Wesleyan Supplement Essay Samples

In preparation for a segment on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, I reached out to the admissions offices at the University of Virginia and Occidental College in California for examples of essays that they considered memorable — for good, or ill.

Before I share some of these samples, a caveat (one familiar to regular readers of this blog): while it can be instructive to read actual college admissions essays, trying to copy a particular approach — or in some cases avoid it — can be perilous. That’s because how one responds to an essay can be an intensely personal experience.

That said, I would argue that there are some basic lessons to be gleaned from the following examples. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from an essay that was not especially well received at the University of Virginia, in part because the writer misjudged the age and sensibility of his or her audience:

John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ was sung by Fox’s new show, ‘Glee.’ In one particular episode, a deaf glee club performed this song. I heard it before when John Lennon sang it: unfortunately I did not care much for it. When I watched this episode while the deaf adolescents were singing it, and soon joined by another glee club, it surprisingly affected me…

John Lennon sang it like a professional, but what he did not have was the emotion behind the words. He sang it more staccato than legato. He sang it like it was his job, and nothing more. These singers from Glee sang with powerful emotions. …

Another essay, also musical in focus, got a more appreciative read at U.V.A.:

I strode in front of 400 frenzied eighth graders with my arm slung over my Fender Stratocaster guitar — it actually belonged to my mother — and launched into the first few chords of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium.’ My hair dangled so low over my face that I couldn’t see the crowd in front of me as I shouted ‘yeah, yeah’ in my squeaky teenage voice. I had almost forgotten that less than a year ago I had been a kid whose excitement came from waiting for the next History Channel documentary.

It was during the awkward, hormonal summer between seventh and eighth grade when I first heard Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The song shocked my senses — until that point my musical cosmos consisted mainly of my father’s Beatles CDs.

I would argue that the admissions committee was able to relate a little more to this essay than the first. And it was certainly more evocative and detailed. It also conveyed more about the writer (and applicant) — a crucial quality in a college admissions essay.

I turn, now, to excerpts from a recent essay that struck a visceral chord within the admissions office at Occidental (where, as an aside, President Obama began his college career):

My head throbbed as I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself to give up.

‘Come on, Ashley. Put the pencil down. Just put the pencil down and go to bed,’ I told myself sternly. I had been hard at work for hours — brutal, mind-numbing hours. I groaned as I moved over to my bed, collapsing in a pile of blankets and closing my eyes.

I lay there for a moment or two, gathering strength, gaining courage. My tense shoulders began to unclench as I stretched out and opened my bleary eyes…

Suddenly, I bolted upright on my bed, eyes wide, blankets flying. Everything had fallen into place. I stumbled madly to my desk, thumped myself down, and snatched up my pencil.

‘I’ve got it! That’s it!’ I whooped, scribbling furiously, as my brother pounded on my wall for silence.

I had just won another skirmish in my ongoing battle with the crossword puzzle.

What worked here? I’m told the admissions officers appreciated how the writer conveyed her love of words — and in the process told them much about herself. As a writer, I admired the way she built a sense of mystery at the outset, one that served to draw the reader in.

I’ll close with an attempt at metaphor that fell a bit flat, at least in its reception at Occidental. The applicant writes:

I believe in jello; a silly greeting, tasty dessert, or the answer to life as we know it?

Factor #1: Have you ever tried to make jello? It takes patience. First you have to boil the water; then mix it with powder, stirring for two minutes; then finally adding the cold water and putting it in the fridge for forty-five minutes. Think about the creation of people…

To share your own thoughts on essay strategies — and, perhaps, some excerpts of your own — please use the comment box below.

Application Process

Applicants to Wesleyan must submit the Common Application or Coalition Application (with member questions) electronically. 


Application DeadlinesNOV 15JAN 1
Online decision notification by:DEC 15FEB 15

As soon as you have decided to apply, select Wesleyan as one of your colleges. Complete the Wesleyan Member Questions along with your application. 

Your Early Decision application to Wesleyan University uniquely includes the following:

Your signed Early Decision Agreement must be received by the ED application deadline. Students applying under Early Decision certify that Wesleyan is their first choice and agree to accept Wesleyan's offer of admission if extended. Students also agree to withdraw applications submitted to other colleges and not to initiate any new applications. The Early Decision Agreement form is provided as part of the Common Application, but is also available here. 

If a student is applying Early Decision to an institution, it is necessary that he/she complete the Common Application Early Decision Agreement form. In order to complete and submit this form online the student must first select the Early Decision term option for one school. Once this decision is selected, the ED Agreement will be available in the Supplements section of the student's Common Application account.

1. The applicant must read and sign the ED Agreement from within his/her Common Application account; a parent/guardian signature is also required. He/she must then notify the counselor that he/she is applying ED.

2. The counselor must then log into his/her account to read, sign and submit the ED Agreement from within his/her Common App School Forms account (if the counselor has agreed to complete school forms online).

If the counselor is not completing the school forms online, the student must print the ED Agreement (within the school forms section) and give it to the counselor to send directly to the institution. Please note the counselor is responsible for the submission of the ED Agreement once the student has completed it. 


Application deadlineJAN 1
Online decision notificationAPR 1

As soon as you have decided to apply, select Wesleyan as one of your colleges. Complete the Wesleyan Member Questions along with your application.

Note: Applicants to the Freeman Asian Scholars Program should visit the Freeman Asian Scholars Program webpage for application instructions.


Both Regular Decision applications and Early Decision applications include the following:

  • Secondary School Report Form & Transcript

    Your college counselor should submit a secondary school report along with an official transcript (including courses in progress) and school profile.

    Homeschool Supplement (if applicable: only available on Common Application site)

    Wesleyan encourages applicants to request that school forms be filed electronically via the Common Application website.

  • Homeschool Supplement

    (if applicable: only available on Common Application site)
    Wesleyan encourages applicants to request that school forms be filed electronically via the Common Application website.

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