Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.
Here is the best collection of sample essays I have come across. A kind teacher up in Oregon who is using Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay sent me the links. She is thrilled that the number of her students scoring high on the Oregon State Writing Assessment has doubled since she began using the program.
Below you will find excellent student writing samples for all of these grades: 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, and high school.
Update:I’ve tracked down State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources from seventeen more states. On that page you will find additional student writing samples—and much more.
One nice thing about this Oregon collection of sample essays is most every grade contains four different types of writing:
1. Expository sample essays
2. Imaginative sample essays
3. Narrative sample essays
4. Persuasive sample essays (Starts in grade 5)
Another great thing about this collection of elementary writing samples and middle school writing examples is that there are five different scoring levels for each type of writing:
1. Low paper
2. Medium low
4. Medium High
How to Download the Oregon Student Writing Samples in an Organized Way
If you just start downloading them without following the system outlined below, you will surely regret it. Each grade has 40 separate files, so you will want to use an organized system for saving the files. It’s worth it to download them, and it’s worth it to do it in an organized way!
When you are at the download page, the table below will make more sense. You will see that this is a nifty little system. Here is how I would download them:
|High||Med. High||Med.||Med. Low||Low|
Directions:Open up a new browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari etc.) and copy and paste the link into the address bar. (The link starts with at the http://) I recommend getting samples for the grade you teach, as well as for the grade above it and below it.
• Grade 3 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=528
• Grade 4 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=525
• Grade 5 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=529
• Grade 6 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=530
• Grade 7 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=526
• Grade 8 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=531
• High School Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=527
Ten Ideas for Using the Sample Essays with Students and for Teaching Writing
“Habit #2: Start with the end in mind.”
Stephen R. Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Making it Authentic: Examining Sample Essays vs. Examining Your Students’ Own Writing
There are definitely ways to use these writing samples in ways your students will find engaging. However, sample essays are never as engaging to students as examining their own writing. That being said, it’s one thing to have students read their own writing in front of the class and quite another to place it on the ELMO/projector and have the class use scoring rubrics to evaluate it.
These Oregon writing samples are not a substitute for examining authentic student writing. However, the ability to set the right kind of productive tone for critiquing, analyzing, and evaluating students’ own writing is a skill unto itself—and deserves a separate and complete post. But the short version is this — students love to have their writing analyzed and critiqued when:
1. It is done in a safe and supportive environment.
2. Students feel they have actually been taught how to write.
3. Students understand how the writing process works and how it is the application of specific WRITING SKILLS and WRITING STRATEGIES that makes writing good. Students have learned that good writing is not just the result of some “artistic trait” that a person is born with or without.
When these three conditions are present, students are willing to endure the short-term discomfort of having their writing evaluated because they know it will take them to a new level. They know the evaluation will be objective and based on actual techniques and strategies.
High Scoring Writing Success for Your Students!
The Oregon teacher who sent me the links told me the number of student scoring high has doubled since using the Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essayprogram. She added:
I thank you for creating this program. It’s working wonders! You have truly made teaching writing fun. The program makes sense to both me and my students.
So, if you are interested in doubling your number of high scoring papers, be sure to check out the writing program on the homepage!
Even More Elementary and Middle School Writing Samples!
Be sure to check out this blog post: “State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources.” It has state writing resources from seventeen states, and there are tons of additional elementary and middle school writing samples.
Note to Visitors from outside the United States – Oregon seems to block IP addresses from countries outside of the US. Sorry, but there is nothing I can do about that. However, I’m sure you can find what you are looking for on this page: “State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources.”
1. First, create a folder on your desktop to save them in.
2. Once you are on the download page, for each file, right click and save or “save target as.”
3. Rename each file with just THE NUMBERS found in the table. You can change the names later as you wish. (When saving the file, just type over the original file name with the number.)
4. Go in the order shown below.
5. All the odd numbers will be student work. All the even numbers will be scoring commentary. For each group of 10, the low numbers will be the low scores and the high numbers will be the high scores.
1. Print out the essays and the commentary you wish to focus on.
2. Go through the essays. What are your students doing correctly? What are your students not doing and that they need to be doing? Read the commentary and make a list of skills you want to teach your students. Plan out how you are going to teach those skills.
3. Use the scoring guide and go over a number of essays with your students. Teach your students what scorers are looking for. What makes for a high scoring essay and what makes for a low scoring essay?
4. Create or find a few student friendly rubrics. Have students score at least a few essays using these rubrics. Make sure students understand the rubrics—and if you have the time etc., you can even have students help create them.
5. Compare and contrast the genres and modes of writing. This is a great way to show different types of writing and different styles. You can play the game, “Name the Genre.” What are the elements of the writing genre that you see in the sample essay? How can you tell it is a particular type of writing? (“Name the Genre” is also an effective strategy to use with writing prompts, and in particular, with released writing prompts.)
6. Have students compare and contrast essays that have different scores. Also, have students compare and contrast essays with the same scores but from different grades.
7. Use the low scores to show your students how good their writing is. Use the high scores to show your students where they need to improve.
8. Have students edit or build upon one of the sample essays. Take one of the low scoring essays and have your students transform it into a high scoring essay. You can do this with each mode of writing and students will notice both the similarities and the differences across different types of writing.
9. Demonstrate how neatness matters. Some of the sample essays are messy. Even a few high scoring ones are messy. Discuss how difficult it can be for scorers to fairly assess messy writing. (Note: Students will see messy writing and think that the paper is a low scoring paper. Explain that rubrics do help prevent this “rush to judgment,” but cannot completely eliminate it. This exercise also helps illustrate how important rubrics are, and how students must, in one sense, write for the rubric.)
10. Demonstrate how all the skills you have been teaching your students can be found in the high scoring writing samples and how all those important skills you have taught them are missing from the low scoring writing samples.