Essays That Worked Essays

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Essays That Worked


What does the Admissions Committee look for in a successful essay? It’s one of our most commonly asked questions.

Since the essay is an important part of the application process, the Admissions Committee has selected examples of essays that worked, written by members of the Johns Hopkins Class of 2017. These selections represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle.

These “essays that worked” are distinct and unique to the individual writer; however, each of them assisted the admissions reader in learning more about the student beyond the transcripts and activity sheets. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original and creative as you share your own story with us.

Cooking Up a Cataclysm

Goggles? Check.

Lab coat? Yep.

Common sense? Maybe not.

I was determined to start the mission anyway, a mission of proving independence, a mission of showing I did not need to be babied and demonstrating just some modicum of autonomy. My mission: to cook salmon.

I turned around, checked that my grandmother was asleep, and gave myself the go-ahead.

I turned on the stove, tossing pink chunks into the pan; the hot oil first sizzled, shook, then violently splattered with incredible vehemence.

I turned into a statue, frozen in shock.

I had neglected to wipe the wet fish before chucking it into the pan. Now I stood in pain, in panic, in my outlandish garb, wincing as each speck of oil found its home on my exposed skin. Then out of nowhere my grandmother appeared, my gray-haired savior with a lid, throwing her frail body before the pan to shield mine. The oil indignantly pattered against the lid as she set it down; I bowed my head in guilty silence, waiting to be scolded.

But Po-Po just took my hands.

“Are you hurt?” she asked in her rural Chinese dialect, gently.

I looked up from the dirtied kitchen floor, my mother’s sacred domain desecrated. There was no anger on Po-Po’s tired face, only love, and splotches of reddened skin where the oil had scalded her. She wore no protective goggles, no fancy coat. I had been afraid she might be angry at first, but I was more shaken now, shamed by the realization that I had hurt her.

Yet, she never showed it. She never does. She did, however, accept my apologies and even worked beside me to help clean. Only when I appeared not to notice did she briefly disappear to check her burns.

I had acted rashly that day, but so had she, in confronting the volcano of hot grease. Only, her act of irrationality had been for my sake. I believe it to be the same irrationality that compelled her to leave her rustic home among rice paddies to immigrate to America, where she would work two menial jobs, where the people spoke a strange language ever beyond her grasp. She stood alone, enduring those hardships for the sake of her children and grandchildren. I stood alone for my own sake, to further some illusion of independence.

In reality, though I was reluctant to admit it before, I have always depended on people like her. I depend on them for the sweet, life-giving encouragement and the warm, unconditional love that makes everything else possible. They love me. They inspire me. They free me from fear of failure.

Indeed, despite all she has done for me, Po-Po never asks for anything more in return than just for us to spend time together. She is simple. But so is love. Here is someone without so much as a high school education. Yet, it is through her that I have learned things no amount of schooling could possibly teach—a giving heart, strength of character, a humble spirit, and most importantly, an understanding that I am connected to those who have made my opportunities possible.

As I see my grandmother’s quiet resolution, I feel invigorated, inspired. This titan of quiet strength makes me feel invincible. Her selflessness humbles me. Her love and loving sacrifices are pillars of my success. I just needed a little prodding from a malicious piece of fish to remind me that even as I stand triumphantly over my neat little heap of achievements, people like my grandmother stand with me, and it is on their sacrifices that I build my success.


Hometown: San Leandro, California

Intended major: Biomedical Engineering

All too often, I see essays that start with a first sentence of “My ______ inspires me.” While I appreciate the statement, there are definitely more creative ways to convey the message. Alan does just this. He has written, in my opinion, a successful essay. Through his story telling, he informs us of why he is who he is and how the people in his life have influenced where he wants to be in the future. By the end of the essay, I was thinking to myself, “This student would be a great roommate…witty, warm, caring, and thankful to those who have sacrificed for him!”
—Shannon Miller, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions
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