Yes, they really said that: real essays from students who got into their dream colleges


It pays to be real when writing college essays.

We mothers of college-bound students like to pretend we’re working overtime to get our young scholars into their dream colleges and universities. Sure, there’s a lot of hovering, gentle prodding and oversight to be done so all the deadlines are met. But let’s face it; we are only witnesses to the brain-draining challenge of writing a college essay. So as we watch our students do the heavy lifting, we make up our share of the workload by giving unsolicited advice.

I recently compared notes with other self-appointed, college essay-critiquing Moms. We swapped stories and all seemed to have the same epiphany: Our students wrote like adolescents. It seems that with the passing of decades and all the social and business filters layered into our daily, adult-like communications, we didn’t recognize authenticity when we read it. But authenticity is exactly what colleges are looking for in students’ essays.

Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO of which teaches students how to turn their personal stories into successful written essays, says that students should explore stories in which they feel honest and real, even a bit vulnerable.

“Students tend to use their achievements like armor,” she says, “when in fact the essay is your chance to show colleges what you are really like as a person - a roommate, a classmate, a community member.”

College admissions officers say that the biggest turnoff is an essay that sounds like it was written by a 40-year old. “It’s much better to be a little raw in your essays, than to send something too cooked,” Barash adds, “an essay that has been massaged by parents and consultants rarely sounds like a real teenager.”

Jenn Curtis of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling firm that strives to empower students to be independent thinkers and self-advocates, encourages students to let their personality shine though, rather than reframing their achievements.

Curious, I turned to our friends at AdmitSee to educate me further. Team AdmitSee has an enlightened perspective on the narratives of today’s college students. Thousands of students have uploaded their college applications – including essays – to the AdmitSee site. High school students can filter to find students with similar backgrounds, view the applications and essays of the verified students, and connect directly with them. This platform gives high school students insight into what actually gets applicants into college.

AdmitSee shared these interesting and authentic excerpts from their repository of college essays, showing that:

1. Kids are perceptive1

Wow! That kid is driving an Audi R8! I can’t believe his parents bought it for him! Man, I wish I had one of those!

Actually, I do.

Personal Statement For michael.leahy.946


2. They embrace their quirks2

I will be the first to say that I’m a strange person. When I love something I latch onto it and, to put it bluntly, obsess. This is what I have done with the TV show Supernatural.

Supplemental Essays For cstubbe2794


3. They know what they want (like, really know what they want.)3

Yale has always been Yale to me. Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamed that someday down the road I'd be able to walk into the magical world of Yale University and call it home for the next four years. To be honest, I obsessively visit the campus and go to the bookstore, sit down, and read, all while pretending to be a Yale student.

Supplemental Essays For yalie18


4. We can't judge a book by its cover4

It is late at night, and I am sitting on a ghastly floral comforter in the dim light of a hotel room’s bedside lamp, holding a syringe and a tiny bottle.

Personal Statement For marie


5. They are willing to go out on a limb5

Lying naked on the hot steamy floor of a hammam in Morocco being scrubbed down by a foreign man was not the experience I envisioned having for the summer.

Personal Statement For patrick.drown


6. We don't know the whole story6


I heard the click... click of the handcuffs as she locked them around my wrists and the wooden dining chair I was pushed onto. The smell of her cigarette breath stuck under my nose, carrying her irate words - ”useless,” “stupid,” “why did I have children” - down into my throat, choking me along with my sobs.

Personal Statement For Russej13


7. They are dreamers...7

Ever since I was 4 I was fascinated with becoming one of three things: a pediatrician, a dentist, or the First Women President of Color, which were three different occupations that my little brain thought were interesting.

Supplemental Essays For gabi.wabi.7


8. And thinkers...8

In short, being short sucks. And, for a long time, I really felt like I couldn’t do anything about it. My only consolation was that I could still wear heels, and I could always find a boyfriend taller than me.

Personal Statement For Sirmina


9. And very self-aware.9

Sure I may be over-exaggerating, romanticizing, objectifying the boredom which can be experienced while away from the classroom. Still, I do feel that over-thinking, over-analyzing, over-’noun’ing leads me down a road that I do not enjoy.

Supplemental Essays For jordanchavez23


10. Best of all, our kids are unique.11

Blue... like the water that swallows me no matter how hard I kick my feet.

I groan.


I open my eyes... blue... like the sky where I can spread my wings and soar.

I smile.

Personal Statement For WorldChanger


Residing comfortably in mid-parenthood, it’s hard to believe I ever belonged to a generation that was ever this raw or genuine. Maybe it’s time to retire from the essay-critiquing business and just admire the authenticity of our rising undergraduates.

Barash agrees, “There is very little that a parent can add to a student’s essay. I’ve worked with thousands of students over the past twenty years. Students say that the minute their parents get involved they lose their voice and unique spirit—exactly those characteristics that shine through in application essays that work.”

Check out AdmitSee here, here, and FutureWise Consulting here. And of course, sign up for Thrively to find the experiences that will give your kids the fodder for their college essays.




Amy von Kaenel is a highly enthusiastic Thrively Ambassador. She’s been a veteran of the tech industry for two decades, wearing dual hats in market intelligence and marketing strategy. Amy’s co-authored industry reports on Smartphone Enterprise and mHealth technology. Her organization, Tech Coast Consulting, has served Global 2000 and start-up organizations in both the tech and healthcare industries. Amy holds a BA in Economics and an MBA from the University of California Irvine. 



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