Don’t know what to write your Common App essay on?
Same. I was doing some googling last night and I came across a great way to get brainstorming.
This youtube channel has some great (and super short) videos with tips on college essays. It gives some tips on how to write an essay for each of the Common App prompts. (Although, these were posted last year so one of the prompts has changed since then, I believe it is #4.)
if you’d like to go to college in the united states, odds are you’re going to have to write the common app essay a.k.a. the most painful 650 words of your life. here are some tips, tricks, and guidelines to make that slew of words slightly less painful.
start over the summer. you’ll be really glad you did when all your friends are scrambling in october and you’re just chillin. it really speeds up the application process, trust me.
you don’t have to pick a prompt you love, just one you can give a good answer to. i didn’t like any of the prompts i was given to choose from when i had to write my common app essay. they all felt awkward and kind of clunky to me, and they weren’t things i would have chosen to write about if i’d been given a say in the matter. you may find a prompt you love. write that one. or you may not find one you love. if not, here’s what you should do: rule out the ones you hate, and then come up with essay ideas for the ones you can tolerate. pick your favorite essay idea from that list, and voila, you have an essay you like that’s answering a prompt you’ve been given.
answer the prompt’s question. this seems basic. but make sure you do it. and if your prompt has multiple parts to it, make sure you address everything.
you’re telling a story. your common app essay is not an “about me” page. it’s really more of a creative writing piece. you should tell some kind of story. you should be showing, not telling. most people choose to do a combination of narrative and memoir in their essay, but you can play around with your format if you like. people have written one-act plays where all the characters are different aspects of their personality. people have written letters or diary entries. i wrote a news article. if you’re feelin it, then go ahead and be creative with your format.
showcase yourself. the college application process is all about you, and so your essay should be about you, too. the admissions rep who reads it should be learning something about you, so figure out what you want to show them about yourself. i would recommend writing about something that shows (not tells - #1 rule of writing right there, i really can’t emphasize it enough) them a unique character trait of yours, like how hardworking you are, how stubborn you are, how much you crave knowledge, how passionate about x you are, how well you bounce back from failure, how you never give up, etc. i personally choose to show everyone how salty, satirical, and funny (well, i think i’m funny) i am. it’s up to you to decide which of your best features you’d like to highlight.
talk about something that you haven’t already mentioned in your application. some people in the appblr community (and maybe even your college counselors) will disagree with me on this, but hear me out. your academic transcript and your extracurriculars already tell the admissions reps a lot about you. if you’ve taken the hardest math classes at your school and are a mathlete who goes to math competitions, they know you really like math. you don’t need to go and write an essay about how much you like math. trust me, they’ve figured out that you’re a math person by now. if you’ve told them that you’ve played the piano for twelve years, don’t write an essay about playing the piano. you’ve got a lot of service hours? they get it, you like service, and they’re probably not all the interested in hearing more about it. college admissions reps are always looking to learn new things about you. they know you play soccer, but they don’t know about how you tried to teach your pet turtle to walk on a leash. they know you’re president of cooking club, but they don’t know about how every time you visit your grandma, she has you untangle all of her jewelry because her old, arthritic hands can’t anymore. they don’t know about your love for singing in the shower. they don’t know about how you can never turn down a dare. they don’t know about the hoops your parents made you jump through to get a puppy. use a unique story to highlight that character trait you picked out when you were reading that last bullet point up there that you want everyone to know about. help admissions reps learn something new about you by telling them something new. not only does this help them get a clearer picture of who you are and how good a fit for their school you’d be, but you’ll probably end up with a more original, creative, fresh essay, which will impress reps in itself.
there you have it - a somewhat comprehensive guide that will hopefully make your life a little easier. if you have any questions, need advice, or would like any help with your essays over this summer, feel free to ask me anything!
K I was going through my inbox today (checking college questions and such) when it occurred to me that lo and behold I am late to the party in finding out that they have new Common App essay prompts
So I know this is quite belated but I need a moment of your time to fangirl about the potential of these new questions and hopefully in my musings, you’ll be inspired to think about your own essays in a new light.
Who knows– maybe you’ll figure out a new way to phrase/revise something or be inspired to write another essay for a specific school or realize your essay is even more awesome than you thought it was before
or maybe you’ll remember that you’re following a girl who is a complete nerd and fails at coolness but makes up for it in geekery
1) Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
ok the prompt is a little condescending in it’s phrasing, that’s certainly clear. But I think this takes some of the pressure off of the traditional “essay of your choice” topic to allow students to label clearly as one of the most pivotal details that makes them who they are. You know how any good movie is comprised of a monumental moment or change in a protagonists life?
We watch television to see the day-to-day lives of characters and to become engrossed in their every aspect of them but we watch movies to see the development and self-realization of a character one of the highest/lowest peaks of their lives?
So picture this–you are narrating the premise of the movie of your life:
what is your movie about?
paint it, analyze it, make your reader become so attached that they want to keep reading on (or at least they’ll remember you months down the line when it matters the most)
2) Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
We can’t all be winners all the time. If we never failed at anything, we would never learn how to pick ourselves back up, adjust to the rising tide, and grow from it. The most interesting and well known people in the world were born of thousands of failures.
I won’t get too much into it but that actor whose pictures flood your dashboard even as I write (won’t name anyone *cough*jensen*cough*) fails all the time but they’re making a name for themselves and doing great right?
You’re exemplifying that you have some decent (albeit it probably sucked at the time) life experience and also showing that you’re a good sport who understands that the world is a series of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey events that all connect with each other and that one failure can lead to a world of new horizons which is what adults want to hear
seriously they do, apparently employers want people who are team workers and adults tend to be impressed if you can bite the bullet and make the best of a situation w/o making a big deal of it all
it shows you have humility, are mature enough to undertake the challenge of college, you know how to think critically (all of these prompts exemplify critical thinking skills if you write them well, which is part of the point of you writing them along with making sure you know how to write decently)
so be interesting, have a good sense of humor and learn how to brush off mistakes and short comings while being able to move on afterwards
people will like you more in the long run for it. show them why they should already think more of you now
3) Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Congrats. If you’re reading this you are most likely moving forward into the realm of higher education (or are actively interested in becoming involved in it). As a full fledged college student, you will one day have the skills and opinions to challenge societal norms and do so eloquently.
I don’t like how this one is worded either.
You are totally capable human beings who know what you want in life. Maybe you don’t know what official job title you would like and how your resume will be formatted in five years, but those are semantics that you really can overlook for the time being.
In this moment, you should know who you are, what you think is essential to a good life, a stable society, a better system of organizing thought and innovation and… well you get the idea.
After 15+ years of being taught by your instructors what it meant, what it means and what it will mean someday (potentially) to be human, you’ve cultivated your own vision of the world.
You haven’t been sitting there like a lump on a log and obviously not everyone is going to agree with you all the time. Hell, some of them may even insult your intelligence or your ideals.
If your story of standing by your integrity involves some more heated and discordant conversing than might be appropriate, then the last question on this prompt is giving you a choice: fight or flight.
Flee and tell explain to colleges that maybe you were immature at the time or rash in your decision to speak up. Prove that you can conduct yourself professionally and will ultimately contribute to their vibrant academic discussions throughout campus.
Fight and stand firm by your previous decision to let no one sway your logic and beliefs. WARNING: phrase this respectfully so as not to offend or antagonize any readers who may not agree with your point of view (& remember that as with life in general, you’re not going to please everyone so say what you mean, mean what you say and for god’s sake SAY IT WELL). But this option advocates for your roll as a rebel-rouser who will shake up the culture of their campus but for the better because you are learning why things are done the way they are but changing them because the system doesn’t work to the benefit of others
Either way you take this part of the question will be fantastic for showing off your “moral fiber"
which is a super weird term but I tend to find that most well adjusted and kick-ass independent people know not to just sit idle on the side lines when their environment is toxic to them and/or other
4) Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
this has a ton of potential for really exposing who applicants are at their roots. most of the time people go through life keeping up facades for different people or in different circumstances and to discuss where and how a person is able to be themselves the most and be at their most vulnerable is not only poetic, it’s beautiful in its inherent nuances
think of any fictional character you have ever loved from a fandom
you didn’t fall in love with them because you saw them grinding their foes to a pulp while swinging their mighty battle ax
(well maybe you did but it had a lot more to do with their majesty and less to do with the blood stains adorning their suit) i don’t even know what fandom i’m referring to now, maybe all of them at once?
anyway you fell in love with the moments when they were alone or with the people that brought out the best in them. the people that kept them going until the end of the day in real life or in spirit with their memory.
they stopped being powerful or clever or even atrocious and emotionally constipated and became relatable, justified and strong in their shortcomings and ideologies
You are the protagonist, this is your fandom, where do we fall in love with you and why is that?
5) Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
this one gives you an opportunity to narrate your own coming of age story as you perceive it which shows off your analytic and storytelling skills in addition to giving you more creative license with your narrative
now I know this is the third (maybe forth?) time I’ve discussed writing your own life’s story
which sounds pretty freaky and surreal and maybe i’m over simplifying it in a pitchy writing style that makes it sound easier than it really is
I mean you’re 18 years old, possibly younger, but assuming that you plan on dying of old age you have a long ways to go before you could write a lengthy memoir with meryl streep or morgan freeman narrating the film adaptation (patrick stewart could do it for you at any age just b/c he’s awesome)
point being that I get it, the world has always told you that your life really begins when the "real world” does and after hearing that mantra for so long, you’ve kind of come to believe it
and maybe if you’ve never been involved in a club or had friends, enemies, frenemies, hopes, aspirations and/or fears then maybe you could argue that you have nothing worth saying
but i assure you that if you’ve ever dreamed (more metaphorically but literally also applies too) then you’ve had life experience to base it off of
growing up doesn’t happen instantly or over night or even in a detectable amount of time
sometimes you wake up months later and realize that the way you think and choose has shifted and maybe it’s for the better (or worse)
but this change of state in mind is altered by many things. Maybe for the sake of time you need to focus in on one (or a few) events, but everyone has a story to tell.
Don’t be overly dramatic about it, but there’s a lot of leeway to explore and experiment with your written voice in this topic.
OK it’s 1:30 and I probably sounded as insane as Ashton Kutcher at the TCAs (I’m just exhausted and befuddled by italian homework, I swear) but that’s all I have for you
drop me any and all questions in my inbox and yes, same as last year I am available for essay writing help and revising
Once you have draft of an essay that you like, it’s time for the hard part: editing and revising. This is the part of the process where you can completely transform your essay, and it’s so important to do thoroughly.
Here are my essay editing tips:
Your essay should tell a story. It’s very difficult to write an interesting, engaging essay without a narrative arc of some kind. The prompts lend themselves to this kind of writing, so see what kind of story you can tell!
Make sure your essay is about you. If you’re writing on prompt #4, for example, don’t write about global warming and the threat it poses to society. Instead, write about your passion for protecting the environment and the personal journey you’ve made (or want to make) to help save the world.
Conceal the prompt. If you’re answering prompt #2, you should avoid saying things like “I learned from my failure” or “my earlier failure helped me achieve success”. Admissions officers will read thousands of essays like this. Answer the prompt subtly; show, don’t tell.
Make a list of the personal qualities you want your essay to convey. Characteristics like resilience or open-mindedness won’t come across in other areas of your application, so make your best qualities known through your writing. Ask friends or family about your distinctive qualities if you’re not sure—sometimes they know you better than you do.
Rhetorical devices, particularly imagery and metaphor, are your friends. Look for opportunities to use them in subtle and interesting ways.
Make sure your own voice comes through. I found that the best way to do this is to have other people read your essay. Parents, siblings, friends, and teachers who know you well should be able to read your essay and say “yes, this sounds like you”.
People will have suggestions when they read your essay. Take everything with a grain of salt; this is your essay, and you don’t have to make every recommended change if you don’t want to.
Remember, this isn’t a formal, academic essay. You can (and should) write in the first person, use contractions, and employ everyday diction. You don’t have to use a thesaurus, have a thesis statement, or cite your sources.
If you do absolutely nothing else, make sure that your last sentence packs a punch. Go out with a bang and send a strong message!
You may end up rewriting most of your essay, and that’s okay. I kept the first two paragraphs of my first draft intact, and completely changed the rest of my essay. If you think you can tell a better, more personal, and more engaging story, by all means go for it. You’ll be much happier with your result!
hi J i'm haven't such difficulty rewriting my common app essay from scratch like i do not have any inspiration nor do i feel like i have anything remotely notable or interesting to write about. i have struggled with finding a topic for a long time and i feel like it's because i don't even really know who i am so how am i supposed to convey who i am on paper??? you feel me??? do you have any tips and pointers to help a sister out because i hvae no hope
Okay yes I’ve been there and this is what I can tell you:
You convey who you are not through what you say but how you say it. Focus on this.
Don’t stress over your topic. Pick literally anything, and write in a way that shows who you are. I could write you an essay about milk or acorns or that one time my grandmother went in the hot tub in a full pantsuit if you wanted. And I could write it in such a way that you’d know it was mine. And you’d learn something about me. Start anywhere; I promise you’ll get where you need to go somehow.
You don’t have to cover every aspect of your existence in your common app essay.
Speak specifically, not broadly. Tell a story. Paint a picture. Don’t write vaguely or just in ideas. If you don’t tell a story, your imagery better be totally frickin on point.
That first point again. I cannot say this enough. It’s all about your voice.
If you actually want me to write you a <650 word essay about milk I will.
At fourteen I have rejected dresses because I find them too girly, and I don’t want to be girly. At fifteen I have learned to enjoy some bits of femininity. At sixteen the roots of feminist thought have been nurtured by my 10th grade english teacher and my unrelenting anger at the school dress code.
From the very first draft of my Common App essay, written at 12:40am
The sooner you submit, the better. I start staff training in just over two weeks and likely won’t have much time to devote to this until late September at the earliest once I fly back to school. The guarantee: all essays submitted by September 1st will be reviewed. If I’m not over capacity I’ll definitely be able to get to the ones submitted before September 5th. If we’ve already communicated about essays, don’t worry about the deadlines but get your stuff in ASAP!!
The Common Application should generally be completed once, with identical copies sent to all colleges. You should create a new version if you wish to correct an error discovered after submission or provide new information not available when you first submitted the application. It is not necessary to “customize” your Common Application for individual colleges. Individual college supplements and supplemental essay questions should be used to provide special information to different colleges. Below are the steps necessary to create an alternate version.
Step1: You must submit the Common Application to at least one institution first. You cannot create an alternate version until this has occurred.
Step 2: You must log out of the application then go to this special URL:
and login using your existing User Name and Password.
Step 3: Upon login you will be taken to the ‘Common Application’ page, where you will see information about the application you have already submitted. The ability to create an alternate version of your submitted Common Application is now activated, and you should click on the ‘Replicate’ link to make an alternate version of your submitted application. When this is complete, a second version will be visible on your screen and a special drop down list will appear in the upper right corner of your application. You can use this drop down to move between application versions.
All data from your original version of your Common Application will be transferred to your alternate version, with the exception of any documents that you uploaded. You may edit any of this information before you submit it to another institution.
You only need to go to the special URL the first time you create an alternative version. Thereafter, additional application versions can be made by going to the ‘Common Application’ section within your original Common Application and using the ‘Replicate’ link. You may make up to 10 versions, including the original version. You only need your original User Name and Password to access all versions.
When you create the first alternate version of your application you will see a simple confirmation message. If you create any additional alternate versions of your application you will need to complete two affirmation statements then click the 'OK’ button. You may also click the 'Cancel’ button to not create the new alternate version.
You will have a separate My Colleges page for each application version. Each institution can only be on the My Colleges list of one application version, and you can have a total of 20 institutions across all versions.
You can move an institution from one version to a different version at any time prior to submitting the Common App to that institution by selecting the college on the My Colleges page and clicking on the “Move College” button.
These are actual directions from the Common App instructions page. In case anyone needs this for any reason, here is your reference. It’s one of my biggest beliefs that in order to succeed in the college application process, you should be as informed as possible.
Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s no room for customization on your college app. Granted, don’t go over board but some programs favor some credentials over the other and some essays are attuned to particular schools and not others.
Hey so I know I am not a very active blogger…really inactive….but regardless,
I have been working on my common app essay and have found that I really appreciate outside opinions on my stuff. Writing essays has been super stressful.
So if anyone else feels the same way I think that it would be pretty cool to be able to get critique and support from a network.
So, if you are interested shoot me an ask or message with
- your URL
-a short note on whether you want to submit an essay, read an essay, or both
- if you are willing to read essays, how many are you willing to read?
THE GAME PLAN
In two or three days I will send everyone who wants an essay reviewed a url of someone who offered to review an essay. Then you can choose to submit your essay by ask anonymous or otherwise or by some other method that you and your reviewer work out.
REVIEWERS HAVE 7 DAYS to review and reply to your ask. If something comes up, shoot me a message and I can tell your submitter about any delay.
-try to be able to commit to a 7 day response period
- be somewhat positive
- have an open ask box
- be understanding
- have some semblance of an essay to submit.
Sorry for the long post,
My ask box is always open,
I totally forgot, this goes unsaid, but seriously, don’t take other people’s essays… Really? They are supposed to be about you…
For Q2 on the common app (about failure) what do you think about me writing about how my dislike of dance led me to musical theatre? (In a round about way). Going with the concept that I failed to enjoy dance and that led me to my choice of career.
What do you want this essay to say about you as a person other than that you like musical theatre? You have to be careful with essays like this because it’s easy to get caught up in the subject matter; be wary of the tendency to neglect the overall message. If you can write it well, it’ll be fine - true for most subjects - but if you’re struggling to find a way to make it unique you’ll probably want to choose a different topic.
Also, this isn’t directly related to the question, but it’s something I think needs to be said: perseverance, which is highly valued in the appblr/studyblr communities, isn’t always the right way to approach a problem, specifically in regards to writing. When you’re stuck on a piece of writing, be it fiction or nonfiction, personal or academic, the problem often lies farther back. Getting stuck is the piece’s way of telling you hey, this isn’t where you should be going with this! So, if you’re writing a piece and for some reason it just isn’t working, pushing yourself through to the end may actually be a mistake.
super stressed about my common app essay, I feel like every time I sit down to write I just get stuck. do you have any advice?
I made a list of questions that I wanted to answer with my essay and answered them all separately in really long paragraphs. Then I spliced together the parts that I liked from my answers into a “draft” and added more content/transitions where I felt they was necessary. Writing from start to finish stresses me out so this approach was really helpful for me personally. After you have the initial draft, it takes a lot of rewriting and tweaking to get it right, but it’s much less daunting imo
This addresses prompt #4 of the 2014-2015 cycle: “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?”
This is the first draft of my common app essay. After doing a couple quick writes about things I’m passionate about, I decided to write about a big passion of mine: reading. I noticed that I could frame this interest with an essay about my reading chair, which conveniently addressed one of my prompt options. I finished this iteration of my essay in June of 2014, right after I finished my junior year.
Whenever I have a free moment to myself, I can usually be found in a leather armchair in the far corner of the sunroom. It’s not particularly attractive or comfortable; it’s grown lumpy with age and the dull brown material is marred with scratches and tears. To make matters worse, it’s topped with a heinously ugly throw pillow, and my family dismisses it for more appealing seating alternatives. Most people look at that lump of leather and see a really ugly chair. To me, though, it is a place of power and imagination.
Back when the chair was young and matched the sunroom’s color scheme, it was my mother’s reading spot. According to familial legend, I would sit on the floor as a toddler and just watch her read for hours on end. Finally, she sat me on her lap and taught me how to decode the strange black markings on the paper. As my skills improved and my passion for words grew, I slowly usurped her throne and claimed the chair as my own—and then I discovered the magic.
When I was about 5 years old, the chair transformed into a magic tree house. I could pick up a book and wish to go to the wonderful places it described, and it would take me there as my eyes danced across the pages. Without ever leaving the sunroom, I would be transported to ancient Egypt or to imperial Japan. And when I closed the cover after half an hour or so, it would spin me back to reality. That chair saved me when I was angry or frustrated or sad. All I had to do was sit down and crack open a book, and the magic chair would let me forget my troubles for a while.
A few months later, I came into the sunroom to find the chair transformed into the Hogwarts Express. The train whisked me away to the wizarding world, and the journey changed my life completely. Throughout my years with Harry, I learned about the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. I began to accept myself as an extraordinary person, and I found that I was no longer angry or frustrated or sad. I had already known about the magic of words, but these seven books showed me the power within myself—a power that I no longer try to deny.
As I grew up, the chair continued to demonstrate its magic. It became a toy automobile and drove me through the Kingdom of Wisdom, and led me on the quest to discover that knowledge truly is power. The chair came to life when I first opened The Golden Compass, and I rode on the back of the panzerbjørn on a quest to discover my own freedom. That ugly brown armchair has led me through hundreds of stories, and it transforms into something new for each one. That chair has been spaceships, boats, broomsticks, and racecars. The journey can be harrowing at times; the chair is stained with memories of tears and meltdowns. But the chair has also given me joy and love and belonging, and I could not be more grateful.
I’ve always known that Hogwarts doesn’t exist in this world, and if there is a magic tree house I haven’t discovered it yet. Nonetheless, I know that magic is real; my ugly leather armchair has proven that to me. There is magic all around us: love, friendship, music, art. I see it everywhere now, and I no longer need the chair to show me that life is miraculous. Yet the written word is still a very special kind of magic, one that cannot be duplicated without the help of my hideous chair. I sit and read in my leather armchair every day, and it never fails to leave me enchanted.