common app essay

call it poetry –

the 150 patchwork characters above your instagram photos and below your profile picture; the 650 words you bled into your common app essay, baptized by midnight tears and shaky fingers on backlit keyboards; the 2 am text you sent your friend when she was sad, which read more like a love song than any top 50 hit; the scribbled words you placed among doodles and integrals on the back of your math test, the ones you almost hesitated to erase before you turned it in. 

call it art –  

that photo of your best friend laughing, even though it’s blurry and his left hand is out of frame; those pancakes, the ones the man at the other booth smirked at you for admiring before eating, laughing harshly before returning to his bitter coffee and significantly underappreciated waffles; the sunsets and sunrises that fill your photo stream, reminders that yesterday was beautiful and tomorrow might be too; the photo of yourself that you can’t decide if you quite like, but can’t delete either, your finger nervously hovering above it. post it. 

call it music –

the laughter of your friends from the other room that makes you smile, even though you missed the joke; the sound of your turn signal clicking, melting into the patter of raindrops on the windshield’s glass; the whistle of the summer wind outside of your old bedroom, the one that promised fairytales and twisters in sleepless childhood nights; the rhythm of your shoes in the empty hallway, reverberating with the sound of your arrival.

it is poetry.

it is art.

it is music. 

it is you.

Writing the Common App Essay: Part 3

See part 1part 2, and part 4!

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!

Good luck, and happy editing :)

Why I love the Common App Topics

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  

Six Techniques for Writing Your 150-Word Extracurricular Essay

If you’re applying early action, you’re probably working on one (or several) short extracurricular statements. First, a quick FAQ:

Q: Why do so many schools ask for these?
A: The Common App used to require students that students write a 1,000 character (approx. 150-word) extracurricular statement. When in 2013 the Common App dropped the requirement, many colleges kept it as a supplement.

Q: Do I really have to write it?
A: When students ask me this my usual response is: “Really? You’d rather not talk about that thing you’ve devoted hundreds of hours of your life to? Okay, good idea.” (I’m not actually that sarcastic, but that’s what I’m thinking.)

Q: Which extracurricular activity should I write about?
A: I write about that here.

Q: What should I say? How should I structure it?
A: Keep it simple.

    a. What did you literally do? What were your actual tasks?
    b. What did you learn?

With 150 words, there’s not a lot of room for much more. And while your main statement is more “show” than “tell,” this one will probably be more “tell.” Value content and information over style.

Here’s a great example:

Example 1: Journalism

VIOLENCE IN EGYPT ESCALATES. FINANCIAL CRISIS LEAVES EUROPE IN TURMOIL. My quest to become a journalist began by writing for the international column of my school newspaper, The Log. My specialty is international affairs; I’m the messenger who delivers news from different continents to the doorsteps of my community. Late-night editing, researching and re-writing is customary, but seeing my articles in print makes it all worthwhile. I’m the editor for this section, responsible for brainstorming ideas and catching mistakes. Each spell-check I make, each sentence I type out, and each article I polish will remain within the pages of The Log. Leading a heated after-school brainstorming session, watching my abstract thoughts materialize onscreen, holding the freshly printed articles in my hand—I write for this joyous process of creation. One day I’ll look back, knowing this is where I began developing the scrutiny, precision and rigor necessary to become a writer.

Three techniques you should steal:

1. Use active verbs to give a clear sense of what you’ve done:
Check out his active verbs: writing, delivering, editing, researching, re-writing, brainstorming, catching, polishing, leading, holding, knowing.

2. Tell us in one good clear sentence what the activity meant to you.

“I’m the messenger who delivers news from different continents to the doorsteps of my community.”


“One day I’ll look back, knowing that this is where I began to develop the scrutiny, precision and rigor necessary to become a writer.”

Okay, that’s three sentences. But notice how all three are different. (And if you’re gonna do three, they have to be different.)

3. You can “show” a little, but not too much.

In the first line:


And later:

“Leading a heated after-school brainstorming session, watching my abstract thoughts materialize onscreen, holding the freshly printed articles in my hand…”

The first one grabs our attention; the second paints a clear and dynamic picture. Keep ‘em short!

Example 2: Hospital Internship

When I applied to West Kendall Baptist Hospital, I was told they weren’t accepting applications from high schoolers. However, with a couple teacher recommendations, the administration gave me a shot at aiding the secretaries: I delivered papers, answered phone calls, and took in patients’ packages. Sadly, inadequate funding shut down large sections of the hospital and caused hundreds of employees–myself included–to lose their jobs. But then Miami Children’s Hospital announced openings for inpatient medical volunteers. Again, I faced denial, but then I got a chance to speak to the lead inpatient medical physician and cited my previous experience. While working at MCH, I delivered samples, took down visitor information, administered questionnaires, and organized records. I helped ease the work of the nurses and doctors, while delivering medicine and smiles to dozens of patients. I may not have directly saved any lives, but I’d like to think I helped.

Three more techniques you can steal:

4. Start with a “problem to be solved.”

Did you initially face an obstacle? In the first sentence say what it was, then in another sentence say how you worked through it. That’ll show grit. Note that this essay has not one, but two obstacles. And each time the writer worked through it in just one sentence. Brevity ftw.

5. Focus on specific impact. (Say whom you helped and how.)

Read the ending again:

“I helped ease the work of the nurses and doctors, while delivering medicine and smiles to dozens of patients. I may not have directly saved any lives, but I’d like to think I helped.”

This applies to fundraisers too (say how much you raised and for whom) and sports (who’d you impact and how?).

6. Write it long first, then cut it.

Both these students started with 250-300 word statements (get all the content on the page first). Then trim ruthlessly, cutting any repetitive or unnecessary words.

Cliches to avoid for essays

The Prospect

1. The Immigrant Essay

Going back over the essays I received during the college essay extravaganza, 50% of the Common App essays I read were about students and their families moving to the US and learning to adjust. Now, I’m not saying that your familial struggles aren’t intense and worthy of talking about; after all, many students wrote about the loneliness they felt being the only new kid in school or having to adjust to American customs, and those are all absolutely valid conversations.

However, if you put all of these “moving to America” stories in a pile and read them one after another, they start to bleed together. The story lines and characters all sound the same. And for you, that means less of a chance to stand out and more of a chance of being labeled “one of those immigrant kids”. Is it fair? Absolutely not. Is that the way it is? Unfortunately, yes.

2. The “They Taught Me More Than I Taught Them” Essay

Please for the love of all that is admissions don’t write about the time you went on a service trip to a third-world country and learned from the locals. Not only does it typically come across as condescending and privileged (since most high school students are not aware of how to talk about cultures in politically correct terms), but it’s also so overdone and bland.

3. The “Ski Slope” Essay

When many students answer the quintessential “talk about a time you overcame an obstacle” prompt, they tend to write something that I call the “ski slope” essay. In this scenario, the author was given a physical challenge (like a ski slope, mountain, scary water slide ride, etc.) and was eventually convinced overcome it. Again, it’s an essay that I’ve seen over and over (and over) again, and there’s no real way to write these essays well. They usually involve a lot of cliche adjectives and some other person convincing the writer to go down the slope. Inspiring? Not at all.

Look at it this way: Thousands of people learn how to ski every year; it’s boring and totally not unique. If you’re going to write about an obstacle, it needs to be an obstacle that only 0.00005% of the world has overcome. Otherwise, you’re just like everybody else.

4. The “Look at How Super Deep I Am” Essay

Kids, don’t try to go on a philosophical rant in your college essays. Not only do you typically sound like a pretentious, self-important twerp pulling stuff out of your butt (and admissions officers know it), but these tirades also tell the reader absolutely nothing about you as as potential member of a college. Don’t get meta. If you want to talk about all the great deep thoughts inside your head, start a blog.

5. The All-Dialogue Essay

Note: Spending half of your 650 words going through a conversation you had with your sister is a complete snore and a total waste of time and space. Cut our dialogue unless it’s funny or actually moves the story along. Something like this is just really dull fluff:

“Sister,”I said to her.

“Yes?” she said back.

She looked at me with angst. “What?” she asked again.

Three lines in and you’re bored already, right?

6. The Way-Too-Extended Metaphor Essay

What do dumplings, crayons, and hoop earrings have in common? They’re all inanimate objects that have been used as extended metaphors in college essays, and all of those essays were not good.

Pulling off the extended metaphor essay is hard, and as you’ve learned by now, it’s best to go into essay writing with the mentality that you are the rule, not the exception. So stop trying to compare your life to a squashed kumquat you saw on the side of the road and find a different topic.

7. The “Lesson about Failure Where You Didn’t Really Fail” Essay

Remember that an admissions essay is still a story, and the best heroes and heroines have legitimate pitfalls. If your biggest failure is that you had a hangnail but you eventually took care of it, not only do you look shallow, but you also look dull. Failures need to be actual heart-stopping, “OMG, NOOO!” failures. Either commit to going all the way or avoid writing this type of essay altogether.

8. The Bat Mitzvah Essay

When the Common App prompt asks for something that marked your transition into adulthood, stay away from cultural or religious events that actually mark adulthood, like a bar/bat mitzvah or a confirmation ceremony or something. The best essays about transitions into adulthood deal with unforeseen shifts, not obvious ones (for example, my friend wrote about the different types of boxers he bought throughout high school. Shift to adulthood? Yes. Totally freaking clever? Heck yeah).

9. The Straight Up Cliche Essay

There are many topics that are way overdone besides the ones listed above. Some examples of what I mean:

  • The “What I learned at this academic conference/camp/event” essay
  • The “What my mom/dad/family taught me” essay
  • The “How I felt about moving to a whole new place or being in a new environment” essay
  • The “How I learned to fit in” essay
  • The “Death of person x” essay
  • The “How my parents’ divorce changed me” essay
  • The “Here’s a very vague essay about my family’s culture” essay

Again, these are just a few of the many examples of cliche essays.


How to Make Your Mediocre Extracurricular Essay Better (in About 30 Minutes)

Here’s how to take your essay from “mediocre” to “better” in about 30 minutes:

1. Look at your essay, identify the values you gained through your extracurricular activity, and highlight them in bold.

2. Ask yourself: are these values predictable? Could someone who hasn’t read my essay, in other words, guess what lessons I learned from this activity without reading it?

  • Example of predictable values for violin: discipline, commitment, hard work
  • Example of unpredictable values for violin: privacy, risk, personal integrity

Isn’t that second set of values already a more interesting essay? 

(Bonus tip: make sure all your values are clearly different. In example above, how are “discipline, commitment and hard work” different?) 

So how do you turn your predictable values into unpredictable ones?

Cut the predictable values, then use your beautiful, infinite imagination to come up with new, unpredictable values. Dig deep. Think about specific moments of difficulty. How’d you work through them? If it feels tangential at first, keep digging; you might strike gold.

Why will this only take you 30 minutes?

Because you are smart and original and totally competent.

Here’s another one! Threw this together with some tips that my dad gave me when I was writing my Common App essay. I know it’s a bit repetitive about “tell your story” but according to dad (who was on the admissions board for graduate school) it’s crucial that you convey your message in a way that’s both not-boring and informative. Anyway, if you want clarification, feel free to message me! As always, please don’t take credit for this or steal it because I literally spent forever on this.

PS if you want to see how exactly I made this, keep an eye out for a surprise (it’s a video)! I’m going to start editing the video now so hopefully I’ll have it up within the next hour :)

anonymous asked:

how do you work on college apps with such terrible adhd because i literally cannot even sit down to start, and when i do it takes 8 hours because i keep wandering even though i dont want to ?


Note: People have requested that I supplement these kinds of posts with a podcast/audio form for those that can’t focus on large bodies of text. Please tell me your thoughts in my inbox!


I recommend you look at my ADHD masterposts if you haven’t already (part 1 and 2.) 

I’m in the same boat as you, honestly ;; The app is hard for anyone, let alone people who can’t regulate their attention well enough to even be introspective in the first place. Hopefully, my guidelines can help you like they’ve helped me!

I refrained from talking about how to write the common app, and focused (ha) more on how to plan and write the essay itself, especially when you have regulation issues! 

1. Stop treating it as a necessity. 

This is less a school essay, and more an opportunity to talk about literally anything that you find really exemplifies certain parts of you. You can format the Common App in whatever way you find proper and applicable, meaning that you have full creative freedom with this! 

I’m personally diverging from the traditional essay format, and I strongly encourage that you try it out to see what you prefer. Keep in mind that you also want your essay to tell a story that drills into the very core of who you are, a particular trait of yours, and/or a small event that ties into a larger idea.  Be introspective, and if that means coming to unconventional conclusions/formats, so be it! 

Make sure to read examples of successful common app essay, just to get an idea of what creativity can mean.

2. Don’t force creativity 

ADHD is usually associated with boosts in creativity, but this doesn’t mean that creativity flows on demand-not to mention that your common app essay doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be incredibly creative in the first place.  You still want to be authentic to who you are, and if you’re not a creative person, don’t try to be. Also, don’t avoid sitting down and working on your essay just because you’re stuck on something like a  creative intro (which brings me to my next point.) 

3. Don’t force it in general 

Inspiration comes in small, scattered bursts. You may be at a bus station, or eating lunch when suddenly, something hits you and you think you have a solid (prospective) idea for your essay. Write it down! Don’t forget it, even if, as the day goes by, you realize it’s not as strong of a topic as you thought. Work whenever inspiration hits, and when it does, don’t stop writing until you’ve come to a satisfactory stopping point. This doesn’t mean that you should put the essay off until you have inspiration, but just make sure to take advantage of the opportunities when you do. 

Note: Often times, you need to just start working on it, regardless of quality. Even if you produce nothing relevant in the first couple of drafts, that process is crucial in order for you to eventually open doors to better ideas. If you work now, you’ll have more time to improve the quality of your ideas. 

4. Work informally

Nobody is reading your brainstorming draft. Make typos, write continuously for five minutes regardless of what you’re typing, use abbreviations and internet slang–that’s what your natural thought process looks like. You don’t need to MLA format your brain 24/7; the more fluid your thought process, the easier it will be to select standout ideas to then format into a more organized outline, and eventually, an incredible essay. We’re naturally creatures of chaos, so it would put less pressure on us to be comfortable during the first stages of writing. 

5. Go to a public area

Like most of us, I feel like being at home only makes it harder for me to focus. Go to a coffee shop, or public area and see if it helps! These are places I like to say have ambient activity-there’s a constant stream of tolerable, and even enjoyable sounds and people coming and going, and that subtle touch of energy is just enough to prevent the environment from being disengaging or boring. 

If you can’t go to a coffee shop or a public area, try the site below! It simulates the same feeling I mentioned above. 


6. Notice your surroundings

This shouldn’t be hard, because we probably do it more often than we’d like to, but take notice of the seemingly unimportant things in your life from time to time. A person may like the way the light reflects on the windowpane, but an artist will draw inspiration from that to create a piece. Be the artist! Extract information and inspiration from normalcy, and experiment with where that takes you. Be careful not to become too distracted with that kind of simulation, though! 

7. Set a timer

If you’re worried with how “sitting down and writing until you can’t write anymore” is going to fare with you (that may result in you neglecting other work) then set a timer. Tell yourself that you’re going to work on the essay for, say, 25 minutes (pomodoro technique) and then take a break, or to work on it for no more than 2 hours a day. After the allotted time has passed, jot down any final ideas you have and slowly come to a halt in your brainstorming/writing process. If you have any more ideas later on, you can always jot them down and develop them another time or day. 

I have some general techniques in my masterposts that may help as well, such as working with other people, or using technology to aide you in focusing! Best of luck!! 


WRITING THE COMMON APP ESSAY (applies to most essay prompts as well) by @ccllege


Writing the Common App Essay: Part 2

See part 1, part 3, and part 4!

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.

How to Write a “Why Us?” Essay - Part 2

Part 2: What to Include in Your Essay

Earlier we discussed what to avoid when writing your “Why Us?” college application essays. Today, let’s get positive and talk about what should be in there.

DO: Think of this as a “Why we are perfect for each other” essay.
Imagine you’re on a date and the person sitting across from you leans in to ask, “So, why do you like me?” You can’t just say, “Because you’re hot.” You’re gonna need to be a little more specific. How do you do this? Here’s how:

DO: Fold a piece of paper in half to create two columns, then at the top label one “What I want” and the other “What they have.”
As you’re researching the school, bullet-point 10-15 specific, concrete reasons why you and the school are a great match for one another.

So, for example, if the school has a music and medicine program, put that in the right column. Next to it, in the left column, say why that’s the perfect program for you. Or maybe you’re interested in studying Chinese? Put that it in the left column and then look for something related to learning Chinese that the school offers—either academically or extracurricularly (an actual word but don’t use it in your essay)—and put that it in the right column. How does this help? It takes your essay from:

“Michigan’s well-known legacy, its fantastic football team and spectacular location in Ann Arbor are just a few reasons why I believe UM is the place for me.” #supergeneric


“I look forward to Academic Argumentation (225) and Professional Writing (229), as I believe these courses will provide me with a firm basis in journalistic writing technique and improve my abilities to write analytically and develop well-supported arguments. Furthermore, the Professional Writing course will teach me how to write in a concise, straightforward style, a skill vital to a journalist.” #likeaboss

See what he’s done there?

DO: Mention specific classes, professors, clubs and activities that you will actually be excited about being a part of.
And don’t BS it. Imagine yourself on campus as a freshman. What are you doing? What conversations are you having? How are you involved? I want to say “You can’t get too specific,” although I’m sure you could if you try … On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “I want to be involved in all the campus activities!” and 10 being “There was a particular student’s dorm window I looked in during the campus walking tour and I saw her reading a Microecon book and drinking a Strawberries Wild from Jamba Juice—my favorite—and I thought—” (Slow down, creeper. And how did you know what flavor it was??) Anyway, keep it at like a 7 or an 8. And make sure all your details are relevant and appropriate. Here’s a good gauge to know what’s relevant and appropriate. Ask:

  • Am I showing that I’ve done my research?
  • Am I demonstrating my intelligence?
  • Am I connecting what they have to with what I have?

If you’re doing all three, keep it in. If you’re not doing any of these, consider cutting. And I know I said that third thing already, but it’s worth repeating: often students only say why the school is awesome. But remember that this essay is not about why the school is awesome. The school knows it’s awesome; the admissions readers spend a lot of their time telling students like you why it’s awesome.

Finally …

DO: Remember this is another chance to show a few more of your skills/talents/interests/passions.
Make a list of 10 things you definitely want the school to know about you. Ask yourself: are all these values/qualities in my main essay or another supplement? If not, the “Why us?” may be a place to include a few more details about who you are. But remember: connect it to some awesome opportunity/program/offering at or near the school.

Okay, I said I was finished but here’s one more: If the school doesn’t have a particular program/opportunity you’re looking for, don’t freak out. Look at this not as a dead end, but as an opportunity.

DO: Offer to start something.
And by “something” I mean a club, group, or activity.

Fair warning here, though:

DON’T: Offer to start something that you probably can’t start.
Your freshman year, for example, you probably won’t start a brand new International Studies and Dance double major. You might, however, offer to start the school’s first West Indian Dance Company. Which reminds me:

MAKE SURE THEY DON’T ALREADY HAVE A WEST INDIAN DANCE COMPANY. Or whatever it is you’re offering to start.

And I’m not saying you shouldn’t push for that International Studies and Dance double major once you’Re there … just get into the school first.

You can push for the double major your sophomore year.

Click here for Part 1 of this series.

My college essay writing process

If anyone’s interested here’s what I do.
1. Look at the prompt
1a. Check if there’s any overlap with previous prompts I’ve written to before: this could mean reusing parts of or whole essays
2. If it’s a fresh prompt you gotta be a big girl. Free write. Don’t be afraid of rambling just let out all of your emotions and ideas in sentence form. Don’t pay attention to the word limit or cohesiveness just go for it.
3. At this point, you’ve probably hit writers block since all your frustration is out. Good. Now go to or whatever to see how much bs you’ve written and how much over or under you are of the limit. If you’re under, okay you have space to write more if you want. If over, time to cut it down a bit.
4. Look for any patterns or possible cohesiveness in your essay. See what ideas you can link together and which ones you can take out that are too weak, or offensive, or you just don’t like them or don’t relate to the prompt.
5. Move stuff around. Put like ideas together. Try to have some sort of order to the ideas like a flow.
6. Fix your grammar.
7. Look for an intro body and conclusion to your essay. If there isn’t throw it in.
8. Read it out loud. Does it sound strong and powerful? Does your author’s voice shine through? How do you know? Paste it to Hemingway. Do most of what Hemingway tells you; lose adverbs, more active verbs, less passive voice.
9. Send it to your guidance counselor and ask them to read it and give feedback.
10. Take feedback and fix it.
Try to get the released essays done over the summer. I hope yall get into wherever you’re applying! Let me know if this was helpful.


  • your essay is your opportunity to show something about you that doesn’t come across elsewhere in your application.
  • this is about you as an individual.
  • your essay should have a unique voice to it, making it an essay that only you could have written
  • colleges will often cross-reference your essay with your ACT writing / SAT writing scores for quality, meaning it’s important you write your own essay.


  • clearly address the essay prompt/question.
  • follow all instructions, such as word count (which is strict) and suggested components (if they recommend using multiple paragraphs, etc)
  • triple-check that your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are correct.
  • avoid tangents and stick to your point.
  • at the same time, provide context succinctly. don’t assume your reader knows what you mean when you use specialized language.
  • you probably don’t have the same sense of humor as your reader, so don’t rely on jokes throughout to make it interesting.
  • revise it ruthlessly.
  • ask your english teacher if they can revise it for you (considerately, and if you know they might have time).
  • have your parents and friends revise it too. fresh eyes always help.


  • you don’t have to use a suggested topic, like a hobby. if the essay is asking about a significant turning point in your life, however, and that hobby played a major part in it, then maybe it’s a good idea to talk about when you learned to embroider.
  • use it to explain your application. if there’s a prompt about going through a struggle and your grades dipped when your parents got divorced, talk about how that affected your life.
  • choose a topic that your best friend could recognize you by if she didn’t know who had written the essay.
  • your reader should be able to tell why you picked that topic. show them why it’s special to you.
  • colleges value passion, ambition, and personal dedication to a cause over almost all else. demonstrate that you have that.
  • talk about what happened, but more about why it happened and what it did for your character development.
  • avoid lying. sincerity is hard to convey but easy to detect.
Highlights from my College Essays this Year

EDIT: I had this queued to post on May 1st, but for whatever reason it never did. I’m posting this now because a few of you have asked me about some of my essays. These are all from 2014-2015. These are mostly opening lines btw

  • “Like most moments in my life, my first impression of academia can be summarized by Stephen Sondheim lyrics: bizarre; fixed; cold.” (Stanford)
  • “I think eighth-grade-me would hate myself for painting.” (Columbia)
  • “For as long as I can remember I’ve concocted elaborate assassination plots against myself” (Stanford)
  • “Ever since I draped an executioner’s hood over my face, shredded bundles of lettuce, and sent the resulting “Veganism” PSA to my entire school on April Fool’s Day, people told me I’m overly dramatic.” (Brown)
  • “From the age of eleven I’ve lusted for revolution.” (Brown)
  • “Dear Brown: You’re not like the other colleges.”
  • “In her grand Act I finale (“Take-A,Take-A,Take Me/Spooky College Wait Dream”), the candidate anxiously envisions her UChicago dream while encouraged by visions of Steven Levitt and Carl Sagan, whilst dancing cups of Ramen Noodles surround her.” (UChicago-I wrote the whole thing like a summary of a musical)


i have no idea what i’m doing