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5 Things to Keep in Mind While Crafting Your Common App Essay

Student Life

December 08, 2022

Crafting the perfect Common App statement can be extremely difficult. There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you get your story across to admissions officers and stand out from thousands of applicants. This task can especially be daunting when you don’t know where to start and how to write your statement moving forward.

Don’t fret! You still have plenty of time to get your personal statements done and this article is going to help you remember key advice to keep in mind when you’re crafting your Common App essay.

Fill your story with details

Details are what can make or break your common app essay, which is why so many experts say that you should add an anecdote to have something to write your story around. Brennan Barnard, dean of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School, states “The truth is, admission reviewers rarely know—or care—which prompt you are responding to. They are curious to discover what you choose to show them about who you are, what you value, and why.” Writing a good essay comes down to describing the little details and taking the time to paint a picture for the admissions officer reading your essay.

Notice the difference between the two sentences? 1. I was in the kitchen and I made pancakes for breakfast. 2. The sizzle of the pan echoed through the kitchen as I poured the liquid batter on the hot silver surface.

One sentence is more descriptive than the other and uses more specific details to explain the situation. It’s vital to make your essay memorable to admissions officers and the best way to do that is by using the right details to make your story stick with the reader.

Pick the right prompt for you

Common Application provides you with an assortment of prompts to choose from. Luckily, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to writing this essay. It may seem simplistic to choose any prompt and write an essay without truly understanding what each prompt is asking for.

Lisa Mortini, Senior Assistant Director for NYU Abu Dhabi Admissions put it best: “To make sure you’ve actually answered the question, ask someone you trust to read your essay draft but remove the question first. Ask them afterwards what they think the question was. If they get it, bingo!

You’ve answered the question. If they are off-base, then you may want to rework your answer to make sure it covers what is actually being asked.” Essentially, work backwards. Write a topic first and then go back to see which essay fits which prompt best. Afterwards, you can check it over with a loved one, college advisor, or anyone you trust with your essay.

Don’t use your Commonapp essay to regurgitate your resume

The common app personal statement allows you the opportunity for you to tell your story and show admissions officers a different perspective of who you are as a person. When reading thousands of applications, admissions officers tend to see applicants for their grades, test scores, and extracurriculars. The personal statement gives admissions officers an opportunity to see you beyond those scores and humanize you to see if you would be a good fit for their school.

Your common app essay is the last place where you want to restate your resume because that’s what the rest of the sections are for. Use these next 650 words to add a new dimension to your application and show the full picture.

Pay close attention to the word count

Writing the common app essay usually goes two ways for applicants: either they write way too much and fill it with specific details that may not be necessary to the story, or they write too little and end up with an essay that’s not very impactful to admissions officers or shows who you are as a person. That being said, it’s essential to make sure you keep your word count in mind when writing your common app essay. However, this rule doesn’t apply when you’re writing your first draft.

THe purpose of your first draft is to allow you the opportunity to get all your ideas out there without limitation and see what you have to work with. Who knows? Maybe that random sentence you wrote can inspire you to draft a full story based on that one scenario and describe how it impacted you in a specific way. After you get past the first one or two drafts, you should start thinking about ways to use your space wisely while writing an essay that you can be proud of.

Avoid controversial topics

This should go without saying but please do not use your personal statement to discuss any controversial topics. Sean Ashburn, a former Tufts Admissions counselor, said: “Your writing serves to give a human element to your application file, creating a connection between you and the reader who likely hasn’t had the opportunity to meet you in person. Your essays help us understand your voice beyond the academic data and learn about your personality, values, interests, priorities, and background.” However, there is a fine line to cross between being vulnerable with the admissions officers to improve your story and sharing too much to the point it hurts you in the long run.

Inappropriate and controversial topics such as drugs, alcohol, politics, and religion don’t belong in your common app statement. Discussing topics like drugs and alcohol is a recipe for rejection because admissions officers aren’t going to look at you in a good light if you’re talking about the time you got high in your common app essay. Politics and religion is also a big no-no in your common app essay.

The admissions officer may not share the same opinions and views as you and that’s fine. However, they aren’t judging your application based on which political party you support or what religion you follow. That being said, religion and politics is just one of those topics that you avoid in your common app essay and outside your common app essay if possible.

Being a senior and completing your college application can be extremely hard sometimes. Despite getting to work with creative prompts, sometimes it can be easy to have the creativity sucked out of you when you’re thinking about ways to stand out from thousands of other applicants. However, you’re only going to work on your common app essay until college application season is over then you’ll finally be free of your burdens.

Just try your best and keep an open mind about the process. You never know how your story will turn out. Good Luck!

Williana Serve
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Williana is currently a freshman in college. She likes to learn new things especially involving Law & Advocacy. When she’s not doing schoolwork, she can be found watching TikTok, YouTube, or reading.