Your job, if you’ve started this early, is not to start writing your draft immediately, or even to choose which Common App question you plan to answer. First, you’re going to freewrite using the above prompts as a guide—choose the ones you like, or print them out, cut them up, and put them in a hat; each day, shake up the hat and grab one at random!
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The baby sitter, the house keeper, the driver, it's taken my dad 10+ years of night shifts to attain financial stability, and become an asset to his workplace. He's been one of the millions of people who has been laid off in the last couple of decades and has had to start over multiple times. But each time he's re-built himself with more resilience. I've grown up living in section 8 housing because my parents often found themselves living paycheck to paycheck, not by choice, but by circumstance. They've endured bankruptcy over credit card debt, have never owned a home, or been given access to resources that allow them to save. Every time we've readapted, we get struck by a new change. I currently live in Manchester Square, a ghost town, byproduct of the Los Angeles Airport expansion project. The 16 steps I have always known, soon to be demolished. My neighbors are empty lots, enclosed by fences. Homeless people’s pitch tents, under the roar of airplanes. My home is soon to become an accommodation to an airport, soon to be nonexistent. Knowing that my family has to relocate as I'm applying to college makes me feel a tad guilty, because of my lack of resources, I fear it will become a barrier into my transition to college. My parents finances are not a secret, I know their struggles as I hear about them day after day. My parents now deal with the burden of relocating, no longer having subsidized housing and again, struck by yet another need to readjust and reassemble. Relocating a family of 5 in an area plagued by gentrification of stadiums and demolition is no simple task as rent prices are as high as mortgages. It's odd they don't want me to stress or have it become my problem but I know it is, and I want to do whatever I can to help.


Answer: Many students have the instinct to explain themselves, including any failings or perceived failings, while writing their applications. There are a number of ways you can offer the admissions committee context for something you think went ‘wrong’ in high school, whether that’s low grades, imperfect attendance, or something else. Your recommenders might have a chance to write something about it in their letters, if they were in a position to see you during or after the rough period. You can also write about something going wrong in your personal statement if it has narrative energy; that is to say—if it would make a good essay regardless of whether or not it explained away a failing, go ahead and write about it. An example might be an essay that discussed a student’s home life, say their parents’ difficult divorce during their freshman year. If the student had something introspective to say about the divorce, she might add a line or two that explains that her grades suffered during the incident, but she’d want to conclude the essay by not only showing how she righted things in the years after, but also how what she learned from the difficult period will influence her in the future.
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Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.
Student #4: Michael: Michael lives in a small coastal town and attends a big public high school. After school he has a job scooping ice cream, and though he’s not expected to contribute to his family’s income, he doesn’t have much time for clubs or sports, which aren’t very important at his school. He generally likes chemistry, but he isn’t sure what he wants to do with that. He doesn’t want to be pre-med, and he can’t imagine being a chemist, so he’s undecided about what to major in.
Scholarship Search Insider features advice and information on how prospective college students can find scholarships and pay for college. Student Loan Hero, an organization that helps student loan borrowers manage their debt and provides financial advice, including on scholarships, is the current contributor. Previous contributors included GoodCall.com, Scholarships.com, College Greenlight and Cappex.com. Got a question? Email scholarshipsearchinsider@usnews.com.
A: A manicured green field of grass blades cut to perfectly matched lengths; a blue expanse ornamented with puffy cotton clouds; an immaculately painted red barn centered exactly at the top of a hill--the chicken gazes contentedly at his picturesque world. Within an area surrounded by a shiny silver fence, he looks around at his friends: roosters pecking at a feast of grains and hens lounging on luxurious cushions of hay. As the nice man in a plaid shirt and blue jeans collects the hens’ eggs, the chicken feels an overwhelming sense of indebtedness to him for providing this idyllic lifestyle.
Emphasize volunteer work or other ways you’ve helped people or made your community a better place. It helps if the activity is related to the subject you want to study. For example, Christopher Rim of Command Education Group, which coaches students, remembers that one student who wanted to become a dentist set up a nonprofit and held fund-raisers to distribute toothbrushes, toothpaste and other dental products to homeless shelters. Admissions staff members want to know how your presence will make the college a better place.
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.”
I lived with the Ortiz family for seven months like a monk in the deep forest. However, the host dad Greg’s asthma got worse after winter, so he wanted to move to the countryside. It was unexpected and I only had a week to find a new host family. I asked my friend Danielle if I could live with her until I found a new home. That’s how I met the Dirksen family, my fifth family.

Keep in mind that the personal statement alone won’t be enough to get you in—your grades and test scores are still the most important factors in your application. That being said, a stellar essay can help bring a borderline applicant over the top or give an excellent but not extraordinary student the opportunity to stand out in a competitive applicant pool.
Tips to consider: Leadership can be demonstrated by positions you hold as an officer in a club or organization, but other types of leadership are important too. Leaders can emerge in various situations at any given time, including outside of the school experience. Please share a brief description of the type of leadership qualities you possess, from school and non-school related experiences, including demonstrations of leadership in your job, your community, or within your family responsibilities, and then share how you hope to demonstrate leadership as a member of our campus community.
As always, remember to use specific examples to illustrate your point. What relevant experiences have you had or interests have you pursued? What made you think this subject or career would be a good fit for you? Are there related classes or activities you're excited to participate in at the school? The more specific you can be in addressing these questions, the stronger your essay will be.
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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.

Although you need to be creative while writing your essay, resist the urge to get creative with the facts. Don’t exaggerate your own accomplishments to make yourself look better. You don’t need to lay out a long list of all your shortcomings, but acknowledging weaknesses and misjudgments can demonstrate authenticity and give your legitimate accomplishments greater credibility. Admissions officers don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t make your essay unbelievable by trying to pretend that you are.
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