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Essay on Student Life: 100, 200 and 300 Words

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Essay on Student Life

Student life, a phase that encompasses the essence of youth, is a period of transformation, self-discovery, and boundless opportunities. It’s a time when a student undergoes changes and faces challenges in academics, friendships, and personal growth. In this blog, we’ll explore the multifaceted aspects of student life and provide sample essays in various word counts, giving a glimpse into this remarkable journey.

Also Read: English Essay Topics

Also Read: How to Write an Essay in English

Also Read: Essay on Importance of Education

Sample Essay on Student Life in 100 Words

A student’s life is an exciting ride of learning, self-discovery and experiences. It’s a blend of early-morning classes, late-night study sessions, and the thrill of making lifelong friends. This phase teaches a student to balance academics with extracurricular activities, fostering their growth as individuals. Each day is a new adventure, a chance to learn, explore, and evolve. The memories one creates during these years shape the future, moulding one into the person one aspires to become. It’s a time when a student embraces the joy of acquiring knowledge and savour the taste of independence. With the right balance of study and leisure, it becomes a cherished chapter in a student’s life.

Also Read:  Essay on Life 

Sample Essay on Student Life in 200 Words

Student life is a period of transformation and exploration. It’s a period where one transitions from childhood to adulthood, navigating through the complexities of education and personal growth. In the midst of academic challenges, students often form close bonds with peers. These friendships provide crucial support in times of stress and celebration during moments of success. However, it’s not all smooth, the pressure to excel, manage finances, and make important life decisions can be overwhelming.

The student life is a pivotal period of self-discovery and personal development. It’s not just about textbooks and lectures; it’s a journey of exploration and experimentation. From joining clubs and societies to engaging in community service, these experiences help in uncovering a student’s passions and talents. It’s a time when they build bonds that often last a lifetime, creating a support system that stands the test of time.

Sample Essay on Student Life in 350 Words

Student life, often referred to as the best years of one’s life, it’s a bundle of experiences that shape the future. It’s a time when one embarks on a journey of academic pursuits, self-discovery, and personal growth. These years are marked by hard work studying, social interactions, and a quest for independence.

The classroom becomes a second home. But student life is not just about academics; it’s a holistic experience. Friendship bonds provide the emotional support needed. The pressure to excel academically can be suffocating at times. Balancing coursework, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs is a delicate juggling act. Financial constraints can add to the stress, making students contemplate their choices and priorities.

Despite these obstacles, student life offers a unique opportunity for self-discovery. It’s a time when young minds explore their passions, talents, and interests. It’s a period when taking risks is encouraged, and opportunities are abundant. Whether through involvement in clubs, sports, or artistic pursuits, it’s during this phase that one lays the foundation for future careers and aspirations.

Beyond academics and friendships, student life encourages us to explore the world. From educational trips to international exchanges, these experiences broaden horizons and expose one to different cultures and ideas. It’s a time when one learns to navigate the complexities of the real world. These experiences broaden one’s mindset, help in building a global outlook and enhance adaptability.

In conclusion, student life is a remarkable chapter in the books of everyone’s lives. It is a rollercoaster of experiences that challenge us, shape us, and ultimately prepare us for the world beyond. It is a time of intellectual growth, enduring friendships, and personal discovery. Despite the trials and tribulations, it is a journey worth embracing, for it is during these years that lays the groundwork for our future endeavours and aspirations,

Also Read:   Essay on Time Management for Students

Student life is a phase that bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood. It’s a transformative journey filled with academic pursuits, personal growth, enduring friendships, and the resilience to overcome challenges. This period of life is not merely a stepping stone, it’s a phase where one lays the foundation for the future, equipping oneself with knowledge, skills, and experiences that will serve us throughout our lives

Student life is filled with growth, aspirations, self-discovery, and boundless opportunities. The student life helps an individual have an understanding of moral values and build a quality life.

The most important part of a student’s life is the management of Time. A student’s life demands discipline and routine and that will require the skill of management of time.

A student’s life is a golden life because it is a phase where a student embraces the victories, savours the taste of failure and understand the working of the world as a whole.

We hope this blog gives you an idea about how to write and present an essay on student life. For more amazing daily reads that will help you build your IQ and improve your reading and writing skills, study tuned with Leverage Edu . 

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Student Life Essay

500 words essay on student life.

Student life is one of the most memorable phases of a person’s life. The phase of student life builds the foundation of our life. In student life, we do not just learn from books. We learn to grow emotionally, physically, philosophically as well as socially. Thus, in this student life essay, we will learn its essence and importance.

student life essay

The Essence of Student Life Essay

Student life is meant to help us learn discipline and study. Despite that, life is quite enjoyable. The struggle is low in student life. One must get up early in the morning to get ready for school or college.

Similarly, rushing to the bus stop is very exciting during student life. The mothers constantly remind us to hurry up and not be late. It is no less than a mantra for all mothers.

In addition, there are other exciting moments in student life. We sometimes forget to complete our homework and then pretend to find the notebook when the teacher asks for it.

With the examination time around the corner, the fun stops for a while but not long. One of the most exciting things about student life is getting to go on picnics and trips with your friends.

You get to enjoy yourself and have a  lot of fun. Even waiting for the exam result with friends becomes fun. The essence of student life lies in the little things like getting curious about your friend’s marks, getting jealous if they score more, and so on.

The excitement for games period or learning about a new teacher. While student life teaches us discipline, it also gives us a lot of fun. It is a memorable time in everyone’s life.

Importance of Student Life

Student life is a vital part of everyone’s life. The future of the students and the country depends on how we are as students. Thus, getting the right guidance is essential. Student life builds the foundation for our life.

Thus, if your foundation is strong, the building will be a strong one too. However, a weak foundation cannot make a building stand. In other words, student life helps us embrace human qualities.

People don’t realize how lucky and privileged one is to even get a student life. Many children dream of having it but never get one. Thus, if one gets to attain education, one must make the most of it.

Student life won’t always be filled with happiness but it will be worthwhile. It helps us grow in the path of life and acquire qualities such as honesty, patience, perseverance, and more.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Conclusion of Student Life Essay

All in all, student life is no less than perfect. Even though it has many ups and downs, it is all worth it in the end. Our student life determines a lot of things in our lives later on. Therefore, we must strive to be good students not just academically but also in other aspects. It is like a backbone to have a successful life later on.

FAQ of Student Life Essay

Question 1: What is the essence of student life?

Answer 1: Student life’s essence lies in the little things such as getting ready for school early in the morning or running late. It also lies in the positive attitude that we develop due to good discipline.

Question 2: Why is student life important?

Answer 2: We call the student life ‘golden life’ as students learn many essential things. The period of student life brings joy and happiness to our lives and builds a strong foundation. It also determines our successful life.

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Introduction to University Life: a Unique Journey

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Published: Mar 8, 2024

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The academic sphere: rigor and growth, the crucible of personal development, preparation for the future: career and beyond, conclusion the enduring impact of university life.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.

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College Admissions , College Essays


The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.


Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

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Craft Your Perfect College Essay

Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018


Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.


Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.


Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.


An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.


An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.


Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.


#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .


What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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You've made it to campus! Now what? These tips can help you navigate college life

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After more than a year of hybrid and remote learning, many students are returning to their college campuses. These Life Kit episodes can help guide you through your academic year.

This story is adapted from Life Kit's weekly newsletter, which arrives in inboxes each Friday. Subscribe here .

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed student life on college campuses.

It has been more than a year since universities closed down their classrooms and transitioned to remote learning, but many high school graduates and returning college students are constantly adapting to new campus or state-wide regulations of in-person classes, testing and vaccination requirements.

These big decisions may be out of your hands, but you can still try to make the most out of your academic experience, personal relationships and wellbeing on campus. For new and returning college students, here are five Life Kit episodes that will guide you through this school year.

Congrats, you're going to college! Now what?

Ace your freshman year of college

Congratulations, You're In College! Now What?

You made it out of high school and plan on pursuing more school — meaning it's time to map out what you want your college life to look like. Research shows that laying a strong foundation your first year is key to signing up for another and eventually, finishing your degree. This episode provides tips for enrolling in the right courses, finding a supportive community and connecting with mentors in and outside the classroom.

We're all still getting used to Zoom school.

How To Make The Most Of Online College This Fall

How To Make The Most Of Online College This Fall

It's been more than a year since universities initially transitioned from in-person to remote classes. But for students who took time off school during the pandemic, it isn't easy to navigate their first virtual or hybrid semester. In this Life Kit episode , recent college grad Michelle Krallman says reaching out to academic advisers or professors is key to making a smooth transition. These professionals may not only offer you advice but they might also be more lenient with and understanding of your situation.

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College is important. So is mental health. Here's how to study without burning out

College Is Important. So Is Mental Health. Here's How To Study Without Burning Out

College classes aren't easy. To study smarter not harder, cognitive scientist Pooja Agarwal suggests that students should not only take information in but also draw it back out. Her suggestions include taking handwritten notes or creating flashcards and reading them out loud when reviewing for exams. For more tips, check out this episode on taking useful notes and creating a study planner .

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Friendships Change. Here's How To Deal

Friendships Change. Here's How To Deal

Returning to campus from a semester or year at home can be challenging. If a reunion with a friend is feeling awkward, friendship expert Shasta Nelson recommends assessing your friendship through the "friendship triangle" composed of consistency, positivity and vulnerability. You may be able to adjust whatever sides are off balance, but a friend, sometimes, is only present for a certain chapter of your student life — and that is OK too.

Access university resources to help you navigate student loans.

How To Survive College When You're Paying Your Own Way

How To Survive College When You're Paying Your Own Way

From digging through your school's financial aid packages to creating a realistic budget to exploring federal loans, you have different avenues to pay for college. In this Life Kit episode , Lauren Schandevel, a student at the University of Michigan, shares her experience going to school on a budget. When feeling overwhelmed, remember that you've made it to college — you belong there.

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Essay on Student Life

Student life is a unique and transformative phase in one’s journey towards adulthood. It is a time filled with academic pursuits, personal development, and the formation of lasting memories. For students aiming to participate in essay writing competitions, understanding the multifaceted aspects of student life is essential. This essay explores the challenges, opportunities, and growth that characterize this period.

Student Life

Student life encompasses the years spent in educational institutions, typically from primary school to university. It is a time of immense growth and learning, both academically and personally. These years lay the foundation for future success and shape an individual’s character. While the journey may be challenging, it is also filled with valuable opportunities.

Academic Challenges

One of the primary aspects of student life is academic pursuits. Students face a multitude of challenges in their academic journey, including:

  • Academic Pressure : The need to excel in studies and achieve good grades can create immense pressure. Students often find themselves juggling multiple subjects and assignments simultaneously.
  • Time Management : Balancing academics with extracurricular activities, personal life, and social commitments requires effective time management skills. Many students struggle to find the right balance.
  • Peer Competition : The competitive nature of education can sometimes lead to unhealthy peer competition, which may hinder learning and collaboration.
  • Examinations and Tests : Frequent examinations and tests can be stressful. Students must prepare adequately to perform well.

Opportunities for Growth

Despite the challenges, student life offers numerous opportunities for growth:

  • Learning and Knowledge : Educational institutions are environments designed for learning and acquiring knowledge. Students have access to a wealth of information and resources to broaden their horizons.
  • Skill Development : Besides academic knowledge, students can develop a wide range of skills, including problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork.
  • Exploration and Discovery : Student life is a time for exploration and discovering one’s interests and passions. It allows students to experiment with various subjects and activities to find their true calling.
  • Personal Relationships : Building friendships and relationships with peers and mentors can be one of the most rewarding aspects of student life. These connections often last a lifetime.

Personal Development

Student life is not just about academics; it is also a period of personal development and self-discovery. Here are some key aspects of personal growth during this phase:

  • Independence : As students transition from school to college or university, they gain a sense of independence. They learn to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions.
  • Self-Discipline : The demands of academic life require self-discipline and time management. Students learn to set goals, plan their work, and stay organized.
  • Resilience : Facing academic challenges, setbacks, and failures can build resilience and the ability to bounce back from adversity.
  • Cultural and Social Exposure : Educational institutions often bring together students from diverse backgrounds. This exposure fosters cultural awareness and social skills.
  • Leadership and Initiative : Involvement in clubs, societies, and extracurricular activities provides opportunities to take on leadership roles and demonstrate initiative.

Balancing Act

Balancing academic commitments with personal life, extracurricular activities, and social interactions is a key challenge in student life. Successful time management and setting priorities become crucial skills. It’s important for students to strike a balance that allows for both academic achievement and personal well-being.

Extracurricular Activities

Participating in extracurricular activities is an integral part of student life. These activities go beyond the classroom and offer a chance to pursue hobbies, interests, and passions. They include sports, arts, music, debate clubs, volunteer work, and more. Engaging in extracurricular activities enhances the overall student experience by providing:

  • Personal Fulfillment : Pursuing one’s interests and passions outside of academics can be personally fulfilling and provide a sense of accomplishment.
  • Skill Diversification : Extracurricular activities help students develop a diverse set of skills that can be valuable in various aspects of life.
  • Networking : Participating in clubs and societies allows students to meet like-minded individuals, form friendships, and expand their social network.
  • Leadership Opportunities : Many extracurricular activities offer leadership roles, allowing students to develop leadership and teamwork skills.
  • Stress Relief : Engaging in activities that one is passionate about can serve as a form of stress relief and mental relaxation.

Challenges in Extracurricular Involvement

While extracurricular activities offer numerous benefits, they can also pose challenges:

  • Time Management : Balancing academics and extracurricular activities can be challenging. Students must learn to allocate their time effectively.
  • Academic Performance : Overcommitting to extracurriculars may sometimes affect academic performance if not managed wisely.
  • Burnout : The pressure to excel in both academics and extracurriculars can lead to burnout if students do not prioritize self-care.

Student life is a crucial phase in an individual’s journey, marked by academic challenges, personal growth, and a myriad of opportunities. It shapes character, hones skills, and lays the foundation for a successful future. Embracing the challenges and seizing the opportunities presented during this period is essential for a fulfilling and enriching student life. Aspiring essayists have a wealth of experiences to draw upon when reflecting on the complexities and rewards of student life.

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Student Life Essay in English (Short, Long, and Narrative Essay)

student life essay

Read our Student Life Essay to enhance your writing skills. This student life essay writing will also help you to improve your grades in exams. Student life in school or college helps us to start learning about everything. We have provide essay on student life in 100, 150, 200, 250, 300 and 500 for class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and so on.

In Student Life, we learn academics, manners, good behaviors, discipline, punctuality, and more. When we get the proper education and guidance, we will become well-mannered adults. Student life prepares us with responsibilities for the world outside. So, let’s go through student life essay writing in English.

Table of Contents

Narrative Essay on Student Life in (400 – 500 words)

The word Vidyarthi is composed of a combination of two words, Vidya + meaning. The literal meaning of which is the seeker of Vidya. The mere desire of a student does not lead to the attainment of Vidya. To achieve this, students need hard work. This time is that aspect of life in which anyone can learn the essence of their life. If a person is entirely successful in life, his student life is behind him.

Importance of Student Life:

Student life has its unique significance. This time is also known as the golden period of student life. This life span starts from the childhood of 5 years and ends in youth. This is the best time for the development of this body and mind. At this age, there is no worry about earning and no diseases of old age.

Whenever a child is in school, first of all, he is given an education which is helpful to him in life. First, respect the elders, do your tasks with your own hands, set your essential goals in life, etc. If a student adopts duty, discipline, and discipline regularly during this time, he can definitely succeed in his life.

The student who has carried himself forward with complete discipline and patience, the same student progresses successfully. Therefore, the importance of student life is self-evident.

Contribution of Parents to Student Life:

The parents’ contribution is most important for all the students to realize their life in the right way. For a child and their parents think the most about their future. Parents are more than God to the children. They are the first friends and first teachers of the children. It is the parents who provide education to the children first.

Parents not only give birth to the child, but they raise them by raising them. Parents teach a child to speak, walk, and all the rites. Someone has rightly said that a father is the only person who wants to make his child bigger than himself.

Characteristics of student life:

Following are the many characteristics of student life.

Perfect things have been said about Vidya and Vidyarthi in Sanskrit Subhashitas

“Kakacheshta Bakodhyanam Swannidra and ch. Poor householder student Panchlakshanam”

That is, there are five characteristics of the student-

1. Must try like a crow. (all-round vision, quick observation ability)

2. There should be attention like a heron.

3. One should sleep like a dog. (get up after a short interruption)

4. Must be short-lived. (less eater)

5. Grihatyaggi (not much attached to his home and parents).

Sukharthi or Tyajet Vidya Vidyarthi or Tyajet Sukham.

Sukharthin: Kuto Vidya Vidyarthin: Kuto Sukham.

i.e., One who seeks happiness should give up learning, and one who seeks knowledge should give up satisfaction because knowledge cannot come to those who seek happiness, and where is a joy to those who seek knowledge?

Acharya padamadtte Padam shishya: sandhya. Padam Sabrahmcharibhyah Padam Chronology C. i.e., the student gets one-fourth of his knowledge from his teacher, one-fourth from his intellect, one-fourth from his classmates, and one-fourth from time (chronologically, from experience).

Today’s students are the future of our country. He should never wish to enjoy happiness in student life.

Thus, we have seen that student life is our most crucial time. When the problem can be solved quickly, the future can be taken in the right direction. Many times it happens that the student life gets distracted. In such a situation, do not get deluded and move towards what feels right.

Short Essay on Student Life in 250 words

Student life is a golden age of a student’s life. This is the most joyous and enjoyable time of human life. This life span starts from the childhood of 5 years and ends in youth. At this time, we are not worried about anything.

In this lifetime, the students’ minds are filled with noble thoughts. And there are many kinds of dreams in his eyes. By working hard at this time, he can fulfill the height he wants to achieve in his life. The taste he develops in student life will influence his behavior toward others in his future career. Therefore the correct and proper use of the term must be done with utmost care.

There is one goal or the other in the life of all the students; without a plan, there is no importance in student life. In a student’s life, his goal is essential in such a way that if you go to the market and come back without doing anything, it is absolutely useless for a person to go to the market in this situation. When a student adopts a goal in his life, leaves all his attachments, and pursues that goal, his student life becomes successful.

That is why it is essential to have some goals in your student life and your entire life. Somewhere some students set their goals but are afraid of the obstacles that come to fulfilling that goal. What will the people of the society say if they are not able to achieve their goal, then they are not able to complete it because of the idea of ​​what will happen?

Student Life Essay in English (100- 150 words)

For a student, his student life is essential. This is when students work hard to make their dreams come true. Student life is a disciplined life. In this, only through working hard and being disciplined does he get prestige and respect worldwide.

The only objective of the student in this life is to acquire complete knowledge. This time is the primary basis of the student’s future. Student life is an independent life.

A student has a wealth of qualities like virtue, guru-bhakti, perseverance, modesty, honesty, patriotism, selflessness, etc. This is a golden age of student life. This lifetime starts from the childhood of 5 years and ends in youth. Student life is like a white paper on which he stamps his hard work and writes down his future objectives.

Frequently Asked Questions on Student Life Essay

What is student life.

Answer: It is a part of life when a student spends his academic period, i.e., the time spent during school, collages, and university education. Student life is also called the golden life because, during this period, students spend most of their time reading and learning.

What is important in student life?

Answer: Student life is most important for any student because in this time we gain our knowledge. It is the phase when we begin to understand people; we realize the importance of friends in our life. For students, student life is full of joy and happiness. During this time, we are free from any worries and tension in our life.

What qualities should a good student have?

Answer: A good student has self-discipline, honesty, diligence, confidence, friendliness, a good follower, responsible, self-reliant, and teachable qualities.

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University Life Essay In English

University Life Essay In English is written here. In student life no doubt the University life is the most memorable and charming time. At university life, the students are able to be a responsible and sensible person. This is the main stage of your personal grooming as compared to school and college life. There is also a freedom of action for a student from families comparatively school and college. This is because, after the successful completion of university life mostly students know that they will further go to the professional life so, the sensible university life leads to the best professional life for them. University life is the main foundation of building a professional attitude. (Also check My First Day at University Essay )

University Life Essay In English

Entering into a university, the new atmosphere and environment feel your pleasure to live freely. The freedom of environment and less restricted area teaches you how to bring a control and maintenance. This is one of the best learning of your life. There is a huge number of opportunities in order to exhibit your skills and talent in front of others. In this stage, you are really appreciated and motivated under the instructions of the professional and experienced trainer, professors and instructors.

University life is the longest time period of student life are compared to school and college period so the university friends and long lasting and called the ever true friends. Because university life makes you mature and sensible in making decision whereas you didn’t have any serious knowledge regarding the true friends and doesn’t know about the weak and strong points of a friend.

The most painful thing of the university is obviously the burden of studies. There is huge competition in university life to beat one another with respect to skills and knowledge. In university life, there is no concept of books students have to maintain their assignments and projects with the help of internet rather than from teacher’s lectures. This may lead someone to frustrations and tiredness due to wakening late at night in order to prepare assignments and projects.

At university life, you learn the team working, mutual understanding power and leadership qualities. Team working makes you build challenging guts to beat the future challenges. No doubt university life builds strong qualities in your personality in positive ways. In university life, students are very conscious of their time and responsibilities and spent their time in productive activities as compared to school and college life.

University life is rightly said that the amazing and memorable time of every student’s life. There is a huge number of opportunities to groom your personality in a positive way. This life also makes you able to judge between good or bad people for yourselves as a friend. I am still missing my university life and those moments with friend and teachers who make me an intellectual, sensible person and those learning point of life which are never forgettable ever. Those students who didn’t pass through the university life surely miss the most charming time of their student life. So check University Life Essay In English from this page.

I am professional education consultant and Teacher, my primary goal is to support students in accessing educational services through Pakistan's rapidly expanding educational website. I strive to provide valuable guidance and assistance to help students make informed decisions about their academic paths and future careers.

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Essays About University: Top 6 Examples and 6 Prompts

Our time in university is often one of the most critical points in our lives;  if you are writing essays about university, read our guide. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a university as “ an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees .” Otherwise known as colleges, universities are the institutions in which students obtain their tertiary education, helping them pursue the careers they want. 

Regardless of your university’s prestige, taking your college education seriously is crucial. University prepares you to go into the field you want to work in, and it is regarded as essential for success and prosperity in life. The choices you make in and for university will affect your path forever.

6 Examples of Essays About University

1. compare and contrast between state university and private university by naomi moody, 2. a reflection on my college experience by tori harwell, 3. you don’t need college anymore, says google by david leibowitz, 4. on graduating in a pandemic by audrey huang.

  • 5. ​My University Experience by Jenny

6. From Living for the Later to Living for the Now: A Reflection of My College Career by Trisha Kangas

1. is university really as daunting as it seems, 2. what lessons did your college experience teach you, 3. how did you grow throughout university, 4. the skills you need for university, 5. how can you best prepare for university, 6. is it necessary to attend university.

“Many people assume a public college is cheaper than a private college because of tuition fees are reduced for state residents. But the posted “sticker price” of a private college is rarely the real price. If a private college strongly appeals to you, consider waiting for its financial aid offer before making a final decision. More often than not, private colleges offer the scholarships and grants that significantly cut your actual cost, even bringing it close to the cost of a public college.”

Moody discusses the differences between public and private universities. A state university is more accessible and has various course options, while private university courses often specialize in specific fields and are more challenging to receive an entry. The price difference between public and private universities is more manageable if given financial aid, Moody writes. She believes that although both set students up for success, she is partial to private universities and would instead study in one. 

“I used to laugh at the people who told me college would go by in the blink of an eye. And then it did. Soak in every single second of these crazy, chaotic, stressful four years. Spend as much time with your friends as you can. The days go by faster and faster the closer you get to leaving. Take advantage of the time you do have.”

In her essay, Harwell gives tips on how to enjoy their years in university, based on her personal experiences. She encourages readers to take reasonable risks, say “yes,” find the right balance between academics and social life, and get involved to make friends. Most importantly, she wants readers to make the most of their college years and enjoy every moment, just as she did. You might also be interested in these essays about assessment .

“In Google’s report of their IT certification course, 61% did not have a four-year degree, typically complete the program in under six months, and earn a median annual wage of $54,760. To be blunt, university degrees are only as valuable as the weight applied by company hiring managers, and Google has just signaled that a $300 certificate has parity with a diploma.”

Leibowitz describes how university has become obsolete to some. Companies such as Google are allowing job applicants to work without a diploma, instead making them take an IT certification program. Other companies such as Levi’s and Gap have followed suit, allowing employees to complete a program in place of a degree. Leibowitz poses the idea of eliminating degree requirements to make work more accessible.

“Graduation has historically been all about projecting into the future — anticipating what’s to come, cherishing the bright spots within these precious college years, formation and self-discovery in an ever-accelerating landscape. Pandemic graduation seems to be about having the brakes thrown into our plans, and being forced to sit still and alone for a very long time.”

Huang reflects on her university experience in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and imagines the future that her suitemates might live out, and how they have pursued their dreams or changed. Huang is mostly distraught at having to stop her education and an “inferior” graduation experience; however, she is relieved that she can reflect on her time in university, an experience she will treasure for a lifetime. 

5. ​ My University Experience by Jenny

“I would like to tell you that coming to Leeds Beckett on the Speech and Language Therapy course has been the best decision for my career, and I’ve had so much fun living here and making new friends. Making the most of my course’s opportunities, as well as all the opportunities Leeds Beckett gives you like volunteering aboard, joining sports teams and everything else is a really valuable experience which you won’t regret. Put in the work and you’ll get loads out of it!”

Jenny, a student at Leeds Beckett University, writes about how she returned to college after graduating in 2014. However, she wanted to pursue a different career, so she attended university again. She writes about her course requirements, job placements, and overall university experience, and she encourages people to try her course or attend her university if they are interested.

Looking for more? Check out these essays about online learning .

“Although it was maybe difficult for me to slow down and give myself a pat on the back for getting on the dean’s list, writing a 15 page short story I was really proud of, or being nominated for the Student Employee of the Year Award, I still did all of those things and that in itself is something to be proud of. And I think that’s where my focus should ultimately end up.”

Kangas reflects on her time in college, writing that she feels accomplished yet anxious simultaneously. She worked hard but remembered not to be too hard on herself, something she encouraged all students to practice. It is important to find a balance between academic achievement and mental health. She also reminds students not to be afraid of change but to have a positive outlook.

6 Helpful Writing  Prompts on Essays About University

Many say university entails the toughest years of your life, making children dread going to college. Based on your experiences, write about your experience in university and determine whether this claim is factual or not. 

In university, we learn a lot about ourselves and our world. Write about lessons or life skills you may have learned in college and how they have helped you today. Such as becoming more confident, learning to love yourself, connecting with people, or even pursuing new passions in life. Be sure to link your main idea back to how college can help you do better in the future.

Essay About University: How did you grow throughout university?

For your essay, reflect on your college experience. Answer the question, “how did you grow as a person?” Write about your feelings throughout your university years, particularly how they changed, and describe any skills you may have learned. Be sure to use personal anecdotes for a more heartfelt perspective. 

Before attending university, you must equip yourself with specific skills to help you succeed. You must often obtain certain grades in specific classes to enter university. However, you also need personal skills such as communication, time management, and discipline to complete assignments. Write about some of these skills and explain why they are important. You can also explain how to hone these skills to improve your experience at university.

Essay About University: How can you best prepare for university?

University can be daunting, especially for people leaving high school and moving city or state to attend university. In your essay, discuss how you can prepare yourself, physically and mentally, to attend university. What should college students know before they start the year? Be sure to use your personal experiences as a basis. You can also give examples of books or articles readers can look at for further knowledge. 

Many argue that university education has become unnecessary in the 21st century. Many famous entrepreneurs and business owners, such as Elon Musk , speak out against university education, saying that life experience and learning on the job are more valuable. Detail your stance on this issue and explain your reasoning. Be sure to support your argument with details and credible sources. 

For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers .

If you still need help, our guide to grammar and punctuation explains more.

essay on student life in university

Martin is an avid writer specializing in editing and proofreading. He also enjoys literary analysis and writing about food and travel.

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  • / University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

Allaa Ashraf

25 June, 2023

6 mins read

University Life

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Entering university is an exciting milestone in one's life, filled with anticipation, new experiences, and personal growth. As you prepare to embark on this journey, you often develop certain expectations about the university and campus life. However, things may not always be as you’d imagined them. University isn’t always fun and games; sometimes you have to write essays and present to people . Worry not, though, not every student has the same university experience, that’s for sure. So, just before you get too carried away, we will help you get back to earth!  

In this article, we will explore the expectations and realities of university life and campus life, providing a detailed perspective to help future university students better understand what to anticipate.

University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

1. Independence and Freedom

Expectation : Free at last! The idea of campus life is the ultimate dream for people who have been waiting to move out. University is often seen as a gateway to newfound independence, freedom from parental supervision, and the ability to make decisions without constant guidance. You think you will only go home on holidays—Christmas, Thanksgiving, and maybe just a couple of days during the summer. 

Reality : With freedom comes responsibility. Students discover that managing their time, prioritising tasks, and staying organised are crucial for success. Balancing coursework, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and personal commitments can be overwhelming. The reality is that university life demands self-discipline and effective time management skills to navigate through the various responsibilities and opportunities available. 

Also, here is the deal: you’re going to miss home more than you think. You will find yourself missing the fresh, hot homemade meals, the daily talks with your parents, and even your siblings and their fights.

2. Seamless Transition and Instant Success

Expectation : Some students expect a seamless transition from high school to university, assuming that their previous successes will effortlessly translate into immediate triumphs in higher education.

Reality : The reality is that the university experience often presents new challenges and demands a growth mindset. Just because you are studying something you love doesn’t mean you will get your degree easily. There’s so much more to getting a degree than just studying what you love. 

Adapting to higher academic rigour, developing critical thinking skills, and adjusting to new teaching styles can be initially daunting. It's important to remember that personal growth and success are often the results of perseverance, resilience, and a willingness to learn from both successes and setbacks.

You will be excited about what you’re learning at university, but you might also find yourself overwhelmed with the workload. Sometimes you will focus so much time and energy on a specific subject, especially during the first semester or the first year. This can be draining and cause you to lose your passion.

3. Financial Freedom and Stability

Expectation : Many students imagine newfound financial freedom in university, with disposable income for leisure activities and personal expenses.

Reality : Now, hold on a minute! Don’t spend that money now! The reality is that university often comes with financial responsibilities. Tuition fees, accommodation costs, textbooks, and daily expenses can quickly add up. Students may need to balance part-time jobs or seek scholarships and financial aid to cover their expenses. Learning effective budgeting skills and practising financial responsibility become essential aspects of university life.

University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

4. Hassle-Free Accommodation Life

Expectation : You won’t have any responsibilities regarding your accommodation life except paying the rent on a monthly basis, and if you choose private accommodation, it’ll all be fun and games.

Reality : As a student, you can choose between a PBSA and on-campus accommodation. Both require a different budget and a different lifestyle. Lower your expectations ; regardless of what you choose, life in a private student accommodation won’t be all fun and parties. 

Your room will need cleaning, you will have laundry, and you will have to organise a schedule for using the shared area with your flatmate. Sounds like a lot, right? We know that’s why we are telling you to think thoroughly about your choice of accommodation.


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5. easy peasy, lemon squeezy studying and assignments.

Expectation : As we all know, you always promise yourself that this year will be different and that you’ll study hard and not waste a minute. You promise yourself that you will keep up with all the workload you have and that you’ll never leave any assignment to the last minute. We’ve all been there.

Reality : It is not impossible, but remember to give yourself room for mistakes. If, after the first week, your assignments start to pile up, it is ok. You can simply manage your time better in order not to feel overwhelmed. In addition, you can think about studying and doing assignments as an exam prep strategy to motivate you.

6. Being in the Pink of Health

Expectation : You go to university telling yourself that you’re going to eat healthily and cook for yourself. Maybe you can pull this off for the first week of your university life, or even the first month.

Reality : You find yourself so swamped with assignments and projects that you might occasionally eat junk food for a meal or two. Don’t be harsh on yourself, and maybe exercise afterwards. That’s how you stay healthy .

7. A Continuous Social Extravaganza

Expectation: Many students envision university as a constant whirlwind of parties, social gatherings, and non-stop excitement. They imagine themselves surrounded by friends, attending events, and forming lifelong connections.

Reality: We’re sorry to break it to you; we really are. While universities provide ample opportunities for socialising, the reality is that balancing social life and academics can be challenging. Students quickly realise that attending lectures, studying, completing assignments, and preparing for exams require significant time and effort. It becomes essential to strike a healthy balance between socialising and academics to make the most of the university experience.

University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

8. Vibrant Campus Life

Expectation : Campus life is often portrayed as a vibrant community teeming with clubs, organisations, sports teams, and cultural events. Students expect a wide array of options to get involved and find their niche.

Reality : While universities offer a diverse range of extracurricular activities, the reality is that finding your niche might take time and exploration. Joining clubs, attending events, and actively engaging with the campus community can help students discover their interests and build lasting connections. It's important to remember that the university experience is not solely confined to the campus, as many students find fulfilment through off-campus activities and local communities.

9. Time for Personal Exploration and Self-Discovery

Expectation : University is often seen as a transformative period for self-discovery, where students have the time and freedom to explore their identities, values, and interests.

Reality : While university provides opportunities for personal exploration, the reality is that self-discovery is an ongoing process that extends beyond the university years. Students may find themselves questioning their beliefs, values, and goals and may encounter diverse perspectives that challenge their preconceived notions. Embracing these experiences as opportunities for growth and self-reflection can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself.

University Life and Campus: Expectations vs Reality

10. Always Feeling Motivated and Inspired

Expectation : Students often anticipate a constant state of motivation and inspiration, assuming that their passion for their chosen field of study will propel them effortlessly through their academic journey.

Reality : The reality is that motivation can fluctuate, and students may face periods of academic pressure, stress, or burnout. Challenging coursework, multiple deadlines, and high expectations can sometimes dampen enthusiasm. Developing resilience, seeking support from peers or academic advisors, and practising self-care strategies can help students navigate these challenges and rediscover their motivation.

And there you have it, folks! University life and campus life bring with them a mix of expectations and realities. While some expectations align with reality, others may require adjustments and a shift in perspective. 

Recognising that university life is a unique journey that varies for each individual can help students navigate the challenges and maximise the opportunities available. Embracing the realities of university life, including the need for balance, responsibility, and personal growth, can lead to a fulfilling and transformative experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. will university life be exactly like what i've seen in movies and tv shows.

While movies and TV shows often portray an exaggerated version of university life, it's important to remember that reality may differ. University life is a unique experience for each individual, and while there may be some elements of excitement and social events, it also involves academic responsibilities and personal growth.

2. How can I balance my social life with academics?

Balancing social life and academics requires effective time management and prioritisation. It's important to set realistic goals, create a study schedule, and allocate time for social activities. Additionally, engaging in extracurricular activities and joining clubs can help combine socialising with personal development.


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3. what should i do if i'm struggling academically.

If you're facing academic challenges, don't hesitate to seek help. Most universities offer support services such as tutoring, study groups, or academic advisors who can assist you in improving your academic performance. It's important to communicate with your professors, ask questions, and utilise available resources to overcome any difficulties.

4. How can I make the most of my university experience beyond classes?

Getting involved in campus activities is a great way to enhance your university experience. Join clubs or organisations that align with your interests, participate in community service initiatives, attend campus events, and explore opportunities for internships or research projects. Engaging in these activities will allow you to build a network, develop new skills, and make lifelong memories.

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Student Life Essay For Students and Children in 1000 Words

Student Life Essay For Students and Children in 1000 Words

In this article, you will read ‘Student Life Essay’ for students and children in 1000 words. This includes discipline, memories, friends, 10 lines and more about student life.

Lets start this student life essay…

Table of Contents

Student Life Essay (1000 Words)

Amongst the most exciting and memorable parts of a person’s life is their student life. It is that wonderful and lovable time of an individual’s life that is filled with joy and laughter and is free from all the anxieties of the adult world.

We see in student life during this stage, a student’s mind is full of ideas, and their hearts are full of dreams. It is during this time that a person gets himself prepared for his future.

The Student Life

Student life is not only the happiest but also the most crucial part of a person’s life. No doubt, there are no worldly tensions and responsibilities to worry about at this age, but it is very important for the student itself. 

Students are usually busy with their school life, homework, studies, classes, learning new things, and their day-to-day struggles. Students spend a major part of the day in school , and studies and knowledge are not the only things they learn. 

Hard work, discipline, developing good manners, and having a good character are some of the things that are a part of the overall development of a student. 

However, school is not as dull and boring as it seems to be because they enjoy sports, play games , go to the library , have practical classes, and even spend time in the park. A lot of other activities are also done by the students.

Discipline in Student Life

Student life is the time that sows the seeds of human life. The foremost task of a student is to work hard, study, and acquire knowledge. 

Dedication to school, studies, and hard work for exams is what student life suggests and should encourage. To achieve everything smoothly, a student needs to be disciplined . 

Discipline is something that is not in the syllabus, but the teachings and guidance of the teachers and parents help a student to be a disciplined person. Discipline motivates a student to develop in life and achieve his or her goals . 

It makes a student hard-working and keeps him motivated, honest, and encouraged throughout the entire time period. It helps to develop a good character and maintain proper social behavior.

Discipline helps a student to attract the right things in life and gain success in each and every field.

Enjoy moments in Student Life

Student life is filled with not only education and knowledge, but also plenty of memorable moments that a student really enjoys. Students get to live on their own, and they also get to experience most things as adults for the first time. 

Riding a bike, playing musical instruments, and going on an adventure usually happen during the adolescent stage, and it is much more enjoyable for the students. 

Playing with friends during the drill period, enjoying playful activities in school, and taking part in local level competitions are some of the activities that make a person happy. 

It develops a feeling of satisfaction and success. Spending quality time with friends , eating together, studying together, joking, and having fun are some of the real joys of a student’s life. Picnics and study trips are also some of the enjoyable moments that you experience.

My Few School Student Life Memories

Not only a particular person, but each and every school student has some favourite school life memories of their own. Here are some of the memorable and enjoyable student life moments that show how student life is very special to me.

  • Every day after school hours, my friends and I go eat ice cream in the summer season . We preferred to have some hot food together during the winter and rainy seasons .
  • Every Saturday, we go to play video games at the nearby gaming center. It is a memorable time there that I have enjoyed a lot with my friends.
  • Sundays are holidays, but still, I complete my pending homework and study for a few hours at home. In the evening, we go to play football, and we enjoy it a lot. During the drill period also, we play football on the school grounds.
  • The best part about school is that my friend and I study together and help each other understand difficult topics. It is not only enjoyable but also makes education easier.

Friends in Student Life

There are many people that we come across in our daily lives when we are in school. All my classmates are my good friends, and they are good friends to everyone else as well. 

Our seniors and juniors are also quite friendly with us. Our seniors help us with our studies and also guide us during the exams. 

Besides, we help our juniors in the same manner. While there are a lot of friends and classmates in school, my close and favourite friends are Tony, Steve, Natasha, Bruce, and Peter. They stay with me most of the time in school, and we do almost everything together. 

We study together and make sure that all of us have understood a topic properly, so in this way, we prepare ourselves for the exam. We even visit each other’s homes occasionally to have some fun. 

10 Lines on Student Life

  • Student life is amongst the most beautiful and memorable journeys in an individual’s lifetime.
  • Throughout the world, student life begins at an early age when people are 3 to 5 years old.
  • In my life, it began when I was 4 years old, and I started kindergarten at my school.
  • I enjoy my student life, as I get to learn new things on various topics and subjects each day.
  • I study with my friends regularly, and we make sure that each of us has understood the concepts properly and can achieve good marks in the examinations.
  • Every day after school, I prefer to go to a nearby store and eat some ice cream.
  • During our drill period, I play football with my friends, and whenever we get some free time, we gather at the local ground and play football together.
  • One of the most interesting parts of school life is the activities and competitions that we take part in.
  • School life gives us a lot of opportunities to learn new things, and we not only educate ourselves but also develop a sense of character and good behaviour in our childhood.
  • Apart from all the activities and enjoyable moments that we spend with our friends, the major part of our student life is to focus on our studies and plan for a better career .

This ‘Student life’ essay has helped us to know that this is the best time for an individual, as real-life in the outer world starts as a student. 

No one can forget their student life, as it is full of knowledge, experience, enjoyable moments, and fun. Therefore, we should use student life properly and develop into better people.

1 thought on “Student Life Essay For Students and Children in 1000 Words”

Very nice article on students life thankyou for giving me this artical

Leave a comment Cancel reply – Collections of Essay for Students of all Class in English

Essay on Student Life

Humans can only live happily if all their wishes are fulfilled. For this, they need money and a way to make money. As a human, we have to go through different stages of our lives and have different experiences. Before we can become an adult, we need to go to school. People start going to school when they are 3 to 5 years old. And this stage is referred to as student life.

Short and Long Student Life Essay in English

To know more about this important stage of life today, we will discuss Student Life in detail. Here, we are presenting Short and Long essays on Student Life with proper headings in English for students under word limits of 100 – 150 Words, 200 – 250 words, and 500 – 600 words. This topic is useful for students of classes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in English. These provided essays on Student Life will help you to write effective essays, paragraphs, and speeches on this topic.

Student Life Essay 10 Lines (100 – 150 Words)

1) Student life is considered the golden age of life.

2) It is the time to build a better future for ourselves.

3) Student life gives you amazing and beautiful memories.

4) The most important thing for a student to do is to study and learn.

5) Student life has a big effect on the whole life of a person.

6) As a student, life can sometimes be busy and hard.

7) This stage shapes the personality of a person.

8) Student life is quite enjoyable because there are fewer struggles.

9) Our personality and character depend on this stage of life.

10) We should enjoy and utilize student life as much as we can.

Short Essay on Student Life (250 – 300 Words)


Student life is the time a person spends in school or college to get an education. Students are the key to the success of a country. They are our country’s future. Being a student is one of the most beautiful and memorable times in a person’s life.

Role of Student Life

Student life is not only the best time of a person’s life but also the most important. This time will determine their future. Students are usually busy with school, homework, studies, classes, and learning new things. Students get to live on their own for the first time, and they also get to do most things for the first time as adults. They can carve out a bright future for themselves by utilizing this age.

Significance of Student Life

During this time, they learn a lot about life. Aside from school, they learn a lot of skills that help them to be more productive. A student’s personality can be made or broken by their time in school. When someone goes to school, they learn a lot about life. It helps you understand what life is all about.

Aside from all the fun things we do with our friends and the good times we have together, most of our time as students is spent studying and making plans for a better future. Student life is a very important time, and every student needs to put his or her whole heart into it by working hard. You can’t go back to being a student, so enjoy it, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Long Essay on Student Life (500 Words)

Student life is one of the most exciting and memorable times in a person’s life. During this time, we not only learn but also get a sense of who we are. No one will ever forget their time as a student, because it is full of knowledge, experience, fun times, and new things to try. Therefore, we can say that student life is when the seeds of a person’s life are planted.

Student Life: A Golden Experience

Student life is full of not only learning and education but also a lot of fun and memorable experiences. At this age, there are no worries about the outside world or responsibilities. Student life is the time when a person learns new things. During this time, a person gets ready for what will happen in the future. Some of the best things about being a student are getting to spend time with friends, eating, studying, joking, and having fun.

Duties of Student Life

The first thing students should do is work hard on their studies. A student’s most obvious duty is to show respect to their teacher and parents. They should avoid getting hooked on social media and mobile games. During this time, a student should work on building their personality, character, and behavior. When they get involved in different kinds of social work, they learn how to work together. They should also know how to deal with tough situations.

Importance of Student Life

Student life is an important part of every human’s life. People are young and have a lot of energy when they are in school. During this time, students learn good manners, self-control, and a positive outlook on life. This helps them become valuable members of society. It is a time when they figure out what is good and what is bad. A student should decide what they want to do with their life while they are in school. Student life is important as we learn how important friends are to us.

Challenges of Student Life

The term “student life” includes all the good and bad times a person has had in school. However, student life is full of challenges. Parents and teachers often put a lot of pressure on them to choose the right things for their careers. Some students may worry about life because they don’t get to understand all things properly. Because everything has a set time, it can be hard to keep up with school, work, sleep, family, and friends. You might have to balance schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and your personal life all at once.

“Student Life” has shown us that this is the best time for a person because real life starts when you’re a student. Not just one person, but every single school student has their favorite memories from school. As a student, you should be committed to school and your studies. We should utilize the student life and make the best future for us.

I hope the above provided essay on Student Life will be helpful in understanding different aspects of student life.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions on Student Life

Ans. A student is someone who goes to school or another place to learn.

Ans. Family background, learning environment, unhealthy lifestyle, etc factors affect student life.

Ans. Discipline, hard work, punctuality, confidence, responsible, etc are some characteristics of a good student.

Ans. 17 November is marked as International Student’s Day.

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Student Life Essay

If there is anything that we would miss later, it would be our good old student life. One cannot deny that student life was one of the most glorious periods. Usually, student life is filled with studies, homework and exams. But even then, it is to this phase that we long to return to. Ever wondered why? We get lots of knowledge and information about different things in the world as well as grow physically, emotionally and socially.

Each of us remembers our student life differently. This student life essay in English will be useful for your kids to understand the importance of student life. It will help them to identify what they like the most about the school through this essay on student life.

Childhood Memories Essay

Experience of Student Life

I recall the day when I wore my uniform and took my new bag and bottle to my first day at school. A few days earlier, there was great excitement in the family as we bought books and a lunchbox to carry to my school. All these things were new to me, and unaware of what the life of a student would be like, I, too, joined the excitement of my parents.

After I began going to school for a few days, I realised that student life is packed with many fun activities and learning, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was during my student life that I made many friends in class. I was always happy to share my snacks with them, and I got to taste various types of delicacies and savouries as they gave a portion of their food to me. Besides, we played hide and seek during the intervals, coloured the books and learned the alphabet together.

I also liked going for one-day picnics and tours, and this part of student life was where I got to have maximum joy. While my student life was packed with endless activities and games, there were also stages of learning where I was able to grow as a person. I understood important virtues like discipline, punctuality, hard work and integrity as I studied and tried to score good marks. It is our student life that shapes our dreams where we can plan and secure our future.

I have often heard my parents saying that they miss their student life, and I guess it is because it is the only time when we can be innocent and carefree and take life as it is. I know that I wouldn’t get this student life, nor will I be able to go back to being a student once I become independent and start living my life.

Moral of the Essay

Student life is a crucial aspect as it determines how we would grow up as individuals. This essay on student life will help you understand its many benefits. We must also consider ourselves lucky for acquiring education as many do not know what education or student life is. So, recount the incidents of your student life through this student life essay in English.

You can find more essays similar to the student life essay on BYJU’S website. Also, explore other kid-friendly learning resources on our website.

What do you mean by student life?

If you are a student who either goes to a school or college, then the daily activities you indulge in as a student constitutes your student life. You will be spending time with your teachers and friends by learning and playing.

Is student life important?

We cannot overlook the importance of student life as it is a period of new learning. We begin to understand many things, and if we have a balanced student life, then we will be able to achieve success in life.

Is it difficult to lead a student life?

Student life is a pleasant experience where we gather knowledge and make friends. But it is also a phase where we face reality and experience difficult situations. Nevertheless, student life makes you braver, responsible and emotionally well-receptive.

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Study Tracks Shifts in Student Mental Health During College

Dartmouth study followed 200 students all four years, including through the pandemic.

Andrew Campbell seated by a window in a blue t-shirt and glasses

Phone App Uses AI to Detect Depression From Facial Cues

A four-year study by Dartmouth researchers captures the most in-depth data yet on how college students’ self-esteem and mental health fluctuates during their four years in academia, identifying key populations and stressors that the researchers say administrators could target to improve student well-being. 

The study also provides among the first real-time accounts of how the coronavirus pandemic affected students’ behavior and mental health. The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 resulted in long-lasting behavioral changes that persisted as a “new normal” even as the pandemic diminished, including students feeling more stressed, less socially engaged, and sleeping more.

The researchers tracked more than 200 Dartmouth undergraduates in the classes of 2021 and 2022 for all four years of college. Students volunteered to let a specially developed app called StudentLife tap into the sensors that are built into smartphones. The app cataloged their daily physical and social activity, how long they slept, their location and travel, the time they spent on their phone, and how often they listened to music or watched videos. Students also filled out weekly behavioral surveys, and selected students gave post-study interviews. 

The study—which is the longest mobile-sensing study ever conducted—is published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies .

The researchers will present it at the Association of Computing Machinery’s UbiComp/ISWC 2024 conference in Melbourne, Australia, in October. 

These sorts of tools will have a tremendous impact on projecting forward and developing much more data-driven ways to intervene and respond exactly when students need it most.

The team made their anonymized data set publicly available —including self-reports, surveys, and phone-sensing and brain-imaging data—to help advance research into the mental health of students during their college years. 

Andrew Campbell , the paper’s senior author and Dartmouth’s Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of Computer Science, says that the study’s extensive data reinforces the importance of college and university administrators across the country being more attuned to how and when students’ mental well-being changes during the school year.

“For the first time, we’ve produced granular data about the ebb and flow of student mental health. It’s incredibly dynamic—there’s nothing that’s steady state through the term, let alone through the year,” he says. “These sorts of tools will have a tremendous impact on projecting forward and developing much more data-driven ways to intervene and respond exactly when students need it most.”

First-year and female students are especially at risk for high anxiety and low self-esteem, the study finds. Among first-year students, self-esteem dropped to its lowest point in the first weeks of their transition from high school to college but rose steadily every semester until it was about 10% higher by graduation.

“We can see that students came out of high school with a certain level of self-esteem that dropped off to the lowest point of the four years. Some said they started to experience ‘imposter syndrome’ from being around other high-performing students,” Campbell says. “As the years progress, though, we can draw a straight line from low to high as their self-esteem improves. I think we would see a similar trend class over class. To me, that’s a very positive thing.”

Female students—who made up 60% of study participants—experienced on average 5% greater stress levels and 10% lower self-esteem than male students. More significantly, the data show that female students tended to be less active, with male students walking 37% more often.

Sophomores were 40% more socially active compared to their first year, the researchers report. But these students also reported feeling 13% more stressed during their second year than during their first year as their workload increased, they felt pressure to socialize, or as first-year social groups dispersed.

One student in a sorority recalled that having pre-arranged activities “kind of adds stress as I feel like I should be having fun because everyone tells me that it is fun.” Another student noted that after the first year, “students have more access to the whole campus and that is when you start feeling excluded from things.” 

In a novel finding, the researchers identify an “anticipatory stress spike” of 17% experienced in the last two weeks of summer break. While still lower than mid-academic year stress, the spike was consistent across different summers.

In post-study interviews, some students pointed to returning to campus early for team sports as a source of stress. Others specified reconnecting with family and high school friends during their first summer home, saying they felt “a sense of leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of these long-standing friendships” as the break ended, the researchers report. 

“This is a foundational study,” says Subigya Nepal , first author of the study and a PhD candidate in Campbell’s research group. “It has more real-time granular data than anything we or anyone else has provided before. We don’t know yet how it will translate to campuses nationwide, but it can be a template for getting the conversation going.”

The depth and accuracy of the study data suggest that mobile-sensing software could eventually give universities the ability to create proactive mental-health policies specific to certain student populations and times of year, Campbell says.

For example, a paper Campbell’s research group published in 2022 based on StudentLife data showed that first-generation students experienced lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression than other students throughout their four years of college.

“We will be able to look at campus in much more nuanced ways than waiting for the results of an annual mental health study and then developing policy,” Campbell says. “We know that Dartmouth is a small and very tight-knit campus community. But if we applied these same methods to a college with similar attributes, I believe we would find very similar trends.”

Weathering the pandemic

When students returned home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers found that self-esteem actually increased during the pandemic by 5% overall and by another 6% afterward when life returned closer to what it was before. One student suggested in their interview that getting older came with more confidence. Others indicated that being home led to them spending more time with friends talking on the phone, on social media, or streaming movies together. 

The data show that phone usage—measured by the duration a phone was unlocked—indeed increased by nearly 33 minutes, or 19%, during the pandemic, while time spent in physical activity dropped by 52 minutes, or 27%. By 2022, phone usage fell from its pandemic peak to just above pre-pandemic levels, while engagement in physical activity had recovered to exceed the pre-pandemic period by three minutes. 

Despite reporting higher self-esteem, students’ feelings of stress increased by more than 10% during the pandemic. By the end of the study in June 2022, stress had fallen by less than 2% of its pandemic peak, indicating that the experience had a lasting impact on student well-being, the researchers report. 

In early 2021, as students returned to campus, their reunion with friends and community was tempered by an overwhelming concern about the still-rampant coronavirus. “There was the first outbreak in winter 2021 and that was terrifying,” one student recalls. Another student adds: “You could be put into isolation for a long time even if you did not have COVID. Everyone was afraid to contact-trace anyone else in case they got mad at each other.”

Female students were especially concerned about the coronavirus, on average 13% more than male students. “Even though the girls might have been hanging out with each other more, they are more aware of the impact,” one female student reported. “I actually had COVID and exposed some friends of mine. All the girls that I told tested as they were worried. They were continually checking up to make sure that they did not have it and take it home to their family.”

Students still learning remotely had social levels 16% higher than students on campus, who engaged in activity an average of 10% less often than when they were learning from home. However, on-campus students used their phones 47% more often. When interviewed after the study, these students reported spending extended periods of time video-calling or streaming movies with friends and family.

Social activity and engagement had not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the study in June 2022, recovering by a little less than 3% after a nearly 10% drop during the pandemic. Similarly, the pandemic correlates with students sticking closer to home, with their distance traveled nearly cut in half during the pandemic and holding at that level since then.

Campbell and several of his fellow researchers are now developing a smartphone app known as MoodCapture that uses artificial intelligence paired with facial-image processing software to reliably detect the onset of depression before the user even knows something is wrong.

Morgan Kelly can be reached at [email protected] .

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New On the Job: Q&A With Estevan Garcia

When you don’t have to worry about moisture and air contamination, that significantly reduces your costs.

Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

student in library on laptop

How to Write an Effective Essay

Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

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essay on student life in university

The ‘Colorblindness’ Trap

How a civil rights ideal got hijacked.

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The ‘Colorblindness’ Trap: How a Civil Rights Ideal Got Hijacked

The fall of affirmative action is part of a 50-year campaign to roll back racial progress.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

By Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a staff writer at the magazine and is the creator of The 1619 Project. She also teaches race and journalism at Howard University.

Anthony K. Wutoh, the provost of Howard University, was sitting at his desk last July when his phone rang. It was the new dean of the College of Medicine, and she was worried. She had received a letter from a conservative law group called the Liberty Justice Center. The letter warned that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions, the school “must cease” any practices or policies that included a “racial component” and said it was notifying medical schools across the country that they must eliminate “racial discrimination” in their admissions. If Howard refused to comply, the letter threatened, the organization would sue.

Listen to this article, read by Janina Edwards

Open this article in the New York Times Audio app on iOS.

Wutoh told the dean to send him the letter and not to respond until she heard back from him. Hanging up, he sat there for a moment, still. Then he picked up the phone and called the university’s counsel: This could be a problem.

Like most university officials, Wutoh was not shocked in June when the most conservative Supreme Court in nearly a century cut affirmative action’s final thin thread. In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the court invalidated race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Universities across the nation had been preparing for the ruling, trying both to assess potential liabilities and determine the best response.

But Howard is no ordinary university. Chartered by the federal government two years after the Civil War, Howard is one of about 100 historically Black colleges and universities, known as H.B.C.U.s. H.B.C.U. is an official government designation for institutions of higher learning founded from the time of slavery through the end of legal apartheid in the 1960s, mostly in the South. H.B.C.U.s were charged with educating the formerly enslaved and their descendants, who for most of this nation’s history were excluded from nearly all of its public and private colleges.

Though Howard has been open to students of all races since its founding in 1867, nearly all of its students have been Black. And so after the affirmative-action ruling, while elite, predominantly white universities fretted about how to keep their Black enrollments from shrinking, Howard (where I am a professor) and other H.B.C.U.s were planning for a potential influx of students who either could no longer get into these mostly white colleges or no longer wanted to try.

Wutoh thought it astounding that Howard — a university whose official government designation and mandate, whose entire reason for existing, is to serve a people who had been systematically excluded from higher education — could be threatened with a lawsuit if it did not ignore race when admitting students. “The fact that we have to even think about and consider what does this mean and how do we continue to fulfill our mission and fulfill the reason why we were founded as an institution and still be consistent with the ruling — I have to acknowledge that we have struggled with this,” he told me. “My broader concern is this is a concerted effort, part of an orchestrated plan to roll back many of the advances of the ’50s and ’60s. I am alarmed. It is absolutely regressive.”

Graduates attend a Howard University commencement ceremony.

Wutoh has reason to be alarmed. Conservative groups have spent the nine months since the affirmative-action ruling launching an assault on programs designed to explicitly address racial inequality across American life. They have filed a flurry of legal challenges and threatened lawsuits against race-conscious programs outside the realm of education, including diversity fellowships at law firms, a federal program to aid disadvantaged small businesses and a program to keep Black women from dying in childbirth. These conservative groups — whose names often evoke fairness and freedom and rights — are using civil rights law to claim that the Constitution requires “colorblindness” and that efforts targeted at ameliorating the suffering of descendants of slavery illegally discriminate against white people. They have co-opted both the rhetoric of colorblindness and the legal legacy of Black activism not to advance racial progress, but to stall it. Or worse, reverse it.

During the civil rights era, this country passed a series of hard-fought laws to dismantle the system of racial apartheid and to create policies and programs aimed at repairing its harms. Today this is often celebrated as the period when the nation finally triumphed over its original sin of slavery. But what this narrative obscures is that the gains of the civil rights movement were immediately met with a backlash that sought to subvert first the language and then the aims of the movement. Over the last 50 years, we have experienced a slow-moving, near-complete unwinding of the idea that this country owes anything to Black Americans for 350 years of legalized slavery and racism. But we have also undergone something far more dangerous: the dismantling of the constitutional tools for undoing racial caste in the United States.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Supreme Court began to vacillate on remedies for descendants of slavery. And for the last 30 years, the court has almost exclusively ruled in favor of white people in so-called reverse-discrimination cases while severely narrowing the possibility for racial redress for Black Americans. Often, in these decisions, the court has used colorblindness as a rationale that dismisses both the particular history of racial disadvantage and its continuing disparities.

This thinking has reached its legal apotheosis on the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Starting with the 2007 case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the court found that it wasn’t the segregation of Black and Latino children that was constitutionally repugnant, but the voluntary integration plans that used race to try to remedy it. Six years later, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby v. Holder, gutting the Voting Rights Act, which had ensured that jurisdictions could no longer prevent Black Americans from voting because of their race. The act was considered one of the most successful civil rights laws in American history, but Roberts declared that its key provision was no longer needed, saying that “things have changed dramatically.” But a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that since the ruling, jurisdictions that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act because of their history of discrimination saw the gap in turnout between Black and white voters grow nearly twice as quickly as in other jurisdictions with similar socioeconomic profiles.

These decisions of the Roberts court laid the legal and philosophical groundwork for the recent affirmative-action case. Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard involved two of the country’s oldest public and private universities, both of which were financed to a significant degree with the labor of the enslaved and excluded slavery’s descendants for most of their histories. In finding that affirmative action was unconstitutional, Roberts used the reasoning of Brown v. Board of Education to make the case that because “the Constitution is colorblind” and “should not permit any distinctions of law based on race or color,” race cannot be used even to help a marginalized group. Quoting the Brown ruling, Roberts argued that “the mere act of ‘separating children’” because of their race generated “ ‘a feeling of inferiority’” among students.

But in citing Brown, Roberts spoke generically of race, rarely mentioning Black people and ignoring the fact that this earlier ruling struck down segregation because race had been used to subordinate them. When Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote those words in 1954, he was not arguing that the use of race harmed Black and white children equally. The use of race in assigning students to schools, Warren wrote, referring to an earlier lower-court decision, had “a detrimental effect upon colored children” specifically, because it was “interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group.”

Roberts quickly recited in just a few paragraphs the centuries-long legacy of legal discrimination against Black Americans. Then, as if flicking so many crumbs from the table, he used the circular logic of conservative colorblindness to dispatch that past with a pithy line: “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

By erasing the context, Roberts turned colorblindness on its head, reinterpreting a concept meant to eradicate racial caste to one that works against racial justice.

Roberts did not invent this subversion of colorblindness, but his court is constitutionalizing it. While we seem to understand now how the long game of the anti-abortion movement resulted in a historically conservative Supreme Court that last year struck down Roe v. Wade, taking away what had been a constitutional right, Americans have largely failed to see that a parallel, decades-long antidemocratic racial strategy was occurring at the same time. The ramifications of the recent affirmative-action decision are clear — and they are not something so inconsequential as the complexion of elite colleges and the number of students of color who attend them: We are in the midst of a radical abandonment of a compact that the civil rights movement forged, a shared understanding that racial inequality is harmful to democracy.

The End of Slavery, and the Instant Backlash

When this country finally eliminated first slavery and then racial apartheid, it was left with a fundamental question: How does a white-majority nation, which for nearly its entire history wielded race-conscious policies and laws that oppressed and excluded Black Americans, create a society in which race no longer matters? Do we ignore race in order to eliminate its power, or do we consciously use race to undo its harms?

Our nation has never been able to resolve this tension. Race, we now believe, should not be used to harm or to advantage people, whether they are Black or white. But the belief in colorblindness in a society constructed on the codification of racial difference has always been aspirational. And so achieving it requires what can seem like a paradoxical approach: a demand that our nation pay attention to race in order, at some future point, to attain a just society. As Justice Thurgood Marshall said in a 1987 speech, “The ultimate goal is the creation of a colorblind society,” but “given the position from which America began, we still have a very long way to go.”

Racial progress in the United States has resulted from rare moments of national clarity, often following violent upheavals like the Civil War and the civil rights movement. At those times, enough white people in power embraced the idea that racial subordination is antidemocratic and so the United States must counter its legacy of racial caste not with a mandated racial neutrality or colorblindness but with sweeping race-specific laws and policies to help bring about Black equality. Yet any attempt to manufacture equality by the same means that this society manufactured inequality has faced fierce and powerful resistance.

This resistance began as soon as slavery ended. After generations of chattel slavery, four million human beings were suddenly being emancipated into a society in which they had no recognized rights or citizenship, and no land, money, education, shelter or jobs. To address this crisis, some in Congress saw in the aftermath of this nation’s deadliest war the opportunity — but also the necessity — for a second founding that would eliminate the system of racial slavery that had been its cause. These men, known as Radical Republicans, believed that making Black Americans full citizens required color-consciousness in policy — an intentional reversal of the way race had been used against Black Americans. They wanted to create a new agency called the Freedmen’s Bureau to serve “persons of African descent” or “such persons as once had been slaves” by providing educational, food and legal assistance, as well as allotments of land taken from the white-owned properties where formerly enslaved people were forced to work.

Understanding that “race” was created to force people of African descent into slavery, their arguments in Congress in favor of the Freedmen’s Bureau were not based on Black Americans’ “skin color” but rather on their condition. Standing on the Senate floor in June 1864, Senator Charles Sumner quoted from a congressional commission’s report on the conditions of freed people, saying, “We need a Freedmen’s Bureau not because these people are Negroes but because they are men who have been for generations despoiled of their rights.” Senator Lyman Trumbull, an author of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, declared: “The policy of the states where slavery has existed has been to legislate in its interest. … Now, when slavery no longer exists, the policy of the government must be to legislate in the interest of freedom.” In a speech to Congress, Trumbull compelled “the people of the rebellious states” to be “as zealous and active in the passage of laws and the inauguration of measures to elevate, develop and improve the Negro as they have hitherto been to enslave and degrade him.”

But there were also the first stirrings of an argument we still hear today: that specifically aiding those who, because they were of African descent, had been treated as property for 250 years was giving them preferential treatment. Two Northern congressmen, Martin Kalbfleish, a Dutch immigrant and former Brooklyn mayor, and Anthony L. Knapp, a representative from Illinois, declared that no one would give “serious consideration” to a “bureau of Irishmen’s affairs, a bureau of Dutchmen’s affairs or one for the affairs of those of Caucasian descent generally.” So they questioned why the freedmen should “become these marked objects of special legislation, to the detriment of the unfortunate whites.” Representative Nelson Taylor bemoaned the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, which he accused of making a “distinction on account of color between two races.” He argued, “This, sir, is what I call class legislation — legislation for a particular class of the Blacks to the exclusion of all whites.”

Ultimately, the Freedmen’s Bureau bills passed, but only after language was added to provide assistance for poor white people as well. Already, at the very moment of racial slavery’s demise, we see the poison pill, the early formulation of the now-familiar arguments that helping a people who had been enslaved was somehow unfair to those who had not, that the same Constitution that permitted and protected bondage based on race now required colorblindness to undo its harms.

This logic helped preserve the status quo and infused the responses to other Reconstruction-era efforts that tried to ensure justice and equality for newly freed people. President Andrew Johnson, in vetoing the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which sought to grant automatic citizenship to four million Black people whose families for generations had been born in the United States, argued that it “proposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy and patriotic foreigners,” who would still be subjected to a naturalization process “in favor of the Negro.” Congress overrode Johnson’s veto, but this idea that unique efforts to address the extraordinary conditions of people who were enslaved or descended from slavery were unfair to another group who had chosen to immigrate to this country foreshadowed the arguments about Asian immigrants and their children that would be echoed 150 years later in Students for Fair Admissions.

As would become the pattern, the collective determination to redress the wrongs of slavery evaporated under opposition. Congress abolished the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1872. And just 12 years after the Civil War, white supremacists and their accommodationists brought Reconstruction to a violent end. The nation’s first experiment with race-based redress and multiracial democracy was over. In its place, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 ushered in the period of official racial apartheid when it determined that “the enforced separation of the races … neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man … nor denies him the equal protection of the laws.” Over the next six decades, the court condoned an entire code of race law and policies designed to segregate, marginalize, exclude and subjugate descendants of slavery across every realm of American life. The last of these laws would stand until 1968, less than a decade before I was born.

Thurgood Marshall’s Path to Desegregation

In 1930, a young man named Thurgood Marshall, a native son of Baltimore, could not attend the University of Maryland’s law school, located in the city and state where his parents were taxpaying citizens. The 22-year-old should have been a shoo-in for admission. An academically gifted student, Marshall had become enamored with the Constitution after his high school principal punished him for a prank by making him read the founding document. Marshall memorized key parts of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. After enrolling at Lincoln University, a prestigious Black institution, he joined the debate team and graduated with honors.

But none of that mattered. Only one thing did: Marshall was a descendant of slavery, and Black people, no matter their intellect, ambition or academic record, were barred by law from attending the University of Maryland. Marshall enrolled instead at Howard University Law School, where he studied under the brilliant Charles Hamilton Houston, whose belief that “a lawyer is either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society” had turned the law school into the “West Point of civil rights.”

It was there that Marshall began to see the Constitution as a living document that must adapt to and address the times. He joined with Houston in crafting the strategy that would dismantle legal apartheid. After graduating as valedictorian, in one of his first cases, Marshall sued the University of Maryland. He argued that the school was violating the 14th Amendment, which granted the formerly enslaved citizenship and ensured Black Americans “equal protection under the law,” by denying Black students admission solely because of their race without providing an alternative law school for Black students. Miraculously, he won.

Nearly two decades later, Marshall stood before the Supreme Court on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that the equal-protection clause enshrined in the 14th Amendment did not abide the use of racial classifications to segregate Black students. Marshall was not merely advancing a generic argument that the Constitution commands blindness to color or race. The essential issue, the reason the 14th Amendment existed, he argued, was not just because race had served as a means of classifying people, but because race had been used to create a system to oppress descendants of slavery — people who had been categorized as Black. Marshall explained that racial classification was being used to enforce an “inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible.” The court, he said, “should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for.” He sought the elimination of laws requiring segregation, but also the segregation those laws had created.

The Supreme Court, in unanimously striking down school segregation in its Brown decision, did not specifically mention the word “colorblind,” but its ruling echoed the thinking about the 14th Amendment in John Marshall Harlan’s lone dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. “There is no caste here,” Harlan declared. “Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” But he also made it clear that colorblindness was intended to eliminate the subordination of those who had been enslaved, writing, “In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” He continued, “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race … is a badge of servitude.”

The court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was not merely a moral statement but a political one. Racial segregation and the violent suppression of democracy among its Black citizens had become a liability for the United States during the Cold War, as the nation sought to stymie Communism’s attraction in non-European nations. Attorney General James P. McGranery submitted a brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Truman administration supporting a ruling against school segregation, writing: “It is in the context of the present world struggle between freedom and tyranny that the problem of racial discrimination must be viewed. The United States is trying to prove to the people of the world of every nationality, race and color that a free democracy is the most civilized and most secure form of government yet devised by man. … Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills.”

Civil rights activists were finally seeing their decades-long struggle paying off. But the architects and maintenance crew of racial caste understood a fundamental truth about the society they had built: Systems constructed and enforced over centuries to subjugate enslaved people and their descendants based on race no longer needed race-based laws to sustain them. Racial caste was so entrenched, so intertwined with American institutions, that without race-based counteraction , it would inevitably self-replicate.

One can see this in the effort to desegregate schools after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Across the country, North and South, white officials eliminated laws and policies mandating segregation but also did nothing to integrate schools. They maintained unofficial policies of assigning students to schools based on race, adopting so-called race-neutral admissions requirements designed to eliminate most Black applicants from white schools, and they drew school attendance zones snugly around racially segregated neighborhoods. Nearly a decade after Brown v. Board, educational colorblindness stood as the law of the land, and yet no substantial school integration had occurred. In fact, at the start of 1963, in Alabama and Mississippi, two of the nation’s most heavily Black states, not a single Black child attended school with white children.

By the mid-1960s, the Supreme Court grew weary of the ploys. It began issuing rulings trying to enforce actual desegregation of schools. And in 1968, in Green v. New Kent County, the court unanimously decided against a Virginia school district’s “freedom-of-choice plan” that on its face adhered to the colorblind mandate of Brown but in reality led to almost no integration in the district. “The fact that in 1965 the Board opened the doors of the former ‘white’ school to Negro children and of the ‘Negro’ school to white children merely begins, not ends, our inquiry whether the Board has taken steps adequate to abolish its dual, segregated system,” the court determined.

The court ordered schools to use race to assign students, faculty and staff members to schools to achieve integration. Complying with Brown, the court determined, meant the color-conscious conversion of an apartheid system into one without a “ ‘white’ school and a ‘Negro’ school, but just schools.” In other words, the reality of racial caste could not be constitutionally subordinated to the ideal of colorblindness. Colorblindness was the goal, color-consciousness the remedy.

Using Race to End Racial Inequality

Hobart Taylor Jr., a successful lawyer who lived in Detroit, was mingling at a party in the nation’s capital in January 1961 to celebrate the inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson as vice president of the United States. Taylor had not had any intention of going to the inauguration, but like Johnson, Taylor was a native son of Texas, and his politically active family were early supporters of Johnson. And so at a personal request from the vice president, Taylor reluctantly found himself amid the din of clinking cocktail glasses when Johnson stopped and asked him to come see him in a few days.

Taylor did not immediately go see Johnson. After a second request came in, in February, Taylor found himself in Johnson’s office. The vice president slid into Taylor’s hands a draft of a new executive order to establish the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which Johnson would lead. This was to be one of President John F. Kennedy’s first steps toward establishing civil rights for Black people.

Taylor’s grandfather had been born into slavery, and yet he and Taylor’s father became highly successful and influential entrepreneurs and landowners despite Texas’ strict color line.

The apartheid society Taylor grew up in was changing, and the vice president of the United States had tapped him to help draft its new rules. How could he say no? Taylor had planned on traveling back to Detroit that night, but instead he checked into the Willard Hotel, where he worked so intently on the draft of the executive order that not only did he forget to eat dinner but also he forgot to tell his wife that he wasn’t coming home. The next day, Taylor worked and reworked the draft for what would become Executive Order 10925, enacted in March 1961.

A few years later, in an interview for the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program, Taylor would recall what he considered his most significant contribution. The draft he received said employers had to “take action” to ensure that job applicants and employees would not be discriminated against because of their race, creed, color or national origin. Taylor thought the wording needed a propellant, and so inserted the word “affirmative” in front of action. “I was torn between ‘positive’ and ‘affirmative,’ and I decided ‘affirmative’ on the basis of alliteration,” he said. “And that has, apparently, meant a great deal historically in the way in which people have approached this whole thing.”

Taylor added the word to the order, but it would be the other Texan — a man with a fondness for using the N-word in private — who would most forcefully describe the moral rationale, the societal mandate, for affirmative action. Johnson would push through Congress the 1964, 1965 and 1968 civil rights laws — the greatest civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.

But a deeply divided Congress did not pass this legislation simply because it realized a century after the Civil War that descendants of slavery deserved equal rights. Black Americans had been engaged in a struggle to obtain those rights and had endured political assassinations, racist murders, bombings and other violence. Segregated and impoverished Black communities across the nation took part in dozens of rebellions, and tanks rolled through American streets. The violent suppression of the democratic rights of its Black citizens threatened to destabilize the country and had once again become an international liability as the United States waged war in Vietnam.

But as this nation’s racist laws began to fall, conservatives started to realize that the language of colorblindness could be used to their advantage. In the fall of 1964, Barry Goldwater, a Republican who was running against President Johnson, gave his first major national speech on civil rights. Civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins had lambasted Goldwater’s presidential nomination, with King saying his philosophy gave “aid and comfort to racists.” But at a carefully chosen venue — the Conrad Hilton in Chicago — in front of a well-heeled white audience unlikely to spout racist rhetoric, Goldwater savvily evoked the rhetoric of the civil rights movement to undermine civil rights. “It has been well said that the Constitution is colorblind,” he said. “And so it is just as wrong to compel children to attend certain schools for the sake of so-called integration as for the sake of segregation. … Our aim, as I understand it, is not to establish a segregated society or an integrated society. It is to preserve a free society.”

The argument laid out in this speech was written with the help of William H. Rehnquist. As a clerk for Justice Robert Jackson during the Brown v. Board of Education case, Rehnquist pushed for the court to uphold segregation. But in the decade that passed, it became less socially acceptable to publicly denounce equal rights for Black Americans, and Rehnquist began to deploy the language of colorblindness in a way that cemented racial disadvantage.

White Americans who liked the idea of equality but did not want descendants of slavery moving next door to them, competing for their jobs or sitting near their children in school were exceptionally primed for this repositioning. As Rick Perlstein wrote in his book “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of American Consensus,” when it came to race, Goldwater believed that white Americans “didn’t have the words to say the truth they knew in their hearts to be right, in a manner proper to the kind of men they wanted to see when they looked in the mirror. Goldwater was determined to give them the words.”

In the end, Johnson beat Goldwater in a landslide. Then, in June 1965, a few months after Black civil rights marchers were barbarically beaten on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge and two months before he would sign the historic Voting Rights Act into law, Johnson, now president of a deeply and violently polarized nation, gave the commencement address at Howard University. At that moment, Johnson stood at the pinnacle of white American power, and he used his platform to make the case that the country owed descendants of slavery more than just their rights and freedom.

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair,” Johnson said. “This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”

For a brief moment, it seemed as if a grander, more just vision of America had taken hold. But while Goldwater did not win the election, 14 years later a case went before the Supreme Court that would signal the ultimate victory of Goldwater’s strategy.

Claiming Reverse Discrimination

Allan Bakke was enjoying a successful career at NASA when he decided he wanted to become a physician. Bakke grew up in a white middle-class family — his father worked for the Post Office, and his mother taught school. Bakke went to the University of Minnesota, where he studied engineering and joined the R.O.T.C. to help pay for college, and then served four years as a Marine, including seven months in Vietnam. It was there that Bakke became enamored with the medical profession. While still working at NASA, he enrolled in night courses to obtain a pre-med degree. In 1972, while he was in his 30s, Bakke applied to 11 medical schools, including at his alma mater, and was rejected by all 11.

One of the schools that Bakke, who was living in California at the time, applied to was the University of California at Davis. The school received 2,664 applications for 100 spots, and by the time he completed his application, most of the seats had already been filled. Some students with lower scores were admitted before he applied, and Bakke protested to the school, claiming that “quotas, open or covert, for racial minorities” had kept him out. His admission file, however, would show that it was his age that was probably a significant strike against him and not his race.

Bakke applied again the next year, and U.C. Davis rejected him again. A friend described Bakke as developing an “almost religious zeal” to fight what he felt was a system that discriminated against white people in favor of so-called minorities. Bakke decided to sue, claiming he had been a victim of “reverse” discrimination.

The year was 1974, less than a decade after Johnson’s speech on affirmative action and a few years after the policy had begun to make its way onto college campuses. The U.C. Davis medical school put its affirmative-action plan in place in 1970. At the time, its first-year medical-school class of 100 students did not include a single Black, Latino or Native student. In response, the faculty designed a special program to boost enrollment of “disadvantaged” students by reserving 16 of the 100 seats for students who would go through a separate admissions process that admitted applicants with lower academic ratings than the general admissions program.

From 1971 to 1974, 21 Black students, 30 Mexican American students and 12 Asian American students enrolled through the special program, while one Black student, six Mexican Americans and 37 Asian American students were admitted through the regular program. Bakke claimed that his right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act had been violated. Though these laws were adopted to protect descendants of slavery from racial discrimination and subordination, Bakke was deploying them to claim that he had been illegally discriminated against because he was white. The case became the first affirmative-action challenge decided by the Supreme Court and revealed just how successful the rhetorical exploitation of colorblindness could be.

Justice Lewis Powell, writing for a fractured court in 1978, determined that although the 14th Amendment was written primarily to bridge “the vast distance between members of the Negro race and the white ‘majority,’” the passage of time and the changing demographics of the nation meant the amendment must now be applied universally. In an argument echoing the debates over the Freedmen’s Bureau, Powell said that the United States had grown more diverse, becoming a “nation of minorities,” where “the white ‘majority’ itself is composed of various minority groups, most of which can lay claim to a history of prior discrimination at the hands of the State and private individuals.”

“The guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to a person of another color,” Powell wrote. “If both are not accorded the same protection, then it is not equal.” Powell declared that the medical school could not justify helping certain “perceived” victims if it disadvantaged white people who “bear no responsibility for whatever harm the beneficiaries of the special admissions program are thought to have suffered.”

But who or what, then, did bear the responsibility?

Bakke was raised in Coral Gables, a wealthy, white suburb of Miami whose segregationist founder proposed a plan to remove all Black people from Miami while serving on the Dade County Planning Board, and where the white elementary school did not desegregate until after it was ordered by a federal court to do so in 1970, the same year U.C. Davis began its affirmative-action program. The court did not contemplate how this racially exclusive access to top neighborhoods and top schools probably helped Bakke to achieve the test scores that most Black students, largely relegated because of their racial designation to resource-deprived segregated neighborhoods and educational facilities, did not. It did not mean Bakke didn’t work hard, but it did mean that he had systemic advantages over equally hard-working and talented Black people.

For centuries, men like Powell and Bakke had benefited from a near-100 percent quota system, one that reserved nearly all the seats at this nation’s best-funded public and private schools and most-exclusive public and private colleges, all the homes in the best neighborhoods and all the top, well-paying jobs in private companies and public agencies for white Americans. Men like Bakke did not acknowledge the systemic advantages they had accrued because of their racial category, nor all the ways their race had unfairly benefited them. More critical, neither did the Supreme Court. As members of the majority atop the caste system, racial advantage transmitted invisibly to them. They took notice of their race only when confronted with a new system that sought to redistribute some of that advantage to people who had never had it.

Thus, the first time the court took up the issue of affirmative action, it took away the policy’s power. The court determined that affirmative action could not be used to redress the legacy of racial discrimination that Black Americans experienced, or the current systemic inequality that they were still experiencing. Instead, it allowed that some consideration of a student’s racial background could stand for one reason only: to achieve desired “diversity” of the student body. Powell referred to Harvard’s affirmative-action program, which he said had expanded to include students from other disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those from low-income families. He quoted an example from the plan, which said: “The race of an applicant may tip the balance in his favor, just as geographic origin or a life spent on a farm may tip the balance in other candidates’ cases. A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a Black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer.”

But, of course, a (white) farm boy from Idaho did not descend from people who were enslaved, because they were farmers from Idaho. There were not two centuries of case law arguing over the inherent humanity and rights of farm boys from Idaho. There was no sector of the law, no constitutional provision, that enshrined farm boys from Idaho as property who could be bought and sold. Farm boys from Idaho had no need to engage in a decades-long movement to gain basic rights of citizenship, including the fundamental right to vote. Farm boys from Idaho had not, until just a decade earlier, been denied housing, jobs, the ability to sit on juries and access to the ballot. Farm boys from Idaho had not been forced to sue for the right to attend public schools and universities.

In Bakke, the court was legally — and ideologically — severing the link between race and condition. Race became nothing more than ancestry and a collection of superficial physical traits. The 14th Amendment was no longer about alleviating the extraordinary repercussions of slavery but about treating everyone the same regardless of their “skin color,” history or present condition. With a few strokes of his pen, Powell wiped this context away, and just like that, the experience of 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow was relegated to one thing: another box to check.

Yet at the same time Powell was drafting this ruling, cases of recalcitrant school districts still refusing to integrate Black children were making their way to the Supreme Court. Just 15 years earlier, the federal government called up National Guardsmen to ensure that handfuls of Black students could enroll in white schools.

Indeed, Powell wrote this opinion while sitting on the same court as Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 became the first Black justice in the Supreme Court’s 178-year history. In Brown, Marshall helped break the back of legalized segregation. Now, as the court deliberated the Bakke case, a frustrated Marshall sent around a two-and-a-half-page typed memo to the other justices. “I repeat, for next to the last time: The decision in this case depends on whether you consider the action of the regents as admitting certain students or as excluding certain other students,” he wrote. “If you view the program as admitting qualified students who, because of this Nation’s sorry history of racial discrimination, have academic records that prevent them from effectively competing for medical school, then this is affirmative action to remove the vestiges of slavery and state imposed segregation by ‘root and branch.’ If you view the program as excluding students, it is a program of ‘quotas’ which violates the principle that the ‘Constitution is color-blind.’”

When Marshall’s arguments did not persuade enough justices, he joined with three others in a dissent from a decision that he saw as actively reversing, and indeed perverting, his legacy. They issued a scathing rebuke to the all-white majority, accusing them of letting “colorblindness become myopia, which masks the reality that many ‘created equal’ have been treated within our lifetimes as inferior both by the law and by their fellow citizens.”

Marshall also wrote his own dissent, where he ticked off statistic after statistic that revealed the glaring disparities between descendants of slavery and white Americans in areas like infant and maternal mortality, unemployment, income and life expectancy. He argued that while collegiate diversity was indeed a compelling state interest, bringing Black Americans into the mainstream of American life was much more urgent, and that failing to do so would ensure that “America will forever remain a divided society.”

Marshall called out the court’s hypocrisy. “For it must be remembered that, during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution, as interpreted by this court, did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro,” he wrote. “Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of that legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that this same Constitution stands as a barrier.”

At the end of his lengthy dissent, Marshall pointed out what had become the court’s historic pattern. “After the Civil War, our government started ‘affirmative action’ programs. This court … destroyed the movement toward complete equality,” he wrote. As he said, “I fear that we have come full circle.”

The Reagan Rollback

In 1980, having just secured the Republican nomination for the presidency, Ronald Reagan traveled to Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair to give an address. It was there in that county, a mere 16 years earlier, that three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by Klansmen, among the most notorious killings of the civil rights era.

Standing in front of a roaring crowd of about 10,000 white Mississippians, Reagan began his general-election campaign. He did not mention race. He did not need to. Instead he spoke of states’ rights, replicating the language of Confederates and segregationists, to signal his vision for America.

Despite the Bakke ruling, affirmative action continued to gain ground in the 1970s, with a deeply divided Supreme Court upholding limited affirmative action in hiring and other areas, and the Jimmy Carter administration embracing race-conscious policies. But Reagan understood the political power of white resistance to these policies, which if allowed to continue and succeed would redistribute opportunity in America.

Once in office, Reagan aggressively advanced the idea that racial-justice efforts had run amok, that Black Americans were getting undeserved racial advantages across society and that white Americans constituted the primary victims of discrimination.

A 1985 New York Times article noted that the Reagan administration was “intensifying its legal attack on affirmative action” across American life, saying the administration “has altered the government’s definition of racial discrimination.” As early as the 1970s, Reagan began using the phrase “reverse discrimination” — what the political scientist Philip L. Fetzer called a “covert political term” that undermined racial redress programs by redefining them as anti-white. Reagan’s administration claimed that race-conscious remedies were illegal and that hiring goals for Black Americans were “a form of racism” and as abhorrent as the “separate but equal” doctrine struck down by Brown v. Board.

Reagan, who had secretly called Black people monkeys and opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Yet in the first commemoration of that holiday in 1986, he trotted out King’s words to condemn racial-justice policy. “We’re committed to a society in which all men and women have equal opportunities to succeed, and so we oppose the use of quotas,” he said. “We want a colorblind society, a society that, in the words of Dr. King, judges people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This passage from King’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech has become a go-to for conservatives seeking to discredit efforts to address the pervasive disadvantages that Black Americans face. And it works so effectively because few Americans have read the entire speech, and even fewer have read any of the other speeches or writings in which King explicitly makes clear that colorblindness was a goal that could be reached only through race-conscious policy. Four years after giving his “Dream” speech, King wrote, “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him.” And during a 1968 sermon given less than a week before his assassination, King said that those who opposed programs to specifically help Black Americans overcome their disadvantage “never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the Black man’s color a stigma; but beyond this they never stop to realize that they owe a people who were kept in slavery 244 years.”

But as the sociologist Stuart Hall once wrote, “Those who produce the discourse also have the power to make it true.” Reagan deftly provided the road map to the nation’s racial future. Tapping into white aversion to acknowledging and addressing the singular crimes committed against Black Americans, conservatives, who had not long before championed and defended racial segregation, now commandeered the language of colorblindness, which had been used to dismantle the impacts of legal apartheid. They wrapped themselves in the banner of rhetorical equality while condemning racial-justice activists as the primary perpetrators of racism.

“There’s this really concerted, strategic effort to communicate to white people that racial justice makes white people victims, and that when people demand racial justice, they don’t actually mean justice; they mean revenge,” Ian Haney López, a race and constitutional law scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, told me. “Black people are treated as if they are just any other Americans. There is no history of racial subordination associated with Black people. There is no structural or systemic racism against African Americans. By 1989, it’s over. Reactionary colorblindness has won.”

Diversity vs. Redress

Perhaps no single person has more successfully wielded Reagan’s strategy than Edward Blum. In 1992, Blum, who made his living as a stockbroker, decided to run for Congress as a Republican in a Texas district carved out to ensure Black representation. Blum was trounced by the Black Democratic candidate. He and several others sued, arguing that a consideration of racial makeup when creating legislative districts violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause. Despite the fact that until a 1944 Supreme Court ruling, Texas had selected candidates through all-white primaries, and the fact that the district had been created in part in response to the state’s history of Black-voter suppression, Blum’s side won the case, forcing a redrawing of legislative districts in a manner that diluted Black and Latino voting power. Since that victory, Blum has mounted a decades-long campaign that has undermined the use of race to achieve racial justice across American life.

Blum is not a lawyer, but his organizations, funded by a mostly anonymous cadre of deep-pocketed conservatives, have been wildly effective. It is Blum, for instance, who was the strategist behind the case against the Voting Rights Act. When the Supreme Court again narrowly upheld affirmative action in college admissions in the early 2000s, Blum set his sights on killing it altogether. In that 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion preserving limited affirmative action but putting universities on notice by setting an arbitrary timeline for when the court should determine that enough racial justice will have been achieved. “It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student-body diversity in the context of public higher education,” O’Connor wrote. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.” The use of the term “racial preferences” is key here. Instead of a policy created to even the playing field for a people who had been systematically held back and still faced pervasive discrimination, affirmative action was cast as a program that punished white Americans by giving unfair preferential treatment to Black Americans.

Blum didn’t wait 25 years to challenge affirmative action. His case brought on behalf of Abigail Fisher, a soft-spoken white woman who sued the University of Texas at Austin, after she was denied admission, went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ultimately upheld the university’s admissions program. In his second attempt, Blum changed tactics. As he told a gathering of the Houston Chinese Alliance in 2015: “I needed Asian plaintiffs.” In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, Blum’s group argued, and the court agreed, that affirmative-action programs discriminated against Asian Americans and, at the University of North Carolina, also white students. But many saw Blum’s use of another historically marginalized group in the lawsuit as an attempt to neutralize any argument that those targeting affirmative action opposed racial equality.

Blum’s success relied on defining affirmative action as a program about “visual diversity,” treating race as a mere collection of physical traits and not a social construct used to subordinate and stigmatize. When colleges seek diversity, he said, they are “really talking about skin-color diversity. How somebody looks. What’s your skin color? What’s the shape of your eyes? What’s the texture of your hair? Most Americans don’t think that the shape of your eyes tells us much about who you are as an individual. What does your skin color tell the world about who you are as an individual?” This reasoning resounds for many Americans who have also come to think about race simply as what you see.

Blum has described racial injustice against Black Americans as a thing of the past — a “terrible scar” on our history. As he awaited the court’s ruling last April, Blum told The Christian Science Monitor that today’s efforts to address that past were discriminatory and in direct conflict with the colorblind goals of Black activism. He said that “an individual’s race or ethnicity should not be used to help that individual or harm that individual in their life’s endeavors” and that affirmative action was “in grave tension with the founding principles of our civil rights movement.” But the civil rights movement has never been about merely eliminating race or racism; it’s also about curing its harms, and civil rights groups oppose Blum’s efforts.

Yet progressives, too, have unwittingly helped to maintain the corrupt colorblind argument that Blum has employed so powerfully, in part because the meaning of affirmative action was warped nearly from its beginning by the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning in Bakke. When the court determined that affirmative-action programs could stand only for “diversity” and not for redress, many advocates and institutions, in order to preserve these programs, embraced the idea that the goal of affirmative action was diversity and inclusiveness and not racial justice. Progressive organizations adopted the lexicon of “people of color” when discussing affirmative-action programs and also flattened all African-descended people into a single category, regardless of their particular lineage or experience in the United States.

Campuses certainly became more “diverse” as admissions offices focused broadly on recruiting students who were not white. But the descendants of slavery, for whom affirmative action originated, remain underrepresented among college students, especially at selective colleges and universities. At elite universities, research shows, the Black population consists disproportionately of immigrants and children of immigrants rather than students whose ancestors were enslaved here.

So, at least on this one thing, Blum is right. Many institutions have treated affirmative-action programs as a means of achieving visual diversity. Doing so has weakened the most forceful arguments for affirmative action, which in turn has weakened public support for such policies. Institutions must find ways, in the wake of the affirmative-action ruling, to address the racism that Black people face no matter their lineage. But using affirmative action as a diversity program — or a program to alleviate disadvantage that any nonwhite person faces — has in actuality played a part in excluding the very people for whom affirmative action and other racial redress programs were created to help.

Taking Back the Intent of Affirmative Action

Just as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund used the Brown v. Board of Education ruling as a legal catalyst for eliminating apartheid in all American life, Blum and those of like mind intend to use the affirmative-action ruling to push a sweeping regression in the opposite direction: bringing down this nation’s racial-justice programs and initiatives.

Right after the June ruling, 13 Republican state attorneys general sent letters to 100 of the nation’s biggest companies warning that the affirmative-action ruling prohibits what they call “discriminating on the basis of race, whether under the label of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ or otherwise. Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong.” Companies that engage in such racial discrimination, the letter threatened, would “face serious legal consequences.”

The letter points to racial-justice and diversity-and-inclusion programs created or announced by companies, particularly after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. In response to the killing, a multigenerational protest movement arose and faced violent suppression by law enforcement as it sought to force this nation to see that the descendants of slavery were still suffering and deserved repair. Corporations took a public stance on racial justice, vowing to integrate everything from their boardrooms to their suppliers. Monuments to white supremacists and Confederates that had stood for 100 years were finally vanquished from the public square. And many colleges and other institutions vocally committed to racial justice as an ethos.

But that fragile multiracial coalition — which for a period understood racial redress as a national good needed to secure and preserve our democracy — has been crushed by the same forces that have used racial polarization to crush these alliances in the past. Conservatives have spent the four years since George Floyd’s murder waging a so-called war against “woke” — banning books and curriculums about racism, writing laws that eliminate diversity-and-inclusion programs and prohibiting the teaching of courses even at the college level that are deemed racially “divisive.”

In other words, conservatives have used state power to prepare a citizenry to accept this new American legal order by restricting our ability to understand why so much racial inequality exists, particularly among the descendants of slavery, and why programs like affirmative action were ever needed in the first place.

“Something really stunning and dangerous that has happened during the Trump era is that the right uses the language of colorblindness or anti-wokeness to condemn any references to racial justice,” Haney López told me. “This rhetoric is a massive fraud, because it claims colorblindness toward race but is actually designed to stimulate hyper-race-consciousness among white people. That strategy has worked.”

Today we have a society where constitutional colorblindness dictates that school segregation is unconstitutional, yet most Black students have never attended a majority-white school or had access to the same educational resources as white children. A society with a law prohibiting discrimination in housing and lending, and yet descendants of slavery remain the most residentially, educationally and economically segregated people in the country. A society where employment discrimination is illegal, and yet Black Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as white Americans, even when they hold college degrees.

Despite these realities, conservative groups are initiating a wave of attacks on racial-equality programs. About 5 percent of practicing attorneys are Black, and yet one of Blum’s groups, the American Alliance for Equal Rights, sued law firms to stop their diversity fellowships. In August, it also sued the Fearless Fund, a venture-capital firm founded by two Black women, which through its charitable arm helps other Black women gain access to funding by giving small grants to businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by Black women. Even though according to the World Economic Forum, Black women receive just 0.34 percent of venture-capital funds in the United States, Blum declared the fund to be racially discriminatory. Another Blum group, Students for Fair Admissions, has now sued the U.S. Military Academy, even though the Supreme Court allowed race-conscious admissions to stand in the military. Another organization, the Center for Individual Rights, has successfully overturned a decades-long Small Business Administration policy that automatically treated so-called minority-owned businesses as eligible for federal contracts for disadvantaged businesses.

Last year, a group called the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation sued the City and County of San Francisco over their funding of several programs aimed at eliminating disparities Black Americans face, including the Abundant Birth Project, which gives stipends for prenatal care, among other supports, to Black women and Pacific Islanders to help prevent them from dying during childbirth. Even though maternal mortality for Black women in the United States is up to four times as high as it is for white women, conservatives argue that programs specifically helping the women most likely to die violate the 14th Amendment. Even as this lawsuit makes its way through the courts, there are signs of why these sorts of programs remain necessary: It was announced last year that the Department of Health and Human Services opened a civil rights investigation into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for allegations of racism against Black mothers following the death of a Black woman who went there to give birth.

It is impossible to look at the realities of Black life that these programs seek to address and come to the conclusion that the lawsuits are trying to make society more fair or just or free. Instead they are foreclosing the very initiatives that could actually make it so.

And nothing illuminates that more than the conservative law group’s letter warning Howard — an institution so vaunted among Black Americans that it’s known as the Mecca — that its medical school must stop any admissions practices that have a “racial component.” Howard’s medical school, founded in 1868, remains one of just four historically Black medical schools in the United States. Howard received nearly 9,000 medical-school applicants for 130 open seats in 2023. And while almost all of the students who apply to be Howard undergraduates are Black, because there are so few medical-school slots available, most applicants to Howard’s medical school are not. Since the school was founded to serve descendants of slavery with a mission to educate “disadvantaged students for careers in medicine,” however, most of the students admitted each year are Black.

That has now made it a target, even though Black Americans account for only 5 percent of all U.S. doctors, an increase of just three percentage points in the 46 years since Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in Bakke. Despite affirmative action at predominantly white schools, at least 70 percent of the Black doctors and dentists in America attended an H.B.C.U. H.B.C.U.s also have produced half of the Black lawyers, 40 percent of Black engineers and a quarter of Black graduates in STEM fields.

Even Plessy v. Ferguson, considered perhaps the worst Supreme Court ruling in U.S. history, sanctioned the existence of H.B.C.U.s and other Black-serving organizations. If institutions like Howard or the Fearless Fund cannot work to explicitly assist the descendants of slavery, who still today remain at the bottom of nearly every indicator of success and well-being, then we have decided as a nation that there is nothing we should do to help Black Americans achieve equality and that we will remain a caste society.

What we are witnessing, once again, is the alignment of white power against racial justice and redress. As history has shown, maintaining racial inequality requires constant repression and is therefore antithetical to democracy. And so we must be clear about the stakes: Our nation teeters at the brink of a particularly dangerous moment, not just for Black Americans but for democracy itself.

To meet the moment, our society must forcefully recommit to racial justice by taking lessons from the past. We must reclaim the original intent of affirmative-action programs stretching all the way back to the end of slavery, when the Freedmen’s Bureau focused not on race but on status, on alleviating the conditions of those who had endured slavery. Diversity matters in a diverse society, and American democracy by definition must push for the inclusion of all marginalized people. But remedies for injustice also need to be specific to the harm.

So we, too, must shift our language and, in light of the latest affirmative-action ruling, focus on the specific redress for descendants of slavery . If Yale, for instance, can apologize for its participation in slavery, as it did last month, then why can’t it create special admissions programs for slavery’s descendants — a program based on lineage and not race — just as it does for its legacy students? Corporations, government programs and other organizations could try the same.

Those who believe in American democracy, who want equality, must no longer allow those who have undermined the idea of colorblindness to define the terms. Working toward racial justice is not just the moral thing to do, but it may also be the only means of preserving our democracy.

Race-based affirmative action has died. The fight for racial justice need not. It cannot.

Top photo illustration by Mark Harris. Photograph by Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

A picture with an earlier version of this article was published in error. The image caption, relying on erroneous information from a photo agency, misidentified the man shown as Hobart Taylor Jr. The image has been replaced with a photo of Taylor.

How we handle corrections

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a domestic correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on racial injustice. Her extensive reporting in both print and radio has earned a Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, Peabody and a Polk Award. More about Nikole Hannah-Jones


State should expand early college/dual enrollment programs for high school students

Early college/dual enrollment programs can be transformative for high school...

Early college/dual enrollment programs can be transformative for high school students. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

High school students on Long Island and around the state have been able to earn college credits while still in high school for many years. Many school districts have outstanding programs through collaborations with colleges/universities.

Since college is so expensive and not always accessible to every student, it is time for New York to enter a new era of academic advancement. Early college/dual enrollment programs can be transformative for high school students by offering unique opportunities to amplify educational horizons and better equip students for the challenges that lie beyond the classroom.

Early college/dual enrollment programs allow students to simultaneously earn high school and college credit by taking courses at or offered by accredited colleges and universities. Our organization of school counselors provides guidance and recommendations for implementing and overseeing these programs across the state.

The New York State School Counselor Association believes these programs provide students with the opportunity to challenge themselves academically and that these programs should be available in all of New York's public schools. Though more than half of New York's high schools offer a dual enrollment program, only 15.8% of the state's high school students were enrolled in such a program in 2022, according to state Education Department data.

Access to these programs would help our high-schoolers make knowledgeable choices about their postsecondary education and career plans. This would enhance college accessibility and affordability by giving students a head start on their college education and thus saving students and their parents time and expense. This would, in turn, strengthen the partnership between our K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

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To make these programs rigorous, accessible, and equitable, we strongly suggest that the programs contain academic equivalence with the courses being offered to students by their high schools and that they be taught by qualified instructors with appropriate credentials and experience.

Also important is the factor of inclusivity. Dual enrollment programs should be inclusive and accessible to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, geography, race, gender, or abilities, and institutions must ensure that dual enrollment credits seamlessly transfer to colleges and universities within New York State.

It is critical that K-12 students have access to support services like counseling, academic advising, and academic support services to succeed in dual enrollment programs. Quality assurance should consist of regular evaluations and assessments of dual enrollment programs to maintain high-quality standards.

Administrative support is also crucial to success and to that end, we suggest creating an Office for Early College/Dual Enrollment Programs at the state Education Department with regional support centers and stable funding to support these initiatives.

Collaboration between K-12 schools, colleges, and universities is critical to foster successful dual enrollment programs. It is essential to establish clear communication channels, data-sharing agreements, and partnerships for program sustainability.

We advocate for policies that support dual enrollment programs, including pending legislation that provides TAP funding for school districts hosting dual enrollment programs and measures that promote equitable access for all students and provide resources and professional development opportunities for school counselors, educators, and administrators involved in dual enrollment to ensure best practices are followed.

The time to make this investment is now. Dual enrollment programs have the potential to significantly benefit New York State students in their pursuit of higher education and career success. We should do everything we can to help them on that journey.

This guest essay reflects the views of Robert Rotunda and Kelly Whitney-Rivera, executive director and advocacy & public policy chair, respectively, of the New York State School Counselor Association.

This guest essay reflects the views of Robert Rotunda and Kelly Whitney-Rivera, executive director and advocacy & public policy chair, respectively, of the New York State School Counselor Association.

Student & Campus Life

Community work-study program celebrates 50 years.

Ying Lin Zhao '26 at the Tompkins County Community Foundation

By Olivia Hall, Einhorn Center for Community Engagement

When Ying Lin Zhao ’26 first started working at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, a nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life in the county through collaborations, philanthropy and inclusion, she didn’t know what to expect. 

“Before this job, I didn’t have a clue what to do as my career, but now I’ve learned a lot of problem-solving skills and have found my passion for data analytics,” said Zhao, a double major in statistical science and information science in the College of Arts and Sciences, who helped the organization build a dashboard to showcase its work, analyzed donation data and managed a database.

Read the entire story on the Cornell Chronicle


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