How to Write a Common Application Essay: Guide for Freshmen

You’re bound to find advice from everyone you know when the time comes to write your common application essay. Below are five great tips to make sure your common application essay is a great reflection of who you are as an individual. Follow these tips and you might soon find yourself with lots of choices when it comes to choosing the school you end up attending:

Don’t think too much about which essay prompt to answer. Each year the list of common application essays grows more comprehensive, meaning that there is a topic for just about everyone. Keep it simple and start with a process of elimination, cross out the ones that don’t speak to you at all. Look at the remaining questions and find another reason to eliminate more. Soon you’ll have 2 – 3 questions to choose from and the process of selection has become much easier.

Think small, you can’t write about everything. You might brainstorm so ideas and find yourself thinking too wide. For instance, that summer trip that “changed your life” or that time volunteering that “changed your life”. These events may actually have changed your life but how can you really explain that in a few hundred words. Instead focus on an incident that inspire a great story, one that is most reflective of who you are. The kind of the story doesn’t matter; it’s how you write the story.

Think about your essay as a series of drafts. Planning your essay is a great thing. Thinking too long and too hard to the point that you don’ know how to start writing your essay isn’t good. When you find yourself staring at a blank screen, remember that an essay is best written in a series of drafts. This means that you first have to write a rough draft before you write your final draft. So just get started and get something down on the screen. The rest will come to you later.

Don’t think of the rewrite phase as a chore. This bit of advice is obviously related to the previous tip. Remember to rewrite your essay in its entirety and not just one bit at a time. Rewriting should be a rewarding stage in the writing process because you get to watch your essay evolve into something much better. Give it some time and you’ll see that your rewrite will be a great improvement.

Choose just a few people to read your essay. Everyone will want to try and read your essay. This is usually not a good idea if you plan on listening to the pieces of advice they give. It’s a better plan to identify 2 or 3 people to critique your essay – i.e., your counselor, a parent, a teacher. Different opinions are normal, and getting too many of them might get you off track as you try to please each and every one of your critics. Don’t do this. Keep your group small.

Your common application essay is really your best opportunity to show the admissions committee your personality. Be sure to be personal and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts.

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