Essays that Worked


Students across Canada have been hard at work brainstorming, writing, and editing their university application essays since prompts started rolling out in early October. But throughout this process, students may have begun to wonder if they’re on the right track. While our writing coaches are always standing by to help, we also wanted to share a few sample essays that get the job done.

Sample essays are a great way to ensure you’re heading in the right direction with your application writing; however, as you read, remember: these are polished versions of each essay. No essay is perfect, but the pieces below have had plenty of drafting, editing, and rewriting to get to where they are. Writing is a process, so if you’re just starting out, use these samples as guides and know that you’ll get there.

Explain how you responded to a problem and/or unfamiliar situation. What did you do, what was the outcome, and what did you learn from the experience?  (1500 characters)

At the top of an unforgiving mountain, blasted by freezing rain and gale-force winds, I was faced with a formidable dilemma. My Outdoor Leadership class had been hiking for two days in pursuit of a single-minded goal: reaching the summit of Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Unfortunately, the weather appeared to have other, more perilous plans for our time. As a key player in determining the day’s outcome, I was faced with a difficult choice in even more difficult surroundings: I could attempt to convince the group to continue forwards despite worsening conditions, or we could collectively forget the hike to the top and prioritize safety. The latter was the obvious choice, and despite the disappointment the group had that we did not achieve our objective, it was also the right decision. As the tempest steadily raged and intensified, we waited it out under a hastily assembled tarp shelter. This experience was a pivotal point in my development as a leader—I learned that even though plans may be formulated and goals firmly established, it is even more important to think on your feet and be adaptable under demanding circumstances.  

Lots of schools ask questions like the one above (which comes from this year’s UBC Sauder Personal Profile). When dealing with questions about problem-solving, there are a couple of things to remember. First, the problem is less important than the steps you took to solve it and what you learned from the experience. The problem you describe doesn’t have to be life-altering; universities are much more interested in understanding how you respond to the problems you face.

This sample essay responds to the prompt by offering a rather simple problem/unfamiliar situation: having to make a difficult decision in a group. The highlighted sections emphasize both what was at stake during the decision-making process and what the student learned. As a reader, we know how this student might respond to similar problems in the future and feel confident in their ability to adapt to the unfamiliar circumstances they face next year.

If you need some extra help with your application essays this year, our writing coaches are here for you, and stay tuned early next month for another sample essay breakdown.

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