How to Write the Best Common App Essay

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students outdoors

How to Write the Best Common App Essay

As the application season rolls around, high school seniors worldwide grapple with the quintessential challenge — writing the perfect Common App essay. This single essay could potentially open or close the doors to your dream colleges, making it one of the most significant components of your application. This guide aims to walk you through each step of crafting your Common App essay, transforming this daunting task into a manageable one.

Understanding the Purpose of the Common App Essay

The Role of the Essay in College Applications

The Common App essay is more than a mere formality. It serves a dual role in your College applications. Firstly, it offers a platform to showcase your personality, experiences, and perspectives that do not necessarily appear in your grades and scores. It’s your chance to give the admissions committee a glimpse of who you are beyond just being a student.

Portrait of five smiling students

When writing your Common App essay, it’s important to remember that the admissions committee is not only interested in your academic achievements but also in your personal growth and development. They want to see how you have overcome challenges, how you have pursued your passions, and how you have contributed to your community. By sharing your unique experiences and perspectives, you can demonstrate your ability to think critically, adapt to new situations, and make a positive impact.

Secondly, your essay sheds light on your intellectual curiosity and aptitude to engage deeply with topics that interest you. The Common App essay, thus, becomes a reflection of your thought processes, showcasing how you comprehend and articulate your thoughts and beliefs.

When crafting your essay, consider delving into the reasons behind your intellectual curiosity. What sparked your interest in a particular subject? How have you pursued that interest outside of the classroom? Have you conducted research, participated in relevant extracurricular activities, or engaged in meaningful discussions with peers or mentors? You can demonstrate your passion and dedication to your chosen field of study by providing specific examples and anecdotes.

What Admissions Officers Look for in the Essay

Admissions officers look for authenticity and thoughtfulness in your essay. They are keen on understanding who you are as an individual, your passions, and how these align with the values of their institution. They appreciate essays that narrate personal stories and express reflections on these experiences.

When writing your Common App essay, being genuine and authentic to yourself is essential. Avoid trying to fit into a mold or writing what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Instead, focus on sharing your own unique story and perspective. Admissions officers value honesty and authenticity, and they can easily spot insincere or contrived essays.

Moreover, your ability to communicate effectively through your writing also comes into play. Admissions officers look for clarity of thought, coherence in the flow of ideas, and grammatical accuracy. Intellectual rigor, creativity, and originality in expressing your ideas are valued.

When writing your essay, take the time to revise and edit your work. Pay attention to the structure and organization of your ideas, ensuring that your essay flows smoothly from one point to the next. Use clear and concise language to convey your thoughts, and proofread carefully for grammar or spelling errors. By presenting a well-crafted and polished essay, you can demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively and make a strong impression on the admissions committee.

Choosing Your Essay Topic

Reflecting on Your Experiences

Selecting a compelling essay topic starts with self-reflection. Rather than following popular trends or trying to guess what college admissions officers may want, focus on what matters to you. Consider your life experiences, values, triumphs, failures, identities, and quirks.

Look at these elements in isolation and in the context of your life’s bigger picture. How have these shaped your journey so far? How have they influenced your goals, values, or worldview? The most potent essays often come from personal stories that have significantly impacted your life.

For example, consider a time when you faced a significant challenge or setback. Reflect on how you overcame it and its impact on your personal growth. Consider the lessons you learned and how they shaped your character. By delving deep into your experiences, you can uncover unique and compelling essay topics that showcase your resilience and determination.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to explore your life’s more minor, seemingly insignificant moments. Sometimes, the most profound insights can come from everyday experiences. Reflect on a moment of kindness you witnessed or an interaction that made you question societal norms. These seemingly ordinary moments can give your essay a fresh and unique perspective.

A woman with her things

Identifying Your Unique Angle

Identifying your unique angle involves understanding what makes you different. What parts of your life story, thinking style, or personality deviate from the norm? Your unique angle could be a distinctive worldview, an unusual experience, or a profound lesson learned. Focusing on this unique perspective makes your essay more memorable and meaningful.

Consider the hobbies or interests that set you apart from your peers. Maybe you have a passion for vintage fashion and have built an impressive collection of retro clothing. This unique interest can provide a lens through which you can explore topics such as self-expression, sustainability, or the impact of fashion on identity.

Another way to identify your unique angle is to reflect on the cultural or familial background that has shaped your identity. Perhaps you come from a multicultural family and have experienced the challenges and joys of navigating different cultural traditions. This can be a rich source of material for your essay, allowing you to explore themes of identity, diversity, and the importance of cultural heritage.

Remember, embracing your authentic self is the key to finding your unique angle. Don’t be afraid to showcase your quirks, passions, and unconventional perspectives. These qualities make you stand out and can make your essay genuinely memorable.

Crafting Your Essay Outline

When writing an essay, creating a detailed outline is not just a helpful tool but a vital one. A system is a roadmap for your thoughts, ensuring coherence and logical flow throughout your essay. It allows you to organize your ideas and arguments in a structured manner, making it easier for you and your readers to follow along.

To begin with, your essay outline should include an engaging introduction that immediately captures the reader’s attention. This can be done through a thought-provoking question, a compelling anecdote, or a surprising statistic. The introduction should also provide some context for your topic, giving the reader a clear understanding of what will be discussed in the essay.

The main body of your essay is where you will develop your ideas and arguments in more detail. This section allows you to delve into different perspectives, analyze various viewpoints, and present evidence to support your claims. It is important to provide examples and instances from your own life or relevant sources to substantiate your points and make your arguments more compelling.

When crafting the main body of your essay, it is crucial to balance personal narratives and academic goals. While sharing personal experiences can add depth and authenticity to your writing, connecting these narratives with your literary ambitions is equally essential. Using personal records to illuminate how you arrived at your academic interests creates a clear and impactful connection between your past experiences and your future goals.

Lastly, your essay should conclude with a reflective summary and a forward-looking take on your topic. The conclusion should tie together all the main points discussed in the essay and provide a sense of closure. It is also an opportunity for you to reflect on what you have learned or gained from writing the essay and to offer some final thoughts or suggestions for further exploration.

In summary, crafting a well-structured essay outline is essential for ensuring coherence and logical flow in your writing. By following a clear structure that includes an engaging introduction, a well-developed main body, and a reflective conclusion, you can create an informative and compelling essay.

Young curly student woman wearing backpack glasses holding books

Writing the Essay

Writing an essay allows you to express yourself and showcase your unique perspective. It is a chance to let your voice be heard and make a lasting impression on the reader. However, simply putting words on paper is not enough. To create a truly impactful essay, there are certain elements that you should consider.

Developing Your Voice and Tone

Developing your voice and tone is one of the most important aspects of writing an essay. Your essay should reflect your personality and convey your thoughts and ideas in a way that is authentic to who you are. Whether you have a formal, sarcastic, humorous, or philosophical voice, it is crucial to maintain authenticity and stay true to yourself.

When choosing a tone for your essay, it is essential to consider the context in which it will be read. In the case of a college application essay, it is crucial to strike a balance between expressing your personality and maintaining a respectful and appropriate tone. This is not to say that you should shy away from expressing your true self, but rather that you should be mindful of the audience and the essay’s purpose.

Using Imagery and Descriptive Language

Another way to enhance your essay is by using imagery and descriptive language. You can bring your piece to life and captivate the reader’s imagination by incorporating vivid and detailed descriptions. Instead of simply stating facts or presenting information, strive to create a visual experience for the reader.

When using descriptive language, it is essential to show rather than tell. Instead of telling the reader how you feel, guide them through your words. Paint a picture with your writing by using metaphors, sensory words, and specific examples. By doing so, you can create compelling imagery that will make your essay memorable.

For example, instead of saying, “I was nervous,” you could describe the scene by saying, “My heart raced like a wild stallion, its thunderous beats echoing in my ears as I stood on the edge of the stage, my palms slick with sweat.” This description not only conveys the feeling of nervousness but also creates a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

In conclusion, writing an essay is not just about conveying information but about expressing yourself and leaving a lasting impression. By developing your voice and tone and using imagery and descriptive language, you can create an essay that is engaging and reflective of who you are as a person.

Editing and Proofreading Your Essay

Writing an essay is a process that involves not only crafting your ideas and arguments but also ensuring that your work is evident, coherent, and error-free. Editing and proofreading are crucial in refining and making your essay shine. Here are some techniques and strategies to help you polish your writing:

Self-Editing Techniques

When it comes to self-editing, it’s essential to approach your essay with a critical eye. Here are a few techniques to consider:

  1. Edit Multiple Times: Editing your essay once is not enough. Go through your work multiple times to catch any mistakes or areas that need improvement. You’ll likely discover new ways to enhance your writing each time you revise.
  2. Focus on Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling: Pay close attention to the mechanics of your writing. Check for grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and spelling errors. These small details can significantly impact the overall clarity and professionalism of your essay.
  3. Read Aloud: Reading your essay out loud can help you identify awkward sentences, unclear phrasing, or areas where your writing may sound repetitive. When you read aloud, you engage both your visual and auditory senses, making it easier to spot areas that need improvement.
  4. Seek Objective Feedback: While self-editing is essential, involving a trusted mentor or adult in your editing is also beneficial. They can objectively review your work and offer valuable suggestions for improvement. Having an outside perspective can help you identify blind spots and ensure that your essay resonates with your target audience.

Seeking Feedback from Others

While self-editing is essential, seeking feedback from others can provide you with additional perspectives and insights. Here’s how you can make the most of feedback:

  1. Share with Teachers, Counselors, or Family Members: Reach out to your teachers, school counselors, or family members and ask them to review your essay. Make sure to communicate the purpose of your paper so their feedback aligns with your objectives. Different individuals may offer unique perspectives and suggestions that can help you refine your writing.
  2. Embrace Constructive Criticism: When receiving feedback, it’s important to remember that constructive criticism is meant to help you improve. Be open to suggestions and consider how they align with your vision for the essay. Embrace the opportunity to refine and elevate your writing.
  3. Maintain Your Voice and Experiences: While feedback is valuable, it’s crucial to remember that your essay should reflect your voice and your experiences. Use the feedback you receive to enhance your writing without compromising your authenticity. Your essay should be a genuine representation of who you are.

Two college students standing in corridor

Writing the Common App essay may initially seem daunting. Still, with careful planning, self-reflection, and effort, you can transform this challenge into an opportunity to share your unique story and aspirations. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing a compelling essay. Embrace your uniqueness, and let it shine through your writing.

If you want to discuss the matter to a greater extent or inquire about college admissions, look no further! Our experts here at AdmissionSight can help you! Here at AdmissionSight, we have over a decade’s worth of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process to get accepted to the top universities in the world. Feel free to set up an appointment today to book your initial consultation.



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