How to Write Your Common App Essays & What to Avoid

Posted on July 3, 2010. Filed under: admissions advice, college admissions, College Advice, college applications, college counseling, college essays, college news, college prep | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Common Application essay prompts are available (see below) and have not changed since last year. Although the 2010-11 application does not launch online until August 1st, you can begin writing your essays and should. Your essays will bring authenticity to your application and allow the admission officers to learn who you are. You need to make sure this happens. So just how should you start writing your essays?

Here are some suggestions we recommend to help you write essays where you can stand out:

– Brainstorm possible topics – this could be absolutely anything – Slice of life stories can be very appealing and just as noteworthy if the writing is exceptional. It’s not necessary to write about some major event or achievement. Keep a file of life stories and don’t pay attention to any essay prompts just yet. Some of your ideas may integrate later.

– Discuss your ideas with people you know. Listen to suggestions and elaborate on your thoughts. What do others think of your topics? Which ideas are discriminating and distinguish you as a strong applicant at your dream college?

– Don’t rush – pace yourself well so that you have plenty of time to relax and write – Find a comfortable setting where your thoughts and ideas can flourish. Really like what you write about and mean it.

– Once you have completed your “Free Write” go back and look at the specific essay prompts. Some may overlap. Remember that your writing is quality over quantity so no need to write many rough drafts. Connect your topic ideas to the prompts and write a brief outline defining the paragraphs of your essay. This is where you may start to think about your opening “the grabber” and how to sustain interest. Keep track of the required word count.

Once you have your topic ideas and your general outline, you can begin writing out your rough draft. We’ve seen and reviewed countless Common App essays.  Below are some things we often see and things you should try and avoid.

–  Writing that does not emphasize the writer’s strengths

–  Essays that make every effort to portray the writer as “perfect” and just try too hard.

– Essays that don’t reflect the writer’s passion, curiosity and inspirations.

– Contrived transitions that don’t connect

– Narratives that do not engage the reader

–  Repeating what is on the activity resume

–  Dull openings that quickly lose interest

–  Using quotes that don’t connect or add anything to the essay

– Essays that don’t realize the intent of the prompt and don’t answer the questions asked

–  Essays that look too much like everyone else’s. Common topics like an experience on a trip, overcoming an obstacle, a relationship with a close relative, winning a sporting event must remain unique with a well-told story.

– Writing what you think admission officers want to read and therefore not your true self – using a thesaurus to impress

– Too much written in the passive voice.

– Not keeping language specific – writing too generally about too many things

– Use of slang or relaxed language

Common App Essay Prompts:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer).

250 word minimum – Choose One

􏰁  – Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

􏰂  – Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

􏰃  – Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

􏰄  – Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

􏰅   – A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

􏰆  – Topic of your choice.

Crafting your essay takes time and lots of thought. Make sure you get the appropriate guidance. Email: or call: 866.348.3393 for any additional concerns and questions.

Good luck!!!


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