Sample Essay Questions For College
The New York City Department of Education clearly states what they are looking for in a teacher:
“We are committed to hiring only the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers to work with our students. We look for candidates who are strong communicators, use data to make informed decisions, have deep subject matter expertise, and are deeply committed to student achievement.”
To determine if you are the type of teacher they want, they request you to write two essays: one seeks information on you as a teacher and one seeks information on you as a person. Below are examples of the questions used and comments on what to consider as you compose your answer.
Essay Question 1
It is the third month of the new school year and you have just finished a week-long unit of study that covered key grade-level standards for your students. Prior to teaching the unit, you invested significant time and effort into preparing lessons, activities, and supporting materials. However, over 50% of your students failed the end-of-unit test you administered at the end of the week. To keep up with the pacing calendar, you are expected to move on to a new topic the following week. Please describe what next steps you will take to address this situation.
This is a question that requires you to apply many of the educational theories and best teaching practices you have learned at Hunter. As you read the question, the first thing you should have noticed is the fact that half of your class failed the end-of-unit test, and therefore lack the prior knowledge needed to move on to the next unit of study. This is a learning bottleneck that teachers often face.
The first point to consider is whether or not there is alignment between the assessment given and the material taught. It would be essential for you to look at the items that were not passed and ask yourself a number of questions such as:
• How much time did I spend on this item?
• In what way did I present the information on this item?
• Did I pre-assess students to know where they were “at” before teaching the concept?
• Did I consider all learning styles when presenting the information?
• Did I make accommodations for all learning styles?
Did I use multiple presentation styles to assure there was a connection between all parts to the whole?
Your response needs to portray your knowledge and expertise in various areas, such as:
• differentiated instruction with awareness of and accommodations for the varying needs in your class (i.e., ELL or Special Education students);
• a learning environment that organizes the room and structures lessons to maximize learning and minimize confusion and disruption;
• clear learning objectives;
• use of graphic organizers;
• use of learning centers.
Your students’ lack of prior knowledge can be addressed by reinforcing needed information from the prior unit and linking that information with the new content you will be presenting. For example, a semantic representation could be created using a mapping tool application (i.e. Inspiration) that could visually link the content relationships of the two units. As you introduce new content in the lessons, reinforcements of what you taught in the prior unit would be embedded. These reinforcements could include:
• having students refer to notes they took in the last unit to answer a question in a homework assignment;
• providing students with interactive website(s) that reinforce understanding of the learning standard(s) associated with the content of the unit;
• organizing activities that require the use of knowledge from the prior unit to meaningfully apply the new information. Since it is a 50:50 ratio, each group would be comprised of half who passed and half who did not pass.
Essay Question 2
The New York City Department of Education is a diverse and dynamic system of 1,450 schools. The principals who lead these schools are searching for great teachers to meet the needs of their students. What are the THREE most important qualities you would want a principal to recognize in you as a potential staff member? Please focus on personal and professional qualities, talents, or experiences unique to you and provide examples and other evidence to support these. As you search for a place to teach, what are the top THREE characteristics you are looking for in a school?
This question is related to what you wrote for the “Objective” and “Skills and Interests” sections of your resume. The fact that you have completed a Hunter School of Education Program clearly defines you as an exceptional teacher. You need to extend this to show how you will link what you learned at Hunter with you as a person. Are you a team player? Are you flexible, able to work with others, innovative, creative on your feet, a self directed learner? Today’s teachers must be self aware of their own strengths and challenges and committed to continual learning. Be sure to emphasize those skills.
• if you have an interest in language, travel and visiting other cultures, discuss how you will bring this love of other cultures into lessons and activities;
• if you have an interest in technology, discuss how you will meaningfully engage children with interactive lessons and activities that are linked to specific content learning standards;
• if you have a background as a professional in another field discuss how you will bring real world applications to classroom curriculum;
• if you have expertise in a particular subject (i.e. your major) discuss how you will use this as a teacher;
• if your personal background or experiences have given you particular insight into working with students, describe this;
• if you gained expertise and experience through your student teaching, describe what you gained;
• try to be specific, rather than giving broad generalities (i.e. I love children) that could apply to anyone.
Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).
2018-19 Common App Essays
Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application, which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in 2017, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:
- 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.
- 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts
Prompt #1: Share your story.
Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school resume and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.
Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.
You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.
Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.
Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.
Prompt #4: Solving a problem.
This essay is designed to get at the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation or quandary and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want insight into your thought process and the issues you grapple with, so explain how you became aware of the dilemma and how you tackled solving it. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you!
Prompt #5: Personal growth.
Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth.
Prompt #6: What captivates you?
This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.
Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.
This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.
More College Essay Topics
Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:
Describe a person you admire.
Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .
Why do you want to attend this school?
Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.
What is a book you love?
Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?
Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.
What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?
Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.
Looking for strategic college advice?
Get one-on-one help from former Ivy League and top tier admission officers. Our College Admission Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school.