How to Write the Common App Essays
The common App essays is a critical component of the college application process, offering students an opportunity to showcase their personality, experiences, and aspirations to admissions committees. As an essential part of the Common Application, this essay provides a unique platform for applicants to distinguish themselves in a highly competitive admissions landscape. Crafting a compelling common App essays requires careful consideration, creativity, and effective storytelling. In this guide, we will explore the essential elements of writing a successful common App essays, providing you with valuable insights and tips to help you navigate this crucial step on your journey to college acceptance.
Overview of the common App essays
The common App essay, officially known as the Common Application Personal Essay, is a crucial component of the college application process in the United States. It is a standard essay that students must submit when applying to colleges and universities through the Common Application platform, which is used by over 900 institutions. The common App essay is an opportunity for students to showcase their personality, experiences, and writing skills. It requires applicants to respond to one of several prompts, each designed to elicit a personal and reflective essay. The essay typically has a word limit, often around 650 words, and must be written from scratch for each college application.
Importance of the common App essays in college admissions
The common App essays holds significant weight in the college admissions process for several reasons:
- Personal Insight: It allows admissions officers to gain insight into the applicant’s personality, values, and character beyond what can be gleaned from test scores and transcripts.
- Differentiation: The essay is a chance for applicants to stand out in a competitive pool of candidates. It helps colleges distinguish between students with similar academic profiles.
- Writing Skills: The essay assesses an applicant’s writing skills, including their ability to communicate effectively, construct coherent arguments, and adhere to guidelines.
- Authenticity: It offers a platform for students to demonstrate authenticity and self-awareness. Admissions officers appreciate genuine and reflective essays.
- Holistic Evaluation: Many colleges follow a holistic admissions process, where they consider a combination of factors, including the common App essays, to assess an applicant’s potential fit for their institution.
Before you dive into writing your common App essays, it’s crucial to go through a thoughtful pre-writing phase. This preparatory stage helps you gather your thoughts, identify your key experiences, and define the message you want to convey in your essay. Here’s a breakdown of the essential steps in the pre-writing phase:
Identifying Personal Experiences and Stories
- Take time to brainstorm and list significant life experiences, challenges, and achievements that have shaped you.
- Reflect on moments that have had a lasting impact on your personal growth or outlook on life.
- Consider both positive and challenging experiences, as they can reveal important aspects of your character.
Reflecting on Significant Life Events:
- Delve deeper into the stories and experiences you’ve listed. What emotions, lessons, or insights did you gain from each of them?
- Identify key turning points or milestones in your life that have contributed to your personal development.
- Look for anecdotes and narratives within these experiences that can serve as the foundation for your essay.
- Identifying Your Strengths and Weaknesses:
- Reflect on your personal qualities, skills, and talents. What are you naturally good at?
- Acknowledge your areas of growth and improvement. Have you faced challenges or setbacks that have pushed you to develop new skills or perspectives?
- Understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you craft an authentic and self-aware narrative.
Considering Your Values and Beliefs:
- What are the core values and beliefs that guide your decisions and actions?
- Reflect on your principles, ethics, and the things you hold dear. How do they influence your choices and interactions with the world?
- Exploring your values and beliefs can provide a foundation for addressing the deeper meaning behind your experiences.
Setting Goals and Themes
- Defining the Message You Want to Convey:
- Determine the central message or takeaway you want your essay to convey. What do you want the reader to understand or feel after reading your essay?
- Clarify the purpose of your essay. Are you aiming to inspire, inform, challenge, or reflect?
- Choosing a Central Theme or Focus:
- Select a central theme or focus that aligns with your experiences and the message you want to convey.
- This theme will serve as the guiding thread throughout your essay, providing cohesion and direction to your narrative.
- Ensure that the theme resonates with your personal experiences and reflects your values and beliefs.
The pre-writing phase is a critical step in crafting a compelling common App essays. It helps you gather your thoughts, identify the most meaningful experiences, and set the stage for the writing process. By investing time in brainstorming, self-assessment, and theme development, you’ll be better prepared to create an essay that truly reflects your authentic self and resonates with admissions officers.
Structure and Format
Now that you’ve completed the essential pre-writing phase, it’s time to dive into the structure and format of your common App essays. A well-structured essay is not only easier to read but also more effective in conveying your message and engaging the reader. Let’s break down the key elements of the structure and format:
- The Hook to Grab the Reader’s Attention:
- Your introduction should begin with a compelling hook that immediately captures the reader’s interest.
- This hook can be an intriguing anecdote, a thought-provoking question, a vivid description, a surprising fact, or a powerful quote.
- The goal is to pique the reader’s curiosity and make them want to continue reading.
- Clear Thesis Statement:
- Following the hook, your introduction should contain a clear and concise thesis statement.
- The thesis statement is the central message or theme of your essay. It provides the reader with a preview of what to expect.
- Ensure that your thesis statement aligns with the message you want to convey in your essay.
- Developing Main Ideas and Supporting Details:
- The body of your essay is where you delve into the main ideas and experiences that support your thesis.
- Each paragraph in the body should focus on a distinct aspect of your narrative.
- Use vivid and specific details, examples, anecdotes, and reflections to bring your story to life.
- Ensure that each paragraph connects back to your thesis and contributes to the overall message of your essay.
- Maintaining a Logical Flow:
- Pay attention to the organization and flow of your essay. It should unfold in a logical and coherent manner.
- Use transition words and phrases to guide the reader smoothly from one paragraph to the next.
- Ensure that there is a clear progression of ideas, allowing the reader to follow your narrative effortlessly.
Writing the common App essays
With a clear structure and format in mind, it’s time to embark on the writing phase of your common App essays. Writing can be both exciting and challenging, but by following these guidelines, you can create a compelling and authentic essay that reflects your unique voice and experiences.
Starting the First Draft
- Overcoming Writer’s Block:
- Writer’s block is a common obstacle. If you’re stuck, start by writing freely without worrying about perfection.
- Set aside dedicated writing time, eliminate distractions, and create a conducive environment for creativity.
- Use prompts or questions related to your chosen topic to kickstart your writing.
- Avoiding Perfectionism:
- Understand that your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal is to get your ideas down on paper.
- Don’t be overly critical of your initial writing; you can refine and polish it during the editing phase.
Using Descriptive Language
- Creating Vivid Imagery:
- Engage your reader’s senses by incorporating descriptive language that paints a vivid picture.
- Use sensory details to evoke emotions and immerse the reader in your experiences.
- Describe settings, characters, and events with precision to make your narrative come alive.
- Show, Don’t Tell:
- Instead of telling the reader how you felt or what you learned, show it through your storytelling.
- Use concrete examples, dialogues, and actions to reveal your emotions, growth, and insights.
- Allow the reader to draw their own conclusions based on your vivid descriptions and experiences.
Editing and Revising
- Checking for Clarity and Coherence:
- After completing your first draft, take a step back and review it with a critical eye.
- Ensure that your essay is clear and coherent, with a logical flow of ideas from the introduction to the conclusion.
- Look for areas where the narrative might be confusing or where transitions could be improved.
- Seeking Feedback from Peers or Mentors:
- Share your essay with trusted peers, teachers, or mentors who can provide valuable feedback.
- Listen to their perspectives and suggestions for improvement. Sometimes, an outside viewpoint can offer fresh insights.
- Consider the feedback you receive but also trust your instincts; it’s your story, and your voice should remain authentic.
Writing your common App essays is a creative and introspective process. Overcoming writer’s block and avoiding perfectionism in your first draft will free you to express yourself authentically. Use descriptive language to create a vivid and immersive narrative, allowing your reader to connect with your experiences on a deeper level. Finally, embrace the editing and revision phase as an opportunity to refine your essay for clarity and coherence, and don’t hesitate to seek feedback from others to make your essay even stronger.
Showcasing Your Voice and Personality
Your common App essays is not just an opportunity to share your experiences; it’s a chance to reveal your unique voice and personality. Here are some essential tips for ensuring your essay truly reflects who you are:
Avoiding Clichés and Generic Statements
- Be Original: Avoid using overused phrases or clichés that can make your essay sound generic. Admissions officers read countless essays, so standing out is crucial.
- Show, Don’t Tell: Instead of making broad claims about your personality or values, demonstrate them through specific examples and anecdotes from your life.
- Personalize Your Responses: Tailor your essay to your own experiences and perspective. While you may be inspired by others, make sure your narrative is uniquely yours.
Injecting Humor and Personality When Appropriate
- Authentic Humor: If humor is part of your personality, don’t hesitate to inject it into your essay. However, use humor judiciously, ensuring it aligns with the tone and theme of your narrative.
- Balance Seriousness and Lightness: Your essay can touch on serious topics while also showcasing moments of lightness and positivity. This balance can reflect the complexity of your character.
Maintaining a Genuine and Authentic Voice
- Write in Your Own Voice: Your essay should sound like you, not like someone else’s idea of you. Avoid trying to conform to a particular writing style that doesn’t feel natural.
- Be Vulnerable: Authenticity often involves vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to share personal challenges, doubts, or moments of self-discovery. These can make your essay more relatable and real.
- Reflect Your Growth: If your essay discusses personal growth or change, make sure it reflects a genuine evolution in your thinking or perspective. Authenticity lies in your ability to convey real transformation.
Read article on 2023- 2024 common App essays Prompt with Examples
Proofreading and Final Polishing
The final step in crafting a stellar common App essays is to meticulously proofread and polish your work. This phase ensures that your essay is not only well-written but also free of distracting errors. Here’s how to ensure your essay shines:
Checking for Grammar and Spelling Errors
- Review Your Essay Thoroughly: Carefully read through your entire essay to identify grammar and spelling mistakes. Pay attention to commonly overlooked errors, such as homophones (e.g., “they’re” vs. “their” vs. “there”) and subject-verb agreement.
- Use Grammar and Spell Checkers: Utilize grammar and spell checkers, but don’t rely solely on them. These tools can miss context-specific errors or subtle grammatical issues.
- Read Aloud: Reading your essay aloud can help you catch errors and awkward phrasing that you might have missed while reading silently.
Ensuring Proper Punctuation and Sentence Structure
- Punctuation: Verify that your essay uses appropriate punctuation, including commas, periods, semicolons, and quotation marks. Ensure consistency in your punctuation style throughout the essay.
- Sentence Structure: Check for sentence variety. Avoid excessive use of long or complex sentences. Break up lengthy sentences if they become convoluted or hard to follow. Use short, impactful sentences for emphasis.
- Clarity and Flow: Ensure that each sentence contributes to the clarity and flow of your essay. Sentences should connect smoothly, making your narrative easy to follow.
Formatting According to Guidelines
- Adhere to Word Limit: Double-check that your essay meets the specified word limit (typically around 650 words). Some colleges have strict word count requirements, so exceeding them can lead to disqualification.
- Formatting Guidelines: Follow any formatting guidelines provided by the Common Application or the specific colleges to which you are applying. This may include font size, line spacing, and margins.
- Proofread for Consistency: Ensure consistency in formatting throughout your essay. For instance, if you use italics or bold for emphasis, do so consistently and sparingly.
- Proofread Your Contact Information: If your essay includes contact information or other personal details, make sure it’s accurate and up-to-date.
- Save and Backup: Before submitting your essay, save a final copy and back it up. Technical mishaps can happen, and you want to have a secure copy of your work.
By thoroughly proofreading and polishing your common App essays, you demonstrate attention to detail and a commitment to presenting your best work to admissions officers. Careful editing not only eliminates errors but also enhances the overall readability and impact of your essay. So, take the time to review your essay meticulously before hitting the submit button, and ensure that your unique voice and story shine through flawlessly.
Seeking feedback from trusted individuals is a crucial part of the common App essays writing process. Constructive feedback can help you refine your essay, catch errors, and ensure that your narrative is as compelling as possible. Here’s how to effectively seek and incorporate feedback:
Sharing Your Essay with Trusted Individuals
- Choose Your Reviewers Wisely: Select individuals you trust and respect for their feedback. This could include teachers, mentors, peers, or family members. Ensure they have a good understanding of the college application process.
- Explain Your Objectives: When sharing your essay, provide your reviewers with context. Let them know what you aim to convey in your essay and the message you want to leave with the reader.
- Consider Diverse Perspectives: It can be valuable to get feedback from individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives. They may offer unique insights that enrich your essay.
Incorporating Constructive Criticism
- Listen Actively: When receiving feedback, listen attentively and be open to different viewpoints. Avoid becoming defensive; instead, approach feedback with a growth mindset.
- Separate Personal from Objective Feedback: Distinguish between feedback related to subjective elements (style, voice, storytelling) and objective elements (grammar, clarity). Both are important, but subjective feedback may involve more personal preferences.
- Ask Clarifying Questions: If you receive feedback that’s not immediately clear, ask for clarification. Understanding the reasoning behind the feedback can help you make informed revisions.
Making Final Revisions Based on Feedback
- Prioritize Feedback: Not all feedback requires action. Assess the feedback you receive and decide which suggestions align with your vision for the essay and enhance its impact.
- Revise Thoughtfully: As you make revisions, be thoughtful and deliberate. Ensure that your authentic voice remains intact while addressing any identified issues or concerns.
- Review and Proofread: After incorporating feedback, review your essay once more to check for any unintended changes or inconsistencies. Proofread carefully to catch any new errors.
- Seek a Final Review: If possible, have one last trusted individual review your revised essay to provide a final perspective before submission.
Incorporating feedback into your common App essays demonstrates your commitment to producing the best possible work. Remember that feedback is a valuable tool for improvement, and the collaborative process of seeking input can ultimately lead to a stronger and more impactful essay. With the final revisions in place, you’ll be well-prepared to submit an essay that reflects your authentic voice and resonates with admissions officers.
Reviewing and Submitting
The final steps in the common App essays process involve reviewing your essay thoroughly and ensuring that it aligns perfectly with your chosen prompt. These steps are crucial in presenting your best work to admissions officers and ensuring a successful submission:
Double-Checking Essay Content
- Content Accuracy: Review your essay to ensure that all content is accurate and truthful. Any factual inaccuracies should be corrected.
- Message Alignment: Confirm that your essay aligns with the central message or theme you intended to convey. Ensure that each paragraph and sentence contributes to the overall narrative.
- Grammar and Spelling: Perform one last check for grammar and spelling errors. Even minor mistakes can distract the reader and diminish the impact of your essay.
- Clarity and Cohesion: Read your essay to ensure that it flows logically and maintains clarity. Verify that there are no abrupt transitions or confusing sections.
Meeting the Submission Deadline
- Submission Deadline: Be aware of the submission deadline for the Common Application. Missing the deadline can result in your application not being considered.
- Buffer Time: Aim to submit your essay well before the deadline, allowing time for any unforeseen issues or technical difficulties that may arise.
Ensuring Your Essay Aligns with the Chosen Prompt
- Prompt Alignment: Revisit the prompt you selected and ensure that your essay directly addresses it. Make sure the connection between your narrative and the prompt is evident.
- Prompt-Specific Details: If the prompt asks for specific details or reflections, confirm that your essay includes them. Admissions officers expect your response to align closely with the prompt’s expectations.
- Prompt Relevance: Assess whether your essay genuinely responds to the prompt and whether the chosen prompt was the best fit for your story.
By diligently reviewing your essay and confirming that it meets the requirements and expectations of the chosen prompt, you enhance your chances of making a favorable impression on admissions officers. Submitting your essay on time and ensuring its alignment with the prompt demonstrates your attention to detail and commitment to presenting your best self in your college application. With these final checks in place, you can confidently submit your common App essays as part of your college application package.
The common App essays is your chance to leave a lasting impression on college admissions officers. It allows you to transcend your test scores and transcripts, revealing the unique qualities that make you a valuable addition to their institution.
By following the guidelines and insights provided in this guide, you can approach the common App essays with confidence, knowing that you have the tools to craft a memorable and impactful piece of writing. Remember that your essay should reflect your authentic self, tell a compelling story, and provide a glimpse into your future aspirations. Embrace the opportunity to share your voice, and with dedication and effort, you can create an essay that sets you apart and helps you achieve your college dreams. Best of luck on your writing journey!
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