College Entrance Autobiographical Essay Sample

The essay section of your college application can seem pretty intense, especially after filling in the easy stuff like your name, address, and test scores. Where do you begin? What should it sound like? Who can you ask for help? We asked the experts for some answers.

“Students say, ‘I don’t have anything to write about.’ Well, they do. They just don’t know where to look,” says Estelle Rankin, co-author of the book McGraw Hill’s Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay and an academic consultant for the College Board. She tells the story of one student who was totally convinced she had nothing interesting or worthwhile in her life to write about. But the student had been a dancer since she was three years old, and when she stopped to think about what was most important to her, she came up with this: tap, click, dash! She began her application essay with those words, the sounds of tap dancing, introducing her readers to her experience as a dancer, choreographer, instructor, and volunteer. “Find something small and unique,” Rankin says. “Give us some insight as to what’s important to you,” whether it’s your passion for zombie movies or the way you feel the first day of baseball season. Bottom line? Everybody’s got something!

A good way to start is to read through all the possible application essay questions, then go with the one that jumps out at you first. Focus on that prompt and forget about the others. (Some schools allow you to choose your own topic, but you can still follow these steps to generate ideas.) Try “interviewing” yourself to find the right life experience to pursue, suggests Rankin. Jot down your thoughts, and look for one particular thing or incident that will grab the reader’s attention—that’s your opening.

There are also plenty of suggestions for what not to write about, like why your Mom/Dad/sibling/coach/pastor is important to you. Why? Because certain subjects are commonplace and overused, and you want your application essay to stand out. That being said, if the need to address one of those topics is strong enough, or if you have an extremely unique experience, you should trust your instincts.

“I believe that even a trite or overused genre can have a new life if the student writes the essay from a different angle,” says Erika Jeffers, Senior Admission Counselor at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. “When using that experience in an admissions essay, students should broaden their scope and try to capture a moment that is rarely visible. Make it personal.”

From beginning to end

There is no tried-and-true formula for writing the perfect application essay, but there is one rule that all students should follow in their essays: be true to yourself. “They have to learn to trust themselves as a resource,” says Rankin. “They have the information within them, and they should go with that.” Basically, talk about what you know. If you are naturally funny, infuse some humor into your essay. If a fictional character has had a greater impact on your life than any real person, write about that character. Be genuine, and your personality will shine through the words on the page.

But before admission counselors can get to know you, the essay needs to grab their attention, drawing them into your story. “Find a clever opening,” says Rankin. “Make the reader want to meet you.” Some of her suggestions include dropping readers into the middle of a dialogue, quoting a favorite song, or issuing a bold statement. However, all of these openings hinge on your ability to relate them to the topic. “Focus on something important, something that gave you insight,” she says, and make sure you stick to it. Take that single idea and fill it out with details, personality, and passion.

You also need to remember that this is not an essay for your English class. It does not need to sound academic; the tone can be conversational or serious or somewhere in between. “Depending on the topic of the essay, it could go either way and either tone is acceptable,” says Jeffers. “Again, it’s about the student remaining true to themselves.” Also unlike academic essays, you do not necessarily need to provide a fully formed conclusion. Instead, end the essay with a strong closing statement. It can be ironic, humorous, or poignant—it just needs to lead back to the topic.

Finally, make sure you truly understand the application essay prompt. Read (and reread) it carefully. Why? Because you need to understand the question to answer it correctly! This may sound obvious, but many students write eloquent application essays that completely miss the mark, bypassing what the prompt was actually asking. For instance, “write about someone who has influenced you” does not mean you are to write that person’s biography. The essay is still about you.

Things to avoid

Not surprisingly, mistakes anywhere on your application hurt your chances of getting in. But they can be avoided by proofreading every page, particularly the essay. Rest assured, you’re going to make mistakes in your essay, but that’s what first, second, and third drafts are for. “Sometimes I don’t think students even take the time to go back and reread their writing,” says Ellen Furnari, Admission Counselor at Wells College in Aurora, New York. “Nothing kills a mood like reading a good essay and finding a horrible spelling mistake or a misplaced comma!”

Common errors include simple grammar mistakes, like the misuse of homonyms, as well as a lack of attention to detail. For example, if you’re going to send the same essay to multiple schools, edit to make sure any reference to College X doesn’t appear in the copy you send to University Y. “I have come across several admission essays which state the reasons why that student thinks they will be a great fit for another college,” says Jeffers.

Also, avoid using a thesaurus to fill your application essay with big, “smart-sounding” words. It’s easy to misuse those words, and that’s an immediate red flag to admission counselors. They also know when they’re reading an essay that has been written by someone else, like your parents or English teacher. However, it is okay to have your parents, teachers, or guidance counselor edit your essay. In fact, you should ask them, your siblings, your friends—anyone who knows you well—to read it before you send in the final copy. “The more eyes that see the essay the better,” says Jeffers. But, before passing it on to a trusted proofreader, read the essay aloud; it’s often easier to hear awkward phrasing than see it.

“Your essay should be a chance to let your writing skills shine,” says Furnari, so don’t waste the opportunity! Just remember that even the most ordinary topic can be approached in an extraordinary way. She recalls an application essay that described the student’s love of physics through his love of sledding as a child. Simple and sincere, it was the perfect window into that student’s life. “Ultimately, it’s not what you write about—it’s how you write it that’s important.”

What not to write

Think twice before using any of the following topics, say these experts. They are overused, and your essay may become lost in the crowd. Remember to write about something that is unique to you and no one else.

  • The Dictionary Essay  This essay opens with a word, followed by the applicant describing the word’s significance, and it always sounds contrived.
  • Parents  Writing about how admirable your parents are is hard to do without sounding generic.
  • Sports  Admission counselors have read every sport disaster and/or victory story out there. They also know you loved your coach.
  • The Recipe  “Two cups enthusiasm, one teaspoon determination, and a dash of dreams make the perfect student.” This is also the recipe for a boring essay.
  • Controversies  The death penalty, war, politics, etc.: people will always disagree about these things; plus, it’s easy to sound intolerant when discussing them.
  • Tragedies  Whether about personal or social tragedies, these essays make it hard for admission counselors to be objective, and they actually tend to reveal very little about the applicant.
  • The Big Question  In this essay, students attempt to answer a broad, profound, but ultimately impossible question, like “what is the meaning of life?”
  • Shameless Groveling  Don’t use your essay to applaud the school you’re applying to, which includes criticizing other colleges to make a comparison.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

Tags:
application essaysapplicationshow toadmissionbrainstormingessay examplescollege admission essaysadmission advice

More on CollegeXpress

Admission Essay & Personal Statement Development Services
On the surface I think I am like most young and modern American women: I take school seriously, I have dreams and goals for the future that I am determined to make happen, and I don't expect anyone to do the hard work for me. I come from what is an increasingly normal background: my parents are divorced and I live with my mom and sisters and only occasionally see my dad since he now lives on the other side of the country, but I still feel very lucky to have a supportive, if spread out, family behind me. What makes me different from the rest of the crowd though is how I choose to fill my time away from school...
Sometimes a task can seem monumental when you try to visualize the entire thing, but if you break it down into smaller goals suddenly it can become manageable. When I first started to consider going to college so that I could make a better life for myself and my daughter, I thought it was going to be almost impossible. I was working in a convenience store trying to make ends meet as a single mother, but I just knew that there was something more out there for me...
My father always used to say to me: “if you want people to respect you, first you must respect yourself”. At this juncture in my life I see going back to school to earn a degree in nursing as a symbol of respecting myself and the goals I have set for myself. I have made sacrifices in my life that are common for many women: putting my husband’s career before my own, and my child’s life and growth before my own as well, and for many years these sacrifices have been worthwhile...
Many people enjoy building things with Legos when they are growing up, but usually not to the exclusion of all other activities. For me though, nothing was more fun that getting a picture in my mind's eye and then being able to manifest it in reality using those ingenious little blocks, or any other substance that lent itself to my uses...
I was born and raised primarily in Medellin, Colombia, which is a land rich in beauty, but sadly for many of the people living there it is also a land of where poverty is a way of life. I am one of the few lucky ones who has never had to suffer the pains of an empty stomach, or had to struggle to make a living off the land with little or no education to back up my choices. However, if called upon to find a people with a better disposition or more welcoming spirits than those same indigenous people I grew up near, one would be very hard pressed...
Sometimes in life it just takes the influence of one person to help you see yourself in a whole new light. For me that person is my high school counselor Mr. Jones. I have been meeting with him twice a month for the past two years and the difference these meetings have made in my outlook in life, my goals for the future, and most importantly my self-confidence, is amazing...
When I first moved to the United States from Jakarta 8 years ago I was upset about leaving all of people I knew and loved behind me to follow my mother and brother here where we could find better "educational opportunities". I resented the fact that my dad, who is a physician, had to stay in Jakarta to keep up his practice to fund this move, and that we would only be able to see him on the odd occasion he could get away long enough for the endless flight to Arizona, this land where we knew no one...
The curtains are swaying slightly before me and I know that they will soon part and a sea of faces will suddenly be before me, staring up with their eyes burning into mine, unseen because of the footlights, but felt nevertheless. My nervous energy is mounting, but this isn’t the first time I have preformed on stage, and hopefully it won’t be the last. I can remember decades ago in high school when I first began dancing in front of an audience...
There are many challenges facing my generation today: our nation is at war, there are people in our own extremely prosperous country who go to bed hungry every night, and this spring, when I will be lucky enough to graduate from one of the best private high schools in the country, there will be other students elsewhere in America who are also graduating even though they can't read their own diploma...
When I think of ____ University, the aspects that most impress me and fan my desire to immerse myself in this prestigious learning environment are _____ University’s excellent resources. In addition to having some of the most recognized and lauded faculty in world, ____ is committed to maintaining a diverse student population. As person of African heritage who grew up in Jamaica, and is now planning to embark on my university studies in the United States, I see this commitment to diversity as an essential element...

One thought on “College Entrance Autobiographical Essay Sample

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *