Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 4.

  • Writing a strong college admissions essay
  • Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
  • Brainstorming tips for your college essay
  • How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
  • Taking your college essay to the next level
  • Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback

Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback

  • Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
  • Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
  • Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
  • Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
  • Writing tips and techniques for your college essay

sample essay letter for college admission

Introduction

Sample essay 2, feedback from admissions.

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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. 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.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. 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.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. 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. Great first sentences are punchy. 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. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. 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.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

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.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

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#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

sample essay letter for college admission

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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sample essay letter for college admission

How to Write College Application Essays

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

College Application Essay Fundamentals 

How to prepare to write your essay , how to approach different essay types, how to structure your essay , how to revise your essay, how to find essay writing help , resources for teaching students how to write a college essay, additional resources (further reading).

Of all the materials in a college application, the essay provides the greatest opportunity for you to set yourself apart. Unlike the transcript or resume, the essay is creative and expressive; in it, you can show the admissions counselors who you are and what you can do (that is, how well you can write!). A good application essay should have a memorable main idea, a cohesive structure, and a strong introduction and conclusion. Although essay topics can vary by college, the most common prompts deal with personal experiences and aspirations for the future. This guide   contains a diverse set of resources to help you orient yourself to the college application essay and, ultimately, to write the most competitive essay possible. 

The college application essay is a requirement for admission to almost all institutions of higher learning. Though in some ways it resembles essays you've written in class or on standardized tests, in other ways it's a unique writing exercises with its own particular requirements. Use the resources below to help you understand how the essay should be structured and what kind of content to include. 

"How Long Should College Application Essays Be?" (Learn.org)

This webpage guides you through some basic tips on writing the college essay—including essay length, sticking to the prompt, and maintaining an original tone. 

"College Application Essay" (College Board)

This webpage from the College Board discusses the different types of application essays, what length you should aim for, and most importantly, why colleges value this aspect of the application so much. 

"College Essays, College Applications" (College Board) 

The College Board's website is a great resource for any student looking to apply to college. This webpage contains several links to helpful resources, including sample essays and genuine student interviews. 

"Timeline for College Applications" (College Essay Guy)

This colorful, one-page guide from a college application specialist offers an illustrated timeline for high school students looking to apply for college. 

Before putting your ideas down on paper, it's important to conceptualize your essay, to craft strategically your tone and style, and,  crucially, to choose a topic that suits you and the school to which you're applying. The resources in this section include writing tips, lists of common mistakes you should avoid, and guides dedicated to the college application essay.

How to Plan Your Essay

"3 Common College Essay Mistakes to Avoid" (CNBC)  

This article from CNBC broadly outlines the most common mistakes students make when writing their college application essays. Although these mistakes may seem obvious, even the most experienced writers can fall into these common traps.

"7 Effective Application Tips" (Peterson's)

This article from Peterson's (a company providing academic materials for test prep, application help, and more) lists seven pieces of advice designed to make your writing pop. 

"The Secret to Show, Don't Tell" ( The Write Practice Blog)  

You've heard it before: show, don't tell. This is a great writing tip, but how do you pull it off? Here, the writing blog  The Write Practice  outlines how you can make your writing more descriptive and effective. 

"Passive Voice" (University of North Carolina)  

Avoiding passive construction is a subtle yet effective way to upgrade any piece of writing. Check out this webpage from a university writing center for some tips on recognizing and avoiding passive voice. 

"Using Appropriate Words in an Academic Essay" (National University of Singapore)

There are many ways to upgrade your vocabulary. Often, words can be replaced with more impressive substitutes, phrases can be shortened or lengthened depending on context, and transitions can be used for a smoother flow. The link above expands on these strategies and offers several others. 

How to Brainstorm Topic Ideas

"Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes to Avoid" (PrepScholar)

This article from a well-known tutoring service and test prep program describes what to avoid when writing your essay. Essays that are too graphic, too personal, or too overconfident are all problematic, and this article explains why. 

"5 Tricks for Choosing Your College Essay Topic" (CollegeXpress)

Lost on how to choose a topic? This webpage from CollegeXpress outlines five sources of inspiration you can mine for ideas as you're getting started.

"The College Admission Essay: Finding a Topic" (The Choice Blog)

This article from New York Times  blog The Choice  breaks down three essential questions to ask yourself when choosing a topic for your college essay. 

"COLLEGE ESSAY GUIDE: Choosing a Prompt for the Common Application" (YouTube)

In this five-minute video, a Yale student discusses how to choose a college essay prompt and how to approach the essay writing process. His channel is filled with original videos on the college application process. 

"Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises" ( CollegeVine Blog)

Approaching the Common App essay prompts can be difficult. This blog post explains several tactics you can use to narrow down your options, such as writing down a list of your greatest convictions.

"Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When Is It Okay?" (WritingCommons.org)

Most high school students are told to avoid using the first person point of view; this can be confusing when writing college essays, which typically ask what  you  think. This article breaks down when (and why) it's acceptable to write in the first person. 

Although all college essays serve the same purpose - articulating why you should get into a college - they come in different kinds. While topics on the Common Application are relatively consistent from year to year, personal statements and so-called "supplemental essays" vary by institution. Each of these essays requires a slightly different approach. The resources in this section will prepare you to answer the various types of essay prompts you're likely to encounter. 

Common Application Essays

CommonApp.org

The Common Application's official website is the best place to start getting acquainted with the service to which the majority of US colleges and universities now subscribe - a service which allows you to streamline your application process and minimize duplication of materials.

"What's App-enning" Blog (Common App)  

The Common App runs a blog with a wealth of information on common application-related news, including periodic updates on common application essay prompts for each application cycle. You can practice brainstorming with old prompts, or even start preparing your application by looking at this year's prompts.

125 College Essay Examples (PrepScholar Blog)

Here, PrepScholar provides a variety of Common App essays that got their respective applicants into their desired schools. Along with the body text of the essays, the website provides analysis on  what  makes the essays so great. 

A Few Essays That Worked (And a Few That Didn't) (NYTimes Blog)

This article analyzes unsuccessful essays, illuminating the ways in which they fell short. Although you should exercise caution and adjust your approach to your specific school, it's always good to pick up on general things to avoid. 

Personal Statements

What Is a Personal Statement? (PrepScholar Blog)

Although personal statements and Common App essays are similar, not all personal statement essays are administered through the Common App. This article from PrepScholar's blog will provide you with everything you need to know about writing a personal statement.

Examples of Successful Statements (Purdue OWL)

The Purdue OWL online writing lab collate links on this page to several successful personal statement. It can be useful to read successful statements and to consider how and why the statements made an impact on their readers. 

Past Threads on Advice for Writing Your College Essay (Reddit Post)

Although not about the personal statement  per se , this Reddit post has links to several past threads that may be of use to any prospective college applicant. 

What 10 Things Should Your Personal Statement Include? (Which University UK)  

This site outlines ten things to consider when writing a personal statement, including outlining what you will bring to the course, not what the course will bring to you. 

Supplemental Essays

How to Write Great Supplemental College Essays (IvyWise Newsletter)

Supplemental essays can often be challenging, asking a range of questions from the mundane to the oddly specific. This article from college application site IvyWise will break down example prompts to make them more approachable. 

Write Your Supplemental Essays (College Essay Guy)

Looking for a comprehensive guide to supplemental essays? Look no further than this page provided by the "College Essay Guy," who breaks down how to write supplemental essays that ask different kinds of questions. 

An Awesome Guide to the UChicago Supplement (Dyad)

Dyad, a college mentoring service, walks you through how to approach UChicago's supplemental essay question. Although the article is specific to UChicago, it contains general tips that are helpful to any college applicant. 

Reading My Yale Supplement Essay (YouTube)

Josh Beasley is back in this short YouTube video, where he reads the supplemental essay that got him into Yale and extrapolates advice for current and prospective applicants. 

A college application essay (like any academic essay) should have an introduction, a conclusion, and body paragraphs. Additionally, it should have overall coherence (that is, it should make a point) and cohesion (that is, it should flow well from paragraph to paragraph). We've collected the most relevant resources here to help you structure your college essay correctly and efficiently. 

How to Make Your Essay Stand Out 

College Essays That Stand Out From the Crowd (NYTimes)

This NYTimes article includes links to several recent essays that caught the eyes of the admissions readers by taking risks. You can even listen to an essay being read aloud by a current Princeton student.

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays (Gen / Kelly Tanabe)  

If you have some time on your hands, this hefty PDF document contains 50 essays from successful Ivy League applicants. After reading these essays, consider what they have in common and how they might be a model for your own essay.

Make Your Application Essay Stand Out (CampusExplorer.com)

In this article from CampusExplorer, you'll find general tips on how to make your essay more appealing to the admissions readers. The writers include general writing tips as well as more targeted advice for the tone and audience of the application essay.

How to Write a College Application Essay that Stands Out (Boston University)

This short video from BU's own admissions department touches briefly on what impresses their admissions readers, including risk-taking, memorable stories, and honesty. 

Essay Structure (Monash University)

This chart from Monash University visually demonstrates how your content should be organized in order to keep your argument or story on track. 

How to Write an Introduction

How to Start a Personal Statement: The Killer Opening (Which University UK)  

Any good introduction both forecasts what your essay will be about and catches the reader's attention. This page will give you some helpful advice on starting your essay with a bang. 

How to Start a College Essay Perfectly (PrepScholar Blog)

This article from PrepScholar shows you how to "hook" your reader at the start of your application essay with colorful language, a vivid story, and an "insightful pivot" to your main point.

Let Me Introduce Myself (Stanford University)

This article from Stanford U's alumni page details the first-line openings of the essays for some current Stanford undergrads. 

Five Ways to NOT Start Your College Application Essays (PowerScore)

In this article, you'll learn five techniques to avoid, as they typically land a college application essay in the "reject" pile; these include beginning with dictionary definitions or famous quotations. 

How to Write a Conclusion 

Ending the Essay: Conclusions (Harvard University)

Harvard's writing center suggests bringing closure to your essay (that is, wrapping up your argument) while still expanding outward to broader applications or insights in your final paragraph.

Concluding Paragraph (Easybib)  

Although you may have used Easybib to make a bibliography before, did you know they have many resources on how to write a good essay? Check out this page for succinct advice on what your conclusion should entail. 

5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay (College Greenlight)

This blog post instructs you to end with action (that is, a story or anecdote) rather than summary, giving you five ways to do this effectively, including addressing the college directly.

How to Write the Best Conclusion for a College Application Essay and Supplement (Koppelman Group)

The Koppelman Group, a college application consulting firm, warns you, above all, not to end "in conclusion" or "to conclude." They also provide targeted advice for the Common App and Supplement essays, respectively. 

No essay is perfect in its first-draft form; college application essays in particular are limited by word counts that can be difficult to meet. Once you've communicated your ideas, you'll want to edit your essay in order to make sure it's the best it can be. You'll also need to cut or add words to make sure it's within the specifications set by the institution. The resources in this section include tips and tricks for revising your college application essay. 

3 Ways to Increase Word Count (WikiHow)

Complete with illustrations, this WikiHow page outlines several ways you might go about substantively expanding your essay. These tips include clarifying points, reworking your introduction and conclusion, adding new viewpoints and examples, and connecting loose threads. 

Admissions 101: What an Essay Word Limit Really Means (Veritas Prep) 

In this blog post, Veritas Prep's college preparation tutors assure you that being a little over or under the limit is acceptable, recommending ways you can think about the word limit's purpose.

College Essay Word Limit - Going Under? (College Confidential) 

In this College Confidential discussion forum, students discuss the possible ramifications of writing under the word limit for a college essay. 

How to Increase Your Essay Word Count (WordCounter)

This article from WordCounter outlines different ways you might go about meeting word count, including addressing different viewpoints, adding examples, and clarifying statements. 

Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admissions Essay (Dummies.com)

This article details how to hit the target word count. Scroll down to the middle of the article for advice on where you should cut words from to meet word count. 

Some Tricks to Reduce Word Count (EastAsiaStudent.net)

This article recommends simplifying your style, deleting adverbs, deleting prepositions, and revisiting connectives and adjectives to reduce word count. 

Advice on Whittling Your Admissions Essay (NYTimes) 

In this New York Times article, Andrew Gelb discusses how to go about cutting down your admissions essay in order to meet the requisite word limit.

How to Shorten an Essay Without Ruining the Content (Quora) 

This Quora post from a concerned student yielded useful community responses on how to effectively shorten an essay without losing the original message. 

Feel like you've hit a wall revising your essay on your own? You're not alone, and there are plentiful resources on the web through which you can connect with fellow college applicants and/or professional tutors. The links in this section will take you to free services for improving your college application essay, as well as two of the top paid writing tutor services.

College Confidential Forums 

College Confidential is a free, public forum in which you can post your essay and receive feedback from current college students, current college applicants, and even teachers or other experienced users. 

/r/CollegeEssays (Reddit)

This subreddit is a great place to look for crowdsourced help on your essay, ask questions about college essays, or even find a private tutor. 

Essayforum.com

Essayforum.com provides another platform for students to share their application essays. Although this link takes you to the site's forum for applicants to undergraduate degree programs, you can submit and review essays in other categories as well.  Varsity Tutors

Varisty Tutors offers tutoring services from freelance tutors based on location. Prices and services vary, but their site is easy to use and there are many tutors available to choose from.

Princeton Review

Princeton Review, one of the largest providers of college preparation tutoring (ranging from standardized test preparation to essay help) offers online essay tutoring services with a free trial period. 

Using in-class time to prepare your students to write college application essays is, of course, rewarding, but can also be challenging. If you're a teacher looking to incorporate the college essay into your curriculum but you're not sure where to start, take a look at the useful resources below.

TeachersPayTeachers

College Essay Writing

This product includes material for more than one full lesson plan, including powerpoint presentations, assessments, and homework on the topic of college essays. 

Narrative Writing Ideas and Prompts

Appealing to students 9th grade and up, this product includes lesson plans, handouts, and homework for developing narrative writing for the college essay process. 

College Essay: Comprehensive 7-Session Workshop Series

This PDF includes entire courses, manuals, and handouts designed to teach students the ins and outs of the college essay process, either in an individual or group setting. 

College Essay Revision Forms & Rubrics

These PDFs provide students with visual organizers and rubrics to assess their own writing and learn how to become better college essay writers. 

Free Resources

Teaching the College Essay (Edutopia) 

Teaching your students about writing the college essay can be incredibly intimidating -- as a teacher, how should you approach the process? This article from Edutopia outlines how to go about introducing the college essay to your students. 

Essay Lesson Plan Ideas for College Applications (EssayHell)

If you're a teacher looking for a concrete lesson plan on college essays, this guide recommends using the first day to discuss the importance of the essay, the second day for brainstorming, and so on. Click on the link above to examine their full guide. 

Help Your Students Write a Killer College Essay (EdWeek Blog)

This blog post goes over various techniques designed to help your students choose an appropriate topic and write their essay with passion. 

The Biggest College Essay Mistakes & How to Fix Them (Talks With Teachers)

Looking to help your students avoid the minefield of mistakes in the college essay field? Check out this post from Talks With Teachers, a journal that shares "inspiring ideas for English teachers." 

Curious to read more about college application essays, or to see fun and unusual examples of what students have written? The articles, blog posts, and books in this section are a good place to start surveying the field.

One Over-the-Top Admissions Essay (Huffington Post)

This piece from the Huffington Post talks about a humorous response to a Stanford supplemental essay topic, the so-called "letter to my future roommate."

College & University - Statistics and Facts (Statista.com) 

In the process of writing your college essay, you may find yourself wondering who exactly goes to college, how many colleges there are in the United States, etc. This site gives the up-to-date statistics for various US demographics, both in aggregate and by university, as well as other information.

Who Made That College Application? (NYTimes)

This piece from the NYTimes outlines the history of the college essay from its origins in the 1800s, to the first "modern" college application, produced by Columbia University in 1919, to the present.  

How They Got Into Harvard (Staff of the Harvard Crimson)

This highly-rated collection of successful Harvard application essays, available on Amazon, is both an entertaining read and an instructive resource for anyone looking for exemplary essays to use as models. 

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College Application Letters: Cover Letters & Letters of Continued Interest

College application letters.

College application cover letters support your college applications, college resume, and college application essay prompts. In combination with the other elements of your college applications, particularly your college entrance essay, college application letters help establish your “why.” In short, a college application letter is a cover letter for your college applications that describes your background, skills, and interest in the school. When looking at college application cover letter examples, pay attention to the values that they express. College application letters and college entrance essays are similar in that they are exercises in personal branding. When reading college application cover letter examples, pay attention to the messages they convey. 

If you’re wondering how to write a college application letter, CollegeAdvisor.com has advisors who can walk you through every part of the process. If your goal is to get into top colleges, CollegeAdvisor.com can help. We’ll analyze examples of college application letters and discuss the letter of continued interest to help you craft successful applications. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the different kinds of college application letters you may encounter when completing your college applications. We’ll discuss the college application letter and the letter of continued interest, as well as teacher recommendation letters.

If you want to read college application cover letter samples, you’ve come to the right place!

What is a college application letter?

To learn how to write a college application letter, you must first understand its purpose. Do this by checking out college application cover letter examples. College application letters and college resumes serve as introductions for your college applications. Unlike college application essay prompts, there are no specific questions to answer in your cover letter. Instead, include the essential elements of university application letters: your background, what makes you unique, and your reasons for wanting to attend that particular college. In short, what makes you, you .

As you’ll see when reading example college application letters, college application cover letters are not all that different from what you would write in a cover letter when applying for a job or graduate school. The purpose of college application cover letters, college entrance essays, and college resumes is to persuade colleges that you are the strongest candidate for admissions. 

College application cover letters are not the time to be shy, but they’re not the time to be pretentious either. When reading college application cover letter examples, you’ll see that there’s a fine line. Your tone matters. In your university application letters, show your experiences and accomplishments while portraying character traits that colleges value. To get into top colleges, find a balance between being proud of your accomplishments and being humble.

College application letters – Who requires them?

Unlike college entrance essays, college application letters are required by very few colleges. However, the skills you’ll develop by writing university application letters will serve you well as you approach your college application essay prompts. When researching college application examples, you’ll notice that there are optional materials to submit. If you’re serious about your college applications, submit university application letters to show your interest. 

College application cover letters are particularly effective if the college does not have college application essay prompts that ask you to explain why you want to attend the school and/or why you want to study your major. They are even more strongly recommended when applying to colleges that don’t have any supplemental essays. You’ll see many college application cover letter examples that focus primarily on academics, but you can include so much more.

Though university application letters are rarely required, they provide an ideal way to introduce yourself. After all, you’ll notice when reading college application cover letter samples that the goal is to help the admissions committee get to know you as a person. You are more than just your grades and scores.

If you want to get into top colleges that don’t allow you to submit a college resume or don’t provide interviews, you need to take extra steps to earn acceptance. Often, you can repurpose content from college application essay prompts that ask why you want to study your major! The college application essay format differs from that of a college application letter, but they serve a very similar purpose.

Test your knowledge about other aspects of the college admissions process in our quiz below!

What is a letter of continued interest?

A letter of continued interest (LOCI) is a letter you send to a college when you are deferred or placed on the waitlist. So, not everyone will need to write a college application letter of continued interest.

Your letter of continued interest has three primary goals: 

  • Reaffirm your interest in the school.
  • Provide additional context for your application. 
  • Discuss accomplishments on your college resume that have occurred since you submitted your application.

In this guide on how to write a college application letter, we discuss all forms of college application letters in detail. We’ll expand on the above goals to explain the strategies for writing effective letters.

Explaining teacher recommendation letters 

In addition to submitting a college application cover letter and, potentially, a letter of continued interest, your application will also include recommendation letters . These letters enhance your college application entrance essay and build on answers to supplemental college application essay prompts. 

Due to the shift away from standardized testing, other parts of your college applications are inevitably getting more attention in the evaluation process. When assessing your college applications, admissions committees will often rely on letters from your teachers and counselor in place of interviews.

When reading sample college application letters of recommendation, you’ll observe that some are better than others. But, it can be a bit harder to find example teacher recommendations than it is to find college application cover letter examples. To ensure high-quality letters, create a plan well in advance of your senior year. You’ll want to ask teachers to write your recommendations who know you best beyond your grades. The strongest sample college application letters of recommendation speak to both your personal and academic strengths. 

College application sample recommendation letters with the biggest impact typically come from teachers from your core junior year courses – math, science, English, and social studies. If there’s a teacher from your junior year who taught you during your sophomore or senior year too, even better! Teachers who know you through multiple environments – clubs, classes, sports, or other areas – can often do the best job speaking to your growth and achievement over time. 

Choose teachers who know you best

Ultimately, the most effective sample college application letters of recommendation are written by the teachers who know you best. Pay attention to the college application requirements for each school on your list. Note when reading example college application letters of recommendation who the intended audience is. Some schools require math or science teachers for STEM and business majors , while others require English or social studies teachers for humanities majors .

For example, when looking at college application sample requirements, MIT writes “One recommendation should be from a math or science teacher, and one should be from a humanities, social science, or language teacher.” Caltech also requires one math or science teacher evaluation and one humanities or social sciences teacher evaluation. 

Some applicants are tempted to send more letters than the college applications require. However, aim for quality over quantity. If you want to ask another teacher to write a recommendation letter for you, ask yourself what perspective they will bring to your college applications that isn’t already covered in your college entrance essay or other recommendation letters. 

Don’t hesitate to provide materials to help your teachers and guidance counselor write their letters of recommendation for you. In fact, you should! When reading college application sample letters of recommendation, you’ll note that they are specific and provide examples where possible. Some teachers will even have you fill out a standard form to gather information from you. So, by having additional information already prepared, you are helping them tremendously. 

Here are some materials you can provide to help your recommendations augment your college applications:

  • College entrance essay
  • College resume or a list of your extracurricular activities and awards
  • Responses to college application essay prompts.
  • A sample college application letter that you’re sending to one of your colleges.
  • A few paragraphs about why you want to study your major or pursue your intended career. 
  • Key elements of the course you took with them, such as a favorite project or unit. 

When preparing materials to give to teachers, read the instructions given to recommenders by MIT. Even if you aren’t applying to MIT, the information can still be helpful to know. By understanding the process of writing recommendation letters on the teacher’s side, you can see what information will help them write a strong letter for you. 

Don’t wait until you’re submitting your college applications to ask your teachers for recommendations. Some teachers limit the number that they will write, and you want them to have plenty of time to write a quality recommendation. To make sure you have the best recommendations , ask teachers late in your junior year or early in your senior year.

The College Application Letter

As we’ve mentioned, a college application letter is a cover letter for your college applications. It describes your background, skills, and interest in the school. It’s different from both the college application essay format and the letter of continued interest. When reviewing college application samples, you’ll see that your cover letter works together with your college resume and college entrance essay to help admissions officers get to know you. 

Below, we’ll discuss how to write a college application letter and walk through a sample college application letter. But remember, you want your letter to be original! Don’t feel limited by what’s in any examples of college application letters.

Do all schools require a college application letter?

No — few schools actually require college application letters. However, learning to write a strong college application letter can help you in other aspects of the college admissions process. Reading college application cover letter examples can also help you learn how to write for the admissions committee audience. 

One of the ways to learn how to write a college application letter is to read sample college application letters. For instance, the same skills that help you write a strong and concise college application letter will help you in the college essay format, too.

The college application letter – What should I include?

So, you know the purpose of college application letters, but what should you include in them? Reading college application cover letter samples can help you determine this. While the college application essay format lends itself to focusing on one topic or story, college application cover letter examples highlight the importance of covering several different topics.

College application letters should contain the following elements: 

1. school name and address.

You college application letter should follow formal letter formatting guidelines, which include writing the full name of the college or university you are applying to in the upper left hand corner of the letter. Try to be as specific as possible with the address you choose to use.

2. Salutation

A standard salutation is suitable for your college application letter. However, it is a great idea to do your research and use the full name of the admissions officer assigned to your region.

3. Introduction

The best examples of college application letters open strong. Thank the admissions committee for reviewing your application, and introduce yourself. Do you have a unique connection to the school? Can you hook the reader in some way to make them want to keep reading?

4. Explanation of academic interests

Your primary purpose in college is to earn a degree, so notice that in example college application letters most of the space is often devoted to discussing academic plans. Include your intended major and career path, as well as interdisciplinary interests.

5. Discussion of extracurricular interests

The college application essay format may be a place for you to discuss extracurricular involvement, so use this space to elaborate or discuss additional interests. These could be connected to your academic plans, but they don’t have to be.

6. Conclusion

Express your interest in the school! Impactful example college application letters have a clear and brief conclusion that reaffirms your desire to attend and enthusiasm for the opportunity to join the next class of undergraduates. Point to specific classes, professors, programs, organizations, and aspects of the college that pique your interest. No one is going to hold you to your plan, but colleges want to see that you have one.

8. Complimentary Close

Lastly, every good college application letter should include an expression of gratitude alongside your close and your signature.

In the example of a college application letter above, there are a few key details to highlight. The letter is essentially a five-paragraph essay, with one paragraph for each of the five elements. This differs significantly from the college application essay format. In this college application example, the college application letter has clear and distinct sections, and this is very common in college application cover letter samples.

Depending on your interests and plans, you could take a more integrated approach. You’ll read some examples of college application letters that center around a theme or broad plan rather than separated into individual paragraphs.

This sample college application letter is a narrative. The applicant’s goal is to tell her story to the admissions committee. The best sample college application letters paint a picture for the reader and draw the reader into the storyline. Though it can feel like being vivid and descriptive is a waste of your space, “showing instead of telling makes for stronger college applications.

How to format your college application letter?

When reading sample college application letters, you’ll observe that they are formatted very similarly to professional cover letters. Your university application letters should be one page single-spaced. The heading should also be consistent across college application letters. 

  • Your full address
  • The date you will send the letter
  • The admission officer’s name
  • The college name
  • The college address

Then, open your letter with a salutation. Many examples of college application letters open with “Dear” and are addressed to the admission officer. If you cannot find your regional admissions officer, it is fine to address the letter to the admissions office as was done in the sample college application letter above. Once you write the body of your letter, don’t forget your closing salutation – “Sincerely,” and then your name. 

Once you read several sample college application letters, you’ll understand the best practices. After writing a university application letter for one school, you don’t need to start from scratch for additional schools. Adapt what you have to fit the next college’s context and your specific interests on their campus. 

Being concise is key. Your university application letter should not be redundant. If it exceeds one page, see where information you mention is repeated elsewhere in your application. In your cover letter, focus on the content that makes you as original and unique as possible. Most importantly, don’t forget to proofread your university application letters! 

Can a college application letter help me with other parts of my application?

Think of the college application cover letter as the glue that holds your college applications together. When writing it, think about it as your opportunity to show your best self. After brainstorming the content, you’ll be better equipped to craft your candidate profile into a cohesive narrative and articulate why you want to attend the college.

Though many parts of your college applications will be out of your control by the time you reach your senior fall, the college application cover letter is one that you can control. Use it to elevate your college applications, show interest in your top schools , and make yourself stand out among other applicants!

The Letter of Continued Interest

Another form of college application letter is a letter of continued interest . In sample college application letters of continued interest, you’ll see that the primary purpose is to reaffirm your candidacy for a spot in the next incoming class of undergraduates. 

Though it can feel like a waiting game, the waitlist should not be passive. As soon as you are waitlisted or deferred, begin crafting a letter of continued interest. The best college application sample LOCIs are submitted promptly. Put in the effort to show you’re serious about attending. 

College application example LOCIs should focus on recent updates. Likely, a lot has happened since you submitted your application, particularly if you applied by the early deadlines. Strong college application sample LOCIs convey accomplishments and experiences that either add to previously mentioned ones or provide another dimension to your application. 

Letter of continued interest – When and where to submit?

Learn as much as you can by reading college application example LOCIs, but know that each school’s process for when and how to submit them is different. Additionally, the process may vary based on whether you were deferred to the regular decision round of admissions or waitlisted after the regular decision round. It’s important to follow each university’s directions.

Many schools will request that you upload your letter of continued interest to a portal. Some will request that you email it to an address – typically the admissions office. Others won’t allow you to submit any additional materials. If you’re in doubt, call or email the admissions office and ask. 

What to include in your letter of continued interest?

You’ll notice common trends when reading college application sample LOCIs. Effective college application example LOCIs convey a tone of sincerity, gratitude, and enthusiasm for an opportunity to attend. A strong sample college application letter of continued interest includes four elements. 

First, reaffirm your interest in attending the school if offered the chance to matriculate. Then, discuss relevant developments to your application, such as additional extracurricular accolades and continued academic successes. Sometimes, you’ll see a sample college application letter of continued interest that mentions how a student improved a lower mid-year grade or discusses a new leadership role. 

When reading a sample college application letter of continued interest, remember that colleges are looking for reasons to admit you, so don’t be shy! Offer to answer any questions they have and provide additional info in the conclusion of your letter. 

It’s important to back up your claims with supporting evidence. Strong college application sample LOCIs provide examples and specific details, just as you would in a cover letter or essay. Be vivid and descriptive as you share your story!

However, college application example LOCIs that include overly emotional appeals or merely complement the university are unlikely to be effective. Your letter of continued interest should be all about you. Though it can be difficult to realize this when reading college application example LOCIs, recognize that the content of your letter should fit within the context of the rest of your application. 

The many types of college application letters – Final Thoughts

In this guide, we covered several types of letters associated with your college process – college application cover letters, teacher recommendation letters, and letters of continued interest. Reading sample college application letters, whether they are college application cover letter samples or LOCIs, can help you do your best work. But, remember that every applicant’s college application process is unique. 

Our final tips for writing college application letters:

  • Proofread. College application letters with typos or grammatical errors reflect poorly on your effort and candidacy. Use a polished and professional tone in everything you write for your college applications.
  • Be yourself. Though this goal can get lost in the requirements, scores, and grades, you should focus on helping the colleges on your list get to know who you are . 
  • Follow the requirements. Each college has their own requirements for how they want you to submit materials. Pay close attention to the details for each college as you go through the admissions process. 

CollegeAdvisor.com can help guide you through every step of the college application process. Check out our blog , webinars , or register with CollegeAdvisor.com today. Good luck!

This guide to college application letters and letters of continued interest was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘22. At CollegeAdvisor, we have built our  reputation  by providing comprehensive information that offers real assistance to students. If you want to get help with your college applications from CollegeAdvisor.com  Admissions Experts , click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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sample essay letter for college admission

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College Admission Letter Example: Free & Effective

In this article, I will share a step-by-step process with personal insights and a customizable template to begin your journey.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the Purpose : Recognize that your letter is more than just an application; it’s a narrative of your academic journey, achievements, and the unique qualities you bring to the university.
  • Be Authentic : Authenticity resonates. Share real-life examples that highlight your strengths, resilience, and character.
  • Structure is Key : A well-structured letter includes an introduction, body paragraphs detailing achievements and experiences, and a conclusion that reaffirms your interest in the program.
  • Customize Your Letter : Tailor your letter to each college by mentioning specific programs, professors, or opportunities that excite you about attending.
  • Proofread and Revise : Ensuring your letter is free from errors is crucial. Seek feedback and make revisions to polish your narrative.
  • Free Template : Start with a template but personalize it to reflect your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the college and program.

Step 1: Start with a Strong Introduction

Your opening sentence sets the tone for your entire letter. Begin by introducing yourself and expressing your enthusiastic interest in the college and the specific program you are applying to.

Mention what draws you to the institution and how you believe it aligns with your academic goals and career aspirations.

Example Introduction : “I am thrilled to submit my application for the [Program Name] at [College Name]. The innovative curriculum and the college’s commitment to [specific aspect, like ‘community service’ or ‘research excellence’] resonate deeply with my academic interests and personal values.”

Step 2: Highlight Your Academic and Personal Achievements

In this section, delve into your academic journey, significant achievements, and the challenges you’ve overcome. Emphasize any unique experiences that have shaped your perspective and prepared you for college. This could include leadership roles, community service, internships, or special projects.

  • List of Achievements : Include awards, recognitions, or notable projects.
  • Personal Growth : Share experiences that demonstrate resilience, leadership, and personal growth.
  • Relevance : Connect your experiences to how they’ve prepared you for the program you’re applying to.

Step 3: Explain Why You’ve Chosen This College

Trending now: find out why.

This is where your research about the college pays off. Discuss specific aspects of the college or program that excite you. Mention any professors whose work you admire, the unique opportunities the college offers, and how these align with your academic and career goals.

  • Program Specifics : Courses, professors, or research opportunities that attract you.
  • College Culture : Aspects of the college’s culture or values that resonate with you.
  • Career Goals : How the program aligns with your career aspirations.

Step 4: Conclude with Confidence

Your concluding paragraph should reiterate your excitement and readiness for the college experience. Affirm your belief that the college is the ideal place for you to achieve your academic and professional goals. Express your eagerness to contribute to the college community.

Example Conclusion : “I am eager to bring my passion for [your field of interest], along with my dedication to [specific contribution, like ‘community service’ or ‘academic research’], to [College Name].

I am confident that [College Name] is the perfect environment for me to thrive academically and personally, and I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to your vibrant community.”

Tips from Personal Experience

  • Be Yourself : Authenticity cannot be overstated. Admission officers are adept at distinguishing genuine narratives from embellished ones.
  • Customization Is Key : A generic letter won’t stand out. Customize your letter for each application to reflect your genuine interest in the program and college.
  • Seek Feedback : Before submitting, have someone review your letter. Fresh eyes can catch errors and offer valuable perspective.
  • Follow Instructions : Adhere to any specific guidelines provided by the college. This demonstrates attention to detail and respect for the application process.

College Application Letter Sample

[Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State, Zip] [Email Address] [Phone Number] [Date]

[Admissions Office] [College Name] [College Address] [City, State, Zip]

Dear Admissions Committee,

[Introduction: Introduce yourself and express your interest in the specific program and college.]

[Body Paragraph 1: Highlight your academic achievements and any relevant experiences.]

[Body Paragraph 2: Discuss specific aspects of the college or program that appeal to you and how they align with your goals.]

[Conclusion: Reiterate your excitement about the opportunity to attend and your belief in the fit between your aspirations and the college’s offerings.]

[Your Name]

I invite you to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Whether you’re embarking on writing your own admission letter or refining an existing draft, I’m here to offer guidance and support.  What challenges are you facing in your writing process? Let’s start a conversation to navigate this journey together.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

sample essay letter for college admission

Q: What is a College Application Letter? 

Answer : A College Application Letter is a document that a student submits to a college or university as part of their application for admission.  The letter typically provides information about the student’s academic background, extracurricular activities, personal qualities, and other factors that make them a good candidate for admission.

Q: What should be included in a College Application Letter? 

Answer : A College Application Letter should include the student’s name, contact information, and the name of the college or university they are applying to. 

It should also provide information about the student’s academic background, including their GPA, test scores, and any relevant coursework or academic achievements. 

Additionally, the letter should highlight the student’s extracurricular activities, personal qualities, and other factors that make them a good candidate for admission.

Q: How long should a College Application Letter be? 

Answer : The length of a College Application Letter can vary, but it is generally recommended that the letter be no longer than one page. The letter should be concise, well-organized, and easy to read.

Q: What is the purpose of a College Application Letter? 

Answer : The purpose of a College Application Letter is to provide the college or university with information about the student that is not included in other parts of the application, such as transcripts and test scores. 

The letter is an opportunity for the student to showcase their personality, interests, and achievements, and to demonstrate why they would be a good fit for the college or university.

Q: How important is a College Application Letter in the admissions process? 

Answer : A College Application Letter can be an important factor in the admissions process, as it provides the college or university with additional information about the student that is not included in other parts of the application. 

The letter can help the student stand out from other applicants and demonstrate why they would be a good fit for the college or university. However, the weight placed on the letter can vary depending on the specific college or university and their admissions process

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Sample College Admission Essays

Applying to college can be very exciting, but also require a lot of dedication, research, and hard work. One key piece of your application that should be given plenty of time and attention is the college admission essay. Before you write your first draft read our sample essays to get a few tips on writing your perfect admission essay.

This section contains five examples of good college essays.

College Essay Sample One

College essay sample two, college essay sample three, college essay sample four, college essay sample five.

State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.

This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.

Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.

Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.

In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.

In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.

The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.

In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.

In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.

This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.

My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.

My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.

My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.

Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.

From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.

My handwriting didn’t become jittery until the third round. The number of competitors in the Midwest Spelling Bee had dropped from 100 to the thirty-some who remained after two waves of preliminaries, a group I was awed to be in. The third round would likely be the last one carried out with pencil and paper. A sole word stood between me and the oral competition to follow. My nerves soared at the thought that a mere handful of syllables from the pronouncer’s mouth would offer me a chance to compete in the apex of orthography: the regional bee finals. Yet, when I heard the word “Wagner,” the degree of my confusion was only rivaled by that of my disappointment upon elimination.

My approach to academic success in middle school consisted of rote memorization and stodgy study habits. Fortunately for my sanity and social life, I have since discovered that learning derived from experience can introduce an invaluable layer of reality to otherwise useless knowledge. My hinge moment came near the end of eighth grade when I was stumped by “Wagner” and its ensuing definition: “a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas.” To my credit, the phonetic vocalization of Wagner is something like “BAHG-nur,” with the ever ambiguous bee/vee sound. But, an error is an error, and my misspelling of the word earned me a disheartening dismissal from the Midwest Spelling Bee. I immediately resolved to learn about the man whose name was responsible for cheapening my years of poring over vocabulary lists and etymology guides. Upon learning that Richard Wagner was one of the most prolific opera composers in history, I had to investigate. Along my inquisitive quest, I encountered two newfound passions: opera music and the pursuit of stimulating information.

I am an unabashed classical music aficionado. My enthusiasm came gradually over years of imposed piano lessons that eventually became voluntary as my interest in the activity piqued. I came to sense the profound communion with notes on a page arising from tinkering out the same rhythms and melodies that were manuscripts by musical geniuses centuries ago. However, because I could not perform it, I never thought to explore opera. Without my keen interest in Wagner, I may have never encountered the awe-inspiring blend of visual and musical mastery that constitutes his interpretation of the genre. Opera swiftly captured my eye and ear for insightful art. For instance, in his landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, Wagner unleashed a then-revolutionary tonal system which paved the way for twentieth century classical music. As I unearthed the beauty of opera, my awareness of all the remarkable, groundbreaking themes of Wagner’s productions became embodied by the word “Wagner.” In this striking moment, I could not help but feel the value of connecting my learning to purposeful interaction.

Fueled by my frustration with the outcome of the bee, I searched for the source of my failure. In uncovering the works of Wagner, I gleaned a sense of the vast droves of information that can lie behind a seemingly simple word. I suddenly became aware of my incapacity to seek out the surprising insights that the world might have been waiting to reveal. Thanks to a reevaluation triggered by a failure, I garnered a new appreciation for experiential learning. Since my underwhelming performance nearly four years ago, I have become well versed in the mysterious, gritty art of inquiry. Rather than perceiving my environment to be a sterile list of terms with a neat pronunciation guide to boot, I am now eager to take in the uncommon wisdoms of everything from the innovative operatic tropes of Wagner to the fickle nature of bees—both the pollinating insects and their manmade homonyms.

The exclusiveness portrayed in Mean Girls led me to expect that high school would consist of like-minded cliques. Rather, in high school I found that a single commonality can unite a seemingly random sampling of people. Through marching band, this idea was embodied in a desire to perform music. UChicago’s community is similarly bonded by a serious passion for learning which satisfies my desire to become a thoughtful citizen of tomorrow.

The hierarchy of authority in marching band is one I have come to love, and not only because I achieved the top student position in it as a drum major. In that role, I watched younger members hone their skills in an effort to contribute to the collective performance. The value of a uniform training followed by opportunities to lead is exemplified by the ambitious and talented student leaders produced. At UChicago, The Core serves a comparable purpose in preparing students for exhaustive academic exploration. I am enticed by the intensive inquiry and groundbreaking research that students partake in. Yet, I appreciate the benefit of undergoing the rigorous Core first. UChicago emphasizes experiential learning, even in the College, which appeals to my desire to collaborate with other brilliant learners. When I visited campus, two specific encounters struck me. Initially, the Institute of Politics attracted me with its hands-on approach to policy issues through programs like Student Civic Engagement projects. Even more alluring was the Politics & Policy class I sat in on. Following a lecture on bureaucracy that may have droned over the heads of less inspired students, I was surrounded by a hubbub of engaged thinkers convening through discussion. UChicago’s intellectual atmosphere is animated by the common thirst for knowledge that characterizes every student.

Through marching band, I discovered a passion for influencing others. My dream is that by drawing from UChicago’s empowering community, my drive will transfer to pertinent global issues like human rights in the Middle East. UChicago is my ideal learning environment, for as Wayne Booth stated while he was Dean of the College, UChicago empowers tomorrow’s intellectual leaders to “see through the guff.” During high school, I have grown from an uncertain ninth grader into the capable leader I am today, leaving me optimistic for how I may develop in the next four years.

A travel through my room reveals almost everything about me. The walls are splashed with two tones of eye-burning pink, fairies dance across the vibrant wallpaper sprinkled with sparkles, a white-washed dresser covered in knick-knacks, and an overflowing toy box fit perfectly in this Technicolor dream room.

In one corner of my room, a paint-by-numbers portrait that my grandfather created in a World War II hospital silently tells its story. My grandfather, an Italian barber, raised six children in Bayonne, NJ with my grandmother. My grandparents worked hard to deliver the most American of promises – that your kids will have a better standard of living than you. In that regard, my mother, who put herself through college to become an engineer, made good, affording to give me my own room, a luxury she never knew.

The next corner of my room contains a nondescript desk and laptop, the same as anyone’s room. Who would guess that this desk is also the launching pad of myYearbook.com, a 1.6 million member social networking site that I created? Layers of spec sheets, Post-Its, and emails form a sea of productivity that I find comforting. Scribbled telephone numbers and names remind me of deals I did and didn’t do, reporters who did and didn’t write on me, and technology worries I never stop trying to resolve. Half-drunk coke cans tell the tale of a dozen all-nighters, and someone who is at her most creative at night.

The desk is not all business though. My calculus and economics texts bookend my laptop, and a bouquet of dead flowers from my boyfriend rest in peace on my shelf, revealing a morbid sentimentality. Although the flowers have long died and the water completely evaporated, the card and its words “Jeg synes a du er fantastik og du er det beste ting i mit verden,” are the only reason the flowers never made it to the garbage. In Danish, the sentence translates to, “I think you are fantastic, and you are the best thing in my world.” Ever since I started dating him, I have been learning more and more about his Danish culture, and I plan to go to Denmark twice this year.

The third corner holds my well-worn, folded-up gymnastics floor beam and barely used grips. Unlike many gymnasts though, I prefer not to wear the grips on bars because they make it harder to feel the bar. I started gymnastics when I was five, and since then my hands have earned their calluses, and I am proud of them. You won’t find me moisturizing my hands except to keep them from splitting on the bars.

In the last corner hangs a painting I bought while organizing an online Tsunami Aid Art Project. It was my first significant project online and helped give me a sense of the power of the Internet to connect people. As part of the artist community WetCanvas.com, myself and two other members organized a tsunami-related art project with all proceeds donated to charity. We raised $10,000 in funds, and had about 100 pieces of work donated from artists in nine countries.

Sadly, I know this will not always be my room. The pink fairies will give way to adult- sized possessions and responsibilities. The knick-knacks will break, and the sanctuary of my childhood will soon seem so childish. But, for now, I will embrace the pink, the fairies, and the simplicity of life in my mom’s house. I will look forward to the possibilities of creating another space, as uniquely my own as this one, and as uniquely a part of my past as this room will always be.

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Letter of Recommendation for College Application (Guide and Sample)

3 sample letters of recommendation for college admissions.

Bonus Material: College Letter of Recommendation checklist

Applying to competitive universities this coming fall? Perhaps you’ve already put in the hard work on your grades, test scores, and even your college essays. But you want to make sure that you also do everything you can to improve the quality of your letters of recommendation. 

Many students think of these as something they have no ability to affect, but the truth is you can do a lot to improve your letters of recommendation . And it matters: having stand-out letters of recommendation can set you apart from other applicants. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve guided thousands of students to acceptances at elite universities. Over that time, we’ve developed a proven system for navigating college admissions. In this guide, we’ll cover 3 sample letters of rec, discuss what makes a good letter of recommendation, and explain what you can do to ensure you have one. 

Below, you can download a sample letter of recommendation so you know what kind of work it takes to get one. In the meantime, keep reading to learn more about how you can maximize your chances of acceptance by improving your letter of recommendation. 

Download PrepMaven’s College Letter of Recommendation Checklist

Jump to section: 3 Sample Letters of Recommendation for College How Can You Improve Your Letters of Recommendation for College? How Much Do College Recommendation Letters Matter? What Makes a Good Letter of Recommendation for College? Who to Ask for College Recommendation Letters When to Ask for College Recommendation Letters Next steps

3 Sample Letters of Recommendation for College

Let’s start by taking a look at 3 excellent sample letters of recommendation, each of which we’ll break down briefly. Look at these letters carefully, and think about what you can do to ensure your letters look like this. 

sample essay letter for college admission

Sample Letter 1

Dear Admissions Committee,  As Lila’s eleventh grade AP Language teacher, I’m eager to take this opportunity to convey what makes her such an exceptional student and classmate.  Her academic record in my class speaks for itself, but what I’d like to highlight is the uniquely passionate and incisive nature of her class contributions. I still remember (though this was last year) a class discussion of Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser . While many students contributed meaningfully, I still distinctly recall Lila’s vociferous and insightful argument that Dressler’s character embodied everything wrong with the acquisitive, me-first mindset of deregulated business. Not everyone agreed, of course, but the energy behind her contribution sparked an intense class discussion that was one of the best of the year. Perhaps no less important was Lila’s openness to hearing other students’ opinions, even ultimately allowing her own perspective to change. That moment is indicative of what Lila brings to the classroom environment daily: passion, insight, and open-mindedness.  While I would’ve been thrilled to hear that Lila plans to study English in college, I’m equally impressed by how detailed and invested she is when she speaks about her plans to major in Economics. When she spoke to me about the importance of understanding rhetoric and narrative when looking at economic crises, it became clear to me that she’s the kind of student able to seamlessly integrate her interests into the study of the things that fascinate her.  Even though I’ve taught countless students, I can say that few have made such an impact on the energy and depth of classroom discussion as Lila has. I’m confident that any university will benefit from her presence as a thinker, writer, and peer.  Sincerely, ———-

There are three key things to notice with this first sample. 

  • First, it references a specific way that the student had an effect on the life of the classroom.
  • Second, it connects that instance in class with who Lila is overall as a student and thinker. 
  • Third, it connects both of these elements with who Lila will be in college, and with what she wants to pursue. 

Combining these three factors is what makes an excellent letter of recommendation. It shows the college that this student really had an impact on the class and the teacher. Importantly, it goes far beyond the generic letter of recommendation, standing out from the rest. 

Sample Letter 2

Dear Admissions Officers,  From the first week of my AP Biology class this year, it was clear how much Sanjit loved the material. During each of our class discussions, he’d raise questions that went beyond just clarification, connecting our subject matter with real-world issues he’d been following. While most students were content to take notes and answer the questions I posed, Sanjit was always looking to explore the links between what was in the textbook and what was happening in the wider world, whether in politics or in new studies on human health and longevity he’d been following.  What most impressed me beyond his drive and desire to explore was how committed he was to helping other students find that same passion. During our labs this past year, Sanjit always prioritized helping his group members–and even the members of other groups–fine-tune their experiments. Indeed, during especially complex labs, I’d often find myself helping one group while another turned to Sanjit for assistance.  He never did this to show off or prove something: what Sanjit exuded was a real passion and love for the material. In our class discussions, labs, and optional after-school review sessions, he constantly sought to use what we learned as the foundation for broader, more systemic explorations, even mentioning his desire to conduct independent research over the next summer.  It really is a pleasure to hear that Sanjit plans to continue pursuing his talent for biology and to follow that talent all the way to medical school. While I’m not sure if his plans will change, I can attest to the fact that he entered my class already dedicated to exploring how he can make an impact on human health, and that I’ve rarely seen students so capable of bridging the gap between the textbook and the real world.  Wherever he goes, whatever he does, Sanjit will make an incredible contribution to the classroom and the lab.  Sincerely,  ——-

This second letter addresses each of the same three things as the first: specificity, character, and bigger picture. 

While the focus may be different, the ultimate upshot is clear: Sanjit is a student who impressed his teacher so much that she remembers specific ways he went above and beyond in the class. 

Note that it isn’t just about what Sanjit does for himself: the letter makes a point of showing how Sanjit was always there to help other students (without being a know-it-all or teacher’s pet). 

sample essay letter for college admission

Sample Letter 3

To whom it may concern,  Hearing that William plans to study French was tremendously gratifying. While I’m happy anytime one of my students plans to continue their French study at the college level, William was a special case. From what I know of his academic success, he excelled in most subjects, and I know he was quite torn between what field he really wanted to pursue. I never push my students one way or another, but I can tell you that William is the kind of student who will profoundly change every French class he enters.  His language ability is, of course, fantastic, but that isn’t what makes him a great French student. During our classes, he showed a real fascination with the history, culture, and especially literature of Francophone countries. While most students saw the books and poetry we read in AP French as ways of learning the language, William always wanted to explore the texts themselves. In particular, he was fascinated by how the study of French language was connected with the history of French colonization. Reading The Stranger by Camus, William was the only student in class to quickly see the text’s connections to the French occupation of Algeria. He quickly became interested in the complexities inherent in speaking the language of an occupying country, and threw himself into research outside the classroom that he’d frequently integrate into our discussions.  The short essay he wrote on our final exam was one of the best I’ve read in twenty years of teaching, especially in his ability to explore sophisticated and nuanced ideas in a foreign language. It’s clear to me that William doesn’t just have the technical facility to learn and study French language and culture: he has that rare creative instinct that allows him to make wholly original contributions to the field.  Sincerely,  —

You can certainly see the pattern by now: specificity, character, and big picture all come together to paint a picture of this student as a uniquely intelligent and capable scholar. 

You might notice that every one of these letters ends by articulating that this student isn’t just smart : they’re driven, they’re original, and they stand out from the rest of the intelligent students these teachers have had. 

If you want a letter like one of these–and you should–you might be wondering how you can possibly affect what your teachers write about you. The good news is that you can : read on below to see how you can help your teachers improve the letters of recommendation they write for your college applications. 

How Can You Improve Your Letters of Recommendation for College?

You might think this sounds strange: after all, you’re not writing your letters of recommendation, and in most cases you won’t even see them. 

So, how can you do anything to improve them? It all has to do with what information you give to your letter of recommendation writers. 

Many students think that just politely asking a teacher for a college letter of recommendation is where the process begins and ends. But if you don’t give your teacher specific information, you’re very likely to get a generic letter of recommendation. 

It’ll probably say nice things: that you’re a good student, that you excel in class, that you’re dedicated and always pay attention, and so on. 

sample essay letter for college admission

Can you imagine how many times college admissions officers at large universities or elite colleges read phrases like that? (Hint: too many!) No matter how positive the letter is, it needs to be unique and specific if you want admissions committees to remember a word of it!

So, what can you do to help your recommendation letter writers produce better letters? Give them some personal, specific information! 

  • Ask your teacher to sit down for a short conversation before they begin writing your letter. Yes, it could be awkward, but we guarantee you that it’ll pay off! 
  • Were there concepts that really stood out to you? 
  • Did they help you overcome a challenge?
  • Did they open your eyes to something new that stuck with you? 
  • Did their class influence your choice of major or career?
  • If not, did the class affect how you see yourself as a student and thinker?
  • Can you find a connection between your major and the teacher’s class?

Not only will your teacher love hearing this (flattery always works!), but it’ll give them ideas for things they could mention in their letter. Instead of just talking about what a good student you are, they can draw on specific examples that you bring up in your conversation. 

Another option is to simply send the recommendation letter writer a short email where you describe why you’re asking them for a letter and what you gained from the class. 

The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be for them to write you a great letter!

How Much Do College Recommendation Letters Matter?

The key to a strong college application is understanding the 3 pillars of a successful college application . In a nutshell, these are the three key elements by which admissions committees will evaluate you: 

sample essay letter for college admission

  • Academic achievement
  • Extracurricular distinction
  • Character and personal qualities

While these overlap a little bit, here’s an easy way to understand them. 

Academic achievement is conveyed by your grades, test scores, and the rigor of your curriculum. 

Extracurricular distinction is conveyed by your achievements in the various activities you’ve been involved with. 

Character is conveyed in your essays and letters of recommendation. 

Often, it’s character that makes the difference between a good application and a great one–especially at top tier universities like Ivies!

Note that the letter of recommendation is not there to highlight your academic achievement. Why? Because college admissions committees already have your grades and transcript! 

Instead, the recommendation letter should highlight your personal attributes. What kind of student and classmate are you? How do you contribute to the intellectual life of a school? What makes you the kind of person a professor would want to have in their class?

For a successful college application, it’s crucial that all three pillars come together. Because character is primarily conveyed in your essays and recommendation letters, you don’t have many opportunities to really convey this to elite college admissions committees. 

The data bears this out. By looking at the Common Data Set for elite universities, we identified how elite colleges like Princeton prioritize letters of recommendation. 

sample essay letter for college admission

Each school ranks the elements of a college application in one of four categories: 

  • Very important
  • Not considered

At Princeton, for example, the letters of recommendation are considered “very important,” just like test scores and grades!

At Yale, letters of recommendation are also considered “very important,” whereas standardized test scores are only “considered.” 

At Dartmouth, letters of recommendation are, once again, considered “very important.”

Are you picking up on the pattern yet? It might be easy to think of college recommendation letters as a tiny part of your application, but nearly every elite university considers letters of recommendation a very important part of your application! 

What Makes a Good Letter of Recommendation for College?

So, with all that in mind, we can now identify a little more precisely what makes a good college recommendation letter. 

A compelling letter of recommendation for college:

sample essay letter for college admission

  • Avoids generic phrases and claims. 
  • Uses specific examples to explain how you stood out in the class. 
  • Focuses on your character, not your grades. 

The criteria for a strong letter of recommendation are simple, but in our experience, the vast majority of recommendation letters fail this test!

You won’t be able to see your recommendation letter, but you can affect what information your letter writer uses. Make sure to give them the kind of detailed, specific information that aligns with those three bullet points, focusing on instances where you really demonstrated your character in the class. 

If you want to read a sample of an excellent recommendation letter, take a look at the link below: it’s short, simple, and effective! 

Who to Ask for College recommendation Letters

Our advice here is simple, but serious. 

First, make sure you ask two teachers for your academic recommendation letters, then ask a third person to write your non-academic recommendation letter (which most schools also accept). 

sample essay letter for college admission

This third recommender can be a bit more flexible: a supervisor at work, a sports coach, or the coach of an extracurricular activity you’re involved with are all great options. 

For the two academic recommenders, pick teachers who know you best. These should be teachers you’ve had recently: don’t pick a teacher from freshman year, since that really won’t be telling college admissions committees much about your character now. 

You should also pick teachers in subjects that align with your planned area of study. If you’re going all in on a STEM field, you’re best off picking teachers whose letters can support the narrative of you as an exceptional scientific and mathematical thinker. 

If you’re more humanities focused, you’ll definitely want one letter from a teacher whose class was writing-intensive. For the second letter, you might want to think about what complements your overall story. Don’t just go for another humanities class: think about what other interests drive you, and pick a teacher who can speak to that passion. 

More than anything, however, the critical question is which teachers can best speak to your personal attributes now . Pick those teachers, speak to them, and you’ll be likely to get a great recommendation letter like the one in our free sample here . 

When to Ask for College recommendation Letters

The earlier, the better! It’s as simple as that. Once you’ve settled on your recommenders and had your conversations with them, ask them to draft your recommendation letters. 

You should do this before the summer break after your junior year. You’ll want your recommendation letters done by the end of summer. Once this pushes on into the fall, your letter-writers will be flooded with requests, and the quality of your letter will suffer. 

sample essay letter for college admission

Speak to your teachers before summer vacation, and set a clear deadline while being respectful. Make it clear that you’ll be applying to programs early, and you’d really appreciate the letter being done by the end of the summer. 

In most cases, the teachers will appreciate this themselves. If a teacher tells you that’s impossible, make sure to respect their decision, and simply ask what timeline works for them. 

In general, however, set the end of summer as the deadline for your recommendation letters. 

If you’re already thinking about your college recommendation letters, that means you’re taking the college application process seriously. That’s great, but have you done everything you can to maximize your chances and perfect your application?

For a college application to work, every element of your academics, extracurriculars, and character has to come together. If your test scores, grades, or college essays are weak, you’ll need to put in the work to improve them. 

There’s no better way to do so than by working with one of our expert tutors. Our tutors range from exceptional undergraduates at Ivy League universities to graduate students with years of tutoring experience. 

Once you know what you need help with, we’ll pair you with the best tutor for your needs. All you have to do is contact us. 

In the meantime, read over the free sample letter of recommendation below, and take notes on what makes this so effective. 

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Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.

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