The more specific you can get, the more unique your topic will be to you. Lots of people have tried out for a school play, for example, but each had their own particular experience of doing so. One student saw trying out for the role of Hamlet as the culmination of many years of study and hard work and was devastated not to get it, while another was simply proud to have overcome her nerves enough to try out for the chorus line in West Side Story.
The Length Limit for the Common Application Essay
These would make for very different essays, even though they're on basically the same topic. Another benefit of a specific topic is that it makes coming up with supporting details much easier. Specific, sensory details make the reader feel as if they're seeing the experience through your eyes, giving them a better sense of who you are. General: I was nervous as I waited for my turn to audition. Specific: As I waited for my name to be called, I tapped the rhythm of "America" on the hard plastic chair, going through the beats of my audition song over and over in my head.
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The first version could be written by almost anyone; the second version has a specific perspective—it's also intriguing and makes you want to know more. The more specific your essay topic is, the more clearly your unique voice will come through and the more engaging your essay will be. Now that we've established the basic ideas you need to keep in mind as you brainstorm, let's go through the Common App essay questions one at a time and break down what admissions committees are looking for in responses.
Keep in mind that for each of these questions, there are really two parts. The first is describing something you did or something that happened to you. The second is explaining what that event, action, or activity means to you. No essay is complete without addressing both sides of the topic. 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. This prompt is very broad. Then this prompt could be a good one for you. The key is that whatever you write about needs to be genuinely important to you personally, not just something you think will look good to the admissions committee.
You need to clarify why this story is so important that you couldn't leave it off your application. This question is really about showing admissions officers how your background has shaped you.
Before you continue...
Can you learn and grow from your experiences? By identifying an experience or trait that is vital to your story, you're also showing what kind of person you see yourself as. Do you value your leadership abilities or your determination to overcome challenges? Your intellectual curiosity or your artistic talent?
Everyone has more than one important trait, but in answering this prompt, you're telling admissions officers what you think is your most significant quality. You could write about almost anything for this prompt: an unexpected interest, a particularly consuming hobby, a part of your family history, or a life-changing event. Make sure to narrow in on something specific, though. You don't have room to tell your whole life story!
Your topic can be serious or silly, as long as it's important to you. Just remember that it needs to showcase a deeper quality of yours. For example, if I were writing an essay on this topic, I would probably write about my life-long obsession with books. I'd start with a story about how my parents worried I read too much as a kid, give some specific examples of things I've learned from particular books, and talk about how my enthusiasm for reading was so extreme it sometimes interfered with my actual life like the time I tripped and fell because I couldn't be bothered to put down my book long enough to walk from my room to the kitchen.
Then I would tie it all together by explaining how my love of reading has taught me to look for ideas in unexpected places. You don't want your essay to read like a resume: it shouldn't be a list of accomplishments. Your essay needs to add something to the rest of your application, so it also shouldn't focus on something you've already covered unless you have a really different take on it.
In addition, try to avoid generic and broad topics: you don't want your essay to feel as though it could've been written by any student. As I touched on above, one way to avoid this problem is to be very specific —rather than writing generally about your experience as the child of immigrants, you might tell a story about a specific family ritual or meaningful moment.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.
Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? This prompt is pretty straightforward. It's asking you to describe a challenge or obstacle you faced or a time you failed, and how you dealt with it. The part many students forget is the second half: what lessons did you learn from your challenge or failure?
If you take on this question, you must show how you grew from the experience and, ideally, how you incorporated what you learned into other endeavors.
Bevor Sie fortfahren...
This question really raises two issues: how you handle difficult situations and whether you're capable of learning from your mistakes. You'll face a lot of challenges in college, both academic and social. In addressing this prompt, you have the opportunity to show admissions officers that you can deal with hardships without just giving up.
You also need to show that you can learn from challenges and mistakes. Can you find a positive lesson in a negative experience? Colleges want to see an example of how you've done so. Good topics will be specific and have a clearly explained impact on your perspective. You need to address both parts of the question: the experience of facing the challenge and what you learned from it. Make sure you pick an actual failure or challenge—don't turn your essay into a humblebrag. How you failed at procrastination because you're just so organized or how you've been challenged by the high expectations of teachers at school because everyone knows you are so smart are not appropriate topics.
Also, don't write about something completely negative. Your response needs to show that you got something out of your challenge or failure and that you've learned skills you can apply to other situations. Spilling your coffee is not an appropriate failure, no matter how disastrous it may feel. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? There are two ways to approach this question. The first is to talk about a time you questioned a person or group on an idea of theirs.
The second is to talk about a time that something caused you to reconsider a belief of your own. In either case, you need to explain why you decided the belief should be challenged, what you actually did —if your story is just that someone gave you a new piece of information and you changed your mind, you should probably find a different topic— and how you feel about your actions in hindsight. The obvious question this prompt raises is what your values are and whether you're willing to stand up for what you believe.
What Are Application Essays for, Anyway?
Whether you've reconsidered your own beliefs or asked others to reconsider theirs, it shows you've put genuine thought into what you value and why. However, colleges also want to see that you're open minded and able to be fair and kind toward those who have different beliefs than you do.
Can you question someone else's beliefs without belittling them? If not, don't choose this prompt. This prompt is really one where you either have a relevant story or you don't. If there's a belief or idea that's particularly important to you, whether political or personal, this might be a good question for you to address. The main pitfall with this question is that it lends itself to very abstract answers.
It's not that interesting to read about how you used to believe chocolate is the best ice cream flavor but then changed your mind and decided the best flavor is actually strawberry. Seriously, though, what is wrong with you!? Make sure there's clear conflict and action in your essay. Divisive political issues, such as abortion and gun rights, are tricky to write about although not impossible because people feel very strongly about them and often have a hard time accepting the opposite viewpoint.
In general, I would avoid these kinds of topics unless you have a highly compelling story. Also, keep in mind that most people who work at colleges are liberal, so if you have a conservative viewpoint, you'll need to tread more carefully.