What you’re told

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  • What are some suggestions to make your essay stand out?

What you’re told:

  • You are told to write about “expanding your horizons” through international travel…
  • About the good things you’ve done through community service
  • About how funny you are, so you tell an embarrassing story
  • About the weird hobby that makes you unique
  • To use big words and obscure allusions
  • Make sure it was a life-changing moment!


  • Being yourself is the most important aspect!
  • Use as many details as possible… and stay focused on ONE particular instance that illustrates your qualities
  • DO NOT repeat your resume
  • Write in a narrative style so it reads like a story or journalistic article and not like a textbook
  • Consider metaphor
  • Be persistent and keep working on it

How long?

  • See if the application has a specified word count or provides a limited space, and then stick to it
  • If there is not specified word count, 500 words is a good rule of thumb, however essays that worked in the past have ranged from 78 words to 1700.

Ideas for topics:

  • Think of a quality that you would want to emphasize.
  • Think of a specific instance that would fully and accurately illustrate that you possess this quality
  • -Sense of humor
  • -Value diversity
  • -Embrace learning
  • -Notice the little things
  • -Are deeply committed to an activity or idea
  • -Can overcome adversity
  • -Have initiative


  • Bad breath
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Oh wait, for college essays?
  • -Cynicism
  • -Thinking you are a finished product
  • -Too depressing
  • -Self-destructive behaviors
  • -Lack of integrity
  • -Placing blame on others
  • -Withdrawn from the community instead of embracing it

More topics to consider:

  • An article of clothing
  • The groups in your school and where you fit in
  • Family gatherings and traditions
  • Walk or ride to school
  • Your favorite things
  • Common objects in your room
  • Your lunch choices
  • GET CREATIVE- Start a journal if you have writer’s block and can’t seem to think of a good place to start.

Common App 2015

  • The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words. The essay prompts are as follows:
  • Option #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. 
  • Option #2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Option #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Option #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.
  • Option #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

The Introduction:

  • Your opening paragraph is as important, if not more important, in your college essay as it is in your essays for English class. You need to hook your reader with realistic but interesting word choice, voice, and fluency. Think outside of the standard attention getting devices
  • -Tell an anecdotal story
  • -A zinger (wordplay, humor, or a creative twist)
  • -Straightforward statement/ thesis


  • Do you ever have those dreams where you’ve arrived at school and suddenly realize you’ve forgotten to wear pants? Well, for most high school seniors that dream becomes a reality, at least figuratively. We must bare our souls, not to best friends, or family, but to complete strangers who may not even want to hear about it and may even flat our reject us. What twisted institution would ever subject young adults in the formative stages of emotional growth to this experience? Oh right. College (#73).

Today: Section 1 of Ntbk

  • Brainstorm a list of topics that you could cover for your personal essay. USE ACTUAL TOPICS for applications you plan to send in- so you don’t double your work!
  • Keep this list with you throughout the next few days and start writing down your feelings, thoughts, and ideas, and don’t worry about organization yet (this is easily fixed in revision).
  • The more ideas you have, the more your essay will be unique and honest to your own character
  • The assignment: Get SOMETHING written for a rough draft writing workshop next Tuesday, August 25. Try for 500 words. Type it up. You will revise numerous times.

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