Cracking the Common App: 8 Strategies

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Hello, all! This is a post for all you high school seniors/college applicants writing your common app essays. We went through the college application process only a few years ago, and we’re here to provide some tips for writing your personal statement. While the essay prompts may vary, the strategies for tackling them are similar.

1. REMEMBER YOUR GOAL

Just as you tailor any paper to support your thesis, make sure you keep a central idea or goal in mind when writing or revising your personal statement. Pick only one or two main points to emphasize — yes, you are a complex human being, but you should not try to fit every aspect of yourself into a 650-word essay. Try to highlight what you think stands about yourself and think deeply about how that aspect fits into the campus culture of your targeted school. The common app essay should serve two main purposes: 1) differentiate yourself from other applicants and 2) demonstrate clearly how you would fit in the college. Note: this does not mean that you need to have a clear sense of what you want to do in college and beyond.

2. BE CREATIVE

If possible, try to think of a creative hook. College admissions officers will be reading hundreds, if not thousands, of these statements. There are bound to be other applicants who resemble you very closely in terms of grades, test scores, etc, so this personal statement is a valuable opportunity to differentiate yourself.

While every essay is different and there is no one “right” approach, I began my essay with a metaphor to convey my intellectual and personal development. I then worked that metaphor in throughout the essay, which was convenient because it provided me with a built in ending. I know others who successfully built a narrative-heavy essay and still others who had a more “traditional” explanation of their interests. Again: there is no one right answer!

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3. SHOW, DON’T TELL

It’s easy to fall into the trap of stating rather than illustrating. It’s one thing to say “I’m passionate about science” and another to provide examples proving that you’re passionate about science. Look through your draft with a critical eye and identify all areas where you’re stating things without elaboration. The common app essay should not be a regurgitation of your resume. Instead, this is an opportunity to explain anything that might require explanation (e.g. semesters off, poor grades, etc) and highlight your interests.

4. CUT IRRELEVANT POINTS

Concision is key — especially when you’re working with a strict word limit. Do you really need to list every single extracurricular activity? Remember, the Common App already has you list your extracurricular activities in a separate section, so you should not be wasting precious space renaming them.

5. WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF

While that may seem obvious, this essay should show the admissions committee who you are and not who you think they want you to be. Write about your actual experiences and struggles, as small as they may seem. Ultimately, they will appreciate getting an idea of who you are and they can usually detect an inauthentic essay.

6. REUSE YOUR ESSAYS

This will save you an incredible amount of time and energy during the application process. Try to choose similar prompts for different schools and tweak your essays accordingly. This way you can focus on the quality of your essays rather than the quantity.IMG_5330.jpg-1 Cracking the Common App: 8 Strategies

7. GET OUTSIDE OPINIONS

Ask people that know you well to read your essays. You want this essay to capture your essence, so this is one way to make sure it does. Whether you ask a friend, a teacher, or a family member, ask for helpful and constructive feedback. Having someone else read your essay will really give you a sense of the message people get from your essay, and if it matches what you were hoping for.

8. PROOFREAD

Proofreading is such an important yet underrated step in the writing process. You want to show the reader how much you care about your common app essay, your application, and applying to their school, and a typo really detracts from that. It looks sloppy and like this doesn’t matter that much to you. Admissions officers spend so much time and effort trying to choose who to accept into the school and it’s annoying if it seems like the student doesn’t care as much as they do. When proofreading, read your essay out loud multiple times and ask your outside readers to look out for any grammatical errors in your essay.

Best of luck — you can do it!

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