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The Common App Essay

Common App Essay: A Challenge for Students

How Do You Write A Common App Essay?

If you have found your way to this page on the internet by searching for information on the Common App Essay or Common App Essay prompts – welcome!

The name of this website is Common App Essay Tutor Dot Com. (www.commonappessay.com).

My name is Alan Stransman, and I created this website to help students write more effective common app essays.

 

What is Covered in This Article

Before you begin to read this article, I would like to invite you to opt in,  if you have not done so already, to receive the free PDf report entitled, “3 Tips for Writing a More Effective Common App Essay” via the pop-up opt-in form on this site.

You can also access the free report by clicking on the following link: Common App Essay Tips.

This article consists of the following sections:

1. What is the Common Application?

2. What is the Common App Essay?

3. Who Should Submit a Common App Essay?

4. How to Write an Effective Common App Essay.

5. The 2015-2016 Common App Essay Prompts.

6. How a Common App Essay Tutor Can Help You.

 

1. What is The Common Application?

If you are just beginning the process of  applying to colleges and universities and are interested in applying to institutions that are members of The Common Application, and use what is generally referred to as the “Common App” – you may be a bit confused by the terminology.

The Common Application is not an actual application form – rather,  the term, “Common Application” refers to an association of over 600 colleges and universities who have  banded together and agreed to use a common application process for admission into their institution of higher learning.

The association of member institutions is known as the Common Application, and the application process which they have set in place is also known as the Common Application or the “Common App”.

The Objective of The Common Application

The objective of The Common Application is to both streamline the college admission application process and to “level the playing field” by creating a uniform or standard application process that applies to all applicants.

This website – Common App Essay Tutor Dot Com – is not about The Common Application.

The Common Application has its own official website, which is www.commonapp.org.

Rather, this website is focused on one component of the Common App – and that is the personal essay, which is often referred to as the Common App Essay.

 

2. What is the Common App Essay?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an Admissions Officer at a college or university and you have received thousands of applications for admission to the first-year program.

Let’s assume that many of the applications  that you have received are from equally-qualified applicants, based upon their grades, test scores and  their letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, etc.

How are you – an Admissions Officer – able to differentiate one applicant from another  based solely upon their grades, test scores and letters of recommendation and – given that part of your responsibility is to foster a dynamic and diverse student body – how are you going to choose among the many applications, the ones that will contribute most to the diverse talents, interests and passions of the student body?

The tool which the Common Application association came up with to help them differentiate students and to get a sense of who they are as people  in addition to what kinds of students they are is the personal essay.

A personal essay is a specific genre of essay – and is quite different from the kind of essay that most students are accustomed to writing as part of their academic coursework in high school.

A personal essay is not based upon a work of literature, a body of research or knowledge, a philosophy or theory – a personal essay is based upon the personal experiences of the writer of the essay himself or herself.

In other words – your Common App Essay is about you.

Very simply, the objective of your Common App Essay is to tell readers of your application something about you that differentiates you from all of the other applicants and makes you the unique person that you are – something that the Admissions Officer is not going to find out by reviewing your transcripts, test scores or letters of recommendation.

 

Common App Essay Examples

Who Should Submit a Common App Essay?

3. Who Should Submit a Common App Essay?

In the past, the personal essay was a requirement for every student applying to any of colleges and universities using the Common App.

For 2015-2016, this is no longer the case.

As of this year, the only applicants who are required to submit a personal essay as part of their application are those that are applying to colleges and universities who require it.

The new the policy is stated as follows:

“Some colleges require submission of the personal essay with your Common Application. You may submit a personal essay to any college, even if it is not required by that college. If not required by a college, you will be given the option during submission to include your essay or not for that college.”

While this policy may initially appear to be confusing, what it boils down to is simply that you, as an applicant, can choose to submit a personal essay to any of the colleges and universities that are part of the Common Application.

Now – it also means that you do not need to submit a personal essay to colleges and universities that do not require it – and that the Common Application submission process will indicate to you whether or not a personal essay is required by the colleges and universities to which you are applying.

However, the question that needs to be answered is – “Should you submit a personal essay to colleges and universities that do not require it?”

For colleges and universities that do require the Common App essay, you don’t have a choice. The system will not accept your application without it.

But – what about the colleges and universities that do not require it?

Should you or should you not submit a personal essay?

Before we answer that question, let’s consider the following paragraph:

“The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the product to inspire and structure your response. Remember, 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a shorter response than 250 words.)”

This is the official description of the Common App Essay provided by the Common Application association itself.

There is a lot of key information in this paragraph, and in the next section of this article we will be considering a number of the key phrases, but for this section of the article I have chosen to italicize the phrase, ” distinguish yourself in your own voice”.

The Common App essay gives you the opportunity to distinguish yourself in your own voice from thousands of other applicants, all of whom are competing for admission into college and university.

If you can distinguish yourself by telling Admissions Directors something that makes you stand out from the crowd – why would you not want to do that?

In my opinion, every student should include a personal essay as part of his or her Common App, whether or not it is a requirement of the institutions to which he or she is applying.

But not just any Common App essay – it must be an effective essay.

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 4. How to Write an Effective Common App Essay?

As stated above, the objective of the Common App or personal essay is allow the unique individual that you are to emerge from the grades, test scores, and other supporting documents that the Admissions Officers are considering as part of your application.

And how are you going to do that?

Let’s return to the key paragraph cited earlier:

“The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the product to inspire and structure your response. Remember, 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a shorter response than 250 words.)”

Note that the question that your essay is intended to answer is: “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?”

Many students who read the above paragraph do not realize that if they can answer that key question, they already well on their way to having their topic for the Common App essay – and that they can then use the essay prompts provided by the Common App to refine and structure their essay.

As opposed to thinking deeply about the question of what they want readers of their application to know about them apart from their courses, grades and test scores, many students begin their Common App essay by going directly to the essay prompts themselves and trying to find the one that seems to be the easiest to write about.

This is an approach that many students use to choose an essay topic for one of their academic courses – they read the list of essay topics or essay questions and choose the one that seems easiest to answer.

While that might work in a high school course in which the answer to the essay question is to be found in the course material, it may not work as well for the Common App essay – because the subject of the essay is you.

You  are the subject of your Common App essay – which is why when I work with students on their personal essay, I always begin with the question, “what do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?”

If a student can answer that question without using the essay prompts, we then review the essay prompts to find the one that most closely aligns with the subject that the student has already identified, to provide additional inspiration, guidance and structure for the essay.

Common App Essay Tip #1 is to Use the Essay Prompts to Define and Structure a Topic You Came up with Yourself

The essay prompts are provided to help you determine which event, talent, interest, passion or experience you feel is the most important to tell readers of your college admissions application about.

They are selected and crafted very carefully  – with a view to helping you define, refine and structure your essay – but in my experience in working with students, they are much more valuable when used in conjunction with the question, “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you…?”

 

5. The 2015-2016 Essay Prompts

As I stated above, the essay prompts are provided to help you in selecting, refining, defining and structuring the topic of your Common App Essay.

The “essay prompts” are called “prompts” for a reason – they are not “essay questions”, in that there is no right or wrong answers.

Remember – the readers of your application want to find out something about you as an individual – something that makes you unique – and so the goal of the essay prompts is not to limit your choices but to inspire, guide and shape them.

If there is a topic which you wish to write about – something that you feel distinguishes you from other applicants – in all likelihood, you will be able to choose an essay prompt which aligns with it and use it as a “jumping off” point for your essay.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see students make is choosing the “essay prompt” that they think will be easiest to write about as opposed to the one that is most closely aligned with the talent, interest, characteristic, experience or passion that will most effectively distinguish them from the other applicants.

The 2015-2016 Common App Essay Prompts – Italicized Words Indicate Changes from Last Year’s prompts

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

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience.

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

4. Describe a problem you solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

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

Common App Essay Tutor

 6. How a Common App Essay Tutor Can Help You

We have covered a lot of ground in this article and yet, we have barely scratched the surface of what it takes to write an effective Common App essay.

In the previous section of this article, I  suggested a strategy for identifying the subject of your personal essay – which is to begin with the question, “what you want the readers of your application to know about you?”, as opposed to beginning with the essay prompts.

This is one of the 3 simple tips included in the PDF report on writing an effective Common App essay, which you can access for FREE by clicking here.

A Common App essay tutor cannot only help you identify, refine and structure your essay topic, a writing tutor can also help you distinguish yourself in your own voice – which is a very important component of an effective personal essay – and of virtually any genre of writing.

If you would like to contact me to discuss how I can help you with your Common App essay, I invite you to call, email or Skype me using the following contact information:

Phone: 416-519-4427

Email: astransman@rogers.com

Skype: AlanStransman