college application essay questions

As a Senior Associate Director in the Barnard admissions office for eight years, I had the privilege of reading the college application essays of many wonderful Barnard applicants. Those that stood out had a fantastic sense of self, and were able to convey their personality through writing. It truly is a special community where women are encouraged to reach their potential. When writing your Barnard supplemental essays, it’s important to keep these ideas in mind. Here are the essay prompts for this year’s Barnard supplement with some of my thoughts on answering them:

What factors influenced your decision to apply to Barnard College and why do you think the College would be a good match for you? (100-250 words)

This is a standard “Why do you want to attend this college?” type of prompt. Anytime a college asks this type of question, the key to a great answer is to make it personal and specific to you. The college already knows why they are well-regarded, highly ranked, or prestigious and what their top-notch programs are; there is no need to tell them that in this essay. What they don’t know is how you, as a Barnard student, would use those resources. It requires a strong applicant to do her research and relate the classes or clubs they are interested in to their past experiences. Do you have a major in mind? Great! Research the major and name classes you would like to take or professors whose research intrigues you. Are you undecided? Also great, but make sure that undecided doesn’t come across as intellectually unengaged. You may not know your precise major yet, but be sure to convey a few academic areas that are currently piquing your interest. Basically, Barnard wants to know what type of student you see yourself as on their campus.

Pick one woman in history or fiction to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. What would you talk about? (100-250 words)

Barnard is very proud (rightly so!) of its long tradition as a women’s college. As such, they seek to empower young women to be leaders of tomorrow. The question is truly asking about the women who have inspired you in your life. Try to make your choice relevant to your interests. Are you a scientist, a dancer, a writer? Pick a woman who has motivated you in your field, but make sure you say why she is your inspiration. What qualities do you admire about her? What questions would you be dying to ask her? The woman you choose does not need to be a known women’s rights activist (in fact, many applicants pick famous feminists, so that choice may not distinguish you), but they do need to have character traits that you admire and can relate back to your past experiences. For example, if the woman you pick is an excellent public speaker, and you admire that trait because you have developed your speaking skills through your involvement in high school debate, make that connection in this essay.

Barnard women seek to make a difference in their community, whether through the residence hall, classes, clubs, volunteer work or a part-time job they hold. Describe how you make a difference in your community and what you have learned from that experience. In what ways do you see yourself contributing to the community at Barnard, inside or outside of the classroom? (100-250 words)

Barnard is committed to fostering young women who are difference makers, those who see a problem and take action to rectify it. Make sure to answer both parts of this question. First, what have you already done to make a difference in your community, and second, how will you seek to make a difference at Barnard? Again, this essay requires research and thoughtfulness. Great answers do not have to be the traditional community service route (many weren’t when I read!), but often dealt with the impact that a student had on an issue in high school. Think about ways in which you better the activities you are involved in. Are you the organizer, the “rally the troops” type, or the “glue” student that holds everyone else together? Your impact could be in activities, or academics, or in your community, but make sure to convey your role and how you wish to bring that strength to Barnard.

Finally, when you are all done with all three essays, take another look. Stand out supplements often told about several facets of the student’s life, not just one repetitive theme throughout all three responses. One essay might be academic, another more personal, and the third more activities based—but together they gave a fuller picture of the applicant.

Good luck with these college application essay questions, and may you be on your way to becoming your own strong, beautiful, Barnard woman.


Written by Mary Sue Youn
Mary Sue Youn is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Mary Sue was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College and Whittier College.