scholarship essay examples

Scholarship essay examples: Scholarship essays are your chance to tell your story and convince the selection committee why you deserve their support. Here are some examples to inspire you, but remember to personalize them to your own experiences and aspirations:

1. Overcoming Obstacles for a Brighter Future:

Imagine an essay focusing on overcoming personal challenges. Detailing your perseverance against poverty, illness, or family struggles can demonstrate resilience and determination. For example, you could discuss how navigating financial hardship fueled your academic motivation or how caring for a sick family member honed your leadership skills.

2. The Spark of Discovery:

Share the moment that ignited your passion for your chosen field. This could be a scientific experiment that captivated you, a historical revelation that sparked your curiosity, or an artistic performance that moved you deeply. Describe the impact this “spark” had on your academic pursuits and future goals.

3. Beyond the Classroom:

Highlight your passion for extracurricular activities that showcase leadership, community service, or creativity. Describe your role in a student club, volunteer project, or artistic endeavor. Explain how these experiences shaped your personality, honed your skills, and solidified your commitment to making a positive impact.

4. From Passion to Impact:

Turn your passion into a compelling vision for the future. Explain how your academic focus intersects with broader societal issues, such as environmental sustainability, social justice, or technological advancement. Discuss your concrete plans to use your knowledge and skills to make a meaningful difference in the world.

5. The Untapped Potential:

Reveal a unique talent or skill that sets you apart. This could be anything from proficiency in a rare language to mastery of a specific technology. Show how this “hidden edge” can contribute to your academic success, collaboration with others, or future research endeavors.


  • Authenticity is key: Write in your own voice and be genuine in your storytelling.
  • Show, don’t tell: Instead of simply stating your qualities, paint vivid pictures with examples and anecdotes.
  • Focus on impact: Demonstrate how your scholarship will fuel your aspirations and contribute to something larger than yourself.
  • Proofread and edit: Ensure your essay is free of grammatical errors and typos.


This research university is renowned for its robust science and medical programs, but school officials make it clear they’re looking for more than academic stars. Each year, they fill their quads and classrooms with not just deep thinkers but doers.

How do you show you’re just what they’re looking for? JHU officials take the time to note that your essays are especially important in revealing to them who you are and “how you actually think.” And they give you two such opportunities: the Common App personal statement (which, hopefully, you’ve already written) and one supplemental essay, explored in detail below.

Before you write your supplemental essay, get a by-the-numbers look at Johns Hopkins’ offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set. For deep insights into how America’s oldest research university envisions its role and how it wants to grow and evolve, check out its strategic plan.

And heads-up: Be careful not to write “John” Hopkins in your essay. Yes, it’s actually “Johns,” with an “s.”


Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social. (350-word limit)


Most schools ask their applicants to expand on why they’re interested in applying to X school in particular. That’s what we call a “Why us?” essay.

But this question is like a “Why us?” essay … with a twist.

That’s because this prompt flips the “Why us?” question format on its head. At first glance, it seems to be asking “why you?” By that, we mean that it’s asking you to elaborate on what makes you a good fit for Johns Hopkins (not what makes Johns Hopkins a good fit for you). It’s asking you to reflect on a community (or multiple communities, or other aspects of your background or experiences) that you’re a part of and then link that to the university.

As you write, try to avoid these common mistakes:

Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus.

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.

Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay

Example Essay:

Decode “jpwoly”.

Two years ago, I began an all-girls Cybersecurity team, competing in the national Girls Go Cyberstart competition. It seems obvious that a group of people with varied backgrounds and experiences could generate better ideas on keeping personal information safe, yet cybersecurity is one of the least diverse STEM fields – in 2017, it was 11% female. Sometimes when the community you want doesn’t exist, it means creating your own.

During the competition, we four girls spent a week completing hundreds of challenges in cryptography, web analysis, Linux, python, steganography, and more. We quickly realized that though we lacked experience in Cybersecurity, our differing interests and abilities in math or coding were our greatest strength. We delegated many challenges, myself taking cryptography and becoming the resident expert on SQL injections. At the end of Day 1, we were ranked 20th in Colorado, determined to work our way up. We spent far too many hours in our computer science classroom, hogging computers and insisting we just wanted to finish one more challenge.

By week’s end, we’d won our state competition and placed ninth nationally. We used the cash prize to form a cybersecurity club, focusing on getting more girls involved. I’m excited that we’re building a community of girls interested in STEM and cybersecurity – this past year, we had 50 girls competing in Girls Go.

The original team of four collaborated not only with each other during the competition, but also by encouraging interaction among our peers to grow the program. This kind of collaboration is something that excites me about Johns Hopkins—collaboration that fosters new ideas and solutions to problems, especially through interdisciplinary collaboration. I’m fascinated by biomedical research, and would love the opportunity to do undergraduate research, specifically on cancer. I’d like to work in the Sidney Kimmel Center in lung cancer research, with Shyam Sundar Biswal, as he is doing fascinating research about susceptibility to environmental lung diseases. I’ve done some work with dysplasia and how it is affected by carcinogens, and would like to learn more in this area. Outside of science, I’m also interested in the Peabody school’s dance program. The focus the program places on how dance and science interact allows me to explore two different aspects of my life and how they work together, as well as interact with two different groups of people. 

By the way, “jpwoly” decodes to “cipher”.


Connect to your values. Through the story of the author’s cybersecurity club, we get a sense that diversity and inclusion in STEM deeply matter to her. Notice that she doesn’t just state the problem; she uses a statistic to give it context and urgency: “in 2017, it was 11% female.” Then she follows up with this gem to show how she feels about taking action: “Sometimes when the community you want doesn’t exist, it means creating your own.” Big(weld) applause.

Maybe get a little geeky. “Cryptography, web analysis, Linux, python, steganography, SQL injections.” These are not terms the average Joanne throws around. They denote some intimate knowledge of coding and programming, allowing this student to demonstrate her command of the subject matter. Note how she uses this language in just a sentence or two. There’s a fine line between showing your expertise and seeming braggy, so do this sparingly, if at all.

Connect collaboration back to JHU. This student uses the latter third of her essay to basically do a mini “Why Johns Hopkins.” Since the prompt asks “how X has shaped what you want to get out of your college experience at Hopkins,” make sure to let them know! And since JHU doesn’t ask explicitly for a “Why us?” essay like many schools do, this strategy may give you the opportunity to show that you and Johns Hopkins are a great fit, and how deeply you “get” this particular school.


NYU only has one supplemental essay—you have the option to choose from a few different quotes (or choose your own), and share what it inspires in you, and why.

If you want to get a clearer sense of what NYU is looking for, you can explore an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information on its Common Data Set. And for insights into how the university envisions itself and its role, and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its strategic plan. Reading through this will give you a strong idea of what NYU values—and may offer nuggets you can sprinkle into your essay.

Prompt 1Prompt 2
We are looking for peacemakers, changemakers, global citizens, boundary breakers, creatives and innovators – Choose one quote from the following and let us know why it inspires you; or share a short quote and person not on our list who inspires you, and include why. (250 words)   “We’re used to people telling us there are no solutions, and then creating our own. So we did what we do best. We reached out to each other, and to our allies, and we mobilized across communities to make change, to benefit and include everyone in society.” Judith Heuman, 2022 NYU Commencement Address “I encourage your discomfort, that you must contribute, that you must make your voice heard. That is the essence of good citizenship.” Sherilynn Ifill, 2015 NYU Commencement Address “If you know how to fly but you never knew how to walk, wouldn’t that be sad?” Lang Lang, 2015 NYU Honorary Degree Recipient “You have the right to want things and to want things to change.” Sanna Marin, Former Prime Minister of Finland, 2023 NYU Commencement Address “It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair.” Taylor Swift, Change, Released 2008, 2022 NYU Commencement Speaker   Share a short quote and person not on this list, and why the quote inspires you.MLK Scholars – Incoming first-year applicants who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to civic engagement and social progress are invited to apply to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars Program at NYU (Optional): In what ways have you enacted change in your community and what has been your motivation for doing so? This can include enacting change globally, locally, or within your family. (200 words) (Note: This question is only available to those who select “yes” to being considered for the MLK Scholars program in the “New York Campus” section of the CommonApp)

NYU replaced its previous “Why Us?” supplemental essay with this one, and comments by Assistant VP of undergrad admissions, Billy Sichel, illuminate the intention and expectations behind this new prompt.

He begins,

“[W]e already know why NYU is a great place to spend your 4 years, so we thought: if you want to tell us more about your passion for NYU, let’s make the question about you.”

So it’s about you, but it’s also still about NYU.

Sichel continues that the quotes chosen are from people who have “shared our vision over the years” and “been honored for their embodiment of the NYU ethos.” So you’ll probably want to speak to that vision and ethos in your essay. NYU gives ample clues to what those are in the prompt itself: “We are looking for peacemakers, changemakers, global citizens, boundary breakers, creatives and innovators.” As you think about what inspires you, consider how you identify with—and embody—these roles.

Think about your experiences of innovating, creating, making social change, or doing the hard things, and reflect on what drives you. Then select a quote that aligns with your inspiration. Is it collaborating within or across communities to develop novel solutions (quote 1)? Using your voice (quote 2)? Laying strong foundations (quote 3)? A driving desire to see change happen (quote 4)? Addressing injustice (quote 5)?

And if one of these doesn’t resonate with you, bring in one that does. If you go that route, take the opportunity to flex intellectually and show something about your interests and values by the speaker and text you choose. Meaning probably steer clear of well-known quotes, such as Gandhi’s “you must be the change.”

Sichel’s guidance continues:

We want to know where you will turn to for inspiration, and what experiences have shaped you and resonate with you. Four years at NYU will propel you into a future you might not even be able to imagine yet, but take a minute (if you want – it really is optional!) to tell us about the ideas that have gotten you to this point, and those that might shape you into the person you’re about to become.

The bolding is ours, and it lays out a pretty clear map of what to cover in your essay. What has inspired you to do what you do (ideas, experiences, people, texts, events…), and where do you plan to let it take you—at NYU and beyond? What have been your most impactful experiences, and what are the unique qualities and perspectives you’ve developed as a result?

By the way, that part about this prompt being optional… Hmm, would you take a pass at the one opportunity NYU is giving you to share your vision, talents, and experiences? Technically you could, but we’d recommend writing something here.

Final tip: If you use one of NYU’s provided quotes, it’s not necessary to waste word count restating the whole quote in your essay. You can simply refer to it by speaker (e.g., “Ifill’s quote”) or speaker and few-word allusion (e.g., “Ifill’s definition of good citizenship).


“Creating an environment that allows students to build lasting friendships, including those that cut across seemingly entrenched societal and political boundaries…requires candor about the inevitable tensions, as well as about the wonderful opportunities, that diversity and inclusiveness create.”

The buzz spread across campus like a California wildfire. My waterpolo teammate, an international student, had been ostracized by the community in an instant. An exaggerated rumor destroyed his reputation at school, cost him his friendships, and led to his suspension. Was this fair? Was it the truth? How could I help?

For the past two years, as a member of SLAC, a student life advisory committee focusing on restorative justice, I have partnered with my school administration to build an inclusive community to prevent conflict, de-escalate disputes, and reintegrate students. To solve my teammate’s conflict, we were tasked with the responsibility of bringing resolution both on the micro and macro levels.

First, we had to solve the issues between the immediate students at harm. I applied my training in active listening and tailored my questions so that the students could communicate more honestly, share their concerns, and help resolve their own conflict. Then, we had to address the grade-wide friction and show our community the harmful effects of spreading rumors. To do so, we hosted interactive ice breaker games, team building activities, and conversations about non-inclusive behavior. Conflict is bound to take place in communities — cliques are natural — but so long as we are willing to be vulnerable and learn how to communicate better, we can be a stronger community and build new relationships.

My experience in SLAC has made me a more empathetic listener and an active participant in creating a positive community — one where the students can feel safe, engaged, and supported. At Amherst, I am excited to participate in the First Year Experience and get involved with the Center for Restorative Practices to help build a strong 2025 class culture where we encourage reflection, mindfulness, and student engagement.


  1. Draw your reader in. This essay starts with campus buzz spreading like California wildfire. Both the descriptive language and the mystery evoked prompt the reader to lean in to find out what the author has to say. Although you can’t go too big with your intro in this 250-word essay, a short hook can help you start off strong.
  2. Consider a problem/solution approach. This student leads with a problem: a rumor destroyed a reputation, cost friendships and ended in suspension, implicating truth and fairness. Then in the essay, they set out how they solved the problem.
  3. Show and name your values. At the start of the second paragraph, we understand that this individual is committed to restorative justice. In this prompt about your inspiration, lean heavy into the values that underlie your efforts.
  4. Delineate your specific role and actions. This student describes their role on the student life advisory committee and how they used active listening and created a community-building event at their school to resolve the conflict. Detail about what you actually did highlights the skills you’ve gained and will bring to NYU. Yes, it’s ok to brag.
  5. Relate back to NYU. In the conclusion, the writer says how they’ll extend their restorative justice work in college, by participating in the First Year experience and getting involved with the Center for Restorative Practices. How will you be a peacemaker, changemaker, global citizen, boundary breaker, creative or innovator at NYU? Don’t talk in generalities. Research the school and hone in on specific opportunities that illuminate your inspiration—academic, research opps, programs, extracurriculars, etc.—and that you plan to engage with at NYU

MLK Scholars Essay Guide

When you hear the words “your community,” what comes to mind? Your school, your local area, cultural or religious connections, your orchestra section, the discord you started… ? The foundation of this prompt is the community(ies) you’re a part of and how you’ve made change within it/them.

So think for a minute about all the different communities you participate in. They can be based on geography (like your city, or country of national origin), identity (religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), circumstances, interests, groups, shared activities, and more.

Choose one where you’ve had measurable impact bringing positive change to that community. Might be the Girls Who Code club you started at your school, a city-wide initiative connecting young social entrepreneurs with sponsoring organizations, a pride festival you organized, or service work with the mosque. Explain why you’ve chosen to engage in this way, answering the prompt’s inquiry about your motivation. Lay out the details of what you did—as well as the impact you had—in order to emphasize your scholarship-worthy talents, skills and accomplishments.

Here’s an essay that was written for a Boston College prompt, but that demonstrates the direction to head here (though it would need fairly big word count cuts).

Example Essay:

In 2020, various racially motivated hate crimes such as the slew of disturbing police killings and spread of Asian hate caused me to reflect on racial injustice in America. While such injustices can take many different forms and be overt or subtle, all are equally capable of creating racial inequality.

A societal issue significantly impacting minorities is educational injustice between private and public schools since students of color account for more than 75% of public-school enrollment. The pandemic exacerbated this problem as some private institutions (like my school), not impeded by a lack of financial resources or bureaucracy, could return to in-person instruction, while many public institutions stayed closed for the majority of the 2020-21 school year, their students’ educational experience less optimal as a result.

The values of service instilled through my Sacred Heart education prompted me to act in response to this injustice and do my part to propagate educational equality across races in the Bay Area. My interest in tutoring began in middle school when I volunteered in my school’s peer tutoring program. In high school, I created a tutoring club, giving my peers the opportunity to help younger elementary students on financial aid with their homework. With the club being sidetracked by COVID-19, I joined 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting under-resourced students in the Bay Area. This experience prompted me to transition my old club to a remote format, adapting to restrictions posed by the pandemic. I worked with my friend to rebrand the club, naming it TutorDigital, registering it as a non-profit, and designing a website, efforts which expanded our reach to include local public schools. Through our efforts, we’ve helped provide tutoring services to 32 underprivileged Bay Area students, while also identifying other opportunities to support public schools, such as donating upwards of 60 iPads and creating a book donation program.

While educational injustice is an issue that unfortunately will not be solved overnight, it’s an issue that must be aggressively addressed, now more than ever given the massive impacts from the pandemic. I look forward to continuing this work at Boston College. But for now, I gain comfort from each thank you note from a parent or good grade achieved by a student, knowing my efforts have potentially improved the academic trajectory of these children and helped to address racial injustice in America.

Tips + Analysis

  1. Use the problem/solution structure. This student starts the essay by naming how racially motivated hate crimes raised their awareness of racial inequity and then identifying the specific context that concerns them, educational injustice. Once they flesh out the problem in the second paragraph, they launch into a description of the steps they took to address it. The structural approach used here can also work well in other essays you may be writing about volunteer or community service.
  2. Be specific about your role and activities. The bulk of this essay—the third paragraph—clearly lays out this student’s actions on the issue: started a tutoring club, joined a nonprofit, rebranded the club, registered it as a non-profit, etc. Using clear, active verbs with this kind of detail helps you highlight your skills and achievements for your admissions reader.
  3. Show your impact. Thank you notes and good grades let this student know how they might have improved their students’ academic trajectory and achieved their goal of addressing racial injustice. And offer tangible evidence when possible: 32 students, 60 iPads, book donations. What has happened because of your efforts? What outcomes can you report? Whom have you affected and how?
  4. Looking ahead… at NYU. This author points out that there’s still much to do and that they plan to continue their work in college. You could go further by suggesting one or two specific things you plan to do on campus on your issue, building on what you’ve already done. For ideas, do a little “Why Us?” research and link back to the MLK, Jr. Scholarship mission: outstanding academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to civic engagement.


If you’re applying to Stanford, you’ve got some work ahead of you. What do we mean?

Well, most colleges will have anywhere from 1-4 supplemental essay prompts you’ll need to answer in addition to the Common App essay.

Stanford is sitting comfortably with eight supplemental essay prompts, with a combined possible 1000 words. On top of that, Stanford has the lowest acceptance rate of any college in the US at 4.3%. (And that’s not including legacy cases and athletes.)

So it’s easy to say that if you’re gonna’ roll up your sleeves and tackle the Stanford supplemental essays, it’s not going to be easy.

Good news: Here’s a guide that covers each of the Stanford University supplemental essay prompts.

Before you begin writing, you may want to get deeper insights into the kind of student Stanford is looking for, and how it views itself. You’ll find an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set. For a better sense of how Stanford envisions its role in academia and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its vision here.

Prompt 1Prompt 2
What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words)
Prompt 3Prompt 4
What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words)Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)
Prompt 5Prompt 6
List five things that are important to you. (50 words)The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (250 words)
Prompt 7Prompt 8
Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — get to know you better. (250 words)Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University. (100-250 words)

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)

Our advice: Get specific. Don’t go super broad with this (i.e. “racism” or “ignorance,” as these are basically impossible to tackle in 50 words). Instead, try for a more specific, nuanced version of something that feels really important to you.

Here’s a nice example essay for this prompt:

I see many of my peers engaged in overly dogmatic discussions. I mourn the loss of discourse based on learned experience and individual perspective and how that seems to be creating social aggression. On a larger scale, I’m worried we are moving toward a homogenous society ruled by tyranny.


One possible approach: Ask a question and then make a statement. Rhetorical questions can be very effective if used sparingly—and if they raise complex, possibly unanswerable questions. In this response, the writer sets the framework for the rest of the response by asking the definitional question about “misuse,” but then pointing out how complex the answer is (because it needs input from multiple fields.

A mini why us. This student mentions a Stanford program IN their response to the Stanford prompt. Why is this a good strategy? It lets the school know this writer has done their homework, that they care enough about getting admitted to dig deeper than what’s on Stanford’s homepage, and that something specific at Stanford is of interest to them, all things that application readers want to learn from prospective students.

Make sure you’re answering the prompt. So, this is one area in which this response could be stronger. The prompt asks about society’s most significant issue, and this writer could definitely be more specific about this. Is it AI itself? Policing AI? Looking to the wrong places for answers? This response would benefit from a clearer, more explicit statement about the significant issue. If you only have 50 words, don’t be afraid to be direct!

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words)

This is pretty straightforward. You can use bullet points and sentence fragments.

Many students choose to pack in as much as they can, which can work. But if you decide to do that, make sure to put in 1-2 things that show you also have a life. Because you do. Right? :)

Here’s an example:

Besides tinkering on Playflow and two Stanford papers, I designed websites raising $500 for Thai children and developed business plans for my COVID-prevention app, Securus. I gave talks twice at Singapore Management University’s Cloud Computing class and organised the YFS@SG competition. I also relished street-food-hopping with my family in Singapore. (50 words)


Use those verbs! When you only have 50 words, each word in your response needs to pack a punch. This writer uses verbs that are descriptive, varied, and engaging (“tinkering” sounds like an awesome way to spend the summer!) Instead of saying “I did this” and then “I did this,” the writer uses their limited wordspace to create some difference in each sentence.

This is not just your resume! Although this student lists some pretty amazing accomplishments, they also make sure to include something that would likely never end up on their resume or activity sheet (eating street food in Singapore) that give us quick windows into interests/personality. Remember to use the different parts of the application to reveal different sides of yourself. Relishing street food? Check. Raising money for children? Check. Being a tech genius? Check and check. It’s all in this response.

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)

Go to your Common App activities list and pick 2-3 possible topics.

Then, go through the Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (AKA BEABIES exercise), either mentally or by filling out the chart. This will help you decide which topic might yield the most content for your essay.  If you’re unsure, maybe do a simple outline for two different topics.

Write a draft! To guide you, each of those columns could provide a sentence or two of your first draft that you can later tweak and add some style to it.

Pro-tip: Be careful about writing about an activity that you’ve already shared a lot about elsewhere on your application. If you’ve already written about your most important extracurricular activity in your main Common App personal statement or any of the other Stanford supplemental essays, write about your 2nd or 3rd most important activity.

This essay is your chance to say “Hey, there’s this other cool thing I’ve spent some time doing that I haven’t told you guys about yet!” 

Here’s a nice example essay for this prompt:

Falafels. Construction Work. Wave-Particle Duality. These describe my train ride for two hours every Saturday to attend the Columbia Science Honors Program. One side of my brain ponders the inception of subway route-optimization while the other side empathizes with the little kid tugging on his mom’s jacket for more candy.


Don’t tell your English teacher, but incomplete sentences can be totally cool here. Because the essays you write for college applications aren’t as formal as the academic writing you’ve likely done in your English classes, you can play a little with things like sentence fragments, punctuation, and “weird” words. This writer begins with phrases rather than complete sentences, and it works well! It creates a cool rhythm to the writing and hooks you in right away.

Imagery, imagery, imagery. When you have such limited word space, using language that is evocative and descriptive is key when trying to make use of each and every word. This student appeals to our sense of smell, to the things we see around us, and to the feelings we get when we occupy a space with other people. And all of this happens in 50 words. Think carefully about your word choice, make sure each one serves a purpose, and use those words to paint a picture for your reader.

Make sure you really understand the prompt… and then answer it! This prompt is a way for readers to learn more about something specific (how you spend your time outside of school), and this writer addresses the prompt in a subtle but really effective way. Although they could have spent a little more time explaining what they actually did in the Science Honors Program, there’s a good chance that comes up in their Activities List and/or Additional Info. Instead, they use this space to illustrate what else they get to experience as a result of the Honors Program. It’s creative but still focused, and application readers love that.

List five things that are important to you. (50 words)

How do you narrow this list down to just five things?! Remember that you’re writing this response for a specific purpose—to help you get into college. So, be a little strategic.

Here are some tips on how:

Use this space to show sides of you that don’t pop up in other parts of your application. If you’ve already written about being the captain of your swim team, for example, you don’t need to repeat that here (even if it’s really important to you). Use this prompt as your chance to show your readers something new.

Consider listing five things that show the range of your personality and interests. You only get 5, and each one can show a different side of yourself, so 3 of these 5 should not all be about your love of hiking (if that’s what you’re into). But ONE of them definitely should!


Finding a manatee mother with her baby on Banana River, open gym volleyball, sunny but cool California weather, when my coding works the way I want, creating funnily-shaped breads with my sister Amy, aroma of cinnamon tea wafting from my cart as I pass out tea to the nurses station (50 words).


Let your values shine through. This prompt is yet another opportunity to share your values and priorities, and this writer does an excellent job of letting us know what those are without just saying, “I value x,y,z.” When we read this response, we see this person as someone who loves nature, who is an athlete and a computer whiz, who values family, and who dedicates themselves to volunteering. Their examples show us these values instead of the writer just telling us, which makes for far more interesting writing!

Think about the order of your list. As you organize your 5 things, you should consider starting with one that is most significant to you. Essay readers can assume that the things you list first (and sometimes last) are most important to you, so be mindful of where you begin and where you end.

Make it personal. Essay readers are bound to read many, many responses to this prompt about climate change or the use of technology, or any number of “big” issues. And these big issues are important! But they aren’t very specific to you. This writer gives us some great personal details in their list of important things, which in turn will help their response stand out amongst the sea of lists the essay readers will encounter. Again, always keep in mind that you’re writing these responses for a specific purpose!

The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (250 words)

Get really specific with what the idea is. (In my experience, a very particular idea tends to work better than an experience.)

If possible, clarify what the idea is in the first 50 words (some students wait too long to clarify and the essay feels vague as a result, as we’re not sure what to focus on).

Consider using this another opportunity to share a part of yourself you have yet to share.

Connect the idea, as abstract as it may be, back to something personal. Many students keep the essay focused outwardly (on ideas) and as a result the essay feels abstract and swimmy. (Yes, that’s a technical term.)

Here’s a nice example essay for this prompt:

What’s more probable: dying from a shark attack, or dying from falling airplane parts? Surprisingly, the answer is falling airplane parts. But why does our intuition point us towards shark attacks?  

The answer lies in the availability heuristic, or the WYSIATI (“what you see is all there is”) rule, which describes how our minds evaluate decisions based on how easily we can think of examples to support both sides. From Jaws to YouTube surfer videos, we have all likely heard of a horrific shark attack, and by WYSIATI, the ease with which we conjure up that memory leads us to assign greater probability.

Learning about WYSIATI evolved the way I communicate my ideas. When I first started debate, I over-focused on comparing statistics at the expense of clearly communicating larger arguments. WYSIATI taught me that a more effective approach involves weaving in memorable images like that of a horrific shark attack.

This past summer, when debating whether labeling environmental activists as “eco-terrorists” is justified, my opponents cited dozens of crimes associated with activists from 1995-2002. With my knowledge of WYSIATI, I looked past the numbers and searched for more memorable, image-based examples and discovered that most of the so-called terrorist acts were actually “pie-ings”: environmental groups throwing pies to protest. So, instead of responding with only numbers, I declared that “the only thing that could make pie-ings terrorist acts is if the activists didn’t know how to make a good key lime pie!”

Much clearer. And perhaps, a little bit funnier.

Nice, right?


Make sure you’re actually excited about the idea or experience you’re writing about. Essay readers read thousands of applications, so they’ve very good at recognizing when a student is writing about something they think will sound impressive, as opposed to something they’re genuinely excited and curious about. This writer’s excitement about the possibilities of AI jumps right off the page, and you want your response to do the same. Don’t worry about what readers think will look good; instead, use this space to geek out about the thing that lights you up and energizes you. If you are authentic and genuine, it will shine through!

Don’t just list your accomplishments. It would be very easy to use this prompt as a place to rattle off your academic achievements, but there are other places on the application reserved for just that purpose. Instead, explain why this idea or experience excites you and what you still hope to learn about it. This student has obviously learned a lot about AI, but the cool thing about this response is that he doesn’t just stop there. He also tells us how he hopes to move forward and continue to explore and discover. His response shows readers that he is still curious, and that’s what colleges are looking for in prospective students (not someone who thinks they’ve already learned it all)!

Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — get to know you better. (250 words)


Hiya roomie! Please forgive the email at this late hour—my energy levels are directly proportional to how late it gets.

I figured I’d introduce myself before we meet at NSO. Here are some cool (I hope) things about me:

First off, true to my mountainous heritage, I’m quite outdoorsy, having spent many weekends trekking around state parks. I can’t wait to explore these uncharted waters—wanna join me on a trip later this week to SLAC?

I should warn you beforehand: I explore at an unusually zippy pace and tend to perk up at minor disturbances. That’s because a bluebird day in my state can change into a roaring thunderstorm within just a few minutes, turning Fourteener hikers into lightning rods, so I’ve learned to always be on the lookout.

Oh, and no matter what I’m doing, there’s always music in the background. You’ll notice that I have profound kinetic responses to melodies, which come in the form of flailing my arms during the climactic moments of symphonies. I guess music really does move me!

What kind of songs do you like? I love to recreate radio music with my violin—feel free to request a song anytime, and I promise I’ll give it my best effort!

Lastly, I must share that there are things I will miss as I leave home. Most of all, I will miss biking with my sister around the neighborhood. So, hopefully you won’t mind my daily family FaceTimes after each day’s festivities!

See you soon! :)

Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University. (100-250 words)

In this essay prompt, Stanford wants to understand how your life experiences have prepared you to contribute to their diverse student community. Let’s break down the key components of the prompt to guide your approach.

Which of your life experiences have had the most impact on your personal development? This essay offers the opportunity to delve into specific experiences that have shaped your perspective on life, education, and more.

How will you contribute? Make sure your answer to this question is clear. How have these experiences positioned you to make an impact at Stanford? What do you bring to the school and community (in ways that maybe others don’t)? While it doesn’t have to be truly unique, it’s great to aim in that direction: the best response will highlight a contribution that only you (or maybe you plus a few other applicants) would think to make.

Here’s how to brainstorm possible essays:

Again, one important aspect with this prompt is its focus on your contribution to the Stanford community.

Another detail to note is Stanford’s encouragement to show where you come from—the people, places, and things that have shaped who you are today. This is your chance to connect your unique upbringing, in a very broad sense of the word, with what has helped make you unstoppable. So take it.

While there are many things outside of “community” that might fit this prompt, if you’re looking for a way to brainstorm ideas, that’s a good place to start. (Especially since “community” and “identity” tend to overlap a lot. But keep in mind that you’ll want to include some “how will you contribute” details in your essay—this isn’t just a “tell us about a community” prompt.)


Create a “communities/identities” chart by listing all the communities you’re a part of. Keep in mind that communities can be defined by…

Place: groups of people who live/work/play near one another

Action: groups of people who create change in the world by building, doing, or solving something together (Examples: Black Lives Matter, Girls Who Code, March for Our Lives)

Interest: groups of people coming together based on shared interest, experience, or expertise

Circumstance: groups of people brought together either by chance or external events/situations


Available in Additional Resources


You’ll want to offer a few specific ways that show how the experience/s you’re discussing in your essay will allow you to contribute to the school. The easiest way to do this is to do some “Why Us”-like research and find ways you’ll engage with and contribute to the college community.



Because this prompt is new for Stanford this year, we don’t have an example written for it, but many other schools have used this type of prompt before. So here’s a nice example written for Fordham’s version (with a shorter word count—you have space for 100 more words for Stanford), followed by tips and analysis, then more example essays.


A large aspect of my identity is my low-income family of eight. As one of the eldest siblings, I was expected to financially contribute as soon as I could work. The majority of my summers were spent shelving products, filing papers, and answering customers’ questions. I quickly discovered the difficulty in earning a paycheck and appreciated my parents more. My family has been my rock—ever since we faced homelessness. Homelessness allowed me to understand my family’s financial situation, but most importantly, it resulted in bonding emotionally. At that moment, family was the one thing I knew I could call home.

Over time, the comforting feeling of my family began to disappear. As my parents are devoted missionaries and pastors, I regularly hear their conservative perspectives of Christianity. Throughout my life, I’ve shared similar personal values with my family, denying my bisexuality up until last year. This identity realization impacted me emotionally and physically. I was afraid to come out to anyone, worried that my faith would be questioned and I’d be treated differently. I felt powerless and miserable; mental struggles sometimes limited my motivation. One day, I sought professional help and found solace with my school counselor. After spending endless nights contemplating coming out, I told my close friends. I found acceptance from some and learned who were my real friends, the support system that I’m grateful for. My true identity hasn’t changed. Rather, coming out allowed me to be more open-minded, inclusive, and taught me to value conversations where I can bring a fresh perspective.

Above all, I’ve learned that my experiences shape me into the multifaceted person I am today. They propel me to openly contribute to my Entry, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and most importantly, the everyday interactions with my Williams peers and faculty members.


Make it like a Reese’s. You know—the two great tastes (or essays) that go great together. In this essay’s case, it’s a Community Essay with some Why Fordham. Make sure you do your research on specific classes, clubs, and opportunities that offer the chance for you to make a difference in the college’s community. This student addresses the “how will you contribute” aspect in several specific ways—showing how she’ll use coursework, extracurriculars, and her future career to fulfill her dream of being an advocate.

Demonstrate impact. Many students might worry that they had an impact on only one person, or that the impact on their community wasn’t important enough. To that, we say: Give yourself more credit. If you can say you made an impact—big or small, one person or one nation—then you made an impact. Embrace it. And, by all means, write about it. This student begins to explore what she’ll do with her education—engage with social justice issues and be the first hijabi U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations—but we would’ve loved to have seen her also state the impact she’ll make on her issues of interest and in her communities.


Because Northwestern is a highly selective university, your writing will be an important part of your application, separating you from the other students with similarly high GPAs and SAT scores (a heads up that most applicants to schools like this are academically admissible). Take a little extra time to communicate why you’ve chosen Northwestern over other schools, what you plan to get out of your four years there, and (especially) how you’ll add to and engage with the campus community and Northwestern’s values.

Not sure how? We’ve got you. Read on for a step-by-step guide, tips, and examples.

For a clearer sense of what Northwestern is looking for in its students, you can get an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set. And for insights into how the university envisions itself and its role, and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its strategic plan.

Prompt 1:

We want to be sure we’re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences: What aspects of your background, your identity, or your school, community, and/or household settings have most shaped how you see yourself engaging in Northwestern’s community, be it academically, extracurricularly, culturally, politically, socially, or otherwise? (300 words max)

Prompt 2:

NOTE: Northwestern is no longer requiring the CommonApp essay as part of the application. They write, “The supplemental questions below touch on areas we see as important for building Northwestern’s Class of 2028, but you should feel free to repurpose essays you’ve written for other applications (including the Common Application personal essay, which we no longer require) if they tell the story you’d most like to share.”

The following questions are optional, but we encourage you to answer at least one and no more than two. Please respond in fewer than 200 words per question:

  • Painting “The Rock” is a tradition at Northwestern that invites all forms of expression—students promote campus events or extracurricular groups, support social or activist causes, show their Wildcat spirit (what we call “Purple Pride”), celebrate their culture, and more. What would you paint on The Rock, and why?
  • Northwestern fosters a distinctively interdisciplinary culture. We believe discovery and innovation thrive at the intersection of diverse ideas, perspectives, and academic interests. Within this setting, if you could dream up an undergraduate class, research project, or creative effort (a start-up, a design prototype, a performance, etc.), what would it be? Who might be some ideal classmates or collaborators?
  • Community and belonging matter at Northwestern. Tell us about one or more communities, networks, or student groups you see yourself connecting with on campus.

  • Northwestern’s location is special: on the shore of Lake Michigan, steps from downtown Evanston, just a few miles from Chicago. What aspects of our location are most compelling to you, and why?
  • Northwestern is a place where people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world can study, live, and talk with one another. This range of experiences and viewpoints immeasurably enriches learning. How might your individual background contribute to this diversity of perspectives in Northwestern’s classrooms and around our campus?

Prompt 1: Essay and Analysis:

Some schools want to know how, based on your experiences, you’d contribute to their campuses. The key here is to a) share some experiences you’ve already been a part of and what you’ve learned from them, then b) connect these experiences to particular opportunities available on their campus.

Help the admission officer reading your application visualize you at their school.

Essentially, a way to think of this kind of prompt is that it’s a combo of “community/identity/background” and “why us” prompts: use some of your response to show how you’ve become who you are, and then show how those experiences shape what you will bring to the college through linking to specific opportunities/groups/details. Connect your unique upbringing, in a very broad sense of the word, with what the school offers and how you will make a great team.

For a fuller “How will you contribute” guide + examples with analysis, check out that link, but here’s the short version.

Essentially, a way to think of this kind of prompt is that it’s a combo of “community/identity/background” and “why us” prompts: use some of your response to show how you’ve become who you are, and then show how those experiences shape what you will bring to the college through linking to specific opportunities/groups/details. Connect your unique upbringing, in a very broad sense of the word, with what the school offers and how you will make a great team.


Do the “If You Really, Really Knew Me” Exercise. Yup, the same one mentioned above.


Make a copy of the “Why us” Essay Chart 2.0, research the school you’re writing your essay for, and fill in the first two columns. (This is the same chart mentioned above.)

Once you’ve done these exercises, you’ll have a better sense of:

  • YOU: A bunch of different talents/skills/identities/qualities that you’ll bring to a college campus, and
  • THEM: A variety of programs/courses/clubs/affinity groups that your college offers.


Make connections between what the school offers and what you’re interested in.

Essay Sample : Prompt 1

I embody both a young Muslim woman passionate about civil liberty and a global citizen whose identity transcends her nationality. After witnessing migrant workers in the Middle East left at sunrise in desert mountains with only a broom and a single meal to last the day, I found my calling as an advocate.

At Fordham, I want to pursue these human rights questions in courses like Professor Durkin’s Development and Globalization, where I can delve into discussions about reproductive rights, genocide prevention, and prison reform. By joining the Humanitarian Student Union, I can work alongside my peers to directly engage with social justice issues. And as an Indian classical dance enthusiast, I look forward to joining Fordham Falak.

And some day, in addition to being a world voyager, I will become the first hijabi United

States Ambassador to the United Nations, a journey I embarked on at Fordham. (148 words)


  • Show them how you can be a teacher and a student. The prompt wants you to think about how you’ve become who you are and how who you are will contribute to the world views of other students. This writer positions herself as an advocate (leader) and also lets her readers know the specific environments in which she hopes to learn more (learner). She is clear, specific, and detailed.
  • Let them know you work well with others. Remember all the times you heard you needed to learn how to work as part of a group? Well, here’s your chance to make those lessons count. Northwestern asks specifically about engaging with others, so don’t ignore this part of the prompt. In essence, readers want to learn the ways in which you’ll contribute to their school community, and this student addresses this question head-on (“I can work alongside my peers to directly engage with social justice issues”). This concise but impactful statement lets the college know she plans to use the strength that comes from collaboration to further her advocacy work. Who wouldn’t appreciate that in a prospective student?
  • Demonstrate impact. Many students might worry that they had an impact on only one person, or that the impact on their community wasn’t important enough. To that, we say: Give yourself more credit. If you can say you made an impact—big or small, one person or one nation—then you made an impact. Embrace it. And, by all means, write about it. This student begins to explore what she’ll do with her education—engage with social justice issues and be the first hijabi U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations—but we would’ve loved to have seen her also state the impact she’ll make on her issues of interest and in her communities.

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