15 College Essays That Worked

College Essay Examples: 15 That Worked

Bonus Material: 35 College Essay Examples

In this regularly updated post, we share the college essays that helped students get into their dream schools -- including Ivy League colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and others.

But this isn't simply a collection of college essay examples.

We also provide a link to in-depth profiles of the authors who wrote the essays, providing you with the most comprehensive picture available of the nation's most successful applicants.

While you should always craft the best essay you are capable of, please remember that the essay is one component of the application process! The essays you'll read below are all of varying quality, but each one of these students gained admission to the most selective schools in the country.

You can download our collection of 35 successful College Essays below!

Here's what we cover in this post:

  1. What is the College Essay? Our Expert Definition
  2. College Essay Example #1 - "It takes more than wishing upon a star"
  3. College Essay Example #2 - "I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier"
  4. College Essay Example #3 - "You know nothing, Jon Snow"
  5. College Essay Example #4 - "I'm still questioning"
  6. College Essay Example #5 - "My place of inner peace"
  7. College Essay Example #6 - "So this is what compassion is all about"
  8. College Essay Example #7 - "I believe that every person is molded by their experiences"
  9. College Essay Example #8 - The California Cadet Corps
  10. College Essay Example #9 - "I never want to lose what we had in that corner"
  11. College Essay Example #10 - "It is the effort that counts, not the result"
  12. College Essay Example #11 - "The problem of social integration"
  13. College Essay Example #12 - "Improv"
  14. College Essay Example #13 - "The Sound of Music"
  15. College Essay Example #14 - "Translation"
  16. College Essay Example #15 - "The Yoka Times"
  17. What These College Essay Examples Have in Common
  18. How to Write an Essay Like These Examples
  19. Bonus: 35 College Essay Examples

What is the College Essay? Our Expert Definition

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition.

Regardless, both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer.

College Essay Prompts 2023-2024

The Common App

Coalition

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? Submit an essay on the topic of your choice.
Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.  

What do these questions all have in common? They all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal.

Take a look at some of these buzzwords from these prompts to see what we mean:

  • Story
  • Growth
  • Understanding
  • Learning
  • Motivation
  • Challenge
  • Belief / Idea
  • Contribution
  • Identity
  • Experience

These are big words attached to big, personal concepts. That’s the point!

But because that’s the case, that means the college essay is not an academic essay. It’s not something you write in five paragraphs for English class. Nor is it a formal statement, an outline of a resume, or a list of accomplishments.

It’s something else entirely.

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences.

The college essay is fundamentally personal and creative. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness. It can have elements of academic writing in it, such as logical organization, thesis statements, and transition words. But it is not an academic essay that fits comfortably into five paragraphs.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller--and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

One of the easiest ways to understand what the personal statement is all about is to read through some college essay examples -- essays that exemplify the 7 qualities of a successful college essay.

The 15 college essay examples below do just that!


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #1 - It Takes More Than Wishing Upon a Star

Author: Erica
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Williams College, Duke University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Boston College, Johns Hopkins University, Texas Christian University

At eleven years old, I wrote the New York Times best-selling novel, The Chosen, the first installation in a trilogy that would become the newest sensation of the fantasy genre, and grow to be even more popular than the Harry Potter series. At least, that what I originally imagined as I feverishly typed the opening words of my manuscript. I had just received a call from my parents, who were on a business trip in London. While touring the city, they heard about an amateur novel writing contest open to all ages, and thought that I, as an amateur writer, would be interested. All I had to do was compose an original manuscript of merely 80,000 words and submit it to an office in London, and I could win $20,000 in addition to a publishing deal.

I hung up the phone with a smile plastered on my face. Never mind that I was barely eleven, that my portfolio consisted of a few half-page poems from elementary school, or that the contest was taking place on another continent, I was determined to write the most extraordinary fantasy novel ever created. For months afterward the sight of me was accompanied by the tap, tap, tap of my fingers flying across the keyboard, and the sharp glint of obsession in my eyes. The contest in London closed, a winner was chosen. I didn’t care. I kept writing. After a year I had stretched my writing project into a three hundred page novel. I scraped together a few dollars of allowance money, slapped it in my mom’s hand, and asked her to have Staples print a bound copy of the manuscript.

She handed me my magnum opus when I got home from school that day. I ran my fingers across the shiny laminate over the cover page, caressed the paper as if it were some sacred tome. After more than fourteen months fleshing out characters and cultivating mythologies, I was ready to publish. With the copy in hand I ran to my dad. “Read it and tell me what you think!” I said, imagining the line of publishing companies that would soon be knocking down my door.

Within two weeks my father handed it back to me, the pages now scrawled over in bright red ink. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told me, with his typical soul-wrenching brusque.

I stared at him for a moment, jaw locked tight, eyes nearly brimming with tears. He proceeded to list for me all the things I needed to revise for my next draft. Less colloquial dialogue, vivid descriptions, more complex subplots, the list went on and on.

“A serious author doesn’t get offended by constructive criticism,” he said, “whether you take my advice or not will prove whether or not you are one.”

My dreams fell like the Berlin wall. What was the point of slaving over a novel if I had to start from scratch again? My father’s advice would force me to rewrite the entire novel. What sort of writer was I, that my work warranted such substantial alteration?

As I soon learned—a normal one.

Today, six years, 10 drafts, and 450 pages later, I am finally close to finishing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Erica's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #2 - I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier

Author: Elizabeth
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of California Berkeley, University of Michigan

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I'm not referring to Flamin' Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Despite the current lack of certification offered for the profession which I am seeking, I am unquestionably qualified. I can tell you that a cayenne pepper sauce infused with hints of lime and passion fruit is the perfect pairing to bring out the subtle earthy undertones of your microwave ramen. I can also tell you that a drizzle of full-bodied Louisiana habanero on my homemade vanilla bean ice cream serves as an appetizing complement. For the truly brave connoisseur, I suggest sprinkling a few generous drops of Bhut Jolokia sauce atop a bowl of chili. Be warned, though; one drop too many and you might find yourself like I did, crying over a heaping bowl of kidney beans at the dining room table.

Although I consistently attempt to cultivate the rarest and most expertly crafted bottles of molten spice, like an oenophile who occasionally sips on five dollar bottles of wine, I am neither fussy nor finicky. I have no qualms about dousing my omelets with Cholula, dipping my tofu in pools of Sriracha, or soaking my vegetarian chicken nuggets in the Frank's Red Hot that my mom bought from the dollar store. No matter the quality or cost, when gently swirled, wafted, and swished; the sauces excite my senses. Each initial taste, both surprising yet subtly familiar, has taught me the joy of the unknown and the possibility contained within the unexpected.

My ceaseless quest for piquancy has inspired many journeys, both gustatory and otherwise. It has dragged me into the depths of the souks of Marrakech, where I purchased tin cans filled with Harissa. Although the chili sauce certainly augmented the robust aroma of my tagine, my food was not the only thing enriched by this excursion. My conquest has also brought me south, to the valleys of Chile, where I dined among the Mapuche and flavored my empanadas with a smoky seasoning of Merkén. Perhaps the ultimate test of my sensory strength occurred in Kolkata, India. After making the fatal mistake of revealing my penchant for spicy food to my friend's grandmother, I spent the night with a raw tongue and cold sweats. I have learned that spice isn't always easy to digest. It is the distilled essence of a culture, burning with rich history. It is a universal language that communicates passion, pain, and renewal. Like an artfully concocted hot sauce, my being contains alternating layers of sweetness and daring which surround a core that is constantly being molded by my experiences and adventures.

I'm not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it's simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Elizabeth's story here]

You can download our collection of 35 successful College Essays below!


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #3 - "You know nothing, Jon Snow"

Author: Shanaz
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Duke University, Williams College, Boston College, Brandeis University, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook

"You know nothing, Jon Snow”

Being an avid Game of Thrones fanatic, I fancy every character, scene, and line. However,Ygritte’s famous line proves to be just slightly more relatable than the incest, corruption, and sorcery that characterizes Westeros.

Numerous theories explore the true meaning of these five words, but I prefer to think they criticize seventeen-year-old Jon’s lack of life experience. Growing up in a lord’s castle, he has seen little about the real world; thus, he struggles to see the bigger picture until he evaluates all angles.

Being in a relatively privileged community myself, I can affirm the lack of diverse perspectives —and even more, the scarcity of real-world problems. Instead, my life has been horrifically plagued by first world problems. I’ve written a eulogy and held a funeral for my phone charger.

I’ve thrown tantrums when my knitted sweaters shrunk in the dryer. And yes, I actually have cried over spilled (organic) milk.

Well, shouldn’t I be happy with the trivial “problems” I’ve faced? Shouldn’t I appreciate the opportunities and the people around me?

Past the “feminism v. menimism” and “memes” of the internet, are heartbreaking stories and photos of life outside my metaphorical “Bethpage Bubble.” How can I be content when I am utterly oblivious to the perspectives of others? Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes.

Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty.

Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d'état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war.

Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

Malaria. Cholera. Cancer. I watch how Alzheimer’s progresses in my grandmother, but I know nothing of disease.

Living under a strict caste system. Being stereotyped because of one’s race. Unwarranted prejudice. I may be in a minority group, yet I know nothing of discrimination.

Flappers, speakeasies, and jazz. Two world wars. Pagers, hippies, and disco. I’m barely a 90’s kid who relishes SpongeBob episodes, and I know nothing of prior generations.

Royal weddings, tribal ceremonies, and Chinese New Years. I fast during Ramadan, but I know nothing of other cultures.

Hostile political parties. Progressive versus retrospective. Right and wrong. I am seventeen, and I know nothing of politics.

Is ignorance really bliss?

Beyond my community and lifetime exists myriad events I'll never witness, people I'll never meet, and beliefs I'll never understand. Being unexposed to the culture and perspectives that comprise this world, I know I can never fully understand anyone or anything. Yet, irony is beautiful.

Embarking on any career requires making decisions on behalf of a community, whether that be a group of students, or a patient, or the solar system.

I am pleased to admit like Jon Snow, I know nothing, but that will change in college.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Shanaz's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #4 - "I'm still questioning"

Author: Aja
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
School Acceptances: Princeton University, MIT, University of Maryland, Stern College for Women, Queens College and City College

I walked down the pale pink stone pathway, up a ramp, past the library building, and towards the Student Activities Center of the college campus, carrying a large brown cardboard box. People might’ve taken note of the load I was carrying, and particularly the other high school students with whom I ate my dinner. Out of the box I grabbed my meal, which was wrapped in two separate plastic airplane meal style trays; one container for the side and one for the main. I tried not to call attention to myself as I unwrapped the tight double wrapping of plastic around both trays.

My actions and practices were the same, but for the first time I stood out. While I was eating my meals, in the lab, or during the lectures, I began to ask myself some questions.

Was it worth continuing to strictly observe my customs in such an environment? I thought.

Could I afford to take time away from the lab to walk to the kosher restaurant to pick up lunch? Was continuing to dress in a long skirt, on hot summer days and with additional lab dress codes, worth the discomfort? Was it worth standing out from most other people?

The science experiment that I performed that summer in a way mirrored the experiment that I “performed” to test my practices. My lab partner and I researched the current issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which left certain bacterial infections without an effective cure; this was our observation. We then hypothesized that an alternative mechanism of destruction, by physically slicing the bacterial membrane, would be more efficient. Similarly, I hypothesized that an alternative life path without my religious practices might be an “effective” life path for me, as it had been for the students that I met, with the added social benefits of fitting in. I hypothesized that perhaps my own life would be “effective” or fulfilling without these practices, as it was for the students whom I had met. Wearing our purple nitrite gloves, our safety goggles pressing against our faces, my partner and I began to prepare our tiny metal chips, containing a thin coating of polymer blends, which would prick the membranes of the bacteria cells.

In my personal experiment, the “testing” stage became tricky. I didn’t put on my lab coat, and start spin casting my solutions or pipetting liquids onto surfaces. I didn’t even try eating some food that was not kosher, or actively violate my practices. My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. We talked about our very different lives, genuinely interested in one another’s.

I’m still questioning, and I think the process does not end, which is part of what makes my religious practice important to me – it urges me to constantly reflect on my values and the moral quality of my actions. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish that “experiment,” but by experiencing and valuing the practices and lifestyles of other people, I also got to reflect on my own. That summer showed me that the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Aja's story here]

You can read our collection of 35 essays that earned students acceptance into top-tier colleges. Grab these for free below!


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #5 - My place of inner peace

Author: Jim
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word "comfortable". There is something special about a rowing race; that 6 minute, 2000 meter tour de force that many who have truly experienced one (and all who have emerged victorious) will describe as the most painful, and yet the most thrilling activity they have ever been a part of.

The pain of rowing 2000 meters is like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a short enough distance so that there is no pacing (it's all out, everything you've got, from start to finish), but at the same time it's long enough to require every ounce of strength and will power to reach the finish. By the end, the lungs scream out for oxygen, and the legs, chest, and arms all burn as if boiling water has been injected into every pore. The mental toughness required to drag oneself through this ordeal, from the moment it starts to hurt 30 seconds in to the moment you cross the finish line, is immense. The psychological state that is entered into during a race is one of unparalleled focus, drive, and will to win.

The race begins with six boats lined up side by side, tensed and ready to pounce. The umpire then makes the call, “Attention. Row” in a tone that seems entirely too casual for the occasion, and the bows spring forward. What was moments before an atmosphere of complete silence is transformed into a world of noise. Here is a short list of things one hears at the start of a rowing race: the authoritative yell of the coxswains, the rhythmic click of the oars, the fluid swish of the water under the boat, the roar of the officials’ launches falling in behind the boats. I always find it funny though, that while the tense silence of the pre-race moments dissolves so quickly into noise from every direction, a rower can only actually hear any of it for a surprisingly short period of time. This is because at about two minutes into a race, a rower begins to lose his senses. Scent disappears completely, touch is negligible, hearing dissolves into nothing but the calls of the cox, and sight reduces itself to a portrait of the back of the rower in front of you. It is in this bizzare state of mind and body that I am truly in my "comfort zone".

The pain is intense, yes, but I have felt it before. I feel it quite regularly, actually. The training a rower goes through to prepare for a race begins months in advance and consists of pushing oneself to the limit; repeatedly putting oneself in positions of pain and discomfort so that when crunch time comes, a rower is truly without fear of what lies ahead of him. This is how I feel when the going gets tough at around two minutes in: fearless. In these moments I feel invincible; I feel like I was born to do exactly what I am doing right then and there. In these moments I am completely and totally content.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out James' story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #6 - So this is what compassion is all about

Author: Amanda
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Rutgers University

So this is what compassion is all about? Piece of cake.

Joey was a sweet, ten-year-old boy who could derive pleasure even in the most prosaic of activities: catching a balloon, listening to music, watching other children run, jump, and play. But Joey himself was confined to a wheelchair – he would never be able to participate in the same way that his friends without physical disabilities could.

Joey was the first child assigned to me when I began volunteering for the Friendship Circle, an organization that pairs teenage volunteers with special-needs children. Right from the start, I was grateful for being matched up with this sweet, easy-going child; I felt immense relief at how effortless my volunteering commitment with Joey could be. Simply by wheeling my friend through tiled halls and breezy gardens, I simultaneously entertained him and inspired others with my acts of kindness.

Piece of cake.

Truthfully, though, during my time with Joey, I felt more than a little virtuous and pleased with myself. There I was, able to impress everyone with my dedication to Joey, with only minimal effort on my part. My experience with Joey led me to mistakenly believe that I had, by the age of thirteen, attained a complete understanding of what a word like “empathy” really meant. I was complacent in my comfort zone, confident that I understood what compassion was all about.

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was.

Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

One day, after an unsuccessful attempt to break up a brawl between Robyn and another girl, I found myself taking dazed steps towards the administrator’s office. I was near my breaking point, ready to quit. In that moment, though, I vividly recall looking up and seeing Robyn’s parents walking down the hall coming to pick her up. Tired eyes. Weary, but appreciative smiles. A realization then struck me: I was only with Robyn for one day a week. During the rest of the week, Robyn was the sole responsibility of her parents. The same parents who once confided in me that Robyn behaved no differently at home than she did at the Friendship Circle with me.

Robyn’s parents undeniably loved her. There were even moments when Robyn transformed into one of the sweetest children I had ever met. But she was no Joey. Sweet, easygoing Joey. Joey who I thought had taught me true empathy. If I was such a saint, how could I give back to Joey’s parents, but not to Robyn’s? How could I not provide them a brief respite every week, from the labors of caring for her? Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Progress exists in steps. The first steps were the ones I took with Joey, my earliest experience in volunteering. But the steps I took away from the administrator’s office, the steps I took back toward Robyn, were the steps of a different person, I like to think.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Amanda's story here]

You can read all 35 of our "College Essays that Worked" below!


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #7 - I believe that every person is molded by their experiences

Author: Martin
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, University of California Santa Cruz, CSU Sonoma, CSU Long Beach, CSU San Jose, CSU Chico, New York University

I believe every person is molded by their experiences whether they be positive or negative. I have been impacted by many events and challenges, both personally and socially, that have made me who I am today.

I was born in Concepcion de Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico. My dad did not always live with us and worked doing manual labor in the United States every three months to provide income for us transitioning between the United States and Mexico when he could. When I was six, my Spanish-speaking family immigrated to the United States. Once here in the United States, I found English difficult to learn at school since it was brand new to me. English-speaking students always had to translate for me which motivated me to become fluently proficient by third grade.

In addition to the language barrier at school, my family would constantly move due to apartment rent increase, so I never grew accustomed to a group of friends.  Because of this, I had social difficulties in elementary school.  I remember hardly speaking in class and not playing any recess games unless invited. I recall playing tetherball mostly by myself and observing the children with longing eyes. In the sixth grade, my social life began to change; I met my best friend, Luz. We fostered a tight-knit bond immediately, and my confidence developed little by little each day. As each year passed, I acquired more confidence to become more sociable, but my awkwardness did not completely go away.

My earlier language barrier, my soft-hearted and quiet personality, and my social self-consciousness found me drawn to playing with girls and not sports with the other boys. I soon began to feel excluded by boys asking me why I played with girls; it made me feel small and different from the rest. Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

In my freshman year I began to come out of my shell and develop self-confidence, largely due to my participation in choir and drama class. In these classes I could be myself and found my real voice. Here I felt a connection to a family not connected by blood but by a unifying passion in the creative arts.  That connection allowed me to confide in my friend Luz my struggle with my personal identity. One day I messaged her: “I have something to tell you… I think I might be bisexual.” My heart pounded as I waited anxiously for her reply. She responded: “How long have you been thinking of this?”  In her response I felt reassured that the she would not reject me.  From that moment my best friend thanked me and said our friendship was now stronger as a result. I felt so relieved to get that secret off my chest; it was a cathartic moment in my life and a significant turning point!

Throughout high school, I have become more open about who I am, and my confidence and acceptance in myself has grown tremendously. Although I still have not told my parents about my sexuality, I will when I am ready.  I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Martin's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #8 - The California Cadet Corps

Author: Justin
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSD

During my freshman year at Cajon High School, I enlisted in the California Cadet Corps (CACC). The CACC is essentially a JROTC program based on a state level. Every summer, the CACC holds a summer encampment at Camp San Luis Obispo. A myriad of leadership schools are offered: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, Officer-Candidate School (OCS), etc. I participated in OCS my freshman year, Survival my sophomore year, and Marksmanship last summer. Of those three, Survival was definitely my biggest challenge and marked my transition from childhood to adulthood.

Within the CACC, there’s an honor so admirable that those who receive it are inducted into an order of elites: the Red Beret. It signifies completion of survival training, the most rigorous and difficult training course within the CACC. With a heart mixed with excitement and fear, I stepped onto the bus headed for Camp San Luis Obispo in June of 2015.

After basic instruction, we were transported to arid Camp Roberts to begin field training. Upon arrival, we were separated into groups of four with one leader each (I was designated as team leader). We then emptied our canteens, received minimal tools, and set off. Our immediate priority was finding areas to build our shelter and latrine. Then, we needed to locate a clean source of water. After, we had to find food. It was truly a situation that required making everything from scratch. As the day drew to a close and night advanced, I felt seclusion and apprehension envelop me.

As the days drew on, constant stress and heat along with lack of food took a toll on my sanity and drove me almost to my breaking-point. At one moment, I remembered a handwritten phrase that had been on my desk: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” At this moment, it hit me: I wasn’t going to quit. I was going to overcome this challenge and show myself that I have what it takes to survive for five days using nothing but my wits.

On the morning of the sixth day, my team and I reported to headquarters to complete training. With pride, I received the honor of wearing that glorious Red Beret on my head.

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. Additionally, being isolated from mass civilization and relying heavily on my companions gave me an appreciation for my friends and for the absolute necessity of teamwork. Being the leader of my team meant that they all looked to me for motivation, inspiration, and a will to survive; I got first-hand experience on how important a leader can be in a situation of literal life and death. Most importantly, however, I gained priceless insight into the amount of effort and work my parents put in for me every day.

As demonstrated, survival training taught me essential lessons to survive successfully as an adult. Looking back, it’s absolutely unbelievable how one week affected me so profoundly. Even today, I remember the phrase that motivated me that day: “Your biggest enemy is yourself.” Thinking of that, I go to school and say to myself, “Justin, you truly are an amazing young man!”

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Justin's story here]

Click below for our free collection of 35 successful college essays!


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #9 - I never want to lose what we had in that corner

Author: Jonah
Class Year: Princeton University 2019
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
School Acceptances: Princeton University, Swarthmore College

The squeaks of whiteboard markers have now replaced the scritch-scratch of chalk, but the hubbub of voices is always the same. For millennia, the great thinkers of their day would gather and discuss. In ancient Greece, it was Socrates debating about philosophy; centuries later it was Newton lecturing at Cambridge on fluxions and physics. This summer Paul Steinhardt and his eminent colleagues sat down for a panel about inflationary theory at the World Science festival- though there was neither chalk nor markers there. Though we make no claim to be the greatest thinkers of our day and our school in no way resembles the hallowed edifices of science, my friends and I have staked out a corner of our AP Calculus room where we can have our own discussions. We even have a whiteboard.

It started small: just myself, Avery, and Sam and a problem set that didn’t take us long enough. Appropriately enough, we were working on one of Newton’s problems: differential equations describing cooling curves. His solution is fairly simple, perhaps overly simple, which prompted me to ask Avery what he thought. We had both taken Chemistry the year before, and Newton’s equation didn’t take into account thermal equilibrium; (to be fair to Newton, adding thermal equilibrium doesn’t appreciably change the solution at normal conditions). Since we were slightly bored and faced with an empty hour ahead of us, we started to modify the equation. We had learned in Chemistry that both the surroundings and the actual cooling object both change temperature, which Newton had ignored. We wrote up a first attempt on the infamous whiteboard, paused a second, and then started laughing as we realized that our inchoate equation meant a hot cup of coffee could plummet Earth into another Ice Age. This disturbance in an otherwise fairly quiet classroom drew the attention of Sam. He too was amused with our attempt and together we began to fix the poor thing. Huddled around the back of the classroom, we all pondered. It wasn’t an important problem, it wasn’t due the next day, it wasn’t even particularly interesting. But we loved it.

The three of us had been friends since middle school, which in many ways seems astounding. Avery, a track runner, Sam, a Morris dancer, and myself, a fencer. Our interests could not be more diverse. Avery was an avid programmer while Sam was fascinated by the evolution of language. I always had a soft spot for physics. Luckily for us, we had found each other early on in middle school and our discussions started soon after. As we learned more math, read more books, and culled more esoteric facts from our varied experiences, the quality of our rebuttals has dramatically improved. The laughter is immutable.

In the back of algebra class in eighth grade, Avery taught me how to program calculators in TIBasic while I traded theories with him about the Big Bang. From Sam I learned the phonetic alphabet and more recently the physics of bell ringing. Since then our dynamic has always stayed playful no matter how heated the discussion; only our arguments have changed. I may have learned as much in the back of classes with my friends as I learned from my teachers. Joseph Joubert wrote, “To teach is to learn twice,” and I could not agree more. In the myriad hours Avery, Sam, and I spent together, the neuron-firing was palpable, the exuberance impossible to miss.

But not only did I learn linguistics, Python, and philosophy with Avery and Sam, I learned a little more about myself. I never want to lose what we had in that corner. Our interplay of guessing and discovering and laughing seemed like paradise to me. I looked for other opportunities in my life to meet brilliant and vivacious people, to learn from them, and to teach them what I loved. I co-founded a tutoring program, participated in original research, and taught lessons in Physics and Chemistry as a substitute.

I expected to be nervous, I expected to embarrass myself. Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out Jonah's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #10 - It is the effort that counts, not the result

Author: John
Class Year: Princeton University 2021
Type of Essay: Common Application Personal Statement - The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
School Acceptances: Princeton University

For as long as I can remember, wrestling has been an important part of my life. I can recall playing dodgeball after wrestling practice, summer wrestling camps, hard practices with my older brother, and hundreds of wrestling tournaments as cornerstones of my childhood. From a young age I was determined to be the best; and quickly concluded that meant winning a PIAA state championship. When I entered Junior High, I discovered that only ten wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania had won a state championship each year of their high school careers - and becoming the eleventh became my personal ambition.

Entering high school, I centered my life around the goal of winning a state title my freshman year. I became disciplined in every aspect of my life: from how many hours of sleep I got, to what exact foods I ate. I was obsessed with my intensive training regimen, and fell asleep each night to the dream of my hand being raised in the circle of the main mat on the Giant Center floor.

As the season progressed, I experienced success. My state ranking climbed steadily and by the time the state tournament began, I was projected to finish third. I wrestled well throughout the tournament, advancing to the semifinals where I defeated the favorite 11-0. At last: I was to wrestle in the final match for the state championship. I prepared for my opponent, whom I defeated the week before. However, when the match began, I wrestled nervously, was unable to fully recover, and ended up on the short end of a 3-1 decision.

In just a few short minutes, my dream was shattered. For me, it felt like the end of the world. I had based my whole identity and lifestyle on the dream of winning four state titles. It felt as though the sport I loved most had ripped out my heart,  and on live television, in front of thousands of people. I was upset after the match.  I was depressed and felt worthless, devoid of my passion for and love of wrestling.

After a month or perhaps more of introspection, and some in depth conversations with the people closest to me, I began to realize that one lost wrestling match, at age fifteen, was not the end of the world. The more I reflected on my wrestling journey, the more gratitude I developed for all of my opportunities.   I realized that wrestling had helped forge some of the most important relationships of my life, including an irreplaceable fraternity with my older brother, teammates, and coaches. My setback in the state finals also helped me to understand all of the lessons learned through wrestling, and that there was much more I could still accomplish. Wrestling helped me learn the value of hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. But most important, I learned that no matter how much we try, we cannot control everything, including the outcome of a wrestling match. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction, attitude, actions, and effort. In the words of my father, “it is the effort that counts, not the result.”

Hence, through my experience of failure I learned an invaluable lesson applicable to every walk of life. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunity to compete, to represent myself and my school, and to lay all my hard work on the line. The process of striving to become a state champion taught me more than achieving this title ever could, and my failure in the state finals was a blessing in disguise.

[Want to learn more about the author of this essay? Check out John's story here]


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #11 - The problem of social integration

Author: Harry
Class Year: Princeton University 2020
Type of Essay: Universal Common Application Personal Statement - How do we establish common values to promote harmony in an increasingly diverse society?
School Acceptances: Princeton University

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

This cold blooded murder provides a clear example of what can happen when people lose their human connection to the society that they’re a part of and instead pursue hate and violence on a pretence to a higher purpose (killing in the name of religion). I think suggestible minds are undoubtedly most prone to this, and the two British men who killed Rigby, previously Christians, are examples of how minds devoid of any instilled social values are fertile ground for the fomentation of harmful ideas.

What I find particularly worrying is the distinct danger of allowing a largely atomised society to develop, where conflicts such as this one begin to characterise the interaction between the different parts. It’s imperative that we avoid this situation and work towards social unity, and so I think a long-term and complex solution to social integration must be found. Given the upward trends in multiculturalism and globalisation, it is going to be paramount that my generation takes on the problems of integration and cultural diversity to create a harmonious society.

The solution will no doubt be an ongoing process, involving years of detailed and thoroughly considered legislation, but I think that in working towards it, we should focus on certain things.

With regard to the role of religion, I think its relationship with the state needs to be clarified and communicated to everyone. As the case of Lee Rigby quite bluntly reveals, where religion triumphs over civic duty, there’s a potentially dangerous situation, especially when put into the context of radical fundamentalism. By the same token however, it’s neither desirable nor feasible to have a society where politics trumps religion, so I think that when addressing the issue of social cohesion there must be an overarching commitment to other people within society that’s established – humanity must transcend any form of politics or ideology, and bind the two camps so their incompatibility does not become entrenched.

I think that this has to be done primarily through education: both within the formal curriculum which all citizens of a democratic nation state should be compelled to follow until at least the age of 16, and in the wider sense through more promotion of cultural programmes nationally that encourage the nation’s population to participate in the continuing discussion and examination of our core, shared values. We have to work at this constantly since identity is itself always in a state of flux and accept that this continuing ‘conversation’ will always require us to confront some very difficult questions about freedom and responsibility. People need to understand these ideas not simply as abstract questions, but also as issues of practical, pragmatic relevance, deconstructing them into how we actually treat each other, the true test of how civilised and tolerant we are.


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #12 - Improv

Author: Thomas

I scarf down my mom’s squash casserole as fast as humanly possible with only one thought in mind: “Will I miss it?” Leaving my almost-clean plate in the dust, I reach the sofa just in time to hear Drew Carrey announce, “and welcome back to Whose Line Is it Anyway”. I bow to the applause coming from the speakers and take my seat between my siblings, breathing a sigh of relief. Finally paying the screen my full attention, I’d rather be nowhere else; The quick-witted interactions between Colin, Ryan, Wayne, and Greg never fail to make our family nights perfect.

At the time, I was oblivious to the mastery required for the skits on-screen—every impromptu joke had to land, or else the performers would be subjected to the doom of humiliation and awkward silence, perils I would soon experience the hard way.

I first entered the world of improv listening to “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman in the car with my brother. He told me offhandedly that the majority of the song had been made up on the spot. I was shocked. I could hardly give a speech at the head of the classroom with five pages of prepared notes and two hours of rehearsal. How could someone just “make up” something so enjoyable? My enlightenment came in the form of music. In playing the trombone, I fell in love with the difficult yet rewarding task of jazz improvisation; the combination of intense musical focus with unbridled creative expression brought about not only a new appreciation for my childhood “Whose Line” idols but also a burning desire to reach their level of prowess in terms of music.

My newfound fascination led me to the school jazz band, where the practice of on-the-spot originality became a harsh reality. When the jazz teacher suddenly pointed at me to noodle in the key of B-flat, I froze. Performance anxiety and a lack of experience manifested themselves in the form of a few pitiful flubs out of my trombone; the silence afterward was deafening. Despite my blunders, I was unfazed in my desire to attain Benny Goodman’s level of improv mastery. At home, I approached my dream through rigorous practice of jazz fundamentals, guided partly by the work of other jazz legends like J. J. Johnson and Charles Mingus. Practice turned into improvement, and, before I knew it, performance anxiety began to fade.

It wasn’t until my stone-faced jazz teacher referred to one of my improvised melodies as “hot” that my playing confidence truly took shape. I found my musical voice just like Wayne Brady found his comedic timing. In my free time, I would spend hours exploring musical worlds of my own—and they were my own! Not even Duke Ellington had combined rhythms and melodies in the exact way that I had! With a vast expanse of unique sounds and emotions stretching out before me, I felt liberated from my past musical stutters.

In my newfound confidence, I found unexpected advantages of improv in my engineering endeavors. As a Science Olympiad member, improvisation benefits materialized in structure and circuit creation. Hours that I had spent formulating spontaneous musical ideas mirrored the creativity required for fruitful brainstorming sessions. Designs transformed into wooden structures just as thoughts turned into jazz melodies. The confidence gleaned from improv impacted my circuit-building events as well; my experience improvising in front of large crowds dwarfed any prior nervousness associated with timed circuit prompts.

Whether I am solving urgent engineering problems or performing my heart out on-stage, my love for improv always shines through. Benny Goodman, my deadpan jazz teacher, and countless others inspire me to push the boundaries of this love, however, my ultimate inspiration lies in my childhood “Whose Line” idols. At heart, the only thing that separates me from the fascinated eight-year-old staring at the television is how I have approached my fascination: I’ve improved.


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #13 - The Sound of Music

Author: Alyssa

Tucked inside the small blue box that sits on my dresser is a folded-up Market Basket receipt from November 3rd, 2010. If you flipped over the order, you’d find—written in neat and lilting handwriting—the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music.

On November 3rd, 2010, I was six going on seven, watching the Sound of Music with my grandparents for the first time, nestled between them on their old brown leather couch. The themes of the film were far beyond my understanding, but I could not get the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” out of my head. I begged my grandmother to transcribe them for me to keep. The message of the song, which lists images dear to Maria—from “raindrops on roses” to “silver white winters that melt into springs”—is that by drawing upon moments of joy, we can cope with any misfortune.

Now, it becomes clear why I found the lyrics important enough to write down and keep for eleven years: I tend to find the best in everything. Even when I feel lost, I am in constant search of small flickers of brightness, elusive moments of clarity. Like Maria, I think that my favorite things are my most inexhaustible sources of strength.

On January 1st, 2020, I downloaded an app called “One Second Every Day.” Essentially, I would film one second of my life each day, and the app would compile these clips into a movie at the end of every year. I began the project simply to document my life, to keep my memories fresh.

Soon, my project became much more than a documentary. Rather than capturing the most significant one-second of my day, as I had initially intended, I found myself filming moments that made me smile—moments that reminded me to stay hopeful.

On my mom’s first day of chemotherapy, I filmed the blue January sky and captioned the clip succinctly: “fresh air > everything else.” On the day that her hair fell out, I captured the serenity of a nearby lake, where I go to collect my thoughts. On the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I filmed my friends and me at a fencing tournament; on the second, a stunning sunset. Throughout quarantine, clips included flowers, Easter cookies, Zooms with my friends, and efforts to learn guitar.

I hadn’t realized it then, but like Maria, I was steadily compiling a list of my favorite things to make me feel better “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad”—a huge database of happiness in spite of pain. In that way, I grew stronger, more optimistic, better able to connect with myself and be there for my mother as she battled cancer amid the pandemic. My circumstances did not have to define my outlook on life.
Sometimes, I look back on my clips and can’t help but grin, knowing what comes next—like the clip of myself playing field hockey, filmed shortly before my mother received a call from her doctor, telling her that she was finally cancer-free.

I wish I could whisper to myself in the “before” moments like that one, “You’ll never believe what’s about to happen. Everything is going to be okay.” For now, I settle for the knowledge that we grow in the small moments, not only in the big ones. We push ourselves through obstacles and come out on the other side; we gear up for the decisions that will change our lives; we are strengthened and empowered and made brave.
Back in 2010, I may not have known what “schnitzel with noodles” was, but I did know that “My Favorite Things” matter, whether I’m six-going-on-seven or sixteen-going-on-seventeen or simply just trying to forge ahead. Whenever I rediscover that Market Basket receipt, I smile, and look forward to all the favorite things that I have yet to discover.


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #14 - Translation

Author: Cecile

I first thought seriously about human trafficking while sitting on a public toilet. The right place, the right time, and an uncanny sign can turn a banal act into a mission. For me, the venue was a bathroom stall in the Atlanta airport, the time was early morning, and the sign was a generic poster that warned viewers: “human trafficking is in our community.” The graffiti hearts on the stall door took the poster’s credibility down a notch, but I was intrigued. Ambiguous yet alarming, this message ultimately inspired me to learn a language that, although foreign, was spoken within earshot. As I later found out, a human trafficking ring took place blocks from my house in Austin, Texas. I would not have made this discovery without approaching my research with the attitude of a translator—from Austin’s East side to conversations with an ex-convict on my porch, from Spanish to English, from inside the bathroom stall to the whole wide world. 

To translate, dictionaries can only do so much. When I lived in Spain during the Summer of 2019, my host sister Carmen proved to be a better translator than my pocket dictionary. Through words, phrases, and theatrical charades, Carmen filled gaps in my understanding, offering me a much more grounded (and entertaining) explanation of a word than a conventional Spanish-English dictionary ever could. This lesson stuck, and it was not just about linguistics.

My time in Spain was an opportunity to discover meaning beyond words. To learn why “thank you” could be offensive, why my youngest host sister cursed like the word “joder” was going out of style, why everyone spoke as if on Novocain, I had to translate not just language, but culture. The challenge of understanding the cultural subtleties that language reveals taught me to see ambiguity—say, of a false cognate or a mysterious warning sign—as a green light for immersion. So, when it came to that poster on the bathroom wall, I hit the academic search engines and devoured a trove of research. 

Case studies dispelled myths, anthropologists offered context, and scholars everywhere, it seemed, were engaging in some form of translation. As I read, a world inaccessible even to data scientists—that of human sex trafficking—began to seem slightly more lucid. The scholarship, while brilliant, had its limits. Yes, I learned about the interactions of survivors with police officers; I discovered surprising arguments for legalizing prostitution; I noticed gaps between NGO advocacy and what empirical data suggest. Still, translating these discoveries into a language I understood remained as elusive to me as the Spanish subjunctive once seemed. As with linguistic translation, a deeper understanding would require deeper questions. Should the response to a human rights abuse change if the perceived victims do not agree that they are being abused? How can personal agency and external support coexist? What makes a kid a kid? I approached my new inquiries with the same attitude it took to discuss Mediterranean migration patterns with my host dad: shameless curiosity. I had another language to learn, and only human conversation, as nuanced and enthralling as my host sister made it, could lead me to fluency. 

I interviewed—in person and on Zoom—dozens of global experts, witnesses, and survivors of human trafficking. I created a website—which I called RISE (Recording Interviews and Stories of Exploitation)—to house my interviews and connect with those eager to explore questions further. My conversations, although in English, were no less of a translation than my experience rendering an English thought into a Spanish sentence. I was equally immersed, this time not in another language but in a new field. As with learning a new language, I found clarity through human connection. I have yet to reach the whole wide world with my research, but with RISE, I am just beginning to make discoveries that only true immersion rewards.


COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLE #15 - The YOKA Times

Author: Allie

It was already 6 PM, and I walked across the classroom, wary of the many fingers tapping away at their keyboards, their mouse clicks, their resizing and editing articles, photos, and captions. It was the day before the newspaper production deadline, and my team of middle schoolers had worked tirelessly on their articles and layouts. Just before we hit send, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride.

Student Newspaper in Every Middle School project began as an impossible dream. The ubiquity of fake news is undermining our democracy and our First Amendment right. I believe that my project can undermine the spread of fake news by educating young students to become better consumers of news. Determined, I began my journey to achieve my dream.

I was naive to think that merely sending “email presentation” to local middle school principals will be sufficient to convince them to start a newspaper with me. I was dead wrong. Out of 43 emails sent, I received exactly "0" interest. Out of desperation, I started calling schools one by one.

Another valuable lesson learned - principals don’t answer phone calls. Six schools picked up my call, but only Principal Lauer of Young Oak Kim Academy (YOKA), a Los Angeles Unified School District middle school, called me back. I implored the reluctant Principal for a chance to explain my plan, and was elated when he agreed to meet me. It was my only shot.

I felt like a person on a hopeless mission when I first walked the halls of YOKA. “What am I doing here? I don’t have to do this,” I kept mumbling to myself. A receptionist told me to wait as he had a meeting. Some twenty agonizing minutes passed before smiling Principal Lauer walked out to greet me. Remarkably, he read my presentation and told me that he had been trying to the same thing. Just like that, I became an advisor to YOKA’s student newspaper.

School bureaucracy quickly dampened my short-lived elation. As a minor, I couldn’t advise students on my own. So, the school had to assign a teacher. But, no one wanted the extra work, so I had to go around and convince teachers of the project’s merits one by one. I was overjoyed in tears when Ms. Ramos agreed to co-advise.

Problems never ended. I envisioned 30+ Energizer Bunnies to welcome me to first class. Instead, I got two bored students, wondering aloud "why they had to be there?" I was demoralized. But, I had expended too much effort and convinced too many people to quit. All dreams start small and humble, and I had to accept the fact that my dream was no exception.

I learned another undeniable truth - that getting an “idea” turned out to be the easiest step. In comparison, executing that “idea” was excruciatingly more difficult. Convincing conflicted individuals to work for a common goal was impossibly challenging. I needed to be resilient, but I was always prepared to fail as well.

I stumbled on to a “tipping point.” I told my staff that the feature article’s “star” will be them. The new “celebrity” status was enticing enough to get them enthusiastic. I took the cue from their metamorphosis and started promising “stardom” to other students. Encouraging narcissism through flattery worked as seven more students enthusiastically joined. Our goal was simple, “tell accurate stories about students, the ‘stars’ of our paper.” The “YOKA Times” was successfully launched last year and I am proud to be working with two more schools this year.

It was 6:30 PM, and we finally finished our first issue. “High five, we did it,” my students and I were overjoyed. I held the “YOKA Times” in my hands, smiling at the team who worked so hard to make this happen.


You've read through these 15 college essay examples. What do they all have in common? What's the secret sauce that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance?

Remember: the college essay is only one part of the college application.

The admissions officers reading these essays thus were considering other aspects of the writers' applications, including extracurricular distinction and academic achievement.

That being said, we've done the research and pinpointed the 7 qualities of successful college essays that all of these pieces exemplify.

These are:

  • Introspective and reflective
  • Full of a student's voice
  • Descriptive and engaging
  • Honest
  • Unconventional and distinct
  • Well-written
  • Meaningful

What can you do to write a personal statement in line with these stellar college essay examples?

First, let's talk about how to actually read one of these college essay examples.

If you're at this point in this post, you've likely read at least one of the examples in this post at least once. Now, return to that essay and read it a second time with a more critical eye.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What do you like? What do you not like?
  • How does the essay make you feel?
  • How is the essay structured?
  • How does the writer craft the introduction? The conclusion?
  • What's unique about this college essay example?
  • What value(s) does the writer express? Key takeaways?
  • Is there anything unexpected or surprising?
  • Do any writing techniques stick out to you?

Pay attention to your answers to these questions, and reflect on the qualities that surface. Compare them to the 7 qualities of a successful college essay. What do you notice?

Complete this exercise for several other college essay examples -- you can download 35 real college essays below!

This can help you understand exactly what it it takes to write a compelling college essay, including what impact a strong essay has on a reader.

It's also a great first step to take in the college essay writing process, which we've boiled down to these 10 simple steps


You can check out even more college essay examples by successful applicants! For 20 additional essays, download PrepMaven's 35 College Essays That Worked.

With this document, you'll get:

  • The essays included in this post
  • 20 additional full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Need some additional help? Check out our college essay service and work with one of our Master Consultants.

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child increase their test scores and get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


25 PSAT Tips: Advice from a Top 1% Scorer

25 PSAT Tips: Advice from a Top 1% Scorer

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT

The PSAT is a key step on the road to college applications. It’s a standardized test taken by many students as juniors, and sometimes by sophomores as well. 

The PSAT is very similar to the SAT, which is one of the two tests (along with the ACT) used for college admissions. The PSAT is a great chance to see how prepared students are for the SAT and get a sense of what SAT scores they might achieve. The PSAT Score Report provides students and families with lots of great data for crafting a personalized SAT strategy.

PSAT scores aren’t used directly by colleges for admissions purposes, but they can be used to win prestigious scholarships and get noticed by colleges for recruitment and other scholarship opportunities. 

Top-scoring students can earn recognition from the National Merit program, which gives students an edge with college admissions and can even result in full-ride scholarships at certain schools.

Princeton University
Princeton University

Back when I was in high school, my high scores on the PSAT won me a National Merit scholarship and helped me get into Princeton. Now I help today’s students to feel more comfortable with the PSAT and other college admissions tests. Here are my top 25 tips for the PSAT!

Download a Free 30-minute Sample PSAT


Before the test

PSAT tip #1: Be familiar with the test

The PSAT may be sometimes known as the “practice SAT,” but avoid taking the PSAT completely cold — this can lead to a negative testing experience, which can increase test anxiety for the SAT and other important college admissions tests.

Spend a few minutes reading our “What is the PSAT?” post and learn about the general structure of the PSAT. Remember that the PSAT is changing significantly in fall 2023, so make sure you’re becoming familiar with the new version of the test!


PSAT tip #2: Take a practice test and set your goals

The best way to get a good sense of the PSAT is to take a practice test. Download our shortened 30-minute sample PSAT for free to get a taste of the test. Then set aside three hours to take a full practice test in simulated testing conditions. (Make sure you’re practicing the new 2023 version of the test.)

These practice tests can reveal valuable information for test-prep strategy. For the PSAT, it’s especially important to know if you have a reasonable shot at a top score. If you score in the top 3% of test-takers, you can win recognition from the National Merit program and earn big scholarships, including full-ride scholarships to certain colleges. If you know you tend to score highly on standardized tests, you should take the PSAT seriously, because there’s significant money and admissions advantages on the line.

If you’re not sure if you might be a top scorer, download our short 30-minute sample and see how you do. We typically recommend that students who score in the top 5% of standardized tests take the PSAT seriously and do more focused prep.

Use your performance on practice tests to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Be strategic about the areas where you can improve the most on the test with a bit of effort. Make a list of the concepts or types of problems to practice — an experienced tutor can help with crafting a strong prep strategy based on practice tests.


PSAT tip #3: Learn concepts you don’t know (strategically)

After taking a practice test and making a list of the concepts you don’t know, set aside some time to learn those missing concepts

Use books and online resources or reach out to a teacher or private tutor for help filling in the gaps in your knowledge.

Be strategicfocus on the concepts that will appear most frequently on the test, like basic grammar rules, algebra of straight lines, and basic operations with exponents. For example, can you simplify these math expressions comfortably?

operations with exponents — a core area tested on the PSAT and SAT

Only once those basics are solid should you work on concepts that appear less frequently, like circle equations or literary devices.

Pro tip: Don’t spend time memorizing SAT vocabulary. Personally, I find vocabulary flashcards to be a waste of time. The likelihood that you’ll successfully memorize the specific words that appear on the test is very low, and your time and focus will yield much greater results if you focus instead on semicolon rules. If you are preparing in advance and want to improve your vocabulary, read books and magazine articles, or listen to podcasts. Ask your local librarian or work with one of our tutors for customized recommendations!


PSAT tip #4: Practice, practice, practice!

The single best way to improve your PSAT score is to practice.

Do focused drills on weak areas or concepts you’ve just learned to strengthen your knowledge.

Occasionally do full timed practice tests — this is important for getting a good sense of pacing on the test. There are free full practice tests available from the College Board and Khan Academy. Make sure you’re practicing the new 2023 version of the test, which will be digital and significantly different.

Know that any practice you do for the PSAT will also prepare you for the SAT, because they are nearly identical tests. The SAT is just a little bit longer and a little bit tougher.


PSAT tip #5: Use up-to-date, high-quality resources

Major changes are coming to the PSAT and the SAT in 2023. The new digital version of the test will not just be taken in a different way (on laptops and tablets instead of with pencil and paper), but it will also have a completely new structure. Some of the types of questions will be significantly changed, and the Reading section will be completely different. Read more about the changes here.

This means that most PSAT and SAT prep resources are going to be out-of-date. It’s going to be important to use recently revised, up-to-date resources, especially for the new Reading & Writing section. Check that resources have been updated since fall 2022, when the College Board released preview material for the new digital PSAT and SAT.

from 2023 PSAT and SAT are digital-only, so make sure you're practicing the new digital version!

One reliable study resource is the educational non-profit Khan Academy, which has partnered with the creators of the PSAT and SAT to make high-quality online test prep materials. They’re especially great for math resources.

A good test-prep tutor can help students and families make sure that they’re practicing the right version of the test and using the best resources available.


PSAT tip #6: Use a variety of strategies to answer test questions

In addition to learning the underlying concepts being tested by the PSAT, it can be helpful to learn strategies for answering different types of questions found on the test.

Sometimes the most effective or time-efficient method of solving a problem is to work backwards, plug in test solutions, or another “hack.” Some strategies that might not fly in your high school classes (where teachers will often want you to show your work and solve a problem in a particular way) are fine on the test. In the end, the only thing that counts is choosing the correct answer, not how you got there!

Test-prep tutors can help students to learn proven strategies for solving each separate type of question. 


PSAT tip #7: For math problems, draw a picture or diagram

Often a good way to get started on a math problem is to draw a rough sketch of the situation or a quick diagram.

Students should absolutely draw a diagram for any geometry problem that does not already provide one.

Thumbnail sketches can also be very helpful for visualizing problems involving the equation of a line, parabolic curve, or exponential growth curve.

If you feel completely stumped on a problem, drawing a little picture can often help to jog your thinking. Just don’t spend too much time making your drawing exact!

student working on math problem

PSAT tip #8: For grammar questions, read the sentence “out loud”

For grammar questions on the Reading & Writing section, try reading the multiple-choice options out loud. Often you’ll be able to “hear” the right answer — trust your instincts! This strategy is especially helpful for questions about comma placement.

Of course, on the actual test you won’t be able to make noise, so you’ll have to mouth the words silently. This may feel silly, but we still recommend it! Top scorers and National Merit winners read out the options, so it’s not too silly for you.


PSAT tip #9: For Reading questions, avoid answers that distort the scope

One common trap that the test writers set on reading comprehension questions is to create multiple-choice answers that are a little bit right but have a distorted scope.

question from official SAT test prep #1 — option C is close but distorts the scope with the word "all"

In particular, be very careful with answers that use words like “all,” “none,” “never,” “always,” “every,” etc. These are often trap answers and should send alarm bells ringing for you. 


PSAT tip #10: For Reading and Writing questions, think of your own answer first

This tip is especially great for high-scoring students who tend to overthink their answers.

The test writers will deliberately set traps for students. They’ll write answers that echo certain phrases from the text or “sound good,” and once you read these trick answers, you start to believe that they’re a good choice.

A secret hack for avoiding these traps is to ignore the multiple-choice answers at first. Instead, just focus on the question and think of what your own answer would be based on the text, as if it were a free-response short-answer question. 

student

Once you have that answer fixed in your head, then look at the multiple-choice options. Usually one will closely match your own idea, and that’s the one to choose. Ignore any other options and feel confident in your choice. 


PSAT tip #11: Get help as needed

There’s a lot to manage with test prep, and it can be a good idea to get help as needed.

If you’re struggling with particular concepts, sometimes there are good resources online. Khan Academy is a reliable study platform, especially for math, and students can find YouTube explanations of specific topics.

Some high school teachers may be generous with their time and offer additional help to students, and there are some platforms for free or low-cost peer and community tutoring. When considering group test-prep classes, look for classes with qualified teachers, small classes, and the ability to get additional help from the teachers. Working one-on-one with a tutor will be the most efficient way to prepare for the PSAT and SAT, because an experienced tutor can help a student to focus immediately on the areas where they can gain the most points the most quickly. 

Check out our list of top PSAT tutoring services here.


PSAT test day

PSAT tip #12: The night before the test, sleep — don’t cram

Don’t study the night before the test. The benefit from another few hours of studying or practice is going to be outweighed by the stress hormones and exhaustion that can come from last-minute cramming.

Instead, focus on getting a full night’s sleep. (For most teenagers, this is 8 or 9 hours of sleep.) As much as busy schedules allow, do something that you find enjoyable or relaxing. Eat a healthy, balanced evening meal, avoid caffeine in the evening, and avoid blue lights and screens that can disrupt sleep.

The only exception to this advice is if you haven’t done any prep and have no idea what the test will look like! In that case, spend an hour or so familiarizing yourself with the test format and types of questions you’ll see. Read our “What is the PSAT?” post and download our 30-minute mini PSAT to get a taste of the test. And of course, read this list of top PSAT tips!

student sleeping

PSAT tip #13: Bring the right things to the test

The night before the test, pack your bag with everything you’ll need on test day. Remember, the PSAT is administered in schools on a school day, so it can be difficult to remember that this school day will be different.

For the PSAT, you’ll need to bring:

  • Photo ID
  • Device for taking the new digital test: laptop or tablet with a battery that can last four hours, fully charged, with charger — contact your school if you need to borrow a device for taking the test
  • Two #2 pencils — even if the new test is digital, you’ll still be provided with scratch paper for making notes and calculations
  • Watch (that doesn’t beep) to keep an eye on time: I personally like an old-school watch with a second hand, but some people like a digital watch that has a timer function
  • Calculator that you feel comfortable using (and that is approved by the College Board) with full batteries — don’t try out a new fancy calculator on the day of the test, a surprisingly common mistake!
  • Bottle of water to stay hydrated — water accounts for 75% of your brain mass and dehydration can affect cognitive function 
  • Healthy snack to eat during the break — aim for brain-boosting protein and complex carbs, not sugar
  • Comfortable layers, like a hoodie, in case the testing room is chilly
  • Headphones for listening to pump-up music before the test
pencil for test

PSAT tip #14: The morning of the test, eat breakfast

You’ve heard this one before.

The morning of the test, eat a good breakfast. (Or at least something for breakfast!)

balanced breakfast

Aim for brain-boosting proteins and complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, yogurt with granola and berries, rice with eggs or fish, arepas de pescado, or whatever you like. These foods will help boost your concentration power and aid you to perform your best. Avoid simple sugars like donuts, sugary cereals, or pop-tarts.

When it comes to caffeine and medications, stick to your usual routine. If you normally drink tea or coffee, go for it — but don’t have more than your usual. Testing day is not when you should experiment or change it up!

iced coffee

PSAT tip #15: Arrive early to the testing location

On testing day, leave plenty of time to get to the testing location. 

Most students will take the PSAT at their school on a school day, which is a great chance to practice for the SAT in a familiar environment.

Plan to arrive a bit early on PSAT testing day. The last thing you want is to flood your body with stress chemicals from something totally unrelated to the test, like worrying about traffic or parking.


PSAT tip #16: Use small hacks to boost confidence

Everyone gets a little nervous for important tests, even the strongest students.

Fortunately, there are a lot of small hacks that can boost your confidence level before and during the test.

Take a note from pro athletes and listen to pump-up music (with headphones) in the morning before the test. Make a playlist beforehand with the music that makes you feel confident, capable, and strong!

student walking while listening to music

Do a little bit of exercise before the test to get your blood flowing and decrease stress. Take a short walk, jog around the block, or do a few jumping jacks. 

Try short power poses, like standing like Superman with your chest puffed out and your chin up. These have been shown to help boost confidence levels! Do them in a bathroom stall if you feel self-conscious, or even do mini versions of them seated at your testing desk.

Engage in positive self-talk before and during the test. You’ve got this, and with the PSAT there’s little to lose.

Just do your best!


PSAT tip #17: Pace yourself on the test

Time management is the #1 challenge for students on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. 

Budget your time on the test, and keep an eye on the clock. If you’re aiming to answer every question, set a quick halfway goal. For example, you might calculate that by 10:15 you should have about 20 problems done on the Math section.

The best way to practice pacing is by doing timed practice tests and full sections. A good PSAT/SAT tutor will help students improve their pressing.

A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than one minute on an individual question.


PSAT tip #18: Prioritize the easier questions

On the PSAT (and also on the SAT and ACT), all of the questions are worth the same amount of points.

This has a crucial consequence for testing strategies. If all questions are worth the same, then you should absolutely prioritize easy and medium questions over the hard questions. 

Imagine you eventually reach the correct answer on a hard question, but it takes you 2 minutes and you run out time to finish the test. Perhaps in those 2 minutes you could have answered 3 or 4 easier questions correctly. It’s much better to answer more easy questions than a few harder questions!

In fact, if you’re not a top-scorer, then it might be strategic to just guess on the hardest questions and focus your efforts on the easy and medium questions. 

(How do you know if you’re a top scorer and which strategy you specifically should be using? Take a practice test and see your projected score. An experienced tutor will also help you to make a customized plan based on your strengths and weaknesses.)


PSAT tip #19: Use the testing breaks

During the test there will be at least one break.

Use this break to your advantage — don’t just sit at your desk.

If you need to, use the bathroom. Eat your healthy snack, drink some water, and move around. (Exercise or movement will help your body maintain concentration.) Do a few quick power poses to boost your confidence again. Spend a minute doing some deep breathing to calm your nervous system and improve your focus.

healthy snack

PSAT tip #20: Don’t leave any answers blank

This is a very important tip, and a key reason that some students score lower than they should on the PSAT!

There are no penalties for incorrect answers on the PSAT or SAT. (This used to be different, so older folks might give incorrect advice on this one.)

That means that if you don’t know the answer, you should always guess something! Even if it’s a complete guess, you’ll have a 25% chance of guessing the answer correctly. If you can eliminate one or two choices, your chances improve to 33% or 50%. There’s nothing to lose!

Make sure to leave enough time at the end of each section to confirm that you’ve selected an answer for every question.


PSAT tip #21: Calm your body with deep breathing

One of my favorite testing hacks is to use deep breathing to boost concentration and focus. Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to improve test performance!

As humans, our bodies haven’t evolved very much from back when we were hunters and gatherers in the wild. When we get nervous, our bodies send energy away from our brains and stomachs (which aren’t needed for running away or fighting a lion) and towards our legs and other big muscles (for running or fighting).

That’s why when we get nervous, we can’t concentrate properly and our stomachs feel queasy!

Of course, this isn’t very helpful for modern-day challenges like tests.

Deep, slow breaths can hack into our autonomic nervous systems and reset this for our bodies.

Try breathing in for 4 slow counts, holding your breath for 4 counts, and then releasing your breath over 6 or 8 counts.

student breathing

Even a few slow breaths like this will have a surprisingly powerful effect! You can do this before a test, in between testing sections, or even during the test if you feel your brain spinning out and losing focus. The 30 seconds you lose doing 3 deep breaths will be more than outweighed by the gain in concentration if you feel like test anxiety is getting the better of you.

Over the years, our sensitive tutors have helped many students to develop and practice techniques for mitigating test anxiety. We’ve had lots of success helping students to reach their true potential, without nerves getting in the way!


After the test

PSAT tip #22: Learn from your testing experience

After the test, learn from your experience. How was the PSAT for you? What was harder than you expected? Did you feel nervous on the test or experience any test anxiety? 

Only you can know how the test felt for you as an individual. This is very valuable information that can help you to prepare more effectively for the SAT and the ACT, which will be used for college admissions and scholarships! 

A thoughtful tutor can help you to discuss your testing experience and think through customized strategies to improve on future tests.


PSAT tip #23: Use your PSAT results to start making a college list

Students typically receive PSAT results about six weeks after the testing date.

These PSAT results can be a powerful tool for making a college list. They’ll give some initial indications of where students might be a competitive applicant.

A balanced college list will always have a mix of safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. Read our detailed guidance on crafting a great college list here.

Harvard University
Harvard University

If your PSAT scores don’t show that you’re on track to be a competitive applicant to your dream schools, don’t worry! It’s definitely possible to improve your scores significantly with targeted practice and review. Schedule a free short educational consult to explore options for test prep.


PSAT tip #24: Use the PSAT to learn about scholarship opportunities

If you did well on the PSAT, be on the lookout for notifications about scholarship opportunities.

There’s an option on the PSAT to check a box that will allow colleges to view test scores through the Student Search Service. Students can select this on testing day or after the test. 

These PSAT scores aren’t used for admissions purposes, so we recommend choosing this option as there’s nothing to lose. They’re shared with colleges and scholarship programs so that they can recruit students who might be a great fit. High-scoring students can get lots of fun mail and notices of scholarship opportunities!

University of Wisconsin – Madison
campus at the University of Wisconsin – Madison

Students who scored in the top 3% may qualify for recognition from the National Merit program, a prestigious honor that can come with big scholarships. These notifications are sent out in the fall of the student’s senior year, nearly a year after the PSAT testing date. Check out past National Merit score cutoffs here to see if your score might qualify.


PSAT tip #25: Use your PSAT results to plan your SAT prep

Your PSAT Score Report is full of great data that can help you to plan your SAT prep effectively. Experienced tutors will know how to interpret this information and can help students to craft a customized test-prep plan suited to their individual goals.

Students can also consider taking the ACT as well, which is the other admissions test. The ACT and SAT are similar but have some key differences, and many students try both tests to see which one will play better to their strengths.

Consider taking the SAT on the earlier side, since this can help to alleviate pressure on students — and give them more time to take the test multiple times if they want to improve their scores. In particular, we recommend avoiding the scheduling crunch of AP tests and semester finals that often happens in the late spring of junior year. Schedule a free short educational consult for more advice.


Next steps

Students can absolutely improve their PSAT scores with the right practice. We recommend downloading our 30-minute micro PSAT to get a taste of the PSAT first. Then get started with studying or set aside a three-hour block to try a full-length practice test.

There is some great free practice material available from the educational non-profit Khan Academy. Their platform is for the SAT, but students can use the same materials to prepare for the PSAT.

Regardless of what program you follow, it’s important to make sure that you’re preparing for the correct version of the PSAT

If you’re taking the PSAT in fall 2023 (and the SAT from March 2024 onwards), you need to use the new digital SAT practice materials. The old paper SAT is going to be out of date!

Remember that if you’re a student who typically performs well on standardized tests (scoring in the top 5%), you’ll want to really focus on the PSAT — you’ve got a real chance of winning big scholarships through National Merit.

Whatever your goals, make a plan for how you’ll practice and strengthen your weak areas with targeted exercises and drills. By practicing with the right materials, we’ve seen students improve their PSAT and SAT scores significantly!


Related Articles

What is the PSAT? A Princeton Grad Explains Why this "Practice" Test Can Matter
National Merit PSAT Scores: How to Earn $300k in 3 hours
The 15 Best PSAT Tutoring Services for 2022
How Long is the PSAT? Plus Updates for the New 2023 PSAT
The 12 Best SAT Prep Courses for 2022
What is a Good PSAT Score? See What Scores You Need on the PSAT
When should you take the SAT or ACT?
Average SAT Scores: The Latest Data
Hardest SAT Math Questions
The 15 Best SAT Online Tutoring Services for 2022
The 13 SAT Grammar Rules You Need to Know
SAT vs ACT: Everything You Need To Know
The SAT QAS: How to Use One of the Most Powerful Score-Boosting Tools
Converting SAT to ACT Scores (and vice versa)
When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT



student

What is the PSAT? A Princeton grad explains why this “practice” test can matter

What is the PSAT? A Princeton grad explains why this “practice” test can matter

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT

The PSAT, or the "Preliminary SAT," is a standardized test taken by US students in the fall of their junior year, and sometimes in their sophomore year as well.

Many students don’t realize that the PSAT is a chance to win major scholarships! Students have won full-ride scholarships to college through scoring highly on the PSAT. Top scores can also help with admissions to highly competitive schools, like the Ivy League.

I was in the top 1% of scorers on the PSAT years ago, and this helped me win over $240,000 in academic scholarships offered by top schools like the University of Chicago. My PSAT score also helped me win admission to every college where I applied, including Ivy-League schools like Princeton. I'm sharing this information here because many families don't realize that the PSAT has the potential to significantly impact college options for students.

What is the PSAT, and how can high-performing students take advantage of its scholarship-winning potential? We’ll answer all your questions here.

Download a Free 30-minute Sample PSAT

Jump to section:

What is the PSAT?
What's on the PSAT?
How is the PSAT different from the SAT?
How is the PSAT scored?
Interpreting the PSAT score report
Does the PSAT matter?
How to use the PSAT to win scholarships through National Merit
What's a good score on the PSAT?
How to take the PSAT
Next steps


What is the PSAT?

Many people have heard of the SAT and the ACT. These are the two main standardized tests used to apply to colleges in the US. Both tests are accepted equally for admissions purposes at colleges and universities, and these days the tests are taken by roughly equal numbers of students. Read more about how the SAT and the ACT compare here, and how to convert SAT and ACT scores here.

(Wondering whether tests still matter with the new test-optional policies? Yes, tests still matter. Even if the schools on your list are now test-optional, at the vast majority of schools strong test scores will still help your chances of admissions, and can be used to qualify for scholarships or special programs.)

The PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is the “practice” SAT. 

Most students take the SAT in their junior or senior year of high school. Typically the peak time for SAT testing is in the spring of junior year, although testing earlier can make the process less stressful for students.

The PSAT, on the other hand, is taken in the fall of junior year. Some students might also take the PSAT the fall of their sophomore year, but this score cannot count for the National Merit competition.

High scores on the PSAT can earn students awards from the National Merit program: Commended, Semi-Finalists, Finalist, or Scholar. Students can win a variety of scholarships directly through this program, and many schools also award additional scholarships to National Merit students. Some schools even give automatic full-ride scholarships!

National Merit status is also a strong statement for college admissions, and many colleges compete to recruit these top students.

Because of this competition, the PSAT isn’t just a “practice” SAT — for top scorers, it’s also a chance to win big.

Download a 30-minute sample of the PSAT to try it out today!


What’s on the PSAT?

Like the SAT, the PSAT is designed to measure general college readiness. It has four sections covering reading comprehension, clear writing, grammar, and math.

The new digital PSAT

Big changes are coming to the SAT and the PSAT in the coming year. The College Board has launched a new version of the SAT, which will begin from March 2023 for international students and from March 2024 for students testing within the US.

Of course, the PSAT is the “preliminary” SAT, so the PSAT will change along with the SAT!

Students testing in fall 2023 will be the first to experience the new digital PSAT.

Old PSAT test format:

Section Length (minutes) Number of questions
Reading 60 47
Writing & Language 35 44
Math 70 48

This new digital PSAT will be significantly different. Several types of questions will change. As the name suggests, the test will be administered digitally using a tablet or laptop.  In addition, the test will be adaptive, which means that the questions will adjust in difficulty to the student’s level. If the student performs more strongly, the test will give harder questions that will lead to a higher score.

That means that many published PSAT prep books and resources are now out-of-date. Students who are preparing for the PSAT should make sure that they are preparing for the 2023 version of the test!

(Some resources still call the version of the PSAT and SAT created in 2016 the “new” SAT, but that is now the “old” SAT.)

An experienced test prep tutor can help students make sure they’re practicing the correct version of the test and using the most up-to-date strategies.

Here, we’ll cover the subjects tested by the PSAT, describing the new digital PSAT.

Reading

One of the skillsets covered by the PSAT is reading comprehension and evidence-based reasoning. This is one of the areas of the test that will change most significantly with the new 2023 version.

On the new 2023 PSAT, students will find many short passages, each with one question about the purpose of the text, the use of particular vocabulary words in context, textual analysis, and so on. (This is different from the old PSAT, which presented long passages, each with 10–12 questions.)

Download a short sample of the test here.

Writing and Language

On the old PSAT, Reading and Writing & Language were two separate sections, the scores for which were then combined for half of the total SAT score.

On the new 2023 PSAT, all of the verbal content will be combined together in the new Reading & Writing sections. There will be two parts; the first will be of mixed difficulty, and then the second part will be easier or harder depending on how the student performed on the first part.

That means that students will encounter questions about grammar, clear writing, and the effective use of language alongside questions about reading comprehension and textual analysis.

Students will need to know how to use punctuation correctly and the rules of English grammar. They will also need to be able to select the “best” version of a sentence. Download our short sample of these questions here.

Math

The other half of the test comprises math questions from concepts typically learned in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. Some common types of problems feature linear functions, operations with exponents, quadratic functions, probability, trigonometry, and the geometry of angles, triangles, and circles. 

Students will need to solve each problem in about one minute. To see a few examples of the hardest math questions, check out our detailed walkthrough of 16 challenging SAT math problems and try our quiz with 20 of the all-time hardest questions.

On the new digital PSAT, students will be allowed to use a calculator on all of the math questions. Like the verbal half of the test, the math portion will be adaptive; a student’s performance on the first half of the math questions will determine whether they receive an easier or harder set of questions in the second half.

Wondering what these PSAT questions look like? We’ve carefully created a short sample PSAT, which can be downloaded for free here


How is the PSAT different from the SAT?

The SAT and the PSAT are two important tests made by the College Board, which also makes the AP tests that many students take each year in May to earn college credit for advanced coursework in high school. (High scores on AP tests are also a great way to demonstrate your academic achievements to colleges.)

The College Board also makes standardized tests for students starting in 8th grade. Some schools may use their full testing program:

8th grade PSAT 8/9 Taken in school, used to track student progress.
9th grade PSAT 8/9 Taken in school, used to track student progress.
10th grade PSAT 10 Taken in school in May, used to track student progress. The test is the same as the PSAT/NMSQT, but it can’t be used to qualify for the National Merit competition.
11th grade PSAT/NMSQT Taken in school in October, used to track student progress and to compete for the National Merit competition.
10th-12th grade SAT Used for college admission. Some students will take it in school, but many students also register individually and take it on a Saturday.
9th-12th grade AP subject tests Advanced Placement tests (in May each year) can be taken to earn college credit and demonstrate advanced level for college applications

The PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 are both used to track students’ progress towards college readiness. These tests are taken in school by roughly half of the nation’s students during the school day. 

The PSAT is a little bit shorter and a little bit easier than the SAT, but otherwise it’s the same test with the same format. Many students find that it’s a useful tool for gauging their current level of preparation for the SAT. 

SAT math answer key

In fact, PSAT scores can be used to guide the next stages of SAT prep. Our expert tutors routinely start SAT preparation by discussing a student’s performance on the PSAT. The PSAT can also be useful for uncovering issues with test anxiety that can lower a student’s scores compared to at-home practice. Knowing about these issues earlier can allow students and instructors time to build a roadmap for success and develop targeted strategies for SAT test day.

Only the SAT and the AP subject tests can be taken privately by students. The other earlier tests are organized by schools. If your school doesn’t use the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10, don’t worry! These tests aren’t used for scholarship applications or college admissions.

If your school doesn’t use these earlier tests, students may want to do additional preparation before the PSAT so that the test is familiar and students can feel confident. Schedule a free test-prep consultation with our team to learn more about what would be best for you or your student.


How is the PSAT scored?

The PSAT is scored similarly to the SAT, but with slightly lower numbers. The two sections, Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, are each scored on a scale from 160–760. This means that a “perfect” PSAT score is 1520. (The SAT sections are scored from 200–800, so a perfect SAT score is 1600.)

The score will depend on how many questions students answer correctly. On the current PSAT, each correct answer on each section counts as one point towards a student’s raw score. The new digital PSAT launched in fall 2023 may calculate scores slightly differently — the College Board hasn’t yet announced the exact mechanics of how they will calculate scores with the new adaptive style of testing. On the new adaptive PSAT, higher-performing students will get a harder version of the test, so the scoring calculations will have to be more complex to take this into consideration.

On the PSAT, there are no penalties for incorrect answers. One strategic consequence of this is that students should never leave a question blank. Even if they’re completely stumped, it’s always strategic to guess!

Along with their PSAT score from 320 to 1520, students will also receive percentile rankings. The percentiles show how students performed compared to other students. For example, scoring in the 65th percentile means that a student scored better than 65% of other students.

Students will receive two different percentile rankings for their PSAT score. The first compares how students did to other students taking the PSAT. This tends to be a more competitive group of students, since students who are taking the test are more likely to be on a college track. The second percentile ranking (the “Nationally Representative Sample”) compares how students hypothetically performed compared to typical US students in their grade, regardless of whether they took the test.

Students will also receive subscores and cross-test scores that can provide additional insight into areas of strength and weakness. 

The cross-test scores for Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science range from 8 to 38. For example, the Analysis in Science subscore will indicate how well students can handle reading about science, analyzing graphs and charts about science, and solving math word problems about science.

The subscores range from 1 to 15 and indicate student abilities in specific areas like Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.

An experienced tutor will be able to help students use these PSAT subscores to develop a customized plan for SAT preparation. Because the SAT has the same subscores and types of questions, the PSAT can be a very helpful tool for crafting a roadmap for SAT practice. Our Ivy-League SAT tutors are experts in using this data to improve student success on the SAT.

The College Board will make sure that scores are scaled fairly across different testing dates. They use a process called “equating” to account for any slight differences in the test difficulty from year to year.


Interpreting the PSAT score report

The PSAT is administered in mid-October each year, and scores are typically available online by early December. (Check the College Board website for the exact date.) Students may also receive a paper copy of their scores in school or mailed home to their parents.

The online PSAT score reports will look like this:

The College Board uses a color-coded system indicate “college readiness” benchmarks:

  • Green = meets or exceeds benchmark
  • Yellow = approaching benchmark
  • Red = needs to strengthen skills

These benchmarks indicate whether students have the basic skills to take and succeed in college coursework. They do not indicate the average PSAT test scores or a competitive PSAT score for scholarship competitions, but they’re a good starting place. 

Students will also be able to view benchmarks for each section and each subscore of the PSAT. These are very useful tools for SAT prep, so make sure to share this information with your SAT tutor!

Because the PSAT scores give a rough approximation of how a student might do on the SAT without any further study, students can use their PSAT scores to begin crafting a balanced college list of colleges where they would be a competitive applicant. If their scores aren’t high enough for the colleges where they want to apply, then students will know to spend more effort preparing for the SAT.


Does the PSAT matter?

It depends!

For the majority of students, it’s fine for the PSAT to simply be a “practice” SAT. In and of itself, the PSAT is not used for college admissions, and colleges will not see PSAT scores. 

It’s a good chance for students to get familiar with the test structure and question types they’ll see on the SAT. A PSAT score also lets students know approximately what scores they’ll achieve on the SAT at their current level of preparedness, and make test prep plans accordingly.

Taking practice tests is a cornerstone of test prep, and the PSAT is a chance to take a “practice SAT” that includes the features of a real test day — the nerves, the small distractions in the room, the official forms at the beginning of the test, and so on. That makes it a great trial run for the SAT, which is a key component of college admissions!

Students can also elect to make their PSAT scores visible to college recruiters. Students who score well will start receiving lots of college brochures in the mail, which can be fun and motivating. In this way, students may also learn about specific programs or scholarships that appeal to them.

However, for a small number of students, the PSAT can matter much more. This is because the PSAT is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The National Merit Program gives scholarships to top students across the US. To qualify for recognition, students need to be in at least the top 3% of scorers for recognition, with competition for most awards limited to the top 1%.

For this reason, if students are typically in roughly the top 5% of whichever annual standardized tests they take through their school, it can be worth it to take the PSAT more seriously! The National Merit awards are widely known and can be a big boost for college admissions, in addition to the monetary value of the prizes.

If you’re not sure if you’re likely to be a National Merit contender, try taking a practice PSAT or practice SAT. If your initial scores are in 95th percentile or above, then yes, you should definitely take the junior-year PSAT seriously.

student success

In addition to college scholarships, the PSAT may be relevant to admission to private high schools. Some elite prep schools (like Phillips Exeter Academy or the Hotchkiss School) also use the PSAT as an alternative to the SSAT or ISEE for admission to grades 11–12 or a postgraduate year. 

For students who want to spend the last year or two of high school at a prep school, it can be much more convenient to use the PSAT compared to the SSAT or ISEE. Not only are PSAT study materials much more widely available than for the SSAT or ISEE prep school admissions tests, but any PSAT preparation will also prepare students directly for the SAT.


How to use the PSAT to win scholarships through National Merit

As we’ve mentioned several times now, one of the main reasons why students want to succeed on the PSAT is to win recognition through the National Merit competition.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is one of the most widely-known and prestigious scholarship competitions in the US. 

Administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a private, not-for-profit organization, the National Merit Program recognizes high-achieving students across the country.

The contest begins in the fall of a student’s junior year, when they take the PSAT through their high school. Approximately 1.5 million 11th grade students take the PSAT and, by doing so, automatically enter the National Merit Scholarship Competition.

(Note that while some students may take the PSAT as a sophomore, 10th-grade scores are not eligible for the National Merit competition.)

student

The following year (in September of their senior year), 34,000 students across the country receive a Letter of Commendation recognizing high achievement on the PSAT. These students scored in approximately the 97th or 98th percentile on the PSAT. Commended students are not eligible to continue on in the competition, but this is a great award to include in college applications, and they may be eligible for some special scholarships provided by corporate and business sponsors.

At the same time, 16,000 students are notified that they have achieved Semifinalist status. These are the very highest scorers in each state, roughly the 99th percentile of students taking the PSAT.

The 16,000 Semifinalists are then invited to submit applications for the National Merit Scholarships. These applications are a little like college applications: they include high school transcripts / GPA, extracurriculars, and an essay. Semifinalist students also need to be nominated by their schools as strong students and members of their community.

In February of their senior year, 15,000 of the Semifinalists advance to Finalist status. This is an amazing achievement, and is a definite boost on college applications!

Finally, roughly half of the Finalists are awarded scholarships and become National Merit Scholarship winners. There are three types of scholarships:

  • The 2,500 highest-achieving students are awarded a one-time prize of $2,500 directly from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

  • More scholarships are awarded by approximately 340 different corporate sponsors. In order to be eligible for one of these, typically a student has to both be a Finalist and also have a parent who is employed by one of the sponsors. The prizes range from $2,500 to $5,000 one-time or $1,000 to $10,000 annually. 

  • Many colleges and universities will also offer a scholarship to students who are both admitted and also achieve Finalist status. Prizes range from $500 to $2,000 annually. 
National Merit diagram

Of course, these are only the scholarships that are offered via the National Merit Program. There are many other colleges that offer larger scholarships to National Merit Finalists. Schools tend to compete to see how many of the National Merit Finalists they can attract, and some will even offer full-ride scholarships or guaranteed admission to National Merit students.

Some schools offering full-ride scholarships to National Merit students include:

  • University of Texas at Dallas — in addition to free tuition, UT Dallas also gives National Merit students room and board, a $4,000 per semester stipend, and a one-time $6,000 stipend for international study
  • Florida International University — their international business program is ranked #2 in the nation
  • University of Alabama — full tuition for five years for undergraduate and graduate studies, four years of on-campus housing, a $3,500 annual stipend for four years, $2,000 for summer research or international study, and $2000 book scholarship
  • University of Oklahoma — full tuition for five years (undergraduate and graduate), $5,500 freshman housing scholarship, $5,500 annually for fees, books, room and board, $5,000 cash stipend, $1,000 technology and textbook stipend, $1,000 research and study abroad stipend
  • Fordham University
  • University of Maine
  • Oklahoma State University — they offer free tuition for five years, a $5,500-per-year scholarship for room and board, and $19,000 in additional scholarships
  • University of South Florida
  • Washington State University
  • University of New Mexico

While most scholarships are only available to National Merit Finalists, some scholarships may also be awarded to National Merit Commended Students!

In short, for high-achieving students there can be a lot of money on the line with the PSAT! And while schools like Harvard or Stanford might not offer scholarship money for National Merit (in fact, there are no merit scholarships at Harvard and the other Ivies), it will definitely help with admissions.

That’s why we advise students in the 95th percentile and above to take it seriously. If that might apply to you, set up a free test prep consultation with our team.


What’s a good score on the PSAT?

The definition of a “good” PSAT score is subjective, really.

Each section on the PSAT is scored on a scale from 160–760. This means that a “perfect” PSAT score is 1520: 760 Math and 760 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, are each scored 

The College Board has set “benchmarks” to college readiness for each of their tests. For the PSAT/NMSQT, those numbers are 460 for Reading & Writing and 510 for Math. Students need to hit those benchmarks in order to be “ready” for college.

According to 2020–21 data, the average PSAT score in the US is slightly higher than those benchmarks, or 1010 (source). 

The cutoff score for National Merit Commended status varies each year, but generally students need to score about 1400.

(Note: the National Merit Scholarship Corporation compares your PSAT scores with those of other students in your state using its own Selection Index, which falls on a scale between 48 and 228. This is calculated by adding each of the three section scores (Math, Reading, and Writing) together and then multiplying by 2. The upshot of this is that your Math score counts less in the eyes of National Merit than it does for your straight-up PSAT or SAT score, where your Reading and Writing scores are averaged. Yes, we know it’s confusing. We’re going to just talk about PSAT scores here, but read here for more about the Selection Index cutoff scores for each state.)

The cutoff score for National Merit Semifinalist status depends on the state. To be competitive for National Merit Semifinalist status, students need to score about 1400 on the PSAT in less competitive states like Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota . . . or about 1470 on the PSAT in more competitive states like Connecticut or New Jersey. Check out the cutoff scores for each state here.

A PSAT score is a good predictor of a student’s SAT score if they don’t do any further studying or preparation.

In order to be a competitive applicant for the Ivy League, students will need SAT scores of at least 1450: higher than 730 Math and higher than 710 Reading & Writing.

Average SAT scores at the top US universities

If we broaden that list to the top 50 colleges and universities in the US, students need SAT scores of 1390 (700 Math and 690 Reading & Writing) to be competitive.

Learn more about average SAT scores at different schools here.

If your PSAT score still falls below those cutoff scores, don’t worry! It’s absolutely possible to raise your scores through studying and practice. We find that most of our students see a score raise of 100–300 points on the PSAT and SAT after working with our tutors.


How to take the PSAT

Whereas the SAT can be taken most months of the year, the PSAT is only offered once a year in mid-October

The PSAT is taken through the student’s school, and there’s often no cost to students since fees are paid by the schools. 

Students typically register for the PSAT through their school.

It’s possible for homeschooled students to sign up for the PSAT at a nearby school; families should contact the school at least four months in advance to register.


Next steps

Download a sample of the new PSAT to try out the PSAT with the new style of questions (launching fall 2023)!

Then make a plan for PSAT preparation. If you’re an ambitious student who often scores in the top 5% on standardized tests, you’ll want to take the PSAT seriously, since you have a serious chance of winning impressive scholarships.

If you’re not in the top 5%, you can approach the PSAT more like a practice SAT — but you still may want to prepare for it so it’s a positive experience, and so that you can get the most out of the practice.

Because the PSAT is nearly the same as the SAT, any prep for the PSAT also prepares students for the SAT.

If you’ve already taken the PSAT, know that it’s absolutely possible to raise your score on the SAT with the right practice and preparation!

A PSAT or SAT tutor can introduce the test format and de-mystify the test for students and families. A good tutor will make sure that students are using the best available resources for studying and practice.

A good tutor takes a lot of the stress out of the PSAT and SAT process and makes sure students are practicing effectively. Tutors can provide students with targeted study materials and guide students in using them correctly

In addition, there are many strategies and tricks that can make the test easier. Unlike some self-directed courses and books, a good PSAT and SAT tutor can share these tricks with students and guide them through implementing test strategies.

Students who achieve their goal score earlier in high school can relax and not worry about testing at the end of their junior year (the most important year for academic transcripts, and when many students are focused on AP tests) or in the beginning of their senior year, when most students are working on college essays. 

To be matched with the perfect-fit tutor and start one-on-one PSAT and SAT tutoring today, set up a quick free consultation with our team.


Related Articles

What is the PSAT?
National Merit PSAT Scores
The Best PSAT Tutoring
What is a Good PSAT Score?
The 12 Best SAT Prep Courses for 2022
Average PSAT Scores
When should you take the SAT or ACT?
Average SAT Scores: The Latest Data
Hardest SAT Math Questions
The Best SAT Online Tutoring
The 13 SAT Grammar Rules You Need to Know
SAT vs ACT: Everything You Need To Know
The SAT QAS: How to Use One of the Most Powerful Score-Boosting Tools
Converting SAT to ACT Scores (and vice versa)
When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Bonus Material: Try a sample of the new PSAT



12 Free Official SAT Practice Tests (Including Digital SATs)

The College Board has released 8 official SAT practice tests since they've redesigned the test in 2016. You can find these tests on their website, in their Official SAT Study Guide (paid), or right here down below.

However, they've also just redesigned a brand new SAT format that will start in the Spring of 2024. There are only four official practice tests in the new format, and these tests can only properly be done and scored through the College Board's BlueBook app.

Because of the scarcity of real SAT questions, these tests are like gold.

When using one of these tests as a diagnostic or full-length practice test, mimic official test conditions as closely as possible. This means printing the test out, timing yourself, and taking it in one sitting. This will ensure you’ll get the most value out of these tests.

Below you'll find everything to get you going: official practice tests, blank answer sheets, and instructions on how to self-administer the test.

Official Old SAT Practice Tests - Download Links

SAT Practice Test #1 - Practice Test 1 | Essay 1 | Scoring 1 | Answers & Explanations 1

 SAT Practice Test #3 - Practice Test 3 Essay 3Scoring 3Answers & Explanations 3

 SAT Practice Test #5 - Practice Test 5Essay 5 | Scoring 5 | Answers & Explanations 5

 SAT Practice Test #6 - Practice Test 6 Essay 6 | Scoring 6 | Answers & Explanations 6

 SAT Practice Test #7 - Practice Test 7 | Essay 7 Scoring 7 | Answers & Explanations 7

 SAT Practice Test #8 - Practice Test 8 | Essay 8 | Scoring 8 | Answers & Explanations 8

 SAT Practice Test #9 - Practice Test 9 | Essay 9 | Scoring 9 | Answers & Explanations 9

 SAT Practice Test #10 - Practice Test 10 | Essay 10 | Scoring 10 | Answers & Explanations 10

Official New Digital SAT Practice Tests - Links

The new, adaptive Digital SAT Practice Tests 1-4: Tests and Instructions here

Paper versions of the new Digital SAT Practice Tests 1-4 (not adaptive): Tests and Instructions here

Blank Answer Sheets

Use the answer sheet below when completing your test to mimic the test conditions:

Blank Answer Sheet - Sections 1 to 4

Proctoring Instructions for the Paper SAT

With the Digital SAT, the official BlueBook app will do all the proctoring for you!

When working with the old paper SAT, however, a parent or third-party person should administer the test. Otherwise, the student can easily manage the process on their own using our proctoring instructions.

It's surprisingly difficult to find simple instructions on how to self-administer the test, so we've put together a checklist to guide you through the process:

 PrepMaven Proctoring Instructions - SAT

5 Tips

  1. Set aside an uninterrupted chunk of time - Block off 2 hours and 14 minutes for the new Digital SAT.
  2. Use the official BlueBook app for the Digital SAT - The test is going digital, and this app will exactly mirror real testing conditions.
  3. Use all the time - Even if you finish a section early, you will benefit from using all your available time to review or redo questions.
  4. Read the Proctoring Instructions above before you start - The instructions will identify which materials you will need and exactly how to time the different sections, including breaks.
  5. Carefully review your answers after the test - Careful analysis of the questions you answered wrong (or were confused about) is important for meaningful score improvements

Not sure which test to take (SAT vs ACT)? Ask yourself these 5 questions to find out.

Not sure WHEN to take the test? We created 9 Sample Testing Schedules to help get you started

Next Steps

Like what you read? Subscribe to our mailing list, and we’ll let you know when we release other useful info. Please also share using the buttons on the side.

At PrepMaven, our mission is not only to help your child get into a great college but also to put them on the right track for long-term personal and professional success.


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They were engineering majors at Princeton and had successful careers in strategy consulting and finance. They now apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


How to Proctor Your Own SAT Practice Test

Practice SAT Proctoring Instructions

Official SAT Practice Tests released by the College Board are like gold.

When using an official test as a diagnostic or practice test, mimic official test conditions as closely as possible. This means timing the test and taking it in one sitting. This will ensure you’ll get the most value out of these tests.

Not sure how to take the test? Follow the simple instructions below:

Who Should Proctor?

Ideally, a parent or friend should proctor the test.  Otherwise, the student can self-proctor.

Before The Test:

Testing Instructions:

  • Proctor will provide student with test and answer sheets.
    • The student may not start until you tell them to start

Section 1 - Reading

  • Set timer for 65 minutes
  • Tell student to start on Section 1

Break - 10 minutes

Section 2 - Writing

  • Set timer for 35 minutes
  • Tell student to start on Section 2

Section 3 - Math (No Calculator)

  • Set timer for 25 minutes
  • Tell student to start on Section 3

Break - 5 minutes

Section 4 - Math (Calculator allowed)

  • Set timer for 55 minutes
  • Tell student to start on Section 4

Additional Notes

  • The student must work within each section of the test only for the time allotted
  • The student may not go back to a section once that section has ended
  • The student may not go ahead to a new section if the student finishes a section early

Considering the ACT? Check out ACT proctoring instructions here.

Not sure which test to take (SAT vs ACT)? Ask yourself these 5 questions to find out.

Not sure WHEN to take the test? We created 9 Sample Testing Schedules to help get you started


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation and test prep process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


NYU Summer Programs 2021_Your Complete List

NYU Summer Programs for High School Students

NYU Summer Programs for High School Students

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's 2022 Summer Calendar

NYU has a wide variety of summer programs for high school students, especially those looking to deepen their interests in the arts, engineering, media, language, and scholarship.

We’ve compiled all of the current NYU summer programs for high schoolers (2022) in this post, including application and session details. We’ve organized these 20+ programs by the following interests:

  • Pre-College
  • Arts & Humanities
  • STEM
  • Other Summer Programs

You’ll also find information about NYU academic year programs and NYU middle school summer programs at the end of this post.

If you’re eager for more, students and parents are welcome to attend virtual information sessions for high school summer programs at NYU or request more information.

We've also added NYU's summer programs to our Summer 2022 Calendar, a growing list of summer programs for competitive college applicants in one easy-to-use spreadsheet. Grab it below.

Here’s what we cover:


NYU Summer Programs for High School Students: Pre-College

There are currently 4 summer programs at NYU that emphasize pre-college or pre-professional skills:

  1. NYU Pre-College
  2. High School Academy - Career Edge
  3. NYU CALI
  4. High School Academy - Aspire
aerial shot of Manhattan

NYU Pre-College Summer Program

With NYU Pre-College, 10th and 11th graders essentially become NYU students for a six-week period over the summer. Participants earn college credits (two classes' worth), connect with NYU faculty and students, and get oriented for college!

Students also have the option to attend the following as NYU Pre-College participants

  • A non-credit College Writing Workshop led by NYU faculty to learn college writing skills, including research
  • College 101 workshop series
  • Other special summer programs (Summer Journalism @ NYU, and Summer @ Stern)
  • Other events and activities with the NYU pre-college community

Here are some other important program details:

  • Program Cost: $5,000-$15,000
  • Program Length: 6 weeks, July 6, 2022 - August 17, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: June 24, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Scholarships are available -- the deadline to apply for one is April 1, 2022

NYU High School Academy - Career Edge

With Career Edge, high school students can get ready for college and get a taste for the professional world through one-week summer intensives at NYU. Participants have the chance to explore possible career paths and get a feel for life as a college student on campus.

  • Program Cost: $1,495
  • Program Length: 1 week, 4 sessions to choose from
    • Session 1: June 27 - July 1
    • Session 2: July 11 - 15
    • Session 3: July 18 - 22
    • Session 4: July 25 - 29
  • Regular Application Deadline: June 1, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person
Washington Square Park, NYC, in the summer

NYU College Access Leadership Institute (CALI)

The NYU College Access Leadership Institute offers high school students a week-long summer intensive that demystifies the components of the college admissions process.

CALI is led by NYU admissions officers, and it gives 10th and 11th graders thorough insight into building a college list, standardized tests, college essay writing, and more. CALI participants also can apply to NYU as seniors for free!

Here are some other important program details:

  • Program Cost: Free to accepted applicants
  • Program Length: 1 week, July 11-15
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 5, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022

NYU High School Academy - Aspire

Current sophomores enrolled in a New York City high school are eligible to apply for the NYU High School Academy Aspire program, which prepares students from underrepresented communities to become first-generation college students.

Accepted participants take part in a one-week summer intensive and then receive 2 years of college mentoring in support.

  • Program Cost: Free (full scholarship awarded to accepted applicants)
  • Program Length: 1 week each summer // 2 years of support
  • Priority Application Deadline: the Aspire program is not offered for the 2022-23 academic year
  • Online/in-person: N/A

a student playing the violin in Washington Square Park, NYC

NYU Summer Programs for High School Students: Arts & Humanities

There are currently 7 options for high school students wishing to pursue an NYU arts summer program:

  1. Tisch School of the Arts Summer Residential
  2. Filmmakers Workshop 
  3. Screenwriters Workshop
  4. Music and Performing Arts Professions (MPAP)
  5. NYU High School Summer Art Intensive
  6. NYU Virtual Art Program
  7. Urban Journalism Workshop

The Summer Residential

High school students who participate in the Tisch School of the Arts Summer Residential have a fantastic opportunity to earn actual credits while exploring a wide range of arts over four weeks:

  • Acting
  • Dance
  • Design
  • Dramatic writing
  • Filmmaking
  • Game Design
  • Photography and imaging
  • Production and design
  • Recorded music

The Summer Residential is based on Tisch undergraduate curriculum and culminates in 4-6 college credits. It's open to 10th and 11th graders.

Here are some important program details:

  • Program Cost: $12,000-$13,000
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Regular Application Deadline: January 12, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Online Filmmakers Workshop

Are you an aspiring filmmaker? You won't want to miss the Tisch School of the Arts Online Filmmakers Workshop, which gives high school students a chance to experience aspects of the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television degree program over a 6-week period.

Participants do earn credit for the work they complete, and this workshop is open to 9th-12th graders.

  • Program Cost: $7,065
  • Program Length: 6 weeks, July 11 - August 5
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 25, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022

Online Screenwriters Workshop

Screenwriters, unite! With this workshop through Tisch, participants learn screenwriting fundamentals and create a short screenplay under the direction of Tisch faculty. 9th-12th graders earn credit for the work they complete over this six-week workshop.

  • Program Cost: $7,065
  • Program Length: 6 weeks, July 11 - August 5
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 25, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022
a student plays the piano in Washington Square Park, NYC

Music and Performing Arts Professions (MPAP)

High school students who are passionate about music and/or the performing arts will find a lot to choose from through MPAP, summer programs offered by NYU Steinhardt. From piano to music technology intensives, there's something for every performer.

Find the full list of options here.

  • Program Cost: $1,200 - $5,000
  • Program Length: 1 week, 2 week, 3 week, or 4 week
  • Regular Application Deadline: Depends on specific program
  • Online/in-person: Depends on specific program, but most are in-person in 2022

NYU High School Summer Art Intensive

Participants in the NYU High School Summer Art Intensive will get a taste for what it's like to be an NYU art student over a period of 4 weeks in the summer. Sign up for studio and non-studio art courses (non-credit), and enhance your creative skills through an immersive campus experience.

  • Program Cost: $6,850
  • Program Length: 4 weeks, July 10 - August 6, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 1, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

NYU Virtual Art Program

Very similar to the NYU Summer Art Intensive, this virtual program gives aspiring artists the chance to take three core classes and two elective classes led by NYU faculty and graduates of the Art and Art Professions Department, all online.

  • Program Cost: $3,000
  • Program Length: 4 weeks, July 10 - August 6, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 1, 2022; applications received after this date are reviewed on a rolling basis
  • Online/in-person: Online

Urban Journalism Workshop

Aspiring journalists have the opportunity to participate in a rigorous boot-camp over 10 days in the company of 20 other high school students. During the NYU Urban Journalism Workshop, you'll receive NYU faculty instruction, produce your own stories, and gain valuable insight into the college admissions process.

  • Program Cost: Free to admitted applicants
  • Program Length: 10 days, July 18-27, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: April 25, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

a green street in lower Manhattan in the summer

NYU Summer Programs for High School Students: STEM

High school students have 9 STEM-related summer programs to choose from at NYU for 2022.

  1. ARISE
  2. NYU GSTEM
  3. Science and Technology Entry Program
  4. Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Summer Math Program for Young Scholars
  5. Coding for Game Design
  6. Machine Learning (Tandon)
  7. XR Through Virtual Worlds (Tandon)
  8. Connected Devices (Tandon)
  9. Computer Science for Cybersecurity (Tandon)

Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering (ARISE)

ARISE caters to academically motivated students in the STEM field from underrepresented communities, giving participants an immersive experience in the world of civil and urban engineering, robotics, and mechanical and electrical engineering. Students also receive college admissions guidance and a stipend for completing the program.

  • Program Cost: Free to admitted applicants
  • Program Length: 7 weeks, June 28 - August 13, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: March 1, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Online and in-person mix for 2022
engineering students

NYU GSTEM

Looking to take a deep dive into STEM in an inclusive environment? NYU GSTEM allows students historically underrepresented in the sciences to work alongside researchers and develop skillsets and a peer network they need to succeed in a future STEM-based career path.

  • Program Cost: $4,500
  • Program Length: 6 weeks, July 5 - August 12, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: April 18, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In person

Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP)

NYC high school students seeking a pre-college STEM-based enrichment program shouldn't overlook STEP, designed to encourage historically underrepresented minority groups in STEM-related fields. STEP includes both academic year and summer sessions.

  • Program Cost: $350 (waivers available)
  • Program Length: 5 weeks, July 5 - August 4, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: March 5, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Summer Math Program for Young Scholars

With NYU's Summer Math Program for Young Scholars, participants have a chance to experience college-level math, graph theory, combinatorics, and other concepts with academically motivated peers.

  • Program Cost: $1,300 (financial aid available)
  • Program Length: 3 weeks, August 8 - 26, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 1, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022
a quiet street in lower Manhattan

Coding for Game Design

NYU's Consortium for Research and Evaluation of Advanced Technologies in Education (CREATE) brings aspiring game designers a 2-week coding summer program at NYU. Participants learn about Unity, game design principles, and how to code their own games. This is a non-credit summer program.

  • Program Cost: $2,448
  • Program Length: 2 weeks, 3 sessions to choose from
    • Session 1: June 21 - July 2
    • Session 2: July 12 - 23
    • Session 3: August 2 - 13
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 31, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person or online

Machine Learning Program (Tandon)

High school students passionate about machine learning have the opportunity to deepen their interest and skill set through the Tandon School's Machine Learning non-credit summer program. Experience over 50 instructional hours delivered by NYU Tandon School of Engineering faculty and graduate students.

This program is designed for "academically prepared, highly motivated" students who have successfully completed Algebra 2 or an equivalent course.

  • Program Cost: $2,100
  • Program Length: 2 weeks, 3 sessions to choose from
    • Session 1: June 21 - July 2, 2022
    • Session 2: July 11 - 22, 2022
    • Session 3: August 1 - August 12, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 31, 2022 (rolling basis)
  • Online/in-person: In-person

XR Through Virtual Worlds (Tandon)

With the Tandon School of Engineering's XR Through Virtual Worlds summer program, high school students take a deep dive into the realm of augmented reality. Learn what it takes to become an AR storyteller through over 50 non-credit instructional hours delivered by NYU faculty and graduate students.

  • Program Cost: $2,100
  • Program Length: 2 weeks, 3 sessions to choose from
    • Session 1: June 21 - July 2, 2022
    • Session 2: July 11 - 22, 2022
    • Session 3: August 1 - August 12, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 31, 2022 (rolling basis)
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Connected Devices (Tandon)

The third Tandon School summer program offering is Connected Devices, participants learn what it takes to build a device connected to the internet. Open to 8th through 11th graders, this program is suited for academically driven, highly motivated students curious about the Internet of Things revolution.

  • Program Cost: $2,200
  • Program Length: 2 weeks, 3 sessions to choose from
    • Session 1: June 21 - July 2, 2022
    • Session 2: July 11 - 22, 2022
    • Session 3: August 1 - August 12, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 31, 2022 (rolling basis)
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Tandon School's Computer Science for Cybersecurity (CS4CS)

At CS4CS, high school students gain a solid introduction to cybersecurity and computer science. This program is designed to empower young engineers who have historically faced underrepresentation in STEM sciences.

  • Program Cost: Free to admitted applicants
  • Program Length: 3 weeks, July 11 - July 29, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: April 13, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

people in front of Washington Square Arch in NYC

NYU Summer Programs: Other

Bronfam Center for Jewish Student Life: Summer Excelerator

10th-12th graders experience a unique internship and leadership development program with the Bronfam Summer Excelerator. Acquire entrepreneurial skills and professional experience to bolster your resume and build a robust peer network.

  • Program Cost: interns receive a $500 stipend
  • Program Length: 6 weeks, June 27 - August 3, 2022
  • Regular Application Deadline: May 2, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

NYU Summer Programs for Middle School Students

Middle school students have a chance to experience NYU through the following summer programs:

NYU Academic Year Programs

High school students can also experience aspects of NYU during the academic year. Here’s a list of NYU academic year programs for high schoolers:

aerial view of NYC's Central Park in the summer

Download PrepMaven's 2022 Summer Calendar

High school students have a lot to choose from when it comes to NYU summer programs this 2022. That's why we created PrepMaven's FREE Summer Calendar, which compiles competitive summer programs for high school students in one easy-to-use spreadsheet.

Here's what you'll get:

  • An organized list of NYU Summer Programs for 2022
  • Additional summer programs for 2022, including Princeton summer programs
  • Session start and end dates
  • Relevant links


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation and test prep process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


Harvard Summer Programs for High School Students_PrepMaven

8 Harvard Summer Programs for High School Students

8 Harvard Summer Programs for High School Students

Bonus Material:PrepMaven's Summer Calendar

Every summer, Harvard hosts a handful of summer programs for high school students. Such programs give participants an opportunity to experience Harvard's campus, pre-college life, and exceptional academics.

Some of these programs will be online for 2022, but many are still up and running.

We've compiled all of the current Harvard summer programs for high school students in this post, including application and session details.

We've also added Harvard's high school summer programs to our free Summer 2022 Calendar, a growing list of summer programs at elite U.S. institutions like NYU and Princeton in one easy-to-use spreadsheet. Grab it below!

Here's what we cover:


Harvard Summer Programs for High School Students

Harvard offers three dedicated summer programs for high school students every year. These programs are sponsored by the university and, when held in-person, are on campus.

  1. Harvard Pre-College Program
  2. Harvard Secondary School Program
  3. Harvard Academies @ Home

Note: Harvard University emphasizes that attendance of these programs does not guarantee admission to Harvard. However, "attending Harvard Summer School and performing well will strengthen your application to any college or university. Additionally, the Secondary School Program offers many opportunities designed to help you navigate the college application process, gain admission to the college of your choice, and enhance your performance in a college setting."

campus buildings at Harvard

Harvard's Pre-College Program

High school students seeking an immersive summer enrichment program can participate in Harvard's Pre-College Program. This program is well-suited for academically driven, mature high school students. Over the course of 2 weeks, pre-college participants take one non-credit course and engage in a wide variety of co-curricular activities with their peers.

At the end of the program, students receive a written evaluation from instructors, which can be an excellent supplement to their college applications.

Students choose from 30 courses, which span the following categories:

  • Business and Leadership
  • STEAM
  • Race, Gender, and Ethics
  • Speech, Writing, and Literature
  • Psychology, Medicine, and Public Health
  • Law, Politics, Philosophy, and History

Find the full course catalog here.

  • Program Cost: $4,950 + $75 application fee (limited scholarships available)
  • Program Length: 2 weeks, 3 sessions to choose from

    • Session 1: June 26-July 8
    • Session 2: July 10-July 22
    • Session 3: July 24-August 5

  • Application Deadline: May 11, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be in-person for summer 2022
Harvard University
Harvard University

The Secondary School Program

For high school students seeking a longer summer enrichment program, consider Harvard's flexible, 7-week Secondary School Program. Program participants choose from over 200 courses and earn college credit for the classes they take, which are led by Harvard faculty.

Many of the Secondary School Program's courses emphasize career pathways, giving students a chance to pinpoint what they want to study in college. Participants get access to advising services to ensure they're signing up for the best courses given their individual interests.

2022 career pathway courses span the following categories:

  • Animal Transgenesis: A Laboratory Primer on Genetics
  • Becoming a Brain Scientist: Neuroscience and Psychology Research
  • Basic Journalism in the Digital Age
  • Connecting to the World Through Chemistry
  • Introduction to Entrepreneurship
  • Problem Solving and Project Design
  • Start-Ups from the Perspective of Business and IP Law

Find the full course catalog here.

  • Program Cost: $3,300–$13,200 + $75 non-refundable application fee (financial aid awards available)
  • Program Length: 7 weeks, June 18 - August 6, 2022
  • Application Deadlines: January 26 (early) // March 2 (regular) // May 11 (late rolling)
  • Online/in-person: Both online and in-person are available for 2022
student wearing a Harvard sweatshirt

Harvard Academies @ Home

The Harvard Academies give high school students a chance to learn from Harvard undergraduate instructors. Through rigorous curriculum and hands-on experience, Academies participants can take a deep dive into academic subjects that interest them. In 2022, both online and on-campus options are available.

Academies participants seeking an on-campus experience in 2022 can choose between Business, Coding, and Pre-Medical studies. Online offerings also include Pre-Law and Politics. The program is designed to connect high school students with mentors who are current Harvard undergraduate students.

Business Academy

With Harvard's Business Academy, participants learn everything they need to know about launching their very own business. From brainstorming ideas to creating a business plan, program attendants explore all steps in the entrepreneurial timeline. Participants pitch their business at the end of the program.

  • Program Cost: $400 online // $800 in-person
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online or in-person

Business Consulting Academy

Understand what it takes to be a successful business consultant at Harvard's Business Consulting Academy. Learn the ins and outs of market sizing, mergers and acquisitions, profit and loss, and much more over the course of two weekends. Participants will also analyze Harvard Business School case studies.

  • Program Cost: $400
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online

Coding Academy

Through Harvard's Coding Academies, participants learn either the fundamentals of coding (Coding Level 1) or foundations in web development (Coding Level 2). Come away proficient in Python (Level 1) and React (Level 2).

  • Program Cost: $400 for Level 1 online // $450 for Level 2 online // $800 for Level 1 in-person
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online or in-person

Politics Academy

The Politics Academy @ Home offers high school students interested in politics a deep dive into this subject's core principles, including theory, campaign management, and international relations. Students collaborate with peers on a policy project, and the program culminates in presentations of this research.

  • Program Cost: $400
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online
Harvard University
Harvard University

Pre-Law Academy

High school students who are passionate about law will find much to love about Harvard's Pre-Law Academy. Examine landmark U.S. court cases, due process of law, and what it takes to prepare for the LSAT and beyond. Acquire the skills you need to become a pre-law student.

  • Program Cost: $400
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online

Pre-Med Academy

Considering a pre-med track in college? Harvard's Pre-Med Academy gives high school students passionate about medicine a thorough introduction to pre-med curriculum (Level 1) and emergency room patient care (Level 2). The Level 1 Academy also introduces students to the MCAT process.

  • Program Cost: $400 for Level 1 online // $450 for Level 2 online // $800 for Level 1 in-person // $850 for Level 2 in-person
  • Program Length: 5 days, multiple session dates
  • Application Deadline: Registration Ongoing
  • Online/in-person: Online or in-person

campus buildings at Harvard

Download PrepMaven's Summer Calendar

High school students have a lot to choose from when it comes to summer programs this 2022, both online and in-person. Given that college applications often ask students how they've spent their high school summers, these programs can be fantastic means of filling those summer months.

We created PrepMaven's free Summer Calendar with this in mind. Our calendar compiles competitive summer programs for high school students in one simple spreadsheet!

Here's what you'll get:

  • An organized list of Harvard Summer Programs for 2022
  • Additional summer programs for 2022, including NYU, Stanford, and Princeton summer programs
  • Session start and end dates
  • Relevant links


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation and test prep process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


Stanford Summer Programs 2021_High School_PrepMaven

20+ Stanford Summer Programs for High School Students

20+ Stanford Summer Programs for High School Students

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's 2022 Summer Calendar

High school students have over 20 Stanford summer programs to choose from in 2022.

From philosophy to neuroscience, these programs give students a taste of college academics, campus life, and beyond.

Summertime is an important time for high school students, especially given the fact that many college applications ask students how they've spent their previous two summers. Pre-college programs like Stanford can bring a special focus to these valuable summers and give students rich material to draw upon when applying.

In this post, we've compiled over 20 Stanford summer programs that are up and running this year. We've included relevant details like application deadlines, session dates, and links.

We're also giving readers access to PrepMaven's 2022 Summer Calendar, which includes the top summer programs at elite U.S. institutions, including NYU and Princeton, in one easy-to-use spreadsheet. Grab it below!

Here's what we cover:


Stanford University
Stanford University

Stanford Summer Programs for High School Students: Pre-Collegiate

There are currently 2 summer programs at Stanford that emphasize pre-collegiate studies and experiences.

  1. High School Summer College
  2. Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes

Stanford's High School Summer College

Get a taste of college academic life with Stanford's High School Summer College, an 8-week program that gives students a chance to take actual Stanford courses for credit. Along with peers from over 40 countries, participants can study a wide range of subjects, from molecular genetics to Greek and Latin roots.

  • Program Cost: $4,926 - $15,875
  • Program Length: 8 weeks, June 18 - August 14, 2022
  • Rolling Admissions Deadline: May 20, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person

Note: There is a $95 application fee to apply to Stanford's High School Summer College. Students find out within 20 days of applying if they've been admitted.

Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes

Stanford's Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes offer shorter, online courses, giving participants the chance to pursue your passions as a member of a vibrant intellectual community spanning over 50 countries. Participants pursue a single-study program track for non-credit enrichment.

There are 30 possible courses spanning philosophy, humanities, engineering, math, writing, science, and more.

  • Program Cost: $2,700 per course (financial aid is available)
  • Program Length: 11 days

    • Session One: June 20, 2022 - July 1, 2022
    • Session Two: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022

  • Application Deadline: March 15, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be all online for summer 2022

oval-at-Stanford

Stanford Summer Programs for High School Students: Arts & Humanities

Stanford has one Arts & Humanities related summer program for eligible high school students: the Humanities Institute.

Stanford Summer Humanities Institute

Rising juniors and seniors can participate in Stanford's Summer Humanities Institute, a non-credit academic enrichment program that "explore the big questions at the heart of humanities" with Stanford professors. Students participate in daily group discussions and activities.

  • Program Cost: $3,000 (financial aid is available)
  • Program Length: 11 days

    • Session One: June 20, 2022 - July 1, 2022
    • Session Two: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022

  • Application Deadline: March 15, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022

We've added all of Stanford's summer programs for 2022 to our Summer Calendar, which compiles summer programs for elite U.S. institutions like NYU and Princeton. It's free, and you can download it below right now!


Stanford Summer Programs for High School Students: STEM Programs

There are 7 STEM-related summer programs for high school students at Stanford:

  1. Stanford University Mathematics Camp
  2. Stanford Medical Youth Science Program 
  3. Stanford Anesthesia Summer Institute: Medical Internships
  4. Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program
  5. Clinical Neuroscience Immersion Experience at Stanford
  6. Stanford Pre-Collegiate University-Level Online Math & Physics
  7. Stanford AI4ALL
gate at Stanford

Mathematics Camp

Current 10th and 11th graders around the globe are eligible for this three-week math intensive at Stanford. Take a deep dive into advanced mathematics through lectures, research, and group collaboration.

  • Program Cost: $3,250 (financial aid is available)
  • Program Length: 3 weeks

    • Session One: June 20, 2022 - July 8, 2022
    • Session Two: July 18, 2022 - August 5, 2022

  • Application Deadline: March 15, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022

Medical Youth Science Program

Through Stanford's five-week Medical Youth Science enrichment program, students can take a deep dive into the world of medicine. This is a tuition-free program specifically for low-income juniors from certain counties in Northern and Central California.

Over the five weeks of this program, participants work on a group research project and get valuable advising in college admissions and health careers.

  • Program Cost: Free for admitted applicants
  • Program Length: 5 weeks, June 20, 2022 - July 22, 2022
  • Application Deadline: March 15, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be all online for summer 2022

Stanford Anesthesia Summer Institute: Clinical Science, Technology and Medicine Summer Internships

At the Anesthesia Summer Institute, participants get valuable hands-on experience via Stanford's School of Medicine over a rigorous two weeks. This institute qualifies as a medical internship and is led by Stanford faculty.

  • Program Cost: $5,000 in-person // $4,000 online (scholarships available)
  • Program Length: 2 weeks

    • Session One: June 13, 2022 - June 24, 2022
    • Session Two: July 25, 2022 - August 5, 2022
    • Advanced Clinical Skills (internship): July 11, 2022 - July 15, 2022

  • Application Deadline: May 12, 2022
  • Online/in-person: In-person or online for summer 2022
Stanford Medical School

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program

This eight-week summer program gives students a rich opportunity to conduct medical research with Stanford faculty, graduate students, and peers. Participants also receive a stipend for their work (minimum of $500).

  • Program Cost: Free to admitted applicants ($40 application fee, waivers available) // participating students are given a stipend of at least $500
  • Program Length: 8 weeks, June 13, 2022 - August 4, 2022
  • Application Deadline: February 20, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Cancelled for summer 2021

Clinical Neuroscience Immersion Experience at Stanford

Over a period of two weeks, participants in Stanford's Clinical Neuroscience Immersion Experience get a rich introduction to neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology through seminars and collaborative learning. Students complete a capstone project at the end of the program.

  • Program Cost: $1,295 (scholarships available)
  • Program Length: 2 weeks

    • Session 1: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022
    • Session 2: July 25, 2022 - July 5, 2022

  • Application Deadline: February 15, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Will be online for summer 2022

Stanford Pre-Collegiate University-Level Online Math & Physics

High school students with a passion for math and science can take online advanced courses through Stanford for college credit this summer. Choose from 13 courses ranging from Multivariable Calculus to Light and Heat. Open to 9th through 12th graders.

  • Program Cost: $1,500 per course ($35 application fee) // financial aid available
  • Program Length: June 20, 2022 - August 10, 2022
  • Application Deadline: May 16, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Online
quad at Stanford

Stanford AI4ALL

Through AI4ALL, participants experience hands-on learning in a vibrant peer community and take a deep dive into AI's power to make the world a better place. This three-week summer program, open only to 9th graders, aims to increase representation in the world of artificial intelligence.

  • Program Cost: $4,000 (financial aid available)
  • Program Length: June 27 -July 15, 2022
  • Application Deadline: March 11, 2022
  • Online/in-person: Online for 2022

Download PrepMaven's 2022 Summer Calendar

High school students have a lot to choose from when it comes to Stanford summer programs this 2022.

That's why we created PrepMaven's Summer Calendar, which compiles competitive summer programs for high school students in one easy-to-use spreadsheet.

Here's what you'll get:

  • An organized list of Stanford Summer Programs for 2022
  • Additional summer programs for 2022, including NYU and Princeton summer programs
  • Session start and end dates
  • Relevant links


Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg Wong and Kevin Wong

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem solving skills to the college preparation and test prep process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.


The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays That Get Them into Princeton (and other Ivy League schools)

The Diamond Strategy: How We Help Students Write College Essays That Get Them into Princeton (and other Ivy League schools)

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked

The college essay is one of the most important parts of your college application. With more schools going test-optional, it’s safe to say that it is more important than ever.

Given its potential for displaying who you are outside of your grades, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations, your personal statement can profoundly influence the admissions decision.

So what does it take for our students to send us emails like this one?

It all boils down to approach and strategy

Let’s face it. Writing a college essay that works is no easy task. You can download 30 college essays that worked right now (for free!) to see what we mean by this!

30 College Essays That Worked_PrepMaven

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked

30 full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!

When they sit down to write their essays, students often have a lot of questions:

  • Wait -- what actually is the college essay?
  • What’s its role in college applications?
  • How much time should I spend on this?
  • What are supplemental essays?
  • How do I choose the “best” topic for me personally?
  • How do I effectively revise my essay?
  • What’s introspection?
  • How do I even start??

At PrepMaven, through our College Essay Workshop and one-on-one mentoring programs, we aim to answer all of these questions -- and so much more.

  • We start off ensuring every student knows what the essay is, including its growing weight in college admissions
  • We bring in the right timeline and the right process that aids in topic selection
  • We meet students where they are and give them the final word so that they feel empowered throughout the entire journey
  • We are there from brainstorming to final polishing and beyond

What is the Diamond Strategy?

We call our overall strategy for coaching students through the essay writing process "The Diamond Strategy."

A well-written personal statement is a lot like a beautiful, finished diamond:  both are precious and easy to admire but also require an extremely thorough and intensive process to get to their final states.  

Choosing an essay topic is like diamond mining.

Diamond miners may have to move hundreds of tons of earth to find a single carat of rough diamond. In the brainstorming and introspection process, a high school senior digs deep, brainstorming and reflecting upon years of experiences, before narrowing down possible essay topics best served to highlight character and personal qualities.

Getting to a final statement is like cutting and polishing a rough diamond.

A gemologist follows a careful plan to cut a rough diamond, round the roughs, polish the facets, inspect for quality, and touch up as needed.  Likewise, a college essay writer needs a careful plan to select a winning topic, craft an outline, write a draft, then work through multiple revisions before the final essay is polished and complete. 

Our "Diamond Strategy" approach has helped scores of students earn acceptance into Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell and elite institutions like USC, Johns Hopkins, Fordham, etc.

Curious about how we do it? Here’s what we’ll cover in this comprehensive post:

  • Diamond Mining: Before You WriteYour College Essay

    • Step #1 - Building a foundation before topic selection
    • Step #2 - Brainstorming
    • Step #3 - Choosing that topic

  • The Rough Diamond: DraftingYour Essay

    • Step #4 - Free-writing
    • Step #5 - Creating an outline
    • Step #6 - Writing that ugly first draft

  • Cutting and Polishing: Revising and Beyond

    • Step #7 - First and second draft revisions
    • Step #8 - Additional revisions and polishing
    • Step #9 - Supplemental essays

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked


Diamond Mining: Before You Write Your College Essay

Step #1 - Building a Foundation Before Topic Selection

Before our students start the writing process, we make sure they know exactly what they’re getting into. 

  • Review Common App and Coalition essay prompts
  • Walk through our definition of the college essay
  • Discuss the essay’s role in college admissions
  • Take a look at examples of actual essays that worked

Most students will use the Common App to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. A smaller number of colleges require students to submit applications through Coalition.

Both platforms require students to submit a personal statement or essay response as part of their application. Students choose to respond to one of the following prompts in 650 words or fewer.

College Essay Prompts 2021 - 2022

The Common App  Coalition
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? What is the hardest part of being a student now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. Submit an essay on the topic of your choice.
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

These questions all require answers that are introspective, reflective, and personal. But what does that really mean?

The college essay is a personal essay that tells an engaging story in 650 words or fewer. It is comparable to memoir or creative nonfiction writing, which relate the author’s personal experiences. It is rich with introspection, reflection, and statements of self-awareness.

Your task with the college essay is to become a storyteller--and, in the process, provide admissions officers with a valuable glimpse into your world, perspective, and/or experiences.

Yale's Senior Assistant Director of Admissions summed it up nicely with this quote about the college essay in 650 Words on College Essays:

The college essay is an an opportunity to reflect on your past few years and look ahead to college. The skills of reflection, self-expression, and cogent writing are all ones that will serve you well in college...You do not have to be the world’s most eloquent wordsmith to write a successful college essay; the best essays we read are those where the genuine voice of a high school student (that’s you!) comes through loud and clear and we really get a sense of who you are.

The College Essay's Role in College Admissions

In our post about what college admissions officers are looking for, we outline the Golden Rule of Admissions: Admissions officers look for students of exceptional potential who will become successful leaders.

The Golden Rule of Admissions

We also define “a student of exceptional potential.” In general, competitive applicants to top U.S. colleges and universities exemplify three pillars:

3 Pillars of Successful Applicants

Admissions officers have a lot at their disposal when it comes to assessing extracurricular distinction and academic achievement. They’ve got transcripts, test scores, resumes, and letters of recommendation. 

But how do they assess character and personal values?

A recent survey of admissions officers revealed some interesting answers to this question.

Source: National Association for College Admissions Counseling

Notice how an overwhelming 86% of officers surveyed reported that they infer character and personal qualities of an applicant from the content of the college essay!

The Common Data Set for individual colleges further supports this notion that officers infer character and values through the college essay, teacher recommendations, and other application components. The CDS for Cornell, for example, reveals that the application essay and character/personal qualities are "very important" in admission decisions.

What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly altered the college application landscape by introducing some serious inequity in the realm of extracurricular activities, academics, and general access.  Many admissions officers have stressed their focus on character and personal values (more qualitative components) in recent admissions cycles as a result.

Schools are hungry for as much material as possible that they can use to assess students’ character and values! This is one of the reasons why many top colleges require applicants to answer supplemental essay questions -- ones in addition to the college essay. These essays can range from 50-650 words, and many colleges have more than one.

A College Essay That Worked

We always wrap up this stage of the college essay process with a thorough review of essays that worked -- those that earned their writers acceptance into their dream schools.

Here's an example college essay that earned its writer acceptance into Princeton. We won’t take a super deep dive into the components that make it great. But we do want to point out a handful of things that align with our definition of the college essay. This essay exemplifies the 7 qualities of a successful college essay:

  • Tells an engaging story
  • Clearly conveys the author’s voice
  • Is rich with introspection and reflection
  • Provides insight into the author’s character, values, and perspective
  • Is not an academic essay or list of accomplishments
  • Is deeply personal

Here’s the full essay:

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” -Franz Kafka

Kafka, I’m afraid, has drastically overestimated the power of food. And though it pains me to undermine a statement by arguably the greatest writer of the 20th century, I recognize it as a solemn duty. Perhaps Kafka has never sat, tongue wild in an effort to scrape residual peanut butter off his molars, and contemplated the almost ridiculous but nevertheless significant role of peanut butter in crafting his identity. Oh, did I just describe myself by accident? Without further ado, the questions (and lack of answers, I point out) that I contemplate with peanut butter in my mouth.

When I was three and a half years old, my tongue was not yet versed in the complex palate of my peers, consisting mainly of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (It did not help my transition into pre-school that I did not speak English, but Russian and that my name, which had been hurriedly switched from Alya to Alex, was unpronounceable to me.) But it is most worth noting that I refused lunch for months, waited at the windowsill with tear-stained cheeks every day unless my mom left law school midday to bring my own comfort food: borscht, katlety, kampot.

I slowly assimilated into American culture, like most immigrant kids. I began to eat the peanut butter sandwiches at pre-school in the presence of my mom, and then did not need her altogether. She must have been elated that I was comfortable, that she could stay at school all day without worrying. She must have been destroyed when I waved her away the first time and told her I did not need her to come anymore.

I realized much later that the Russian food my mother brought me in pre-school made me comfortable enough to learn the language of the children there, to share their lunches, to make friends. Ironically, my Russian culture enabled the rise and dominance of American culture. When my parents wanted to visit their birthplace, my birthplace, Odessa, Ukraine, I rolled my eyes and proclaimed Disney Land, Florida. I rolled my eyes when I spoke too fast for my parents to understand. I rolled my eyes when I checked my mom’s grammar and when she argued with customer service in her thick Russian accent.

Peanut butter, and foods like it, represented not only my entrance into American culture, but the swift rejection of anything Russian that followed. Chicken noodle soup replaced borscht, meatballs replaced katlety, Sunny D triumphed over kampot. I became embarrassed by the snacks packed in my brown paper bag, begged for Cheetos, lime Jell-O cups, and that creamy spread between two damp pieces of Wonder Bread. My American identity tried to eclipse the Russian one altogether.

I realized later still that the identity battle I fought must have been more difficult to watch for my parents than it could have ever been for me to experience. They let me figure myself out, even though it meant I spent years rolling my eyes at them. Though I do not claim to have discovered a perfect balance of Russian and American, I would venture that a healthy start is eating peanut butter for lunch and katlety at dinner.

So, Kafka, I hope that next time a memorable quote comes to mind, you think before you speak. Because when peanut butter cleaves to the roof of my mouth, I think about what it means “to cleave:” both to adhere closely to and to divide, as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural weakness. And I think about my dual identity, how the Russian side and American side simultaneously force each other apart and bring each other together. I think about my past, feeling a little ashamed, and about my present and future, asking how I can create harmony between these two sides of me. That, Kafka, does not sound like solved questions to me.

Want to read more essays that worked? Download our 30 college essays that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance for free below.

30 College Essays That Worked_PrepMaven

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked

30 full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!

Step #2 - Brainstorming

We kick off the brainstorming process with several foundational exercises to get students comfortable with introspection:

  • Level 1: Facts
  • Level 2: Symbols
  • Level 3: Values

Here's a glimpse at some guided questions that we ask students in these exercises, including sample responses by Maya, a fictional student preparing to write her college essay.

Once we've walked students through these initial brainstorming exercises, it's time to dig deeper! At this stage of brainstorming, we ask targeted questions about a student's personal experiences, challenges, life-changing scenarios, and interests.

Here's a snapshot of what that looks like, with Maya's responses to a handful of these questions:

We always make sure our students take the right amount of time to brainstorm.

In our College Essay Workshop, for example, we devote at least two sessions to brainstorming. Students who work with college essay mentors one-on-one can anticipate spending at least 2 hours gathering material they'll use for their college essay and supplementals down the road.

Step #3 - Topic Selection

We define promising essay topics as those most likely to result in a personal statement that exemplifies the 7 qualities of a successful college essay. These topics typically:

  • Demonstrate an applicant's value(s) and character
  • Have excellent storytelling potential
  • Say something new in the context of a student's application
  • Have an element of authenticity
  • Feel personally exciting or intriguing in some way to the writer

Below are examples of "less promising" topics and "very promising" topics pulled from Maya's sample brainstorms.

To help students identify the promise of certain topics, we have them ask questions like these when reviewing final candidates:

  • Does this topic allow me to say something the rest of my application does not say?
  • Will talking about this topic demonstrate my character, values, and/or voice?
  • Will this topic result in an HONEST essay?
  • Is it distinct and/or unconventional?
  • Will this topic give a reader a greater sense of who I am as a person?
  • Will I enjoy writing it (for the most part)?

Maya discovers that the topic that says "yes" to all of these questions is the one about her skiing competition in Austria. She'll choose that for her college essay topic!

We also like to remind students that topics they don't end up choosing are great material for supplemental essay responses, which we discuss at the end of the revision process.


The Rough Diamond: Drafting Your Essay

Step #4 - Free-writing

Once students have chosen their college essay topic, it's time to mine that topic for all it's worth! We guide students through a topic free-write, designed to promote initial introspection and get them thinking about key storytelling elements.

We ask students questions like the following:

  • What relevant contextual details do I need to include?
  • In this anecdote, how did I feel? 
  • If there was a challenge, how did I respond? 
  • What did I learn?
  • What values and qualities of mine does this reveal? 
  • What does this story say about me?

Take a look at an excerpt from Maya's free-write for her chosen topic.

Step #5 - Creating an Outline

Structure is very important in a college essay. The right structure can tell a story powerfully -- similarly, the wrong structure often means not taking full advantage of a topic's storytelling promise.

In most cases, students can use one of these 5 college essay structures:

  • The Setback - Ideal for students who wish to discuss a challenge they've overcome, an experience that didn't go as expected, and/or their response to a specific obstacle
  • The Thesis - Elaborates a specific belief or characteristic not necessarily framed through an experience, your stance on an issue, and/or a frank viewpoint on something that's important to you
  • Compare & Contrast - Contrasts a student's perspective(s) with another's or compares two meaningful experiences, individuals, actions, and/or values
  • Discovery - Focuses on an important, self-shaping experience, identity, or valuable moment of self-reflection or understanding
  • Evolution - Presents the writer's evolution in relation to a community, ongoing experience, or deeply embedded belief

If these structures don't perfectly fit a student's topic, there are other options. It can be helpful for students to think about their essay as a Hero's Journey, for example, or even a movie storyboard. We also bring students back to examples of essays that worked so they can get a sense of range and fit.

In all cases, we have students summarize their essay in one sentence. This exercise is tough, but it forces students to think about the point of their essay, which can make it a lot easier when it comes to choosing a structure.

Here's Maya's one-sentence summary of her essay.

Once students choose a structure, it's time to create an outline, keeping the following in mind:

  • Starting point
  • Arrival point
  • Takeaways
  • Themes
  • The reader's experience

Here's a glimpse of Maya's essay outline, which is briefer for the sake of this post:

Step #6 - Writing an Ugly First Draft

Even with an outline in hand, it can feel daunting to turn that outline into a first draft. That's why we encourage students to embrace the notion of an "ugly first draft" -- it doesn't have to be perfect by any means, as long as students get all of their ideas out on the page.

Grammar, diction, sentence structure, and word count are not primary considerations here! The key to drafting lies in getting essential ideas and takeaways on the page first.

Here's the introduction from Maya's first draft:


Cutting and Polishing: Revising and Beyond

Step #7 - First and Second Draft Revisions

We always encourage our students to set aside a lot of time to revise their essays, using the 7 qualities of a successful college essay as a guide.

Revising typically happens in two stages. In the first stage (first, second, and third draft revisions), we have students revise primarily for content.

We want to make sure that these drafts contain all of their core ideas. Typically, these revisions focus on structure, "airtime," introspection, and key details.

Structure What have I established as my starting point? 
Have I given sufficient background / context details?
Have I given too much?
Where do I start talking about the how / why?
Have I left room for introspection and reflection?
What have I established as my ending point?
Does this tell a clear, coherent story?
Is everything in its right place?
Airtime What takes center stage in my essay?
What do I need to hear more of?
What do I need to hear less of?
Is everything getting the airtime it deserves?
Introspection Have I left room for introspection and reflection?
What do I wish to emphasize about myself here?
Is my last paragraph rich with "I statements"?
Key Details What “picture” have I painted here?
What details do I need more of?
Less of?
Where can I incorporate imagery?
Specificity?

Maya answers some of these questions as she's looking over her first draft, and uses those answers to guide parts of her revision. We've highlighted the revisions she's made for imagery and specificity in her essay's introduction.

Step #8 - Additional Revisions and Polishing

Once students have substantially revised their essays for structure and content, it's time to dig deeper and revise at the sentence level. In this second stage of revision, we work closely with students on language, style, voice, wordiness, and power of expression.

Language What tone does my story convey?
What tone do I want it to convey?
Is my language precise and specific?
Is it appropriate given my subject matter?
Are there any glaring grammatical errors in need of fixing?
Can I incorporate figurative language anywhere? Have I already done so? What’s the impact of this?
Style Where can I incorporate my own distinct writing style?
Transition words or phrases?
Imagery or description?
How do my sentences “flow”?
How’s my word choice?
Does my language leave room for voice?
Voice Is my writing engaging?
Where is my voice evident?
Where do I need MORE voice?
What voice emerges here, overall? Am I pleased with this? Is it effective?
Wordiness Can I remove any unneeded contextual details?
How can I write more clear, declarative, un-fluffy sentences?
Where can I cut words at the sentence level?
Power of Expression Can you identify any especially powerful moments?
What does your reader ultimately take away from your piece?

Maya works through some of these questions as she's revising the third and fourth drafts of her essay. Take a look at her answers below, as well as how she integrated these revisions into her essay.

Once students are close to a final polished draft, our final step is to hold the essay up to our 7 guiding qualities of a successful college essay. Students get to decide if their essay:

  • Tells an engaging story
  • Clearly conveys their voice
  • Is rich with introspection and reflection
  • Provides insight into their character, values, and perspective
  • Is not an academic essay or list of accomplishments
  • Is deeply personal
  • Says something the rest of their application doesn't say

If the essay is under 650 words and checks all of these boxes, they've done it!

Step #9 - Supplemental Essays

The college essay is only part of the college application journey! Many schools, especially elite institutions, are now requiring students to complete additional, supplemental essays as part of their application.

These are all part of colleges' effort to get to know their applicants better and make informed admissions decisions.

But supplemental essays do require just as much time and energy as the personal statement requires -- if not more so! They often have very specific prompts and word counts. Students should budget enough time to draft responses to these essays before application deadlines (which are as early as November 1st).

Many of our college essay students continue working with their essay tutors on these supplementals, given how much our tutors get to know their students and their stories through the college essay writing process. We're committed to our students' success throughout the full application journey!

Download 30 College Essays That Worked

A great way to start the college essay writing process is to take a look at essays that worked. You can download 30 essays that earned their writers Ivy League acceptance right now -- simply click the download link below!

30 College Essays That Worked_PrepMaven

Bonus Material: 30 College Essays That Worked

30 full personal statements of applicants admitted to top-tier institutions

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!



ACT Math_Everything You Need to Know_PrepMaven

ACT Math: Everything You Need to Know

ACT Math: Everything You Need to Know

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's ACT Guidebook

ACT Math is the second section of the ACT. It comes right after ACT English, and it's a long one -- students have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions.

Timing can definitely be a challenge on this section for that reason. What's more, ACT Math is 100% content-based, which mean that test-takers do have to know things like the Pythagorean Theorem, trigonometry, probability, and other foundational math topics.

What do you need to know about Math on the ACT? What math concepts in particular does this section test? And what can you do to improve your score?

As the test prep experts, we've got the answers to these questions -- and much more!

Plus, we give readers access to our ACT Guidebook, a comprehensive guide for students navigating the test for the first time. It's free and you can grab it below!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's ACT Guidebook


  • Details about ACT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s ACT strategies
  • Information about ACT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges


Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!

Here's what we cover:

  1. ACT Math in a Nutshell
    1. Format
    2. Scoring
    3. The Math You Need to Know
  2. How to Improve Your ACT Math Score
  3. Bonus: PrepMaven's ACT Guidebook

1) ACT Math in a Nutshell

Here's what ACT, the organization that produces the test, says about the math section:

The ACT mathematics test is designed to assess the mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12. The test presents multiple-choice questions that require you to use reasoning skills to solve practical problems in mathematics. The material covered on the test emphasizes the major content areas that are prerequisites to successful performance in entry-level courses in college mathematics.

What does this actually mean?

In simpler language, ACT Math tests the math subjects most students will have learned through their senior year in high school. That includes pre-algebra, Algebra 1 and 2, geometry, trigonometry, and advanced math.

In fact, the test heavily emphasizes subjects from Algebra 1 and 2, which is why we encourage students to take the test only after they've completed Algebra 2.

Of course, ACT Math is not like your typical high school math test. We like to say that it tests familiar math concepts in unfamiliar ways. That's what ACT is getting at when it says the questions "require you to use reasoning skills to solve practical problems."

For example, here’s a typical ACT word problem from an official practice test:

sample ACT math problem, linear equation
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

This question might look intimidating at first glance, because there are a lot of words and numbers! But hiding behind all those words and numbers is a single concept: representing linear equations.

Let's take a look at the format of ACT math next.

Format

ACT Math is the second section of the test, appearing right after ACT English and before ACT Reading.

There are 60 questions on this section, to be completed in 60 minutes. These questions are arranged generally in order of increasing difficulty, which means that questions 1-20 are approximately low-difficulty, 21-40 are medium-difficulty, and 41-60 are high-difficulty.

Of course, "difficult" is a relative term on the ACT! It's not uncommon for a student to find question #10 difficult, for example, and question #55 easy.

That's why it's so important to establish your own strengths on ACT Math, which you can do by taking a practice test.

While the questions on ACT Math generally get harder as they progress, the concepts typically tested can appear in any order. For example, #18 might be a trigonometry question, while #40 might test pre-algebra, but in a harder way.

Take a look at this question from the first half of a practice test. It's a problem about trigonometric functions, but in a less complicated way:

sample ACT math, easier trig
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

Now compare this question from the end of a practice test. It's also a problem about trigonometric functions, but it's more complex!

sample ACT math, harder trig
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

Students are allowed to use a calculator on ACT Math, which is important. Using a calculator can be very helpful for preventing careless errors, checking your work, and tackling harder questions! Find ACT's calculator policy here.

Scoring

How is ACT Math scored? Every section on the ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36. So, 1 is the lowest score you can earn on this section and 36 is the highest score. 

The test graders calculate this based on section-specific algorithms that boil down to converting your raw score (the number of questions you get right) to a number between 1 and 36.

All ACT section scores are averaged to generate a composite score on a scale of 1-36. You can find out more about how this works in our ACT scoring guide.

There is no wrong answer penalty on the ACT. This means that you don’t lose points for getting a question wrong on Math -- you simply do not get any points. Students can use this to their advantage by never leaving a question blank on this section!

How many questions do you have to get right in order to achieve a high score? The answer: it depends.

Even though the ACT is a standardized test, no two Math sections are the same in terms of difficulty and content. A 30 on one Math section likely doesn’t equate to a 30 on another. 

The key to improving your ACT Math score thus lies in maximizing your raw score -- the more questions you ace on this section, the higher your odds are of earning a competitive score.

We’ll talk more about how to improve your Math score later on in this post. If you want more insight into what counts as a “good” ACT score overall, check out our other post on the subject.

If you're enjoying this post, you'll love our ACT guidebook, which contains all of this information about ACT Reading and so much more. It's a great, free resource for first-time test-takers, and you can grab it below right now!

The Math You Need to Know for the ACT

So what math do you actually need to know for the ACT?

ACT outlines three broad categories of math content areas tested on this section:

  • Preparing for Higher Math (~60% of all questions)
  • Integrating Essential Skills (~40% of all questions)
  • Modeling (~25% of all questions)
ACT Math Category Concepts Tested
Preparing for Higher Math Geometry
Statistics & Probability
Functions
Algebra 1 and 2
Number and Quantity
Integrating Essential Skills Pre-Algebra
Rates and Percentages
Ratios and Proportions
Volume, Surface Area, Area
Average and Median
Modeling "Producing, interpreting, understanding,
evaluating, and improving models"

However, because these concepts are pretty broad (especially that Modeling category!), we've broken them down even further below based on our analysis of official ACT practice tests.

Concept Topics Tested
Geometry Triangles
Pythagorean Theorem
Special Right Triangles (30-60-90 and 45-45-90)
Area
Trigonometry
Rule of 180 (interior angles)
Isosceles triangle properties
Similar Triangles
Equilateral triangle properties
Right triangle properties
Circles
Area & Circumference
Sectors, Interior Angles, and Arcs
Tangent Lines
Chords
Radius and diameter
4-Sided Shapes
Rectangle area and perimeter
Diagonals
Area of a trapezoid
Area of a parallelogram
Internal angles of a parallelogram
Polygons
Interior angle of a polygon formula
Area of embedded shapes
Ellipses
Statistics & Probability Probability formula
Percent change
Patterns and sequences
Functions Solving functions
Graphing functions
Composition of functions
Algebra 1 & 2 Slope
Slope intercept form
Linear equations (solving, graphing)
Parallel lines
Perpendicular lines
Midpoint formula
Distance formula
Exponential decay and growth
Systems of equations
Range and domain
Matrices
Unit circle
Logarithms
Imaginary numbers and complex numbers
Combinations and permutations
Polynomials
Factorial
Radicals
Vectors
Number and Quantity Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing fractions
Number properties
Absolute value
Scientific notation
Pre-Algebra Mean, Median, Mode
Volume of 3-D shapes (cones, prisms, spheres, etc.)
Surface area of 3-D shapes (cones, prisms, spheres, etc.)
Area of shapes (triangles, rectangles, circles, etc.)
Perimeter of shapes (rectangles, triangles, etc.)
Solving equations and expressions
Ratios
Inequalities
Types of numbers (rational, real, integers, etc.)
Percentages
Decimals
Modeling Linear equations
Exponential equations
Analyzing graphs, charts, figures, and other data

How to Improve Your ACT Math Score

What can you do to improve your ACT Math score? Start with these five strategies, and then check out these 10 ACT Math Strategies to Get a High Score.

Strategy #1: Prioritize easier questions.

On each section of the ACT, every question is worth the same number of points. This means that an "easy" question is worth just as much as a "hard" question.

This can be counterintuitive, because many students are used to hard math questions being worth more on exams! They race through the easy questions on standard high school tests so they can spend most of their time on the more difficult problems.

However, this approach will not serve you on ACT Math.

Prioritize easier questions first and make sure you feel 100% confident on those before proceeding to difficult questions. This typically means spending most of your time on questions 1-40 on ACT Math.

If you find yourself spending more than a minute working a problem, skip it and come back. Save any remaining time at the end of the test for double-checking your work on those early questions.

Strategy #2: Make the answers work for you.

Take a look at this sample ACT Math word problem:

sample ACT math question, solve by plug in
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

Do you see how all of the answers are in number form? If the answer choices are all numbers, this is a good sign that you can make those answers work for you instead of diving into complicated algebra!

You can "plug in" the answers to the problem and see which one fits the stipulations of the question. This is a much easier and faster way of solving this word problem.

Remember: on ACT Math, it doesn't matter how you arrive at the right answer, because no one's grading you on your work. For that reason, choose the most efficient and easiest way of getting to that correct answer.

Strategy #3: Replace abstract values with concrete ones.

ACT Math loves to ask questions that contain variables or unknown values, like "x", "3x+2", "|x| - x", etc...

sample ACT math, create a test number
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

It is always a lot harder to work with abstract values as opposed to concrete ones. So replace those abstract values with actual numbers!

In the example question above, that would mean replacing "negative real value of x" with something like -4. Then, plug your chosen value of x into the answer choices to see which ones are true and which ones aren’t.

When picking numbers in this way, be sure to choose ones that are relatively small and easy to work with, but avoid using 1, -1, or 0.

Strategy #4: Cut through the fluff on word problems.

ACT Math contains a lot of word problems! These can be tricky to navigate, because they're often very wordy and do a great job of hiding the actual math involved — and the question itself.

When approaching these word problems, try to separate the "fluff" — stuff you don't need — from the actual problem. Identify what the question is truly asking and focus on that.

This word problem is a great example of this. There are a lot of words here, but what is the question really asking?

sample ACT math, word problem
example ACT Math question created by PrepMaven, all rights reserved

If you realized that this is really asking what what's the smallest number that's divisible by 5, 6, and 7 — you’re right! (Then, once we have that number, we need to divide it by 7.) This really has nothing to do with relay races, grades, or groups of students.

The actual math involved in this word problem is pretty basic, but ACT Math loves to mask that in complicated wording.

Strategy #5: Build a solid foundation of content knowledge.

ACT Math and ACT English are the two sections of the test that rely most heavily on outside content knowledge. (Reading and Science are basically 100% strategy-based.)

For this reason, a solid foundation of content knowledge can only serve you on ACT Math!

Because a lot of this content covers algebra and geometry, topics many test-takers study earlier on in high school, it's important to review any topics you're rusty on.

You can pinpoint what you need to review by taking a practice ACT.

Keep in mind that the ACT does not include a reference page with relevant math formulas before the Math section. You'll have to go into the test with those memorized, so make sure to use flashcards or other study tools to lock those formulas in place!

These are only a handful of our expert ACT Math strategies. Find even more in this post here.


3) Download PrepMaven's ACT Guidebook

We've covered everything you need to know to jumpstart your ACT Math prep in this post.

But you'll find even more helpful information about navigating the ins and outs of ACT test-taking in our free ACT Guidebook, which you can download below!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's ACT Guidebook


  • Details about ACT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s ACT strategies
  • Information about ACT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges


Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!