on the standardized tests.

19. Revise often and early.

Your admissions essay should go through several stages of revision. And by revisions, we don’t mean quick proofreads. Ask your parents, teachers, high school counselors or friends for their eyes and edits. It should be people who know you best and want you to succeed. Take their constructive criticism in the spirit for which they intend—your benefit.

This college essay tip is by Dhivya Arumugham, Kaplan Test Prep's director of SAT and ACT programs.

20. Write about things you care about .

The most obvious things make great topics. What do I mean? Colleges want to learn about who you are, what you value and how you will contribute to their community. I had two students write about their vehicles—one wrote about the experience of purchasing their used truck and one wrote about how her car is an extension of who she is. We learned about their responsibility, creative thinking, teamwork and resilience in a fun and entertaining way.

This college essay tip is by Mira “ Coach Mira ” Simon, Independent Educational Consultant and professionally trained coach from the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), who combines her expertise to help high school students find their pathway to college .

21. Don't tell them a story you think they want, tell them what YOU want.

Of course you want it to be a good read and stay on topic, but this is about showing admissions who you are. You don't want to get caught up in thinking too much about what they are expecting. Focus your thoughts on yourself and what you want to share.

This college essay tip is by Ashley McNaughton, Bucknell University graduate and founder of ACM College Consulting , consults on applicants internationally and volunteers with high achieving, low income students through ScholarMatch.

22. Be yourself.

A sneaky thing can happen as you set about writing your essay: you may find yourself guessing what a college admissions committee is looking for and writing to meet that made up criteria rather than standing firm in who you are and sharing your truest self. While you want to share your thoughts in the best possible light (edit please!), avoid the temptation minimize the things that make you who you are. Show your depth. Be honest about what matters to you. Be thoughtful about the experiences you've had that have shaped who you've become. Be your brilliant self. And trust that your perfect-fit college will see you for who truly you are and say "Yes! This is exactly who we've been looking for.”

This college essay tip is by Lauren Gaggioli, NYU graduate, host of The College Checklist podcast, and founder of Higher Scores Test Prep provides affordable test prep help to college applicants.

college essay tips

23. Parents should NEVER write a student's essay.

Admission officers can spot parent content immediately. The quickest way for a student to be denied admission is to allow a parent to write or edit with their own words. Parents can advise, encourage, and offer a second set of eyes, but they should never add their own words to a student's essay.

This college essay tip is by Suzanne Shaffer is a college prep expert, blogger, and author who manages the website Parenting for College .

24. Don't just write about your resume, recommendations, and high school transcripts.

Admissions officers want to know about you, your personality and emotions . For example, let them know what hobbies, interests, or passions you have. Do you excel in athletics or art? Let them know why you excel in those areas. It's so important to just be yourself and write in a manner that lets your personality shine through.

This college essay tip is by College Basic Team. College Basics offers free, comprehensive resources for both parents and students to help them navigate through the college application process and has been featured on some of the web’s top educational resource websites as well as linked to from well over 100+ different colleges, schools, and universities.

25. Find a way to showcase yourself without bragging.

Being confident is key, but you don't want to come across as boasting. Next, let them know how college will help you achieve your long-term goals. Help them connect the dots and let them know you are there for a reason. Finally (here’s an extra pro tip), learn how to answer common college interview questions within your essay. This will not only help you stand out from other applicants, but it will also prepare you for the college interview ahead of time as well.

26. Be real.

As a former college admissions officer, I read thousands of essays—good and bad. The essays that made the best impressions on me were the essays that were real. The students did not use fluff, big words, or try to write an essay they thought admission decisions makers wanted to read. The essays that impressed me the most were not academic essays, but personal statements that allowed me to get to know the reader. I was always more likely to admit or advocate for a student who was real and allowed me to get to know them in their essay.

This college essay tip is by Jessica Velasco, former director of admissions at Northwest University and founder of JLV College Counseling .

27. Don’t begin with “throat clearing.”

Dive right in.

“As I consider all the challenges I have faced in my life, I find myself most affected by the experiences I have had working at a high-end coffee shop, where I learned some important lessons about myself.”

That’s a major throat clear ... and definitely not a shot of espresso for your readers. They’re snoozing already! So start instead with:

I know her name is Amy but when she orders the vanilla macchiato she instructs me to write “Anastasia,” on the cardboard cup, deliberately pronouncing each letter as if it weren’t the hundredth time I’ve heard it.

Skip the moral-of-the-story conclusions, too. Don’t tell the admission folks, “ Now I know I can reach whatever goals I set. ” If your essay says what it’s supposed to, they’ll figure it out.

Warm-up strategy: Read the first two sentences and last two sentences in a few of your favorite novels. Did you spot any throat-clearing or moral-of-the-story endings? Probably not!

This college essay tip is by Sally Rubenstone, senior contributor to College Confidential , author of the “Ask the Dean” column, co-author of several books on college admissions, 15-year Smith College admission counselor, and teacher.

28. Don't read the Common Application prompts.

If you already have, erase them from memory and write the story you want colleges to hear. The truth is, admission reviewers rarely know—or care—which prompt you are responding to. They are curious to discover what you choose to show them about who you are, what you value, and why. Even the most fluid writers are often stifled by fitting their narrative neatly into a category and the essay quickly loses authentic voice. Write freely and choose a prompt later. Spoiler alert...one prompt is "Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. " So have at it.

This college essay tip is by Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in Manchester, N.H. and contributor to the NYT, HuffPost, and Forbes on intentionally approaching college admissions .

29. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Nothing’s perfect, of course, but the grammar, spelling, and punctuation in your admission essay should be as close to perfect as possible. After you're done writing, read your essay, re-read it a little later, and have someone else read it too, like a teacher or friend—they may find typos that your eyes were just too tired to see.

Colleges are looking for students who can express their thoughts clearly and accurately, and polishing your essay shows that you care about producing high-quality, college-level work. Plus, multiple errors could lower your chances of admission. So take the extra time and edit !

This college essay tip is by Claire Carter, University of Maine graduate and editor of CollegeXpress , one of the internet’s largest college and scholarship search engines.

30. Take the pressure off and try free-writing to limber up.

If you are having trouble coming up with what it is you want to convey or finding the perfect story to convey who you are, use prompts such as:

Share one thing that you wish people knew about you.

My biggest dream is ___________.

What have you enjoyed about high school?

Use three adjectives to describe yourself:____________, ___________, ________.

I suggest handwriting (versus typing on a keyboard) for 20 minutes. Don't worry about making it perfect, and don't worry about what you are going to write about. Think about getting yourself into a meditative state for 20 minutes and just write from the heart.

To get myself in a meditative state, I spend 60 seconds (set an alarm) drawing a spiral. Never let the pen come off the page, and just keep drawing around and around until the alarm goes off. Then, start writing.

It might feel you didn't write anything worthwhile, but my experience is that there is usually a diamond in the rough in there... perhaps more than one.

Do this exercise for 3-4 days straight, then read out loud what you have written to a trusted source (a parent? teacher? valued friend?).

Don't expect a masterpiece from this exercise (though stranger things have happened).

The goal is to discover the kernel of any idea that can blossom into your college essay—a story that will convey your message, or clarity about what message you want to convey.

Here is a picture of the spiral, in case you have trouble visualizing:

exercise -  essay tips

This college essay tip is by Debbie Stier, publisher, author of the same-title book The Perfect Score Project , featured on NBC’s Today Show, Bloomberg TV, CBS This Morning; in The New Yorker, The New York Post, USA Today, and more.

31. Show your emotions.

Adding feelings to your essays can be much more powerful than just listing your achievements. It allows reviewers to connect with you and understand your personality and what drives you. In particular, be open to showing vulnerability. Nobody expects you to be perfect and acknowledging times in which you have felt nervous or scared shows maturity and self-awareness.

This college essay tip is by Charles Maynard, Oxford and Stanford University Graduate and founder of Going Merry , which is a one-stop shop for applying to college scholarships

32. Be genuine and authentic. Make sure at least one “qualified” person edits your essay.

Your essay should be a true representation of who you are as a person—admissions officers want to read essays that are meaningful, thoughtful, and consistent with the rest of the application. Essays that come from the heart are the easiest to write and the best written. Have a teacher or counselor, not just your smartest friend, review and edit your essays. Don’t let mistakes and grammatical errors detract from your application.

This college essay tip is by Jonathan April, University of Chicago graduate, general manager of College Greenlight , which offers free tools to low-income and first-generation students developing their college lists.

COLLEGE ESSAY GUY’S COLLEGE ESSAY TIPS

The following essay, written by a former student, is so good that it illustrates at least five essential tips of good essay writing. It’s also one way to turn the objects exercise into an essay. Note how the writer incorporates a wide range of details and images through one particular lens: a scrapbook.

Prompt: Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

The Scrapbook Essay I look at the ticking, white clock: it’s eleven at night, my primetime. I clear the carpet of the Sony camera charger, the faded Levi’s, and last week’s Statistics homework. Having prepared my work space, I pull out the big, blue box and select two 12 by 12 crème sheets of paper. The layouts of the pages are already imprinted in my mind, so I simply draw them on scratch paper. Now I can really begin. Cutting the first photograph, I make sure to leave a quarter inch border. I then paste it onto a polka-dotted green paper with a glue stick. For a sophisticated touch, I use needle and thread to sew the papers together. Loads of snipping and pasting later, the clock reads three in the morning. I look down at the final product, a full spread of photographs and cut-out shapes. As usual, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride as I brush my fingers over the crisp papers and the glossy photographs. For me, the act of taking pieces of my life and putting them together on a page is my way of organizing remnants of my past to make something whole and complete. This particular project is the most valuable scrapbook I have ever made: the scrapbook of my life. In the center of the first page are the words MY WORLD in periwinkle letters. The entire left side I have dedicated to the people in my life. All four of my Korean grandparents sit in the top corner; they are side by side on a sofa for my first birthday –my ddol. Underneath them are my seven cousins from my mom’s side. They freeze, trying not to let go of their overwhelming laughter while they play “red light, green light” at O’ Melveney Park, three miles up the hill behind my house. Meanwhile, my Texas cousins watch Daniel, the youngest, throw autumn leaves into the air that someone had spent hours raking up. To the right, my school peers and I miserably pose for our history teacher who could not resist taking a picture when he saw our droopy faces the morning of our first AP exam. The biggest photograph, of course, is that of my family, huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window. I move over to the right side of the page. At the top, I have neatly sewn on three items. The first is a page of a Cambodian Bible that was given to each of the soldiers at a military base where I taught English. Beneath it is the picture of my Guatemalan girls and me sitting on the dirt ground while we devour arroz con pollo, red sauce slobbered all over our lips. I reread the third item, a short note that a student at a rural elementary school in Korea had struggled to write in her broken English. I lightly touch the little chain with a dangling letter E included with the note. Moving to the lower portion of the page, I see the photo of the shelf with all my ceramic projects glazed in vibrant hues. With great pride, I have added a clipping of my page from the Mirror, our school newspaper, next to the ticket stubs for Wicked from my date with Dad. I make sure to include a photo of my first scrapbook page of the visit to Hearst Castle in fifth grade. After proudly looking at each detail, I turn to the next page, which I’ve labeled: AND BEYOND. Unlike the previous one, this page is not cluttered or crowded. There is my college diploma with the major listed as International Relations; however, the name of the school is obscure. A miniature map covers nearly half of the paper with numerous red stickers pinpointing locations all over the world, but I cannot recognize the countries’ names. The remainder of the page is a series of frames and borders with simple captions underneath. Without the photographs, the descriptions are cryptic. For now, that second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide. Until I am able to do all that, I can prepare. I am in the process of making the layout and gathering the materials so that I can start piecing together the next part, the next page of my life’s scrapbook.

Analysis of The Scrapbook Essay (or) Five Things We Can Steal from This Essay

A great thinker once said “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” I’m not even going to tell you who said it; I’m stealing it.

#33 Use objects and images instead of adjectives

Check out the opening paragraph of the Scrapbook essay again. It reads like the opening to a movie. Can you visualize what’s happening? That’s good. Take a look at the particular objects the writer chose:

I look at the ticking, white clock: it’s eleven at night, my primetime. I clear the carpet of the Sony camera charger, the faded Levi’s, and last week’s Statistics homework. Having prepared my work space, I pull out the big, blue box and select two 12 by 12 crème sheets of paper. The layouts of the pages are already imprinted in my mind, so I simply draw them on scratch paper. Now I can really begin.

Let’s zoom in on the “faded Levi’s.” What does "faded" suggest?  (She keeps clothes for a long time; she likes to be comfortable.)  What does "Levi's" suggest?  (She's casual; she’s not fussy.)  And why does she point out that they’re on the floor?  (She's not obsessed with neatness.)

Every. Word. Counts.

Now re-read the sentence about her family:

The biggest photograph, of course, is that of my family, huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window.

What do these details tell us?

The biggest photograph: Why “biggest"? (Family is really important to her.)

Fireplace: What does a fireplace connote? (Warmth, closeness.)

My brother's hot cocoa: Why hot cocoa? (Again, warmth.) And why “my brother’s” hot cocoa? Why not “mom’s lemonade”? How is the fact that her brother made it change the image? (It implies that her brother is engaged in the family activity.) Do you think she likes her brother? Would your brother make hot cocoa for you? And finally:

Listening to rain: Why not watching TV? What does it tell you about this family that they sit and listen to rain together?

Notice how each of these objects are objective correlatives for the writer’s family. Taken together, they create an essence image.

Quick: What essence image describes your family? Even if you have a non-traditional family–in fact, especially if you have a non-traditional family!–what image or objects represents your relationship?

Based on the image the writer uses, how would you describe her relationship with her family? Close? Warm? Intimate? Loving? Quiet? But think how much worse her essay would have been if she’d written:  “I have a close, warm, intimate, loving, quiet relationship with my family.”

Instead, she describes an image of her family "huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window.” Three objects--fireplace, brother’s hot cocoa, sound of rain--and we get the whole picture of their relationship. We know all we need to know.

There’s another lesson here:

#34 Engage the reader’s imagination using all five senses

This writer did. Did you notice?

Fireplace (feel)

Brother’s hot cocoa (taste, smell)

Pitter patter of rain (sound)

Biggest photograph (sight)

And there’s something else she did that’s really smart. Did you notice how clearly she set up the idea of the scrapbook at the beginning of the essay? Look at the last sentence of the second paragraph (bolded below):

Cutting the first photograph, I make sure to leave a quarter inch border. I then paste it onto a polka-dotted green paper with a glue stick. For a sophisticated touch, I use needle and thread to sew the papers together. Loads of snipping and pasting later, the clock reads three in the morning. I look down at the final product, a full spread of photographs and cut-out shapes. As usual, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride as I brush my fingers over the crisp papers and the glossy photographs.  For me, the act of taking pieces of my life and putting them together on a page is my way of organizing remnants of my past to make something whole and complete.

The sentence in bold above is essentially her thesis. It explains the framework for the whole essay. She follows this sentence with:

This particular project is the most valuable scrapbook I have ever made: the scrapbook of my life.

Boom. Super clear. And we’re set-up for the rest of the essay. So here’s the third thing we can learn:

#35 The set-up should be super clear

Even a personal statement can have a thesis. It’s important to remember that, though your ending can be somewhat ambiguous—something we’ll discuss more later—your set-up should give the reader a clear sense of where we’re headed. It doesn’t have to be obvious, and you can delay the thesis for a paragraph or two (as this writer does), but at some point in the first 100 words or so, we need to know we’re in good hands. We need to trust that this is going to be worth our time.

#36 Show THEN Tell

Has your English teacher ever told you “Show, don’t tell?” That’s good advice, but for a college essay I believe it’s actually better to show THEN tell.

Why? Two reasons:

1.) Showing before telling gives your reader a chance to interpret the meaning of your images before you do. Why is this good? It provides a little suspense. Also, it engages the reader’s imagination. Take another look at the images in the second to last paragraph:  my college diploma... a miniature map with numerous red stickers pinpointing locations all over the world... frames and borders without photographs...  (Note that it's all "show.")

As we read, we wonder: what do all these objects mean? We have an idea, but we’re not certain. Then she TELLS us:

That second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide.

Ah. Now we get it. She’s connected the dots.

2.) Showing then telling gives you an opportunity to set-up your essay for what I believe to be the single most important element to any personal statement: insight.

#37 Provide insight

What is insight? In simple terms, it’s a deeper intuitive understanding of a person or thing.

But here’s a more useful definition for your college essay: Insight is something that you’ve noticed about the world that others may have missed. Insight answers the question: So what? It's proof that you’re a close observer of the world. That you’re sensitive to details. That you’re smart.

And the author of this essay doesn’t just give insight at the end of her essay, she does it at the beginning too : she begins with a description of herself creating a scrapbook (show), then follows this with a clear explanation for why she has just described this (tell).

Final note: it’s important to use insight judiciously. Not throughout your whole essay; a couple times will do.

#38 Trim the fat.

Here’s a 40-word sentence. Can you cut it in half without changing the meaning?

Over the course of the six weeks, I became very familiar with playing the cello, the flute, the trumpet, and the marimba in the morning session while I continually learned how to play the acoustic guitar in the afternoon sessions.

Wait, actually try cutting this (in your mind) before scrolling down. See how concise you can get it.

(No, really.)

Okay, here’s one way to revise it:

In six weeks, I learned the cello, flute, trumpet, and marimba in the mornings and acoustic guitar in the afternoons.

There. Half the words and retains the meaning.

#39 Split long sentences with complex ideas into two.

This may sound contrary to the first point but it ain’t. Why? Sometimes we’re just trying to pack too much into the same sentence.

Check this one out:

For an inquisitive student like me, Brown’s liberal program provides a diverse and intellectually stimulating environment, giving me great freedom to tailor my education by pursuing a double concentration in both public health and business, while also being able to tap into other, more unconventional, academic interests, such as ancient history and etymology through the first year seminars.

That’s a lot for one sentence, eh?

This sentence is what I’d call “top heavy.” It has a lot of important information in the first half–so much, in fact, that I need a break before I can take in the bits at the end about “ancient history” and “etymology.” Two options for revising this:

Option 1. If you find yourself trying to pack a lot into one sentence, just use two.

Two sentences work just as well, and require no extra words. In the example above, the author could write:

For an inquisitive student like me, Brown’s liberal program provides a diverse and intellectually stimulating environment, giving me great freedom to tailor my education by pursuing a double concentration in both public health and business. I also look forward to pursuing other , more unconventional, academic interests, such as ancient history and etymology through the first year seminars.

Option 2: Just trim the first half of the sentence to its essence, or cut most of it.

That might look like this:

At Brown I look forward to pursuing a double concentration in both public health and business, while also tapping into other, more unconventional academic interests, such as ancient history and etymology.

And just for the record (for all the counselors who might be wondering), I don’t actually write out these revisions for my students; I ask questions and let them figure it out. In this example, for instance, I highlighted the first half of the sentence and wrote, “Can you make this more concise?”

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ANOTHER GREAT READ: HOW TO START A COLLEGE ESSAY: 9 SUREFIRE TECHNIQUES (2019)

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most overused college essays

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The 5 Most Overused College Essay Topics

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One of our counselors referred to his last year working in admissions at a highly?selective college as the “year of the blood drive essay”. That year, an unusually high number of applicants told the same tale of how one on?campus blood drive changed their lives and made them appreciate the importance of serving humanity. Writing such grandiose statements into your essays won’t help you stand out. The statements sound cliché. So here are the five most overused clichés we—and every admissions officer we’ve spoken with—see most often, and which you should avoid.

1. The aforementioned “blood drive essay” or “How community service taught me the importance of helping others” Colleges appreciate students who are concerned about their communities. But one blood drive does not a humanitarian make. A claim to have learned how important it is to help people, needs to be substantiated with evidence of a sincere, long?term commitment to actually helping people. Otherwise, your message loses some oomph . If you had an experience during your community service that really meant a lot to you, say so. And be honest. Otherwise, consider doing a good deed for admissions officers and avoid the community service cliché.

2. “Hard work always pays off,” and other life lessons learned while playing sports The problem with many sports essays is they explain what life is like for every athlete. You go to practice. You work hard. You compete. Then the student makes it worse by saying sports taught him the importance of hard work and commitment, which is almost certainly not something he would say to his friends. Be original. Tell your sports story that nobody else can tell. If you can’t find a story you own, just write about something else.

3. “How my trip to another country broadened my horizons” This essay essentially says, “France is very difference from the United States—the food, the language, the customs. But I learned to appreciate the differences and to adapt to the ways of the French.” Visiting a country and noticing that it is different is not a story that you own. The admissions office doesn’t want to read your travel journals. Instead, make yourself, not the country, the focus of the essay. One of my students who had never previously ventured onto any sort of dance floor wrote that his trip to Spain was the first time he’d ever danced in front of other people. That wasn’t an essay about how Spain was different—it was an essay about how he was different in Spain.

4. “How I overcame a life challenge [that wasn’t really all that challenging]” Essays can help admissions officers understand more about a student who has overcome legitimate hardship. But far too many other students misguidedly manufacture hardship in a college essay to try to gain sympathy or make excuses (e.g., for low grades). This approach won’t work. If you’ve endured a hardship and you want to talk about it, you should. Otherwise, it’s probably better to choose a different topic. Note: The pet eulogy falls into this category. Lovely if you want to write one. Just don’t include it as part of your college essay.

5. Anything that doesn’t really sound like you Your essays are supposed to give the readers a sense of your personality. So give your essays a sincerity test. Do they sound like you, or do they sound like you’re trying to impress someone? Don’t use words you looked up in the thesaurus. There really is no place for “plethora” in a college essay. Don’t quote Shakespeare or Plato or the Dali Lama unless that is really you. If your best friend reads your college essay and says it sounds just like you, that’s probably a good sign.

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Kevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise , a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog, wiselikeus.com , and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.

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When you apply to colleges, you will do plenty of writing. Aside from filling in information and completing a resume, you will have to write essays or short answers based on prompts universities give you. Looking at college essay examples can be a helpful way to prepare for this important part of the application.

Generally, your college entrance essays are meant to convey something about you that could not be known from other parts of your application. For example, your essays should do more than show you are a hard worker because good grades and a busy resume already do this. Some essays for college will ask for something very specific. For example, the “why this college” essay tries to gauge your knowledge and commitment to the institution. For the personal essay on the Common Application, expectations are less clear. This is a college essay about yourself, and you will submit one for all schools that require the Common Application . 

The Common App essay is supposed to give admissions officers a sense of your personality. This is a chance to make you stand out in a way that other parts of the application could not. That being said, the best college essays do more than just display the author’s quirks but create a picture of a dynamic person who offers something to a college community. This will help set you apart during the college admissions committee review process . 

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Here are some examples of college essays that worked. Pay attention to how students used one part of who they are (a memory, their background, a challenge) to paint a larger picture. Overall, this is a great way to communicate a lot of information in a relatively small space. 

College essay example #1

This first essay was submitted to Harvard University during the 2021 college admissions cycle: 

When I was a child, I begged my parents for my very own Brother PT-1400 P-Touch Handheld Label Maker to fulfill all of my labeling needs. Other kids had Nintendos and would spend their free time with Mario and Luigi. While they pummeled their video game controllers furiously, the pads of their thumbs dancing across their joysticks, I would type out labels on my industrial-standard P-Touch with just as much zeal. I labeled everything imaginable, dividing hundreds of pens into Ziploc bags by color, then rubber-banding them by point size. The finishing touch, of course, was always a glossy, three-eighths-inch-wide tag, freshly churned out from my handheld labeler and decisively pasted upon the numerous plastic bags I had successfully compiled.

Labeling became therapeutic for me; organizing my surroundings into specific groups to be labeled provides me with a sense of stability. I may not physically need the shiny color-coded label verifying the contents of a plastic bag as BLUE HIGHLIGHTERS—FAT, to identify them as such, but seeing these classifications so plainly allows me to appreciate the reliability of my categorizations. There are no exceptions when I label the top ledge of my bookshelf as containing works from ACHEBE, CHINUA TO CONRAD, JOSEPH. Each book is either filtered into that category or placed definitively into another one. Yet, such consistency only exists in these inanimate objects.

Thus, the break in my role as a labeler comes when I interact with people. Their lives are too complicated, their personalities too intricate for me to resolutely summarize in a few words or even with the 26.2 feet of laminated adhesive tape compatible with my label maker. I have learned that a thin line exists between labeling and just being judgmental when evaluating individuals. I can hardly superficially characterize others as simply as I do my material possessions because people refuse to be so cleanly separated and compartmentalized. My sister Joyce jokes freely and talks with me for hours about everything from the disturbing popularity of vampires in pop culture to cubic watermelons, yet those who don’t know her well usually think of her as timid and introverted. My mother is sometimes my biggest supporter, spouting words of encouragement and, at other instances, my most unrelenting critic. The overlap becomes too indistinct, the contradictions too apparent, even as I attempt to classify those people in the world whom I know best.

Neither would I want others to be predictable enough for me to label. The real joy in human interaction lies in the excitement of the unknown. Overturning expectations can be necessary to preserving the vitality of relationships. If I were never surprised by the behaviors of those around me, my biggest source of entertainment would vanish. For all my love of order when it comes to my room, I don’t want myself, or the people with whom I interact, to fit squarely into any one category. I meticulously follow directions to the millimeter in the chemistry lab but measure ingredients by pinches and dashes in the comfort of my kitchen. I’m a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, but I’ll admit e. e. cummings’s irreverence does appeal. I’ll chart my television show schedule on Excel, but I would never dream of confronting my chores with as much organization. I even call myself a labeler, but not when it comes to people. As Walt Whitman might put it, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.).”

I therefore refrain from the temptation to label—despite it being an act that makes me feel so fulfilled when applied to physical objects—when real people are the subjects. The consequences of premature labeling are too great, the risk of inaccuracy too high because, most of the time, not even the hundreds of alphanumeric digits and symbols available for entry on my P-Touch can effectively describe who an individual really is.

A pleasure to read, filled with witty remarks and earnest self-reflection. This essay uses humor, along with meticulous attention to detail, to convey certain personal truths. The opening anecdote demonstrates the student’s passion for order and organization, while the second half of this essay shows the student’s willingness to contradict themself to engage with others meaningfully. 

Not only is this essay creative and entertaining, but it also demonstrates how this student is eager to challenge themself and embrace a wide variety of perspectives. Furthermore, the specific details this student includes, especially their literary references, help express their academic interests and values. Overall, this essay is witty, creative, and memorable, while engaging in a larger meaningful discussion.

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College essay example #2.

This second essay was submitted to Hamilton College during the 2021 college admissions cycle: 

I dreaded their arrival. The tyrannical cicadas swarmed DC and neighboring areas in 1987, 2004, and again in 2021. I was freaking about Brood X, the worst of them all. Brood X is a cluster of cicadas that descend on Washington, D.C., every 17 years. I live in the epicenter of their swarm. Cicadas battled with mosquitoes for first place in the top tier of the human annoyance pyramid. I hate these off-brand cockroaches.

For 17 years, cicadas live underground feasting off of sap, running free of danger. Then, they emerge and face the real world. That sounds familiar. I have lived in the same house, in the same town, for 17 years, with my parents feeding me pasta and keeping me safe.

Is it conceivable that I have more in common with cicadas than I previously thought? Cicadas have beady, red eyes. After a year of enduring Zoom classes, attending tele-health appointments, and spending too much time on social media and video games, I too feel a little blurry-eyed and disoriented. But what about their incessant hum and perpetual noise? That is not me. OK, maybe I do make protein shakes with a noisy blender at all hours of the day. Maybe I do FaceTime vehemently with friends, blare music while I shower, and constantly kick a ball around both inside the house and out.

At least I do not leave damaged wings, shedded skin, or rotting carcasses everywhere. Smelly soccer socks on the clean carpet after a long practice? Check. Pools of turf in the mudroom after sliding all over the field? You got it. Dirty dishes and trail mix stains after accidentally sitting on a mislaid M&M are hardly as abhorrent as cicada remains, right?

The more I reflected, the more I realized these bugs and I are more alike than different. After 17 years of being cooped up, we are both antsy to face new experiences. Of course, cicadas want to broaden their wings, fly, and explore the world, even if it means clumsily colliding into people’s faces, telephone poles, and parked cars. Just like I want to shed my skin and escape to college, even if it means getting lost on campus or ruining a whole load of laundry. Despite all my newbie attributes, I am proceeding to the next phase of my life whether I am ready or not.

Only the hardiest of cicadas survive their emergence and make it to trees to mate, lay eggs, and ensure the existence of their species. I want to be a tenacious Brood X cicada. I will know what it means to travel into the wrong classroom before getting laughed at, bump into an upperclassman before dropping textbooks everywhere, fail an exam after thinking I aced it. I may even become the cicada of the lecture hall by asking a professor for permission to go to the bathroom. Like cicadas, I will need time to learn how to learn.

No matter what challenge I undergo that exposes and channels my inner-cicada, novice thought process, I will regroup and continue to soar toward the ultimate goal of thriving in college.

When I look beyond our beady red eyes, round-the-clock botherment, and messy trails, I now understand there is room for all creatures to grow, both cicadas and humans. Cicadas certainly are on to something … Seventeen years is the perfect amount of time to emerge and get ready to fly.

This essay uses a humorous extended metaphor to express their eagerness to attend college — as well as their inner trepidations. Mostly this essay is about resiliency and embracing change. What makes this essay stand out, however, is its subject matter. By comparing themself to a cicada, an organism they’ve already admitted to strongly disliking, the student demonstrates humor, humility, and a willingness to approach the world with creativity and curiosity. 

While this essay isn’t necessarily about a particular interest or experience, it characterizes the student exceedingly well. Overall, this essay is memorable and creative, using humor and humility to express a greater truth about how this student views themself and how they approach their surroundings. 

College essay example #3

This third essay was submitted to Tufts College  during the 2019 college admissions cycle: 

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn’t allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn’t expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find — with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials “RK-1” — that cyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB’s, and students’ apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody’s surprise). Ironically, it’s through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry’s book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I’m learning that it isn’t the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek — I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

This essay uses a humorous childhood anecdote to introduce an impressive series of scientific projects and inquiries. As evident through their various scientific projects, this student is very talented and driven. Furthermore, by periodically revisiting the playful language of the opening anecdote, the student’s scientific achievements are further emphasized through its contrasting language and tone. 

Overall, this essay strikes a really good balance between playful and scientific language, which ultimately ties into the student’s parting conclusion that they want to use their love of storytelling to make scientific discoveries more accessible to a wider audience. This essay is memorable, highly detailed, and leaves a lasting impression. 

College essay example #4

This final essay was submitted to John Hopkins University as a part of the 2018 college admissions cycle: 

The sound was loud and discordant, like a hurricane, high notes and low notes mixing together in an audible mess. It was as if a thousand booming foghorns were in a shouting match with sirens. Unlike me, this was a little abrasive and loud. I liked it. It was completely unexpected and extremely fun to play.

Some instruments are built to make multiple notes, like a piano. A saxophone on the other hand doesn’t play chords but single notes through one vibrating reed. However, I discovered that you can play multiple notes simultaneously on the saxophone. While practicing a concert D-flat scale, I messed up a fingering for a low B-flat, and my instrument produced a strange noise with two notes. My band teacher got very excited and exclaimed, “Hey, you just played a polyphonic note!” I like it when accidents lead to discovering new ideas.

I like this polyphonic sound because it reminds me of myself: many things at once. You assume one thing and get another. At school, I am a course scholar in English, but I am also able to amuse others when I come up with wince evoking puns. My math and science teachers expect me to go into engineering, but I’m more excited about making films. Discussing current events with my friends is fun, but I also like to share with them my secrets to cooking a good scotch egg. Even though my last name gives them a hint, the Asian students at our school don’t believe that I’m half Japanese. 

Meanwhile the non-Asians are surprised that I’m also part Welsh. I feel comfortable being unique or thinking differently. As a Student Ambassador this enables me to help freshmen and others who are new to our school feel welcome and accepted. I help the new students know that it’s okay to be themselves.

There is added value in mixing things together. I realized this when my brother and I won an international Kavli Science Foundation contest where we explained the math behind the Pixar movie “Up”. Using stop motion animation we explored the plausibility and science behind lifting a house with helium balloons. I like offering a new view and expanding the way people see things. In many of my videos I combine art with education. I want to continue making films that not only entertain, but also make you think.

A lot of people have a single passion that defines them or have a natural talent for something specific. Like my saxophone I am an instrument, but I can play many notes at once. I’m a scholar and a musician. Quiet but talkative. An athlete and a filmmaker. Careful but spontaneous. A fan of Johnny Cash and Kill The Noise. Hard-working but playful. A martial artist and a baker. One of a kind but an identical twin.

Will polyphonic notes resonate in college? Yes. For instance, balancing a creative narrative with scientific facts will make a more believable story. I want to bring together different kinds of students (such as music, film, and English majors) to create more meaningful art. Understanding fellow students’ perspective, talents, and ideas are what build a great community.

I’m looking forward to discovering my place in the world by combining various interests. Who I am doesn’t always harmonize and may seem like nothing but noise to some. But what I play, no matter how discordant, can be beautiful. It’s my own unique polyphonic note.

The opening anecdote is unique, engaging, and succinct. It also allows the student to include a lot of personal details and interests in a way that feels natural and matches the tone of the opening anecdote. In less than a page, we learn that this student is a musician, athlete, filmmaker, jokester, twin, martial artist, baker, lover of literature, and twin. We also learn that the student is half-Japanese, half-Welsh, and has learned to embrace her cultural differences and personal nuances while encouraging others to do the same. The upbeat, excitable tone of this essay also helps characterize this student as well as demonstrate how she would enhance the school’s campus culture. 

Key takeaways from college essay examples

Writing a successful personal statement is a key factor in holistic college admissions practices . This is because your personal statement is your opportunity to share more about who you are as a person and what you’re passionate about. Every year thousands of qualified students apply to highly-selective colleges, such as Ivy League institutions , but only a small fraction of students are admitted. So how do you stand out in a pool of equally qualified applicants? Your personal statement. 

This is why it is important to learn more about components of a strong personal statement , as well as overused college essay topics that are best to avoid. Reading examples of successful Common App essays is a great way to start thinking about how to best approach your college essays. By identifying key strategies and characteristics that helped set these essay examples apart, you are one step closer to writing your own successful personal statement.

Need college essay help?

Prepory offers a college admissions essay help package to assist high school students with the most important part of the college application process. Our expert editors have degrees in writing, attended elite colleges and universities, and have hundreds of success stories editing college essays. Our college essay review process goes further than editing for a missing comma or period. We dig deep to learn more about who you are and what you want to tell admissions officers. 

Our college admissions team helps students write compelling college essays and construct, edit, and flesh out their resumes, too! If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance during this college application season, reach out to learn more about our services .

  • November 7, 2022
  • College Admissions , Common App

4 Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools

most overused college essays

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Report Helps Answer the Question: Is a College Degree Worth the Cost?

The analysis found that former students at most colleges had an annual income higher than high school graduates a decade after enrollment.

A diploma being swiped through a green device with a clock on it.

By Ann Carrns

Most people go to college to improve their financial prospects, though there are other benefits to attending a postsecondary institution. But as the average cost of a four-year degree has risen to six figures, even at public universities, it can be hard to know if the money is well spent .

A new analysis by HEA Group, a research and consulting firm focused on college access and success, may help answer the question for students and their families. The study compares the median earnings of former college students, 10 years after they enrolled, with basic income benchmarks.

The analysis found that a majority of colleges exceed minimum economic measures for their graduates, like having a typical annual income that is more than that of a high school graduate with no higher education ($32,000, per federal Scorecard data ).

Still, more than 1,000 schools fell short of that threshold, though many of them were for-profit colleges concentrating in short-term credentials rather than traditional four-year degrees.

Seeing whether a college’s former students are earning “reasonable” incomes, said Michael Itzkowitz, HEA Group’s founder and president, can help people weigh whether they want to cross some institutions off their list. Someone deciding between similar colleges, for example, can see the institution that has produced students with significantly higher incomes.

While income isn’t necessarily the only criterion to consider when comparing schools, Mr. Itzkowitz said, “it’s a very good starting point.”

The report used data from the Education Department’s College Scorecard to assess the earnings of about five million former students who had attended about 3,900 institutions of higher education, 10 years after they first enrolled. (The analysis includes data for people who didn’t complete their degree.) The report includes public colleges as well as private nonprofit and for-profit schools; the schools may offer nondegree certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

The analysis found that schools where students earned less than their peers who never attended college were generally those offering nondegree certificates, which can often be completed in 18 months or less, as well as for-profit institutions, although the list also includes some public and private nonprofit schools. At 71 percent of for-profit schools, a majority of students were earning less than high school graduates 10 years after enrolling, compared with 14 percent of public institutions and 9 percent of private nonprofit schools, Mr. Itzkowitz said.

“College is, indeed, worth it,” Mr. Itzkowitz said, but paying for it can be “substantially riskier” depending on the type of school you attend or the credential you seek.

(Another report found that former students of for-profit colleges tend to experience more financial risk than those who attended similarly selective public colleges. Those risks include having to take on more debt for higher education, a greater likelihood of defaulting on student loans and a lower likelihood of finding a job.)

Jason Altmire, president and chief executive of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade group representing for-profit career colleges, said lumping together schools offering mainly short-term certificate programs with colleges offering four-year degrees didn’t make sense. People who want to work in certain careers — hairdressing, for instance — generally can’t work in the field unless they earn a certificate, he said.

Mr. Altmire also said that income data from for-profit certificate schools might be skewed by “gender bias” because the programs had a higher proportion of women, who were more likely than men to work part time while raising families, lowering a school’s reported median income.

The HEA report also compared colleges’ performance with other benchmarks, like the federal poverty line ($15,000 annual income for an individual), which is used to determine eligibility for benefits for government programs like subsidized health insurance and Medicaid. Incomes at the “vast majority” of colleges exceeded this cutoff, the report found, although 18 — nearly all of them for-profit schools offering nondegree certificate programs in beauty or hairstyling — had students with median incomes below that threshold.

Majors also matter, since those in science, technology, engineering and nursing typically lead to significantly higher salaries than majors in the arts or humanities. (Last year, HEA published a separate analysis of the college majors that pay the most.)

When comparing the earnings after college, students and families shouldn’t look at the data in a vacuum, said Kristina Dooley, a certified educational planner in Hudson, Ohio. Many schools where former students go on to be top earners have programs focusing on health sciences, technology or business, but that may not be what you want to study.

“Use it as one piece of information,” Ms. Dooley said.

She said that students shouldn’t rule out a college just because it wasn’t at the pinnacle of the income list. Do ask questions, though — like whether its career services office helps with setting up internships and making alumni connections to assist you in finding a good-paying job.

Amy S. Jasper, an independent educational consultant in Richmond, Va., said postgraduate income might matter more to students and families who had to get a loan for college. “How much debt do they want to incur?” she said. “That is something that needs to be taken into consideration.”

But, she said, the benefits of college are not just financial. “I’d like to think that picking the right school is also about becoming a better person and contributing to the world.”

Here are some questions and answers about college costs:

What colleges had the highest median incomes?

Marquee names, like most Ivy League schools, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are heavily represented at the top of HEA’s analysis. Their students had median incomes of at least $90,000 a decade after enrollment. (A handful of for-profit schools, focused on careers like nursing and digital production, can be found there as well.) But the highest-earning colleges on the list? Samuel Merritt University, a nursing and health sciences school in Oakland, Calif., and the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, each with incomes above $129,000. You can see the data on the HEA website .

How much does college cost?

The average estimated “sticker” price for college — the published cost for tuition, fees, housing, meals, books and supplies, transportation and personal items — ranges from about $19,000 a year at a two-year community college to about $28,000 for in-state students at a public four-year university to almost $58,000 at a four-year private college, according to 2022-23 data from the College Board . Some students, however, may pay much less because of financial aid.

Are some college programs required to meet income benchmarks?

A federal “gainful employment” rule , which aims to make career programs more accountable, is scheduled to take effect in July. The new rule, which mostly affects for-profit schools but also applies to certificate programs at all types of colleges, requires schools to show that at least half of their graduates earn more than a typical high school graduate in their state and that their graduates have affordable student loan payments. Colleges that miss either benchmark must alert students that the school could lose access to federal financial aid. Schools that fail the same standard twice in three years will become ineligible for federal aid programs.

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Making sense of your finances can be complicated. the tips below can help..

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Whether you’re looking to make your home more energy-efficient, install solar panels or buy an electric car, this guide can help you save money and fight climate change .

Starting this year, some of the money in 529 college savings accounts can be used for retirement if it’s not needed for education. Here is how it works .

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Americans’ credit card debt and late payments are rising, and card interest rates remain high, but many people lack a plan to pay down their debt. Here’s what you can do .

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COMMENTS

  1. Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes You Must Avoid

    Going over the word limit. Part of showing your brilliance is being able to work within arbitrary rules and limitations. Going over the word count points to a lack of self-control, which is not a very attractive feature in a college applicant. Repeating the same word (s) or sentence structure over and over again.

  2. 11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

    9. Your religious institution or faith. Religion is generally a very tricky topic, and it's difficult to cover it in an original way in your essay. Writing about your faith and reflecting on it critically can work, but basic religious essays about why your faith is important to you are a little more cliché.

  3. 10 Most Overused Essay Topics

    The Résumé Recap is the most straightforward and frequently seen essay type on the overused list. In fact, this happens so often that you may not even realize you've done it at first. Or maybe your essay started out strong, but the second half turns into a list of accomplishments. Truly, it happens all the time.

  4. College Admissions Essay Topics to Avoid

    October 03, 2023. The last thing you want your college essay to be is a cliché, so avoid the following. A pplying to college is a multi-pronged process that culminates with a component that high school seniors tend to both dread and procrastinate. Hint: it's the college admissions essay. It's true, you can save yourself some time and ...

  5. 9 College Essay Topics to Avoid at ALL COSTS

    In general, you want to avoid something college admissions officers have already read hundreds of times before, including topics related to: Adapting to a new culture. Developing new and foreign habits. Acquiring a second language. Finding it difficult to fit in.

  6. Overused College Essay Topics

    Moving. Unfortunately, writing about a big move is one of the many college essay topics that have been done countless times. Admissions officers have likely already read about plenty of students having to switch schools and adapt to a new place. Instead, try and focus on a specific part of your life or identity that changed when you moved.

  7. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other). My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

  8. What Admissions Officers Think of 3 Common College Essay Topics

    It ranked as the fifth most important factor in the admissions process in a 2019 National Association for College Admission Counseling survey. The essay followed other factors: high school GPA ...

  9. Break Free from Overused College Essay Topics

    Let's examine some of the most overused college essay topics and provide insights on how to approach them in a unique and authentic way. ... Crafting a college essay that stands out requires avoiding the pitfalls of overused topics and embracing a fresh, authentic approach. By delving deeper into your experiences, focusing on personal growth ...

  10. What are college essay topics that are over used/not original?

    DON'T use these essay topics: 1) Big sports games. 2) Mission trips. 3) Glorified resume (where you just write a paragraph about each extracurricular; please don't do this bc you can't get into enough depth and it doesn't add anything to your application if it's already in the activity section) 4) Major life changes that have happened to other ...

  11. Choosing Your College Essay Topic

    Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are: Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)

  12. The 5 Most Overused College Essay Topics

    The statements sound cliché. So here are the five most overused clichés we—and every admissions officer we've spoken with—see most often and which you should avoid. 1. The aforementioned "blood drive essay" or "How community service taught me the importance of helping others" Colleges appreciate students who are concerned about ...

  13. 10 Overused College Essay Topics to Avoid

    Highlight something unique instead. 2. The sports injury essay. This is an overused topic for the college admissions essay, where students write about injuries, obstacles, and success stories. It is quite common and will not help you stand out. The problem with such a college essay topic is it becomes predictable.

  14. Choosing a topic for my college essay

    Avoid cliché topics: There are certain topics that are overused in college essays, such as sports victories or injuries, moving to a new school, or the immigrant story. While these can still make for a great essay, it's important to approach them from a unique angle or focus on a specific, personal moment within the larger context of these themes.

  15. Grammar Do's, Don't of College Application Essays

    Tips to Finish Writing College Application Essays. So, keep your paragraphs on the shorter end of the spectrum. Try to limit them to five to seven sentences each, or fewer if your sentences are ...

  16. 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2023

    This college essay tip is by Abigail McFee, Admissions Counselor for Tufts University and Tufts '17 graduate. 2. Write like a journalist. "Don't bury the lede!" The first few sentences must capture the reader's attention, provide a gist of the story, and give a sense of where the essay is heading.

  17. The Great College Essay Test

    Read your essay aloud, or have someone else read it aloud, then ask these questions: Core Values (aka Information). Can you name at least 4-5 of the author's core values? Do you detect a variety of values, or do the values repeat? Examples of NOT varied values: hard work, determination, perseverance. Examples of more varied values: autonomy ...

  18. Bad Opening Lines for College Essays: an Explanation

    Yesterday we published this blog post detailing 10 bad opening lines for college essays. After much thought, we've decided to go through the examples individually and explain exactly why they don't work. ... These "themes" are often overused, and when essays fall into this trap, you're placed into a bucket. Instead of actually writing ...

  19. 35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts

    Use your essays to empower your chances of acceptance, merit money, and scholarships.". This college essay tip is by Dr. Rebecca Joseph, professor at California State University and founder of All College Application Essays, develops tools for making the college essay process faster and easier. 15. Get personal.

  20. Overused Common App Essay Topics : r/ApplyingToCollege

    calopsiax. • 6 yr. ago. So the truth is that all topics are sometimes overused. There are too many applicants. But as long as you put your own unique spin on it, you'll be fine. Some of the most common topics include: recovering from a sports injury/sports in general or writing about a family member, particularly a grandparent. 28.

  21. The 5 Most Overused College Essay Topics

    So here are the five most overused clichés we—and every admissions officer we've spoken with—see most often, and which you should avoid. 1. The aforementioned "blood drive essay" or "How community service taught me the importance of helping others" Colleges appreciate students who are concerned about their communities. But one ...

  22. 4 Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools

    This is why it is important to learn more about components of a strong personal statement, as well as overused college essay topics that are best to avoid. Reading examples of successful Common App essays is a great way to start thinking about how to best approach your college essays. By identifying key strategies and characteristics that ...

  23. What are the some of the most overused words in college essays?

    Juxtapose, multi faceted, passion, fervor, vigor, highlight, uNiQue, compliment, etc. "I pursued my passion with a fervent academic vigor. This unique experience highlights my multi faceted being and plethora of interests. The passionate intensity of English juxtaposes my more well rounded and eager science interest.

  24. Report Helps Answer the Question: Is a College Degree Worth the Cost

    The average estimated "sticker" price for college — the published cost for tuition, fees, housing, meals, books and supplies, transportation and personal items — ranges from about $19,000 ...