All You Need to Know About  the Common App Essay

August 22, 2023
By AdmissionSight
Commonapp.org logo on display screen

All You Need to Know About  the Common App Essay

The Common App essay offers college applicants the opportunity to tell their unique stories and highlight their strengths, achievements, and goals.

Whether you’re just starting to think about your college options or in the final admissions process, writing an effective essay can help you stand out from other applicants.

What is a Common App essay?

What exactly is an essay for the Common App? The Common App essay is like your introduction letter to colleges that are part of the Common Application system. When you’re applying to these colleges, you’ll need to write and submit this essay.

It’s a golden opportunity for you to share more about yourself, way beyond your grades and test scores.

The Common App essay is your chance to let people see the real you. It’s the stage where you stand and introduce yourself, telling everyone about your dreams, challenges, and life experiences. It’s your voice, your story, and your chance to stand out from the crowd.

Now, the best part about this essay is that you get to pick the topic! While there are specific prompts provided, they’re broad enough to let your creativity fly.

So whether you want to discuss a hobby you’re passionate about, an experience that changed your perspective, or a challenge you overcame, the choice is yours.

However, remember to choose a topic that fits within the prompt you pick. The goal is to offer colleges a deeper insight into who you are as a person.

But here’s a thing to note: even though you have freedom in what you write, it’s essential to stay relevant. This isn’t a platform to discuss random things; it’s about you and your journey.

There’s no strict rule that dictates exactly how to tell your story, but it’s crucial that the story is genuine and represents you authentically.

a male student studying intently

Now, once you write this essay, where does it go? The answer is straightforward: every college you apply to through the Common App that requires an essay will receive it.

That means if you’re applying to five or ten or more colleges, they’ll all see the same personal statement.

However, that’s not all. Some colleges might want to get to know you a bit more. These colleges might ask for additional essays, known as supplemental essays. Think of these as bonus rounds.

While the Common App essay is like introducing yourself to everyone at the party, the supplemental essays are like having one-on-one conversations with a few guests. These essays are specific to the college asking for them, so you might be discussing why you want to attend that particular school or how you fit into its community.

In conclusion, the Common App essay is your ticket to making a memorable impression on the colleges you’re applying to. It’s your personal narrative, a story only you can tell. So when you sit down to write it, be genuine, be passionate, and most importantly, be yourself.

Remember, this is your chance to shine!

Does the Common App essay really matter?

Is the essay for the Common App really that important? At a glance, the college application process can feel overwhelming. Among transcripts, recommendation letters, and test scores, where does the Common App essay fit in? How crucial is it?

Let’s dive deeper into its importance.

A Chance to Tell Your Story

The Common App essay is your stage. Institutions may ask for other essays specific to their programs, but this is your shot at a more general audience. Think of the Common App essay as a first impression.

If it isn’t strong or compelling, there’s a chance colleges might not even move on to those supplemental essays you spent hours refining.

The Weight of Your Words

The numbers differ, but your essay could shoulder anywhere from 10% to 30% of the weight in your application evaluation. Sounds significant, doesn’t it? And it gets even more critical if you’re aiming for those elite institutions like Ivy League schools.

Why? Picture this: Ivy Leagues are swamped with applications from the best of the best. Students with perfect grades, a wide range of extracurriculars, and recommendations that sing their praises.

In this sea of excellence, how do you stand out? Your essay.

a male intern working on a computer

Your Essay’s Role in Decision Making

It’s a heart-sinking feeling when students, who seem perfect on paper with top-notch SAT scores and impressive GPAs, don’t make the cut. More often than not, a sub-par essay plays the villain.

It can be the thin line separating acceptance from rejection, especially when profiles are neck-and-neck in other aspects.

Your Voice Amidst the Numbers

The essay is your microphone, your solo amidst the choir of applications. It’s the platform where you transform from a mere applicant to a living, breathing individual with dreams, aspirations, and a unique story.

Everything else on your application – be it your grades or test scores – showcases your academic prowess. But the Common App essay? It’s the heart amidst the numbers, capturing who you are beyond the classroom.

A Human Touch in a Sea of Data

From the student perspective, this essay isn’t just another task on the checklist. It’s the personal touch, the memoir in a document filled with impersonal facts and figures.

You’re more than your grades or the clubs you’re part of. And this essay is your chance to convey that.

A Tapestry of Diverse Backgrounds

Everyone’s journey is unique. Maybe you grew up in a bustling city, learning the art of resilience. Or perhaps you hail from a quiet town, where community meant everything. These backgrounds, these snippets of your life, are treasures.

When woven into your essay, they make it gleam with authenticity, helping it stand out.

In conclusion, while every part of your college application has its place, the Common App essay holds a special significance. It’s where you get to be you, raw and unfiltered, and connect with the admissions committee on a personal level.

So, as you embark on this journey, remember to pour a piece of your soul into that essay. It does matter.

What are the most common essay topics?

When you’re thinking about your Common App essay, you might wonder: What do most students write about? Well, there are a bunch of topics that pop up a lot.

Here’s a simple guide to some of the most popular ones:

Your Special Thing

Everyone has something that makes them… well, them! Maybe it’s a family tradition, a hobby, or even a cool talent like playing the guitar or making awesome art.

If there’s something about you that feels really important, tell that story. It’s a chance to show colleges a unique side of you.

Overcoming Challenges

Life isn’t always easy. But sometimes, the tough stuff teaches us big lessons. Did you ever face something hard, like a bad grade, an injury, or a tough time at home? How did you handle it? What did you learn?

Sharing these experiences can show colleges your strength and growth.

A Time You Stood Up

Have you ever disagreed with someone? Maybe it was a friend, a teacher, or even something you saw online. What made you speak up or think differently?

This is a chance to show colleges how you think and what values are important to you.

A Kind Act

Kindness is pretty powerful. Think about a time someone did something nice for you. Maybe they helped with homework or just listened when you needed to talk. How did it make you feel?

This can show colleges the kind of relationships and communities you value.

Growing Up Moments

We all have those moments when we realize we’re changing or growing up. It could be after winning a big game, getting a job, or even just a deep chat with a friend.

These stories show colleges how you reflect on life and what kind of person you’re becoming.

Passion Projects

Is there something you just love? A topic or hobby that you could spend hours on without even noticing? Maybe it’s reading about space, baking the yummiest cakes, or dancing.

Share what gets you excited and why. Colleges love to see your passion.

Anything Else

Honestly, the best stories sometimes don’t fit a mold. If you have an essay you wrote for another reason, or a story that doesn’t seem “typical” but feels right, go for it.

The main thing is to show colleges a bit of who you really are.

Remember, the best essay is the one that feels true to you. So, pick a topic that lets your personality shine, and have fun with it!

What should you avoid in your Common App essay?

What should you avoid in your Common App essay? The Common App essay is like a window into your life. It helps colleges see who you are beyond grades and test scores. But to make sure your essay shines, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid.


We all have phrases or ideas that we’ve heard a million times. Things like “every cloud has a silver lining” or “hard work always pays off.” While these sayings might be true, they’re used so often that they don’t feel fresh or unique.

Remember, college admissions officers read a lot of essays, so it’s essential to make yours stand out. Instead of using clichés, try to share your personal experiences and what you learned from them.

Controversial Topics

Being genuine is key in your essay. It’s good to have opinions and to be passionate about them. However, some topics are touchy and can be divisive. Topics like politics, religion, or controversial social issues might not always be the best pick.

If you decide to write about a sensitive topic, make sure it’s deeply personal to you. And always handle it with care, understanding, and respect for different viewpoints.

Negative Tones

Life is full of ups and downs. It’s okay to write about tough times or challenges you’ve faced. But your essay should show growth or a positive change. Instead of just talking about the bad times, discuss how you overcame them or what you learned.

This shows colleges that you can bounce back and learn from experiences, which is a trait they love to see!

Overly Complex Language

Big words might sound impressive, but they’re not always the best choice. If you use words that are too complex, your essay might come off as show-offy or hard to read. Plus, if you use them incorrectly, it can confuse the reader. Keep it simple. Write in a way that feels natural to you. Think of it like talking to a friend but in a more polished and respectful way.

How can you make your essay stand out in a sea of applications?

How can you make your essay stand out in a sea of applications? Every year, colleges get tons of applications. This means your essay has a lot of competition. So, how can you make sure your essay is one that the college remembers?

Two students talking to each other in a table.

Here are some simple tips:

1. Be You and Only You
It’s tempting to write what you think colleges want to hear. But what really sticks is your real story. Share true experiences and feelings. People can usually tell when you’re being real versus when you’re making stuff up or exaggerating. So, just be you!

2. Paint a Picture with Words
Think of your essay like a mini-movie. Use words that help readers “see” your story in their minds. Instead of just saying “I felt happy,” you could describe how the sun felt on your face or how you couldn’t stop smiling. Make it colorful!

3. Connect Through Feelings
We all remember stories that made us feel something. Maybe it made us laugh, cry, or think hard. When you share your feelings in your essay, it helps the reader connect with you. They get to walk in your shoes for a bit and see the world from your eyes.

4. Ask for a Second Opinion
Even the best writers need a second pair of eyes. Before sending off your essay, let someone you trust read it. This could be a teacher, a friend, or a family member. They might see things you missed or give you a new idea. And they’ll definitely let you know if something doesn’t make sense or has a mistake.


The Common App essay is a valuable tool for college applicants to showcase their individuality and set themselves apart from the competition. Writing an effective essay takes time, effort, and a lot of reflection, but the end result can be incredibly rewarding.

Remember, your essay is your chance to shine and make a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

From crafting a winning essay to putting together the perfect college list, AdmissionSight can help you every step of the way. So, why wait? Book your initial consultation today and get on the fast track to college success!

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