Master the Five-Paragraph Essay

The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.

Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.

Components of a Good Essay

The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.

Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.

Keys to Introductory Paragraphs

Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.

What Makes a Thesis Statement

The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.

Content of Supporting Paragraphs

Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.

The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.

Concluding Paragraph Tips

Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.

Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.

A Note on Compare and Contrast

Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.

Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?

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10 Great Essay Writing Tips

Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.

Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.

Plan Your Essay

Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.

Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable

You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.

View It as a Conversation

Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.

Provide the Context in the Introduction

If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.

Explain What Needs to be Explained

Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.

Answer All the Questions

After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.

Stay Focused as You Write

Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.

Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread

When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.

Avoid Filling the Page with Words

A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.

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Sample College Admission Essays

Applying to college can be very exciting, but also require a lot of dedication, research, and hard work. One key piece of your application that should be given plenty of time and attention is the college admission essay. Before you write your first draft read our sample essays to get a few tips on writing your perfect admission essay.

This section contains five examples of good college essays.

College Essay Sample One

College essay sample two, college essay sample three, college essay sample four, college essay sample five.

State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.

This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.

Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.

Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.

In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.

In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.

The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.

In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.

In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.

This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.

My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.

My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.

My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.

Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.

From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.

My handwriting didn’t become jittery until the third round. The number of competitors in the Midwest Spelling Bee had dropped from 100 to the thirty-some who remained after two waves of preliminaries, a group I was awed to be in. The third round would likely be the last one carried out with pencil and paper. A sole word stood between me and the oral competition to follow. My nerves soared at the thought that a mere handful of syllables from the pronouncer’s mouth would offer me a chance to compete in the apex of orthography: the regional bee finals. Yet, when I heard the word “Wagner,” the degree of my confusion was only rivaled by that of my disappointment upon elimination.

My approach to academic success in middle school consisted of rote memorization and stodgy study habits. Fortunately for my sanity and social life, I have since discovered that learning derived from experience can introduce an invaluable layer of reality to otherwise useless knowledge. My hinge moment came near the end of eighth grade when I was stumped by “Wagner” and its ensuing definition: “a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas.” To my credit, the phonetic vocalization of Wagner is something like “BAHG-nur,” with the ever ambiguous bee/vee sound. But, an error is an error, and my misspelling of the word earned me a disheartening dismissal from the Midwest Spelling Bee. I immediately resolved to learn about the man whose name was responsible for cheapening my years of poring over vocabulary lists and etymology guides. Upon learning that Richard Wagner was one of the most prolific opera composers in history, I had to investigate. Along my inquisitive quest, I encountered two newfound passions: opera music and the pursuit of stimulating information.

I am an unabashed classical music aficionado. My enthusiasm came gradually over years of imposed piano lessons that eventually became voluntary as my interest in the activity piqued. I came to sense the profound communion with notes on a page arising from tinkering out the same rhythms and melodies that were manuscripts by musical geniuses centuries ago. However, because I could not perform it, I never thought to explore opera. Without my keen interest in Wagner, I may have never encountered the awe-inspiring blend of visual and musical mastery that constitutes his interpretation of the genre. Opera swiftly captured my eye and ear for insightful art. For instance, in his landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, Wagner unleashed a then-revolutionary tonal system which paved the way for twentieth century classical music. As I unearthed the beauty of opera, my awareness of all the remarkable, groundbreaking themes of Wagner’s productions became embodied by the word “Wagner.” In this striking moment, I could not help but feel the value of connecting my learning to purposeful interaction.

Fueled by my frustration with the outcome of the bee, I searched for the source of my failure. In uncovering the works of Wagner, I gleaned a sense of the vast droves of information that can lie behind a seemingly simple word. I suddenly became aware of my incapacity to seek out the surprising insights that the world might have been waiting to reveal. Thanks to a reevaluation triggered by a failure, I garnered a new appreciation for experiential learning. Since my underwhelming performance nearly four years ago, I have become well versed in the mysterious, gritty art of inquiry. Rather than perceiving my environment to be a sterile list of terms with a neat pronunciation guide to boot, I am now eager to take in the uncommon wisdoms of everything from the innovative operatic tropes of Wagner to the fickle nature of bees—both the pollinating insects and their manmade homonyms.

The exclusiveness portrayed in Mean Girls led me to expect that high school would consist of like-minded cliques. Rather, in high school I found that a single commonality can unite a seemingly random sampling of people. Through marching band, this idea was embodied in a desire to perform music. UChicago’s community is similarly bonded by a serious passion for learning which satisfies my desire to become a thoughtful citizen of tomorrow.

The hierarchy of authority in marching band is one I have come to love, and not only because I achieved the top student position in it as a drum major. In that role, I watched younger members hone their skills in an effort to contribute to the collective performance. The value of a uniform training followed by opportunities to lead is exemplified by the ambitious and talented student leaders produced. At UChicago, The Core serves a comparable purpose in preparing students for exhaustive academic exploration. I am enticed by the intensive inquiry and groundbreaking research that students partake in. Yet, I appreciate the benefit of undergoing the rigorous Core first. UChicago emphasizes experiential learning, even in the College, which appeals to my desire to collaborate with other brilliant learners. When I visited campus, two specific encounters struck me. Initially, the Institute of Politics attracted me with its hands-on approach to policy issues through programs like Student Civic Engagement projects. Even more alluring was the Politics & Policy class I sat in on. Following a lecture on bureaucracy that may have droned over the heads of less inspired students, I was surrounded by a hubbub of engaged thinkers convening through discussion. UChicago’s intellectual atmosphere is animated by the common thirst for knowledge that characterizes every student.

Through marching band, I discovered a passion for influencing others. My dream is that by drawing from UChicago’s empowering community, my drive will transfer to pertinent global issues like human rights in the Middle East. UChicago is my ideal learning environment, for as Wayne Booth stated while he was Dean of the College, UChicago empowers tomorrow’s intellectual leaders to “see through the guff.” During high school, I have grown from an uncertain ninth grader into the capable leader I am today, leaving me optimistic for how I may develop in the next four years.

A travel through my room reveals almost everything about me. The walls are splashed with two tones of eye-burning pink, fairies dance across the vibrant wallpaper sprinkled with sparkles, a white-washed dresser covered in knick-knacks, and an overflowing toy box fit perfectly in this Technicolor dream room.

In one corner of my room, a paint-by-numbers portrait that my grandfather created in a World War II hospital silently tells its story. My grandfather, an Italian barber, raised six children in Bayonne, NJ with my grandmother. My grandparents worked hard to deliver the most American of promises – that your kids will have a better standard of living than you. In that regard, my mother, who put herself through college to become an engineer, made good, affording to give me my own room, a luxury she never knew.

The next corner of my room contains a nondescript desk and laptop, the same as anyone’s room. Who would guess that this desk is also the launching pad of, a 1.6 million member social networking site that I created? Layers of spec sheets, Post-Its, and emails form a sea of productivity that I find comforting. Scribbled telephone numbers and names remind me of deals I did and didn’t do, reporters who did and didn’t write on me, and technology worries I never stop trying to resolve. Half-drunk coke cans tell the tale of a dozen all-nighters, and someone who is at her most creative at night.

The desk is not all business though. My calculus and economics texts bookend my laptop, and a bouquet of dead flowers from my boyfriend rest in peace on my shelf, revealing a morbid sentimentality. Although the flowers have long died and the water completely evaporated, the card and its words “Jeg synes a du er fantastik og du er det beste ting i mit verden,” are the only reason the flowers never made it to the garbage. In Danish, the sentence translates to, “I think you are fantastic, and you are the best thing in my world.” Ever since I started dating him, I have been learning more and more about his Danish culture, and I plan to go to Denmark twice this year.

The third corner holds my well-worn, folded-up gymnastics floor beam and barely used grips. Unlike many gymnasts though, I prefer not to wear the grips on bars because they make it harder to feel the bar. I started gymnastics when I was five, and since then my hands have earned their calluses, and I am proud of them. You won’t find me moisturizing my hands except to keep them from splitting on the bars.

In the last corner hangs a painting I bought while organizing an online Tsunami Aid Art Project. It was my first significant project online and helped give me a sense of the power of the Internet to connect people. As part of the artist community, myself and two other members organized a tsunami-related art project with all proceeds donated to charity. We raised $10,000 in funds, and had about 100 pieces of work donated from artists in nine countries.

Sadly, I know this will not always be my room. The pink fairies will give way to adult- sized possessions and responsibilities. The knick-knacks will break, and the sanctuary of my childhood will soon seem so childish. But, for now, I will embrace the pink, the fairies, and the simplicity of life in my mom’s house. I will look forward to the possibilities of creating another space, as uniquely my own as this one, and as uniquely a part of my past as this room will always be.

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  • How to Write a College Essay

College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.

us university essay

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Getty Images

For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.

"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.

Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.

This can feel like a lot of pressure.

"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."

That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.

But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.

"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.

Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.

From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.

Getting Started on the College Essay

How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.

A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.

Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .

Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.

Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.

In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.

Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.

"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.

Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words.

"While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.

The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.

The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.

There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.

The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.

Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.

Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.

What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.

"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."

If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"

The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.

Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.

The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."

If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.

Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:

"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."

"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."

The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.

"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."

He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.

"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."

The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.

"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."

Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.

Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.

Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.

"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."

While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.

"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."

When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.

"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."

After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.

The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.

Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.

Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.

"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."

Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.

And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.

When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.

Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."

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American University Essay 2022-2023

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American University Essay 2022-23

American university essay: quick facts.

  • American University Acceptance Rate: 36%– U.S. News ranks American University as a more selective school. 
  • 1 (~ 150 word) essay
  • American University Application: Students must submit their American University application through the Common Application . Make sure to have all of your American University supplemental essays and other required application materials ready when applying. 
  • Early Decision: November 15th
  • Early Decision 2: January 15th
  • Regular Decision: January 15th 
  • American University Essay Tip: There is only one American University essay to complete. Make sure that you take the time to answer carefully and thoughtfully. 

Does American University require any supplemental essays?

Yes. There is one 150-word American University essay that students must complete—the “Why American University” essay.

Since there are not multiple American University essay prompts, you should do all you can to make this Why American University essay count. 

You only have 150 words to use in this American University supplement essay. Although there aren’t various American University essay prompts and the only required “Why American University essay” is short, that doesn’t make it easier to complete. The difficulty lies in writing about a broad topic in a small amount of space. 

Showcase your writing

Your American University essay is your only chance beyond your Common App essay to showcase your writing skills. It also lets you show American University why you belong on their campus. As such, your American University supplement can make a major difference in your application. A strong American University supplement essay, then, will increase your admissions odds. So, when strategizing around how to get into American University, prioritize your American University supplemental essays. This will give you an advantage . 

If you’re not sure where to begin, don’t worry. Below, we’ve provided a detailed guide on how to write a successful “Why American University essay.” 

What are American University’s Essays?

Here’s the American University supplemental essay prompt:

Why are you interested in American University? (150 words max.)

As we discussed, there are not multiple American University essay prompts. Take advantage of your one chance to impress the American University admissions committee! Students who write excellent American University supplemental essays are sure to stand out.

You might be familiar with “Why School essays” from other supplements. So, approach the “Why American University essay” with the same strategy that you might have used on other applications . Namely, your essay should show the American University admissions committee why you belong at their school. 

This essay also helps the American University admissions committee envision you on campus. The admissions team wants to admit students who will enrich their community. Your American University essay, then, should show how you’d actively contribute to campus life . Successful American University supplemental essays will answer not only the why American University essay prompt, but also show American University why they should invest in you. 

Standing out

American University Essay

No matter your interests, showing passion and leadership will help you stand out . In your American University supplement, therefore, you should highlight exactly how you’d engage with American University and its offerings.  Students who write successful American University supplemental essays will show their motivation and enthusiasm for the school. 

This American University supplement also assesses how well a student fits in with the school’s culture. American University Admissions doesn’t just want to know why you want to attend their school; they also want to know if their school will serve your needs . Well-written American University supplemental essays need to touch on both of these points. 

With this in mind, do some research before writing your American University supplement. The Why American University essay reveals how much you know about American University. It also shows how you’ll take advantage of the resources the school provides. The best American University supplemental essays will show specific knowledge about American University and provide strong evidence that the writer will succeed on campus.

Demonstrate your interest

Pay attention to how this prompt uses the word “interested.” In your American University supplement essay, you should show “ demonstrated interest ,” or DI. Unlike some top schools, American University tracks demonstrated interest. This means that they evaluate how much you engage with the school and actively show that you want to attend. 

Universities often use DI as a tool to measure exactly how much a student wants to attend. Since “why school” essays are useful for determining DI , many universities use questions like the American University essay prompts in their supplements.

Now that you know more about the American University supplement essay, let’s look at how to write it. You can also use the tips in this guide to answer similar questions on other university supplements. If you apply anywhere else with a “why us” essay, the information below will help you complete supplements like the American University essay prompts.

Approaching a “Why School” essay

As we now know, there aren’t multiple American University supplemental essays. So, applicants are faced with the tricky task of impressing admissions officers with one short, well-crafted American University supplemental essay. You may be thrilled at the prospect of not having to respond to multiple American University essay prompts. However, without multiple American University supplemental essays to write, the spotlight is truly on your “why American University essay.”

You’ll likely see the why school essay in other college applications. You shouldn’t reuse essays, as they need to be specific to each school. However, they will all achieve the same general goal. You should use the why American University essay to amplify your application by showing what you’ll gain from attending their school. However, a successful why American University essay won’t stop there. You’ll also need to show how you will enhance the school. What will you bring to campus? This “why American University essay” is your opportunity to show that you are a perfect fit. 

Research is key

There are probably specific qualities that attracted you to the school. Essentially, ask yourself why you want to go there. Is there a certain major , internship , or other program that excites you? Are there clubs you want to join or courses you want to take there?

Try not to think of this research as another chore in your American University application process. Get excited about learning more about the school. Authentic passion and drive will come across in successful American University supplemental essays. However, it can’t be faked. So, take advantage of not having multiple American University supplemental essay prompts to manage. Then, dive head first into your why American University essay research. 

Avoid common mistakes

The biggest mistake that students make when responding to the why school essay is being overly general. Vague or dispassionate American University supplemental essays will not help you overcome the American University acceptance rate. 

Use what you learned during your college search to help you get started. What qualifying factors did you use to compare colleges ? What made you decide to go through the lengthy American University application? Reference specific programs, courses, or unique campus qualities when writing your why American University essay. 

If American University is truly a good fit for you, you’ll probably have many things to talk about. The challenge will be keeping your American University essay focused and within the 150 word limit. Be sure to choose a topic for your Why American University essay that is truly unique and specific to the school. 

Highlight your strengths

American University Essay

Another important part of responding to a why school essay is showing why you are a good fit for the university. What will you bring to campus that no one else could? What kind of experience or leadership skills might you apply to your activities on campus? Think about your skills, talents and interests. Then, highlight them in a way that makes it impossible for American University admissions to deny the positive impact you’d have on the school. 

The majority of schools you apply to will have some version of the why school essay. Similar to the American University essay, NYU only has one supplemental essay which follows the same style. The difference with the why NYU essay is that applicants have 400 words to answer, whereas the American University essay is much shorter. 

Northwestern University, like AU, only gives applicants one supplemental essay apart from the Common app essay. Students must answer the why Northwestern essay prompt in 300 words or less. Check out these successful essays from admitted students. 

UChicago also has a why school essay. However, it is one of multiple supplemental essays that students must complete. And, unlike students responding to the American University essay prompts, UChicago applicants have no word limit to their why school prompt.  

How do I write American University’s supplemental essay?

Writing the “Why American University essay” starts with brainstorming the reasons why you want to attend. Even if American University is not your top choice, you should still have specific reasons why it interests you. The American University admissions team wants to know these reasons!

Think about why you would want to attend American University. Ask yourself what specific aspects of American University most interest you, and make a list. If you’re struggling, do some more research on the school. What extracurriculars does it offer that align with your interests? What academic programs seem exciting to you?

Focus on the details

Once you have your list , make the details as specific as possible. For example, if you wrote down that you like American’s academic programs, try to find a specific discipline or major that American University offers. If you wrote that you enjoy the setting in Washington D.C., you could discuss a specific way AU allows students to interface with the city. The more specific and personal your reasons for applying are, the more the American University admissions committee will want to admit you. 

Then, narrow down your list to two or three specific areas of interest to discuss in detail. Because you only have 150 words in this American University supplement essay, you likely can’t mention every item on your list and stay within the word limit. So, instead of listing everything that interests you in your “Why American University essay,” focus on the most significant items. Although this significance can be subjective, you should likely discuss the programs and offerings that will most influence your choice to attend.

American University Essay

Do your research

After you have your topics, do some more research. Find out exactly how American University will help you pursue your interests. Your American University supplement essay will be more effective if you can reference traditions, specific academic courses, or other opportunities. This shows the American University admissions committee why the school is a good fit for you. 

Some good ways to get that information include:

  • Visiting the school’s website: You can look up specific course offerings , browse extracurricular activities , and explore various aspects of student life. Just be sure you use the school’s official page or another trusted source.
  • Speaking to a current or former student: If someone you know attends American University or has recently graduated, reach out to them. Their insights can help you connect your interests with specific opportunities at American University.
  • Attending a college fair: These events give you a chance to talk to American University admissions representatives about your interests. They also let you gather more information about the school. Plus, speaking to a representative at a college fair is a great way to show DI.

You should also mention any interactions you have had with students or staff in your American University supplement essay. Whether you visit the school (either in person or virtually) or simply email an American University admissions counselor, every engagement with American University shows demonstrated interest. Referencing these conversations in your American University supplement essay reinforces the research that you have done and shows how proactive you are. 

Find a hook

american university essay

As you begin your “Why American University essay,” start with an interesting hook or topic sentence to grab your reader’s attention. If possible, avoid the standard: “The first reason I want to attend American University is…” because it sounds plain and formulaic. Think about immersing your reader into a story instead of restating the prompt.

Some examples of strong introductions include:

  • A description of how you first heard about American University: You might open with the story of a memorable campus visit or an anecdote told by a family member about American University. This introduction establishes an immediate, personal connection with the American University admissions team.
  • A career or academic goal that American University will help you achieve: If you already know what career or major you want to pursue, this is a great way to make your intentions known. The rest of your American University essay can then explain why this school will help you achieve your goals.
  • A special or unique feature about American University: In your research, you may have encountered a tradition, club, class, or professor that makes American University stand out. Mentioning this in the opening sentence shows that you understand what sets American University apart from other schools.

Focus on core themes

In the body of your “Why American University essay,” stay focused on your core themes. Remember, you may not have enough room to address everything you want to say. Find the essential aspects of American University that make it the ideal school for you. Then, use them as the foundation of your American University supplement essay.

American University Essay Reflections Questions:

  • Does this essay show you’ve done research on American University?
  • Do you explain why American University is a good fit for you?
  • Does this essay reference specific qualities about American University?
  • Do you use an interesting hook or introductory sentence?
  • Does this essay describe your reasons for applying to American University? 

Want more advice about writing your American University supplement essay? Check out this article for additional tips on impressing American University admissions!

American University Essay & American University Admissions

You may be wondering just how important the American University supplemental essays are in the grand scheme of the American University application. Well, the American University acceptance rate is competitive at 36% . 

For the Class of 2022, there were nearly 19,000 applicants , with the average GPA of admitted students falling in the range of 3.47-4.00. American University currently has a test optional policy. So, if your SAT scores don’t hit at least 1240 (the low end of the average SAT score range for accepted applicants), then you don’t need to submit them. High grades and test scores can help you impress the American University admissions committee. However, grades and scores alone won’t be enough to stand out in the American University admissions process. 

With so many competitive applicants, you’ll want to make sure that you craft an impressive American University application narrative. The American University essay plays an important role in that narrative. The essay matters even more if you’re applying with an average GPA or feel like you don’t have a good SAT score that you want to submit. The American University essay is your opportunity to show admissions what makes you stand out. Use it to highlight why you should be accepted out of the many other qualified candidates.  

Beyond the American University Essay

Knowing how to write the American University supplement essay is important, but in order to figure out how to get into American University you also need to know how to maximize your admissions odds. Since the American University acceptance rate is competitive, your American University supplement essay is incredibly important. And of course, there are other American University supplemental materials that will help to enhance your American University application, such as your teacher recommendation letter . 

The American University admissions committee accepts the Common Application . This means all applicants must complete the Common App essay. You will also submit the American University supplement. On your Common Application, you will report your GPA and courses, share your extracurricular involvement, and write a short personal statement. Each part of the application lets you show the American University admissions team what makes you unique. 

Many factors to consider

Admission to a selective school like American University depends on many factors, including the American University essay prompts. While grades and scores matter, the American University admissions committee also considers things like writing skills and personal qualities. They also evaluate whether American University is the right fit for you. 

To determine these more abstract metrics, the committee relies on the Common App essay—also known as your personal statement —and the American University supplement essay. The American University essay prompts, therefore, let you show why you belong at American University.   

American University admissions states that they have a holistic admissions policy. This means that they look at the whole picture when considering each American University application. So, wondering how to get into American University? AU admissions looks for well-rounded, passionate applicants. Do your best on every part of the American University application, including your American University essay. 

Top 3 Tips for Writing the American University Essay

While there aren’t multiple American University supplemental essays, that doesn’t necessarily make things easier. It will take thoughtful planning to write your compelling yet concise American University essay. 

However, an exceptional American University essay could be what has you opening your acceptanc e letter and planning your college enrollment for fall semester. So, get excited. The more passionate you are about the school, the stronger your essay will be. Here are 3 tips for students to consider in order to write their best American supplemental essays.

American University Essay Top Tips

#1- get specific.

This isn’t not the time to generalize or be vague. Use this American University essay to really learn about specific programs and offerings that are only found at AU. Why did American University make it onto your college list ? A well written why American University essay will highlight the unique education that only American University students can enjoy. 

#2- Why you?

While you want to highlight specific details of American University that you would take advantage of as a prospective student, you also need to tie it back to what you would bring to the campus. Sure, you’re interested in AU, but why should they consider you out of their large pool of competitive applicants? What separates you from the rest?

#3- Make it interesting

Bring your passion and creativity to this American University essay. Think of all the American University supplemental essays that admissions officers have to read. To be successful, yours needs to stand out. Bring some sparkle to your essay by showing off your writing skills and getting innovative while answering the prompt. 

Want more advice about writing your American University supplement essay? Check out this video from American University admissions for additional tips on what to include!

Still looking for inspiration before tackling the American University essay prompts? Before you write your American University supplemental essays, check out some examples of successful college essays . You’ll be able to see what works well. Then, you can use the same techniques to write your best American University essay.

College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked

American University Supplement Essay: Final Thoughts

When reviewing your American University supplement, the American University admissions team wants to see answers to two distinct questions: “what does this student know about our school” and “what makes our school a good fit for this student.”  Understanding these two implied questions behind the “Why American University essay” will help you craft the best possible response.

Address each part of the question

To answer the first question, let your research shine through in your essay. Use specific examples to let the American University admissions team know that you know a lot about the school. Finally, make sure your American University essay reflects what you might pursue in college.

To answer the second question, make sure you clearly articulate your goals. You want to connect those goals to opportunities at American University and explain how this particular school will help you achieve them. If the topics discussed in your American University essay could apply to any other college, look for more specific details.  

Finally, don’t hesitate to have someone else look over your American University essay before you submit it. A second pair of eyes can help you see ways to improve your writing that you may have missed! 

us university essay

This American University essay guide was written by Sarah Kaminski .  Looking for more admissions support? Click  here  to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how  can support you in the college application process.

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How to Write the American University Essays 2023-2024

us university essay

American University has one optional prompt for all applicants about why you want to attend AU. Additionally, the school has prompts for each of its special programs.

There are three prompts for Honors Program applicants, two prompts for Global Scholars Program applicants, three prompts for Lincoln Scholars Program applicants, three prompts for Politics, Policy and Law Scholars applicants, two prompts for Public Health Scholars applicants, two prompts for Sakura Scholars Program applicants, and five prompts for AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship (International Students) applicants.

Since AU receives thousands of applications from academically strong students, your essays are your chance to stand out. In this post, we’ll discuss how to craft an engaging response to each of these options.

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All Applicants Prompt

At american university, inclusive excellence is a cornerstone of the academic experience for our students, and we deeply value the learning that is inspired by the diversity of backgrounds and life experiences that all our community members bring with them. please share why you would like to join this community. (150 words).

This is a standard instance of the common “Why This College?” prompt . Unless this is the first college you are applying to, chances are you’ve already seen a prompt like this before. There are no tricks here; this straightforward prompt is meant to gauge your interest in AU.

The admissions committee will use your answer to determine how you fit with the University and how you’ll make the most of all its opportunities. To help them figure these things out, your essay should show how your personal goals and the AU’s resources intersect.

A good approach to an essay like this is establishing a connection with AU. There are two kinds of connections—tangible and intangible. Ideally, you’ll be able to establish both, but a good response will establish at least a tangible connection.

Establishing a tangible connection can be done by explicitly discussing resources and opportunities offered by AU that resonate with you personally. To have a strong, specific response, you’re going to need to do some research. Don’t fret if you haven’t done this before; we’ve created a handy guide to help you research colleges effectively!

To begin, try to find your desired major’s webpage by consulting this list of degree programs . You should also look into faculty members in your department. To do that, you can use this searchable directory to find your department, which will have its own faculty list. Finally, look into the wealth of centers, institutes, and initiatives at AU.

Here’s an example of what a successful, specific response might look like:

“I am from a multicultural family; my mother is Jewish and my father Muslim. This background exposed me to some profound discussions of geopolitical affairs from a fairly young age. I am fascinated by international studies and I wish to contribute to initiatives that aim to reduce conflict between Israel and Palestine. AU’s International Studies program at the School of International Service offers in-depth classes that are highly relevant to this passion of mine. RELG-475 Religion and Violence and SISU-319 Arab-Israeli Relations specifically will grant me insights into the religious roots of the conflict that I simply cannot learn by just talking to my parents.

I am particularly interested in the work of Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer. My mother showed me his book Evaluating Interreligious Peacebuilding earlier this year, and I found his thoughts on conducting evaluations in conflict areas illuminating, as they explain some consequences of fieldwork.”

This response does a few things effectively. First, it gives the admissions committee an idea of who the student is and where she comes from. Second, it establishes her motivations and passions. Third, it specifically discusses several courses and the work of one of AU’s faculty members, as well as why those resources are important to the student. You can do all these things while remaining within the small word limit.

Besides describing the particular resources to intend to make use of, you might also wish to express an intangible connection with AU. This isn’t necessary, but it would add to your application if you can do it. An intangible connection is just what it sounds like—a connection that isn’t based on the tangible resources offered by the University. Often, an intangible connection involves alignment between your personal values and those of the institution.

For example, perhaps you’re deeply invested in environmental conservation. You’ll be happy to know that AU is “the first urban campus, the first research university, and the largest higher education institution in the United States to achieve carbon neutrality.” It also achieved this goal two years ahead of schedule! You could write a bit about how much you appreciate AU’s sustainability initiatives to your response to establish an intangible connection.

Finally, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid doing in your essay:

  • Name-dropping. Don’t write a laundry list of activities, classes, or professors that interest you without explaining why those things are important to you. Even though you are discussing facets of the university, this essay needs to be primarily focused on you.
  • Empty flattery. Anyone can write that “AU is a well-respected institution with an amazing international studies program.” It’s nice to compliment the university, but you don’t have a lot of space, and empty flattery suggests that you don’t have anything more substantive to say.
  • Generic remarks. Talking about AU’s good location, a strong program in some field, or small class sizes won’t add much to your response. These are generic things that apply to many schools.

Make sure that you do ample research, develop nuanced reasons for choosing AU, and write a sincere response, and you will be off to a great start!

American University Special Program Essay Prompts

Click on the link to be taken to the special program prompts.

  • AU Honors Program
  • Global Scholars Program
  • Lincoln Scholars Program
  • Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program
  • Public Health Scholars Program
  • Sakura Scholars Program
  • AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship

AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 1

Au honors students are distinguished by their sense of intellectual curiosity, both inside and outside of the classroom. tell us what you are most curious about, and how that curiosity has influenced your life thus far. (300 words).

This prompt is fairly broad, so you can approach it in a few different ways. We recommend writing a sort of blend between a “Why This Major?” essay and an extracurricular activities essay . Focusing on an aspect of your intended major will show your passion for something inherently intellectual, and throwing in some of your other interests/hobbies will add nuance and personality to your response.

Before you begin writing, you’ll want to gather your thoughts so that your essay will have structure. Think of the following questions as a way to focus your thoughts:

1. What piques your curiosity and interest the most? What are your authentic reasons for being interested in this thing?

2. What are some specific examples of things that you enjoy with regard to this interest?

If this is something you’re truly curious about, you shouldn’t describe it generically. Instead of thinking “I love reading,” think “I enjoy reading novels that explore existentialist philosophical themes.”

3. How might pursuing this thing serve your life and/or career goals?

Is your curiosity about this thing a driving force in your plans for your future? For example, are you so curious about ocean life that your biggest life goal is to become a marine biologist?

4. Is this interest primarily academic or extracurricular? What are your best experiences with this interest both inside and out of the classroom?

5. Is there any recurring emotional experience that you have when exploring this thing that piques your curiosity? Why do you find that experience or state of mind appealing?

6. How has this thing influenced your development as a person? Have you developed or strengthened any personality traits or skills as a result of your object of interest?

Questions 4, 5, and 6 will be especially helpful when you’re trying to recall some anecdotes to support your interest and curiosity in it.

You only have 300 words to work with, so you should keep your response limited to one thing you’re deeply curious about (or maybe two if they’re related). A strong essay will do a few things:

  • First, it will show that you have nuanced interests with intellectual depth.
  • Second, it will talk a bit about the trajectory your life has been on as a result of your interests.
  • Finally, it will display an important part of your personality that can give the admissions committee an idea of who you are as an individual.

There are a couple of common mistakes you should avoid when writing your response:

  • Picking the wrong topic. Bad topics include: an interest you already wrote about somewhere else in the application; an interest that sounds impressive, but that you aren’t very invested in; one you haven’t spent much time on.
  • Writing a generic statement about why the interest you chose is interesting or cool without addressing the personal connection you have with it. It’s great to appreciate your own interests, but you need to show the admissions committee why the thing that makes you curious is so important to you.

Some examples of strong topics would be:

  • A student who’s a second-generation Japanese immigrant might be curious about the relationship between language and identity. She’s noticed while learning Japanese that it’s easier to have more complex conversations with her parents in their native tongue, and that they’re better able to express their personality. And as she’s become more comfortable speaking Japanese, she’s able to connect more with her heritage. This has led her to attend local language exchanges and start a podcast about the stories of the attendees and their thoughts on language and identity. She hopes to study Japanese at AU and become a translator.
  • A runner who got tendonitis in his junior year may be curious about how the tendons and ligaments in our body work to support us during exercise. After doing physical therapy and healing his tendon, he decided to take an anatomy course and shadow his physical therapist. He wants to become a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor to help other athletes rehab their injuries.

AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 2

What aspect of the au honors program piques your interest the most (300 words).

This prompt is a slightly more specific version of the “Why This College?” prompt . However, you’re being asked why you’re drawn to the AU Honors Program in particular rather than to American University as a whole.

The prompt is meant to assess a few things:

  • First, it’s meant to see if you know what you’re getting into with the program. If you’ve done your research on the Honors Program, you should have something detailed to say about it.
  • Second, it’s intended to determine how you will fit in the program. The admissions committee wants to know what role you’ll have in the program and how you’ll make use of its resources to achieve your goals.
  • Finally, it’s an effective way for the admissions committee to see which students are genuinely interested in the program.

Before you begin writing, make a list of the reasons you decided to apply to the program. You might find it helpful to explicitly jot down the things that drew you to the Honors Program in the first place. One of these reasons might very well be the subject of your essay. You should also explore the Honors Program website to make sure you don’t miss any of your reasons.

The prompt asks specifically for the aspect that most piques your interest, so you have to figure out if you want to write about an academic reason, an extracurricular one, or an intangible one. Let’s go over what makes each of these unique.

Academic reasons are as straightforward as they sound. Things such as the Honors Colloquium courses, the Honors Capstone , and research opportunities are academic aspects of the program that you might want to write about.

Extracurricular reasons include activities and opportunities that are supplementary to academics. Things such as Honors housing , the Student Advisory Council , and the Honors “Have You Ever Wondered?” discussion series are extracurricular aspects of the program.

Intangible reasons are those that involve values, beliefs, and other nonphysical things. The program’s commitment to interdisciplinary thinking and the BIPOC Affinity Group ’s dedication to “an empowering and supportive environment” are examples of intangible aspects of the program.

Your reasons for being interested in the program don’t have to be the most exotic or outlandish; you can write an effective straightforward response to this prompt. The thing that piques your interest the most might be the ​​Honors Colloquia, the opportunity to engage with Program Associates, or the opportunities in Honors housing. All these options are valid ways to establish a tangible connection with the program.

For example, consider a student who wants to do political science research in her future career. She might be most interested in the Honors Program’s curriculum. Her response can cover the rigorous nature of the program, discuss some of the Honors-specific courses, and talk about the ample opportunities to conduct undergraduate research (such as HNRS-398 Honors Challenge Course and the Honors Capstone).

Avoid name-dropping random courses, activities, or faculty members without elaborating on how they resonate with you personally. Doing so will make your interest look superficial or disingenuous.

As long as you can describe what in particular has drawn you to the Honors Program as well as why it did so, you will be able to write an effective response to this prompt.

AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 3

We all have meaningful experiences that shape us and inform our worldview. what aspect of your background would you most like to share with other students in the honors program (300 words).

This is, in essence, a version of the common diversity prompt that many colleges provide. Colleges often include diversity prompts so they can learn something about your personal background and its influence on your worldview.

In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Nevertheless, the ruling allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, which is one reason many schools are now including diversity prompts as one of their supplemental essay prompts. If you feel that your racial background specifically has impacted you significantly, this is the response in which you should write about that.

More generally, you can respond to this common prompt with a fairly traditional answer. One tried-and-true method you could use involves identifying the most important part of your identity, then discussing how that aspect of your background is relevant to you and your life experiences.

Before you jump into writing your response, think of aspects of your background that may have had an impact on the way you look at the world or the way you live your life. Some examples of things that have likely influenced your worldview include:

  • Personal identity. Your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, etc. all have a profound influence on the way you think and perceive the world.
  • Cultural identity. Your religious affiliations, political views, socioeconomic status, social class, and even the place you are from influence what issues you see the most, and what solutions you envision for these issues.
  • Personal history. Things in your life may have an average trajectory. Maybe you’ve had a fortunate life with few obstacles to overcome so far, or maybe you’ve experienced a great deal of adversity or tragedy. The way things generally tend to go in your life will have a great impact on how you view life and the world around you.
  • Interests. The things you’re really invested in can change how you perceive the world. If you’re a musician, for example, you might find musicality in the most mundane sounds out in the world on a daily basis.

That said, there are several angles with which you could approach this prompt. Some more specific examples of aspects of identity you might write about include:

  • Having a disability that has changed your perspective on something in the world.
  • Being a member of an ethnic group that has an interesting cultural practice.
  • Fluency in another language that you use to help members of your community.
  • Being a member of a fandom.

You have 300 words to work with, which is a considerable length, so feel free to structure your essay using an anecdote. You might begin with a time when your worldview was different, then describe how it changed due to the aspect of your background that is the subject of your essay.

One thing you should avoid is simply listing out things that generate diversity. Diversity includes everything mentioned above and more, but just writing out a list of things contributes very little to your application and also fails to respond to the prompt. The prompt asks you which singular aspect of your background you would like to share, so make sure to choose wisely and elaborate.

This prompt is one of the few opportunities you have to showcase your unique perspectives. Whatever aspect of your background you choose to write about here, make sure your response is sincere. Try to show as much individuality and specificity as you can in your response.

Global Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

In your view, what is the greatest challenge facing humanity today and how do you envision yourself being part of the solution (no word count given).

In this prompt, you are asked to give your opinion on the greatest challenge facing humanity today. This sounds like a very tall order, but don’t worry; it’s an opinion question, so any reasonable challenge you choose will be fine.

Admissions committees want to see specifics, so we often recommend not identifying too broad a problem. In the brainstorming stage, however, you can think as broadly as you’d like. Global poverty, world hunger, illiteracy in developing countries, human rights abuses—each of these things can be an effective starting point.

Thinking about your identity and values might help you determine which issues are most important to you. Aspects of your identity include your ethnicity, race, country of origin, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, hometown, income class, socioeconomic status, illnesses/disabilities, and even interests and activities!

Consider these different aspects of your background and list broad world issues that may have an impact on some part of your identity. For example, you might be Ukrainian and have family members directly affected by the current war. In this case, your ethnic background may compel you to write about geopolitical conflicts or human rights issues.

Be sure to narrow your topic to something specific once you begin writing. Even though the prompt asks what you think is “the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” you should be prepared to discuss concrete examples of that challenge.

For instance, if you want to write about world hunger, try to also describe particular situations and specific problems related to that broader issue—some things you might want to examine in such an essay can include widespread food and water shortages in Venezuela as a result of governmental policies, hunger in Haiti due to food insecurity and currency inflation, and the impending famine in Sudan as a result of internal conflicts.

The aforementioned examples can add a great deal of nuance to your essay for a couple of reasons. First, citing specific instances of your chosen challenge goes beyond simply stating that your challenge exists. It creates tangible reasons to be concerned about the issue. Second, having a few concrete examples demonstrates that you are informed and knowledgeable about the issue.

Once you have decided on a global challenge and have thought of a few examples to support your point, reflect on how you might be able to contribute to a solution to this problem. This program is offered by the School of International Service, so you will be pursuing a degree in International Studies.

You might already have some ideas about how you wish to help solve your chosen problem, but your essay will be even better if you can connect your goals to the school and degree. Read up on the BA in International Studies and the Global Scholars Program to inspire your writing!

There really is no wrong way to envision yourself as part of the solution. Consider the following hypothetical students to see how contributions can vary:

  • A student who’s passionate about the environment might say that climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity, and might describe how it has devastated different communities around the world, including his small coastal town, which has experienced worsening floods. He might hope to major in International Studies to eventually work in the United Nations and be a part of climate change conferences and agreements.
  • A student who wants to be a doctor might say that lack of access to good, inexpensive healthcare is the greatest global challenge. She could describe how the U.S. healthcare system fails many low-income people, and how poorer countries lack the infrastructure and resources to treat easily treatable illnesses. She hopes to go to medical school then join Doctors Without Borders to help those in conflict zones and those facing disasters get the treatment they need.

This prompt is meant to gauge which global issues you deem important and how you intend to use your college education and degree to contribute to ongoing efforts to solve these issues. You’ll have a strong essay as long as you’re sincere and write about a problem you’re personally invested in.

Global Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

Describe a situation in which you had to work harder than you expected. when and how did you know that your current efforts were not enough how did you adjust (500 words).

This prompt asks you to describe a time in your life when you faced a challenge that required you to put in an unprecedented amount of time and effort. What you choose to write about doesn’t have to be a singular experience; a situation in this context can be something much larger.

You can choose to describe any experience—academic, personal, extracurricular, and so forth—in your answer. Like most other prompts, the key will be in how you not only relate your chosen situation to your personality, but to the Global Scholars program at large.

Think first about your identity and your environment—are there any distinguishable experiences in which you have always felt that you’ve had an uphill battle or unfair disadvantage? Think about periods of your life in which you may have had to undergo a major transition or change.

Regardless of the situation you choose, remember that the best answers come out of asking yourself questions. This applies equally to a situation you may describe that does not involve your identity or environment—you can also approach this prompt by thinking about any life-altering events that forced you to pivot or make a change.

For example, maybe COVID-19 left one or both of your parents unemployed, and you had to pick up a job on top of your schoolwork. While you may have expected to be able to handle the part-time job, perhaps you saw your schoolwork and relationships begin to slip through the cracks and you were forced to really reevaluate your time management skills.

You may end up writing about an experience that is similar to that of other applicants, so it’s how you relate it to yourself and to your environment that will make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure you continue to emphasize your emotions and honesty throughout your answer, and lastly, try to relate your chosen experience back to the Global Scholars program at large.

You can conclude by writing about how you hope to apply what you learned from your life experiences to your participation in the Global Scholars program—how you hope to apply your newfound understanding of various financial or personal circumstances to learning about various cultural and global circumstances.

Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

Tell us about a morally complicated text that you think would lead to good discussion for first year college students. in what way is the text morally complicated and why do you recommend it (no more than 500 words).

This might seem like a daunting prompt, but it can be easier than it seems. Don’t worry about having some grandiose, impressive tome to talk about for this essay. If you think creatively, you should be able to identify moral complications in simpler texts. This is the kind of essay that really benefits from careful argumentation.

Brainstorming your topic:

There are two kinds of texts that would probably make for a strong essay:

  • Texts you’ve read recently, which should still be fresh in your mind
  • Texts you’ve read a long time ago and still remember because they were impactful or profound to you

It’s important that you pick one of these kinds of texts because you’ll want to write about something you know well enough. If you choose a text that you don’t really remember, or worse, a text you haven’t read that looks impressive, your points will probably be shallow and superficial, which will drag the overall quality of your essay down.

As far as the text itself is concerned, you can write about nearly anything (just make sure it’s not too trivial, like a children’s book). Perhaps you have read a clearly morally complex text, such as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird . If you have, and you remember the details well enough to explain your choice, then by all means write about it!

However, if you haven’t read a text like that, that’s fine too. Think of things you’ve read recently that have moral dilemmas you might discuss. For some idea on how you might stretch the theme of morality, consider some examples:

  • Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a young adult novel, discusses themes related to individuality and emotional depth and can be pitted against order and conformity. This moral conflict leaves a lot of room for debate, as the balance between individuality and societal conformity is one that is often hard for individuals to navigate.
  • Marvel Comics’ Civil War, a seven-issue comic book storyline from 2007, has a plot centered around the U.S. government requiring super-powered individuals to reveal their identities to be superheroes under official regulation. While this may not be a traditional text, it has been acclaimed for its exploration of the conflicting desires of security and freedom that are still discussed in American politics today.
  • Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, the authorized biography of Apple’s co-founder, is a thorough look at the life of the controversial business magnate. It discusses not only his great achievements in the worlds of business and technology, but also his personality, which has been described as abrasive or difficult at times. This text allows students to examine the ways in which massive corporations, their employees, and their consumers can be directly affected by the very human individuals who lead them.

As you can see from the above examples, you can find and argue for moral complications almost anywhere you look. You might use a traditional example of a large, classic novel with clear and distinctive moral ambiguity, or you might explore some more creative options, such as biographies, YA novels, and even comic books or graphic novels!

Tips for writing your essay:

A good response will answer every part of the prompt. You should strive to identify the text, explain how it’s morally complicated, and detail your reasons for recommending it. The first and last part shouldn’t be too hard once you’ve settled on your text—naming the text and talking about why you’re recommending it are tasks that you can probably do easily if you know your chosen text well. After all, you know why you like the book.

It’s the second part of the prompt that will require some more careful thought. Effectively explaining how the text is morally complicated is only something you can do if you’re familiar enough with the text and its themes. Oftentimes, the moral complications of a book aren’t directly relevant to the plot—they’re often a thematic consequence of a character’s actions or are intended to be seen behind the main narrative, but not the focal point of the text itself.

That said, it might actually be a good idea to consult online summaries, videos, and study guides of the text you chose. Of course, you should absolutely have read the text and have a decent grasp of its material, but this isn’t a test for school—you can and should see how the moral themes are discussed by other readers. This will inform your argument that this text should be used in discussions among first year students.

Mistakes to avoid:

There aren’t too many ways to tackle this prompt incorrectly, but there are a couple of things you should avoid , which have already been mentioned but are worth repeating:

  • Choosing a text you aren’t familiar with, just because it looks more impressive. It’s better to write a thoughtful, intelligent essay on a text that might be seen as lackluster than to write a shallow, generic essay on a text seen as impressive. Remember, the admissions officers aren’t making decisions based on books you have or haven’t read—they’re making decisions based on the quality of your essays.
  • Choosing a trivial or juvenile text. Most young adult novels should be complex enough to be valid texts for this essay, but don’t try to be overly creative by writing about something for little children. Children’s books are intentionally written in a way that does not deal with the complex, intellectual themes that you’re tasked with discussing here.

As long as you pick a decent text (i.e., one you’re familiar with that isn’t too trivial), describe the ways in which it deals with questions of moral complexity, and make a good case for its use in Caltech’s first year classrooms, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a strong response.

Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

One goal of the lincoln scholars program is to encourage intellectual and political diversity on campus. what does this goal mean to you and why does a program with this goal interest you (no more than 500 words).

This prompt puts a specific spin on the common “Why This College?” and “Why This Major?” prompts, with a couple of key differences:

  • First, you’re asked about a particular goal and what it means to you.
  • Second, rather than discussing the University as a whole or a particular major, you’re tasked with describing why a program like the Lincoln Scholars Program appeals to you.

Make sure to address both parts of the question to have a full response. You have up to 500 words to work with, so you can really go into detail about each part. A good approach would be to answer each portion of the question in turn.

Before you begin writing, think about what intellectual and political diversity mean to you. Note the wording of the prompt: “What does this goal mean to you?” You can take advantage of the nuanced meanings of the word “mean.” In a literal sense, the question is asking how you would define such a goal. But in another sense, it’s asking why the goal is significant or important to you.

It might be helpful to jot down some bullet points that you might want to build on in your response. You might end up with a list that looks something like this:

  • Having a group of people with different fields of expertise work on one project from various angles
  • Different viewpoints creating points for intellectual debate
  • Multiple people of various backgrounds informing each other’s perspectives
  • Generating varied approaches to the same problem with the shared goal of solving it

Whatever you think of, try to come up with a solid personal definition of intellectual and political diversity. From there, you can begin to describe why these kinds of diversity are important to you. Using an anecdote-driven narrative to explain this point is a good approach. For example, perhaps you participated in a school project in which a different perspective was the one that led to a solution. Or, maybe you were part of a debate club and learned to see a topic differently because of a well-informed persuasive argument on the other side.

As you develop your thoughts on why such a goal is important to you, transition into a discussion of the program and why it interests you. Here, it’s essential that you establish a connection to the program. Do some research on the program’s webpage to learn about resources and opportunities that are offered.

Perhaps one of the program’s courses is appealing to you because of its content. Or, maybe you resonate with the program’s mission “to explore the great questions of moral and political life in a context of intellectual and political diversity.” Be sure to describe how and why a program like this piques your interest.

Connect the goal of intellectual and political diversity to your personal goals and values. This is the strongest way to convey your interest in the Lincoln Scholars Program and in exploring big questions from multiple viewpoints.

Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 3

List five texts, magazines, movies, websites, podcasts, music, or other media that you regularly engage with and explain briefly why you like each one. please list a variety of types of media. (1-2 sentences per item, no more than 400 total)..

This is a more niche prompt that you probably haven’t seen often, if at all. Luckily, there’s really no right or wrong answer! In fact, the program’s webpage lists some of the books that students have applied to the program with this year, and they include all kinds of works—ancient epic poems, classic novels, niche novellas, poetry collections, philosophical dialogues, and memoirs!

AU is curious about what interests you, how you think, how you’ve developed intellectually, and how you may have challenged yourself with the media you consume. Choose your examples carefully, but also be honest.

One great way to think about this prompt is through the idea of a “capsule wardrobe.” In a capsule wardrobe, each piece of clothing is unique and works well on its own—you might have a graphic tee, a leather jacket, a button-up shirt, and a few pairs of jeans. Even though each article of clothing has its own character, each also works toward your overall style—the entire wardrobe. Combining items into outfits can highlight different aspects of each item as well as similarities they share

The same idea applies to the texts, movies, websites, and music in your list. Each item should be compelling on its own, but should also contribute to the wardrobe that is your intellectual style. A great list will have items that complement each other, like a belt that matches with a pair of shoes. Some more style tips:

​​1. List items that build on each other. You want your list to have synergy . Just like wearing two matching items together can convey your sense of style, including two similar items in your list can display a sustained interest in a subject. For example, if you include both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story in my list of films, you’re showing the admissions officer that you’re interested in exploring how the same story has been interpreted by different creatives from different times and places. Neither Romeo and Juliet nor West Side Story could demonstrate this idea alone—when included together, the message is greater than just the sum of its parts!

  • Show multidimensionality. There’s something to be careful about. It’s possible to show sustained interest in a topic without indicating growth, and this is something you’ll want to avoid. For example, if your entire list consists of true-crime podcasts, it will look a bit one-dimensional and bland because each item effectively conveys the same message. Aim to list works that show your interest in the multiple angles of a topic. For example, listing the true-crime podcast Serial and Criminal Perspective as well as the journal Psychological Review and a blog on forensic psychology will add levels of intellectual nuance to your interest in the broad theme.
  • Don’t overdress. You might want to only include the most impressive, difficult, intellectual media you’ve consumed to show that you’re intelligent and academic, but too much of that will probably make you look like you’re exaggerating for the admissions committee. Instead of doing that, balance the weightier, deeper items with some more relaxed or jocular ones. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory are going to look less like you’re pandering if you include something like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in your list. Balance the intellectual interests you wish to show off with your some distinctive personality.
  • Don’t underdress. The opposite of the previous tip is also true. While throwing in some fun little books, movies, or music can add some dimension and personality to your list, they shouldn’t be the only things you include. You absolutely can (and should) include a sitcom or a non-academic novel on your media list, but make sure you don’t overfill the list with items of lesser substance. Also avoid including items that are too juvenile. Think smart casual clothing—you don’t need to wear a suit everywhere you go, but some places (like this supplemental essay) require a bit more than sweatpants and flip flops. Some nice jeans and a polo can be enough.
  • Recognizable brands can be effective. Mentioning a couple of notable pop culture items will increase your list’s relatability in the admissions officer’s eyes. And, psychologically speaking , similarities on paper can help you in non-personal interactions. Just make sure you pick something that is well received both critically and by the masses, like a Beatles album or the movie Parasite —something that you and your reader could have a robust intellectual debate about.
  • Moderation. If it’s not already clear by now, making a strong list is going to be a delicate task. You’re going to need to find the middle ground between casual and intellectual, specific and general, fiction and nonfiction, books and movies, etc. Don’t wait until the last minute to cobble together a list of random things just because this isn’t a fully fledged essay. Remember that you still need to explain and defend your choices. Devote as much time to this list and you do to your essays. The list reveals as much about you as an individual as a full essay does—be sure to treat it with the same respect.
  • Be honest! You may be asked about this list somewhere down the road during the admissions process. Don’t get caught off guard by what you’re passing off as your own list. Nothing is more embarrassing and detrimental during this process than not having a clue about something you purport to have read/seen.

Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

The politics, policy, and law scholars program is an intensive course of study in which students from diverse backgrounds live and learn together. given its intense and unique nature, why do you want to be a part of the program why do you think you would be a good fit for the politics, policy and law scholars program (250 words).

This is essentially a “Why This College?” prompt , but applied to a special program rather than AU as a whole. Moreover, in addition to describing how the program is a good fit for you, you’re tasked with describing how you are a good fit for the program.

Brainstorming your essay:

A recommended strategy for prompts like this is to establish a connection to the program. Two kinds of connection you might try to establish are a tangible connection and an intangible one.

A tangible connection can be made by identifying specific program offerings that resonate with you personally. To find such resources, you should do some in-depth research on the program. A good place to start is the PPL Scholars website . There you’ll find the course of study, the applicable majors, information about the living learning community, and more.

You might write about things like the campus culture, specific classes or academic opportunities, particular professors, etc. Given the rather low word limit, try to stick to academic features, as others might come off as less important.

An intangible connection can be made by discussing how your personal values align with those of the program. The PPL program emphasizes “the principles, practices, and institutions of politics and law from quantitative and qualitative, philosophical, and social science perspectives.”

If your personal values deeply resonate with the ideas of practicing law, government, public policy, criminal justice, or a similar field, you might wish to discuss how those values will be supported and informed by those of the program. Be sure to take a look at the PPL Scholars FAQ webpage to get a little more insight into the program.

Since you only have 250 words to work with, it would be a good idea to choose either a tangible connection or intangible one to discuss, rather than both. Remember, you need to save some space to discuss how you’re a good fit for the program.

Also note that it’s okay if you can’t develop a really strong intangible connection to the program—that is usually the harder kind of connection to write about. A strong tangible connection and a good explanation of how you’re a good fit for the PPL Scholars Program will make for a good response.

For example, consider a hypothetical student whose mother is a lawyer and whose father is a police officer. She might feel deeply connected to issues of justice and reform through the stories her parents tell her. She might write a response that begins like this:

“My parents are both deeply involved in the legal professions—my dad is a police officer and my mom is a lawyer. They have told me how the justice system isn’t perfect—both of them have seen the system succeed and fail many times. The passion with which they describe their careers has inspired me to go into a legal field too.

Having been raised by two parents in intense careers in legal fields has given me the resolve I will need to undertake such a career myself. I believe that my passion and determination, as well as my existing background knowledge about these fields make me uniquely equipped to take on the challenges of the Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program…”

This excerpt is an excellent start to this prompt because it explains the unique features of the students past that equip her with the skills needed to succeed in the PPL Scholars Program. Note that this blurb is only half the word limit, which should give you some perspective on how much detail you might go into.

With prompts like this one, there are three things you will want to avoid doing in your response. These include the following:

  • Name-dropping. It looks superficial and insincere to simply name certain courses or professors without elaborating on the ways in which these resources are meaningful or useful to you.
  • Empty flattery. Don’t waste your word count talking about the prestige of the program or the University. There’s nothing wrong with being nice, but overdoing that in a prompt with a word limit might lead to you writing an essay that doesn’t answer the question.
  • Naming general resources that are applicable to many schools. Don’t base your essay on things like good class sizes, strong political science courses, a nice location, etc.—these things apply to many schools and programs, and don’t showcase a personal connection to this particular program.

Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

The living learning community and cohort aspects are integral parts of the politics, policy & law scholars program. describe a specific project, course, or other experience that required you to work with others toward a shared goal or to resolve conflict and build consensus. how did you contribute to accomplishing the goal or resolving conflict how did you engage with others how has this experience prepared you for the ppl program be specific. (250 words).

This prompt asks you to elaborate on a team-based problem-solving experience that will give the admissions reader insight into how you will fit in with the PPL program at large. As an intensive program, PPL requires all students to be a part of their Living Learning Community, meaning that you’ll be working alongside fellow PPL students both in and outside of the classroom. As such, the admissions committee wants to ensure that you’re able to support a larger community of like-minded (or even sometimes diversely minded) students.

First, think back over your time in high school and try to identify any large-scale projects that you were involved in with a group. At the same time, keep in mind that this response should not just be more explanation of something that may already appear on your application. When selecting what to write about, try to fill in the gaps your application has.

For instance, perhaps you were on the Executive Board of Model UN, and hope to share an experience about how you organized a conference hosted at your high school. While that’s definitely a valid experience, this answer should be less about the what and more about the how .

How did that conference come together? How did you delegate responsibilities among your peers and which responsibilities did you take on? What challenges or obstacles did you face as a team and how did you overcome them together? Did you have to work through any conflicts when working with one another?

Ultimately, reflect not only on your accomplishments with whichever experience you choose, but also on the failures, conflicts, and honest strategies you chose to employ to keep the ship afloat. The next step will be highlighting the crucial lessons that the experience taught you, and how you hope to apply those lessons to your time in the PPL program.

In order to brainstorm how you wish to close out your response, remember that the PPL program will require you to live and learn alongside your peers—make sure your answer emphasizes that you were able to come together as a group to tackle a complicated problem, and ultimately come out not just successful, but as a closer group overall.

Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 3

You have been hired to advise a member of congress or a state legislator (you can choose which one, but you should pick one) about the issues that affect americans aged 18-26. you have been asked to identify one legal, political, or policy issue that will resonate with this group of americans and recommend a policy proposal that he or she should support and promote. explain the issue, explain why the elected official should highlight it, and propose a specific original policy solution. provide support for your proposed solution. your proposal should not simply be to support another individual’s already created policy. (650 words).

This prompt is less of a by-the-books response and more of an exercise, asking you to not only identify a major issue facing the country but also persuading a hypothetical elected official to pay attention to it and also brainstorm a possible solution.

The purpose of this prompt is to get a sense of your level of political engagement, as well as to give you a chance to attempt your first case study, which will serve as a gateway to the PPL program at large. This essay will require thorough research and deliberation, but, at its core, it’s just an expanded version of a typical Political/Global Issues prompt.

First, decide the scale of your chosen issue. Trying to brainstorm a list of possible issues to focus on will end up generating a laundry list of options, and might exhaust your brain before you even begin writing your response.

Something that may help guide you is remembering that you should have a unique perspective on your chosen issue. For example, you wouldn’t want to write your response about something general like the dangers of climate change if you genuinely don’t have anything to add to the conversation—the point is not to reiterate discourse that is already out there, but rather to think creatively and critically about the world and the ways in which your unique perspective can be valuable in trying to solve your chosen issue.

Therefore, it may be more useful to start small and then expand outwards. Look at your environment—what issues impact your community, your state, or your region? Looking again at the issue of climate change, perhaps you come from a state where fracking is not only legal, but still actively occurs. Perhaps your own family or a family you know has ties to the fracking business, and you feel as though current legislation and efforts to outlaw fracking stall because of pushback from these communities.

Tie your belief to your perspective—you may believe that fracking should be illegal, and your perspective can guide you in persuading an elected official to provide various incentives to those who rely on fracking for their livelihoods. As such, starting small will make your answer more specific and unique while still tackling a national issue like climate change.

If you don’t feel as though your environment has given you a distinct perspective on a current event, do some research on what issues have most recently surfaced in the country. For example, recent months have called attention to a migrant crisis that the United States is facing and how resources for these migrants are quickly diminishing.

Regarding this example, perhaps you are very active in community service and volunteering—how can you use that interest to frame your answer? Your proposed solution can involve rallying young people to volunteer and provide support to these migrant communities, while also trying to work with the opposing party to reach a solution.

Remember, your answer still needs an official policy proposal, so perhaps your proposed solution can immediately provide temporary shelter and resources for migrants while also opening the door to a firmer long-term solution. Your proposed solution doesn’t have to completely close the door on an issue, but it should showcase your understanding of the political process.

Public Health Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

Discuss a public health issue of local, national, international, or personal importance to you. explain why it is important to you and describe how you envision impacting this issue (500 words)..

This prompt is meant to gauge two things. First, it’s trying to find out which public health issues you consider important and why. Second, it wants to discern how you intend to use your college education and life experience to contribute to a solution to this issue.

Admissions committees are constantly looking for nuance and specificity, so we recommend that you choose a problem that isn’t very broad. A problem like “COVID-19” is too vague to write an effective essay on. Instead, choose something more narrow, such as “COVID-19 in impoverished communities.”

If you’re having trouble settling on a topic to write about, think about your identity and values. Aspects of your identity include your ethnicity, race, country of origin, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, hometown, income class, socioeconomic status, illnesses/disabilities, and even interests and activities! There might be an aspect of your identity that is directly related to a public health issue.

Consider these different aspects of your background and make a list of public health issues that may have an impact on part of your identity. For example, African Americans are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease or stroke than white Americans. In cases like this, people with your racial background may be affected by a health issue more than people of other backgrounds.

To help add nuance to your essay, be sure to cite specific examples or your chosen issue. Concrete examples will make your essay more specific as well as help you transition into a discussion of how you intend to help contribute to solving the issue.

For instance, if you want to write about substance misuse and substance abuse, discuss some specific situations in which these issues take hold. In such an essay, you might want to write about things you have seen firsthand—these can include opiate abuse by the homeless population in your home city, overprescription of certain drugs in your area, a persistent community habit of failing to finish a full course of antibiotics, etc.

The above examples can add nuance to your essay for two reasons. First, simply stating that your issue exists and is important (even if that’s true) is not a compelling argument without concrete evidence. Providing examples shows your reader that there are tangible reasons to care about the issue. Second, having some real-life examples in your essay shows that you are both inquisitive and informed.

Once you’ve picked a public health issue that you can support with tangible evidence, ponder how your future college education and life experience can afford you the ability to help solve this issue. AU’s Three-Year Public Health Scholars Program is an accelerated course of study designed to help you get a BA or BS in Public Health in 3 years (possibly on a pre-med track as well).

You might already have plans for your future contributions to solving your chosen issue, but you can potentially elevate your essay if you’re able to connect your goals to the school and degree. Look at AU’s Three-Year Public Health Scholars Program website as well as the Public Health BA website and BS website to inspire your writing!

This essay is about your plans for a career in public health, so don’t worry too much about having a “right” or “wrong” answer. Here are a couple of hypothetical student bios to show you just how different effective ideas can look:

  • Jane has been curious about psychology and mental health since middle school. Throughout high school, she has had many conversations with her uncle, a cognitive behavioral therapist, about the staggering lack of mental health resources across the United States. Jane is pursuing a degree in Public Health because she feels that this field is the key to developing lasting reform in the domain of mental health.
  • Robert is a Chinese-American with a family history of cardiovascular disease. Intrigued by this recurrent issue, he has done a lot of independent research on prevalence rates. Robert found that Asian-Americans are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease due to several social determinants. He hopes to get a degree in Public Health so he can help spearhead initiatives that will provide care to his underserved ethnic community.

Public Health Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

Why do you want to join a 3-year degree program what skills and insight do you hope to acquire through this experience respond in no more than 250 words..

This prompt is a bit of a mix of two common types of prompt—the “Why This College?” and the “Why This Major?” prompts. It’s a very straightforward question meant to gauge your interest in the University, the field of public health, and the 3-Year Public Health Scholars Program. The admissions committee wants to see how you fit with the program and how you’ll make the most of its resources.

You’ll want to establish at least a tangible connection to the program. The best way to do this is to describe your interest in the field then connect it to your reasons for applying to the program.

Think about why you’re passionate about public health. For what reasons do you want to study it? What are some career and life goals of yours? How will this 3-year program help you achieve these goals?

Explore the program’s website as well as the sites for the Public Health BA degree and BS degree to help inspire your writing! Try to find unique features of the program that you can use to inform your response.

Look at this hypothetical response to see how you might establish a connection with the program:

“Growing up, I had a lot of problems with my weight and health, and I was shamed for not making ‘healthy choices.’ It was only when my dad got a promotion and we moved to a new neighborhood that I realized what the main issue was. In my old, poorer neighborhood, all we had access to were fast food restaurants and corner stores. In my new neighborhood, there were several grocery stores with fresh, healthy food within a mile. My weight and health have improved significantly ever since our move.

I want to get a BS in Public Health because I hope to make it easier for young, poor kids like I was to gain access to the resources to live a healthier life. A 3-year program will allow me to help these communities more effectively.

I look forward to taking the course Gender, Poverty and Health, which will explore the intersections between these topics and allow me to reflect on systemic ways to bring much-needed health resources to impoverished communities. Furthermore, the course Multicultural Health will allow me to approach my work through an intersectional lens, as there are many immigrants in low-income communities who face unique health disparities based on their backgrounds.

Good health is not as simple as just ‘making the right choices’ when there are systemic barriers to making those choices. I hope to help remove those barriers in my work.”

This example is effective for a couple of reasons. First, it gives the admissions committee an idea of the student’s background, motivations, and passion. Second, it answers each point of the prompt explicitly and clearly. The student describes why he is interested in a 3-year program, then lists the main skills he hopes to acquire through this program.

There are a few things you should avoid when crafting your essay:

  • Empty flattery. Writing about how unique or prestigious the University/program is might sound nice, but you shouldn’t talk about how cool a program is to you without elaborating on why . This kind of approach is vague and doesn’t add any nuance to your essay.
  • Name-dropping. Don’t simply list a bunch of classes, professors, or activities that appeal to you without describing why they’re interesting to you.
  • Being generic. A good location, a strong program in public health, a nice core curriculum, etc. are things that apply to many schools and programs. They are too vague and will make your essay stand out less.

As long as you give a genuine answer and you have solid goals that this program will help you achieve, you’ll craft an effective essay that is sure to stand out to admissions officers.

Sakura Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

The sakura scholars program requires students to study in both the united states and japan, learn the japanese language, focus on regional topics in east asia and the pacific, and complete a capstone for the joint bachelor’s degree in global international relations. why are you interested in this program what are your personal and/or professional goals and how will this program help you to reach them (500 words).

This prompt is similar to the common “Why This College?” prompt , but more specifically applies to the intercollegiate Sakura Scholars program. This prompt is meant to gauge your reasons for applying to the program to see if you’re a good fit for it and if it’s a good fit for you.

To write a successful essay, you‘ll need to establish a connection with the program and express how your goals are best served by being a part of it.

There are two kinds of connections that you can make with a college, program, major, etc. The first kind is the tangible connection. This involves identifying specific concrete reasons for applying to the program. To do this effectively, you will need to do in-depth research on the program and its offerings.

If you’ve made it to this point, you have probably written your response to the All Applicants prompt that was covered at the beginning of this guide. If you have, doing research on the program will be very similar to doing research on American University broadly, as you did earlier. If you haven’t done that essay yet, don’t worry! We have created a guide to help you research colleges (and programs) for this type of essay.

Go to the program’s website to begin your research. Scroll through the main site and the FAQ page to learn more about the program. In this program you have the choice of starting your undergraduate career at American University or Ritsumeikan University, so be sure to check out Ritsumeikan University’s program site as well! This will help you determine where you want to spend your first semester. Regardless of which school you choose, you’ll spend four semesters at AU and four semesters abroad.

The program awards a degree in Global International Relations, so a good approach to this essay is to describe why the field of international relations is important to you and how the program is uniquely equipped to help you achieve your goals in this field.

One direct way to establish a tangible connection between the program and your goals is to find courses or faculty members that really resonate with you. Since the program is between two universities, you should look through the faculty lists of both American and Ritsumeikan .

Consider the following excerpt from a response that might be written by a hypothetical Uyghur student, whose ethnic background has many people suffering human rights violations abroad:

“The Sakura Scholars program is the perfect opportunity for me to study international relations in the United States and Japan. It would give me unprecedented access to Western and Eastern perspectives. I am particularly interested in the work of Professor Jeffrey Bachman at American University and that of Professor Rieko Kitamura at Ritsumeikan University.

Prof. Bachman studies genocide, political violence, and human rights, and Prof. Kitamura has done work on human rights protections. Studying under the supervision of these professors will offer me the chance to delve deeper into specific regional issues. The degree awarded by this program will offer me new ways to help end the plight of my people.”

This response is very effective for a number of reasons:

  • First, it establishes a personal background that helps the admissions committee understand the student’s personal motivations.
  • Second, it showcases the student’s sincere interest in the Sakura Scholars program.
  • Finally, it explicitly names resources (specifically professors) at both universities that will be assets to the student’s education and to the realization of the student’s personal goals.

The second kind of connection you can make with the program is an intangible connection. This involves things like seeing if your values and those of the program are aligned. For example, you might appreciate how the program takes place in the East and West, emphasizing “voices, experiences, and theory from a truly multicultural, multiregional, global perspective.”

There are some things you’ll want to avoid when writing your response:

  • Name-dropping. Don’t simply list activities, courses, or professors that interest you without explaining why you’re interested in them. This essay needs to be about you more than the program itself.
  • Empty flattery. Anyone can write about the reputations of AU and Ritsumeikan. Compliments are nice, but empty flattery suggests that you don’t have anything more substantive to say.
  • Generic aspects of the program. Talking about good locations, a strong program in international relations, or small class sizes won’t really add to your essay. Try to write about unique aspects of the program or things that are rare .

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do deep research before you begin writing. Also be sure to write about nuanced personal motivations for applying to the program. Most importantly, write a sincere response! Honestly will go a long way, both in the application process and beyond.

Sakura Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

In this joint degree program, you will gain first-hand comparative international experience as you spend two years at american university and two years at ritsumeikan university. think of a time when you faced a challenge or found yourself in an unexpected situation. explain what happened, what you learned, and how this experience might help you adapt to different intercultural situations, and work through future challenges as a sakura scholar. (no word count given).

This prompt is a very standard example of the Overcoming Challenges essay . You’re being asked about a challenge you faced as well as the lessons you learned from it. These questions are to give the admissions committee an idea of how you handle moments of adversity or surprise, and how you learn from adverse or unexpected experiences.

Before you begin writing, you should plan out your topic as thoroughly as you can so that the writing process can move smoothly. When trying to decide on a topic, think about any major challenges you’ve faced in life. Also consider any unexpected life events that may have turned out to be formative experiences. The prompt specifies that challenges and unexpected situations are both fair game, so don’t feel restricted to thinking only of negative experiences.

Once you’ve thought about possible experiences you could write about, create a list of the challenges that came to mind and a separate list of unexpected situations. For each list, ask yourself which experiences taught you the most important or influential lessons about yourself or the world.

Finally, after deciding on the best experience to talk about in this essay, ask yourself the following questions about it:

  • What happened?
  • In the moment, what was your reaction to the situation? How did it affect you, your thoughts, and your emotions? How have these emotions changed over time?
  • Why was this experience so important to you? What is its personal significance?
  • Consider the steps you took to manage the situation. Were they successful? Why or why not?
  • Reflecting on the outcome of the event, how did the experience allow you to grow and mature as an individual? What did you learn from the success or failure of your approach? What lessons did you learn, both broadly and specifically?
  • How did the experience prepare you to face occurrences like it in the future? How has it equipped you to adapt to different intercultural situations?

Once you’ve chosen a topic and answered these questions, writing the essay shouldn’t be so daunting.

Maybe you don’t have a clear answer for every question above. That’s fine, but be sure that you can do at least three things to effectively respond to the prompt:

  • Describe the event/experience.
  • Explain the most important lessons you learned from the experience.
  • Detail the ways in which these lessons have improved your ability to adapt to different potential intercultural situations and your capacity to be a strong Sakura Scholar.

With regard to structuring your essay, you may find it helpful to frame it with a narrative format. After all, part of your response requires an explanation of the experience, which would benefit from an anecdote.

Here’s an outline to help you organize your writing:

  • If you choose to use a narrative format, begin with an anecdote—a vivid and evocative retelling of the event to draw your reader in.
  • After introducing the topic through an anecdote, describe yourself (your attitudes, beliefs, motivations, etc.) prior to the event that you learned from.
  • State specifically how the experience was a turning point for you. How did your life change? What did you learn about yourself, others, and/or the world? The lesson should ideally reflect the way you now embrace challenges or unanticipated occurrences, and the ways in which you’re better equipped to tackle intercultural issues.
  • If storytelling is one of your strong suits, you might choose to rearrange the order in which you describe events. For example, you might start with a summary of who you are now and how you’re able to approach intercultural situations, then transition to a discussion of who you were before the experience, then discuss the experience and how it affected you.

A hypothetical student might write about an experience related to his multiracial background. Perhaps the student felt like he had to deny both of his ethnic backgrounds to fit in with the American teens around him at school. He began to embrace his identity and eventually overcame his fear of being judged. He learned that innocent childhood ignorance was not a reason to detract from his own identity, a lesson that will help him later on because he has spent years confronting issues of identity in a multicultural context.

This example would be effective because it explicitly outlines the challenge the student had to confront, his response to adversity, what he learned about himself from overcoming the challenge, and how it has prepared him to undertake life as a Sakura Scholar in this multicultural program.

There is no word count given, but you should try to keep your response around 300 words. An essay longer than 350 words might become drawn out or redundant, and one shorter than 250 words might not leave you with enough space to be sufficiently detailed.

A Note About the AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Prompts

The following five prompts are all required for applicants to the AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship. This scholarship covers all billable AU expenses (full tuition, room, and board) for one international student who will need a non-immigrant visa (preferably an F-1 or J-1 student visa) to study in the United States.

Since the scholarship is only being offered to international student applicants, you can disregard the next five prompts if you’re a U.S. citizen, U.S. permanent resident, U.S. pending permanent resident, or dual citizen of the U.S. and another country. You are also not eligible to apply if you’re enrolled in or have already begun any post-secondary studies at another university in your home country or the U.S., or if you graduated secondary school earlier than 2022.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 1

Discuss a significant issue in your home country about which you are passionate and describe how you would use the education you obtain at our institution, american university (au), washington, dc, to create positive civic and social change once you return home. (250 words).

This prompt is intended to help you reveal a few important things about yourself—your ability to find significant civic and social issues around you, the types of problems that are important and interesting to you, your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and your plans for using your college education to its full potential after graduation.

This prompt is a bit like the common community service prompt , albeit in the future tense. It’s different in that rather than describing how you helped solve an issue in the past, you’re tasked with writing about how you foresee yourself contributing to the solution to a problem in the future.

Before you begin writing, think about the issues that truly bother you in your home country. Since you’re just brainstorming a list right now, these problems can be big or small. To have an essay that stands out, however, you should ultimately pick something substantial when you begin writing.

Your problem doesn’t have to be within any specific domain as long as you can envision civic and social change being integral to the problem’s resolution. As you think, consider social, economic, political, governmental, environmental, war-related, and public health issues.

The prompt isn’t asking you to write a whole textbook on the issue, but be sure that you research it well enough to describe its important points at the very least. You need to write a description of the problem, as well as some ways in which your American University education will help you tackle the problem back in your home country.

That being said, you should have a good understanding of what the problem entails. You might want to pick an issue in which you have some personal investment so you can add a nuanced perspective to your essay.

You only have 250 words to address every part of the prompt, so be succinct and direct in your explanation of the issue. Don’t only talk about the basic facts, though. Be sure to also touch on why the problem is important to you. Be careful not to let bias direct how you report the facts. Try to strike a balance between straightforward reportage and personal interest.

For example, consider a hypothetical student from Ethiopia, a country still facing the effects of a yearslong civil war. Perhaps he has noticed that the problem primarily stems from a lack of communication between the government and the rebelling military faction. He might write a response like this:

“In December 2020, my family fled its home, the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, at the outset of war. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political party that ruled Ethiopia for decades, held an election during the COVID-19 pandemic that the current federal government ruled illegal. This debate escalated to violence, beginning a war that, despite a ceasefire, still has lasting impacts.

My family fled and thankfully found a safe haven in Europe, but so many other families did not have such luck. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced or killed in this senseless conflict that is ravaging my homeland.

It is my hope that a strong education will equip me with the skills and knowledge to go back home and contribute to a more definite end to this conflict. Despite the ceasefire, some occupations continue and famine is widespread. I believe a degree in International Studies will help me better understand the causes of war and the preconditions necessary to end it.

I cannot solve this issue myself, but I can no longer watch my home get torn apart. I want to help resolve this conflict by participating directly in the peace and rebuilding processes. If nothing else, I can at least use my education on the global stage to direct more eyes to this dreadful time period. Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan once said, ‘Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.’ I know in my heart that he was right.”

This is an effective response. First, it provides a fairly detailed outline of an issue in the student’s home country. Second, it describes why the issue is such an important problem and why it’s so hard to solve. And finally, it discusses how a degree from AU can help the student contribute to awareness of the issue and attempts to resolve it.

You will craft a strong essay if you can address three things:

  • What – Define the issue thoroughly but concisely.
  • Why – Describe why the issue is important to you and to the people it directly affects.
  • How – Detail how your AU education will prepare you to contribute to efforts to resolve the issue.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 2

Discuss your current involvement in community service projects and volunteer activities. describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of these activities. (250 words).

This is a prime example of the community service essay. Schools that use this prompt want to know about your level of engagement with the people and environment around you. The Emerging Global Leader Scholarship—a program that emphasizes “leadership development and global engagement” —is especially interested in your impact on your community.

Be sure to check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing the community service essay for some in-depth tips and examples!

Since you only have 250 words, you won’t be able to write about many activities. In fact, we recommend sticking to 1-2 really meaningful and long-term projects. These are the projects that tend to show a genuine commitment to community service. If you only have short-term projects to write about, then you can mention 2-3 in your response.

When picking a topic, try to think about any projects you do that might be less common. For example, painting murals on old buildings to brighten up the neighborhood is less common than volunteering at a food drive or soup kitchen. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a more common volunteering experience in this essay, but if you have a unique project to write about, it may make your essay more engaging.

If you deem all your volunteering activities and community service projects are fairly commonplace, try to choose the ones that are more meaningful to you. If you feel more connected to a particular experience over the others, your writing about it will be more passionate and vivid.

Once you have decided on an activity (or a few), think about these questions:

  • What happened during the activity?
  • What went through your mind and how did you feel as this was happening?
  • How have your emotions regarding the activity changed over time?

With your activity and motivations in mind, think about how you want to structure your essay. If you’re writing about a singular experience, consider taking a narrative approach. An essay that simply lists facts lacks important emotion. Tell about your experience with vivid imagery—show, don’t tell. This is a good way to draw your reader into the experience.

For example, perhaps you speak Spanish and do volunteer work where you can serve as a translator. Maybe you have seen firsthand the impact that speaking someone’s native language can have. Lessons this experience might have taught you about yourself can include the following:

  • Your ability to switch between two languages is better than you thought.
  • You can take on a leadership role even under the pressure of needing to speak a second language.
  • You have more patience than you thought you did.
  • You’re really good at working with the elderly, and you didn’t know that before.

As you can see, there are plenty of lessons you can glean from even one volunteering experience. These might include skills, abilities, personal attributes, or something else entirely.

This shouldn’t be a difficult essay to write, but you should note that there are three particular things to avoid :

  • Listing out everything that happened. You have 250 words to work with. While this is ample space, you should use it wisely. This isn’t a play-by-play, so stick to the most important details. Your essay should focus more on the lessons you learned.
  • Using a privileged tone. You’ll want to maintain a balanced, humble tone. Looking entitled or pretentious is not going to help your application in the least. Show how the experience is important to you without painting yourself as some kind of savior.
  • Clichés. You might think it’s a good idea to quote a famous person or to use a trite, old life lesson, but we actually recommend avoiding these strategies. Admissions officers have seen them hundreds of times, so they won’t contribute much to your application.

When you write your response, be genuine about your motivations, honest about your impact on the local community, and specific in your descriptions of activities. Doing all those things will ensure a strong essay.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 3

Describe an obstacle or challenge you have faced in your life. how have you overcome this challenge and grown from this experience (250 words).

This is the classic Overcoming Challenges prompt , so we recommend that you read our linked guide for advice and examples.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 4

The au diplomats are a diverse group of current au international students and us global nomads who have been selected by the au admissions team to form and maintain connections with new and prospective american university (au) students, and to represent au to the international community., our emerging global leader scholar is expected to play an impactful role in the work of our au diplomats group. what outreach, communication, and/or intake strategies would you employ to inform and welcome new and prospective students to american university, washington, dc (250 words).

This prompt tasks you with highlighting how you envision yourself connecting with new and prospective students who may also be international students. While it may seem daunting to have to think ahead to welcoming and guiding others to a University you yourself are currently applying to, the answer is really based more on your experience than you may think.

Think about how your application process has felt so far. Applying to a school in a country different from your own may have been an overwhelming process, and it’s perfectly all right to write about that feeling—in fact, it may even guide your answer.

Imagine you were in contact with an AU Diplomat or a current Emerging Global Leader scholar. What questions would you ask now or would you have asked in the past? Doing some role-reversal will help you imagine the kind of Emerging Global Leader Scholar you can be to help new and prospective students like yourself.

Additionally, reflect on what you wish you knew prior to the application process. How did you find American University? Did anything or anyone help you along the way? How did you engage with American University prior to applying? And eventually, what advice would you give to a younger student who will soon be in your shoes?

For example, perhaps you live halfway across the world, and had trouble attending virtual information events at many schools because of the time difference. Maybe American University offered some information sessions specific to your country or region of the world—how did that make you feel more connected to the school? Maybe you want to volunteer for these events to give more prospective students the opportunity to learn about the school, and maybe even reach areas that haven’t yet been reached.

Your strategies will come from your personal experiences, so be open and honest about your past and present—even though your own future may still be undetermined.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, Prompt 3

This is the classic Overcoming Challenges essay, so we recommend that you read our linked guide for advice and examples.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, Prompt 4

The au diplomats are a diverse group of current au international students and us global nomads who have been selected by the au admissions team to form and maintain connections with new and prospective american university (au) students, and to represent au to the international community. our emerging global leader scholar is expected to play an impactful role in the work of our au diplomats group. what outreach, communication, and/or intake strategies would you employ to inform and welcome new and prospective students to american university, washington, dc (250 words).

This prompt tasks you with highlighting how you envision yourself connecting with new and prospective students who may also be international students. While it may seem daunting to have to think ahead to welcoming and guiding others to a University you are applying to, the answer is really based more in your experience than you may think.

Think about how your application process has felt so far. Applying to a school in a different country than your own may have been overwhelming, and it is perfectly all right to write about that feeling – in fact, it may even guide your answer.

Imagine you were in contact with an AU Diplomat or a current Emerging Global Leader scholar. What questions would you ask or would you have asked in the past? Doing some role-reversal will help you imagine the kind of Emerging Global Leader Scholar you can be to help new and prospective students like yourself.

Additionally, reflect on what you wish you knew prior to the application process. How did you find American University? Did anything or anyone help you along the way? How did you engage with American University prior to applying? And eventually, what advice would you give a younger student who will soon be in your shoes?

For example, perhaps you live halfway across the world, and had trouble attending virtual information events at many schools because of the time difference. Maybe American University offered some information sessions specific to your country or region of the world – how did that make you feel more connected to the school? Maybe you want to volunteer for these events to give more prospective students the opportunity to learn about the school, and maybe even reach areas that haven’t yet been reached.

Your strategies will come from your personal experiences, so be open and honest even though your own future may still be undetermined.

AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 5

What are the characteristics of leadership that you most admire who is a leader that exemplifies those qualities, and why (250 words).

There are two main approaches you can use to navigate this prompt. You can certainly begin by brainstorming a list of leadership qualities you find most important and then find a leader you admire, but it may actually be wise to work backwards and reverse-engineer your answer—essentially, choose a leader you admire first and then identify the qualities that make them a great leader. Choosing someone you already admire may make your response more sincere and detailed.

There are no real wrong answers to this prompt, which also means that the more specific and unique you can get, the better. It is, however, best to avoid leaders who would be generally named immediately. For example, you would not want to pick a figure like the current President of the United States, other former Presidents, or other well-renowned world leaders, as they will likely be a common answer to this question.

Instead, think about whether your home country has any leaders—political, social, environmental, etc.—that would make for a strong response. Remember, this answer isn’t just about proving why your choice is a strong leader, it’s about showing the admissions committee your perception of what makes for great leadership.

After you’ve selected a leader, analyze the characteristics of that leader that resonate with people. Are they a great public speaker? Have they managed to unify a wide populace of differing perspectives? What is their public image? What impresses you most about their accomplishments?

These questions can help you identify how your chosen leader reflects your perspectives on great leadership as a whole, and will allow you to craft an answer around your thesis rather than the other way around.

Where to Get Your American University Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your AU essays? After rereading your essays over and over again, it can be difficult to spot where your writing could use some improvement. 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!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

us university essay

Essays That Worked

us university essay

The essays are a place to show us who you are and who you’ll be in our community.

It’s a chance to add depth to something that is important to you and tell the admissions committee more about your background or goals. Below you’ll find selected examples of essays that “worked,” as nominated by our admissions committee. In each of these essays, students were able to share stories from their everyday lives to reveal something about their character, values, and life that aligned with the culture and values at Hopkins.

Hear from the Class of 2027

These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original as you share your own story, thoughts, and ideas with us.

us university essay

Ordering the Disorderly

Ellie’s essay skillfully uses the topic of entropy as an extended metaphor. Through it, we see reflections about who they are and who they aspire to be.

us university essay

Pack Light, But Be Prepared

In Pablo’s essay, the act of packing for a pilgrimage becomes a metaphor for the way humans accumulate experiences in their life’s journey and what we can learn from them. As we join Pablo through the diverse phases of their life, we gain insights into their character and values.

us university essay

Tikkun Olam

Julieta illustrates how the concept of Tikkun Olam, “a desire to help repair the world,” has shaped their passions and drives them to pursue experiences at Hopkins.

us university essay

Kashvi’s essay encapsulates a heartfelt journey of self-discovery and the invaluable teachings of Rock, their 10-year-old dog. Through the lens of their companionship, Kashvi walked us through valuable lessons on responsibility, friendship, patience, and unconditional love.

us university essay

Classical Reflections in Herstory

Maddie’s essay details their intellectual journey using their love of Greek classics. They incorporate details that reveal the roots of their academic interests: storytelling, literary devices, and translation. As their essay progresses, so do Maddie’s intellectual curiosities.

us university essay

My Spotify Playlist

Alyssa’s essay reflects on special memories through the creative lens of Spotify playlists. They use three examples to highlight their experiences with their tennis team, finding a virtual community during the pandemic, and co-founding a nonprofit to help younger students learn about STEM.

More essays that worked

We share essays from previously admitted students—along with feedback from our admissions committee—so you can understand what made them effective and how to start crafting your own.

us university essay

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Supplemental Essay Guide 2023-24

What do the 2023-24 supplemental essay prompts really mean, and how should you approach them? CEA's experts are here to break them all down.

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Agnes Scott College 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

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Alvernia University 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide  

American university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, amherst college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, babson college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bard college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , barnard college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, baylor university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , bennington college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, bentley university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, berry college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bethany college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bishop’s university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, boston college (bc) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, boston university (bu) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bowdoin college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, brandeis university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , brown university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bryn mawr college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, bucknell university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, butler university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, california institute of technology (caltech) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, california lutheran university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, capitol technology university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, carleton college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, carnegie mellon university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , catawba college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, centre college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, chapman university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, claremont mckenna college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide  , clark university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, college of mount saint vincent 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, college of william & mary 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, college of wooster 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, colorado college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, colorado school of mines 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, columbia university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, cornell university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, culver-stockton college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, d’youville university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, dartmouth college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, davidson college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, drexel university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, duke university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, earlham college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, elon university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, emerson college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, emory university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, flagler college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, fordham university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, george mason university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, georgetown university 2023-24 essay prompt guide, georgia state university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , georgia tech 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, gonzaga university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, harvard university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, harvey mudd college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, haverford college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, hillsdale college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , hofstra university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, illinois institute of technology 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, illinois wesleyan university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, indiana university bloomington 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, ithaca college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, johns hopkins university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, kalamazoo college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, lafayette college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, lehigh university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, lewis and clark college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, linfield university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, loyola marymount university (lmu) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , lynn university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, macalester college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, malone university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, manchester university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, marist college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, mary baldwin university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, massachusetts institute of technology (mit) 2023-24 essay prompt guide, meredith college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, monmouth college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, moravian university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, morehouse college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, mount holyoke college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, new york university (nyu) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, north park university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, northwestern university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, occidental college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, oklahoma city university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, pepperdine university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, pitzer college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, pomona college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, princeton university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, providence college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, purdue university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, rensselaer polytechnic institute 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, rice university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, saint elizabeth university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, santa clara university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, sarah lawrence college 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, scripps college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, seattle pacific university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, smith college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, soka university of america 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, southern methodist university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, st. john’s college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, stanford university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, stonehill college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , swarthmore college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, syracuse university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, texas a&m university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, texas christian university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, the college of idaho 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , the george washington university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, the new school 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, trinity college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, tufts university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, tulane university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of california 2023-24 essay prompt guide, university of central florida 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of chicago 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of cincinnati 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of colorado boulder 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of florida 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of georgia 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of illinois urbana-champaign 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, university of maryland 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of massachusetts amherst 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of miami 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide  , university of michigan 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of minnesota twin cities 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , university of north carolina (unc) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of north carolina at charlotte 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of north carolina at greensboro 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of notre dame 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of oklahoma 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , university of oregon 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of pennsylvania (upenn) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of pittsburgh 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , university of richmond 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, university of san diego 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide , university of san francisco 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of southern california (usc) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of texas at austin 2023-24 essay prompt guide, university of tulsa 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of vermont 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of virginia (uva) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of washington (uw) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, university of wisconsin-madison 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, vanderbilt university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, vassar college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, villanova university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, virginia tech 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, wake forest university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, washington and lee university 2023-24 supplemental essay guide, washington university in st. louis 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, wellesley college 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, worcester polytechnic institute (wpi) 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide, yale university 2023-24 supplemental essay prompt guide.

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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., popular college application essay topics (and how to answer them).

Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.

The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).

brainstorming college application essay topics

2023–24 Common App Essays

Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admissions, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:

  • 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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Read More: Get Expert Essay Advice From Former Admissions Officers!

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: share your story..

Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school résumé and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.

Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.

You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.

Perfect your college essay video

Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.

Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.

Prompt #4: Reflecting on gratitude.

Colleges are looking for students with unique experiences that can enhance their future campus community, and this is your chance to share that by recognizing what someone else has done for you. Even though this prompt requires you to reflect on the action of another person, make sure that the focus remains on how the act of kindness impacted you and the way you live your life. This essay should make you and the reader smile.

Prompt #5: Personal growth.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or accomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 

Prompt #6: What captivates you?

This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.

Read More: QUIZ: Test Your College Knowledge!

Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.

This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.

More College Essay Topics

Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:

Describe a person you admire.

Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .

Why do you want to attend this school?

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.

Read More: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different

What is a book you love?

Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?

Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.

What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?

Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.

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