Good Personal Essays

Each year, Smith asks its applicants to answer a different prompt with a 200-word essay.Here are six of these short essays answering the 2014 prompt: "Tell us about the best gift you've ever given or received." 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.Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work.

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"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it? 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. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos.

That will allow you to expand on your story from there once you have the reader's attention.

The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.6. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? Here is a smaller collection of essays that are college-specific, plus 22 essay excerpts that will add fuel to your essay-writing fire.

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. More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before.

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. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. 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. 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. 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. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck!

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! 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.

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