Making Your Common App Essay Anything But Common

Senior year: famous for being equal parts hard fun and hard work. The work part may include rolling up your sleeves and submitting your college applications, which are typically due November 1 for early consideration and January 1 for regular consideration (dates can vary by university; be sure to double check).

Like a cover letter while looking for a job, the college application essay is what distinguishes you on a personal level. It’s where you get to set yourself apart, and it’s a substitute for an in-person first impression. First order of business? Make it personal. Too often, a look at drafts with applicants reveals they’re attempting to write what they think the admissions folks want to read, versus writing from the heart. Writing from the heart doesn’t mean cheesy, dramatic, or overly-revealing. It means telling your story in your own words…succinctly, conversationally, and with candor.

Quick Tips:

  • You don’t have to complete a formal outline beforehand, but it’s a good idea to jot down a list of aspects you want to cover. 
  • If you’ve selected a specific prompt from the list, be sure to fully answer the question(s) being asked. Triple check you’ve done this. 
  • Choose words with value density, and make all your words count. Avoid “dead” words like very and feel/felt
    • You weren’t “very scared”–you were terrified.
    • You’re not “very happy”–you’re ecstatic.
    • You didn’t “feel sad”–you were heartbroken.
  • No need to go into detail regarding grades, extra-curricular activities, or academic achievements. That’s all in your transcript. 

You want to be comprehensive, approachable, and unoffensive. Write to all audiences. Grabbing the reader’s attention is paramount, and you have very little margin…both in terms of time and word count…to capture his or her interest. Come up with a great opening line.

Most importantly, be relatable. Does a 70-year-old woman know the ins and outs of maintaining harmony and sportsmanship as the captain of a freshman boys’ basketball team? Probably not, but she likely knows apprehension, fear of failure, and the elation of triumph. You want to convey emotion—and the emotions you have experienced—with your words, because while life experience and circumstances aren’t shared by humans, emotion is. It’s its own universal language.

Need help getting started, making progress, or applying finishing touches and edits? Give me a shout. Together, we’ll compile your best and put it into a presentation that will knock the socks off any admissions committee. 

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