Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.
One of the most important goals of any English class should be to help students learn how to express themselves to an audience — how to tell their own stories, how to provide much-needed information, and how to convince others to see things from a different perspective.
Below are some essays students can read, not only to help them see how such writing is done in the real world, but also to learn more about the world around them.
Need a #mentortext for student essays? Check out these exemplars for personal narrative, argumentative, and expository essay writing. Click To Tweet
Note: This is a living list. I will continue adding to it as I find important essays and articles, and as my readers make suggestions.
If You Think Racism Doesn’t Exist by Jordan Womack | Lesson Plan
A 17-year-old Oklahoma author details incidents of discrimination he has faced within his own community. Brief, yet impactful, the author’s authenticity strikes readers at their core and naturally leads the audience to consider other perspectives.
Letter from a Vietnamese to an Iraqi Refugee by Andrew Lam
Vietnamese lecturer, journalist, and author Andrew Lam offers advice in this letter to a young Iraqi refugee he sees in a photograph on the Internet.
Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends by Jan Hoffman
Learn why early and lifelong friendships are as vital for boys as they are for girls and what happens when those friendships are fractured.
Chris Cecil: Plagiarism Gets You Fired by Leonard Pitts Jr
The Miami Herald columnist and 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner castigates a Georgia newspaper editor for plagiarizing his work. This column would go great with this followup article from The Boston Globe: Ga. Editor is Fired for Lifting Columns.
Class Dismissed by Walter Kirn
The author of Lost in the Meritocracy postulates that getting rid of the high school senior year might be good for students.
Complaint Box | Packaging by Dylan Quinn
A high school junior complains about the impossible-to-open packaging faced by consumers of everything “from action figures to zip drives.”
Drowning in Dishes, but Finding a Home by Danial Adkison
In this 2014 essay, a teenager learns important lessons from his boss at Pizza Hut.
How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua
An American scholar of Chicana cultural theory discusses how she maintained her identity by refusing to submit to linguistic terrorism.
Humble Beast: Samaje Perine by John Rohde
The five-time Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year features the University of Oklahoma’s running back.
In Praise of the F Word by Mary Sherry
An adult literacy program teacher argues that allowing students to fail will actually help them.
The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie
A Native American novelist recounts his experience loving reading and finally writing in spite of a culture that expected him to fail in the “non-Indian world” in order to be accepted.
Lane’s Legacy: One Final Ride by Keith Ryan Cartwright
A heartbreaking look back at the hours before and the circumstances surrounding Lane Frost’s untimely death, followed by reflections on his rise to fame — before and after death.
Learning to Read by Malcolm X
The 1960s Civil Rights leader writes about how educating himself in prison opened his mind and lead him to become one of the leading spokesmen for black separatism.
Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass
A former slave born in 1818 discusses how he learned to read in spite of laws against teaching slaves and how reading opened his eyes to his “wretched condition, without remedy.”
Learning From Animal Friendships by Erica Goode
Scientists consider studying the phenomenon of cross-species animal friendships like the ones you see on YouTube.
Losing Everything, Except What Really Matters by Dan Barry
After a 2011 tornado destroys a house, but spares the family, a reporter writes about what’s important.
The Marked Woman by David Grann
How an Osage Indian family in Oklahoma became the prime target of one of the most sinister crimes in American history.
Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List by Lizette Alvarez
Read about what happens if you happen to share a name of a “suspicious person” on the U.S. No-Fly List.
Newly Homeless in Japan Re-Establish Order Amid Chaos by Michael Wines
After the tsunami that resulted in nuclear disaster in 2011, a reporter writes about the “quiet bravery in the face of tragedy” of the Japanese people.
No Ordinary Joe by Rick Reilly
Why in creation did American Football Conference’s 1981 best young running back Joe Delaney jump into that pit full of water that day, even though he couldn’t swim?
Politics and the English Language By George Orwell
Animal Farm and 1984 author, Orwell correlates the degradation of the English language into multi-syllabic drivel and the corruption of the American political process.
Serving in Florida by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America author tells about her experiences attempting to survive on income of low-paying jobs.
Starvation Under the Orange Trees by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck, who later authored the fictionalized account of Okies in California, The Grapes of Wrath, first wrote this essay documenting the starvation of migrant workers in California during the Great Depression.
To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This by Mandy Len Catron
Is falling in love really a random event, or can two people “love smarter?”
We’ll Go Forward from this Moment by Leonard Pitts
The 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner pens a column chronicling the toughness of the American family’s spirit in the face of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He wrote the column one day after the attacks.
What’s Wrong with Black English? by Rachel L. Jones
Jones, a student at Southern Illinois University in the 1980s, wrote this piece for Newsweek. In her essay, Jones adds her story and perspective to the debate over Black English.
Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood by Sherman Alexie
Alexie speaks on the importance of Young Adult literature in the lives of students struggling to survive abuse, racism, poverty, depression, gang warfare, negligent parents, drugs, and poverty.
Explore highly relevant issues & practice reading comprehension through short essays written for authentic audiences. #litchat Click To Tweet
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma graduate student, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students’ voices and choices.
Filed Under: PedagogyTagged With: Model Essays