Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author’s world, and for how it connects to the author’s emotional life.
There is one thing to remember before you start writing that essay: it’s your chance to shine and make a first impression. While that fact creates some pressure, it also gives you an opportunity to explore the format in a unique way. The tips below not only will help you land that spot at your dream school but also give you useful tools for your future college classes.
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Balancing talking about your experiences and traits with describing what excites you about the school can be tricky, but it's vital that you touch on both. If you don't talk about yourself, you're missing your chance to give the admissions committee a sense of who you are and how you would fit in to their community. And if you don't discuss the school itself, you risk coming off as uninterested. So make sure to do both!
Most people don’t outline. And even after outlining, many people fail to follow their outline. It’s natural that you’ll want to stray here or there, towards or away from the initial plan, but below are a few common errors that people make when they either don’t outline or ditch the guiding hand of their outline. As we go through some of these errors, we’ll also make a list of a few general tips and tricks for managing some of the toughest parts of your essay, including time, scene, epiphany, change, character, and more.

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Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief. The answer to the final question about the "outcome" of your challenge need not be a success story. Sometimes in retrospection, we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.

The Ortiz family was my fourth family. Kimberly, the host mom, treated me the same way she treated her own son. She made me do chores: I fixed dinner, fed their two dogs Sassy and Lady, and once a week I cleaned the bathroom. I also had to follow some rules: No food in my room, no using the family computer, no lights on after midnight, and no ride unless it was an emergency. The first couple of months were really hard to get used to, but eventually I adjusted.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had lost so much more. Upon my father’s passing, he left us with funeral and medical expenses that his insurance would not cover. Because he did not have any form of life insurance, the financial burden of his death was now the responsibility of my mother and me. Even though my mother works night shifts as a neonatal nurse and her commute is nearly two hours, she was forced to pick up extra shifts to support my family. Though I already had a job and I worked about ten hours a week, I now work anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five hours a week, and I am also a full-time high honor student. Even though the death of my father forced me to realize the importance of cherishing time with my family, I do not see them very often because of our busy schedules. I also sacrificed my social life and the joy that every senior in high school should experience. Instead of football games and homecoming, I had to deal with mourning and the possibility that I would not attend college because of my family’s financial troubles.

The Richmond Question: For 2018-19, please choose one of the following essay prompts: (1) What is an urgent global challenge or social justice topic about which you are passionate? What solutions or outcomes do you hope to see? (2) By the time you graduate from college, there will be jobs that don’t exist today. Describe one of them and how Richmond might prepare you for it. (3) You are required to spend the next year in either the past or the future. To what year would you travel and why? (650 words)
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.
I look around my room, dimly lit by an orange light. On a desk in the left corner, a framed picture of an Asian family is beaming their smiles, buried among US history textbooks and The Great Gatsby. A Korean ballad streams from a pair of tiny computer speakers. Pamphlets of American colleges are scattered about on the floor. A cold December wind wafts a strange infusion of ramen and leftover pizza. On the wall in the far back, a Korean flag hangs besides a Led Zeppelin poster.
Set aside six minutes each morning, or a few times a week, for the period of time you’re freewriting. Six minutes, that’s it! Put your timer on, put your pen to paper, and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. If you run out of things to write, write “I don’t know I’m bored I don’t know help help I hate writing!” until new words come. What are you going to write about during those six minutes? You can try thinking about those Common App essay prompts—they’re so broad that they should let you in in some way: what’s my obstacle, my identity, the thing I love? Note that Anita isn’t sitting down to write her disquisition on How my life as a mock trial champion makes me prepared to go to law school. Instead, what might come out as she writes by hand is… I remember the rush the first time I stood up at a mock trial tournament. I was wearing a blazer and my mom’s heels and they were so uncomfortable. It was so overheated in the room and I’d drunk way too much Mountain Dew. But why did I love playing this role of attorney? Was it the theater? The chance to finally argue without getting in trouble at the dinner table? If six minutes doesn’t work for you, or if you think you’re not getting in the zone in that amount of time, try doing three pages in your composition notebook instead. Write in big letters and double-space. Let your hand roam free.

At Seattle Pacific, we encourage all students to explore or go deeper in Christian faith and to be inspired to make a difference. SPU’s vision means that you can pursue an education that helps you change the world for the better. How does Seattle Pacific’s vision align with your desires for college? How does your own faith perspective or personal story intersect with our vision?
When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley.  We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 (www.wellesley.edu/admission/100) and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why.  (PS: “Why” matters to us.)
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This prompt is allows you to express what you want to express if it doesn’t align directly with the other prompts. While this prompt is very open-ended, it doesn’t mean you can adapt any essay you’ve written and think it will suffice. Always refer back to the Strategy section of this article and make sure the topic and essay of your choice addresses the Core Four questions necessary for a good Common App essay.
Before you begin to write, brainstorm some ideas. Most likely, the university gave you a prompt or a choice of prompts to write about. Take your time to carefully consider each prompt. If you feel yourself drawn to a particular prompt, think about why you’re being drawn to it. Reflect on your life to find any personal anecdotes that work well with that prompt.
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