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How to Write Your Common App Essay: 5 Questions and Strategies to Write an Essay Colleges Will Love

college prep future planning high school Aug 21, 2023
How to Write a Common App Essay

The Importance of the Common App Essay

Colleges use the Common App essay to gain insight into who you are as a person.

Beyond the impersonal information your application offers—like classes taken, grades received, and extracurricular activities—the essay provides a chance for colleges to know you on a personal level.

It’s also your chance to show the admissions officer what differentiates you from other applicants. You get to demonstrate how well you can write and think critically about yourself and the world around you.

This essay should be your best work - don't underestimate the level of importance. You never know if your writing connected with an admissions officer who became your biggest advocate for acceptance.


Finding Your Pivotal Moment

If you're struggling with essay topics, think of a moment you felt your life changed.

Ask yourself:

  1. What experience shifted my perspective or path?
  2. How did this make me see the world differently?
  3. What valuable lessons emerged, and how did this shape me?
  4. How did I feel before and after the experience?
  5. How did this event alter my relationships with others?


The Hero Origin Story Approach

Every hero has an 'origin story'—a defining moment or series of events that set them on their path.

This is often true for us non-heroes as well.


Consider events in your life similar to those pivotal moments that define heroes in literature or movies:

  • Chance - Did an unexpected opportunity profoundly affect you? Have you ever been thrown into a situation that you weren't prepared for but ended up transforming you?

Example: Being chosen last minute to present at a school conference sparked an unexpected interest and subsequent talent in public speaking.


  • Choice - Was there a decision you made that significantly altered your life's trajectory?

Example: Choosing to volunteer at a local animal shelter led to developing a passion for animal rights and inspiring the pursuit of a career in veterinary medicine.


  • Challenge - Have you faced a challenge that reshaped your worldview?

Example: Overcoming a personal illness that provided a renewed sense of purpose. The challenge seemed too great then, but I overcame it with a newly found appreciation for life.


Once you've identified your "origin story," dive deeper with these questions:

  1. What was my initial reaction? Was I calm, cool & collected, or was I a mess?
  2. What was the reason behind my emotions and thoughts? Could there be a past experience that influenced this way of thinking?
  3. What actions did I take based on those feelings or thoughts? (It's okay if you made mistakes – life is all about growth!)
  4. What were the eventual consequences of those actions?
  5. What would I do differently in the future?


Conclusion: Be Real, Not Perfect

Your story doesn't need to be filled with grand gestures or dramatic turns.

Even subtle moments can shed light on your character, captivating admission officers. The essence is to be real. Colleges value honesty and insights into your personality (we are all works in progress), so let your unique voice shine through.

Embrace vulnerability, learn from your experiences, and share your growth.



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