In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a “tree-mail” service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.
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Student #1: Ramya: Ramya intends to be pre-med in college, but isn’t sure if she wants to major in biology or something else entirely. She’s spent her high school years participating in a variety of activities. She played soccer, but wasn’t the star player. She was involved in student government, performed in cultural shows as a dancer, and did speech events.
Qualities such as motivation, drive, courage, perseverance, resolve and strength of character play an important role in students' ability to succeed at FIU and in life. Write a 500-word (one-page, single spaced) essay explaining which of these measures makes you a good candidate for admission to FIU and what strategies you will use to ensure your success in and out of the classroom.
Remember that stories don’t begin with a repetition of the prompt (e.g., please don’t start with, “One time when I questioned or challenged a belief or idea was …”) or a definition from a dictionary (e.g., avoid saying, “Merriam–Webster defines ‘success’ as …”); instead, you should begin with something descriptive, such as setting the scene or jumping right into the middle of the action. Then, go on to illustrate how the event took place, devoting details only to significant moments. (Life hack: Keep in mind that this is also a story and not a novel, so don’t go all Charles Dickens on this.)
This is the first stanza of a piece of slam poetry my friend and I wrote and performed at our school’s rendition of TED Talks. Over lunch one day, we discovered we shared a common passion—an insistence on equality in all forms, feminism in particular. We discussed the difficulty of combating social issues, but agreed that spreading awareness was one effective method. This casual exchange evolved into a project involving weeks of collaboration. We realized that together we could make a far greater impact than we ever could have individually, so we composed a ten-minute poem aimed at inspiring people to consider important issues. We began by drafting stanzas, simultaneously editing one another’s writing, and later progressed to memorization, practicing together until our alternating lines flowed and phrases spoken together were completely synchronized. The performance was both memorable and successful, but more importantly, this collaboration motivated us to move forward to establish the Equality Club at our school. Sophomore year, our club volunteered with organizations promoting gender equality, the highlight of the year helping at a marathon for recovering abuse victims. Junior year, we met with our head of school to convey our goals, outline plans and gain support for the coming year, in which we held fundraisers for refugees while educating students. This year we are collaborating with the Judicial Committee to reduce the escalating use of racial slurs at school stemming from a lack of awareness within the student body. From this experience, I learned that it is possible to reach so many more people when working together rather than apart. It also taught me that the most crucial aspect of collaborating is believing in the same cause; the details will come as long as there is a shared passion.

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.


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.
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