Essay Examples

With permission from the writers and their parents, college essay examples are featured below. Naked Essay students have had their writing published in Johns Hopkins’ Essays That Worked collection and have been awarded numerous merit scholarships.

Essays Cat
by M.M.

In a photograph that my aunt managed to snap in Ocean City, NJ, a pod of pelicans swarms down on my family. The 15 of us, from my brother Charlie to my great-grandma Mimi in her PVC beach wheelchair, are all shrieking and trying to shield each other. It’s a moment that perfectly captures my goofy, wonderful family and fills me with gratitude.

But I haven’t always realized how lucky I am. In grade school and middle school, I remember the constant worry of not fitting in. I cringe to admit how silly and spoiled I was, but after my dad lost his job during the 2008 financial crisis, my friends’ wealth left me feeling insecure. Why would anyone want to come over to my boring house, I wondered, when they had game rooms, large TVs, and trampolines? When my dad found a new job, I felt awkward because my best friend’s dad was his boss. It got even more awkward in 2015 when my dad was laid off a second time. The house I had taken for granted had to be put on the market, and my dad took a job in Houston while my mom, brother, and I stayed in Chicago.

Seeing my dad commute so that my brother and I could stay at our school was a turning point. I finally began to realize how much I have to be grateful for. No matter how tired or stressed he was, my dad always arrived home with a big smile. He is one of the most positive people I know, despite losing his dad to throat cancer when he was 19, his brother to ALS, and his sister to breast cancer. A light in the darkness for him was his education, and he was able to earn his way through college and grad school. He and my mom, who lost her mother at a young age, have endured so much in common, from growing up in homes with alcoholism to abusive stepparents. As I’ve gotten older and asked more questions about their lives, I’ve become prouder of them than I can adequately express.

My appreciation for my life has grown exponentially during high school. Loyola’s emphasis on social justice and serving others has helped me understand the kind of person I want to be. With more confidence in who I am, I’ve made good friends who really care about friendship and not status. In class, I’ve learned about racial economic inequality and realized that the upward mobility my dad achieved, while it inspires me, is not available to others due to the color of their skin. At the Howard Community Center, I’ve looked after kids as young as 2 who don’t have their first meal of the day until they get to Howard. Meeting people who struggle to survive has given me much-needed perspective. When I think back to my childhood, I feel ashamed at taking such profound privileges for granted, but I am glad to understand what it feels like to fear you’ll be judged based on what you lack materially. I strive to treat everyone with kindness because there’s no way to know when someone needs compassion the most.

The chance to help people on a larger scale is one of the reasons that studying business excites me. In many ways, the world revolves around our economy and who gets affected by it. I want to help fix the corruption that hurts the less fortunate. It’s my dream to use my love of math, my entrepreneurial spirit, and my passion for building relationships to create a successful career and someday run my own company.

And every summer, I hope to treat my parents to a beach vacation, where we can stroll the boardwalk together, laugh at the memory of pelicans swooping overhead, and carry on the tradition of being there for each other no matter what.
by Bella L.

The familiar knock jolts me away from my reading. Not again.

Reluctantly I’m pulled from the red blood cell’s journey through the alveoli back to my cluttered desk. I look up to see hopeful eyes peering through the half-open door. “Do you wanna do something with me?” The dreaded question. “Yesterday you said you would tomorrow, which is today.” I glance at my planner. “You know I really want to, Zach…” My little brother’s eyes shine with disappointment, and then find the ground as he turns to leave. “Maybe tomorrow?” I call out hopefully. The door slams across the hall, and I return to my biology book.

“Yesterday you said you would tomorrow… How about just around the block?” my 8-year-old self negotiated with my father. “After I finish this paperwork,” he would say. I remember lying in bed watching the bright red numbers on the clock, until it was far too late to go outside.

My parents are both doctors, and my brother, Zach, and I grew up with nannies. Instead of investing my time with nannies who came and went, I spent all of it with Zach. Long before I was a camp counselor responsible for thirty-five 5-year-olds, I was a big sister. I didn’t just look both ways for myself before I crossed the street, I looked for Zach. We spent our childhoods playing Volleysoc (a compromise between volleyball and soccer), taking turns standing on an old green trash can picking mulberries, and searching daily for secret hideouts. While listening to Dani California, we traded embarrassing stories from school, shared first crushes and heartbreaks, and always took each other’s side, no matter what.

Then I started high school, and we started fighting. No matter how I tried to explain it, he didn’t understand—it wasn’t that I didn’t want to play with him. I had seen life from a kid’s perspective, and then overnight I began to see things from my parents’ point of view. The day Zach slammed his door and left me alone with my conscience, it finally clicked—I didn’t know when I would ever have time to play. But my real epiphany came later, when I heard Zach playing basketball with my parents. Watching them from my window was not a good feeling. Suddenly, I realized that my parents must have felt left out too—it wasn’t that they didn’t want to join the fun, rather they were simply too busy.

Juggling schoolwork, friends, and family has proved difficult. Living life to the fullest is important to me, so I will always sacrifice sleep for time with my books, friends, and family. I tell my friends, you can sleep when you’re old and retired. Balancing a busy life and relationships is tough, but my upbringing and bond with Zach taught me what’s important in life. Because of him, I’m not just a better sister, but a better friend, colleague, employee, and student. I’ve learned that each chapter of life has its challenges as well as its own unique happiness. Zach and I may no longer spend entire afternoons debating whether red or black mulberries are superior, but we can still play ping-pong in the basement, brighten our morning drives to school with the Chili Peppers, and crack each other up with a simple text.

Working on this essay in the hotel room while visiting colleges, I had the ending planned out: I would set aside my books, walk down our hallway lined with family photos, and knock on Zach’s door. His smile would be instant and radiant.

But we just got home from the airport an hour ago, and Zach is already upstairs studying. He’s going to be a freshman this fall; he has his own summer homework. I knock on another door. My father looks up from the mounds of work he has to catch up on, and smiles. “How about a short walk?”
by Lexi S.

I soar downhill, the autumn breeze blowing in my face: it smells like crisp fallen leaves and school spirit. Enjoying a bike ride with my family on a beautiful October evening, I am extremely content with life. I feel as though I could ride forever. But for the past five years, happiness wasn’t always this easy to grasp.

As a 13-year-old, I was so confused as to why I would become sad over the smallest things. I remember getting anxiety just from the thought of having to get up and go to school. It was as if there was a weight in my chest pinning me to my bed and making it impossible to continue with life. Then, the next week, I would feel like myself again and wonder, “What was I thinking?” My monthly migraines got so bad in middle school that I almost had to be hospitalized, but it wasn’t until sophomore year that I discovered the cause: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a form of premenstrual syndrome characterized by temporary depression.

While it was a relief to have a diagnosis and to understand, “Yes, this is why I am the way I am,” I still struggled. PMDD is hereditary, and my mom has it too. Fighting with your mom and getting mood swings is part of being a teen, but being a teen with PMDD and having a mom with PMDD takes everything up a few notches. Relationships were another thing that weren’t exactly “normal” for me. Because my PMDD would give me only two good weeks and then two extremely bad weeks, I found it easier to deal with it alone rather than involving another person’s feelings. But slowly, I learned how to control my bad days. I took up running and began eating healthier foods, and my PMDD, while still a part of my life, started getting better.

Learning how to manage my condition was life-changing, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. Dealing with PMDD helped me figure out which majors I would like to pursue: kinesiology and psychology. I’ve always loved science and learning how the physical world works, but my experience with PMDD sparked a fascination with how the brain and body communicate. I want to learn more about depression and other psychiatric disorders, and the brain science behind them, in order to help resolve the stigma around mental illness.

Along with psychology, kinesiology is exciting to me because I am eager to study how the brain communicates with muscles in patients with disabilities. From as early as third grade, I remember working with a classmate who was struggling to pay attention, sitting together at a large desk to help keep him on track. His success ignited a lifelong desire to help anyone who needs it. Sophomore year, I met my friend Mandi, who has Cerebral Palsy. Through peer tutoring, I got to work with her and her whole class. When the bell rang, it was hard to pull myself away. Junior year, I discovered the field of Occupational Therapy, and I strongly felt the urge that it was something I wanted to do as a career. While working as a nanny, I would take one of my children to OT for handwriting help, and it was amazing to watch all the kids with more severe conditions improve dramatically. Soon after, I found out that a family friend is an OT therapist. She answers all my questions and has been an incredible mentor.

In the end, I’m grateful for my PMDD because it helps me connect with others in a way most people may not be able to. I have seen that bad days are just temporary, and better days are ahead. Most importantly, I’ve learned that you don’t have to be completely “normal” to find pure happiness, to accomplish your goals, and to help others accomplish theirs.
by Alex F.

My grandma wraps me in a warm hug, and time stops a little. To some people this might be an insignificant greeting, but I appreciate every second.

Until recently, hugging was something I dreaded. All my senses would go numb as I focused solely on not messing up. Every small movement that I made seemed awkward and clumsy. And as soon as it was over, I would reflexively touch my back to see how gross it must have felt. Hugs are the worst when you are a fat teenager.

Ever since I was old enough to be self-conscious, I hated the way I looked. I brushed my teeth in my bedroom so that I would not have to look in the bathroom mirror. When sports came around in ninth grade, it got even worse. Slower than everyone else on the lacrosse team and out of breath all the time, I made excuses like, “I am supposed to be slow; I am playing defense,” or “I am really muscular; it just does not show.” Eventually, I became too embarrassed to be seen in t-shirts and started wearing sweaters year-round. The day I decided to break this rule ended in disaster. At a water park with a friend, I showed up in the darkest swimming shirt I could find. In line for our first ride, I tried to relax. Twenty minutes went by, then 30, 40…finally, we got to the end of the line. My heart dropped. It wasn’t the scary ride that made me panic; it was the sign next to it: “NO SHIRTS.” Welp, I remember thinking, this is how I die. The only way out of there was to walk back through the whole line. So I did my awkward shuffle of shame through what had to be the entire population of the United States, certain that they all knew I didn’t want to take my shirt off.

It was a turning point: I did not want to live in the life I had. Desperate to change, I started looking into dieting, even though I had always believed that the way I looked was predetermined by my genetics. I began my research. The scientific elegance of calorie counting appealed to me, so I calculated how many calories I should eat each day given my activity level and target weight. A week into my new routine, I felt great. After a couple months, I started brushing my teeth in the bathroom again. Within a year, I had lost 60 pounds.

Today I feel like a whole new person. Managing my diet has spread to almost every aspect of my life. Whether it’s starting a new job in construction or meticulously organizing our family vacation, I no longer think, “Oh, that seems too hard.” Instead, my mindset is, “I’ll just need to try, and I’ve got that.” Most of all, my self-confidence has grown. Prior to my weight loss, I had trouble looking people in the eyes, and I always felt on guard while talking, afraid the topic would turn to food, clothes, or fitness. Now, I go out of my way to strike up conversations and to meet new people, especially when someone seems nervous or shy. As the engineering club’s head of orientation, my job is to make sure all the new freshmen feel welcome, and I love it.

I would not be as hardworking, outgoing, and sympathetic to others if it weren’t for those difficult years. I am glad to be fit, but the best part is finally feeling free to show the people in my life that I care about them. You’d be surprised how easy it is to take a hug for granted. But I never will.
by Nick F.

The fight begins, and sparks fly like fireflies released from hell. The timer ticks down. Suddenly Witch Doctor, the BattleBots National Champion, speeds up its weapon. Dual steel-toothed titanium discs spin toward us at 120 miles per hour.

I’d been preparing for this moment for over a year. Every Tuesday and Thursday after school, I’d work on the design of my robot. I couldn’t compete under the school name because of the danger involved, but with the help of my two friends (Alex and another Nick), and my coach Mr. De Zulueta, we built the Mutt. We called him that because we had used various parts from old battlebots. To get a picture in your mind, the Mutt is 117 pounds, has a front weapon that rotates at exactly 54.2 miles per hour and an extremely sturdy 1.5”-thick aluminum body.

The day of the competition finally arrived. They announced our competitor: the legendary Witch Doctor. I was scared. Who wouldn’t be? They spent a decade perfecting his design. All battlebot fans have seen Witch Doctor hurl robots into the air with ease. What would be so different about our robot? The difference, I decided, would be the fact that we would end their reign of tyranny.

We walked up the ramp into the arena, which is made of 5-inch layers of Plexiglas to shield spectators from explosions, shrapnel, and fire. It was really, really hard to put the Mutt down in the ring. I took in one last glimpse of perfection. But then I looked at Witch Doctor, and reassured myself. We had some great advantages. It was the classic strength versus speed battle: our brawn against Witch Doctor’s swift drums of doom.

The starting buzzer sounded. The match unfolded in slow motion. Just when I thought we had the upper hand, Witch Doctor rammed us, and 117 pounds of metal and electronics went flying. We landed on our motor, and just like that, the match was over.

Sticky dark red motor oil pooled around Mutt’s lifeless body. You could see the pain in the robot. My mind instinctively kept repeating, “We have to fix the Mutt!” Out of frustration, Nick slapped his hands down hard on Mutt, but I said we weren’t going to give up yet. I told Nick to toss me the emergency kit. The schedule had put us back to back with our next two matches. We had five minutes and only one option. Our motor was busted. We would have to replace the whole thing.

My focus was completely transformed. I shoved all distractions aside, my eyes zoomed in on this motor. The housing takes eight screws. They wouldn’t come out, but we ripped it off by sheer brute force. Then I cramped in the new motor, got some replacement metal to screw on, and the Mutt was ready to play again. We decimated the next three robots we competed against. The Mutt ended up in sixth place, but I was happy anyways.

In the end I knew that no matter how this day turned out, I loved the metal, the challenge, the batteries, the wiring, the motors, and the tools, but mostly I loved creating this robot from the scraps of old forgotten battlebots. In fact here was no difference really between this robot and my school team’s Vex robot, my three homemade computers, my homemade electric guitar, or even my programming competition code. I love engineering. Competition is just a bonus. No matter what parts you have, you can create something amazing, and that is the feeling that I get when I tinker in my garage in my spare time, when I jot down ideas in my engineering notebooks, when I weld metal together just for fun, or when I work on Mutt for next year’s competition. Engineering is my passion, and not even a Witch Doctor can change that.
by Jake S.

I scout out where to sit like an NFL recruiter scanning the field for that All-American running back. It’s my 7th time as “the new kid” at school. To survive I need to make as many friends as possible. Fast. I sit down next to three guys that look like they’re in my grade. I feel the anxiety go away.

I’ve changed schools a lot moving for my dad’s job and once because of my dyslexia. In 9th grade when we found out I didn’t pass the English portion of the state STAAR test, my mom told me there was a school for dyslexia, the Shelton School, where you don’t need standardized tests to graduate.

My mom thought Shelton would help me get into college. I thought they would be able to help me enjoy learning about everything. Most people think dyslexia is just reversing letters and numbers, but it’s a lot more. I can still get a low test score even though I understand the material. At home I read at my own pace and visualize it, but on tests I rush and still never finish. It’s very, very frustrating.

Like most dyslexics I have a great long-term memory, I’m always noticing connections between things, and I love architecture because I enjoy seeing and manipulating 3D objects in my mind.

We all have our own skills. In the NBA someone can be 5’8” and a great point guard but can’t play center. Even a great center like Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t any good at free throws.

At Shelton they teach to your strengths. They give oral tests. Another nice thing was that we all got our own Mac laptops. You could get all your homework done in study hall.

My public high school, Allen, is a different world. There are 1,500 people in each class. Just walking around is an adventure. There’s a fight every other day. (They were fascinated by that at Shelton.) Shelton is near a really nice area in Dallas. A lot of the kids wear Rolexes and rings. One kid even had a Lamborghini. There were a lot of rich people at Shelton, but that was fine. What was weird to me was that all of their friends were other people from Shelton, so they just learned together and grew up together and weren’t really exposed to anything.

After one year at Shelton, I decided to move back to Allen. The teachers don’t have Ivy league degrees, but they have experience. One of my favorite teachers this past year, Ms. Clemens, keeps the lights dimmed so it’s very mellow in the class. She wasn’t too nice. We still did work. I think I’ve learned a lot from her about writing – how to format different essays and what to think of for certain prompts, and tactics for analyzing essays and passages.

I also like Allen because you can meet a variety of people. Their parents aren’t so protective and they know about things going on in the world. They’re not in a little cage. They have common sense and street smarts.

I don’t want to be protected. Some colleges have dyslexic programs and special accommodations, but that type of treatment won’t help me when I’m working after college. I know real life isn’t going to be like Shelton.

My last day at Shelton, I stood on the side of Hillcrest road. The cars in the school pickup line never moved so I would tell my mom to pick me up across the street. It was six lanes and busy the whole time. Every day it was like you were running across for your life. I felt the wind from the cars flying by. I wondered if I was making the right decision. I thought about retaking the STAAR test again and again. I took a deep breath, and I ran. I haven’t looked back.