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Articles & Advice > College Admission > Articles

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Using Dialogue in Your College Application Essay

Admission officers are swamped. They want to be wowed by hopeful students' applications—including their admission essays. Try using dialogue to stand out!

by Ashley Wellington Founder, Mint Tutors LLC

Last Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Originally Posted: Aug 19, 2014

Admission officers are swamped with applications.   Particularly at very selective institutions, they need to make quick judgements about students' applications and personal statements. This makes the opening line of that application essay critical. If you want to wow them from the get-go, follow the advice below. 

Will your essay get tossed in the "eh" pile?

“I hate to break it to you, but your essay might not get read,” my college counselor remarked without even looking up from his computer as I nervously handed him my first draft. I was horrified at the time, but he was, and still is, right. Just picture it: admission officers, especially those for the most selective institutions, are sifting through a record number of applications and have about three months to eliminate the majority of those deserving, accomplished candidates.

And guess what? When it comes to the Ivy League and their ilk, most of those applicants look identical on paper, with comparable grades, test scores, activity lists, accolades, and course loads. After pulling several weeks’ worth of consecutive all-nighters, the admission officers’ eyes start to blur, and they can barely differentiate among the nation’s best and brightest teenagers, all eagerly vying for a coveted spot in their school’s freshman class. As they flip through the paperwork of yet another valedictorian, someone remarks, “Annie Applicant looks like a run-of-the-mill achieve-o-tron.” But they haven’t gotten to the essays yet, and that’s where students really set themselves apart! They note items on the transcript—over 200 hours of volunteer work at a local special needs daycare, a patent application, a regional award for a short story, the lead role in three school musicals—that really fascinates them, so they assume the essay will shed light on some of these impressive endeavors. Right?

Then they hit the first line of her personal statement. “For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. When I was younger, books were my escape. I could really relate to the characters and would get lost in various stories for hours at a time. If I had a bad day, I would curl up with a book.”

Before the admission officers even hit the fourth sentence, they’ve tossed her file into the “eh” pile, purgatory for applicants who don’t have the writing chops to match their academic records. Have Annie’s chances of admission been dashed? Not necessarily, but the uphill battle is infinitely steeper now that she’s done nothing to set herself apart from the other applicants who, shockingly, also love to read.

Related: How to Write a Great College Admission Essay, Step-by-Step

Perhaps the third paragraph is where Annie’s narrative really comes alive as she weaves readers through her favorite novels and relates characters to her everyday life, giving insight into her world, but who would read that far? The opening is so generic that admission officers simply don’t have time to give Annie the benefit of the doubt; they quickly move on to their discussion of Joe College, whose first line describing his sublime experience as Townsperson #5 in his school play makes them laugh out loud.

So how do students master that strong opening without seeming too gimmicky or desperate? How do they make the gatekeepers to the country’s top schools stop and think, “Wow, even though I am going blind from squinting at countless single-spaced pages, I sure wish this particular essay were longer than 650 words!”? A great way to capture admission officers’ attention in the application essay is starting with dialogue. This approach is certainly not a Band-Aid for an otherwise mediocre essay, but it might just keep someone reading long enough to get to know you as an applicant. But before you slap a witty exchange on the top of your essay, make sure you heed these warnings:

Don’t make the other person too interesting

You open with: “‘Hey, are you free to come to the environmental club meeting?’ asked my friend Kevin, who was canvassing the library to recruit helpers for the school-wide solar panel installation project he would be pitching at the next faculty meeting.

‘Sorry, but I’ve got miles to go before I sleep!’ I tell him as I launch back into my independent research project on the theme of depression in Robert Frost’s poetry.”

How might admission officers respond to this exchange? Suddenly, they are more interested in Kevin than they are in you. Then, they put your application aside and look to see if there are any applicants named Kevin from your school so they can learn more about this unique solar panel project.

You should have used Kevin’s voice as a sounding board for expressing your own passions and beliefs, not as the force driving the conversation. You have to remember that you’re selling yourself, not your friends, and you don’t want to be overshadowed by your own essay’s supporting cast.

Keep your language natural

You open with: “’I have to scamper off to my occupation of preparing caffeinated beverages!’ I elucidate for the benefit of my roommate, Natalie, as I ambulate through our means of egress.”

Admission officers will read that, scratch their heads, and think, “Yeah, I see that she knows some SAT words, but did she mean, ‘I’ve got to run to my job at the coffee shop!’ I shout to Natalie as I scamper out the door”? That version would have saved time and sounded more like an authentic teenager. Now they really have no idea who you are, and even worse, they probably find you annoying.

Related: How to Show, Don't Tell to Boost Your Writing for School and Beyond

...but not too natural

You open with: “’I’m so wiped I don't even know what to do. Like, I can’t even. It’s ridic!’ I whine as my BFF Selena sits down beside me in English class.”

Admission officers ask themselves, “Is this her real essay? Someone must have hacked her Common App account, because no one would risk coming across as this vapid!” They then worry that you won’t be able to hold your own in seminars on War and Peace when you don’t have the attention span to finish typing the word “ridiculous.” Even if you sound that way in real life (I hope not!), you need to be cognizant of the fact that an essay this important requires you to bring your verbal A-game.

Related:  What NOT to Do in Your College Application Essay

In general, don’t be afraid to lead off with an in-medias-res conversational tidbit that will help you come to life. Here's an example:

“You ski for how many miles? Then you shoot a rifle?” Andy gasped in disbelief as I explained that I couldn’t hang out after school because I had to go to the range and practice my aim for my upcoming biathlon.

“And every time I miss the target, I have to ski a 150-meter penalty loop just for good measure,” I added, chuckling as Andy’s jaw dropped.

Take your time thinking about what examples best represent you as an applicant in the context of the application essay prompts given. Then, once you narrow your options to a worthy anecdote, explore that moment—and the unique, enchanting, entrancing dialogue within.

Looking for more application essay advice? We've got you covered. Check out our College Admission section now!

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dialogue in common app essay

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Last updated February 9, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 12 Common App Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

12 Common App Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

If you’re applying to college, chances are you’re using the Common Application. And if you’re using the Common Application, then you’re definitely writing a Common Application essay.

But how do you write a Common App essay? More specifically, how do you write a good one that stands out to admissions officers? And hey—what does a good Common App essay even look like?

Ah, there it is. That last question is one nearly all students applying to college ask. That’s why example essays are so important. They help you sort through all the noise of the college admissions process to see exactly what a Common App essay can and should be.

We’ve compiled some of our favorite college essays for you to read. Even better, our team of former admissions officers has commented on and graded every single essay to guide you through what works (and doesn’t).

Let’s get to it.

The 2022-2023 Common Application Essay Prompts

First, we should start out by looking at the Common Application essay prompts. Sometimes the prompts change slightly from year to year, but they tend to remain fairly similar.

The Common App essay prompts are just that. Prompts. They prompt you to write an essay by giving you a place to start. They ask questions and list places you can start. You only have to choose one prompt to answer.

Here they are, listed in the order provided by the Common App:

  • 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.

The prompts cover a range of topics that’s broad enough to let you write about just about anything.

But let us let you in on a little secret: how you answer the Common Application prompt matters less than the quality of the essay you write. After all, you can always choose the open-ended Prompt #7 option.

So our advice is to start with the essay and then choose a prompt to fit. Identifying a topic that resonates with you, regardless of the prompt, will produce the best essay possible. (And if you need some guidance about how to choose a Common App essay topic, check out our college essay writing guide .)

3 Tips for Writing Your Common Application Essay

Overall, your Common App essay should be the centerpiece of your college application. It should work to tie together your cohesive application narrative , and it should give admissions officers a genuine sense of who you are. Let's take a look at a few specific tips for writing a good Common App essay.

Write about a meaningful topic.

Think about the purpose of a Common App essay. It’s really your one chance to communicate directly with your admissions officers. Sure, your application has all your grades and classes and activities, but none of those things is actually you. The Common App essay exists so you can tell admissions officers information they can’t find anywhere else in your application. Think of it like a poetic introduction to who you are. Because you only have 650 words to make your impression, your essay should get straight to it. Choose a topic that reflects something deeply meaningful to who you are.

Write about a strength.

If your Common App essay is like an introduction, then you also want to make a good impression. That means that your essay should communicate one of your core strengths. Maybe you're the most compassionate person in the world. Maybe you’re so inventive that you can make anything out of a paperclip and a rock. Or maybe you’re so wise that everyone comes to you for advice. Whatever strength makes you who you are, let it shine through in your Common Application essay.

Pay attention to the structure of your essay.

As you’ll see in the “Bad” Common App Essay Examples section below, unorganized essays are hard to read. Admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of applications in a single year, so they go through them fast. That means that your essay needs to grab their attention and easily guide them through your narrative. Try your best to organize your paragraphs into coherent ideas and organize them in a way that logically draws your reader through the story you’re telling.

Now keep those tips in mind as we go through each of these example essays.

Best Common App Essay Examples

There’s no single correct way to write a Common App essay, but the best ones grab your attention and keep it. They raise interesting questions, stories, and solutions. Writers reflect meaningfully on important topics, and they do so with a kind of elegance that’s hard to pinpoint. Writers use specific details and examples to set the scene. The best essays have narratives cohere perfectly and guide readers seamlessly through the story at hand.

Reading outstanding Common App essays can help you know what to aim for. Not every winning Common App essay has to look like the ones in this section, but they’ll give you a place to get started.

In particular, take note of the admissions officers’ comments and begin thinking about how you can apply these lessons to your own Common App essay.

Example #1: Board Game Family

Common App Prompt #1

“Professor Plum in the kitchen with the candlestick!”(( Opening with dialogue can be a risky choice, especially if it distracts the reader instead of drawing them in. But this essay uses opening dialogue as an effective hook to compel the reader to read on.)) My sister triumphed. I begrudgingly set down my clue tracker and opened the CONFIDENTIAL envelope. Indeed, her theory was correct. The thing about growing up in a board game family is that you quickly learn how to be a sore loser. In my home, countless sibling wars have been waged over an unjust hand of Gin Rummy or an out-of-bounds toe in Twister. But what I lack in sibling sportsmanship I make up for in wits. Playing board games with my family has taught me that the key to winning any game is resilience, sound strategy, and a little bit of charm(( This introduction has some fun language. And with this sentence, the writer gets straight to the heart of their essay. )) .

Candy Land was my gateway game, and it remains one of my favorites to play with my younger siblings. The game itself is simple: pick a card and move to the corresponding color on the board. First one to King Candy’s Castle wins. But, like life, the journey to the castle is full of setbacks. One unlucky draw, and you’ll lose half your progress. Having made many journeys up Candy Mountain, I grew accustomed to these setbacks. As I entered high school, I began facing real-world roadblocks that threatened to send me ten steps backward. My family moved towns, and the transition proved difficult. I felt behind in the new curriculum and lonely at a new school. Establishing a Board Game club helped me find friends and start my journey back toward Candy Castle.

As I grew older, I gravitated toward more difficult games like Risk. Unlike Candy Land, Risk requires strategy. Sure, randomly conquering territories might get you somewhere, but I learned that the most successful crusades are those that feature careful planning. Risk takes up our entire kitchen table, and we’ll play for hours at a time. My brother and I like to establish secret ententes. With whispered asides and unnoticed bathroom breaks, we work together to ensure victory. And when something doesn’t go our way, we revise our strategy and prepare for the next round. Risk isn’t just about taking risks–it’s about learning when to act, what to do, and who to align yourself with. It’s a lesson that applies to life outside the kitchen table, too.

While I’ve learned from every game I’ve played, the most impactful has been Scrabble(( This excerpt shows great personality, reflection, and personal growth.)) . When I started studying for the SATs, my family took up Scrabble. At first, Scrabble almost broke us. Dictionaries were slammed shut, points miscalculated, and tiles mysteriously lost. But with each new game, the board set anew, we remembered our mission: to help me practice vocabulary. With this fresh perspective, we began to work together. Instead of playing to win, we played to challenge each other and ourselves. For every non-word word I put on the board, I had to plead my case. Arguments like “Ahot” is synonymous with cold because of the root “a,” meaning “without” and “Truc” is a fun French word that we should have anglicized a long time ago anyway earned me both eyerolls and points. The more charming I was, the more sound my defense became, and the more likely my family was to concede. Together, we made our own rules and unforgettable memories.

I’ve summited Candy Mountain thousands of times and founded more countries than I can count. Our Scrabble games don’t look like everyone else’s, but these moments around my kitchen table, filled with laughter and rivalries, white lies and trusted alliances, are ones I will always cherish. They have made me into the thoughtful and strategic person I am today. More importantly, they’ve taught me that there’s a lot to learn when you’re having fun(( The writer concludes with this intentional reflection that leaves no question in the reader’s mind about what the main takeaway from the essay should be.)) .

AO Notes on Board Game Family

This essay takes a fun topic, board games, and turns it into a fun college essay. Most importantly, the writer doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the games themselves. Instead, they use the games as a way to talk about themself. That’s the key in an essay like this.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Humor: We get a strong sense of the writer’s personality through their humor. It’s okay to show some personality in your college essays!
  • Meaning : Through each of these stories, we learn a lot about the writer’s family background. There’s a clear picture of what their home looked like growing up, so we can easily see how they developed into who they are today.
  • Action steps: The writer doesn’t just describe fun family game nights. They explicitly connect these game nights to their determination as a player, sibling, and student. We see the steps they took to make new friends, win alongside their brother, and study for the SATs.

Example #2: The Bowl that Taught Me Not to Quit

Common App Prompt #2

The clay felt cold against my skin as my knees hugged the wheel for dear life(( With this opening, we jump right into the writer’s emotions. They don’t have to tell us explicitly what they’re feeling—we can feel that they are anxious from their description alone. It’s a wonderful example of “show, not tell.”)) . Don’t. Fall. Over. I begged the clay to stay put. In the back of my mind, I heard the instructor saying, “The clay will mirror what you do. If you are steady, the clay will be steady.” I planted my feet firmly on the floor and stared my bowl-to-be dead in the eye.

My journey as a ceramicist began as many journeys do: with a scolding from my mother. She said that I was wasting my summer. I needed a hobby. Flipping through the community center catalog, my gaze landed on Ceramics 101: Beginners. I decided to take on the wheel.

Soon, I was captivated. For the last three thousand years, ceramicists have been throwing clay to create pottery that is quicker to make and more reliable than hand-crafted pottery. This past summer, as I developed my pottery skills, I learned about more than clay. I learned about myself.

To start any project, there’s the matter of choosing which clay to use. When it came time for my first throw, I chose stoneware clay for its durability. I grabbed a slab, dabbed it with water, and tossed it on the wheel, just as the teacher had instructed. My foot gently pressed the wheel’s pedal, a vehicle for which I was certainly not licensed. Covered in wet clay, I pressed my hands against the slab, trying to shape it. But it wobbled(( And here we have the main conflict: things did not go as expected. As readers, we ask ourselves: what will the writer do now?)) . It spun completely out of control. I had clay in my hair and up my sleeves. My project, it seemed, was already ruined.

While I didn’t expect to be a ceramics savant, I did expect to make it through the first class without a mud bath. I felt like a failure as I watched all the other students, whose clay was taking shape on gracefully spinning wheels. I was embarrassed. I wanted to quit. And I was used to quitting, having never been able to hold down an extracurricular activity throughout high school(( With this simple sentence, we learn that the writer has struggled with overcoming challenges in the past. )) . Cutting my losses would be quicker than cleaning the clay from my clothes, so I began to wipe off my hands and pack up my things. The instructor approached me, explaining that what had just happened was perfectly normal. She urged me to try again. I didn’t want to, but her presence made me stay.

For the rest of the class, the instructor hovered by my wheel. She was ready to lend a hand when necessary. She was my safety net, and I felt more confident to continue. I squeezed my clay out and down with the care of a first-time mom. It began to look more like a bowl and less like a mound of dirt. As I watched the bowl come into being, I felt tears prick my eyes. I felt silly for crying at something so simple, but it wasn’t so simple after all. A bowl materialized from my bare hands, all because I didn’t quit.

Quitting(( This paragraph has wonderful reflection.)) is easy, and I’ve taken the easy road more times than I can count. But it ended the day of that ceramics class. If you leave clay untended, it will dry out and become useless. Before ceramics, I hadn’t been tending to myself. I grew dry, cracking under the weight of any external pressures. But my teacher taught me that a little more persistence, time, and effort can yield something beautiful and useful.

When my bowl was done, I carried it to the shelf to be fired. The instructor explained that she’d put our projects in the kiln, and we could pick them up at our next class. I returned the following week and saw my bowl sitting on my wheel. It was imperfect but sturdy, messy yet intricate. It was exactly right. I set it aside and grabbed another block of clay, foot hovering over the pedal(( This conclusion ties up the essay with a bow. It calls back to the beginning and emphasizes that the writer will keep overcoming whatever obstacles arise.)) .

AO Notes on The Bowl that Taught Me Not to Quit

In this essay, the writer goes on a journey learning to do ceramics. We see that they experience failure but can learn from it. Their strengths of creativity and resilience shine through.

  • Positive spin: Writing college essays about challenges is difficult because it’s easy to get wrapped up in hardship. But this essay does a great job moving on from the failure and focusing on the lessons learned.
  • Explaining an underwhelming resume: It happens so quickly that you might miss it if you blink, but this writer very subtly explains why they don’t have many resume items. Accounting for an insufficient resume in this way comes across as taking responsibility rather than making excuses. We also see that the writer has learned from these challenges and is moving forward in a new direction.

Example #3: ENFP

Common App Prompt #6

“You know how whenever you want to plan out your weekend there are too many fun things to do and too many people to do them with? And how it’s impossible to commit to doing anything next Saturday, let alone next month? What if something even more exciting comes up? Ugh!”

“I have literally no idea what you’re talking about. That sounds stressful.”

My friend’s response confused me.

“Stressful!? It’s fun! And stressful. But mostly fun.”

We’ve all had realizations that remind us we are not the same as the people around us(( After that fun introduction, this sentence brings our attention directly to the main point of the essay.)) . Our brains and our tendencies are ours, and they aren’t necessarily shared by others–even close friends and family.

This conversation was one of those times. I was a sophomore and truly did not consider that my peers would follow routines, carefully planning out their weekends while I relied on vibes, group texts, and parental reminders of homework to get me through. Every day is a new experience and I wake up energized for the excitement of a new beginning. Fun, right?

Apparently, some people find my way stressful.

The first week of junior year, my English teacher surprised us with a test. Not an academic one–she administered the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I didn’t know what that meant, but she explained it was a personality assessment. Then she looked directly at me and pointed.

“YOU! YOU are an ENFP!”

I’d been called a lot of things, but this was a new one. She was absolutely certain that this string of meaningless letters described me. As if anyone could possibly define me!

Sure enough, I took the assessment and got my results. E-N-F-P. Extraverted-iNtuitive-Feeling-Perceiving. I learned that each variable was one of two possibilities that describe people’s preferences about how they interact with their external and internal world. Each person exists on a spectrum between each set of variables.

I was pretty extreme on all four. Suddenly, I understood why people said I had a “big personality”.

This was just the start of my journey into psychology to better understand myself and others(( This paragraph ties together the personality test story with the writer’s personal journey of seeing the world through new perspectives.)) . I knew I was an extrovert–that was the easy one. But now I felt like I had language to explain why my arguments in debate were naturally grounded in emotion (common for Feeling types) rather than the data of a Thinker. I understood why my Judgment (J, rather than P) friends couldn’t stand my inability to commit to a plan. I needed to Perceive all of my options before committing to just one of them.

I delved into writers, psychologists, and researchers like Adam Grant, Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, and Gretchen Rubin. I even embraced my own (very ENFP) preference to listen to their audiobooks rather than read in quiet solitude. I listen to books with one ear bud in while walking around my small town. That way I can learn while staying open to meeting a new friend, stopping by a shop, or petting a cute dog.

My INTJ friend didn’t understand how I could listen to a book while actively striking up conversations with strangers. To each their own.

Part of learning about myself was understanding that I love to learn about how people think and form habits. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. That is true for planning a weekend, maintaining relationships, or even writing a college essay.

I want to study psychology (and about 100 other subjects) and create a career where I can help people understand themselves and build positive habits around who they are(( I like how the writer connects these relations to their academic and career goals.)) , rather than try to change themselves to fit the expectations of others. Sure, maybe that will lead me to become a psychologist. But I think teachers, doctors, writers, and business leaders have an opportunity to do this as well.

All I know for sure is that, just like each new day, college is the next adventure. I’m excited to see what happens.

AO Notes on ENFP

Most of us know about personality tests, but this writer is able to make the topic a deeply personal one. We learn about their personality and habits. We learn about how they interact with others. Overall, the topic really helps us see the world from their perspective.

  • Creative topic: The topic itself isn’t one an admissions officer will see every day. But it’s not so out-there that it comes across as hokey.
  • Perspective: Admissions officers appreciate when students can see the world from perspectives other than their own. This writer shows a lot of maturity when explaining how their personality test sparked a realization that they don’t see the world the same way their friends do.
  • Connections to future goals: The writer doesn’t just present the topic without speaking to its greater meaning. They show that personality tests are meaningful to them because they are related to an academic interest in psychology.

Example #4: Warhammer 40k Miniatures

Carefully(( This introduction has great vivid language.)) dipping the microscopic end of my horse hair brush into the pot of citadel paint, I can feel my excitement building. Gunmetal grey—my favorite primer color. Next comes the white and gold highlights that edge the armor. I'm about to bring one of my favorite Orcs to life, adding tactful details and shading to his green skin and menacing scowl. This is my passion, my obsession: painting Warhammer 40k miniatures.

Now, I’m well aware of the reputation Warhammer has—nerdy. As a tabletop miniature war game set in a dystopian future(( The writer subtly explains this hobby just in case admissions officers aren’t familiar with it.)) , players collect and paint miniatures to represent their armies. They then battle it out on a tabletop strewn with miniature trees, structures, and other terrains. I've been a fan of the game for years, but it's the painting that I love most. There’s something about taking a tiny, unpainted model and turning it into a work of art that I find incredibly satisfying. Nerd, guilty as charged.

I've always been drawn to the Orcs in particular, with their sheer strength and ferocity. But lately, I've been getting more into the Necrons, these ancient, robotic warriors that have been resurrected after millions of years of dormancy. And let's not forget the noble Tau, with their advanced technology and futuristic design. The story of each people goes deep, too. There are dozens of books written about the broader universe of Warhammer—a shared world that spans tens of thousands of years of lore. I’ve read almost every one of them. No matter the character I’m painting, no matter the story they’ll take place in, I watch in awe as each brushstroke brings the character to life in front of my eyes.

As my obsession with miniature painting has grown, I've started entering painting competitions(( This detail shows the magnitude and impact of the activity.)) . It's nerve-wracking showing off my work to a panel of judges, but it's also incredibly rewarding when they appreciate my hard work. I’ve received accolades and even small prizes for my artistry. After every competition, I choose my favorite miniature to display on a shelf in my room. I still have some of the earliest miniatures on my shelf, looking a little rough around the edges but still serving as a reminder of where I started.

But painting miniatures isn't just a hobby for me; it's also been a gateway for other forms of art. I've started dabbling in oil painting, using the same attention to detail and skillful brushwork that I use on my miniatures. While making the transition to a new medium has been challenging, I’ve slowly I’ve built a small collection of paintings. Some of them are as epic as my miniatures—depictions of battles and important moments from the 40k universe. But others are more tranquil, like a recent landscape I painted for my mom’s birthday of the stream behind our house(( We also learn how the writer’s obsession has expanded to other areas of their life. I like this detail because it’s an endearing story of the writer making art for their mom.)) . Becoming more dynamic with my art has made me a better artist, which has in turn made my miniatures even more lifelike.

Warhammer has been the biggest portal into a world of imagination and creativity. But it’s also unlocked my belief in myself as someone capable of succeeding in art(( And here it is—a central point of the essay. Painting these miniatures isn’t just about the miniatures. It’s also about the writer’s growth as an artist.)) . I’ve transcended the level of hobbyist and, over the years I’ve been painting, I’ve learned to call myself an artist. That title is a lot to carry, but it’s one that I can’t wait to continue growing into, figure by figure, painting by painting. And I can’t wait to bring the world of 40k to my dorm—sharing the universe with my friends and classmates. You’ll know where to find me. Just look for the nerdy artist with the dense wooden play table, toting around an army of skeletal warriors and hulking orcs. I can’t wait to share my world with you.

AO Notes on Warhammer 40k Miniatures

This essay is a great example of how to write about a hobby in a college essay. Notice how the writer explains their hobby in vivid detail, but the core of the essay is still about the writer themself.

  • Vivid details: Personal statements can be wonderful exercises in creative writing. While that can be difficult for some students, this writer did it exactly right.
  • Narrative structure: The writer seamlessly transitions readers between each paragraph. They slowly reveal how their journey has progressed. And, most importantly, they incorporate loads of good reflection.
  • Personal meaning: It’s clear that Warhammer itself is meaningful to the writer. But I also like how they draw the focus inward to discuss how painting miniatures “unlocked” a belief in themself.

Example #5: The Band

Common App Prompt #5

I always imagined my band’s first show would take place on a stage. Maybe not in front of a packed amphitheater, but a stage. One with lights, a sound system, a curtain behind it, and some mixture of friends, family, and strangers ready to hear us play.

But there I was, holding a guitar in the women’s section of JC Penney at the mall(( This sentence is so unexpected that it’s sure to make most admissions officers stop, do a double take, and chuckle.)) . We fumbled through a cover of “Mr. Brightside” while middle-aged women shopped for sundresses.

Not exactly what I had in mind.

Our drummer’s mom managed the shoe section at JC Penney and said her boss wanted a creative way to get younger people excited about shopping there. She suggested that her son’s band would be perfect for this opportunity. They paid us in pizza and asked us to perform for two hours–a tall order for four high school sophomores who knew about five and a half songs.

It wasn’t evident to us that we would learn anything from our musical endeavors, or that our music would take us beyond the local mall. I’ve always known writing and performing pop-rock songs isn’t a likely career path. But a recent late night conversation with my bandmates-turned-best-friends showed us all how much we have grown and learned through music(( This reflection is great.)) . What started as a way to spend time with friends on a hobby turned into an accidental entrepreneurial venture and surprisingly poignant lessons.

For one thing, writing music with others is hard. Getting four new musicians to agree on everything from tempo to lyrics to how many verses each song should have isn’t easy. We figured it out as we went along, fueled by copious amounts of Mountain Dew and Bagel Bites.

We eventually created a system where each member learned the lyrics to each song and at least one other person’s part. Sharing original lyrics–poetry–between friends is uncomfortable. But we became more cohesive once everyone was on the same page with the story we were telling. When the bass player, who can’t play drums, learned just enough to understand that the kick drum hits on beats 1 and 3 and the snare on the 2 and 4, our rhythm section began to play more in sync. Once our drummer got over his fear of singing, we were able to incorporate simple harmonies, which led to him improving our lyrics.

Most surprising was making money and feeling like we were running a small (very small) business(( By expanding the focus to talk about music as a business venture, the writer also shows the extent of their activity’s impact.)) . Our second show after the infamous JC Penney incident was a battle of the bands at the public pool that June. We placed fourth–no prize. By August, we played another battle of the bands and won first place, largely thanks to our efforts to publicize the event to everyone in our network (some might call it begging our friends to come). To our surprise, we won $800 on one of those comically large checks.

We decided to allocate some of the money to equipment we needed–cables, cymbal stands, and more Bagel Bites–and put the rest towards professional recording. The process of contacting local studios, negotiating rates, and working with professionals in the industry was completely new to all of us.

A year before, we thought agreeing on lyrics was tough. But the sonic experience of hearing your own music back and agreeing on the tone and effects of every instrument can bring out differences you didn’t know existed. I’d read about arguments between bands from the Beatles to Kings of Leon, and now the four of us had to work out our differences together in real time. Thankfully, we navigated that challenge without losing our sanity for more than a few brief moments.

I am grateful for the lessons we have learned over the past three years(( And with this conclusion, the writer really drives home the essay’s main theme.)) . Not only do we have music and memories to show for our efforts, but we have all learned about creative collaboration, budgeting, and marketing our art.

AO Notes on The Band

This essay makes me want to sing! It’s full of personality, but it still manages to be vulnerable and reflective. By the conclusion, we really see what the writer has learned from being in a band.

  • Humor: The writer immediately draws us in with an introduction that is funny, surprising, and full of personality. The introduction alone makes me want to keep reading. And right as we’re through the introduction, the writer drives home their main point: they learned a lot through music. Then, to our delight, the humor continues throughout. It’s subtle enough to keep our attention and not be overwhelming or inauthentic.
  • Strengths: I can see that the writer is very collaborative and entrepreneurial. I also like how they give insight into their relationship with their friends and bandmates—we learn a lot about them through their interactions with others.
  • Accomplishments: This essay is a solid example of how to write about accomplishments in a personal and meaningful way. The writer could have just opened with the accomplishments, but that wouldn’t have been very interesting or vulnerable. By nesting those accomplishments within a broader story about music, the writer is able to convey greater meaning.

Good Common App Essay Examples

If you’re feeling intimated by all the outstanding essays you’ve seen online, fear not. You don’t have to have a Pulitzer to get into college.

What you do need is a good, meaningful essay, even if it’s not perfect. The essays in this section represent what the majority of Common App essays look like. They aren’t necessarily perfect, but they’re written strategically and with verve. You can tell that their writers genuinely care about the essay they’ve been tasked with.

Putting in a similar effort with your own Common App essay will get you far. Let’s take a look.

Example #6: Herb

I stood in the dimly lit garage, staring at the child-sized pile of metal and wires in front of me. I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe. This was our creation(( This introduction reveals the product of the journey the writer is about to go on: building a robot.)) , a robot that my father and I had spent months designing and building with meticulous care.

It all started on a slow Sunday afternoon, when my dad suggested we take on a new project. He wanted to build a robot. At first, I was hesitant. I was skeptical that we had the know-how to even construct the body of the robot, much less one that actually worked. But my dad, a tinkerer and inventor, was determined to try. So we got everything set up in the garage and got to work. As it turns out, building a robot wouldn’t just improve our technical abilities. It would bring us closer together along the way.

Before this project, my dad and I tended to argue and disagree(( I appreciate this clear transition and description of the “before” state that the writer and their father are growing from.)) . But in the garage with our robot materials, we were both so invested in building the robot that we collaborated perfectly. We bounced ideas off each other, read books and online forums, and even got advice from friends who were more experienced in robotics. For what seemed like the first time, my dad thought of me as an equal. Usually I was just there to hand him wrenches and screwdrivers as he worked on his latest creation. This time was different. We were a team. And with each passing day, our robot began to come alive.

We spent months in the garage, building and troubleshooting. My dad worked on the mechanics. He carefully assembled the joints and servos that would give the robot its movement. While he did that, I focused on the design. I drew mock-ups on my iPad and researched different exterior materials to use. I clumsily constructed our prototypes before my dad helped me put all the pieces together.

The final result was a beautiful machine. It was almost four feet tall and towered over our family dog. And it actually worked. The exterior gleamed—the sensors we used added visual flair and extreme function. But the most impressive aspect of our robot was its artificial intelligence system, which we had spent weeks programming and refining together. It was still fairly rudimentary as far as robots go, but we were proud of such a major accomplishment.

We decided to name our creation Herb, after my father’s beloved herb garden. We liked the irony of mixing a machine with a garden. He was perfect.

After working on him for months, it was time to enter Herb into a local show for machine enthusiasts. Our entry was accepted(( This detail also shows the magnitude of their accomplishment.)) . The show will take place next spring, so my dad and I are polishing Herb’s exterior, tweaking bugs that arise in his artificial intelligence, and preparing him for his out-of-garage debut.

While I’m proud that we will finally get to show Herb off to the world, what I’m more proud of is how far my father and I have come. Working on Herb brought us closer together, and the process helped my dad see me as a fellow tinkerer and inventor rather than just an assistant. In our garage, as we constructed something entirely un-human, we found the human in ourselves. Our father-son love came to life through a robot. I wouldn’t trade it for anything(( I really like this poetic conclusion that neatly ties together the essay’s theme.)) .

AO Notes on Herb:

This essay is an endearing story about how the writer’s relationship with their father improved while working on a robot together. We learn a lot about the student and their interests as we accompany them on this journey.

What makes this essay good:

  • Organization: There’s some back and forth with narrative and reflection in this essay that gives it a pretty complex structure. But the writer does an awesome job keeping readers on track by using very clear signposting. Phrases like “before this project” and “after working on him for months” help readers navigate the complexity.
  • Reflection: The writer incorporates great reflection throughout. The third paragraph shows us the “before state” that the writer is growing from, and by the end of the essay, we really see where they’ve ended up mentally, emotionally, and personally.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • More focus on the writer : While this essay isn’t too bad about this, there is some room for improvement. The main descriptive parts of the essay all focus on the robot. We do learn about the writer and their goals through these descriptions. But the essay is approaching being too much about the robot and not enough about the writer.

Example #7: Laughter & Acceptance

"Why was the transgender person so bad at math? Because they always had to trans-late equations!"

Okay, okay, that was a terrible joke. But let me tell you, finding self-acceptance as a transgender person ain't no joke. It's a struggle, a battle, a war. But it's a war that can be won, and I'm here to tell you how(( From the start, we get a clear sense of the writer’s personality. This sentence also tells us exactly what the essay is about.)) .

I grew up in a world that told me being trans was wrong, that it was something to be ashamed of. And I believed it. I tried to hide who I was, to pretend like I was someone else. But it was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It just didn't work.

But then something happened. I don't know what it was—maybe a shift in the universe, maybe a sign from God. But something changed, and I realized that I couldn't keep living a lie. I had to be true to myself, regardless of what misery and consequences that might bring down around my head.

After telling my younger sister, who cried tears of joy and support, bless her, I decided to come out to the rest of my family. Let me tell you, it was not pretty. They didn't understand what I meant. They told me I was going to hell, that I was a disgrace to our family. And it hurt, oh man it hurt. But through the pain I saw a glimmer of something—was that hope?(( The writer does an excellent job reflecting and taking the “more phoenix, less ashes” approach.)) For the first time, I was being honest with myself and with the world. The whips and lashes of my parents’ words were more painful than I could have anticipated, but I left the room with my head held up and a barely-perceptible feeling of lightness around my shoulders.

And that's when the real work began. See, coming out is one thing, but accepting yourself is another. It's not easy, trust me. It's like trying to walk on a tightrope, one wrong step and you're a gonner. But I didn't give up, I kept going.

And you know what? It started to get easier. I started to find people who accepted me for who I was, who supported me and loved me. I started to feel confident in my own skin. And it was a good feeling—a great feeling. The best feeling.

But my life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are still moments every day when I feel down, when the weight of the world feels like it's crushing me. But even in those moments, I've learned to find strength in myself, to remind myself that I am worthy and deserving of love and respect.

And that's what self-acceptance is all about. No one can avoid feeling sad, angry, or frustrated all the time. But if those feelings only crop up now and again? You’re doing pretty good. Most of all, it’s about letting those negative emotions pass when they come, roll over you like a wave before they go on their way. It's about laughing at the absurdity of it all(( With this philosophy, we really see how much the writer has grown.)) , and finding joy and humor in the midst of the pain.

So, dear reader(( Addressing your reader in a college essay is a pretty risky stylistic choice that we would generally advise against.)) , if you're struggling with self-acceptance, you're not alone. I’m there with you. And remember: it's okay to laugh at yourself, to find the humor in the situation. It's not always easy, but it's worth it. Because when you can accept yourself, you can be proud of who you are, and that's something to be truly grateful for. Tell a joke about yourself and laugh it off. You’ll feel better, I promise(( I like these sentiments, but they could be more focused on the writer instead of the reader.)) .

AO Notes on Laughter & Acceptance

This essay does a wonderful job maintaining sight of the writer’s strengths and positivity in light of really tough challenges. The writer isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. Because of that, we learn a lot about them.

  • Authenticity : I’d guess that this essay couldn’t have been written by anyone other than its writer. Its voice is so clear and authentic that I truly feel like the writer is talking straight to me. Since Common App essays are one of the only places where you get to speak straight to an admissions officer, authenticity is key.
  • Positivity : Let’s face it. This essay is about a really serious topic that was clearly challenging for the writer. But what makes it so great is that in spite of all the challenges, the writer is able to find positivity and light. They don’t dwell on the hardships but look forward to the future. That’s exactly what a college essay about a challenging topic should do.
  • Tone : Balancing your personal tone and voice with the conventions of Common App essay writing can be tricky. It’s hard to predict how an admissions officer will react to what you write. Some might love the fact that this essay truly sounds like the student who wrote it, while others might be put off by its informality. The writer could clean up just a few areas of informal language to play it a little safer.

Example #8: The Old iPhone

Common App Prompt #3

I unscrewed the tiny Phillips-head screws and wedged open my iPhone 5. I cringed as the material cracked out of place. Despite my nervousness, I felt curious. I had always been fascinated by technology and machines, but this was the first time I had ever taken apart a device as complex as an iPhone.

And it wasn’t just any iPhone. It was my very first—my most prized possession until I bought my new phone a few months ago. Since then, it had been sitting in the back of my desk drawer, collecting dust and taking up space. I just didn’t have the heart to sell, recycle, or trade it in. On a day when my ADHD was particularly affecting me, I decided to tinker with my phone to calm myself down.

Working with machines and technology had become my biggest strategy for dealing with my ADHD on those difficult days(( This is an excellent transition.)) . I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was thirteen. I’d been struggling to pay attention in class, and my teachers and parents thought it would be best to get me tested. After I started taking medication, my symptoms improved a lot. But the whole process made me feel like something was off about the way my brain worked naturally. That’s why on the days my medication just isn’t cutting it I center myself by playing with machinery and technology. Even though I can’t fully understand my brain, I can understand a machine. Sometimes that knowledge is enough to get me back on track.

At my desk while disassembling the phone, I carefully removed each piece and set them aside on a bathroom hand towel beside me. I felt calm and focused. As someone with ADHD, it can be difficult for me to concentrate on a single task. But with every part I removed, my mind grew more and more focused. I didn’t feel pulled to passing thoughts and distractions like I normally do.

Working on the phone was like meditating. The parts were so small and delicate that it took all of my attention not to lose or break any. As I examined each component, I thought about all the hard work that goes into designing, manufacturing, and selling the millions of iPhones sold each year.

Taking apart the iPhone improved my technical knowledge, but it was more than that. It also helped me to understand my own mind in a new way(( This is an important shift back to the writer’s own experience. If it weren’t here, the essay would be too much about the iPhone and not enough about the writer.)) . While working my way through this small but magnificent machine, I realized that I could think of my own brain as a kind of machine. It has a complex network of circuits and pathways that control my thoughts and actions. It requires energy to work. It is made up of smaller components that allow it to function. I can’t tinker around with my brain, but I can appreciate it for the incredible machine that it is. I just need to learn more about how my brain works and adapt accordingly.

In many ways, my ADHD has always felt like a kind of malfunction, like something is wrong with me. But as I took apart the iPhone, I began to see that even the most advanced technology isn’t perfect—there’s dust and glitches and grime and bugs. And just as Apple does software updates and new product releases to improve the iPhone, I can find ways to improve how I function with my own brain(( With this comment, the essay ends on a very positive and hopeful note—exactly what you want in a college essay. )) .

AO Notes on My Old iPhone

In this essay, the writer describes how tinkering with an iPhone affected their personal journey with ADHD. I especially like how the writer takes two quite different topics and weaves them together seamlessly.

  • Creative take: The core of this essay topic is a good one. The writer uses a hobby to talk about a deeper personal topic they’re wrestling with. As a result, we learn quite a bit about both.
  • Strengths: We always say that you should write your college essays around core strengths. This writer does exactly that. As readers, we can tell that the writer is a problem-solver. They figured out a way to help themselves when their medication wasn’t working, and they also used that activity to do some reflection.
  • Personal meaning: The writer could have just written about how they tinker with machines to help with their ADHD. But they went beyond that. They reflect more deeply on what the experience of having ADHD means to them.
  • More connections: This essay is quite good. But as a reader, I’m still left wondering why the writer is drawn to tinkering and machines in the first place. It seems like there is room for the student to write a bit more about how all of this relates to their future goals.

Example #9: My Partner in Music

Built from a dark, mocha-colored wood and strung with the best strings my mom could afford, my viola has been with me through a lot. The first time I held the instrument in my hands, I knew it was made just for me. Sure, my viola had had previous owners. But they were only caring for it until it made its way home. My instrument is who I spend the most time with, who I know the closest, and who I’ve invested so much time in. With my viola, I’ve experienced my greatest accomplishments.

I come from a family of prodders rather than pushers(( This paragraph and the following dive too deeply into the writer’s past without making clear why the information is necessary to the narrative.)) . My loved ones have never pushed me to do anything, but I’ve been prodded in certain directions. At a mere year old, I began swim lessons. At age two, I took up soccer. At two and a half, I experimented with gymnastics. None of those activities ever stuck. But my true calling came at age three when my parents started me on viola lessons.

At first, I struggled to even hold my tiny, almost toy-like viola in place. Barely able to hold my own fork for dinner, I wrestled to place my fingers correctly on the fingerboard. When it was finally time for me to use my bow, it kept falling under its own weight, my small arm not strong enough to balance it.

But I was enthralled by the sounds I was able to make. I watched in awe as my teacher conjured up the most beautiful music I’d ever heard from her instrument. Unlike swimming, soccer, and gymnastics, music made sense to me. The ability to make something so engaging from wood and metal captured my attention.

When I got my new instrument, I had been playing the viola for exactly twelve years. Between the age of three and fifteen, my skills had grown exponentially. All those nights and weekends practicing, the blisters, and the hours and hours of lessons had paid off.

This past year, I earned a spot in the American Youth Symphony, one of the most prestigious youth symphonies in the world(( It’s not until this paragraph that we get to the heart of the essay: the writer’s big accomplishment, and the challenges they overcome to get there.)) . With the symphony’s minimum age of fifteen and average age in the early twenties, I’m one of the youngest musicians in the ensemble.

It wasn’t always so clear that playing viola was my destiny. When I was a sophomore in high school, I auditioned for my regional youth symphony. I had practiced my solo for months. I had played the piece so many times that it practically became part of me. With an imaginary metronome ticking away inside of me, my fingers knew exactly how to race across my strings, and my bow hand followed along in perfect time.

When it came time for my regional orchestra audition, however, the song completely vanished. I walked up to the stage, judges behind a partition. I sat down, brought my viola up to my chin, and froze. What had been muscle memory evaporated into thin air, and I was left with a blank mind and a silent instrument. I panicked, unsure of what to do.

I stared down at the scroll of my instrument and took a deep breath. We had played this piece a thousand times. We were ready. Most importantly, I wasn’t doing this alone. My viola and I were in it together. I raised my bow to the strings and began. The song emerged from my fingers, bow, and instrument. It was beautiful. It was perfect. That audition earned me regional first chair, and I learned a valuable lesson: I have to believe in myself(( And here we get to the theme of the essay. It’s not just about the viola. It’s about the writer—a musician.)) .

Now, as a member of the American Youth Symphony, I return to this lesson every day. It’s easy to get intimated when you’re playing alongside the country’s best young musicians. But, with my viola in hand, I know that I am a musician, too.

AO Notes on My Partner in Music

This writer tells us about their prized instrument. But the essay isn’t just about the instrument. It’s about the writer. The essay does an excellent job detailing a challenge the writer overcame. By the end, we see that the writer has grown and has achieved a huge accomplishment.

  • Contextualizing a great achievement: The writer’s strengths shine through in this essay because of their achievement. But throughout the essay, we also see that the writer has had to work hard to get to where they’re at today. That context adds great dimension to our understanding of them.
  • Voice: Through all the events that happen in this essay, the writer’s voice remains consistent. They have a solid tone that shows their work ethic and unwillingness to give up.
  • Get to the main idea quicker: Notice how the first few paragraphs of this essay are simple setup. We learn a lot about who the student was as a child before we get to the heart of the essay. The central conflict doesn’t come until almost the last paragraph. In general, college essays should be primarily about things that have happened in your life since starting high school. Brief mentions of previous events are fine, but they take up a touch too much space in this essay. It takes a while for us, the readers, to really see what the essay is about.

Example #10: The Laundromat

As the son of Chinese immigrants, I grew up working in my parents' laundromat(( Sometimes straightforward “statement” hooks work. This one does the job well.)) . It wasn't glamorous, but it was a good way to earn some extra money and help out my family. Over the years, I got to know a lot of the regulars who came in to use the machines. Some were friendly, some were angry, and some were just plain weird. But one thing they all had in common was that they had stories to tell. And I learned from every single one of them.

There was Mrs. Nguyen, an older Vietnamese woman who came in every week with a small load of clothes. She always greeted me warmly and snuck me a hard strawberry candy. We mostly talked about me—my schoolwork, friends, and sports. But one day, she opened up. She told me about her experiences fleeing Vietnam in the aftermath of the war. She described the dangers she faced and the sacrifices she made to keep her family safe. I was stunned that someone I had grown so close to had experienced such a challenge. What shocked me most was Mrs. Nguyen’s kindness in spite of everything she had been through. Before learning this about Mrs. Nguyen, I let small problems like late homework and friend arguments really upset me. But hearing her story put things into perspective for me, and I’m so grateful that she felt comfortable enough to share it with me(( Perspective: always a good lesson to learn. This example shows some good maturity.)) .

Carlos came every Tuesday and Thursday. He was a thirteen-year-old who always seemed to be practicing for the spelling bee. He went to my sister’s school and was shy and quiet. But after seeing him multiple times a week, I learned that he was also incredibly smart and dedicated. He would come into the laundromat with a stack of flashcards and a dictionary, looking for somewhere quiet to practice. He’d close his eyes and mouth the letters to himself before peeking to see if he was right. After months of watching him, I finally went up to him and offered to help(( With this “show, not tell” example, we see our writer exhibiting generosity and kindness. I also like the humor and personality in the following two sentences.)) . I started quizzing him on words that I couldn’t even really pronounce myself. I relied heavily on his dictionary! But after practicing together, Carlos won his school spelling bee and eventually went on to regionals. I was so proud of him. I learned that it if you want to succeed, you have to put in the work like Carlos did. Every time I think of quitting something, I remind myself of his determination, and I keep going.

And finally, there was Gary, a nurse who worked in the emergency room at our local hospital. He was always rushing through his laundry because of his busy schedule, but he was never too busy to sit down and talk with us kids. Gary inspired my interest in pursuing medicine. He told me countless stories about what he saw in the ER. But what I always appreciated most was when he would explain the science behind what was happening. Gary was a talented teacher who could always break down complex concepts into something even a kid could understand. By my junior year, Gary encouraged me to take AP Chemistry and Biology and now he’s helping me look at pre-medicine programs(( Nice—we get some background about the student’s academic interests.)) . Gary has sparked in me an interest in caring for people through medicine.

I could have chosen to ignore all these people and hide away in the back of the laundromat. But instead I chose to talk with them, even though it was sometimes scary and intimidating. Being around so many people, hearing all their stories, it’s really shown me that everyone has a story to tell. More importantly, everyone can learn from those around them. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the regulars at the laundromat, and I hope I inspired them in some way too.

AO Notes on The Laundromat

In this classic “understanding self through others” essay, we get to know the writer through their interactions with others. The writer does a pretty good job walking the (sometimes dangerous) line between saying too much about others and not enough about themself.

  • Personality: One of the best parts of “understanding self through others” essays is that we get to see who the writer is without them having to tell us. Through each of these small interactions, the writer—and their personality, values, beliefs—shines through.
  • Maturity: This writer shows several strengths. I think one of the most salient is their maturity. The way they were able to learn from Mrs. Nguyen, help Carlos, and be inspired by Gary took a lot of maturity. As an AO, that would tell me that this student is ready for the college classroom.
  • Connection to academic interests: Not all personal essays need to connect to an academic interest. Most probably don’t. But it was a natural connection for this writer, and I’m glad they made it. It raises the stakes of their interactions and leads beautifully into their conclusion.
  • Streamline: With the three different examples, the essay reads a bit choppy. The writer could put better transitions in between each person, or they could weave the examples together into a cohesive narrative. Streamlining would also help emphasize the essay’s focus on the writer rather than the laundromat patrons.

“Bad” Common App Essay Examples

Okay, these essays aren’t necessarily “bad” as essays. But if we’re being honest, they’re not great Common App essays either.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the potential to become great Common App essays, though. As you’ll see in the notes from our Admissions Officers, these essays contain the seeds of good essays. They just need some reorganization and refinement.

Let’s take a look.

Example #11: What I’ve Learned About Life

We all know that life is short so you have to make the most of it. I always try to do my best and live every day to the fullest(( These sentences are both cliches. It’s always better to hook readers in with your own words.)) . Well, I did that until I broke my arm in 8th grade. I used to be not afraid to do anything, but it turns out that’s what got me in trouble. I was riding my bike home from school one day and saw a stump. I thought about what we talked about in English class that day. It was something about “carpe diem” and so I decided, “You know what? I’m gonna jump that stump.”(( This story makes for a good concrete example.)) And I did. Almost. My bike tire caught on the stump and flipped me over the handle bars. A bystander had to help me call my mom to take me to the hospital and it was fractured in four places pretty bad it actually hurt a lot. So after that I still learned to live every day to the fullest but I also learned that you need to make good decisions when doing so.

My mom always tells me that I need to be more patient because it’s a virtue and I am not patient at all. But I have decided that the most important thing to me is to try hard no matter what. I’ll work until the ends of the earth to prove myself because those who work hard succeed. So when I realized that I tried to listen to my mom. Now when I get impatient I take a deep breath and remember my goal of being successful and sometimes it is hard to be patient and I can get angry or frustrated but then I think about what my mom said. It’s a virtue and I want to be as virtuous as possible. My mom has worked so hard in this life to give me a better life and all I want to do is make her proud(( These are fantastic sentiments that could be drawn out more clearly.)) . I really think that’s what it means to be a good person. I’ll always work hard so I can be successful and she can watch me shine.

AO Notes on What I’ve Learned About Life

This essay, while short, gives an honest effort at conveying something deeply meaningful. I especially like the very last sentence, which tells us a lot about who the writer is as a person. But there are a few areas this essay could improve.

What this essay does well:

  • Authenticity: It’s clear that the writer is discussing something very meaningful. I have no doubt that these lessons have played a big role in their life.

What could be improved on:

  • Too short: The maximum word count for the Common Application essay is 650 words. We like to encourage students to get to at least 80% of the word count, which means that your Common App essays should be at least 520 words. This essay is only 361.
  • The topic is too vague and full of generalities: The writer is communicating something meaningful about what they’ve learned throughout their life, but they do so only through generalities. Being too vague makes it hard for admissions officers to see who you really are. Instead, the writer could use concrete experiences and reflect specifically on how those experiences impacted them.

Example #12: Clean Slate

Common App Prompt #7

Bubbles, foam, and the sweet smell of chemicals. Shiny surfaces free of streaks and grime. I cleaned the entire house in three hours flat. I never really learned how to clean growing up, but I started seeing cleaning videos online. The cleaning videos always relax me, so I thought I’d give it a try(( This shows the writer’s initiative.)) .

First I needed to figure out what kinds of supplies to buy. After watching a few more videos, I made a list of the most commonly used items. Since I was on a limited budget, so I could only get the basics. I turned to coupons to find the best bargains possible. I bought disinfectant, a multi-purpose cleaner, and a window and mirror spray. I also found a mop, sponges, and a scrubber brush. It all cost me only fifteen dollars!

My family was shocked when I came home with these supplies in a shopping bag. They didn’t understand why I cared so much. We vacuumed and used disinfectant wipes every so often to keep things manageable, but none of us knew that you are supposed to deep clean your house every month or so until I told everyone based on what I saw online. I showed them each product I bought and told them what the purpose of each one was. They were proud of me for taking initiative and learning something new. They also couldn’t wait to see the results.

Then it was time for me to get to work. To strike inspiration, I put on another cleaning video in the background. I began with the bathroom. It was tidy, but it sure wasn’t clean. There was dust on all the surfaces, soap scum, and rust. I grabbed the disinfectant spray first because it has to sit for a while to actually disinfect. Then I used the mirror spray to clean toothpaste off the mirror. I scrubbed all the surfaces with my new sponge until they were squeaky clean. Then I moved on to the floors. My mop is a spray mop, so it was a quick job.

Next I moved on to the kitchen. That was much harder because it was more complex. There are several appliances, dishes to do, and food to put away. I wiped down the cabinets, which had a dark grime that you couldn’t even see before. I felt accomplished because I was actually cleaning. Once the kitchen was done, I moved on to the living room and the bedrooms. It took forever, but I did it(( By this point, we should have some more reflection from the writer about why this story is personally meaningful.)) .

I gave my family a tour around the house, showing them all the nooks and crannies I had cleaned. They were impressed and I felt so proud. I stood back, admiring my work. The house glistened like a diamond with cleanliness.

The next day I got up and decided to take a look around, excited to see my handiwork again. I was in shock when I stepped into the kitchen. It was a disaster. There was food and dishes everywhere. I ran to the bathroom. It wasn’t any better. There were dirty clothes and an open toothpaste tube. The baseboards already had a small bit of dust. I was devastated. All my hard work was gone just like that.

I told my family how upset I was. They understood and said that they would try to be better next time. But I also learned that that’s just how cleaning goes. You can try to keep things tidy, but we actually live in this house and sometimes that means making a mess. I hugged my family members and felt better after their apology(( I really like the picture we get of the writer here. I can tell that they are very mature and thoughtful!)) . We made up, they picked up a few things to pitch in, and I put my cleaning supplies back in the closet until next time.

AO Notes on Clean Slate

In this essay, we go on a cleaning journey with the writer. We see their successes and disappointments. We learn a bit about their family background, and we cheer them on as they overcome challenges.

  • Writing and organization: This essay is well-written, and the narrative easily holds a reader’s interest. There’s a good sense of the plot, and the paragraphs are clearly organized and easy to read through.
  • Strengths: We really see the writer’s initiative through this story. They did their research, got their supplies, and put their interest into action.
  • More significance: While this is a fun topic, it doesn’t convey much meaning about the writer’s life. The writer could make the topic more significant by adding more reflection throughout to show explicitly how this story has changed them as a person. Or they could select a different topic that relates to something more deeply meaningful about their life.

Key Takeaways

Hopefully these Common App essay examples have shown you what to do (and what not to do). More importantly, we hope that the commentary from our former admissions officers has helped you analyze the why behind what makes an effective Common App essay.

Absorbing these lessons and applying them to your own Common Application essay will help take your writing to the next level. No matter what you write about, your goal should be to create a seamless application narrative that speaks to your strengths.

If you’re not sure what step to take next, we've got you covered. The Essay Academy — our comprehensive digital college essay course — walks you through every step. 

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How to Write an Amazing Common App Essay (2023–2024) — Examples Included

Learn how to come up with a unique topic and choose the right common app essay prompt to write a strong personal statement and get into your dream college. plus, a full-length common app essay example.

dialogue in common app essay

Writing a strong common app essay will help you stand out to colleges, beyond your GPA and TEst scores

(Note: This guide can also be found in our free, 110-page comprehensive guide to top college admissions,  How to Get Into America’s Elite Colleges: The Ultimate Guide . )

Part 1: Introduction

What is the common application.

Why does the Common App Essay—and other college essays—matter?

What are these mystical college essays, anyway?

Common App Essay Prompts 2023–2024

Part 2: Pre-writing your Common App Essay

Brainstorming Common App Essay topics

Freewriting

Essay writing timelines: how to write your Common App personal statement if you have six months, three months, one month, or even less

Part 3: Choosing your Common App Essay topic

Part 4: writing your common app essay.

What 'type' of essay do you have to write?

Writing and revising: common errors

Part 5: Common App Essay example

Part 6: frequently asked questions.

Applying to college: the phrase alone can instill terror in the hearts of high school seniors, and even in those of us who have lived through the experience.

Every year, the college application process seems to get more complex, and more intense. If you’re a student, you might be reviewing rumors and horror stories about that classmate of yours with perfect grades and a 1500 SAT score who somehow got rejected from every Ivy League school . If you’re a parent, you might be afraid of how much the college admissions system has changed and grown more competitive since you were your kids’ age, or perhaps you never had to navigate this system at all.

One of the biggest fears of many students and parents is the sheer anonymity of the process. You, the college applicant, have worked hard through high school, earning great grades, expanding your worldview through extracurricular activities , and contributing to your community… and now, it can seem pretty unjust to throw yourself at the mercy of an application system that seems arbitrary, blind to your personality, or even uncaring.

There’s good news, though.

The college application process has a logic to it—and it’s one that you, the applicant, can both navigate and trust. All those essays, all those forms, all those questions? They’re about getting you in touch with the most authentic and vibrant version of yourself. In fact, if tackled with intelligence, reflection, and organization, the college process can actually offer you a chance to make the admissions process about you as a person, rather than about a distant name on a screen.

You might be familiar with the Common Application , Common App for short, which serves as a single application shared by over 900 colleges, including every Ivy League school and similarly elite universities like Stanford, Caltech, and the University of Chicago. The Common App allows you to enter information like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more just once for every school that uses it. It’s also where you’ll encounter “The Common App Essay,” otherwise known as your personal statement (PS), which is what this guide will focus on.

Though not every school uses the Common App—many state or public schools often have their own systems—the work you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you in every other component of the process, including applying to non-Common App schools and writing the secondary and supplemental essays that often accompany both types of applications.

(Suggested reading: Which Schools Use the Common App? The Rank-Ordered List )

Why does the Common App Essay—and any other college essay—matter?

You may have heard the phrase “holistic admissions” thrown around—many universities follow this model, which means they don’t necessarily have an ACT or SAT cutoff score, nor do they require a certain number of AP/IB/Honors courses. Instead, they’re trying to get to know candidates as humans. Admissions officers are people—people who would be horribly bored if their job came down to just numbers, statistics, cutoffs, and counting up your AP, SAT, and ACT scores.

In order to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores, but also a strong personal statement.

Why? Your personal statement is the single loudest ‘qualitative’ element of your application. It brings to life the student—you!—behind your statistics and demographics. It’s the way you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and potential member of the campus community. With more people applying to colleges every year, admissions officers know they can have their pick of bright and motivated students. In addition to seeing your talents and achievements on paper, they need a chance to imagine what you might be like as a walking, talking human being.

Many students and parents wonder how big of a role essays play when it comes to college admissions decisions. While the importance of college essays—which are written over a period of a few weeks or, ideally, a few months—varies from school to school, most experts estimate that they make up for anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of admissions decisions!

In other words, your four years of schoolwork, AP, IB, ACT, and SAT exams, community service, volunteering, and so on account for only 70 to 90 percent. These estimates are provided not to scare you, but rather to emphasize how critical it is for you to spend at least as much time on your college essays as would on any other high school pursuit.

Fortunately, we’re going to talk about every aspect of your personal statement in this guide and reflect on some of the lessons we’ve taken from nearly 20 years of coaching students through the college application process and getting into their dream schools.

dialogue in common app essay

Gain instant access to essay examples for every supplemental essay prompt from the top universities and BS/MD programs in the United States.

Let’s define our terms:

Personal statement (PS): When people refer to the personal statement, they’re talking about the 650-word Common Application Essay, which all schools using the Common App will see. Your personal statement is your major chance to articulate the qualitative aspects of yourself to the admissions committee and the admissions committee’s major chance to get to know you as a person. 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, to reflect on a quote from a famous alumna/alumnus of the college, or to share your thoughts on any number of wide-ranging topics.

Common App Essay prompts 2023–2024

Here are the 2023–2024 Common App Essay prompts —all seven prompts are exactly the same as last year. We’ll address how to think about them shortly, so just lodge them in your brain for now.

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.

Broad, right? You’ve got 650 free words to articulate what moves you, what excites you, what animates or explains you.

This means your essays are not a place to restate what can already be found on your resumé, CV, or Common App Activities section . They’re also not a place to prove that you’ve had some major epiphany, changed the world, or seen the truth of reality at age eighteen. They can be but do not have to be—by any means—about a major traumatic experience. They can but need not discuss family, identity, race, gender, or class.

Instead, they are a place to give the admissions committee a chance to see the you that your friends, classmates, teachers, teammates, and family know. We’ve seen students write about the New England Patriots, the poetry of John Keats, their grandparents’ village, their obsession with keeping too many Google Chrome tabs open, how grilling meats represented a rite of passage, and many more topics that range from the super-serious to the lighthearted but still meaningful.

The Common App Essay prompts are diverse enough that they allow you to write about pretty much anything. Therefore, we encourage you to brainstorm your best stories first and then think about which question to answer. Admissions committees have no preference for which prompt you choose. Additionally, we encourage you to review additional successful college essay examples .

Furthermore, keep in mind that the Common App Additional Information Section contains an optional, 250-word space to describe how COVID-19 has impacted you . Therefore, you do not need to use your Common App Essay to provide this context. That said, it’s also perfectly fine to write about or touch on COVID-19— if the pandemic is a backdrop that allows you to shine a light on what’s unique and interesting about you in the manner we described above.

Let’s meet our students

Throughout this guide, we’re going to refer to a few Common App Essay examples. These examples are closely based on essays we have worked on with students over the past two decades—students who successfully met their admissions goals, including getting into multiple Ivy League and other top-tier schools.

Let’s meet our students now.

Student #1: Ramya: Ramya intends to be premed in college, but isn’t sure if she wants to major in biology or something else entirely. She’s spent her high school years participating in a variety of activities. She played soccer, but wasn’t the star player. She was involved in student government, performed in cultural shows as a dancer, and did speech events.

What’s not on Ramya's resumé? She is a rabid fan of the New England Patriots, despite living in California for most of her life. And, she’s very close to her father and has a tight-knit group of friends.

Student #2: Anita: Anita has an aptitude for English and history. She likes writing, but she’s not on the school newspaper, nor has she ever published a piece of fiction or poetry, which makes her nervous about calling herself a writer. She spends much of her time on mock trial—in fact she’s nationally competitive at it—and lots of people tell her she’d make a great lawyer. But she doesn’t think she wants to major in political science or philosophy; she may not even want to do anything associated with mock trial in college.

What’s not on her resumé? She loves the outdoors, though she has nothing concretely extracurricular to prove it—she’s never been a camp counselor or a Girl Scout.

Student #3: Josh: Josh isn’t sure what he wants to study. He’s a solid student, though no particular subject gets his pulse racing. In his free time he draws comic strips, and he’s had a few on display at various community events in his town. He plays basketball and piano.

What’s not on his resumé? Josh has a complicated relationship with piano—his parents pushed him into it, and he’d like to quit as soon as possible. And, he’s very close to his big brother, who recently left for college. He also has a little sister, who he’s never been tight with.

Student #4: Michael: Michael lives in a small coastal town and attends a big public high school. After school he has a job scooping ice cream, and though he’s not expected to contribute to his family’s income, he doesn’t have much time for clubs or sports, which aren’t very important at his school. He generally likes chemistry, but he isn’t sure what he wants to do with that. He doesn’t want to be premed, and he can’t imagine being a chemist, so he’s undecided about what to major in.

What’s not on his resumé? Michael is no great surfer by competitive standards, but he learned how to stand up on a board at a young age because his grandfather, who’s from Hawaii, taught him. His grandfather recently passed away.

Brainstorming Your Common App Essay Shemmassian Academic Consulting.jpg

Of course, the terrifying part of starting any new piece of writing—whether you’re a professional, seasoned author, or a high schooler planning for college—is the spooky glare of the blank page, that blinking cursor that doesn’t quite seem to yield to you.

One of the major challenges many students face when applying to college is knowing that they are full of passion and potential energy which hasn’t yet been converted into kinetic energy. That can make trying to communicate who you are, as well as who you hope to become, a daunting task. You might worry about sounding generic or not sounding like yourself or not sounding “smart” or “wise” enough.

The best antidote to all of these concerns, from writer’s block to finding your voice, is to prepare yourself emotionally and creatively well before you sit down to type out your personal statement.

Here’s how you can attack your Common App personal statement and secondary essays if you have a few months before they’re due. We are big proponents of starting early—ideally in June.

Why so early? You may not be thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer before your senior year on college applications. But getting going in June after your junior year and committing to a few exercises over the summer will be like spring training for summer athletes. By the time you get to August, when you’re drafting your Common App Essay and your secondary essays in full, you will be warmed up, and much of the hardest work—that is, the reflection and figuring out what you want to say—will be done for you.

Starting early will also give you time to hand a strong draft of your essay to the teachers from whom you plan to request letters of recommendation for college . If your recommenders know what you’re saying about yourself, they can help tell the same story about you but from a different perspective. This is crucial because your application is a chance to offer not only the facts about you but also a narrative of you—a sense of who you are, how you move through the world, and what you hope to become. That means that each component of your application—your Common App personal statement, your supplemental college essays , your teacher recommendations, and the classes you’ve taken—is like an episode in your story.

Nevertheless, we’ve also offered some adjusted timelines lower down in case you don’t have the whole summer to work with.

Brainstorming Common App Essay topics and working with prompts (2–3 weeks)

Review the Common App prompts and identify which ones get your juices flowing. You can also use our expanded prompts, given in the bulletpoints below, to help you brainstorm and freewrite over the summer. We’re starting with Common App Essay Prompt 7, since it is the broad, general question. Then we’ll circle back and go through Prompts 1–6.

Prompt 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.

Make a list of themes and broad topics that matter to you. What do you, your friends, and family spend a lot of time thinking about or talking about? (Note: This is not the same as asking for your list of extracurricular activities.) Tell the story of an important day or event in relation to one of these topics.

Who’s a family member who lives with you and is important to you? Think of a specific time they helped you with something. Tell the story. What’s an important conversation you had with them? Tell the story.

Think of any person—family, friend, teacher, etc.—who has been important to you. When did you first meet them? Tell the story. When did you have a crucial, meaningful, or important conversation with them? Tell the story.

Make a list of experiences that have been important to you. These do not have to be dramatic, tragic, traumatic, or prove that you changed the world, though they can be any of those. Perhaps a particular summer that mattered a lot? Or an experience with a friend or family member who shaped you—it could be a specific day spent with them, or a weekend, summer, or year.

Remember: Specific anecdotes are your friend when drafting your Common App personal statement. Try to think of a story you often tell people that shows something about you. One of the best pieces of advice we can give you—and something you’ll see reflected in all of the following prompts—is to anchor things in anecdote or story as much as possible.

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.

Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? What images are important for someone who has never been to your hometown/neighborhood/community to see? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chick-Fil-A on every block?

Where is home for your parents? Does their home impact your day-to-day life? Describe the first time you saw their home, in story form.

Did you grow up considering another place that is not where you currently live home? Tell the story of the first time you went there or the first time you remember going there. Was there a particular time—a summer, or a year—when that place became important? Tell that story.

What’s the most memorable thing about you? What do people in your community or school know you for? Tell the story of the first time you did this thing. Tell the story of the most meaningful time you did this thing—it might be, say, when you won a game, but it also might be when you lost a game, or when you quit the team.

How have you spent your summers in high school? In childhood? Tell a story of a memorable day during a memorable summer. Where were you? Why did it matter? Does what happened that day influence you today? How?

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?

What major changes have you been through? A move? Changing schools? Losing a loved one or a friend? (Avoid writing about romantic relationships and breakups in your essays, but feel free to mine them in your freewriting.) Tell the story of the day that change occurred—the day you moved, the first day at the new school or the last day at the old school, the day you got bad news about a family member or a friend, etc.

Did you ever quit an extracurricular activity or a job? Why? Tell the story of the day that happened, and of the day you decided to quit.

What class was hardest for you in high school? Why? Tell the story of a specific class assignment that was difficult. Now tell the story of a specific class assignment that caused you to have a breakthrough, or changed your mind about something.

Have you ever been forced to try something you weren’t good at? How’d it go? Tell the story of the day you tried it. Who encouraged you to? Where were you?

Have you faced a disability, a mental or physical health issue, or other significant challenge while in high school? Think of a day when you are proud of how you handled or carried yourself in the face of this challenge. (Recommended reading: How to Effectively Write About a Disability in a College Essay )

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

What values did you grow up holding dear? Are they the same ones today? Tell the story of the first time you learned about these values—say, a morning at Sunday School or a conversation with a grandparent. If they’ve changed, tell the story of the moment (as best you can place it) when they changed—say, in a classroom, in a conversation with a friend, etc.

Is there a prevalent belief in your family or community with which you disagree? How did you come to disagree? Tell the story of an argument—cordial or not—that you’ve had with someone about this issue. Tell the story of a time you are proud of how you handled conflict in relation to this disagreement.

When were you wrong about something? Tell the story of how you figured out you were wrong. Who helped you get there?

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?

Have you ever had an interaction with a stranger or someone whom you didn’t know well that left a profound impact on you?

How has your relationship to gratitude changed over time, either recently or in an earlier period of your life? What events spurred this change?

Have you ever been the recipient of an unexpected gift or favor that inspired you to “pay it forward” and help someone else who wasn’t anticipating it?

What are you thankful for in your life right now? Make a list of things, people, or circumstances for which you are grateful, no matter how big or small. You might even complete this exercise daily over a period of several days or weeks, similar to a gratitude journal.

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

They say a piece of short fiction is about a moment after which nothing will be the same again. Have you lived through one of those moments? What was it? Tell it the way you’d write a short story.

Eureka! Have you ever had a moment when everything just *clicked*? Tell the story of that realization—set the scene, down to every image, who was or wasn’t in the room.

Forget medals, victories, grades—what intangible, off-your-resumé quality or moment of your life are you proudest of? Tell the story of the day that happened.

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?

Let’s say you’re left alone an entire weekend in your house. What do you get up to? Tell the story of a time that’s happened—or imagine, on the page, what that would be like. Set the scene: what rooms are you in in your house, or are you in your house at all? Where do you go? What do you bring with you?

What activities have you self-started—that is, what have you done without ever being told to? Tell the story of the first day you started doing that thing.

What do your friends come to you seeking help with? Tell the story of a time when you think you did a great job of helping another person. Now, to make sure you stay humble, tell the story of when that person helped you.

At the end of this brainstorming exercise, our students, Ramya, Anita, Josh, and Michael, will have discovered even more things not on their resumé that can expand what all they might write about.

Freewriting (3–4 weeks)

Your job, if you’ve started this early, is not to start writing your draft immediately, or even to choose which Common App prompt you plan to select. First, you’re going to freewrite using the above prompts as a guide—choose the ones you like, or print them out, cut them up, and put them in a hat; each day, shake up the hat and grab one at random!

Freewriting is one of the fun parts, so the more you can do it, the better. There are a number of ways to approach freewriting, and all of them are meant to keep you limber, loose, and free. You want to sound authentic in your essay—which means not stiffening up under pressure, trying to sound formal, or more stereotypically “adult” or “learned,” as many students do. The more you can sound like you while freewriting, the stronger position you’ll be in when it comes to drafting the personal statement.

Buy a few composition notebooks: Those $1 things, available at Walmart or the like. Work in these for the summer. No need to get precious—no fancy Moleskines here, and no laptops or tablets unless you are physically unable to write by hand.

Why? Take the cartoonist Lynda Barry’s wise words here: “There is a kind of story that comes from hand. Writing which is different from a tapping-on-a-keyboard-kind-of-story. For one thing, there is no delete button, making the experience more lifelike right away. You can’t delete the things you feel unsure about and because of this, the things you feel unsure about have a much better chance of being able to exist long enough to reveal themselves.”

Set aside six minutes each morning, or a few times a week, for the period of time you’re freewriting. Six minutes, that’s it! Put your timer on, put your pen to paper, and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. If you run out of things to write, write, “I don’t know I’m bored I don’t know help help I hate writing!” until new words come. What are you going to write about during those six minutes? You can try thinking about those Common App essay prompts—they’re so broad that they should let you in in some way. Think: what’s my obstacle, my identity, the thing I love?

Note that Anita isn’t sitting down to write her disquisition on “how my life as a mock trial champion makes me prepared to go to law school.” Instead, what might come out as she writes by hand is, “I remember the rush the first time I stood up at a mock trial tournament. I was wearing a blazer and my mom’s heels and they were so uncomfortable. It was so overheated in the room and I’d drunk way too much Mountain Dew. But why did I love playing this role of attorney? Was it the theater? The chance to finally argue without getting in trouble at the dinner table?”

If six minutes doesn’t work for you, or if you think you’re not getting in the zone in that amount of time, try doing three pages in your composition notebook instead. Write in big letters and double-space. Let your hand roam free.

Don’t show anyone anything you have written yet. And don’t reread it immediately. Let all that you’ve written sit, latent, so you’re not tempted to edit it right off the bat. Why? Allowing your writing to breathe away from you can prevent you from committing one of the cardinal sins of personal statement-writing—but also all writing!—trying to force the story into what you think it should be instead of what it is.

To get more concrete: let’s say Michael wrote about his grandfather teaching him to surf in answer to several of those prompts (about a crucial summer and a person important to him). But now he’s so excited about that that he immediately wants to turn it into his draft. As he’s writing, he gets self-conscious, thinking, Why am I writing about surfing when I’m not a competitive surfer, and when it’s only something I do occasionally? Or say Michael shows it to an English teacher, who gets distracted by the quality of Michaels prose—which was meant to be free and unedited—and tells him to choose another topic, since this one isn’t “singing” yet. Respect your process and let these things sit.

In order to have this kind of time freedom, you’ll have to start early. And if you spend your summer warming up and training for the main event, you can start rereading your body of freewriting by the end of July.

Essay writing timelines: How to write your Common App Essay if you have six months, three months, one month, or even less

(Recommended reading: The Ideal College Application Timeline )

In an ideal world, you can start writing and planning for your college essays the summer before your senior year. But many students have prior commitments that make following a six-month (June–December) timeline difficult. So here are a few adjusted timelines that can allow you to take advantage of the brainstorming and freewriting process even if you don’t have the full six-month window.

Six months—June to December (ideal if you are applying early action or early decision anywhere):

June: Brainstorm and work with prompts, 2–3 weeks

July: Freewrite, 3–4 weeks

End of July/beginning of August: Complete first draft of Common App personal statement

Week two of August: Complete second draft (here is where the major revision work comes in)

Weeks 3–4 of August: Complete third and fourth drafts

Beginning of September: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor

End of September: Complete final draft

Now you have October to complete your secondary essays. November is usually when early action/early decision deadlines hit. So by the end of October, you will have completed your application for anywhere you’re applying early; now you can use the last few weeks of November to complete any remaining secondary essays for schools with December or January due dates (most regular decision deadlines).

Three months—August to October (barely making the early application/early decision deadline):

First two weeks of August: Brainstorm and work with prompts

Second two weeks of August: Freewrite

First week of September: Complete first draft of Common App personal statement

Week two of September: Complete second draft (here is where the major revision work comes in)

Weeks 3–4 of September: Complete third and fourth drafts

Beginning of October: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor

Week two of October: Complete final draft

Now you have the second two weeks of October to complete your secondary essays for anywhere you are applying early with a November due date, and the rest of November to complete any remaining secondary essays for schools with December and January due dates (most regular decision deadlines).

One month—October to November (for regular decision schools):

First week of October: Brainstorm and work with prompts

Second week of October: Freewrite

Third week of October: Complete first draft of Common App personal statement

Last week of October: Complete second draft (here is where the major revision work comes in)

First two weeks of November: Complete third and fourth drafts

Mid-November, before Thanksgiving break: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor

Last week of November: Complete final draft

Now you have December to complete any remaining secondary essays for schools with December and January due dates (most regular decision deadlines).

Mega crunch time—starting in November (in case you get started on your application really late and are down to less than one month, use the following timeline):

2–4 days: Brainstorm and work with prompts

2–3 days: Freewrite

48 hours after freewriting ends: Complete first draft of Common App personal statement

72 hours after first draft: Complete second draft (here is where the major revision work comes in). In addition, seek feedback between your second and third drafts, if you have not already done so, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor

48 hours after receiving feedback: Complete third draft

48 hours after third draft, if time permits: Complete fourth and final draft

Note: Some elite public universities, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, have November application deadlines, so make sure that you write down your college list , with deadlines and requirements, by the end of September to ensure that you don’t miss anything.

(Related reading: How to Write Great UC Essays )

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Choosing Your Common App Essay Topic.jpg

With all this free-written raw material in hand, it’s time to choose the right topic. What notes should your essay hit? Here are some characteristics that a good Common App Essay topic contains:

1. Anecdote and specificity.

As you saw in the prompts above, we’re big advocates of beginning with a particular story or anecdote. This is not the only way to start an essay, but it’s a classic one. Journalists call this a “lede”—it’s a hook that brings the reader into a wider topic. Your essay will always go beyond the anecdote, but an anecdote offers a reader an easy, smooth way into your personal statement.

A good Common App Essay topic can relate, as much as possible, to a particular anecdote, story, or even scene. Let’s say Josh found himself writing about his siblings—his older brother who just left for college, and his little sister who he’s spent more time with since his brother left. His essay shouldn’t start, “I love my little sister,” but instead, “I remember the first time my younger sister and I connected. It was July, and our older brother had just gone to college, leaving the two of us alone at home together for the first time.”

A good essay begins at a specific point in time and revolves around a specific event. An essay without an anecdote or specific story is an essay topic , not an essay. So, pull from your freewriting: where did you find yourself writing about a particular event, story, anecdote, or point in time?

Another way of thinking about this is: does your potential topic contain a person (other than you), a setting, and a beginning/middle/end? That gives you a character, a place, and a plot—all crucial elements of an essay.

One important note is that you don’t have to start with the anecdote—it doesn’t have to be your “lede.” That might make you formulaic. But you’ll want one to work with, to anchor the piece at some point.

2. Tension, conflict, and opportunity to show growth.

Josh might write a lovely reflection on how close he and his brother were, or how much he likes his little sister—but that doesn’t give the admissions committee much to work with. Why? Because your topic needs to display your ability to grow and show change over a period of time. If Josh has always had a perfect relationship with his sister, well—first, no one will believe that, and second, Josh is not really telling a story.

So as you’re identifying the right anecdote for your essay, make sure you have a point of tension—a point where we, the reader, wonder if everything will turn out okay. For Josh, this might mean beginning with a time before he and his sister were close—say, when all the siblings were in the house and there wasn’t much time for the two to connect. Then Josh would tell us about what changed as soon as the brother left, and in there he might find an opening anecdote.

3. A wider relevance or a ‘lesson.’

Your essay doesn’t have to demonstrate that you underwent some great metamorphosis or epiphany as a child or teenager, but does your possible topic have a takeaway to work with? You’re looking for something that you can put in your pocket and carry into the future, and in an impressive and ideal world, something that makes the reader of the essay say, “Wow, I like that way of thinking, and I might even return to that one day.”

Another way of thinking about this is: your essay is about how your past influences your future, or the way you think now. Michael has settled on his grandfather teaching him to surf. That’s a fruitful topic, not just because it contains two characters (Michael and his grandfather), but also because it contains a place (the ocean, or, say, a surf shop), a plot (Michael couldn’t surf in the beginning, then learned in the middle, now at the end Michael can surf and tell us about it), but also because the end includes a lesson and a chance to spin that forward, perhaps by talking about how the sport has taught Michael how to be calm and collected under pressure.

4. Some connection between your past, your present, and your future.

It’s common to see a student choose an important experience in their past, narrate the whole thing beautifully, but then forget to tie it to the present. Before you even start writing, think about whether your potential topic is influencing the way you think about the present, and, crucially, the future. Take Michael, again. He writes beautifully about his grandfather teaching him about the waves, but he’s not a pro surfer, and might even be going to college in the middle of the country. Does that matter? Not as long as he tells us how surfing influences him—as he did in extracting a wider lesson.

You might be afraid of picking that mythical ‘wrong topic,’ say, the one thing every admissions officer is secretly sick of reading about but which no one will tell you. Students often ask us: Should I not write about a dying grandparent? About coming out? About the meaning of my name? About politics?

Here’s a secret: the success of your topic almost always lies in the delivery—so absent writing about something flagrantly offensive, violent, or irresponsible, you’re unlikely to hit on that rumored thing the admissions officers can’t stand.

It is good to be afraid of cliché—but one of the truisms about clichés is that they become trite because they reiterate feelings we’ve all had. That also means that buried beneath many clichés is some authentic, particular, and personal relationship you have to your topic. If you’re working with a teacher, counselor, or advisor on your statement, they can help you discern whether you’re in cliché territory or whether you’ve bypassed it to a more fruitful realm.

But wait. There is one big rule. Be humble. Don’t try so hard to sound adult or beyond your years, that you end up coming across as a know-it-all. It’s better to show the admissions committee that you are capable of finding and making meaning through the experiences you’ve had as a young person, no matter how small or limited they may seem to you. If you’ll let us wax philosophical for a moment: that ability to make meaning from something that isn’t pompous or dramatic—and to do so without being aggrandizing—is the stuff of great art. So, you’re in a good tradition if you stick to humility and take a deliberate and honest approach to your essays.

5. Make a list of everything that seems like a fruitful topic.

From the questions and prompts, you should find that you have 3–5 strong topic areas and stories—stuff that got you thinking and feeling, and which produced what Hemingway called the “honest sentences” that comprise good writing. Start with the one that moves you most—that’s your personal statement—but save all the others as fodder for your secondaries, or as backup material in case someone you trust tells you to consider switching topics for some reason.

(Tip: the stuff that isn’t always linked to an anecdote or story but is important to you can often be useful for those secondaries.)

Let’s find out what our sample students chose to write about.

Essay #1: Ramya on the Patriots

Ramya could try to write something about medicine. Or she could write about soccer, dance, or speech. But none of those things seem to tell the admissions committee what they wouldn’t already know from simply reading her list of extracurriculars.

So we decide that Ramya is going to write about the Patriots. The question is how she’s going to demonstrate—through her football fandom—that she is a mature and thoughtful person who will be a good member of any college’s community. An ode to Brady won’t do the trick here—but what will is Ramya’s thoughtful reflection on how spending time watching the Patriots at a sports bar every Sunday with her dad has given her a relationship with her father that most of her friends have never enjoyed with their families.

Essay #2: Anita on the outdoors and poetry

The obvious thing—and the thing most teachers and advisors told Anita to do—is write about mock trial. It would be a good opportunity to give the admissions committee some insight into her psychology behind the success. She took a couple of stabs at it during free-writing, though, and it didn’t flow.

So instead Anita decides to write about a wilderness solo she took in North Carolina on a school trip, and about how it influenced her relationship with poetry.

Essay #3: Josh on piano and mistakes

We talked a lot about whether Josh would do best avoiding writing about piano—it’s the main thing on his resumé and sometimes it can be good to show things off-resumé, as Ramya and Anita plan to. Josh did some writing about his relationship with his sister and his brother, and that might find a home in the secondary essays. But it became clear that Josh has an obsessive, if not always positive, relationship with piano, and so there’s something there.

But how to write “about piano?”

We look at the themes that came up during Josh’s reflection. He found himself writing a lot about mistakes, public performance anxiety, and the pressure to get a piece just right. Focusing in, Josh thought about a specific piece which helped him get over some performance anxiety, so he’ll write about learning that piece and facing the fear.

Essay #4: Michael on surfing

We’ve already referenced Michael’s essay a few times, but he’ll be writing about his grandfather teaching him to surf and the lessons surfing has given him off the board and out of the waves.

You’ll see us return to these students’ ideas as we work through outlines.

Writing+Your+Common+App+Essay+Shemmassian+Academic+Consulting.jpg

If you’ve spent your summer freewriting and then carefully selecting the right essay topic, you’re now in a strong place to start writing—ideally at the end of July or early August. (Remember that if you are applying early action or early decision to schools, your deadline will come at the start of November, whereas regular decision applications will generally have December and January deadlines.)

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of this organized pre-work—it’s incredibly frustrating for a student to write an entire draft and then find that it’s just “falling flat” or “doesn’t sound like them” or “is clichéd.” Using the criteria we’ve already set out, though, you can avoid that scary feeling of having done a lot of work that you’ve got to shelve.

What ‘type’ of essay do you have to write? (a list of narrative strategies)

It’s important to remember that there are as many narrative strategies as there are television shows, books, movies, plays, and poems. We can’t exhaustively discuss all of them, or even most, but we can give you a few “modules” to play with.

At 650 words, each of these will be best understood as a five-paragraph essay, so a basic structure stays the same, but the way things begin and end will not.

1. The Specific Experience Essay: This module is one of the most flexible and powerful types of essays. It begins with a scene, memory, or anecdote, and then tells us what that scene, memory, or anecdote continues to mean to the writer. It’s a classic, and should not be underestimated. Michael’s essay about learning to surf with his grandfather will use this structure, but so too will Anita’s about taking a wilderness solo. Anita will use a slightly more subtle version of this, but both essays begin with a scene: “I was eight when my grandfather first took me to the water,” “The happiest two hours I have spent were on a boulder jutting into a stream in North Carolina.”

Resolving the Specific Experience Essay requires a student to point to some kind of realization garnered as a result of the experience. It doesn’t have to be an enormous Eureka! or epiphany, and in fact, it can come later. Michael’s reflection on the experience of learning to surf with his grandfather occurs over a decade after he first hit the waves. Anita’s comes during an English class two years later when she first reads the poetry of John Keats and William Wordsworth and realizes these writers were engaging with exactly what she experienced during her solo in the wilderness.

The trick Michael and Anita each pull off is spinning the experience forward so that it means something for the rest of their lives. Michael writes about how he understands meditative headspace as a result of standing on the board all those hours with his grandfather, and how his grandfather’s legacy will always be with him. Anita goes small with her reflection: she talks about how she learned to see art, and artful experiences, in her everyday life, and in small, quiet moments (this is especially good for Anita because it expands her away from just the hyper-intense mock trial competitor she might come across as).

2. The Patterned/Iterative Essay: This module is a little more advanced. Let’s take Josh's essay about piano playing. He might want to open with a scene of him playing piano on stage, but that’s a little obvious. The essay he’s going to write is actually about practice, and learning to stop making mistakes. So, what if he started each paragraph with a different mini-moment of him playing piano and making a mistake?

Paragraph 1: My first time erring on stage—I am six, and I’m playing Chopsticks. Then he’ll introduce the theme of the essay.

Paragraph 2: My second time messing up—I am thirteen, and… etc.

Then, the natural place for Josh to end it is the time he almost messes up but doesn’t, which shows us how he’s grown overtime.

3. The Circular Essay: In this essay, the writer begins with a scene or image or concept and then will circle back to that scene or image or concept before the end of the essay in order to make sense of the initial opening. This essay deploys suspense. Take Anita’s essay, which might open, “I spent my happiest moments lost and alone in the wilderness. How did I get here? To understand that, you’ll have to understand X, Y, Z about me…” and which might close: “...that’s how I found myself, at sixteen, lost—but entirely at home in the wild.”

4. The Mini-Odyssey Essay: The last classic and powerful module is the good old problem-driven essay. In this type of essay, our hero (you, the writer) meets a challenge in the first paragraph, and then the essay is devoted to showing us how it is solved. Let’s say Michael wanted to write not about learning to surf from his grandfather, but about learning that his grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

There’s a lot of narration that will be required for Michael to tell us about losing his grandfather—it’s too much to cram into the first paragraph. So Michael might distribute the narration chronologically, showing us first the bad news (the problem), then zooming out to reflect, then showing us how he faced it (addressing the challenge), probably failing to adequately face it perfectly the first time, and then eventually facing it successfully (the solution).

Those are just a few more narrative possibilities for structuring your essay. Right now, we’ll focus on Ramya’s.

Now, taking your chosen topic, it’s time to outline it. Outlining works great for some people as a pre-writing tactic, and we always recommend it. For others, it can be harder than simply getting down to writing. If you’re really struggling to outline and would rather just follow the pen to a first draft, that’s fine, but do yourself a favor and make outlining your second draft step. At some point, everyone needs an outline, but it’s your call when to do it. Let’s follow this through with Ramya’s essay on the Patriots. The model we’ll use for this essay is a five-paragraph, anecdote-driven essay.

By the way, here’s the prompt that helped Ramya settle on the Patriots: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? While this one isn’t among the current Common App essay prompts, it—or any other prompt—can be used to generate an essay that fits under the umbrella of the open prompt, Prompt 7.

So, with that in mind, Ramya’s going to write about the sports bar where she watches her team play every Sunday during football season.

1. Introduction: Ramya has a fun advantage to her essay: it’s unexpected. The heart of it takes place in a sports bar, and she may seem, on paper, to the admissions committee, to be an unlikely diehard football fan. So we begin at the bar and Ramya sets the scene with an anecdote:

It had been a rough week at school—drama with my friend group, hard tests, orchestra practice, exhausting soccer drills—but I knew where I belonged on a Sunday. At Dee's Sports Bar in San Jose, with my dad, watching our team…

She also tells us about Dee's itself, taking the chance to show the admissions committee that she has narrative skills in just noticing things:

By the end of the football season, the staff knew where we wanted to sit… we were loyal to Dee's, just as we had to be loyal to the Patriots, even when they seemed to be letting us down.

In telling this as a story, Ramya has given the admissions committee a human being to relate to from the jump.

2. Billboard/nutgraph/thesis paragraph: In the magazine world, they call the second paragraph in a piece the “billboard paragraph” because it broadcasts—as loud as a billboard—what the piece is about. Newspapers call the same thing a nutgraph, and academic papers might refer to it as your thesis statement. All these terms point to one thing: this is where you shout, HEY! THIS IS WHAT MY ESSAY IS ABOUT! This is where you meld the scene and characters of paragraph 1 with the thematic concerns you’ll address for the rest of the essay.

For Ramya, it goes something like this:

Dee's is where I learned to be loyal—to my team, the Patriots, from across the country—but also to my father, to my friends, and to myself.

Ramya’s essay is going to focus on loyalty: a big theme, one that would sound terribly weak if she introduced it in the first line or even paragraph, but one that is surprising and interesting here because she’s juxtaposed it against a unique setting and seemingly light fare—sports at a bar. (Ramya has, at some point, assured the admissions committee that she’s not drinking in this bar!)

3. Body paragraph #1: In this paragraph, Ramya will tell us something more about loyalty, and why it matters. She’ll add context. So she will zoom away from Dee's and tell us that, throughout high school, she started noticing a lot of her friends getting caught up in social drama, becoming competitive with one another, fighting about romantic situations; set against all this, as well as bullying, depression, and other difficult parts of high school, Ramya’s loyalty to the Patriots and Dee's served as a sanctuary—one of the things that kept her sane.

Now, it’s crucial to note that this isn’t enough for Ramya to write an essay about. “Here’s something that is important/valuable/meaningful to me” is sometimes where students stop. Ramya needs to advance that—to tell us something that shows maturity, shows an ability to reflect and introspect that will come in handy in college and adulthood…

4. Body paragraph #2: ...so she uses her next paragraph to make a bigger point: what other types of loyalty being at Dee's on a Sunday causes her to reflect on.

5. Conclusion: Now, Ramya will spin the whole thing forward and point our eyes toward that ‘lesson’—the thing that she can put in her pocket, which will serve as a kind of talisman throughout life.

Writing and revising: Common errors

Most people don’t outline. And even after outlining, many people fail to follow their outline. It’s natural that you’ll want to stray here or there, towards or away from the initial plan, but below are a few common errors that people make when they either don’t outline or ditch the guiding hand of their outline. As we go through some of these errors, we’ll also make a list of a few general tips and tricks for managing some of the toughest parts of your essay, including time, scene, epiphany, change, character, and more.

Here’s an excerpted version of how Ramya’s essay began at first:

As a 5’1.75” Asian girl, not many people would expect me to spend every Sunday in a bar watching football.... I was tired of streaming the games on my computer, and having it lag before every major play.

I want to thank Dee's Sports Bar for teaching me life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for showing me the importance of loyalty, relationships, and laughter.

I have always been loyal to the Patriots….

It’s not a bad start, but it brings us to Common Error #1: beginning the essay by introducing oneself, instead of introducing the story, AKA, starting too broad. Ramya begins by trying to tell us who she is in a big, introductory, throat-clearing way, instead of choosing a specific route into who she is. It’s sweet that she’s small, but there’s a lot in here that we don’t need: we don’t need her height, nor do we need to know that she used to get the games in one particular way or another. We just need to know that she’s at the bar.

She’s only got 650 words. Which leads us to Tip #1: Take refuge in the anecdote, in the specific, in the particular. Everything gets easier if you choose something specific. Many writers—of college essays and other media—get stressed out, believing that they must convey their entire selves in an essay. This just isn’t possible to do in the capsule of space that is your Common App personal statement. And, it will ironically accomplish the opposite, causing your essay to look shapeless and meandering, therefore communicating very little about you.

If you instead use an individual story as a stand-in for something larger, or for something else, your essay becomes a kind of parable or lesson that educates your reader both about you and, hopefully, about a part of the world they’ve never previously considered.

Now, think about the first declarative sentence Ramya makes in that initial draft: “I have always been loyal to the Patriots.” Tip #2: Struggling to define your thesis statement? Look for your first declarative statement! Ramya’s essay can’t be about her perpetual loyalty to the Patriots—that won’t be enough. But the fact that her prose naturally settled on that as its first short, sharp sentence tells us that she’s making a statement she probably believes in. Loyalty now becomes really important as a theme.

Common Error #2: Hiding your thesis statement or burying it too low. Since we know that loyalty will have something to do with Ramya’s thesis statement, we now know we want it to arrive at the end of the first paragraph or at the start of the first.

Here’s how Ramya’s essay began at the end of 3-4 rounds of edits and revisions:

Just before 5 pm on Sunday, October 13, 2013, I was sitting in a bar, holding on to a feeling of optimism that was fading fast. But wait: it’s not what you think. I didn’t turn to drink; I turned to the TV screen. The score was 27-23, and the Patriots had missed too many opportunities. With just over a minute left to play, my dad—the man responsible for bringing me, a 15-year-old, to a bar—dejectedly asked me if we should leave. I reminded him a true sports fan never gives up on her team, no matter the situation. And after a miracle of a drive finished with an unforgettable pass into the corner of the endzone by my idol, Tom Brady, a swell of elated cheering and high-fiving from the fans in the bar ensued regardless of whether we had previously known one another. Loyalty brought us all together.

Another Common Error (#3!) that Ramya made was: Mixing up the conclusion’s sentiment with the billboard paragraph. Her second paragraph, in the original essay, read: “I want to thank Dee's Sports Bar for teaching me life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for showing me the importance of loyalty, relationships, and laughter.” That’s a sentiment, but it’s not a thesis. And that sentiment is fine—it may have a place at the end of the essay—but it doesn’t belong in the second paragraph, because it doesn’t guide our reading of the rest of the essay. It isn’t strong and declarative yet.

This was the billboard paragraph Ramya reached after a few rounds of edits:

There are a few different kinds of loyalty. Loyalty to a team, to an establishment, to other people—even to oneself. Sitting in that bar over the last year, I feel like I’ve glimpsed them all.

A lot is working here! It’s short, clear, and leads us to Tip #3: define your terms. Ramya wants to talk about an abstract concept—loyalty. Many young writers wish to reflect on things like charity, service, leadership, loyalty, friendship, kindness, morality, etc—these are big topics. But Ramya isn’t just talking about loyalty, a word which could mean many different things to many different people. She’s defined loyalty for the purposes of this essay, which means now we are playing in her house.

As Ramya’s original first draft moved on, it stumbled into a very Common Error #4: the curious case of the missing lesson. Initially, Ramya’s penultimate paragraph offered a kind of ode to Dee's instead of showing the admissions committee that she has a bigger life takeaway from her time spent supporting her team—a problem we could see would happen as soon as we noticed the sentiment of “Thanks Dee's’” occupying the place that should have been reserved for a billboard paragraph. Returning to the outline, or making the outline partway through, would remedy that.

But don’t get stressed if your first outline feels like it’s getting away from you. Tip #4: Try a reverse outline. Once you’ve written one draft of your essay, print it out. (By the way: Tip #5: print stuff out! Don’t get stuck in an endless spiral of copy-and-paste—by printing out your draft, you can keep a draft next to you and then open a new document so that you feel free to rewrite entire paragraphs, or delete sections entirely.)

Then take your printout and write out what the function of each paragraph is in the margin. Might get a little tough, right? If you can’t answer the question, “What is the goal of this paragraph?” or, “What do I want the readers to garner from this paragraph?” then you’re probably missing a topic sentence.

Everything we’re talking about here—writing, noticing mistakes, correcting them—will take you at least three and as many as five or six drafts to get right. So, Tip #6: Don’t treat your early drafts like anything close to final. That means you’re going to have to get comfortable with simply putting idea to paper, and with cutting entire paragraphs or “points” within the essay. You’ve probably never written anything like the personal statement before, and you have to promise yourself to be iterative. Otherwise, you’ll lock yourself into a weaker version of the essay.

As you’re iterating, try Tip #7: Read your drafts aloud so that you can tell when things feel stiff or weak; this should sound like you. Reading aloud can help you catch things like Common Error #5: tonal errors—sounding too formal or too glib/casual. Ramya never suffered from either of these problems; she sounded like herself even in early drafts.

But many students feel that they either have to sound either formal to the point of stuffiness (“On a Sunday afternoon, my father would pick me up from my room and take me down to the kitchen, whereupon we would adjourn to Dee’s Sports bar…”) or “authentically young” to the point of disrespecting the reader (“On Sundays my dad’s like, let’s go to Dee’s Sports Bar, and I go okay so I come on down and we get going...”). When you’re staring at the blinking cursor until your eyes cross, it can be easy to fall into one of these traps, and to write in a voice that isn’t yours. When you read aloud, you can catch it.

Tip #8: The right essay-voice is the most polished version of your speaking-voice. You shouldn’t sound like you swallowed a thesaurus, but you should sound a little more formal than your text messages to your friends would.

Here’s what Ramya’s essay looked like, in the end:

Just before 5 pm on Sunday, October 13, 2013, I was sitting in a bar, holding on to a feeling of optimism that was fading fast. But wait—it’s not what you think. I didn’t turn to drink—I turned to the TV screen. The score was 27-23, and the Patriots had missed too many opportunities. With just over a minute left to play, my dad—the man responsible for bringing me, a 15-year-old, to a bar—dejectedly asked me if we should leave. I reminded him a true sports fan never gives up on her team, no matter the situation. And after a miracle of a drive finished with an unforgettable pass into the corner of the endzone by my idol, Tom Brady, a swell of elated cheering and high-fiving from the fans in the bar ensued regardless of whether we had previously known one another. Loyalty brought us all together.

There are a few different kinds of loyalty. Loyalty to a team, to an establishment, to other people—even to oneself. Sitting in that bar over the last year, I feel like I’ve glimpsed them all. As a Boston-born girl, my loyalty to the Patriots seems natural—even if it’s not so common for a teenage Indian-American-Californian girl to be as much of a sports junkie as I am. But I’ve seen that loyalty tested plenty of times. I’m completely invested in the Pats; I’ve been known to be giddy when they win, and tearful when they lose. However, finding a true home to watch Patriots games in California isn’t easy. So I owe Dee's Sports Bar a surprising amount. By the end of the season, the staff knew what we wanted to eat, and where we wanted to sit, so the sports bar felt like a second home.

My dad and I have a typical father-daughter relationship; I get mad when he doesn’t let me go out, he gets mad when I neglect responsibility. But in the year since we began staking out the bar, we’ve gotten so much closer. On the rides to and from, we talked about everything from school to politics to pop culture. And we talk about sports as equals. My best friend once told me that neither she nor her dad were willing to make the extra effort to find common ground. And I realized how lucky I was: sports offers my dad and me an inexhaustible topic that we can always turn to.

The bar also helped me figure out still another kind of loyalty—to myself. Junior year was an emotional year, full of difficult academics and the inevitable social drama that comes with high school. The bar showed me that I needed to look forward to something comfortable—a place with no drama, no obligations, and a common goal... or at least, a common desperate desire for victory. At the bar, nobody cared what I got on my last math test or which boy was asking my friend to prom. All that matters is the game. This realization isn’t limited to just sports; I figured out that I need a place to be completely myself—with my team and my dad. This included deciding that I only wanted to stay friends with people who make a positive impact on my life. These were such simple revelations, yet they made all the difference.

I have always been loyal to the New England Patriots. From my toddler days, as I sat mesmerized in front of the screen to today, as I analyze every statistic that I can get my hands on, I love every aspect of the team. But all of those trips to the sports bar taught me important lessons that apply beyond football. And for that, I am grateful.

dialogue in common app essay

Common App Essay analysis

In the end, what lessons can we take away from Ramya’s essay? Here are a few aspects of the essay that are most successful:

Ramya applies Tip #1 from earlier—taking refuge in anecdotes and specifics—to great effect. We can practically feel the tension of the game, not to mention Ramya and her dad’s investment in it. The result is a memorable, unique opening that compels us to continue reading.

Ramya’s thesis statement (“Loyalty brought us all together”) both telegraphs what the essay will be about and allows her to pivot naturally from sports fandom to the types of loyalty that she actually wants to show admissions committees: her relationships with her dad and with herself.

In discussing loyalty to herself, Ramya demonstrates maturity, independence, and the abilities to grow and absorb lessons. Reflections like “This included deciding that I only wanted to stay friends with people who make a positive impact on my life” help us see her as a person of integrity who can think for herself. As such, it’s easy to imagine her as a student who will make valuable contributions to a college campus.

While we noted earlier that Ramya never struggled with striking the right tone in this essay, it’s worth noticing the balance of polish and casualness that she achieves. The result is an essay that is effortlessly readable yet mature and, most importantly, authentic to her own voice.

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Part 6: Frequently asked questions

Common App Essay Frequently Asked Questions Shemmassian Academic Consulting.jpg

There’s more that goes into applying to college than what we’ve been able to cover here, including your grades, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters, but your essays are some of the most important materials. They form the cornerstone of the qualitative side of your application. Get these right and your entire application starts from strength. Good luck!

What books can you recommend for writing essays like this and others?

William Zinsser’s On Writing Well is the primer for nonfiction writing basics. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is a very slim volume that will help you ensure you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s when it comes to grammar and syntax rules.

Who should read my essays? Is there such a thing as too many readers? Too few? The wrong readers?

Think quality, not quantity. It’s best not to hand your essay to every person who comes your way, no matter how many smart teachers, friends, and peers you have at your disposal. Too much feedback can confuse your sense of mission.

So how do you know who to give your essay to? The right essay editor or guide is someone who knows something about you but isn’t your best friend or parent, and someone who you know can push you on storytelling and language.

There is such thing as having too many readers, so we recommend asking no more than one to three people to weigh in: an editor, counselor, teacher, or consultant should help you with the bulk of your essay; a friend or parent can listen to you read it aloud at some point or can read it without the ren pen lifted (meaning, they’re there to make sure you sound like you, rather than intervening and writing it for you). Parents who get too handsy with their kids’ essays can do their children a real disservice; it’s clear when someone who isn’t 18 was serving as the guiding force in the essay-writing process.

Often students want to know how to handle feedback they may disagree with. If it comes from someone you respect, think it over seriously, but remember that this is your voice. It’s okay to write the person or tell them that you value their input but you think the essay sounds more like you if you keep it as it was.

Does my essay have to be about something that happened in high school? How far back can I go?

Your essay can draw on whatever moves you, regardless of when the anecdote, event, or inciting incident you’re writing about occurred. However, what matters most, in terms of timeline, is that you show your readers how the event not only influences you now but will continue to inflect your thinking about yourself and the world as the years roll on.

I feel like I don't have enough space to write everything I want. What should I do?

This is totally normal! But feeling that you have more to say than you can fit is often a result of insufficient paring-down—that is, you probably haven’t chosen the right specific prompt to get your personal statement into particular, small territory.

That’s the key: finding the right question to answer, using all the prewriting tips and tricks and exercises we’ve outlined here. With the right question, you can use your Common App Essay as a window into who you are, rather than feeling burdened by the belief that you must communicate your ‘whole self’ in your application. You can’t box yourself up and hand your soul to the admission committee—but you can use those 650 words to give them some insight into some of the most important parts of you.

What is the Common App Essay word limit?

The Common App Essay word limit is 650 words. We strongly recommend using all 650 words, though you are not required to do so. If you’re well below that limit, it’s worth asking yourself why your personal statement is so short. Check it against the outlines we’ve worked through in this post. Have you used your five-paragraph essay fully? Has your essay demonstrated change over time, or personal growth? Perhaps you’ve told a story but forgotten to reflect on it.

The important thing is to ensure that you’ve fully inhabited each ‘element’ of the successful Common App Essay, as noted in this guide. Doing so will bring you close to the sensible word limit.

Should I explain bad grades in my essays?

Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else.

Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say, if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it.

An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.

It’s crucial to avoid sounding defensive about your weak spots in your application. If you have something that you think makes you seem a less-than-ideal applicant, turn it into your strength by explaining what you learned from it.

The Common App Additional Information section offers the opportunity to provide context about hardships you might have faced during high school. This is another place you could consider explaining bad grades or the like. Even here, it’s important to not simply state, “I had bad grades but improved them.” A better explanation provides context and explains what specifically helped you turn things around. For example:

During my freshman year, as my parents went through a difficult divorce, I became distracted and stressed, and my grades suffered as a result. I was able to work with my teachers over the summer after my freshman year, however, and attended summer school to make up for weak performance. My family also repaired itself after a few years and time in family therapy. Though I regret my poor grades from ninth grade, I am proud that I was able to improve quickly as a sophomore, and that I developed both stronger study habits and tactics for dealing with emotional stress as a result.

The second answer is specific and also demonstrates maturity gained thanks to a difficult period.

I feel like everyone has more interesting experiences than me. Is there a benefit to using a personal moment as my topic?

There are many students that choose to write about highly personal topics such as experiences involving family issues, and issues around class or identity.

However, it’s important to remember that even if you haven’t had these experiences that doesn’t mean your essay will be banal or boring. It’s all about how you approach the telling of your own unique story. Adcoms understand that not everyone has overcome incredible adversity or a severe physical handicap.

Think of it this way: creative expression is enhanced by limitations. What you are capable of writing given your circumstances and experiences is a chance to showcase your cleverness with language. Adcoms are more interested in how you tell your story than the fact of the story itself.

If you do choose to use a more personal moment to write about, be careful that you don’t choose something too personal. Keep in mind that the person reading your essay is a stranger and that there is such a thing as too much information, even if you think it will enhance your admissions odds.

I know adcoms read tons of essays so they couldn’t possibly pay close attention to each one. Isn’t there something in particular they’re looking for in an essay that signals to them that this is a quality applicant?

This is an incredibly common thought amongst our students. Essentially, the idea is that there’s just one small thing they’re missing in their essay that, if included, would make them stand out and practically guarantee them entry.

There are two major problems with this line of thinking. For one, while reducing your application to a numbers game or just a few points to hit makes the whole process more comprehensible, it doesn’t help to express the real you–and doesn’t increase your chances with adcoms.

The other problem is writing your essay while attempting to guess what adcoms want to hear. Many students fall into this trap by second-guessing their experiences and worrying their chosen topic is just not “good enough.” Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with your topic, and trying to change course by selecting one you think will enhance your standing with adcoms will only make your job as a writer more difficult.

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About the Author

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on college admissions. Over the past 15 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.

7 Expert Tips for the Common App Essay

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  • The Common App college essay is required by most Common App schools.
  • This personal essay plays a critical role in many institutions' admission decisions.
  • Admissions experts' biggest tips include writing how you speak and focusing on details.

Each year, over a million high school seniors apply for college through the Common Application . This online system enables you to submit one application to multiple schools, meaning you only have to fill out everything once — including a personal statement .

The Common App essay gives colleges the opportunity to learn more about you as a person and what's important to you. You should use this space to tell your story and reveal different facets of your personality.

Here, we explain what the Common App essay entails before diving into admissions experts' biggest tips for crafting a memorable personal statement.

What Is the Common App Essay?

The Common App essay is the main personal statement you'll submit to colleges that use the Common App and require the essay.

You can find the Common App essay prompts and instructions by navigating to the "Common App" tab on your Common App account and clicking on "Writing." You'll get to choose one of seven prompts to respond to, and your essay must be between 250 and 650 words long.

This statement gives you the chance to delve deeper into your interests, experiences, passions, and strengths. You can discuss almost anything you want, provided your topic addresses the prompt you've chosen. There are also no rules on style or how to tell your story.

You must submit the Common App essay to all colleges that require it, though some may ask you to submit one or more supplemental essays as well.

The application form provides you with a box in which to type your essay; however, it's strongly recommended that you compose your essay in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or another word processor before copying and pasting your final draft into this box.

How Important Is the Common App Essay?

The Common App essay is a key part of your college application. According to a 2019 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling , 56.4% of colleges surveyed considered the personal statement moderately or considerably important. Highly selective institutions tended to place more emphasis on the essay.

"The more selective the college, the more the essay matters," explained Elizabeth Benedict, a former Princeton writing instructor and the founder and president of Don't Sweat the Essay Inc .

Benedict, who spoke with BestColleges about the Common App essay, has helped students around the world apply to college for over a decade.

"Applying to a hyper-selective college with mediocre or uneven grades and a fabulous essay will likely not get you into that college, [whereas] applying to a hyper-selective college with top grades and scores, outstanding extracurriculars, and a mediocre essay could sink your application," she said.

While most experts agree that a strong Common App essay won't necessarily secure you admission into a highly selective college — especially if your grades and test scores aren't up to par — a well-written statement could act as a tipping point in your favor.

According to Benedict, this often happens at small liberal arts colleges , which tend to take a more holistic admissions approach .

Experts' Top 7 Common App Essay Tips

Admissions officers, higher education administrators, education consultants, and college admissions advisors like Benedict have many tricks for approaching the Common App essay. Here are some of their biggest tips.

1. Don't Mistake a Rare Topic for an Effective Topic

Many students assume their Common App essay must revolve around a unique topic that no other applicant has ever written about, but this is a myth.

"Overuse of a topic doesn't make it a bad topic," Whitney Soule told U.S. News & World Report . Soule currently serves as Bowdoin College's dean of admissions and student aid.

"It's not just about the topic," echoes Jennifer Gayles , director of admissions at Sarah Lawrence College, "but why it's important to you and how you can showcase who you are as a student and an individual through that topic."

Choosing the right Common App essay topic can be tricky, but it's extremely important. "Students I work with run the gamut from having a good idea to having absolutely no idea what to write about," Benedict said. "Often in our brainstorming session, an idea will pop up in discussion, and I'll say, 'That's a good idea,' and the student will be surprised."

To identify potential essay topics, Benedict proposes asking yourself a series of questions. Have you experienced a turning point in your life? Are you deeply passionate about a particular subject?

Ultimately, your essay should excite and inspire you, as well as those who read it. "If an essay topic makes your heart beat fast, that's a good sign," said Benedict.

2. Pick the Best Essay Prompt for You

Not all Common App essay prompts are created equal. Of the seven prompts, some will no doubt work better for you than others.

Lisa Mortini, assistant director of admissions at New York University Abu Dhabi, asks students to think about what version of themselves they want to present to schools and to trust their instincts.

"Don't just jump on the first prompt you read and start writing," she writes in a blog post for NYU. "Ask yourself: Are you excited to talk to us about a specific achievement? Do you want to give us insight into a hardship you faced and conquered?"

In essence, work backward: Start with a topic and then see which essay prompt fits it the best.

This is the same advice given by Thea Hogarth of College Essay Advisors : "Once you have determined the story you really want to tell, you'll know which prompt will make a good fit. All of the Common App options are broad enough to accommodate almost any story."

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. But just how long should your statement be? Admissions Blog advises aiming for around 500 words. And former Tufts University admissions officer Becky Leichtling concurs.

"The most common 'personal statement' length is in the ballpark of 500 words," Leichtling writes for Bright Horizons College Coach . "I consider 500 the 'sweet spot,' but don't stress if you write an essay closer to 430 or 620 [words] that you're honestly proud of."

4. Fill Your Story With Details

Details are everything when it comes to the Common App essay, which is why so many experts suggest anchoring your essay in a single anecdote or story.

"Specific anecdotes are your friend when drafting your Common App personal statement," Shirag Shemmassian, founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting, writes on his company's website . "Try to think of a story you often tell people that shows something about you."

Meredith Reynolds, associate director of admissions at Tufts, similarly recommends that applicants emphasize specifics in their essays. "By focusing on details, you set yourself apart," she says.

In terms of structure, Benedict advises approaching the Common App essay one step at a time. "Break down the topic to the smallest pieces you can and write a paragraph about each," she said.

In other words, discuss specific moments from your life. Relate conversations you've had. Describe how something felt or looked. It's the details in your story — not the topic itself — that will help you stand out the most.

5. Channel Your Authentic Voice

The Common App essay is unlike most essays you've written for school. Instead of analyzing a piece of literature or a historical event, you must showcase your identity. As such, the words you use should sound like they actually come from you — not a thesaurus or an English teacher.

"[Students] are used to writing academic essays and trying to impress with big words and formal-sounding constructions," Benedict said when asked about the most common mistake students make on the Common App essay. "The best essays have a conversational voice — not a stiff, academic one."

Educational consultant Ian Fisher agrees . In a blog post offering language tips for college essays, Fisher expounds on the importance of writing in a way true to how you talk in real life.

"You're going to have to fight the urge to 'impress' your admissions reader with the big words you've learned from your SAT practice," he writes.

Students should, however, avoid using any derogatory, offensive, or inappropriate language. Fisher recommends using words like "debate" instead of "fight" and "undeveloped" instead of "stupid."

Likewise, students should refrain from relying on cliches. This includes phrases such as "happily ever after," "beggars can't be choosers," and "crack of dawn." Benedict advises getting someone to "cliche-proof" your essay.

6. Get Feedback

Before submitting your Common App essay, show it to someone who will not only offer feedback but also edit and proofread your writing.

Shemmassian suggests giving your draft to "a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor." Meanwhile, Reynolds says you should "show your essay to two people — one who is a strong writer, and one who knows you really well."

All recommendations from experts share a common thread: Getting feedback on your Common App essay should be a top priority.

7. Don't Neglect Supplemental Essays

Lots of competitive universities require the Common App essay in addition to supplemental essays and/or short answers. If you have other essays to submit, don't spend all your time working on the Common App essay. After all, all essays can impact your admission chances.

"At the most selective colleges and universities, there are usually supplemental essays as well, and those are part of the overall package, and they are very important," Benedict said.

She also discussed how a great Common App essay combined with weak supplemental essays could reflect poorly on your application and increase your risk of getting rejected .

"I can't stress enough the importance of the supplemental essays," Benedict continued. "For the most selective universities, all of the essays taken together present a 'package' of who you are." And how you choose to put together that package is up to you.

Portrait of Elizabeth Benedict

Elizabeth Benedict

Elizabeth Benedict is the founder and president of Don't Sweat the Essay Inc. , which has been helping students apply to college around the U.S. and all over the world for a dozen years. Elizabeth is a best-selling novelist, a prolific journalist, and an editor of many books. She has taught writing at Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Swarthmore, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her clients are regularly admitted to top universities and their first-choice colleges.

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The 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts Are Here

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What’s Covered:

2021-2022 common app prompts, what has changed, tips for writing your common app essay.

  • How to Get Your Essay Reviewed for Free

The Common App recently released their essay prompts for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, and unlike the past several years, the prompts are not the same as before.

In this post, we’ll go over the prompts, the changes, and tips for writing a strong Common App essay.

dialogue in common app essay

Here is a list of the prompts for this cycle. While they are largely unchanged, Prompt #4 is different this year (which is kind of a big deal, considering that the prompts have been the same since 2017).

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.

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?

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

Prompt #4 (NEW): 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?

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

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?

Prompt #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.

As usual, there are six prompts, with the seventh allowing you to write on a topic of your choice. The prompts are all the same except for Prompt #4. 

Here’s a side-by-side of the old and new versions of the prompt.

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

After: 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?

While all Common App essays should be personal, the old prompt was more “scientific” and analytical than the new one. The focus of the essay was a problem, its relevance to your life, and how you found a solution (or how you would find a solution).

The theme of the new prompt is gratitude, and it is inherently more reflective than the old prompt, as the focus is a personal story. The new prompt is likely to apply to more students, but there are some potential tripwires to keep in mind.

A common mistake is to spend too much time elaborating on the “thing” that was done, or on the person who did it. While you should absolutely provide some context, the essay should mainly be about you and how this event impacted your life.

It’s also important to note that the prompt asks for an act that “made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. ” Admissions officers don’t want just a classic feel good story about an act of kindness. This act of kindness can be small or significant, but it should have a relatively big impact on your life that you may not have expected. The act itself may have also been surprising, or maybe your response to it was the unexpected part. 

While this prompt may seem straightforward, it’s actually encouraging a reflection on a nuanced situation. Some examples of good topics would be: 

  • Your friend signs you up for robotics even though you didn’t want to join at first, but then you discover a love for programming and want to use it to help build medical devices and prosthetics.
  • Your parents don’t approve of your artistic pursuits due to their immigrant background and desire for stability in “practical” careers, but after years of showing no interest in your art, they attend your gallery opening. This leads to a mutual understanding and inspires you to create art based on your parents’ struggles.

dialogue in common app essay

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1. Get a head start

The topics are out, so you should consider drafting your Common App essay before the rush of the fall semester. Once senior year begins, you’ll be dealing with schoolwork, supplemental essays, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities. Your Common App essay will go to most, if not all, of the schools on your list, so it’s important that you take the time to write, edit, and get feedback on your essay. 

Read our ultimate guide to the Common App essay (which will soon be updated with the new prompt) and take a look at some strong essay examples to get a better idea of what admissions officers are looking for.

2. Know what topics are good, and which ones to avoid

There are two ways to brainstorm your essay. You can either pick a prompt that resonates with you and look for a matching story from your life, or come up with a story essential to who you are and find a prompt to match.

Keep in mind that there are some essay topics to avoid, however. Some cliche college essay topics include:

  • Sports injury story
  • Working hard in a challenging class
  • Immigrant story
  • Tragedy (death, divorce, illness)
  • Volunteer trip
  • Your religion
  • Romantic relationships
  • Family pressure to pursue a particular field

In general, these topics are bad because they’re extremely common and too often focus on the event itself rather than you and your personality. This doesn’t mean you can’t cover these topics, but it’s very difficult to do so in an effective way (see the post linked above for tips on how to revamp these cliche topics).

On the flip side, some good topic ideas are:

  • A unique extracurricular activity or passion
  • An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile
  • A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life
  • Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality
  • An in the moment narrative that tells the story of a important moment in your life

These topics are much broader and allow for greater creativity. 

3. Answer the 4 core questions

The point of the Common App essay is to humanize your application and put a face to your transcript. That’s a tall order for only 650 words max! 

To make sure you’re sharing the fullest range possible of who you are, try to answer these four core questions in your essay:

  • Why Am I Here?
  • What is Unique About Me?
  • What Matters to Me?

4. Consider the different college essay structures

The Common App essay is a piece of creative storytelling, and not your typical analytical paper for school. You don’t necessarily want to write an essay with the standard introduction, thesis, and supporting body paragraphs. 

How should you structure your essay, then? Here are a few ideas:

  • In-the-moment narrative: Take us to a specific moment in time and share your story as it’s unfolding, using this moment as a segue into broader themes of your life.
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time: This structure allows you to cover several experiences, and is well-suited for those looking to highlight their long-term development.
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage: Use several scenes (that aren’t necessarily related or chronological) to highlight an element of your life or personality.

There are also unconventional essay structures that you may consider, such as writing a movie script or a poem. These are high risk, but also high reward if executed correctly.

Learn more about essay structures and see examples in our blog post.

5. Show, don’t tell

One common mistake students make is to simply state what happened in their essay, rather than to use storytelling techniques like imagery and dialogue. To keep your essay as engaging as possible, you need to bring us to these experiences and allow us to be there with you, rather than telling us what happened. 

Here’s an example of telling: “Running a half marathon was a challenge.”

And here’s an example of showing: “My shoe became untied at mile 11, so I paused and bent over to lace it back up. Pain shot through my lower back. I grimaced and let out an audible groan.”

Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

Once you clear the academic threshold for selective schools, your essays and extracurriculars are the deciding factors for admissions officers. In fact, your essays and extracurriculars matter almost as much as grades and test scores at top schools. Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics. Your essays and extracurriculars are your chance to stand out and share your personality.

This is especially true for the Common App essay, as the prompts invite reflection and personal storytelling. It’s vital that your essay is engaging and presents you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your Common App essay. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay. 

That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!

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5 Tips on How to Write The Perfect Common App Essay

A student sitting at a desk in front of their computer. Their head is in their hands and the computer has stickers on the front.

The Common App Essay is a type of Personal Statement that you’ll be submitting to nearly all the colleges you’ll be applying to. It gives you the opportunity to better describe your interests, passions, and experiences in ways that can’t necessarily be seen in other parts of your application. 

While the majority of your college applications require you to tediously enter in bits of random information like your demographics and parents’ level of education, the essay is your chance to stand out, set yourself apart, and make your case for getting accepted to the college of your dreams. 

There’s certainly a lot of pressure riding on this essay, and it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin. For many people, picking a prompt and finding a topic is the hardest part —and that’s before the writing even begins!

Writing the Common App Essay is not designed to be easy, and there are some common pitfalls you might fall into. Sometimes, it’s about choosing the wrong topic that isn’t revealing enough about you. Other times, it’s using the wrong tone that can make you come off differently than you’d expected.

After having successfully written my Common App Essay, 12 drafts and all, I’m here to share my best tips that I wish someone would have told me before I began the process. 

1. Don’t Be Cliche

College admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and if you want yours to stand out against the crowd, steer clear of cliche topics.

There’s the classic, “I did a mission trip and learned that I like giving back,” or “I learned the power of teamwork when we won our rival’s soccer tournament.” And while there’s nothing wrong with these essays, they’re not unique and don’t reveal enough about who you are.

Dig deeper into specific moments of your life where you learned something important about yourself or others around you, even if you think it’s mundane.

Maybe it’s a dish your mom makes from your culture that makes you feel connected to your roots. Or how your favorite song takes you back to a specific childhood memory and makes you feel alive. 

Whatever it is, make sure it’s revealing something insightful about yourself that colleges can get invested in. Look around your home, school, or community: what stories can you tell?

2. Don’t Treat it Like a Resume

Treating your Common App Essay like a resume is one of the most common mistakes. Many students feel the need to use the space as a place to boast about all their accomplishments, almost as if their essay was a resume in paragraph form.

For one, college admissions officers already know all of this information from reading other parts of your application like your activities list, and by doing this, you’re wasting a bunch of space that could be better used.

Also, it can come across as conceited, so let your accomplishments speak for themselves. Even if you don’t mean to come across this way, it can still leave a bad taste in your application reader’s mouth.

It’s totally fine if your essay revolves around a specific experience that’s also on your resume, but make sure to do it in a narrative form (more on that next) instead of treating it like a cover letter.

3. Tell a Narrative

Like I mentioned, writing your essay in a narrative form is one of the best techniques you can use because it engages your reader and makes you stand out.

All this means is that you’re showing your reader how and why something interests you —be it art, science, or writing— through descriptive language, dialogue, and other storytelling tools, rather than just flat-out saying it. 

Dig deep into a specific moment when you discovered your passion for something, and use sensory details like sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell that you can remember from that moment. 

Invite your reader into a snapshot of your world , and get as detailed as possible.

4. Watch Your Tone

The tone of the essay is something that’s often overlooked, but is an important factor in how your application reader perceives your personality. 

Think of your essay as a first impression, because if you aren’t interviewing with the school, it’ll be all they know about you besides your grades, scores, and activities.

Try to aim for a balance of humility, humor, and seriousness. Your reader wants to see that you’re serious about their school and your education, but also down-to-earth and easy to get along with. They’re people too, and they are looking for applicants who are relatable and don’t take themselves too seriously.

The best piece of advice I was told was to treat my essay like a conversation. Always put yourself in your reader’s shoes and see what initial thoughts or judgments you think they’d form based on what you’re saying.

Also, let your essay breathe for a bit and come back to it a few weeks later with a fresh mindset. See what you think of it then. 

5. Use Your Space Wisely

There are two types of Common App Essay writers: those who write far too much and those who write far too little. 

If you write too much, you’re faced with having to trim out important parts, which can end up sounding disjointed. If you write too little, you’ll hardly crack the surface and risk sounding superficial.

Something I found helpful was planning out each paragraph with a topic sentence, one to two points I wanted to make, and a transition sentence that would lead into my next paragraph. By doing this, I had the skeleton of my essay and only had to add in details and supporting information. 

I highly suggest that if you tend to write too much (like me), you shouldn’t free-write your drafts. You’ll probably end up including too much information that distracts from your main idea. 

If you’re prone to writing too little, spend more time in the brainstorming part and get all your supporting details laid out from the start. It’ll be easier to build off of that way. 

Final Words of Wisdom

At the end of the day, this is your essay, so write it how you see fit. Make sure you’re letting your own voice shine through and being your honest, true self. I’m sure that’s exactly what your dream school wants, so don’t be afraid to be authentically you .

When every draft you make starts to feel worse than the one before it, remember that it’s totally normal to feel frustrated.

It took me 12 drafts, dozens of topics, and a LOT of willpower to finish it. 

But I got there, and you will, too. 

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Author: Norah Baldwin

Norah is a high school senior from Boston, Massachusetts, and will major in Nursing next year at college. She currently works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for kids, and volunteers with the American Cancer Society in addition to blogging for Niche.

More Articles By Niche

Here are my seven tips to the early high schooler in preparing for a strong college application.

We spoke with staff and faculty at Interlochen Arts Academy and Interlochen Arts Camp to get their best tips on overcoming perfectionism, developing confidence, and showcasing your artistic gifts. 

In case you haven’t heard yet, Niche has an amazing new opportunity for high school seniors. Niche Direct Admissions is a program that allows participating colleges to accept students and offer scholarships based on their Niche Profile. That’s right — no application needed.

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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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How to Write the Common App Essay–Examples for 2023-2024

dialogue in common app essay

So, you’re applying to college and are probably panicking about how to write the hardest part of your application: the Common Application essay. Don’t panic! We’re here to help. If you keep the following tips in mind, we’re confident that you’ll be well on your way to drafting a strong application essay that screams out, “Dear College, this is who I am, and here’s why you want me!”

So, let’s start with some basics.

What is the Common Application Essay?

The Common Application centralizes the admissions process for over 900 schools. These participating colleges and universities all use the same common biographical and academic information forms. Most of the schools also require or accept the Common Application essay. Neat, huh? Essentially, you choose the schools you want to apply to, add them to your application list, fill in the general demographic and biographical information, upload or input academic records and standardized testing information, designate people to write you recommendations, and upload the Common Application essay. All of this is done in one place. That’s it. Simple, right?

Now, many of the top-tiered schools require additional information and essays, but most of these documents can be uploaded into the Common Application. If you’re applying to art schools, the schools will provide extra links on their Common Application sites. Those links will lead you to a website where you can upload your art portfolio and additional documents.  We’ll discuss such additional requirements in another post.

What do I need to include in the Common App Essay?

While the Common Application essay regularly makes adjustments to its essay prompts, for the 2022-2023 college application season, the prompts will remain exactly the same as last year, when the rarely used prompt about solving a problem was replaced with one that was inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, to, according to Common App President & CEO Jenny Rickard, “help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives.” The 2023-2024 Common App Essay prompts also still contain the optional COVID-19 prompt that appeared in 2020.

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, 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 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.

Did you notice a common theme among these questions? At its core, the Common Application essay is designed to make you answer the question, “WHO are you?”  What colleges and universities want to know is (1) how your experiences or background have shaped you into the person you are today and (2) how who you are today is going to affect your future academic performance.

Why is the Common App Essay important?

This essay is one of the most important parts of your application, and in some cases, especially for top-tiered schools, it is weighed as much as, or more than, your grades and test scores—estimates say that they can account for anywhere from 10 to 30% of admission decisions. Why? Well, think about it. If most of the applicants applying to a top college have similar academic profiles, how can the schools distinguish one candidate from another? It’s all in the story you craft, and we’re here to help you present the best version of you !

Preparing to Write Your Common App Essay

A good starting point for writing a successful application essay is reading Common App essay examples that got other students admitted to their schools of choice. However, keep in mind that you do that for inspiration only and that your goal is not to copy anyone—ultimately, you’ll have to come up with your very own story and present it in your very own way. The tips and “dos and don’ts” below can help you do exactly that as you prepare to write or rewrite your Common Application essay.

You are also well advised to ask your teachers, counselors, and other mentors for advice at any step of the process: Maybe come up with a list of potential topics and let someone who knows you and is aware of your goal (to get into your school of choice) give you feedback on what they think suits or doesn’t suit you. Or make a draft of your story (maybe just in your head) and call your mentor to ask them if they would choose you as a prospective student based on that story. You can of course also seek out professional proofreaders like us to help you revise your personal statement and make it shine!

The two main points of getting yourself ready for writing your Common App essay are (1) that admissions committees have no preference for which prompt you choose and (2) that your essay is not a place to restate what you already said on your resumé or in the Common App “activities” section. You also don’t have to prove that you somehow changed the world or did something heroic. Instead, the essay is a chance for you to show the admissions committee the “you” that your friends, classmates, teachers, and family know. Our advice for where to start is to brainstorm the best (most interesting, most meaningful, most unique…) stories about your life that you can think of, and then look at the question prompts and decide which one your story could be an answer to.

Common App Essay Writing Timelines

Now that we agree on how important your Common App essay is, you will not be surprised if we recommend that you start working on it several months before the actual deadline. Why so early? Because you don’t want to rush or force it or regret your choice of topic when it’s too late to change. If you see this as a creative process that needs time, you’ll make the most out of it and also learn a lot along the way that will help you with writing other essays and assignments once you got into your school of choice!

Timeline 1: Write a Common App Essay in three months

Now you have one finished essay to apply with and two more weeks to show it around for more feedback in case you get second thoughts or to change it up again after sleeping on it for a couple of days.

If this seems like way too much time to invest in and focus on your essay, then try this:

Timeline 2: Write your Common App Essay in one month

Since you don’t have much time for feedback if you start that late, make sure you contact your advisors/teachers well in advance to let them know when you’ll be ready so that they can schedule you in or tell you when they are available. You don’t want to pressure people and step on their toes when you need their valuable input!

Great Common App Essay Examples for 2023-2024

We found some of the best Common App essay examples from this year and years past to give you a sense of what kinds of essays work best to captivate admissions officials. We have listed essay examples in each section by their corresponding essay prompt to help you understand what kinds of responses are most suitable. Although your essay will be unique and might vary significantly from the examples below, read through each one to get an overall idea.

Common App Essay Examples: 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 asks applicants to write about what makes them uniquely them. Whether you’re writing about a hobby, your background, or how you define yourself, it’s important to tell a story so central to who you are that your application would be incomplete without it.

When answering this prompt, it’s easy to repeat information that you are already presenting outside of the essay. Avoid this at all costs. Remember: the essay is supposed to add a new dimension to your application.

See this sample essay to get a sense of what a great response to this prompt could look like.

  • Handiwork – An essay about interest in creating crafts. This student expertly illustrates their dedication to a hobby by presenting anecdotes packed with sensory details.

Excerpt from “Handiwork”

I’ve always been a crafter. From the early days of Kindergarten macaroni ornaments, to making my own prom dress last year, I’ve had a knack for creating things. For drafting sketches, drawing plans, making calculations, gathering supplies, adding finishing touches. There is something so satisfying about holding something you, and you alone, have made—something that was just an image in your mind until you set about to bring it into existence, to create something new, something different. I’m sure there are hundreds of doll furniture sets out there in that same gray and pink, but there is only one with fitted (albeit with sloppy stitching) navy blue covers. There’s a sense of pride there, however small.

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #2 

This is one of the more challenging prompts. It can be difficult to demonstrate strength and potential while writing about failure. However, if you’re comfortable with introspection and making yourself a bit more vulnerable, this prompt is a great option.

A good response to this prompt demonstrates a high level of confidence and maturity as well as humility and a willingness to learn. Simply writing about a failure does nothing; students should focus on how they handled their failures in positive ways.

This essay example demonstrates how to approach this prompt.

  • Striking Out – An essay about setbacks and overcoming obstacles. Note the effectiveness of this kind of narrative in showing your abilities and perseverance.

Excerpt from “Striking Out”

About a week later, some of my friends from the team got together at the park to hang out. When I arrived, I was a little surprised that no one seemed to be mad at me – after all, I’d lost us the game, and they had to be disappointed about not making it to the semifinals. It wasn’t until we split into teams for an impromptu pickup game that I started to realize why no one was upset. Maybe it was the excitement of reaching the playoffs or the pressure of living up to my brothers’ examples, but sometime during that game, I’d lost sight of why most of us played summer league baseball. It wasn’t to win the championship, as cool as that would have been. It was because we all loved to play. I didn’t need a trophy or a Hollywood come-from-behind win to have fun playing baseball with my friends, but maybe I needed to strike out to remember that.

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #3

This is an extremely broad question – students could write about nearly anything they have ever questioned. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not all ideas and beliefs make great essays.

Students should not write about something superficial; they should write about ideas and beliefs that are central to their identities. A response to this prompt should demonstrate thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, and an ability to think analytically.

The following essay demonstrates what it takes to address this prompt effectively.

  • Gym Class Hero – An essay about challenging an idea despite all the odds being stacked against you. Note the author’s use of internal monologue to move the narrative along and captivate the reader.

Excerpt from “Gym Class Hero”

Where did my doubt come from? No one ever said to me, “Oh, you can’t run a mile.” I don’t even remember any askance looks, any raised eyebrows implying I was out of my depth. Middle-schoolers can be a cruel bunch, but not that day. There was just that voice in my head, as clear as a bell: “You’ll never be able to run a mile. You can’t even climb stairs without getting winded. It’s going to hurt. You’ll probably pass out. You could never run a mile.’ A whole mile? That voice was right. It was, in my mind, impossibly long. What was I going to do?

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #4 

As mentioned above, this prompt was added last year and inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically, by research on the benefits of writing about the positive influence that other people have on our lives.

While this prompt may seem to be asking a simple question, your answer has the potential to provide deep insights into who you are to the admissions committee. Explaining what you are grateful for can show them your culture, your community, your philosophical outlook on the world, and what makes you tick.

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #5 

We all have had experiences that helped us grow and mature, and this prompt is therefore a good option for most—if not all—applicants.

The key here is to choose the “right” accomplishment, event, or realization and then write about it in a way that showcases depth and self-analytical skills. When identifying a period of personal growth, try to stay within the past few years. You want to show the admissions officers who you are now, and a childhood story is not likely to accomplish this as effectively.

This essay is a great example of how to properly approach this prompt.

  • Student Teacher – An essay about an event that sparked personal growth. This essay example shows how demonstrating mental growth and wisdom can be just as effective as retelling how you overcame a difficulty. 

Excerpt from “Student Teacher”

Anthony’s success wasn’t just his plane. He had succeeded in making me aware of my own failures. Here was a student who was never taken seriously and had developed a bunch of behavioral issues as a result. I never stopped to look for his potential, discover his interests, or get to know the kid beneath the facade. I had grossly underestimated Anthony, and I am grateful that he was able to disillusion me. I like to think that I’m an open-minded, liberal, and non-judgmental person. Anthony taught me that I’m not there yet.

Common App Essay Examples: 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?

Like Prompt 3, Prompt 6 is very broad, and allows students to write about nearly any interest they might have. The purpose of this question is to learn what excites and motivates an applicant. Therefore, this option is ideal for students with concrete and established passions. On the other hand, students who are not sure what they are enthusiastic about should probably consider a different prompt.

To approach this prompt, start by listing all the topics, ideas, and concepts you care most about and then narrow those down to those you can describe, justify, and explain .

See the following essay, taken from this collection of “essays that worked” , to get a sense of what makes a great response to this prompt about passion for a hobby.

Excerpt from “Left and Right Don’t Exist”

Through flying, I began to consider all points of view, regardless of my personal perspective. Perhaps it was my ability to scan the horizon to communicate a single story, uniting contrasting outlooks, that drew me to my love for journalism and the diverse melting pot that was my community. To me, journalism modernizes the ancient power of storytelling, filled with imperfect characters and intricate conflicts to which I am the narrator. As editor-in-chief for my school newspaper, The Wildcat’s Tale, I aim to share the uncensored perspective of all students and encourage my editorial groups to talk — and listen — to those with whom they disagree. Starting each newspaper edition with a socratic, round-table discussion, I ask the other journalists to pursue stories that answer the questions: why did this happen and where will it lead?

Additional Common App Essay Writing Tips

There are a few other common essay mistakes you should avoid, and reading about these in advance might help you steer clear of making a fundamental error when it comes to choosing your application essay topic.

Preparing Your Common App Essay for Submission

We know we keep repeating ourselves, but after writing your application essay, be sure to have it reviewed by a trusted friend or colleague, and edited by a professional editing service like Wordvice before you finally hand it in. And while writing, make use of our hundreds of admissions resources on making your way through the college and university admissions process.

An outstanding admissions essay should have a great topic. However, it should also use clear, crisp, engaging language and be free of errors. If you require further help on this front, check out Wordvice’s full suite of English editing and proofreading services , including our essay editing services . These services are ideal for international students who struggle with English or any students who want to take their essays to the next level. 

Wordvice essay editors not only correct grammatical and stylistic errors but also provide suggestions on how you can improve the content of your essays. We are proud to say that we were ranked best admissions essay editing service by Wired.com. Check out Wordvice’s free AI proofreading tool and admissions editing services to learn how our editors can elevate your writing and help you get into your dream school.

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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

dialogue in 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. 

common app essay examples

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 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.

Have you ever had an accident, or major health problems, that significantly impaired you and impacted your life? Can you think of a specific day when you dealt with the consequences of your impairment? "}]" code="timeline2">

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:

Depending on the type of essay you\u2019re writing, this could include another personal anecdote, or it could be a meaningful takeaway. It\u2019s very important to have a defining, impactful conclusion that sums up your thesis from earlier in the essay and ties up any loose ends. "}]">

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 The 2020-21 Common App Essay

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dialogue in 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.

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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.

dialogue in common app essay

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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.

dialogue in common app essay

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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 it for free now:

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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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Common application essays: the complete guide (2023-2024).

For many high school students, the most dreaded part of applying to college is writing the college application essay. And almost every student who applies to universities in the U.S. will write a Common Application (Common App) essay.

That’s because the Common App is an online college application form used by over 900 colleges. Most of the universities ranked in the top 100 nationally by U.S. News and World Report accept the Common App, including the Ivy League schools.

In this post, we’ll ease your college essay dread by sharing the 2023-2024 Common App essay prompts and tips for answering them successfully. 

Common App Essay Format

Let’s start with some basics about writing your Common App essay! 

  • Essays must be 250-650 words. We recommend aiming for about 500 words. 
  • You can use a standard five-paragraph essay structure for your Common App essay, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you’re comfortable branching out from this structure, feel free! As long as your essay is organized and well-written, the number of paragraphs is not important. 
  • The Common App platform will not allow you to indent (tab) your paragraphs, so add an empty line between each paragraph to separate them.
  • Type your essay in a separate Word document, then paste it into the Common App platform. The font should be standardized once you paste your work in. In case it isn’t, use a 12 pt., single space, simple font like Times New Roman or Calibri. 
  • Avoid all caps, bold, underline, and italics because they can look more conversational than professional. The same applies to emojis, hashtags and excessive exclamation points.

Professional, easy-to-read formatting is important. But the content and quality of your writing is even more i mportant. So, let’s look at the Common App essay prompts. There are seven total prompts, and you can choose the one that most inspires you. 

2023-2024 Common App Essay Prompts

The seven Common App essay prompts for 2023-2024 are:

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.

How to Choose a Common App Essay Topic

With seven prompt options, how do you choose the right one? And once you’ve decided on a prompt, how do you decide what to write about?

After reading through the Common App essay prompts, it’s a good idea to choose three favorites. Then, brainstorm a list of topics for each of your selections. After brainstorming, write to the prompt that produces the best idea.

The best idea will be interesting, meaningful, engaging, or thought-provoking. It should be a topic that’s unique to you, or at least something that will separate your essay from the hundreds or thousands of others the admissions team must read. 

You should also ensure that your chosen topic is a good representation of you and what you bring to a college campus. Perhaps most importantly, it should be something you’re genuinely excited to write about.

Now, we’ll dive deeper into each prompt and how to answer them!

What should you write about?

This is an open-ended essay topic with nearly limitless possibilities. If you choose this topic, write about something that you consider central to who you are as a person. It can be about a hobby, interest, skill, or experience. It can also be about an element of your family, heritage, or culture. Think of this topic as, “Is there anything you really want to tell us about?”

What should you not write about?

Don’t write about a topic that applies to hundreds of other students. For instance, it’s better to avoid writing about the death of a family member or pet, being the captain of your school sports team (unless you can put an interesting spin on it), or your significant other. 

It’s also best to remember that you are the main character of your essay, so don’t focus on another person who’s an inspiration in your life, like one of your parents or grandparents. 

How should you write it?

First, pick something that’s genuinely meaningful to you. Your passion for the topic and its importance in your life should shine through in your writing. 

Once you’ve decided on a topic, think about how to frame it as a story. (Remember that the prompt says to “share your story.”) Your personal story about the topic will give your essay a unique perspective and help you stand out from the crowd. 

Begin the essay with a brief anecdote that highlights your topic. It can showcase how you got into the talent or interest you’re writing about or a meaningful moment in your life that’s relevant to your selected topic. It can also focus on a challenge you’ve experienced and overcome that’s tied to your identity or background. Use concrete, specific details that bring your story to life.

After the anecdote, reflect on why the topic is so important to you. How has it impacted your life and your growth as a person? What have you learned from it? How has it shaped your identity? Why is it an essential part of who you are? You don’t have to answer all these questions, but make sure to demonstrate your ability to reflect about your experiences in a meaningful way. 

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Note that this essay has three parts: 1) A time when you faced a challenge, 2) How it affected you, and 3) What you learned from the experience. Although you will need to explain a challenge you faced, the majority of the essay should focus on what you learned from the experience. 

So, consider if you’ve experienced a failure or setback that has taught you a valuable lesson or made you a better person. Do you respond well to challenges and obstacles, and is there an experience you can share that highlights positive qualities like determination, perseverance, and a positive attitude?

Challenges could include growing up in poverty, having a learning disability or physical disability, or being bullied. It could also mean missing out on an opportunity you really wanted, or being told you wouldn’t achieve something, then going on to accomplish it anyway. 

Overused responses to this prompt may include moving around a lot as a child, losing a championship game, or the death of a family member or pet. That doesn’t mean you absolutely can’t write about these topics, but make sure you have something new or insightful to say.

You should also avoid topics that could seem silly to the admissions team, like a break-up, failing your math test, or missing out on the party of the year. Don’t write about anything that calls your morals or judgment into question, such as any type of illegal or inappropriate activity.

Start by briefly describing the challenge, setback, or failure. Avoid overly negative language or complaining. Instead, state the facts. As always, use concrete details to make the story more unique and engaging.

Spend the rest of your essay discussing what you learned and how you grew. How did you handle the challenge and ultimately overcome it? Show positive qualities like resilience, integrity, courage, and persistence. What lessons will you carry with you into college and the rest of your life? 

This is one of the more challenging Common App essay prompts. It requires a passionate essay about a belief or value that’s important to you, something you’re willing to stand up for, even when it’s difficult to do so. Think about something that truly matters to you. Why does it matter? Have you stood by an unpopular opinion or belief? Why? What happened next?

Successful responses to this prompt have included an essay about a student challenging her self-doubts and insecurities, as well as an essay about a student standing up to her parents’ old-fashioned ideas about feminism. You could also write about challenging beliefs that are racist, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory. 

It’s important to avoid topics that are overly controversial or polarizing. You don’t want to write about something that makes the admissions team uncomfortable or offended, or something that they strongly disagree with. Politics and religion are risky. 

It’s almost always a good idea to launch right into the meat of your story. Describe the time you questioned or challenged an idea or a belief, using vivid details and active verbs. 

Then, discuss the outcome. How did your actions impact the people around you, your community, or your life? Reflect on why you chose to take a stand and why the value or belief you shared is important to you. How will this experience change or affect your actions in the future?

This prompt is risky because you want to sound passionate, but not preachy. Remember that you’re telling a story about an experience you had, rather than writing a persuasive essay about one of your beliefs. You should also demonstrate that you’re able to consider (and sometimes disagree with) other viewpoints without insulting them. Don’t sound rude, angry, or close-minded. Instead, show that you’re principled and have integrity. 

This is another broad prompt that gives you the opportunity to write about a time you felt gratitude. Think about how the people in your life have helped you grow. You can write about a small or big gesture that you appreciated. Consider the role of gratitude in your life, and how acknowledging positive experiences can inspire and motivate you. 

You can write about anything from a random act of kindness to something that restored your faith in humanity. It can be a kind gesture from a stranger, an unexpected and meaningful gift from a loved one, or something a person in your life said or did that helped you overcome a challenge or difficult time. 

Once again, remember that the main character of your college application essay is always you. So, you must be able to write about how you expressed your appreciation or responded to the gesture. How did it affect you? How does it continue to motivate you now? Did it inspire you to “pay it forward” to others? In what way?

You want to write about an uncommon act of kindness that deeply affected you, something you’ll always remember and draw inspiration from. In most cases, it’s better to avoid writing about something materialistic, like your parents buying you the car you’ve always wanted or getting you an expensive prom dress. If it costs money, but the gesture was personal and meaningful to you, then it’s okay to address it. 

How should you write about it?

Start by sharing the experience or gesture that you appreciate. Use specific details to show (not tell) how the gesture made you feel seen, heard, or acknowledged. What happened that touched your heart and inspired you?

For most of your essay, focus on how you responded and drew inspiration from the experience. What did you realize as a result? How did you express gratitude and appreciation? How did you choose to pay it forward? Is the act of kindness linked to your passions or aspirations for the future? 

Words like “event” and “accomplishment” are open to interpretation. It could be a major life event or a small occurrence that meant a lot to you. Often, the smaller events make for more surprising and memorable Common App essays. Whatever you’d like to write about, make it creative and interesting by sharing your unique perspective. 

Think about the moments, even small ones, that changed you as a person or opened your eyes to new ideas. Have you ever had an “aha” moment that impacted your perspective or actions moving forward? What’s something you’ve learned that made you feel more capable or more adult?

Make sure that the accomplishment, event, or realization is something that helped you learn or grow. Maybe you simply discovered something new about yourself, like leadership skills you didn’t know you had. Perhaps you learned a simple but meaningful life lesson, like the value of being open to feedback or slowing down to appreciate the little things in life. 

One overdone topic is sharing a community service experience that made you appreciate your own circumstances more. If you really want to touch on this topic, make it unique by discussing a small moment within the experience that affected you in a specific way, instead of something general like “appreciating life” or “being grateful for what I have.” As usual, you should also steer clear of anything illegal, illicit, or potentially silly. 

Briefly tell the story of your transformative experience. What happened, what did you accomplish, or what did you realize? 

Then reflect on how this moment in your life led to growth or change. How did it help you understand the world through a new or more mature perspective? What did you think or do differently afterward? Did it influence your values or future goals? Did it spark a new interest? 

By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. It’s best to start Common App essays with a brief story or anecdote that includes vivid details and active verbs. You want to make it specific so it’s not a generalized essay that any applicant should write. Then, it’s time to get reflective about how the experience impacted or shaped you. If you can relate it to your passions, aspirations, or identity, even better!

This prompt is all about your passions. It’s also an opportunity to showcase your capacity for self-motivated learning. College admissions teams admire applicants who are curious and resourceful. If something captures your attention, how do you go about exploring it and learning more?

Whatever you write about, it should meet two main requirements:

  • You genuinely love it.
  • You’ve taken the initiative to pursue more knowledge and more experiences related to this interest.

What sparks your curiosity, inspiration, and appetite for knowledge? Why? When you’re deeply interested in a topic, how do you seek to enrich your knowledge? What is your learning process? 

You can write about your love for dystopian literature, abstract art, chess, coding, the stock market, baseball stats, the culinary arts, or even applying psychology concepts to your favorite TV shows. Are you intrigued by quantum physics, Henry VIII, how to make the perfect cheesecake, or the ripple effects of the Treaty of Versailles? Be specific. 

As long as you can explain how you pursued more knowledge on the topic and continued to challenge yourself, don’t be afraid to get creative. 

As long as your topic meets the two requirements described above (you love it and you’ve independently pursued more knowledge), it should work well for this prompt. Of course, it could be tricky to write about your obsession with video games or reality TV. Make sure you can explain why the topic fascinates you and how you’ve enriched your learning in this area.

Start by discussing how you initially became fascinated by your topic of interest. Alternatively, you can start by describing your typical morning routine of checking the stock market, or describing your favorite corner of the local library. Share why your topic piqued your curiosity or immediately absorbed you.

Then, explain what you do to further your knowledge in this area. Remember to be specific and use concrete details.

Is your topic related to your college major or future goals? If it’s something non-academic, like perfecting your cheesecake recipe, briefly make a connection to more academic pursuits. Is the way you approach cheesecake the same way you approach preparing for a big test or sharpening your writing skills? 

In this case, you can write about anything . This prompt is 100% open-ended. It can even be an essay you’ve already written! But for the same reasons this topic is great, it’s also challenging. Responding to a specific prompt is often much easier than responding to a prompt that says, “Write whatever you want.” 

That being said, this is the prompt for you if there’s something you’re dying to share with the admissions team that does not apply to any other Common App essay prompt. What do you have to offer a college campus that no one else can? Is there a story you love to tell that will provide insight into who you are and what matters to you?

Any essay will technically fit this prompt. Just be sure to avoid controversial, inappropriate, or overly silly topics. 

The way you write this essay depends on the topic you choose. However, you can follow the general rules of thumb outlined in our advice for the other essay topics. Start with an engaging anecdote that draws the reader into your topic. Then include some reflection about why it’s important, what you learned, or how it’s impacted your personal growth and future aspirations.

General Essay Tips

For any of the Common App essay prompts, as well as supplemental essays and short answer questions, follow these tips:

  • Share new information. In your essay(s). Provide information that the admissions team won’t find anywhere else in your application. This is an opportunity to highlight aspects of your personality and life that don’t fit anywhere else.
  • Write in your voice . Your essays should “sound” like you. If the schools you’re applying to don’t offer interviews, this is your best chance to let your personality shine. The admissions team wants to know who you are, beyond your GPA and test scores.
  • Use specific details. We’ve said this a lot, but that’s because it’s important. Vivid details and memorable language set your essay apart from the pack, even if your topic is extremely unique or groundbreaking.
  • Be creative. Don’t be afraid to get creative and highlight what makes you unique, within reason. Admissions officers that have read thousands of repetitive essays will appreciate something that’s a little zany. 
  • Proofread carefully. Read over your essay multiple times for clarity, concision, grammar, and spelling. Delete unnecessary or repetitive words and phrases. Try to use active verbs (e.g., “Joe interviewed me” instead of “I was interviewed by Joe,” or “My mom picked me up from school” instead of “I was picked up by my mom”). Ask a trusted friend, family member, or teacher to review your essay too. 

You should also make sure your essay answers the question the prompt asks. Write about something that’s important to you, and always make sure to reflect. You aren’t just telling a story; you’re showing what you learned, how it changed you, and why it’s important enough to be the focus of your college application essay. 

Final Thoughts: Common App Essay Tips

Writing your Common App essay doesn’t have to be scary. Believe it or not, it can even be fun. The key is to choose a topic that you’re excited to write about. Dig into something that’s important to you. Get creative, use specific details, and reflect on your experiences. 

Don’t try too hard to impress or use vocabulary words you’ve never used before. Be yourself – just a more polished, professional version. Write in your voice and let your personality shine. That sounds at least a little fun, doesn’t it?

By following these tips, you’ll reduce your college essay stress and write a memorable essay that college admissions teams will love.

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25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

Essay Examples: Writing the Common App Essay

Applying to competitive colleges? You'll need to have a stand-out Common App essay.

In this article, I'm going to share with you:

  • 25 outstanding Common App essay examples
  • Links to tons of personal statement examples
  • Why these Common App essays worked

If you're looking for outstanding Common App essay examples, you've found the right place.

Ryan

If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay.

Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

Whether you're a student working on your Common App essay, or a parent wondering what it takes, this article will help you master the Common App Essay.

What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2023?

There are seven prompts for the Common App essay. Remember that the prompts are simply to help get you started thinking.

You don't have to answer any of the prompts if you don't want (see prompt #7 ).

Here's the seven Common App essay questions for 2022, which are the same as previous years:

  • 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.

The last prompt is a catch-all prompt, which means you can submit an essay on any topic you want.

Use the Common App prompts as brainstorming questions and to get you thinking.

But ultimately, you should write about any topic you meaningfully care about.

What makes an outstanding Common App personal essay?

I've read thousands of Common App essays from highly motivated students over the past years.

And if I had to choose the top 2 things that makes for incredible Common App essays it's these:

1. Being Genuine

Sounds simple enough. But it's something that is incredibly rare in admissions.

Authenticity is something we all know when we see it, but can be hard to define.

Instead of focus on what you think sounds the best to admissions officers, focus on what you have to say—what interests you.

2. Having Unique Ideas

The best ideas come about while you're writing.

You can't just sit down and say, "I'll think really hard of good essay ideas."

I wish that worked, but it sadly doesn't. And neither do most brainstorming questions.

The ideas you come up with from these surface-level tactics are cheap, because no effort was put in.

As they say,

"Writing is thinking"

By choosing a general topic (e.g. my leadership experience in choir) and writing on it, you'll naturally come to ideas.

As you write, continue asking yourself questions that make you reflect.

It is more of an artistic process than technical one, so you'll have to feel what ideas are most interesting.

25 Common App Essay Examples from Top Schools

With that, here's 25 examples as Common App essay inspiration to get you started.

These examples aren't perfect—nor should you expect yours to be—but they are stand-out essays.

I've handpicked these examples of personal statements from admitted students because they showcase a variety of topics and writing levels.

These students got into top schools and Ivy League colleges in recent years:

Table of Contents

  • 1. Seeds of Immigration
  • 2. Color Guard
  • 3. Big Eater
  • 4. Love for Medicine
  • 5. Cultural Confusion
  • 6. Football Manager
  • 9. Mountaineering
  • 10. Boarding School
  • 11. My Father
  • 12. DMV Trials
  • 13. Ice Cream Fridays
  • 14. Key to Happiness
  • 15. Discovering Passion
  • 16. Girl Things
  • 17. Robotics
  • 18. Lab Research
  • 19. Carioca Dance
  • 20. Chinese Language
  • 21. Kiki's Delivery Service
  • 22. Museum of Life
  • 23. French Horn
  • 24. Dear My Younger Self
  • 25. Monopoly

Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration

This student was admitted to Dartmouth College . In this Common App essay, they discuss their immigrant family background that motivates them.

Although family is a commonly used topic, this student makes sure to have unique ideas and write in a genuine way.

Common App 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. (250-650 words)

I placed three tiny seeds, imagining the corn stalk growing while the pumpkin vines wrapped around it; both sprouting, trying to bear fruit. I clenched a fistful of dirt and placed it on them. “Más,” my grandpa told me as he quickly flooded the seeds with life-giving dirt.

Covered. Completely trapped.

Why This Essay Works:

Everyone has a unique family history and story, and often that can make for a strong central theme of a personal statement. In this essay, the student does a great job of sharing aspects of his family's culture by using specific Spanish words like "yunta" and by describing their unique immigration story. Regardless of your background, sharing your culture and what it means to you can be a powerful tool for reflection.

This student focuses on reflecting on what their culture and immigrant background means to them. By focusing on what something represents, rather than just what it literally is, you can connect to more interesting ideas. This essay uses the metaphor of their family's history as farmers to connect to their own motivation for succeeding in life.

This essay has an overall tone of immense gratitude, by recognizing the hard work that this student's family has put in to afford them certain opportunities. By recognizing the efforts of others in your life—especially efforts which benefit you—you can create a powerful sense of gratitude. Showing gratitude is effective because it implies that you'll take full advantage of future opportunities (such as college) and not take them for granted. This student also demonstrates a mature worldview, by recognizing the difficulty in their family's past and how things easily could have turned out differently for this student.

This essay uses three moments of short, one-sentence long paragraphs. These moments create emphasis and are more impactful because they standalone. In general, paragraph breaks are your friend and you should use them liberally because they help keep the reader engaged. Long, dense paragraphs are easy to gloss over and ideas can lose focus within them. By using a variety of shorter and longer paragraphs (as well as shorter and longer sentences) you can create moments of emphasis and a more interesting structure.

What They Might Improve:

This conclusion is somewhat off-putting because it focuses on "other students" rather than the author themself. By saying it "fills me with pride" for having achieved without the same advantages, it could create the tone of "I'm better than those other students" which is distasteful. In general, avoid putting down others (unless they egregiously deserve it) and even subtle phrasings that imply you're better than others could create a negative tone. Always approach your writing with an attitude of optimism, understanding, and err on the side of positivity.

Common App Essay Example #2: Color Guard

This student was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Check out their Common App essay that focuses on an extracurricular:

Sweaty from the hot lights, the feeling of nervousness and excitement return as I take my place on the 30-yard line. For 10 short minutes, everyone is watching me. The first note of the opening song begins, and I’m off. Spinning flags, tossing rifles, and dancing across the football field. Being one of only two people on the colorguard means everyone will see everything. It’s amazing and terrifying. And just like that, the performance is over.

Flashback to almost four years ago, when I walked into the guard room for the first time. I saw flyers for a “dance/flag team” hanging in the bland school hallway, and because I am a dancer, I decided to go. This was not a dance team at all. Spinning flags and being part of the marching band did not sound like how I wanted to spend my free time. After the first day, I considered not going back. But, for some unknown reason, I stayed. And after that, I began to fall in love with color guard. It is such an unknown activity, and maybe that’s part of what captivated me. How could people not know about something so amazing? I learned everything about flags and dancing in that year. And something interesting happened- I noticed my confidence begin to grow. I had never thought I was that good at anything, there was always someone better. However, color guard was something I truly loved, and I was good at it.

The next year, I was thrown into an interesting position. Our current captain quit in the middle of the season, and I was named the new captain of a team of six. At first, this was quite a daunting task. I was only a sophomore, and I was supposed to lead people two years older than me? Someone must’ve really believed in me. Being captain sounded impossible to me at first, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing my best. This is where my confidence really shot up. I learned how to be a captain. Of course I was timid at first, but slowly, I began to become a true leader.

The next marching season, it paid off. I choreographed many pieces of our show, and helped teach the other part of my guard, which at the time was only one other person. Having a small guard, we had to be spectacular, especially for band competitions. We ended up winning first place and second place trophies, something that had never been done before at our school, especially for such a small guard. That season is still one of my favorite memories. The grueling hours of learning routines, making changes, and learning how to be a leader finally paid off.

Looking back on it as I exit the field after halftime once again, I am so proud of myself. Not only has color guard helped the band succeed, I’ve also grown. I am now confident in what my skills are. Of course there is always more to be done, but I now I have the confidence to share my ideas, which is something I can’t say I had before color guard. Every Friday night we perform, I think about the growth I’ve made, and I feel on top of the world. That feeling never gets old.

Common App Essay Example #3: Big Eater

This Common App essay is a successful Northwestern essay from an admitted student. It has a unique take using the topic of eating habits—an example of how "mundane" topics can make for interesting ideas.

This essay uses their relationship with food to explore how their perspective has changed through moving high schools far away. Having a central theme is often a good strategy because it allows you to explore ideas while making them feel connected and cohesive. This essay shows how even a "simple" topic like food can show a lot about your character because you can extrapolate what it represents, rather than just what it literally is. With every topic, you can analyze on two levels: what it literally is, and what it represents.

Admissions officers want to get a sense of who you are, and one way to convey that is by using natural-sounding language and being somewhat informal. In this essay, the student writes as they'd speak, which creates a "voice" that you as the reader can easily hear. Phrases like "I kind of got used to it" may be informal, but work to show a sense of character. Referring to their parents as "Ma" and "Papa" also bring the reader into their world. If you come from a non-English speaking country or household, it can also be beneficial to use words from your language, such as "chiemo" in this essay. Using foreign language words helps share your unique culture with admissions.

Rather than "telling" the reader what they have to say, this student does a great job of "showing" them through specific imagery and anecdotes. Using short but descriptive phrases like "whether it was a sum or Sam the bully" are able to capture bigger ideas in a more memorable way. Showing your points through anecdotes and examples is always more effective than simply telling them, because showing allows the reader to come to their own conclusion, rather than having to believe what you're saying.

This student's first language is not English, which does make it challenging to express ideas with the best clarity. Although this student does an overall great job in writing despite this hindrance, there are moments where their ideas are not easily understood. In particular, when discussing substance addiction, it isn't clear: Was the student's relationship with food a disorder, or was that a metaphor? When drafting your essay, focus first on expressing your points as clearly and plainly as possible (it's harder than you may think). Simplicity is often better, but if you'd like, afterwards you can add creative details and stylistic changes.

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Common App Essay Example #4: Love for Medicine

Here's another Common App essay which is an accepted Dartmouth essay . This student talks about their range of experiences as an emergency medical responder:

I never knew I had the courage to talk a suicidal sixteen-year-old boy down from the edge of a bridge, knowing that he could jump and take his life at any moment.

I never knew I had the confidence to stand my ground and defend my treatment plan to those who saw me as less than capable because of my age or gender.

This essay has lots of detailed moments and descriptions. These anecdotes help back up their main idea by showing, rather than just telling. It's always important to include relevant examples because they are the "proof in the pudding" for what you're trying to say.

This topic deals with a lot of sensitive issues, and at certain points the writing could be interpreted as insensitive or not humble. It's especially important when writing about tragedies that you focus on others, rather than yourself. Don't try to play up your accomplishments or role; let them speak for themselves. By doing so, you'll actually achieve what you're trying to do: create an image of an honorable and inspirational person.

This essay touches on a lot of challenging and difficult moments, but it lacks a deep level of reflection upon those moments. When analyzing your essay, ask yourself: what is the deepest idea in it? In this case, there are some interesting ideas (e.g. "when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status...fell away"), but they are not fully developed or fleshed out.

Common App Essay Example #5: Cultural Confusion

This student's Common App was accepted to Pomona College , among other schools. Although this essay uses a common topic of discussing cultural background, this student writes a compelling take.

This student uses the theme of cultural confusion to explain their interests and identity:

Common App Essay Example #6: Football Manager

Here's a UPenn essay that worked for the Common App:

This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.

The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.

Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.

More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.

In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.

Common App Essay Example #7: Coffee

This student was admitted to several selective colleges, including Emory University, Northwestern University , Tufts University, and the University of Southern California . Here's their Common Application they submitted to these schools:

I was 16 years old, and working at a family-owned coffee shop training other employees to pour latte art. Making coffee became an artistic outlet that I never had before. I always loved math, but once I explored the complexities of coffee, I began to delve into a more creative realm--photography and writing--and exposed myself to the arts--something foreign and intriguing.

This essay uses coffee as a metaphor for this student's self-growth, especially in dealing with the absence of their father. Showing the change of their relationship with coffee works well as a structure because it allows the student to explore various activities and ideas while making them seem connected.

This student does a great job of including specifics, such as coffee terminology ("bloom the grounds" and "pour a swan"). Using specific and "nerdy" language shows your interests effectively. Don't worry if they won't understand all the references exactly, as long as there is context around them.

While coffee is the central topic, the author also references their father extensively throughout. It isn't clear until the conclusion how these topics relate, which makes the essay feel disjointed. In addition, there is no strong main idea, but instead a few different ideas. In general, it is better to focus on one interesting idea and delve deeply, rather than focus on many and be surface-level.

Near the conclusion, this student tells about their character: "humble, yet important, simple, yet complex..." You should avoid describing yourself to admissions officers, as it is less convincing. Instead, use stories, anecdotes, and ideas to demonstrate these qualities. For example, don't say "I'm curious," but show them by asking questions. Don't say, "I'm humble," but show them with how you reacted after a success or failure.

Common App Essay Example #8: Chicago

Here's another Northwestern essay . Northwestern is a quite popular school with lots of strong essay-focused applicants, which makes your "Why Northwestern?" essay important.

To write a strong Why Northwestern essay, try to answer these questions: What does NU represent to you? What does NU offer for you (and your interests) that other schools don't?

This essay uses a variety of descriptive and compelling words, without seeming forced or unnatural. It is important that you use your best vocabulary, but don't go reaching for a thesaurus. Instead, use words that are the most descriptive, while remaining true to how you'd actually write.

This essay is one big metaphor: the "L" train serves as a vehicle to explore this student's intellectual curiosity. Throughout the essay, the student also incorporates creative metaphors like "the belly of a gargantuan silver beast" and "seventy-five cent silver chariot" that show a keen sense of expression. If a metaphor sounds like one you've heard before, you probably shouldn't use it.

This student does a fantastic job of naturally talking about their activities. By connecting their activities to a common theme—in this case the "L" train—you can more easily move from one activity to the next, without seeming like you're just listing activities. This serves as an engaging way of introducing your extracurriculars and achievements, while still having the focus of your essay be on your interesting ideas.

Admissions officers are ultimately trying to get a sense of who you are. This student does a great job of taking the reader into their world. By sharing quirks and colloquialisms (i.e. specific language you use), you can create an authentic sense of personality.

Common App Essay Example #9: Mountaineering

Here's a liberal arts college Common App essay from Colby College . Colby is a highly ranked liberal arts college.

As with all colleges—but especially liberal arts schools—your personal essay will be a considerable factor.

In this essay, the student describes their experience climbing Mount Adams, and the physical and logistical preparations that went into it. They describe how they overcame some initial setbacks by using their organizational skills from previous expeditions.

This Colby student explains how the process of preparation can lead to success in academics and other endeavours, but with the potential for negative unintended consequences.

Common App 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? (250-650 words)

This essay does a great job of having a cohesive theme: mountaineering. Often times, great essay topics can be something simple on the surface, such as your favorite extracurricular activity or a notable experience. Consider using the literal activity as a sort of metaphor, like this essay does. This student uses mountaineering as a metaphor for preparation in the face of upcoming challenge. Using an overarching metaphor along with a central theme can be effective because it allows you to explore various ideas while having them all feel connected and cohesive.

Admissions officers want to see your self-growth, which doesn't always mean your successes. Often times, being vulnerable by expressing your struggles is powerful because it makes you more human and relatable, while providing the opportunity to reflect on what you learned. The best lessons from come failures, and writing about challenge can also make your later successes feel more impactful. Everyone loves to hear an underdog or zero-to-hero story. But counterintuitively, your failures are actually more important than your successes.

This essay has some nice ideas about focusing only on what's in your control: your attitude and your effort. However, these ideas are ultimately somewhat generic as they have been used countless times in admissions essays. Although ideas like this can be a good foundation, you should strive to reach deeper ideas. Deeper ideas are ones that are specific to you, unique, and interesting. You can reach deeper ideas by continually asking yourself "How" and "Why" questions that cause you to think deeper about a topic. Don't be satisfied with surface-level reflections. Think about what they represent more deeply, or how you can connect to other ideas or areas of your life.

Common App Essay Example #10: Boarding School

This personal essay was accepted to Claremont McKenna College . See how this student wrote a vulnerable essay about boarding school experience and their family relationship:

I began attending boarding school aged nine.

Obviously, this is not particularly unusual – my school dorms were comprised of boys and girls in the same position as me. However, for me it was difficult – or perhaps it was for all of us; I don’t know. We certainly never discussed it.

I felt utterly alone, as though my family had abruptly withdrawn the love and support thatI so desperately needed. At first, I did try to open up to them during weekly phone calls, but what could they do? As months slipped by, the number of calls reduced. I felt they had forgotten me. Maybe they felt I had withdrawn from them. A vast chasm of distance was cracking open between us.

At first, I shared my hurt feelings with my peers, who were amazingly supportive, but there was a limit to how much help they could offer. After a while, I realized that by opening up, I was burdening them, perhaps even irritating them. The feelings I was sharing should have been reserved for family. So, I withdrew into myself. I started storing up my emotions and became a man of few words. In the classroom or on the sports field, people saw a self-confident and cheerful character, but behind that facade was someone who yearned for someone to understand him and accept him as he was.

Years went past.

Then came the phone call which was about to change my life. “Just come home Aryan, it’s really important!” My mother’s voice was odd, brittle. I told her I had important exams the following week, so needed to study. “Aryan, why don’t you listen to me? There is no other option, okay? You are coming home.”

Concerned, I arranged to fly home. When I got there, my sister didn’t say hi to me, my grandmother didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to see me and my mother was nowhere to be seen. I wanted to be told why I was called back so suddenly just to be greeted as though I wasn’t even welcome.

Then my mother then came out of her room and saw me. To my immense incredulity, she ran to me and hugged me, and started crying in my arms.

Then came the revelation, “Your father had a heart attack.”

My father. The man I hadn’t really talked to in years. A man who didn’t even know who I was anymore. I’d spent so long being disappointed in him and suspecting he was disappointed in me, I sunk under a flood of emotions.

I opened the door to his room and there he was sitting on his bed with a weak smile on his face. I felt shaken to my core. All at once it was clear to me how self-centered I had become. A feeling of humiliation engulfed me, but finally I realized that rather than wallow in it, I needed to appreciate I was not alone in having feelings.

I remained at home that week. I understood that my family needed me. I worked with my uncle to ensure my family business was running smoothly and often invited relatives or friends over to cheer my father up.

Most importantly, I spent time with my family. It had been years since I’d last wanted to do this – I had actively built the distance between us – but really, I’d never stopped craving it. Sitting together in the living room, I realized how badly I needed them.

Seeing happiness in my father’s eyes, I felt I was finally being the son he had always needed me to be: A strong, capable young man equipped to take over the family business if need be.

Common App Essay Example #11: My Father

This Cornell University essay is an example of writing about a tragedy, which can be a tricky topic to write about well.

Family and tragedy essays are a commonly used topic, so it can be harder to come up with a unique essay idea using these topics.

Let me know what you think of this essay for Cornell:

My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.

Writing about tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, is a tricky topic because it has been used countless times in college admissions. It is difficult to not come off as a "victim" or that you're trying to garner sympathy by using the topic (i.e. a "sob story"). This essay does a great job of writing about a personal tragedy in a meaningful and unique way by connecting to values and ideas, rather than staying focused on what literally happened. By connecting tragedy to lessons and takeaways, you can show how—despite the difficulty and sorrow—you have gained something positive from it, however small that may be. Don't write about personal tragedy because you think "you should." As with any topic, only write about it if you have a meaningful point to make.

This essay is effective at making the reader feel the similar emotions as the author does and in bringing the reader into their "world." Even small remarks like noting the the "firsts" without their loved one are powerful because it is relatable and something that is apparent, but not commonly talked about. Using short phrases like "That was it. No goodbye, no I love you..." create emphasis and again a sense of relatability. As the reader, you can vividly imagine how the author must have felt during these moments. The author also uses questions, such as "What did I last say to him?" which showcase their thought process, another powerful way to bring the reader into your world.

Admissions officers are looking for self-growth, which can come in a variety of forms. Showing a new perspective is one way to convey that you've developed over time, learned something new, or gained new understanding or appreciation. In this essay, the student uses the "sticker of a black and white eye" to represent how they viewed their father differently before and after his passing. By using a static, unchanging object like this, and showing how you now view it differently over time, you convey a change in perspective that can make for interesting reflections.

Common App Essay Example #12: DMV Trials

Here's a funny Common App essay from a Northwestern admitted student about getting their driver's license.

This topic has been used before—as many "topics" have—but what's important is having a unique take or idea.

What do you think of this Northwestern essay ?

Breath, Emily, breath. I drive to the exit and face a four-lane roadway. “Turn left,” my passenger says.

On July 29, [Date] , I finally got my license. After the April debacle, I practiced driving almost every week. I learned to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets, the things I apparently didn’t know how to do during my first two tests. When pulling into the parking lot with the examiner for the last time, a wave of relief washed over me.

This essay does a good job of having a compelling narrative. By setting the scene descriptively, it is easy to follow and makes for a pleasant reading experience. However, avoid excessive storytelling, as it can overshadow your reflections, which are ultimately most important.

This essay has some moments where the author may come off as being overly critical, of either themselves or of others. Although it is okay (and good) to recognize your flaws, you don't want to portray yourself in a negative manner. Avoid being too negative, and instead try to find the positive aspects when possible.

More important than your stories is the answer to "So what?" and why they matter. Avoid writing a personal statement that is entirely story-based, because this leaves little room for reflection and to share your ideas. In this essay, the reflections are delayed to the end and not as developed as they could be.

In this essay, it comes across that failure is negative. Although the conclusion ultimately has a change of perspective in that "failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward," it doesn't address that failure is ultimately a positive thing. Admissions officers want to see failure and your challenges, because overcoming those challenges is what demonstrates personal growth.

Common App Essay Example #13: Ice Cream Fridays

This Columbia essay starts off with a vulnerable moment of running for school president. The student goes on to show their growth through Model UN, using detailed anecdotes and selected moments.

My fascination with geopolitical and economic issues were what kept me committed to MUN. But by the end of sophomore year, the co-presidents were fed up. “Henry, we know how hard you try, but there are only so many spots for each conference...” said one. “You’re wasting space, you should quit,” said the other.

This essay has a compelling story, starting from this author's early struggles with public speaking and developing into their later successes with Model UN. Using a central theme—in this case public speaking—is an effective way of creating a cohesive essay. By having a main idea, you can tie in multiple moments or achievements without them coming across unrelated.

This student talks about their achievements with a humble attitude. To reference your successes, it's equally important to address your failures. By expressing your challenges, it will make your later achievements seem more impactful in contrast. This student also is less "me-focused" and instead is interested in others dealing with the same struggles. By connecting to people in your life, values, or interesting ideas, you can reference your accomplishments without coming off as bragging.

This essay has moments of reflection, such as "math and programming made sense... people didn't". However, most of these ideas are cut short, without going much deeper. When you strike upon a potentially interesting idea, keep going with it. Try to explain the nuances, or broaden your idea to more universal themes. Find what is most interesting about your experience and share that with admissions.

Stories are important, but make sure all your descriptions are critical for the story. In this essay, the author describes things that don't add to the story, such as the appearance of other people or what they were wearing. These ultimately don't relate to their main idea—overcoming public speaking challenges—and instead are distracting.

Common App Essay Example #14: Key to Happiness

Here's a Brown University application essay that does a great job of a broad timeline essay. This student shows the change in their thinking and motivations over a period of time, which makes for an interesting topic.

Let me know what you think of this Brown essay:

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (250-650 words)

This student's first language is not English, which provides some insight into why the phrasing may not seem as natural or show as much personality. Admissions officers are holistic in determining who to admit, meaning they take into account many different factors when judging your essays. While this essay may not be the strongest, the applicant probably had other qualities or "hooks" that helped them get accepted, such as awards, activities, unique background, etc. Plus, there is some leniency granted to students who don't speak English as their first language, because writing essays in a foreign language is tough in and of itself.

It's good to be confident in your achievements, but you don't want to come across as boastful or self-assured. In this essay, some of the phrasing such as "when I was the best at everything" seems exaggerated and is off-putting. Instead of boosting your accomplishments, write about them in a way that almost "diminishes" them. Connect your achievements to something bigger than you: an interesting idea, a passionate cause, another person or group. By not inflating your achievements, you'll come across more humble and your achievements will actually seem more impactful. We all have heard of a highly successful person who thinks "it's no big deal," which actually makes their talents seem far more impressive.

This essay has some takeaways and reflections, as your essay should too, but ultimately these ideas are unoriginal and potentially cliché. Ideas like "what makes you happy is pursing your passion" are overused and have been heard thousands of times by admissions officers. Instead, focus on getting to unique and "deep" ideas: ideas that are specific to you and that have meaningful implications. It's okay to start off with more surface-level ideas, but you want to keep asking questions to yourself like "Why" and "How" to push yourself to think deeper. Try making connections, asking what something represents more broadly, or analyzing something from a different perspective.

You don't need to preface your ideas in your essay. Don't say things like "I later found out this would be life-changing, and here's why." Instead, just jump into the details that are most compelling. In this essay, there are moments that seem repetitive and redundant because they don't add new ideas and instead restate what's already been said in different words. When editing your essay, be critical of every sentence (and even words) by asking: Does this add something new to my essay? Does it have a clear, distinct purpose? If the answer is no, you should probably remove that sentence.

Common App Essay Example #15: Discovering Passion

Here's a Johns Hopkins essay that shows how the student had a change in attitude and perspective after taking a summer job at a care facility.

It may seem odd to write about your potential drawbacks or weaknesses—such as having a bad attitude towards something—but it's real and can help demonstrate personal growth.

So tell me your thoughts on this JHU Common App essay:

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

This student uses vulnerability in admitting that they held preconceived notions about the elderly before this experience. The quote introduces these preconceived notions well, while the description of how this student got their job in the care facility is also engaging.

Admission officers love to see your interactions with others. Showing how you interact reveals a lot about your character, and this essay benefits from reflecting upon the student's relationship with a particular elderly individual.

It is good to be descriptive, but only when it supports your expression of ideas. In this essay, the author uses adjectives and adverbs excessively, without introducing new ideas. Your ideas are more important than having a diverse vocabulary, and the realizations in this essay are muddled by rephrasing similar ideas using seemingly "impressive," but ultimately somewhat meaningless, vocabulary.

This essay touches on some interesting ideas, but on multiple occasions these ideas are repeated just in different phrasing. If you have already expressed an idea, don't repeat it unless you're adding something new: a deeper context, a new angle, a broadened application, etc. Ask yourself: what is the purpose of each sentence, and have I expressed it already?

It's true that almost any topic can make for a strong essay, but certain topics are trickier because they make it easy to write about overly used ideas. In this essay, the main idea can be summarized as: "I realized the elderly were worthy humans too." It touches upon more interesting ideas, such as how people can be reduced down to their afflictions rather than their true character, but the main idea is somewhat surface-level.

Common App Essay Example #16: "A Cow Gave Birth"

This Common App essay for the University of Pennsylvania centers on the theme of womanhood. Not only is it well-written, but this essay has interesting and unique ideas that relate to the student's interests.

Common App Essay Example #17: Robotics

This Common App essay was for Washington University in St. Louis .

This student writes about their experience creating and using an engineering notebook to better document their robotics progress. They share the story of how their dedication and perseverance led to winning awards and qualifying for the national championships.

Lastly, they reflect on the importance of following one's passions in life and decision to pursue a business degree instead of a engineering one.

This essay touches on various lessons that they've learned as a result of their experience doing robotics. However, these lessons are ultimately surface-level and generic, such as "I embraced new challenges." Although these could be a starting point for deeper ideas, on their own they come off as unoriginal and overused. Having interesting ideas is what makes an essay the most compelling, and you need to delve deeply into reflection, past the surface-level takeaways. When drafting and brainstorming, keep asking yourself questions like "How" and "Why" to dig deeper. Ask "What does this represent? How does it connect to other things? What does this show about myself/the world/society/etc.?"

Although this essay is focused on "VEX robotics," the details of what that activity involves are not elaborated. Rather than focusing on the surface-level descriptions like "We competed and won," it would be more engaging to delve into the details. What did your robot do? How did you compete? What were the specific challenges in "lacking building materials"? Use visuals and imagery to create a more engaging picture of what you were doing.

The hook and ending sentences of "drifting off to sleep" feel arbitrary and not at all connected to any ideas throughout the essay. Instead, it comes off as a contrived choice to create a "full circle" essay. Although coming full circle is often a good strategy, there should be a specific purpose in doing so. For your intro, try using a short sentence that creates emphasis on something interesting. For the conclusion, try using similar language to the intro, expanding upon your ideas to more universal takeaways, or connecting back to previous ideas with a new nuance.

Common App Essay Example #18: Lab Research

Common app essay example #19: carioca dance.

Having a natural-sounding style of writing can be a great way of conveying personality. This student does a fantastic job of writing as they'd speak, which lets admissions officers create a clear "image" of who you are in their head. By writing naturally and not robotically, you can create a "voice" and add character to your essay.

This student chooses a unique activity, the Carioca drill, as their main topic. By choosing a "theme" like this, it allows you to easily and naturally talk about other activities too, without seeming like you're simply listing activities. This student uses the Carioca as a metaphor for overcoming difficulties and relates it to their other activities and academics—public speaking and their job experience.

Showing a sense of humor can indicate wit, which not only makes you seem more likeable, but also conveys self-awareness. By not always taking yourself 100% seriously, you can be more relatable to the reader. This student acknowledges their struggles in conjunction with using humor ("the drills were not named after me—'Saads'"), which shows a recognition that they have room to improve, while not being overly self-critical.

Common App Essay Example #20: Chinese Language

The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”

As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.

Using creative metaphors can be an effective way of conveying ideas. In this essay, the metaphor of "Chinese characters...were the names of my best friends" tells a lot about this student's relationship with the language. When coming up with metaphors, a good rule of thumb is: if you've heard it before, don't use it. Only use metaphors that are specific, make sense for what you're trying to say, and are highly unique.

Whenever you "tell" something, you should try and back it up with anecdotes, examples, or experiences. Instead of saying that "I made conversation," this student exemplifies it by listing who they talked to. Showing is always going to be more compelling than telling because it allows the reader to come to the conclusion on their own, which makes them believe it much stronger. Use specific, tangible examples to back up your points and convince the reader of what you're saying.

Although this essay has reflections, they tend to be more surface-level, rather than unique and compelling. Admissions officers have read thousands of application essays and are familiar with most of the ideas students write about. To stand out, you'll need to dive deeper into your ideas. To do this, keep asking yourself questions whenever you have an interesting idea. Ask "Why" and "How" repeatedly until you reach something that is unique, specific to you, and super interesting.

Avoid writing a conclusion that only "sounds nice," but lacks real meaning. Often times, students write conclusions that go full circle, or have an interesting quote, but they still don't connect to the main idea of the essay. Your conclusion should be your strongest, most interesting idea. It should say something new: a new perspective, a new takeaway, a new aspect of your main point. End your essay strongly by staying on topic, but taking your idea one step further to the deepest it can go.

Common App Essay Example #21: Kiki's Delivery Service

Common App 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? (250-650 words)

I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.

I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.

Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.

Common App Essay Example #22: Museum of Life

Using visuals can be a way to add interesting moments to your essay. Avoid being overly descriptive, however, as it can be distracting from your main point. When drafting, start by focusing on your ideas (your reflections and takeaways). Once you have a rough draft, then you can consider ways to incorporate imagery that can add character and flavor to your essay.

Admissions officers are people, just like you, and therefore are drawn to personalities that exhibit positive qualities. Some of the most important qualities to portray are: humility, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and passion. In this essay, there are several moments that could be interpreted as potentially self-centered or arrogant. Avoid trying to make yourself out to be "better" or "greater" than other people. Instead, focus on having unique and interesting ideas first, and this will show you as a likeable, insightful person. Although this is a "personal" statement, you should also avoid over using "I" in your essay. When you have lots of "I" sentences, it starts to feel somewhat ego-centric, rather than humble and interested in something greater than you.

This essay does a lot of "telling" about the author's character. Instead, you want to provide evidence—through examples, anecdotes, and moments—that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about who you are. Avoid surface-level takeaways like "I am open-minded and have a thirst for knowledge." These types of statements are meaningless because anyone can write them. Instead, focus on backing up your points by "showing," and then reflect genuinely and deeply on those topics.

This essay is focused on art museums and tries to tie in a connection to studying medicine. However, because this connection is very brief and not elaborated, the connection seems weak. To connect to your area of study when writing about a different topic, try reflecting on your topic first. Go deep into interesting ideas by asking "How" and "Why" questions. Then, take those ideas and broaden them. Think of ways they could differ or parallel your desired area of study. The best connections between a topic (such as an extracurricular) and your area of study (i.e. your major) is through having interesting ideas.

Common App Essay Example #23: French Horn

This student chose the creative idea of personifying their French horn as their central theme. Using this personification, they are able to write about a multitude of moments while making them all feel connected. This unique approach also makes for a more engaging essay, as it is not overly straightforward and generic.

It can be challenging to reference your achievements without seeming boastful or coming across too plainly. This student manages to write about their successes ("acceptance into the Julliard Pre-College program") by using them as moments part of a broader story. The focus isn't necessarily on the accomplishments themselves, but the role they play in this relationship with their instrument. By connecting more subtly like this, it shows humility. Often, "diminishing" your achievements will actually make them stand out more, because it shows you're focused on the greater meaning behind them, rather than just "what you did."

This student does a good job of exemplifying each of their ideas. Rather than just saying "I experienced failure," they show it through imagery ("dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances"). Similarly, with their idea "no success comes without sacrifice," they exemplify it using examples of sacrifice. Always try to back up your points using examples, because showing is much more convincing than telling. Anyone can "tell" things, but showing requires proof.

This essay has a decent conclusion, but it could be stronger by adding nuance to their main idea or connecting to the beginning with a new perspective. Rather than repeating what you've established previously, make sure your conclusion has a different "angle" or new aspect. This can be connecting your main idea to more universal values, showing how you now view something differently, or emphasizing a particular aspect of your main idea that was earlier introduced.

Common App Essay Example #24: Dear My Younger Self

Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)

Younger Anna,

  • Don’t live your life as if you're constantly being watched and criticized. Chances are, no one is even paying attention to you.
  • Wear your retainer.
  • Empathy makes your life easier. People who are inexplicably cruel are suffering just as much as the recipients of their abuse. Understanding this makes your interactions with these people less painful.
  • Comparing yourself to your classmates is counterproductive. Sometimes you will forge ahead, other times you will lag behind. But ultimately, you’re only racing yourself.
  • Speak up to your stepmom.
  • Always eat the cake. I couldn't tell you how many times I’ve turned away a slice of cake, only to regret it the next day. If you really can’t commit, do yourself a favor and take a slice home with you.
  • Cherish your grandparents.
  • Forgive your mother. Harboring resentment hurts you just as much as her. All the time I spent being angry at her could’ve been spent discovering her strengths.

This essay chose a unique structure in the form of a letter addressed to themselves with a list of lessons they've learned. This structure is unique, and also allows the student to explore a variety of topics and ideas while making them all feel connected. It is tricky to not seem "gimmicky" when choosing a creative structure like this, but the key is to make your essay well thought-out. Show that you've put effort into reflecting deeply, and that you aren't choosing a unique structure just to stand out.

This essay is highly focused on lessons they've learned, which shows a deep level of reflection. Your ideas and takeaways from life experience are ultimately most compelling to admissions officers, and this essay succeeds because it is focused almost entirely on those reflections. This student also manages to incorporate anecdotes and mini stories where appropriate, which makes their reflections more memorable by being tangible.

Showing humility and self-awareness are two highly attractive traits in college admissions. Being able to recognize your own flaws and strengths, while not making yourself out to be more than what you are, shows that you are mature and thoughtful. Avoid trying to "boost yourself up" by exaggerating your accomplishments or over-emphasizing your strengths. Instead, let your ideas speak for themselves, and by focusing on genuine, meaningful ideas, you'll convey a persona that is both humble and insightful.

The drawback of having a structure like this, where lots of different ideas are examined, is that no one idea is examined in-depth. As a result, some ideas (such as "intelligence is not defined by your grades") come across as trite and overused. In general, avoid touching on lots of ideas while being surface-level. Instead, it's almost always better to choose a handful (or even just one main idea) and go as in-depth as possible by continually asking probing questions—"How" and "Why"—that force yourself to think deeper and be more critical. Having depth of ideas shows inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and ultimately are more interesting because they are ideas that only you could have written.

Common App Essay Example #25: Monopoly

Feeling a bit weary from my last roll of the dice, I cross my fingers with the “FREE PARKING” square in sight. As luck has it, I smoothly glide past the hotels to have my best horse show yet- earning multiple wins against stiff competition and gaining points to qualify for five different national finals this year.

This essay uses the board game "Monopoly" as a metaphor for their life. By using a metaphor as your main topic, you can connect to different ideas and activities in a cohesive way. However, make sure the metaphor isn't chosen arbitrarily. In this essay, it isn't completely clear why Monopoly is an apt metaphor for their life, because the specific qualities that make Monopoly unique aren't explained or elaborated. Lots of games require "strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge," so it'd be better to focus on the unique aspects of the game to make a more clear connection. For example, moving around the board in a "repetitive" fashion, but each time you go around with a different perspective. When choosing a metaphor, first make sure that it is fitting for what you're trying to describe.

You want to avoid listing your activities or referencing them without a clear connection to something greater. Since you have an activities list already, referencing your activities in your essay should have a specific purpose, rather than just emphasizing your achievements. In this essay, the student connects their activities by connecting them to a specific idea: how each activity is like a mini challenge that they must encounter to progress in life. Make sure your activities connect to something specifically: an idea, a value, an aspect of your character.

This essay lacks depth in their reflections by not delving deeply into their main takeaways. In this essay, the main "idea" is that they've learned to be persistent with whatever comes their way. This idea could be a good starting point, but on its own is too generic and not unique enough. Your idea should be deep and specific, meaning that it should be something only you could have written about. If your takeaway could be used in another student's essay without much modification, chances are it is a surface-level takeaway and you want to go more in-depth. To go in-depth, keep asking probing questions like "How" and "Why" or try making more abstract connections between topics.

In the final two paragraphs, this essay does a lot of "telling" about the lessons they've learned. They write "I know that in moments of doubt...I can rise to the occasion." Although this could be interesting, it would be far more effective if this idea is shown through anecdotes or experiences. The previous examples in the essay don't "show" this idea. When drafting, take your ideas and think of ways you can represent them without having to state them outright. By showing your points, you will create a more engaging and convincing essay because you'll allow the reader to come to the conclusion themselves, rather than having to believe what you've told them.

What Can You Learn from These Common App Essay Examples?

With these 25 Common App essay examples, you can get inspired and improve your own personal statement.

If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your Common App essays needs to be its best possible.

What makes a good Common App essay isn't easy to define. There aren't any rules or steps.

But using these samples from real students, you can understand what it takes to write an outstanding personal statement .

Let me know, which Common App essay did you think was the best?

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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MIT Admitted Essay

Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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UPenn Admitted Essay

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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First-year essay prompts

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Common App has announced the 2023-2024 essay prompts.

Below is the complete set of common app essay prompts for 2023-2024..

  • 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. 

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Common App Essay Formatting & Style Guide + Common Grammar Mistakes

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This guide to how to format the Common App essay and other college essays is dedicated to helping you take some of the guesswork out of punctuation, style, grammar. We’ll also share some common college essay grammar mistakes students make and show you how to fix them. 

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How to use the guide: We recommend skimming the document, reading the sections most relevant to you, then returning periodically, as a reference, as you write your essays. Use Ctr+F to find something in particular, or scan the Table of Contents for links that’ll take you right to what you’re looking for. To make it easier for you to skim, we’ve listed the top mistakes and style questions first, in order of what we see most often, then list the rest, in alphabetical order.

Table of Contents

  • 10 Common College Essay Grammar Mistakes & Style Questions
  • Dangling/Misplaced Modifiers
  • Absolutes/Extreme Language
  • Subject-Verb Agreement
  • Oxford Comma
  • Em-Dash vs. En-Dash

Quotation Marks

  • Parallel Structure
  • Spacing at the End of a Sentence
  • Exclamation Marks
  • Common App Style: What You Need to Know

About the Common App Platform

  • Activities List Style Exceptions
  • Grammar & Style: What Else You Need to Know
  • Ambiguous Pronouns
  • Formatting Do’s and Don’ts

Capitalization

  • Incomplete Comparisons
  • Overused Words
  • Passive Voice

Punctuation

Apostrophes, word choice, 10 common grammar & style mistakes, 1. dangling/misplaced modifiers.

  • A dangling modifier occurs when the word the modifier is intended to modify is not clear or does not immediately follow the modifier. Examples: Incorrect : Exhausted from the trip, the hotel was a welcome sight for Pedro. (The hotel wasn’t exhausted. Who was? It’s not clear.) Incorrect : Exhausted from the trip, the sight of the hotel in the distance made Pedro smile. (The sight wasn’t exhausted; Pedro was.) Correct : Exhausted from the trip, Pedro was relieved to see the hotel in the distance.
  • A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifier is too far away from the thing it is supposed to be modifying, making the meaning unclear or confusing. Examples Incorrect : The students were asked to choose a crayon from the box that represented their favorite color. (The box didn’t represent their favorite color; the crayon did.) Correct : Given a box of crayons, the students were asked to choose their favorite color.

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2. Absolutes/Extreme language

Examples: Incorrect : Science has always been the lens through which I have observed the world, and it has shown me a different side of diversity. Correct : I observe the world through the lens of science, and it has shown me a different side of diversity. Incorrect : We used to go to the movies all the time. Correct : We frequently went to the movies.

Examples: Mary and her brothers prefer Thai food over Indian. The Lions and their mascot are taking the field.

Examples: The professor or the TA decides how the lab will be graded. Only a small car or a motorcycle fits in that spot.

Examples: Depending on who’s teaching the class, the professor or his assistants are in charge. Depending on who’s teaching the class, the TAs or the professor is in charge.

Examples: The box of cookies sits unopened on the counter. A class with 10 people of various skill sets is difficult to teach. The college campus , which has dozens of buildings spread over several square miles, is difficult to traverse.

Examples: On Friday, the committee votes to determine the new lunch policy. The girls varsity soccer team is on a winning streak. A family of ducks is living in the bush in front of my house.

Examples: The news these days is depressing. Sports is an all-too-common topic for personal statements.

Examples: His pants are too tight. The scissors are broken. The binoculars help you see long distances.

Examples: Everyone in the room knows at least one lyric to that song. No one in the class has earned an A on any of the tests so far. Anyone who has an interest is welcome to join the club.

4. Oxford Comma

The comma is commonly used in academic circles, so the people reviewing your essays are likely more used to seeing it than not. 

Not using the comma can cause confusion, as in this sentence: Asked to name her heroes, Sally listed her parents, Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King Jr. (Read one way, this may seem to suggest that Angelou and King are Sally’s parents.) Fun fact: The extra comma was so consequential in one famous instance that dairy farmers in Maine won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that hinged on its omission—one more reason to favor the extra punctuation point. 

For students interested in hearing both sides of the debate, we recommend reading this essay for a well-presented argument against the comma’s use.

Examples: After running out of ingredients for the cake recipe, she went to the store to buy eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. The course teaches kids how to bait their tackle, identify fish species, and cook their catches.

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5. Em-Dash vs. En-Dash

Examples: The em-dash — so named because it’s the width of the letter m — is the longest dash. The en-dash – so named because (you guessed it) it’s the width of the skinnier letter n – is the shorter of the two.

Examples: The world-class design won many awards. The design was world class , winning many awards. She wanted to live in off-campus housing. Her dorm was off campus .

Examples: The teacher had a party in her classroom when she turned fifty-six . The Smiths have a 10-year-old .

Examples: He was a self-described genius. He was an ex-military officer. The class was all-inclusive .

Examples: The president-elect will be inaugurated in January. The mayor-elect gave a speech.

Examples: The revolt occurred in the mid-1900s . The pre-Civil War era is also considered the Antebellum Period. Federal authorities believe anti-aircraft missiles took the plane down.

7. Quotation Marks

Examples: “I love it when my teacher gives extra credit,” Sally said. “It helps me stress less about getting every answer right.” He was told to “stand his ground.” Rebecca didn’t know what her teacher meant when she said to “do the right thing,” asking for specific examples. Exception : When question mark isn’t part of the quote, as in: Why would anyone say, “It is what it is”?

Exception : Use single quotes to set off a quote within a quote, as in: “John keeps saying, ‘Don’t do that,’ when I twirl my hair,” Jackie said.

8. Parallel Structure

Examples: Do this : The camp offered fishing , boating and kayaking on weekends in the summer. Not this : The camp offered fishing , boating and rides in a kayak on weekends. Do this : The professor instructed the students to take out their pencils, write down what they think will be on the test, and turn their papers in. Or also : The professor instructed the students to take out their pencils, to write down what they think will be on the test, and to turn their papers in. Do this : The class had several main goals: to teach the basics of physics, to prepare students for advanced physics, and to get students used to working in teams. Or also : The class had several main goals: teaching the basics of physics, preparing students for advanced physics, and getting students used to working in teams. Not this : The class had several main goals: to teach the basics of physics, preparing students for advanced physics, and students learn how to work in teams.

9. Spacing at the End of a Sentence

10. exclamation marks.

Exception : As the cliché goes, there are exceptions to every rule, and the exclamation point is no exception. Below are examples of when the exclamation mark is more acceptable: In direct quotes that express emotion : She looked at me hard and snapped, “I can’t believe you even said that!” When using onomatopoeia : I turned around, and, bam! The door slammed in my face.

Common App Essay Formatting & Style: What You Need to Know

  • It does not allow indenting (tabbing), so add an empty line between paragraphs to separate them.
  • It allows italics, so see Italics in the Style Guide for guidelines on using italics.
  • It allows bold and underline, but avoid those options because they can seem unprofessional (same with emojis and hashtags).
  • Single space
  • Simple font, like Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri or Cambria

Activities List Style Exceptions:

  • Use & instead of “and” if needed.
  • Use numerals for numbers (ranked top 2 in state).
  • You don’t need to use “and” or & in lists that have longer than two items (Responsibilities included mentoring younger members, recruiting new members, scheduling speakers).
  • Use acronyms on first and subsequent references (USC, UCLA).
  • Drop the period at the end of each entry if needed.
  • You don’t need to write in full sentences (Served as treasurer & social committee chair from 2016-17)

College Essay Grammar & Style: What Else You Need to Know

Ambiguous pronouns.

Examples: Incorrect : Julie took Sandy to the movies after she got home from work. Correct : After Julie got home from work, she took Sandy to the movies. Incorrect : When the vase toppled onto the glass shelf, it broke. Correct : The vase broke when it toppled onto the glass shelf.

Formatting Do’s & Don’ts

  • Don’t use all caps to emphasize words . Use italics instead (or even better, use Word Choice ). Otherwise, it may SEEM LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING.
  • Use all caps for acronyms , but only after first spelling out the full name, with the acronym in parentheses. Do not put periods between the letters.

Examples: On first reference : The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert on the coronavirus Tuesday. On second reference : The CDC said all Americans who plan to travel to China should take specific precautions.

  • Course names (don’t italicize or use quotation marks) (Ex.: Intro to Clinical Ethics, Medieval & Renaissance Studies)

Note: It’s not necessary to use course code (e.g., Chem 103) in the ‘Why us?’ or other essays, and leaving them out can help you save on word counts. But if you prefer to use them for a specific reason, that’s ok too.

  • “The” if it’s part of a publication or entity’s name (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Proper nouns (Sun Life Stadium, Los Angeles International Airport, Oliver Twist, Friday, Mom [but “my mother,” unless “My Mother” is what you always call her, which is highly unlikely—so remember, the proper noun is the specific name for the person])
  • Job titles (sometimes) Deciding when to capitalize a job title comes down to context. If the title is used with a person’s name, capitalize it. If the title is not connected to the person’s name, don’t capitalize it. Same goes for political titles.

Examples: Chief Marketing Officer Mary Nunez was promoted Thursday. Mary Nunez is chief marketing officer for the Delta Farm Co. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has led the Senate as minority leader since 2017. Schumer is the Democratic senator from New York. Exceptions: Capitalize your positions or job titles on your resume and Common App activities list.

  • Do not capitalize high school unless using it as part of a specific school’s name. We’re seeing this more and more in college essays, so we wanted to clarify this here. Take note.

Examples: I attended Berkeley High School for three years before finishing my studies at Fusion Academy Berkeley. My high school doesn’t offer AP classes.

  • Use for emphasis. (but use sparingly)

Examples: When writing your personal statement, you have a choice: Do you tell the story of your life or a story from your life? The teacher gave us an assignment, but we knew we didn’t really have to do it.

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  • Use for foreign language words.

Examples: I walked into the house, and my abuela greeted me with two besos on the cheek. She had a certain c’est la vie attitude toward life.

  • Use for internal dialogue.

Examples: If I don’t get started now, Johnny thought, I’ll never get it done. My mind was flooded with questions. How can they get to know me if they’ll never meet me in person? Should I try to get an interview? What if I can’t?

  • Use for publication titles.
  • Books ( Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Watch Us Rise )
  • Films ( Moonlight, Avengers: Endgame, Get Out! )
  • Magazines ( Vogue, Newsweek, Elle Girl )
  • Newspapers ( The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal )
  • Podcasts ( Serial, This American Life, Radiolab )
  • TV shows ( Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Grey’s Anatomy )
  • Famous speeches (Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream , Theodore Roosevelt’s Duties of American Citizenship , Lincoln’s The Gettysburg Address )
  • Long musical pieces (Max Richter’s Sleep , Puccini’s Madame Butterfly , Schubert's Winterreise —but use quotes for "Ave Maria" since it is a component of the larger work)
  • Book-length poems (Milton’s Paradise Lost , C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining )
  • Works of art ( Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa )
  • Use for book chapter titles.

Examples: “How to Revise Your Essay in Five Steps,” from College Essay Essentials “The Ghost at the Window,” from Wuthering Heights

  • Use for magazine, newspaper articles.

Examples: “Illinois state employee retires at 102” in USA Today “Germany Navigates Its Climate Policies” in U.S. News & World Report “The Flip Phone Is Back and It’s Not a Total Flop” in The Wall Street Journal

Note: Use the headline styling used by the publication you’re quoting. In these examples, for instance, USA Today uses sentence case, capitalizing only the first word or proper names, like you’d do in a sentence (Ex.:“Why did the DOW tumble again on Tuesday?”). U.S. News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, use title case, capitalizing the first letter of each word except certain small words (Ex.: “Alcohol Grows as a Prime Time Killer”).

  • Use for titles of research studies.

Examples: “An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb” “A Non-Canonical Function of BMAL1 Metabolically Limits Obesity-Promoted Triple-Negative Breast Cancer”

Note: Use the headline styling used by the publication you’re quoting.

  • Use for direct quotes.

Examples: When quoting something someone said : “If you expect to pass this class, expect to put in the work,” our teacher says.

Pro tip: Use direct quotes for statements that express emotion, personality or something specific you’re trying to portray. Otherwise, paraphrase, especially for routine facts. For example:

Do this : The instructions said to only use a piece of paper and a black pen. Not this : “You may use only a piece of paper and a black pen for this exercise,” the instructions said.

When quoting from a publication : “More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists,” the World Health Organization wrote in a recent press release.

Important note: If you cut and paste from another source—a particularly compelling quote, for example—you must use quotation marks and cite the source to avoid violating plagiarism rules. If you don’t want to use quotes and prefer to paraphrase, you have to substantially change the wording of the quote you’re citing.

Incomplete comparisons

Examples: Do this : The meal was healthier and tastier than the students expected of a lunchroom. Not this : The meal was healthier and tastier. Do this : The 2020 Chevy Impala is sleeker and more aerodynamic than earlier models. Not this : The 2020 Chevy Impala is sleeker and more aerodynamic.

  • Use numerals for 10 and above

Exceptions: Spell out any number that starts a sentence (except years). Examples: She counted 11 people walking with her. Thirty people were standing in line. 2019 had arrived.

  • Spell out numbers between 1 and 9
  • Times (1 p.m.)
  • Measurements (acres, feet, etc.)
  • Court decisions (5-4 decision)
  • Golf clubs (5-iron)
  • Highway designations (Interstate 5)
  • Numbers before million/billion (1 million people)
  • Spell out fractions less than one (two-thirds, four-fifths)
  • Abbreviate month where appropriate (Sept., Dec., but March and June)
  • 11 p.m. (not 11 PM or 11pm)
  • 9/11 is acceptable for the historical event.
  • Note: Hyphenate words from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
  • Use numerals for everything else (102, 546, 1,054).
  • Don’t start a sentence with a numeral, so rewrite to avoid it. If you must start a sentence with a number or date, write it out (Two-thousand-and-nineteen had arrived.).
  • Write out fractions (one-third, three-fourths).
  • Write out spans of time (fifth century).
  • Use numerals
  • Before measurements (6 feet, 11 acres)
  • With ratios (a 5:6 ratio)
  • For money ($5,000)
  • With large numbers (3.6 billion, but one million, ten billion)
  • With specific times (‘At 7:15 a.m., the alarm went off,” but spell out general times like seven o’clock).
  • Use words for numbers with the word “percent” (fifteen percent), but use numerals if using the character “%” (15%).
  • Use the same form in comparative numbers and data (6 of 6,500 people surveyed; the temperature rose from 32 to 56 degrees).
  • If you start your sentence with a spelled-out number, all other numbers in the sentence should follow the same format (Two hundred people signed up for the class, but only a hundred and twenty-five showed up on the first day.)
  • APA generally follows the same rules as AP style with a couple notable exceptions:
  • Use numerals for numbers under 10 when grouped with numbers 10 and over.
  • Use words and numbers to express back-to-back modifiers.

Overused words

  • Important, crucial, etc., unless it’s followed by an explanation about why or how something is important
  • Interesting/interested in, unless it’s followed by an explanation about why or how something is interesting
  • Expletive constructions (“it was,” “it is,” “there was,” “there is”—basically, an unclear pronoun plus a “to be” or “to have” verb), unless trying to emphasize info that follows (as in: It was clear—she didn’t know what she was doing.)
  • “That” as a subordinating conjunction or following bridge verbs (as in: He knew that he was going to do well on the test.). Removing “that” in these instances is also a quick and easy way to trim excess words.
  • Real-life and hands-on (especially in essays by engineering students)
  • “Satiate my curiosity” (as in: “Brown’s PMLE program offers educational opportunities that will allow me to satiate my curiosity about how the body works.”)

Passive voice

For anyone who’s curious, passive voice is primarily a verb construction in which the verb contains a form of [to be] + past participle, like “was smashed” or “are driven” in the example above. (Passive voice is often defined as “when a thing isn’t doing the thing that it’s doing in a sentence”... but that doesn’t seem super useful or clear.) And if you really want to dig into it, in particular to see instances in which passive voice is a good choice, UNC Chapel Hill does so nicely here .

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Examples: The girls’ soccer jerseys sported the embroidered championship patch from last year’s victory. It was the first time the girl’s mother met her teacher.

Examples: Incorrect : She went through high school and college in the 1990’s . Correct : She went through high school and college in the 1990s .

Examples: He knew what he had to do next: run.

Examples: Here are the top 10 reasons to lower the voting age: (followed by a bulleted or other list) This year, I plan to visit five cities in one trip: London, Manchester, Dublin, Paris, and Versailles.

Examples: I’ll tell you this: Punctuation is tricky. The dog knew how to beg: with his eyes.

After introductory clauses Example: After taking a shower, I put on some clean clothes and headed to bed. Before and after parenthetical clauses Example: She took out her tablet, which she bought two weeks ago, and tried to log in. When addressing someone Example: It’s time to take a bath, Johnny. Before and after a year in a date in the middle of a sentence Example: He was born on June 5, 2005, in Biloxi, Miss. After a state when used with a city in the middle of a sentence Example: He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in the dead of winter. In compound sentences, with a conjunction like “and” Example: My iPad captured their attention, and I could see their eyes light up.

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After a question mark or exclamation mark in a quote Examples: Incorrect : “When are we going to be done already?,” she asked. Correct : “When are we going to be done already?” she asked. Around “too” Examples: There is no clear consensus around whether to use a comma before (and after, if it’s in the middle of a sentence) the word “too.” But we prefer not to use the commas because leaving them out saves characters and doesn’t force the reader to pause. (Ex.: He too believes her.). In the comma splice "Comma splice" is the term for when two independent clauses are mistakenly linked together by a comma (essentially, creating a run-on; not to be confused with the compound sentence, which does require a comma before its coordinating conjunction). Examples: Incorrect : He used to root for the Dolphins, now he’s a Patriots fan. Correct : He used to root for the Dolphins, but now he’s a Patriots fan. Correct : He used to root for the Dolphins; now he’s a Patriots fan. Correct : He used to root for the Dolphins. Now he’s a Patriots fan. Separating the subject and verb Examples: Incorrect : Thomas the Train, is still popular among toddlers. Correct : Thomas the Train is still popular among toddlers. After “but” or “yet” in the beginning of a sentence Examples: Incorrect : But, he knew he was wrong about trusting his former bandmate. Correct : But he knew he was wrong about trusting his former bandmate. Incorrect : Yet, those who knew him knew he wasn’t capable of such a crime. Correct : Yet those who knew him knew he wasn’t capable of such a crime. In “not only but also” construction Examples: Incorrect : He was not only kind, but also smart and helpful. Correct : He was not only kind but also smart and helpful.

Examples: He took the long way to school; he had no choice.

Examples: He plays the trombone, and he’s pretty good at it. He plays the trombone; he’s pretty good at it.

Examples: He was not only the smartest person in his class; he was also the most popular.

Examples: The class represented a wide range of cities from across the United States: Peoria, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Los Angeles, California; Dallas, Texas; and Boston, Massachusetts. The campers learned how to tie a knot, using just one hand; how to fish, in a lake and a stream; how to kayak, with and without oars; and how to build a bonfire.

Examples: The campus is dark at night; however, lighted paths are available on certain paths.

Affect/effect

Examples: Her concussion affected her performance in all her classes. We’ve been seeing the effects of climate change for years now.

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Allude/elude

Examples: The book alluded to Hitler’s mental decline. The escaped prisoner eluded the dragnet for six days before he was caught. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but the word eludes me. She’s won second place four times, but the top prize continues to elude her.

Assure/ensure/insure

Examples: Rich assured Katrina that he turned off the stove before he left the house. The nurses are responsible for ensuring patients get their medications on time. He didn’t worry about the damage to the fender because the car was insured .

Between/among

Examples: When asked to name my favorite treat, I had to choose between Kit Kats, strawberry ice cream, and gelato. When handing out the treats, the teacher had to distribute them evenly among the class.

Compliment/complement

Examples: The blazer complemented her outfit nicely. Tony complimented his brother on his passing techniques.

Complimentary/complementary

Examples: Freida wore a complementary ensemble of blues and greens. Ivan received nothing but complimentary feedback on his speech. The venue gave out complimentary beverages to military veterans.

Each other/one another

Examples: Tom and Nancy looked each other in the eye and promised not to lie. All 10 students sat next to one another , in adjoining seats, so they could study together.

Emigrate/immigrate

Examples: My parents emigrated from Europe in the 1940s. Juan’s family immigrated to America during the Mariel Boat Lift.

Everyday/every day

Examples: The writer was asked to put the manual in everyday language. Mary uses her favorite pen every day .

Farther/further

Examples: We had to drive farther than we wanted to reach our destination. I plan to explore the topic further when I get to college.

Examples: He tried to hand out supplies to the class, but he had fewer pencils and less paper than he needed. I drink less water than I should. (But: I drink fewer glasses of water than I should.)

Examples: He did well on his exam. The test was a good measure of what we learned in class.

Examples: The candidates homed in on their opponents’ weaknesses in the last month of the race. Shania wanted to find a summer internship that would allow her to hone her skills as a researcher.

Examples: Katrina’s loves classical movies ( e.g. , Casablanca, Some Like It Hot, and On the Waterfront). I prefer certain fruits over others ( i.e. , the ones with seeds and not pits).

Note: Both “i.e.” and “e.g.” are followed by periods and commas, and in formal writings (like college essays), they are typically set off by parentheses, as in the examples above.

Imply/infer

Examples: The instructions implied , without explicitly stating it, that you could take as much time as you wanted. She inferred from the group’s body language that they were getting bored with the lecture.

Examples: One in three women will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. Sears announced in 2019 that it was closing most of its stores.

Examples: Jeetu lost his phone, but he thinks it’s in the classroom. The chair is in good condition, even though its upholstery is starting to fade.

Examples: Whenever I lie in the sun for longer than 10 minutes, I make sure to use sunscreen. She likes to lay her purse on the chair so she won’t forget it when she leaves. He lay in his bed for hours, tossing and turning, before he finally fell asleep. I laid the paper out on the counter so he could see it.

Examples: Jonathan took the lead in the last lap of the 10K, though he felt like his feet were made of lead. More than 30 Ram trucks led floats in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Examples: Joe Smith won the primary but went on to lose the general election. Amy wouldn’t spend more than $10 on sunglasses because she knew she’d lose them. The chain was loose around his neck.

Examples: Toby and I went to the movies. Santa left presents for me and my sister, but not for our dog Chase.

Note : “I” comes second in the grouping; “me” comes first. Pro tip : When in doubt on which to use, remove the other person from the sentence. So, for the first example, try: I went to the movies. It wouldn’t be “Me went to the movies,” so “I” is the correct choice. For the second example, try: Santa left presents for me. It wouldn’t be “Santa left presents for I,” so “me” is the correct choice.

Examples: I couldn’t hear the phone ring because the sound was on mute . Jessica was going to explain why she deserved the job, but the point was rendered moot when Clark offered her the position.

Number/amount

Examples: Our teacher taught us a number of lessons on displacement and velocity before our physics test. We had a good amount of practice before we were asked to try the long jump.

Examples: Incorrect : I should of known the concert would be sold out a week before the show. Correct : I should have known the concert would be sold out a week before the show.

Peak/peek/pique

Examples: About 5,000 people have reached the peak of Mount Everest. Rush hour peaks at 6 p.m. Charlie peeked around the corner to see if anyone was coming. His mother was piqued that he didn’t finish the souffle she made just for him. The question piqued my interest; I had to find out more.

Pro tip : Here’s one way to remember the differences: “Peak” has an a, like in “acme;” “peek” has two e’s, like in “eye;” and “pique” has que in it, like “question.”

Principal/principle

Examples: Nick O’Shea is the principal of John I. Leonard High School. Many people argue over the principal cause of the Democrats’ loss in the 2016 election. I agree with you in principle , but I take issue with your arguments. Nelson Mandela was a man of principle .

Examples: He was taller than I thought. Marcus graduated from UCLA, then pursued a doctoral degree in quantum physics at MIT.

Examples: The ball, which has three red spots, sat in the corner of the room. The ball that has three spots sat in the corner of the room.

Note that: The ball which has three spots is in the corner of the room. is also grammatically acceptable. But it’s probably not worth arguing with someone over. Also, some style manuals, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, recommend generally avoiding “which” in restrictive structures. When you’re in college, make sure you’re adhering to style guidelines for different fields (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago). (*Note that in British usage, “which” and “that” are used interchangeably in restrictive clauses. In American usage, there’s disagreement. Though linguists generally seem to think the disagreement is silly —both work.)

are both fine.

Their/they’re/there

Examples: The Kims celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. You’ll love my friends; they’re a blast. He wanted me to go there to bring him the keys. She knew there was only one answer to the question.

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Examples: No one knew who ate all the pastries in the breakroom. (Here, “who” is the subject for the verb “ate.”) The coach was still deciding whom he should pick to start the next game. (Here, “whom” is the object of the verb “pick” → he should pick him/her/them/whom.) To whom it may concern: (Here, “whom” is the object of the preposition “to.”)

Note: Sometimes, using “whom” grammatically correctly can sound awkward or formal (in large part because of how we speak). In such instances, consider rewriting the sentence to avoid it. (For instance, “Have you decided whom to invite?” could be rewritten to say: “Have you chosen all your guests?”) General guideline: If you can replace it with “he” or “she,” use “who.” If you can replace it with “him” or “her,” use “whom.”

Your/you’re

Examples: Take your time; I’ll be here all day. You’re better off not knowing.

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Nicole learned how to tell other people’s stories after a 30+-year career as a newspaper reporter, covering both the mundane and the unforgettable, from serial killer Duane Owen’s retrial, to the Bush/Gore nail-biter, to the homeless family of four who found refuge in a storage unit. Her ideal day is spent playing Cribbage with her dad, beating her husband at RummiKub and planning the next girls trip with her teenage daughters. Top values: Creativity | Growth | Meaningful Work

dialogue in common app essay

Frequently asked questions

What is the common application essay.

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.

Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays

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.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .

Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.

If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.

However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.

In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.

The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.

A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.

For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.

Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.

Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .

In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .

You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.

Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

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.

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:

  • For early action applications and the first round of early decision applications, the deadline is on November 1 or 15. Decisions are released by mid-December.
  • For the second round of early decision applications, the deadline is January 1 or 15. Decisions are released in January or February.
  • Regular decision deadlines usually fall between late November and mid-March, and decisions are released in March or April.
  • Rolling admission deadlines run from July to April, and decisions are released around four to eight weeks after submission.

Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .

Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.

Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.

Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.

To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:

  • Two reach schools that might be difficult to get into
  • Four match schools that you have a good chance of getting into
  • Two safety schools that you feel confident you’ll get into

The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .

At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:

  • Your personal information
  • List of extracurriculars and awards
  • College application essays
  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores
  • Recommendation letters.

Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.

You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.

Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.

If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .

You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.

Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.

You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.

A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.

After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.

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

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.

The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.

The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.

You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

  • Use a standard, readable font
  • Use 1.5 or double spacing
  • If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
  • Stick to the word count
  • Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.

Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.

Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.

If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.

However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.

Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.

Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

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COMMENTS

  1. Using Dialogue in Your College Application Essay

    Using Dialogue in Your College Application Essay Admission officers are swamped. They want to be wowed by hopeful students' applications—including their admission essays. Try using dialogue to stand out! by Ashley Wellington Founder, Mint Tutors LLC Last Updated: Oct 4, 2023 Originally Posted: Aug 19, 2014 Bookmark

  2. Common App Essays

    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

  3. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 ...

    The Common App is one part of a portfolio of essays that you send to colleges, along with supplemental essays at individual colleges. With all of your essays for a particular college, you want to create a narrative and tell different parts of your story.

  4. 21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

    What Makes a Good Common App Essay? It's Personal The point of the Common App essay is to humanize yourself to a college admissions committee. The ultimate goal is to get them to choose you over someone else! You will have a better chance of achieving this goal if the admissions committee feels personally connected to you or invested in your story.

  5. 12 Common App Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

    Key Takeaway Buckle up, because we've got some great (and some not-so-great) Common App essay examples to show you. We've asked former admissions officers to annotate and comment on all of them, so you'll know exactly how an admissions officer will read your own Common App essay.

  6. How to Write an Amazing Common App Essay (2023-2024)

    Part 1: Introduction What is the Common Application? Why does the Common App Essay—and other college essays—matter? What are these mystical college essays, anyway? Common App Essay Prompts 2023-2024 Part 2: Pre-writing your Common App Essay Brainstorming Common App Essay topics Freewriting

  7. 7 Expert Common App Essay Tips

    What Is the Common App Essay? The Common App essay is the main personal statement you'll submit to colleges that use the Common App and require the essay. You can find the Common App essay prompts and instructions by navigating to the "Common App" tab on your Common App account and clicking on "Writing."

  8. The 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts Are Here

    2021-2022 Common App Prompts. Here is a list of the prompts for this cycle. While they are largely unchanged, Prompt #4 is different this year (which is kind of a big deal, considering that the prompts have been the same since 2017). Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe ...

  9. 5 Tips on How to Write The Perfect Common App Essay

    Always put yourself in your reader's shoes and see what initial thoughts or judgments you think they'd form based on what you're saying. Also, let your essay breathe for a bit and come back to it a few weeks later with a fresh mindset. See what you think of it then. 5. Use Your Space Wisely.

  10. 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.

  11. How to Write the Common App Essay-Examples for 2023-2024

    Common App Essay Examples: 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 asks applicants to write about what makes them uniquely them.

  12. Common App Essay Examples

    Courtney Ng 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?

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    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.

  14. Which Common App Essay Prompt Should You Choose?

    Dr. Anna Wulick On one hand, the Common Application has seven essay prompts to choose from, which is great news: No matter what your story, you're sure to find a good fit! On the other hand, having seven prompts means you can write seven different kinds of essays, each with its own potential pitfalls and clichés to steer around.

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    Common App Essay: Wooden Pulpits and Iron Podiums. #7: Open-Ended Prompt Each time I dance I am becoming more of who I am. That is why I adore dance.

  16. How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

    46:38. 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. 46:49. First off, you want to write the essay, after figuring out what you want to say, then figure out the prompt.

  17. Complete Strategies: Common App Essay Prompts (2023-24)

    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 ...

  18. Common Application Essays: The Complete Guide (2023-2024)

    Common App Essay Format. Let's start with some basics about writing your Common App essay! Essays must be 250-650 words. We recommend aiming for about 500 words. You can use a standard five-paragraph essay structure for your Common App essay, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

  19. 25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

    by Ryan Chiang - Updated Mar. 18, 2023 If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay. Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

  20. First-year essay prompts

    Common App has announced the 2023-2024 essay prompts. Below is the complete set of Common App essay prompts for 2023-2024. 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.

  21. Common App Essay Formatting, Grammar & Style Guide

    Common App Essay Formatting & Style: What You Need to Know About the Common App Platform It does not allow indenting (tabbing), so add an empty line between paragraphs to separate them. ... Use for internal dialogue. Use italics, not quotation marks, to differentiate internal dialogue from other conversations or quotes. Examples:

  22. What is the Common Application essay

    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.

  23. Let's talk what makes a good common app essay. There's some

    While creative elements such as lyrics, dialogue, poetry, and rhetorical questions can add flair to your essay, it's important not to rely too heavily on gimmicks and instead focus on expressing your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. For more tips and guidance on crafting a standout Common App essay, visit EduOwl.pro. Discover how to ...