These 10 Tips for Writing a Great College Admission Essay should be simple and helpful that you can take with you in your college and professional life. And remember the first and likely the most important tip. Start early. Start today! It’s not smart to waste your time. Follow the tips above and you’ll boost your chances to write an impressive admission essay on time!
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Some admission officers pore over your application; others spend only minutes reading your documents. Whatever your reader’s process, you need to grab their attention. And a snore-mongering list of extracurriculars is not the way to hook your audience. As Southwestern University Associate Director of Admission Dana Marchant suggests, “Do not reiterate all the activities and involvement you have completed during your high school year. Focus on one experience and the skill it has taught you. It may be very big (e.g., being adopted) or small (e.g., a jarring conversation at an after-school club meeting), but focus on the life lessons you learned from that experience. Some of the best essays I have read have been about a simple experience, but students have been able to put me in that moment with them and then expounded on how it changed them.”
(Remember: Specific anecdotes are your friend when drafting your Common App personal statement. Try to think of a story you often tell people that shows something about you. One of the best pieces of advice we can give you—and something you’ll see reflected in all of the following prompts—is to anchor things in anecdote or story as much as possible.)

I was the visible representation of a first-generation child of immigrants, branching out into a new environment. An environment where I wanted to prove wrong all perceptions of people like me, the poor, the immigrant, the brown woman. I used my voice to echo my community and make it known that, we, are here–all of our struggles, our efforts, and our passions, are not absent from places where we are not seen.
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%).

In French, there is no difference between “conscience” and “consciousness.” In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
During my career as a photojournalist, I lived for the action shots: the excited gestures of a school board member discussing plans, a rabbi preaching vividly, a group of teenagers chanting and waving flags downtown. To me, the most energetic photos always told the biggest and best stories. They made me feel important for being there, for capturing the superheroes in the moment to share with everyone else. The softer moments paled in comparison, and I thought of them as irrelevant.
They covered the precious mahogany coffin with a brown amalgam of rocks, decomposed organisms, and weeds. It was my turn to take the shovel, but I felt too ashamed to dutifully send her off when I had not properly said goodbye. I refused to throw dirt on her. I refused to let go of my grandmother, to accept a death I had not seen coming, to believe that an illness could not only interrupt, but steal a beloved life.
In order to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores but also a strong personal statement. Why? Your Personal Statement is the single loudest ‘qualitative’ element of your application. It brings to life the student—you!—behind your statistics and demographics. It’s the way you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and as a potential member of the campus community. With more people applying to colleges every year, admissions officers know they can have their pick of bright and motivated students. In addition to seeing your talents and achievements on paper, they need a chance to imagine what you might be like as a walking, talking human being.

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 is a heavily revised version of one of 2016’s prompts, which asked students to describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The purview of the inquiry has been expanded to ask about personal growth in general, leaving the lessons and timing of an applicant’s transformation more open-ended. Students are also now free to reflect on a “realization” in addition to an “event” or “occurrence.” While a realization that changes your understanding of the world will likely be sparked by a concrete marker (i.e., an event or accomplishment), we are happy to receive the added flexibility from you, Common App. Thank you very much.
There’s no reason to rush your essay. You won’t score extra point with the admissions department for finishing your essay in an hour. Unless you’ve helped write the State of the Union, your admissions essay will likely be the most influential essay you’ve written so far, at least as it relates to your own life. Give yourself at least a week to compose your essay.
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