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College Admission Real Sample Essays

The Who Am I Essay

Oct 21, 2022

We believe there are four main types of essays that every college bound teen needs in their arsenal. The “Who Am I” Essay, the “What Am I Good At” Essay, the “Coolness Factor” Essay, and the “Academic Future Connection” Essay.

Today we are breaking down the “Who Am I” Question.

WHO AM I? This essay sheds light on your family, culture, background, and offers context of who you are.

Examples of topics you might write about include:

Your family or traditions, celebrations, even family members who influence you.

Your background, cultural background or where you grew up, your neighborhood or even your life challenges.

After considering these potential options, narrow down to a topic that you may want to write about. 

In this blog, we will be going over a real example of a “Who Am I” essay and breaking it down for you. As you read the sample, there are five questions to keep in mind. 


What do you remember?

What stands out?

What tiny details could you picture?

What did you learn about this applicant?

Why does this work?

Sample Essay:

My mother held my small hand as I gripped the stuffed bear my father had given me, and walked down the checkered corridor. As we took a seat I smiled and waved to my father but he did not respond.  Instead, he turned beside himself and held hands with an unfamiliar lady. My grip on the stuffed bear loosened as I turned to look at my mother. She looked into my eyes and I knew that he not only hurt one heart, but there were two broken hearts. I asked, “How come Daddy is not sitting with us?”  She took a deep breath, “Daddy lives with that lady now. We’re moving into different homes and he might not come over any more.” 

The judge asked the three of us to step forward. The judge, Mom, and Daddy talked while I wiped my tears on her skirt. My father never glanced in my direction. It took one hour to officially break up my family. We retreated from the judge’s bench and Mom led me back down that same checkered corridor and into the car. She sat down next to me and whispered, “You mean the world to me and that’s all that matters, honey.”

But as my seventeenth birthday approached, that wasn’t all that mattered to me.  Twelve years later, I still yearned for what I believed every girl should know, her father’s love.  As the lunch meeting with my father was scheduled, feelings of insecurity arose and attacked my self-esteem.  But the breakdown occurred when I was all by myself in the parking lot of the coffee shop that we were to meet at.  I fought to hold back the tears that had been stored in my heart for twelve years, but the tears streamed down my warm cheeks.  I thought that I was strong enough without him and that he wasn’t important in my life, but within those few minutes, none of that seemed true anymore.

I finally wiped off the wet tears that had streamed down my face and walked towards the coffee shop.  As I walked down the sidewalk, I smiled at every middle aged man in hopes that maybe he was my father.  I opened the door and saw a man walk right towards me.  Smiling, I said hello to him  as he walked past me and to his car.  My face and ears burned red as I turned to walk back out of the door.  But just then, I noticed a man staring at me from a corner seat.  He walked up to me and smiled warmly.  I knew it was my father.  My heart started racing and my mouth could not form words.  This is what I had been waiting for throughout my life.  We sat and talked over coffee while I asked him questions about why he left me and about why he never told his new family about me.  But it seemed that all the questions in the world could not fulfill the time that he had been missing in my life. 

The tears that I had shed over him within those twelve years had burned my heart but earned me strength.  His strength had been diminished because he had run away from someone who could have loved him more than anyone else.  I was the one who dealt and fought off the criticism of being fatherless over those years.  And at that moment, I realized that what my mother told me twelve years ago in the car was true.  I didn’t need him in my life to prove anything because I already had the strength to go on without him and “that’s all that mattered.”


Thinking back to the questions that all applicants need to ask themselves when writing an essay, let’s break down this marvelous piece of writing.

What do you remember?

  • Stuffed bear
  • Checkered floor 
  • Daddy sitting NOT with them 

What stands out?

  • The emotion 
  • Her mother’s hurt 
  • And later -- her own hurt / tears / pain 

What tiny details could you picture?

  • Checkered floor
  • Tiny hand 
  • 1 hour to break up family 
  • Her meeting with him later

What did you learn about this applicant?

  • Strength 
  • Resilience 
  • Relationship with mom 
  • She was young when this happened 
  • Went through HS without relationship with dad 
  • Single parent home 

Why does this work?

  • It’s told in her own voice 
  • This is something we won’t find anywhere else in the application 
  • Helps to paint the full picture and context of this student
  • Yes - she attends a private school -- BUT her life is not perfect 
  • It’s flawed / she’s flawed  / 
  • But her strength and resilience shows me that she’s had some life experiences -- she is not going to fall apart in college -- she’s got the chops to handle tough stuff 
  • She becomes real and likable to the audience

Take these questions step by step, and don’t be afraid to ask how you can be a stand out applicant by asking yourself, Who Am I?

Remember, the goal is not to write about why you are the BEST and Most Accomplished applicant, admissions councilors can find that in the transcript and resume section. 

The only goal of the essay is to write an engaging and compelling story that only YOU could write. This is a story that should not be found anywhere else in the application.