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How to Write the Common App Essay (Part 2)

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

Previously, we discussed the general strategies when it comes to writing Common App essays, and examine the following three topics:

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 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?

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

(See Part I of this article)

Today, we will continue our discussion by breaking down the four remaining Common App essay prompts—the keywords you should look for, and how you can construct it.

4) Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Keywords: problem solving, explain significance, steps, solution
This prompt asks you to explore a problem as well as the solution to that problem. The problem may be solved or unsolved at this point, but be sure to address why this problem matters, either to you or to a larger group. This prompt can be easy to start writing about but requires some time to polish. If the problem was solved, how was it solved? What were the steps? What was the most difficult part? If it’s unsolved, what would be your approach? Why this approach? What have you noticed while attempting to solve this problem?

5) Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Keywords: personal growth, understanding
Another easier topic that may appear to be easy to write about. Make sure you choose the right accomplishment/event, and avoid something too generic such as grade improvement, playing an instrument, or SAT test prep. Use this opportunity to specify what that personal growth is, and tell admissions officers why this makes you an asset to the school. The event itself doesn’t matter as much, but be sure you showcase your qualities. The accomplishment may be minor, but what colleges want is your potential. If you have done something already, explain that experience as well as the lessons you’ve learned.

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?

Keywords: engaging, lose track of time, captivate, learn more
Approach: One word: passion. What is that one thing you just can’t live without? Why is it so fascinating? Explain what’s in your head to someone who might not be interested in it/never heard of it. You must also include what you have been doing so far instead of simply saying “it’s interesting” and “I really enjoy it.” Detail you effort throughout your journey and, more importantly, how do you plan to take this passion to another level as you become a college student. What your next step? Do you plan to start a club? Teach people about it? Promote it?

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.

Keywords: N/A
Approach: If a topic you have in mind cannot be modified into one of the six topics above, you are free to submit an essay of your own choice. Also, if you already have a well-written personal essay that doesn’t belong to the aforementioned topics, you can submit it here. The key is to demonstrate something colleges are looking for—leadership, your interest/passion, personal qualities, etc. Remember, there is a word limit of 650 words, so make sure to make the best out of it.

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

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