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Barnard Admissions Essays Examples

Barnard College is an all-women’s college in uptown New York City. 2,500 undergraduates attend Barnard, which has a unique relationship with Columbia University, just across the street. Barnard students are able to take advantage of the resources that Columbia has to offer paired with the smaller, more intimate community culture that is cultivated at Barnard. As such, Barnard is one of our favorite colleges. Its supplement has 4 questions, all of which are incredibly different. Our breakdown of the supplement follows: 

1. 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 super brief “Why X School?” prompt. In order to complete this in a fashion that exhibits your knowledge, you have to do some research. That said, your response should not be overloaded with too much information. It should be a narrative about you where you’re able to weave the college in. It should be focused and highlight 1-2 things about the culture, academic environment, and most importantly, your interests. Your interests are the glue that holds it all together, and from there you incorporate aspects of Barnard that make it an ideal setting to expand and deepen your knowledge about whatever subject you choose. Additionally, make sure to tell them why it’s an ideal culture within which to exist for 4 years. The only way that you will be able to write so little, so well, on this topic is by fully understanding what the school is like. You can do this through visits, talking to students and professors, as well as exploring their website. 

2. 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)

This is one of our favorite questions. It’s also one of those questions that is very easy to write a response that blends in with the tens of thousands of applications that are flooding Barnard’s admissions office. Don’t worry. We’ll help you stand out. First, the choice of woman. Your choice is just as important as the explanation. The choice should speak volumes (or at least paragraphs), and illustrate an interest, knowledge, and aspect of your personality that makes the admissions readers raise their eyebrows. In a good way. Read: impressed. Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.  

One thing to remember when you’re writing about this person and your conversation is that Barnard is asking you to identify someone to speak with, peer to peer. Of course you’re going to choose someone that you look up to, but they are asking you to converse, not interview or learn from. You’re in the same space as them, experiencing the same environment. They’re not on a pedestal.

When you’re choosing your person, you should choose someone in the industry/field/arena that you’re interested in, but we always advise our students to go less obvious with their choice. Don’t choose the head of that industry. For example, don’t say you want me meet with Hillary Clinton unless you’re the National Chair of High School Democrats of America. We’ve come up with a list just off the top of our heads of women you shouldn’t write about:

  1. Hillary Clinton

  2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

  3. Beyonce

  4. Anna Wintour

  5. Michelle Obama

  6. Meryl Streep

  7. Kim Kardashian (and the rest of them)

  8. Amy Schumer

  9. Elizabeth Warren

  10. Amelia Earhart

  11. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  12. Oprah

  13. Julia Roberts

  14. Mother Theresa

  15. Anne Frank

  16. Coco Chanel

  17. Gloria Steinem

  18. Tyra Banks

  19. Kate Middleton

  20. Eleanor Roosevelt

This is just a starting point, but you should choose someone who is more niche than mainstream. After all, the person that you choose is serving as a vehicle to explain an interest of yours that you want to share with the college.  

Onto what you’re going to discuss. Don’t think too hard about what to talk to this person about, but definitely make sure that you don’t ask any questions or provide topics that you already know the answer to. For example, don’t ask Roxane Gay what it’s like to be a feminist author. Think about more in-depth, illustrative questions that you might ask a friend after she comes home from a substantial trip. Talk about the content that you’re personally interested in—the in-depth, sometimes tough, inquiring questions that aim to dig up the details. Barnard wants to see how you think about the world through this question. They want to know how you uncover stories, how you engage, and what you’re interested in. It’s your chance to show your expertise in a subtle, intelligent way.

3. Alumna and writer Anna Quindlen says that she “majored in unafraid” at Barnard. Tell us about a time when you majored in unafraid. (100-250 words)

Though “unafraid” is a new word and we can see why that might be intimidating, we assure you that this is not a scary question. This question is simply asking you for a time when you conquered a fear. We recommend that our students tell a story about a time that they conquered a unique fear—not just an, “I jumped off the high diving board and I didn’t drown,” or a typical savior story where you came out looking brave. Remember, women will be reading this essay. It’s important to take your audience into consideration.

Think about a time when you truly did something that you feared. This might be something that stems from a point of anxiousness for you, or it can be something that might seem small to others but to you was a big step. For example, one student of ours wrote about how she had been going to the gym for months, and though she had conquered the cardio machines, she wanted to get strong. She wanted to be able to do 10 pull ups, but only men were in the weight area. She began to conquer her fear by entering the weight room. Other women followed suit. In doing so, she created a community, conquered her fear, and worked up to doing 10 pull ups.  

Another one of our more introverted students wrote about how she hesitates to participate in class. It gives her a lot of anxiety. One day she surprised herself and volunteered to go first for project presentations because she figured it might be more relieving to get the whole thing out of the way. She prepared for it extensively, and she ultimately did it. She did a great job on the presentation. She sweat a bit more than usual and excused herself to use the bathroom/throw up immediately afterwards, but she did it. Both students in these scenarios, through one small action, learned that they have control over their own emotions and abilities. That in and of itself is a time when they majored in unafraid.

Additionally, we’d like to comment that this essay doesn’t need to be all that serious. You can have a bit of fun with it. Perhaps you could discuss a time that you truly ate your words and learned an important lesson or were confronted with a peculiar scenario that tested your limits in an unexpected way. Ultimately, the specifics of the situation will illustrate the story, and the story will speak to how you conduct, challenge, and motivate yourself to expand your understanding of the world. That’s what Barnard really wants to know, after all.

As always, let us know if you need any help. We’d be happy to help you come up with some great content for this supplement.

Want to attend a small liberal arts college for women in a big city? You find the best of both worlds in Barnard College.

Barnard College, located in New York City, is a private women’s liberal arts college, affiliated with Columbia University. For students who can’t decide between a liberal arts college and a large coeducation university, Barnard College might just be the perfect school. Students are allowed cross-enroll in classes and in student clubs, expanding the diversity and network of students you’ll meet during your 4 years on campus. If you’re interested in applying to Barnard, the college applications includes 3 additional writing supplements.

Here are Barnard’s 2017-2018 Supplemental Essay Prompts

A. 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)

Why do you want to be a Barnard Woman? Just like any other “Why Us” school-specific essay, the prompt is asking you to explain why you’re applying to Barnard and why do you think you’re a good fit for the school. To reiterate, it’s important you’ve done your research into the academic programs Barnard offers, what’s unique about the campus, and what the student body is like. What are some characteristics or interests of yours align with what they offer?

  • Here are some Why Barnard supplemental essay examples:

1. Why Barnard Supplement Example: STEM Majors

Essay Excerpt from Ramisa125, Barnard College ‘21

“But at Barnard, I see myself surrounded by hundreds of other brilliant young women, all working towards a common goal: to better the world while doing what we love. We’re not hindered by our gender; we’re empowered by it. Barnard is perfect for STEM not only because of research opportunities like the Beckman Scholars Program, but also because of the community of motivated women creating possibilities out of the impossible.”

Essay Analysis:

Ramisa125 incorporates what Barnard offers as a women’s college and the STEM opportunities the college offers. Earlier in her essay, she explains a past image she grew up with, something she hopes to be free of by being in a supportive environment, where she is surrounded by like minded women. By doing so, she was able to share a personal anecdote about herself, highlighting her interests and quirks, and demonstrate how she fits into Barnard’s student body.

Unlock her full Barnard College profile to read her full application essays and advice!

2. Why Barnard Supplement Example: Barnard Student Body

Essay Excerpt from MeganChang97, Barnard College ‘19

“While standing in front of the Diana Center, I was surprised to see how friendly and diverse the students were. When I returned to California, I continued to keep in touch with several students who would all gush about Barnard. By talking to the students, I began to love the idea of going to a women’s college and what it means to become a Barnard Woman.”

Essay Analysis:

MeganChang97 focuses on student body as a primary reason for wanting to attend Barnard College. In her supplemental essay, she talks about her conversations with her aunt, a Barnard alumna, and other Barnard women, and how she identified with them. In this particular excerpt, while she doesn’t explicitly mention her conversation details with current students at Barnard, she demonstrates her interest in the college and her compatibility with current Barnard students.

Unlock her full Barnard College profile to read her full application essays and advice!

B. 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)

Take some time and brainstorm. Write down some female figures you look up to as they come to mind. They can be family members, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs, or even fictional characters! Next to the names you’ve written down, jot down 3 characteristics you like about each of them. Look at your options: Is there any that you can link back to your own personality? Or perhaps about a subject you’d like to pursue?

While you’re writing a supplement about a woman you look up to or are interested in, you are also sharing something about yourself. Who you choose to talk about will indicate your interest, but it’s up to you to demonstrate your thought process and motivation behind it. They want to know how you uncover stories, how you engage with someone, and what you’re interested in (academically or not!).

  • Here are some supplemental essay examples:

1. Barnard Supplement Example: My Grandmother

Essay Excerpt from Ccg32, Barnard College ‘19

“In China 50 years ago, women were expected to conform to their gender roles and if they strayed from their given paths, they could easily be seen as “unwanted” when trying to find a husband. Despite the fact that she would have been looked down upon, my grandmother decided to unbind her feet at a young age and attend college.”

Essay Analysis:

Choosing a family member can be a good choice for this essay topic if family background is an important of who you are, and you haven’t been able to touch on that in your application so far. In this essay excerpt, Ccg32 touched on her family heritage and goes on to explain how that has impacted her. More importantly, she does on to express how she wishes to get to know her grandmother better for further guidance and inspiration for her own future.

Unlock her full Barnard College profile to read her full application essays and advice!

2. Barnard Supplement Example: A Neurosurgeon

Cjjo96, Barnard College ‘18

“The author, Dr. Katrina Firlik, has been my inspiration ever since. One of the few women in the neurology field, her wit, intellect and drive are distinct, impressive, and the reason she has been so successful. Much like me, she is passionate and strong in her opinions. She doesn’t comply with gender constructs and she has built a life in which she is insistent upon balancing her family and career.”

Essay Analysis:

In Cjjo96’s supplemental essay excerpt, she does an excellent job of talking about the woman she is interested in, relating that back to her own interests and character. She was not only able to share her interest in neurology, but was also able to highlight her own characteristics.

Unlock her full Barnard College profile to read her full application essays and advice!

C. 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)

This is a new prompt! Last year’s prompt asked students to recount a time “when you majored in unafraid.” They have switched it up this year to focus more on community—what you’ve done so far, and what you plan on doing.

This is a great opportunity to touch on any volunteer work you’ve done, or any extracurriculars you participated in. Why were you dedicated to those efforts? The admissions office wants to know what motivated you to be a part of give back to your community, and if that dedication extends past your time in high school.

It also give you a chance to dive further into how well you know Barnard, and how well you fit in to Barnard’s student body. Admissions officers are not just looking to understand your values and beliefs, but also how your creative thinking and growth. How can you take the contribution you’ve done so far in your community and do more given Barnard’s resources and network? It’s your chance to show your potential.


Hope this was helpful for those of you finishing your Barnard applications! Interested in reading these students’ full personal statements in addition to their full responses to the Barnard supplemental prompts? Unlock all of them in one go with our Barnard Essentials Package! 

Our premium plans offer different levels of profile access and data insights that can help you get into your dream school. Unlock any of our packages or search our undergraduate profile database to find specific profiles that can help you make an informed choice about where to apply! We have 60,000+ successful college application files uploaded by college students. See how they got in, and how you can too!

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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