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  • Micheal Daniel Micheal Daniel
  • 14 min read

The Good and Worst Common App Essay Examples

The Common Application essay, often referred to as the Common App essay, serves as a pivotal element in the college admissions process. It provides applicants with a unique opportunity to introduce themselves beyond transcripts and test scores, sharing their personal stories, values, and aspirations. Crafting a remarkable Common App essay can be a transformative experience, setting the stage for a successful college application. In this exploration of “Good and Bad Common App Essay Examples,” we will delve into the characteristics that distinguish an exceptional essay from a lackluster one. By examining both the strengths and pitfalls of these examples, aspiring college applicants can gain valuable insights into the art of essay writing and the impact it can have on their academic journey.

Brief Overview of the Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, is a standardized college application platform used by over 900 colleges and universities. Among its various components, the Common App essay is perhaps the most personal and introspective. Each year, the Common App releases a set of essay prompts for applicants to choose from, and they remain consistent for the entire application cycle. The 2023-2024 prompts, for example, encourage students to reflect on their experiences, values, and aspirations. Here’s a glimpse of these 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, 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. 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.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

These prompts are carefully crafted to encourage students to showcase their unique experiences, values, and insights. They provide ample room for creativity and self-expression, allowing applicants to tell their stories in a way that resonates with their individuality.

Common App Essay Examples

The Purpose of the Essay in the College Application Process

The Common App essay serves multiple important purposes in the college application process:

  1. Showcasing Individuality: It provides applicants with an opportunity to stand out from the crowd by highlighting their distinctive experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. In a highly competitive landscape, this is crucial for capturing the attention of admissions officers.
  2. Demonstrating Writing Skills: The essay showcases an applicant’s writing abilities, including their capacity for effective communication, storytelling, and organization. A well-crafted essay reflects positively on an applicant’s overall communication skills.
  3. Revealing Personal Growth: Many of the prompts encourage reflection on challenges, setbacks, and personal growth. Admissions officers are interested in applicants who not only excel academically but also demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to self-improvement.
  4. Highlighting Values and Fit: The essay allows applicants to convey their values and how they align with the values of the institutions they are applying to. This helps colleges assess whether an applicant is a good fit for their campus community.
  5. Humanizing the Applicant: Admissions officers are not just looking for academic achievements; they want to admit individuals who will contribute positively to their campus. The essay humanizes the applicant, giving insight into their character and potential contributions.

The Common App essay is an invitation for applicants to introduce themselves beyond their transcripts and test scores. It’s a canvas upon which they can paint a vivid picture of who they are, what they’ve experienced, and what they aspire to achieve.

Read on The Good and Worst Common App Essay Examples

Characteristics of a Good Common App Essay

When it comes to crafting a compelling Common App essay, certain characteristics can set an essay apart from the rest. Here, we’ll delve into four essential qualities that define an outstanding Common App essay.

 Clarity of Voice and Unique Perspective

  • Examples of essays that effectively convey a unique voice: Explore essays that showcase individuality through the writer’s distinctive style, tone, and perspective.

A unique voice is like a literary fingerprint, leaving a lasting impression on the reader. When reading a Common App essay, admissions officers are not just looking for a well-written piece; they want to get to know the person behind the words. A strong essay should reflect the author’s personality, values, and perspective, setting them apart from the crowd. It’s not about conforming to a specific writing style but rather about letting one’s true self shine through the prose.

Engaging Narrative and Storytelling

  • Analysis of well-told stories that captivate the reader: Examine essays that masterfully use storytelling techniques to draw readers in.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can make an essay memorable and relatable. The best Common App essays read like compelling narratives, drawing readers into the author’s world and experiences. Effective storytelling involves creating vivid scenes, using descriptive language, and building tension and resolution. A well-told story can make abstract concepts and personal experiences come to life, making it easier for the reader to connect with the author.

Reflection and Self-Discovery

  • Examination of essays that effectively reflect on personal growth: Dive into essays that go beyond surface-level storytelling to explore the author’s self-awareness and personal development.

The Common App essay is not just a recounting of events; it’s an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. Exceptional essays not only share experiences but also delve into what those experiences meant to the author. They explore how challenges, setbacks, or moments of insight have shaped the author’s character, values, and aspirations. These essays showcase a depth of thought and self-awareness that goes beyond the superficial.

Adherence to the Prompt

  • Discussion of essays that stay on topic and directly address the prompt:

Explore essays that effectively use the chosen prompt as a guiding framework for their narrative.

Adherence to the chosen prompt is crucial for a successful Common App essay. While creativity and unique perspectives are encouraged, the essay should ultimately address the prompt’s core question or theme. Deviating too far from the prompt can result in an essay that lacks focus and coherence. Exceptional essays find a balance between creativity and staying on topic, using the prompt as a foundation to build their narrative.

In crafting your own Common App essay, keep these characteristics in mind as you work to make your writing stand out. Remember that your goal is not just to impress but to genuinely connect with the reader, allowing them to see the world through your eyes and understand the person you’ve become through your experiences.

Good vs. Bad Common App Essay Examples

We will take a closer look at both a well-written Common App essay and a poorly constructed one. By analyzing these examples, we can better understand the elements that distinguish a strong essay from a weak one.

Analyzing a Good Common App Essay

A detailed breakdown of a well-written essay, highlighting its strengths:

A well-written Common App essay stands out for several reasons:

  • Unique Perspective: The essay offers a fresh and unique perspective that immediately captures the reader’s attention. It avoids clichés and overused topics.
  • Engaging Storytelling: The essay uses storytelling techniques effectively, creating a vivid narrative that draws the reader into the author’s experiences.
  • Self-Reflection: The author goes beyond recounting events, providing deep insights into their personal growth, values, or lessons learned.
  • Clear Structure: The essay has a logical structure with well-defined paragraphs and smooth transitions between ideas.
  • Authentic Voice: The writing feels authentic and aligned with the author’s true voice, creating a genuine connection with the reader.

Common App Essay Examples

Common App Essay Examples

Good Common App Essay Examples: “The Art of Resilience”

  1. Title: “The Art of Resilience”
    • The title is engaging and hints at a central theme, which is resilience. It immediately sets the tone for the essay and intrigues the reader.
  2. Introduction:
    • The essay begins with a compelling introduction that draws the reader in by mentioning the author’s aspiration to become a painter despite facing adversity. It introduces a challenge and a dream right from the start.
  3. Storytelling and Unique Perspective:
    • The essay effectively tells a personal story of the author’s passion for painting and the obstacles they encountered. It showcases a unique perspective—how art and determination helped the author overcome challenges.
  4. Reflection and Self-Discovery:
    • The essay delves into the author’s personal growth, highlighting moments of reflection and the discovery of inner strength. It goes beyond recounting events and explores what those events meant to the author.
  5. Community Involvement:
    • The author’s involvement in community art projects adds depth to the narrative and demonstrates the impact of their passion on others. It shows empathy and a commitment to sharing the benefits of art.
  6. Conclusion:
    • The essay concludes by emphasizing the author’s aspiration to pursue a career in art education, tying back to the theme of resilience and personal growth. It leaves a lasting impression and a sense of purpose.

Analyzing a Good Common App Essay

A detailed breakdown of a well-written essay, highlighting its strengths:

A well-written Common App essay stands out for several reasons:

  • Unique Perspective: The essay offers a fresh and unique perspective that immediately captures the reader’s attention. It avoids clichés and overused topics.
  • Engaging Storytelling: The essay uses storytelling techniques effectively, creating a vivid narrative that draws the reader into the author’s experiences.
  • Self-Reflection: The author goes beyond recounting events, providing deep insights into their personal growth, values, or lessons learned.
  • Clear Structure: The essay has a logical structure with well-defined paragraphs and smooth transitions between ideas.
  • Authentic Voice: The writing feels authentic and aligned with the author’s true voice, creating a genuine connection with the reader.

Common App Essay Examples

common app essay writing

Bad Common App Essay Sample: “My Vacation Adventure”

  1. Title: “My Vacation Adventure”
    • The title is generic and does not provide a clear sense of what the essay will be about. It lacks intrigue and originality.
  2. Introduction:
    • The essay starts with a typical vacation experience, which lacks the engagement needed to capture the reader’s interest. It introduces a common and superficial topic.
  3. Superficial Content:
    • The essay primarily focuses on listing the activities of a vacation and how the author’s friends were envious. It lacks depth and meaningful content.
  4. Lack of Reflection:
    • There is a lack of introspection or reflection in the essay. It does not explore how the vacation impacted the author personally or contributed to their growth.
  5. Limited Perspective:
    • The essay does not provide a unique perspective or convey a deeper message. It merely recounts a vacation without offering insights or a broader context.
  6. Conclusion:
    • The essay concludes with a vague mention of the importance of family and nature appreciation, but it doesn’t elaborate or reflect on these aspects. It leaves the reader with little to take away from the essay.

Analyzing a Bad Common App Essay

A critique of a poorly constructed essay, pinpointing its weaknesses:

A poorly constructed Common App essay exhibits several weaknesses:

  • Clichéd Topic: The essay chooses a topic that has been written about extensively, such as a sports victory or a vacation. This lack of originality makes it unmemorable.
  • Lack of Depth: The essay focuses on surface-level storytelling without delving into personal growth, reflection, or self-awareness.
  • Disjointed Structure: The essay lacks a clear structure, making it difficult for the reader to follow the narrative. Ideas are scattered and not well-connected.
  • Inauthentic Tone: The essay adopts a tone that feels insincere and disconnected from the author’s true voice. It may use overly formal language or rely on clichéd expressions.

Analyzing these examples can serve as a valuable guide for aspiring applicants. It underscores the importance of choosing a unique and meaningful topic, engaging in self-reflection, crafting a well-structured narrative, and maintaining an authentic voice. By avoiding the pitfalls demonstrated in the “bad” example and embodying the strengths of the “good” example, applicants can craft compelling Common App essays that leave a lasting impression on admissions officers.

Tips for Crafting an Outstanding Common App Essay

Now that we’ve explored the characteristics of a good Common App essay and identified common pitfalls, it’s time to dive into practical tips for creating your own outstanding essay. These tips will guide you through the process of brainstorming, writing, and refining your essay.

Brainstorming and Choosing the Right Topic

  • Start Early: Begin brainstorming and drafting your essay well in advance. Give yourself plenty of time to reflect on your experiences and ideas.
  • Reflect on Significance: Consider experiences, values, or moments in your life that have had a significant impact on you. Think about challenges, personal growth, or realizations that have shaped your character.
  • Avoid Clichés: Be mindful of choosing topics that are overly common or clichéd. Strive for originality and uniqueness in your choice of subject matter.
  • Show Vulnerability: Don’t be afraid to share moments of vulnerability or moments when you were challenged. Admissions officers appreciate authenticity and honesty.

Crafting a Strong Thesis or Message

  • Define Your Message: Identify the central message or theme you want to convey in your essay. What do you want the reader to understand or take away from your story?
  • Create a Thesis Statement: Craft a concise thesis statement that encapsulates the core of your essay. This statement will guide the reader and help maintain focus.
  • Emphasize Personal Growth: Consider how your experiences have contributed to your personal growth and self-awareness. Your essay should reveal how you’ve evolved as a person.

 Structuring Your Essay Effectively

  • Create an Engaging Introduction: Begin with a captivating hook that grabs the reader’s attention. Introduce the main theme or topic of your essay.
  • Develop a Clear Structure: Organize your essay with a clear structure that includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each paragraph should have a specific purpose and flow logically to the next.
  • Use Transitions: Ensure smooth transitions between paragraphs and ideas. This helps the reader follow your narrative without confusion.
  • Show, Don’t Tell: Use descriptive language and storytelling techniques to immerse the reader in your experiences. Paint a vivid picture with words.

Editing and Proofreading for Clarity and Impact

  • Revise and Edit: Review your essay multiple times for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Eliminate unnecessary words or repetitive phrases.
  • Seek Feedback: Share your essay with trusted peers, teachers, or mentors for feedback. They can offer valuable insights and catch errors you may have missed.
  • Check for Consistency: Ensure that your essay maintains a consistent tone and voice throughout. It should reflect your authentic self.
  • Proofread Carefully: Pay attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Even small errors can distract from your message.


In the realm of college admissions, the Common App essay is the canvas upon which applicants paint a vivid picture of who they are and what they aspire to be. Through the analysis of “Good and Bad Common App Essay Examples,” we have learned that authenticity, unique perspectives, and meaningful insights are the cornerstones of a strong essay. Avoiding clichés, delving into personal growth, and maintaining an authentic voice are essential for crafting an essay that resonates with admissions officers.

Ultimately, the Common App essay is more than just a writing exercise; it is an opportunity for self-discovery, reflection, and connection. As aspiring college students embark on the essay-writing journey, they should remember that their stories are unique and worthy of being shared. By embracing these lessons and crafting essays that reflect their true selves, applicants can stand out in the competitive college admissions landscape, ensuring that their voices are heard and their stories are told. The Common App essay is not just a path to admission; it is a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring impact of one’s personal narrative.


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