5 Common App Essay Tips That Will Actually Help You

When it comes to applying for college, it seems like everyone who has ever attended college thinks that they're experts on everything pertaining to the matter. They want to give you advice on everything from where you should apply to how you can write the perfect essay.

While we appreciate our parents’ glowing testimonies about our value as potential students, we can’t really write an entire essay with them. Depending on the number of colleges that you are applying to, it is very likely that at least one of your choices will use the Common App. Here are five tips that will make for a spectacular essay and a stress-free collegiette.

1. Pick a prompt that speaks to you

If you have to write an essay, you might as well pick the one that you will feel the least inclined to fall asleep while writing. Of the five prompts, there is sure to be one that you can make your own. Here are the 2015 Common App essay prompts:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  •  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a problem you’ve 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.
  •  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Out of the entire application, the essay portion is the best place to showcase your uniqueness and let your personality speak for itself. It is important that the prompt that you choose to write on is the best reflection of who you are as opposed to who you think you should be to impress the college. “Students should approach the Common App essay with the knowledge that it’s the one chance that the students are going to have to get themselves noticed and differentiate themselves from their competition,” says Dan Lipford, an Educational Consultant at Score at the Top Learning Centers & Schools. What might seem ordinary or unimpressive to you might just be the thing that sets you apart from the thousands of other applicants and give you a beneficial edge.

2. Take risks with your opening  

From writing stories in elementary school to writing essays in high school, we have always been taught that the first few lines are the most important in grabbing the attention of the reader. When writing your Common App essay, the importance of having a riveting introduction is magnified. Judi Robinovitz, the founder and co-owner of Score at the Top Educational Centers & Schools, emphasizes the importance of starting off strong. “Zing ‘em with the opening," she says. "Forget the topic sentence – put it further down in the essay. Avoid at all cost a bland opening statement.” An exciting opening not only ensures that the reader will be interested, but that they will read your essay in its entirety.

“The typical admissions officer who's going to tasked with reading a given student's app is also going to be tasked with reading hundreds, if not thousands, of other students' apps, and if that officer's attention isn't caught almost immediately with the essay's opening, he or she's not going to read it with any enthusiasm and might not finish reading it at all,” says Lipford. Be the essay that the admissions officer looks forward to reading until the end.

3. Show don’t tell                   

The “resume” portion of the Common App already showcases your academic achievements, community service and extracurricular activities. Therefore, try to give the reader new material. As important as your AP classes and 10 years of ballet are, it is also important to hone in on what you are passionate about.

In the essay portion, you are free to be as creative as you would like to be in answering the prompt and relaying your story. “Sensory details make an essay come to life and bring out your keen eye and other personality traits," says Robinovitz. Descriptive, colorful essays are memorable and it is better to “share through vivid imagery and show, rather than tell, a story," according to Andrea Nadler, the Associate Dean of Admission at Hofstra University. Be imaginative in the way that you communicate your life outside of the classroom.

4. Focus on the how, not the what

As previously noted by Judi Robinovitz, it is perfectly fine to put a topic sentence further down in an essay if it means making the opening sentence powerful. However that means that following your opening, you must elaborate and explain the significance of what you have written about. In the Common App essay, it is more beneficial to focus on the how instead of the what. “Don’t concentrate as much on what happened, but rather on the impact on your thinking, outlook, feelings, spirit, etc.,” says Robinovitz. The details will reveal your enthusiasm and passion for the topic even if you don’t come right out and state it.

5. Answer in full   

This one seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in talking about one part of the prompt that we completely forget that there is a second part to it. While a couple of the prompts just ask you to describe a specific accomplishment or personal event, most of them have multiple questions involved that you need to answer. “Be sure to answer the whole question,” says Nadler, in order to avoid an incomplete response. Once you have finished your essay, it doesn’t hurt to re-read the prompt and your essay to make sure that you have answered it in full. Don’t detract from a stellar essay just because a piece of the prompt wasn’t accounted for.

Good luck with you essays, collegiettes!

About The Author

She realizes that her last name is Trusty and does that make her trusty? Yes, yes it does. She cares way more about the goings on of Kylie Jenner, One Direction, and the rest of the celebrity population way more than the average person should. So as opposed to becoming a professional paparazzo, she does this while she studies Broadcast Journalism at the University of South Carolina. You can find her on Instagram @briballerina or @verytrustysource.