The Common App’s Prompt #1 is the Old Faithful of essay questions. It’s been around for years and offers all the flexibility an applicant could ask for from a prompt, with just enough direction to get those creative fountains flowing. Focus on the key words, “background,” “identity,” “interest,” and “talent,” and use them as launch points for your brainstorming. What about your history, personality, hobbies, or accomplishments might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? It can be something as small as seeing an episode of a television show (are you living life in the Upside Down?) or as large as the struggle of moving to a foreign country (especially if you had to leave behind grandma’s cooking). The most important thing to consider for this prompt is that your subject and/or perspective is dynamic and specific to you and who you are and no one else.


This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.
What does it mean to be an advocate? I didn’t find the answer in any sort of textbook. Not the anatomy textbook that lay across the foot of my bed, filled with Post-Its and half-drawn diagrams. Nor the chemistry textbook that sat on top of it, covered in streaks of blue highlighter. Not even Principles of Biology, overflowing with illegible notes and loose worksheets, had the answer. Yet, in a few years, I will be promising to do just that: be the ultimate advocate for my patients.
One of the most common questions at parent meetings is “what’s better college or university”? This question did not make sense to me, I then realized that parents want to know the difference between community college and a four year. Concepts like financial aid, grants, loans, are all foreign concepts as most of our parents never went to college. As a student ambassador, I help bridge that gap. We often hold meetings where we explained resources available and different options for each student. I have learned, that as a student, I can provide assistance to my own community through my knowledge. I am the communication necessary for further successes, using my personal knowledge and experience to help uplift and educate others in similar situations. My pursuit is to not only go to college but thrive and come back ready and able to help students like myself that have to fight for their seat in the lecture hall.
Kim is a recognized national expert on the college application essay and speaks to high school and parent groups about the role of the college essay within the competitive admission world. Kim is also a frequent guest speaker at industry conferences, and has planned and moderated expert panel discussions on the college essay with admission professionals from the nation’s top universities. Kim conducts monthly webinars for parents and represents Wow during webinars and interactive social media events (Twitter Chats, Google Hangouts, etc.) sponsored by community service organizations, test prep organizations, and financial aid companies.  

The Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation seeks to encourage young people to treasure our Jewish heritage, reflect on our Jewish values, and better understand our contribution to civilization and culture. To this effort, the Foundation sponsors an annual essay contest open to both junior high and high school students. The Foundation also issues grants to a wide variety of educational, scientific [...] More
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So we decide that Ramya is going to write about the Patriots. The question is how she’s going to demonstrate—through her football fandom—that she is a mature and thoughtful person who will be a good member of any college’s community. An Ode to Brady won’t do the trick here—but what will is Ramya’s thoughtful reflection on how spending time watching the Patriots at a sports bar every Sunday with her dad has given her a relationship with her father that most of her friends have never enjoyed with their families.
AAA South Jersey is sponsoring its annual essay contest for local high school seniors, with the grand prize being a $5,000 scholarship toward a two-or-four year accredited educational institution. The contest is open to all high school seniors attending school in Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester or Salem counties. Entry forms are available at AAA South Jersey offices in Voorhees, Sewell, Logan [...] More
A good essay topic can relate, as much as possible, to a particular anecdote, story, or even scene. Let’s say Josh found himself writing about his siblings—his older brother who just left for college, and his little sister who he’s spent more time with since his brother left. His essay shouldn’t start, “I love my little sister,” but “I remember the first time my younger sister and I connected. It was July, and our older brother had just gone to college, leaving the two of us alone at home together for the first time.”
What major changes have you been through? A move? Changing schools? Losing a loved one or a friend? (Avoid writing about romantic relationships and breakups in your essays, but feel free to mine them in your freewriting.) Tell the story of the day that change occurred—the day you moved, the first day at the new school or the last day at the old school, the day you got bad news about a family member or a friend, etc.

When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World. Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper. So, maybe I'll be like Sue Storm and her alter-ego, the Invisible Woman. I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile. My childhood self would appreciate that.
No one is expecting you to solve the issue of world peace with your essay. Often times, we find students getting hung up with “big ideas”. Remember, this essay is about YOU. What makes you different from the thousands of other applicants and their essays? Be specific. Use vivid imagery. If you’re having trouble, start small and go from there. P. S. make sure the first sentence of your essay is the most interesting one.
While many find themselves turned away from the complexity of science, I have found myself mesmerized by it. This difference in opinion has spurred from my upbringings in science, feeling connected to science at an early age. By entering into hands on experiences at an impressionable age, I realized that science was not only for experienced technicians in lab coats, but for anyone.
You may not be thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer before your senior year on college applications. But getting going in June after your junior year and committing to a few exercises over the summer will be like spring training for summer athletes. By the time you get to August, when you’re drafting your Common App Essay and your secondary essays in full, you will be warmed up, and much of the hardest work—that is, the reflection, figuring out what you want to say—will be done for you.
I have encountered an emotional barrier making it difficult to manage my schoolwork, extracurricular activities and family responsibilities. I have had to deal with being viciously raped by a peer during my sophomore year, resulting in severe depression. I am no longer allowed to be alone for a long period of time, as I’ve attempted to commit suicide twice, but I do not regard those as true attempts to end my life. I just wanted someone to know how I felt and how much I needed help. My past has only made me more resilient, as I choose to prove to myself and those around me that I am more than the barriers I’ve encountered–but overcome.
No one is expecting you to solve the issue of world peace with your essay. Often times, we find students getting hung up with “big ideas”. Remember, this essay is about YOU. What makes you different from the thousands of other applicants and their essays? Be specific. Use vivid imagery. If you’re having trouble, start small and go from there. P. S. make sure the first sentence of your essay is the most interesting one.
4. Be coherent. Obviously, you don't want to babble, but I mean write about just one subject at a time. Don't try to cover everything in an essay. Doing so can make you sound busy, but at the same time, scattered and superficial. The whole application is a series of snapshots of what you do. It is inevitably incomplete. The colleges expect this. Go along with them.
Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? What images are important for someone who has never been to your hometown/neighborhood/community to see? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chik-Fil-A every block?
Earlier, I mentioned that you shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills within your essay. Similarly, don’t exaggerate the importance of the essay itself: it is only one part of your college application, and it is rarely the sole reason a student gets admitted or denied. A particularly strong essay won’t balance out a consistent record of underwhelming academic performance, and a less-than-award-winning essay will not necessarily cancel out an otherwise stellar application filled with excellent grades, commitment to community service, and compelling recommendations. Admission staff aren’t looking for the perfect topic or essay; rather, they just want to get a better sense of each applicant’s passions, opinions, and ways of thinking so that they can fill each incoming class with a diverse group of interesting classmates and roommates. So work hard and carefully on your college-application essay, but don’t obsess over it.

“As a child, my life had structure. Coloring books had lines, letters took on very specific shapes, and a system of rules governed everything from board games to the classroom. I found comfort in the fact that my future had an easy-to-follow template: elementary, middle, and high school, college, job, family retirement, “happily ever after” ending. When I graduated from elementary school I was told I completed 25% of my education. During my middle school graduation, I was told I was half way there and I know I’ll be told I’m 75% done when I throw my cap in the air this June. College was always factored into the percentage and the overall formula for life. And I never questioned its importance. I always figured it is important because it is necessary.

"Selby Scholars" are undergraduate students with exceptional potential who embrace Mr. and Mrs. Selby's values of leadership and service. Like all of our funding, this scholarship program is only available to residents of Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte or DeSoto counties. Applicants must be either a graduating senior or a graduating Associate degree students from any state college in the four [...] More
You may have heard of Yale University – it’s a private Ivy League research university in Connecticut? It’s also the alma mater of five U.S. presidents, among countless other scholars. With a retention rate of 99 percent, we’re guessing most students don’t answer, “Going to Yale,” as what they've changed their minds about. Perhaps which side of a legal issue you fall on would be a safer answer, especially since Yale Law School is the most selective within the United States. Learn more about Yale University.
I’d also like to volunteer to work on a photography project at the Lobkowicz Palace and Nelahozeves Castle, 15km from Prague, where I will find one of the world’s largest private collections of world-famous artworks, artifacts, and a library of over 65,000 volumes. I hope to hone my skills with a camera and take a zoomed-in look at the Prague history. I’m going to wear my Canon t2i like a glove.

Though not every school uses the Common App—many state or public schools often have their own systems—the work you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you in every other component of the process, including non-Common App schools (e.g., University of California [UC] schools) as well as the secondary and supplemental essays that go along with the Common App. (Schools that don’t use Common App may still ask for essays or short answers.)


To begin with, in order to deliver this task, it’s primordial to put time aside for conducting attentive research. If you were thinking of skipping this step, to save some time, I don’t enjoy being the one to bring it up to you, but it would be a wrong approach. Firstly, because research is a quintessential factor in delivering an excellent essay. While your personal standpoint carries a lot of weight as well, it’s of great significance to include relevant data about the subject from reliable sources.
For this essay, try finding a part of your identity that will set you apart and highlight the unique perspective you will bring to the university. Try to avoid writing an essay that a school will most likely get a million different times — for example, an essay about your talent playing a sport or your early love of learning. Think about an aspect of your personality, family or upbringing that is truly special.
There is added value in mixing things together. I realized this when my brother and I won an international Kavli Science Foundation contest where we explained the math behind the Pixar movie “Up”. Using stop motion animation we explored the plausibility and science behind lifting a house with helium balloons. I like offering a new view and expanding the way people see things. In many of my videos I combine art with education. I want to continue making films that not only entertain, but also make you think.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 
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What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child’s idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author’s future aspirations. It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time.
I look at the ticking, white clock: it’s eleven at night, my primetime. I clear the carpet of the Sony camera charger, the faded Levi’s, and last week’s Statistics homework. Having prepared my work space, I pull out the big, blue box and select two 12 by 12 crème sheets of paper. The layouts of the pages are already imprinted in my mind, so I simply draw them on scratch paper. Now I can really begin.
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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