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College Admissions , College Essays

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In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 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.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

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

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 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?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 

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Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

This type of prompt asks about what you want to do in the future: sometimes simply what you'd like to study, sometimes longer-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you're interested in and how you plan to work towards your goals.

You'll mostly see these prompts if you're applying for a specialized program (like pre-med or engineering) or applying as a transfer student. Some schools also ask for supplementary essays along these lines. 

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

The most common style of supplemental essay is the "why us?" essay, although a few schools with their own application use this type of question as their main prompt. In these essays, you're meant to address the specific reasons you want to go to the school you're applying to .

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?

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What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

OK , so you're clear on what a college essay is, but you're still not sure how to write a good one . To help you get started, I'm going to explain the main things admissions officers look for in students' essays: an engaging perspective, genuine moments, and lively writing .

I've touched on these ideas already, but here, I'll go into more depth about how the best essays stand out from the pack.

Showing Who You Are

A lot of students panic about finding a unique topic, and certainly writing about something unusual like a successful dating app you developed with your friends or your time working as a mall Santa can't hurt you. But what's really important isn't so much what you write about as how you write about it . You need to use your subject to show something deeper about yourself.

Look at the prompts above: you'll notice that they almost all ask you what you learned or how the experience affected you. Whatever topic you pick, you must be able to specifically address how or why it matters to you .

Say a student, Will, was writing about the mall Santa in response to Common App prompt number 2 (the one about failure): Will was a terrible mall Santa. He was way too skinny to be convincing and the kids would always step on his feet. He could easily write 600 very entertaining words describing this experience, but they wouldn't necessarily add up to an effective college essay.

To do that, he'll need to talk about his motivations and his feelings: why he took such a job in the first place and what he did (and didn't) get out of it. Maybe Will took the job because he needed to make some money to go on a school trip and it was the only one he could find. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for screaming children, he kept doing it because he knew if he persevered through the whole holiday season he would have enough money for his trip. Would you rather read "I failed at being a mall Santa" or "Failing as a mall Santa taught me how to persevere no matter what"? Admissions officers definitely prefer the latter.

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .

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#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

Don't try to tell your entire life story or even the story of an entire weekend; 500–650 words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay. If, however, you just touch on a wide range of topics, you'll end up with an essay that reads more like a résumé.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea, and talk about it in more depth . The narrower your topic, the better. For example, writing about your role as Mercutio in your school's production of Romeo and Juliet is too general, but writing about opening night, when everything went wrong, could be a great topic.

Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective. But keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought; stick to the important and illustrative ones.

#4: Use Your Own Voice

College essays aren't academic assignments; you don't need to be super formal. Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk .

Focus on using clear, simple language that effectively explains a point or evokes a feeling. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

A final note: you don't need to be relentlessly positive. It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes things don't go how you want—just show how you grew from that.

#5: Be Ruthless

Many students want to call it a day after writing a first draft, but editing is a key part of writing a truly great essay. To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it .

Ask yourself questions as you read: is the progression of the essay clear? Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? Do you show something about yourself beyond the surface level?

You will have to delete and rewrite (potentially large) parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go . If you've ever heard the phrase "kill your darlings," know that it is 100% applicable to college essay writing.

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.

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What's Next?

Make sure to check out our other posts on college essays , including our step-by-step guide to how to write your college essay , our analysis of the Common App Prompts , and our collection of example essays .

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , deciding to double major , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

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:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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What is the College Essay? Your Complete Guide for 2023

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked

The college essay is one of the most important parts of your college application. 

As important as it is, however, it’s very different from the essays you’re used to writing in high school. 

From word count to genre, the college essay is in a category entirely of its own–and one that can be unfamiliar for most students applying to college.

So, what is the college essay? What role does it play in college admissions?

And, most importantly, how do you get started writing an amazing essay?

We answer all of these questions in this complete college essay guide. 

Plus, we give readers access to 30 college essays that earned applicants acceptance into the nation’s top colleges. They’re free and you can grab them below right now!

Download 30 College Essays That Worked

Here’s what we cover in this guide:

What is the College Essay?

  • Our Expert Definition
  • A College Essay That Worked
  • The Essay’s Role in College Admissions

The 7 Common Challenges in Writing the College Essay

  • How To Get Started Writing an Amazing Essay — 6 Tips
  • Bonus: 30 College Essays That Worked

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition .

Regardless, both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer .

College Essay Prompts 2022-2023

What do these questions all have in common? They all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal. 

Take a look at some of these buzzwords from these prompts to see what we mean:

  • Understanding
  • Belief / Idea
  • Contribution

These are big words attached to big, personal concepts. That’s the point!

But because that’s the case, that means the college essay is not an academic essay. It’s not something you write in five paragraphs for English class. Nor is it a formal statement, an outline of a resume, or a list of accomplishments.

It’s something else entirely.

Our Definition of the College Essay

How do we define the college essay? We’ll keep it short and sweet.

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences. 

The college essay is fundamentally personal and creative. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness. It can have elements of academic writing in it, such as logical organization, thesis statements, and transition words. But it is not an academic essay that fits comfortably into five paragraphs.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller–and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

what essays do colleges require

Example of a College Essay That Worked

Take a look at this essay that earned its writer acceptance into Princeton. We won’t take a super deep dive into the components that make it great. 

But we do want to point out a handful of things that align with our definition of the college essay. This essay:

  • Tells an engaging story
  • Clearly conveys the author’s voice
  • Is rich with introspection and reflection
  • Provides insight into the author’s character, values, and perspective
  • Is not an academic essay or list of accomplishments
  • Is deeply personal

It also exemplifies the 7 qualities of a successful college essay .

Here’s the full essay:

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” – Franz Kafka

Kafka, I’m afraid, has drastically overestimated the power of food. And though it pains me to undermine a statement by arguably the greatest writer of the 20 th century, I recognize it as a solemn duty. Perhaps Kafka has never sat, tongue wild in an effort to scrape residual peanut butter off his molars, and contemplated the almost ridiculous but nevertheless significant role of peanut butter in crafting his identity. Oh, did I just describe myself by accident? Without further ado, the questions (and lack of answers, I point out) that I contemplate with peanut butter in my mouth.

When I was three and a half years old, my tongue was not yet versed in the complex palate of my peers, consisting mainly of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (It did not help my transition into pre-school that I did not speak English, but Russian and that my name, which had been hurriedly switched from Alya to Alex, was unpronounceable to me.) But it is most worth noting that I refused lunch for months, waited at the windowsill with tear-stained cheeks every day unless my mom left law school midday to bring my own comfort food: borscht, katlety, kampot.

I slowly assimilated into American culture, like most immigrant kids. I began to eat the peanut butter sandwiches at pre-school in the presence of my mom, and then did not need her altogether. She must have been elated that I was comfortable, that she could stay at school all day without worrying. She must have been destroyed when I waved her away the first time and told her I did not need her to come anymore.

I realized much later that the Russian food my mother brought me in pre-school made me comfortable enough to learn the language of the children there, to share their lunches, to make friends. Ironically, my Russian culture enabled the rise and dominance of American culture. When my parents wanted to visit their birthplace, my birthplace, Odessa, Ukraine, I rolled my eyes and proclaimed Disney Land, Florida. I rolled my eyes when I spoke too fast for my parents to understand. I rolled my eyes when I checked my mom’s grammar and when she argued with customer service in her thick Russian accent.

Peanut butter, and foods like it, represented not only my entrance into American culture, but the swift rejection of anything Russian that followed. Chicken noodle soup replaced borscht, meatballs replaced katlety, Sunny D triumphed over kampot. I became embarrassed by the snacks packed in my brown paper bag, begged for Cheetos, lime Jell-O cups, and that creamy spread between two damp pieces of Wonder Bread. My American identity tried to eclipse the Russian one altogether.

I realized later still that the identity battle I fought must have been more difficult to watch for my parents than it could have ever been for me to experience. They let me figure myself out, even though it meant I spent years rolling my eyes at them. Though I do not claim to have discovered a perfect balance of Russian and American, I would venture that a healthy start is eating peanut butter for lunch and katlety at dinner.

So, Kafka, I hope that next time a memorable quote comes to mind, you think before you speak. Because when peanut butter cleaves to the roof of my mouth, I think about what it means “to cleave:” both to adhere closely to and to divide, as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural weakness. And I think about my dual identity, how the Russian side and American side simultaneously force each other apart and bring each other together. I think about my past, feeling a little ashamed, and about my present and future, asking how I can create harmony between these two sides of me. That, Kafka, does not sound like solved questions to me.

Want to read more essays that worked? Download our 30 college essays that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance for free below.

The College Essay’s Role in Admissions

In our post about what college admissions officers are looking for , we outline the Golden Rule of Admissions.

The Golden Rule of Admissions

We also define “a student of exceptional potential.” In general, competitive applicants to top U.S. colleges and universities exemplify three pillars:

  • Character and personal values
  • Extracurricular distinction
  • Academic achievement

3 Pillars of Successful Applicants

Admissions officers have a lot at their disposal when it comes to assessing extracurricular distinction and academic achievement. They’ve got transcripts, test scores, resumes, and letters of recommendation. 

But how do they assess character and personal values?

A recent survey of admissions officers revealed some interesting answers to this question.

what essays do colleges require

Source : National Association for College Admissions Counseling

Notice how an overwhelming 87% of officers surveyed reported that they infer character and personal qualities of an applicant from the content of the college essay!

The Common Data Set for individual colleges further supports this notion that officers infer character and values through the college essay, teacher recommendations, and other application components. The CDS for Cornell , for example, reveals that the application essay and character/personal qualities are “very important” in admission decisions.

what essays do colleges require

What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly altered the college application landscape by introducing some serious inequity in the realm of extracurricular activities, academics, and general access. 

Many admissions officers have stressed their focus on character and personal values (more qualitative components) in recent admissions cycles as a result.

what essays do colleges require

Schools are hungry for as much material as possible that they can use to assess students’ character and values! This is one of the reasons why many top colleges require applicants to answer supplemental essay questions — ones in addition to the college essay. These essays can range from 50-650 words, and many colleges have more than one.

For example, Princeton requires applicants to respond to six supplemental essay questions . Here’s one of them from the 2022-2023 admissions cycle:

At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future?

So how important is the college essay in the application process?

Princeton’s former Dean of Admissions summed it up nicely with this quote about the college essay in a conversation with the New York Times :

Your ability to write well is critical to our decision because your writing reflects your thinking. No matter what question is asked on a college application, admission officers are looking to see how well you convey your ideas and express yourself in writing. It is our window to your world.

Now that you know what the college essay is and how it influences college admissions, let’s discuss the challenges in writing it. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it does compile some of the most common challenges most students face when preparing to write their personal statement.

Challenge #1: The Pressure

The college essay is integral to the college admissions process. It’s only likely to carry more weight in coming admission cycles in the wake of COVID-19 .

There is immense pressure on students to write essays that will make them competitive in admissions! This essay can also very much feel like uncharted territory for students given their lack of experience in the world of personal writing. This pressure can become a veritable roadblock in writing the college essay.

Challenge #2: What’s Introspection?

Successful college essays are deeply personal and full of introspection. We define introspection as reflection on what’s important in your life — values, beliefs, opinions, experiences, etc. It also can have a lot to do with what makes you you .

To some students, introspection might come naturally. To others, it might not! This is understandable. The high school classroom doesn’t necessarily give space for students to reflect on what they’ve learned from certain experiences or what they believe are their core values. However, this is exactly what admissions officers are looking for in essays!

what essays do colleges require

Challenge #3: You Just Don’t Write Personal Essays in School

Most English classes spend a lot of time on the academic essay . But most don’t include many units on writing personal essays or creative nonfiction–if any!

Many students writing the college essay thus face an entirely unfamiliar genre that comes with its own word limit, structure, and style of writing.

Challenge #4: The Word Limit

Both the Common App and Coalition require students to limit their essays to 650 words. That’s a little over a page of writing, single-spaced.

This means that students have to be incredibly concise in crafting their responses. This can be a tall order given what the college essay often includes: big ideas, big themes, and big reflection!

Challenge #5: Choosing a Topic

Given the college essay’s requirements, it can be tough to choose the “right” topic . Should you discuss an extracurricular activity ? Personal experience? An important mentorship figure?

Some students have a wide variety of experiences and personal stories to choose from. Others might feel that they have a limited number.

Challenge #6: Choosing a Structure

Let’s say that you’ve chosen your college essay topic. Now how do you fit it into a concise structure that gives ample air space to what college admissions officers are looking for?

Choosing a structure can be critical for telling your specific story in a compelling fashion. But once again, this is unfamiliar terrain for most students who haven’t really written a personal essay before.

And when we say that structure really is critical for college essay writing, we mean it–we’ve written an entire post on college essay structure .

Challenge #7: Getting Started

Last but not least, it can be incredibly difficult simply to start the college essay writing process. From choosing a topic to writing that first draft, there’s a lot to navigate. Many students also have a lot going on in general when they get around to writing their essays, including AP exams, summer programs , and the chaos of senior fall schedules.

If this sounds like where you’re at in the college essay writing journey, keep reading. We’ve got 6 tips coming up to help you take those first steps.

How To Write an Amazing College Essay – 6 Tips

You’ve learned what a college essay is and the weight it carries in college admissions. You’ve also heard a bit about what makes this essay challenging. Now what?

It’s time to get started writing your very own. 

The following tips are designed to help you begin the journey towards an amazing college essay, regardless of your story, college aspirations, or timeline. Let’s dive in.

what essays do colleges require

Tip #1: Give Yourself Time & Get Organized

Good college essays take time, and we mean time . We recommend that students establish a generous timeline for writing their personal statements. Ideally, students should start thinking about their essays seriously in the spring of their junior year or summer immediately following.

It’s also important to get organized. Create separate documents for brainstorming and free-writes, for example, and clearly mark your drafts based on where you’re at in the writing process.

We also recommend researching supplemental essay prompts for the colleges on your list and keeping track of these–including deadlines and word limits–in a spreadsheet. This is especially important for students applying early.

Tip #2: Practice Introspection

You can start flexing your introspective muscles before writing your essay! Practice journaling, for example, or responding to daily reflective prompts like the following:

  • What is your greatest strength? Weakness?
  • What is one of your core beliefs? Why is it core?
  • What is your best quality?
  • What matters to you? Why?
  • What challenges you? Why?

The New York Times has even released 1,000 free writing prompts for students that range from identity and family to social life and technology.

With introspection, focus on using “I” as much as possible. This can feel awkward, especially as most English teachers encourage students to avoid using “I” in academic essays. But it’s the key to deep reflection.

You can also check out our post on College Essay Brainstorming or download 30 FREE college essay brainstorming questions right here.

Tip #3: Familiarize Yourself with Personal Writing & Storytelling

Immerse yourself in examples of powerful personal writing and storytelling. A great place to start is by downloading our 30 examples of college essays that earned students Ivy League acceptance or checking out our 11 College Essays That Worked post .

Otherwise, check out memoirs or creative essay collections.

The Moth , a storytelling radio project, is another great resource for students looking to learn more about how people tell personal stories in an engaging fashion. Plus, it’s just plain fun to listen to!

Tip #4: Know What Makes for An Amazing Essay

What qualities do most successful college essays have?

We’ve done the research. A successful college essay is often:

  • Introspective and reflective
  • Full of a student’s voice
  • Descriptive and engaging
  • Unconventional and distinct
  • Well-written

We take a deeper dive into these 7 qualities of a successful college essay in a separate post.

Tip #5: Review Supplemental Essay Questions

Don’t forget about supplemental essay questions! It’s easy to overlook these or assume that they are less important than the college essay.

But remember–many colleges require supplemental essays as a means of gaining more information about competitive applicants. The Common App and Coalition also now have optional COVID-19 essay questions (learn our tips for answering these COVID-related questions here ).

Don’t save your supplemental essays for the last minute! Review questions well in advance through the Common App or Coalition platform so that you are aware of the other responses you’ll have to write.

We’ve actually compiled the supplemental essay questions for the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities right here.

You can also check out our 8 tips for writing amazing supplemental essay responses .

Tip #6: Work with a Mentor

Yes, it is possible to write your college essay, personal as it is, under the right one-on-one guidance. Mentors can help you with all stages of the college essay writing process, from topic brainstorms to final draft polishing.

They can also help create an actionable timeline for tackling both the college essay and all of those supplements, and hold students accountable!

You can sign up to work with one of PrepMaven’s master essay consultants if you’d like. Or check out our summer College Essay Workshops .

what essays do colleges require

One of the best ways to start the college essay writing process is to look at examples of successful essays. But these examples can be hard to find, and few and far between.

That’s why we compiled 30 college essays that earned their writers acceptance into Ivy League schools. You can download these examples for FREE below.

what essays do colleges require

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 

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How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

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College essays are an entirely new type of writing for high school seniors. For that reason, many students are confused about proper formatting and essay structure. Should you double-space or single-space? Do you need a title? What kind of narrative style is best-suited for your topic?

In this post, we’ll be going over proper college essay format, traditional and unconventional essay structures (plus sample essays!), and which structure might work best for you. 

General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

How you format your essay will depend on whether you’re submitting in a text box, or attaching a document. We’ll go over the different best practices for both, but regardless of how you’re submitting, here are some general formatting tips:

  • There’s no need for a title; it takes up unnecessary space and eats into your word count
  • Stay within the word count as much as possible (+/- 10% of the upper limit). For further discussion on college essay length, see our post How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Indent or double space to separate paragraphs clearly

If you’re submitting in a text box:

  • Avoid italics and bold, since formatting often doesn’t transfer over in text boxes
  • Be careful with essays meant to be a certain shape (like a balloon); text boxes will likely not respect that formatting. Beyond that, this technique can also seem gimmicky, so proceed with caution
  • Make sure that paragraphs are clearly separated, as text boxes can also undo indents and double spacing

If you’re attaching a document:

  • Use a standard font and size like Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Make your lines 1.5-spaced or double-spaced
  • Use 1-inch margins
  • Save as a PDF since it can’t be edited. This also prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting
  • Number each page with your last name in the header or footer (like “Smith 1”)
  • Pay extra attention to any word limits, as you won’t be cut off automatically, unlike with most text boxes

Conventional College Essay Structures

Now that we’ve gone over the logistical aspects of your essay, let’s talk about how you should structure your writing. There are three traditional college essay structures. They are:

  • In-the-moment narrative
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage

Let’s go over what each one is exactly, and take a look at some real essays using these structures.

1. In-the-moment narrative

This is where you tell the story one moment at a time, sharing the events as they occur. In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you . This structure is ideal for a specific experience involving extensive internal dialogue, emotions, and reflections.

Here’s an example:

The morning of the Model United Nation conference, I walked into Committee feeling confident about my research. We were simulating the Nuremberg Trials – a series of post-World War II proceedings for war crimes – and my portfolio was of the Soviet Judge Major General Iona Nikitchenko. Until that day, the infamous Nazi regime had only been a chapter in my history textbook; however, the conference’s unveiling of each defendant’s crimes brought those horrors to life. The previous night, I had organized my research, proofread my position paper and gone over Judge Nikitchenko’s pertinent statements. I aimed to find the perfect balance between his stance and my own.

As I walked into committee anticipating a battle of wits, my director abruptly called out to me. “I’m afraid we’ve received a late confirmation from another delegate who will be representing Judge Nikitchenko. You, on the other hand, are now the defense attorney, Otto Stahmer.” Everyone around me buzzed around the room in excitement, coordinating with their allies and developing strategies against their enemies, oblivious to the bomb that had just dropped on me. I felt frozen in my tracks, and it seemed that only rage against the careless delegate who had confirmed her presence so late could pull me out of my trance. After having spent a month painstakingly crafting my verdicts and gathering evidence against the Nazis, I now needed to reverse my stance only three hours before the first session.

Gradually, anger gave way to utter panic. My research was fundamental to my performance, and without it, I knew I could add little to the Trials. But confident in my ability, my director optimistically recommended constructing an impromptu defense. Nervously, I began my research anew. Despite feeling hopeless, as I read through the prosecution’s arguments, I uncovered substantial loopholes. I noticed a lack of conclusive evidence against the defendants and certain inconsistencies in testimonies. My discovery energized me, inspiring me to revisit the historical overview in my conference “Background Guide” and to search the web for other relevant articles. Some Nazi prisoners had been treated as “guilty” before their court dates. While I had brushed this information under the carpet while developing my position as a judge, it now became the focus of my defense. I began scratching out a new argument, centered on the premise that the allied countries had violated the fundamental rule that, a defendant was “not guilty” until proven otherwise.

At the end of the three hours, I felt better prepared. The first session began, and with bravado, I raised my placard to speak. Microphone in hand, I turned to face my audience. “Greetings delegates. I, Otto Stahmer would like to…….” I suddenly blanked. Utter dread permeated my body as I tried to recall my thoughts in vain. “Defence Attorney, Stahmer we’ll come back to you,” my Committee Director broke the silence as I tottered back to my seat, flushed with embarrassment. Despite my shame, I was undeterred. I needed to vindicate my director’s faith in me. I pulled out my notes, refocused, and began outlining my arguments in a more clear and direct manner. Thereafter, I spoke articulately, confidently putting forth my points. I was overjoyed when Secretariat members congratulated me on my fine performance.

Going into the conference, I believed that preparation was the key to success. I wouldn’t say I disagree with that statement now, but I believe adaptability is equally important. My ability to problem-solve in the face of an unforeseen challenge proved advantageous in the art of diplomacy. Not only did this experience transform me into a confident and eloquent delegate at that conference, but it also helped me become a more flexible and creative thinker in a variety of other capacities. Now that I know I can adapt under pressure, I look forward to engaging in activities that will push me to be even quicker on my feet.

This essay is an excellent example of in-the-moment narration. The student openly shares their internal state with us — we feel their anger and panic upon the reversal of roles. We empathize with their emotions of “utter dread” and embarrassment when they’re unable to speak. 

For in-the-moment essays, overloading on descriptions is a common mistake students make. This writer provides just the right amount of background and details to help us understand the situation, however, and balances out the actual event with reflection on the significance of this experience. 

One main area of improvement is that the writer sometimes makes explicit statements that could be better illustrated through their thoughts, actions, and feelings. For instance, they say they “spoke articulately” after recovering from their initial inability to speak, and they also claim that adaptability has helped them in other situations. This is not as engaging as actual examples that convey the same meaning. Still, this essay overall is a strong example of in-the-moment narration, and gives us a relatable look into the writer’s life and personality.

2. Narrative told over an extended period of time

In this essay structure, you share a story that takes place across several different experiences. This narrative style is well-suited for any story arc with multiple parts. If you want to highlight your development over time, you might consider this structure. 

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

The timeline of this essay spans from the writer’s childhood all the way to sophomore year, but we only see key moments along this journey. First, we get context for why the writer thought he had to choose one identity: his older brothers had very distinct interests. Then, we learn about the student’s 10th grade creative writing class, writing contest, and results of the contest. Finally, the essay covers the writers’ embarrassment of his identity as a poet, to gradual acceptance and pride in that identity. 

This essay is a great example of a narrative told over an extended period of time. It’s highly personal and reflective, as the piece shares the writer’s conflicting feelings, and takes care to get to the root of those feelings. Furthermore, the overarching story is that of a personal transformation and development, so it’s well-suited to this essay structure.

3. Series of anecdotes, or montage

This essay structure allows you to focus on the most important experiences of a single storyline, or it lets you feature multiple (not necessarily related) stories that highlight your personality. Montage is a structure where you piece together separate scenes to form a whole story. This technique is most commonly associated with film. Just envision your favorite movie—it likely is a montage of various scenes that may not even be chronological. 

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée , while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “ Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable. 

This essay takes a few different anecdotes and weaves them into a coherent narrative about the writer’s penchant for novel experiences. We’re plunged into her universe, in the middle of her Taekwondo spar, three years before the present day. She then transitions into a scene in a ballet studio, present day. By switching from past tense to present tense, the writer clearly demarcates this shift in time. 

The parallel use of the spoken phrase “Point” in the essay ties these two experiences together. The writer also employs a flashback to Master Pollard’s remark about “grabbing a tutu” and her habit of dorsiflexing her toes, which further cements the connection between these anecdotes. 

While some of the descriptions are a little wordy, the piece is well-executed overall, and is a stellar example of the montage structure. The two anecdotes are seamlessly intertwined, and they both clearly illustrate the student’s determination, dedication, reflectiveness, and adaptability. The writer also concludes the essay with a larger reflection on her life, many moves, and multiple languages. 

Unconventional College Essay Structures

Unconventional essay structures are any that don’t fit into the categories above. These tend to be higher risk, as it’s easier to turn off the admissions officer, but they’re also higher reward if executed correctly. 

There are endless possibilities for unconventional structures, but most fall under one of two categories:

1. Playing with essay format

Instead of choosing a traditional narrative format, you might take a more creative route to showcase your interests, writing your essay:

  • As a movie script
  • With a creative visual format (such as creating a visual pattern with the spaces between your sentences forming a picture)
  • As a two-sided Lincoln-Douglas debate
  • As a legal brief
  • Using song lyrics

2. Linguistic techniques

You could also play with the actual language and sentence structure of your essay, writing it:

  • In iambic pentameter
  • Partially in your mother tongue
  • In code or a programming language

These linguistic techniques are often hybrid, where you write some of the essay with the linguistic variation, then write more of an explanation in English.

Under no circumstances should you feel pressured to use an unconventional structure. Trying to force something unconventional will only hurt your chances. That being said, if a creative structure comes naturally to you, suits your personality, and works with the content of your essay — go for that structure!

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A Complete Guide to the College Application Process

Find answers to common questions prospective college students have about deadlines, essays and more.

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Students should generally begin working on applications the summer between their junior and senior year of high school, experts say.

The college application process can seem intimidating, especially if students don't have parents or siblings who have already been through it and can offer advice.

Since there are several steps, such as writing an essay and obtaining letters of recommendation , experts say a good way for students to get started is to create a to-do list during their junior year of high school.

"Once you can see it visually, the number of tasks and a schedule to do them, it simplifies a lot of things," says Christine Chu, a premier college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting company. "It will take away a lot of the anxiety."

Though there is often prep work, students generally begin working on college application tasks the summer between their junior and senior years of high school, experts say.

Here's what prospective undergraduates need to know about completing a college application.

What Are the Important College Application Deadlines?

High school seniors have multiple deadlines to choose from when applying to colleges.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Applying to College

Applying to college.

  • Complete the FAFSA
  • Fill Out the Common App
  • Write a Standout College Essay
  • Ask for Recommendation Letters
  • Learn the Ins and Outs of Financial Aid
  • Decipher College Tuition Costs
  • Find Scholarships to Pay for College

Early Decision

First are early decision deadlines, usually in November. Students who apply via early decision, or ED, hear back from a college sooner than their peers who turn in applications later. ED admissions decisions often come out by December.

However, students should be aware that ED acceptances are binding, meaning an applicant must enroll if offered admission.

Some schools also have a second early decision deadline, ED II, which is also binding. The difference is in the timelines. ED II deadlines are usually in January, and admissions decisions often come out in February.

Early Action

Early action is another type of application deadline that tends to be in November or December, though some schools set deadlines as early as Oct. 15. Similar to early decision, students who apply via early action hear back from schools sooner. The difference is EA acceptances aren't binding.

Restrictive early action , which is uncommon, allows students to apply early but only to a single school (though there are exceptions). It's also nonbinding.

Regular Decision

Students can also choose to apply by a school's regular decision deadline, which is typically Jan. 1. Students who apply regular decision generally hear back from schools in mid-to-late March or early April. This is the most common way students apply to schools.

One other admissions policy to be aware of is rolling admissions . Schools with rolling admissions evaluate applications as they receive them and release admissions decisions on an ongoing basis. These schools may have a priority filing date, but they generally don't have a hard cutoff date for applications. The institutions continue accepting them until all spots in the incoming class are filled.

Regardless of the type of decision students pursue, it's important to start the application process early, says Denard Jones, lead college counselor at Empowerly, a college admissions consulting company. Jones previously worked in college admissions at Elon University in North Carolina and Saint Joseph's University in Pennsylvania.

“If you chunk it up and break down these tasks and can get ahead and start early, you’re not stifling your creativity because you’re trying to rush through to get everything done by October or November deadlines," he says. “Time management is something you’re going to have to deal with the rest of your life, regardless of what you go into.”

In deciding when to apply, as well as how many colleges to apply to, students should consider financial aid implications . Experts say if money is a concern, as it is for most families of college-bound students, applicants should choose nonbinding deadlines – EA and regular decision. This will enable families to compare financial aid offers from multiple schools.

Experts also suggest students research applicable scholarships, like those related to their hobbies , to help offset costs.

For regular decision deadlines, students typically have until May 1 to decide which school they will attend and pay an enrollment deposit.

Which College Application Platform Should I Use?

Students have several options when it comes to college application platforms.

The Common Application

One popular choice is The Common Application , which is accepted by more than 1,000 colleges, including some outside the U.S. Students fill out the Common App once and can then submit it to multiple colleges.

However, in addition to the main application, Common App schools often have a supplemental section, Chu says. The supplement sometimes includes additional essay questions, so students may need to budget time for more writing.

Some schools do not accept the Common App, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Students have to fill out separate applications for these schools, generally through the school's website.

Coalition Application and Common Black College Application

Other application options include the Coalition Application, a newer platform accepted by 130 schools, and the Common Black College Application , accepted by most historically Black colleges and universities.

Additionally, some colleges have school-specific or university system-specific applications. For example, the University of California system has its own application – the only platform used by UC schools – and students can apply to multiple campuses with one application.

Students can visit a college's website to find out which application platforms are accepted. Also, the Common App , Coalition Application and CBCA websites list their partner schools.

What Do I Need to Know About the College Application Essay?

As part of the application process, most colleges require students to submit at least one writing sample: the college essay . This is sometimes referred to as a personal statement.

There's usually a word limit of around several hundred words for a personal statement. The main essay on the Common App should be around 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words. Institution-specific supplemental essays typically have a word count of around 250 words.

Regardless of which application platform they use, students have multiple essay prompts from which to choose.

"The application essay prompts are broad and open-ended, and I think that's sometimes what challenges students the most," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York. "But they're open-ended for a reason, and that's because we do really want to see what students choose to write about, what students feel is important."

Experts say students should try to tell a story about themselves in the essay, which doesn't necessarily mean writing about a big, impressive accomplishment.

Barron says the most memorable essays for her focus on more ordinary topics. "But they're done in such a self-reflective way that it gives me so much insight into who a student is as a person and gives me such a sense of the student's voice," she adds.

What Are the Other Key Components of a College Application?

Here are other parts of the college application that prospective students should be ready for.

Personal Information

In the first portion of a college application, students have to provide basic information about themselves, their school and their family.

High School Transcript

Colleges also ask for an official high school transcript, which is a record of the courses students have taken and the grades they have earned.

Admissions offices typically ask that a transcript be sent directly from the high school rather than from the student, says Geoff Heckman, school counselor and department chair at Platte County High School in Missouri. Students usually submit a transcript request to their high school's counseling office, but some schools use an online service, such as Parchment or SENDedu, that allows students to request the transcript be sent through a secure online provider, Heckman says.

Students can also send their transcript via a registrar if their school has one rather than through the counseling office.

Standardized Test Scores

Many schools require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, which are usually sent by the testing companies. The number of schools requiring standardized test scores has dropped dramatically as the coronavirus pandemic upended these exams.

Prospective students should know, however, that testing policies vary even when such exams are not required. Key terms to pay attention to include test-blind and test-optional . Test-blind means that scores will not be considered if submitted. By contrast, test-optional colleges do not require ACT or SAT scores but will consider them if submitted as part of an application.

Chu notes that "admissions officers still want to see test scores if possible" and that high marks will only help. Strong scores can lead to scholarships, in some cases, experts say. A good ACT or SAT score varies by college, and Chu encourages students to look at a college's first-year student profile to determine admission goals.

SAT-takers are allowed four free score reports each time they register for the exam. Students can select which schools they'd like their scores sent to before or up to nine days after the test, according to the College Board, which administers the standardized test. The fee for each additional score report is $12.

Similarly, students who sit for the ACT can send their score to up to four colleges at no cost, according to the ACT website . Additional score reports are $18 each. However, some students may qualify for a fee waiver , which allows test-takers to send additional score reports for free to colleges and scholarship agencies at any time during the college search process, according to the ACT website.

Letters of Recommendation

Colleges often ask students to submit two to three letters of recommendation .

Students should seek out recommenders – often they have to be teachers or counselors – who know them well and can comment not just on their academic abilities but also their personal qualities and achievements, Chu says.

It's a good idea for students to provide recommenders with a copy of their resume to help them cover all these bases, Heckman says.

Students should request letters of recommendation well before the application deadline. Chu advises at least two months in advance.

"The more time students can give the authors of those recommendations, I think the more thorough and helpful those recommendations are going to be for us," Barron says.

Information on Extracurricular Activities

College applications give students the chance to provide information on the extracurricular activities they participated in while in high school. In this section, students should detail all of the ways they spend their time outside of class, Barron says. This includes structured activities like sports or clubs, as well as family obligations such as caring for siblings or part-time employment, she says.

Some admissions officers spend significant time evaluating this section, Jones says, but he adds this is often the most overlooked part of the application. Many students rush through it and don't thoroughly explain the extent to which they were involved in an activity. Be sure to explain any leadership roles or accomplishments, he says.

"The extracurriculars are the things that they spend their entire high school career doing that lead up to these wonderful moments and accolades over time," he says. "So take the time and be detailed."

Do I Need to Submit a Resume?

On some college applications, it may be optional for students to upload a resume .

But much of the information generally contained in a resume – such as awards, work experience and extracurricular activities – is asked for in other parts of a college application, often in the activities section.

How Much Do College Application Fees Cost?

There's no set price for college application fees, which experts say typically range from $50 to $90 per application, though costs can stretch upward of $100 in some instances. Prospective students should check college websites to determine these individual fees.

How Can I Get a College Application Fee Waiver?

There are several ways students from low-income families can submit college applications for free .

Students who received SAT or ACT test fee waivers are eligible for college application fee waivers from the testing companies. The College Board sends such waivers automatically to students. Not all schools accept these waivers, but many do.

Similarly, the ACT has a fee waiver request form students and school counselors can fill out and send to colleges. The National Association for College Admission Counseling also offers a fee waiver request form .

In addition, eligible students can request a fee waiver within the body of some college applications, including the Common App.

There are other times schools waive application fees , and not just for low-income students. Students can sometimes get an application fee waived by participating in instant decision day events at their high school or on a college's campus. Applicants should also keep an eye out for free application periods in some states, when some colleges waive fees to apply.

Using a College Visit to Decide Where to Apply

A common piece of advice offered by admissions consultants and college officials alike is to tour a campus. Visiting a college can help prospective students get a sense of the culture and community and understand how they may or may not fit in. While it's not part of the formal application process, exploring a college can help students determine which schools to apply to.

Such visits, Chu says, offer a "glimpse into a day in the life" of students living and learning on those campuses. But in the absence of the opportunity to visit – say, due to cost restrictions or other travel limitations – students should consider virtual tours , which emerged as a popular option for applicants after the coronavirus pandemic began.

While virtual tours may offer fewer opportunities to make personal connections, students should still attempt to forge them.

"Virtual visits can be the next best thing" to an in-person tour, Barron notes. She also encourages applicants to "check college websites for offerings and opportunities to connect virtually with current students, admission staff, professors, coaches and others."

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What are colleges looking for in your application essay?

Colleges look for three things in your admission essay: a unique perspective, strong writing, and an authentic voice. People in admissions often say that a great essay is one where it feels like the student is right there in the room, talking authentically to the admissions committee!

Admission essays are very different from the 5-paragraph essays you write in English or history class! Great essays are built around stories, not arguments. They reveal your character, not rehash your achievements . The best essays focus on moments when you changed, learned, or grew as a person.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, what do colleges typically require for admission.

Hey guys! Junior here starting to feel the heat of the college app process. I wanted to know, what’s the usual list of things that colleges require from applicants? In particular, I'm looking at a range of schools, so I'm curious about the must-haves no matter where you apply. Do all colleges require essays, or are there some that don't? What kind of recommendations are non-negotiable? Basically, what’s in the standard application package?

Hello! It's great that you're beginning to think about what you'll need for your college applications. The standard application package typically includes your high school transcript, standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), college essays, letters of recommendation, a list of extracurricular activities, and sometimes a resume.

Most colleges will require at least one essay, but some might not, or they may have optional essays. Common Application schools, for example, always require a main essay, and some have supplemental essays specific to their school.

Recommendations often come from your teachers—usually two, with at least one from a core subject teacher relevant to your intended major or strength area. A counselor letter is also commonly requested. Some schools may also consider additional recommendations from coaches, employers, or others who have worked with you in a significant capacity. Bear in mind that every college can have slightly different requirements, so it’s crucial to check the admission page of each school you're interested in to confirm.

Including a detailed list of extracurricular activities helps colleges understand what you do outside of the classroom and the level of your engagement. Always pay attention to any special requirements for programs you're applying to—like portfolios for art programs or auditions for music conservatories.

And for testing, some schools are still test-optional, meaning you don’t necessarily have to submit SAT or ACT scores. Remember to start early and keep organized to ensure you meet all the different requirements and deadlines!

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List of Supplemental Essays Required By Top Colleges

By Michaela • October 31, 2021 • College Application Early Admission

Looking for a quick reference to the essays required by the colleges on your list? Check out our list of supplemental essays required by many of the top colleges students apply to each year. If you need help with these essays schedule a meeting with one of our essay coaches today!

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33 Colleges Without Supplemental Essays

At many top schools, essays form a critical part of the college admissions process. Overwhelmingly, students find writing essays to be the most stressful part of the application process. So, when applying to multiple schools, many applicants look for colleges without supplemental essays. Colleges that don’t require essays allow students to focus on other aspects of their application like extracurriculars, test scores, or recommendation letters. 

However, finding colleges that don’t require supplemental essays can be tedious. That’s why we’ve created a list of 33 colleges without supplemental essays to make the search easier.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you can find college application requirements without supplemental essays. Moreover, a lack of supplemental essay requirements doesn’t mean a university isn’t good.  

This guide will help you find colleges without supplemental essays that meet your needs. In addition to discussing colleges that don’t require essays, we’ll also talk about other college application requirements. By the end of this article, you’ll be better prepared for the college application process. 

What is a supplemental essay?

Before you start searching for colleges that don’t require supplemental essays, it’s important to understand what they actually are. Supplemental essays are extra essays that each school requires; some schools require only one, while others require several. They cover a range of prompts from the “why school” essay to the cultural diversity essay and more. Usually, supplemental essays are rather short, hovering in the 50-250-word limit range. They serve as an opportunity to showcase an applicant’s strengths, moments of personal growth, and personality. 

It’s important to note that supplemental essays are different from the personal statement on the Common Application . The Common App essay prompts allow you to submit one personal statement to every college where you apply. In other words, you’ll almost certainly write this personal statement plus supplemental essays for each college on your list . You can also look up each school’s supplemental writing requirements on the Common App site. 

There aren’t many colleges that don’t require essays at all. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any colleges that don’t require supplemental essays. With that said, most American universities have some essay requirements, even if they don’t ask for writing supplements.

Supplemental essays vs. Personal Statement

Often, top colleges without supplemental essays will require students to write a personal statement . Recall that supplemental essays vary in length and number of essays to complete depending on the school. In contrast, the personal statement is one essay that most schools have as a part of their college application requirements. However, both supplemental essays and the personal statement are important when it comes to creating an authentic application narrative . 

The personal statement is a part of the Common Application. There are seven prompts to choose from, one of which is open, meaning you can write anything you’d like. The personal statement is longer than most supplemental essays at 650 words. While you’ll just write on one of these prompts, the others touch on common college essay topics. Don’t hesitate to brainstorm for a few of the Common App prompts, not just one.

Supplemental essays are usually shorter than the personal statement. School requirements will vary. While there are colleges without supplemental essays at all, others may have as many as six!

While there are many nuances to the college admissions process, there are several key steps to be aware of. Take our quiz to see just how prepared you are to submit your college applications!

How many supplemental essays do college require?

While there are competitive colleges without supplemental essays, the majority of universities require at least one supplemental essay. However, the number of required supplemental essays will vary greatly. 

For example, Northeastern University doesn’t have a writing supplement requirement on the Northeastern application. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the Northeastern application easier than other universities. Since it’s a top school, applicants will still need to do everything possible to make their Northeastern application stand out. 

Unlike the Northeastern application, the University of Chicago has one required “why school” essay and various supplemental essay prompts to choose from. In total, students applying to UChicago will write two supplemental essays. 

When it comes to the number of supplemental essays a school requires, there is no single answer. All schools will be different, so be sure to check each school’s individual application requirements on their admissions sites. 

What kind of colleges require essays?

Generally, it is rare to find colleges that don’t require essays at all. While there are some colleges without supplemental essays, most still require students to submit the personal statement. Therefore, most colleges in the U.S. require essays in some form. Even if you’re applying through a different platform like UC Apply or the Coalition Application , you’ll have to write.

A better question might be: why do colleges require essays? The majority of universities’ admissions teams use a holistic evaluation process. That means that each of the college application requirements receives equal consideration. Your supplemental essay is an opportunity to share more about yourself with admissions. Successful college essay ideas will center on stories that show personal growth and self-reflection. 

What are college application requirements?

If you’re looking for colleges without supplemental essays, then you’ll need to sift through each school’s requirements. Simply put, college application requirements are all the materials that applicants need for a complete application. 

Here are some of the most common application requirements: 

  • Basic biographical and demographic information
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Personal statement
  • Application fee
  • Transcripts
  • Counselor and/or Teacher letter(s) of recommendation

In the application, students will be able to add their essays. Keep in mind that each school’s college application requirements vary, so you should confirm specifics on their websites. 

Do all colleges require supplemental essays?

Luckily for those who dread essay writing, there are colleges without supplemental essays. Soon, we’re going to provide you with a comprehensive list of well-known colleges that don’t require supplemental essays. 

However, keep in mind that most schools do require students to complete the personal statement. So, for those who are hoping to find colleges that don’t require essays of any kind, it will be challenging. Nevertheless, students who have an extreme aversion to essay writing will find some top colleges without supplemental essays. 

Why apply to colleges that don’t require essays?

There are a few reasons that students want to apply to colleges without supplemental essays. Some students may feel like the essays are too stressful. And while there are ways to manage that stress and write compelling essays, some students may just prefer not to. 

However, probably the number one reason that students are intrigued by colleges without supplemental essays is time. Thinking of college essay ideas and writing essays is time-consuming. When you consider that some students apply to as many as 15 schools, it can feel overwhelming. Even adding just a few colleges that don’t require essays to your college list will lighten the burden. 

Additionally, there are many competitive colleges without supplemental essays. Just remember: if you apply to colleges without supplemental essays, make the rest of your application as competitive as possible. It certainly isn’t an excuse to slack on your application narrative. In fact, with colleges that don’t require essays, you must pay extra attention to your demonstration of academic achievements and extracurricular involvement. 

As stated above, colleges without supplemental essays usually still require a personal statement. However, this essay can be used for multiple schools. That is to say, once it’s written, you’re set for all of your applications to colleges without supplemental essays. 

33 Best Colleges without Supplemental Essays

Finally, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Let’s check out some colleges without supplemental essays. 

Top 33 Colleges without Essays

1. colby college.

This small liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine, is the first to make our list. As the 12 th oldest liberal arts school in the US, Colby College has ample experience providing students with an intimate learning environment. If you’re interested in a liberal arts education from a small Northeastern University, then check out Colby’s application requirements .  

2. Grinnell College

Students who attend Grinnell are encouraged to “pursue passions with purpose.” While it may seem surprising that such a school numbers among colleges that don’t require essays, take advantage of it and apply ! Grinnell College is consistently a high-ranking liberal arts school. Here, students are encouraged to create a course of study that best supports their intellectual freedom.

3. Middlebury College

Another of the many liberal arts colleges without supplemental essays on our list is Middlebury College. Located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, the natural beauty will inspire your learning as a natural laboratory is just outside. Its acceptance rate is 13%, so you’ll need an impeccable application in the absence of supplemental essays. 

4. Colgate University

Located in New York state, Colgate University provides its students with a high quality liberal arts education. Like all others on our list, the Colgate application doesn’t include supplemental essays. There are 56 majors for students to choose from. Colgate values a curious mind, so be sure to show your curiosity in your Colgate application. Check out what you need to complete your Colgate application. 

5. Temple University

This is the first public research university on our list of colleges without supplemental essays. Temple University has 17 schools and colleges in which to study, but an emphasis is placed on experiential learning. Given Temple’s location in the heart of North Philadelphia, students will have all the opportunities that the city provides. 

6. Oberlin College

The one-of-a-kind education provided by Oberlin College allows students to explore both academics and the arts. Indeed, the Oberlin College ranking across metrics speaks for itself: the Oberlin College ranking in national liberal arts colleges is #39 . And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Oberlin College ranking in Most Innovative Schools is #16 . Of course, the Oberlin College ranking isn’t everything. But, the Oberlin College ranking does speak to the school’s quality, unique liberal arts education. For Oberlin College (not the conservatory) no supplemental essay is needed. 

7. Case Western Reserve University

There are hundreds of programs at Case Western Reserve for students to pursue. However, overall, the student population is committed to making a difference, with education a stepping stone to an impactful career. In addition to being one of our colleges without supplemental essays, Case Western Reserve is also test-optional through fall 2024. 

8. Bates College

The Bates way is all about “aligning who you are with what you do.” Students will be a part of a community with values such as social responsibility and diversity and inclusion. Check out the requirements for what it takes to be a part of this unique campus. Keep in mind that the Bates College acceptance rate is quite competitive. In fact, the Bates College acceptance rate is considered most selective at 17% . So, although Bates is among the colleges that don’t require essays, the Bates College acceptance rate means intense competition for admittance. 

9. Northeastern University

This well-known university in Boston , Massachusetts, is among the most competitive colleges without supplemental essays with an 18% acceptance rate. Experiential learning and research are among the core parts of a Northeastern University education. If you’re interested in innovation and impact, then see what you need to apply .

10. Hampshire College

It may be unsurprising that Hampshire College, the self-proclaimed “original disruptors of higher education,” is among the colleges that don’t require essays. Hampshire believes that their radical education experience leads to greater impact. This is a community that values experimentation, discovery, and investigation in a non-traditional manner. If that sounds up your alley, take a look at their application requirements. 

11. DePaul University

This large private university in Chicago, Illinois, is next on our list of colleges without supplemental essays. Faculty provide high-quality teaching in order to give their students the best educational experience. DePaul aims to provide an experience that combines “mind, place, people, and heart.”

12. Drexel University

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University is arguably one of the best colleges without supplemental essays. It’s nationally recognized for its co-op experience. This learning model allows all students to have ample hands-on experience in their field of interest before even graduating. Drexel admissions may not seem super competitive with an acceptance rate of 83% . However, that doesn’t mean you should slack on the application. Impressing Drexel admissions could lead to scholarships, which are also an extremely important part of the college application process. 

13. Kenyon College

This college may not be a household name, but they’ve played a huge part in the model of faculty advising nationwide. In fact, according to Kenyon College , they invented it. So you can imagine the quality attention the learning experience that students will receive here. 

14. Dillard University

Louisiana’s first private liberal arts HBCU makes our list of colleges without supplemental essays. The undergraduate population is around 1,200, making it a small school. At Dillard, students can expect personalized attention and a tight-knit campus community. After applying and being accepted, students will have 22 majors to choose from. 

15. Skidmore College

Creative thinking is at the heart of Skidmore’s education model. Located in Saratoga Springs, New York, this private university offers students an excellent education in a bucolic college town . At Skidmore College , students are encouraged to explore a variety of educational interests as all majors are interdisciplinary.

16. Ohio State University

Located in Columbus, Ohio—the fastest-growing metropolitan in the Midwest — Ohio State University places an emphasis on improving local and global communities. In fact, they have contribution efforts in every county in Ohio. And, with six campuses throughout the state, students can choose which location will best serve them. 

17. Louisiana State University

As a leading research university in Baton Rouge, LSU is among the best colleges without supplemental essays. No matter their major, every student is able to participate in research opportunities. LSU ’s emphasis on research is a crux of the community as it comes from a drive to improve the world. 

18. University of Alabama

With over 100 areas of study in 8 schools and colleges, the University of Alabama provides students with ample options. At the University of Alabama, research is highly valued, but students are ultimately encouraged to pursue their passions. Check out the freshman requirements to learn more about applying. 

19. University of Cincinnati

Another large public research university makes our list of colleges without supplemental essays. UC has excellent co-op and internship programs from which students can gain practical professional experience while studying. University of Cincinnati students will gain an excellent education and hands-on experience.

20. Clemson University

Clemson admissions prides itself on the university’s tireless work ethic. Through this, they encourage their students to “change lives, change perceptions, and…to change the world.” Students willing to work hard to achieve their future goals should check out the application requirements . Clemson admissions falls in the middle when it comes to selectivity. The Clemson admissions rate is 49% . Logically, we can see from the Clemson admissions rate that nearly half the students that apply will gain admittance. 

21. University of Pittsburgh

Located in the heart of the city, the University of Pittsburgh is among the top colleges without supplemental essays. This large public university focuses on innovation as a path to positive change. With a prime location, students are encouraged to take advantage of all that the university and city have to offer.  

22. Wesleyan University

Forming students to be “intellectually agile” is a huge part of the Wesleyan curriculum. With 45 majors to choose from, students are encouraged to take advantage of the large range of available courses. Additionally, there are over 5,000 internships opportunities available starting from your first year on campus. 

23. Miami University

You may have seen this school ranking in the top 50 public universities in the US. There’s certainly no doubt that Miami University in Ohio is one of the best colleges without supplemental essays. With many dynamic undergraduate programs available, students will be able to pursue a wealth of careers in their chosen fields. An active student body helps in forming a strong campus community in a location brimming with natural beauty. 

24. University of Connecticut

As a large university with a rural location, the UConn campus community is like a small town of its own. Students can enjoy a wide range of study options, ample student organizations and clubs, and renowned leaders as faculty members. Learn more about the application requirements. 

25. University of Delaware

The beautiful campus and experienced faculty of the University of Delaware provide for about 18,000 students. Through research, internships, and study abroad opportunities, students are encouraged to find their authentic way of changing the world. 

26. Florida State University

FSU is one of the best value colleges without supplemental essays. Students here are intellectually curious, academically driven, and socially conscious. The FSU experience is centered around providing students with the tools to achieve their goals. 

27. University of Georgia

Even though this is a large university, students are seen as “the individual they are.” The University of Georgia is committed to accessibility and inclusion. Additionally, 92% of the university’s graduates are employed or continuing their studies within six months of graduation. 

28. University of Houston

As the third largest university in Texas , the University of Houston is one of our top colleges without supplemental essays. As a diverse campus community, the university aims to change lives and communities for the better. It emphasizes discovery and conversation as a foundation for students’ development.

29. Indiana University – Bloomington

The possibilities are endless when you study at Indiana University Bloomington . Students will gain hands-on experience in their field either in the lab or on the ground. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to learn from faculty who are renowned in their discipline. 

30. University of Kansas

There is certainly no lack of options when studying at the University of Kansas . There are over 400 degree and certificate programs to choose from spread out over 14 schools. Innovation, research, and the pursuit of knowledge are pillars of the UK educational experience. 

31. University of Kentucky

Another UK makes our list of colleges that don’t require supplemental essays. The University of Kentucky offers over 200 degree programs in 16 schools. One of the university’s main values is finding ways to advance Kentucky—from education, to health, economy, and culture— to ensure its progress. 

32. University of Massachusetts Amherst

Located in an ideal college town, UMass Amherst is the largest public research university in New England. The school offers over 110 majors on campus. In addition, students are encouraged to be curious explorers through study abroad opportunities. 

33. University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

This large university with a city campus encourages students to discover the unknown. Whether it’s through internships or research opportunities, students are challenged to pursue their interests and push their academic limits. Learn more about the application requirements to get started.

As you review this list, please note that college essay requirements are subject to change. With this in mind, make sure to visit each school’s admissions website to confirm all supplemental essay requirements.

It may seem alluring to apply only to these colleges that don’t require essays. However, keep in mind that these institutions place more importance on GPA and extracurriculars. So, when considering applying to schools without supplemental essays, think about these factors. Will your application narrative be impactful to admissions teams without additional essays? Will your personality and values shine through? 

What is the best school that doesn’t require supplemental essays?

Looking at the acceptance rates of the colleges that don’t require essays, we can determine which schools are the most selective. In this case, Colby College ( 9% ), Grinnell College ( 11% ), and Middlebury College ( 13% ) have some of the most selective acceptance rates. However, the Bates College acceptance rate also makes it quite selective. In fact, the Bates College acceptance rate is similar to that of Northeastern University. 

The best colleges without supplemental essays will vary depending on what you’re looking for. So, how can you determine your top colleges without supplemental essays? Well, when making your college list you should consider factors such as majors, location, size, and campus culture. This will help you focus your college search on a few key criteria.

Firstly, make a list of what you want in your university. For example, do you want to go to school in a large city? Are internship or co-op programs important to you? Is your major available, and are you intrigued by its curriculum? Ideally, you want to be excited imagining yourself on a college’s campus. As you think about your college list priorities, you’ll be better able to identify which university is best for you. In fact, you may have already started by determining you want to look at colleges that don’t require essays!

College Application Requirements: Beyond Essays

Coming up with college essay ideas might be one of the biggest stressors in the college application process. And yet, there is certainly much more to completing an application than just essays. Colleges that don’t require essays still have other requirements that applicants will need to send by the school’s application deadlines . 

For example, let’s look at Colby admissions, which features on our list of colleges that don’t require essays. The Colby admissions site states the application requirements are the completed application, academic records, and financial aid application. Non-native English speakers may also be required to submit a language proficiency certification.

Additionally, there are optional materials you can add to enhance your application, which vary from school to school. Colby accepts standardized test scores , additional recommendation letters, an arts supplement, and an “elevator pitch” video.

Of course, these are just application requirements outlined by Colby admissions. Drexel admissions, Clemson admissions, and any other college admissions office will have other—often similar—application requirements. When comparing colleges to add to your college list, these requirements will likely be an important factor. 

Students can usually count on the following materials being required during the application process: 

  • Completed application
  • Academic records
  • Teacher/counselor letters of recommendation
  • Language proficiency exam (where applicable)

Many schools are continuing test-optional policies first instated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some do require standardized testing scores as well. Always check the admissions site for the application requirements and deadlines. For example, Colby and Drexel admissions have slight differences in their requirements, even though they’re both colleges that don’t require essays. Always confirm requirements on admissions websites!

How to make your college application stand out!

Even when applying to colleges that don’t require essays, you still need to carefully craft a compelling application narrative. Creating a cohesive application narrative or personal brand during the college application process can be tricky. Ideally, your application should tell the story of who you are and what drives you, both academically and personally. You’ll show this through your grades, courses, achievements, and extracurricular activities . 

Regardless of other college essay ideas you need, you will need to write the Common App personal statement. This is the only significant writing the admissions teams will see from applicants at colleges that don’t require essays. In light of that, it needs to be an excellent example of your writing skills while also demonstrating your personality. 

The Common App provides students with a few college essay topics to choose from. In order to generate the best college essay ideas, choose to write on college essay topics that genuinely excite you. While brainstorming , make a list of college essay ideas from the given college essay topics. Think about anecdotes, meaningful experiences, and personal growth that pertain to the college essay topics. Successful college essay ideas lead to authentic essays, which is the key in standing out to admissions. 

Essay Guides and Essay Resources

As we’ve mentioned, even when applying to colleges that don’t require essays, most applicants must complete the personal statement. Don’t stress about coming up with college essay ideas on your own! CollegeAdvisor.com provides ample free resources for students at every step of the college application process—including the essays. 

Unfortunately for those aiming to apply to colleges that don’t require essays of any kind, most require the personal statement. The best way to generate college essay ideas is by reading successful essay examples. Check out some of these Common App essay examples to understand what works. And, before even worrying about college essay ideas, learn more about the Common App essay in this article . We’ll outline the most important factors when writing this essay. 

If you’re reading this, you probably want to apply to colleges that don’t require essays. However, don’t let that limit you in the college application process. If you love a school, but they require supplemental essays, keep it on your list. Don’t let a disdain for essays keep you from attending your dream school .

CollegeAdvisor has many school-specific essay guides covering everything from college essay ideas to revising that final draft. Check out our USC , Yale , UChicago , and many more college-specific supplemental essay guides. If you’re stuck on thinking up college essay ideas, then these guides are a good place to begin.

Colleges Without Supplemental Essays – Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, supplemental essays are one of the most stressful parts of the college application process for many students. From choosing college essay topics to generating college essay ideas and actually writing essays, there’s a lot of effort involved.

However, as you can see from this article, there are many colleges that don’t require essays. So, if you’re crunched for time or feel overwhelmed by needing various impactful college essay ideas, you have options. It’s never a bad idea to add some schools that don’t require essays to your college list. 

Keep in mind, though, that you’ll most likely still need to write the personal statement essay. But one essay is better than six. And, remember that CollegeAdvisor can provide personalized attention for anything from brainstorming college essay ideas to applying for financial aid. Reach out if you’d like some guidance in your college application process. Otherwise, take advantage of our large library of free resources!

This article was written by Sarah Kaminski. Looking for more admissions support? 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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“Telling people not to use ChatGPT is not preparing people for the world of the future,” said Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI.

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Did student or ChatGPT write that paper? Does it matter?

Sam Altman, CEO of firm that developed app, says ethics do matter, but they need to be rethought (and AI isn’t going away)

Harvard Correspondent

Colleges and universities have been wrestling with concerns over plagiarism and other ethical questions surrounding the use of AI since the emergence of ChatGPT in late 2022.

But Sam Altman, whose company, OpenAI, launched the chatbot app, said during a campus visit Wednesday that AI is such a powerful tool that higher education would be doing its students a disservice by turning its back on it — if that were even possible now. And some of the old rules of ethics will need to be rethought.

“Cheating on homework is obviously bad,” said Altman. “But what we mean by cheating and what the expected rules are does change over time.”

Altman discussed AI in the academy, along with the subtleties of using ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, while at the University to receive the Experiment Cup from Xfund , an early stage venture capital firm. That event was sponsored by the John A. Paulson School for Engineering and Applied Science, Harvard Business School, and the Institute for Business in Global Society ( BiGS ). It featured a conversation between Altman and Xfund co-founder Patrick Chung ’96.

Speaking to the Gazette before the Cup presentation, Altman likened the initial uproar at schools over ChatGPT to the ones that arose after the arrival of calculators and, later, search engines like Google. “People said, ‘We’ve got to ban these because people will just cheat on their homework,’” he said.

Altman, who left Stanford at 19 to start Loopt, a location-sharing social media app, said the reaction to calculators, for instance, was overblown. “If people don’t need to calculate a sine function by hand again … then mathematical education is over,” he said, with a gentle half-smile on his face.

Altman helped launch OpenAI in 2015 and its wildly influential ChatGPT — which can write papers and generate computer programs, among other things — before being removed in 2023 and then reinstated four days later as the company’s CEO.

ChatGPT, he said, has the potential to exponentially increase productivity in the same way calculators freed users from performing calculations by hand, calling the app “a calculator for words.”

He warned, “Telling people not to use ChatGPT is not preparing people for the world of the future.”

Following a bit of back-and-forth about how the ethics of using ChatGPT and other generative AI may differ in various disciplines, Altman came down hard in favor of utility, praising AI’s massive potential in every field.

“Standards are just going to have to evolve,” he said. He dismissed the notion that ChatGPT could be used for writing in the sciences, where the emphasis is on the findings, but not in the humanities, where the expression of ideas is central.

“Writing a paper the old-fashioned way is not going to be the thing,” he said. “Using the tool to best discover and express, to communicate ideas, I think that’s where things are going to go in the future.”

Altman, who last month joined the Department of Homeland Security’s Artificial Intelligence Safety and Security Board , said ethics remains a concern, and one that has yet to be resolved.

“There will be a conversation about what are the absolute limits of the tool, how do we as a society … negotiate ‘Here is what AI systems can never do.’ Where do we set the defaults? How much does an individual user get to move things around within those boundaries? How do we think about different countries’ laws?”

However, that discussion should not slow the development of AI. Instead, Altman described parallel tracks.

“Generally speaking, I do think these are tools that should do what their users want,” he said, before adding an important, if less than specific, caveat: “But there are going to have to be real limits.”

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Here’s How Ivy League Schools Evaluate Student GPAs

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One of the main gates on the Brown University campus, decorated with the University crest. (Photo by ... [+] Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

A stellar GPA is one of the building blocks of a successful Ivy League application, and as the school year winds down, many students are anxiously seeking to give theirs a final boost. While most students and families understand the importance of a 4.0, few are aware of how top colleges evaluate student GPAs or what they look for when reviewing student transcripts. Though your GPA may seem to be a simple metric, nothing could be further from the case—colleges consider more than just the number, accounting for complexities such as diverse grading systems across schools, trends in grade inflation, and level of course rigor.

Here are three important facts to keep in mind about your GPA as you choose your courses:

1. Your GPA doesn’t directly compare to that of students at other schools.

One common misconception among college applicants is that they can compare their GPAs with those of students attending different schools. However, the GPA is not a universal metric but rather a reflection of an individual's academic performance within their specific educational environment. As a result, comparing GPAs from different schools is like comparing apples and oranges. For instance, some schools offer a plethora of AP, IB, and honors courses, while others may have limited options or offer none at all. Additionally, the weight assigned to AP versus honors versus regular classes varies from school to school. So, your GPA may not hold the same weight as those of your peers at different schools, even if you all have 4.0s.

Admissions officers understand that schools vary in their rigor, curriculum, and grading policies. Therefore, they evaluate your GPA in the context of your high school, considering the courses offered and the academic challenges presented. Instead of fixating on how your GPA compares to your friends’ from other schools, focus on challenging yourself and taking advantage of all the opportunities available to you at your school.

2. GPAs across the country are inflated—and colleges know it.

The last few years have seen surges in high school student GPAs nationwide. While GPA inflation has been on the rise over the last decade, average ACT composite scores are steadily declining. “For the 1.4 million ACT test-takers in the high school class of 2023, the average composite score on the exam was 19.5 out of 36, the lowest score since 1991,” according to The New York Times . The parallel differences, coupled with academic differences across schools, suggest that GPA must be considered in tandem with multiple other factors. Simply put, an A no longer means what it used to on a transcript.

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Ivy League and other top colleges are well aware of this trend and evaluate student GPAs alongside other metrics such as standardized test scores and AP exam scores in order to better understand a student’s academic skill sets. While some Ivy League and other top schools remain test-optional , they still place emphasis on course rigor and the context offered by your high school profile in order to understand the grades on your transcript.

3. Colleges will recalculate your GPA.

Given the abundance of variables in GPA calculations, colleges often recalculate the metric to create a standardized baseline for comparison between students across different schools. The recalibration may involve adjusting for variations in grading scales or the weighting of honors, International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The University of California system, for example, calculates students’ UC GPAs by converting grades to grade points (an A is equivalent to 4 points, a B to three points, etc.) for classes taken between summer after 9th and summer after 11th grade, and adding one point for each honors class, and dividing by total classes taken to yield final GPA.*

Other colleges also take additional factors that impact academic performance into consideration, and envelop GPA into a broader, holistic consideration. For instance, the Harvard University lawsuit over affirmative action revealed that Harvard rates students on a scale of 1–6 (with one being the most desirable) in academic, extracurricular, athletic and personal categories. A student’s GPA and test scores are folded together into an academic score which “summarizes the applicant’s academic achievement and potential based on grades, testing results, letters of recommendation, academic prizes, and any submitted academic work.”

This process aims to provide a fair and equitable evaluation of students from different educational backgrounds. Keep in mind that Harvard considers not only your grades, test scores, and academic rigor in this score, but also “evidence of substantial scholarship” and “academic creativity,” which can make the difference between a 1 and a 2 in the scoring system. These systems underscore the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity, showcasing your unique personality and creativity, and seeking to maximize opportunities to improve your performance within the academic landscape of your institution.

By understanding the complex way by which colleges evaluate students’ GPAs, you are better equipped to present a comprehensive and competitive picture of your academic achievements on your transcript and stand out in the competitive Ivy League admissions landscape.

*Variations exist for in-state versus out-of-state students and by high school. Be sure to calculate your GPA following the UC issued guidelines.

Christopher Rim

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Illustration of a missile made from words.

In the campus protests over the war in Gaza, language and rhetoric are—as they have always been when it comes to Israel and Palestine—weapons of mass destruction.

By Zadie Smith

A philosophy without a politics is common enough. Aesthetes, ethicists, novelists—all may be easily critiqued and found wanting on this basis. But there is also the danger of a politics without a philosophy. A politics unmoored, unprincipled, which holds as its most fundamental commitment its own perpetuation. A Realpolitik that believes itself too subtle—or too pragmatic—to deal with such ethical platitudes as thou shalt not kill. Or: rape is a crime, everywhere and always. But sometimes ethical philosophy reënters the arena, as is happening right now on college campuses all over America. I understand the ethics underpinning the protests to be based on two widely recognized principles:

There is an ethical duty to express solidarity with the weak in any situation that involves oppressive power.

If the machinery of oppressive power is to be trained on the weak, then there is a duty to stop the gears by any means necessary.

The first principle sometimes takes the “weak” to mean “whoever has the least power,” and sometimes “whoever suffers most,” but most often a combination of both. The second principle, meanwhile, may be used to defend revolutionary violence, although this interpretation has just as often been repudiated by pacifistic radicals, among whom two of the most famous are, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr . In the pacifist’s interpretation, the body that we must place between the gears is not that of our enemy but our own. In doing this, we may pay the ultimate price with our actual bodies, in the non-metaphorical sense. More usually, the risk is to our livelihoods, our reputations, our futures. Before these most recent campus protests began, we had an example of this kind of action in the climate movement. For several years now, many people have been protesting the economic and political machinery that perpetuates climate change, by blocking roads, throwing paint, interrupting plays, and committing many other arrestable offenses that can appear ridiculous to skeptics (or, at the very least, performative), but which in truth represent a level of personal sacrifice unimaginable to many of us.

I experienced this not long ago while participating in an XR climate rally in London. When it came to the point in the proceedings where I was asked by my fellow-protesters whether I’d be willing to commit an arrestable offense—one that would likely lead to a conviction and thus make travelling to the United States difficult or even impossible—I’m ashamed to say that I declined that offer. Turns out, I could not give up my relationship with New York City for the future of the planet. I’d just about managed to stop buying plastic bottles (except when very thirsty) and was trying to fly less. But never to see New York again? What pitiful ethical creatures we are (I am)! Falling at the first hurdle! Anyone who finds themselves rolling their eyes at any young person willing to put their own future into jeopardy for an ethical principle should ask themselves where the limits of their own commitments lie—also whether they’ve bought a plastic bottle or booked a flight recently. A humbling inquiry.

It is difficult to look at the recent Columbia University protests in particular without being reminded of the campus protests of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, some of which happened on the very same lawns. At that time, a cynical political class was forced to observe the spectacle of its own privileged youth standing in solidarity with the weakest historical actors of the moment, a group that included, but was not restricted to, African Americans and the Vietnamese. By placing such people within their ethical zone of interest, young Americans risked both their own academic and personal futures and—in the infamous case of Kent State—their lives. I imagine that the students at Columbia—and protesters on other campuses—fully intend this echo, and, in their unequivocal demand for both a ceasefire and financial divestment from this terrible war, to a certain extent they have achieved it.

But, when I open newspapers and see students dismissing the idea that some of their fellow-students feel, at this particular moment, unsafe on campus, or arguing that such a feeling is simply not worth attending to, given the magnitude of what is occurring in Gaza, I find such sentiments cynical and unworthy of this movement. For it may well be—within the ethical zone of interest that is a campus, which was not so long ago defined as a safe space, delineated by the boundary of a generation’s ethical ideas— it may well be that a Jewish student walking past the tents, who finds herself referred to as a Zionist, and then is warned to keep her distance, is, in that moment, the weakest participant in the zone. If the concept of safety is foundational to these students’ ethical philosophy (as I take it to be), and, if the protests are committed to reinserting ethical principles into a cynical and corrupt politics, it is not right to divest from these same ethics at the very moment they come into conflict with other imperatives. The point of a foundational ethics is that it is not contingent but foundational. That is precisely its challenge to a corrupt politics.

Practicing our ethics in the real world involves a constant testing of them, a recognition that our zones of ethical interest have no fixed boundaries and may need to widen and shrink moment by moment as the situation demands. (Those brave students who—in supporting the ethical necessity of a ceasefire—find themselves at painful odds with family, friends, faith, or community have already made this calculation.) This flexibility can also have the positive long-term political effect of allowing us to comprehend that, although our duty to the weakest is permanent, the role of “the weakest” is not an existential matter independent of time and space but, rather, a contingent situation, continually subject to change. By contrast, there is a dangerous rigidity to be found in the idea that concern for the dreadful situation of the hostages is somehow in opposition to, or incompatible with, the demand for a ceasefire. Surely a ceasefire—as well as being an ethical necessity—is also in the immediate absolute interest of the hostages, a fact that cannot be erased by tearing their posters off walls.

Part of the significance of a student protest is the ways in which it gives young people the opportunity to insist upon an ethical principle while still being, comparatively speaking, a more rational force than the supposed adults in the room, against whose crazed magical thinking they have been forced to define themselves. The equality of all human life was never a self-evident truth in racially segregated America. There was no way to “win” in Vietnam. Hamas will not be “eliminated.” The more than seven million Jewish human beings who live in the gap between the river and the sea will not simply vanish because you think that they should. All of that is just rhetoric. Words. Cathartic to chant, perhaps, but essentially meaningless. A ceasefire, meanwhile, is both a potential reality and an ethical necessity. The monstrous and brutal mass murder of more than eleven hundred people, the majority of them civilians, dozens of them children, on October 7th, has been followed by the monstrous and brutal mass murder (at the time of writing) of a reported fourteen thousand five hundred children. And many more human beings besides, but it’s impossible not to notice that the sort of people who take at face value phrases like “surgical strikes” and “controlled military operation” sometimes need to look at and/or think about dead children specifically in order to refocus their minds on reality.

To send the police in to arrest young people peacefully insisting upon a ceasefire represents a moral injury to us all. To do it with violence is a scandal. How could they do less than protest, in this moment? They are putting their own bodies into the machine. They deserve our support and praise. As to which postwar political arrangement any of these students may favor, and on what basis they favor it—that is all an argument for the day after a ceasefire. One state, two states, river to the sea—in my view, their views have no real weight in this particular moment, or very little weight next to the significance of their collective action, which (if I understand it correctly) is focussed on stopping the flow of money that is funding bloody murder, and calling for a ceasefire, the political euphemism that we use to mark the end of bloody murder. After a ceasefire, the criminal events of the past seven months should be tried and judged, and the infinitely difficult business of creating just, humane, and habitable political structures in the region must begin anew. Right now: ceasefire. And, as we make this demand, we might remind ourselves that a ceasefire is not, primarily, a political demand. Primarily, it is an ethical one.

But it is in the nature of the political that we cannot even attend to such ethical imperatives unless we first know the political position of whoever is speaking. (“Where do you stand on Israel/Palestine?”) In these constructed narratives, there are always a series of shibboleths, that is, phrases that can’t be said, or, conversely, phrases that must be said. Once these words or phrases have been spoken ( river to the sea, existential threat, right to defend, one state, two states, Zionist, colonialist, imperialist, terrorist ) and one’s positionality established, then and only then will the ethics of the question be attended to (or absolutely ignored). The objection may be raised at this point that I am behaving like a novelist, expressing a philosophy without a politics, or making some rarefied point about language and rhetoric while people commit bloody murder. This would normally be my own view, but, in the case of Israel/Palestine, language and rhetoric are and always have been weapons of mass destruction.

It is in fact perhaps the most acute example in the world of the use of words to justify bloody murder, to flatten and erase unbelievably labyrinthine histories, and to deliver the atavistic pleasure of violent simplicity to the many people who seem to believe that merely by saying something they make it so. It is no doubt a great relief to say the word “Hamas” as if it purely and solely described a terrorist entity. A great relief to say “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people” as they stand in front of you. A great relief to say “Zionist colonialist state” and accept those three words as a full and unimpeachable definition of the state of Israel, not only under the disastrous leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu but at every stage of its long and complex history, and also to hear them as a perfectly sufficient description of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived in Israel or happened to find themselves born within it. It is perhaps because we know these simplifications to be impossible that we insist upon them so passionately. They are shibboleths; they describe a people, by defining them against other people—but the people being described are ourselves. The person who says “We must eliminate Hamas” says this not necessarily because she thinks this is a possible outcome on this earth but because this sentence is the shibboleth that marks her membership in the community that says that. The person who uses the word “Zionist” as if that word were an unchanged and unchangeable monolith, meaning exactly the same thing in 2024 and 1948 as it meant in 1890 or 1901 or 1920—that person does not so much bring definitive clarity to the entangled history of Jews and Palestinians as they successfully and soothingly draw a line to mark their own zone of interest and where it ends. And while we all talk, carefully curating our shibboleths, presenting them to others and waiting for them to reveal themselves as with us or against us—while we do all that, bloody murder.

And now here we are, almost at the end of this little stream of words. We’ve arrived at the point at which I must state clearly “where I stand on the issue,” that is, which particular political settlement should, in my own, personal view, occur on the other side of a ceasefire. This is the point wherein—by my stating of a position—you are at once liberated into the simple pleasure of placing me firmly on one side or the other, putting me over there with those who lisp or those who don’t, with the Ephraimites, or with the people of Gilead. Yes, this is the point at which I stake my rhetorical flag in that fantastical, linguistical, conceptual, unreal place—built with words—where rapes are minimized as needs be, and the definition of genocide quibbled over, where the killing of babies is denied, and the precision of drones glorified, where histories are reconsidered or rewritten or analogized or simply ignored, and “Jew” and “colonialist” are synonymous, and “Palestinian” and “terrorist” are synonymous, and language is your accomplice and alibi in all of it. Language euphemized, instrumentalized, and abused, put to work for your cause and only for your cause, so that it does exactly and only what you want it to do. Let me make it easy for you. Put me wherever you want: misguided socialist, toothless humanist, naïve novelist, useful idiot, apologist, denier, ally, contrarian, collaborator, traitor, inexcusable coward. It is my view that my personal views have no more weight than an ear of corn in this particular essay. The only thing that has any weight in this particular essay is the dead. ♦

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Leaked PlayStation Store image appears to reveals cover of 'EA Sports College Football 25' game

what essays do colleges require

Do we now know the faces of the upcoming EA Sports college football video game?

A leak on the PlayStation Store of the EA Sports College Football 25 game to come out in July suggests so. And Michigan running back Donovan Edwards is front-and-center in the leaked image, with Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers and Colorado defensive back Travis Hunter flanking him. Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, Georgia quarterback Carson Beck and Ohio State running back Quinshon Judkins are a few of other prominent players represented.

The potential leak of the cover shot was leaked on the PlayStation Store Friday morning and circulated on X (formerly Twitter) and other social media.

What are players being paid to appear in 'EA Sports College Football 25'

The new college football video game will be the first one released since 2013 when the franchise was discontinued because of lawsuits that accused the game of not paying for athletes' likeness. All 134 teams will be featured in the game, and each player will receive $600 and a copy of the game (a $70 value) if the player opts into being featured in the game.

Edwards, who had 119 rushes for 497 yards and five touchdowns in Michigan's national championship season is expected to take a larger role this season. Ewers led the Longhorns to the College Football Playoffs, as did Milroe with the Crimson Tide.

Judkins transferred from Ole Miss to the Buckeyes this offseason. Hunter continues to be one of the biggest names in college football, playing under legendary player Deion Sanders at Colorado.

Who was the last player to appear on NCAA Football cover?

Michigan has found a bit of continuity after college football's video game hiatus.

Former Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson was the last player to appear on a cover, back in "NCAA Football 14." As a testament to the legacy of the series, that game still resells for over $100 used regularly. Other players to appear on the cover over the years include Charles Woodson, Ricky Williams, Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Desmond Howard, and Tim Tebow, among others.

Organizing massive campus protests required logistical savvy. Here's how students pulled it off.

Pro-Palestinian protests have been launched at Harvard, Yale, Columbia and more.

Thousands of students at colleges and universities around the country have launched protests -- many of which turned into around-the-clock encampments -- against Israel's military operations in Gaza with widespread coordination, begging the question: How do they do it?

"We've created, I think, a beautiful infrastructure for continuously sharing with each other what's going on and in different realms of organizing in the camp, making sure that everybody is plugged into everything as much as possible," said Princeton graduate student Aditi Rao in an interview with ABC News.

Students in pro-Palestinian groups from at least four universities told ABC News they created organizational structures to coordinate, plan and communicate around their calls for their universities to divest from companies or groups that profit from Israel's war in Gaza.

Tensions have been high on college campuses since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel in an unprecedented surprise attack. The Israeli military then began its retaliatory military operations in the Gaza Strip.

PHOTO: University of Texas Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Alida Perrine takes part in the pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas in Austin, TX, May 5, 2024.

Since Oct. 7, at least 34,900 people have been killed and 77,143 injured in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

At least 1,200 Israelis were killed on Oct. 7 and 8,700 others injured, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While there has been an upsurge in the number of protests and student arrests around the country in recent weeks, students' activism has been ongoing for months.

But after 100 protesters were arrested at an encampment at Columbia University on April 18, protests intensified nationwide. This has led to thousands of arrests of pro-Palestinian protesters at universities including New York University, Yale University, University of Southern California, University of Texas-Austin and more.

"That first day [at the encampment], 400 people showed up. And we didn't ask them to -- they came because we built it," said Rao of Princeton's encampment. "They had been waiting for something like this, waiting for a place that they could congregate and have a meal and talk about the significance of the Palestinian cause."

PHOTO: Students, some faculty and outsiders gathered on the lawns outside the Princeton chapel to protest Israel's military campaign in Gaza, Princeton, NJ, April 25, 2024.

Students strategize

At Harvard, hundreds of students and community members have divided responsibilities working toward a collective effort -- organizing events, planning dinners, teaching events on the conflict and managing security, Mahmoud Al-Thabata, a student at Harvard College and part of the Harvard Occupy Palestine movement on campus, told ABC News.

"People have been really feeling outraged on campus because of how Harvard is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the Israeli regime right now," Al-Thabata said.

In a statement last month, Harvard University leadership said it “opposes calls for a policy of boycotting Israel and its academic institutions.”

Students at Harvard have hosted vigils, die-ins, protests and community events against Israel's military actions in Gaza. These demonstrations haven't been planned far in advance, and have instead come together as a response to emergencies, according to Al-Thabata.

"The genocide in Gaza right now cannot be planned, so it's not like we can plan our protests within a week, which is why so many actions are related to emergencies," Al-Thabata said.

"When Rafah was about to be invaded in February, there was an emergency die-in. And when the flour massacre happened -- where dozens of Palestinians were brutally murdered by IOF forces after being baited with flour because of the famine going on over there right now -- we had an emergency vigil," Al-Thabata said.

The IDF said forces opened fire on Palestinians seeking aid including flour after Gazans surrounded trucks before approaching IDF troops.

“The crowd approached the forces in a manner that posed a threat to the troops, who responded to the threat with live fire. The incident is under review,” the IDF said in a statement after the over 100 Palestinians were killed while waiting for food aid in February.

The IDF also told ABC News in February that it didn’t strike the convoy of trucks; the tank teams fired warning shots and then fired at those who came 5 meters from the tanks -- neither with artillery. According to an IDF official, it was machine guns on tanks.

However, social media, mailing lists and group chats have proven to be a useful tool to garner high turnout at events.

PHOTO: A student is arrested during a pro-Palestine demonstration at the University of Texas at Austin, TX, April 24, 2024.

MORE: College encampments protesting Israeli military operations in Gaza grow nationwide: What students are saying

NYU Palestine Solidarity Committee -- which is not officially affiliated with the university -- has different teams in charge of negotiations with the university, supplies for encampments, media relations and communications, programming for panels and events, legal support and medics.

Princeton has a similar multi-pronged structure of planning and communications.

Organizers say they learned from past NYU Students for Justice in Palestine leadership and alumni on what would be the most effective path forward. NYU PSC also sought expert advice from lawyers and public relations specialists concerning their planning and communications, but it is a primarily student-driven effort.

Students say being organized as a united front is necessary for protests to be successful. This is especially important, they added, when protests continue to get national attention, garner hundreds of attendees and news continues to come out of Israel and Gaza.

Student protesters have continued to face criticism for violating school policies around trespassing and disrupting school activities. Some have also faced accusations of antisemitism, as viral instances of inflammatory comments from individuals prompt condemnation from politicians from across the ideological spectrum.

Princeton, Yale, NYU and Harvard have released statements saying protesters’ encampments are violating school policy and disrupting operations as have most universities where encampments were set up, even threatening suspension and arrests.

“Any individual involved in an encampment, occupation, or other unlawful disruptive conduct who refuses to stop after a warning will be arrested and immediately barred from campus. For students, such exclusion from campus would jeopardize their ability to complete the semester. In addition, members of our community would face a disciplinary process (for students this could lead to suspension, delay of a diploma, or expulsion),” Rochelle Calhoun, Princeton’s vice president for campus life, said in a statement.

Many of the student groups behind the protests – including Jewish activists voicing their support for a cease-fire in Gaza – said that individuals making offensive remarks do not represent their groups as a whole or their values concerning the war in Gaza.

"At universities across the nation, our movement is united in valuing every human life," read a statement from Columbia University Apartheid Divest, one of the groups involved in the protests. "As a diverse group united by love and justice, we demand our voices be heard against the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza."

Staying protected

At Harvard, students have faced months of doxxing, harassment and threats after 30 groups led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee released a statement last October saying the Israeli regime is "entirely responsible for all unfolding violence."

The group received backlash and criticism for the statement from some student groups and others, accusing them of supporting the Hamas attack, but the group has denied that claim and said it “opposes all violence against all innocent life and laments all human suffering,” in a statement.

The group said it was flooded with hate speech and threats in the days after posting their statement -- which also drew national attention and even led to a truck with LED screens appearing on campus showing, under the banner "Harvard's leading antisemites," the alleged names and faces of students in groups that signed the letter.

The group behind the truck also launched campaigns against the students online, including creating online domains using students’ names that label them as antisemitic, the group’s leader told ABC News . Amid the backlash, the group advised protesters to cover their faces to avoid being targeted.

PHOTO: A protestor leads others during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Memory Mall on the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL, May 7, 2024.

At Princeton, part of their organizational structure is based on the risks people are willing to take. With the likelihood of arrest, suspension and other forms of disciplinary responses to taking action, protesters have to consider their individual willingness to take on risk.

"There were some of us who are willing to say, you know, the occupation of a building, that's a serious escalation, but we're willing to take that on," said Rao. "There were also those who said, OK, the pitching of a tent -- now, that's not illegal."

PHOTO: NYPD officers face protesters after detaining demonstrators and clearing an encampment on the campus of New York University, New York, April 22, 2024.

MORE: A look at the violent clashes at UCLA as college protests, counterprotests intensify

Taking inspiration.

At Yale, student organizer Chisato Kimura said she and others have been inspired by students at other universities as well as the movements of the past.

"Seeing everything on social media that other universities are doing and to see how they're strategizing and things like that has been really incredible," said Kimura.

"It didn't just start a couple of weeks ago, it didn't start seven months ago," said Kimura. "This has been a very, very lengthy process. We as students have fortunately a lot to draw from -- previous movements and previous generations, organizers and student activists."

Some students at Princeton have committed to a hunger strike, inspired by the "history of protest in Palestine," Rao said.

"Every act that we take, we learned from Palestinian people, we learned how to do these things, how to be politically moved in these ways," said Rao.

PHOTO: New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business in New York City, April 22, 2024.

Kimura said protests on college campuses are unlikely to go away any time soon, signaling to the intensifying protests that followed arrests and university action against organizers.

"Trying to silence us or repress this doesn't work because we'll just keep coming back and we'll keep coming back stronger," said Kimura. "It's just very critical for us to continue speaking out, to continue mobilizing and every single time the university has tried to silence us, we've come back, we'll keep coming back, louder and with more numbers."

-ABC News' Dana Savir contributed to this report

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    Why do you need a college application essay? Many colleges require an essay from each applicant. The essay is also required on the Common Application, which is used by more than 800 colleges and universities. Most admissions officers take the college application essay into consideration in deciding which students to admit (of course, each ...

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