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UC Essay Example: Personal Insight Question #2

UC Essay Example: Personal Insight Question #2

Hey there! Have you tried Googling, “UC Essay Examples”? Well, if you had, you’ve probably found that there’s little to no UC essay examples online. That’s because the new UC Personal Insight Questions came out just last year, so there aren’t any UC essay examples posted.

I know that reading essay examples is incredibly helpful so I’ll post a ton of solid UC essay examples for you. This one in particular is from a student who got into the prestigious, UC Berkeley College of Engineering’s EECS program! Enjoy!

If you need UC essay writing tips, check out this 2017 definitive guide for the new UC essays!

UC Essay Example – Creative Math Essay

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (350 words)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken math classes above my grade level. I whizzed through classes, memorizing everything from constants to concepts, seamlessly applying them to problems. In retrospect, I focused more on solving problems than questioning the “whys” behind what I learnt—“why does matrix multiplication exist?” I sped through courses in search of cheap validation—better grades and advanced classes—and failed to realize there was a higher level of mathematical maturity to aspire to… until dr. _____ tore me down at [math program].

In a room full of aspiring mathematicians, _______ was imploring the class to prove Fourier Transforms. Hesitantly, I volunteered as tribute. Halfway through the third step, _______ interrupted me. “No! Think a little deeper… Maybe you could solve this if you knew what a trigonometric function was!” I recited the definitions I had so devoutly memorized, but_______ coolly ripped them apart.

So I opened my mind to her suggestions and began to refine my definition until it was bulletproof. I was finally able to grasp Fourier Transforms—they essentially broke a function into frequencies, then into arcs.

_______’s prodding pushed my mind back to all those years when I sped through math, relying on intuition instead of taking a step back to truly comprehend the theory. I revisited all those concepts I took for granted, building a new, rigorous understanding of math. I started solving problems in creative ways—for example, proving graph theory lemmas using concepts from linear algebra. I discovered that even seemingly insignificant concepts had much greater meaning—who would have guessed that matrix multiplication represented function composition?

I began to approach math as a fundamentally creative endeavor. I discovered that every proof, every research question, every conjecture is a problem to be solved, a vessel to express innovative thinking. The “whys” have helped me develop a new value system based on curiosity, open-mindedness, and love for learning. My quest for deeper understanding inspires me to try everything, from cofounding a startup to learning new algorithms. The “whys” have helped me cherish the nuances of not only mathematics but also the world around me.

Analysis of UC Essay Example Strengths:

1.Easy-to-read, playful voice

In this UC essay example, the student does a really great job making his story easy-to-digest with a playful voice. This is noteworthy because 99% of the time, I see a lot of overly formal language in college application essays which gives off a stuffy, boring feel. Keep in mind that voice is actually pretty important with these essays — admissions officers are human beings that actually want to enjoy the UC essays you’ve submitted. Voice allows you to keep that admissions officer’s interest and make you more relatable and likeable!

2. Showcases student’s intellectual growth through a story

This UC essay example is fantastic for many reasons, one of which is that it showcases a student’s intellectual growth using an anecdote. Apparently, this student had a lightbulb moment during one of his many extracurricular activities that changed his thought process about his favorite subject, math. Upon reading this UC essay example, you can tell easily that this student is extremely intellectually curious and loves to learn — both attributes that admissions officers love to hear and read about 🙂

UC Personal Insight Questions: The Ultimate Guide

UC Personal Insight Questions: The Ultimate Guide

This 2016-17 UC application year, you must write 4 short essays totaling 1400 words (350 word limit each). To give you some context, in previous years, students had to write 2 essays totaling 1000 words… So, you’ll have to come up with 2 more extra topics this year AND write more.

I hate to break it to you, but I believe these shorter essays are harder than the old ones. But, don’t worry — I got you. Let’s break down how exactly we should answer the new UC Personal Insight Questions.

How to Answer The UC Personal Insight Question #1

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Before we dig into each step, here’s a UC Essay Example for this Personal Insight Question. This student got into UC Berkeley’s prestigious EECS programming in the Engineering school… but he’ll be attending Stanford instead 🙂

First off, keep this in mind: Whatever UC prompt you pick, the essay responses (for the most part) will still need to have an underlying story. This is a must. Moreover, you only need ONE REALLY AWESOME ANECDOTE instead of 2-3 MEDIOCRE mini anecdotes. Quality of quantity, right?

So, let’s get down to answering this essay prompt:

Step #1: Brainstorm one anecdote in the scope of leadership

When you’re brainstorming about activities involving leadership, think outside the box . The notion of “leadership” doesn’t mean that you have to be the captain of the volleyball team or have a leadership title… you can be a leader and demonstrate leadership abilities in so many other ways.

Actually, here’s something interesting: Currently, I’m working with students who have drafted up their UC essays to this first prompt, and I’ve noticed that their interpretation of “leadership” is very generic. In other words, many students are already writing about being a club president, first chair flute, etc. This means that other students across the world (like YOU) who are applying to the UC system may also have the same generic interpretation of “leadership.”

So, be careful… you don’t want your essay to sound like everyone else’s.

Step #2: Pinpoint the conflict in the anecdote

Like we already talked about, this short essay should have an underlying foundation of a story. Because stories have a conflict and resolution, we similarly need these two components in your essay. A conflict in this case can be a mistake, a challenge, an obstacle… it’s literally any roadblock that got in your way that you had to resolve. So, make sure that you include this conflict in your essay

Step #3: Include a resolution from your anecdote

Anyone can, (in theory) tell a decent anecdote. The storytelling part of writing is not going to be the most challenging part for you.

Your biggest challenge for these UC essays is to explain succinctly what you learned from this story. Your analysis of this particular experience must therefore be insightful. I mean, these essay questions are called personal insight questions, right?

This ability to be insightful and introspective is one of the key components these questions are measuring. Actually, the ability to be self aware and insightful is one of the many factors for “success in college” as noted by Warren Willingham.

How to Answer The UC Personal Insight Question #2

Before we dive into this question, I have good news! Here’s a UC essay example for this essay prompt from a student of mine 🙂 . 

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

I actually really like this prompt (and encourage you to consider selecting it) because the notion of creativity can be applied to every industry and discipline.

This leads me to a tip:
If anything, I would err on the side of staying away from the “arts” when answering this prompt. I say this only because you don’t want your interpretation of this essay prompt to be perceived as overly narrow.

Here’s how you can go about answering this:

Step #1: Brainstorm an activity or anecdote that showcases intellectual vitality.

Here are some questions for you to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Are you the type of person who is constantly thinking and loves new ideas and challenges? Are you sort of like an Elon Musk in that way? If so, what is an event or activity that has constantly pushed you to solve problems in innovative ways?
  • Are you innately curious and show your curiosity with action? Besides going down the rabbit hole of Googling everything, is there a subject that you’ve always been drawn to that you want to know everything about? If so, write about it!
  • Are you good at challenging ideas in a thoughtful way and seeing a problem or issue through multiple lenses? If yes, what’s an event or activity that showcases this?

Step #2: Analyze what this creative side means to you

Remember, you need to take each essay one step further — Don’t just express your creative side; tell the admissions officers why this is valuable and how you’ll take the learnings you’ve gleaned from your creative side and apply them to the rest of your life!

How to Answer The UC Personal Insight Question #3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

I encourage a lot of my students to consider selecting this essay prompt because it has a lot of potential.

Remember, you can have a relatively loose interpretation of many of the UC prompts. In other words, you don’t have to be recognized as a “superstar” in basketball or robotics to answer this question effectively.

This leads me to a tip:
Refrain from writing about activities that many other students might also be good at. For instance, you might take great pride in playing violin or coding; however, a lot of students can share this commonality and could actually be better than you are. So, it’s usually better to brainstorm attributes about who you are that is unique and creative that makes you difficult to “compare” with other students.

Here’s how we can break down this prompt:

Step #1: Brainstorm your unique talent or skill

So far, I have students that have creatively interpreted this essay prompt in many ways; for instance, I have a student who is writing about emotional intelligence as a skill she takes great pride in. I have another student who is writing about his love of drawing tattoos (he doesn’t have a tattoo but can talk for hours about the historical significance of tattoos).

Once you’ve nailed down your talent or skill, strive to find an anecdote that captures you in your element.

Step #2: Analyze

This is that part where most students will struggle. So, spend extra time analyzing why this skill or talent is significant in your life. What has this ability taught you? How has this talent/skill opened doors for you? Why does it matter to you?

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Question #4

Before you begin reading this UC Essay Guide, check out this awesome UC Essay Example for this prompt.

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

This essay prompt is interesting because it allows you to write about either an opportunity or a barrier — these are almost complete opposites.

So far, I have a few students that have picked this essay prompt and have written about taking advantage of educational opportunities; more specifically, they write about taking advantage of all the AP courses their school offers. I tend to cringe when I read these drafts. Let’s be real… many other students applying to your dream school are go-getters and have taken advantage of educational opportunities by taking challenging AP courses. That’s neither interesting nor special.

This is why I advise this: If you choose this prompt, try brainstorming an anecdote about overcoming educational barriers.

Here’s the basic outline to tackle this prompt:

Step #1: Brainstorm an anecdote showcasing the educational barrier.

Overcoming barriers is almost always a stronger anecdote than taking advantage of opportunities. Actually, the ability to overcome obstacles is an attribute that is highly correlated with success in college; thus, admissions officers are on the lookout for this personal quality in your overall application.

Step #2: Explain how you overcame your barrier.

What do you do when the going gets tough? How do you overcome obstacles?

Grit and resiliency are key personal qualities that admisions officers love to see. Thus, you want to explain clearly how you solved the problem that you were facing in your response so that you can showcase these key qualities.

Step #3: Analyze!

Yup, as always, you have to explain the significance of this experience. More specifically, describe what you learned from this experience and how you’ll apply these learnings to your future.

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Question #5

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

For the most part, if this essay prompt doesn’t jump out at you from the get-go, then perhaps this isn’t the best prompt for you to answer. I say this becomes this is a slightly tricky prompt.

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we start: A “significant challenge” is NOT getting an F on a chemistry test, working hard, then ultimately receiving an A in the class as a final grade. In other words, an academic challenge isn’t a “significant challenge” in this instance.

So then, what are significant challenges you can write about here? Well, they can be obvious issues like family, socioeconomic, personal, and health challenges.

If you do have a personal challenege that you feel comfortable writing about in one of these UC essays, then here’s the place. The trick is this: Your story cannot be a sob story. Let’s break down how you can go about answering this prompt:

Step #1: Describe the significant challenge.

You can describe the issue in one of two ways: A bird’s eye overview of the issue or a specific example/anecdote when the issue was at its peak.

Step #2: How did this challenge affect you?

This is where you can explain how this challenge impacted you academically.

Step #3: What did you learn from this challenge?

The most important note to remember about this essay prompt is this: You must end your essay on a forward-looking note! If you don’t end on a positive note, your writing will be crossing into the dangerous territory of a sob story, which is never how you want to end your college essays. Sum up your essay by showcasing how you’ll take the learnings form this experience and apply them to your future.

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Question #6

Psst! Check out this awesome UC Essay Example for this prompt!

Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.

If the Stanford Intellectual Vitality Essay and the USC Major Choice Essay (or any other major-specific essay) had a baby, it would be this prompt. In other words, this is prompt where you can reuse a short response essay you’ve written for another university.

So far, A lot of students I work with have been picking this prompt; therefore, keep in mind that this is going to be a relatively common essay that the UC admissions staff will see. Moreover, be strategic about the academic subject you pick to write about. For instnace, if you want to write about biology as your favorite academic subject, but you’ve never taken AP Biology and it’s offered at your school, then it doesn’t look like you love biology all that much (you’re not willing to challenge yourself). In the same vein, if you pick biology as your favorite subject but you didn’t do well in the class, then it doesn’t look like biology is actually your favorite subject… so I wouldn’t write about that.

The bottom line is this: If you’re picking a school-related subject, then pick a subject that you’ve done well in.

Also, keep in mind that you’re not limited to writing about JUST subjects offered at your high school. If you truly enjoyed a class you’ve taken through summer school, community college or online courses, then these are great topics to write about as well!

Either way, whatever subject you pick, you need to create an essay with a unique spin on it. To do this, geek out about your favorite subject. So, let’s break it down on how you can answer this prompt:

Step #1: Introduce and show your passion for your favorite subject

Don’t say that your favorite subject is biology and leave it at that; you must geek out about a specific biological concept that you find intriguing. Geeking out will show your passion for learning and your intellectual curiosity.

Step #2: Explain why you find this subject interesting

Admissions officers want to understand what motivates you as a student. They want to understand WHY you find this subject interesting — do you like physics because your father is a mechanical engineer and you can have intellectual conversations with him now that you understand the concepts? Do you like economics because you can now understand how the market works and that’s why you’re dabbling in stock trading?

Step #3: Describe how the subject led you to take action to learn more

The other piece of the puzzle is to explain how this academic subject has influenced you. The best way to do this is to show how you’ve taken action on this academic passion of yours.

I’ll give you an example: I have a student who is writing about her passion in feminist theory, which is a class she took for fun at a local community college. In her essay, she geeks out about feminist theory and her views on feminism in the scope of the current presidential election. This class opened her eyes and taught her to be more self-aware of unconscious gender biases in her everyday life.

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Question #7

Psst! Check out this awesome UC Essay Example for this prompt!

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

This essay is relatively straightforward, so don’t fall into a very common trap of picking a volunteer activity and writing about how you love helping others. Please, please, please… do not write, “I love helping people” or any variation of this phrase in this essay (or any other college essay, for that matter). Why? Well, I can ask almost anyone off the street why they donate to charity or like to volunteer, and every person will say that they love helping others. So, “helping others” is not a unique trait that you have. What IS unique is your motivation behind why you like to help others. To delve deeper into the motivation behind anything, keep asking yourself “why.”

Anyways, I digress. If you’ve had a truly meaningful experience that has influenced your environment or the people around it, then this is the place to write it! But, you have to be strategic about the experience so it doesn’t cross into cliches. Here’s how to break it down:

Step #1: Brainstorm an anecdote showing how you’ve contributed to your community

For this essay (especially), you must have a specific anecdote so that you can explain its significance to you. Showing the reader how the event unfolded instead of telling is always more powerful.

Step #2: Explain why you were inspired to act

Your internal motivation to partake in the activity is a key data point that colleges want to understand. What motivates you? What moves you?

Step #3: Analyze what this experience has taught you.

You must always strive to complete this sentence in the most meaningful way possible: “This event taught me that…”

Once you’ve distilled the insightful learnings from this experience, the next step is to apply these learnings towards the future. Ask yourself this: How can you apply these learnings to your future moving forward?

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Question #8

Check out this awesome UC Essay Example for prompt #8!

What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

At the heart of it, this question is asking you: What makes you, YOU? I really like this essay prompt — so much so that I sincerely recommend that you consider picking this essay prompt because it has a lot of potential to showcase who you are to the admissions staff.

Actually, because this prompt is so open-ended, you can reuse the anecdote and analysis from your Common App essay here. More specifically, this is how I’d break down this essay:

Step #1: Brainstorm an anecdote that resonates with you

I know, this is pretty open-ended of me to say, but use this guide about how to brainstorm college essay anecdotes to get find that perfect story. Trust me — this essay, no matter how short, will be strongest with an anecdote to carry your main message.

Step #2: Describe the problem or obstacle in the story

All stories have some sort of conflict, right? Describe it here. The conflict is the tipping point that helped you realize and learn something from this experience. Additionally, admissions officers love to see examples of resilience, creativity, and grit in handling a problem, so this is a great opportunity to showcase these attributes.

Step #3: Analyze!

Yup, you guessed it! You need to tell the readers what you learned from the experience. In other words, explain why this instance mattered to you. You’ve been living on this earth for 17-ish years — of all the stories you can possibly tell me, why are you telling me this one? Spend some time reflecting about this.

3 Must-haves for a Perfect College Essay Anecdote

3 Must-haves for a Perfect College Essay Anecdote

When writing the college application essay, the biggest struggle for students is… How do you find the perfect anecdote for your Common App and college application essays?

Here’s the thing: Nowadays, as the college admissions process gets more competitive, the anecdote you pick is absolutely essential. It’s the only platform (apart from interviews) in the entire application process where you can speak directly to the admissions officer of your dream schoo.

The essay is the only opportunity where you can showcase your passions and unique voice that set you apart from the rest of the applicant pool.

So, you must take advantage of it!

Well, what makes a good anecdote? Actually, how do you even brainstorm a good anecdote? I’ll show you how.

3 Must-haves for the Perfect College Essay Anecdote

Your college essay must:

  • Showcase growth
  • Have a message & showcase your personality
  • Be laser-focused and specific

1. Your College Essay Anecdote Must Showcase Growth

College admissions officers want to understand how you’ve grown over the years and throughout your high school career. I mean, college can be tough — the lessons you’ve learned from various life experiences will help determine how well you’ll adjust and succeed to college culture and college academics. So, your anecdote must paint a picture of an experience that has TAUGHT you something.

Don’t be VAGUE about the learnings from an experience.

For instance, don’t say that a takeaway from a story is that… you’re hardworking and you’ve learned to overcome obstacles from an experience. I hear these general analyses all the time!

These examples are vague and oftentimes just plan silly. Most students applying to your dream schools are hardworking, resilient people. So, saying that you’re hardworking doesn’t distinguish you from the crowd.

The trick is to go one step deeper: Yes, you’re hardworking, but what specific experience(s) have led you to be resilient and hardworking? These experiences that taught you the value of (insert trait here) will make you stand out.

What pivotal moment in your life has made you realize that (insert trait here) is crucial? Think of the answers to this question and sit with it. You know if your answer is trite and generic. Force yourself to keep delving deeply and be insightful!

2. Your College Application Essay Needs to Showcase Your Personality

If you have a working draft of your essay, read it out loud.

Once you’re done, ask yourself this: Based on this essay anecdote, in three words, how would you describe the personality of this writer?

Then, ask yourself these two questions: Are these three personality traits unique to YOU? Are these traits that you’d consider to be your core values?

Make sure your answer is “Yes!” to the above two questions. Your essay must very clearly showcase your personality.

Once you’ve solidified the personality part of your essay, ask yourself the final (and possibly the most important) question of all: What is the message you want to convey in your essay anecdote? How do you want to be remembered? Is this clearly evident in the conclusion and analysis part of your essay?

The message and personality aspects of the essay are actually quite intertwined… as Maya Angelou said:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
–Maya Angelou

3. Your College Essay Anecdote Must Be Laser-focused

There are two main ways you can structure your essay: bird’s eye view vs. laser-focused view.

I highly suggest that you choose the laser-focused essay anecdote route.

Let’s use an example to talk about these two camps in greater detail. Let’s say that the main message of your essay is this: I want the admissions folks at XYZ University to know that I’m passionate about camping and this sparked my interest in environmental science.â””

In the bird’s eye view route, you could use a few small anecdotes about camping that led you to be interested in environmental science and the outdoors. The problem is, in a limited, 650 word essay, you don’t have much of an opportunity to tell a juicy story using a few small anecdotes. The bird’s eye view writing style is actually almost like an AP English paper; you have a thesis (your message) and you’re trying to find 3 facts to support your thesis. This is boring and doesn’t give you an opportunity to showcase you and your personality.

On the other hand, a laser-focused and specific essay anecdote allows you to paint a picture of the story and showcase your voice and personality. In this route, you’d use one event — that pivotal moment — that led you to realize your love of camping and convinced you that environmental science was a true passion. This one moment is the climax of your essay anecdote… this is key.


So, now that you know what makes a good anecdote for a college essay, let’s talk about brainstorming methods for the perfect college essay anecdote to get your creative juices flowing.

MIT Common Application College Essay Example

MIT Common Application College Essay Example

Here’s a college application essay example by Cristen*, who was accepted to MIT! Our analysis of strengths and weaknesses are below.

*Cristen is not a student of Winning Ivy Prep

MIT Common App Essay Example

“My parents don’t have tax forms,” I said pointedly. “They don’t fill them out.”

“Of course they file tax forms,” she shot back. “Everyone does.” After a few more minutes of fruitless discussion, I left the College Office, unsuccessful. I would pay for SAT II exams, again.

Even with fee waivers, applying to college is pricey. Sending test scores to more than 4 colleges cost money, AP exams fees are reduced but not obliterated, and I’d love to meet the genius who thought of charging a fee for applying for financial aid. When approaching Ms. Cleary for help with the CCS Profile – I didn’t know where to indicate welfare and food stamp income – she asked me which school I chose to apply to.

“M.I.T.,” I replied.

“Oh, M.I.T.?” she mused. “How ironic, that you’re applying to M.I.T. and yet you can’t fill out a form…” I don’t consider my school’s administration supportive or welcoming.

My family felt strained enough paying $57 for senior dues when I attended middle school. Being a senior at Stuy is much, much worse. So far, this year’s classes have demanded about $270 total in textbooks, workbooks, art supplies, and other expenses. When my teachers ask whether anyone will have trouble paying for their supplies, no one speaks up and an awkward silence ensues.

While academic costs have mostly been waived, high school memories are not priceless. Yearbook photos just came in, and packages cost from $86 to about $230. I’ll probably wear an old dress and take the subway to my senior prom, which will probably set me back another $160. I will not get a class ring.

Many of my friends carry $10 and $20 daily, while I get $5 on a good day. Most of their parents are middle to upper class, working as teachers, lawyers, programmers, doctors, writers, social workers, or scientists, unlike my mother who is excused from work because of illness. Some of my classmates come from private schools, and many buy prep books for exams and have been in expensive SAT prep courses since middle school.

They seem unable to comprehend my situation; the blank, baffled looks on their faces upon learning I have no cable television, cell phone, or air conditioning shock me.

“We do it because we want you to be happy,” my grandmother had explained to me when giving me $60 to attend a discounted college trip. Even in a nation governed by socioeconomic class, I believe that happiness and perseverance are enough for success. Although I use second-hand paints and brushes in acrylic painting class, I know that my painting will look just as striking.

Source: MIT Admissions Blog

Analysis & Comments

In this essay, the author made me feel:

  • Inspired

In this essay, the author exhibits these personality traits:

  • Perseverance
  • Grit

College Essay Strengths:

This essay does an awesome job of showcasing Cristen’s personality – it has a ton of voice and sarcastic humor, but not in a negative way. As a reader, we can immediately picture the kind of person Cristen would be if we actually met her.

The introduction is hooky. It starts off with a little humor and immediately pulls us in. We learn about Cristen’s upbringing, and the rest of the essay contains unique anecdotes to show how much of an outcast she felt during her time at Stuy. She does a good job lacing these anecdotes to make the essay cohesive.

The conclusion is relatively strong, and the message is clear – she has overcome tons of obstacles, but she doesn’t let her background deter her from reaching her goals. It’s a very positive message.

Overall, Cristen’s essay is strong and very unique. She took a risk by poking fun of her school, but she pulls it off by spinning her situation in a more positive light.

College Essay Weaknesses:

Cristen’s unique voice and risk-taking spirit is pretty evident in her writing – it’s a very strong essay. However, I do believe that one reaaaaally good story instead of a few small anecdotes would’ve made this essay much more striking.

Cristen’s essay brings forth a question that students always have about their college application essay: Should you take “risks” in your writing? It IS a bit risky to poke fun of your high school and its faculty, as Cristen did.

But, Cristen’s way of making fun of Ms. Cleary is not whiney, which is why her essay works. Ms. Cleary simply represents another obstacle in Cristen’s life that made her high school years tough. She uses Ms. Cleary as an example to show that she doesn’t back down – she’ll make the best darn lemonade our of any sour lemons she gets dealt in life. In other words, the essay ends on a high note.

If you do want to take risks in your writing by poking fun of something or someone, that’s completely fine… as long as you get multiple second opinions! You don’t want to offend people. You also don’t want to sound overly negative and whiney. You need to strike a good balance, as Cristen has.

Stanford College Application Essay Example

Stanford College Application Essay Example

Here’s a college application essay example by a student* who was accepted to Stanford.

*Not a student of Winning Ivy Prep


Most children acquire the same eye color or a similar shaped nose from their parents, but I’ve inherited much more: a passion for learning and an insatiable curiosity which has served me well throughout my academic career. My father, an electrical engineer, taught me to explore the world with inquisitive eyes, constantly seeking to learn more, to understand more. I watched him for hours as he worked on elevator schematics at home, wondering what all the various symbols and lines meant. I was fascinated by technology and wanted to know how and why things worked the way they did.

“How does this toaster work?” “What’s inside this VCR?” I was never satisfied with the simplified answers that my parents sometimes gave to these questions. So I discovered many answers for myself by exploring and experimenting.

My playground was a jumble of old circuit boards, spare electric wire, and an assortment of broken appliances. I spent hours disassembling and tinkering with the amazing treasures I found lying around our garage. My mother, a first grade teacher, noticed my intellectual curiosity and encouraged my childhood explorations. She gave me piles of mind-opening children’s books, which I willingly read. Books like “What Makes Popcorn Pop, and Other Questions about the World around Us” allowed me to discover the irresistible appeal of imaginative questions and their fascinating answers.

I was given a remarkable amount of freedom at a young age. When I was 6, my parents bought an old computer for $25 from a local yard sale with the intention of letting me loose on it. I was thrilled. Motivated by curiosity, I delved into it at once and learned how to use each and every feature of the computer’s antiquated MS-DOS operating system. With my father’s help and an old programming book by my side, I even created simple videogames for my younger brother to play.

My parents taught me to be independent and self-motivated by providing me opportunities to learn by trial and error. I recall an episode where my parents bought a new microwave when I was just 8 years old. As they unpacked the microwave, I caught sight of the owner’s manual and asked to see it. After reading the 40-page text front-to-back, I learned one very important thing: how to use a feature called “child lock,” or as I saw it, “parent lock.” By pressing a special sequence of buttons on the microwave, disabled it, thus protecting my parents from the dangers of using the appliance without my supervision. Until this day, the first thing I do after buying a new gadget is read the entire manual, in search of nifty features.

My intellectual curiosity is the result of a unique combination of early influences and childhood experiences which have fueled my passion for learning inside and outside of the classroom — learning from everything I do. I hope to continue applying this curiosity to all aspects of my life, exploring the world through the eyes of my childhood persona. By refusing to accept the obvious explanation, refusing to settle for a superficial understanding, and refusing to endure the status quo, great American innovators like my role model Benjamin Franklin created new knowledge, new technologies, and new innovations. I strive to do the same. It’s part of who I am, and what drives me to become successful and happy.

Source: AP Study Notes

Analysis & Comments

In this essay, the author made me feel:

  • Fascinated, sort of (except not really)

In this essay, the author exhibits these personality traits:

  • Passion for engineering and electronics
  • Clarity of thought and organization
  • Natural curiosity

College Essay Strengths:

This essay is pretty simple and clear-cut, isn’t it? Of all the topics that the author could’ve written about, he wanted the admissions committee to know of his passion for engineering. This thirst-for-knowledge theme is intertwined in every example of the essay. From the get-go, his passions are very clearly communicated, which is great.

The writing is very straightforward and methodological, almost like the author we imagine him to be. Based on this essay we know exactly the type of person the author is. The essay, in other words, paints a very good picture of our author.

College Essay Weaknesses:

This essay is pretty strong. However, there’s still room to revamp the essay.

First things first: The introduction could be a little more hooky. Don’t get me wrong — currently, the introduction is perfectly fine. But, a hooky introduction would make the essay more dynamic and give it some voice. Because the essay is a bit too dry at the moment, some added voice would really give the essay a boost.

Moreover, this essay sprinkles in a few mini stories to get across the author’s message about his passion for engineering. This is perfectly fine. However, it would be best if there was one good, juicy story to convey his message instead of a few small stories.

Finally, let’s talk about the conclusion. The point of any good conclusion is to tie together any loose ends. This author’s conclusion doesn’t add much value to the overall essay because he basically reiterates the same message he already conveyed in the introduction that, since childhood, the author had a thirst for knowledge outside and inside the classroom. It leaves me wanting a bit more from him.

Additionally, the author’s last sentence is weak and trite. His innate curiosity drives him to be successful and happy? Really? That’s how he wants to end the entire essay? There are tons of better concluding statements than that one.

At the end of the day, yes, the author got into Stanford. Great. But, it’s unarguable that this essay has many points of improvement, albeit lots of strengths as well.

Because the college admission process is pretty obscure, it’s extremely important to make sure that every piece of the admissions puzzle for your application package is the absolute best it can be.

PS: Check out the link below for more college application essay examples

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