A WEBSITE FOR STUDENTS
A guide to applying to college, SAT, A level past papers etc.
College applications can seem overwhelming at first glance. What needs to be done, and when? Use this calendar to get a bird's-eye view of the college application process.
This calendar is only a general guide and will not apply to all colleges. Consult application materials, admissions offices, and institution websites for the specific requirements and deadlines for each of your colleges.
There's no need to be intimidated by the prospect of applying for financial aid. Millions of families apply for aid successfully each year. Use this calendar to stay a step ahead of deadlines—when you're applying for aid, time is money.
Note: This calendar is only a general guide and will not apply to all colleges. Consult financial aid materials, financial aid offices, and institution websites for the specific requirements and deadlines for each of your colleges.
Some students send as many as 15 applications, while others send only one. To ensure a successful match, apply to a diverse group of schools and be realistic about the strength of your application.
Your college list should include approximately five to eight colleges, but there isn't one magic number.
The key is to plan your list now, so you're not making last-minute decisions. Here's a worksheet you can use to help get a handle on your college list:
There are several reasons to apply to only those schools where you're sure you want to go.
Your high school counselor or college advisor can help you find the right number of colleges for you. They know you and your academic history and can recommend good fits.
We asked two experienced college counselors to help answer students' frequently asked questions about the college application process.
Nadine K. Maxwell: Many students apply early decision because they believe that there is an advantage to applying early and that their chances of being admitted are greater. Actually, this can vary from school to school and year to year, and may depend upon the applicant pool at the school where you are applying. Do your homework first and check to see what percentage of the students in the previous graduating classes at your high school were admitted early decision to a specific college or university. Are you qualified to apply as early decision? If you are, and this is a school you really wish to attend, then apply early decision.
For more information, read Early Decision and Early Action.
Mary Lee Hoganson: Teachers should always receive a minimum of two weeks notice, prior to the postmark date. Be sure to ask in a way that allows a teacher to decline comfortably if he/she does not have time to do an adequate job. For example: "Do you feel you know me well enough, and do you have enough time to write a supportive letter of recommendation for me to . . . " Give the teacher a stamped envelope addressed to the college, along with any recommendation form provided by the college.
For more information, read Letters of Recommendation.
Mary Lee Hoganson: The Common Application has been developed by a group of colleges and universities that belong to the Common Application group. They accept this application in place of their own without any penalty. You fill it out once (on the computer is the easiest way) and then mail copies of the same application to any school that participates. Some of the participating colleges accept the application online and some have a supplement that must be submitted in addition. The Common Application and all information pertaining to it is available at www.commonapp.org. This is a great time saver—but remember to do a good job and proofread no matter what application format you use.
Nadine K. Maxwell: How well did you do on the SAT the first time you took it? Some students are satisfied with their SAT scores the first time they take it. Students who have taken the PSAT/NMSQT® more than once and feel prepared to take the SAT often only take the SAT twice. Sometimes students will take it three times, but most students will take it in the spring of the junior year and the fall of the senior year.
Nadine K. Maxwell: While SAT scores are an indicator of success in college, admissions staff members look at many different factors when making a decision about whether to admit a student or not. One of the main things they are looking for is to see if your high school academic profile indicates that you have the potential for academic success on their campus. What kind of courses have you taken? Have you taken rigorous courses such as AP® courses? Have you taken AP Exams so that there are scores to indicate how you may perform in a college-level course?
Mary Lee Hoganson: Colleges should tell you whether or not they have a "need-blind" admissions policy. Those that do never consider ability to pay as an admissions criterion. Other schools, which are "need-conscious," may consider ability to pay, but only for a very small proportion of the admitted group. My advice always is: don't worry about this.
For more information, read How Financial Aid Works.
Nadine K. Maxwell: It depends on what you want to send. Most colleges and universities read hundreds or maybe thousands of applications, and they expect to find the information that they need to make an admission decision about you in their specific application form. It is okay to send an additional letter of information to explain something that cannot be explained on the application forms, but other items that students sometimes send are not helpful and may be viewed as trying to distract the admissions staff members from the actual application. Talk to your school counselor about any additional items that you are thinking about sending. Their knowledge and experience will be helpful to you in making this decision.
Mary Lee Hoganson: If a college is your first choice, let the college know that—although the college ethically may not ask for this information. Write a letter to the director of admission expressing your continuing strong interest and updating the admissions office with any new information that reflects well on your ability to contribute to the quality of the freshman class. In addition, you may wish to ask your counselor to make a call on your behalf. Many colleges keep track of these kinds of contacts and students who are enthusiastic and persistent will get looked at first. Colleges want to admit students off the waiting list who they believe will accept the offer of admission.
For more information, read What to Do If You're Wait-Listed.
Mary Lee Hoganson: Absolutely! Many colleges will not make a decision until receiving first semester grades. They expect to see a performance that indicates you are ready for college-level work. The college at which you make your enrollment deposit will ask for a final transcript at the end of the senior year. (Admission letters often contain something like, "Your admission is contingent upon your continued successful performance.") It is not at all rare for a college to withdraw an offer of admission when grades drop significantly over the course of the senior year. (I have a folder full of copies of these letters.)
For more information, read What to Do about Senioritis.
Use this college application checklist and stay on top of your application tasks, paperwork, and deadlines.
|Application Checklist||College 1||College 2||College 3|
|Regular application deadline|
|Early application deadline|
|Safety? Match? Reach?|
|Request high school transcript sent|
|Request midyear grade reports sent|
|SAT Subject Tests™ required|
|Release SAT Subject Test scores|
|Send SAT scores|
|Send AP® grades|
|Letters of Recommendation|
|Send thank-you notes|
|Proof essays for spelling and grammar|
|Have two people read your essays|
|Interview at college|
|Send thank-you notes to interviewers|
|Send and Track Your Application|
|Make copies of all application materials|
|Include application fee|
|Confirm receipt of application materials|
|Send supplemental material, if needed|
|Financial Aid Forms|
|Priority financial aid deadline|
|Regular financial aid deadline|
|Mail PROFILE, if needed|
|Mail institutional aid form, if needed|
|Mail state aid form, if needed|
|After You Send Your Application|
|Receive letter from office of admissions|
|Receive financial aid award letter|
Applications vary from college to college, but most require some or all of the following parts:
In the old days (well, a few years ago), you had one application option—a handwritten or typed form. Today you can often apply online directly to an individual school or use the Common Application, entering your information just once.
The average college application fee is around $35. (Some colleges charge up to $60, while others don't have an application fee at all.) The fee is usually nonrefundable, even if you're not offered admission. Many colleges offer fee waivers for applicants from low-income families. If you need a fee waiver, call the college's admissions office for more information.
This form is filled out by an official of your high school. If it comes with your admissions materials, you should give it to the guidance office to complete as early as possible. Some colleges send this form directly to your school after receiving your application.
At many colleges, you have to submit SAT®, SAT Subject Test™, or ACT test scores. Test scores are a standard way of measuring a student's ability to do college-level work.
Your entire application should create a consistent portrait of who you are. Many private colleges ask you to submit one or more letters of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, or other adult who knows you well. When asking someone to write such a letter, be sure to do so well before the college's deadline.
If you're applying to private colleges, your essay often plays a very important role. Whether you're writing an autobiographical statement or an essay on a specific theme, take the opportunity to express your individuality in a way that sets you apart from other applicants.
This is required or recommended by some colleges. Even if it's not required, it's a good idea to set up an interview because it gives you a chance to make a personal connection with someone who will have a voice in deciding whether or not you'll be offered admission. If you're too far away for an on-campus interview, try to arrange to meet with an alumnus in your community.
If you're applying for a program such as music, art, or design, you may have to document prior work by auditioning on campus or submitting an audiotape, slides, or some other sample of your work to demonstrate your ability.
Your entire application should create a consistent portrait of who you are and what you'll bring to the college. The more the pieces of the puzzle support one impression, the more confident the admissions committee will be in admitting you. If the essay or interview contradicts information you gave on other forms, you may cause them to have doubts about accepting you.
If all the parts of your application are filled out honestly and carefully, with an attention to your conviction that each school is a good match for you, you will come across in the best light possible.
If you find a college that you're sure is right for you, consider applying early. Early decision and early action plans allow you to apply early (usually in November) and get an admissions decision from the college well in advance of the usual spring notification date. You’ll know by December or January whether you've been accepted at your first-choice college.
Sometimes, students who apply under these plans have a better chance of acceptance than they would through the regular admissions process. These plans are also good for colleges, because they get students who really want to go to the school to commit early in the process.
You should be aware of the differences between early decision and early action before sending in your applications. The exact rules may vary somewhat by college. Check with your counselor to make sure you understand your rights and obligations.
Early decision plans are binding. You agree to attend the college if it accepts you and offers an adequate financial aid package. Although you can apply to only one college for early decision, you may apply to other colleges through the regular admissions process. If you're accepted by your first-choice college early, you must withdraw all other applications. Usually, colleges insist on a nonrefundable deposit well before May 1.
Early action plans are similar but are not binding, unlike early decision. If you’ve been accepted, you can choose to commit to the college immediately, or wait until the spring. Under these plans, you may also apply early action to other colleges. Usually, you have until the late spring to let the college know your decision.
Single-choice early action is a new option offered by a few colleges. This plan works the same way as other early action plans, but candidates may not apply early (either early action or early decision) to any other school. You can still apply to other schools and are not required to give your final answer of acceptance until the regular decision deadline.
|Application Type||Binding||Can Apply Early to Other Colleges||Can Apply to Other Colleges Under Regular Admissions|
|Single-Choice Early Action||No||No||Yes|
You should apply under an early decision or early action plan only if you are very sure of the college you want to attend. Do not apply under an early decision or early action plan if you plan to weigh offers and financial aid packages from several colleges later in the spring. Also, you shouldn't apply early if it is advantageous to have more of your senior year work to show a college.
More than 400 colleges offer an early decision plan, an early action plan, or both. Use our College Search to look up each college you're interested in and see if it offers these options. You can also find this information in the College Handbook.
Some colleges have chosen to discontinue their early decision and early action plans because they are potentially unfair to students who rely heavily on financial aid. There is a concern that students who apply early may be limiting their financial aid opportunities and feel forced to make a decision without adequate time to consider all aid awards available.
Before applying to an early decision or early action plan, research all your options to decide which college is the right one for you. You can use College Search to find schools that match your preferences.
You do not have to apply early decision or early action; they are simply options you might want to consider. Talk with your parents about whether it is in your best interests. It’s important that they understand there might be financial implications.
Get advice from your high school counselor and other trusted advisors before applying to a college as an early decision applicant. Your counselor is a trained, objective professional who serves as your advocate in the college search process.
In the fall, it may seem appealing to get the college decision over with, but you may find your goals changing as your senior year progresses. On the other hand, you may be confident of thriving at a certain college. If so, you're the type of student early decision was created for.
If you are even considering the option of early decision or early action, here are the steps you need to take:
Applying to college in the United States can be exciting and challenging. It can also at times be frustrating. The key to a successful experience lies in careful planning and timely completion of the required steps.
For example, many students come to the United States because of the diversity of educational opportunities available. There are more than 600 major fields of study offered at more than 3,800 colleges and universities. What are your reasons?
Answer questions about your needs and preferences, such as:
Create a list of U.S. colleges that meet these needs. College Search can help.
Overseas Educational Advising Centers are located in major cities worldwide and are affiliated with the United States Information Services (USIS) and/or the United States Embassy. There you can find advisors and information to help you understand college searches, the admissions process, and financial aid opportunities. Overseas advisors are experienced and well-informed about American university systems and admissions procedures.
Use the Overseas Educational Advising Centers Search to find the advising center closest to you.
Begin the application process as soon as you've decided which college best meets your needs, and no later than 12 months before your expected start date. Remember to send all required documents and forms as soon as possible. U.S. colleges usually review applications only when everything has been received.
To learn about a college's admissions policy, select "International Students" on a college's profile page in College Search.
The College Board's International Education office provides support for people interested in issues related to accessing U.S. higher education from other countries.
1233 20th St. NW, Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20036
Most college applications request two or three recommendation letters from people who know you in and out of the classroom.
Read the application carefully. Often colleges request letters of recommendation from an academic teacher (sometimes a specific discipline), your school counselor, or both. If a non-specified academic teacher is requested, your English or math teachers usually make good candidates. Also, you should use a teacher from junior year, or a current teacher if they have known you long enough to form an opinion. It is best not to go back too far, as colleges want current perspectives on their potential candidates. All the better if you get a recommendation from a teacher who's also been involved with you outside the classroom, but unless a college specifically requests it, don't use a coach or someone who can't speak to your academic achievements and potential.
Make sure to give your recommendation writers plenty of time—at least one month before letters are due—to complete and send your recommendations, but as with anything, the earlier the better. Many teachers like to have the summer to write recommendations, so if you asked last spring, you're doing great. If you apply under early decision or early action plans, you'll need to ask at the start of the school year, if you didn't request one last spring.
Talk to your recommendation writers. For teachers, it's important that they focus on your academic talents and accomplishments within their classroom, because that's what colleges are looking for in teacher recommendations. Talk to them about what you remember about their class and your participation in it. Highlight a particular incident, paper, or anything else that might help them provide anecdotal information and specific examples of your achievement, rather than just vague praise.
It's also important that you spend time talking with your counselors and ensure they know about your plans, accomplishments, and involvements. You may want to provide them with a brief resume of your activities and goals; a resume can provide the best overview of your high school involvement and contributions. Also, if there is some aspect of your transcript that needs explaining—perhaps low grades during sophomore year—it's helpful to talk with your counselors to explain why and how you've changed and improved.
The college application essay is a chance to explain yourself, to open your personality, charm, talents, vision, and spirit to the admissions committee. It's a chance to show you can think about things and that you can write clearly about your thoughts. Don't let the chance disappear. Stand up straight and believe in yourself!
Okay, boot up your computer and let's get to it. To write a college essay, use the exact same three-step process you'd use to write an essay for class: first prewrite, then draft, and finally, edit. This process will help you identify a focus for your essay, and gather the details you'll need to support it.
To begin, you must first collect and organize potential ideas for your essay's focus. Since all essay questions are attempts to learn about you, begin with yourself.
Now it's time to get down to the actual writing. Write your essay in three basic parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.
An application essay doesn't need to read like an essay about The Bluest Eye or the Congress of Vienna, but thinking in terms of these three traditional parts is a good way to organize your main points.
There are three basic essay styles you should consider:
When you have a good draft, it's time to make final improvements to your draft, find and correct any errors, and get someone else to give you feedback. Remember, you are your best editor. No one can speak for you; your own words and ideas are your best bet.
This article is based on information found in The College Application Essay, by Sarah Myers McGinty, which is available through our online store.
A great application essay will present a vivid, personal, and compelling view of you to the admissions staff. It will round out the rest of your application and help you stand out from the other applicants. The essay is one of the only parts of your application over which you have complete control, so take the time to do a good job on it. Check out these tips before you begin.
Your essay must prove a single point or thesis. The reader must be able to find your main idea and follow it from beginning to end. Try having someone read just your introduction to see what he thinks your essay is about.
Essays that try to be too comprehensive end up sounding watered-down. Remember, it's not about telling the committee what you've done—they can pick that up from your list of activities—instead, it's about showing them who you are.
Develop your main idea with vivid and specific facts, events, quotations, examples, and reasons. There's a big difference between simply stating a point of view and letting an idea unfold in the details:
Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing by using vivid and specific details.
Most admissions officers read plenty of essays about the charms of their university, the evils of terrorism, and the personal commitment involved in being a doctor. Bring something new to the table, not just what you think they want to hear.
Don't include information that is found elsewhere in the application. Your essay will end up sounding like an autobiography, travelogue, or laundry list. Yawn.
Eliminate unnecessary words.
Typos and spelling or grammatical errors can be interpreted as carelessness or just bad writing. Don't rely on your computer's spell check. It can miss spelling errors like the ones below.
This article is based on information found in The College Application Essay, by Sarah Myers McGinty, which is available through our online store.
Influence? Why is it that the people who influence us most influence us in ways that are not easily quantified? Through her work with abused children, my mother has shown me the heroism of selfless dedication to a worthy cause. By being an upstanding individual, my playwriting teacher in middle school acted as an inspiring male role model at a time when I needed one most. By being approachable and interesting, my World History teacher in my freshman year of high school opened my eyes to the connections between a society's culture and its history and broadened my view of cultures and the world. While these influences mean much to me and have contributed greatly to my development, they came too easily to mind.
The fact that I could sit down and write a list of how these people influenced me suggests that the influence did not alter me in any profound way. These people are all my elders, and perhaps I feel distanced from them. The person whose influence shook me to the deepest level is a person whose influence is nearly impossible to describe. Mike, the best friend I’ve ever had, changed me, and I changed him at one of the most crucial times in our lives: the seventh grade. We developed our personalities, our senses of humor, and our love for girls at the same time and in the same manner. It would cheapen his influence to quantify it; I am what I am because of him; I cannot say that about anybody else.
Mike came to my school in the seventh grade, and we immediately clicked. Before he came, I didn’t feel like an outcast by any means, as I had my friends that I had known since first grade. However, until Mike, I never had anyone my age to identify with completely. Mike made me feel confident in who I was; he reaffirmed my drives and my thoughts and my inspirations. At this awkward stage in our lives, we found uncritical appreciation in each other. We both were obsessed by movies and had a similar sense of humor. We had the same problems and the same thoughts. That was all it took.
Halfway through that same year, Mike and I became inseparable. In fact, our yearbook had a section that lists the names of students and what they were never seen without. Under Mike, it read: “Ted, ” and under Ted: “Mike.” I became a staple at his house and he at mine. We no longer had to ask our parents if it was ok to have a sleepover on weekends, they assumed we would. On weekdays, we usually walked over to his house, which was near school, and hung out there till I had to go home. Our favorite past time on those long afternoons after school was to walk to the nearby food mart and get a bag of chips and two 24 oz. Coca-Colas. Watching a movie, we would sit on his couch with our chips and Coke and talk about our dreams of working together in the movies. Mike wanted to be a director and actor, and I wanted to be an actor and a playwright/screenwriter. It was the perfect combination. We even tried writing a few scripts together.
Of course, as two seventh grade boys, it wasn’t all skips through the park either. We were extremely competitive and would get into brutal fights for seemingly no reason at all. One time, I pulled out a chunk of his hair, but I don’t remember what started the fight. I think that our connection was so intense that we could not have normal emotions toward each other. As friends, we were best friends, but in an argument, we wanted to fight each other to the death. Still, the Wrestlemania days were rare; ordinarily, the intensity of that connection was a good thing. I was pretty shy about girls, and when I did talk about them with guys, I would usually just say a girl was "hot." With Mike, I could really talk about girls and who they were; with Mike, I didn’t have to put on my public “cool” façade but could really say what I felt about a girl.
Then we went to separate high schools. We tried to maintain the friendship, and you might think we would have been able to since we had been so close, but we drifted apart. Our friendship was based on being near each constantly, of growing up in the same town, under the same conditions, with the same hopes, fears, and dreams. Now we still go to movies occasionally and hang out, but it's not the same, and we both know it. I thought Mike and I would be friends forever, and maybe we will be. I mean, we have to make those movies together, right? But the way things look right now, I doubt we will ever reconnect. Our friendship in the seventh grade was magical, and lightning doesn’t strike twice.
My playwriting teacher from middle school left, but I handled it. I learned a great deal from him, and I appreciate him for the subject he taught and the way that he taught it. I will probably miss my parents when I leave for college, but I doubt the separation will pain me deeply since the connection between parents and children will always be there. With Mike, I lost the best friend I ever had, and I lost that forever. Losing that kind of bond cuts deep, and I know it's the type of wound that doesn't heal. It’s the type of wound you just live with.
But just because we're not friends anymore, it doesn't slight the times we had when we were friends. Those times are what influenced me so deeply. No, Mike did not work some lesson into my heart, he worked himself into my heart, and even if I never see the guy again he changed me forever. I think that finding someone who you truly connect with and feel that you were destined to meet, someone who you feel truly understands you and makes you feel special, I think meeting someone like that is one of the most profound experiences you can have.
Sample Essay #1
Accepted by Princeton
Hiking to Understanding
Surrounded by thousands of stars, complete silence, and spectacular mountains, I stood atop New Hampshire's Presidential Range awestruck by nature's beauty. Immediately, I realized that I must dedicate my life to understanding the causes of the universe's beauty. In addition, the hike taught me several valuable lessons that will allow me to increase my understanding through scientific research.
Although the first few miles of the hike up Mt. Madison did not offer fantastic views, the vistas became spectacular once I climbed above tree line. Immediately, I sensed that understanding the natural world parallels climbing a mountain. To reach my goal of total comprehension of natural phenomena, I realized that I must begin with knowledge that may be uninteresting by itself. However, this knowledge will form the foundation of an accurate view of the universe. Much like every step while hiking leads the hiker nearer the mountain peak, all knowledge leads the scientist nearer total understanding.
Above tree line, the barrenness and silence of the hike taught me that individuals must have their own direction. All hikers know that they must carry complete maps to reach their destinations; they do not allow others to hold their maps for them. Similarly, surrounded only by mountaintops, sky, and silence, I recognized the need to remain individually focused on my life's goal of understanding the physical universe.
At the summit, the view of the surrounding mountain range is spectacular. The panorama offers a view of hills and smaller mountains. Some people during their lives climb many small hills. However, to have the most accurate view of the world, I must be dedicated to climbing the biggest mountains I can find. Too often people simply hike across a flat valley without ascending because they content themselves with the scenery. The mountain showed me that I cannot content myself with the scenery.
When night fell upon the summit, I stared at the slowly appearing stars until they completely filled the night sky. Despite the windy conditions and below freezing temperatures, I could not tear myself away from the awe-inspiring beauty of the cosmos. Similarly, despite the frustration and difficulties inherent in scientific study, I cannot retreat from my goal of universal understanding.
When observing Saturn's rising, the Milky Way Cloud, and the Perseid meteor shower, I simultaneously felt a great sense of insignificance and purpose. Obviously, earthly concerns are insignificant to the rest of the universe. However, I experienced the overriding need to understand the origins and causes of these phenomena. The hike also strengthened my resolve to climb the mountain of knowledge while still taking time to gaze at the wondrous scenery. Only then can the beauty of the universe and the study of science be purposefully united. Attaining this union is my lifelong goal.
Sample Essay #2
Accepted by Cornell
Question: Tell us about an opinion have you had to defend. How has this affected your belief system?
I chuckle to myself every time I think about this topic. I am perceived as a mild-mannered, intelligent individual until I mention that I am involved in riflery. It is interesting to watch someone's expression change. It is as if I instantaneously grew a pair of horns and a sharp set of claws. Believe me this gets worst; I am a member of the NRA. I try to tell these folks that I belong to the NRA to fire my rifle. "Oh my God! You fire real guns? with real bullets?!?" they remark with a perplexed look on their face. Besides having horns and claws, I now possess a tail and leathery wings.
This is how it began five years ago. I had played on a soccer team for several years. As I grew older I began having difficulty playing soccer because of shortness of breath. I was diagnosed as having mild asthma which ended my soccer career and eliminated my participation in most physical sports.
Shortly afterward, during a Boy Scout summer camp, I participated in riflery at their shooting range. This was the first time I had ever touched a firearm. To my amazement, I won the camp's first place award for marksmanship. I was more than eager when a friend of mine asked me if I would like to join a shooting club.
My parents were wary when I asked to join the rifle club. My mother feared guns, but my father felt there was no problem with trying this sport. Gratefully, he gave me the opportunity to try rifle marksmanship, despite secretly hoping that I would quit. Both of my parents were afraid of what people would think about their son's involvement with guns.
Like my parents a majority of people believe that all firearms are dangerous to our society. All they remember are the hysterical news releases of street violence and injured children. I am often asked how many deer I've shot. Frankly, I could never bring myself to injure another living creature and neither would most of the competitors I have met. Yet, I keep finding myself defending the sport from all of the misconceptions that surround it. Most people have developed a negative impression of the sport and I have found that these prejudices are difficult, if not impossible, to rectify.
Because of this conflict, I have become an open minded individual. I express my opinions without reservation, and I have learned to accept opinions and viewpoints contrary to my own. I do not intend to alter what I enjoy because of the ignorance of friends and acquaintances. If people have a negative view of me simply because of the sport I am active in, then they must be so superficial that they cannot see the person who I really am. I am no longer apprehensive of being perceived as a gun toting, trigger happy fanatic, even though I still endeavor to educate my friends and relatives on the beauty of this sport.
Sample Essay #3
Accepted by Wellesley
It took me eighteen years to realize what an extraordinary influence my mother has been on my life. She's the kind of person who has thoughtful discussions about which artist she would most want to have her portrait painted by (Sargent), the kind of mother who always has time for her four children, and the kind of community leader who has a seat on the board of every major project to assist Washington's impoverished citizens. Growing up with such a strong role model, I developed many of her enthusiasms. I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I also came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love, and spirit.
My mother's enthusiasm for learning is most apparent in travel. I was nine years old when my family visited Greece. Every night for three weeks before the trip, my older brother Peter and I sat with my mother on her bed reading Greek myths and taking notes on the Greek Gods. Despite the fact that we were traveling with fourteen-month-old twins, we managed to be at each ruin when the site opened at sunrise. I vividly remember standing in an empty ampitheatre pretending to be an ancient tragedian, picking out my favorite sculpture in the Acropolis museum, and inserting our family into modified tales of the battle at Troy. Eight years and half a dozen passport stamps later I have come to value what I have learned on these journeys about global history, politics and culture, as well as my family and myself.
While I treasure the various worlds my mother has opened to me abroad, my life has been equally transformed by what she has shown me just two miles from my house. As a ten year old, I often accompanied my mother to (name deleted), a local soup kitchen and children's center. While she attended meetings, I helped with the Summer Program by chasing children around the building and performing magic tricks. Having finally perfected the "floating paintbrush" trick, I began work as a full time volunteer with the five and six year old children last June. It is here that I met Jane Doe, an exceptionally strong girl with a vigor that is contagious. At the end of the summer, I decided to continue my work at (name deleted) as Jane’s tutor. Although the position is often difficult, the personal rewards are beyond articulation. In the seven years since I first walked through the doors of (name deleted), I have learned not only the idea of giving to others, but also of deriving from them a sense of spirit.
Everything that my mother has ever done has been overshadowed by the thought behind it. While the raw experiences I have had at home and abroad have been spectacular, I have learned to truly value them by watching my mother. She has enriched my life with her passion for learning, and changed it with her devotion to humanity. In her endless love of everything and everyone she is touched by, I have seen a hope and life that is truly exceptional. Next year, I will find a new home miles away. However, my mother will always be by my side.
ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE COMMENTS:
The topic of this essay is the writer's mother. However, the writer definitely focuses on herself, which makes this essay so strong. She manages to impress the reader with her travel experience, volunteer and community experience, and commitment to learning without ever sounding boastful or full of herself. The essay is also very well organized.
Sample Essay #4
Accepted by Harvard
Of all the characters that I've "met" through books and movies, two stand out as people that I most want to emulate. They are Attacus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird and Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham from Field of Dreams. They appeal to me because they embody what I strive to be. They are influential people in small towns who have a direct positive effect on those around them. I, too, plan to live in a small town after graduating from college, and that positive effect is something I must give in order to be satisfied with my life.
Both Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham are strong supporting characters in wonderful stories. They symbolize good, honesty, and wisdom. When the story of my town is written I want to symbolize those things. The base has been formed for me to live a productive, helpful life. As an Eagle Scout, I represent those things that Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham represent. In the child/adolescent world I am Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham, but soon I' ll be entering the adult world, a world in which I' m not yet prepared to lead.
I' m quite sure that as teenagers Attacus Finch and Moonlight Graham often wondered what they could do to help others. They probably emulated someone who they had seen live a successful life. They saw someone like my grandfather, 40-year president of our hometown bank, enjoy a lifetime of leading, sharing, and giving. I have seen him spend his Christmas Eves taking gifts of food and joy to indigent families. Often when his bank could not justify a loan to someone in need, my grandfather made the loan from his own pocket. He is a real-life Moonlight Graham, a man who has shown me that characters like Dr. Graham and Mr. Finch do much much more than elicit tears and smiles from readers and movie watchers. Through him and others in my family I feel I have acquired the values and the burning desire to benefit others that will form the foundation for a great life. I also feel that that foundation is not enough. I do not yet have the sophistication, knowledge, and wisdom necessary to succeed as I want to in the adult world. I feel that Harvard, above all others, can guide me toward the life of greatness that will make me the Attacus Finch of my town.
ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE COMMENTS:
This essay is a great example of how to answer this question well. This applicant chose characters who demonstrated specific traits that reflect on his own personality. We believe that he is sincere about his choices because his reasons are personal (being from a small town, and so forth). He managed to tell us a good deal about himself, his values, and his goals while maintaining a strong focus throughout.
Sample Essay #5
Accepted by Stanford
When I look at this picture of myself, I realize how much I've grown and changed, not only physically, but also mentally as a person in the last couple of years. Less than one month after this photograph was taken, I arrived at the [school's name] in [school's location] without any idea of what to expect. I entered my second year of high school as an innocent thirteen year-old who was about a thousand miles from home and was a new member of not the sophomore, but "lower-middle" class. Around me in this picture are the things which were most important in my life at the time: studying different types of cars and planes, following every move made by Tiger Woods, and seeing the latest blockbuster movies like "The Dark Knight" or "Spider Man 3." On my t-shirt is the rest of my life -- golf. Midway through my senior year at the special [school's name] school, the focuses in my life have changed dramatically.
If there is one common occurrence which takes place for every single person in the diverse student body at [school's name], it is that we all grow up much faster for having lived there. I do not know whether this speeding up of the maturing process is generally good or bad, but I definitely have benefited.
The classroom has become a whole different realm for me. Before, the teachers and students alike preached the importance of learning, but it was implicitly obvious that the most important concern was grades. At [school's name] teachers genuinely believe that learning is the most importance objective and deeply encourage us to collaborate with each other and make use of all resources that we may find. In fact, in a certain class this year, my teacher assigned us to prepare every day of the week to discuss a certain book; there were only two require-ments in this preparation -- we had to maximize our sources, gleaning from everything and everyone in the school, but we were not allowed to actually look at the book. As a result, I know more about that book than any other that I have actually read. It is teaching methods such as this which ensure that we will learn more. Indeed, this matter of "thinking" has been one of the most important aspects of my experience. Whether in Physics or English, I'm required to approach every problem and idea independently and creatively rather than just regurgitate the teacher's words. In discussion with fellow students both inside and outside of class, the complex thoughts flowing through everyone's brain is evident.
However, I believe that the most important concepts that I have espoused in being independent of my parents for half of each year, deal with being a cosmopolitan person. The school's faculty and students are conscious about keeping all of the kids' attention from being based on the school. Every single issue of global concern is brought forth by one group or another whether it be a faculty member, publication, ethnic society, or individual student. Along with being aware of issues of importance, after attending [school's name] my personality has evolved. First, my mannerisms have grown: the school stresses giving respect to everyone and everything. Our former headmaster often said, "Character can be measured not by one's interaction with people who are better off than him or herself, but by one's interactions with those who are worse off." The other prime goal of the school's community is to convert every single timid lower-classman into a loud, rambunctious senior. Basically, if you have an opinion about something, it is wrong not to voice that opinion. Of course, being obnoxious is not the idea. The key is to become a master of communication with teachers, fellow students, all of who are a part of the community, and most importantly, those who are outside of the community.
I do not want to make [school's name] sound as if it produces the perfect students, because it doesn't. But the school deserves a lot of credit for its efforts. Often, some part of the mold does remain. As the college experience approaches, I am still the same person, only modified to better maximize my talents. Although I still have some time to play tennis and see movies, perhaps one of the few similarities between this photograph and me now is my smile.
ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE COMMENTS:
This essay is fairly well written. The essayist makes boarding school his focus, using it to explain and describe how and why he has changed over the years. A lot of students write about what wonderful people they have become, but they fail to do a good job of understanding and explaining the forces that prevailed to make them change. This writer focuses on the strengths of the school itself. He demonstrates the sort of values it tries to instill in its students such as, "Encouraging us to collaborate with each other and make use of all resources that we may find," and "Giving respect to everyone and everything." Because the writer does so, the reader never doubts that the applicant possesses all the qualities that he credits to the school. Using this method has two advantages. First, the positive, upbeat attitude he has toward his institution is rare. Second, Stanford, for one, recognized that this would reflect well on his ability to adapt to and be a positive force at their school.