Important Common App Announcement:

The Common App will be offline for its annual refreshment break starting on July 27, 2018 and will be back on line on August 1, 2018. This is much shorter than previous refreshment periods, which is great news for all our students. Further, all data from your common application account will be able to roll over to the new application, with the exception of college-specific information. The common application also announced that the 2018-2019 essays will be unchanged from the previous year.  Here they are:

  1. 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.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Show Colleges Exactly Who You Are

There are two types of the college essays to consider: the Common App or “personal essay” and each college’s supplemental writing assignments. The Common App essay can be up to 650 words in length, while the supplemental writing assignments can be anywhere from a few words to a few pages. Please note that college essays are not typical writing assignments that can be entrusted to someone with no or little college admission experience. They require the dedicated efforts of students working under the guidance of college admission experts.

The Common App Essay

The Common App Essay is a critically important part of a student’s college admission candidacy. It is taken very seriously by admissions committees and, for a student on the bubble, can even mean the difference between acceptance or rejection. Not only must the Common App essay be well written, error-free, and on topic, it must provide insights into a student’s personality, priorities, history, maturity, resiliency, accomplishments, or way of thinking.

Admissions officers read thousands upon thousands of application essays each year. By giving them something in your essay to appreciate or even get excited about, you can help make their task easier and simultaneously make your outcome more favorable. Your essay must have a unique quality to it and it must present a colorful, attractive picture of you as a potential member of a school’s student body and academic landscape. The old adage of show, don’t tell, definitely applies to the Common App essay. As such, you must identify topics and provide examples or include anecdotes that highlight your strongest attributes,

Supplemental Writing Assignments

Most colleges that accept the Common Application require students to answer questions and complete additional writing assignments. Some writing assignments are as short as a few words, while others could be up to several pages long. Most commonly, they are in the 100-500 word range. In most cases, these assignments are specific to the college and may include questions like,

  • “What is it about our college that you find most attractive?”
  • “What is your expected major?”
  • “What activities at our college interest you most?”

Other questions are more general in nature and are designed to reveal some particular aspect of your personality. Some examples of these questions are:

  • “Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way”
  • “Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – know you better.”
  • “Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.”
  • “What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?”

Still other questions have other purposes, such as to demonstrate your depth of personality, sense of humor, or ability to see more than one side of a situation. These questions might include:

  • “Tell us about the last time you laughed out loud.”
  • “What is your theme song?”
  • “Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.”

Answering all types of supplemental questions expertly and strategically is every bit as important, or even more important, then the Common App personal essay. Done well, they can breathe life into each college’s application. Done carelessly, they can cause an application to fall flat. In all cases, college essays should be sparkling pieces of prose that provide insights into a student’s personality and highlight a student’s special characteristics.