Johns Hopkins provides a set of essays from prior years' applicants that helped gain the students admission to JHU. See the list from their page Essays That Worked, here. As with my analysis of a successful essay that was published as part of a series on the NYTimes, I will here analyze one of JHU's. This essay is less sophisticated, or "crafted" than the NYTimes featured essay, but it is still good in its own right.
I'm going to focus on the essay How to Become an Adult. The numbers beneath paragraphs refer to movements of thought (not necessarily sentence by sentence). It's pretty detailed, so I encourage you to open up the essay in another tab and follow along line by line as I go through what is working and how. Of course, experiment with this essay's structure and themes if you need help with your own.
Paragraph A: Introduction of Subject, using hook, shock, and humor
- This essay opens with a fact that reflects the essay's title, but then moves quickly to confidently express the author's opinion - always a good move in a personal essay, and one that transforms a boring fact into a statement that says something about the writer.
- The next section shocks the reader - this college applicant is already a parent! Extending the function of the hook.
- The writer does not drag on the joke too long - that might even be alarming. In fact, the writer quickly acknowledges the truth that "children" are plants, and does so in a humorous way.
- The paragraph has a bit of a stiff close, wrapping up the intro, but it gets the job done.
Paragraph B: Background Context and Introduction of Conflict and Personal Shortcoming
- The first three sentences function as background. Note that the author explicitly mentions that she is a teenager, assuaging any lingering doubts (or slow to realize readers) that she is not a non-traditional applicant with kids.
- Introduction of a conflict.
- Analysis of conflict and what the writer's own actions reveal about herself.
Paragraph C: Resolution & Additional Benefits from Resolution
- Writer's initiative in solving the problem, while continuing the metaphor of parenting thereby emphasizing and reiterating the essay's theme.
- Other initiatives to solving the problem.
- Additional benefits to solving the problem.
Paragraph D: Growth and Relevance to Life at Large
- Note the writer opens this paragraph with the phrase "true reward," signaling a shift from the specific situation's effects and towards a more personal, academic direction.
- This paragraph is essentially a list of additional "life lessons" gained from being parent to plants.
- The essay ends by expounding on the writer's love of learning, obviously appropriate for a college essay.
Ultimately this essay works mainly because of the uniqueness of the subject matter and the humorous somewhat shocking way the author introduces it to the reader. This essay is not about a national award, a leadership role, or even a fancy extracurricular. In fact, it is a private, personal experience (indeed, there is no way to "prove" she even had these plants!). Yet it works because, well, who writes about carnivorous plants? And how many essays written by teens start out with the topic of parenting? It's cleverly done, charmingly written, and circles back in the end to academics and learning.