With the 2017-2018 application cycle soon to be underway, the essay team here at CollegeVine has decided to share some of our best tips and strategies on how to write the all-important Common App essays. This year, The Common Application has announced various revisions and additions to its essay prompts. In total, three of the original five prompts have been revised, and two entirely new prompts have been added.
In this blog post, we’ll provide advice on how to break down these prompts, organize your thoughts, and craft a strong, meaningful response that will make admissions committees take notice.
Overview of the Common App
The Common App essay is the best way for admissions committees to get to you know you. While SAT scores, your past course load, and your grades provide a quantitative picture of you as a student, the Common App essay offers adcoms a refreshing glimpse into your identity and personality. For this reason, try to treat the essay as an opportunity to tell colleges why you are unique and/or what matters to you.
Since your Common App essay will be seen by numerous colleges, you will want to paint a portrait of yourself that is accessible to a breadth of institutions and admissions officers (for example, if you are only applying to engineering programs at some schools, don’t focus your Common App on STEM at the expense of your other applications — save that for your supplemental essays).
In short, be open and willing to write about a topic you love, whether it is sports, music, politics, food, or watching movies. The Common App essay is more of a conversation than a job interview.
Strategy for Writing the Common App 2017-2018 Essays
Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and includes minimal formal directions, organizing a response can seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, we have developed a simple approach to formulating strong, unique responses.
This section outlines how to: 1) Brainstorm, 2) Organize, and 3) Write a Common App essay.
Before reading the Common App prompts, brainstorming is a critical exercise to develop high-level ideas. One way to construct a high-level idea would be to delve into a passion and focus on how you interact with the concept or activity. For example, using “creative writing” as a high-level idea, one could stress their love of world-building, conveying complex emotions, and depicting character interactions, emphasizing how writing stems from real-life experiences.
A different idea that doesn’t involve an extracurricular activity would be to discuss how your personality has developed in relation to your family; maybe one sibling is hot-headed, the other quiet, and you’re in the middle as the voice of reason (or maybe you’re the hot-head). These are simply two examples of infinitely many ideas you may come up with.
To begin developing your own high-level ideas, you should address these Core Four questions that all good Common App essays should answer:
- “Who Am I?”
- “Why Am I Here?”
- “What is Unique About Me?”
- “What Matters to Me?”
The first question focuses on your personality traits — who you are. The second question targets your progression throughout high school (an arc or journey). The third question is more difficult to grasp, but it involves showing why your personality traits, methods of thinking, areas of interest, and tangible skills form a unique combination. The fourth question is a concluding point that can be answered simply, normally in the conclusion paragraph, i.e., “Writing matters to me” or “Family matters to me.”
Overall, there is no single “correct” topic. You will be great as long as you are comfortable and passionate about your idea and it answers the Core Four questions.
Below are a number of links that provide examples of Common App essays. We hope they inspire you and help you to write your own unique essay for your college application. Please do not copy them, as this is plagiarism.
Essay Example #1 - Japanese Puzzle
Watching the news with my parents one night, I heard a story about Japan, which included an interview with a man speaking Japanese. Suddenly entranced, I struggled to make sense of the incredible sounds tumbling out of his mouth and immediately knew that the language was a puzzle I needed to solve. Read more >
Essay Example #2 - Camping Lesson
The 90-degree summer heat beat down on my shoulders, but that was the least of my problems. A six-year old boy had just disrupted a yellow jacket nest by the lake and children were getting stung left and right. If it had been any other summer I would have sat back and let an adult take care of the problem, but as the only camp counselor in the vicinity, I was suddenly the closest grown up around. Read more >
Essay Example #3 - EMT Efficiency
Patience has never been my strong suit, and while I have always wanted to be a healer, I could never imagine waiting to finish college and medical school before actually working with patients. So after a lifetime of hearing stories from my mom’s best friend about life in the ambulance as an emergency medical technician, I decided to jump in and sign up for my local training program last year. Read more >
Essay Example #4 - Trigonometry Trouble
While not everything in life is within our control, that doesn’t mean we should let those things hold us back from success. I have never been particularly adept at math, but always managed to do well enough with a little extra effort. That is, until I signed up for trigonometry. I managed to keep a grasp on the lessons for the first few weeks, but my understanding of the topic slowly ebbed away as the semester wore on. Read more >
Essay Example #5 - A Shakespearean Shambles
A “C+” might not constitute a technical failure, but for an honors student with a constant eye on my GPA, my grade on the English group project certainly felt like an “F.” I should start from the beginning. Last year, I was excited when my English teacher announced that she was assigning a group project for our Shakespeare unit. Read more >
Essay Example #6 - The Substitute
Sitting outside of the principal’s office, my stomach lurched and my palms felt sweaty. I wasn’t about to get in trouble; in fact, the situation was the exact opposite. I sat there waiting to report what had just happened in my history class.
90 minutes earlier, I arrived at class to discover we had a substitute teacher for the period. Admittedly, I felt a moment of relief at the thought of a less taxing lesson than usual. Some of my classmates thought the same thing, but chose to express it a little more vocally. Slamming his fist on the teacher’s desk, the substitute responded by screaming to be heard over the din of the class. Read more >
Essay Example #7 - A Catholic Conundrum
Raised in a proud, traditional Catholic family, I wasn’t sure where to turn when I began to question the Church two years ago. There was no cataclysmic event that caused me to do so; rather, some of the dogma began to feel exclusionary and overly judgmental. I just couldn’t imagine God caring about much that the Church espoused as doctrine.
The first time I voiced a challenge was in my weekly catechism class. The teacher stated that anyone who didn’t believe in God would go to hell. “What about people in Africa?” I asked. Read more >
Essay Example #8 - Refugee Report
Immigration is an enormous issue in America, with people arguing about every possible angle to the challenges facing successful policy reform. The recent ISIS attacks in Paris helped to fuel anti-refugee sentiments throughout the U.S., despite there being no evidence that accepting Syrian refugees would pose any real threat to our nation. Read more >
Essay Example #9 - Driving License Journey
Many of my friends seem to be in no rush to get their driver’s license, with many of their 16th birthdays passing by without even mention of beginning to drive. I, on the other hand, viewed my driver’s license as the next step in becoming an adult. Read more >
Essay Example #10 - A Mexican Affair
Forget MTV’s images of spoiled girls picking out multi-thousand dollar dresses. That was not my quinceañera. Yes, many girls I know in my Mexican American community hold ostentatious events that look like they should be on the cover of a magazine. But when I celebrated my 15th birthday, it was a deeply-rooted cultural affair celebrating my transition into adulthood alongside my family and closest friends. Read more >
Essay Example #11 - The Teachings of Employment
I would have loved to be on the high school yearbook staff, work on the school paper, run for student government, play a sport, or have enough time to devote to my studies. But my high school experience was much different. I worked twenty to thirty hours a week from the time I was fourteen to help support my family and save for college. My father died when I was ten leaving my mother with three children to support and so, as the oldest, I tried my best to help. Read more >>
Essay Example #12 - Tough Game
I love the game of football and in sixth grade I decided I wanted to play on a team. I was sure it would be great. I picked up my equipment a few days before the first practice and strolled in thinking this would be easy. However, it was a disaster! I was out of shape, the coach yelled all the time, and I was completely unprepared. I went home devastated and refused to go back. Read more >>
Essay Example #13 - Jeep Journey
I grew up tinkering with anything I could get my hands on. At a young age, I took apart radios, toasters, and other household items to learn how they worked. As I got older, I moved on to small motors and engines, and rebuilt our lawn mower. But, at fourteen, I received my greatest challenge that not only taught me how to solve some complex problems, but helped me understand what I want to do for a career. Read more >>
Essay Example #14 - Truth & Politics
I am a politically disenfranchised Millennial. I want to believe that my vote matters. I want to believe that politicians are dedicated to public service and intellectualism, and the media is more than another self-interested business pushing its own agenda. However, I do not believe these things. So what is the answer? Am I forced to accept this “reality” or is there some way to make a difference? Read more >>
Essay Example #15 - Dance Dilemma
I have heard many of my fellow students say it would be nice to join a high school club or activity, but they frequently find an excuse for not getting involved. As a freshman, I decided that I did not want to be one of those people, but instead wanted to live my high school life to its fullest. I learned about the many options available and purposely choose four activities that were different from each other and would help me to meet a diverse group of people. Read more >>