Our Three-Step Guide to Ace the Common App Essay


The Common App Essay is a short piece (200-650 words) that gives the college insight into your personality and how you think. It is an essential part of the application process for undergraduate admissions to the US. The Common App Essay prompts allow for a wide range of subjects (see commonapp.org for topics). Remember authenticity and originality are key, as this essay gives colleges a window into ‘your’ unique world.

THE PREP PHASE

Give yourself time to prep. Think about what you want the college to know about you. Don’t duplicate topics you may be submitting with your application already, give them a broader view of who you are. And don’t recycle essays or rehash your resume.

Start with a list of your positive traits, achievements, key experiences, or information related to why you may be applying to a particular course at a particular school. Now look at the essay prompts and choose the one that allows you the best opportunity to portray yourself. Don’t be hasty in deciding.

We find a great resource for reading sample essays are the Tufts and Johns Hopkins websites. Here are essays for which students have been accepted. You could even order the 50 Successful Harvard Sample Essays for tips.

Remember, prep is key for that amazing essay!

WRITE RIGHT

Now that you have chosen your topic, start with a draft of your unique story. How will you illustrate what you want to say? Focus on the structure—a compelling opening that draws the reader in; an organized flow of content; and a powerful conclusion. Don’t ramble on or digress, and try not to show off your extensive vocabulary. Simplicity is key. Stick to the word limit. Make sure that you address everything that is asked of you in the prompt, especially ones that have two-part questions. Watch out for your tone, you don’t want to come across as condescending, entitled or cynical! A strict no-no is quotes from famous people (unless they’re absolutely essential for your essay!).

It is a process, for a good common app essay, it takes 10 to 12 drafts, sometimes even 20! Have patience.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and think out-of-the-box, as long as it serves what you want to convey. Finalize your essay and check whether you have incorporated all the above factors.

REVIEW & REFINE

Once the writing is done, don’t just rely on your computer’s spell check and grammar to correct it. Go over it carefully for errors. Proofread your piece and read it aloud slowly. Share it with a few people whose opinion you trust, to read it and give you feedback. Correct any missed errors and incorporate any changes you may think relevant. You’re now good to press submit!

If you’re struggling with the Common App Essay, give us a shout, we can give you feedback on how to fix it or help you write one. Reach out to Writers Qi!

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