Emory University Essay Guide
Photo courtesy of Emory University

In this Emory University Essay Guide, we will cover how to approach the 2020-2021 Emory supplementary essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Emory University is a world-class research institution in Georgia with two campus locations. Originally founded in Oxford, Georgia in 1836, Emory built a second campus in Druid Hills — a suburb just outside of Atlanta — thanks to the generous (and continued) support of the Coca-Cola company. Today, the Druid Hills facilities serve as the main campus location, and students who enroll at the Liberal Arts campus of Oxford matriculate there after two years. The college shares a campus with Emory’s renowned hospitals and is neighbors with The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), meaning there’s no shortage of research opportunities available for students who are looking for them.

Emory University has become increasingly difficult to get into over the past few years, lowering from an acceptance rate of 26% for the class of 2016 to a rate of 15% for the class of 2023. Admitted students have a median SAT score of 1500 and an average GPA of 3.92.

Emory’s supplemental essay prompts provide a way to stand out from the highly qualified applicant pool. Applicants who are applying in the 2020-2021 school year must choose one question to answer from each of the two categories provided (“Reflections” and “Tell us about You”) and write a short 150 word response.

“Reflections” Category

Respond to one of the following.

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

A successful answer to this essay prompt will show admissions officers that you possess the critical thinking skills necessary to be a leader both at Emory and when you graduate. Schools don’t want to admit students who will be robots that passively accept everything that they’re taught without giving it second thought. Progress happens in a society when people challenge the status quo and dare to think differently.

Maybe you were raised in a household that leaned one way politically, but decided to re-evaluate your belief system, only to discover that you didn’t actually agree with what you were taught growing up. Or perhaps you weren’t quite willing to accept a particular lesson that was taught to you in school and decided to do your own research on the topic, which lead you to discover an unexpected passion.

Whatever the case may be, exhibit intrinsic curiosity and — even better — that you acted on this curiosity. Show that you can think critically and be a leader.

2. If you could go back in time, what advice would you offer yourself at the beginning of secondary/high school?

Since you’re going through the college application process, you’ve hopefully done some introspective, personal thinking about your time in high school. Evaluate what went well, and what didn’t go so well. What might you change about your time in high school, knowing what you know now?

Of course, you’re going to want to frame this in a positive light – you don’t want to make yourself look bad by saying something like, “I wish I tried harder in school” (even if this is the case). Write about something that demonstrates how you have grown, learned, or changed.

For example, maybe you’re the editor-in-chief of your student newspaper. You might write that you now wish you’d joined before the end of your sophomore year, because you found your family in this student organization.

Avoid giving a generic answer to this question, like talking about how you wish you didn’t stress so much about the college admissions process. While many of us probably feel this way, it doesn’t make for an interesting answer to this question and won’t differentiate you from any of the other applicants.

3. Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.

Emory University is an incredibly diverse campus, with students hailing from over 101 different countries around the world. Showing that you’re willing to deliberately step outside of your comfort zone and learn about a different culture indicates to admissions officers that you would fit in with a culturally diverse class.

Your response to this prompt doesn’t have to be completely original, but it does have to be personal. Make it your own — if you’ve taken Spanish your entire life and are also a painter, maybe talk about the time that you offhandedly decided to research 15th century Spanish art, and how that influenced your painting style today. Or perhaps your mother immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong; you could write about the time you and your best friend exchanged home recipes.

Regardless of what you choose, show admissions officers that you value other cultures and that you’re open-minded.

“Tell us about you” Category

Respond to one of the following.

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

You could go any number of directions with this prompt. Try not to give cliche answers like Harry Potter or Hillary Clinton, if you can avoid it. However, if you can offer a unique or personal response to this question by saying that you feel like Harry Potter represents you, then go for it. Maybe you were different in some way growing up and spent most of your childhood feeling as though you didn’t quite belong to any of your communities, which is a struggle that you’ve since overcome.

When I applied to Emory University, this question was phrased somewhat differently, asking instead for our favorite work of fiction or nonfiction. When it really comes down to it, these two prompts are actually pretty similar. What you gravitate towards for entertainment or what moves you emotionally in literature or movies is often a reflection of who you are as a person.

I personally wrote about CBS’s hit reality show Big Brother. In my response, I talked about how there were essentially two layers to this show: the superficial one — filled with drama, showmances, and clashing personalities — and the deeper, psychological aspect of this show that reflects the dishonesty and raw human survival instincts that more or less act as the foundation of our society. This showed admissions officers that yes, I do enjoy consuming mainstream media and what some may classify as “basic” TV shows, but I am able to see the depth in something that others might not see.

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

Again, I would try to stay away from cliche events in history. Try to think a little deeper about which historic event you’d want to witness first hand, not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Saying that want to witness JFK or Lincoln’s assassination might send the wrong message to your essay readers.

Instead, maybe you’re passionate about medicine and would have loved to witness the moment that Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine. Whatever the case may be, the historical event that you choose to write about should relate to something in your life, whether that be an academic interest or a personal story.

3. Introduce yourself to your first-year Emory University roommate.

This is a really great opportunity to showcase your personality and any quirks that you have that don’t necessarily come across in your activities section or resume. There really isn’t much advice to give on this particular essay prompt because of how personal it is. If you have a dry sense of humor, let that really come through in this prompt — admissions officers have to read so many of these essays. If you can make yours entertaining and make an admissions officer chuckle, you’ll leave a lasting impression that can only work in your favor when it comes time for the application committee to make a decision about your candidacy for Emory University.

This Emory University essay guide was written by Nicholas Sawicki, Brown University ‘23. If you want to get help writing your Emory application essays from Nicholas or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.