One Hundred Great Essays

How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.5.Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.6. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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Here are six of these short essays answering the 2014 prompt: "Tell us about the best gift you've ever given or received." I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work.

Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them. We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos.

With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve.

Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale.

The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly.

After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck!

So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people?

Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

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