Answer: This is totally normal! But feeling that you have more to say than you can fit is often a result of insufficient paring-down—that is, you probably haven’t chosen the right specific prompt to get your personal statement into particular, small territory. That’s the key: your job is to find the right question to answer, using all the prewriting tips and tricks and exercises we’ve outlined here. With the right question, you can use your Common App Essay as a window into who you are, rather than feeling burdened by the belief that you must communicate your ‘whole self’ in your application. You can’t box yourself up and hand your soul to the admission committee—but you can use those 650 words to give them some insight into some of the most important parts of you.
The defining factor for this essay is what book or movie you choose. Stay away from pop culture novels that many people may use (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.) and try to pick a book you have read in school or something unique you read for fun that stayed with you. However, don’t use a book you didn’t enjoy! Inauthenticity will always come through in your writing.
Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.
To address a question like this, you need a topic that has real stakes—that is, something that you genuinely struggled with. Even though it can seem as though you should only discuss positive experiences and feelings in your college essay (you want to impress your readers with how awesome you are!), unwavering positivity actually hurts your essay because it makes you seem fake.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity. While it’s okay to choose a relatively mundane “failure” such as not winning an award at a Model UN conference, another (perhaps more powerful) tactic is to write about a foundational failure and assess its impact on your development thereafter.
Although every aspect of your college application is important, a strong college admission essay is one of the most important elements of the application. It is one of the final pieces of information that can influence admissions decisions, and it’s the only part of your application that is totally within your control. Your essay is also the only part of your application that is guaranteed to be unique; many other students may have the same GPA, nearly identical transcripts, or the same extracurricular activities as you, but none will have an essay like yours. Beyond helping you get in to school, well-written college admission essays can help students gain scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Investing the time to learn how to create a memorable essay can pay rich dividends.