If you are beginning your senior year of high school, this is the prime time to write your Common Application essay. The sooner you get started, the better. 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 in common a commitment to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This commitment means they will look at more than just your test scores and GPA. They give significant weight to your essay responses.
Keep in mind that your essays help round out the picture of who you are and what is important to you. Regardless of which essay prompt you address, it is essential to give yourself time to think about the information you are conveying and what specifically it reveals about you. It is also important to invest the energy to revise your responses. Each rendition of your essay should work to clarify your intentions while projecting something meaningful about yourself. You want to tell the admission committees something that is not already conveyed elsewhere in your application.
In addition to the main Common Application essay, many of these schools require additional supplemental essay responses. But they will be the subject of other blog posts.
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Describe your unique background or story and explain in detail what it reveals about your sense of identity. Then discuss how this information/revelation/reflection/experience plays out in who you are and the way you look at the world. In short, why is the background or story you shared significant and how is it central to the way you view yourself?
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
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. Don’t focus on the setback itself but rather emphasize what you learned about yourself and how that 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? You want 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. Discuss what created the conflict that motivated you to take action. 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.
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Briefly describe the place or environment where you are perfectly content. Then focus on your experiences there and why they are significant to you. How do you feel? What are you thinking? What do these emotions/reactions reveal about your character/values/perceptions/assumptions? And can you apply this self-knowledge to your life?
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 and became more self-aware. 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. 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 yourself. 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. Remember, all the Common Application member schools are interested in learning more about you through your essays!
By Marie Todd who served for over 20 years in higher education as an Instructor, Mentor, Academic Advisor and Undergraduate Admissions Specialist at top universities including the University of Michigan. At Michigan, she reviewed over 5000 applications. She would be happy to help you with your or your child’s college application.