3 Ivy League College Essays That Worked

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A hand holding a pen on top of a paper.

3 Ivy League College Essays That Worked

For high school students who have the goal of getting into an Ivy League school or multiple Ivy League schools, they are going to have to not only have impressive grade point averages and stellar test scores, they are also going to have to write truly unique personal essays so you need to know about the ivy league college essays that worked

In fact, now that a large number of schools in the United States have elected to make standardized test scores an optional part of the application process, the personal essay section of the application process has gotten even more important.

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For that reason, you may be looking to learn about Ivy League college essays that worked so that you can get a better understanding of what the eight schools in the Ivy League are looking for.

Though every student is unique, and every school looks for something a little bit different from the others, there are some useful rules and tips that any high school student can – and should – keep in mind when they are getting started on writing their personal essays.

At AdmissionSight, we know just how important the personal essay section can be, and a lot of the students that we work with contact us off the bat because they are specifically looking for guidance and help on crafting their own essays.

We believe that every single student has an important and unique story to tell. But it can be rather hard to uncover and express that story in the right way so you have to learn about the ivy league college essays that worked.

That is the trick to personal essays overall! Finding out how to let admissions officers in on who you are as a person and a student and using that to prove that you are the perfect fit for the academic and cultural community at their school.

It’s a hefty task, but there is no doubt that you are up to it!

Ivy League essay prompts

Every year, the Ivy League schools offer essay prompts that applicants are expected to answer and return along with the rest of their application. These essay prompts can range in topic, length and style, but they are all meant to help the admissions officers determine whether or not a student would be a good fit at the school.

To help you get a better understanding of what these prompts tend to look like, we have gone back and gone through one prompt from all eight Ivy Leagues.

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It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to Ivy League essays, the prompts can be quite different year to year!

There is no doubt that good college essays can come from any and all of these prompts. You will notice that Cornell is not listed below. The reason for this is because Cornell has many different essay prompts depending on which department a student is applying to.

Brown University essay prompt

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? (You may share with us a skill or concept that you found challenging and rewarding to learn, or any experiences beyond course work that may have broadened your interest.) (250 word limit)

What do you hope to experience at Brown through the Open Curriculum, and what do you hope to contribute to the Brown community? (250 word limit)

Columbia University essay prompt

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.(150 words or less)

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

Dartmouth College essay prompt

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

Harvard University essay prompt

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

Princeton University essay prompt

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.

  1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
  2. “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and  point less straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University. This quote is taken from Professor Willow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
  3. “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and chair, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.
  4. Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.

University of Pennsylvania essay prompt

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words)

Yale University essay prompt

What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

Please respond in no more than 200 characters (approximately 35 words), to each of the following questions:

  1. What inspires you?
  2. Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?
  3. You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
  4. Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six people. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?

What these prompts all have in common

Now that you have ready all of these essay prompts, chances are good that you are trying to identify what they all have in common.

When it comes to Ivy League essay prompts, and prompts from all colleges or universities for that matter, the goal is quite clear. These essays are working to help the students applying discuss five key aspects of themselves:

  • Pasion
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Intellectual vitality
  • Memorability

Each prompt listed above is designed, in one way or another, to help the student that is applying reflect on those key factors in a creative and unique way.

Without a doubt, one of the hardest aspects that high school students run into when crafting their Ivy League essays is how to incorporate those five important factors into essays that are often only a few hundred words long.

After all, students in high school spend a lot of time mastering the five-paragraph essay. To then be asked to write arguably the most important essays thus far in their life in just a few hundred pages can be really hard to adjust to.

Short Ivy League college essays that worked

So, to help prove that wonderful essays can indeed be written in under 300 words, we have found three prompts and responses that all come in at under 300 words total. Take a look!

A male student sitting at the table in front of a laptop, writing an essay.

While coming up with something that is unique to you is incredibly important, it is also important to keep what these schools are looking for in mind.

Take a look at these three successful college essay examples. This should help you get started pinpointing what Ivy League essays really look like.

Here are three sample college essays that worked for Ivy League schools.

Essay 1.


Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience could help you address it. (250 words)

A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears.

The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas.

As a daughter of immigrants, I have heard countless stories of migrants being turned away by a country they desperately seek to love. After seeing the abhorrent conditions migrants face upon arriving in the U.S., I began volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and provides necessities to undocumented immigrants.

This year, my experiences collecting donations and working at pop-up soup kitchens have made me realize that the communities in South Texas promote true American values of freedom and opportunity. The U.S. government, however, must do better.

During my university career, I aspire to learn how our immigration system can be positively reformed by considering the politics and economics that shape policy-making. Particularly, classes such as Institutional Design and Institutional Change will prepare me to effect change in existing institutions by analyzing various methods to bolster the economy.

Additionally, I hope to join the Yale Refugee Project that volunteers at the southern border and prepares asylum cases for court. With the numerous opportunities offered by YRP, I will be part of a generation of activists and lawmakers that builds a more empathetic immigration system.


The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (250-300 words)

My earliest memory is spinning in circles with folk dancers in a flurry of gold, red, and green embroidered on black dresses. We weren’t in a dance hall, but in a gymnasium, twirling on three-point arcs and free throw lines.

The Bohemian Hall has tons of contradictions like that. In their beer garden, they serve chicken schnitzel and buffalo chicken wings, macaroni and cheese and tlacenka (head cheese). Happy drunken twenty-somethings pass by little kids and nobody thinks anything of it.

Like the Bohemian Hall, the apartment complex I grew up in had its own contradictions. Our Czech landlord, Jardo, was the stereotypical Slavic badass from the movies. Chatting up a crowd drinking their umpteenth Pilsners, he insulted a tenant that dared complain about asbestos in his apartment.

After all, asbestos only spreads if you cut the old pipes. Hung on the walls of Jardo’s basement were works of all shapes and sizes, from the lush, rolling hills of Moravian landscapes to the curves of the female body in… suggestive posters.

Jardo smelled of cigarettes and beer, which my mom told me to avoid at all costs. I wondered why she befriended him. But then I realized that he reminded her of home. We couldn’t go to the Bohemian Hall everyday, but we could always go to Jardo’s basement and talk about Czechoslovak celebrity gossip.

I am constantly brought back to my Slovak heritage, but it is influenced by the American lifestyle. I eat goulash at Thanksgiving dinner, speak a mix of English and Slovak (Slovglish?) with my great aunt, and say Na zdravie! instead of Cheers! when I drink champagne on New Year’s Day. My Slovak-American heritage was, and always will be, perfectly contradictory.


For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words)

The flickering LED lights began to form into the face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke of a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his recounting of the case.

I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.

After watching the program, I recited the foreign word until it was no longer unfamiliar—”profiler”. I stayed up all-night searching for the meaning; my eyes sparkled with the dim light of the monitor as I read the tales of Pyo Chang Won and his Sherlock-like stories. From predicting the future of criminals and knowing the precise vicinity of a killer on the loose, he had saved countless lives; living in communities riddled with crimes in my youth then and even now, I dreamed of working against crimes.

However, the traditional path of a lawyer or a police officer only reinforced the three-step cycle of arrest, trial, and jail which continued with no fundamental changes for years; I wanted to work with the psyche of criminals beyond courts and wondered about the inner workings of the mind.

Such admiration and interest led me to invest my time in psychology. Combined with working with the likes of the Victim Witness Agency, I decided to pursue psychology as my major for my undergraduate education. Later on, I want to specialize my research and education on behavioral/forensic psychology and eventually branch out to my childhood dream of becoming a criminal profiler.

What to think about as your sit down to write your Ivy League essay

Now that you have taken a look at some fantastic essay prompts, as well as some responses to other prompts for Ivy League essays, your mind is probably swimming with great ideas! Read more about ivy league college essays that worked.

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However, it is key that you keep some really important things in mind when you are looking at prompts and start to develop ideas on how you will answer prompts of your own.

To help with this, here are five great tips that can help any high school applicant write the best Ivy League essays that they are capable of.

Tip 1 – Don’t be afraid of detail

One thing that you likely noticed about the successful college essay examples that we provided is that they include a lot of detail.

This means keeping it specific to your life and your experience. Any student looking to write an essay up to the standard of Ivy League admissions officers need to make sure to avoid cliché and generalizations.

So, no matter what topic you decide on, make sure that you are drawing from your own personal life experiences. In the end, admissions officers aren’t looking for students who have necessarily lived an extraordinary life, but rather looking for students who can reflect upon their lives extraordinarily!

Tip 2 – Remember to stay humble

Some students who are trying to write Ivy League essays fall into a trap of sounding somewhat boastful. Even if they are not trying to brag, they can end up adopting that tone as they go into their accomplishments throughout high school.

However, students need to remember that the Common Application that they have filled out, their resume, and the other more tangible aspects of application will give the admissions officers and the committee enough insight into the student’s accomplishments.

So students should remember that there is no need to pile on when it comes to discussing your accomplishments.

In fact, essays can serve as a fantastic time for students to acknowledge any flaws, contradictions in their resume, or any uncertainty that they have about the process.

Tip 3 – Use fresh words to keep it interesting

Under no circumstances should students who are looking to write good college essays depend on the dictionary and thesaurus to try to make a boring essay more interesting just by using complex words. However, it can be quite useful to switch it up from a vocabulary standpoint to keep it fresh.

You don’t have to use fancy or formal language necessarily, but using a specific and diverse vocabulary will help your essay jump off the page.

Tip 4 – Make your message clear

If there is perhaps one of these tips that you simply have to follow, it is this one. Keeping your message clear and writing it with confidence is crucial to getting your overall idea across. It is also the best way to make sure that the admissions officers and committees reading your essays understand who you are as a person as best as possible!

Tip 5 – Read a lot (and not just essay examples)

It’s no mystery that reading makes people better writers. So, if you are looking to improve as a writer overall, make sure to add reading to your daily to-do list.

Whether you are reading poetry, historical non-fiction, fiction, or anything in between. Burying your face in a book or a Kindle is going to help you become a better writer. That won’t only help you craft the best college essays possible, but will also help you greatly once you start your undergraduate education and beyond!

Need help getting into top-tier colleges?

At AdmissionSight, one of the things that we work with students on most often is the essay writing process. It can trip students up and can get in the way of their desires to get into top schools.

Whether you are worried about your ability to craft fantastic essays, or simply want to learn about how we help our students reach their goals, contact us today to set up a free consultation.

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