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4 Tips to Write Stellar Emory Essays

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Dec 19, 2019 4:00:00 PM

College Essays



Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory University is a prestigious private university ranked within the top 25 universities nationwide. To apply here, you'll have to submit your transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and a few essays. But what do you actually have to write for your Emory essays?

Below, we present to you this year's Emory University essay prompts and offer you tips for figuring out which prompts you should choose for your application. We will also look at admissions officers' feedback for real Emory essays that worked.

Let's get started!

Feature Image: Nrbelex/Wikimedia Commons


What Are the Emory Essays?

All first-year applicants to Emory must submit one longer essay in response to either the Common Application or Coalition Application essay prompts and two short answers as part of the Emory supplement.

There are two categories for the short answers: "Reflections" and "Tell Us About You." For each category, you will get three essay prompts to choose from. You must choose one to respond to in each category (so you’ll write two total essays for the Emory supplement).

Each short answer must be no longer than 150 words. That's really not much space!

Here are the Emory University essay prompts for the 2019-20 application cycle:

"Reflections" Category: Respond to one of the following.

  1. Share about something you want to bring from your community to the Emory University community.

  2. Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.

  3. Emory University’s shield is a crossed torch and trumpet representing the light of learning and the proclamation of knowledge. It symbolizes our mission to impact the world through discovery. What truth or knowledge do you want to see shared?

"Tell us about you" Category: Respond to one of the following.

  1. Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

  2. If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?

  3. If asked to write a 150-word tweet to tell the world who you are, what would you say? (Yes, the actual Twitter character limit would likely be shorter than 150 words, but thanks for indulging us.)

Fortunately, Emory offers a little advice on how you should answer these essay prompts: "We encourage you to be thoughtful and not stress about what the right answer might be. We simply want to get to know you better."

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the Emory University essay prompts.


How to Write the "Reflections" Emory Essay

The first category you’ll need to write an essay for is called "Reflections." For this essay, you'll have to select one prompt to answer (out of three possible prompts). These prompts ask you to reflect on something meaningful to you and that has helped you become the person you are today, whether that's an experience you had, an insight you gained, or a field you're passionate about. 

As a reminder, your essay must be no longer than 150 words.

Now then, let's go through the "Reflection" Emory University essay prompts one at a time and give you tips on how to answer each of them effectively.




"Reflections" Emory Essay Prompt 1: Community

Share about something you want to bring from your community to the Emory University community.

The point of this essay prompt is for the admissions committee to learn about your experiences with others and get a sense of how you will positively impact and contribute to the community at Emory in return.

This essay prompt is essentially asking you three questions:

  • What is your community (or one of your communities)?
  • What would you bring from that community to Emory?
  • How would what you bring (tangible or intangible) further enrich the Emory community?

This short answer is basically a mini diversity essay: you will need to have a clear sense of what kind of community you belong to and how what you choose to bring from it will ultimately diversify and strengthen Emory’s own community.

What you bring could be something abstract, such as a key quality you learned (e.g., perseverance), or something more concrete, such as an actual item that symbolizes or strongly resonates with the community of which you're a part (e.g., that rainbow T-shirt you wore to your first LGBTQ+ event).

Be sure to pick something, whether it's tangible or intangible, that holds special significance to you and the community itself.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

Many students make the mistake of assuming that "community" means where you (geographically) come from. But in truth, there are tons of different communities you could discuss instead, such as the following:

  • Your race or ethnicity
  • Your religion
  • Your cultural group
  • Your sexual orientation
  • Your gender identity
  • Your socioeconomic background
  • Your school
  • Your hometown
  • Your neighborhood
  • A club, group, or organization of which you’re an active member

If you can readily identify with a specific community, then this prompt is a great fit for you.


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Choose a community that will help clearly define who you are. For example, if you’re a member of your high school’s French club but aren’t particularly passionate about the language or culture, it’ll be much better to choose a different community that you feel truly committed to and that you can envision playing a crucial role throughout your life.

  • Explain how you and what you plan to bring will positively impact Emory. Will you start a club? Advocate for a particular social or political cause? Encourage others to embrace their so-called flaws? Give thought to how you can diversify Emory through your experiences with your own community.


"Reflections" Emory Essay Prompt 2: Questioning Beliefs

Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.

Emory uses this question to get to know more about your opinions and how you have learned to think more objectively.

In other words, the admissions committee wants to see how you have become more open-minded and that you are ready and willing to explore outside your safe comfort zone. Are you intellectually curious? Are you willing to admit when you’re wrong?

This is the type of student Emory is looking forsomeone who can be honest and open with themselves, who is introspective and always willing to learn.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

If you can easily think of a time when you questioned any major beliefs you used to holdwhether it was something religious, political, or otherwise highly personalthis would be a great prompt to choose for your first Emory essay.

For example, maybe you used to eat meat but became a vegetarian after visiting a slaughterhouse as part of a school trip.

Or maybe you used to think that libraries were completely useless and should simply go away. But after getting help from a kind librarian one day, you realized that libraries are necessary to have in society, especially considering that people of lower-income backgrounds typically do not have easy access to computers, books, and other repositories of knowledge.


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Follow a clear structure. Present what you used to believe, explain what or who caused you to question this belief, and finally clarify how this process has (positively) impacted you.
  • Focus on a unique moment from your life. Don't just talk about how you used to believe in Santa Claus and eventually grew out of itmost, if not all, of us have had similar experiences. Try to find something unique to you and that will set you apart from other applicants.
  • Think beyond religion and spirituality. It’s not inherently bad to write an essay about how you used to practice a certain religion and now practice another one or none at all, but don’t feel limited to only topics regarding faith or religion just because this prompt is asking about your beliefs!




"Reflections" Emory Essay Prompt 3: Sharing Knowledge

Emory University’s shield is a crossed torch and trumpet representing the light of learning and the proclamation of knowledge. It symbolizes our mission to impact the world through discovery. What truth or knowledge do you want to see shared?

This essay gives you the opportunity to share what is important to you and what you believe more people should know about or be aware of.

For example, maybe you’re passionate about language learning and believe all students in the US should be required to learn another language starting in elementary school. Or maybe you’re very invested in recycling and want to encourage others to do better by showing exactly what happens to the oceans when we throw trash in them.

The "truth" or "knowledge" that you share in your essay can be anything you are passionate about and should be something that many people don’t know about, don’t think is very important, and/or don’t understand fully.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

If there’s something you’re particularly passionate aboutwhether it’s a social cause or something that you think will ultimately benefit othersyou should definitely consider choosing this prompt.


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Be honest and specific about why this thing you want to share is so important and how it will benefit others besides yourself. For instance, maybe your cat went missing years ago and didn't have a microchip. You might come up with a campaign to encourage pet owners to chip their pets so that they have a better chance of being reunited with their pets should they go missing.
  • Don’t feel limited to social causes or activism. You don’t need to focus on big social issues, such as homelessness or climate change. Just as long as you’re truly passionate about the knowledge you want to write about and can explain clearly how it will help others, you should be all set to go!
  • If you can, touch on how Emory will help you spread this knowledge. Is there a particular class you could take that will teach you more about this topic or possibly give you some ideas on how to get others to know about it? Is there a club you could join or create at Emory?


How to Write the "Tell Us About You" Emory Essay

The second Emory essay you’ll need to write must be in response to one of the three prompts in the "Tell Us About You" category. These three prompts focus on how you see yourself and are worded so that the Emory admissions committee can get to know facets of your personality and interests that are not readily discernible in other parts of your application.

As with the essay above, you may write up to 150 words for your response (but no more).

Here are some tips for each of the three "Tell Us About You" Emory University essay prompts.




"Tell Us About You" Emory Essay Prompt 1: Artistic Representation

Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

The point of this prompt is for Emory to get a clearer, more holistic sense of not just who you are, but also how you see yourself. What qualities do you feel represent your personality? Your goals? Your best traits? Your challenges?

Remember that you should aim to tell the admissions committee something new and unique about yourself that they haven’t yet gleaned from your application or other essays.

When thinking of how a piece of art represents you, don’t think literallytry to go beyond generic and superficial traits and think about the deeper meaning and symbolism that speaks to you.

For example, maybe you’ve always felt a strong connection to the character of Forrest Gumpnot because you literally fought in a war, started a restaurant, and met the president, but because you were always supported by your family, especially your mom, and believed that your optimism and positive outlook is what ultimately helped you attain some of your biggest goals in life so far.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

My recommendation is to choose this prompt only if you can immediately come up with a specific piece of art or character you’ve always felt a strong personal attachment to. Remember that it’s not just about something you like but something that truly gets across the essence of who you are.

If nothing comes to mind right away, it’s probably best to go with another prompt. You don’t want to write this essay and have it feel heavily forced or contrived!


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Choose a topic that emphasizes your most prominent and best qualities. Obviously, you don’t want to compare yourself to something or someone that’s notoriously corrupt, bigoted, immoral, mean, or unlikable. The point here is to show the Emory admissions committee key positive traits you have, such as your selflessness or ability to see the best in everyone.
  • Avoid exaggeration. No matter how strong of a connection you might feel to Batman, your life is most certainly not a carbon copy of his. Don’t hyperbolize any traits you (think you) share with your character or art piece by making ridiculous claims, such as how you're a real-life superhero or secret genius.
  • Don’t just choose something because it’s famous or "impressive." If you’ve never actually read Great Expectations or have but never had any real connection to it, Emory admissions officers will be able to tell. So don't worry—it's OK to pick something that's less well-known or not very intellectual or scholarly, just as long as you can cogently explain how this piece of art or character encapsulates you.




"Tell Us About You" Emory Essay Prompt 2: Historic Event

If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why? 

This next Emory essay prompt is a fun and interesting way for admissions officers to get a clearer sense of what your interests, passions, and values are.

There are no limits to what you can put down hereyou could focus on a big event from as recent as the late 20th century, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, or something that happened thousands of years ago, such as the building of the great Egyptian pyramids.

Your goal should be to choose something that highlights a critical aspect of your personality and/or interests.

For instance, perhaps you want to minor in architectural studies, which is why you’re so fascinated with how the pyramids were constructed. Or maybe your mother was present when the Berlin Wall fell and you’d love to have seen her expression of joy at having helped reunite her country.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

Is there a specific moment from the past that you have always wished to see because it genuinely interests, excites, or fascinates you? Is there a certain event from history that means something special to you and/or your family, and that you wish you could have actually been there for?

If you answered yes to one of these questions, then this would be a great prompt to choose for your second Emory essay.


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Describe the event in detail. Before you jump into the "why" part of your essay, take care to set up the details of the scene by using literary devices such as images and metaphors. Doing this will show admissions officers that you’re passionate about both this event and the details of how it happened.
  • Clearly and cogently explain why this event is so important to you on a personal level. Once you’ve set up your essay with some details of the event, it's time to dive into the "why" with full force. A historic event could be special to you for a number of reasons: for example, maybe you’ve got a burning desire to study physics at Emory after learning about the Wright brothers’ first successful flight.
  • Try to find a more positive or empowering event. While it’s not off the table to write about horrible (but important to know) things that have happened, such as the assassination of JFK or the Holocaust, make sure you manage to tie this back to yourself in a meaningful, positive way. For example, maybe you’ve always felt that witnessing the Holocaust with your own eyes could help you better relate to your great-grandparents who suffered through it.




"Tell Us About You" Emory Essay Prompt 3: Tweet Your Essence

If asked to write a 150-word tweet to tell the world who you are, what would you say? (Yes, the actual Twitter character limit would likely be shorter than 150 words, but thanks for indulging us.)

This is one of the most open-ended (and most fun!) Emory University essay prompts you can pick. With this essay, you can write about pretty much anything you want, as long as you believe it will successfully encapsulate who you are (or at least your best personality traits).

Because it wants you to write this in the form of a tweet, feel free to keep it casual and true to your (online) voice.

Examples of things you write about could be anything from a couple of your biggest strengths and weaknesses (described humorously, of course!), to how you now see yourself in a different light as a result of some important experience in your life.


Should You Choose This Prompt?

If you're not really feeling the other two prompts, this prompt is a great one to choose simply due to its broad, open-ended nature.

It’s also a great opportunity to write a little more casually and in a voice that’s true to how you write online. Maybe you could even look through your actual tweets for inspiration!


Tips for Answering This Prompt

  • Concentrate on one to three points about yourself. You won’t have enough room here to describe yourself in your entirety (is that even possible?!), so settle on one to three key traits, experiences, strengths, weaknesses, etc. for your tweet.
  • Don’t be afraid to think creatively. Other than the 150-word limit, there really are no major restrictions with this essay, so take this as a chance to get highly creative in terms of how you structure your tweet and the voice you use to write it.
  • Make the most of the fact that it’s a tweet. Go ahead and use those hashtags! Remember that it should sound like something you're writing for an online audience after all.




Admissions Feedback for Emory Essays That Worked

One thing that can really help you while applying to Emory is seeing examples of real Emory essays that worked and secured students admission. Fortunately, the official Emory website has an entire series dedicated to going over their applicants’ best personal essays.

The downside is that these are all for the Common App/Coalition App essay prompts, so they are a lot longer and do not respond directly to any of the short-answer supplemental questions above.

Still, you can use these essay examples and their feedback from admissions officers to get a better sense of what to write about, how you can effectively structure your thoughts, and what Emory is ultimately hoping to learn about you through your writing.

We’ve consolidated the most important ideas from admissions officers’ feedback for you. Here’s a basic overview of what Emory is looking for in your essays:

  • "Expressive language," "interesting vocabulary," and showing instead of telling
  • A sense of maturity
  • Clear connections between your interests, experiences, and/or goals
  • Authenticity
  • The ability to reflect on your experiences (and learn from them)
  • Either a unique topic or a unique approach to a more common topic

Make sure your Emory essays have most (ideally all!) of these essential qualities.


How to Write the Emory Essays: 4 Essential Tips

Here are four tips to keep in mind as you write your Emory University supplemental essays.


#1: Write Concisely

You have just 150 words for both supplemental Emory essays, so don’t waste spaceinclude only the most essential facts and information you want to present to the admissions committee.

Use these essays as an opportunity to practice writing more succinctly. Take your time to try to cut out any irrelevant or ineffective words or phrases that don’t answer the prompt or reveal anything important or unique about you.


#2: Be Highly Specific

Don’t make the mistake many students make by not being specific enough in your college essaysespecially considering how little space you have for the Emory essays!

The trick here is to not dawdle in your writing: get straight to the point and overarching topic of your essay, and then dive right in so that you’re fully answering the question.

To truly make your writing come alive, you must home in on the most essential info about yourself. Use examples, anecdotes, and plenty of details to paint an accurate picture of who you are and how you see yourself.




#3: Avoid Repeating Yourself

You have to write two short essays for the Emory supplement and one longer essay in response to one of the Common App or Coalition App prompts. Because some of these Emory University essay prompts are similar to the Common App/Coalition App ones, you'll want to check that you're not repeating anything you already wrote.

The point of all these essays is to give you the chance to introduce a range of different, but equally important, sides of yourself. Repeating yourself shows a lack of creative thinking and will most certainly not leave a good impression on the Emory admissions committee.


#4: Don’t Forget to Proofread

Last, but certainly not least, remember to edit and proofread your Emory essays several times before you submit them with your application.

Once you’ve got a rough draft finished, put it away and don't look at it. After a few days, take it out and reread it, looking for areas that feel out of place, irrelevant, or unclear, and tweak as needed.

Lastly, give your draft to someone you trust, such as a teacher or parent, and have them read it over and give you some feedback. Ask them to also correct it for any technical or stylistic errors.

Do all this and you should have one unforgettable Emory essay ready to go!


What’s Next?

Curious about what it takes to get into Emory as a freshman? Check out our Emory admission requirements page to learn the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of admitted applicants.

Interested in applying to colleges in the South? Our expert guide walks you through all the very best schools in the South, including Emory.

Did you know that Emory University is one of a select number of schools that offers full-ride scholarships? To see even more colleges that do this, take a look at our complete list.


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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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