Get Started on Your Common App College Essay Prompts

student writing college essayHello (soon-to-be) New Seniors in High School!

Well, it’s June, you’ve made it past AP tests, and school is almost out for the summer.  You know what that means!  Time to start college essays!  (sweet)
 
We can make this less painful and more palatable with just a few short tips.  First let’s look at the college essay prompt choices on the Common App, which pretty much account for most of the main essay prompts you might be asked to write: 

 
 

1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4.  Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Now your job is to choose just one of these and write one, main college essay that you will send to all of your schools. Really, this usually works because many colleges use the Common App anyway and those that don’t tend to have similar prompts, or they’ll use that perennial student fave “Topic of your choice”, or, if you get really lucky, there won’t be an essay on the application (WOOHOO!).
 
Moving on, once you have chosen a topic, be sure that it passes the “Forbidden Test”.  The Forbidden Test (which I just made up right now) means don’t write about stuff that admissions officers have read a million times.  Like these overused, nearly worthless essay ideas:
 
  • Sports and injuries
  • Mission trips
  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Exotic travel trips
  • Working really hard in a class    
These ideas are hackneyed. That’s a fancy ACT vocab word that means overused.  Predictable and boring is the last thing you want to be when you’ve got 3-10 minutes to make an impression on someone.
 
Here are some great college essay ideas:
 
  • A positive change you made at your school or community, no matter how small
  • A great learning experience
  • Favorite place
  • A time you took a stand
  • Learning from a big set-back
  • Trying something new
  • Taking a risk
  • Something that changed you
As you start to write your essay, if it’s appropriate to the subject, try to be funny.  The college admissions officers reading these essays are a bored captive audience. If you can entertain them, they are grateful.  This is a good thing.
 
Be sure not to be negative, or philosophical, or whiny, or come across as an angry kid that no one would want be roommates with. 
 
Show don’t tell good qualities like: curious, compassionate, diligent, funny, kind, flexible, committed, resilient (means you bounce back), positive, determined, and thoughtful.
 
If you can show yourself being intellectual and passionate about learning in any way, that’s bonus points because colleges are schools and schools like students who like to learn.  Think about that one.
 
All in all this little essay is a fun piece of writing and is a chance for you to show your personality and what makes you tick!

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