5 Tips to Conquer the Common Application Essay

Fitting your entire life story into 650 words seems impossible, but crafting an amazing Common App essay is a lot easier (and more fun) than you think!

After the SAT, the Common App essay may be the most feared part of the college admission process. Fitting your entire life story into 650 words? Impossible! And you have to try to stand out from all the other students writing Common App essays? Double impossible! However, there are many tips and tricks to use as guidelines to craft an amazing college essay and really put your best foot forward in the college application process. Here are just a few:

1. Make sure to start early

The first tip for writing the Common App essay is to start early. The admission essay is something that requires time, focus, and dedication; waiting until the last minute will not give you the result you desire. You have to figure out the right topic, what angle you want to take to address the topic, and of course, save time for proofreading and editing. Invest the proper amount of time necessary by brainstorming and completing a draft over the summer before applications go out. Then give yourself—and others that you should be asking to proofread—plenty of time to edit it and get it in top shape before you have to send your application in.

2. Take time to brainstorm

One problem that many students (including myself) have concerning the Common App essay is coming up with a topic. In our defense, it is sometimes difficult to think of something monumental to write an essay about. There are seven prompts released by Common App; they aren’t that daunting because you can basically choose any story you want to tell about yourself, but they can inspire and help you construct a thought-provoking question that will lead to the right topic. It’s important to remember your essay should not be designed to just impress an admission officer—your Common App essay topic needs to be something important to you. It can be serious or humorous, about your family, an interest or hobby you’re passionate about, a life-changing event, etc. The possibilities are endless! The main purpose of college essays is to reveal a deeper quality about you that would otherwise be unrecognizable through your grades and test scores. Take advantage of this! Your essay should shine with your personality as well as display your writing skills.

Related: 5 Fun and Unique Ways to Brainstorm Your College Essays

3. Be creative

Creativity is key when writing the Common App essay. Think about it: college admission officers are reading thousands and thousands of college essays. Do they really want to read another boring, generic paper? Plus, it’s easy to detect that a writer is disinterested in their essay and topic through their writing. Pick a prompt that is important to you and a topic that you feel passionate, comfortable, and excited to write about, and find a creative angle! Again, your opportunities for topics are infinite as long as you construct it to be engaging, interesting, and personable.

4. Organize your essay

A great Common App essay contains a strong, inviting opening; a well-organized body; and a powerful conclusion. Outlining your essay is a useful process that can assist you in designing the structure of the content. But don’t make that structure the end all, be all of your essay because you could end up constricting your creativity if you’re accidentally boxing yourself in to a too structured idea. It’s best to focus on a story that really highlights who you are as a person and which qualities you have that make you the right fit for a school. Write out the points you want to make, but don’t be afraid to reorganize as you’re planning (or writing!)—nothing is set in stone.

Related: How Learning to Freewrite Can Generate Great College Essay Ideas

5. Proofread diligently

After you finish organizing your essay, the next step is to start writing! Take your time to construct a clear and interesting essay that reveals your personality. Once you finish, pat yourself on the back. You just finished the Common App essay! Many of us may be eager to submit our applications, but editing and proofreading is essential to ensure a successful essay. Carefully review what you wrote, asking family, friends, and maybe a helpful English teacher to help edit and give constructive criticism. Comments and suggestions are for your benefit; your proofreader may catch a careless mistake that you missed.

Enjoy writing about yourself

The Common App essay is an integral part of the college journey; many students believe it’s a dreadful process, but it’s actually the opposite. You’re just writing about yourself—and you many learn something new about yourself while doing so. The college essay is all about meaningful reflection that can help you become a better writer and get you into your dream school. Happy writing and good luck!

For more application essay advice, check out the blogs and articles in our College Admission—Application Essay Clinic section.

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About Christina LoMonaco

Hi, my name is Christina LoMonaco and I am a junior in high school. In my free time, when I'm not studying, I love to listen to music, read, play tennis, volunteer, write (one of my greatest passions!) and, of course, watch Netflix. I aspire to attend a university where I can learn, grow as a person, be involved, and really make a difference in my community. As someone who is just starting their college search and application process, I am very excited to share my experiences and partake in this amazing journey with you! 


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