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How to Write the Common App Essay

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Writing your Common App essay may seem daunting because, unlike other essay prompts, it allows you more freedom in developing your response. Rather than answering a specific question about your interest in a university or your extracurricular activities, this essay prompts you to look inwards, asking yourself how you can effectively convey your personality through writing. Before deciding on the subject of your essay, it is beneficial to ask yourself the following questions: What characteristics make you unique to your peers? What intrigues you about your favorite school subject? What are impactful work experiences you have had? What are your future goals and why? Why should you be offered admission into a university over other applicants?

If you are finding it difficult to select one topic, make a list of possibilities and peruse over them, thoroughly thinking over each one. Picture in your mind what each essay would look like if you were to write them and ask yourself how you would like to be portrayed. Ultimately, the Common App is meant to provide students with the opportunity to show another side of themselves that is not apparent on transcripts, test scores, or resumes.

Arguably the most difficult part of this process begins with perfectly crafting the first sentence of your Common App essay, also known as the killer opening. This sentence should immediately draw the reader in, urging them to continue without disclosing the entirety of your story. So, what makes for an enticing opening? Perhaps the most important aspect is length; your first sentence should be concise and to the point. Look over this example of two killer openings (one stronger than the other) from my own essay. Put yourself in the mindset of a college admissions representative. Try to analyze how each sentence makes you feel. Do you want to read on?

Not GoodI walked into the building just as the morning prayer was concluding.

Good“Amen!” rang out in unison from the motley group.

Evidently, I ended up using the second, better option as the opening sentence of my Common App essay.

After developing an alluring first line to draw your reader in, it is important to keep them engaged with your writing while simultaneously providing them with insight into your personality and authentic voice. Because this essay typically cannot exceed 650 words, you must format your paper well. Use your first paragraph to set the scene and provide descriptive details before incorporating your own character into the essay. Remember to be creative with your writing: as you tell the story, make sure that someone else reading it would be able to quickly identify you within it.

As you wrap up your essay, reemphasize the personal qualities you possess that you believe sets you apart from other applicants. You want the person reading your Common App essay to finish feeling as though they have an understanding of who you are and how you would contribute to the university’s community.


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