Real High School Essays

Every day I realize that I’m a senior. I know that probably sounds like a weird thing to say, but every day I have this enlightened moment where I say to myself “Whoa. This is my last year of high school. This is my last year of mandated public education.”

When I wasn’t a senior, I heard seniors talk about missing things about the place they live before they move, and this is something I’ve been consciously trying to avoid. I thought it would be easy, because the place I live is notorious for its lack of things to do. I’d bet that Murrieta is more exciting than a farming town in Nebraska, but if you only went by what you heard from the kids here, you’d think that this city is some kind of punishment. It really isn’t that easy to stop those nostalgic feelings from forming, though, even this early in the year.

Despite my attempts otherwise, I’ve started to notice things that I really like and that will be different no matter where I move. They’re usually just little things, like the Chinese restaurant with the sign out front that says “CHINESERESTAURANT” that serves amazing orange chicken. Or the fact that every morning on the way to school I see hot air balloons in the distance over the wineries. Or just the fact that I have a comfortable house to live in. When I go to college, I’m going to have to live in a dorm. I’ve stayed in the dorms of three different colleges for summer camps and programs over the years, and the thought of living in a dorm room just doesn’t appeal to me.

It’s not just material things that are becoming apparent, though. It’s people too, like my family. Obviously, I’ll never lose connection with my parents, but after next summer it’s going to be different. It’s something that I look at with a good mix of apprehension and eagerness. I’ve always been excited to live in my own place, have a job, and earn my own money. But it makes me sad to think that this is the last chance I have to spend a lot of time with my parents and family. Have I taken full advantage of the time I’ve had? Of course it’s fun to think about being independent and responsible, but it’s not fun thinking I can never go back.

And it’s the people at school. I’ve mentioned before that we have a large student body. With the understanding that by June this campus will no longer be home to me, I realize that the people I see every day I will most likely never see again. I’m not really concerned about friends — we’ll find ways to stay in touch — it’s more the people who I don’t yet know. At a school of so many, I can honestly say that I see a new face every day. It’s a little weird, and it’s a little depressing. I’ve had all this time to meet as many people as possible, and I do think I did a pretty good job of it, but there are still all these people I haven’t met. What about those people? They’ve been there, but I haven’t learned from them. I have so little time left to glean whatever I can from them — stories, experiences, jokes, whatever… I have a hard time not seeing them as a missed opportunity.

Every day the future becomes more real. The idea of college and life after college becomes less of an intangible fantasy and more of a hard reality.

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Are you a high school junior? Your college application is probably your first experience writing a personal statement. From purpose to audience, here’s a quick run-down of how college essays are different than the essays you write for English class.

1. Purpose

A high school essay generally demonstrates to your teacher what you know. An application essay should demonstrate who you are. Colleges want to find out what you're passionate about, and what you would add to the campus community.

2. Audience

When your English teacher grades your essays, she puts them into the context of every interaction she’s ever had with you. Your personal statement is your one chance to speak directly to the admissions committee and demonstrate who you are beyond grades and test scores. Help colleges learn something about you that they cannot discover when reading the rest of your application. (Tip: Don’t treat your essay like a resume!)

3. Show, Don't Summarize

College essay topics are often open-ended. (“Recount a time when you experienced failure.“) But at heart, all college essays are asking you to demonstrate the same things: your ability to reflect and think critically. Summaries are fine for book reports, but when writing your college essay take the opportunity to really examine how an experience taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow.

4. Authenticity

On a high school essay, it's generally not appropriate to use the first-person. Not only is it fine to make “I” statements in your application essays, but colleges expect your essays to sound like you, too!  Always be yourself in your application, not the candidate you think admissions committees want to see.

5. Originality Counts

When your teacher asks you to analyze the causes of the Civil War, he is going to receive a lot of essays that sound basically the same. But your college essay should be unique and individual to you. College admissions officers tell us that they see many essays about eye-opening travel experiences, the death of a loved one, or “The Big Game.” You can still write about these experiences, but the trick is in the details. No one sees the world quite the way you do, so let your personality shine through.

Read more tips on applying to college.


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The Staff of The Princeton Review

For more than 35 years, students and families have trusted The Princeton Review to help them get into their dream schools. We help students succeed in high school and beyond by giving them resources for better grades, better test scores, and stronger college applications. Follow us on Twitter: @ThePrincetonRev.

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