Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.
Even though the prompt allows you to explore more academic and intellectual topics, it is important not to get carried away with esoteric details. Be careful you don’t go overboard with an intensely intricate discussion about particle physics; geeking out a bit and validating your passion, however, is encouraged. Bottom line, the topic you choose for this prompt should, like every topic, highlight your personality, identity, and how you think about the world.
6. Be vivid. A good essay is often compared to a story: In many cases it's an anecdote of an important moment. Provide some details to help the reader see the setting. Use the names (or invent them) for the other people in the story, including your brother, teacher, or coach. This makes it all more human and humane. It also shows the reader that you are thinking about his or her appreciation of your writing, which is something you'll surely want to do.
Be sure to describe the event or experience that caused you to realize the gravity of the problem, the specific actions you took to plan or execute your solution (i.e., call sponsors, raise money, design graphics, speak at events), explain why solving your problem is so critical, and identify the tangible change your solution would bring to people’s lives. For example, if you care deeply about drug education because of a past experience with a friend or family member, you could outline a plan to bring young-adult speakers to your school to positively influence your peers and stress the real dangers of drugs.
With the announcement of the essay prompts and the ability for applicants to roll over their Common App account each year, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now to help them start thinking about the application process. For more information, go to Common App Ready, a series of ready-to-use resources, presentations, training videos, and handouts covering everything from account creation through submission. Last year, we expanded this free tool with Spanish language translations.
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We talked a lot about whether Josh would do best avoiding writing about piano—it’s the main thing on his resumé and sometimes it can be good to show things off-resumé, as Ramya and Anita plan to. Josh did some writing about his relationship with his sister and his brother, and that might find a home in the secondary essays. But it became clear that Josh has an obsessive, if not always positive, relationship with piano, and so there’s something there.
You might be familiar with The Common Application, Common App for short, which serves as a single application that over seven-hundred colleges, including every Ivy League school (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and Stanford, share. The Common App allows you to fill out things like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more, just once for every school that uses it. It is also where you’ll encounter “The Common App Essay,” otherwise known as your personal statement (PS), which is what this guide will focus on.
We are pleased to share the 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of 108 Common App member colleges and more than 5,000 other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and Board of Directors. Students represented the single largest share of constituent survey respondents (59%), followed by school counselors (23%), and teachers (11%).
Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?
This can’t be stressed enough. The essay is your opportunity to reveal something about yourself that can’t be found anywhere else in your application – use it! Many students use the essay to expound upon activities or interests that are already heavily demonstrated in their application through courses, the activity list, and more. Instead of reinforcing a top activity or interest, instead, write about something that reveals another dimension of your life or personality. If your top activity is swimming, don’t write about the big championship meet. Find something else that reveals something new and that shows you put a lot of thought into your essay. If your study of AP biology conflicts with your religious views, write about that and how you reconciled the two. Dig deep to find a topic that’s meaningful.
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Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the listprovided.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
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The way you answer the college essay prompt is key to your success. It’s your opportunity to shine, to offer admission readers some understanding into who you are beyond your grades, test scores, and activities. That’s why you need to figure out exactly what you want admission officers to know about you before you pick an essay topic and before you write that first draft.
Some colleges ask for a personal statement, and others provide a choice of topics, or prompts, for a student to write about. The Common Application, which students can use for more than 700 colleges, gives a choice of seven essay prompts this year that include recounting a challenge, setback or failure and what was learned from the experience; a time when the student questioned or challenged a belief or idea; and a problem the student would like to solve.
Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.
From the time I entered kindergarten until my eighth-grade year, I had the privilege of being homeschooled. It was during these formative years that I developed a love of reading and learning. My siblings and I used a literature-based curriculum which made history and other subjects come alive. My favorite part of the school day was our read-aloud books. My mom would sit on the couch, and the four of us would gather around her to see the pictures and hear the stories and then discuss the adventures we just went on. It was so enjoyable that it hardly seemed like school and we would beg for more. The schooled kids I would talk with were all jealous and wished they could be taught at home, too.
All Common App essays must show your personality, identity, and aspirations, as well as spark discussions on interests, character, values, and community. The goal for any Common App essay is to impart a lasting, authentic image and sense of yourself on the reader. When you’re writing and hit a mental block, don’t hesitate to refer back to the Core Four questions a good Common App essay must answer, and always check whether or not the ideas in your essay reflect the characteristics you want to convey about yourself.
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The Richmond Question: For 2018-19, please choose one of the following essay prompts: (1) What is an urgent global challenge or social justice topic about which you are passionate? What solutions or outcomes do you hope to see? (2) By the time you graduate from college, there will be jobs that don’t exist today. Describe one of them and how Richmond might prepare you for it. (3) You are required to spend the next year in either the past or the future. To what year would you travel and why? (650 words)
But wait. There is one big rule. Be humble. Don’t try so hard to sound adult, or beyond your years, that you end up coming across as a know-it-all. It’s better to show the admissions committee that you are capable of finding and making meaning through the experiences you’ve had as a young person, no matter how small or limited they may seem to you. If you’ll let us wax philosophical for a moment: that ability to make meaning from something that isn’t pompous or dramatic—and to do so without being aggrandizing—is the stuff of great art. So you’re in a good tradition if you stick to humility and take a deliberate and honest approach to your essays.
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Here, again, the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question. With the ability to write about an "intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma," you can essentially write about any issue that you find important. Note that you do not have to have solved the problem, and some of the best essays will explore problems that need to be solved in the future. Be careful with that opening word "describe"—you'll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it. This essay prompt, like all of the options, is asking you to be introspective and share with the admissions folks what it is that you value.
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The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words "floccus," "naucum," "nihilum," and "pilus"—all words meaning “of little use.” Coin your own word using parts from any language you choose, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.
Frozen in disbelief, the chicken tries to make sense of her harsh words. It replays the incident in its head. “All the food, the nice soft hay, the flawless red barn--maybe all of this isn’t worth giving up. Maybe Mother Hen is right. She just wants to protect me from losing it all.” The chicken replays the incident again. “But it was a baby. What if it was hers? She still wouldn’t care. She’s being selfish; all she cares about is this perfect life.” A final replay, and the chicken realizes and accepts that Mother Hen knows, has known, that the man is doing something wrong; yet she has yielded to the cruelty for her own comfort. A fissure in the chicken’s unawareness, a plan begins to hatch. The chicken knows it must escape; it has to get to the other side.
We require one short essay that all applicants must complete, and four additional short essay topics with the applicant selecting to respond to one of these. These two essays should be between 200-300 words and remember to focus on substance and not word count. Before submitting your application and essays, always remember to proofread and edit! The First Year application will be available on September 1, but we thought that some people would want to know the essay prompts earlier than that date.
While the idea of writing the essay on college applications is typically fraught with anxiety for the majority of high school seniors, it is important to realize that the essay is a wonderful chance to demonstrate who you really are to the admissions officers. Since colleges are not looking solely for students with straight A’s and the best SAT scores, the most vital component to writing a great essay is to reveal your true personality and demonstrate that you would be a great addition to their campus community. Also, be sure to use these top college application essay tips to help you win big with your essay and get admitted into the school of your dreams!
Spelling bees were always my forte. I’ve always been able to visualize words and then verbally string individual consonants and vowels together. I may not have known the meaning of every word I spelled, I knew that soliloquy always pushed my buttons: that -quy ending was so bizarre yet memorable! And intaglio with its silent “g” just rolled off the tongue like cultured butter.
Before you dive (or cannonball!) into our pool of essay advice, we’d like to leave you with one last little secret: the prompts are not actually as important as you think they are. In fact, in our instructional writing course and private advising, we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later. This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here. For now, the main point we want you to take away is this: The prompts don’t really matter. What matters is the story you want to tell. (And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run.) We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story (or two or twelve!) to communicate to admissions. All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the 2018-19 application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them (really!) as you explore the endless possibilities.
Unlike the rest of your application, which consists largely of objective facts like grades and test scores, your application essay allows you to truly showcase what makes you unique as a student and a person. Use your own voice and your own stories to illustrate why you would be an asset to the school. Don’t fall into the trap of sanitizing your speech and your opinions for risk of offending an admissions officer. Although you do need to use proper spelling and grammar, your college essay is a perfect place for creative metaphors, witty turns of phrase and humor.