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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary

Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.

Table of contents

What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.

Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.

We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.

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.

When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!

Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.

Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”

That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.

“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”

I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.

I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”

I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”

She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”

“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.

“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.

I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.

The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.

The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.

That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.

I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.

Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.

I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.

It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.

Word count: 601

This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.

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?

I never had a choice.

My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.

We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.

I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.

However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.

My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.

“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”

I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”

“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”

“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.

Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.

I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.

Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.

Word Count: 553

This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.

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

“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”

I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:

“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”

As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!

Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.

I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:

Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.

During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.

During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.

I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.

Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.

He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked up.

“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”

He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”

We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.

I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.

Word count: 626

The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.

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?

I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D. 

Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name. 

I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:

“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.” 

I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always. 

Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down. 

Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow. 

I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”

“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”

“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”

The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“Darwin, can we talk?” 

He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?” 

“Then why’d you do it?” 

“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.” 

“So I know you’re not trying.”

I locked eyes with him and glared. 

“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”

“So you give me a D?!”

“It got your attention.”

“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”

“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.” 

I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques. 

Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down. 

Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.” 

I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best . 

AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes. 

Word Count: 627

This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.

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

Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.

Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.

I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.

One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”

My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.

“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”

My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.

“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”

I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.

Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.

After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.

After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.

A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.

I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.

From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.

Word count: 622

This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.

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?

The worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.

It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.

I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.

Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.

Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune. 

The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.

Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.

While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.

Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.

Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!

Word count: 607

In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.

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.

Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition

The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?

This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.

And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.

So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”

Appetizer: My first leadership experience

A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.

Main course: My best leadership experience

Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.

Dessert: My future leadership hopes 

The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.

Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.

Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Time’s up! 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.

Word count: 612

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

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Courault, K. (2023, May 31). Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary. Scribbr. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/common-app-examples/

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College Essays

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If you're applying to more than one or two colleges, there's a good chance you'll have to use the Common Application, and that means you'll probably have to write a Common App essay .

In this guide, I'll cover everything you need to know about the essay. I'll break down every single Common App essay prompt by going over the following:

  • What is the question asking?
  • What do college admissions officers want to hear from you?
  • What topics can you write about effectively?
  • What should you avoid at all costs?

This will be your complete starting guide for Common App essays. After reading this, you should have a lot of ideas for your own essays and directions to write a really strong personal statement .

What Is the Common App Essay? Overview

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of the individual prompts, let's quickly go over the logistics of the Common App essay and some general tips to keep in mind.

Most—but Not All—Schools Require the Essay

Keep in mind that the Common App essay is optional for some schools.

Here are a few examples of schools that do not require the Common App essay (note that some may require a school-specific writing supplement instead):

  • Arizona State University
  • Clemson University
  • DePaul University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Georgia State University
  • Old Dominion University
  • Pratt Institute
  • University of Idaho

If you're applying to more than one or two schools through the Common App, you'll almost certainly need to write a response to the Common App prompts. As such, we recommend sending your essay to schools even if they don't explicitly require it. You're writing it anyways, and it's the best way for the school to get to know you as a person.

It's also worth noting that because of the way this system is set up, you could theoretically send a different essay to each school. However, doing so isn't a good use of your time : if schools want to know something more specific about you, they'll require a supplement. Focus on writing a single great personal statement.

Pay Attention to the Word Limit

The exact word limit for the Common App essay has varied somewhat over the years, but the current range is 250-650 words . You must stay within this length; in fact, the online application won't allow you to submit fewer than 250 words or more than 650.

Some schools will state that if this isn't enough space, you can send them a physical copy of your essay. Don't do this. No matter how tempting it might be, stick to the word limit . Otherwise, you risk seeming self-indulgent.

In general, we advise shooting for an essay between 500 and 650 words long . You want to have enough space to really explore one specific idea, but you don't need to include everything. Editing is an important part of the essay-writing process, after all!

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Don't Stress Too Much About the Question

As you'll see, the Common App prompts are very general and leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Moreover, colleges interpret the questions generously —they're more concerned with learning something interesting about you than with whether your topic perfectly fits the question.

Per a Common App survey from 2015 , 85% of member schools " feel the prompts should be left open to broad interpretation."

You can write about almost anything and make it work, so if you have an idea, don't let the fact that it doesn't fit neatly into one of these categories stop you. Treat these breakdowns as jumping-off points to help you start brainstorming , not the final word in how you need to approach the essay.

Make Sure You Look at This Year's Prompts

The Common App changes its prompts fairly frequently , so make sure you're familiar with the most up-to-date versions of the Common App essay questions . If you have friends or siblings who applied in past years, don't assume that you can take the exact same approaches they did.

This guide will go over the details of all seven current prompts, but first let's talk about some overall advice.

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4 Tips For Finding Your Best Common App Essay Topic

As you're brainstorming and preparing to write your Common App essay, you'll want to keep these tips in mind.

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#1: Make It Personal

The point of a personal statement is to, well, make a personal statement , that is to say, tell the reader something about yourself . As such, your topic needs to be something meaningful to you.

What does it mean for a topic to be "meaningful to you"?

First, it means that you genuinely care about the topic and want to write your college essay on it— no one ever wrote a great essay on a topic that they felt they had to write about .

Second, it means that the topic shows off a quality or trait you want to highlight for the admissions committee . For example, say I wanted to write about my summer job with the Parks Department. It's not enough to simply tell a story about my feud with a raccoon that kept destroying all the progress I made repairing a bench; I would need to make it clear what that experience ;shows about my character (perseverance) and explain what it ;taught me (that there are some things in life you simply can't control).

Remember that the most important thing is that your essay is about you . This advice might sound obvious, but when you're used to writing academic essays, it can be tricky to dive deep into your own perspective.

#2: Take Your Time

Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and write so you don't feel rushed into jotting down the first thing you can come up with and sending it right off. We recommend starting the writing process two months in advance of your first college application deadline .

On a similar note, you should take the essay seriously: it's an important part of your application and worth investing the time in to get right. If you just dash something off thoughtlessly, admissions officers will recognize that and consider it evidence that you aren't really interested in their school.

#3: Avoid Repetition

Your essay should illustrate something about you beyond what's in the rest of your application . Try to write about a topic you haven't talked about elsewhere, or take a different angle on it.

A college essay is not a resume —it's the best opportunity to show off your unique personality to admissions committees. Pick your topic accordingly.

#4: Get Specific

The best topics are usually the narrowest ones: essays focused on a single interaction, a single phrase, or a single object. The more specific you can get, the more unique your topic will be to you.

Lots of people have tried out for a school play, for example, but each had their own particular experience of doing so. One student saw trying out for the role of Hamlet as the culmination of many years of study and hard work and was devastated not to get it, while another was simply proud to have overcome her nerves enough to try out for the chorus line in West Side Story . These would make for very different essays, even though they're on basically the same topic.

Another benefit of a specific topic is that it makes coming up with supporting details much easier. Specific, sensory details make the reader feel as if they're seeing the experience through your eyes, giving them a better sense of who you are.

Take a look at this example sentence:

General: I was nervous as I waited for my turn to audition.

Specific: As I waited for my name to be called, I tapped the rhythm of "America" on the hard plastic chair, going through the beats of my audition song over and over in my head.

The first version could be written by almost anyone; the second version has a specific perspective—it's also intriguing and makes you want to know more.

The more specific your essay topic is, the more clearly your unique voice will come through and the more engaging your essay will be.

Breaking Down the 2022-23 Common App Essay Prompts

Now that we've established the basic ideas you need to keep in mind as you brainstorm, let's go through the 2022-23 Common App essay questions one at a time and break down what admissions committees are looking for in responses.

Keep in mind that for each of these questions, there are really two parts . The first is describing something you did or something that happened to you. The second is explaining what that event, action, or activity means to you . No essay is complete without addressing both sides of the topic.

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Common App Essay Prompt 1: A Key Piece of Your Story

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.

What Is It Asking?

This prompt is very broad. Is there something you do or love, or something that happened to you, that isn't reflected elsewhere in your application but that you feel is vital to your personal story ? Then this prompt could be a good one for you.

The key is that whatever you write about needs to be genuinely important to you personally, not just something you think will look good to the admissions committee. You need to clarify why this story is so important that you couldn't leave it off your application.

What Do They Want to Know?

This question is really about showing admissions officers how your background has shaped you . Can you learn and grow from your experiences?

By identifying an experience or trait that is vital to your story, you're also showing what kind of person you see yourself as. Do you value your leadership abilities or your determination to overcome challenges? Your intellectual curiosity or your artistic talent?

Everyone has more than one important trait, but in answering this prompt, you're telling admissions officers what you think is your most significant quality .

What Kinds of Topics Could Work?

You could write about almost anything for this prompt: an unexpected interest, a particularly consuming hobby, a part of your family history, or a life-changing event. Make sure to narrow in on something specific, though. You don't have room to tell your whole life story!

Your topic can be serious or silly, as long as it's important to you. Just remember that it needs to showcase a deeper quality of yours.

For example, if I were writing an essay on this topic, I would probably write about my life-long obsession with books. I'd start with a story about how my parents worried I read too much as a kid, give some specific examples of things I've learned from particular books, and talk about how my enthusiasm for reading was so extreme it sometimes interfered with my actual life (like the time I tripped and fell because I couldn't be bothered to put down my book long enough to walk from my room to the kitchen).

Then I would tie it all together by explaining how my love of reading has taught me to look for ideas in unexpected places.

What Should You Avoid?

You don't want your essay to read like a resume: it shouldn't be a list of accomplishments. Your essay needs to add something to the rest of your application, so it also shouldn't focus on something you've already covered unless you have a really different take on it.

In addition, try to avoid generic and broad topics: you don't want your essay to feel as though it could've been written by any student.

As we touched on above, one way to avoid this problem is to be very  specific —rather than writing generally about your experience as the child of immigrants, you might tell a story about a specific family ritual or meaningful moment.

Common App Essay Prompt 2: Coping With Obstacles

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?

This prompt is pretty straightforward. It's asking you to describe a challenge or obstacle you faced or a time you failed, and how you dealt with it .

The part many students forget is the second half: what lessons did you learn from your challenge or failure ? If you take on this question, you must show how you grew from the experience and, ideally, how you incorporated what you learned into other endeavors.

This question really raises two issues: how you handle difficult situations and whether you're capable of learning from your mistakes.

You'll face a lot of challenges in college, both academic and social. In addressing this prompt, you have the opportunity to show admissions officers that you can deal with hardships without just giving up .

You also need to show that you can learn from challenges and mistakes. Can you find a positive lesson in a negative experience? Colleges want to see an example of how you've done so.

Good topics will be specific and have a clearly explained impact on your perspective . You need to address both parts of the question: the experience of facing the challenge and what you learned from it.

However, almost any kind of obstacle, challenge, or failure—large or small—can work:

  • Doing poorly at a job interview and how that taught you to deal with nerves
  • Failing a class and how retaking it taught you better study skills
  • Directing a school play when the set collapsed and how it taught you to stay cool under pressure and think on your feet

Make sure you pick an actual failure or challenge—don't turn your essay into a humblebrag. How you failed at procrastination because you're just so organized or how you've been challenged by the high expectations of teachers at school because everyone knows you are so smart are not appropriate topics.

Also, don't write about something completely negative . Your response needs to show that you got something out of your challenge or failure and that you've learned skills you can apply to other situations.

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Spilling your coffee is not an appropriate failure, no matter how disastrous it may feel.

Common App Essay Prompt 3: Challenging a Belief

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

There are two ways to approach this question. The first is to talk about a time you questioned a person or group on an idea of theirs. The second is to talk about a time that something caused you to reconsider a belief of your own.

In either case, you need to explain why you decided the belief should be challenged, what you actually did —if your story is just that someone gave you a new piece of information and you changed your mind, you should probably find a different topic— and how you feel about your actions in hindsight .

The obvious question this prompt raises is what your values are and whether you're willing to stand up for what you believe . Whether you've reconsidered your own beliefs or asked others to reconsider theirs, it shows you've put genuine thought into what you value and why.

However, colleges also want to see that you're open minded and able to be fair and kind toward those who have different beliefs than you do. Can you question someone else's beliefs without belittling them? If not, don't choose this prompt.

This prompt is really one where you either have a relevant story or you don't . If there's a belief or idea that's particularly important to you, whether political or personal, this might be a good question for you to address.

The main pitfall with this question is that it lends itself to very abstract answers . It's not that interesting to read about how you used to believe chocolate is the best ice cream flavor but then changed your mind and decided the best flavor is actually strawberry. (Seriously, though, what is wrong with you!?) Make sure there's clear conflict and action in your essay.

Divisive political issues, such as abortion and gun rights, are tricky to write about (although not impossible) because people feel very strongly about them and often have a hard time accepting the opposite viewpoint. In general, I would avoid these kinds of topics unless you have a highly compelling story.

Also, keep in mind that most people who work at colleges are liberal, so if you have a conservative viewpoint, you'll need to tread more carefully. Regardless of what you're writing about, don't assume that the reader shares your views .

Finally, you want to avoid coming off as petty or inflexible , especially if you're writing about a controversial topic. It's great to have strong beliefs, but you also want to show that you're open to listening to other people's perspectives, even if they don't change your mind.

Common App Essay Prompt 4: Gratitude Reflection

Reflect on something that someone had done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

The first part is straightforward: describe a time someone did something positive for you that made you happy or thankful  in a surprising way.  So it can't have been something you expected to happen (i.e. your parents gave you the birthday present you were hoping for).

Next, you need to explain how that surprising gratitude affected or motivated you. So, what was the result of this positive feeling?  How did you keep it going?

This prompt helps admissions officers see both what your expectations are for certain situations and how you react when things go differently than expected. Did you take it in stride when you were pleasantly surprised? Were you too shocked to speak? Why? What about the situation wasn't what you were expecting?  Additionally, it shows them what you personally are grateful for. Gratitude is an important personal characteristic to have. What in life makes you thankful and happy? Your answer will show admissions officers a lot about what you value and how you think.

Finally—and this is the key part—they want to know the larger impact of this gratitude. Did you decide to pay it forward? Use it as motivation to better yourself/your world? When something good happens to you, how do you react?

Because this is a reflection prompt, it's a great way to show admissions officers the kind of person you are and what you value. You'll have a lot of surprising moments, both good and bad, in college, and they want to know how you deal with them and how you spread the happiness you come across.

You can choose any event, even a minor one, as long as your reaction is  unexpected happiness/gratefulness. The "unexpected" part is key. You need to choose a situation where things didn't go the way you expected. So if your uncle, who has always been a great mentor, gives you great advice, that likely won't work because you'd be expecting it.

Next, it had to have had some sort of real impact so you can explain how your gratefulness affected you. This means that, even if the event itself was small, it had to have brought about some sort of lasting change in how you live your life.

To start, brainstorm times when something went better than expected/you were happily surprised by an outcome/you were especially grateful/someone restored your faith in humanity. Remember, this has to be, overall, a positive situation, as you're being asked about an event that made you happy or grateful. This is in contrast to prompts 2 and 3 which focus more on challenges you've faced.

Once you have your list, eliminate any instances that didn't affect or motivate you. The key part of this prompt is explaining the impact of your gratitude, so you need to write about a time when gratitude made you do something you normally wouldn't have done. This could be focusing on self-care/self-improvement, paying it forward by helping someone else, shifting your values, etc. Colleges want to see how you changed because of this event.

For example, say you decide to write about your first time traveling through an airport alone. You're not sure where to go, and all the workers look busy and like they're just waiting for their break. You're wandering around, lost, too shy to ask someone for help, when a gruff-looking employee comes up and asks if you need something. When you admit you don't know how to find your gate, they take the time to walk you to it, show you which screen to watch so you know when to board, and tell you to come get them if you need any more help. It's much more help than you thought anyone would give you.

Because of that person's actions (and this is the key part), you now always keep an eye out for people who look lost or confused and try to help them because you know how intimidating it can be to be out of your depth. You also know that many times people feel embarrassed to ask for help, so you need to make the first move to help them. If you have a specific example of you helping someone in need as a result, including that will make the essay even stronger.

Avoid scenarios where you were the first person to help another. The prompt is asking about a time someone was kind to you, and  then  you reacted in response to that. You need to have the grateful moment first, then the change in behavior.

Additionally, avoid examples where someone treated you badly but you rose above it. This is a situation where someone was kind to you, and you decided to keep that kindness going.

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Look at those dummies, solving a problem!

Common App Essay Prompt 5: Personal Growth and Maturity

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

Like Prompt 1, this one is very general. It's asking you to talk about something you did or something that happened that caused you to grow or mature as a person.

The other key point to remember when addressing this question is that you need to explain how this event changed or enriched your understanding of yourself or other people.

In short: when and how have you grown as a person ? Personal growth and maturity are complicated issues. Your essay might touch on themes such as personal responsibility and your role in the world and your community.

You don't have to explain your whole worldview, but you need to give readers a sense of why this particular event caused significant growth for you as a person.

This prompt can also help you show either your own sense of self-concept or how you relate to others.

Much like Prompt 3, this question likely either appeals to you or doesn't . Nonetheless, here are some potential topics:

  • A time you had to step up in your household
  • A common milestone (such as voting for the first time or getting your driver's license) that was particularly meaningful to you
  • A big change in your life, such as becoming an older sibling or moving to a new place

It's important that your topic describes a transition that led to real positive growth or change in you as a person .

However, personal growth is a gradual process, and you can definitely still approach this topic if you feel you have more maturing to do. (Fun fact: most adults feel they have more maturing to do, too!) Just focus on a specific step in the process of growing up and explain what it meant to you and how you've changed.

Almost any topic could theoretically make a good essay about personal growth, but it's important that the overall message conveys maturity . If the main point of your essay about junior prom is that you learned you look bad in purple and now you know not to wear it, you'll seem like you just haven't had a lot of meaningful growth experiences in your life.

You also want the personal growth and new understanding(s) you describe in your essay to be positive in nature . If the conclusion of your essay is "and that's how I matured and realized that everyone in the world is terrible," that's not going to work very well with admissions committees, as you'll seem pessimistic and unable to cope with challenges.

Common App Essay Prompt 6: Your Passion

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?

This prompt is asking you to describe something you're intellectually passionate about .

But in addition to describing a topic of personal fascination and why you're so interested in it, you need to detail how you have pursued furthering your own knowledge of the topic . Did you undertake extra study? Hole yourself up in the library? Ask your math team coach for more practice problems?

Colleges want to admit students who are intellectually engaged with the world. They want you to show that you have a genuine love for the pursuit of knowledge .

Additionally, by describing how you've learned more about your chosen topic, concept, or idea, you can prove that you are self-motivated and resourceful .

Pretty much any topic you're really interested in and passionate about could make a good essay here, just as long as you can put can put an intellectual spin on it and demonstrate that you've gone out of your way to learn about the topic.

So It's fine to say that the topic that engages you most is football, but talk about what interests you in an academic sense about the sport. Have you learned everything there is to know about the history of the sport? Are you an expert on football statistics? Emphasize how the topic you are writing about engages your brain.

Don't pick something you don't actually care about just because you think it would sound good.

If you say you love black holes but actually hate them and tortured yourself with astronomy books in the library for a weekend to glean enough knowledge to write your essay, your lack of enthusiasm will definitely come through.

Common App Essay Prompt 7: Your Choice

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.

You can write about anything for this one!

Since this is a choose-your-own-adventure prompt, colleges aren't looking for anything specific to this prompt .

However, you'll want to demonstrate some of the same qualities that colleges are looking for in all college essays: things like academic passion, maturity, resourcefulness, and persistence. What are your values? How do you face setbacks? These are all things you can consider touching on in your essay.

If you already have a topic in mind for this one that doesn't really fit with any of the other prompts, go for it!

Avoid essays that aren't really about you as a person. So no submitting your rhetorical close-reading of the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" you wrote for AP English!

However, if you want to write about the way that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" made you reconsider your entire approach to life, go ahead.

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The Common App Essay Questions: 5 Key Takeaways

We've covered a lot of ground, but don't panic. I've collected the main ideas you should keep in mind as you plan your Common App essay below.

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#1: A Prompt 1 Topic Must Go Beyond What's in the Rest of Your Application

For prompt 1, it's absolutely vital that your topic be something genuinely meaningful to you . Don't write about something just because you think it's impressive. Big achievements and leadership roles, such as serving as captain of a team or winning a journalism award, can certainly be used as topics, but only if you can explain why they mattered to you beyond that it was cool to be in charge or that you liked winning.

It's better if you can pick out something smaller and more individual , like helping your team rally after a particularly rough loss or laboring over a specific article to make sure you got every detail right.

#2: Prompts 2, 4, and 6 Are Generally the Simplest Options

Most students have an experience or interest that will work for either Prompt 2, Prompt 4, or Prompt 6. If you're uncertain what you want to write about, think about challenges you've faced, a time you were grateful, or your major intellectual passions.

These prompts are slightly easier to approach than the others because they lend themselves to very specific and concrete topics that show clear growth. Describing a failure and what you learned from it is much simpler than trying to clarify why an event is a vital part of your identity.

#3: Prompts 3 and 5 Can Be Trickier—but You Don't Need to Avoid Them

These questions ask about specific types of experiences that not every high school student has had. If they don't speak to you, don't feel compelled to answer them.

If you do want to take on Prompt 3 or 5, however, remember to clearly explain your perspective to the reader , even if it seems obvious to you.

For Prompt 3, you have to establish not just what you believe but why you believe it and why that belief matters to you, too. For prompt 5, you need to clarify how you moved from childhood to adulthood and what that means to both you and others.

These prompts elicit some of the most personal responses , which can make for great essays but also feel too revealing to many students. Trust your instincts and don't pick a topic you're not comfortable writing about.

At the same time, don't hesitate to take on a difficult or controversial topic if you're excited about it and think you can treat it with the necessary nuance.

#4: Make Sure to Explain What Your Experience Taught You

I've tried to emphasize this idea throughout this guide: it's not enough to simply describe what you did—you also have to explain what it meant to you .

Pushing past the surface level while avoiding clichés and generalizations is a big challenge, but it's ultimately what will make your essay stand out. Make sure you know what personal quality you want to emphasize before you start and keep it in mind as you write.

Try to avoid boring generalizations in favor of more specific and personal insights.

Bad: Solving a Rubik's cube for the first time taught me a lot.

Better: Solving a Rubik's cube for the first time taught me that I love puzzles and made me wonder what other problems I could solve.

Best: When I finally twisted the last piece of the Rubik's cube into place after months of work, I was almost disappointed. I'd solved the puzzle; what would I do now? But then I started to wonder if I could use what I'd learned to do the whole thing faster. Upon solving one problem, I had immediately moved onto the next one, as I do with most things in life.

As you go back through your essay to edit, every step of the way ask yourself, "So what?" Why does the reader need to know this? What does it show about me? How can I go one step deeper?

#5: Don't Worry About What You Think You're Supposed to Write

There is no single right answer to these prompts , and if you try to find one, you'll end up doing yourself a disservice. What's important is to tell your story—and no one can tell you what that means because it's unique to you.

Many students believe that they should write about resume-padding activities that look especially impressive, such as volunteering abroad. These essays are often boring and derivative because the writer doesn't really have anything to say on the topic and assumes it'll speak for itself.

But the point of a personal statement isn't to explain what you've done; it's to show who you are .

Take the time to brainstorm and figure out what you want to show colleges about yourself and what story or interest best exemplifies that quality.

What's Next?

For more background on college essays and tips for crafting a great one, check out our complete explanation of the basics of the personal statement .

Make sure you're prepared for the rest of the college application process as well with our guides to asking for recommendations , writing about extracurriculars , taking the SAT , and researching colleges .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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The 2021-2022 Common App Essay: How to Write a Great Essay That Will Get You Accepted

Common App essay - magoosh

If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably started the very exciting process of applying to college—and chances are you may be a little overwhelmed at times. That’s OK! The key to getting into the right college for you is taking each step of the application process in stride, and one of those steps is completing the Common App and the Common App essay.

In this post, you’ll learn what the Common Application essay is, how to write one (including a free checklist to help you with the process), example essays, and much more. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What is the Common App, and More Importantly, What is the Common App Essay? Quick Facts on the 2021-2022 Common App Essay How Do You Write a Common App Essay?

What Should I Avoid in My Common App Essay? What Are Some Good Common App Essay Examples?

Common Application Essay FAQs

What is the common app, and more importantly, what is the common app essay.

What is the Common App essay - magoosh

The “Common App,” short for the Common Application , is a general application used to apply to multiple college undergraduate programs at once. It’s accepted by hundreds of colleges in the United States as well as some colleges internationally.

The idea is that the Common App is a “one-stop shop” so you don’t have to complete a million separate applications. That said, plenty of colleges still require their own application components, and the Common App, as user-friendly as it aims to be, can still feel like a bit of a challenge to complete.

Part of the reason the Common App can seem intimidating is because of the Common App essay component, which is required of all students who submit a college application this way. But never fear! In reality, the Common App essay is easy to ace if you know how to approach it and you give it your best.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at anything and everything you need to know about the 2021-2022 Common App essay in order to help you get into the school of your dreams. We’ve also created a downloadable quick guide to writing a great Common Application essay.

Button to download 2021-2022 Common App Essay

Quick Facts on the 2021-2022 Common App Essay

Common App essay facts - magoosh

Below are just a few of the short and sweet things you need to know about the 2021-2022 Common App essay, but we’ll elaborate on some of this content later in this post.

How Do You Write a Common App Essay?

How to write a Common App essay - magoosh

The million dollar question about the Common App essay is obviously, “How do I actually write it?!”

Now there’s something to keep in mind before exploring how to compose the Common App essay, and that’s the purpose of this task. You may be wondering:

  • What are college admissions boards actually looking for?
  • Why are you being asked to write this essay?

College admissions boards want to see that you can compose a compelling, well-crafted essay. After four years of high school, you’re expected to be able to craft a clear and concise piece of writing that addresses a specific subject.

So yes, you’re actually being evaluated on your essay writing skills, but the purpose of the Common Application essay is deeper than that—it’s to present the type of person and thinker that you are.

Regardless of which prompt you choose, colleges are trying to get a sense of how thoughtfully and critically you can reflect on your life and the world around you .

And furthermore, they want to get a sense of who you are—your interests, your personality, your values—the dimensional aspects of you as an applicant that simply can’t be expressed in transcripts and test scores . In short, you want to stand out and be memorable.

That said, there is no exact formula for “cracking the case” of the Common App essay, but there are plenty of useful steps and tips that can help you write a great essay.

(In a hurry? Download our quick and concise handout that sums up some of the keys to the Common App essay!)

1) Familiarize Yourself With the Common App Prompts and How to Approach Them

The Common App recently released the 2021-2022 essay prompts , which are almost the same as last year’s prompts, but with one BIG difference.

The prompt about problem solving (formerly prompt #4) has been replaced with a prompt about gratitude and how it has motivated you. According to Common App President and CEO Jenny Rickard, this change was inspired by new scientific research on the benefits of writing about gratitude and the positive impact others have had on our lives.

Additionally, the Common App now includes an optional Covid-19 prompt where you can discuss how you’ve personally been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, let’s take a look at each 2021-2022 Common App prompt individually. You’ll notice that every prompt really has two parts to it:

  • share, explain and describe a narrative, and
  • reflect on, analyze, and draw meaning from it.

Let’s take a look.

  Prompt #1: A snapshot of your story

Prompt: 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.

  • Discuss a background, identity, or interest that you feel is meaningful to who you are and/or that or sets you apart from others.
  • Reflect on why this attribute is meaningful and how it has shaped you as a person.

  Prompt #2: An obstacle you overcame

Prompt: 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?

  • Recount a time you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.
  • Reflect on how this affected you, what you learned from it, and if it led to any successes later down the line.

  Prompt #3: A belief or idea you questioned or challenged

Prompt: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  • Explain a time that you questioned a particular belief or way of thinking.
  • Elaborate on what prompted this questioning, what the outcome was, and why this outcome was significant.

  Prompt #4: An experience of gratitude that has motivated you

Prompt: 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?

  • Describe the specific experience or interaction that made you feel a sense of gratitude. Make sure to explain who did something nice for you and why it was surprising or unexpected.
  • Explain, as specifically as possible, how this feeling of gratitude changed or motivated you. What actions did you take a result? How did your mindset change?

  Prompt #5: An accomplishment or event that sparked personal growth

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

  • Describe an accomplishment or event that sparked personal growth for you.
  • Reflect on the nature of this growth and/or a new understanding you gained in the process.

  Prompt #6: An interest so engaging you lose track of time

Prompt: 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?

  • Discuss a topic, idea, or interest that is so engaging to you that you lose track of time when focused on it.
  • Reflect on and explain why this interest is so important to you, and your method of learning more about it.

  Prompt #7: An essay topic of your choice

Prompt: 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.

  • Discuss any subject matter or philosophical question of interest to you.
  • Reflect on the implications of this subject or question, and how it has shaped you, transformed you, impacted your life, etc.

  Now keep in mind that to some degree, it doesn’t actually matter which prompt you choose to answer, so long as you write and present yourself well. But you obviously want to pick whichever Common App essay prompt speaks to you most, and the one you think will provide you the meatiest and most meaningful material.

This is an outstanding guide to choosing the right Common App essay prompt, but as a rule of thumb, the “right” prompt will probably stand out to you. If you have to rack your brain, for example, to think of a challenge you’ve overcome and how the experience has shaped you, then that prompt probably isn’t the right one.

Authenticity is key, so choose the prompt you can answer thoroughly.

2) Brainstorm

Whether you know immediately which prompt you’re going to choose or not, do yourself a huge favor and brainstorm . Take out a notebook and jot down or free write all of the ideas that spring to your mind for as many of the prompts that you’re considering. You might be surprised what ideas you generate as you start doing this, and you might be surprised which ideas seem to have the most content and examples to elaborate on.

Also, it’s important to note that your subject matter doesn’t have to be highly dramatic or spectacular. You don’t have to recount a near-death experience, an epic overseas adventure, a 180-degree turn of faith, etc. Your ordinary life, when reflected upon thoughtfully, is interesting and profound.

3) Answer the Question (and Stay on Topic!)

This may sound painfully obvious, but for some of us, it can be hard to stay on topic. Each prompt is posed as a question , so don’t lose sight of that and let your essay devolve into a story about yourself that never really gets at the heart of the prompt.

As you’re drafting your essay—say after each paragraph—pause and refer back to the question, making sure each paragraph plays some part in actually responding to the prompt.

4) Structure and Organize Your Essay Effectively

The Common App essay isn’t like many of the other argumentative essays you’ve been taught to write in school. It is argumentative in that you are essentially arguing for why you are a good candidate for a particular college, using your personal experience as support, but it’s more than that.

The Common Application essay is essentially a narrative essay that is reflective and analytical by nature. This means that regardless of which prompt you select, you’ll be sharing something personal about yourself, and then reflecting on and analyzing why what you shared is important.

And even if this isn’t an essay format that you’re accustomed to writing, you can still rely on your knowledge of basic essay structures to help you. You’ll still need a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

Let’s talk about those three pieces now.

Introduction

The purpose of an introduction is 1) to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to continue reading, and 2) to introduce the reader to the general subject at hand.

So the most important part of the introduction is a unique attention-getter that establishes your personal voice and tone while piquing the reader’s interest. An example of a good hook could be a brief illustrative anecdote, a quote, a rhetorical question, and so on.

Now, you may be wondering, “Do I need a thesis statement?” This is a great question and the simple answer is no.

This is because some students prefer to hook their reader with a bit of mystery and let their story unfold organically without a thesis sentence “spoiling” what is to come. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a thesis sentence, it just means you don’t need one. It just depends on how you want to build your personal narrative, and what serves you best.

That said, your essay does need a greater message or lesson in it, which is another way of saying a thesis . You just don’t necessarily have to write it out in the introduction paragraph.

It might help you to keep a thesis in mind or even write it down just for your own sake, even if you don’t explicitly use it in your introduction. Doing so can help you stay on track and help you build up to a stronger reflection.

Here are some examples of narrative thesis statements:

  • I moved a lot as a child on account of having a parent in the military, which led me to become highly adaptable to change.
  • The greatest obstacle I’ve overcome is my battle with leukemia, which has taught me both incredible resilience and reverence for the present.
  • An accomplishment that I achieved was making the varsity volleyball team, which has made me grow tremendously as a person, specifically in the areas of self-confidence and collaboration.

As discussed earlier, there are two parts to each prompt: explanation and reflection . Each part should be addressed throughout the essay, but how you organize your content is up to you.

A good rule of thumb for structuring the body of your essay is as follows:

  • Situate your reader: provide context for your story by focusing in on a particular setting, subject matter, or set of details. For example, you may frame an essay about an internship at the zoo with the phrase, “Elephants make the best friends.” Your reader knows immediately that the subject matter involves your interaction with animals, specifically elephants.
  • Explain more about your topic and how it affected you, using specific examples and key details.
  • Go deeper. Elaborate and reflect on the message at hand and how this particular topic shaped the person you are today.

Note that while there are no set rules for how many paragraphs you should use for your essay, be mindful of breaking paragraphs whenever you naturally shift gears, and be mindful of too-long paragraphs that just feel like walls of text for the reader.

Your conclusion should flow nicely from your elaboration, really driving home your message or what you learned. Be careful not to just dead-end your essay abruptly.

This is a great place to speculate on how you see the subject matter informing your future, especially as a college student and beyond. For example, what might you want to continue to learn about? What problems do you anticipate being able to solve given your experience?

5) Write Honestly, Specifically, and Vividly

It may go without saying, but tell your own story, without borrowing from someone else’s or embellishing. Profound reflection, insight, and wisdom can be gleaned from the seemingly simplest experiences, so don’t feel the need to stray from the truth of your unique personal experiences.

Also, make sure to laser in on a highly specific event, obstacle, interest, etc. It is better to go “narrower and deeper” than to go “wider and shallower,” because the more specific you are, the more vivid and engrossing your essay will naturally be.

For example, if you were a camp counselor every summer for the last few years, avoid sharing several summers’ worth of content in your essay. Focus instead on one summer , and even better, on one incident during that summer at camp.

And on that note, remember to be vivid! Follow the cardinal rule of writing: show and don’t tell . Provide specific details, examples, and images in order to create a clear and captivating narrative for your readers.

6) Be Mindful of Voice and Tone

Unlike in most academic essays, you can sound a bit less stuffy and a bit more like yourself in the Common App essay. Your essay should be professional, but can be conversational. Try reading it aloud; does it sound like you? That’s good!

Be mindful, however, of not getting too casual or colloquial in it. This means avoiding slang, contractions, or “text speak” abbreviations (e.g. “lol”), at least without deliberate context in your story (for example, if you’re recounting dialogue).

You’re still appealing to academic institutions here, so avoid profanity at all costs, and make sure you’re still upholding all the rules for proper style, grammar, and punctuation.

7) Revise and Proofread

This one is a biggie. Give yourself time during your application process to revise, rework, and even rewrite your essay several times. Let it grow and change and become the best version it can be. After you write your first draft, walk away from it for a couple days, and return to it with fresh eyes. You may be surprised by what you feel like adding, removing, or changing.

And of course, make sure your essay is pristine before you submit it. Triple and quadruple check for spelling and usage errors, typos, etc. Since this isn’t a timed essay you have to sit for (like the ACT essay test , for example), the college admissions readers will expect your essay to be polished and sparkling.

A tried and true method for both ensuring flow and catching errors is reading your essay aloud. You may sound a little silly, but it really works!

What Should I Avoid in My Common App Essay?

What to avoid in Common App essay - magoosh

Resume Material

Your Common App essay is your chance to provide a deeper insight into you as a person, so avoid just repeating what you’d put on a resume. This is not to say you can’t discuss something mentioned briefly on your resume in greater depth, but the best essays offer something new that helps round out the whole college application.

Controversy

Okay, now this one is a bit tricky. On the one hand, you should write boldly and honestly, and some of the prompts (the one about challenging a particular belief, for example) are appropriate for addressing potentially contentious topics.

But that said, avoid being controversial or edgy for the sake of being controversial or edgy. Be steadfast in your beliefs for the greater sake of the narrative and your essay will be naturally compelling without being alienating to your readers.

Vague Stories

If you have a personal story that you’re not entirely comfortable sharing, avoid it, even if it would make a great essay topic in theory. This is because if you’re not comfortable writing on the subject matter, you’ll end up being too vague, which won’t do your story or overall application justice. So choose a subject matter you’re familiar with and comfortable discussing in specifics.

Unless they really, truly serve your essay, avoid general platitudes and cliches in your language. It is definitely encouraged to have an essay with a moral, lesson, or greater takeaway, but try to avoid summing up what you’ve learned with reductive phrases like “slow and steady wins the race,” “good things come in small packages,” “actions speak louder than words,” “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and so on.

What Are Some Good Common App Essay Examples?

Common App essay examples - magoosh

There are tons of Common App essays out there, including these Common App essay examples accepted at Connecticut College, which include explanations from admissions readers about why they were chosen.

But let’s take a look here at two versions of an example essay, one that is just okay and one that is great.

Both Common App essay examples are crafted in response to prompt #2, which is:

Essay Version #1, Satisfactory Essay:

During my sophomore year of high school, I tore my ACL, which stands for “anterior cruciate ligament,” and is the kiss of death for most athletic careers. This injury ended up being one of the greatest obstacles of my life. It was also, however, a turning point that taught me to see opportunity amidst adversity.

It was particularly awful that I was just about to score a winning goal during a championship hockey game when I was checked by a guy on the opposing team and came crashing down on my knee. It was pain unlike anything I’d ever felt before, and I knew immediately that this was going to be bad.

For the few months that followed the accident, I was lost, not really knowing what to do with myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore because hockey had been my whole world and sense of identity. Between working out, attending practice, playing home and away games, and watching games to learn more, it was my lifeblood. Losing my ability to play took a toll on me physically and emotionally and I grew lethargic and depressed.

And then one day I heard my school would be adding an advanced multimedia art class for those students who wanted to continue studying art beyond what was already offered. I had taken the handful of art classes my school offered and really enjoyed and excelled at them—though I had never considered them more than just fun electives to fill my scheduled, as required.

After a couple of weeks of the class, I began feeling better. Suddenly I wanted to draw or paint everything I looked at. I wanted to share the world around me as I saw it with others, to connect with people in a way I’d never done before. I met and made friends with many new people in that art class, people I would have never known if I hadn’t taken it, which also opened me up to all kinds of new mindsets and experiences.

We’re all familiar with the common adage, “When one door closes, another opens,” and this is exactly what happened for me. I might never have pursued art more seriously if I hadn’t been taken out of hockey. This has served as a great reminder for me to stay open to new opportunities. We never know what will unexpectedly bring us joy and make us more well-rounded people.

Areas for Improvement in Version #1:

  • It lacks a compelling hook.
  • The discussion of the obstacle and reflection upon it are both a bit rushed.
  • It could use more vivid and evocative language.
  • It uses a cliche (“one door closes”).
  • It is somewhat vague at times (e.g. what kinds of “new mindsets and experiences” did the writer experience? In what ways are they now more “well-rounded”?).

Now let’s apply this feedback and revise the essay.

Essay Version #2, Excellent Essay:

My body was splayed out on the ice and I was simultaneously right there, in searing pain, and watching everything from above, outside of myself. It wasn’t actually a “near death” experience, but it was certainly disorienting, considering that just seconds before, I was flying down the ice in possession of the puck, about to score the winning goal of our championship game.

Instead, I had taken a check from an opposing team member, and had torn my ACL (or anterior cruciate ligament), which is the kiss of death for most athletic careers.

My road to recovery included two major surgeries, a couple months on crutches, a year of physical therapy, and absolutely zero athletic activity. I would heal, thankfully, and regain movement in my knee and leg, but I was told by doctors that I may never play hockey again, which was devastating to me. Hockey wasn’t just my passion—it was my life’s goal to play professionally.

For the few months that followed the accident, I was lost, feeling like a ghost haunting my own life, watching everything but unable to participate. I didn’t know who I was anymore because hockey had been my whole world and sense of identity. Between working out, attending practice, playing home and away games, and watching games to learn more, it was my lifeblood. Losing my ability to play took a toll on me physically and emotionally, and I grew lethargic and depressed.

And then one day I heard my school would be adding an advanced multimedia art class after school for those students who wanted to study art more seriously. I had already taken the handful of art classes my school offered and really enjoyed them—though I had never considered them more than just fun electives to fill my schedule, as required. And, because of hockey, I certainly had never had afternoons open.

After a couple of weeks of the class, I began to feel alive again, like “myself” but renewed, more awake and aware of everything around me. Suddenly I wanted to draw or paint everything I looked at, to bring everything I saw to life. It wasn’t just that I’d adopted a new hobby or passion, it was that I began looking more closely and critically at the world around me. I wanted to share what I saw with others, to connect with people in a way I’d never done before.

My art teacher selected a charcoal portrait of mine to be showcased in a local art show and I’ve never been more proud of myself for anything. Many of my friends, family members, and teammates came to see the show, which blew me away, but also I realized then just how much of my own self worth had been attached to people’s perception of me as a successful athlete. I learned how much better it feels to gain self worth from within. Unlike hockey, which I’d trained to be good at since I was a toddler, art is something that made me much more vulnerable. I didn’t do it to try to be the best, I did it because it felt good. And getting out of my comfort zone in this way gave me a sense of confidence I had never known prior, despite all my time on the ice during high-stakes games.

Today, I’m back in skates and able to play hockey, but will probably not play professionally; while I am disappointed, I’m also at peace with it. We make plans in life, and sometimes life has other plans for us that we have to adapt to and embrace, which is the more profound lesson I’ve learned in the healing process. We can crumple in the face of obstacles, or we can look for a silver lining and allow ourselves to grow into more complex, dynamic, well-rounded people. I don’t know what the rest of life holds for me, but I do know that I’m going to keep making art, and I’m going to keep opening myself up to new opportunities and experiences.

Strengths of Version #2:

  • It has a compelling hook that draws the reader in.
  • It has a clear beginning, middle, and end (expressed as an introduction, body, and conclusion).
  • It directly addresses the prompt at hand and sticks to it.
  • It focuses on one specific incident.
  • It is well balanced in its explanation of and reflection on a given experience.
  • It uses a clear, unique voice and tone as well as vivid, evocative language.
  • It has a logical and cohesive flow.
  • It is highly personal while also polished and professional.

Hopefully these examples have given you ideas of how you can take your Common App essay from good to great. If you have more questions about how to write a Common App essay, keep reading our FAQs below.

Common App essay FAQs - magoosh

How much do I actually have to write for the Common App essay?

Last year, the Common App essay was capped at 650 words with a minimum of 250 words required. The best essays tend to range between 500-650 words.

Think of it this way as you start to draft: 500 words is one single-spaced page (250 words is one double-spaced page), so you should write roughly a page to page and half of typed, single-spaced content.

Where can I find the official Common App essay prompts?

Here are the 2021-2022 Common App essay prompts , which are the same as last year’s, with the exception of a new prompt #4 and the addition of a Covid-19 Common App prompt .

Do I need a title for the Common App essay?

A title is not required for the Common App essay, but you are, of course, more than welcome to include one if you’d like.

Where can I go for more information about the Common App essay?

All of the necessary information for the Common App and the Common App essay can be found on the Common Application home page.

For further reading, here are some posts that tackle and dispel common myths about the Common App essay:

Myth: The Common App essay must sound professional. Myth: Colleges can’t tell if someone helps write a common app essay.

If you haven’t already, you can download our free Common App essay checklist .

Happy Writing!

There you have it! The Common App essay can actually be quite rewarding to write if you give yourself enough time to prepare for it thoroughly. Remember, it’s all about you, and you’re the authority on that! So hunker down and don’t forget to have fun in the writing process.

We’d also love to hear from you! What questions or concerns do you still have about the Common Application essay? What are you thinking about writing on?

Comment below, and good luck!

Nadyja Von Ebers

Nadyja von Ebers is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. Nadyja holds an MA in English from DePaul University and has taught English and at the high school and college levels for twelve years. She has a decade of experience teaching preparation for the AP exams, the SAT, and the ACT, among other tests. Additionally, Nadyja has worked as an academic advisor at college level and considers herself an expert in all things related to college-prep. She’s applied her college expertise to posts such as UCLA Admissions: The SAT Scores, ACT Scores, and GPA You Need to Get in and A Family Guide to College Admissions . Nadyja loves helping students reach their maximum potential and thrives in both literal and virtual classrooms. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys reading and writing for pleasure and loves spending time in or near the ocean. You can connect with her on LinkedIn !

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First-year essay prompts

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Common App has announced the 2024-2025 essay prompts.

Below is the complete list of the common app essay prompts..

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

We will also retain the  optional community disruption  question within the Writing section. 

Looking for tips on how to approach the essay? Check out this video. 

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10 Exceptional Common App Essay Examples

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Common App Essay Examples

One of the most important pieces of the college admissions process is the Common App essay, also known as the college essay or the personal statement. By reading Common App essay examples, you can prepare to write your own. 

However, what is a personal statement? In a word, a personal statement is an essay you’ll write for college. We will learn more about what makes a great personal statement by exploring sample Common App essays. In fact, the best way for students to ace this type of essay is through dissecting Common App essay examples to see what works. 

Breaking down the Common App essay

In this article, we’ll use Common App essay examples to explore what makes a strong personal statement. We’ll break down what makes each of these Common App essay examples successful. That way, you can find inspiration and tools to unlock the best version of your own college entrance essays. We will also provide tips for coming up with college essay ideas and finding a college application essay format that works for your story.

At CollegeAdvisor, our goal is to demystify the college admissions process for all students. As such, we’ll also introduce you to many resources about how to write a college essay. Wherever you are in the process of writing your Common App essay, you’ll find these Common App essay examples helpful.

How to Write a Personal Statement – 5 Personal Statement Examples

What is a Common App essay?

The first step in writing a college essay is understanding the varying types of college essays. When students look up “what is a personal statement?” they are likely to come across many articles about sample Common App essays. Indeed, personal statement sample essays are often the same as Common App essay examples. While there are many other types of college essays, such as supplemental essays, the Common App essay/personal statement is extremely important. 

Let’s first explore one major question: what is a personal statement?

Whether you are applying to undergrad, grad school, or a scholarship, the personal statement is a general term for an essay that introduces you to admissions officers. As such, personal statement sample essays must tell a unique story about you that conveys who you are. They should showcase your personality traits, values, and personal growth. With this story, you are showing admissions teams what kind of person and community member you will be when you step onto their campus. For this reason, no two personal statement sample essays are identical.

Understanding the Common App essay

Now, let’s explore what the Common App essay is. A Common App essay is a personal statement submitted through the Common App. Astoundingly, over 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States use the Common App as an application platform. As a result, when you apply to college, you will almost definitely use the Common App. This is why there are so many Common App essay examples out there.

All Common App essay examples are 250-650 wo r ds long. Since students can apply to multiple schools using the Common App, the Common App essay examples we provide were likely submitted to several different colleges. Note how these sample Common App essays are personal to the student but still general enough to work for different schools. 

Do all schools require a Common App essay?

common app essay examples

Besides wondering “what is a personal statement?”, many students wonder if they need one for every school.  As we mentioned, many universities in the U.S. use the Common App . However, the personal statement, also known as the Common App essay, is not required by all schools. 

For example, the Universi t y of Washington-Seattle does not accept the Common App essay even though students can apply using the Common App. However, the school has different college entrance essay requirements . These appear when you select a school on your Common App portal. 

Encouraged but not required

Some schools encourage but do not require students to submit a college entrance essay. For example, Bridgewater State University encourages students to write a college entrance essay, but it’s not mandatory. In this case, we still recommend submitting an essay, since every part of an application is a chance to showcase who you are and why you’re a compelling candidate. 

Furthermore, some schools do not require essays at all. In fact, they won’t even read your college entrance essay should you submit one. These schools, one of which is the University of South Florida , rely exclusively on other measures such as grades, test scores, or extracurriculars to make their college admissions decisions.

Though all schools don’t require a Common App essay, many do. They also might require supplemental essays. As such, it’s important to start preparing your essays early by first reading Common App essay examples. This will help you learn what makes a great college essay.

Common App Essay Prompts

how to write common app essay

The second question students might ask after ”what is a personal statement?” is “what do I write about?”

Luckily, the Common App gives you plenty of college essay ideas through the college essay topics it provides. All of the Common App essay examples we will look at responded to one of the current prompts. 

Let’s review the seven current prompts that inspired our Common App essay examples:

Current Common App Essay Prompts

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..

When looking at these prompts, you’ll note that they are all asking you to be reflective. Indeed, all common app essay examples and college essays that worked involve the student engaging in self-reflection. As such, it matters less what you write about and more what deeper meaning the topic at hand has to you. Successful sample Common App essays demonstrate that the author is a deep thinker.

Choose your own topic

Furthermore, note that prompt #7 allows you to submit an essay on any topic of your choice. So, if none of the first six prompts inspire you, you can focus on another topic of your choice that is meaningful to you.

There is no one-size-fits-all college application essay format. Indeed, all of the Common App essay examples we will explore take different approaches to telling their stories. 

As we look at Common App essay examples, take note of how students were self-reflective and demonstrated their unique passion for a topic. We’ll dig into how they accomplish this as we review each of these college essays that worked.

How to use these Common App Essay Examples

common app essay examples

Before we look at sample Common App essays, let’s discuss how you can use these examples of college essays to support you in writing your own.

First, avoid the impulse to compare your life to other students’ stories in these Common App essay examples. These sample Common App essays are great tools because of the students’ reflections. It truly doesn’t matter what you write about so long as you can do it in a meaningful way that shows personal growth and self-awareness. Great personal statement sample essays can be written about the most mundane or common topics . So, don’t compare your life experiences with those of other students. Simply add these Common App essay examples to your college essay writing toolbox and understand what works.

Reflect on how you want to tell your story

Secondly, use these Common App essay examples to find inspiration for how you wish to tell your story. Do these Common App essay examples use dialogue that really makes a scene come to life? Maybe a few sample Common App essays discuss topics you hadn’t realized you could write about, giving you ideas for new college essay topics. Drawing inspiration from Common App essays that worked is distinct from copying their ideas or language. So, don’t try to imitate any of these essays. Rather, use them as a tool to enhance your own unique essays. 

Finally, take note of what you learn about the writers of these sample Common App essays. Then, look at yourself through the same lens. What do you want college admission officers to learn about you? Your college entrance essay is your chance to show that.

Common App Essay Examples #1

sample common app essays

The first of our sample Common App essays discusses a topic that many students might assume is too ordinary: a student’s love of books. After reading each of our sample Common App essays, we’ll break down what makes them strong Common App essay examples.

Sample Common App Essays #1: Books and Identity

Under the harshly fluorescent lights of an aisle in Walmart, I take position amidst the rows of plastic silverware, paper towels, and household goods while my mother searches for supplies she needs for a Fourth of July party. Neither the faint swells of an outdated and overplayed pop song nor the hustle and bustle of a retail store on a holiday weekend reach my ears because as usual, my nose is buried in a book. My mother calls to me, but her voice barely registers and I ignore her, shifting in the spot I have designated for myself aside the packages of Hefty trash bags on the bottom shelf.

She finally finds me, and I reluctantly tear my concentration away from the page. “I’ll just stay here,” I say, buying myself precious time in which I can finish the next sentence, paragraph, or chapter of the novel, and I sink contentedly back into a state of mind where I am entirely myself and nothing, not even other customers searching for trash bags, can disturb me.

This memory is not an uncommon one for me. As a child, I could always be found in stores or restaurants with my latest literary pick in hand. I constantly nagged my parents to bring me to the library or bookstore; this was a constant even as I went through “phases” as I grew up, dabbling in music and theater with temporary or half-hearted enthusiasm. Other children dressed up as astronauts or princesses, but I took on roles of different people as I struggled to find myself.

As I grow older and continue to explore different interests, my love for reading has sparked my intellectual curiosity and taught me valuable life lessons. Reading was an escape during a time when I didn’t quite know who I wanted to be. Now it marks the cornerstone of who I’ve become. I’ve read just as many books about fictional villains and heroes as those about regular people who face the same struggles I do. For me, it’s these kinds of books, stories of people not so different than myself, that have changed and defined my outlook on life. 

One such book is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, a story of twins and their difficulty finding their own identity in a world where they are bound together. Noah, one of the twins, describes how he feels he is always “undercover.” He says, “‘Maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people. Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time. Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, […] grow, dive into the world.’” I was unable to realize a person could be defined by multiple aspects of himself.

My tendency to try to fit into a specific role proved to be unsuccessful, but one of my different “selves” was always a part of me, even when taking on the role of someone I didn’t want to be. A love for reading is not a temporary persona I put on to appease parents, friends, or college admissions officers. The reader of a story has an unique perspective of the mind of a character. Because of this, I have realized the true depth and intricacy every person and situation can hold.

I struggled with defining my own identity, with labeling who I was, but now I know every person is much too complex to be defined by a label as simplistic as “athlete” or “musician.” So although it might be assumed that an individual pursuing an engineering degree does not enjoy reading, I am grateful for my love of books, as it is with this passion that I find myself ready to “dive into the world.”

Why this essay worked

As we mentioned earlier, it may feel difficult to come up with college essay ideas. This student chose a topic that some might consider mundane— their love of reading. However, the student is successful because they show how reading has been a critical part of their identity and personal development. 

In this essay, the student tells us how reading was an escape from the pressure she felt to define who she was. Later, reading became an integral part of her identity as a learner intrigued by stories. Given that the student plans to major in engineering, this fact adds depth and intrigue to the student’s personal brand. A college admissions officer would find this student an appealing candidate because they will likely be engaged and passionate. Through this example, we see that any topic can be a successful one if it is important to the reader and connects to a core aspect of their identity.

Lastly, as we see in many great examples of college essays, this student includes many details. They even reference dialogue from a favorite book, further illustrating their love of reading. 

Now, let’s look at a very different college application essay format in the second of our Common App Essay examples.

Sample Common App Essay #2

common app essay examples

The second of our Common App essay examples takes the unique—and potentially challenging—approach of talking about another person. In this essay, the author describes her relationship with Sophia, a child with special needs that she meets while volunteering. 

The author’s essay is in response to prompt #3 of the Common App essay prompts: 

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

Not many Common App essay examples respond to this prompt. Let’s see how this student tackles it.

Common App Essay #2: Challenging Bias about Ability

I see Sophia and wave, laughing at her leaps of excitement that brighten my day. Sophia grins up at me, pointing at her two missing front teeth, and I marvel at how grown-up she is becoming. Deciding to capitalize on her boundless exuberance, I suggest we work on her backstroke, her least favorite. Sensing her reluctance to lie flat on the water, I point out the purple monkey and the giraffe on the ceiling, coaxing her to relax on her back and practice a few kicks. I know that with this distraction, she will slowly uncoil her arms from my waist, gaining the confidence to float on her own. Beaming, I praise her courage, offering a congratulatory high-five. Proud of today’s improvements, I hand her the dreaded kickboard. Sophia’s dimples vanish as she vigorously shakes her head, inching away from the terrifying aqua board.

Recognizing this fear, I remember a trick she loved from the previous lesson. I promise to teach her how to do an under-water handstand, and in response, she tentatively grasps the board with one hand, while clinging to me with the other. I then challenge her to splash me as hard as she can with powerful freestyle kicks, and laugh as my face is soon drenched with water. Clapping, I marvel at her ability to propel herself without any assistance, and to celebrate, we belt out “Let It Go” from Frozen together. My giggles vanish and my heart aches as she begins to recollect the long needles from her latest hospital visit, but I am amazed to see that her laugh never ceases.

Sophia has special needs. Despite her mental challenges, her bubbly and infectious personality never fails to be an uplifting inspiration. I marvel at how this 10-year-old has learned to fully appreciate the life she has been given and cherish each precious moment. In and out of surgeries, hospitals, and clinics, she still exhibits an unparalleled enthusiasm for life.

Sophia’s determination coupled with her bright personality inspires me to embrace optimism in my life. I am passionate about enabling Sophia to break down any perceived obstacles and stereotypes in front of her and lead an active life, just like any other child. Though I go in each week as the teacher, I leave having been her student. Each evening after volunteering, I would lie awake, tossing and turning, wondering how I could do more for Sophia. Prior to volunteering, I often took for granted that I have sports and activity programs readily available. But with far more athletes than coaches in the program, why did more of my peers not volunteer? Why did more people not know about the special gifts people with disabilities radiate?

Yearning to share my experience with others, I founded a club at my school called HandiCapable, encouraging my peers to volunteer with people who have special needs through sports mentoring. I hope to encourage my school community to see that people with mental disabilities are people first, facing challenges like us all. I fought to change an underlying culture where people with intellectual disabilities are mocked or misunderstood in today’s society by spearheading a campaign to eliminate the word “retarded.” Breaking away from using hurtful and derogatory colloquialisms is the first step towards understanding and compassion, altering the way we think, speak, and ultimately act.

Sophia has taught me that nothing is insurmountable if you have courage, foresight and above all, a positive attitude. She has driven me to be more accepting of people who may seem initially quite different, but face challenges like I do. She has inspired me to be more appreciative of uniqueness, because everyone has an individual personality and perspective from which I can learn. Sophia has changed how I view the world.

What makes this a successful essay ?

Writing about another person when applying to college can be tricky. Many sample Common App essays write so much about the other person that they forget to center the author. However, in this essay, the author demonstrates the impact that Sophia had on her, centering her own experiences. In doing so, it highlights how Sophia taught the author to face challenges with joy and courage. 

The student also answers the prompt fully and in detail. Specifically, the writer discusses how her experience with Sophia led her to challenge ableist thought. Moreover, the author tells the reader how her inspiration led her to create a club at her school. By doing this, she demonstrates her own leadership skills and activist mindset. In short, we learn a lot about the author even though this essay is about someone who inspired her.

For our third sample, we’ll give into the challenging world of Common App essay examples that talk about sports.

Personal Statement Sample Essay #3

sample common app essays

Many examples of college essays talk about a sport that a student has played for a long time. Writing about this topic can be difficult. At times, students spend too much time talking about the details of the sport rather than their experiences. 

In the third of our sample Common App essays, the author shows us how her relationship to gymnastics changes over her lifetime. In doing so, she reveals a lot about her character. Let’s take a look:

Personal Statement Sample Essays #3: Perseverance and Commitment through Gymnastics 

Gymnastics has always been a part of my life and has shaped who I am today. Without gymnastics I would not have the same determined mindset, competitive nature, and appreciation of a team. If I were to neglect sharing this aspect of my life, my application would truly be incomplete.

When I was two years old, my parents enrolled me in the Parent-and-Me program at Countryside Gymnastics. At six, I became part of the pre-team program, Dynamos, and was placed in the compulsory team at age seven.  As a compulsory, I struggled to be as good as my teammates. This struggle caused frustration which evolved into determination and a competitive nature. Throughout the rest of my compulsory years, I gradually improved but still felt as though I were stuck. I knew I had to “up my game.”

The optional levels, 7 and up, brought a new factor—fear. Even though this fear did hold me back at times, I did not let it keep me from achieving my goals. Gymnastics is also extremely tough on the body. Once I entered the optional level of gymnastics, I trained at least 20 hours a week and endured the aches and pains that came along with it. However, I did not let these pains defeat me. When I reached level 9, I began to experience severe back pain, which a spine specialist diagnosed as a subcutaneous lipoma. Although the physician highly recommended I stop training to avoid complications later in life, I was too committed to stop the sport.  I let my desire push me through the pain, and I had a successful competition season, qualifying for the Region 8 Regional Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. 

During summer training in 2013, I worked as hard as possible to reach level 10, with the back pain progressively worsening. Once my pain peaked, my coach told me it may be time to “hang it up.” I could either quit or repeat level 9 with minimal training. Ultimately, the choice was mine. To prove I was capable of reaching level 10 and to support my team, I continued to train on a vigorous schedule. At level 10, I am the highest level gymnast at Countryside Gymnastics and am determined to have an exceptional competition season.

This determination and competitiveness that pushes me to accomplish my goals in gymnastics also exists in my current scholastics—the health sciences, which will ultimately prepare me for my future in pediatric medicine. Without the desire to be the best I can be, I might not have achieved success throughout my high school years.

Why this essay worked 

Some sample Common App essays that write about sports focus too heavily on the sport. In doing so, they fail to tell us much about the author. However, colleges want to know about you!

This author writes about what gymnastics has meant to her throughout her life. This gives us a window into how she thinks, what she fears, and how she handles challenges. Through describing how she pushed forward when faced with injuries or fear, she shows us how she will succeed in college and in life.

Common App Essay Examples #4

common app essay examples

Many Common App essay examples attempt to subtly weave in achievements. However, in the fourth of our sample Common App essays, the author takes a bold move. This essay talks about how the author handles failure, revealing critical details about their character. Some might assume that successful Common App essay examples need to focus on “successes,” not failures. However, this essay shows how failure can be a good essay topic choice—if you address it the right way.

Let’s see how one student skillfully tackles the topic of failure.

Sample Common App Essays #4: A New Perspective on Failure

Stretching my ankle against the theraband, my pre-pointe teacher hands out evaluations, determining who will move up to pointe shoes. The TheraBand, worn from months of strengthening in hopes of earning pointe shoes, snaps as I eagerly grab my evaluation. Dumbfounded, I wonder how all my friends were advancing to pointe while I wasn’t. Maybe my body is not built for ballet, I conceded.

A year later, the server on the other side of the net serves the ball with a loud smack. The ball hurdles towards me in seemingly slow motion. Other players yell my name, encouraging me. I need to pass the ball, or else I won’t make the middle school volleyball team. Positioning myself, I bend my knees, and… I hit it out of the court. 

Defeated, I accept the rejection with the mindset that my lack of athleticism is permanent. 

The following fall, walking out of the audition room and having made it successfully past the first round, I was dizzy and elated. Moments prior, I perfectly performed an excerpt from a piece I prepared for 3 months and was about to play yet another excerpt, which would determine whether I would make the district honors band. Breathing rhythmically, my fingers glide over the familiar scales, my heart thumps the beat of the piece, and I triumph in my second successful audition of the evening. The results the next day were disappointing. I thought about how my mother is tone deaf, and decided that was the reason I would never be successful in my musical aspirations.

Regarding my failures as something out of my control was a recurring theme in my life. Reflecting on past experiences, I am not sure when the thought that my abilities were unchangeable began to prevail. However, I am aware of when the toxic mindset began to change.

For years, I had marveled at long distance runners. Their athleticism and ability to persistently push onwards in a race was something I lacked in my life and simultaneously desired. Spring of my freshman year of high school, I decided I wanted to join the Cross-Country team. However, joining a sport in high school tended to be very difficult, due to the fact current players had already been participating for years prior. Despite anxiety about possibly “failing” at something again, I tried anyways. After careful research and planning, I set a schedule of running and cross training six days a week. Beginning in March, I developed the capability to keep up with experienced teammates by the time the pre-season began in June.  With determination, I trained myself from a 12-minute mile runner to a 7-minute mile runner and a competitive Cross-Country athlete.

For the first time, I realized something: Failure does not define me. Instead, it drives me to succeed.

Having previously believed negative qualities cannot be changed, self-training for a sport revealed situations are not permanent. Whatever I lack in inherent talent can always be made up for in hard work and strategic planning. Innately, I am self-motivated and resilient.  Once I realized this, obtaining my goals was a possibility, and eventually, a reality. 

Because of my newfound self-awareness, pursuing goals is efficient and organized, and often produces favorable results. I no longer believe traits, such as my body type or genetic predisposition for music, restrict my ability to achieve. Instead, they are simply obstacles to be overcome. 

Letting shortcomings or events define my future or limit my aspirations is a thing of the past. What truly defines me is my ability to push past rejection and continually better myself – no matter what version of myself I am at the moment. 

Why did this essay work well?

One approach that successful personal statement sample essays could take is focusing on an unexpected topic. Throughout this essay, the author plays with the idea of failure. They introduce us to many specific moments in life when they have failed. 

As the essay moves forward, the author’s perspective on failure shifts. They learn that through their failures, they can identify ways to improve. They also realize that their own perceptions of their abilities shape how they set goals and whether they achieve them. Essentially, this student tells us through stories how they have developed a growth mindset. This is something that college admissions officers highly value in applicants.

The best Common App essay examples showcase traits that are both true to the author and appealing to colleges. Think about how to do this as you craft your own essays.

Sample Common App Essay #5

common app essay examples

Personal statement sample examples are incredibly personal, and this next example is no different. Here, we’ll learn about a tradition that the author values deeply—spending Saturday mornings with family. 

Common App Essays that Worked #5: Family Values

I relish Saturday mornings. After a long week of rushed early mornings and drawn-out nights filled with studying, Saturday is the reward. My eyes open at my own pace. Weekdays, I awaken at 6:45 a.m. to the harsh sound of my cell phone alarm or my mom calling through my bedroom door. But not on Saturday, on that day, I rise to the sound of birds chirping or my dad moving around downstairs. Stretching for a long moment, I just enjoy staring at the ceiling. I am content after an extra hour and half of sleep.

Slowly, I leave my warm bed, throw on a comfy sweater and place my glasses on my head. It’s a welcome change from my weekday routine. I do not miss forcing my sleepy body out of bed, slipping into my itchy uniform, or forcing contacts into my tired eyes. When I make my way down the steps I am greeted by my dad reading the newspaper in his favorite leather armchair rather than my full backpack in the foyer.

These relaxing mornings offer me a much-needed break. For once, I’m not rushing off to school or soccer practice. Any essays I need to write or physics tests I must study for can wait a while. 

I take the time to just sit on the couch and read a book or watch TV. I can do everything I want or do nothing at all.

However, the true highlights of these mornings occur when I am sitting at the kitchen table with my crossword puzzle and pencil on my right and my breakfast plate and hot mug of tea on my left. Between bites of pancake, I share tricky crossword clues with my family. My mom looks up from the sports section to carefully consider the hint and my sisters bombard me with suggestions but it’s usually my dad, standing over the griddle flipping pancakes, who calls out the correct answer. As I find contentment in a meal, the Puzzles and Games section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the company of my family, I realize that it truly is the little things in life that mean the most.

I appreciate my dad who works long hours but still gets up to cook a big weekend breakfast for my family and the way that he serves me tea in my mom’s white college mug because he knows it’s my favorite. My sisters’ and I laugh playfully as we compete over who’s the strongest and tease me because I’m the weakest. I shake my head and smile at my mom who insists that she can eat three pieces of French Toast even though we all know she’ll barely finish two. To someone else, lazy Saturdays and family breakfasts may appear so routine, so insignificant. But to me, these moments are perfect.

This essay proves that sample Common App essays that worked don’t have to be about a huge life event. In fact, this student is writing about the most common aspects of everyday life: spending time with family. However, the way the student writes about their family demonstrates a lot about the student’s character. We learn that this student values the little things in life and cares deeply for others. 

Secondly, by using specific details, from crossword puzzles to coffee mugs, this essay highlights the author’s love for their family. This student masters the age-old writing advice of “show, don’t tell.” This approach keeps Common App essay examples intriguing and fun to read. 

Personal Statement Sample Essay #6

sample common app essays

There isn’t one successful college application essay format or topic. However, writing about a pivotal moment in one’s life can lead to a very compelling story. Though it can be difficult, this student chooses to be vulnerable about how a catastrophic injury changed their life.

Common App Essay Examples #6: Lessons from an Injury

When I finally woke for the first time in three days, I could feel needles dancing up and down my legs where there were none, and when the doctor asked me to wiggle my toes, there was not even a flicker. Regarding my condition, the doctor told me, “Your skiing accident has left you paralyzed. Permanently.” 

In Korea, where I was born, a disability is considered very shameful. Many see people with disabilities as aliens of society. People with disabilities in Asian countries rarely leave the house due to the inaccessible nature of the society and the unbearable piercing stares of the surrounding community members. Seeing this as my only possible life in a wheelchair, the people closest to me repeatedly etched into my brain that without the use of my legs, I could never be successful or happy–a forever pitied human being.

As my church and family members visited me after my injury and saw me in the wheelchair, they reacted in shock, saying, “I’m sorry. I really hope you walk again.” As they tried to console me, I could feel their deep pity. Before even asking if I was okay, or how I was doing, my immobile legs had already drawn in their minds a picture of my bleak future. 

As apologies and condolences were continuously thrown at me, I started to believe that everyone was right. Maybe I was just a burden. Maybe I would not ever be happy. Enveloped in a façade of darkness, for so many days, I merely sat in bed begging my legs to move again. 

I would be lying if I claimed I suddenly woke up one day and was completely happy again. But through weeks and months, I started to discover that if I continued to look to my surroundings for motivation or support, I would not find it. To everyone else, my church members, my family, I had just become “that girl in the wheelchair.” But I knew I could not just give up on my aspirations or conform to the definitions that I had been labeled with due to one physical attribute.

Through my experiences after my injury, I started to notice so much, especially the lack of diversity in the workplace, and the support that this fact gave to existing societal stereotypes. I started to wonder, how would my experience after my accident have changed, or how much encouragement would I have received if I saw a doctor, teacher, nurse, that had the same abilities as I did? Motivated, I began to involve myself more, and started to work harder academically, so that one day, through my life, I can become this strength and encouragement for someone else. 

Many people, seeing me driving, or even just sitting at the movie theater, come up to me and tell me that I’m an inspiration. They tell me how amazing I am for just having gotten dressed in the morning and leaving the house. Honestly, these actions should not be considered inspiring. I’m just living my life. But because of the many prejudiced opinions towards the disability community, opinions that I too once held, the fact that a person in a wheelchair can complete even just everyday activities is considered a great feat. 

Someday, I want to be someone that inspires, not because I can get dressed or talk for myself, but because I have really accomplished something that significantly influences the world. 

Yes, there are times when I wish I could just get up and walk. However, these moments are temporary and trifling. It scares me to think that without the occurrence of my accident, I may have remained living with the traditional and well-known biases regarding disability and other differences that exist in society. Then, I may have been a true pitiful character. 

Today, I am Korean and still, a person with a disability. But I am proud. 

A common assumption is that college essays that worked simply highlight a major hardship or tragic life event. However, this is simply not true. Common App essay examples about hardships are successful only if they show how the author grew from an experience. 

In this essay, the student shares how their skiing accident changed the way they were treated, thereby changing how they viewed themselves. Rather than feeling pitiful or less-than, this student discovered a newfound determination to positively influence the world. Their perseverance is seen not only in surviving an accident, but in overcoming the limitations society places on people with disabilities. 

Common App Essay Examples #7

sample common app essays

Many powerful sample Common App essays tap into core aspects of the human experience. This often includes how we navigate our identities– especially in an ever-globalizing world. The following example of Common App essays that worked tackles that topic with grace.  

Sample Personal Statement #7: Embracing Heritage, Integrating Identity 

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

Six words. Six words were all it took for Ernest Hemingway to embody the sorrow of a family after losing a child. It seems almost impossible to so elegantly summarize a life in six words. 

I received this seemingly impossible assignment in AP Language a year ago. How could I encapsulate my seventeen years of life into six words? Would those words sound funny, poignant, dark? I reflected on important moments that shaped me as a person to answer my questions. 

I reminisced about my early years: two loving parents and a playful younger sister. During those years, my parents instilled in me their most important values: meaningful academic pursuit, following our Indian traditions, and preserving cultural heritage.

I remembered the first time I faced the struggle that would tear me apart for the next twelve years: values ingrained in me as a child versus values my friends and the society around me possessed. As I grew older, I learned just how different my friends’ values were from mine. 

Throughout my middle school and freshman years, I had two sets of friends: my school friends and my travel basketball friends. The former focused on social status rather than academics; the latter focused on athletics rather than academics. To fit in, I created another persona for myself: someone who focused singularly on social status and athletics. This decision to change my personality based on my surroundings cost me my drive for academic pursuit, and I threw away educational opportunities. I lost sight of who I was and what held true meaning for me. 

At that time, my six words would’ve been: “Flip a coin, American or Indian.” For the next two years, I lived by that mantra.

My struggle with balancing the two-sided coin ended in tenth grade by a chance conversation with a cousin in India. As she described her social struggles and their limiting effects on her educational opportunities, I realized how fortunate I was to be in the U.S. I held my destiny in my hands; all I had to do was to reshape my mind. The dissonance created by compartmentalizing my two important sides prevented me from moving forward, and I had to bridge the distance I had created between my Indian heritage and living as an American. 

I embraced my cultural heritage by immersing myself into Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance, and passionately committing to it by completing a rigorous 3-year Certificate Course with Alagappa University of Performing Arts. In order to share my art with the community, I performed for neurologically challenged senior citizens residing in assisted living homes. Through this service, I was able to spread joy and culture amongst my American community, helping me bridge my cultural gap. 

Additionally, my upbringing had been focused on science with an expectation that my career would be in the medical field. Eventually, I developed an affinity toward science. Growing up, I was exposed to the American ideal that I can shape my own opportunities, pursue whichever career I desired, and just follow my heart. I found myself naturally attracted to journalism, and following my heart I ventured into journalism. 

Still, a key part of me was missing, and I found it only after conversing with my journalism teacher. She was describing an article by Helen Pearson, renowned science journalist, when it hit me: this is what I wanted to do. Science journalism was the product of my Indian upbringing and go-getter American attitude. That cathartic conversation is all that was needed to find the perfect career path for me. 

My cultural confusion turned out to be the springboard I needed for discovering balance, finding a potential career, arming me with rich life experiences, and allowing me to write the six words that transformed my life and that I still stand by:

“Shape my mind, shape my destiny.”

What makes this essay great ?

For students coming from multiple cultures or marginalized identities, writing a personal statement can be a healing form of self-reflection. Indeed, many successful Common App essay examples touch on this topic. However, as always, writing about it with intention and care is ultimately what makes these personal statement sample essays work. 

As an Indian-American, this student feels torn between connecting to their Indian heritage and integrating within their American community. They overcome this inner conflict by reframing how they view their identity, rejecting the either-or paradox they felt caught in. They even intentionally immerse themself in their Indian culture and share it with others through volunteer work. From their reflection, they discover how science journalism could be a career that merges all parts of their identity.

Compelling Common App essay examples are written engagingly . This author hooks us from the start of their essay with an intriguing quote that immediately catches the reader’s attention. They also bring that hook back to show us how changing their mindset allowed them to overcome their inner conflict.

Our next example of Common App essays that worked brings together two topics that the author feels passionate about. In doing so, the author doubles their ways to showcase who they are. 

Sample Common App Essay #8

sample common app essays

All Common App essays that worked have touched upon a topic that is meaningful to the author. This next author wrote about two – their love of Rubik’s cubes and scientific research.

Common App Essay Examples #8: Rubik’s Cubes and Research

The complex array of colors had always baffled me. Orange, yellow, green, red, white, and blue all jumbled together on a mystifying gadget that just could not be completed. Twisting and turning side after side was of no use, the Rubik’s Cube could not be solved. This elaborate contraption presented me with the most overwhelming experience of my life. It outshined everything else in my dull life, and solving it became a life-changing experience.

I spent many weeks trying to find different combinations that could solve the mysterious puzzle. After continuously failing, I felt infuriated. However, rather than giving up on my goal, I knew I could do it. I worked backwards until I realized what I did wrong early in the solving process. I kept forgetting to do a critical step, causing me to get two colors in their wrong spots. Knowing this, I was able to alter my procedure and make significant progress. I was finally able to solve four out of the six sides over the course of 45 seconds. Solving the last two sides, however, needed a little more time and effort. My affection for mathematics and science stems mainly from this- both involve a similarly coherent and disciplined approach just like the Rubik’s Cube. 

This past summer, I did research work at Columbia University Medical Center on ion channel membrane proteins and studied their structure and function in the ultimate goal to find drug targets to help cure cancer. When some research experiments provided dubious outcomes, I was given the assignment of checking that the viruses we were working with had been identified correctly. I spent weeks running DNA gels through gel electrophoresis and trying to find specific genes in each virus, but I had varying results. I was exasperated, but rather than giving up on my task, I thought about my past experience with the Rubik’s Cube. Working backwards on the Rubik’s Cube helped me figure out exactly at which step I went wrong.

So I decided to work backwards on my research until I reached the source, the primers, I had used to amplify the DNA and specify the desired mutations were nonspecific, thus making them ineffective in distinguishing the six genes of interest to us. Knowing this, I was able to modify my experiments accordingly, looking at protein content instead of DNA sequences. I was finally able to prove that four of the six viruses were correct. The last two, however, needed to be reanalyzed. Just like the troubleshooting strategy with the Rubik’s Cube, working backwards helped me to find my source of error and ultimately got me 4/6 th of the way through my goal.  My research work was crucial to the graduate student whom I was working with, and he was able to redesign his experiments to account for the fifth and sixth viruses.

Researching in a lab alongside a renowned professor was a thrilling experience for me. I gave up hanging out with my friends on the beach and chose to work with chemicals and viruses instead. My urge to understand these proteins was the driving force of my research. I am incredibly proud of my contribution to solving the puzzle of cancer. It was a small piece, but vital nevertheless. This cerebral inspiration, combined with an aspiration to learn more about life’s ambiguities, compels me to chase a profession with scientific research.

The sense of self-satisfaction and achievement I felt from my research work at the Columbia University was much the same as that I felt upon solving the Rubik’s Cube. This sensation is one I hope to experience throughout my life as the cancer puzzle is unequivocally one of the most critical puzzles of the modern era and certainly the first of a myriad of puzzles I hope to solve in the field of scientific discovery. 

Why this Essay Worked

This sample combines two college essay ideas flawlessly. First, the student introduces us to their love of Rubik’s cubes. Then, they flow into their love of research and the impact they made through their summer internship at a cancer research lab. 

The real power comes in how the student uses their approach to Rubik’s cubes in order to overcome a roadblock in their research. By doing so, the student highlights their problem-solving skills alongside their compassion for others. In this, this essay highlights the writer’s wish to positively impact the world. We can learn a lot about crafting a strong college application essay format from this example.

Our next sample of Common App essays that worked highlights a student’s passion for language . Moreover, it uses a hook and a writing style that makes it a standout essay.

Personal Statement Sample Essay #9

common app essay examples

When thinking about how to write a college essay, start by thinking: what could I talk about all day? Great Common App essay examples often focus on passions. This author introduces us to one of their passions—the written word—through a story about an influential English teacher.

Common App Essay Examples #9: A Love for Language 

It is like selecting the perfect pair of socks, I suppose. I envision myself kneeling before the bottommost drawer of my bureau, my chilled feet egging me on, and perusing the trove of choices that awaits my roving fingertips. I meditate on the day’s promises before making my selection – now, did the weatherman say 65 or 55 degrees? Was that rain the Farmers’ Almanac called for? Perhaps I should just wear sandals. After a few more moments of inspection: Ah – there it is! Of perfect hue, texture, and temperament, it is exactly the article for which I sought.

There exists a great parallel between this, the daily hosiery search that begins my mornings, and my lifelong pursuit of the perfect word. Socks and words, both objects of my affection, are united in their enduring qualities: both involve a weighty decision, require a certain shrewdness and pragmatism from the selector, and offer nearly endless options that only intensify the quandary. However, in seventeen years of interaction with both, I informedly pronounce that I find the latter to be infinitely more cumbersome, convoluted, and, thus, beautiful. 

My rendezvous with language began as all children’s do: with crying. On the heels of crying came babbling, soon ousted by laconic speech and finally replaced by comprehensible expression. To my youngest self, language was mechanical and lifeless, a rigid blend of lexicon and grammar that broke as many rules as it created. This sentiment prevailed until I walked into Mrs. Regan’s fourth-grade class.

On that fateful first day, I recall being struck by her inviting personality and stylish plaid frock (I was personally wanting in the department of fashion). Beyond the warmth of her disposition, her pedagogical philosophy was unconventional and striking, even to an easily-distracted girl who wore the same green shirt every day. Her intention was not to satisfy district-determined measures or adhere to the antiquated curricula her coworkers professed. Instead, she pushed her students to invite intellectual challenges and conundrums, exposing us to the complexities of academia that she adored.

Her passion was best evidenced by the infamous vocabulary lists that circulated every Monday, boasting words typically native to a high school workbook. Suddenly, pedestrian exercises in ‘Choosing the Right Word’ were transformed into riveting explorations of the English language’s multiplicity, breadth, and allure. Within weeks I was concocting sentences just to employ ‘voracity’ and asking for synonyms for ‘vociferous’ that could aptly describe my rowdy classmates.

With thanks due to Mrs. Regan’s tutelage, my enthusiasm for words matured into an infatuation. I began to pour through the well-worn dictionary that presided over my nightstand, tasting the foreign syllables as they rolled from my lips. Coincidentally, I was soon given the title of the ‘human dictionary’ at school and have since served as a consultant for my friends and peers, answering questions of “What word fits best here?” or, the age-old query, “Affect or effect?” But the further I read, the more humbled I become, dwarfed by the vastness and mystery of my mother tongue.

Though my ensuing years of education have been enormously fruitful, Mrs. Regan remains my childhood hero on two counts: she encouraged my obsession with the written word and indulged my fourth-grade wish for a challenge. The insatiability I feel puzzling over jargon on PubMed, hearing the ping of Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the day arriving in my inbox, and maybe even shedding a tear at the aesthetic tenor of ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ can be traced to those days of yore, spent copying definitions in a blockish scrawl. Today, as in that year far gone, I am still in pursuit of the perfect word – ever elusive, sitting on the tip of my tongue. But pouring through the dresser drawers of my mind, abundant with the tokens of my educational and lingual experience, I know it will not be long until I find it.

What makes this essay stand out?

Great Common App essay examples must be well-written. In this essay, the student’s writing mirrors her love for writing; they are both exceptional. Not all effective sample Common App essays need to have large vocabulary words like this essay does. However, they all need to reflect the student’s unique voice and be grammatically correct. 

This essay takes us into the student’s mind, showing us how they think and how much they love the English language. They highlight countless examples of how they embrace the challenge of writing, all through the metaphor of choosing socks. As such, we see a student who is ambitious and passionate. These character traits make them a very desirable candidate.

Common App Essay Examples #10

sample common app essays

Next, let’s look at our final sample of Common App essays that worked. In this essay, we’ll explore a student’s relationship to acting and labels throughout their life.

Common App Essay Examples #10: Letting Go of Labels

“Are you ready?” I looked up at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, which I followed to a face caked in a mask of stage makeup. I replied with a curt nod and feigned smile, forcing my expression to oppose the dread welling inside my stomach. In no way did I feel prepared; truthfully, I felt nothing short of ridiculous, clad in an electric green, one-sleeved spandex dress reminiscent of a 4 th grader’s discarded dance ensemble (and no doubt someone’s well-intentioned but unfortunate donation to the costume bin). Trapped in my orb of painful self-awareness, I peeked into the audience, imbibing Coke from the concession stand and looking detachedly at iPhones, waiting for the dimming lights to signify the start of Act I. All I felt was my heart careening into my throat.

Weeks before, I accepted the request to play my ukulele during the high-school production of Godspell the musical. I thereupon decided to enter the wily seas of the theatre arts with the remarkably determined response of “Hey, why not?” Initially, my decision seemed an innocuous one. Playing ukulele? Seeing a show? Indulging in complimentary refreshments? The positive haze that enveloped the future reminded me that this could be my shot – the chance of realizing my Audra-McDonald-and-Angela-Lansbury-inspired dreams of performing, a dream left behind long ago.

Music and theatre forever had been a part of me, a shaper of the fantasies of grandeur and fame inherent with childhood. Christened with the bellows of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák and raised alongside a sister infatuated with the spotlight, it seemed only natural for me to ascend to my own musical perch. As years passed, however, my shier disposition guided me to athletics, and I soon became the recipient of patronizing nods when I explained that, no, I did not sing too. Even so, with the purchase of a ukulele, my passion became a quiet one, made undeniably alive in the moments everyone left the house and silenced as the family car pulled in again. 

Unfortunately, no late-night bedroom performance could have prepared me to step before an audience. In the wing, someone grabbed my arm and motioned onto the stage. My legs took on the cartoon effect of wobbling back and forth, and I plastered a perturbed grin on my face as a sorry attempt at joy (probably reading more a grimace than the beacon of ecstasy I had hoped). The cast shuffled onto the stage, cloaked in the colors of Stephen Schwartz’s vision, and the cue sounded for the song to start.

I stood arrested under the searing lights, feeling my heart race and sweat glands dilate. I looked into a faceless audience, blackened by the concentration of light striking my retina. Blinking and restoring my vision, I glanced beside me and saw the warmth and undiluted joy of my peers. Their smiles were not feigned. A lone flautist tooted out the first notes and, still watching over my shoulder, I fumbled to make a C chord. The tune began; I inhaled and opened my mouth and sang. 

I used to fashion square containers in my mind, ones in which I placed my friends, acquaintances, and, often, myself. I smacked a label on the box – maybe ‘Equestrian’, ‘Mathematical Genius’, or ‘Makes a Mean Stew’ – and relied upon my scheme, this Dewey Decimal System of my interpersonal library, to govern my conceptions of those around me. Only once I had lumped myself into the ‘Athlete’ bin and sealed the lid did I notice that an air-tight container is not where I belong, not where any free-thinking, passionate, idiosyncratic being belongs. Immersing myself into the vibrancy of the Godspell stage, uke in tow, and exuding what I had internalized shattered this jejune way of categorizing the world.

As I reassessed my perspective, I thought, maybe one day I’ll become a crusader of self-expression, a lover of every powerful facet that culminates in the individual, no matter where I find myself. Until then, I’ll keep on singing – not proudly, not defiantly, and definitely not concordantly, but my voice will pipe to the intricate, malleable tune of myself.

One college application essay format that works for some students is to take us directly into a scene through dialogue. This is often an effective hook. Here, the author uses this tactic to capture our attention. They also describe the moment before they step on stage with evocative details, allowing us to experience their anxiety. This is another great example of showing and not telling. 

However, the author’s anxiety about acting transforms into several realizations about their relationship to the arts. Fear led them to stop acting, and embrace athletics instead. However, in the end, the author realizes that they don’t need to choose one or the other. Instead, they can continue to evolve and explore new sides of themself as they grow. 

Undoubtedly, college admissions officers evaluated this writeras a lifelong learner who faces fears and constantly questions society’s assumptions. Like many compelling personal statement sample essays, this student takes us on a journey through her self-development.

How to write a college essay?

We’ve looked at 10 successful Common App essay examples. Now, you might be wondering how to write a college essay that is equally as compelling. Let’s look at some college essay tips to help you ace the process :

4 tips for writing college essays

1. start early.

We can almost guarantee that none of the Common App essay examples featured here were written overnight. In fact, these Common App essays that worked required ample time to choose a topic, reflect on one’s growth, write the essay, get feedback, and edit. 

Often, to write a successful essay, one must step away from a piece and come back to it. As such, it is important to give yourself plenty of time to write your essay. For most, this means several months. If you’re a college junior, start the summer before your senior year. 

2. Be you, specifically and authentically

Whether you’re writing about an injury or a favorite book, make sure your college essay ideas are meaningful and personal. Pick a topic that you could passionately talk about all day. Furthermore, always speak about your ideas and experiences in detail. Telling us that you love books is not as powerful as telling us how your parents had to continually turn off the lights in your room because you would stay up all night reading.

3. Write many drafts

Your first draft is often not your best draft. In fact, it can take upwards of 3-4 drafts to get to an essay that you’re proud of. Likewise, prepare yourself for the possibility of completely scrapping one of your college essay topics or reworking your entire college application essay format. These are all natural parts of the process.

4. Get help from others

Like many of the most challenging things in life, applying to college is best done with help. When brainstorming college essay topics, consider asking friends and family what makes you stand out in their minds. Ask experts like a CollegeAdvisor admissions counselor or an English teacher to review your essay. And, of course, read many examples of college essays to find inspiration. But don’t forget that you aren’t alone in this process!

We’ve now talked about how to write a college essay and looked at some Common App essay examples. But what makes a great college essay? We’ll explore characteristics of Common App essays that worked next.

What makes a great college essay?

sample common app essays

We’ve looked at many Common App essay examples in this guide. As you’ve likely noticed, there is no single perfect recipe for college essays that worked. In fact, these sample Common App essays are all very different. From college essay topics to college application essay format, there is great diversity in what makes a great college essay. 

Still, there are some traits that many great Common App essay examples share. Here are a few:

Unique to the student 

Among the most important college essay tips is to write about what matters to you. If you try to copy someone else’s idea or write what you think colleges want to hear, your essay will feel forced. Instead, choose the topic that immediately catches your attention. This will lead to you writing about your most meaningful experiences. These could be anything from growing up without money to remembering your favorite toy. The personal statement sample essays we highlighted touch on many different topics. However, all of them were important to the authors.

Along with this, focus on writing in your own voice. If you don’t naturally write with four syllable vocabulary words, then don’t try to do so in your essay. Our personal statement sample essays highlighted several different writing styles, and they all worked.

Well-written

You don’t have to write like a college professor. However your essay does have to be easy to read and free of grammatical errors . Note that our personal statement sample essays were free from slang and typographical errors. In part, admissions officers are assessing your writing abilities. Show them the best writing you can produce.

Undoubtedly, admissions officers are looking to see how you reflect upon your experiences. Ideally, they want to see personal growth. What did you learn? What do you value? How do you solve problems? How do you approach challenges? All of our Common app essay examples demonstrate the author reflecting upon their experience in order to answer such questions. 

Additional Common App Essay Tips

sample common app essays

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide to Common App essay examples. To finish, we have a few more tips from what we saw in our personal statement sample essays.

Show, don’t tell

A common literary approach that all of the sample Common App essays employed is the maxim of “show, don’t tell.” Though this is a cliché piece of advice , it is critical to all college essays that worked. It involves using descriptive language, dialogue, and other details to make your story come to life. Imagine you are a film director – how would you describe the story you are trying to tell in 3D detail? Our sample Common App essays were chock full of details that brought each story to life and made for an engaging read.

Find a hook

A hook is a compelling start to an essay. It is one of the most common aspects of a successful college application essay format. A hook can look like a piece of dialogue, an evocative sentence, or a surprising statement. If you look at our Common App essay examples, you’ll see that they all start with an interesting hook.

Read your essay aloud

The last of our college essay tips has to do with how you edit your essay. We recommend reading it aloud to yourself. This not only helps with finding typos or wordiness; it also allows you to connect with the emotion behind your essay. Does reading it make tears well in your eyes? Does it make you laugh? If so, you’re likely onto something great. Reading your essay out loud also helps to know if it sounds natural. As we stated earlier, all of our sample Common App essays capture the unique voices of different students.

Other CollegeAdvisor Essay Resources to Explore

At CollegeAdvisor, we’re committed to helping you ace the admissions process and get into a school that makes you happy. As such, beyond this article with sample Common App essays, we have other resources to guide you through the essay process.

Common App Essays 2023‒2024

If you liked reading our Common App essay examples, check out this article about personal statement sample essays. You’ll find more college essay ideas and college essay tips inside. 

Alternatively, if you’re already in college but are considering transferring , we have a guide for writing your transfer essay. With this guide, you’ll be able to reflect on why a new school might be a better fit for you. You’ll also learn how to ensure that your application to a new school is compelling. Since transfer essays have a slightly different college application essay format, you shouldn’t simply recycle a past personal statement.

Additionally, we have helpful webinars about writing your Common App essay. Our webinar on crafting your unique story will help you think about what kind of characteristics or branding you wish to highlight in your essay. Thinking in this way may feel more natural than trying to simply answer a prompt. 

Crafting Your Story: Effective Strategies for College Essays

If you’re a junior , our webinar on using the summer before your senior year to get ahead on writing your personal statement will help you get organized. Resources like these can help make the college application process much less stressful. We can guarantee that each of these sample Common App essays took a good amount of time to write. With that in mind, starting early is key.

Common App Essay Examples – Final Takeaways

In this article, we showed you ten Common App essay examples and broke down why they are Common App essays that worked. Hopefully, you can now answer both the questions “what is a personal statement?” and “what makes great sample Common App essays?”. If you remember only one of our featured college essay tips, let it be to stay true to yourself in your essay. 

The process of applying to college, and especially being vulnerable in an essay, can be daunting. However, CollegeAdvisor is here to support you. In addition to providing dozens of examples of college essays and other resources , we offer personalized admissions guidance designed to help students succeed. Click here to connect with a member of our team and learn more. 

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Courtney Ng wrote this guide full of Common App Essay Examples. Looking for more admissions support? Click  here  to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how  CollegeAdvisor.com  can support you in the college application process.

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How to Write a Great Common App Essay

The Common App essay, often referred to as the college essay, is a 650-word personal statement that will be submitted to all of the schools that you apply to using the Common Application. While strong test scores, interesting extra-curriculars, and excellent grades are all important elements for a successful application to a top American university, a strong personal statement is one of the best places for you to set yourself apart from other applicants.

By U2 US Admissions Tutor, Carmen ( 2018 – 2022 | Brown University & Master’s from Cambridge University)

A student writing their US commo app essay on a laptop

Getting Started with the Common App Essay Prompts

Each year, the Common App releases several prompts for this essay. The prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle are the same as those for the 2022-2023 application cycle, and generally the questions change very little from year to year. For this reason, you do not need to wait until the Common App becomes available on August 1 to begin your college essay. In fact, you shouldn’t. Writing your college essay should ideally be drawn out over several months and, for this reason, the summer between Year 12 and Year 13 is the perfect time to tackle this project.

The prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle 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 a 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.

Importantly, your college essay is also useful for applications to universities that do not use the Common App. For instance, even though Georgetown has its own application process, there are nevertheless prompts within the school’s application where your Common App essay would be an appropriate response.

How to Start a Common App Essay: Engaging Strategies to Hook Your Readers

Your college essay is the place where you should let your personality and creativity shine . Don’t spend it writing about things that will be mentioned elsewhere in your application, and don’t write about something just because you think that it is the kind of essay that an admissions officer will want to read.

The prompts are broad enough to allow you to write about almost anything, so as you begin to consider your college essay, spend some time brainstorming stories that you are interested in telling. What are things, moments, or experiences that matter to you? What kind of story could you tell to give admissions officers a sense of the version of you that your friends, teammates, parents, or siblings know?

College essays can be light-hearted or serious in tone, and they don’t need to be about big moments. In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t write about topics that can feel contrived. College counsellors suggest avoiding essays about volunteer trips abroad, essays about major epiphanies, or other topics that can feel performative.

As you begin to jot down a few different ideas, see if any of them feel like they could be extended into something longer, or if any of them could be tied together.

When I brainstormed stories that I wanted to tell, my experiences moving frequently whilst growing up, and my experience sustaining a career-ending back-fracture as a gymnast emerged as two themes that I wanted to explore further. I wrote about them separately at first, eventually tying them together, exploring how gymnastics’ constant role in my life had always given me a sense of stability when so many other things had felt tenuous, and how unsettling it had been to lose my sport. My essay was more serious, but several of my classmates at Brown took more light-hearted approaches. One of my friends wrote about winding down every evening watching TV with her parents and siblings, and how that brought them closer together as a family. Another wrote about the colour yellow, and another still wrote about pasta, exploring how despite being a picky eater, she became increasingly more adventurous as grew older, learning that small changes could transform something that had initially seemed mundane.

Having read each of these essays, which are all about very different topics, the common themes that emerge are their honesty and unpretentiousness . They use moments, ideas, or things to engage in larger, self-reflective discourses.

A graphic showing students editing their US common application essay

Structure and Organisation: Crafting a Compelling Narrative in Your Common App Essay

When you begin writing your college essay, don’t feel constrained by the 650-word limit. The first version of my college essay was about 1500 words, and I was consistently reminded by my college counsellor that it is always better to start with too much material than too little. Once I had a full draft of the story that I wanted to tell, I began to identify which sections mattered the most to me, and which parts I could cut.

Work on your draft for several days, then take a step back so that you can return to it with fresh eyes. This is why it is essential to give yourself plenty of time to write your college essay – you should go through many different iterations of it before you are ready to submit your application. Working with a tutor can also be especially useful whilst you are revising your college essay, because they can help to identify where your voice is strongest in your essay and recommend sections to cut - U2 Tuition have some fantastic top US and Ivy League-educated tutors who can support (get in touch here ).

Editing and Revising: Polishing Your Common App Essay for Clarity and Impact

Plan to have a completed draft that is close to the word-count by mid-August . That way, you have time to copy edit your work. Be very diligent in your proofreading. Read it repeatedly, and have other people read it too, because there should be absolutely no errors in your final version.

Aiming to have your final draft completed by the beginning of September will make your university application process much smoother, especially if you are planning to submit an early application. Even if you are only intending to apply during the regular application cycle, completing your college essay early is advantageous, because once Year 13 begins it will be all the more difficult to dedicate the time and attention that this essay requires.

Ready to craft a standout Common App essay that captures the attention of admissions committees?

Our team of Ivy League and top US university-educated mentors is here to help if you need it.

Our experienced US application mentors (predominantly Ivy League graduates) specialise in supporting students like you in their applications to top US Universities. With their guidance, you'll gain invaluable insights and personalised support to ensure that your application showcases your passion and potential.

From brainstorming essay ideas to refining your writing style and aligning your extracurricular experiences, our tutors have a proven track record of helping students craft compelling and impactful essays that leave a lasting impression. They will help you tell your story in a way that resonates with admissions committees and sets you apart from the competition.

In addition to essay assistance, we provide comprehensive support throughout the application process, including selecting universities, evaluating your current GPA, and enhancing your overall applications.

Contact us today to learn more about how our US tutors can support you in your application journey.

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Common App essay examples that got applicants into top colleges

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Composing essays for your college application is a challenging task. It is not enough to prepare a ‘good’ essay. College admissions committees review thousands upon thousands of college essays annually, making it crucial that your Common App essays stand out.

The good news is there are plenty of Common App essay examples available to get you started on your writing and provide you some much needed inspiration. Read on to learn about common application essays and check out the examples. 

The “Why us?” App Essay

The “diversity” app essay, the “challenges” app essay, the “community” app essay, the “extra-curricular activities” app essay, the “personal statement” app essay.

Common App essay examples

The purpose of a “why did you choose this college” essay is to help you persuade admissions committees that you are a good match. The essay is a chance for you to introduce yourself and talk about your passions. It is also important to exhibit genuine enthusiasm for the institution.

Sample answer from Essays That Worked: “The only reason I fear going for lunch in a hotel is probably because I wouldn’t choose between fried chicken and roasted meat and so is my dilemma over my college major. The multifaceted whole brain approach at McCormick, however, grants me the perfect opportunity to pursue my interest in Computer Science whilst acquiring the appropriate skills in entrepreneurship to a one day startup as an innovator.

As a NU computer scientist, I particularly look forward to Software Development EECS 473 – NUvention: Web, through which I would not only learn intricacies of Software development, but have related studies in real time software development in relation to market requirements in CS+X that would form a base for a startup. That would also provide a bridge for me to join Prof Todd Warren at Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation where I would specifically join the NUvention; Web + Media. Through this unparalleled program I would have the intimacy of working in a team with fellow wild cats towards an innovative business project. The results of which will be an introduction to the Northwestern Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) through which I look forward to gaining practical exposure in launching businesses to the general public.

Outside McCormick, I would be excited to pursue the Managerial analytics Certificate program at Kellogg to acquire intelligent business management skills, let off steam at SPARK exploring hacks while fostering entrepreneurial habits, and eventually joining preparations for the Benedictine Eagle Invite at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion (SPAC) with the NU track club. I may not be the best of singers, but I do have intense phases of music obsessions and where better to let it off than taking non major classes at Bienen and joining one of the numerous Acapella groups as I await Armadillo day!”

Why does this essay work? 

The essay refers to specific programs and events that are unique to the school. The author also connects his personal interests with the type of activities he would like to engage in. The focus is on a handful of initiatives the author would be most interested in.

A diversity essay highlights the applicant’s unique background, identity, culture, beliefs, or connections to a particular community. It underlines what sets the applicant apart. These essays are used by colleges to promote diversity on campus, enhance the learning environment, and identify candidates eligible for scholarships aimed at underrepresented groups.

Sample Answer from Boston College : “I’m angry and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. There have been too many riots, too many marches, too many people shouting into uncaring ears when Black people get treated the way we do. How many dead fathers, sons, mothers, and daughters have to move from the front page of the news to the bottom of the social media feed before we get recognized and listened to. I just want to be heard. I have given up on the idea of waking up in a world where I am not afraid, angry, and weary. Maybe that world is for my grandkids, or my great-grandkids, but not me.

My mother and my father, my aunts and uncles, they were all very active in the protests – often at the front of the line – and they did not come through unscathed. They had bruises and blood spilt, they had broken bones. I know they will return to that battlefield, to protest peacefully until they cannot maintain that rank any longer. From these noble people I received my sense of righteous anger. But I also got good advice on how to use it well.

They know that protests are one thing, but action is another, and my mind has been geared toward law school for some time now, because I wanted to bring about the major changes that are needed for our society to move on. So, in addition to protests, I have been taking pre-law courses, and I have acquired a part-time job in the law firm where my uncle works, and while it is a small, office job, I get to spend a lot of time with my uncle learning about how to bring positive change by fighting big and little battles. Of course, he is also showing me how to fight those battles.

Anger alone isn’t going to settle anything, which is why I believe in making a better world with my actions and rhetoric. But I am still frustrated and furious, and while I am trying to find a hopeful place to get to, I’ll repeat that I don’t think we’ll see the better world I want. Maybe our grandkids, but not us. Hold on to that, get angry, and join me in pushing forward for them.”

The applicant talks about their personal experience beyond a general push for diversity. This authenticity makes the essay stand out, as it provides a genuine insight into the applicant’s life and character.The essay clearly articulates the applicant’s motivation for pursuing law school as a means to enact social change. It shows a thoughtful progression from anger and frustration to actionable goals and aspirations, which is exactly what admissions committees look for — students who are motivated by their experiences to make a positive impact.

This type of essay requires you to choose an obstacle you have encountered, explain how it impacted you, and outline the steps you took to overcome it. Life during college and beyond can be unpredictable. Through this essay, the admissions committee wants to see that you are adaptable, resilient, and able to think critically to solve problems. 

Sample Answer from CollegeVine: “You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.

When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.

As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.

Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.

We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.

We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.

My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.”

For a ‘challenge’ essay, admissions committees look for evidence of resilience, problem-solving, and the ability to learn from difficult situations. This essay effectively addresses these criteria, presenting the writer as someone who has faced interpersonal challenges, reflected on their actions, and emerged more aware and compassionate.

how to write common app essay

The “Community” essay will prompt students to talk about a community to which they belong and what role they have played in that community. You can start by discussing a community you have previously been involved with and then outline how you intend to sustain your engagement with a similar community in college to give the admissions office an idea of what on-campus activities you would like to participate in. 

Sample answer from Baylor University : “Since getting involved in helping the homeless, I learned that for a time one of my relatives was homeless. When you have a house it’s easy to take it for granted, but all it takes is some bad luck for you to lose it. This is why I feel it’s so important that we all try to help those who have no home to go to.

As hard as it was to motivate others to volunteer and help out with our fundraiser, it was worth it in the end. We raised over $1,000 for the hurricane victims. Now when we see news coverage of that terrible disaster at least we know that we have done our small part to help. 

The reward for being a coach has nothing to do with winning games. The reward is seeing everyone working as a team and enjoying the game. Win or lose, as a coach you’re always proud after each game.”

Overall, this essay works because it skillfully combines personal motivation with community action, challenges faced during these endeavors, and reflections on what truly constitutes a reward. It not only showcases the applicant’s commitment to addressing community issues but also highlights valuable character traits such as empathy, leadership, and resilience. 

how to write common app essay

The essay about your extracurricular activities aims to provide admissions officers with insight into your involvement in extracurriculars and how that has influenced and inspired you. Rather than listing the activities mentioned in your resume, you should delve into how the extracurricular activities have impacted and shaped you.  

Sample answer from Admit Report : “As an impressionable six-year-old, I watched Meryl Streep-portrayed Miranda Priestly shape fashion history with a single word of disgust. I longed for my words to have such an impact.

Now, as an editor-in-chief myself, I oversee daily operations of The Hallway, my high school’s newspaper. Instead of shaping global fashion trends, I impact my community by ensuring everyone stays informed.

My place as editor-in-chief was solidified when, in March of last year, we published a breaking story. After a tip to our newspaper email address, a fellow reporter and I uncovered an academic dishonesty scandal. We conducted interviews, dug into school files, and reviewed old test keys to discover the cheating. My reporter wrote the story, and I edited it and put it on the front page. Our story became so big that it was republished in our city’s local newspaper.

Leading my team through this investigation taught me just how important journalism is. Even when people might be upset with what you write, what’s most important is the truth. People can’t make decisions if they’re uninformed about the facts. And reporters can’t investigate and write those stories without the support of a leader who’s willing to put in the work, too.

I doubt I’ll ever predict what we’ll be wearing next spring. But I know that my words will continue to have a deep impact on my community, and I can’t wait to find the next big story at The Catalyst.”

The applicant reflects on what they learned through their experience, especially the value of truth and the role of leadership in journalism.The essay concludes with a forward-looking statement, expressing eagerness to continue making an impact through journalism. This not only highlights the applicant’s passion for their extracurricular activity but also their intention to pursue this interest further, suggesting potential for future growth and contributions.

Through this essay, you can get the opportunity to show the college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. The essay demonstrates the type of individual you are beyond  your academic grades and test scores. It is a chance for you to stand out as an individual. 

Sample answer from College Advisor : “Gymnastics has always been a part of my life and has shaped who I am today. Without gymnastics I would not have the same determined mindset, competitive nature, and appreciation of a team. If I were to neglect sharing this aspect of my life, my application would truly be incomplete.

When I was two years old, my parents enrolled me in the Parent-and-Me program at Countryside Gymnastics. At six, I became part of the pre-team program, Dynamos, and was placed in the compulsory team at age seven.  As a compulsory, I struggled to be as good as my teammates. This struggle caused frustration which evolved into determination and a competitive nature. Throughout the rest of my compulsory years, I gradually improved but still felt as though I were stuck. I knew I had to “up my game.”

The optional levels, 7 and up, brought a new factor—fear. Even though this fear did hold me back at times, I did not let it keep me from achieving my goals. Gymnastics is also extremely tough on the body. Once I entered the optional level of gymnastics, I trained at least 20 hours a week and endured the aches and pains that came along with it. However, I did not let these pains defeat me. When I reached level 9, I began to experience severe back pain, which a spine specialist diagnosed as a subcutaneous lipoma. Although the physician highly recommended I stop training to avoid complications later in life, I was too committed to stop the sport.  I let my desire push me through the pain, and I had a successful competition season, qualifying for the Region 8 Regional Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. 

During summer training in 2013, I worked as hard as possible to reach level 10, with the back pain progressively worsening. Once my pain peaked, my coach told me it may be time to “hang it up.” I could either quit or repeat level 9 with minimal training. Ultimately, the choice was mine. To prove I was capable of reaching level 10 and to support my team, I continued to train on a vigorous schedule. At level 10, I am the highest level gymnast at Countryside Gymnastics and am determined to have an exceptional competition season.

This determination and competitiveness that pushes me to accomplish my goals in gymnastics also exists in my current scholastics—the health sciences, which will ultimately prepare me for my future in pediatric medicine. Without the desire to be the best I can be, I might not have achieved success throughout my high school years.”

This personal statement application essay effectively showcases the applicant’s character, resilience, and the transferability of skills learned through sports to academic and personal pursuits.It is also well-structured, with a clear narrative arc that engages the reader from the beginning to the end.

These essays are a vital component of the college application. It’s an opportunity for applicants to showcase their personality, experiences, and values in a way that grades and test scores cannot. The example essays can give you ideas on themes, topics, or approaches you might want to consider and help you understand what makes an essay effective in terms of structure, tone, and content.

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  • College Application

How to Write a Winning Common App Essay

Including 3 stellar common app essay examples.

Guide to Writing a Common App Essay

The Common App essay, also called a personal statement, is one of the trickiest components of a college application. Many students struggle with how to make their essays stand out from the crowd. After spending years building up an excellent high school resume , getting good grades, and dreaming of college, it could all come down to one 650 word college essay ! That’s a lot of pressure. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. In this blog, our college essay advisors tell you everything you need to know about the Common App essay, how to brainstorm ideas, how to write it, the biggest challenges, mistakes to avoid, and handy tips to keep in mind. We also provide a few samples to help you understand what types of essays actually impress college admissions committees.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 48 min read

The Common App essay is the personal statement that students have to submit on the Common Application portal. College apps are getting tougher by the minute as students are judged on so many different criteria – academics, of course, but also extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, supplemental essays, and the personal statement. All the hard work you put in towards taking on tough IB and AP classes, servicing your community, committing to your extracurriculars, could all be wasted because of one essay, that most students write in a month!

Many students are intimidated by the concept of the essay, not just because of how important it is, but also because they simply don’t know what to write in it. How personal should they get? What’s the right tone? What are colleges even looking for? With these questions running through your mind, it can be hard to focus and actually start writing.

But the Common App essay is like any other aspect of your application, or in fact, like any other challenge you meet in life. With adequate preparation, strategic planning, and a commitment to excellence, you can produce a Common App essay that’s sure to impress college admissions committees. In fact, if you do it right, writing this essay could actually help you refine and perfect your writing skills and even teach you things about yourself that you didn’t know! Read on to learn failproof tips from our college admissions consulting experts!

The Common Application, often called Common App, is the cornerstone of the college application process for most students in the US and Canada. It’s an online, centralized portal that gathers college application components from students and sends them to colleges. Students only have to submit their application once, and it’s sent to every college they want to apply to. With over 900 participating colleges all over the world, the Common App just makes life so much easier for high school students applying to college, not to mention their parents and teachers. Can you imagine if you had to send an individual application to each and every college you’re applying to? Well, you still might have to send out 2 or 3 different applications since not every college in the US and Canada uses Common App. For instance, UC schools have their own application system and if you’re targeting those, you will have to submit a separate application. But the overwhelming majority of colleges in the US do utilize Common App, which makes it a huge boon during application season. In one portal, you can submit your personal information, transcript, list of activities, letters of recommendation, and the personal statement, which will go out to all the colleges you want to apply to.

So, what is this dreaded Common App essay anyway? If you’re a high school student applying to college, you might know it as your main essay or personal statement. This is the component you submit in the “Writing” tab of the Common App, where you’ll find the 7 Common App prompts for the current application season along with a textbox where you write your essay in response to one of the prompts. It’s strongly recommended that you write your essay in a Google doc, MS Word, or some other reliable word processor with backups, and then copy paste the final draft into the Common App textbox. You should not be typing your first drafts and making revisions directly in Common App! You might end up losing the essay due to a technical glitch or worse, submitting a rough draft by accident.

The great thing about the Common App essay, and one that students frequently forget, is that the same essay goes out to all the colleges. So, you don’t need to write individual essays for each college or tailor your essays to talk about specific courses or universities. In fact, you should aim to keep your Common App essay as general as possible, without reference to any specific schools or degrees. For instance, if you make your Common App essay very focused on your passion for science subjects and talk about your desire to attend a top engineering college, while you’re applying to liberal arts schools as well, you’re tanking your chances of getting an acceptance from the latter. Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance to get college-specific when you’re writing your college supplemental essays.

Would you like more tips for how to write a stellar common app essay?

Difference between Common App essay and supplemental essays

As part of your college application, you’re expected to submit a number of different written components, from the descriptions of your extracurricular activities to your personal statement and the supplemental essays. It’s very important that you understand the different requirements and purpose of each of these written components and tailor them as needed. Specifically, make sure you don’t get confused between the Common App essay and the supplemental college essay. As we mentioned above, the Common App essay is your 250-650 word personal statement that you submit with your primary application on Common App. You only need to write one, and it goes out to all the colleges you apply to. The purpose of the Common App essay is to give the college admissions committees a better idea of who you are as a person and what makes you unique. It should be focused on your life and experiences, without any reference to a specific college or bias towards a specific stream (such as STEM, liberal arts, etc.).

Once your primary application is processed and if you make it through (though not all colleges screen primary apps), specific colleges will start reaching out to you with their supplemental application that will include prompts for essays. In these essays, you’re expected to get specific and address why you want to get into that college and reference your academic interests. Colleges can ask for more than one supplemental essay, and the required word count can vary. Some have a maximum word count of 250 words while others match the maximum length of the Common App essay at 650 words.

How do you differentiate between these two essays? How do you even find enough material for all these essays? Well, think of your Common App essay as your broad personal statement, an answer to the question “ Tell me about yourself ” (in relation to specific prompts), while your supplemental essay focuses in on the question of “Why do you want to attend this college?”. The two essays should complement each other, but there should be no overlap.

How can you ensure this? That’s what we’ll explain in this blog. If you do your Common App preparation right, and give yourself enough time to brainstorm, you’ll most likely come away with plenty of raw material, topic ideas, and inspiration for your supplemental essays too. There will be plenty of ideas you might reject as unsuitable for your Common App essay which could work for your secondary app essays.

Why is the Common App essay important?

So, if colleges will be asking for college-specific essays anyway, why is the Common App essay important? Well, in many cases, you won’t even get to the supplemental essays stage without an impressive Common App essay. This essay could count for 10% to 30% of how your primary application is evaluated, and the more elite the college, the more important it is. That’s because elite colleges such as Ivy League schools receive a huge volume of high-caliber applicants. They have plenty of applications from students with top grades, amazing extracurriculars, and references, so the Common App essay really becomes crucial in making an application stand out. Additionally, some schools, such as private liberal arts colleges, favor a more holistic admissions process. These colleges often don’t prioritize standardized test results as much as other schools and give more weight to the students’ extracurriculars and personal statement.

The Common App essay could be the deciding factor between you and another candidate with a similar profile. Many students with the best grades in their class and a roster of impressive extracurricular activities, not to mention top SAT scores, end up rejected from their dream schools because of a poorly-written essay. Having said that, it’s important to remember that no matter how great your personal statement is, it won’t make up for uneven grades and a less than robust resume, especially at elite schools with competitive admissions.

Remember that the Common App essay represents a final chance for you to take your application to the next level. By the time you’re writing and submitting your essay, there’s not much you could do about your transcript, your history of extracurriculars, etc. These components are long-term achievements which can’t be accomplished in a day. But you’re in complete control of your Common App essay and it’s your one chance to advocate for yourself in front of the admissions committee.

In fact, from the students’ perspective, this is what makes the Common App essay so important. Most of your primary application is quantitative, focused on grades, scores, contact information, and so on; your essay is one of the few “qualitative” components of your application. It allows you to speak directly to the admissions committee, and really humanize yourself, help them see you as person rather than just a collection of facts and figures. Your grades and standardizes test scores and all those other application components are certainly important – they indicate your academic prowess, your talents, your abilities – but they don’t represent you as a person. Everybody has a unique story and adding that personal context can really enhance your application.

Common App Essay Prompts

Common App releases the prompts for every admissions cycle around spring. The prompts have stayed more or less constant over the last few years, though a couple of prompts are occasionally changed, so it’s always a good idea to check them when they are released. You can select any 1 of the 7 prompts provided to write a 650 word essay.

These are the latest Common App essay prompts.

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Colleges have no preference for which prompt you pick. Some students prefer to look at the prompts and get inspired, and that could work, but ideally, you should brainstorm ideas about the best stories and narratives from your life that could work for your Common App essay before picking a prompt. You can then tailor the ideas as per the specific prompt ask. As there are so many open-ended prompts, you’ll have a lot of freedom to choose a topic that works best for you.

Many students believe that Common App essays have to be extremely serious, talk about a traumatic or deeply impactful event, or document amazing achievements. Of course, you can choose to write a serious essay focused on any of these topics (or others) – but they’re not the only kind of essays that get acceptances! Many students write about light-hearted or seemingly trivial topics but are able to make their essays meaningful and unique. You should never sacrifice authenticity and truth for “razzle-dazzle”. Focusing on what the admissions committee wants or prefers is a useless exercise. Not only will it make your essay seem forced and pretentious, but it also has no basis in fact, since admissions committees don’t actually have any “preference” for a specific topic.

Would you like more guidance on how to write stellar college essays?

Common App Essay: Unique Challenges

Essays are a crucial part of any admissions process. If you decide to pursue graduate studies, you’ll undoubtedly have to write a statement of purpose for graduate school , among other types of essays and written submissions. And naturally, grad school level essays are longer and more challenging. At the same time, in some ways it’s easier to write an essay about yourself when you’re older. High school students face unique challenges when writing their essay and that often causes the “blank page panic” when they sit down to actually write their essay.

For one thing, younger students talking about themselves are talking as much about their potential and their dreams, as they are about their actual experiences. You can’t expect that at this early stage in life, students have had some great epiphanies or breakthroughs. High school students are still forming their identity and exploring who they are. It’s difficult to know exactly what to write to make yourself stand out from the crowd when you’re not even sure who you are or what your unique experiences are. That’s why many students experience writer’s block and find it difficult to know where to even start. Moreover, communication skills develop with time, and younger students may find it more difficult to express themselves in a natural, eloquent way, through their writing.

That’s why it’s so, so important that you should give yourself plenty of time to write your essay and break down the process into several steps that will help you logically bridge every fear and uncertainty you might have.

Recommended Timeline

As we mentioned above, the best way to handle your Common App essay is to break down the writing process into several steps and give yourself plenty of time to complete each step. Before we get into the actual timeline, let’s figure out what would be the best time to start writing your essay.

When to start?

Common App applications open in August, but they release their essay prompts as early as March or April. This gives students plenty of time to work on their essay – and not many students make full use of this time!

Our recommendation is that you work backwards from when you want to target sending out your applications and start working on your Common App essay 3 months before that date. This might seem like a huge amount of time for a 650 word essay, but trust me, you’ll need it. We’ll break down the reasons why in a minute. Just know that without spending a few months on your essay, you won’t be able to give it your best shot and truly make it stand out.

If you’re targeting early acceptance deadlines, you’ll probably have to submit your primary application by October and secondaries by November. If you’re targeting regular application timelines, then you have a bit more time as primary deadline is in November and secondaries’ deadlines are in January. Different colleges have different timelines, so you’ll have to check the admission websites of the colleges you’re applying to so you can confirm the exact dates.

You should plan your Common App essay timeline according to these dates. For instance, if you’re targeting early decision admission, then the secondary applications would most likely be due in October or November. So, the ideal time for you start your Common App essay work would be around July. This timeline also works as you can then spend your summer before senior year of high school working on your essay. Even if you’re busy with a summer job or a summer program , you’ll still have more time to devote to writing and brainstorming than you would during your school year.

We suggest that you don’t wait till the last minute to work on your essay. While of course it’s possible to write your essay in a month or even sooner, that will not give you enough time for the “preparation” stage of writing your essay. It will definitely impact the quality of your essay and make it that much harder for you to find your “voice”.

Moreover, leaving your essay-writing till the last minute is just a recipe for chaos. Remember that once your senior year starts, and those application deadlines start approaching, you’ll get busy with all the other submissions that are due for your application, and you’ll have the secondary essays to worry about too. Once school starts, you’ll have to manage all that with keeping up your grades and devoting time to your extracurriculars. You won’t have much time or (more importantly) the mental energy left over to deal with your Common App essay. That’s why we highly recommend that you use the summer before your senior year of high school to do the major work on it.

Starting early will also give you time to seek out feedback on your essay. Specifically, it will give you sufficient time to approach your referees (who will be writing your letter of recommendation) and show them a draft of your Common App essay. This action serves a dual purpose. First, as mentors, they could provide valuable feedback. Second, looking through your essay can help them calibrate their perspective on you, see you in a different light, and influence what they include in your letter.

Remember that if you really want your college application to stand out, you need to tell a consistent story that is supported by all the different elements of your application: the essay, the supplemental essays, the letters, and the extracurriculars. Each component should communicate different aspects of yourself that complement each other and present a picture of a real person with depth and something unique to offer. The synergy between these different elements, and a consistent narrative, can make your application really impressive and prove your clarity of mind and focused ambitions. However, it’s not easy to achieve this effect while also keeping your essay as authentic as possible. So, how do you make the best use of the opportunity the essay presents you, while still presenting evidence-based points that are supported by your experiences and align with the rest of your application? Well, that’s why we recommend starting your essay writing process so early! It’s not a simple matter of picking a prompt and writing a couple of drafts of the first topic that comes to mind. You might get a good essay that way – but if you want a GREAT essay, one that will truly stand out, you’ll need to put in the hard work and advance preparation towards making that happen.

This is the timeline we recommend to help you write a stellar Common App essay.

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As you can see above, it will take you around 3 months, as per the timeline, to create the final draft of your Common App essay. If you start in mid-June or July, you’ll be finishing it up and asking for feedback around September, once school starts. That leaves you a couple of months to work on the rest of your application and secondary essays.

While this timeline represents the ideal amount of time you should be spending on your essay, you can condense it down as it suits you. Make sure you’re aware of the key application deadlines for the colleges you’re applying to, including early admissions deadlines (if applicable), and ensure that your essay and the rest of your Common App components are ready in time.

Next, let’s see how to complete each of the steps we’ve listed above. 

Are you looking for help with your college application? Check out this guide:

Preparing for Your Common App Essay

We recommend that before you actually start writing the first draft of your essay, you should spend some time brainstorming and freewriting, exploring different prompts, and reflecting on yourself and your life so far. This kind of pre-writing preparation is a crucial step to writing an effective, meaningful, and memorable essay. Not only will it help you identify topics for your essay, but it’s also a great way to broaden your perspective on yourself and think deeply about who you are and what you want. Moreover, this exercise isn’t just useful for your Common App essay – all your reflections from this period can also be used to help you write your supplementary essays!

Brainstorming Part 1: Self-reflection

We recommend spending a week or 10 days focusing on self-reflection and introspection. This is similar to “journaling”, something you may actually already be doing, but with a greater focus on writing about topics related to your Common App essay.

You should spend 10-15 minutes every day writing in your journal. At this stage, just indulge in some free-wheeling thought association about your life, your experiences, your goals, what makes you unique, what are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced, and so on. Note down any essay topics that come to you but don’t stress out if nothing suggests itself. The important part here is to start the process of self-reflection and to start narrating your experiences.

Life can seem like a random collection of events, but each of us is on our own journey of growth and learning. Don’t get bogged down by expectations and other people’s ideas – this is the time to just focus on yourself and what makes you unique. No idea, experience, or perspective is too silly or strange. Write down whatever comes to your mind as something significant that you’d like to discuss in your Common App essay. To get your self-reflection started, here are 4 questions you can ask yourself:

  • Who are you?
  • What makes you different?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you hope to achieve?

While doing this exercise, you should be wary of getting too invested in the college application “checklist” and reducing your life to a series of achievements or key experiences. You’re not writing a resume; you’re just exploring who you are and getting into the habit of thinking and writing about yourself. In fact, the whole point of the personal statement is to provide a perspective of yourself beyond what’s already shared in the other application components.

Brainstorming Part 2: Prompts

Once you’ve done some general self-reflection and identified some important narratives and qualities about yourself that you’d like to highlight, go back to your list of prompts, and see which one jumps out at you. At this stage, for some students, one or the other prompt may seem like an obvious choice. For example, if you’ve found yourself journaling a lot about a significant traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one, prompt no 2, which asks you to talk about a setback or obstacle, might seem like the answer. But don’t be so hasty to fix on a topic. Remember, at this stage, you haven’t even begun to define your topic! Getting too attached to an idea too early is as bad as not knowing what to write about, as it can prejudice you against exploring different ideas and maybe finding a more appropriate one.

Ideally, at this stage, you should be looking at 3 or 4 different prompts and brainstorming specifically in response to them. That way, you’ll have a variety of different experiences and narratives to choose from when you’re ready to write your first draft.

Below, we’ve listed a few key considerations and reflections for each of the prompts, that can serve as a starting point for your brainstorming. Spend some time every day – it could be 10 minutes, or it could be half an hour – just writing down your instinctual responses to the prompts, using our questions and reflections as a guide.

Prompt 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.

This prompt is an excellent opportunity for you to talk about any hobbies, talents, extracurriculars, and any other interests that are important to you and that you haven’t got a chance to talk about elsewhere in your application. This includes “useless” hobbies that may not be achievement oriented, but that you’re nevertheless passionate about, such as needlework, playing video games, volunteering at an animal shelter, and so on.

It’s also an opportunity to reflect on your identity, your family, your hometown, and any other aspect of your personal life that’s both unique and important to you. Many students use this prompt to talk about their racial or ethnic identity, their sexuality, their gender, and so on. You can weave a story of personal growth through your interests or identify important influences on yourself and how they interact with each other. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What was your upbringing like? What social environments surround you? How do they impact you?
  • Where do you live? What are some key images that would strike a stranger about the area where you live?
  • Where are your parents from? Have you ever visited their home town? What impression did it leave on you?
  • What do people around you know you for? Do you have a long-term commitment to any specific skills or talents?
  • What was your childhood like? Would you describe it as happy? What’s your happiest memory of childhood?

Prompt 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?

This is the “overcoming obstacles” prompt. If you’ve faced any major adversity in your life, that you think is significant to your story, this is your chance to write about it. Many students also use this prompt to talk about more minor obstacles, and describe a narrative of personal growth, self-reflection, and learning. Whatever the incident or topic you chose to talk about, the key here is to focus on how you dealt with and overcame the failure, challenge, or adversity.

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

Many students avoid this prompt as they believe it’s referring to big-scale, political activism and social service, and they don’t think they’ve ever made any kind of significant impact in this area. In fact, this prompt can be a great opportunity to talk about any time you experienced change in your value system, even if the impact was quite small. It could be as simple as noticing a need for change that prompted a change in your belief systems, for instance, a poor interaction with a doctor that made you think about how the healthcare system can improve. Here, you should focus on your thought process and map out the genesis of the change, and what impact it had on you.

  • Think back to your childhood. Do you hold the same values you do today as you did then? If no, what made you change?
  • Do you agree with the values and beliefs of your family, friends, and others close to you? If not, why do you hold different beliefs? Have you ever tried to change their mind/have they ever tried to change your mind?
  • Think of a time when you questioned yourself or changed your beliefs. How did you change? Why did you start questioning yourself?
  • Have you ever gone against the social norms of the people around you? What made you do that?

Prompt 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?

You can use this prompt to write a more philosophical essay that focuses on the impact another person made on you, and why it stayed with you. Most people would find it difficult to actually think of a material gift that left a philosophical impact on you and significantly changed your life. That’s why many students use this prompt to write about non-material “gifts” in the form of memorable advice, a challenge, an obstacle, or a task, that taught the student a valuable lesson and motivated them to do better.

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

This is one of the more open-ended prompts that students love to use as it allows them to amplify their achievements and talk more about “impressive” experiences in their life. Actually, it’s a mistake to use this prompt to just talk about the same extracurriculars and academics you’ve already covered in the rest of your application. Even if you do mention an extracurricular activity here that you’ve already covered elsewhere, the important thing is to bring a different perspective and reveal a new side of yourself. It’s not just about saying “I did this amazing thing”. You’ve got to think about how the event or accomplishment impacted you, what led up to it, and what you took away from the experience.

  • Have you ever been deeply impacted by someone’s words, advice, or guidance? Describe the experience and how you changed after it.
  • Have you ever had a “eureka” moment that changed your life? Did you ever experience a moment of clarity about something you want that helped you define your long-term goals?
  • Apart from all the achievements listed in your resume, what’s your biggest accomplishment? Is there a seemingly insignificant moment of your life that you’re truly proud of? 

Prompt 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?

This prompt is an ideal opening to help you talk about your more “useless” extracurriculars. The activities or interests that you’re passionate about, but which aren’t achievement oriented and hence don’t make it to your resume. It could be anything as simple as baking or bird-watching, or as abstract as an interest in how language works. If you can tell a story about how you found this interest, how it motivates you, why you love it, how it influences other aspects of your life, and how it helped you grow as a person, then this is the prompt for you. This is a great chance to paint a vivid picture of your inner life and communicate your unique way of thinking to the admissions committee.

  • Is there something you’re so good at, people come and ask for your help? This could be really anything, from a musical talent to being good at fixing things around the house.
  • If given unlimited leisure time, how would you spend it? What would you do if you didn’t have any obligations to go to school or earn a living? What sparks your passion for life?

Alright, so you’ve done some journaling and brainstormed a few essay ideas in response to the prompts. Don’t jump straight into selecting the idea and writing the essay – spend at least a couple of weeks, ideally 3 weeks, indulging in free writing. Try your hand at writing in response to a few different prompts, or all of them, if you have the necessary inspiration. Don’t think about restrictions such as word count, flow, structure, or any of that just yet. Just let your inspiration run free and write about anything you like.

The goal here is loosen your writing up, shake free the cobwebs from your brains, and get into the habit of writing about yourself. This is when you can work out the little awkward details in your writing and develop a more natural writing style. Some of this raw material, after some editing, could even make it to your essays, but don’t be too concerned at this stage with the “outcome” or this exercise will be wasted. Write without pressurizing yourself to produce brilliance, using the prompts as a kind of starting off point for a free associating exercise. This step is crucial to making sure your final essay sounds authentic, natural, and personal, rather than a formal summary of events or a forced statement of facts.

Give yourself a daily goal – 10 mins, or a few pages, whatever works for you. You should ideally do this activity in the morning, when you’re fresh and have a clear, relaxed head space. Select a cool, quiet corner of your house or a library where no one will interrupt you and sit down with your writing instrument of choice – notebook, laptop, or whichever medium feels most natural and comfortable for you!

If you find yourself facing writer’s block, shake yourself out of the rut by asking yourself “why”. Whatever you’re writing about – an idea, experience, event, or person, ask yourself why is this important to me? Why do I care? Why does it bother me? And keep going.

Another important tip at this stage is not to ask for feedback or show your writing to anyone. This is the time for ideation, not perfection. In fact, step away from your own writing for some time and don’t come to re-read it till after a few days. This is a great way to reap great essay ideas and get around your own anxiety and self-doubt.

What all of this pre-work does is help you avoid time wastage and inefficiency at a later stage. If you simply start off writing an essay based on a prompt without any brainstorming or preparatory work, you might spend a lot of time struggling to write, work late nights trying to get the tone or the style right, and then still feel that it doesn’t quite work without any idea of why. Self-reflection helps you get to the core of the matter, identify the “juiciest” stories and experiences from your life, while brainstorming helps you work through the “bad” writing in a low-pressure environment. When you select a topic after all this work, you’re likely to feel much more confident about your essay and that will reflect in the smoothness and eloquence of your writing.

Selecting a topic

After your more than a month of daily brainstorming and freewriting, take a break for a couple of days and don’t think or write anything related to your Common App essay. Then, come back and go over the results of your journaling, brainstorming, and freewriting with a fresh eye, and select a topic that stands out to you. 

Here are some tips to help you select a good topic:

  • Anchor your essay to a story, which will be the “hook” that opens the essay and draws the reader in. Focus on this story and which experience you’ll use to build the story, and that will help you select a topic. A personal, meaningful anecdote, such as the first time your mother taught you to make a specific dish, or the time you interacted with a new student who changed your beliefs, is an excellent opening for an essay. Try to think of significant experiences that could be great essay-openers and define your topic around that.
  • Pick a “focus” for your essay. Is it a person? An event? An experience? A quality about yourself you want to highlight? Remember, it’s important to give your essay a single focus and do justice to that topic rather than try to crowd in too many elements.
  • Connect your experiences to your ambitions and pick a topic that actually helps you show your potential, your ambitions, and your dreams. Sometimes significant experiences in your past don’t really have any connection to your future, though they might give you plenty to write about. Your topic should connect your past, future, and present effectively, and show a consistent narrative.
  • Try and balance your application out strategically. Select a topic that shows a different side to yourself than what you’ve already communicated in the rest of your application, for instance, if your extracurriculars are focused on your competitive athletic career, talk about a completely unexpected non-athletic passion such as environmentalism or expand upon how your personal insecurities, and a time you failed, and how you learned to cope with it. Humanize yourself and bring a nuanced perspective to your achievements. On the other hand, if you have inconsistent grades or your extracurriculars aren’t that impressive, amplify your accomplishments and talk about the passions that you devote your time to, even if they aren’t resume-worthy.

You should start by selecting 4 to 5 topics that are most meaningful and personal to you and then narrow it down to the one that’s most suitable for the Common App essay. Don’t throw away the rest! You can use the rest of the topics to get inspired when writing your secondary essays. Moreover, shortlisting multiple topics ensures you always have a back-up if, for whatever reason, your initial essay idea doesn’t work out.

Remember: don’t let self-doubt be your biggest enemy. There is no wrong or cliché or boring or lame topic. When it comes to the Common App essay, the how and why is key, much more so than the what. Do YOU believe in your story? Are you speaking honestly and from your heart? Is there a logical narrative and flow to your essay? Is there a meaningful conclusion that you’ve drawn? These are the questions you should be asking yourself, rather than wondering what the admissions committees will think of your topic!

At the end of the day, admissions committees are not judging your experiences, but rather your way of thinking – they want to get to know you as a person. When you’re writing your essay, you can always monitor your language to make sure it’s not overtly sentimental or emotional, but your topic and the key narrative should be all yours and completely sincere. Even if it’s a so-called “cliché” topic – such as, for example, an immigrant’s story or the obstacles you faced as an athlete and how you overcame them – the important thing is, your essay should have nuance and depth and a well-thought out perspective.

Let’s get into how you can actually write an impressive Common App essay.

Writing the Common App Essay

Writing the first draft.

At this stage, you simply take the plunge and get into the actual writing of your essay. First of all, thanks to all your brainstorming and journaling, you’ll probably find the writing part quite easy! Most students are more challenged by the structure of their essay and figuring out how to create a logical flow with a meaningful conclusion. To help you out, we’ve listed a few common essay types that you can use to structure your essay. We’ll also go over how to outline your essay and create a logical structure.

Essay types

Selecting a “type” of essay can be helpful as a kind of guide for you during your writing process. The following are the most common essay types students use to write their Common App essay:

Specific Story : This is the classic and most popular type of personal statement. It opens with a personal, meaningful story, which is complete in itself, and sets up the “lesson” or “focus” for the rest of the essay. The essay may go on to discuss other related experiences or how that specific story impacted other areas of the student’s life, or it could expand various facets of the single story, connecting to the student’s present and future. This a is reliable essay style, but you should be careful not to make it to moralistic or fable like. For example, you could open the essay with the story of how you met a patient at an old age home you volunteered at, and how their words or actions had a meaningful impact on you and galvanized you to take action about how people at the old age home were treated. It’s a complete story in itself, and then you could move on to talk about how you are committed to always speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and how you did that in other arenas of your life, and how you plan to pursue this goal in your future.

Iterative Pattern : This is a great essay type for those who want to talk about a journey of growth, learning, and self-reflection. Here, you open with an event or incident that may not have a definite conclusion or lesson, and then return throughout the essay to various related incidents that show a progression of a single theme through time. For instance, if there’s a specific issue you’ve struggled with, such as stuttering or public-speaking, you could start with incidents describing past attempts at public speaking and how you failed there, and then go on to describe how you worked towards improving yourself and overcoming your fears, and end with an incident where you actually achieved success in public speaking.

Circular : In this essay, you start with a story or incident, but don’t share the entire story or the final takeaway at the beginning. Instead, you use the rest of the essay to discuss how you felt about the incident, your thought process, the impact it had on you and others, and then you come back to the story and end the essay with a meaningful conclusion. For example, if you’re writing an essay for prompt no 3 (about a time you changed your mind), you could begin the essay describing an incident where you have to make a crucial decision – say, about whether or not you’ll expand the membership of your “boys-only” chess club to invite anyone who wants to join – then provide context about your family background, previous beliefs, and how you’ve changed them, and then come back to the provide the happy ending to the story, explaining how you not only changed the membership rules but took additional steps to make the new members feel welcome and comfortable.

Building Challenges : In this type of essay, you provide a series of different events or experiences in your life that all build on one another to present a kind of obstacle course that you have to overcome. This essay type is most often used to write adversity focused essays. For example, a student from a socio-economically disadvantaged background could start their essay talking about their earliest childhood struggles, how they overcame them, and then go on to expand on other struggles they’ve faced, which could be related to their background or their education or interests. They key with this type of essay is to focus on the “overcoming” adversity aspect, and to emphasize what you’re proud of and what you did well in these different circumstances. 

Creative Essay : These are essays that don’t confirm to any conventional formats. Some students chose to go completely off-beat and create a radically different essay structure. For example, you could write the essay in the style of a chapter from your favorite classic novel, but with you as the protagonist. Or, you could create a dialogue between two imaginary people, say, two important historical figures, talking about you. This is a very difficult kind of essay to pull off, but it can be high-risk, high-reward, when done right. Many students use it as a way to showcase their expert knowledge of any specific area or prove their creativity to the admissions committees.

Check out this infographic:

Essay structure

Once you’ve figured out, broadly-speaking, what type of essay you want to write and what you’ll include in it, the next step is to create an outline. Now, some students prefer to start with free writing and create a reverse outline later, but that’s not an ideal way to work. Reverse outlining usually takes up more time and isn’t very efficient.

Your essay should, generally speaking, include 3 to 5 paragraphs. More than 5 paragraphs could make your essay look very cluttered – remember you can’t go beyond 650 words! On the other hand, you’ll need a minimum of 3 paragraphs to cover the beginning, middle, and end, three crucial components in any essay.

Having said that, your essay topic and personal inspiration should always your structure, so if you think more than 5 paragraphs makes sense and is logical within the flow if your essay, go for it. However, we still wouldn’t recommend less than 3 paragraphs. Having a wall of text in front of you is just difficult to read and could get you marked down.

Create the following outline for your essay:

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Here are some tips to keep in mind for when you’re writing your essay:

Build the suspense : When you’re telling your anchor story, the one that opens your essay, make sure you keep building the suspense. There should be some mystery about what happens and conflict in the middle to keep it interesting. For instance, if you’re talking about that time that you overcame your fear of water after a swimming injury to finally return to the pool, don’t begin by saying “I got back into the pool after my injury for the first time on 6th September.” That gives away all the drama! Instead, build the story by describing your fears, the previous incident, and encouragement you received from your coach, and then end with the fact that you finally made it back into the pool.

Don’t deal in plain statements : To make your essay engaging, it’s very important not to rely solely on statements of facts and to back up every fact with evidence. This could be in the form of experiences or activities, personal incidents, descriptions of a specific setting, descriptions of your state of mind, and so on. For example, instead of simply saying “I was angry that I had to leave my hometown.”, describe an incident where you confronted your mother about her decision to move you away and talk about how that anger impacted your relationship with your mother. When talking about a meaningful outdoors trip, instead of saying “The forest was very beautiful.”, try giving specific, sensory-based descriptions and talk about how the setting impacted you, for example – “With the trees swaying above me and the leaves rustling in the wind, I found an inner peace and calmness I’d never experienced before.” Make your essay as engaging as possible, with thoughtful analysis, vivid descriptions, and beautifully set scenes.

Answer the prompt : Make sure, as you’re writing, that you’re addressing the prompt you’ve been given. Try and understand the prompt at a deeper level and don’t just create a surface level connection because it suits your topic. Remember, prompt no 7 is essentially a “free topic” so if you really want to create your own topic, that’s the one you should go for.

Be deliberate, authentic, and humble : Every sentence should have a clear reason for being included in your essay. At the same time, your voice should be as natural and authentic as possible. Don’t drop in pretentious references or brag about your achievements if they don’t belong in the essay. Keep your central topic in mind and only include details and events and relevant to it.

Beginning/middle/end : Your story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. This is a fundamental rule of essay writing and is crucial to making sure your essay has a logical, coherent flow.

End with a key takeaway : Your essay should always have a learning, an epiphany, a moral, or talk about a new perspective you gained. You could introduce it earlier in your essay, but it should be reiterated in the concluding paragraph. 

Revising your essay: 2/3/4 drafts

We really cannot emphasize enough the importance of revisions and editing when it comes to writing your Common App essay. This is when you get your critical monocle out, place it over your eye, and give your essay a really thorough analysis. Most students satisfy themselves with just 2 drafts – the initial one, and the second one that they create after seeking feedback from their teachers or mentors – but you should ideally work on 3 or 4 drafts by yourself, before even showing the essay to anyone else. When you’re revising your essay, make sure you keep the following things in mind:

Is it too much? This is where you check yourself – remember that you simply cannot communicate every single thing about yourself in one essay. The key is to find one theme you want to expand on and focus on that. If there’s too many incidents, events, experiences, with no clearly defined conclusion or connection between them, it might be time to re-write your essay. As writers say, sometimes you have to “kill your darlings”, which means, you shouldn’t get too attached to specific ideas or sentences if they don’t fit in with the rest of your essay.

Is it too little? At the same time, it’s also possible to get too specific and be bogged down with unimportant details that don’t really add to your story. Ask yourself if your essay has a broader perspective or lesson to offer and if not, you need to add that in.

Show don’t tell : As we mentioned before, you should not be making unsupported statements and piling facts on facts. Check your essay to make sure your statements are all supported by accompanying examples, descriptions, or stories.

Use your outline : Keep coming back to your outline to improve you’re the structure and flow of your essay. It’s easy to get carried away with writing the introduction and making it too long, and the outline should help you stay on top of how much time you’re spending on each sub-section of your essay. Additionally, sometimes, a great description or line can be incorrectly placed in the essay, and your outline will help you identify that. For instance, your essay should never begin with your “key takeaway”, no matter how important it is. You need to build to it. So don’t be afraid to move things around. As you’re working, define the purpose of each paragraph and keep checking if your writing is aligning with that purpose.

Check for clarity : All essays should have a few key elements. That includes your anchor story, your central thesis or declarative statement, and your key takeaway. Is your essay communicating everything you want it to? Or is the message getting lost in a sea of words?

Trim the excess : Students are often tempted to include braggy details in their personal statement that are not relevant to the rest of the essay. This is a bad idea – it certainly won’t impress anyone and could make you seem pretentious and insincere. Similarly, students sometimes add personal details in their personal anecdotes that don’t add to the story and only editing will help you catch these little details. For instance, you really don’t need to add details of your appearance in any of your anecdotes, unless it’s directly relevant to the story.

Check grammar and spelling : Don’t just rely on auto-correct! Make sure you go over your essay with a fine-toothed comb, catching every spelling or grammatical error. Leaving these in is the best way to get yourself marked down by admissions committees.

Use varied sentence lengths and structure : Sometimes, when you’re writing in your natural style, you may end up repeating certain sentence structures that come most easily to you. Make sure you include a variety of sentence lengths. This makes your essay more readable and engaging.

Use active voice : Always use active voice wherever you can, rather than passive voice. For instance, instead of saying “The dance class was run by me from Monday to Saturday.”, try “I ran the dance class from Monday to Saturday.”.

Once you’ve thoroughly revised your essay and got it as perfect as you can from your perspective, it’s time to invite other people to take a look at it. Who should you seek feedback from? There are many options: friends, peers, parents, teachers, and older mentors. There’s always a risk with certain types of feedback, for example, parents may sometimes over-edit your work, making you lose your natural voice, whereas teachers could view your essay from an academic perspective and ask you to make it more formal. Ideal reviewers are older mentors, friends who have recently and successfully been through the admissions process, guidance counsellors, or admissions experts.

The most important thing is that you trust your reviewers and that they know you well enough to give you genuine, well-meaning feedback. Keep an open mind to all the feedback you receive, but remember, don’t sacrifice your voice. In case of a serious disagreement with someone over a critical point in your essay, always back yourself, because no one knows you better than you!

Also, try and get feedback from varied sources. Friends and family can comment on the personal experiences you talk about in the essay while teachers and counselors can help you perfect the tone, format, and language of the essay.

Once you’ve gathered all the feedback, go back to your essay, and complete a final revision keeping in mind the feedback you’re received. After this, do a final check of your outline, flow, grammar, spelling, and so on.

But wait! Don’t submit it yet. Before your final submission, you should always have someone else – a trusted advisor or friend – take a look at your essay. After going over the same piece of writing so many times, re-read fatigue can make you miss out on obvious errors. So, make someone else proofreads your draft before you submit it on Common App. Remember, Common App does not allow you to make any updates to the submitted essay. You really need to be sure that you’re happy with the final draft before submitting.

Next, let’s put some of these tips, tricks, and strategies into action and see some examples of great Common App essays.

Sample #1: Rina

The fragrance of cloves mingles with the potent smell of green chilis to fill the kitchen with a delicious and familiar scent. After hours of chopping, peeling, and stirring, some overnight marinating and a couple of disastrous attempts at frying onions, I’d finally managed to re-create my grandmother’s biryani recipe from scratch. But the final test was still to come. Would my mother approve of my efforts? After all, I’d done all of this as a surprise for her birthday. As I stood there, watching my mother gingerly lift the spoon to her mouth, I couldn’t believe that I’d actually spent an entire day and night working so hard to recreate one of my family’s traditional Indian recipes. I’d come a long way from the scared girl who couldn’t run away fast enough from my bi-cultural background.

Growing up, what I wanted more than anything else was to blend in with my peers. I remember every year during the annual school fundraiser, all students were asked to contribute something for the baked goods sale. A typical American event – and one that I dreaded. My mother always insisted on preparing elaborate Indian sweets, syrupy gulab jamuns and golden jalebis, and I always felt so out of place standing next to that stand in school. It took me a long time to realize that my greatest source of discomfort was my own insecurity.

The distance I felt from my mother only increased with time, as I grew up to be a regular American teenager who preferred my friends’ company to my mother’s and who listened to all the wrong kinds of music. That all changed two summers ago, when we got the news that my grandmother in India had passed away. I noticed a great change in my mother after she came back from the funeral. She was quiet, sad, and withdrawn, and most importantly, she’d stopped cooking altogether. One day, I asked her why. She told me that her mother was the one who had taught her how to cook, and now that she was gone, she felt some crucial emotional connect was gone from her cooking and she couldn’t find any joy in it. This revelation made me think deeply about my own disconnect from my Indian roots and how hurt my mother must be my continuous rejection. What for me was just a natural desire to “fit in”, for her represented a rejection of so much that was important to her. Eventually, to my mother’s delight and surprise, I asked her if she would teach me how to cook Indian food like her mother had taught her. Though I’d started the exercise as a way to help my mother with her grief, I was happy to discover that I enjoyed cooking thoroughly and soon developed a taste for Indian food I’d never had before. I took on more and more complicated recipes and felt a great sense of accomplishment at every one that I mastered.

This experience made me realize how important it was to embrace every part of yourself and to keep an open mind to new experiences, and new perspectives. This is a lesson I’ll carry with me as I enter the next stage of my life, and I’m glad I learned it before it was too late for me to mend my relationship with my mother.

So that’s how I ended up in my kitchen that day, covered in flour and oil splatters, awaiting my mother’s judgment with trepidation. And as my mother’s face lit up with a smile of delight, giving her stamp of approval to my difficult culinary feat, I felt I’d finally found that sense of belonging I’d been searching for all my life. (621 words)

Why it works : This essay is a great example of the “circular” style of essay. It opens with a story that hooks the reader in, builds suspense about what the conclusion could be, and ends with a meaningful takeaway that brings the story full circle. Though the setting is simple, the stakes are high, and that is clearly communicated in the way the story unfolds and the subsequent experiences shared. Additionally, the writer narrates experiences and events that add context to the central thesis – that of finding belonging and accepting your self – and does not include any unnecessary details that could clutter the narrative. She also includes evocative descriptions that make the essay an engaging read. 

Sample #2: Robert

9 pm on a school night, the radio blasting The Weeknd, I was cruising down the N-75, feeling that I could keep going forever. No, I wasn’t out for a wild night with friends – right beside me was my father, looking at me with pride. After spending months terrified of getting behind the wheel, I’d finally gotten over my fear. That day, I was actually driving on the highway at night, a combination of circumstances that would have given me nightmares just a few weeks ago.

Most teenagers dream of the day they can finally get behind the wheel and be the masters of their own destiny, and I was the same. Unlike most teenagers, my parents felt no trepidation handing me the keys to their car when the time came for me to start practicing. I was the responsible, mature, and capable oldest child and had quickly mastered the basics of driving in my theoretical lessons. So, what could go wrong? I found that out within a month of starting actual driving lessons with my father. It was one disaster after another. I’d turn to the wrong side. I’d take too long to brake. And sometimes I’d just freeze, too anxious to move or do anything. As my father tried to tell me, it was a very dangerous maneuver to undertake in the middle of a busy intersection! It all culminated in a small accident that resulted in some minor damage to my father’s car and some major damage to Mrs. Waterford’s pea beds.

To everyone’s astonishment, including my own, this small accident completely traumatized me, to the point that I gave up my driving lessons and stopped practicing. All of my friends had also experienced some kind of bumps in their driving journey, but none of them had been deterred. Moreover, I’d always prided myself on being the kind of person who could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I’d taken on a full roster of STEM-oriented AP classes and maintained a 4.0 GPA all through junior year, and I’d played on an injured ankle to get my football team to victory in freshman year. But when it came to driving, all my gumption seemed to desert me.

I remember the day my friend got her license, and we went for a drive together. She asked me why I was so scared of driving and joked that it’s the first time I’d ever failed a class. Her lightly spoken words struck a chord in me as I realized that she’d actually pinpointed the source of my fear. I’d always had a natural aptitude and affinity for the two main interests of my life: science and football. I’d found it easy to do well in school and on the field, and never really explored interests beyond these safe arenas. That’s why I didn’t really know what to do when faced with something that didn’t come naturally to me. Driving was the first time I’d had to face up to my failure, and it had spooked me completely.

Once I had that realization, I spent some time reflecting on how I could move past this fear. I soon got back behind the wheel, and I took extra classes with a trained instructor so I could get really confident in my driving. With my license finally in hand, the first thing I did was call my friend to tell her I’d passed!

I’m now committed to challenging myself and getting out of my comfort zone, whether it’s expanding my roster of subjects to include more humanities courses or auditioning for our school play. Not every new experience has been a “success”, but as I know now, that’s not the point! My fear of failure has now transformed into a fear of stagnation, and this has helped me see life in a whole new perspective. (645 words)

Why it works : Robert’s essay is a great example of an “overcoming obstacles” essay that focuses on a personal obstacle and provides the necessary context to make it a compelling narrative for a personal statement. The key in any essay about overcoming a challenge is to document your journey from obstacle to learning to growth, and Robert’s does that very clearly. In any personal statement that has a “growth narrative” there also needs to be a focus on the writer’s inner thoughts and evolving thinking. In this essay, Robert walks his audience through how we felt at each stage of dealing with this obstacle. Finally, he ends with a memorable takeaway that reiterates the lesson he learned and explains how he plans to implement this lesson in his life.

Sample #3: Sarah

“Sarah. Sarah! Wake up!” My mother’s voice woke me with a start, and I raised a bleary head from my drool-covered book. Once again, I’d lost track of time and fallen asleep reading a Thomas Hardy novel. My mother watched me bewildered and asked me, “I guess you really love your new English Literature class, huh?”. My mother’s bewilderment stemmed from the fact not very long ago, I had a clear trifecta of interests – my friends, cheerleading, and fashion designing – and reading stories about things that happened to people very far away, 200 years ago, did not figure in my list of priorities. And now here I was, obsessively working my way through Hardy’s entire body of work, not long after I’d finished all the completed Austen novels. And I was already planning which Bronte sisters’ works I’d be reading next!

I have Mr. Smithers to thank for starting me on my astonishing journey of discovering, and falling in love with, 19th century British literature. While we were studying Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for our Lit class, he assigned each of us a specific assignment about different aspects of Regency era life. In my case, knowing my predilection for fashion, he asked me to work on a project about the trending women’s fashions when Jane Austen was alive. What started as a routine assignment for class soon transformed into one of the most fascinating explorations of my life. I found myself completely absorbed in the tiniest little details of Regency fashion: the imported textiles, the use of chemises, what types of slippers they wore. From exploring the “what”, I soon found myself asking how and why. I borrowed books from our school library about the politics and economy of Regency era England. I began to see the deeper connections between the socio-economic climate, and prevalent cultural trends, and how that all manifested in the form of major fashion trends. Before, I’d only ever thought of Napoleon as a short, angry French man from some distant era in history! Now, I found out how close he had come to actually conquering England, and how his rejection of extravagant court fashions in favor of ancient Greek philosophies actually popularized the empire waisted gowns that dominated Regency era England ballrooms.

With Mr. Smither’s encouragement and guidance, I found more and more novels to help me continue exploring this new interest. Under the sunlight streaming through the windows of our dusty little school library, I absorbed myself in these stories of people from a long gone era. Yet every story I read only revealed to me how humans, across time and space, have a treasury of common experiences. Reading Hardy’s Tess of d’Urbervilles, I found myself sympathizing with the double standards that Tess was dealt just because she was a woman. It also made me think deeply about how I had also internalized and sometimes acted upon sexist ideas. Like any high school, our school too was a rumor factory that most often targeted girls. I decided, from that moment, to stop participating in forwarding any gossip or rumors. I also spoke to some of my friends who had thoughtlessly spread unkind gossip about a new girl. It was a tiny act of kindness and change, but it helped me grow as a person and re-define my perspective on what matters.

The most wonderful thing about literature is the power it has to take us beyond ourselves and show us a different way of thinking than we ever imagined. Today, I not only have a new interest, but also a new perspective on life, and a new avenue to growth and learning. I can’t wait to see what new perspectives, ideas, and theories are waiting for me between the pages of a book. (629 words) 

Why it works : Sarah’s essay focuses on her interest in a specific subject and takes the reader on a journey of discovery along with her. Essays responding to prompt no 6 can sometimes be tricky to write, since it’s more difficult to set up a conflict or expand upon lessons learnt when talking about a technical topic or a specific subject. Sarah manages to create conflict by showing us a contrast between who she used to be and who she is now and leading us through the steps that led to her transformation. She also has a clear takeaway – the power of literature and its personal impact on her – and that ties back in with her initial set up of how much she had changed thanks to her new-found interest. It gives a clear idea of who she is and how she thinks, and presents a unique perspective on a regular hobby.

The Common App essay should be between 250 to 650 words. Ideally, you should write an essay of at least 500 words to ensure your narrative is substantial and meaningful.

No – once you’ve submitted your Common App essay, it is locked for editing. Make sure you’ve triple-checked your final draft, and get someone else to proofread it, before you submit it.

Yes, the Common App essay is a very important admissions component. It can count for up to 30% of your application review. The more elite and competitive the college, the more importance they’ll give to the Common App essay. As the only qualitative component of your primary application, your essay is a great opportunity to make yourself stand out from the crowd and humanize your “checklist” of achievements for the admissions committee. A great essay could help you edge out other applicants with similar profiles in terms of academic record and extracurriculars.

Ideally, you should spend 3 months writing your Common App essay, giving yourself plenty of time for brainstorming, free writing, selecting a topic, writing multiple drafts (at least 3), seeking out feedback, and finalizing your essay. You can compress these activities down into a shorter timeline, but this could make the process that much more difficult and could impact the final quality of your essay. Starting and finishing your Common App essay early also leaves you free to deal with all the other application components closer to the actual college app deadlines. Remember, you’ll also have to write secondary essays for multiple colleges in a short period of time – a month or less – and your Common App essay prep could be very useful in writing secondary essays as well. So, it’s best to give yourself plenty of time to prepare for and write your Common App essay.

If you’re struggling to find a topic for your Common App essay, start with journaling and brainstorming before you get into actually writing the essay. Just write down your free-association responses to  3 or 4 of the prompts. Ask yourself a few key questions to guide your brainstorming such as: who am I? What do I hope to achieve? What is my passion? What makes me unique? Find the experiences, events, ideas, and people in your life that are the most meaningful to you, personally, and then select a topic that corresponds to those events.

A great Common App essay is one that demonstrates your excellent writing skills, shows depth and breadth of thought, a clear journey of self-reflection, and truly expresses who you are as a person. Your essay should not be a repetition of the items already seen in your resume. Instead, it should provide a new and refreshing perspective on you, and should clearly communicate what makes you special.

Ideally, you should ask at least two people to review your Common App essay. Select someone close to you, such as a parent or a friend, who can give you genuine, well-meaning feedback about the personal aspects of your essay. You should also ask an experienced mentor to review your essay, such as an English teacher or guidance counsellor. If you’re really struggling with it, you can get the help of admissions consultants who can give you expert feedback.

The Common App essay is your personal statement, and you only need to write one essay that goes out to all colleges along with your primary application. You can select from 1 of 7 prompts and write an essay about any meaningful, personal achievements or experiences that you’d like admissions committees to know. The Common App essay should be general and should not reference any specific colleges. On the other hand, supplemental essays are written in response to college-specific prompts and should directly address why you want to go to a particular college. These essays are a part of your secondary application and colleges can share 1 or more prompts to help them get to know you better.

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how to write common app essay

how to write common app essay

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How to Write an Effective Common App Essay (2023-2024 Guide)

Are you ready to learn how to write a common app essay? The one that will make college admissions teams take notice and give you a leg up in the competitive application process? In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the process of crafting a standout essay that showcases your personal growth, unique experiences, and passions.

With our helpful tips and insights on how to write a common application essay, you’ll be well on your way to creating a compelling narrative that leaves a lasting impression on admissions officers.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Create an exceptional and memorable common app essay by using the “show, don’t tell” technique, selecting a meaningful prompt & incorporating personal anecdotes.
  • Incorporate reflection to demonstrate self-awareness and personal growth while avoiding cliché topics and striking the right balance of language & tone.
  • Revise for clarity/coherence, seek feedback from trusted sources & proofread carefully before submitting your well-rounded application!

What Is the Common Application Essay?

The common app essay is a vital component of the college application process. It’s a 250-650 word personal statement that you submit with the primary application on common app, allowing you to stand out beyond your test scores and showcase your unique identity, interests, and talents.

The purpose of the common app essay is to create an impactful and unforgettable essay, capturing the attention of college admissions teams and setting you apart from other applicants. To achieve this goal, it’s crucial to choose the right topic from the seven common app essay prompts, ensuring you can craft a meaningful and memorable narrative.

But how do you choose the perfect common app essay topic? Consider your hobbies, interests, skills, experiences, family, heritage, or culture as potential subjects for your essay. These topics can help you stand out among the numerous common app essays, allowing you to showcase your personal growth beyond your test scores and academics. To create a great common app essay, employ the “show, don’t tell” technique, select specific word choices, utilize active voice, and avoid clichés. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to writing an exceptional essay that resonates with admissions officers.

As you embark on your essay-writing journey, develop a comprehensive strategy for your portfolio of essays, which includes the common app essay and any supplemental essays required by the schools you’re applying to. This approach ensures that each essay covers a unique personal story, giving you the best opportunity to shine. Start by reflecting on what is truly meaningful to you. This first step in writing a great common application essay will help you identify the experiences and passions that have shaped you, as well as the lessons you’ve taken away from them. With this foundation in place, you’ll be prepared to craft a captivating essay that stands out among the rest.

Remember, the key to crafting an exceptional common app essay is to select a topic that you’re passionate about writing about. The details of your story will make it stand out more than the topic itself. A unique story is sure to turn heads and capture attention. So dive deep into your personal experiences and let your authentic voice shine through.

Choosing the Right Prompt for Your Essay

Selecting the right prompt is essential for crafting a compelling common app essay that aligns with your unique experiences and passions. The common application essay offers seven prompts designed to spark creativity and reflection, giving you the opportunity to explore different aspects of your identity and showcase your personal growth.

To choose the best prompt, consider which one allows you to tell a powerful, meaningful story that demonstrates your personal growth and reflects your true passions. Think about how each prompt connects to your experiences, and which one offers the most potential for creating a captivating and memorable narrative that resonates with admissions officers.

Avoid choosing a prompt simply because it seems easy or straightforward. Instead, focus on a prompt that challenges you to think deeply and reflect on your experiences, allowing you to showcase your personal growth and development. This approach will help you create a strong common app essay that captures the reader’s attention and makes a lasting impression.

When selecting a prompt, also consider how it can complement your supplemental essays. Ensure that your chosen prompt allows you to create a cohesive narrative across your application, while avoiding overlapping topics. This strategy will help you present a well-rounded and compelling application to the most selective universities.

Remember, trust your instincts when selecting a prompt. You’re the expert on your own experiences and passions, so choose a prompt that you’re genuinely excited about and that allows you to share your unique story. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to creating a standout common app essay.

Crafting a Compelling Narrative

To create a standout common app essay, it’s essential to craft a compelling narrative that incorporates personal anecdotes, reflection, and storytelling elements. These components work together to create an engaging, relatable, and memorable essay that captures the attention of admissions officers and sets you apart from other applicants.

By sharing your unique experiences and demonstrating personal growth, you’ll create a powerful narrative that resonates with readers and showcases your authentic self. Through your essay, you have the opportunity to reveal your way of thinking, your unique personality, and the experiences that have shaped you.

Keep in mind that the key to crafting a successful common app essay is to select a topic that you’re passionate about writing about. Focus on the experiences and passions that have had a significant impact on your personal development and have shaped who you are today.

Personal Anecdotes

Personal anecdotes are an excellent way to create an intriguing and relatable narrative in your essay. By sharing your personal experiences and the emotions they evoked, you can express complex feelings and convey character relationships in a way that truly connects with your readers. Examples of personal anecdotes that can be used in a common app essay include conveying powerful emotions, depicting meaningful character interactions, and telling a story about how you discovered an interest, the motivation it brings you, and how it influences other aspects of your life.

When crafting your essay, consider using personal anecdotes to illustrate your experiences and the impact they’ve had on your personal growth and development. For example, you could write about a family member, teacher, or sports coach giving you a challenging task that, by the end of the story, you become grateful for because of the valuable lessons you learned through your hard work.

Reflection is a crucial aspect of showcasing self-awareness and personal growth in your common app essay. By thoughtfully considering your experiences and their impact, you can demonstrate the significance of these experiences and how they have shaped your personal development. Through reflection, you can also help your readers understand the importance of your experiences and the lessons you’ve taken away from them.

By showing how your experiences have impacted your life and how you have grown as a person, you can create a powerful and engaging narrative that resonates with admissions officers. In your essay, consider how to incorporate reflection to showcase your personal growth and development.

For example, you could reflect on how a particular experience led to growth or change, how it helped you gain a new understanding or a more mature perspective, how your thoughts or actions changed as a result, and how gratitude affected your values or future goals.

Storytelling Elements

Incorporating storytelling elements into your common app essay can help you create a captivating and memorable narrative that engages your readers and leaves a lasting impression. By using techniques such as vivid descriptions, narrative arcs, and dialogue, you can bring your essay to life and truly connect with your audience.

To create a compelling narrative, consider how to incorporate storytelling elements such as plot, setting, characters, conflict, and theme. By weaving these elements together, you can craft a powerful and engaging story that showcases your personal growth and development.

When writing your essay, be mindful of the flow and organization of your ideas, ensuring that your narrative is clear and coherent. This will help your readers follow your train of thought and truly understand the message you’re trying to convey.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

When writing your common application essay, it’s crucial to avoid common mistakes that can detract from the quality and impact of your essay. One common pitfall to avoid is choosing cliché topics, as these can make your essay blend in with thousands of other common app essays. Instead, focus on sharing your unique experiences and showcasing your personal growth.

In addition to avoiding cliché topics, be mindful of the language and tone you use in your essay. It’s important to remain genuine and sincere while still avoiding overly sentimental or emotional language. By striking the right balance, you can create a compelling essay that truly reflects who you are and captures the attention of admissions officers.

Another common mistake is trying to impress your readers with complicated language and overly formal phrasing. Instead, focus on conveying your ideas clearly and concisely, using language that is natural and authentic to your voice.

By steering clear of these common mistakes and staying true to your unique experiences and passions, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a standout common app essay that leaves a lasting impression on admissions officers.

Writing Tips for Each Prompt

Each of the seven common app prompts offers a unique opportunity to showcase your personal growth, experiences, and passions. To craft a compelling essay for each prompt, consider the following tips and insights:

  • Reflect on a meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent that has shaped your life. This is an opportunity to share your unique story and demonstrate how it has influenced your personal growth and development.
  • Explore the lessons learned from obstacles encountered and how they have contributed to your later success. By reflecting on these challenges, you can show your resilience and determination in overcoming adversity.
  • I experienced a challenge recently when I was assigned a difficult task at work. Despite making an effort to complete it, I wasn’t able to achieve the desired result. This is a chance to demonstrate your ability to learn from your experiences and grow as a person.
  • I often take a step back to reflect on my decisions. Recently, I questioned and challenged a belief or idea that had a great impact on me. By discussing your thought process and the outcome of your actions, you can showcase your critical thinking skills and open-mindedness.
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. This prompt allows you to demonstrate your creativity, problem-solving skills, and passion for making a difference in the world.
  • I recently experienced an accomplishment that made me feel proud of myself and gave me the motivation to learn more. It was truly a transformative moment for me, which marked a period of personal growth. By reflecting on this experience, you can illustrate your capacity for growth and self-improvement.
  • I find myself becoming completely absorbed when I’m exploring a new concept or idea. Time flies when I’m in that state of pure focus and enjoyment. This prompt offers a chance to showcase your intellectual curiosity and passion for learning.

By considering these tips and insights for each prompt, you can create a strong and compelling essay that effectively showcases your personal growth, experiences, and unique perspective.

Revising and Editing Your Essay

Revising and editing are essential steps in the writing process that can help ensure your common app essay is clear, coherent, and free of grammatical errors. Revising involves making major changes to your essay’s content, structure, and organization, while editing focuses on making sentence-level changes.

To ensure your essay is of the highest quality, it’s important to focus on improving your grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, clarity, coherence, and overall organization. By carefully revising and editing your essay, you can create a powerful and memorable narrative that captures the attention of admissions officers.

Seeking Feedback

Obtaining valuable input from trusted sources is crucial for improving your essay and ensuring it accurately represents you. Consider seeking feedback from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor who can provide invaluable insight into your essay.

When incorporating feedback, remember to stay true to your voice and experiences, even if you disagree with some of the suggestions you receive. After all, no one knows you better than you do.

In addition to seeking feedback from trusted sources, consider using a free Peer Essay Review tool, where another student will provide feedback on your essay. This can be a helpful way to gain a fresh perspective and ensure your essay is polished and ready for submission.

Clarity and Coherence

Ensuring clarity and coherence in your essay is essential for creating a successful and engaging narrative. Clarity helps make sure your message is understood, while coherence ensures that your ideas are connected logically and presented in an orderly manner.

To revise your essay for clarity and coherence, focus on the flow and organization of your ideas. Ensure that your narrative is clear, concise, and logically organized, allowing your readers to follow your train of thought and understand the message you’re trying to convey.

By carefully revising your essay for clarity and coherence, you can create a powerful narrative that resonates with your readers and leaves a lasting impression on admissions officers.

Proofreading

Thoroughly proofreading your essay is essential for eliminating any grammatical errors or inconsistencies that may detract from the overall quality of your work. By carefully reviewing your essay for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting, you can ensure that your essay is polished and ready for submission.

To effectively proofread your essay, consider reading it out loud to yourself or having someone else read it to you. This can help you catch any errors that you may have missed during the writing process. Additionally, using a spell checker and grammar checker can be helpful in identifying any mistakes in your essay.

By thoroughly proofreading your essay and catching any errors, you can ensure that your common app essay is polished, professional, and ready to impress admissions officers.

Balancing Your Common App Essay with Supplemental Essays

Creating a cohesive narrative across your common app essay and supplemental essays is essential for presenting a well-rounded and compelling application to the most selective universities. By balancing these essays, you can ensure that each essay covers a unique personal story and showcases different aspects of your identity, experiences, and passions.

To achieve this balance, consider how your chosen essay prompt can complement your supplemental essays. Ensure that your chosen prompt allows you to create a cohesive narrative across your application while avoiding overlapping topics and presenting a well-rounded picture of who you are.

By carefully balancing your essay with your supplemental essays, you can create a powerful and engaging application that truly stands out to the most selective universities when it comes to college essays, a challenge that so many students face.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start an introduction for a common app essay.

To begin your Common App essay, start with a creative and intriguing hook or “grabber” to draw the reader in. Follow this with an anecdote, which you will use to connect to the overall theme of your essay.

Make sure that your introduction captures the attention of admissions officers and highlights who you are as an individual.

How long should college essays be?

College essays should generally be between 400 and 600 words, though some institutions may specify a range of 250 to 650 words. Keeping your essay within the specified limits can demonstrate your ability to write concisely and follow directions.

This is important for college admissions officers, who are looking for students who can follow instructions and write effectively. It also shows that you are able to focus on the task at hand and not get carried away with it.

How can I choose the best prompt for my Common App essay?

Choose a prompt that allows you to share a powerful and meaningful story that demonstrates your personal growth and reflects your true passions. Pick a prompt that you’re genuinely excited about and trust your instincts.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when writing my Common App essay?

Avoid clichés, inappropriate language, and make sure your essay is true to your voice and experiences. Use a motivating tone to keep the reader engaged, and craft a strong introduction and conclusion.

Lastly, check to ensure there are no unexpected artifacts in the essay.

How can I create a cohesive narrative across my Common App and supplemental essays?

Create a cohesive narrative by considering how your chosen Common App essay prompt can complement your supplemental essays. Avoid overlapping topics and make sure to present a well-rounded picture of yourself in your writing.

Use a motivating tone to draw the reader in and make them want to learn more about you.

In conclusion, crafting a standout common app essay is an essential part of the college admissions process.

By understanding the importance of the essay, choosing the right prompt, crafting a compelling narrative, avoiding common mistakes, and balancing your essay with supplemental essays, you can create a powerful and memorable essay that captures the attention of admissions officers and sets you apart from other applicants.

Now, it’s time to put these tips into practice and craft an unforgettable essay that will help you shine in the competitive college admissions landscape.

How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

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how to write common app essay

Learn how to write an awesome Common App essay for every single prompt.

Yesh Datar will provide an in-depth breakdown of each of the Common App essay prompts, discussing how to write a great essay in response to each one. He'll also share his take on the essays and topics you shouldn't write about for each prompt.

Video Transcript

Do a quick audio and visual check. See if you guys can see. And then also hear me, let me know in the q&a box. The q&a box looks like the box that says ask a question. Just feel free to type in there. Yes, we can see and hear you, and then I'll get started.

Perfect. Thanks, Amad. Thanks, Lilian. Awesome, Jennifer. Thanks for letting me know. And yeah, before we get started, I'll just introduce myself for those who are new here. My name is Yesh. I am a current medical student at Boston University. And I've been working with CollegeVine for the past three years now. So really excited to talk to you guys today. I definitely found a really good passion about helping students and families navigate the admissions process. Alright, thanks, Barbie. Emma. Nice to see you guys here. Thanks, Tom. All right, let's dive into it. So let's start sharing my screen. And again, if you guys can't see anything, or the audio cuts out, feel free to let me know. In the q&a box. I'll be checking intermittently throughout this presentation. All right. So I just shared my screen. Hopefully you guys can see that. And yeah, so basically cadence for today is I'll be going through the presentation, as is. And then at the end, I'll be doing kind of a QA review. So I'll jump back into the q&a box, see the questions you guys have answered, the more so at the end, however, I'll be checking the q&a box intermittently, to see if there are any kind of pressing questions of a certain slide or anything like that, and then we'll get to it. Awesome. So yeah, can't wait for your questions. Let's get into it.

So welcome to today's presentation on the guide to the CommonApp essay. So first, before we even talk about the prompts, or how to approach the essays, we really have to talk about methodology. Right. So talking about the common FSA, the common app is an application that's shared by 100 800 or more colleges across the US. And it's used by most of the top 50 colleges. So if you're applying through the common app, chances are you'll find the School of your interest in the common app. And so a lot of students end up applying through it anyway. Within the common app, application elements are shared across multiple schools. So that includes things like details relevant to your educational background, your personal background, but also the essays, right, so the essays are pretty vital. And that's what we're gonna be talking about today. And the common app provides a good place to see all the essays that you have to respond to, for each school that you're applying to. And so it becomes very important to complete these essays to the best of your abilities. Because these are one of the biggest things that will be shared to all the schools that you're applying to. The common app essay is what we'll be talking about today. It's also often referred to as personal statement, another two synonymous with each other. So if I say a personal statement, I'm technically talking about the common MSA, it's a common up I say in front of the personal statement, right, they're interchangeable. At most, the maximum word count with common up as a 650 words, our recommendation is try to use between 550 to 650 words, try to use the entire real estate available to you. Because you know, this is where you really want to share a really cohesive story about yourself. And that's what admissions officers are looking for. And it's supposed to be done than 550 to 650 words. And you have a selection of seven prompts that can be responded to. And I just want to clarify, you don't have to respond to all seven prompts, you just have to respond to one of them. So you choose one out of the seven that really piques your interest, and you respond to only one of those out of the seven. So without further ado, here are the prompts, the common app prompts and somebody who probably have started writing your college essay others you are probably about to start writing. So this is kind of good refresher on what prompts to expect, and which prompts you might have chosen from so prompt one is 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 from 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? Number three, reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? prop four, describe the problem you solved or problem you'd like to solve. It can be intellectual challenge or research query and 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 solution. prompt five discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth in a new industry. Have yourself or others. Six describe a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, and it makes you lose track of all time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you turn to when you want to learn more, and then finally prompts up. This is kind of a free for also free form kind of essay where you can share an essay on any topic of your choice. We want, you've already written one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Great. So again, most of the presentation, the first half, the presentation will be more about methodology of the CommonApp. So now we're going to start breaking down really why the CommonApp matters in the first place, we'll talk about ideas about how to write good essays, then we'll break down each essay prompt individually. So the common app essay matters a lot in admissions, because they're the main way that admissions officers get to know you as a person. Note that the rest of your application is mostly stats or facts on a page. So things like your GPA, your test scores, your extracurriculars can convey very quantitative measures of who you are as an applicant. But the essays and letters recommendation, for example, are very personal ways of telling the admissions committee who you are. So that's why it becomes very important. This is how you can share your message. A question that I anticipate getting that I often get in these kind of webinars is about because of COVID? How has it impacted the idea of GPA or test score? And how are essays and letters recommendations kind of seen now, right? So because of COVID, the weight of a GPA or test score has decreased. And why because students can't really study as effectively home, they not might not perform well on tests. And also a lot of students can't take standardized tests because of the environment they're in. Right. So the weight of GPA and standardized test scores have gone down. And in place that things like essays and letters of recommendation have actually increased in weight. So it's very important, especially in this COVID era, to have really strong essays.

Also note that the common app essay will be specially seen by every college that you apply to where supplemental essays are only seen by one college at a time. So the common FSA is one essay that sounds to every single school in the CommonApp system, while supplemental essays requested individually by each school, right. So for example, from Cornell, or RPI, they ask for supplemental essay, I'm going to write directly to them, it's only going to go to that one school, not all the other schools, while for right common, I bet say it's going to go to both schools, Cornell and RPI individually, right. So that's why the common FSA is really important, because it's going to a lot more schools than just one supplemental essay. And so because of these kind of reasons I've laid out, the essay is the single most impactful thing you'll write during the business process period. To make a really strong CommonApp essay, you definitely want to make sure that your essay is deeply personal. The single most important thing that your CommonApp has to achieve is winning over the admissions officer on a personal level, you want them to walk away from me in your essay as an advocate for your mission. At selective schools, one or more admissions officers actually have to advocate forcefully for you in a committee. So they're in that rate, you have to really story a portion of cord with the admissions officer for them to want to accept you into the university. And so establishing a deeply personal story that connects the admissions reader, as if they're seeing the person on the other side is very, very important. In order to do this, your essay must reveal things about you that can't be learned just by reading your resume or transcript. Again, it's not just kind of writing an essay that shows off a lot of things that your resume is writing an essay that characterizes who you are in one particular aspect of your life, and will kind of break this down a little bit. Your goal is to show much more about who you are, again, those characteristics that traits, how you see the world, not about what you've done. So not really listing those resume type things in essay form. At the end of the day, you also want the reader to feel your emotions as they read the essay and become invested in your positive outcome or journey. Right. So a lot of this will involve being vulnerable in the essay, being open to talking about motions in the moment, rather than kind of just writing narrative on narrative. So that's how you kind of let the admissions officer be in your own shoes, kind of feel what you're feeling the moment and eventually kind of side with your story and strike a personal quarter theme itself. So so that begs the question, how do you create the personal connection in the first place? Right. And before we dive into that, I'm just gonna check the q&a box. I think we're good there. We also have an event coming up today at 6pm. Eastern. It's an introduction to undergrad business schools. So if you guys are interested in applying to business schools across the US, this is a really good live stream to kind of figure out what a business will entail. And how to choose the best one for you, specifically your interest in business. So definitely check out this live stream if you're interested.

Alright, so to create this personal connection that I mentioned before, your essay definitely need to explore these following concepts. So concept one is talking about how you think about the world around you both something's happening, and upon further reflection. So what do you mean by that, you're trying to explain how you see the world around you, not just the immediate environment, but the people. So admissions officers curious about how you interact with other people, or how you interact with the world, and how you emotionally respond to the world. Right. So it seems very abstract when I'm talking about it. But when you start to contextualize that into an essay, it's really about describing things through your own lens, and not just kind of how a typical person would describe an event environment or the people they see. Right. So you kind of want to provide your own personal insight to the world around you, essentially. The second concept is a demonstration of your core values, you don't just want to state them, but you want to exemplify them as specific things. So by that is, you don't just want to say, I'm a very happy person, right? In your essay, that just stating, right, you're saying you're really happy person. Rather, to make a strong essay, you want to show off or exemplify in specific things that you've done, that you are a happy person. So maybe that might be how you describe the environment around you could show that you're happy person, or describe your passion for something that you're doing. That's implicitly telling the admissions officer that you're a happy person. And implicitly, you're going to make a stronger essay by doing it that way. And then the third thing you want to include in your essay, third concept is talking about how you respond emotionally to different situations and aspects of your background, both in the moment and over time. So again, this comes back to the idea of talking more from an emotional lens, right? Sharing, being open to sharing your current state of emotions, whether it be frustration, or validation, or relief or joy, right. And again, don't just state those things, but show them through your own words, show them through your tone, to make it a really strong kind of storytelling that happens in the CommonApp as a. Cool, and definitely feel free to ask questions. To kind of clarify these topics. I know they're kind of abstract at the moment. But hopefully, I'll clarify them as I go through through certain examples. So other great hallmarks of a common FSA would be one to avoid cliche or common topics. Note that admissions officers read thousands and thousands of essays per cycle. For example, on music, and sports. So if your topic is cliched or common, then your essay has to be much stronger to stand out. So a typical way to kind of assess if an essay is cliche, is to think about if the end of the story is predictable or not. Right? So if I'm reading the essay, can I predict what the ending will be? If I can, chances are that essays cliche, right? So for example, if I was a star quarterback of my high school football team, and I got injured, right, okay, so now I'm reading an essay about that I'm reading an essay about it. And I'm gonna anticipate that maybe the star quarterback, at the end of the essay kind of wins a championship, or kind of fails, but tries really hard to do so. Right? Sort of a predictable ending at that point, right? It's very kind of one line, I'm thinking has to do with sports probably has to do with winning a sport or something like that. very predictable, cliche topic. Now, the question is how to make it more unique, less cliche, maybe have a less predictable ending. So maybe the star quarterback got injured, and then turned to a different sport, where his dexterity, his coordination, his sense of balance, actually did do serve him well, right. And maybe that was ballet dancing. So this quarterback got injured, and then decided to pursue ballet dancing, and had a really strong kind of background did that and excelled in that, right? In that way. It's a very less cliche ending, less predictable ending, so that actually make a stronger essay. Right? So that's just an example. But hopefully, that kind of clarified that idea. Another hallmark of a great CommonApp essay is to be have well written an essay with strong grammar and high quality writing. This is definitely important that more selective schools, you also want to have strong flow and readability. And that often happens by getting someone else to read your essay if you can't use this for yourself. Then finally, like I talked about before, you want to take make use of the entire real estate of the essays that you have. So that often might look like making use of the full 650 words available to you on the Common App essay when it comes to essay structure, There's three structures that we typically see. The first is a narrative essay. So you tell one story from start to finish. It can be a moment in time, or chronological retelling of a longer narrative. It's usually based around one main theme as well. So an example of this is, maybe I just moved to a new high school. And so, and I've been at this high school for three years now. And I want to share that in my common FSA. So the start of my story will be started freshman year, and my story will be middle of junior year. Okay. So have a clear start, have a clear finish. And maybe the theme that I'm exploring is my passion for science, right? So across this experience in a new high school, I developed a passion for science, right? So that's an example of a narrative essay. Now, the second structure that we have is a series of anecdotes, or montage. This is typically a series of disconnected anecdotes are moments of time, and they reveal multiple themes. So what do I mean by that? So to extend upon the analogy of being a new high school student, maybe for every like two or three years, from first grade, all the way to high school, I kept moving to New schools. So maybe at each new school, it was a new story that I want to tell across my kind of timeline of education, right? So I want to put that in my comrade the story. So each school, maybe I learned something new about myself, I learned something new about science, right. And that's what I want to convey in my comment, per se. So I could do that. And that way, it would be a series of anecdotes across multiple high schools, it almost be like a montage of different kind of educational things that all line up into one timeline that reveal multiple themes about myself. Cool. And then finally, the last essay structure is unconventional structure. So what does that look like? So maybe if I'm passionate about computer science, I would write my essays and lines of code. Or if I'm an avid Shakespeare Pran, I could write my essays in ionic pentameter, right? So again, it's kind of like whatever you want to do with it. But it is definitely high risk, high reward. So if I'm writing my essay about poetry, I'm not going to write my essays structurally in lines of code, right? It wouldn't really make sense. So you definitely have to match the structure of your essay with the content of your essay, make sure they line up. And that's why we typically say this is a higher bar for success. If it's not done quite well, it's kind of risky, might not sit well with the admissions officer in the first place. Okay. So other general content guidelines, your essay should be mostly about you, as a high schooler, it's okay to reference an event pi school, we have to bring the essay route to who you are today. Very important, because you're applying as a high school student into college. admissions officers really don't care about who were, say five or 10 years ago, for the most part. So unless all that's very instrumental to your upbringing, and influences who you are today, might not be as relevant to include in your essay. your essay should also be about a personal experience, not about other events in world history. But if you feel a connection to a world event, you must bring it back to your personal engagement with that event. So again, this kind of goes back to the point that I made before, if you're going to talk about external men around you need to bring it back to who you are, and talk about it from your own perspective. your essay shouldn't be about your experience with the Coronavirus, you can either write about that responded to the COVID prompt or responding to the additional info section. And finally, know your audience called admissions officers, especially at selective and private colleges tend to be very progressive. So it's okay to talk about more progressive ideas, they actually might kind of look upon it favorably. However, say if you're applying to a university like Liberty University, with no be more conservative, you might not talk about say like LGBTQ rights, for example, because it might not sit well with them in terms of admissions, right. So just kind of keep the university that you're applying for in mind. Some other guidelines that we just want to mention, your essay shouldn't have a title. We say this because that is kind of eat out the word space. And it also really doesn't contribute much to the idea of the essay overall. your essay shouldn't use quotes from historical figures or famous people. We say this because we'd rather you put things into your own words, not going to repeat words from someone else. your essay shouldn't have any content that's inappropriate, racist, sexist, homophobic. And unless it's in dialogue or using a very precise way, generally avoid slang and dialect as well. All right, awesome.

So just I'll take the moment here to introduce another event that we have coming up. It's a live profile review session, coming tomorrow at 4:30pm Eastern where You'll have a chance to submit profiles ahead of time, 30 minutes before the event. And based on the amount of submissions, we'll get probably a review about 10 profiles on average these events. And we'll be giving you a good idea of based on skills that you want to apply to and your profile background, how good of a chance that you have to get into these colleges. So if you're interested in kind of having your profile read, definitely registered for this event, and submit your profiles ahead of time. Okay, so I do see two questions real quick. Barbie asks, Is the CommonApp limited to the US? No, it's not. It's available to international students as well. Another question from Lance. Hi, greetings from Belize. Hello, would you suggest incorporating examples of activities you participated in? So I mentioned before that on the common app, we usually don't want to put in a lot of kind of resume type material. However, we'll kind of get to this in a bit. But if there's a story that involves one of the activities, or maybe two or three of the activities that you did, might be relevant to talk about that activity. However, we don't want to kind of start including a lot of different activities that aren't as relevant to the storytelling that's going on with the content.

So you want to be aware of what activities you're sharing? And if they're kind of relevant to what idea you want to express about yourself.

Monica has a really good question. So as a rule about not including quotes, district No, not really. And we'll kind of get to this in a bit as well. So you can share quotes, as long as you're not using them to kind of just supplement or supplant words that you could have used yourself. So we'll kind of get to that.

Right. You also want to think of your CommonApp essay as a portfolio as well. So along with the CommonApp essays, you're going to have your supplemental essays that to be submitted to the school. So because of this, we oftentimes suggests that take into account all the different essays that you're going to write across your applications. And make sure you're not repeating ideas in your supplemental essays. So each essay should convey something different about you should keep in mind the other essays you're going to write when picking your common topic. So, for example, if I'm applying to another school, so UC Berkeley, for example, maybe that's not a good example. They're not in the Congo. Let's say, let's say, oh, let's go RPI gun. Okay. So say I'm applying to RPI. And they ask, why do you want to be an engineer? Right? There's supplemental essays asking them. So I read an essay I said to them, but then I realized my common FSA also talked about me wanting to be an engineer. To some level, it's redundant to share those two essays to one school, because they're just going to get to the same assets. So before you even start writing the essay, it's better to plan ahead of time and think to yourself, if I'm going to submit an essay to RPI, talking about why I want to be an engineer. Why would I repeat the same ideas in my common app essay? Why don't I talk about something else? So a good idea there in that case, is think qualities that make a good engineer, could be creativity could be leadership. Right? Right. in common. If I say about you being creative person, are you being a leader, rather than you being an engineer, right. So that's a good example. And then kind of last point about this portfolio idea is you want to create a comprehensive narrative across your essays, right? So you're trying to create a picture of yourself throughout all these multiple essays that are writing to the admissions reader. So it'd be very helpful to think ahead of time, think of the characteristics that are most embodied by you, and then share stories that relate those characteristics to your audience.

Then there's also the aspect of getting feedback on your assets. You can ask a teacher, parent, friend or older classmate, and then CollegeVine also offers this tool called a live essay review. So we do these live essay reviews on live streams. So we do have live essay review events, which you can sign up for. But we also have a pure essay review tool, where you can virtually submit your essays to our website, and we can have someone grade and review your essays for you. In terms of getting feedback in your essays, you can also ask multiple readers, typically four or five. in advance, we want to know what you want them to take away from your essay. And then after they've read your essay, you can see if the takeaways that you want them to get are the same ones that they got after reading yourself. You want to ask them questions like this Feel true to who I am as person. And does this sound like me? Oftentimes, you know, after four or five people read your essay, everyone's kind of have their own opinions, everyone's going to have one, insert something into your essay, or take something away. That you know the essay could stop sounding like you had a certain point, or if not written correctly, could just not sound like you to start with, right. So these are some things that you want to check in on. And just make sure you're doing accurately, the best way to do that is have people read your essays. Because at the end of the day, you know, someone, some admissions officer is going to read your essays in the first place.

Alright, let's break down the pumps.

So the first pump, like I've read before, some students have the background energy interests or account that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. So if we respond to this question by either identifying the background or identity, you want to focus on deep intense reflection on something that is more specific situation or challenge. So for example, you could talk about colorism in the South Asian or African American community, or how immigration enforcement affects family relationships in the Hispanic community. So see how these things aren't directly about, say, a kind of vague cultural background or identity, we're really identifying specific things within those communities that are impactful to the student's life. If you connect an underpinning of your culture, or background to an academic interest, or something non cultural, that could also be interesting. So for example, maybe your parents are super oriented around order cleanliness in the house, whether that's parent of workers, or cultural, if you're Japanese American, you could tie that to why you love the order and precision of double entry, bookkeeping, and accounting that you discovered via the school store and fbla. And why you want to pursue that in college. Right. So here's another specific example of how cultural influences the way you see things, and how that kind of your own perspective influences what you like. So, very, very interesting exploration. Also, note that background identity can be religion, or politics. But note that these are contentious cultural issues, they carry more risk when being read by admissions officer dushyant more conservative schools. And for that reason, you want to keep in mind the culture of the school. If you're gonna respond as prompt in terms of identity or interest, the biggest mistake is writing about what you've already done. You must connect to deeper personality traits or insights about your worldview. You really can't allow this essay to read like a resume in paragraph four. So sometimes it's good to focus on an interest in talent that isn't on the resume in that humanistic step.

So for example, if you're gonna talk about background, Genji, it could be a dominant personal trait. Also don't sleep on regional state, or even town culture as an element here. Culture doesn't always have to be fine, again, by religion, or politics or anything like that. It can really just be something that's stems from a geographic place. You can reflect on your privilege, but you need to do so in a way that is thoughtful as well. Definitely identify essays that identity essays can sometimes come off as an original, particularly if reading something like the immigrant story. immigrant stories are oftentimes cliche, right? So if I start reading an immigrant story, it almost predict the ending that there's some assimilation that happens, and kind of amount of comfort grows with the student. Make it unique, right? So you want to be careful that if you're writing an immigrant story, for example, it's not kind of super unoriginal, right. And identity. Identity essays, oftentimes fall into that bucket of being cliche, unfortunately. Right on the prompt to 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? What did you learn from the experience? The immediate temptation, a lot of people fall to it, is to write about an academic or extracurricular failure. This can be done, but there's two issues. One, there's a sense of proportion failure, or a challenge is relatively mundane. So for example, not winning an award at a Model UN Conference, writing an essay about that can come off as very privileged, right. And then number two topics can also be cliched. 650. essays in one cycle, are about getting better at cross country or tennis. Right. So when writing about academics, or extracurriculars, keep in mind these two things, the scope of your problem Is it extensive? Does it concern kind of just localized your high school, it does it impact a lot of people. And then also how many people probably write essays about this in the first place. So definitely kind of be aware of these larger facts, before even attempting to write these essays to make sure that your essays aren't cliche, kind of original to you. So instead of writing, say about academic, or extracurricular kind of success, or failure, maybe a personal emotional adversity or failures can provide a much better foundation for your story. So for example, talking about losing a friend, a family member. Ideally, what you're aiming to show here is how you respond when you're emotional, or otherwise destabilized? And how do you respond to those events? In the moment, and with other people around? You also want to talk about how do you develop or grow as a result of this better? And that's critical. A lot of the essay shouldn't just be talking about what the failure was, or what led up to failure. Ideally, a majority of the essay should be talking about after the failure, and how you grew from the failure. Right? So this question is really three parts. First sentence is literally asking, what is that failure that you encounter? Second part is asking, How did it affect you? And then third, is asking, what did you learn from the experience? Right? There's three questions to answer in this one prompt, it's a little difficult. But if done right, it should be more focused on how the failure affected you. And then what you learn from it as well. Another note is if you faced adversity, like racism, sexual assault, bigotry, poverty, it's definitely kind of looked favorably to write about these things. Because they, they tie in a lot of emotional sentiment, right? It could be a very emotional story that you'd be sharing with admissions reader, and it might wreck a personal court. All right. Before we go on to prompt three, I'll take a look at the q&a box. And then we have another event coming up October 14 at 4:30pm. Eastern, the Ultimate Guide to BS MD programs. So if you're interested in applying to these guaranteed medical programs, definitely check out this live stream. We'll be walking through how do I apply these programs? What kind of like the ideal student is? What are the programs that exist? And talk through some of those larger ideas?

Yeah, Abigail was really great question. Does your topic need to be sad story or something big? Or can it be something that is a daily struggle? Very, very good question. So we'll get that in a bit. But kind of long story short, it can be something that is daily struggle, not everyone's going to have a huge sad story or something momentous that's happened in their life, that's totally fine. It's really just about explaining who you are, as a result of your daily life. There might be small things that kind of happen in your life that better describe who you are. And that's might make a more kind of richer essay in the first place.

Just there asked, good question. What should you do for a good immigration story? Yeah. So what I will say is that everyone kind of has their own immigration story. For most first generation students, I'll say that the immigration story isn't about students about the parents, right, for the most part. So because of that, a lot of essays written about immigration, will be from the perspective of the parents journey, which is kind of away from who the student is in the first place. Right? So if you're going to write an immigration story, first thing is to consider who you actually writing about, are you writing about parents? Are you writing about the students? Are you writing about yourself, right? Ideally, you'd be writing about yourself, because that's what matters more to the admissions rate. So this is who you really want to kind of talk about that should be the central focus of the essay. So when writing a good migration story, First, start talking about yourself more. Other things to consider are what makes your story unique compared to the other interviewers and story out there. There's definitely some unique twists that you can make. And that'll kind of limit the amount of cliche things that you've put into this story in the first place. So think about those two things. I think that's kind of what immediately comes to mind for me. Right. One last question from Felicia, that will get back to the PowerPoint. Felicia asked for the slide presentation be available somewhere on your website? Yes, well, so the presentations recorded under the live stream section of CollegeVine. So in the top bar of the CollegeVine website, there's a live stream drop down tab. Click that and go to live streams. You'll see recordings of today's event in the on demand section. Then the recording will also be sent to you within 24 hours as well.

Right? properly reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged the belief or idea, what prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? This is sometimes difficult for high schools to answer, especially since you've participated in genuine protest. If, for example, unless you participated in genuine protest against social ills. A lot of high schoolers will write about these kind of larger problems in society. Unfortunately, it might be more of a trend and kind of their Instagram page or something like that, rather than them actually being deeply involved in these activities. So if you're responding to this prompt, careful to not jump onto a trend, if you're not personally affected by this adversity or the challenge, right. And that's very important. Because if you're not directly affected by this challenge, and you kind of jump onto a trend, you're not going to write really substantial and moving essay in the first place. And admissions officers want to know if you're actually kind of impacted by these adversities and how involved you are in the first place. So when approaching this prompt, you can discuss a time when you went against social norms within your school club or organization, for example. But you can also discuss a smaller but meaningful change in a work environment or extra curricular experience. I've got like the scale here can be large, it can be small, kind of getting back to Abigail's question about can something be daily struggle. And that's very true, right? Just make sure that these things are something that has impacted your life. So for example, it doesn't have to be something big. So maybe I couldn't participate in gymnastics growing up, because I had to take care of my single parent mother, who, well, sorry, I had to take care of my younger brother, because my single parent mother was working night and day shifts 24, seven, at the local diner, right. And because of that, we had a lot of family financial issues. So I couldn't really pursue my passion of gymnastics, instead, I'd take care of my little brother, right. So it's not like a huge issue that's affecting the world. But to you, that is a really big issue. And you had this really strong problem that you've solved, right? So that kind of gives an example what we mean by it doesn't have to be like a super grand scale. But it can be something small. Right? But really, these essays, reward reflection and introspection at the end of the day. With this prompt, you really have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. Oh, okay. So I just want to make sure you guys can see and hear me because I think Brian might not be able to see everyone or hear me. I'm just worrying if someone else is having technical issues, or is it just kind of a one person thing?

If not, can you guys just let me know in the q&a box.

You guys can still hear and see me just in case and then I'll chat Brian to let him know that if we're just having a technical issue, right. It's just kind of his gauge. Okay. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Elise. Okay, you guys can all hear me see me girl just O'Brien.

Okay, perfect. Yeah. Thanks, guys for responding. Thanks, Mo. Samuel chill. Alright.

Okay. And then.

Okay, Jennifer gave me a tip. So if you guys are having tech issues, just refresh the page a couple times, it'll start working again. But thanks for your patience, guys. All right. But again, with this prompt, you definitely have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. So you can really show them your how you process durations, how you assess them, how you make decisions, how you think. And that's really critical when respondents comp in the first place. So again, it's not just defining what the challenge or belief is or the idea. It's really talking about how you process that in your head. And why are you making decisions the way you make them, not help maybe other people. All right, next up Tom Ford. Describe the problem you solve their problem you'd like to solve. It could be intellectual challenge or research query and ethical dilemma. Anything that is a personal importance, no matter the skill, explain its significance to you, and what steps you took or could be taken to identify solution. When this question saying that you can list anything of personal importance, it gives you a lot of freedom.

It allows you to explore more academic topics. But again, if you're going to talk about academics, you must approach your passion from a personal lens, right? So you can talk about, say, astronomy, or engineering or music. But those might be cliche topics, if you only talk about them at face value. You want to talk about those things from your own perspective.

Like I talked about before, you can address a hypothetical problem, but you must reference why you personally care about that topic. So for example, if you're going to talk about climate change, you must connect caring about climate change to a personal rational. Again, smaller scale problems tend to be more interesting to read about and stand out more as well.

So going back to abacos, question is really great question. And it kind of ties to a lot of problems. Lots of people will write about climate change and in racism, solving misogyny. But the real point is to be more specific in your responses.

So if I'm example, if I'm, I guess, curious about urban city planning or something, maybe I'll talk about zoning reform, or creating more roundabouts. If I care about tech, maybe I'll talk about building a social network with a privacy friendly business model. Or if I care about my rights, maybe I'll talk about finding a balance between free speech and minority protection.

If I care about curriculum development, making the culture of STEM AP classes more friendly to women, right. So specificity here is really key, especially for this prompt. That's where you can identify more unique things to talk about, and make them less cliche essays, for example.

Okay, I think Brian still having this issue, or maybe switch to a new browser that potentially use I don't think Brian can hear me or see me.

I'm just gonna respond to Brian.

Okay, Stella also had another suggestion. Sometimes you need to click on the video screen for the audio to journal. Right? So maybe that works Brian. Thanks, guys for these good tips. All right.

On promt five, discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and new standard standing of yourself or others.

Here you can discuss a formal accomplishment or event, but you must discuss how it catalyzed personal growth, right. So again, it's not talking about the external thing. At the end of the day, it's talking about your own kind of understanding of the external thing, your own perspective. here talking about the more informal then, or the assertion, definitely more meaningful as well.

Most essays, if respond to this prompt, right, too much before innominate, after, or vice versa, right. So for writing an essay about growth, Ideally, we'd set up a picture of the before student and the after student, and how those things kind of transitioned over time. We don't want to focus too much on the before picture of who I am, or too much in the after picture, right? You want to balance that that's what we're trying to get out. Excuse me.

The main thing here is to define your personal growth and connect it to the event.

Again, the event is secondary to learning more about growth.

You're not really trying to explain. I mean, you are to some level, but you don't just want to explain what the event was, what those environmental things are. You want to talk about your own perspective, your own understanding in your own work from those environmental things.

There's a huge temptation to use this to highlight your biggest extraocular accomplishment or passion that can be done. But it can't just be listening what you accomplish. The essay should be about what's happening behind the scenes in your head and heart. So really, it's providing the logical means for what you're doing, as well as kind of what your passion is and why you're doing it in the first place.

Prompt six, discuss a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you trust? To when you want to learn more. Here, you can expand on a topic or concept that might be seemingly small, but make the essay more about you not the topic, you have an opportunity here to show your passion can use beautiful descriptive writing. So a lot of students kind of take advantage of this. So they find themselves to be good descriptive writers definitely go for it. However, if you're gonna address this prompt, you must address why you think why the thing captivates you in the first place, you don't just want to say that it's interesting to you. If you're going to be more creative and descriptive in your writing, you often want to kind of include this idea of talking about your senses or you feelings, right. It's more about this emotional kind of attachment to the thing that you're going to explain not just what the thing is in the first place. You can dive into an academic topic, but you want to be careful not to get too focused on the topic. Ideally, again, like keep talking about, you should show personal connection, a higher level intellectual element, or abstraction that you find interesting. And pick a topic that's one layer deeper than the subject itself.

So you're going to talk about economics, maybe for example, talk about market monetarism instead, right? So identify specific things that are more unique to you, or unique interests to demonstrate why these things are truly captivating to you. And then again, don't just describe these things.

Talk about from your own perspective, right. So admissions, readers want to hear things for your own voice, your own tone, it's really hard to do, but that's what you're gonna have to do to make a really strong accent.

And finally, prompt seven, share an essay on any topic of your choice, it can be one you've already written on the response to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

First off, you want to write the essay, after figuring out what you want to say, then figure out the prompt. This essay is also high risk, high reward, there's lots of freedom, I could get lots of danger. It's like we talked about before, in terms of writing an unconventional structure. Prop seven kind of feeds into that. So again, if you're excuse me, if you're interested in computer science, you might write your essays on lines of code. If you're interested in Shakespeare, you might use ionic pentameter. So kind of goes back into that line, high risk, because you don't know how it might be read by the reader. But there's also high reward because it could be done well, it could be very unique across other essays. Just note that you're still trying to achieve the same goals as with other essays. And you still must address who you are as a person and fulfill the other goals that we talked about throughout the livestream. With that, kind of jump into q&a. So I do see a lot of questions here. So I'll start kind of answering them.

Hopefully, Brian was able to figure out the live stream.

I think there's just some technical bugs sometimes, but it will be recorded anyway.

Okay, let's jump into questions here.

Okay, Barbie has a question. Is it important to write about an issue which we faced? Or can it be an issue we believe in? Yeah, so this is going back to a previous slide that I mentioned.

I think it's this.

Ah, okay. Yeah. No. All right. Well, basically, short answer, it can be something that can find it very, very, essentially, it should ideally be about an issue that you have faced could be an issue that you believe in. But what admissions officers care about is your personal involvement within this kind of issue, right? So if you're not deeply involved in it, or hasn't affected you, on a more personal level, it might not be worth kind of including, or it might not make a strong essay, because in some sense, you're not reading from a very personal place. So ideally, if you're going to write an essay about an issue that you want to solve, then you're going to have some personal involvement with that issue.

Right. Great question, though.

Ah, okay. Felicia asked great question. Can you answer two prompts if they're related to what you want to write about? So, I would kind of say that each of those seven prompts are in some ways unique to themselves, right?

They're kind of targeting different things. Um, there are overlapping ideas. For the most part, they're trying to get at different things about the student.

Right? So I was just kind of thinking of one prompt, it might have overlapped with the second prompt. But at the end of the day, you should just respond to one of those problems. So on the common app, when you're filling it out, you'll before submitting, you'll indicate which prompt to answer.

You can only click one of those, right.

So it's okay to have a mix of two prompts. But in some ways, it should ideally, just be one prompt that you're actually responding. Hopefully that clarified your question, feel free to kind of clarify with me in the q&a box if you want to. Okay, um, next question.

Okay, Samuel asked, great question. How do you make sure each essay line serves a unique purpose and transition with proceeding and succeeding sentences? Yeah, so you've kind of kind of hinted at what the answer to this question is, it's really about, before you start writing an essay, you should have in mind what you want to share with the admissions reader, you want to have almost like an outline of what you're about to write in your head, or actually written out on a piece of paper.

And so as you start writing an essay, make sure that every sentence you write directly impacts what you're trying to say in the first place.

You don't really want to write very superfluous things, right? So in doing so, the way to do that is write line by line. And after you write each sentence, make sure to ask yourself, why did I write the sentence? How's it forwarding my point? Right? So, yeah, so you kind of answer your question. So really, to have sentences that are unique to your purpose of writing, assess each question line by line, as you jealous group motion, what kind of advice would you give to a student wants to write about a family relationship they have, and how it's influenced them. So writing about family, in some sense, could be writing about a family culture, it could be talking about a problem that you have growing up could be about influential figures in your family, like a lot of different things. Going back to some of the main guidelines for writing these essays, you want this essay to be more about you. When typically, I've seen a lot of family relationship type essays, they start to talk more about their family members less about themselves, right? Your goal is to talk more about yourself, and then explain your family members from your own perspective, or explain the influence that they've had, from your own perspective. So to write a really strong relationship about family relationships, I'm sorry, write a really strong essay about failing relationships, really try to make sure you're focusing more on yourself less on kind of your whole family.

And, like I mentioned, there's a whole bunch of different avenues, you can go down in that one line of thought. So definitely try to make sure you have a specific adni that we're going to go down and just stick to that one main theme across your resume.

Nathaniel asks, if you want to talk about your future career in law or medicine that requires you to go to grad school first, but it is your goal, or passion? Is this okay for the common app?

Good question. So I would say no, I mean, it's okay. So if you're applying to certain majors, in hopes that you get into law school or medical school or something like that, this isn't really the place to do that in an essay. Really, what you're trying to do here is just describe yourself from certain character traits through an essay, and you don't really have to talk about your future career goals that can be done really well in other essays, for example, like why major essays right? There, you can really describe what courses you intend to take the score of interest, why you're interested in those courses, and how they play into your future career goals. Typically, on the common app, we don't see that future career goal projection done by students, because students should rather be focusing on really convincing admissions reader. This is why I am this is why i what i can contribute to the university.

Right. Lillian asks, could you write about something like surgery, even if it happened a little before high school? For sure, why not? But I would say that makes sure that if you're going to write about To surgery, it has direct impact on who you are today. Right? Ideally, you know, surgery is kind of, I would say, like a one time, not a one time thing, lifelong effects, I would say. But make sure it has impact on you at least say like one to two years before today. So when talking about it, you can write for more kind of like a current stamp. But yeah, it's a very kind of unique story. And it follows all these guidelines that we talked about today.

Definitely go for it.

Why it is interesting question, I would actually ask clarification for Wyatt. So you said could prompt six be an other world, worldly topic? So prompt six is this.

I see what you're saying. So maybe you're talking about? Can we talk about some things that are out of this world? Like the Milky Way galaxy? Andromeda Galaxy? Mars, maybe? Yeah, I would say so. It'd be pretty captivating to talk about astronomy here. But again, just don't talk about it for the sake of talking about an academic subject.

Talk about it, about why it captivates you.

Why? You're so moved by the idea of astronomy first.

Yeah. But again, if I didn't answer that question correctly, feel free to correct me.

Right? Am I asked? Do you think it would be better to write about an interest I loved as a child, and I've grown in it over time, and have accomplishments stemming from it, or should write an essay about a medical journey I've gone through and grown through. I think they're both great ideas. what's worrying me about the first point is that if you have an interest that you loved as a child, is it still relevant today?

Right? If not, then you might not want to write about it.

But if it is, it still impacts each day and you still have that same interest. Go for it.

I would say both would possibly make strong stories.

Okay, um, another question we have from Kurt. Our traits and characteristics that be kumain are essays shouldn't be explicitly said. It should be inferred by the reader. Correct? Right on, right on, Kurt. That's what we're trying to get out. Right, implicitly express who we are by showing, showing how we interact with the world, showing it through the narrative, rather than directly saying, I'm a curious person. I am a leader. You can show it through your language and your tone. That's what we're trying to go for. So kudos to you.

Felicia asks, in terms of readability, will the admissions officers care about the flesh Kincaid score? flesh Kincaid is probably heard of that before but readability test? No, they're not going to put a metric onto your essay, I just looked it up what it was, no, they're not going to kind of judge your essay quality based on a score derived from some rubric. Rather, you want to make sure that your essay is readable though. Like you don't want to incomplete sentences, you don't want bad grammar? Because that won't be read well, by the admissions readers, especially at selective schools. They're expecting some kind of level of reading advocacy, literacy, and reading these essays. But yeah, they're not going to, again, not going to put it against the rubric to score it.

All right, Abigail asked question, could you read about health question, I'll say allergies, and how it affects the daily doing whatever you can to help the situation, the choices to keep doing what you love, despite the allergies.

Okay, so this kind of goes back to your question before Abigail, about talking? How do we have to talk about things that are like super momentous? Or can they be smaller things that impact us daily, day to day, right? In some ways, again, I don't know like the personal influence of allergies on your life. But maybe allergies might not be as impactful or might not make as strong of a story, or convince admissions readers that this was any adversity at all right. I feel like everyone goes through allergies, but maybe yours are super severe, or not just like seasonal allergies, maybe there's something in life threatening to it. So that life threatening aspect has really influenced your life. That could be something profound to talk about. I will say like season allergies might not be as convincing to admissions reader might not seem super like drastic or anything like that.

So I would definitely kind of just make sure it's like a super profound thing.

Okay, well, we'll take another couple minutes to answer questions. More coming through. Lance us. I've read CommonApp essays with a conclusion that basically says, all these things happen to me and made me more adaptable, etc. for college. He suggests things like this.

Yeah, so usually, conclusions don't matter as much. It's really about the introduction, or the body of the essay, I would say, right? conclusion, conclusions, I really mattered. Those are when I review essays are kind of like the smaller things that I care about. But I would say kind of make sure you address the theme. You kind of wrap up the story as well, as oftentimes, this could be an academic, I wouldn't say it's like the strongest ending, but it also, it's not like a weekend. But there's definitely ways to be more creative. So do I suggest an ending like this? If it happens, I don't really mind it. But I would ask like, Can you make this essay ending more interesting, for example?

Okay, I asked, as I'm using conversational tone throughout my essay, will that address as genuine and emotional? Or will they be more concerned that vocabulary isn't complex? Great point. So oftentimes, for essays you don't need kind of like the most complex vocabulary. Rather, what readers are asking for is complex thoughts, thoughts that are unique to you. thoughts that can only come from you, and thoughts that really show a lot of introspection, right? So vocabulary here doesn't have to be complex. The ideas should be complex in some way. Not to confuse the reader, but to show who you are in a more unique way. If you're doing conversational tone, that's actually kind of helpful, right? You want to put things in your own kind of vernacular.

And it might, it usually comes off as more genuine.

In terms of being emotional. Usually, it's not the tone that you bought. Yeah, this is the tone. But it's also the stuff that you share in the essay. And I guess it is tone and word choice. Yeah, I think you're doing a good job. I think you get the idea. But yeah, so recapping what I said, use conversational tone, it's helpful. But don't make it so conversational, that you're using a lot of slang in your own dialect. If that makes sense, and it's okay not to use like super complex vocabulary. Okay, perfect. I'll take another minute or so to answer more questions. There's a lot coming in, which is awesome. Okay, Kurt asks, Is there a general format, just with a common FSA? Yeah, so we talked about structures a little bit before, I'll go back to that slide.

Um, in terms of format, so if I'll just talk about the narrative essay structure, we're gonna have an introduction, maybe a couple body paragraphs, and then a conclusion. It's nothing really too fancy there? Um, yeah, I wouldn't say it's like a typical, say English project for high school class, I would say you can kind of make it what you want. It doesn't have to be four to five sentences for every paragraph. Some paragraphs can just be one sentence, as long as that sentence is very impactful, or is that way for a purpose, right. So there's no like one general format or suggest, but usually, these structures are what we see most. And within that, feel free to use different paragraph points, or, yeah, but in general, you know, introduction, kind of set the scene, set what you're talking about. body paragraph to kind of introduce your ideas, introduce who you are in the context of whatever's going on. In conclusion, again, like I mentioned before, doesn't really matter as much, but should generally wrap up the theme and idea.

All right, great. Let's wrap up for today.

Really great questions. Overall.

I think you guys were asking really in depth questions. A lot of them I haven't heard before. So really, really good job. Thank you guys for that. Awesome. So hope you guys enjoyed your weekend. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this livestream. I'll see you guys next time. And love you guys game. Alright, take care now.

how to write common app essay

Undergrad College: Boston University '20

Major: Medical Science

Graduate College: Boston University School of Medicine

Work Experience: I've been working at CollegeVine for 6 years mentoring students through BS/MD and undergraduate admissions. I have held many roles on the advising and livestream teams. I am currently a medical student at Boston University and actively pursuing research at Boston University, Mass General Brigham and the Broad Institute.

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The company provides excellent customer service via live chat and email. Turnaround times are fast for delivery, but customer service response to student emails can take up to a week, even for emergent requests.

This service, out of all the ones we reviewed, has the deepest discount for first-time customers and returning requests, but you can expect to pay significantly more for subsequent orders.

This online paper writer service has decent pricing but could do better by adding loyalty programs or better discounts for returning customers.

The quality of work from EssayNoDelay is generally good, and reviews are positive. This service boasts that 91% percent of its clients have returned to place more than 5 orders. Most complaints are with regard to minor grammatical or formatting errors in the work.

This company guarantees to provide an original, plagiarism-free paper, with a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee on its work.

  • The best loyalty program among other sites
  • Good quality
  • Mostly caters towards ESL students, it’s hard to find a writer from the U.S., the UK or Canada
  • While first order is cheap, repeat orders are way more expensive

EssayNoDelay has proven to be a cost-effective custom essay writing service that provides professional writing assistance to students at all levels of academia.

Paper Writing Services: Common Questions, Answered

How long does it take to have my essay written for me.

Depending on your chosen service, your essay can be written within hours, days, or weeks. The longer the lead time you allow for some services, the deeper the discounts. You can expect to pay more for rush orders.

The complexity of the paper you order can also impact the turnaround time. If you need to monitor the process, make suggestions to the writer, edit the work, or request revisions after the paper has been produced, it will add time to the process.

We suggest you don’t wait too long to place your order, there are sometimes unexpected issues that can delay the delivery of your paper, and since deadlines and due dates in academia are mostly fixed, it’s up to the scholar to make sure there is enough time for the professional writer to complete the order including proofreading, editing, and revisions if required.

It’s recommended that you keep in contact with the writing service and the hired writer, in particular, to make sure that everything is to your satisfaction to avoid delays.

The responsibility falls to the student or scholar to ensure that essays are submitted to teachers and professors on time with all requirements met regardless of academic level.

Will my essay be written by a professional essay writer?

Some of the reliable essay writing services we have listed hire professional writers at all levels of academia.

Most services will allow the customer to choose the writer based on their field of expertise, academic credentials, and customer reviews posted on the website.

In addition, most websites enable the customer to select either a Native English speaker/writer or an ESL expert.

Some colleges consistently check students’ writing styles, so if you’re an ESL student, it makes sense to hire an ESL writer so that your paper only stands out a little from your own writing.

The most popular sites profile the college essay writers who are the most requested and most highly reviewed to promote them to customers.

Other services will assign the best essay writer based on the type of paper, subject matter, and level of academia needed to complete the task.

All of the services we reviewed guarantee their results and hire experts who are true professionals in their fields or have the academic experience to write with authority on the subject they specialize in.

Most of the services allow you to monitor the process. If communication is an issue, or if you are unhappy with the results, their guarantees allow you to substitute another professional to satisfy your requirements.

How much does it cost to purchase an essay?

If we’re talking about undergraduate writing assignments, the typical price for a single page is about $11-20. It usually varies depending on how fast you need your essay written. On average, a typical three-page college essay written in three days will cost you $50-110.

We advise you to be wary of some cheap essay writing services selling papers for prices lower than $9. While the price may seem appealing, it’s best to steer clear of such sites because they hardly ever deliver papers of subpar quality, let alone high-quality, plagiarism-free essays.

Is it safe to buy essays online?

Yes, you can be reasonably certain that buying papers and essays online through any of the academic writing companies that we have reviewed here will be safe and secure. By using any of these sites, your personal data will be kept confidential and fully protected.

Your school should never learn that you hired an online essay writer to produce a paper for one of your classes. This is a valid concern when employing a writing service to write a paper for you. The possibility that your teacher or professor will learn that you bought your paper online is small.

Here’s the thing. The only way these college paper writing services can continue to thrive and stay in business is to keep student data confidential and safe. Most of them post a security and confidentiality guarantee on their websites. Some students opt to give a pseudonym or merely their initials to help guarantee themselves anonymity.

The companies we mentioned in this review keep their databases secure and do not sell or share student data. In most cases, they have a customer satisfaction guarantee which covers security and quality.

If a company is offering a 100% money-back guarantee, you can wager that they are doing their utmost to avoid giving any refunds.

Are online essay writing services legit?

As with any kind of service you employ, it’s always a case of “buyer beware.” The responsibility falls on the customer to do their due diligence in choosing a reputable and honest and online essay writing service from which to purchase papers.

However, be wary of basing your decisions solely on customer reviews, as many of these companies are plagued by scores of negative reviews from scam sites provided by rival essay writing companies.

Look for well-established websites with a large pool of writers, and be sure to utilize the live chat feature that is on most of the websites, to ask the questions that are pertinent to your situation.

You want to be sure that you employ a writing service with professional paper writers who specialize in your field of study. At the higher levels of academia, you need to be sure that the writers have the academic experience and credentials to produce the quality level required for a thesis or dissertation.

When special formatting and citations are required, you will need to do diligent interviewing of your essay writer to be assured that they are able to produce the quality of content that you require.

What if I am not satisfied with my paper?

The majority of the services you will consider have a process whereby you get edits and revisions for free within a specified period of time after the completion of the work.

In some cases, future edits and revisions will be charged a fee.

Many services also offer a customer satisfaction guarantee which means that the expert essay writer you engage (that the service contracts with) promises to revise the finished product to your satisfaction, or you are entitled to 100% of your money back.

We understand that it rarely goes to that extreme. Most of the time, you will be able to obtain a final product to your satisfaction on the first try, even without asking for a revision.

If you want to achieve that, please provide the most descriptive order instructions that you can. This way, you can avoid the revision process and save yourself and your writer some time.

Part of making sure that the best outcome is to choose a writing service that employs proficient and professional essay writers in your area of study and that you give clear and explicit instructions as to the formatting, citation, and style of essay you require.

We also recommend that you check in regularly with your writer throughout the process so that you may be able to catch any issues that may arise and be able to correct them right away.

What are the main drawbacks of essay writing services?

The main drawbacks of using companies that write essays for you are the expense and the risk of discovery. While most essay writing services online are not too costly, getting into larger projects with extensive proofing and editing can become expensive, especially on a student’s budget.

While these sites generally guarantee security and confidentiality, there is always the chance that your professors/teachers may notice a change in the quality or style of your essays and figure out that you purchased the work rather than producing it.

The other drawback of using the services of essay writing websites is that you don’t benefit from the work the same way you would have if you had done the work.

If you are doing the research and the citations, you will be enriched by the process and gain knowledge in the subject from doing the work.

Using a writing service only gives you the benefit of the result, the grade, or the points you gain, rather than a more profound knowledge of the subject matter.

This has the potential to trip you up later in life when you may be called upon for that knowledge in your field of study and lack the expertise because you paid someone else to do the work.

Professional essay writing services fill a need in providing writing assistance to students at all levels of academia, but they should only be used infrequently and in urgent or timely situations where the student or scholar is unable to provide a quality essay on the subject assigned.

We understand that there are circumstances where a writing service can be a real lifesaver. Still, we caution students not to abuse these services or use them as a replacement for acquiring knowledge in their chosen field of study. Instead, when the need arises, choose a reputable service that guarantees good quality work.

The news and editorial staff of the Delco Daily Times had no role in this post’s preparation.

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how to write common app essay

How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #2

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

What is prompt #2, how to choose a challenge.

  • Prompt #2 Essay Examples and Tips

How to Craft Your Prompt #2 Essay

Applicants can respond to one of seven prompts for their Common App essay . This essay should be less than 650 words, and it should creatively tell admissions readers about who you are. This article will help you write an essay that answers Prompt #2, which is: 

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? 

This prompt invites you to talk about what facets of your personality have allowed you to overcome adversity. It’s about resilience, it’s about creativity, and it’s about the qualities that will help you get back on your feet after you fall down.

While it’s okay to write about relatively mundane failures, such as not winning an award at your Model UN conference or failing a class, a more powerful tactic is to write about something more foundational that you failed at. Then, you can assess that base failure and its impact on your development.

There are times in your life when your foundation is uprooted, and there are times when you experience failure and you want to give up because you just don’t see a solution. You will want to write an essay about how you respond when you’re destabilized in these moments and what your actions look like when you don’t see an immediate resolution to your challenges.

Prompt #2 Essay Examples and Tips 

Reflect on one failure.

As an example of an answer to this prompt, let’s say that you lost a friend due to an argument. You can analyze the positions from both sides, evaluate your decisions, and identify why you were wrong.

The key is explaining your thought process and growth following the event to highlight how your thinking has changed. So, if you’ve lost this friend because of an argument that you had, you can demonstrate growth through realizing that it wasn’t worth losing a valued relationship over something so silly as whatever you were arguing about. You can talk about how you’ve taken that lesson to heart and that you now make sure you are proactive in your relationships and maintaining them. You could also discuss that, while you may have ideas that you care about or convictions that you hold, you always evaluate whether you prioritize that idea or the person with whom you’re talking about it. 

Here are some more questions to ask yourself as you think of a response to prompt #2 : Did you ever admit fault and seek to fix the problem? Have you treated other people differently since then?  How has this event changed the way you view such situations? Framing the prompt in this way really allows you to tackle heavier questions about ethics and demonstrate a sense of self-awareness that shows maturity and growth.

Write About a Recurring Challenge

If you haven’t experienced a big, big failure, another angle to take would be to discuss smaller repeated failures that are either linked or similar thematically. An example would be an essay about how you used to stutter or get nervous in large social groups — this isn’t a failure, but you can discuss the steps you took to find a solution to this challenge.

Even if you don’t have a massive foundational obstacle to write about, a recurring challenge can translate into a powerful essay topic, especially if the steps you took to overcome this repeated failure helped develop your character. 

As an example of this, let’s take a look at an essay about a writer’s recurring struggle to be more empathetic. The writer in this example assumed that because his brother Sam was sociable, Sam was adjusting well to their family’s move. However, after an angry outburst from Sam and a late night conversation, the writer realizes that he needed to develop a greater sense of empathy and sensitivity. Here’s an excerpt of the essay:

“You ruined my life!” Sam shouted.

After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me to my shame. I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain. When my parents learned about the Smith academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also a community.

This meant transferring the family. And, while there was concern about Sam, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me. As it turned out, Smith Academy was everything I’d hoped for, but, preoccupied with my new friends and a rigorous course load, I’d failed to notice that the tables had turned.

Sam had become withdrawn and lonely. While I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me, and I could no longer ignore it. And I didn’t want to. 

We stayed up half the night. Sam opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him due to his dyslexia and that the ever present comparison to me had only deepened his pain. We had been in parallel battles the whole time, and yet I only saw that Sam was in distress once he experienced problems which I directly identified. 

My failure to recognize Sam’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle. Everyone has insecurities. Everyone has woes, and everyone most certainly has pain. This experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. 

We can see from this excerpt that the writer brings up a recurring challenge, which is being sensitive to their brother’s needs and pain. Where this essay might go next is to talk about how they begin to address this. Now that they’ve had this realization, what growth have they achieved in order to become more sensitive? How do they express their sensitivity to others? And, what makes them better now than they were the day before?

Want to know if your prompt #2 essay could be improved? Find out by using our Peer Essay Review tool , where another student will give you a free, anonymous, and secure review of your essay. You can also earn CollegeVine Karma by reviewing other users’ essays while sharpening your own writing skills in the process!

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how to write common app essay

IMAGES

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  2. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #1 (2020)

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  3. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt 2

    how to write common app essay

  4. Writing a Powerful College Application Essay: Tips and Examples

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  5. 019 Essay Example Common App Essays College Application Examples

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  6. Striking Examples Of Common App Essays ~ Thatsnotus

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VIDEO

  1. Essay On Georgia With Easy Language In English

  2. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 4 2022

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write an Amazing Common App Essay (2024-2025)

    Throughout this guide, "Common App Essay," "Common App personal statement," and "personal statement" are used interchangeably. Secondary or supplemental essays: These are the essays that schools can choose to have you write on top of the core Common App Essay. They might invite you to talk more about an extracurricular activity on your resumé ...

  2. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 (With Examples)

    Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and has few formal directions, organizing a response might seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, we've developed a straightforward approach to formulating strong, unique responses. This section outlines how to: 1) Brainstorm, 2) Organize, and 3) Write a Common App essay.

  3. Common App Essays

    The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

  4. 21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

    Common App Essay Examples. Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts. Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without ...

  5. Complete Strategies: Common App Essay Prompts (2023-24)

    Most—but Not All—Schools Require the Essay. Keep in mind that the Common App essay is optional for some schools. Here are a few examples of schools that do not require the Common App essay (note that some may require a school-specific writing supplement instead): Arizona State University; Clemson University; DePaul University; Eastern ...

  6. The 2021-2022 Common App Essay: How to Write a Great Essay ...

    The "Common App," short for the Common Application, is a general application used to apply to multiple college undergraduate programs at once.It's accepted by hundreds of colleges in the United States as well as some colleges internationally. The idea is that the Common App is a "one-stop shop" so you don't have to complete a million separate applications.

  7. How to Write the Common App Essay

    The Common App essay provides colleges with this holistic view of you as a person, not just a student. It is a window into your personality, character, values, and life experiences. Through the Common App essay, admissions officers gain insight into your passions, motivations, and the unique qualities that set you apart from other applicants.

  8. 7 Expert Common App Essay Tips

    3. Use Your Space Wisely. Students tend to go one of two ways with the Common App essay: They either write way too much and struggle to trim it down, or they write way too little and end up sounding superficial and generic. The Common App essay word count range is 250-650 words.

  9. Common App Essay Prompts

    Below is the complete list of the Common App essay prompts. 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. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success ...

  10. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  11. how to write your ENTIRE common app essay (step by step guide)

    Tackling your common app essay without having a creative outline with points of growth is HARD. So I created a guiding outline (template linked below) that y...

  12. 5 Steps For Writing a College Common App Essay (Plus Tips)

    Writing a Common App essay requires significant thought on what to include, how to structure the essay and what tone or style to use. Here are five steps for how to write a great Common App essay: 1. Choose a writing prompt. The first step to writing a great Common App essay is choosing a writing prompt. The prompt helps provide a guide for ...

  13. The 2023-2024 Common App Prompts (7 Example Essays & Analysis)

    According to the 2023/2024 Common Application, the Common App essay prompts are as follows: 1. Background Essay. 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.

  14. Common App Essay Examples

    Sample Common App Essay #2. The second of our Common App essay examples takes the unique—and potentially challenging—approach of talking about another person. In this essay, the author describes her relationship with Sophia, a child with special needs that she meets while volunteering.

  15. How to Write the 2022-23 Common App Essay

    Description. Learn how to write an awesome Common App essay for every single prompt. Vinay will provide an in-depth breakdown of each of the Common App essay prompts, discussing how to write a great essay in response to each one. He'll also share his take on the essays and topics you shouldn't write about for each prompt.

  16. How to Write a Great Common App Essay

    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.

  17. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #1

    The essay you write should be under 650 words, and it should creatively tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person. This article will guide you through crafting a response to the first Common App prompt, which is the following: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe ...

  18. Common App essay examples that got applicants into top colleges

    Read on to learn about common application essays and check out the examples. show. The "Why us?". App Essay. The "Diversity" App Essay. The "Challenges" App Essay. The "Community" App Essay. The "Extra-Curricular Activities" App Essay. The "Personal Statement" App Essay.

  19. How to Start a Common App Essay

    Starting a Common App essay involves more than grabbing the reader's attention. It's about building a narrative bridge from the first line that connects the reader to the heart of your story. The goal is to create a compelling introduction that not only reflects your individuality but also resonates with the reader's curiosity, making ...

  20. How to Write a Winning Common App Essay

    The Common App Essay Common App Essay Prompts Common App Essay: Unique Challenges Recommended Timelines Preparing for Your Common App Essay Writing the Common App Essay Sample #1: Rina Sample #2: Robert Sample #3: Sarah FAQs. The Common App essay is the personal statement that students have to submit on the Common Application portal.

  21. How to Write an Effective Common App Essay (2023-2024 Guide)

    Revising and editing are essential steps in the writing process that can help ensure your common app essay is clear, coherent, and free of grammatical errors. Revising involves making major changes to your essay's content, structure, and organization, while editing focuses on making sentence-level changes. To ensure your essay is of the ...

  22. How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

    Learn how to write an awesome Common App essay for every single prompt. Yesh Datar will provide an in-depth breakdown of each of the Common App essay prompts, discussing how to write a great essay in response to each one. He'll also share his take on the essays and topics you shouldn't write about for each prompt. Video Transcript . 0:00

  23. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #7

    What is Prompt #7. Prompt seven is broader than any of the other prompt options for the essay. If you don't feel like your essay addresses any of the other six prompts, this may be a good choice. The prompt reads as follows: . Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different ...

  24. How to write a great college application essay

    You will have a maximum number of words, so the secret is not to try to cover everything in your essay. Create a plan before you actually start writing, organize your essay in three parts (introduction, body and conclusion), and decide on the main ideas you want to express. 7. Ask someone to proofread your work.

  25. I Tested Three AI Essay-writing Tools, and Here's What I Found

    You can unlock unlimited credits, unlimited autocomplete, unlimited sources, and more for $14 per month. Conclusions. Overall, EssayGenius and JotBot were the best AI tools I tested. I was ...

  26. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt 3

    Prompt 3 Essay Example and Analysis. One consultant with CollegeVine wrote her essay on this topic about the experience of growing up with a unique name and feeling pressured to be different from other people. She would sacrifice her own wishes and preferences just to make unconventional choices. Finally, she challenged the idea of being different.

  27. The 7 Best Essay Writing Services in the U.S.

    PaperHelp — The Best Writing Service Overall. BBQPapers — The Best Essay Writers, Premium Service. MyAdmissionsEssay — The Best Service for Application Essays. WritePaperForMe — The ...

  28. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #2

    This essay should be less than 650 words, and it should creatively tell admissions readers about who you are. This article will help you write an essay that answers Prompt #2, which is: 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.