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Ten Things I Learned From Writing My Common App Essay

The first round of college applications is due Nov. 1. Here's my advice to help you through the dreaded essay process.

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I made my fair share of mistakes when drafting the dreaded Common App Essay. Here are some tips so that when you run into the same roadblocks, you’ll know how to get over them.

    1.     Choosing a prompt is easy. Choosing a topic is hard. Think of personal stories from your life that have shaped your interests, your personality, and your way of thinking, and then write about one of them.
    2.     Your topic is not unique. Admissions reps read thousands of essays each year. Someone else has written about your topic before. Instead of focusing on making your topic unique, focus on making your reflection on the topic unique.
    3.     Narrow your focus. It’s impossible to write about everything that makes up your personality in 650 words. It may seem counterintuitive, but you can provide so much more detail by elaborating on one or two specific moments, and then connecting those moments to your life as a whole.
    4.     Don’t write about anything apparent in the rest of your application. If you are a star athlete, then don’t write about your love of sports. Most likely, your activities list, your sports awards and your coach’s recommendation letter will cover it. Use the essay to balance out the rest of your application and to show the reader that there is more to you than just your grades and activities.
  •     Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t simply state an idea. Convey the idea through your personal voice by using specific imagery, diction, and syntax. Instead of saying, “Riding my bike through the park has given me an appreciation for nature,” describe a specific time when you rode your bike through the park. Tell me specific details about what you saw, how you felt, and what you took away from the experience.
  • At some point, you have to go with your gut. If you think you have done the best job you can to represent who you are as a person, then it’s time to put down your pencil and send it off to colleges.”

    1.     Stick to your personal vocab. Yes, this means use the thesaurus sparingly. As George Orwell said in his six rules of writing, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” Using words that you don’t understand will mask your personal voice and distract the reader from the meaning of your essay.
    2.     The ending will be the hardest part to get right. I rewrote my ending over ten times. While I don’t think you need to be that intense, you want to leave the reader with a clear and lasting message about yourself without summarizing your entire essay. Don’t end an otherwise strong essay with a cliché or weak ending. Here’s a trick: try ending on a telling action, or connect your ending back to the beginning to bring your essay full circle.
    3.     Never directly say the point of your essay. When you tell the reader what to think or feel, you stop telling a story, and your reader stops connecting with you. Get rid of phrases like “I realized” or “I learned.”
    4.     Be open to criticism. You are not going to write a masterpiece on the first try. Bring your drafts to your friends, your counselor, and your teachers. Their criticisms can help you tremendously, so use them to cut, rewrite, and, if needed, start over. It will take several drafts to get a really good essay.   
    5.   The more people read your essay, the more opinions you are going to get. There will always be people who don’t like your essay, and there will always be those who love it. At some point, you have to go with your gut. If you think you have done the best job you can to represent who you are as a person, then it’s time to put down your pencil and send it off to colleges.

     

     

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