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Founded in 1754, Columbia University in the City of New York is at once a small college and a major research university: an Ivy League education on a human scale. That means working in small classes and labs with pioneering faculty in every field from the classic to the cutting edge. It means being part of one of the most diverse student bodies in the world. It means our signature Core Curriculum along with stellar undergraduate research with world-renowned faculty. It means living in a city driven by the smartest, newest ideas. It means any pursuit, every opportunity is here.

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Find out about requirements, fees, and deadlines

We ask first-year applicants to submit the Common Application, Coalition Application or QuestBridge Application with Columbia-specific questions, a secondary school report, two teacher recommendations and optional SAT or ACT scores (self-reported). The admissions process at Columbia is a holistic one, which means that every part of the application matters to help inform our judgment.

To be eligible to enroll as a transfer student at Columbia, an applicant must have completed, or be registered for, 24 points of credit (the equivalent of one year of full-time study) at another institution, as well as have earned a high school diploma or equivalent (by the application deadline). Candidates with more than four semesters of college coursework elsewhere are not encouraged to apply.


Additional Information

Columbia Undergraduate Admissions offers a broad selection of  virtual visit options , including virtual information sessions, student panels, student Q&A sessions and virtual tours. During normal operations, the Columbia University Visitors Center offers information sessions, campus tours and class visits. Reservations for in-person, on-campus programs are required for all visitors. The most current visit information can be found  here .

The best things of the moment were outside the rectangle of Columbia; the best things of all human history and thought were inside. You could spend four years in an unforgettably exciting and improving alternation between two realms of magic. That doubled magic is lasting me a lifetime. Herman Wouk, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, 1934

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columbia common app essay

Columbia University

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  • Essay prompt

Want to see your chances of admission at Columbia University?

We take every aspect of your personal profile into consideration when calculating your admissions chances.

Columbia University’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Book short response.

List a selection of texts, resources and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums and other content that you enjoy.

Diversity Short Response

A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community.

Overcoming Challenges Short Response

In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant‘s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result.

Why This College Short Response

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Why This Major Short Response

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College?

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia Engineering?

Trinity College Dublin and Sciences Po Dual BA Essay

Describe how your experiences, both personal and academic, have shaped your decision to pursue the Dual BA Program. Why is an international academic experience important to you as you consider the ways in which it may influence your future?

Successful essays should not only identify and describe specific elements of the Dual BA Program that meet your needs as a student, but should also explain why the academic courses you have chosen for your time at Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University are compatible with your aspirations, academic or otherwise.

School of General Studies Essay

Tell us about your educational history, work experience, present situation, and plans for the future. Please make sure to reflect on why you consider yourself a nontraditional student and have chosen to pursue your education at the School of General Studies of Columbia University. Successful essays should identify and describe specific elements of the program, academic or otherwise, that meet your needs as a nontraditional student. The admissions committee is particularly interested in situations in your life from which you have learned and grown. This may include past academic experiences, professional accomplishments, or turning points and transformative events: new beginnings and personal achievements, but also events that may have affected your education, such as health and family challenges, personal obstacles or even issues with the justice system. Our expectation is that your reflection on your experiences will demonstrate your potential to add a unique perspective to the Columbia classroom.

Postbac Premed Program Essay

Please submit an essay of approximately 500 words discussing your decision to pursue a career in medicine or an allied health profession. A successful essay will not only describe the factors that contributed to your decision, but will give us a sense of you as an individual by discussing why you want to pursue this career and how you feel you will contribute to the profession.

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

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.

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?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

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?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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?

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.

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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary

Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.

Table of contents

What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.

Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.

We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.

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.

When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!

Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.

Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”

That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.

“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”

I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.

I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”

I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”

She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”

“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.

“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.

I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.

The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.

The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.

That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.

I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.

Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.

I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.

It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.

Word count: 601

This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.

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?

I never had a choice.

My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.

We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.

I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.

However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.

My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.

“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”

I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”

“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”

“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.

Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.

I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.

Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.

Word Count: 553

This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”

I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:

“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”

As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!

Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.

I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:

Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.

During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.

During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.

I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.

Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.

He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked up.

“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”

He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”

We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.

I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.

Word count: 626

The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.

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?

I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D. 

Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name. 

I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:

“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.” 

I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always. 

Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down. 

Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow. 

I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”

“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”

“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”

The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“Darwin, can we talk?” 

He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?” 

“Then why’d you do it?” 

“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.” 

“So I know you’re not trying.”

I locked eyes with him and glared. 

“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”

“So you give me a D?!”

“It got your attention.”

“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”

“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.” 

I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques. 

Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down. 

Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.” 

I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best . 

AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes. 

Word Count: 627

This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.

Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.

I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.

One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”

My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.

“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”

My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.

“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”

I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.

Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.

After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.

After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.

A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.

I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.

From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.

Word count: 622

This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.

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?

The worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.

It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.

I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.

Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.

Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune. 

The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.

Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.

While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.

Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.

Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!

Word count: 607

In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.

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.

Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition

The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?

This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.

And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.

So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”

Appetizer: My first leadership experience

A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.

Main course: My best leadership experience

Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.

Dessert: My future leadership hopes 

The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.

Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.

Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Time’s up! 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.

Word count: 612

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

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  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • 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
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The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

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.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

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columbia common app essay

8 Great Columbia Essay Examples

What’s covered:, essay example 1 – mechanical engineering, essay example 2 – trailblazing, essay example 3 – the core and community.

  • Essay Example 4 – Cancer Research

Essay Example 5 – Joy in Birds

Essay example 6 – psychology.

  • Essay Example 7  – Slavic Languages and Cultures

Essay Example 8 – Diversity

  • Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay

Columbia is an Ivy League school in NYC with an incredibly low acceptance rate. Like most other competitive schools, Columbia has supplemental prompts where students can demonstrate parts of their life that aren’t present in other portions of their application. Many applicants to selective colleges like Columbia have stellar grades and test scores, so the essays can help you stand out from other candidates with the same stats.   

The school requires applicants to fill out a variety of prompts, ranging from quick short-answers about your favorite books and pieces of media to fleshed out essays. In this post, we will share three essays real students have submitted to Columbia and go over what each essay did well and where they can be improved. 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Columbia University essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 

As I continue my journey toward becoming a mechanical engineer, I am constantly searching for ways to positively impact and solve complex problems. Columbia University is the perfect place for me to do so. The university’s diverse and brilliant community, combined with its focus on hands-on learning, will provide me with the foundation I need to grow as a student and a person.

I am excited to take advantage of Columbia’s many opportunities, from its Core curriculum to its various labs and research centers. In particular, I am drawn to the F1 car club and the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Columbia World Projects. These experiences will help broaden my knowledge and skills and allow me to make a significant difference in the world.

In addition to the academic opportunities at Columbia, I am also drawn to the university’s rich traditions. From the tree lighting ceremony to the Holi celebration, these events foster a sense of belonging and connection that will be invaluable as I begin my studies. I believe my unique perspective and skills will be an asset to the community, for I am excited to contribute my voice to Columbia’s dynamic and diverse community.

What the Essay Did Well

In responding to this textbook “Why This College?” prompt, the author effectively selects a topic, mechanical engineering, to focus his essay on, and connects that topic to opportunities that can only be found at Columbia, such as the F1 car club and Columbia World Projects. These specific opportunities show admissions officers that the student has done their research, and has tangible reasons for wanting to attend Columbia that go beyond, for example, the generic “I want to go to school in New York.”

The author also expresses an interest in the traditions that form the backbone of Columbia’s community, such as the tree lighting ceremony and the Holi celebration. This variety demonstrates that the author has spent time thinking about what their life at Columbia would look like overall, not just in the context of their mechanical engineering studies.

What Could Be Improved 

While this essay effectively conveys which specific things about Columbia interest the author, it could be strengthened by providing more details about why each activity is important to them, as that will explicitly connect their past experiences to their potential future at Columbia.

For example, the author could connect the F1 car club to the summers they spent working in their parents’ car repair shop. Or when discussing Columbia World Projects, they could explain how the CWP’s “Transforming Wastewater Infrastructure in America” project would allow them to build on the skills they learned from an elective they took on urban planning.

Along the same lines, the author could expand on how they see Columbia’s traditions helping them grow as a person. They name-drop the tree lighting ceremony and Holi festival, but don’t say anything about why these events are important to them. The essay would be stronger if, for example, they discuss how lighting the Christmas tree was always a time for their family to reflect on the previous year, and they look forward to having a similar unifying moment in college.

Finally, while the author does a good job in general of using specific opportunities to show their interest in Columbia, there are places where they are too vague. For example, when they talk about Columbia’s “Core curriculum” and “various labs and research centers,” we don’t get any information about what in particular intrigues them about the Core, or which labs and research centers they hope to work at. 

The essay would be stronger if the writer highlighted their excitement about using the Core to explore topics, such as art history, that they otherwise might not make time for in their schedule, or about working at the Earth Engineering Center to learn about how to harness their knowledge of biomechanical engineering in service of a greener future.

“She is a natural leader and role model.”

This comment punctuates all my report cards. However, I never believed it, until an alumnus of my high school was murdered by a maintenance worker for rebuffing his advances. Feeling angered, I spearheaded a plan of action for my poetry club—it was a reflex. I led one group poem celebrating her warmth, which we performed for her parents, and one about the rape culture that killed her, which we performed at a sexual assault awareness event.

Columbia boasts an exceptional culture of students who feel emboldened to call out injustice, even when it’s perpetuated by their own community. From the student-driven Columbia Prison Divest campaign, which successfully led Columbia to divest from the private prison industry, to the recent protests about Columbia’s gentrification of Harlem, the tenacity of Columbia’s Lions reflects my own.

Moreover, as someone from a household of sexual and domestic violence, I feel drawn to activism in that field. As a Peer Advocate for Columbia Health, I would provide support and resources for survivors, protecting them from the environment I was in.

The core of Columbia’s ethos is building trailblazers— I can’t wait to be one of them.

The student’s discussion of the difficult topic of sexual assault is impressive, as many applicants wouldn’t be bold enough to include this topic in a college application, and many others wouldn’t have the reflective or writing skills necessary to make it work. This student, however, is able to highlight both a genuine desire to fight back against injustice on a large scale, through public poetry performances, and a grassroots compassion for the victims, by working for Columbia Health as a Peer Advocate.

On that note, the writer also does an excellent job of connecting their passion for justice and advocacy to their potential life at Columbia. Remember that a “Why This College?” essay should be as specific as possible to that particular school, and this author not only mentions a variety of activities they hope to get involved in at Columbia, but also makes it clear which of their values and past experiences are motivating their interest in those particular opportunities. That gives admissions officers a strong sense of who this student is and what they’ll bring to the table at Columbia.

Finally, the reader’s emphatic tone throughout the essay stirs up readers’ emotions, and makes us feel like getting up and marching towards justice alongside them, which is an incredibly effective way of making us experience their leadership abilities firsthand. Lines like “ it was a reflex” and “ Columbia boasts an exceptional culture of students who feel emboldened to call out injustice, even when it’s perpetuated by their own community” make us viscerally feel the writer’s passion, and that sensation adds even more weight to their points.

Currently, the beginning of the essay is disjointed, as the author’s shift from positive report card comments to a former classmate’s murder is extremely abrupt. That jarring transition may have been intentional, but you don’t want to shock readers just because. While the essay is about leadership, readers will understand that without the first line, and thus the writer could be better off starting “in medias res” (in the middle of things) to immediately immerse readers in the story.

For example, they could say: “November 20, 2022 was a dark day at our school, when news broke of our former classmate’s murder.” This alternate first line gets right into the details of how the author developed their leadership skills, rather than starting off talking about those skills in the abstract and then zooming in. Remember, space is limited in the college essay, so you want to be as efficient as possible with how you make your points.

A vibrant, intellectually curious culture cultivated by the Core Curriculum, rich student interconnectedness, and an alignment of core values attract me to Columbia.

Seminar-based courses comprehensively facilitate my learning style; learning from peers, sharing my perspective, and exploring unquenchable curiosities comprise my ideal environment. Columbia’s emphasis on such learning through the Core Curriculum provides balanced structure and an approach encouraging valuable interdisciplinary study. Although I plan to pursue current intellectual interests through Columbia’s electives, the Core offers an invigorating communal experience and exposure to potential newfound passions, such as philosophy or Western musical analysis.

In conversation with my tour guide, Ashley, and through discussions with current students, I was inspired by the emphatic sense of community pride that envelops Morningside Heights. Beginning with the shared experience of the Core, it is apparent that inclusive community is fostered through academic spaces. Through traditions such as Tree Lighting, “Surf, Turf, & Earth” – which sounds absolutely scrumptious – and cultural celebrations, the Columbian community radiates in social spaces.

I envision myself blanketed with Columbia blue, clutching a glimmering snowball on the day of First Snow. Exuberant with lion pride, I prepare for a sportive battle, and a euphoric moment, with fellow prideful lions.

In the first paragraph, the author clearly lists three characteristics of Columbia–“a vibrant, intellectually curious culture cultivated by the Core Curriculum…rich student interconnectedness…and an alignment of core values”–which provide structure for the rest of the essay. This organization makes the essay easy to follow, as each point connects back to that first paragraph.

The writer also shows that they have a true appreciation of the community at Columbia, and that they aren’t just paying lip service to one of the most frequently used words in college admissions, by mentioning their tour guide by name, and the discussions they have had with current students. Those details show that the student has spent real effort getting to know Columbia’s campus culture, which in turn shows that they will be committed to making contributions to that culture themself.

As noted above, one of the keys to this kind of “Why This College?” essay is not just showing genuine interest in the school, but also how that interest will manifest once you’re there. By referencing traditions like the Tree Lighting ceremony and “Surf, Turf, & Earth,” the author demonstrates that they have already spent time thinking about how they would fit into Columbia’s community.

Finally, the author’s vivid imagery of “[themself] blanketed with Columbia blue, clutching a glimmering snowball on the day of First Snow,” ends the essay on a high note. The author doesn’t just restate that they want to go to Columbia, but paints a tangible picture of their excitement and anticipation, which makes those feelings come across far more strongly than if they just said something generic like “I can’t wait to hopefully be arriving in Morningside Heights next fall.”

While the author does include some Columbia-specific traditions, as described above, too much of the essay, particularly the paragraph focused on academics, is phrased in general terms. For example, the line:

“Although I plan to pursue current intellectual interests through Columbia’s electives, the Core offers an invigorating communal experience and exposure to potential newfound passions, such as philosophy or Western musical analysis” 

doesn’t tell us anything about what the author’s “current intellectual interests” are, nor about which specific courses or professors at Columbia will help them pursue their “newfound passions.” The essay would be much stronger if, for example, the author talked about how Columbia’s “American Film: Cult and Exploitation” course would help them refine their interest in contemporary media culture, which they have already started exploring through a research project in their American history class.

Additionally, rather than listing general categories of courses like “philosophy or Western musical analysis,” the author should talk about the Core in more specific terms, which are also linked to their own personal interests. That line could look something like:

“While I’ve never considered myself a musician, I’ve always been fascinated by how songwriters can unify millions of people with just a clever turn of phrase, and the Core’s ‘Music Humanities” requirement will help me better understand why musicians can wield so much power in society.”

Finally, along similar lines, the author should ideally connect the Columbia-specific traditions they mention to their own interests. For example, rather than just saying that the “Surf Turf & Earth” event sounds “absolutely scrumptious,” they could talk about how their multicultural family has always encouraged adventurous eating, and so they are excited about attending a college that also values culinary exploration.

Essay Example 4 – Cancer Research and Community

I’ve always known about Columbia’s stellar core curriculum, first hearing it from my uncle. He would speak of the strengths of this method, allowing students to experience learning in all fields of study. And its rumors are nothing less than reality – being given this holistic foundation throughout college is one I wish to thrive on. It would allow me to explore other subjects and meet Columbia’s astute professors, specifically Dr. Adana Llanos. I want to journey through Cancer Epidemiology and possibly assist in her research towards breast cancer subtypes because of its prevalence in my family.

Looking past academics, I view Columbia as a family where I can learn about myself and those around me. After hearing about the South Asian club, Club Zamana, I want to use it as a mode of discovery for my own heritage, participating in flamboyant events like Tamasha. This club would create a door to indulge in the passionate cultures that make up Columbia. 

I believe Columbia to have academic resources, a community, and energy like no other. It is the home where I want to discover my passion and pursue it for my 4 years. I think my uncle would love that.

This essay succinctly captures the “why?” of the “Why This College?” essay in a straightforward, easy-to-follow response. This applicant is interested in applying to Columbia because of: 1) the core curriculum, 2) their personal interest in studying cancer epidemiology, and 3) the opportunity to explore their own heritage through the South Asian club. 

While having a simple structure may not initially seem like something to get excited about, one of the unfortunate realities of college essays is that, while you spend many hours writing and revising them, admissions officers have no choice but to read them extremely quickly, because they have so many to get through. So, you want to be sure that your readers understand what you’re saying the first time around, as if they’re confused about something, they don’t have time to  stop and figure it out.

Additionally, by mentioning a specific professor they hope to work with, the author shows they’ve done some research on how exactly Columbia will help them delve into their interest in Cancer Epidemiology. The key to successfully responding to this kind of prompt is joining your current background/interests with opportunities at the school that will help you explore them. The line “I want to journey through Cancer Epidemiology and possibly assist in her research towards breast cancer subtypes because of its prevalence in my family” accomplishes both things.

If, however, the last two sentences of the first paragraph were replaced with the vaguer “I want to journey through cancer epidemiology, and possibly learn about breast cancer subtypes because of its prevalence in my family,” the reader would still understand this student’s interest in the field, but not how that connects to their desire to attend Columbia, which would give the essay an incomplete feel.

Finally, college is more than just academics, and this student’s discussion of their non-academic interest, in a club that will help them better understand their own identity, shows they have thought comprehensively about what their life at Columbia would look like. That will in turn help admission officers create a complete picture in their minds of how this student would fit into Columbia as a whole, not just the classrooms.

As noted above, the author does a good job of tying the opportunities they hope to pursue at Columbia to their existing interests. That personal connection could be strengthened, however, by more details about why they are drawn to these opportunities over any others.

For example, regarding the student’s interest in cancer epidemiology, they do mention the prevalence of breast cancer in their family as their motivation for studying the topic, but that line is brief, and thus could be missed by someone who, as noted above, is reading quickly. It’s also lacking specificity, as plenty of people have familial connections to certain topics–say, Jewish history if you have an aunt who is a rabbi–and yet don’t have much interest in exploring them themselves.

The author could more concretely connect their background to their potential breast cancer research at Columbia by providing additional details about, say, a summer research program they completed, or their experience learning about genetics in their high school biology class, or a 5K race they run every year to raise money for breast cancer research. That will in turn show admissions officers what they would bring to Dr. Llanos’ lab, not just that they hope to work there in general.

This same general idea also applies to the student’s discussions of the Core and the South Asian club. The student generally references things that appeal to them about these features of Columbia, like a “holistic foundation” provided by the core, and “discover[ing]…[their] own heritage” through the club, but we don’t get any specific details explaining how their past experiences have led to them prioritizing these things in their college experience.

Specifically with regards to the Core, as you’ve probably noticed in our analysis of both this essay and the preceding two, just mentioning this feature of Columbia isn’t enough. When a school is particularly well known for one thing, like Columbia with the Core or Brown with their Open Curriculum, pretty much every applicant is going to mention it somewhere in their application. 

So, in order to set yourself apart–which is the whole point of the essay, after all–you want to make sure you’re being as detailed as possible about how your past experiences and goals for the future align with this aspect of the school. Otherwise, you’re wasting valuable words, as just saying you like the Core won’t move the needle on your application.

Finally, a general word of caution when writing applications: don’t lose sight of the fact that admissions officers want to understand a student’s motivations for applying to their school, not those of their family members, or anyone else for that matter. This student both starts and finishes their essay by talking about their uncle, which makes it seem like their motivation for applying to Columbia is to make their uncle proud, rather than a personal interest in the school. 

While it’s not automatically bad to mention how someone else helped you become interested in a school, the overall focus should stay on you. In the case of this essay, that means the student shouldn’t frame the second line around their uncle “speak[ing] of the strengths of this method,” but rather around how their uncle’s introduction to Columbia led them to start researching the school themself. And at the end, the last thought in their reader’s mind should be of them at Columbia, not their uncle. So, the line “I think my uncle would love that,” should be taken out.

A small bird nest rests outside my doorway. Everyday at 3:40 pm, the mother bird eagerly comes home to her ecstatic children. They remind me beauty is everywhere, even in the smallest of reunions.

The author makes great use of the limited word space in this essay with a charming account of what brings happiness in their daily routine. Thanks to the efficient writing and simple but vivid imagery, created through strong word choices like “ecstatic” and creative phrasings like “the smallest of reunions,” this short essay reads almost like poetry.

Furthermore, the author’s description also teaches us something about who they are, which is the key to any college essay, even the short ones. The reflection “They remind me beauty is everywhere, even in the smallest of reunions” shows that the author appreciates the beauty and significance of seemingly ordinary moments, which in turn shows that they would bring both thoughtfulness and positivity to Columbia’s campus.

This is an incredibly strong essay, without much room for improvement. If anything, the lesson to be learned here is that usually, you eventually get to a point where your essay doesn’t need any more changes. Calling your essay “finished” can be challenging for many students, due to the overall stress of the college process and the constant feeling that you should be doing something, anything, to improve your chances of acceptance. But at some point, it’s okay to take your hands off the keyboard, be proud of the work you’ve put into the essay, and take a five-minute break to unwind 🙂

Prompt:   For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.

After watching the program, I recited the foreign word until it was no longer unfamiliar — ”profiler”. I stayed up all-night searching the meaning; my eyes sparkled with the dim light of the monitor as I read the tales of Pyo Chang Won and his Sherlock-like stories. From predicting the future of criminals and knowing the precise vicinity of a killer on the loose, he had saved countless lives; living in communities riddled with crimes in my youth then and even now, I dreamed of working against crimes. However, the traditional path of a lawyer or a police officer only reinforced the three-step cycle of arrest, trial, and jail which continued with no fundamental changes for years; I wanted to work with the psyche of criminals beyond courts and wondered about the inner workings of the mind.

Such admiration and interest led me to invest my time in psychology. Combined with working with the likes of the Victim Witness Agency, I decided to pursue psychology as my major for my undergraduate education. Later on, I want to specialize my research and education on behavioral/forensic psychology and eventually branch out to my childhood dream of becoming a criminal profiler. 

A major positive of this essay is how it is focused on one moment in time. This student goes into depth about the night they first fell in love with criminal psychology which allows the reader to feel like they are there watching TV with the student and researching afterwards. Having the essay focus on a snapshot of the student’s life opens the door to include more imagery and delve into the internal monologue of the student, thus creating a more engaging and personable essay. 

The student’s genuine fascination for the topic is evident through what they show the reader. They explain that they stayed to finish the show after their parents left, they stayed up all night researching what they just learned, and their eyes sparkled the more they learned about criminal psychology. Providing all these details shows the student’s fascination and passion for this topic without them ever having to explicitly say they were excited about it. 

This essay also does a good job of expanding past the requirements of the prompt to explain what they hope to accomplish with their degree. Including their career aspirations reinforced their passion to pursue this field to admissions officers. It also demonstrated that they are a goal-oriented person who wants to make a difference in the world.

What Could Be Improved

One thing that could be improved in this essay is the grammar. There were a few sentences where there were either typos or just clunky sentences that could be tightened up. In order to catch grammatical errors, you should always give your essay to at least one other person to read. CollegeVine offers  essay reviews that allows students to receive feedback on the grammar, structure, and content of their essays. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes read your essay to catch mistakes that might go unnoticed by you. Having someone review this essay would have likely helped this student fix their grammatical errors.

Essay Example 7 – Slavic Languages and Cultures

Steaming fruit filled knedliky, singing Czech Christmas Carols, and falling asleep to fairy tales about princesses with golden stars on their foreheads compose my earliest memories. As I grew older, I found myself exploring the streets and museums of Prague on my own and requesting less fantastical fairy tales, consisting of true stories from my parents about life under Communism. These personal experiences with Czech Language and Culture have vastly influenced my academic interests. 

Exploring the manner in which Czechia developed and understanding its intrinsic components remained an innate goal of mine. Though Czech was my first language I developed my skills further as I matured by utilizing Czech news sources and literary works. Throughout my AP English and History courses, I continually sought out both works by Czech authors and their accounts of consequential historical events, attempting to discover the common ground between these readings and those assigned in class. Through these unique means, I began unearthing the intricate history and background of the country. 

Majoring in Slavic Languages and Cultures provides ideal opportunities to develop a cross-cultural understanding of pertinent political issues while defining my identity as a Czech-American, thus fostering my innate academic passions and personal ambitions. 

Although this student doesn’t reveal what their intended major is until the last line, the entire essay does a great job of building a vivid picture of Czech culture and this student’s fascination with it that we almost don’t need to be told the actual major. 

The author shows how their Czech heritage has fascinated them through different stages of their life, demonstrating their maturity through the information they seek out. To show the beauty of their childhood innocence, they describe “ Steaming fruit filled knedliky, singing Czech Christmas Carols, and falling asleep to fairy tales about princesses with golden stars on their foreheads. ” Then, they demonstrate their interest in history by asking their parents about Communism. This fascination for history continues when they discuss searching for Czech authors in their AP classes.

Not only do we see how Czech language and culture has been an integral part of their life, but we get to see their determination and drive to develop new skills through exploring their Czech heritage. This student could have been content with speaking Czech at home, but instead they demonstrated intellectual curiosity by “ utilizing Czech news sources and literary works” to go above and beyond in their studies. If this student acted on their niche passion in the confines of a high school classroom, imagine what they could do with Columbia’s resources!

While the prompt asks you to reflect on your past experiences, for this essay to really stand out, it should have touched on the future as well. You can strengthen any “ Why Major? ” essay by explaining what you hope to achieve with your major post graduation. Prompts won’t always ask for this, but it’s a nice way to demonstrate you are forward-looking.

Even if there was just a phrase in the final sentence that mentioned something about how this student wants to become a Czech historian or they want to move to Czechia after graduation to reconnect with their roots, this would be enough of an addition to show admissions officers that this student is confident in both their past and future.

Prompt: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to live and learn in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? (200 words or fewer)

Uno. Jenga. Monopoly. These were the board games I grew up with in America. But I found that the seniors at St. Theresa’s Home in Singapore did not share my enthusiasm for these pastimes (nor did they understand my elation at finally capturing Boardwalk)!

Prioritizing flexibility as a facilitator, I flipped the tables.

Pai Gow. Xiangqi. Mahjong. Initially, my team and I struggled to keep track of the countless new gameplay rules. However, I embraced the initial discomfort of this “hands-off” approach, realizing how it allowed us to transfer control to a community whose voices we wanted to amplify.

The small but crucial details, like knowing Mandarin pronunciations of game and piece names, built trust and respect and soon, we found ourselves trading stories freely, like cards.

I was initially hesitant to talk about my upbringing in a Western society and my constant struggle to define my own identity. However, I found a true sounding board in the aunties and uncles. Both sides simply wanted to hear and be heard. 

This is the knowledge I will carry into Columbia, where I hope to foster cultural discourse through safe spaces and conversations, ensuring that no one feels like a missing piece.

This student very creatively displays the discomfort of cultural divides and the joys of overcoming them through playing games. The parallel of listing three US board games (“ Uno. Jenga. Monopoly. “) and then three Singapore games (“ Pai Gow. Xiangqi. Mahjong. “) shows the reader how this student had to step outside of their comfort zone to connect with the seniors.

By explaining how it was difficult to “ keep track of the countless new gameplay rules ” and know the “ Mandarin pronunciations of game and piece names ” we understand the challenges of relating to people from a different culture that this student had to overcome. However, by describing the seniors as “ aunties and uncles ” and a “ sounding board ” for this student, it shows the level of comfort they finally established and how this student benefitted from hearing diverse perspectives.

Additionally, this essay has a strong game motif running through it that contributes to the playfulness and cohesiveness of the essay. From cracking jokes about getting the most coveted property in Monopoly, to referring to their conversation as “ trading stories freely, like cards “, to concluding with the analogy of a “ missing piece “, the commitment to games is a nice way to reinforce the connections they fostered.

Something missing from this essay is an explanation of why this student was at the senior center and what they wanted to accomplish. Was this a volunteer activity they were originally hesitant to join but grew to love once they embraced the Singaporean games? They mention the seniors as “ community whose voices we wanted to amplify ,” so does that mean they were interviewing seniors for articles or research projects?

Although the essay still effectively answers the prompt without telling us more about why this student was at the senior center, the lack of answers can be distracting for the reader and diminishes the lasting impact of the story.

Where to Get Your Columbia University Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your Columbia University essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

Essay Examples: Writing the Common App Essay

Applying to competitive colleges? You'll need to have a stand-out Common App essay.

In this article, I'm going to share with you:

  • 25 outstanding Common App essay examples
  • Links to tons of personal statement examples
  • Why these Common App essays worked

If you're looking for outstanding Common App essay examples, you've found the right place.


If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay.

Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

Whether you're a student working on your Common App essay, or a parent wondering what it takes, this article will help you master the Common App Essay.

What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2023?

There are seven prompts for the Common App essay. Remember that the prompts are simply to help get you started thinking.

You don't have to answer any of the prompts if you don't want (see prompt #7 ).

Here's the seven Common App essay questions for 2022, which are the same as previous years:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

The last prompt is a catch-all prompt, which means you can submit an essay on any topic you want.

Use the Common App prompts as brainstorming questions and to get you thinking.

But ultimately, you should write about any topic you meaningfully care about.

What makes an outstanding Common App personal essay?

I've read thousands of Common App essays from highly motivated students over the past years.

And if I had to choose the top 2 things that makes for incredible Common App essays it's these:

1. Being Genuine

Sounds simple enough. But it's something that is incredibly rare in admissions.

Authenticity is something we all know when we see it, but can be hard to define.

Instead of focus on what you think sounds the best to admissions officers, focus on what you have to say—what interests you.

2. Having Unique Ideas

The best ideas come about while you're writing.

You can't just sit down and say, "I'll think really hard of good essay ideas."

I wish that worked, but it sadly doesn't. And neither do most brainstorming questions.

The ideas you come up with from these surface-level tactics are cheap, because no effort was put in.

As they say,

"Writing is thinking"

By choosing a general topic (e.g. my leadership experience in choir) and writing on it, you'll naturally come to ideas.

As you write, continue asking yourself questions that make you reflect.

It is more of an artistic process than technical one, so you'll have to feel what ideas are most interesting.

25 Common App Essay Examples from Top Schools

With that, here's 25 examples as Common App essay inspiration to get you started.

These examples aren't perfect—nor should you expect yours to be—but they are stand-out essays.

I've handpicked these examples of personal statements from admitted students because they showcase a variety of topics and writing levels.

These students got into top schools and Ivy League colleges in recent years:

Table of Contents

  • 1. Seeds of Immigration
  • 2. Color Guard
  • 3. Big Eater
  • 4. Love for Medicine
  • 5. Cultural Confusion
  • 6. Football Manager
  • 9. Mountaineering
  • 10. Boarding School
  • 11. My Father
  • 12. DMV Trials
  • 13. Ice Cream Fridays
  • 14. Key to Happiness
  • 15. Discovering Passion
  • 16. Girl Things
  • 17. Robotics
  • 18. Lab Research
  • 19. Carioca Dance
  • 20. Chinese Language
  • 21. Kiki's Delivery Service
  • 22. Museum of Life
  • 23. French Horn
  • 24. Dear My Younger Self
  • 25. Monopoly

Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration

This student was admitted to Dartmouth College . In this Common App essay, they discuss their immigrant family background that motivates them.

Although family is a commonly used topic, this student makes sure to have unique ideas and write in a genuine way.

Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)

I placed three tiny seeds, imagining the corn stalk growing while the pumpkin vines wrapped around it; both sprouting, trying to bear fruit. I clenched a fistful of dirt and placed it on them. “Más,” my grandpa told me as he quickly flooded the seeds with life-giving dirt.

Covered. Completely trapped.

Why This Essay Works:

Everyone has a unique family history and story, and often that can make for a strong central theme of a personal statement. In this essay, the student does a great job of sharing aspects of his family's culture by using specific Spanish words like "yunta" and by describing their unique immigration story. Regardless of your background, sharing your culture and what it means to you can be a powerful tool for reflection.

This student focuses on reflecting on what their culture and immigrant background means to them. By focusing on what something represents, rather than just what it literally is, you can connect to more interesting ideas. This essay uses the metaphor of their family's history as farmers to connect to their own motivation for succeeding in life.

This essay has an overall tone of immense gratitude, by recognizing the hard work that this student's family has put in to afford them certain opportunities. By recognizing the efforts of others in your life—especially efforts which benefit you—you can create a powerful sense of gratitude. Showing gratitude is effective because it implies that you'll take full advantage of future opportunities (such as college) and not take them for granted. This student also demonstrates a mature worldview, by recognizing the difficulty in their family's past and how things easily could have turned out differently for this student.

This essay uses three moments of short, one-sentence long paragraphs. These moments create emphasis and are more impactful because they standalone. In general, paragraph breaks are your friend and you should use them liberally because they help keep the reader engaged. Long, dense paragraphs are easy to gloss over and ideas can lose focus within them. By using a variety of shorter and longer paragraphs (as well as shorter and longer sentences) you can create moments of emphasis and a more interesting structure.

What They Might Improve:

This conclusion is somewhat off-putting because it focuses on "other students" rather than the author themself. By saying it "fills me with pride" for having achieved without the same advantages, it could create the tone of "I'm better than those other students" which is distasteful. In general, avoid putting down others (unless they egregiously deserve it) and even subtle phrasings that imply you're better than others could create a negative tone. Always approach your writing with an attitude of optimism, understanding, and err on the side of positivity.

Common App Essay Example #2: Color Guard

This student was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Check out their Common App essay that focuses on an extracurricular:

Sweaty from the hot lights, the feeling of nervousness and excitement return as I take my place on the 30-yard line. For 10 short minutes, everyone is watching me. The first note of the opening song begins, and I’m off. Spinning flags, tossing rifles, and dancing across the football field. Being one of only two people on the colorguard means everyone will see everything. It’s amazing and terrifying. And just like that, the performance is over.

Flashback to almost four years ago, when I walked into the guard room for the first time. I saw flyers for a “dance/flag team” hanging in the bland school hallway, and because I am a dancer, I decided to go. This was not a dance team at all. Spinning flags and being part of the marching band did not sound like how I wanted to spend my free time. After the first day, I considered not going back. But, for some unknown reason, I stayed. And after that, I began to fall in love with color guard. It is such an unknown activity, and maybe that’s part of what captivated me. How could people not know about something so amazing? I learned everything about flags and dancing in that year. And something interesting happened- I noticed my confidence begin to grow. I had never thought I was that good at anything, there was always someone better. However, color guard was something I truly loved, and I was good at it.

The next year, I was thrown into an interesting position. Our current captain quit in the middle of the season, and I was named the new captain of a team of six. At first, this was quite a daunting task. I was only a sophomore, and I was supposed to lead people two years older than me? Someone must’ve really believed in me. Being captain sounded impossible to me at first, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing my best. This is where my confidence really shot up. I learned how to be a captain. Of course I was timid at first, but slowly, I began to become a true leader.

The next marching season, it paid off. I choreographed many pieces of our show, and helped teach the other part of my guard, which at the time was only one other person. Having a small guard, we had to be spectacular, especially for band competitions. We ended up winning first place and second place trophies, something that had never been done before at our school, especially for such a small guard. That season is still one of my favorite memories. The grueling hours of learning routines, making changes, and learning how to be a leader finally paid off.

Looking back on it as I exit the field after halftime once again, I am so proud of myself. Not only has color guard helped the band succeed, I’ve also grown. I am now confident in what my skills are. Of course there is always more to be done, but I now I have the confidence to share my ideas, which is something I can’t say I had before color guard. Every Friday night we perform, I think about the growth I’ve made, and I feel on top of the world. That feeling never gets old.

Common App Essay Example #3: Big Eater

This Common App essay is a successful Northwestern essay from an admitted student. It has a unique take using the topic of eating habits—an example of how "mundane" topics can make for interesting ideas.

This essay uses their relationship with food to explore how their perspective has changed through moving high schools far away. Having a central theme is often a good strategy because it allows you to explore ideas while making them feel connected and cohesive. This essay shows how even a "simple" topic like food can show a lot about your character because you can extrapolate what it represents, rather than just what it literally is. With every topic, you can analyze on two levels: what it literally is, and what it represents.

Admissions officers want to get a sense of who you are, and one way to convey that is by using natural-sounding language and being somewhat informal. In this essay, the student writes as they'd speak, which creates a "voice" that you as the reader can easily hear. Phrases like "I kind of got used to it" may be informal, but work to show a sense of character. Referring to their parents as "Ma" and "Papa" also bring the reader into their world. If you come from a non-English speaking country or household, it can also be beneficial to use words from your language, such as "chiemo" in this essay. Using foreign language words helps share your unique culture with admissions.

Rather than "telling" the reader what they have to say, this student does a great job of "showing" them through specific imagery and anecdotes. Using short but descriptive phrases like "whether it was a sum or Sam the bully" are able to capture bigger ideas in a more memorable way. Showing your points through anecdotes and examples is always more effective than simply telling them, because showing allows the reader to come to their own conclusion, rather than having to believe what you're saying.

This student's first language is not English, which does make it challenging to express ideas with the best clarity. Although this student does an overall great job in writing despite this hindrance, there are moments where their ideas are not easily understood. In particular, when discussing substance addiction, it isn't clear: Was the student's relationship with food a disorder, or was that a metaphor? When drafting your essay, focus first on expressing your points as clearly and plainly as possible (it's harder than you may think). Simplicity is often better, but if you'd like, afterwards you can add creative details and stylistic changes.

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Common App Essay Example #4: Love for Medicine

Here's another Common App essay which is an accepted Dartmouth essay . This student talks about their range of experiences as an emergency medical responder:

I never knew I had the courage to talk a suicidal sixteen-year-old boy down from the edge of a bridge, knowing that he could jump and take his life at any moment.

I never knew I had the confidence to stand my ground and defend my treatment plan to those who saw me as less than capable because of my age or gender.

This essay has lots of detailed moments and descriptions. These anecdotes help back up their main idea by showing, rather than just telling. It's always important to include relevant examples because they are the "proof in the pudding" for what you're trying to say.

This topic deals with a lot of sensitive issues, and at certain points the writing could be interpreted as insensitive or not humble. It's especially important when writing about tragedies that you focus on others, rather than yourself. Don't try to play up your accomplishments or role; let them speak for themselves. By doing so, you'll actually achieve what you're trying to do: create an image of an honorable and inspirational person.

This essay touches on a lot of challenging and difficult moments, but it lacks a deep level of reflection upon those moments. When analyzing your essay, ask yourself: what is the deepest idea in it? In this case, there are some interesting ideas (e.g. "when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status...fell away"), but they are not fully developed or fleshed out.

Common App Essay Example #5: Cultural Confusion

This student's Common App was accepted to Pomona College , among other schools. Although this essay uses a common topic of discussing cultural background, this student writes a compelling take.

This student uses the theme of cultural confusion to explain their interests and identity:

Common App Essay Example #6: Football Manager

Here's a UPenn essay that worked for the Common App:

This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.

The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.

Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.

More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.

In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.

Common App Essay Example #7: Coffee

This student was admitted to several selective colleges, including Emory University, Northwestern University , Tufts University, and the University of Southern California . Here's their Common Application they submitted to these schools:

I was 16 years old, and working at a family-owned coffee shop training other employees to pour latte art. Making coffee became an artistic outlet that I never had before. I always loved math, but once I explored the complexities of coffee, I began to delve into a more creative realm--photography and writing--and exposed myself to the arts--something foreign and intriguing.

This essay uses coffee as a metaphor for this student's self-growth, especially in dealing with the absence of their father. Showing the change of their relationship with coffee works well as a structure because it allows the student to explore various activities and ideas while making them seem connected.

This student does a great job of including specifics, such as coffee terminology ("bloom the grounds" and "pour a swan"). Using specific and "nerdy" language shows your interests effectively. Don't worry if they won't understand all the references exactly, as long as there is context around them.

While coffee is the central topic, the author also references their father extensively throughout. It isn't clear until the conclusion how these topics relate, which makes the essay feel disjointed. In addition, there is no strong main idea, but instead a few different ideas. In general, it is better to focus on one interesting idea and delve deeply, rather than focus on many and be surface-level.

Near the conclusion, this student tells about their character: "humble, yet important, simple, yet complex..." You should avoid describing yourself to admissions officers, as it is less convincing. Instead, use stories, anecdotes, and ideas to demonstrate these qualities. For example, don't say "I'm curious," but show them by asking questions. Don't say, "I'm humble," but show them with how you reacted after a success or failure.

Common App Essay Example #8: Chicago

Here's another Northwestern essay . Northwestern is a quite popular school with lots of strong essay-focused applicants, which makes your "Why Northwestern?" essay important.

To write a strong Why Northwestern essay, try to answer these questions: What does NU represent to you? What does NU offer for you (and your interests) that other schools don't?

This essay uses a variety of descriptive and compelling words, without seeming forced or unnatural. It is important that you use your best vocabulary, but don't go reaching for a thesaurus. Instead, use words that are the most descriptive, while remaining true to how you'd actually write.

This essay is one big metaphor: the "L" train serves as a vehicle to explore this student's intellectual curiosity. Throughout the essay, the student also incorporates creative metaphors like "the belly of a gargantuan silver beast" and "seventy-five cent silver chariot" that show a keen sense of expression. If a metaphor sounds like one you've heard before, you probably shouldn't use it.

This student does a fantastic job of naturally talking about their activities. By connecting their activities to a common theme—in this case the "L" train—you can more easily move from one activity to the next, without seeming like you're just listing activities. This serves as an engaging way of introducing your extracurriculars and achievements, while still having the focus of your essay be on your interesting ideas.

Admissions officers are ultimately trying to get a sense of who you are. This student does a great job of taking the reader into their world. By sharing quirks and colloquialisms (i.e. specific language you use), you can create an authentic sense of personality.

Common App Essay Example #9: Mountaineering

Here's a liberal arts college Common App essay from Colby College . Colby is a highly ranked liberal arts college.

As with all colleges—but especially liberal arts schools—your personal essay will be a considerable factor.

In this essay, the student describes their experience climbing Mount Adams, and the physical and logistical preparations that went into it. They describe how they overcame some initial setbacks by using their organizational skills from previous expeditions.

This Colby student explains how the process of preparation can lead to success in academics and other endeavours, but with the potential for negative unintended consequences.

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

This essay does a great job of having a cohesive theme: mountaineering. Often times, great essay topics can be something simple on the surface, such as your favorite extracurricular activity or a notable experience. Consider using the literal activity as a sort of metaphor, like this essay does. This student uses mountaineering as a metaphor for preparation in the face of upcoming challenge. Using an overarching metaphor along with a central theme can be effective because it allows you to explore various ideas while having them all feel connected and cohesive.

Admissions officers want to see your self-growth, which doesn't always mean your successes. Often times, being vulnerable by expressing your struggles is powerful because it makes you more human and relatable, while providing the opportunity to reflect on what you learned. The best lessons from come failures, and writing about challenge can also make your later successes feel more impactful. Everyone loves to hear an underdog or zero-to-hero story. But counterintuitively, your failures are actually more important than your successes.

This essay has some nice ideas about focusing only on what's in your control: your attitude and your effort. However, these ideas are ultimately somewhat generic as they have been used countless times in admissions essays. Although ideas like this can be a good foundation, you should strive to reach deeper ideas. Deeper ideas are ones that are specific to you, unique, and interesting. You can reach deeper ideas by continually asking yourself "How" and "Why" questions that cause you to think deeper about a topic. Don't be satisfied with surface-level reflections. Think about what they represent more deeply, or how you can connect to other ideas or areas of your life.

Common App Essay Example #10: Boarding School

This personal essay was accepted to Claremont McKenna College . See how this student wrote a vulnerable essay about boarding school experience and their family relationship:

I began attending boarding school aged nine.

Obviously, this is not particularly unusual – my school dorms were comprised of boys and girls in the same position as me. However, for me it was difficult – or perhaps it was for all of us; I don’t know. We certainly never discussed it.

I felt utterly alone, as though my family had abruptly withdrawn the love and support thatI so desperately needed. At first, I did try to open up to them during weekly phone calls, but what could they do? As months slipped by, the number of calls reduced. I felt they had forgotten me. Maybe they felt I had withdrawn from them. A vast chasm of distance was cracking open between us.

At first, I shared my hurt feelings with my peers, who were amazingly supportive, but there was a limit to how much help they could offer. After a while, I realized that by opening up, I was burdening them, perhaps even irritating them. The feelings I was sharing should have been reserved for family. So, I withdrew into myself. I started storing up my emotions and became a man of few words. In the classroom or on the sports field, people saw a self-confident and cheerful character, but behind that facade was someone who yearned for someone to understand him and accept him as he was.

Years went past.

Then came the phone call which was about to change my life. “Just come home Aryan, it’s really important!” My mother’s voice was odd, brittle. I told her I had important exams the following week, so needed to study. “Aryan, why don’t you listen to me? There is no other option, okay? You are coming home.”

Concerned, I arranged to fly home. When I got there, my sister didn’t say hi to me, my grandmother didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to see me and my mother was nowhere to be seen. I wanted to be told why I was called back so suddenly just to be greeted as though I wasn’t even welcome.

Then my mother then came out of her room and saw me. To my immense incredulity, she ran to me and hugged me, and started crying in my arms.

Then came the revelation, “Your father had a heart attack.”

My father. The man I hadn’t really talked to in years. A man who didn’t even know who I was anymore. I’d spent so long being disappointed in him and suspecting he was disappointed in me, I sunk under a flood of emotions.

I opened the door to his room and there he was sitting on his bed with a weak smile on his face. I felt shaken to my core. All at once it was clear to me how self-centered I had become. A feeling of humiliation engulfed me, but finally I realized that rather than wallow in it, I needed to appreciate I was not alone in having feelings.

I remained at home that week. I understood that my family needed me. I worked with my uncle to ensure my family business was running smoothly and often invited relatives or friends over to cheer my father up.

Most importantly, I spent time with my family. It had been years since I’d last wanted to do this – I had actively built the distance between us – but really, I’d never stopped craving it. Sitting together in the living room, I realized how badly I needed them.

Seeing happiness in my father’s eyes, I felt I was finally being the son he had always needed me to be: A strong, capable young man equipped to take over the family business if need be.

Common App Essay Example #11: My Father

This Cornell University essay is an example of writing about a tragedy, which can be a tricky topic to write about well.

Family and tragedy essays are a commonly used topic, so it can be harder to come up with a unique essay idea using these topics.

Let me know what you think of this essay for Cornell:

My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.

Writing about tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, is a tricky topic because it has been used countless times in college admissions. It is difficult to not come off as a "victim" or that you're trying to garner sympathy by using the topic (i.e. a "sob story"). This essay does a great job of writing about a personal tragedy in a meaningful and unique way by connecting to values and ideas, rather than staying focused on what literally happened. By connecting tragedy to lessons and takeaways, you can show how—despite the difficulty and sorrow—you have gained something positive from it, however small that may be. Don't write about personal tragedy because you think "you should." As with any topic, only write about it if you have a meaningful point to make.

This essay is effective at making the reader feel the similar emotions as the author does and in bringing the reader into their "world." Even small remarks like noting the the "firsts" without their loved one are powerful because it is relatable and something that is apparent, but not commonly talked about. Using short phrases like "That was it. No goodbye, no I love you..." create emphasis and again a sense of relatability. As the reader, you can vividly imagine how the author must have felt during these moments. The author also uses questions, such as "What did I last say to him?" which showcase their thought process, another powerful way to bring the reader into your world.

Admissions officers are looking for self-growth, which can come in a variety of forms. Showing a new perspective is one way to convey that you've developed over time, learned something new, or gained new understanding or appreciation. In this essay, the student uses the "sticker of a black and white eye" to represent how they viewed their father differently before and after his passing. By using a static, unchanging object like this, and showing how you now view it differently over time, you convey a change in perspective that can make for interesting reflections.

Common App Essay Example #12: DMV Trials

Here's a funny Common App essay from a Northwestern admitted student about getting their driver's license.

This topic has been used before—as many "topics" have—but what's important is having a unique take or idea.

What do you think of this Northwestern essay ?

Breath, Emily, breath. I drive to the exit and face a four-lane roadway. “Turn left,” my passenger says.

On July 29, [Date] , I finally got my license. After the April debacle, I practiced driving almost every week. I learned to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets, the things I apparently didn’t know how to do during my first two tests. When pulling into the parking lot with the examiner for the last time, a wave of relief washed over me.

This essay does a good job of having a compelling narrative. By setting the scene descriptively, it is easy to follow and makes for a pleasant reading experience. However, avoid excessive storytelling, as it can overshadow your reflections, which are ultimately most important.

This essay has some moments where the author may come off as being overly critical, of either themselves or of others. Although it is okay (and good) to recognize your flaws, you don't want to portray yourself in a negative manner. Avoid being too negative, and instead try to find the positive aspects when possible.

More important than your stories is the answer to "So what?" and why they matter. Avoid writing a personal statement that is entirely story-based, because this leaves little room for reflection and to share your ideas. In this essay, the reflections are delayed to the end and not as developed as they could be.

In this essay, it comes across that failure is negative. Although the conclusion ultimately has a change of perspective in that "failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward," it doesn't address that failure is ultimately a positive thing. Admissions officers want to see failure and your challenges, because overcoming those challenges is what demonstrates personal growth.

Common App Essay Example #13: Ice Cream Fridays

This Columbia essay starts off with a vulnerable moment of running for school president. The student goes on to show their growth through Model UN, using detailed anecdotes and selected moments.

My fascination with geopolitical and economic issues were what kept me committed to MUN. But by the end of sophomore year, the co-presidents were fed up. “Henry, we know how hard you try, but there are only so many spots for each conference...” said one. “You’re wasting space, you should quit,” said the other.

This essay has a compelling story, starting from this author's early struggles with public speaking and developing into their later successes with Model UN. Using a central theme—in this case public speaking—is an effective way of creating a cohesive essay. By having a main idea, you can tie in multiple moments or achievements without them coming across unrelated.

This student talks about their achievements with a humble attitude. To reference your successes, it's equally important to address your failures. By expressing your challenges, it will make your later achievements seem more impactful in contrast. This student also is less "me-focused" and instead is interested in others dealing with the same struggles. By connecting to people in your life, values, or interesting ideas, you can reference your accomplishments without coming off as bragging.

This essay has moments of reflection, such as "math and programming made sense... people didn't". However, most of these ideas are cut short, without going much deeper. When you strike upon a potentially interesting idea, keep going with it. Try to explain the nuances, or broaden your idea to more universal themes. Find what is most interesting about your experience and share that with admissions.

Stories are important, but make sure all your descriptions are critical for the story. In this essay, the author describes things that don't add to the story, such as the appearance of other people or what they were wearing. These ultimately don't relate to their main idea—overcoming public speaking challenges—and instead are distracting.

Common App Essay Example #14: Key to Happiness

Here's a Brown University application essay that does a great job of a broad timeline essay. This student shows the change in their thinking and motivations over a period of time, which makes for an interesting topic.

Let me know what you think of this Brown essay:

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (250-650 words)

This student's first language is not English, which provides some insight into why the phrasing may not seem as natural or show as much personality. Admissions officers are holistic in determining who to admit, meaning they take into account many different factors when judging your essays. While this essay may not be the strongest, the applicant probably had other qualities or "hooks" that helped them get accepted, such as awards, activities, unique background, etc. Plus, there is some leniency granted to students who don't speak English as their first language, because writing essays in a foreign language is tough in and of itself.

It's good to be confident in your achievements, but you don't want to come across as boastful or self-assured. In this essay, some of the phrasing such as "when I was the best at everything" seems exaggerated and is off-putting. Instead of boosting your accomplishments, write about them in a way that almost "diminishes" them. Connect your achievements to something bigger than you: an interesting idea, a passionate cause, another person or group. By not inflating your achievements, you'll come across more humble and your achievements will actually seem more impactful. We all have heard of a highly successful person who thinks "it's no big deal," which actually makes their talents seem far more impressive.

This essay has some takeaways and reflections, as your essay should too, but ultimately these ideas are unoriginal and potentially cliché. Ideas like "what makes you happy is pursing your passion" are overused and have been heard thousands of times by admissions officers. Instead, focus on getting to unique and "deep" ideas: ideas that are specific to you and that have meaningful implications. It's okay to start off with more surface-level ideas, but you want to keep asking questions to yourself like "Why" and "How" to push yourself to think deeper. Try making connections, asking what something represents more broadly, or analyzing something from a different perspective.

You don't need to preface your ideas in your essay. Don't say things like "I later found out this would be life-changing, and here's why." Instead, just jump into the details that are most compelling. In this essay, there are moments that seem repetitive and redundant because they don't add new ideas and instead restate what's already been said in different words. When editing your essay, be critical of every sentence (and even words) by asking: Does this add something new to my essay? Does it have a clear, distinct purpose? If the answer is no, you should probably remove that sentence.

Common App Essay Example #15: Discovering Passion

Here's a Johns Hopkins essay that shows how the student had a change in attitude and perspective after taking a summer job at a care facility.

It may seem odd to write about your potential drawbacks or weaknesses—such as having a bad attitude towards something—but it's real and can help demonstrate personal growth.

So tell me your thoughts on this JHU Common App essay:

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

This student uses vulnerability in admitting that they held preconceived notions about the elderly before this experience. The quote introduces these preconceived notions well, while the description of how this student got their job in the care facility is also engaging.

Admission officers love to see your interactions with others. Showing how you interact reveals a lot about your character, and this essay benefits from reflecting upon the student's relationship with a particular elderly individual.

It is good to be descriptive, but only when it supports your expression of ideas. In this essay, the author uses adjectives and adverbs excessively, without introducing new ideas. Your ideas are more important than having a diverse vocabulary, and the realizations in this essay are muddled by rephrasing similar ideas using seemingly "impressive," but ultimately somewhat meaningless, vocabulary.

This essay touches on some interesting ideas, but on multiple occasions these ideas are repeated just in different phrasing. If you have already expressed an idea, don't repeat it unless you're adding something new: a deeper context, a new angle, a broadened application, etc. Ask yourself: what is the purpose of each sentence, and have I expressed it already?

It's true that almost any topic can make for a strong essay, but certain topics are trickier because they make it easy to write about overly used ideas. In this essay, the main idea can be summarized as: "I realized the elderly were worthy humans too." It touches upon more interesting ideas, such as how people can be reduced down to their afflictions rather than their true character, but the main idea is somewhat surface-level.

Common App Essay Example #16: "A Cow Gave Birth"

This Common App essay for the University of Pennsylvania centers on the theme of womanhood. Not only is it well-written, but this essay has interesting and unique ideas that relate to the student's interests.

Common App Essay Example #17: Robotics

This Common App essay was for Washington University in St. Louis .

This student writes about their experience creating and using an engineering notebook to better document their robotics progress. They share the story of how their dedication and perseverance led to winning awards and qualifying for the national championships.

Lastly, they reflect on the importance of following one's passions in life and decision to pursue a business degree instead of a engineering one.

This essay touches on various lessons that they've learned as a result of their experience doing robotics. However, these lessons are ultimately surface-level and generic, such as "I embraced new challenges." Although these could be a starting point for deeper ideas, on their own they come off as unoriginal and overused. Having interesting ideas is what makes an essay the most compelling, and you need to delve deeply into reflection, past the surface-level takeaways. When drafting and brainstorming, keep asking yourself questions like "How" and "Why" to dig deeper. Ask "What does this represent? How does it connect to other things? What does this show about myself/the world/society/etc.?"

Although this essay is focused on "VEX robotics," the details of what that activity involves are not elaborated. Rather than focusing on the surface-level descriptions like "We competed and won," it would be more engaging to delve into the details. What did your robot do? How did you compete? What were the specific challenges in "lacking building materials"? Use visuals and imagery to create a more engaging picture of what you were doing.

The hook and ending sentences of "drifting off to sleep" feel arbitrary and not at all connected to any ideas throughout the essay. Instead, it comes off as a contrived choice to create a "full circle" essay. Although coming full circle is often a good strategy, there should be a specific purpose in doing so. For your intro, try using a short sentence that creates emphasis on something interesting. For the conclusion, try using similar language to the intro, expanding upon your ideas to more universal takeaways, or connecting back to previous ideas with a new nuance.

Common App Essay Example #18: Lab Research

Common app essay example #19: carioca dance.

Having a natural-sounding style of writing can be a great way of conveying personality. This student does a fantastic job of writing as they'd speak, which lets admissions officers create a clear "image" of who you are in their head. By writing naturally and not robotically, you can create a "voice" and add character to your essay.

This student chooses a unique activity, the Carioca drill, as their main topic. By choosing a "theme" like this, it allows you to easily and naturally talk about other activities too, without seeming like you're simply listing activities. This student uses the Carioca as a metaphor for overcoming difficulties and relates it to their other activities and academics—public speaking and their job experience.

Showing a sense of humor can indicate wit, which not only makes you seem more likeable, but also conveys self-awareness. By not always taking yourself 100% seriously, you can be more relatable to the reader. This student acknowledges their struggles in conjunction with using humor ("the drills were not named after me—'Saads'"), which shows a recognition that they have room to improve, while not being overly self-critical.

Common App Essay Example #20: Chinese Language

The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”

As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.

Using creative metaphors can be an effective way of conveying ideas. In this essay, the metaphor of "Chinese characters...were the names of my best friends" tells a lot about this student's relationship with the language. When coming up with metaphors, a good rule of thumb is: if you've heard it before, don't use it. Only use metaphors that are specific, make sense for what you're trying to say, and are highly unique.

Whenever you "tell" something, you should try and back it up with anecdotes, examples, or experiences. Instead of saying that "I made conversation," this student exemplifies it by listing who they talked to. Showing is always going to be more compelling than telling because it allows the reader to come to the conclusion on their own, which makes them believe it much stronger. Use specific, tangible examples to back up your points and convince the reader of what you're saying.

Although this essay has reflections, they tend to be more surface-level, rather than unique and compelling. Admissions officers have read thousands of application essays and are familiar with most of the ideas students write about. To stand out, you'll need to dive deeper into your ideas. To do this, keep asking yourself questions whenever you have an interesting idea. Ask "Why" and "How" repeatedly until you reach something that is unique, specific to you, and super interesting.

Avoid writing a conclusion that only "sounds nice," but lacks real meaning. Often times, students write conclusions that go full circle, or have an interesting quote, but they still don't connect to the main idea of the essay. Your conclusion should be your strongest, most interesting idea. It should say something new: a new perspective, a new takeaway, a new aspect of your main point. End your essay strongly by staying on topic, but taking your idea one step further to the deepest it can go.

Common App Essay Example #21: Kiki's Delivery Service

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.

I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.

Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.

Common App Essay Example #22: Museum of Life

Using visuals can be a way to add interesting moments to your essay. Avoid being overly descriptive, however, as it can be distracting from your main point. When drafting, start by focusing on your ideas (your reflections and takeaways). Once you have a rough draft, then you can consider ways to incorporate imagery that can add character and flavor to your essay.

Admissions officers are people, just like you, and therefore are drawn to personalities that exhibit positive qualities. Some of the most important qualities to portray are: humility, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and passion. In this essay, there are several moments that could be interpreted as potentially self-centered or arrogant. Avoid trying to make yourself out to be "better" or "greater" than other people. Instead, focus on having unique and interesting ideas first, and this will show you as a likeable, insightful person. Although this is a "personal" statement, you should also avoid over using "I" in your essay. When you have lots of "I" sentences, it starts to feel somewhat ego-centric, rather than humble and interested in something greater than you.

This essay does a lot of "telling" about the author's character. Instead, you want to provide evidence—through examples, anecdotes, and moments—that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about who you are. Avoid surface-level takeaways like "I am open-minded and have a thirst for knowledge." These types of statements are meaningless because anyone can write them. Instead, focus on backing up your points by "showing," and then reflect genuinely and deeply on those topics.

This essay is focused on art museums and tries to tie in a connection to studying medicine. However, because this connection is very brief and not elaborated, the connection seems weak. To connect to your area of study when writing about a different topic, try reflecting on your topic first. Go deep into interesting ideas by asking "How" and "Why" questions. Then, take those ideas and broaden them. Think of ways they could differ or parallel your desired area of study. The best connections between a topic (such as an extracurricular) and your area of study (i.e. your major) is through having interesting ideas.

Common App Essay Example #23: French Horn

This student chose the creative idea of personifying their French horn as their central theme. Using this personification, they are able to write about a multitude of moments while making them all feel connected. This unique approach also makes for a more engaging essay, as it is not overly straightforward and generic.

It can be challenging to reference your achievements without seeming boastful or coming across too plainly. This student manages to write about their successes ("acceptance into the Julliard Pre-College program") by using them as moments part of a broader story. The focus isn't necessarily on the accomplishments themselves, but the role they play in this relationship with their instrument. By connecting more subtly like this, it shows humility. Often, "diminishing" your achievements will actually make them stand out more, because it shows you're focused on the greater meaning behind them, rather than just "what you did."

This student does a good job of exemplifying each of their ideas. Rather than just saying "I experienced failure," they show it through imagery ("dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances"). Similarly, with their idea "no success comes without sacrifice," they exemplify it using examples of sacrifice. Always try to back up your points using examples, because showing is much more convincing than telling. Anyone can "tell" things, but showing requires proof.

This essay has a decent conclusion, but it could be stronger by adding nuance to their main idea or connecting to the beginning with a new perspective. Rather than repeating what you've established previously, make sure your conclusion has a different "angle" or new aspect. This can be connecting your main idea to more universal values, showing how you now view something differently, or emphasizing a particular aspect of your main idea that was earlier introduced.

Common App Essay Example #24: Dear My Younger Self

Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)

Younger Anna,

  • Don’t live your life as if you're constantly being watched and criticized. Chances are, no one is even paying attention to you.
  • Wear your retainer.
  • Empathy makes your life easier. People who are inexplicably cruel are suffering just as much as the recipients of their abuse. Understanding this makes your interactions with these people less painful.
  • Comparing yourself to your classmates is counterproductive. Sometimes you will forge ahead, other times you will lag behind. But ultimately, you’re only racing yourself.
  • Speak up to your stepmom.
  • Always eat the cake. I couldn't tell you how many times I’ve turned away a slice of cake, only to regret it the next day. If you really can’t commit, do yourself a favor and take a slice home with you.
  • Cherish your grandparents.
  • Forgive your mother. Harboring resentment hurts you just as much as her. All the time I spent being angry at her could’ve been spent discovering her strengths.

This essay chose a unique structure in the form of a letter addressed to themselves with a list of lessons they've learned. This structure is unique, and also allows the student to explore a variety of topics and ideas while making them all feel connected. It is tricky to not seem "gimmicky" when choosing a creative structure like this, but the key is to make your essay well thought-out. Show that you've put effort into reflecting deeply, and that you aren't choosing a unique structure just to stand out.

This essay is highly focused on lessons they've learned, which shows a deep level of reflection. Your ideas and takeaways from life experience are ultimately most compelling to admissions officers, and this essay succeeds because it is focused almost entirely on those reflections. This student also manages to incorporate anecdotes and mini stories where appropriate, which makes their reflections more memorable by being tangible.

Showing humility and self-awareness are two highly attractive traits in college admissions. Being able to recognize your own flaws and strengths, while not making yourself out to be more than what you are, shows that you are mature and thoughtful. Avoid trying to "boost yourself up" by exaggerating your accomplishments or over-emphasizing your strengths. Instead, let your ideas speak for themselves, and by focusing on genuine, meaningful ideas, you'll convey a persona that is both humble and insightful.

The drawback of having a structure like this, where lots of different ideas are examined, is that no one idea is examined in-depth. As a result, some ideas (such as "intelligence is not defined by your grades") come across as trite and overused. In general, avoid touching on lots of ideas while being surface-level. Instead, it's almost always better to choose a handful (or even just one main idea) and go as in-depth as possible by continually asking probing questions—"How" and "Why"—that force yourself to think deeper and be more critical. Having depth of ideas shows inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and ultimately are more interesting because they are ideas that only you could have written.

Common App Essay Example #25: Monopoly

Feeling a bit weary from my last roll of the dice, I cross my fingers with the “FREE PARKING” square in sight. As luck has it, I smoothly glide past the hotels to have my best horse show yet- earning multiple wins against stiff competition and gaining points to qualify for five different national finals this year.

This essay uses the board game "Monopoly" as a metaphor for their life. By using a metaphor as your main topic, you can connect to different ideas and activities in a cohesive way. However, make sure the metaphor isn't chosen arbitrarily. In this essay, it isn't completely clear why Monopoly is an apt metaphor for their life, because the specific qualities that make Monopoly unique aren't explained or elaborated. Lots of games require "strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge," so it'd be better to focus on the unique aspects of the game to make a more clear connection. For example, moving around the board in a "repetitive" fashion, but each time you go around with a different perspective. When choosing a metaphor, first make sure that it is fitting for what you're trying to describe.

You want to avoid listing your activities or referencing them without a clear connection to something greater. Since you have an activities list already, referencing your activities in your essay should have a specific purpose, rather than just emphasizing your achievements. In this essay, the student connects their activities by connecting them to a specific idea: how each activity is like a mini challenge that they must encounter to progress in life. Make sure your activities connect to something specifically: an idea, a value, an aspect of your character.

This essay lacks depth in their reflections by not delving deeply into their main takeaways. In this essay, the main "idea" is that they've learned to be persistent with whatever comes their way. This idea could be a good starting point, but on its own is too generic and not unique enough. Your idea should be deep and specific, meaning that it should be something only you could have written about. If your takeaway could be used in another student's essay without much modification, chances are it is a surface-level takeaway and you want to go more in-depth. To go in-depth, keep asking probing questions like "How" and "Why" or try making more abstract connections between topics.

In the final two paragraphs, this essay does a lot of "telling" about the lessons they've learned. They write "I know that in moments of doubt...I can rise to the occasion." Although this could be interesting, it would be far more effective if this idea is shown through anecdotes or experiences. The previous examples in the essay don't "show" this idea. When drafting, take your ideas and think of ways you can represent them without having to state them outright. By showing your points, you will create a more engaging and convincing essay because you'll allow the reader to come to the conclusion themselves, rather than having to believe what you've told them.

What Can You Learn from These Common App Essay Examples?

With these 25 Common App essay examples, you can get inspired and improve your own personal statement.

If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your Common App essays needs to be its best possible.

What makes a good Common App essay isn't easy to define. There aren't any rules or steps.

But using these samples from real students, you can understand what it takes to write an outstanding personal statement .

Let me know, which Common App essay did you think was the best?

Ryan Chiang , Founder of EssaysThatWorked

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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UPenn Admitted Essay

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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Columbia University 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision Deadline: Jan 1

You Have: 

Columbia University  2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 lists of 100 words; 4 essays of 150 words each 

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community , Why, Short Answer

List questions

For the list question that follows, there is a 100 word maximum. please refer to the below guidance when answering this question:, your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons., items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order., it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications., no author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed., list a selection of texts, resources and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums and other content that you enjoy.  (100 words or fewer).

How do you pursue intellectual development outside of the classroom? You’ll need to be careful to avoid self-aggrandizing or pandering choices. Don’t top your list with 1984 unless you genuinely picked it up of your own accord, read it from start to finish, and meditated on Orwell’s intentions (while staring out the window, jaw agape). Think of not just the most recent media you’ve consumed, but also the old classics you can’t help revisiting (anything by Jenny Han, the podcast you binged in two weeks, the film you saw in theaters three times). Play with the sequencing here: how would you set these up in your library? Chronologically? Alphabetically? Thematically? Maybe you can make an entertaining leap from the sublime to the ridiculous by placing a heart-wrenching play alongside a goofy satire. Have fun with it! After all, this list is, at its core, about what you consume for the pleasure of it.

Short answer questions

For the four short answer questions, please respond in 150 words or fewer., a hallmark of the columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (150 words or fewer).

Ah, the infamous “community” essay. Many schools ask students about their communities because they want to know how you relate to the people around you, forge connections, and commune with your peers. In this particular instance, the question emphasizes equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration. What do these words mean to you and how do they relate to your perspective or lived experience? Maybe you’re very involved in a progressive church youth group that celebrates its members differences, including trans and nonbinary members. Perhaps the friends you made at the skatepark have introduced you to a new culture and mindset of “try and try again” that you love. Maybe there are different languages spoken by the volunteers in your community garden, and now you know how to say “basil” in four different dialects (BTW in Italian it’s “ basilico ,” #funfact). How do you see equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration play out in your community? And, looking forward, how would you keep those values alive at Columbia next fall?

In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant’s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result. (150 words or fewer)

This prompt is incredibly similar to the Common App’s Prompt #2, which asks applicants to recount a time when they faced a challenge, setback, or failure. Our advice is similar: isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it. Writing about a difficult time in your life requires both vulnerability and perspective. Instead of focusing on the barrier or obstacle you were up against, spend most of the words at your disposal on how you rose to the occasion to overcome the challenge at hand. This is your opportunity to show admissions that you are a developing, maturing young adult with resilience and work ethic. As you zero in on a key moment, ask yourself the following questions: What healthy coping mechanisms or communication skills did you develop? Who, if applicable, did you choose to lean on and why? What did you learn about yourself? How will you approach difficult situations moving forward? Be honest and open, and we’re sure admissions will be impressed.

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)

This brief assignment is Columbia’s version of the classic Why Essay , and the key to every good Why Essay is solid, specific research. Spend some quality time with the Columbia website or, if you can, on a campus tour. Ask questions, take notes, and dig to find specific people, organizations, and experiences that excite you. Don’t dig too deep into majors or classes just yet; you’ll have an opportunity to write about your academic interest in a little bit, so for now, focus on the Columbia experience as a whole. Once you have some notes on the page, try to weave together a story that pairs your interests with Columbia’s offerings. Reveal new information about yourself while also showing that you’ve done your homework.

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)

This prompt gives you a chance to geek out about your intended area(s) of study. Whether you’re hoping to study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering, the assignment is the same: offer admissions insight into your academic interests and pursuits. Whether your goals are intellectual, professional, or somewhere in between, your reasoning should be grounded in what Columbia has to offer. 150 words isn’t a lot of space, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide a detailed response. Get ambitious and aim to answer these two key questions: What intrigues or excites you about your intended major? And why is Columbia the ideal place for you to study it? Do a little research to identify classes you’d like to take, professors you’d like to work with, and alumni you’d like to network with; then, get to drafting—and leave yourself plenty of time to edit and revise! 

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10 Columbia Supplemental Essay Examples That Worked

Columbia Essay Supplemental Example

Looking at Columbia supplemental essay examples can be helpful for students who are preparing their college applications for Columbia, any of the  Ivy League Schools , or other highly selective institutions like the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) . Top colleges tend to have a holistic admissions process, meaning that they look at more than just your academic background. They also want to get to know the person behind the grades and ensure that you are a good fit for their college campus. Your  supplemental college essays  play a significant role in helping them make a decision. It is therefore important that you submit college essays that stand out in order to beat the competition. 

In this blog, we share ten essays that respond to the prompts provided by  Columbia University  to help you get inspired for your own  college essays .

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 9 min read

Columbia's supplemental college essay questions are divided into two. First, there is a series of list questions. You will be required to answer these prompts in the form of a list without any explanatory text or additional formatting. The school asks that you separate each item on the list with commas or semicolons. Secondly, you have what most students are familiar with when we talk about supplemental college essays. In the case of Columbia, the essays are limited to 200 words or fewer, meaning that applicants have to find a way to incorporate a lot of information in a relatively short text. To put that into context, we have included examples from both sections in this blog.

As you read through the examples, pay attention to the way the authors infuse their personalities into the text, and how they use specific examples to make their essays more memorable.

Columbia supplemental essay example #1

Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. ( 200 words or fewer)

According to my mother, I never played dress-up with my dolls when I was a child. Apparently, instead of braiding their hair, I placed them down in neat little rows and taught them how to braid hair. I'm not sure how accurate that story is, but it does sound like me. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed learning and teaching others what I have learned.

I first noticed this when my family and I went on vacation to Disneyland, and It seemed like I was the only person who was interested in the guided tour. I wanted to know everything about the buildings, how old the park was, and the people that designed it. On the flight back home, I talked everyone's ear off about all the new things I had learned about how parks work. It is still one of my most cherished experiences, even though I didn't get to go on as many rides as the rest of my family. 

 I have followed that passion for learning and teaching by tutoring in middle and high school. These experiences as a tutor confirmed that teaching is the right career path for me. (197 words)

"Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak." Those are Rachel Zoe's words, and I wholeheartedly believe them. Growing up, one of my favorite parts of the day was the night before school, when I would spend 20 to 30 minutes picking out the perfect outfit to wear the next day. 

When it came time for me to go to high school, my parents decided that I would get a better education from a private school that had a dress code. All students were required to wear clean-cut khakis and a white polo shirt. I had to say goodbye to my matching sets, graphic t-shirts, and jean jackets.

A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? ( 200 words or fewer)

Four years ago, my father remarried, giving me a loving stepmom, two wonderfully annoying younger sisters, and an introduction to a whole new world. For context, I am an eighteen-year-old white girl who grew up in the suburbs, and my step-family is Afro-Latinx. Although they grew up in a suburb similar to the one I call home, their experiences were very different from mine. 

For example, I went shopping with one of my sisters recently, and I noticed that she always insisted on getting a paper copy of her receipt. I tried to tell her that she could ask for it to be emailed to her as that'd be better for the environment, but she explained that she often gets accused of stealing in upscale stores and that having the receipt made proving her innocence easier. 

This is one of the many conversations I have had in the past few years that have taught me to look past my own experiences and listen. We all experience life differently, meaning that we all have something to learn from each other. I plan on bringing my perspective to Columbia, and I look forward to listening and learning from students with different viewpoints. (200 words)

2,789. That is the total population of Imagined, the small, remote town I grew up in. It is a town that I have a love-hate relationship with. I love the sense of community it fosters and the beautiful views surrounding it. I also hate how small it is and how closed-minded its inhabitants can be. 

Like most of Imagined's residents, I have never really lived outside of our town, but I like to think that I have traveled through the numerous books I spend my days reading. It is those books that introduced me to people who practice different religions, who look different from me, and who have points of view that are very different from mine. Even though I may not agree with everything I have read, it has given me a chance to question my belief systems and make informed decisions. 

I hope that by attending Columbia, which is located at the heart of one of the most diverse cities in the world, I will be exposed to even more perspectives so that I can learn more about the human experience and relate with others better. (188 words)

The opening sentence of your essay needs to be attention-grabbing if you want to write a strong essay. We recommend starting with a quote, an anecdote, or a fun fact like the writer did with the essay above. ","label":"Tip","title":"Tip"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">

Columbia supplemental essay example #5

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. ( 200 words or fewer)

Two years ago, my mother and I toured thirteen universities across the country. Of all the schools I visited, Columbia quickly stood out. We had already put the school on our list because of its stellar academic programs but being on campus convinced me that Columbia is the right university for me. 

During the tour, I spoke to several students who gushed about the diversity of the student body, the excellent professors and advisors, and the eye-opening educational experience the Core Curriculum provides. My mother went to Columbia, and she found it amazing that even though the school has evolved, its core values remain the same. 

The experiences she and the other students described make me dream of having my own Lit Hum discussion sessions and participating in the many enriching clubs on campus, such as the Columbia Model United Nations team. 

Being at Columbia would also allow me to take advantage of everything New York offers. I would get to explore my various academic and personal interests in an international and open-minded environment. 

Some say that Columbia is the greatest college at the greatest university in the greatest city in the world. I suspect they might be right. (199 words)

I was on the Columbia campus on October 14, 2019, when the Native American Council gathered and called on the University to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day. I had reluctantly come to the school for a visit with a friend who is currently in her first year at Columbia. My general idea of this school was that it was very traditional and not very open-minded. This display of bravery changed my view of Columbia and prompted me to research the school. 

I found that it has a strong academic program that gives students a strong foundation through the common core curriculum. I especially like the fact that the core includes studies in non-western major cultures and masterpieces of western literature. 

As an African-American-Lebanese student, my background and heritage have made me passionate about the world's different cultures, specifically how globalization has affected them and how they have been affected by it. Columbia would allow me to learn more about this topic and explore other aspects of world culture I am interested in. 

I hope to get the chance to learn in class and outside the classroom from the diverse and open-minded student body at Columbia over the next four years. (198 words)

This is essentially a \u201cwhy this college essay\u201d so the admissions committee will be trying to find out if you are interested in Columbia specifically. So, take the time to research the school and mention something specific about it such as a course, a requirement, a student organization, etc. ","label":"Tip","title":"Tip"}]" code="tab2" template="BlogArticle">

Do you have questions about the college application process? This video can help:

Columbia supplemental essay example #7

List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë; All My Sons by Arthur Miller; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head. (47 words)

List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

Frying plantain by zalika reid-benta; Heavy by Kiese Laymon; An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay; The girl with the louding voice by Abi dare; Born a crime by Trevor Noah; Becoming by Michelle Obama; Such a fun age by Kiley reid; Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde; The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang; Turtles all the way down by John Green; Our Stories, Our Voices by Amy Reed; Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (72 words)

It\u2019s important that you think about the list of books that you are sharing. You want to be honest, but you also want the books that you share to say something about you. For example, even though this person reads a few different genres, we can tell from the list of books that this applicant clearly has a penchant for social justice and history. ","label":"Tip","title":"Tip"}]" code="tab3" template="BlogArticle">

Columbia supplemental essay example #9

John Green's Turtles all the way down; Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo; Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; Andy Weir's The Martian, Marlon James’ Black leopard, red wolf; V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series,  V.E. Schwab’s Shadowshaper. (41 words)

Want to learn more about what makes a strong college essay? Check out this video:

Columbia supplemental essay example #10

We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

Publications: The New York Times, n+1, Vanity Fair, TIME; Music: Beyonce, Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean, Florence & the machine, Kasey Musgraves. Movies & TV shows: Succession, Gilmore Girls, Greys Anatomy, Explained, Derry Girls; Lectures on YouTube: Designing Your Life (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans), TEDx talks. (47 words)

Columbia is one of the most selective schools in the country. Last year, it had an acceptance rate that was close to 5%. Meaning that for every 100 applicants, only about five get offered admission.

Columbia requires students to submit three short supplemental essays of 200 words or less and answer three additional questions with lists.

The supplemental Columbia-specific questions you have to answer are less than 200 words.

Reviewing different supplemental essay examples will expose you to different types of prompts used for college essays and give you a better idea of how to approach them.

A strong college essay tells a story, uses specific examples, and has a strong opening.

You can make your essay stand out by ensuring that it tells a story and uses specific examples to back up claims that you make about yourself.

College essay advisors  are admission consultants who typically work with application or college essay review services. They use their admissions knowledge and training to help you prepare the strongest college essays possible.

Columbia does not have a minimum GPA requirement, but it does expect applicants to have a strong academic background. 95% of the recently admitted class graduated in the top 10% of their class. So if you are hoping to  get into college with a low GPA , you would need an impressive application for that school to be Columbia.

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Columbia University Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

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The following Columbia University essay examples were written by several different authors who were admitted to Columbia University. All names have been redacted for anonymity. has shared these essays with admissions officers at Columbia University in order to deter potential plagiarism.

For more help with your Columbia University essay supplements, check out our 2020-2021 Columbia University Essay Guide ! For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

Supportive and collaborative (Let’s trauma bond and get through college together!); Tight-knit and friendly; Accepting; Socially and environmentally-aware; Quirky but also down-to-earth; Know how to enjoy a good movie/book/tv show marathon; Appreciate the arts, scientific achievements, and social accomplishments; Be willing to help out a first year being lost around campus for the first few weeks; Not afraid to stand up for what is right and use our resources to create a difference in the world.

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin -Harriet Beecher Stowe (APUSH): This book offered me the raw and emotional look at slavery and showed me the complexities of the US society before the Civil War.

The Grapes of Wrath -John Steinbeck (APUSH): Another emotional book that offered me a raw look at how the migrant workers were hurt during the Great Depression. This book along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin humanize history for me.

L’Étranger -Albert Camus (AP Lang): Existentialism. Interesting read. It really made me question life.

Sociologie des pratiques culturelles (Sociology of Cultural Practices) by Philippe Coulangeon is a required text I particularly appreciated this year. I enjoyed how the novel examines the principle trends that characterize the evolution of modern cultural practices, as well as the results of the democratization of culture in modern-day France.

Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Baudelaire is an extremely powerful poetry collection that I found to be at the same time thought provoking and a pleasure to read. The poet expresses both his “Spleen,” or his agony, and his Ideal through beautiful and captivating verses.

I also absolutely loved Don Juan by Moliere, a play written and set in 17th century France during the reign of Louis XIV. Moliere’s clever mix of the classic and baroque styles was a joy to read, and the way he uses comedy as a tool to criticize society was brilliant.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This response to the Columbia University essay prompt works well because it highlights the cultural and linguistic diversity of the student. The student succinctly and convincingly discusses what they connected to in the various works, showing their intellectual curiosity as well their ability to appreciate mature pieces of literature.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Most haunting book: Kindred -Octavia Butler (Like Dana, I rooted for Rufus, hoping he wouldn’t turn out to be a villainous and selfish enslaver. I was betrayed)

Most emotional book: Thirteen Reasons Why -Jay Asher (This is one of those books that makes you question your entire life after reading it. It just has the power to make you wonder: Am I a good person? Have I made a good or bad difference in the lives of others? Highly recommended)

Best reread of the year: To All the Boys I’d Loved Before -Jenny Han (Three claps for Asian representation in YA books!)

Most nostalgic book: The Percy Jackson series-Rick Riordan (Earlier this year, I was at the Met, where Percy willed his power to push Nancy Bobofit into the water! Bucket list item #14: checked)

Honorable mentions: The Jungle -Upton Sinclair, The Hate U Give -Angie Thomas, Jurassic Park -Michael Crichton, and The Sympathizer -Viet Thanh Nguyen.

I like this response to this Columbia University essay prompt because the student is unapologetically herself. A lot of students feel the need to make themselves more impressive, or more sophisticated/well read, and the risk in that is that they lose that personal warmth, genuine voice, and connection with the reader. It’s far better to be honest and forthcoming, inviting the reader into your world view, humor, experience, and unique and fun perspective on the world.

One novel I read for pleasure that I found gripping and profound is Brave New World by Huxley. In addition to being a call for freedom during the rise of totalitarian societies, the novel also addresses philosophical and ethical questions that remain relevant today.

Bel Ami by Maupassant is another novel that spoke to me. This naturalist novel depicts the journey of the protagonist’s rise to power through manipulation and corruption in late 19th century France. I enjoyed following how this anti-hero climbs the social ladder from his humble working-class beginnings to become one of the most powerful men in Paris.

I was inspired by Histoire de l’autre (Story of the Other), a book that presents both the Israeli and Palestinian points of view on key historical events throughout the conflict. It was written by six Israeli and six Palestinian history professors, who narrate the same events from different perspectives.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

I get caught up on current events from three main news sites: the Saint Louis Post Dispatch for the local perspective, the New York Times for the national perspective, and the BBC for the international perspective. It’s a habit of mine to read about current events from at least 3 perspectives. That way, I know I’m getting the most objective view of the world.

Entertainment news: Buzzfeed and Kenh14 (a Vietnamese newsite)

News not covered by mainstream media but are highly important: Stories on Instagrams, Facebook, and Reddit.

Again, I feel like this student is being honest and forthcoming. You get a sense of ethnicity/identity, and also of a person who is willing to be informed without trying to prove anything. There’s a fine balance between being genuine and trying to seem impressive.

I follow the news on BBC ( BBC gives me a well-rounded view of political, economic and social events from around the world, with the necessary background information to understand today’s global issues.

I also use the mobile app News Republic on a daily basis. News Republic provides articles from over 1,000 trusted news sources, so I can be informed of global issues from multiple perspectives. Further, I can design my news page to follow the topics I am most interested in.

Another website I follow regularly is Time Out Madrid ( ). It helps me take full advantage of all the opportunities Madrid has to offer, such as cultural exhibitions, hidden parks and cafes, concerts, plays and movies. My latest discovery is a list of eleven original bookshops, where, in addition to finding books, friends and I can have a coffee, enjoy a concert or listen to a lecture.

Again, what works about this kind of response is that the reader can get a sense of the global perspective and experience of the student. Without being too obvious with it, the student brings the reader into their life – bookstores, social life, international experience – and makes the reader a part of it.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Musical: Hamilton, Legally Blondes, Miss Saigon (I love the music but hate the historical inaccuracies as well as the ignorance of Vietnamese culture portrayed in the musical)

Films: Avengers: Endgame, Spiderman: Far from Home, Candy Jar, Lincoln, Us, Get Out.

TV shows: Marvel’s Agents of Shield (My all time favorite show. I learned English watching Shield in middle school), Goong (amazing soundtracks, jump started my K-drama binge for the last 2 months, inspired a Viet-styled Goong fanfiction currently in the works), and High Kick Through the Rooftop (It’s an awesome Korean sitcom. I highly recommend it. Just ignore the last 6 episodes)

Music: Soundtracks. My current favorite is Dah Ji Mot Han Ma Eum from Goong!

I saw back-to-back Ionesco’s two classic plays, La cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano) and La leçon (The Lesson), at Le Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris, where they have been playing non-stop since 1957. It was fascinating to see these plays with the same original mise-en-scene dating back to the era when they were written.

Additionally, I loved the exhibition Pop Art Myths at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. I enjoyed seeing how this art form developed in the 50s and 60s and its witty critique of consumerism.

Finally, I was inspired by the documentary Beyond Right and Wrong . It follows the stories of individuals who lost their loved ones in terrible conflicts from Northern Ireland, the Middle East and Rwanda, and shows what it took for them to forgive the other side. Their strength impressed me, and their courageous acts allowed me to observe forgiveness under a different light.

The reader gets a strong sense that art, in a variety of forms, is an important part of this student’s life.This is someone who looks beyond the entertainment factor. An admissions officer would most likely get the impression that as a student, this is someone who considers historical context and likes to make deeper connections with the curriculum.

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

I hate the word “common” and avoid being associated with it at all cost. Being called “Common” is the worst insult possible. It implies that I’m just another face in a sea of faces and reminds me that not so long ago, in order to blend in with the crowd, I had ignored the injustices I saw. To me, a common person of a common society is nothing more than a lonely cog in the machine who is unable and unwilling to protest against the injustices in the society.

Given my hatred of all things common, it’s a surprise to see me apply to Columbia University, a place famous for its Core Curriculum. However, after October 14, 2019, all my negative thoughts about the Core Curriculum have vanished. Instead of a group of passive ancient philosophers in modern vessels molded by the Core, I got to see a vibrant, accepting, and socially aware group of changemakers on Campus that morning. Columbia students are powerful individuals who are not hesitant to use their power to demand changes. Exhibit A: the mini awareness events to demand the recognition of Indegenous People’s Day that I got to witness. The students made their presence known with posters and chants, demanding for recognition.

It was this display of bravery that changed my view of Columbia. Upon closer research, I can see that the Common Core is not a rigid mold but rather a template for empowerment by making sure that all students are equipped with the knowledge to lead courageous lives and be informed citizens. After all, why else would the university has all students learn about Contemporary Civilization?

Columbia’s Common Core will prepare me to lead a life of courage. Haizz, of course Columbia would be the place that makes me tolerate the word “common.”

This essay works for a number of reasons. Overall, the reader gets a great understanding of what the author values. This is someone who has grown in terms of their thinking, and will continue to seek opportunities for growth. This is a student who will more than likely be involved in a number of communities both on and off campus; a future change agent.
Naturally, most applicants will write about Columbia’s Core Curriculum, for which they are well known. However, this student’s evolved understanding of why and how it’s central to Columbia’s pedagogy, and how they would engage the curriculum is radically refreshing, I would imagine. As an admission officer I would get the sense that while the author is opinionated, they will likely lead and contribute to great classroom discussions. However, what’s equally important in a university setting is that they can listen to others’ perspectives and are also open to change, which it seems this applicant is.
Lastly, the student incorporated the fact that they had been on campus in an effective way that communicated their connection to the University, and allows an admissions officer to understand how this student would fit on campus.

In 2013, I embarked on a whirlwind tour of seventeen American universities. Of all the schools I visited, Columbia stood out. In addition to stellar academic programs, its emphasis on civic and global engagement really spoke to me. It is vital for me to attend a college where both academic rigor and openness to the world are widely promoted.

Perhaps what draws me to Columbia the most is the impact it has had on my sister, Maysa (Columbia College 2018). I have never seen her happier than she is today, as she talks about the diversity of the student body, her amazing professors and advisor, and the truly transformative and eye opening educational experience the Core Curriculum is giving her. Her experience at Columbia makes me dream of having my very own Lit Hum discussion sessions, surrounded by a group of passionate Lions.

At Columbia, I would also take advantage of the many enriching clubs and student organizations. For example, I would like to become a member of the Columbia Model United Nations Team, one of the most renowned in the United States, and the Peace by PEACE club. In addition, I would like to join or set up a Club or Intramural Swim Team.

Being at Columbia would also allow me to take advantage of everything New York has to offer, from acclaimed guest speakers visiting campus to world-class performances and exhibitions. I believe Columbia is the place where all the aspects of my personality would thrive. Columbia students and faculty are motivated, active, and inspiring. At Columbia College, I would grow both academically and socially in an international and openminded environment. It would be an honor to spend the next four years “in the greatest college, in the greatest university, in the greatest city in the world.”

This student took a more traditional approach to writing this essay. The author gave a well rounded response as to how they would engage in Columbia’s community both inside and outside of the classroom. They named specific clubs and organizations they envision becoming a member of, and highlighted characteristics of the University that resonates with them. Lastly, because the author’s sister attended Columbia, they were able to incorporate some personal reflections as to why they too wish to attend.

Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently, undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest in at this time. (300 words or less)

In seventh grade, a phenomenon exploded at my school: YA stories about a world without adults. The premise is simple: A strange accident evaporated all the adults, leaving only young people to inhabit the new world.

Like everyone, I was in love with those stories and enjoyed fantasizing how I would be in that situation. However, something didn’t sit right with me: Why only the adults? How come anyone under the age of 16 got to stay? I was desperate for an answer and since I couldn’t find them in the pre-existing stories, I decided to write my own story with a valid reason for the disappearance of the adults. After weeks of theorizing and researching, I finally got it. The story premise was similar: All adults on Earth have been turned into zombies by invading aliens. Luckily, thanks to a DNA mutation caused by a live virus vaccine that was administered to all children aged 17 and younger, the young people were spared. Now, they are our planet’s last hope.

What started as harmless research to satisfy my curiosity quickly developed into a long lasting fascination with cells and mutations. I marvel at how simple changes in our genetic codes could have great impact on our bodies. It’s interesting and scary to realize how easy it is for our DNA to be manipulated by outside factors. Similar to the unforeseen benefit of the DNA mutation in my story, my research has helped me discover a great passion of mine.

This is a great story! Colleges, particularly top tier schools, are looking for intellectually curious students. The author effectively demonstrates that curiosity, shows its inception, and how they have further pursued their interest. This applicant is clearly a deep and creative thinker who has discovered their passion and will fully engage in furthering their understanding in their chosen field.

Columbia University offers many fields of study closely aligned with my academic and career goals.

My Middle Eastern heritage and international background have made me passionate about social justice, peace, and conflict resolution. I am especially interested in Middle Eastern international affairs and social problems. The unrest and violence in this region have repercussions all over the globe. I believe it is vital for our generation to find long-lasting solutions for peace in the Middle East and to protect the rights of women, children, and ethnic minorities that are being abused in the region. I hope to pursue an undergraduate program focused on Human Rights, taking classes such as “International Human Rights Law,” “Equality, Identity & Rights” and “Human Rights and Human Wrongs.”

For example, in summer 2013, I participated in a two-week course called “Identity, Diversity, and Leadership” at Brown University. This course challenged me to study my own social and individual identity. I learned the values of listening, sympathizing, and understanding those who are unlike me. Similarly, in October 2014, I took part in a seminar on Non-Violent Communication organized by Seeds of Peace, focusing on ways to bridge dialogue divides and maintain empathy during difficult conversations.

Like us, an American-Lebanese-Colombian family living in Madrid, my extended family all have very international backgrounds and have lived all around the world. I have American-Lebanese-Austrian cousins living in London and American-Lebanese- Belgian cousins living in Hong Kong. Even though we all have lived very different lives, we have something in common – the feeling of being citizens of the world, immersed in a plethora of distinct cultures, yet being part of one close-knit family.

I am lucky to have been raised in this environment. It has helped me become a more adaptable, flexible, and understanding person with intellectual curiosity and openness to the world.

Additionally, Columbia College would offer me the opportunity to take an array of classes taught by leading scholars in the Departments of Political Science; Middle East, South Asian, and African Studies; and Linguistics. These classes would give me a global view of the complex world we live in, help me better understand the international challenges we face today, and further expand my global outlook and knowledge of world cultures and customs. I look forward to taking classes such as “National Security Strategies of the Middle East: A Comparative Perspective”, “Rethinking Middle East Politics” and “Language and Society”. I am also keen on continuing to build on my Arabic language skills to complement my interest in Middle Eastern history and politics through the amazing resources provided by the Columbia Global Center in Amman, where I hope to spend at least two summers.

With my background and experiences, I believe I would contribute new perspectives to class discussions and learn from the ideas of the inspiring and diverse students that Columbia University attracts.

This essay works because the author did a great job at showing what their interests are, ways they have already pursued them, and how they will take advantage of Columbia’s curriculum to further pursue and achieve their academic and personal goals. While not every student has the opportunity to participate in tuition-based summer programs (colleges do not expect this), this student was able to highlight their participation and the ways in which they grew as a result.
The author has an incredibly diverse background and global perspective, which they effectively used to demonstrate what they will be able to contribute to the classroom as well as take away from it. This is precisely why diversity is important in a college setting. More importantly, however, the reader gets a strong sense of this student’s values and what’s important to them in terms of the contributions they hope to make to society.

These Columbia University essay examples were compiled by the advising team at . If you want to get help writing your Columbia University application essays from Admissions Experts , register with today.

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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


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.


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!

columbia common app essay

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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


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.


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.


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.


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.

columbia common app essay

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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.


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.


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.


#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 .


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 .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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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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We encourage you to convey the breadth and depth of your extracurricular pursuits within the activities section of your admission application—including the full name of each organization in which you participate and a brief description of your involvement. While we request that the volume of supplementary credentials be kept to a minimum, there may be occasions where such credentials provide valuable information that the standard application does not. 

Please note that supplements are not a required part of our admissions process. If you plan to submit supplementary credentials, please follow the instructions below.

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Early Decision applicants must submit their supplements by November 1 and Regular Decision applicants must submit their supplements by January 1. Transfer Applicants must submit their supplements by March 1.

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Academic research.

If you have completed research with a faculty member or mentor in science, engineering or other academic disciplines (e.g., humanities, social sciences or languages), you are welcome to provide a one or two page abstract as a supplement to your application. You may upload your abstract in the Columbia-specific questions to the Common Application or in the Uploads page of the Coalition Application.

If you are submitting an abstract, you will also be asked to answer a few short questions on the duration of your research involvement, your specific role in and contributions to the research project, and contact information of your research mentor. This will help us better understand your specific research experience beyond what you may have already included in your other application materials.

We also welcome a letter of recommendation from your research mentor, who can send the letter via email to [email protected] , via fax to 212-854-3393, or via mail to Undergraduate Admissions .

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You may wish to submit supplementary portfolios if you intend to bring creative talents to Columbia’s campus either through a major and/or extracurricular opportunities.

Supplements are entirely optional and not required for the admissions process. Students will have access to the arts and maker communities and facilities, and are able to participate in the arts communities of Columbia regardless of supplement submissions or majors. Most students who choose to submit an Artistic Portfolio have achievements at the local, state, national or international level related to their craft, and have devoted a significant amount of time and energy to their art form(s). The Maker Portfolio may be an opportunity for students to highlight past creations or ongoing projects that demonstrate creativity and ingenuity, technical ability and hands-on problem solving. 

Architecture, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama and Theatre Arts, Film, Maker, Music and Visual Arts supplements can be submitted through Columbia's SlideRoom portal . Please select the program corresponding to the application type you are using for your application to Columbia.   

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Applicants are welcome to submit a résumé (in pdf format) listing their architecture experience and recognition.

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Applicants are required to submit a résumé (in pdf format) listing their film experience and recognition.

The Maker Portfolio is an opportunity for students to highlight completed or ongoing projects that they have built, fabricated, invented, produced, or otherwise created. These projects should demonstrate creativity and ingenuity, technical ability and hands-on problem solving. 

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Please select two works contrasting in period and tempo, and choose from one of three possible types of submissions:

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Applicants applying to the Columbia-Juilliard Program should submit material for Columbia faculty review.

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In addition to creative materials, each portfolio requires you to list the name and contact information of a reference who may be contacted to corroborate your depth of talent in and/or dedication to your creative discipline. Examples of appropriate references may include, but are not limited to: club or activity supervisors, in-school teachers, private instructors, internship or job supervisors, and mentors.

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columbia common app essay

The United States Healthcare System Systemic Racism and Discrimination Towards American Minorities

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Today, United States citizens live in a society guided by a false consciousness. [1] The presiding culture of the United States (US) has painted a picture – a distorted and surreal mythology – that continues to be admired. This picture is characterized by conservative dogma and intolerance within the political, economic, and ideological spheres of society, leaving individuals unable to ascertain truth. US citizens are provided the inability to see reality for what it is, and instead encouraged to live by a means of pseudo-reality as described by Debord. [2] As a result, many US institutions, including the prison system and the healthcare system, have become platforms of masked discriminatory and racist practices within today’s world of “colorblindness.” The right to universal health care represents yet another opportunity for US institutions to deploy covert and underlying racist and discriminatory tactics, and continues to remain largely unacknowledged by non-minority citizens of the US, contributing to significantly higher rates of untreated health concerns and concomitant higher death rates in US minority populations.

To understand this assertion, it is important to start by examining the ways in which the US prison system acts as a discriminatory and racist institution. Today, African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities account for roughly 40% of the US population, yet they comprise around 60% of the US’ total incarcerated population. [3] That is, they are disproportionately represented amongst the incarcerated. To put this in perspective, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly “one in every 15 African American men [become] incarcerated, as opposed to only one in every 106 white men.” [4] Looking back to the early 1970s when Black Americans were making progress in obtaining civil rights, there was a substantial increase in the number of incarcerated Black individuals, acting as a “stealth counterweight to political and economic progress.” [5] Thus, prisons were used as a means to suppress the growing success of Black individuals, furthering the disproportionate number of incarcerated minorities.

The prison system is not the only institution within the US that deploys underlying discriminatory, exploitative, and racist tactics towards American minorities. For example, there have been mortgage lending procedures that have “disproportionately exposed minority borrowers to the risky subprime loans that triggered the financial collapse of 2008 and widespread foreclosures in minority communities.” [6] Also discovered have been numerous obscure tax and insurance policies that have targeted neighborhoods with substantial minority populations. [7] There are many more examples of US institutions exploiting and discriminating based upon race, yet minority groups cannot simply avoid these tactics; that is, taking out loans and paying taxes can be essential life tasks for most individuals. Thus, as society continues to be governed by a false consciousness, true reality will indefinitely remain uncertain. This becomes clear, as even today there have been minimal studies regarding the exploration of this institutionalized racism. [8]

As it is clear numerous institutions have and continue to behave in discriminatory ways, it must be considered that the US’ lack of a nationwide right to health insurance represents another means of discrimination based upon race. While at this point in the essay a discussion of the history of slavery within the US may seem extraneous, the lasting effects of slavery continue to play a key role in discrimination towards minorities, contributing to diminished resources for health insurance for minorities in the US. To understand the role of slavery in decreased access to nationwide health insurance, one must come to see the foremost factor as to why individuals do not carry it. That is, “in 2022, 64.2% of uninsured nonelderly adults said they were uninsured because coverage is not affordable, making it the most common reason cited for being uninsured.” [9]   As for the role of long-term effects of slavery, minorities, especially Black Americans, face far greater poverty than their counterparts, predominantly in places where there is a stronger connection to slavery in the past. [10] Thus, as it is commonly understood the southern half of the US to have experienced the largest impact from slavery, this would indicate the largest impact on poverty struggles as a result of slavery would be in the south. Coincidentally, as one might say, “reflecting geographic variation in income and the availability of public coverage, most uninsured people live in the South.” [11]

As Black Americans have faced substantial struggles with poverty due to the lasting effects of slavery and previously exploitative southern economies, bearing in mind the primary reason for not carrying health insurance is a lack of funds, it is plain that past discrimination and racism of yesterday has set the stage for wealth and health disparities and discrimination today . That is, the “average wealth of white households in the United States [has become] 13 times as high as that of Black households.” [12] To further put this problem into context, minorities “made up 45.7% of the nonelderly US population but accounted for 62.3% of the total nonelderly uninsured population.” [13] Looking at minorities other than Black Americans, the uninsured rate for “nonelderly Hispanic (18.0%) and American Indian and Alaska Native people (19.1%) are more than 2.5 times the uninsured rates for white people (6.6%)” [14] Moreover, of the uninsured population, most of the 25.6 million nonelderly uninsured adults were from minority groups. [15]

As posited, Black Americans and other minority groups’ inability to afford health insurance has been created by US citizens themselves, through past legality and support of slavery, leaving lasting effects that have made health insurance unaffordable. In return, some US citizens and their government have failed to remedy the situation, choosing instead to endorse the idea that minorities lack funds to carry health insurance by arguing they are ‘lazy,’ ‘unmotivated,’ or ‘irresponsible.’  In doing so, US citizens have further engaged in the stereotyping of minority groups as inferior through their inability to obtain health insurance. Consequently, through an unfair health insurance access system, US society has maintained a discriminatory attitude towards minority groups. Once there is a determination of a belief of inferiority, a blind eye will indefinitely turn away from discrimination within society’s governance of the false consciousness, leaving its citizens unable to ascertain reality, chiefly developing and supporting their own self interests. Thus, through the contribution and failure to remedy the poverty struggles inflicted on minority groups, including those inflicted on Black Americans largely through the past slavery in the southern US, minority groups, making up 62.3% of all uninsured nonelderly adults, have been made into the problem by society. These individuals have been labeled, ideologically transformed into ‘inferior beings’ per conservative dogma, and thus become further discriminated against with respect to their inability to obtain health insurance in the US.

Considering the ethicality of the lack of a nationwide right to health insurance, one must take the stance of Mill’s Utilitarianism, which revolves around providing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people through consequence of action. [16] First, it is clear by failing to provide a national right to health insurance, the U.S. is leaving indigent, uninsured groups, largely consisting of minorities, to find the means to fund their own insurance. This may contribute to higher and disproportionate crime rates of minority groups out of need for survival and fulfillment of basic human needs; to institutionalized racism; to false ideologies; to stereotypes wrongly placed upon minority groups; and to untreated illness. The resulting human tragedy is seen in myriad situations: minority woman facing high maternal death rates in childbirth, uninsured minority individuals being turned away from hospitals who only take those with insurance, silent suffering and untreated illnesses including high rates of diabetes and heart disease, and more recently, higher death rates and worse outcomes for minorities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. [17]

Thus, as the result of a non-existent nationwide right to health insurance, the US is plainly failing to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people and therefore, per Mill, the failure to provide a national right to health insurance is clearly unethical. The lack of national access for all individuals to health insurance is not only an underlying form of racism and discrimination towards American minorities, but it is unethical as well. To address this, American society must alter its picture of the distorted and surreal reality that has been painted, and shatter its lens of the pseudo-reality that shapes many individuals’ view of the world. That is, there becomes the need for a higher form, or a deeper level, of collective experiential consciousness in order for a symbiotic relationship to occur – a relationship advantageous to all simultaneously – in the biological and sociological realms. Only then can the trend of institutionalized racism and discrimination be broken, and as a part of this, only then can all individuals receive access to health insurance and related healthcare that would improve their quality of life.   

[1] Little, Daniel. “False Consciousness.” False Consciousness ,

[2] Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle . Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1995.

[3] Harris, Fredrick C., and Robert C. Lieberman. “Racial Inequality After Racism: How Institutions Hold Back African Americans.” Foreign Affairs , vol. 94, no. 2, 2015, pp. 9–20. JSTOR ,

[4] Harris, Fredrick C., and Robert C. Lieberman. “Racial Inequality After Racism: How Institutions Hold Back African Americans.”

[9] Drake, Patrick, and Jennifer Tolbert. “Key Facts about the Uninsured Population.” KFF ,

[10] O’Connell, Heather A. “The Impact of Slavery on Racial Inequality in Poverty in the Contemporary U.S. South.” Social Forces , vol. 90, no. 3, 2012, pp. 713–34. JSTOR ,

[11] Drake, Patrick, and Jennifer Tolbert. “Key Facts about the Uninsured Population.”

[12] Harris, Fredrick C., and Robert C. Lieberman. “Racial Inequality After Racism: How Institutions Hold Back African Americans.

[13] Drake, Patrick, and Jennifer Tolbert. “Key Facts about the Uninsured Population.”

[16] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. London, Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1863. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

[17] Tai, Don Bambino Geno, et al. “Disproportionate Impact of Covid-19 on Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups in the United States: A 2021 Update.” Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities , U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2022,,children%20in%20a%20worrying%20trend.

Jacob Pollock

Editor’s pick in Voices in Bioethics' 2023 persuasive essay contest.

Disclaimer: These essays are submissions for the 2023 essay contest and have not undergone peer review or editing.

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  1. how to write your ENTIRE common app essay (step by step guide)

    columbia common app essay

  2. Reading Common App essay accepted to Columbia, USC, Caltech, Rice, and

    columbia common app essay

  3. Common Application Essay Prompts for 2023-2024 Confirmed

    columbia common app essay

  4. How to Write the Common App Essay-Examples for 2023-2024

    columbia common app essay

  5. Common App Essay Prompts 2021-22

    columbia common app essay


    columbia common app essay


  1. Reading Common App essay accepted to Columbia, USC, Caltech, Rice, and more


  3. reading my unique common app essay! (IVY LEAGUE & MORE)

  4. how to get into columbia (essays, tips, etc.)

  5. Reading The Essays That Got Me Accepted To Columbia

  6. NYU, Columbia & Barnard: My Favorite Common App Essays


  1. Columbia-Specific Application Questions

    Columbia-Specific Application Questions. Columbia-specific questions, also known as the writing supplement, tell the Committee on Admissions more about your academic, extracurricular and intellectual interests. These questions provide insight to your intellectual curiosity, habits of mind, love of learning and sense of self.

  2. First-Year Applicants

    Personal essay; Columbia-Specific Application Questions. In addition to the Coalition Application and the Common Application, you must also respond to Columbia-specific questions to provide the Committee on Admissions with a fuller sense of you as a person—including your academic, ...

  3. How to Write the Columbia University Essays 2023-2024

    Each should be interesting on its own, but should also contribute to the overall picture of your intellectual style. A great list includes items that illuminate each other and communicate with each other - like matching a hat with your socks. Some more style tips: 1. List items that build on each other.

  4. Columbia Essays Examples

    Briefly describe which single activity listed in the Activity section of your Common Application represents your most meaningful commitment and why. (150 words or less) ... Along with providing explanation on the Columbia essays examples, this guide will also go into more detail on the essay prompts, Columbia application information, and ...

  5. How to Get Into Columbia: Strategies and Essay Examples

    Part 4: 2023-2024 Columbia supplemental essays (examples included) (Note: While this section covers Columbia's admissions essays specifically, we encourage you to view additional successful college essay examples.). In addition to the Common App personal statement, Columbia requires numerous supplemental essays.The Columbia-specific application questions are a crucial way that your child ...

  6. Apply to Columbia University

    Founded in 1754, Columbia University in the City of New York is at once a small college and a major research university: an Ivy League education on a human scale. That means working in small classes and labs with pioneering faculty in every field from the classic to the cutting edge. It means being part of one of the most diverse student bodies in the world. It means our signature Core ...

  7. How to Apply

    First-Year ApplicantsApply to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering. Transfer ApplicantsWe welcome over 125 transfer students each year. Combined Plan ApplicantsReceive a B.A. in Liberal Arts and a B.S. in Engineering. Visiting StudentsBroaden your undergraduate experience. International ApplicantsColumbia students hail from every corner of ...

  8. How to Write a Stand-Out "Why Columbia" Essay

    We'll also show you a real, successful "Why Columbia" essay example and explain why it works. Finally, we'll suggest potential topics for your essay and offer tips on how to write your own college admissions essays. The 411 on the "Why Columbia" Essay Prompt. Here's the current "Why Columbia" essay prompt for the 2023-2024 application cycle:

  9. Columbia University's 2023-24 Essay Prompts

    Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. Option 1.

  10. How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays: Examples

    For the four short answer questions, please respond in 150 words or fewer. NOTE: One of the short answer questions will not appear until you have selected Columbia College or Columbia Engineering in the "Academics" section of Columbia's application questions. Prompt #2. A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide ...

  11. Common App Essays

    What is the Common Application essay? The Common Application, or Common App, is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.. Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any ...

  12. 8 Great Columbia Essay Examples

    What's Covered: Essay Example 1 - Mechanical Engineering. Essay Example 2 - Trailblazing. Essay Example 3 - The Core and Community. Essay Example 4 - Cancer Research. Essay Example 5 - Joy in Birds. Essay Example 6 - Psychology. Essay Example 7 - Slavic Languages and Cultures. Essay Example 8 - Diversity.

  13. Top 4 Successful Columbia Essays

    Successful Columbia Essays. These are successful college essays of students that were accepted to Columbia University. Use them to see what it takes to get into Columbia and other top schools and get inspiration for your own Common App essay, supplements, and short answers. These successful Columbia essays include Common App essays, Columbia ...

  14. 25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

    Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration. This student was admitted to Dartmouth College. In this Common App essay, they discuss their immigrant family background that motivates them. Although family is a commonly used topic, this student makes sure to have unique ideas and write in a genuine way.

  15. 2023-24 Columbia University Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

    Columbia University 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations. The Requirements: 1 lists of 100 words; 4 essays of 150 words each Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Why, Short Answer. List questions For the list question that follows, there is a 100 word maximum. Please refer to the below guidance when answering this question:

  16. 7 Expert Common App Essay Tips

    3. Use Your Space Wisely. Students tend to go one of two ways with the Common App essay: They either write way too much and struggle to trim it down, or they write way too little and end up sounding superficial and generic. The Common App essay word count range is 250-650 words.

  17. Transfer Applicants

    Transfer applicants must use the Coalition Application powered by Scoir to apply for admission to Columbia. (The Common Application is for first-year applicants only.) ... applicants will be asked to upload a 400-600 word essay on the Columbia Supplement to the Coalition Application responding to the following prompt in the Uploads section of ...

  18. 10 Columbia Supplemental Essay Examples That Worked

    Columbia supplemental essay example #2. Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. ( 200 words or fewer) "Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak." Those are Rachel Zoe's words, and I wholeheartedly ...

  19. Columbia Supplemental Essays

    5 short answer essays ; Submitting your Columbia application: Students have 3 ways to apply to Columbia University Common App; Coalition App; Questbridge; Columbia Essay Tip: Don't be intimidated by the number of Columbia supplemental essays. The short answer essays are only 100-150 words and can be tackled in just a few well-constructed ...

  20. Columbia University Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

    I also use the mobile app News Republic on a daily basis. News Republic provides articles from over 1,000 trusted news sources, so I can be informed of global issues from multiple perspectives. ... Haizz, of course Columbia would be the place that makes me tolerate the word "common." Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to ...

  21. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    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.

  22. Does Columbia Use the Common App?

    Instead, the essay section of the common app gives you a number of choices of essay topics. They are broad and allow students to express their experiences and how these experiences have shaped them as people. ... In general, the Coalition App is the same as the Columbia common app, but you will have to create an account for the Coalition system ...

  23. Supplementary Materials

    This will help us better understand your specific research experience beyond what you may have already included in your other application materials. We also welcome a letter of recommendation from your research mentor, who can send the letter via email to [email protected], via fax to 212-854-3393, or via mail to Undergraduate Admissions.

  24. Competence or Experience

    Photo ID 129550171© Katarzyna Bialasiewicz| INTRODUCTION One night in 2016, I fell sound asleep, then awoke to painkiller-induced, nightmarish hallucinations in the ICU. Despite being unable to identify myself or surroundings, I can clearly remember the discordant beeping of hospital monitors, acrid smell of saline wash, and taste of sickly sweet orange amoxicillin syrup.

  25. The United States Healthcare System

    Please also see our Voices in Bioethics Podcast ( where we interview thought leaders with an eye to projecting personal stories as well as addressing professional ethical dilemmas.. Voices in Bioethics operates in partnership with Columbia University Libraries. With renewed focus on academic strength, we aim to contribute to the array of bioethics literature by continuing to ...