4 Admissions Essays That Worked—And Why

Every now and then, an admissions essay makes news headlines because it is *that* good. See below for example topics of what worked to get your creative juices flowing. Warning: whatever you do, do *not* try copying any of these unless you have a unique twist on the idea. Admissions officers know which essays are trending, so don't risk it!

TOPIC 1: Redefining The Idea of Masculinity While Growing Up With Two Moms
Accepted to all 10 schools he applied to, including Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
WHY IT WORKED: Colleges want to see exceptional students who overcome adversity because it shows strength and students are not afraid to challenge societal norms, because that takes risk. This essay manages to convey both at once.

"The Norwalk High School senior said the experience of being raised by two moms has helped him grow into his own version of manhood instead of letting his peers or society define it for him. He wrote about this experience in his college admissions essay, challenging social expectations that seem to equate manhood with demonstrating authority or not showing emotion. This did not reflect his experience growing up as the only male in the household, with two moms and a younger sister." Like he wrote: “Perhaps the expectations of males in society should be redefined: Acquiring authority through pursuing passion. Manifesting manhood through sophistication. Earning reputation by showing respect. Demonstrating strength through vulnerability,” he wrote. [The Hour]

TOPIC 2: How a Father's Death Inspired A Passion for PreMed
SUCCESS RATE: Accepted into all eight Ivy League schools
WHY IT WORKED: She took what could be a cliched Lifetime movie topic and turned it into a fire that fueled her premed passion and showcased her maturity.
"When Anna Rezk was just 13 years old, her family suffered a tragedy, the severe illness and death of her father. The Bayonne teenager not only filled the family void of her father's death by helping to raise her two brothers, she also channeled her grief over her dad's fatal bout with pancreatic cancer into a determination to fight the disease. She wrote about the experience in a spectacularly successful college admissions essay."
"I think seeing him in the hospital atmosphere, seeing the strongest person I had ever known get smaller physically, it was a hard experience, it was really traumatizing on different levels," said Rezk, now an 18-year-old senior at Hudson County High Tech High School in North Bergen. "But I think that in itself, it kind of invoked this feeling in me that I had a responsibility to other people's dads, that if I had the ability to change the way that other people's lives could be affected then I should take advantage of that. I'm kind of honoring my dad in that way," she added. [NJ.com]

TOPIC 3: Humor & Pizza Make for a Winning Recipe
SUCCESS RATE: Accepted to Yale
WHY IT WORKED: First things first, this was a supplemental 200-word essay question. But it’s a great example of how you can really showcase your voice and add a unique sense of humor to your application. “I laughed so hard on your pizza essay. I kept thinking that you are the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with,” a Yale admissions officer wrote. Her great trick? She starts "in media res," which means means starting in the middle of the action. This is an old literary trick that is made for creative writing and something I recommend everyone consider for their essay. Throwing the reader into the story like that with no context like that is a great way to grab their attention. She shows, not tells, which is a critical creative writing skill. [WashPo

TOPIC 4: A Devotion to Costco (& A Clever Way to Show Curiosity)
SUCCESS RATE: Accepted to five Ivy League schools (Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell). Oh, and Stanford.
WHY IT WORKED: Describing a regular shopping trip to Costco may not sound revolutionary, but in this case, it worked because it served as a clever, original way to show her curiosity and advanced understanding of human dynamics and consumerism. This essay also uses humor and wit successfully to highlight her personality. Some key quotes: "I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples. Before inevitably being whisked away into a shopping cart, I scaled a mountain of plush toys and surveyed the expanse that lay before me: the kingdom of Costco. I contemplated the philosophical: If there exists a thirty ­three ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will?"(Read more about why it worked here and her full essay here).