This is one of the most extensive and helpful posts I’ve read on how to write college admissions essays. My feeling is that most English teachers know their great literature, but are not as versed on teaching writing–especially narrative style pieces. I agree that the best place to get ideas for unique topics, as well as learn how to structure these more informal essays, is by reading what others have written. You have collected a wonderful assortment of sample essays. Reading excellent writing, especially the New York Times, is also very helpful, especially feature-style articles that use creative writing techniques, such as anecdotal leads and descriptive details. I try to share similar writing advice on my blog, Essay Hell.
Despite the many travels that characterized much of my childhood, I had never been on a trip quite like that of my first visit to South Africa. To me Africa existed through my father's journals, letters exchanged between my grandparents, an array of photographs and wonderful stories of what it was like having Africa as a home. However now for the first time, I was actually arriving at the small town on the eastern coast of South Africa where four generations of my paternal side had grown up. Driving through the town of Estcourt for the first time seemed somewhat like a dream. As we passed the small stone church where my grandparents were married, a small black- and-white picture rushed to my mind. The beautiful stained windows over my grandparents' heads were somehow familiar. Jacaranda trees stood proudly between houses and along sidewalks with little blue flowers seated delicately on the top of most branches, so fragile due to the heat that when a warm breeze ruffled the branches, the flowers would float slowly to the pavement.