Danger! Application Essay Samples Ahead!

The truth about college application essay samples

There are many books on the market, and websites online, containing college application essay samples. They might be sample essays by students who were accepted to Harvard or simply “outstanding application essays.” Reading a few of these gems can be useful and the conscientious high school senior should definitely engage in that exercise.

And yet, there is… DANGER!

Essays chosen for “sample” books and blogs are the absolute top works submitted during a particular application year. As a result, judging your own writing skills against them can be deflating. You may be a solid, technically competent writer but not necessarily a gifted storyteller. As a result, your work may feel plodding and dull compared to an essay that practically dances in front of your eyes then makes you laugh, cry, and bolt out of your chair with a triumphant fist pump.

Remember:  Those essays are rare!

Though everyone writing an application should aim high, putting too much stock in application sample essays can actually limit a student’s own creativity. Thinking such as “Well, this essay about befriending a family of bears got this student into Yale, I’d better write something about a life and death situation,” could keep a student from finding an essay topic, and writing style, more suited to him or her.

Not only that, what impresses Admissions Directors and Committee Members one year might be less attractive in another, depending on a myriad of factors.

Furthermore, there are application essay prompts that require a straightforward answer. Trying to emulate a highly imaginative sample can actually render the essay less effective.

“Sample Essays” may have been tweaked!

Although I cannot say I know this for sure, as a writer and editor myself, I know the temptation would be great to “adjust” parts of an essay, even one that’s already considered outstanding, before publishing it. Change a word here, add a smart analogy there, and the essay becomes an even “better” sample. OR…  does it further intimidate students who read it, and make them even more insecure about their own work?

The Best Way to Approach Application Essay Samples

So what should you do when you find application essay samples?

  1. Read a few sample essays and enjoy
  2. Get a sense of the possibilities inherent in this difficult form.
  3. Be aware they have been chosen because they are unique then…
  4. Use them as inspiration to find your own fresh idea and style, not as a bar you absolutely have to reach.

Only a handful of application essays get any post application attention, while hundreds of thousands of students get into their first choice schools every year. Write a college application essay that only you can write, and you will be one of them.

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