Sample Essays – What to Consider

During a recent interview about college essays with College and Career Clarity podcast host Lisa Marker-Robbins, the topic of sample essays came up.

We don’t like sample essays, even though a lot of people use them when coaching students on the college essay.

To be clear, it’s not that the sample essays can’t be good examples. It’s that the samples are out of context, and students don’t know what to do with them.

Students, like all of us, are pattern-makers. And when we’re given a sample, our tendency is to try to imitate it, whether we want to or not. Imitating someone else’s topic or format won’t reliably help readers learn something meaningful about the applicant.

As pros, if we explain the essay-writing task, help students understand the prompt, and help them pick an effective topic that has a theme, they will write an essay that works. We can do all that without showing them sample essays they will want to imitate.

The way I see it, if you’re going to share samples with your students, then you should give them a sketch of the entire application. That way, they can understand how the essay they are reading supported the application.

Lisa and I talked about many other essay-related topics too. You can listen to the full interview here. And while you’re at it, consider subscribing to her podcast. Lisa has great guests and lots of terrific info for professionals and families. Share the link!

Kim Lifton, is the President of Wow Writing Workshop. Her articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager with a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. You can email Kim anytime about the college essay; she will always respond.