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.
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.
When I was 8 years old, my dad was in a Humvee accident while completing his tour of duty in Iraq. My mom and I rushed to the hospital once he arrived stateside. I still remember the feelings of fear and unease as we waited to see him. Thankfully, my dad’s injuries were not life-threatening; he had sustained broken bones and a moderate head injury. However, the doctor had warned us that the damage to my dad’s hippocampus could cause anterograde amnesia—he would likely have difficulty forming new memories for the rest of his life. As a child, this was a frightening and confusing concept, but the doctors took the time to explain it in a simple, straightforward way that I could understand. This experience ignited the spark for me to want to become a doctor. What impacted me the most was the friendliness and tenderness they showed in spending time comforting my mother and me. It was there that I experienced firsthand the power and compassion of medicine.
This past summer I had the opportunity to intern at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. There, I dissected mice brain tissues, learning more about brain anatomy and the protocols to properly freeze down brain tissue. This was an eye-opening and exciting experience that has only cemented my interest in understanding the human mind and brain. After learning that the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to show damage in Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve followed the progress of Alzheimer’s research including the most recent studies that reveal hallmark changes of the plaques that cause the twists and clumps of tumors that cause Alzheimer’s. One day I hope to help lead the team that finds the cure.
Given the opportunities at Hopkins, I would love to study both neuroscience and psychology. I am especially interested in how our brains create, process, and retain memories. In particular I am excited by the Cognitive Neuroimaging Methods in High-Level Vision course taught by Professor Park and Professor Bedny’s lecture on the Neurobiology of Human Cognition. I am also eager to study at the Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) and conduct clinical research aimed at understanding the disease.
Outside of my studies, an extracurricular passion that I hope to continue is volleyball. I would love to be a leader on the Blue Jays club team. I also look forward to getting involved in community service and hope to serve on the student advocacy board for the Center for Social Concern and volunteer at Johns Hopkins Hospital!
Before, it used to worry me when my dad would forget something important to me such as attending one of my orchestra or volleyball events. But my growing understanding of science and constant curiosity have given me hope. Each day, I am continuously awestruck by the complexity and resilience of the human body from what I learn in class, and by working hard I plan to reach my dream of unlocking the mysteries of the hippocampus.
I stood frozen in the long, cold corridor. “Please, Morgan,” my mom pleaded, “Dad and Jill are waiting for us.” The flight attendant tried to coax me onboard, but eventually she gave up. “M’am, I am going to need to close the doors now,” she said politely to my mom. “You need to step away.”
My mom and I stood and watched the plane take off. That is how our family trip to Disney began. I, Morgan, wanted to get on that plane and go to Florida with my family, but the anxiety would not allow what I wanted.
With the help of doctors and therapists, I was able to separate myself from my disease and become the determined young woman I am today. Anxiety is now part of my past, but what I’ve learned stays with me—as do all lessons in life that teach us and help us grow. Those experiences made me resolved to help children who are suffering from a psychiatrically-diagnosed illness. After earning my undergraduate degree in psychology I plan to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology and specialize in child and family care. To reach my goals, I need to be in an environment that can foster my ambitions and take them to the next level.
While I have had wonderful teachers at Endicott and made lifelong friends, Boston University’s curriculum is more in line with my future career goals. Boston University will allow me to be a part of something bigger. I believe that transferring will allow me to do and be a lot more. I’m eager to pursue opportunities like the one I experienced this past summer. Under the advisement of Dr. Alessio Fasano at the Center for Celiac Research within the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center, I was able to contribute to clinical research studies. I learned essential laboratory protocol and received Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) certification, which allowed me to consent patients into research studies. Working with doctors, fellows, and PhD students was exciting and I was challenged daily. I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Fasano in consultations with patients. It was thrilling to be put into the clinical setting and be part of the patient-doctor personal experience.
When I was 9 years old, my mom and I were involved in a research study being done at the Boston University Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. The study was investigating separation anxiety between mothers and daughters and involved exposure therapy working with graduate students. The work I did during my week at Boston University changed my life in terms of the separation anxiety I had. The experience taught me that with the right treatment, children can succeed in overcoming the behavioral obstacles that they face. Working with the Boston University graduate students inspired me to work toward the goal of someday being in a position to help other children the way I was helped.
For me, my experience with anxiety as a child was a blessing because it gave me a clear path as to what I want to do with my life. With the education Boston University offers, I’ll be in a position to help others understand that having a psychiatric disorder does not have to inhibit you or hold you back in any way.
by Joy W.
When I first made the transition from middle school to high school, I was terrified. What if my friends had all moved away during the summer? What if my teachers were mean? What if I got lost in the big building? Most of all, I dreaded fourth period: honors chemistry. My middle school teachers warned me not to take chemistry as a freshman, but I didn’t listen. I was ready for a challenge. I wanted to learn as much as possible in my four years of high school, so I planned it all out. And it started with chemistry.
On my first day of high school, I made my way through the halls, practically running for fear of being late (but of course, I wasn’t). I had heard horror stories about Mr. Dodd, the chemistry teacher. As soon as the bell rang, he began to explain how he structured the class. We were not allowed to miss a day of class for any reason, and he had zero tolerance for misbehavior. By the time he finished speaking, I was petrified. This was an entirely different environment.
But even though the teacher and the workload were intimidating, I began to love the subject. It was amazing how two solids combined to form a gas and another solid. It was mind-blowing that an acid and a base could react to form the universal solvent, water. The concept of weight vs. mass is fascinating too. Why is weight affected by gravity but mass isn’t? The people who came up with these ideas are beyond amazing! I loved learning about the periodic table and the elements, and to this day, I can still remember the atomic masses of most of the common elements.
In the end, Mr. Dodd turned out to be one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He was extremely organized and explained things very explicitly so that everything made perfect sense. Although he demanded excellence, Mr. Dodd spent untold time and effort to ensure the success of his students. I began to look forward to fourth-period chemistry. Mr. Dodd retired that year, so I wouldn’t have been able to be his student if I had waited another year, and he was a large factor in me taking AP Chemistry my sophomore year. One of his colleagues, Mrs. Derenburger, came out of retirement for a year to teach us. AP only solidified my love for chemistry and I began to seriously consider a career in chemistry. It was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life—I really loved it.
This past summer, I started doing research with a professor, Dr. Xiaoping Sun, at the University of Charleston. I have reduced uranium (VI) to uranium (IV) and created SOCl2, an organic solid, under his guidance. I also plan on researching the production of cosmetics with him. Doing work in a professional laboratory is awe-inspiring and there are so many exciting chemistry processes and techniques that I have yet to learn.
Before I took chemistry with Mr. Dodd, I thought the only way to study chemistry would be through majoring in chemistry in college, but he opened my eyes to endless possibilities. I can combine two of my interests, economics and science, by majoring in economics with a concentration in environmental policy or healthcare. I could also pursue pathology and be able to continue studying chemistry through conducting research and working to find cures for diseases. And there are still countless other pathways I could take that involve chemistry. More than any other subject, chemistry has helped me grow as a person by allowing me to see the impact that I can have on others. I wouldn’t be who I am today without my love of chemistry, and I’m really glad that I was not late that first day of class with Mr. Dodd!
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?”
Nearly every day I have a “wow, this is what I want to do” epiphany from a desk in one of my high school classrooms. From learning about the cardiovascular system to discussing the implications of the American Dream in modern society, my range of interests seems endless. With my parents both being doctors, I’ve had an interest in medicine since I put on my first stethoscope at the age of four. As I began to expose myself to new subjects in school, however, I found that I am also fascinated by English, History, and Government.
At the College of Arts and Science, there are limitless opportunities to explore various academic fields, combine my interests, and discover my passion. I am excited to apply to a school that will allow me to expand my vision to new areas of study, as well as foster the development of my current varied interests. I am especially intrigued by political science and cell biology. With political science being one of Vanderbilt’s top five disciplines, I am eager to explore this field and see if the world of politics is right for me. My American Government class this year piqued my interest, and since then I’ve really enjoyed following the presidential debates and learning about the candidates’ differing views on modern issues.
With Vanderbilt’s reputation as an innovative research facility, I look forward to participating in undergraduate research. Under a professor’s guidance, I will not only develop my academic interests, but also begin to make an impact on the world around me. I am currently working on a paper to enter into the MIT INSPIRE competition. I am researching the dismantling of care for the mentally ill in America, and the repercussions of the recent closures of psychiatric hospitals, with the goal of determining the best way for America to proceed. I am eager to attract attention to this issue of critical importance. While this research is an opportunity for me to start impacting society around me, Vanderbilt will allow me to participate in projects that have greater and more immediate effects.
I am also excited about the opportunities offered by the AXLE program. While I am unsure about which major I will pursue, I know that I want to make a difference in the world. Whether I will positively impact the lives of my patients as a physician, or a larger group of citizens as a politician, I believe strongly in the importance of critical reasoning. Whatever field I choose, I hope to be challenged with complex and multidimensional questions. The trait that separates the good from the great is the ability to solve problems and think critically—I know that the AXLE program will help me develop those skills. Because Vanderbilt emphasizes the importance of both academic breadth and the individual student’s interests, I will be able to discover my passion and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to begin making an impact on the world.