3 Tips For the Common App Essay

Beautiful female college student doing an exam
Beautiful female college student doing an exam

High school seniors, it's college application season! While some of you might be working on multiple college essays, it's likely that you all have one thing in "common": the Common App essay.

Throughout the years, I've worked on numerous college application essays with my students. While you know you have to proofread, you may not be aware of these other three tips for success. Read on to learn what to keep in mind as you begin this journey.

1. The most dramatic thing that ever happened to you might not make the best essay topic. When I sit down with my students to brainstorm ideas, the initial outpouring is death, hospital visits, and serious family tragedies. Since the college essay is built up to be "high-stakes" in our society, the first inclination is for you to think about what the most high-stakes moments have been for you. However, it's tough to turn these topics into something positive and unique (it CAN be done, but it's not easy to do). Instead, first try to think about a smaller, perhaps more meaningful aspect of your life: a conversation that sticks out in your mind, a special person you met, or maybe even a fun tradition that you have with friends or family.

2. Remember: by the time you get to point of writing your essay, most of your application is essentially done. It may seem obvious, but really let this sink in: the essay is only one part of your application. By the time you've reached senior year, your GPA is mostly established, your test scores are beginning to come in, and all three years of extracurriculars and work experience have already been completed. Looking at the essay as a mere component can help you to produce a better piece of writing; instead of feeling as though the entirety of your application rides on your essay, remind yourself that your essay only accompanies the rest of the many pieces.

3. College admissions officers are people too. Often, my students ask me, "What do college admissions officers want to read?" Well, that's hard to say. Of course, we can brainstorm a list of topics that aren't appropriate, but college admissions officers are people from all walks of life. Pretend you're an admissions counselor and think about it. If part of your job was to read through hundreds (if not thousands!) of college essays, what would impress you? What would you want to see? What would make you stand out?

Without your writing sample, your college application consists of mostly numbers and lists. Admissions staff doesn't know you, has never seen you, and doesn't understand you as a person.


Use your essay to bring those figures to life!

Brett is a college admissions consultant and tutor in the Metrowest Boston area. She works with students both in person and virtually. You can inquire about her college application services at www.bemtutoringconsulting.com .

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