Stand Out in Your
Common Application Essay
So you are ready to start writing your Common Application Essay?
Congratulations! You have found the best source of specific tips and strategies on exactly how to brainstorm topics for each of the 5 prompts–and learn to craft a powerful college application essay using a narrative (story-telling) style.
Start by reading through the 5 prompts, which I shared below.
(The folks from the Common Application just officially announced their essay writing prompts for this coming college admissions season of 2016-17, and it’s anticlimactic news, but they will be the same as last year. The idea is you know the prompts well before they start accepting applications in August, so you can get a head start on your essays.)
You just need to write a personal statement essay that addresses one of these prompts. The prompts are mainly to inspire you to write a personal essay about yourself that helps you stand out from the crowd. (more…)
I’m always on the lookout for new voices in the college admissions industry who try to help students and parents and all of us keep a balanced and sane perspective on the frenzied quest for the perfect college.
Kristin White, an educational consultant who wrote It’s the Student, Not the College: The Secrets of Succeeding at Any School: Without Going Broke or Crazy, does a great job of explaining how a student’s success has little to do with where they get in, even if it’s one of the 20 prestige schools so many believe they must attend or their lives will be ruined.
I asked Kristin if she would share her opinions on how she thinks about the college application essays, and she wrote this guest post on what is behind every great and effective essay—strong writing skills.
As she explains in this piece, strong writing chops can not only help you nail your college admissions essays, they are powerful skills that will help power your college experience as well as your effectiveness in the workplace. (more…)
I get a lot of students with my college application essay tutoring who fall into the “math/science” end of the learning spectrum.
In general, that means that classes such as Algebra II and Chemistry come relatively easy to them, and English and other humanities not so much.
Many think they are not strong writers and are mortified that their college application essay could pull so much weight in where they get into college.
This just doesn’t seem fair, especially when many of these students have off the charts test scores.
If it helps, I like to think that colleges understand this discrepancy and take the larger picture into consideration when deciding who to accept.
If nothing else, you math/science students should view your essay as a chance to set yourself apart from the pack, and also showcase your balanced personality at the same time.
(I don’t mean to stereotype, but math/science whiz kids sometimes get pegged as not as social or well-rounded as other students. You know, it’s that annoying nerd or geek thing.) (more…)
I love anecdotes.
Especially for starting narrative essays for college application essays.
They can take a little practice to compose, but what a deceptively powerful writing tool.
Actually, if you start almost any type of writing with an anecdote–from a college essay to a book report to a press release–your message will instantly rise and shine above other written messages competing for readers’ attention.
They are engaging, accessible and they have a wow factor. Even though you don’t mean to be impressive, people often think you are so creative and accomplished when you wield them. (more…)
College Application Essays: How to Answer Prompt 3 of the Common App.
Who or What Have You Confronted Lately?
When you read the five options for your Common Application essay, one prompt probably will appeal to you first off. Others you will skim and choose to ignore.
This is how I felt about the third prompt–“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”
It just didn’t inspire any topic ideas for me, and I assumed it was less likely than the others to work for you, too.
But when I gave this question a little more thought, I realized that I challenged a belief while I was in my teens. And it was a very big deal.
I was raised in a religion that is considered relatively radical and unusual, and when I started to think for myself (sometime around junior high) I decided it wasn’t for me.
I was not popular with my parents, some of my friends or my parochial school at the time, and it was hard sticking to my guns. Although rejecting my religion was challenging, painful and lonely, the process truly defined who I was and what I believed. It would have made an excellent essay topic.
So there. I have to eat my negative words about that third essay question.
I wonder what other possible topics could be for that question, besides challenging a religion that has been imposed upon you.
How about a gender belief? Or racial or cultural one? Could you stretch the meaning of a “belief or idea” into an assumption, opinion or prejudice? I think so, especially if you indicate that you have done that in your essay.
I also think if you try to think of a time someone or something first challenged you on a certain “belief or idea,” and then you challenged back, you might find more real-life examples to write about.
For instance, someone tried to hold you back just because you were a girl, and what you did about that (the belief you challenged: girls are inferior to guys).
Or someone kept you out of an activity or group just because of your race or heritage, and what you did about that. I’m imaging some type of confrontation or speaking up or fighting back (peacefully, of course).
I like that the prompt asks you pointedly to also include “what prompted you to act,” so you include some action in your essay.
It’s always a good thing when something actually happens in these college application essays.
The last question in this prompt, “Would you make the same decision again,” is meant to encourage you to look back and reflect, analyze and evaluate that decision to challenge the belief or idea.
A Sample Outline for Prompt 3
If you want to answer this prompt, here’s one way you could structure your essay to engage the reader with your challenging action, and go on to explain why you did it:
1. Start with an anecdote that describes a moment or “time” when you challenged the belief or idea you are writing about. This could simply be the conversation where you confronted someone about it, or some action you took to protest or react to that belief or idea.
2. After a paragraph or two where you described an example of a specific “time” you challenged the belief or idea (or assumption, stereotype, opinion, prejudice, etc.), then go back and give us the back story about this time. What led up to it?
3. Then start to explain how that incident made you feel, what made you decide you didn’t accept it, “what prompted you to act,” how you responded to it, and what you learned in the process. And of course, would you do it again?
The most important part of writing about this prompt, I believe, is to bring some action to your essay. It could be dull and long-winded if you only talk about your beliefs or ideas. Focus on a specific example where something happened and your essay is sure to be compelling.
The larger lesson here, at least that I’ve learned, in reviewing the five options for writing your college admissions essays for these new Common Application prompts is to try your best to think about and brainstorm ideas for each one. Even if one jumps out at you, give the others a chance. I think I could have written a great essay if I had thought more about my own time I challenged a belief or idea!
If are you ready to tell your story, check out my Jumpstart Guide and posts about how to find a great topic, tell a story and write an anecdote.
My new ebook, Escape Essay Hell!, offers more complete steps and advice on how to write these types of “narrative,” or storytelling, essays, if you want more help: