Colleges want to get to know you as a whole person, and the essay is clearly the key to standing out during the application process, and revealing who you are. Questions about extracurricular activities, commonly seen on college applications, are a great way to demonstrate who you are beyond the academic picture. In fact, the Common App short answer question, which the majority of students will be filling out, is about just that. It asks applicants to "briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences." Below is a sample essay in which a student describes her passion for singing and how it has helped her in her everyday life:
The alarm clock sounds. I open my eyes, and deep from under my covers I think, “What do I have to do today?” I think about the vocab quiz and the words tumbling through my head. I think about the paper on King Lear I crammed in the night before, the intricate ideas still fresh in my mind. I think about having to walk my dog, and do the laundry. I think about how I must read 20 pages of Speak, Memory on the bus to school. I think about the list of terms that I must memorize for my Economics test. I realize I had a dream about Alan Greenspan wearing leotards and think about that, too.
But amidst all the thinking and working and studying, there is something else—a vacation for my mind where my soul can unfurl itself and just breathe. I’m talking about my singing. I sing as often as I can. I sing in school, I sing in my shower, I sing along to my favorite songs every night in my room. I’ve sung all over the world, from the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to the Cathedral in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
Someone recently asked me what I think about when I sing a song for an audience. I searched my mind, trying to remember the thoughts that filled my head at a recent appearance. But nothing came to mind. I concentrated on what I must’ve been thinking, and even looked back to all the other times I’ve sung. Still, nothing. Then I realized, that’s precisely it: Nothing comes to mind when I sing. I simply don’t think when I’m onstage and the sounds are pouring out of me.
When I sing, my mind is totally blank, no worries and no thoughts, save a few points on keeping my pitch up and remembering the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, I work very hard at singing. It is something that comes naturally to me, but I study the songs I sing, and I learn different techniques, and sometimes it takes a long time to get them down. There are, however, no tests—only the personal ones I set for myself onstage, and those are emotional experiences that cannot be compared to taking an exam in a classroom.
Just as all my built-up mental energy fuels my singing with intensity, my singing in turn feeds my mind, allowing it to cleanse itself through this physical and emotional artistic catharsis. I suppose this yin-yang cycle is what allows me to function throughout the day in relative harmony with the world and myself. Singing is something I am proud of, something I will continue to do for the rest of my life, personally and I hope professionally. Just as I have no memory of when exactly I started singing, I never want to have a memory of when I stopped.
Below are a number of links that provide examples of Common App essays. We hope they inspire you and help you to write your own unique essay for your college application. Please do not copy them, as this is plagiarism.
Essay Example #1 - Japanese Puzzle
Watching the news with my parents one night, I heard a story about Japan, which included an interview with a man speaking Japanese. Suddenly entranced, I struggled to make sense of the incredible sounds tumbling out of his mouth and immediately knew that the language was a puzzle I needed to solve. Read more >
Essay Example #2 - Camping Lesson
The 90-degree summer heat beat down on my shoulders, but that was the least of my problems. A six-year old boy had just disrupted a yellow jacket nest by the lake and children were getting stung left and right. If it had been any other summer I would have sat back and let an adult take care of the problem, but as the only camp counselor in the vicinity, I was suddenly the closest grown up around. Read more >
Essay Example #3 - EMT Efficiency
Patience has never been my strong suit, and while I have always wanted to be a healer, I could never imagine waiting to finish college and medical school before actually working with patients. So after a lifetime of hearing stories from my mom’s best friend about life in the ambulance as an emergency medical technician, I decided to jump in and sign up for my local training program last year. Read more >
Essay Example #4 - Trigonometry Trouble
While not everything in life is within our control, that doesn’t mean we should let those things hold us back from success. I have never been particularly adept at math, but always managed to do well enough with a little extra effort. That is, until I signed up for trigonometry. I managed to keep a grasp on the lessons for the first few weeks, but my understanding of the topic slowly ebbed away as the semester wore on. Read more >
Essay Example #5 - A Shakespearean Shambles
A “C+” might not constitute a technical failure, but for an honors student with a constant eye on my GPA, my grade on the English group project certainly felt like an “F.” I should start from the beginning. Last year, I was excited when my English teacher announced that she was assigning a group project for our Shakespeare unit. Read more >
Essay Example #6 - The Substitute
Sitting outside of the principal’s office, my stomach lurched and my palms felt sweaty. I wasn’t about to get in trouble; in fact, the situation was the exact opposite. I sat there waiting to report what had just happened in my history class.
90 minutes earlier, I arrived at class to discover we had a substitute teacher for the period. Admittedly, I felt a moment of relief at the thought of a less taxing lesson than usual. Some of my classmates thought the same thing, but chose to express it a little more vocally. Slamming his fist on the teacher’s desk, the substitute responded by screaming to be heard over the din of the class. Read more >
Essay Example #7 - A Catholic Conundrum
Raised in a proud, traditional Catholic family, I wasn’t sure where to turn when I began to question the Church two years ago. There was no cataclysmic event that caused me to do so; rather, some of the dogma began to feel exclusionary and overly judgmental. I just couldn’t imagine God caring about much that the Church espoused as doctrine.
The first time I voiced a challenge was in my weekly catechism class. The teacher stated that anyone who didn’t believe in God would go to hell. “What about people in Africa?” I asked. Read more >
Essay Example #8 - Refugee Report
Immigration is an enormous issue in America, with people arguing about every possible angle to the challenges facing successful policy reform. The recent ISIS attacks in Paris helped to fuel anti-refugee sentiments throughout the U.S., despite there being no evidence that accepting Syrian refugees would pose any real threat to our nation. Read more >
Essay Example #9 - Driving License Journey
Many of my friends seem to be in no rush to get their driver’s license, with many of their 16th birthdays passing by without even mention of beginning to drive. I, on the other hand, viewed my driver’s license as the next step in becoming an adult. Read more >
Essay Example #10 - A Mexican Affair
Forget MTV’s images of spoiled girls picking out multi-thousand dollar dresses. That was not my quinceañera. Yes, many girls I know in my Mexican American community hold ostentatious events that look like they should be on the cover of a magazine. But when I celebrated my 15th birthday, it was a deeply-rooted cultural affair celebrating my transition into adulthood alongside my family and closest friends. Read more >
Essay Example #11 - The Teachings of Employment
I would have loved to be on the high school yearbook staff, work on the school paper, run for student government, play a sport, or have enough time to devote to my studies. But my high school experience was much different. I worked twenty to thirty hours a week from the time I was fourteen to help support my family and save for college. My father died when I was ten leaving my mother with three children to support and so, as the oldest, I tried my best to help. Read more >>
Essay Example #12 - Tough Game
I love the game of football and in sixth grade I decided I wanted to play on a team. I was sure it would be great. I picked up my equipment a few days before the first practice and strolled in thinking this would be easy. However, it was a disaster! I was out of shape, the coach yelled all the time, and I was completely unprepared. I went home devastated and refused to go back. Read more >>
Essay Example #13 - Jeep Journey
I grew up tinkering with anything I could get my hands on. At a young age, I took apart radios, toasters, and other household items to learn how they worked. As I got older, I moved on to small motors and engines, and rebuilt our lawn mower. But, at fourteen, I received my greatest challenge that not only taught me how to solve some complex problems, but helped me understand what I want to do for a career. Read more >>
Essay Example #14 - Truth & Politics
I am a politically disenfranchised Millennial. I want to believe that my vote matters. I want to believe that politicians are dedicated to public service and intellectualism, and the media is more than another self-interested business pushing its own agenda. However, I do not believe these things. So what is the answer? Am I forced to accept this “reality” or is there some way to make a difference? Read more >>
Essay Example #15 - Dance Dilemma
I have heard many of my fellow students say it would be nice to join a high school club or activity, but they frequently find an excuse for not getting involved. As a freshman, I decided that I did not want to be one of those people, but instead wanted to live my high school life to its fullest. I learned about the many options available and purposely choose four activities that were different from each other and would help me to meet a diverse group of people. Read more >>