How to Write the Common App Essay

As the college admissions process becomes increasingly competitive, the Common App essay has become a crucial way to stand out during the admissions process. While your test scores, like the SAT and ACT, are important, it’s equally important to provide a strong personal statement. 

Even if you feel unsure about other parts of your application, a strong Common App essay can really make you stand out. In this article, we’ll reveal the art of writing a good Common App essay that is compelling and impactful, so keep reading!

What is the Common App Essay?

The Common App is an application that you can fill out and use to apply to over 1,000 schools in the United States. There are parts of the application that are similar to any school-specific application you'd fill out, like your GPA, personal information, and transcripts. One thing that distinguishes this application is the essay section, where you provide a statement with 650 words or less. 

The essay is similar to other applications but can seem more difficult because of the low word count and topics. There's nothing to fear, though; with some writing practice and a few steps, you can prepare an essay that will make you shine and show admissions officers who you are beyond the paper.

Picking a Topic for Your Common App Essay

Each year, the five to seven Common App essay prompts include topics like “share an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and new understanding” or “recount a time you challenged a belief.” There’s even an option to submit an essay about any topic you choose. 

While you can decide to write your Common App statement on any of the essay prompts, you should pick one that allows you to share something about yourself and give insight on your perspective. The lessons we take from obstacles, for example, can reshape the way we view the world, build character, and even show others how we deal with situations.

Whether your essay reflects on your background, identity, interests, or an event that caused gratitude, affected, or motivated you, there’s something you will be able to write about. It’s all about how you convey your story and use your individual voice.

woman talks to friend at table

To pick a topic, talk to friends and family who know you best. Thinking about the following can be the key to success:

  • Meaningful experiences & lessons learned
  • Challenges and obstacles
  • Achievements and milestones
  • Epiphanies and realizations
  • Passions and interests
  • Values and beliefs
  • Cultural or family heritage
  • Community involvement
  • Emotional connections
  • Future goals and aspirations
  • Difficulties

Once you narrow down your topic, you’ll be able to start the writing process. 

How To Write the Common App Essay

You can start the Common App essay writing process with a few topics if you’re not 100% clear. As you follow each of the steps, you may find that one of the topics you’ve chosen will stick out as a strong choice.

  1. Outline Your Story 

Organize your thoughts by creating a clear and concise outline. Break down your essay into an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Outline the main points you want to cover in each section to ensure a logical flow of ideas.

  1. Engaging Introduction

Begin with a captivating opening that immediately grabs the reader's attention and introduces your chosen topic. Consider a creative angle you can take to share your story in a way that hooks someone and makes them want to learn more. Your introduction should set the tone for your essay in a way that’s interesting. 

  1. Show, Don't Tell

Use descriptive language and vivid details to immerse the reader in your experiences. Instead of simply stating facts, show the emotions, thoughts, and actions that accompanied your journey. Your essays should show the college admissions officers how you viewed the experience or story through your own lens.

  1. Highlight Your Unique Qualities 

Use the essay as an opportunity to highlight your individuality and showcase the qualities that make you a valuable addition to the college community. Avoid clichés and generic statements.

  1. Stay Within Word Limit 

Be mindful of the word limit and ensure that every word contributes to your narrative. Edit and revise your essay to make it concise and impactful. 

  1. Strong Conclusion 

End your essay with a compelling conclusion that reinforces the central theme of your story. Leave the reader with a lasting impression and a sense of closure.

  1. Seek Feedback

Share your essay with trusted mentors, teachers, or family members to gain valuable feedback. Consider their suggestions and make necessary revisions to improve your essay. While it can be difficult to ask for help or receive critiques while sharing your personal experiences, taking constructive criticism is important. Having outside feedback from people you trust can shape your essay into an even better reflection of you.

  1. Edit and Proofread

Thoroughly edit and proofread your essay to correct any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. A polished and error-free essay demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism. 

boy in classroom write on a paper

Final Thoughts

The Common App essay may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s something that’s attainable and an exciting way to show off who you are. Whether it’s a seemingly small detail of your life that’s had a big impact or a life-changing event or discovery, there’s something about you that will make a great Common App essay. Don’t overthink it. Just take the time to reflect on what makes you, you.

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