There are over 500 Common Application members in 47 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. All these institutions have a common commitment to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This commitment means they want to assess you on more than just the numbers– test scores and GPA. They give significant consideration to your essay responses. Your required and supplemental essays are your chance to tell these schools more about you.
The prime time to write your Common Application essay is during the summer before your senior year. You have the time to focus on writing your essay. Usually the Common Application website takes a break (is not accessible) for about a week at the end of July to update the site. By August 1st it is typically back up and running.
Your essays help round out the picture of who you are, what is important to you, and why. They also provide insight into the sort of student you might be in college. Regardless of which essay prompt you address, it is essential to give yourself time to think about the information you are conveying and what it reveals about you. It is also important to invest the energy to revise your responses. Although it may feel time consuming, each rendition of your essay should work to clarify your intentions while projecting something meaningful about yourself. Your goal is to tell the admission committees something that is not already conveyed elsewhere in your application and express your individuality.
In addition to the main Common Application essay, many schools require additional supplemental essay responses. Those are the subjects of other blog posts.
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.
Describe your unique background, identity, interest, or talent and explain in detail what it reveals about what you value. Why is it so meaningful to you? This is an opportunity to talk about various topics that are unique to you—cultural heritage, burning interests, outstanding talents, sense of identity, or unusual circumstances. Then discuss how this information/revelation/reflection/experience/talent/interest plays out in who you are and the way you look at the world. In short, why is the information you selected significant to you and how is it central to the way you view yourself? How does the meaningful information you shared help to prepare you for your future? How does it influence how you interact with the world?
The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
How do you deal with adversity and what does that say about you? Clearly describe the specific failure you experienced. Discuss what you learned from the experience and how it affects you in your day-to-day life as well as its impact on your way of thinking. Don’t focus on the setback itself; rather emphasize what you learned about yourself and how that event changed your perspective or behavior. Maybe you learned that hard work pays off? Or that balance is important in your life? Or that you want to make different decisions in the future? If you can, show that you handled a similar subsequent challenge using the lessons learned and with different, far more positive outcome.
As you reflect on this experience remember your goal in this response is to demonstrate resilience.
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Recount a time when you stood up for something. Explain what created the conflict that motivated you to take action. Discuss why this so meaningful to you. Remember to convey your passion for the issue. What do your actions reveal about you? Then think about whether or not you would make the same decision again and why. Make sure you clearly communicate your values and beliefs. What did you learn from this experience?
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.
Clearly articulate the problem. Remember the scale is not a factor, it is important to focus on why it is significant to you. Why did/does this problem need to be solved? This could be an issue on a personal level, in a local community, or with worldwide impact. Did you learn anything in particular about yourself as you reflect on this problem? Consider what your concerns about this problem reveal about the kind of person you are or hope to be. Discuss what you did or what you might do to find a solution. The essence of this question relates to your values, character, creativity and sense of identity. It also examines how you problem-solve and your ability to conceive solutions. Your response demonstrates a number of personal characteristics—What is important to you? How do you process the world around you? What are some of your perceptions and assumptions? To what extent do you actively engage issues? How do you overcome challenges? Can you come up with creative/effective/unique solutions to problems?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
This prompt asks how you gained independence, became more self-aware, and internalized a sense of personal responsibility. Provide a rich context as you detail your selected accomplishment or event and then focus on how it demonstrates a significant transition in your life. Why was this event so important to you and within the confines of your culture/community/family? Take it a step further and discuss how this new phase or different status can serve as a foundation in the future.
If none of the essay prompts immediately jump out at you, give yourself some time to reflect on your life experiences. Talk with your parents and teachers about your ideas. Eventually you will discover a topic that excites you and reveals something significant about you. The subject of your essay doesn’t have to be completely novel. However, it should reflect your unique perspective while clearly communicating your best self. Think about what is important to you and why. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Keep in mind; all the Common Application member schools are interested in learning more about you through your essays!
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***
By Marie Todd, Accepted’s college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. She is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications.