Common Application Essays

Common App Essays: How many, Tips, Prompts, Word limit, Sample

 
Three words – Personality, Fit, and Brand

While you let your mind marinate with these three vague, yet to be correlated qualities, let us take you on a teaser of Common Apps for College applications. Common Application, Inc. is an independent organization that has done the stupendous task of bringing together over 800 universities, mostly in the US, to a single platform.

By doing so, it has made a community one-stop-application-shop for millions of high-school students who can use some help in making their college admission process friendlier.

Common App allows students to fill in Personal, Family, Education, Testing Results, Activities and Interests, and “Writing”, in one place, all at once. We have deliberately set the “Writing” in quotes since that’s where the above three words start flowering into meaningful concepts. Read more about Common Application for College Admissions.

“Writing” refers to the student essay, composed with the intention of representing the student’s Personality, qualifying his fit for the applied program, and marking his brand as a uniquely memorable individual worthy to become part of a bigger establishment, en route to a bigger plan.

Like many admissions essays, they take center stage in building an unseen subjective profile of the candidate for the admissions committees, giving the name and the numbers – ACT/SAT test scores, GPAs, awards, etc – a human touch.

Read
How to select the right University and Undergraduate Degree?
How to write Undergraduate College Essays about yourself
 

Common Application Essay Prompts

 
To make responses pertinent, in essays, Common App usually supplies the applicants with some directed essay prompts. Students can choose to respond to any one of the prompts in an essay form, within a word limit of 650.

These questions needn’t be exactly the same between the years but the inherent intention – to draw the student to respond to qualities in them that display their personality and passion for something – is clearly visible in them.

The organization, Common Application Inc., performs reviews every other year, on the effectiveness of the prompts. The reviews are conducted among admissions officers, applicants, their parents, and even their counselors.
 
To give you a glimpse of the type of questions, here are seven such prompts supplied to applicants in 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 admissions processes. They have been gathered from the Common App.org website, here.
 

  • “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 obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
  • “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief of idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”
  • “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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”
  • “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”
  • “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, ne that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”

 
One has to keep in mind that individual colleges may require additional or complementary essays for their admission requirements. The specific needs are then mentioned within the information for that particular college. Overall, all essays have a common theme of relaying an individual picture of the student – what sets them apart.
 

Common Application Essay Tips

Strategies and Guidelines on how to respond to Common App Essays

 
According to the Associate Director of Admissions at Tufts University, a highly selective school as according to US News Rankings, the most compelling aspect of the Common App Essay is the reflection about the applicant. In essence, she says that the applicant should first evaluate what kind of personality does he want to convey and then take a step back for introspection. What story, or anecdote, illustrates that personality in a tangible way? So, every detail discussed about his nature has a validation in the applicant’s actions.

To help sort the hazy abstracts into some clear strategies, here are some guidelines that you may consider while constructing an impactful essay.
 

1. Start working on your essays early

It can take a considerable amount of time to formulate your thoughts, not just for the Common App essay but also for any writing supplements that the individual colleges may require. Understand the prompts and relate your responses with qualities that best represent you in the spirit of the programs you are applying for.

Remember, you don’t have to cover your life-story. Just an aspect would do. The word limit of 650 should be a clue barring you from an epic. Stick to a meaningful story. Meaningful is a subjective term so read on for details.
 

2. Don’t get hung up on big words and clichés

While being “passionate” about something can be a tall order for someone who is still finding his way through his teenage years, caring deeply about something is rather more common. The question to ask is whether this thing has the capacity to grow into a passion – something that the applicant is relentless about.

For instance, if you want to tackle prompt #6, think about some idea that had your mind deeply interested and occupied. How did you get to be so interested in it? What kind of idea was it? What did you do with that idea? How did you work to fulfill that idea into reality? What inspired you?

These are all responses that tell the admissions committee not so much about the idea, in itself, but rather your attitude towards the idea. Your can-do, gung-ho, formula that led you to implement it and attack any problems that came along the way.
 

3. Relate your response to the ‘fit’, if you can

Quite often, an interesting essay is one that is able to combine the applicant’s attitude with his aptitude. For instance, if you are applying to an Engineering program, your essay will hopefully share your personality traits and elaborate on your problem-solving, creativity, innovation, etc.

Even when you are choosing to tell a personal story about a family struggle or health crisis, focus on how you dealt with those to illustrate the quality that best describes your fit and your uniqueness. So, let the story topic convey your attitude and aptitude for you.
 

4. Keep it genuine

And we all fall down…into the “quote of the day”, overused phrase, and the cliché trap. It is a common affliction. It generally acts as a put-off to admissions committees who are subjected to not one or two, but thousands of essays landing on their desks each admissions season. Keep the content genuine and close to your heart.

Regurgitations and writing fillers will kill the mood and leave a forgetful experience behind. Something you don’t want your essay to represent.

In fact, one of the greatest and most common advice, from experts, is to make your essay yours and not play into what may play the heart strings of the admissions committee. Being authentic will have a way of being interesting if you try.
 

5. Focus on self-branding

That brings us to the next guideline. To make your essay memorable, tell the story with entertaining details that capture the committee’s interests. You may choose to share the same story in a direct, more clinical, language but unfortunately that kind of writing style is not very memorable when measured in terms of standing-out power.

Stay away from stories that may be true for hundreds of other students. Take some time to find that bit which makes your experiences unique.
 

Sample Common App Essay

 
It is probably clear to you by now that any single formula for an essay is impossible and following someone else’s story is a futile approach.

The seasoned admissions teams have a way of telling the authentic from the rest. Nevertheless, here are some well-recommended past student essays shared by Tufts University.

To give you some further insights, here is what you can do with an essay for prompt#2.

If you want to consider the struggles of overcoming a physical disability, for instance a congenital disease or a learning disability, you can elaborate on how that disability manifested itself on your life – including daily struggles, the struggle to be considered not as someone who has all their “normal” capabilities.

How it affected your confidence and created a situation that was difficult to deal with. What did you do to face those struggles?

Talk about the obstacles and how those struggles and failures led to self-awareness. How were you able to use that self-awareness to overcome those challenges, albeit with additional failures and setbacks? And how do you perceive yourself now, what did you learn from those experiences?

In the above instance, you can involve the perseverance qualities, the ability to withstand failure, and personal growth, through a process that can display your creativity and your learning drive as will be desirable in your pursuit of an advance education.
 
These are some of the target qualities that can make a Common App essay more effective and potent. Individual cases and stories reach a wide wide spectrum. So, tune your essay to speak to the committee on your behalf.

And yes, take your time and take your breaks. If you rush in, your essay may be expressed out too – to the no-go bin.

Our top common application essay consultants can work with you to ensure you put in the best application. Send us an email if you need professional help with your common application essay reviews. info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
 
Meanwhile, here are a few relevant links.

 
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