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How to write Outstanding Admission Essays for Ivy Leagues

How to write Outstanding Admission Essays for Ivy Leagues

Ivy Leagues refers to a group of eight elite universities located in the northwestern USA. These highly reputed universities are famous for churning out successful entrepreneurs, world class athletes, future Presidents, Nobel prize winners and other high-achieving alumni.

There is tremendous competition for admissions to these universities. Ivy Leagues are a dream for millions of students across the world because of the excellent facilities, laboratories, faculty, and alumni. A top university not only imparts excellent knowledge, it provides a head start in highly competitive fields like Law, Finance and Business and with its vast alumni network.

No wonder, the competition for admissions is fierce. Some of the top universities have acceptance rates in low single digits. Effectively, from a hundred applications only three to five may be accepted. Apart from having strong grades and great extracurriculars, you need to showcase yourself and your achievements through personal essays. This is a crucial part of your application and the chance for a student to express themselves.

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Before proceeding further, please take a minute to go through some of the unique, creative, and interesting Ivy League essay prompts in the table below.

Brown UniversityAt Brown, you will learn as much from your peers outside the classroom as in academic spaces. How will you contribute to the Brown community?
Columbia UniversityList the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school.
Cornell UniversityCollege of Architecture, Art, and Planning: What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?
Dartmouth UniversityChoose one of the following prompts, and please respond in 250-300 words. “Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away,” observed Frida Kahlo. Apply Kahlo’s perspective to your own life.
Harvard UniversityWhat would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
University Of PennsylvaniaAt Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. * (150-200 words)
Princeton UniversityFor A.B. Degree Applicants or Those Who are Undecided: As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your interests? (Please respond in about 250 words.)
Yale UniversityYou are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?

Exhibit A: Ivy League Essay prompts

A.Write About Something That is Deeply Personal

Don’t just write but reflect.

According to a former Stanford admissions officer, “We come across hundreds of essays featuring a short yet rewarding experience of the candidate. We always anticipate the candidate should share his or her personal experience, that helps us determine the personality traits and personal values, the ones that are critical for us to decide their inclusion into our university culture,”.

Therefore, instead of writing about short experiences, it is always preferable to go with a topic that has a profound influence of a lifetime on you.

These essays help the admissions officers understand the personal values and personalities of students, which are critical requirements for top universities.

B.Avoid a Detached Style

Many students write their essays in a detached way which makes the reader feel disconnected from the writer of the essay, which leads to their application getting rejected.

If you get personal with the topic and showcase either your – resilience, creativity, passion, strength, zeal or determination, your chances of getting accepted increase substantially.

C.Be Careful with Humor

In general, avoid using humor in the personal essays. It may work in a few cases, but not everyone is good at being funny and this could easily backfire. There are some specific prompts where you are asked to describe yourself (for example – “to your future roommate”,) or about any quirks etc. you may have. Humor may work better in those prompts as you are expected to be informal.

D.Start Early and Write Many Drafts

Start several months in advance. You can choose from several optional prompts. Try to write essays on the different prompts. Set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in their shoes and think whether the admission officer will find it interesting? Does the essay reveal something about your personality? Does it tell a compelling story about the events that conspired to bring you to this current point in your life?

E.No Repeats

All essays have well defined word limits. You must work within those limits to tell your story. Repeating uses up crucial space that may be better utilized in expressing a different idea or supplementing your main argument.  Repetition shows your lack of expression and focus.


Be honest about yourself. Do not fabricate a lie; it might lead to serious problems.

Your essay needs to be based on your life experiences, show why that’s you, why you’re different, and what you can offer.

You must talk about something that impacted your life. A moment, a conversation, a game, a class, a book, an interaction – anything. Just make sure you’re true to yourself. In general, students that have substantial extracurricular activities or have spent time in sports, competitions or social work will have more relevant experiences to draw from.

G.Craft a Strong Opening

A good essay starts with a powerful ‘hook’. Something that grabs the reader’s attention and transports them to that incident or period of your life. Think of the essay as a short movie which you are directing. What will make this movie memorable for the audience? Will they remember anything once the movie is over?


One sure-fine way to engage readers and transport them into your story is to give vivid details. For example, tell them about an interesting book that you read, your feelings, or the look on someone’s face. Make them taste that delicious gooey chocolate cake you had on your birthday this year by describing it in an effective way.

This essay writing technique is called Imagery and it allows the readers to see the world through your eyes and cheer for you in situations you faced. In other words, it introduces you as a human being, not just another applicant. So, be descriptive about the situation or the moment you’re addressing in your essay, because the admissions officers’ will want to smell it, touch it, and see it.


A crucial part of essay writing is proofreading (Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation mistakes). After completing your essay, please go through it to check for any grammatical errors. Use spell check. Ask your English teacher or mentor to go through it because a single spelling mistake may get your application in the rejection pile.

Consider these two statements:

“I traveled with my family to Europe in the summer of 2018. We visited historical sites including the Colosseum in Rome, the world-renowned Uffizi Museum in Florence, the Leaning tower in Pisa and the floating city of Venice. Our trip ended with a relaxed leisure trip on Amalfi beaches. Describe what you learnt there and how it changed you. I always wanted to explore cultures and this trip was a gateway for me to learn and explore about past and present of a thriving culture. The perspectives I formed over this trip will help me juxtapose eastern vs western civilization”.

Statement 2:

“As an avid Architecture enthusiast, I always wanted to visit Europe. My wish was realized in summer of 2018, when our family planned a vacation in Italy – ‘The cradle of Roman Civilization’. I saw several monuments and admired their design, but a relatively modern construct caught my attention in Venice – inflated barriers.

Venice experiences a natural phenomenon ‘acqua alta’ i.e., flooding. These floods cause damage to the monuments and frescos and preventing them is critical to saving the city’s identity.

To solve this problem, engineers and art lovers worked together and built a functional, aesthetically pleasing barrier mechanism that remains submerged during normal days but inflates and acts as a barrier during high tide days. I admired the ingenuity and effectiveness of the solution.

This experience made me regret the apathy shown to some of our monuments back home. In addition to being a responsible tourist, today’s climate change has put responsibilities on the young generation to invent novel solutions to preserve mankind’s history. Now, I want to graduate with a dual degree in Architecture and Engineering.”

In Statement 1:

  • The concept of Once is not articulated. What prompted Writer to pursue this field over others.
  • There is no inflection point in the narrative. Nothing Extraordinary happens.
  • The Story does not bring up any emotional/physical
  • The point is made but the story is not articulated enough.

While in the Statement 2 all points have been met.

Let’s take a look at the seven CommonApp essay prompts. Students are required to select any one prompt and write a 650 word essay about the same.

1.      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.
2.      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?
3.      Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4.      Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5.      Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6.      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?
7.      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.

Exhibit B: Common App Essay Prompts

A lot of thought and research goes into writing good essays. The introspection and the process of writing admission essays is rewarding and helps students understand themselves better. Follow the guidelines provided in this article and you should have outstanding essays that will pave your way to your Ivy League University.

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About the Author: 

Shubhi Joshi is an Editor at Scholarly. She has a B.A. in English and a M.A. from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. She has an interest in history and current affairs. An avid blogger, Shubhi loves to write about higher education and self-improvement.

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