This prompt, more than the others, poses a high risk but also a high-potential reward. Writing your own question allows you to demonstrate individuality and confidence. Here, you can craft an innovative essay that tackles a difficult topic (for example, whether to raise or lower taxes) or presents information with a unique format (such as a conversation with an historical figure).
One could argue that college is largely about the pursuit of knowledge, so you can imagine it would be quite appealing for an admissions officer to have a meter for your level of self-motivated learning, along with a better understanding of how and why you choose to pay attention to the things that intrigue you. This is a window into your brain: how you process information, how you seek out new sources of content and inspiration. How resourceful are you when your curiosity is piqued to the fullest? The answer to this prompt should also reveal something to admissions about the breadth or depth of your interests. For example, if you’re interested in studying astrophysics, you might choose to discuss a concept that shows how far your exploration of the sciences truly reaches. How consumed are you by this passion you are choosing to pursue academically?
The host mom Shellie was a single mom who had two of her own sons and two Russian daughters that she had adopted. The kids always had something warm to eat, and were always on their best behavior at home and in school. It would be fair to say that this was all due to Shellie’s upbringing. My room was on the first floor, right in front of Shellie’s hair salon, a small business that she ran out of her home. In the living room were six or seven huge amplifiers and a gigantic chandelier hung from the high ceiling. The kitchen had a bar. At first, the non-stop visits from strangers made me nervous, but soon I got used to them. I remember one night, a couple barged into my room while I was sleeping. It was awkward.
Going to college makes sense. From helping my parents land stable jobs after coming to America to giving my brother the chance to gain work experience at some of the top financial firms, college educations have shown their worth in my family. Yet I didn’t think about what actually goes on inside the magical universities until I entered high school. Applying to the Academy for Math, Science, and Engineering was the first time I had actively made a decision in my education. With the encouragement of my parents and favorite science teacher who recognized that I would excel in the challenging environment of like-minded students, I applied. Four years later, I can confidently say they were right.
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.
Since that day in Orlando, I have spent much of my spare time learning everything there is to know about manatees. As a junior high and high school student, I attempted to read scholarly articles on manatees from scientific journals. I annoyed my friends and family with scientific facts about manatees-- such as that they are close relatives of elephants--at the dinner table. I watched documentaries, and even mapped their migration pattern on a wall map my sister gave me for my birthday.
At home, the teacher role often switches within my family. I am responsible for translating documents to my parents and explaining procedures and concepts as I, myself, am learning them. I have had the responsibility of helping assist my younger sister who has a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. Due to her pre-existing condition, she is a slow learner. I have dedicated a lot of time this past year, helping her with her transition from elementary to middle school and helping her adapt to such a drastic change.
2. Tension, conflict, and opportunity to show growth. Josh might write a lovely reflection on how close he and his brother were, or how much he likes his little sister—but that doesn’t give the admissions committee much to work with. Why? Because your topic needs to display your ability to grow, to show change over a period of time. If Josh has always had a perfect relationship with his sister, well—first, no one will believe that!, and second, Josh is not really telling a story. So as you’re identifying the right anecdote for your essay, make sure you have a point of tension—a point where we, the reader, wonder if everything will turn out okay. For J, this might mean beginning with a time before he and his sister were close—say, when all the siblings were in the house and there wasn’t much time for the two to connect. Then Josh would tell us about what changed as soon as the brother left, and in there he might find an opening anecdote.
One day, my mom brought home fresh cabbages and red pepper sauce. She brought out the old silver bowl and poured out the cabbages, smothering them with garlic and salt and pepper. The familiar tangy smell tingled my nose. Gingerly, my grandma stood up from the couch in the living room, and as if lured by the smell, sat by the silver bowl and dug her hands into the spiced cabbages. As her bony hands shredded the green lips, a look of determination grew on her face. Though her withered hands no longer displayed the swiftness and precision they once did, her face showed the aged rigor of a professional. For the first time in years, the smell of garlic filled the air and the rattling of the silver bowl resonated throughout the house.
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After I finished the exchange student program, I had the option of returning to Korea but I decided to stay in America. I wanted to see new places and meet different people. Since I wasn’t an exchange student anymore, I had the freedom--and burden--of finding a new school and host family on my own. After a few days of thorough investigation, I found the Struiksma family in California. They were a unique group.
That’s why it’s a good practice to keep a reliable collection system with you at all times as you’re preparing to write your essay. It could be your phone. It could be index cards. It could be a Moleskine notebook (if you really want to do it with panache). Just don’t store it in your own brain thinking that you’ll remember it later. Your mind may be a magnificently wonderful idea-making machine, but it’s a lousy filing cabinet. Store those ideas in one place outside your brain so that when inspiration hits you in the bathroom, in the car, on a hike—wherever—you’ll have a place to capture it and come back to it later when you need it.
One of our consultants detailed how growing up as an American in Germany led to feelings of displacement. Moving to America in high school only exacerbated her feelings of rootlessness. Her transcultural experiences, however, allowed her to relate to other “New Americans,” particularly refugees. Helping a young refugee girl settle into the US eventually helped the writer find home in America as well:
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I was a late reader and had difficulties with spelling, but I didn’t realize that as my mom let me progress at my own pace and never compared me to others. I had plenty of opportunities to be a child and learn through play during the early years and to explore and follow my interests, which often centered around horses and animals. The freedom to pursue my interests is how my passion for architectural design also began as I got a little older. In the early years, my mom would dictate for me and allow me to answer questions orally while my written expression and spelling developed. My mom was a firm believer in “better late than never,” when it came to reading and learning. This method worked well for me. I learned much later that I had dyslexia, and I believe if I had started off in public school I would have been frustrated and realized I was struggling more than the other children. My love for learning very well may have been hampered.
Write one personal essay for all the schools to which you apply via the Common App. This essay is important, as it provides you with an excellent opportunity to reflect and to communicate to colleges what they should know about you. As you will have only one major essay to write, we hope it will represent your best efforts. Write your Common Application essay in essay format, with a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650 words.
It’s not a bad start, but it brings us to Common Error #1: beginning the essay by introducing oneself, instead of introducing the story, AKA, starting too broad. Ramya begins by trying to tell us who she is in a big, introductory, throat-clearing way, instead of choosing a specific route into who she is. It’s sweet that she’s small, but there’s a lot in here that we don’t need: we don’t need her height, nor do we need to know that she used to get the games in one particular way or another. We just need to know that she’s at the bar.
Using words in your essay that you don’t typically use in your daily conversations can sound awkward and forced. Words have nuance to them, and simply inserting a word from the thesaurus is a great way to destroy that nuance. Thesaurus abuse is a lazy and easily spotted trick, and seasoned admissions officers will see right through it. If you feel that you’re overusing a particular word, think of alternatives on your own without consulting a thesaurus; using words that you’re familiar with will help you avoid misusing them.