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April 24, 2020

Approaching Your Common Application Essay

In addition to your academic record and recommendations, the essay can can push a borderline applicant into the "Admit" column, if executed properly. That's the purpose of my post today -- to help you write the best essay you can. So it's time to start thinking about this, if you haven't already done so.

You will most likely be using the Common Application for at least some (if not all) of your target schools. Chances are, even if you don't end up using the Common App (unlikely), you will still need to write an essay on a general topic such as those that the Common App requires.


Here are the 2017-2018 Common Application 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. [No change]
.
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? [Revised]
.

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

4. 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. [No change]

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

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? [New]

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. [New]

To help you get started thinking about how and what to write, here is a list of College Confidential articles and Admit This! posts that I have written about application essays. This is a long list, so don't feel duty-bound to read all of them. Just to be sure that you can get to them, I have included both the formal URL and a title link (from my Department of Redundancy Department). Find several that appeal to you and then read and learn from them. (Some reference the old Common App prompts, but the info on approach is pertinent):

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/application-essays/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/great-common-application-essays/

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Today, I want to show you some more samples of excellent Common Application essays so that they might inspire you to a better level of writing.

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/using-humor-in-your-college-essay/

www.collegeconfidential.com
A while back, I was chatting with an admissions officer from a highly competitive university. We were discussing the importance of the essay in college applications.

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/essays/

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Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/thoughts-on-application-essays/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/assay-your-common-app-essay/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/more-on-essays/

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Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/more-essay-insights/

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Overcoming difficult circumstances is a legitimate topic for college application essays, assuming that those circumstances are, indeed, difficult.

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/adventures-in-essayland/

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Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/the-application-essay-think-about-it/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/essays-with-a-smile/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/application-essays/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

- http://www.collegeconfidential.com/admit/applying-you-to-your-application-essays/

www.collegeconfidential.com
Articles & Blogs Browse All Articles Expert Blogs. Admit This Expert opinions on the college admissions process!

***

What you'll see in the samples that I posted in the above articles is the natural style incorporated by the writers. Their essays flow smoothly and don't have an "academic" feel about them. When you read these, you can almost hear the writers speaking. In other words, their "voice" is natural and not at all affected by formality or overblown usage. They don't use big words just for the sake of impressive vocabulary. Big words don't impress admissions committees. A natural voice, convincingly presented, does.

The best essays help you to stand out in a crowd and reveal who you are and how you think. Sure, you can write a good essay about anything, but an essay often has the most impact if it highlights something that is unique or unusual about you.

Finally, try to have some fun with this. I know that "fun" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind when you think about your college essays, but you may find that once you get on a roll, you actually enjoy expressing yourself!

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Be sure to check out all my articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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