How to Write the Common App Essay (Part 1)

Also in: 简中 (Simplified Chinese) 繁中 (Traditional Chinese)

The Common Application (Common App) is the easiest way to submit your information to colleges, but the toughest part of filling out the app? Essay. You Common App essay will be sent to every school you apply to through the application, and could the your first impression to most of the schools. Today, the Common App offers 7 essay prompts for their applicants (6 official prompts + 1 topic of your choice). We will examine all of them and help you decide what to write about, and how to write it.

1) General Strategy
Start early!
As simple as it may sound, a decent Common App essay can take dozens of edits until it’s ready to submit. You should certainly read through the prompt list before senior year begins and have a draft ready by the end of summer. That way, you can send this draft to your college counselor, English teachers, or even your peers to get feedback.

2) Specific, personal story
No one enjoys reading facts. A common mistake when it comes to writing a personal essay is that you tend to put too much emphasis on things you’ve done and try to put everything into your essay. If a college wants to know that, it could simply read other parts of your application. Do not repeat something you mention elsewhere and tell an interesting story with specific, vivid details.

3) Something we don’t know
In addition, surprise them! Tell admissions officers something they don’t know about you. From your application, they might know things about your family, that you’re interested in chemistry, and have learned piano for 10 years before performing at the Carnegie Hall. Use your essay to show a different side of you: What qualities do you value the most? What’s diversity to you? What problems keep you up at night? Add these small bits into your essay so they can help admissions officers understand you.

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.

Keywords: identity, meaningful
What defines you? If you were in the dictionary, what would your definition be? Think of something that cannot be put elsewhere in your application, and elaborate. If you plan to write something technical (say, recent discovery in neurobiology), make sure your readers can understand it without looking it up.

2) The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Keywords: obstacles (challenge/setback/failure), affect, learn
Approach: Be specific about what that event is. How did it happen? What went wrong? In what way could it be prevented? What’s the lesson? Advice for those who want to do something similar in the future.

3) Reflect on a time when you questioned a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Keywords: question (v.), belief/idea, thinking, outcome
Approach: Essentially, you need to bring up the belief/idea you questioned first. What were you thinking? What was going through in your head? This can be an abstract topic so be sure to make your essay as concrete as possible by choosing the right words. Lastly, what was the outcome? What happened after you questioned it? Did you take any action? Was there a compromise? An agreement? Agree to disagree? Be specific!

(See Part II)

Also in: 简中 (Simplified Chinese) 繁中 (Traditional Chinese)

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