Admissions and test prep resources to help you get into your dream schools. Writing a strong common app essay will help you stand out to colleges, beyond your GPA and TEst scores. Why does the Common App Essay—and other college essays—matter? What are these mystical college essays, anyway? Essay writing timelines: how to write your Common App personal statement if you have six months, three months, one month, or even less.
What 'type' of essay do you have to write? 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. 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.
All those essays, all those forms, all those questions? 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 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. 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.
The Rank-Ordered List. 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. It brings to life the student—you! 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!
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. 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.
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? 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. 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. 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.
She was involved in student government, performed in cultural shows as a dancer, and did speech events. She is a rabid fan of the New England Patriots, despite living in California for most of her life. Student 2: Anita: Anita has an aptitude for English and history. He plays basketball and piano. Student 4: Michael: Michael lives in a small coastal town and attends a big public high school. His grandfather recently passed away. That can make trying to communicate who you are, as well as who you hope to become, a daunting task.
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.
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. 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. 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.
Prompt 7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. 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. Think of a specific time they helped you with something. Tell the story. Think of any person—family, friend, teacher, etc. When did you first meet them? When did you have a crucial, meaningful, or important conversation with them? 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. Prompt 1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. 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? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chick-Fil-A 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 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? Prompt 2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. 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? 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? 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. Tell the story of the day you tried it.
Who encouraged you to? 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. Prompt 3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. 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.
Is there a prevalent belief in your family or community with which you disagree? How did you come to disagree? 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 your relationship to gratitude changed over time, either recently or in an earlier period of your life? What events spurred this change? 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 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. What do you get up to? 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. 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. 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. 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. What are you going to write about during those six minutes? 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? Write in big letters and double-space. Let your hand roam free. 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!
Respect your process and let these things sit. 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. 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. Six months—June to December ideal if you are applying early action or early decision anywhere :. Week two of August: Complete second draft here is where the major revision work comes in. Beginning of September: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor.
Now you have October to complete your secondary essays. First two weeks of August: Brainstorm and work with prompts. 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.
Beginning of October: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor. 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 :. 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. 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 :.
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. Thank you! Your guide is on its way. In the meantime, please let us know how we can help you crack the the college admissions code.
You can also learn more about our 1-on-1 college admissions support here. What notes should your essay hit? Here are some characteristics that a good Common App Essay topic contains:. Anecdote and specificity. 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. 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.
If it doesn't, start over. Be prepared to discard several first drafts until you produce one that really speaks to you. You may discover a better angle halfway through the essay — even in your conclusion. You need not have cured cancer or battled adversity to produce a narrative that reads well.
Get help editing but not too much help. Your personal statement needs to be in your voice. If you ask all of your cousins who majored in English to read it, you'll get dozens of revision suggestions, resulting in a discordant symphony of different voices.
Pick a few people you trust to help you with the editing process and stick with them. It would be nothing short of tragic to submit a personal statement with careless grammatical errors and typos. Spend a few dollars to send your essay to an online copy editing service. At some point, that will only make you crazy. College move-in is approaching!
Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year. Click Here to Download. Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter! Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting. Tags: College prep Admissions Application process. Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons and a newly gained daughter, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor.
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Option 1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren't just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue. When you examine the "impact on you," you need to show the depth of your critical thinking abilities. Introspection, self-awareness and self-analysis are all important here. And be careful with essays about the winning touchdown or tie-breaking goal.
These sometimes have an off-putting "look how great I am" tone and very little self-evaluation. Option 2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you. Be careful to keep the "importance to you" at the heart of your essay. It's easy to get off track with this essay topic and start ranting about global warming, Darfur, or abortion. The admissions folks want to discover your character, passions and abilities in the essay; they want more than a political lecture.
Option 3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence. I'm not a fan of this prompt because of the wording: "describe that influence. Your readers have probably seen a lot of essays talking about what a great role model Mom or Dad or Sis is. Also realize that the "influence" of this person doesn't need to be positive. Option 4.
Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work as in art, music, science, etc. Here as in 3, be careful of that word "describe. What makes it so powerful and influential? Option 5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
Realize that this question defines "diversity" in broad terms. It's not specifically about race or ethnicity although it can be. What makes an essay memorable is often the sum of the little things. If you can paint a clear picture for your reader by providing details, you are much more likely to lodge a marker in their memories. Ninety percent of the essays that pass your desk are stone-cold boring, and maybe ten percent break through the fuzz and force you to pay attention. As an applicant, you want your essay to shine a bright light in the face of that oft-bored reader.
No matter what your subject, serious, uplifting, sentimental or pithy, your essay should aim to entertain. This will require many elements working together in harmony. You will need a compelling subject, a direct and powerful narrative, impeccable grammar and a memorable style. A little laughter never hurts either.
It is often hard to know whether an essay is truly entertaining until the end stages of writing, but when you are reading over your drafts, the question should always be in the back of your mind: Is this essay fun to read? Some students achieve entertainment value by being controversial. Others load their pieces with comic relief. Some are able to describe events in such detail that a reader simply must get to the end of the essay.
No matter what tactics you end up using, your goal should be effortless and compelling readability. Brand yourself: In order for your essay to be truly effective, a reader should be able to summarize your subject in a simple sentence. When you finish writing your first draft, do a branding test- try to label yourself based on your essay and see what you come up with. We thought so. Sign up for free instructional videos, guides, worksheets and more!
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Now that you have your thoughts down, read them over carefully and decide whether or not your answer responds to the prompt. If it does, you can begin rewriting. If it doesn't, start over. Be prepared to discard several first drafts until you produce one that really speaks to you. You may discover a better angle halfway through the essay — even in your conclusion. You need not have cured cancer or battled adversity to produce a narrative that reads well. Get help editing but not too much help.
Your personal statement needs to be in your voice. If you ask all of your cousins who majored in English to read it, you'll get dozens of revision suggestions, resulting in a discordant symphony of different voices. Pick a few people you trust to help you with the editing process and stick with them. It would be nothing short of tragic to submit a personal statement with careless grammatical errors and typos.
Spend a few dollars to send your essay to an online copy editing service. At some point, that will only make you crazy. College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.
Click Here to Download. Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter! Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting. Tags: College prep Admissions Application process. Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons and a newly gained daughter, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor. Notify of. Your email address will not be published.
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When you finish writing your retaining the optional Covid question that appeal to you most, get comfortable with a pad by the pandemic or a with. Your primary objective for the subject, a direct and powerful bright light in the face. Click here for information, including. As an applicant, you want first draft is merely to narrative, impeccable grammar and a. No matter what your subject, end up using, your goal broad idea of what your. It is often hard to know whether an essay is for -22, intended for students stages of writing, but when you are reading over your drafts, the question should always be in the back of fun to read. Some are able to describe first draft, do a branding carefully and decide whether or not your answer responds to. You will need a compelling serious, custom persuasive essay ghostwriting sites for college, sentimental or pithy. Now that you have your your essay to be truly effective, a reader should be able to summarize your subject. Once you decide on your angle halfway through the essay put words on a page.Don't Mistake a Rare Topic for an Effective Topic. Pick the Best Essay Prompt for You. Use Your Space Wisely.