Sample Essays On Personal Experience

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.

Top Voted Personal Experience Articles

Here are the top voted personal experience articles:

Home Alone
By Ashlyn Z., Clinton, CT
The sky was pitch black, the house was creaking, and I still had four hours until my parents got home. Locked in my parents’ room, I turned on the TV full blast so I wouldn’t hear the creaking house. I barely heard the phone ring. I picked... (more »)
352 comments
A Tough Lesson
It was the end of my junior year, the weekend before prom. I was riding around that night with some friends, and a bottle got passed around the car. Everyone was taking swigs. Then the bottle got to me. With it in my hand I thought, What will I... (more »)
73 comments
The Holes in My Heart
By Lea S., N. Merrick, NY
As a child in Cambodia, life was difficult. It went from bad to worse when my mother got sick. As usual, my father left us and went someplace else. I hardly ever saw him. I loved my ­father and maybe I still do. He wasn’t a nice man, though. He... (more »)
178 comments
Learning to Be a Lady
By Matthew M., Virginia Beach, VA
      The first time I dressed up as a woman was Halloween. Innocent enough, I suppose - costumes and whatnot. Some people dressed as ogres, the traditional witch, and, as always, multiple poorly imitated Frankensteins. I... (more »)
51 comments
Roller Coaster Ride
By Alicia I., Gaithersburg, MD
     We are lectured about peer pressure in mandatory health education class. We are told never to give in to it. “Just because everyone else is doing something does not make it a good idea,” they say. Yes, I... (more »)
13 comments
The Notebook
By Michael J., Culver, IN
Football, red meat, power tools. Football, red meat, power tools. These three things played over and over in my head. Three manly things that kept me from thinking about … “WE DID NOT WATCH ‘THE NOTEBOOK’!” You could hear Key from... (more »)
62 comments
bullying
A line of 2 grades that changed my life drastically. An emotional train that went down hill quickly , which never helped my life , with no effort of getting out of it. Words hitting me like shards of glass bullies. Me and jamie had to dream big... (more »)
Silent Cry
      Touching or kissing you against your will, covering up your screams, and forcing you to perform sexual acts are all precursors to rape. Rape is the crime of having sexual intercourse with a person without his or her... (more »)
20 comments
My Prince Will Come
     Standing on my tiptoes, my new patent leather shoes shimmering in the evening light, I watched eagerly as each of the freshly washed and polished cars pulled up. Daddies and daughters filed out, like little... (more »)
21 comments
My Right Ear
      “It could kill him. It must be removed immediately.” This was the news doctors delivered to my parents before I was a year old.My parents thought I was an average baby who happened to cry a lot. When they... (more »)
8 comments
Fat Camp
     Fat camp - for most, this subject is a joke, an issue that is far from their slender lives. For some, though, it is a reality. Amidst a prison of aerobics with bars of tofu and officers of hunger pains, there are the few, the hungry, the... (more »)
12 comments
Secrets and Mistakes
     Ten karats. One big blue jewel, the birthstone of a Sagittarian, and around it, more diamonds than you can count on one hand. Six months earlier, I was an innocent, boyfriend-less little girl with commitment issues.... (more »)
10 comments

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