The mandatory essay of the Common App and other college-specific streamlined applications are one of the few opportunities given to showcase the student’s individualized character separate from academic statistics and achievements.  While every part of the Common Application is to be taken seriously and concisely, the personal essay equally requires a mindful ease and authenticity. Students are constantly asking how to “stand out from other applicants.” The more appropriate and less overbearing question to pose to oneself is: How can I present my unique character in the most authentic way possible?  The goal in mind should be to pose a well-written personal narrative distinctive to you; originality can often be lost if you are extraneous in your efforts to differentiate yourself from others.

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Most Commonly Used Essay Prompt

According to the Common App’s 2015-2016 selected essay topics, 47 percent of the 800,000+ applicant pool chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent.  It was the most frequently selected prompt of the time.  Out of the five essay prompts offered by the Common App, why was this prompt the most commonly used?  Perhaps the reasoning could lead to the prompt’s broadness in scope in comparison to the other essay topics.  If you are looking to highly distinguish yourself from other applicants, I would suggest to test the other given prompts.  However, if you strongly feel that your topic of interest does not best fit in the more narrowly-posed questions, do not feel pressured to constrict yourself to another topic just to be “different.”

Once you have reviewed the question(s) being asked of you, you may start to think of the content of your essay.  Here are some things to avoid, and to keep in mind.

DON’Ts…

Write About a Fact Already Stated Elsewhere in the Application

It is important to take note of which accomplishments, interests, etc. are already noted in other parts of your application.  Your essay should reflect a facet of yourself not already known to the admissions counselor.  For example, if you have participated in a varsity sport in your high school career, and have indicated as so in the “Activities” portion of the application, do not focus your essay around that point.  It has already been made obvious to the admissions counselor and would therefore make for a less interesting read.

Select A Crazy Format

I have seen unique formatting choices made by previously admitted students; however, the format of your essay should not be so pretentious that it distracts the application reviewer from the factual content of the piece.  Stick to a standard paragraph format, or review any unique formatting choices with a trusted English teacher.

DOs…

Read Other Students’ Essays

Find inspiration and ideas from other essays that have been successfully admitted into prospective colleges and universities.  You can either read an essay from a close family member or friend, or do an online search.  A personal preference of mine is: Grade Saver: Admitted Application Essays

Write a List of Things Significant to You

A moment, accomplishment, or failure of any significance to you, whether big or small, can make a great essay.  Start with a brainstormed list of any instance of significance to yourself, big or small.  Then, narrow the list down to topics that you feel have the potential to be expanded into a greater essay.  From there, assign the smaller list of ideas to a prospective question, or questions.

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Review Your Essay, and Review It Again

Your first draft should never be your final draft.  Once you feel that you have laid a foundation for your essay, leave it alone for a few days.  Revise your essay with a fresh insight.  Then, ask for secondary audiences to review your essay.

*TIP: Create a list of questions to ask of your reviewers once they have read your essay.  Questions such as: What was the mood of the essay?  In your opinion, does the essay most accurately reflect my everyday demeanor?  If your reader believes your essay not to be the most precise reflection of yourself, ask for an explanation and personally review the essay once again and make any further revisions.

Remember that colleges want to read about the interesting quirks and experiences that have shaped your persona.  Your voice is the most valuable tool that you possess, use it to your advantage. Get to writing.  Good luck!


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