What You Need To Know About The Common Application Essay

You can submit the Common Application to over 700 colleges across the US. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, you can fill out a single application form through the Common App. It then sends this application out to all the colleges on your list. As part of the process, you’re required to write a Common Application Essay. Think of it as your personal statement.

Here are a few things you need to know about the Common Application essay.

A high school student writing her Common Application essay on her laptop.

Navigating the Word Count

The Common App will specify the word limit for writing your essay. This has changed over the years. The current word count is between 250 and 650 words. The online application won’t accept essays that are below 250 words or over 650 words. Your essay must stay within the word count limit.

So what should you aim for? The ideal word count for your Common App essay is between 500 and 650 words. This word count gives you enough space to write an in-depth essay about your chosen topic.

Some colleges will state that you can send them a physical copy if the space in the online application isn’t enough. While you can certainly do that, you may want to consider sticking with the online option. Not only is it easier, the word limit can help keep your essay concise and focused.

Answering Those Prompts

The Common App provides prompts to guide applicants in writing their essay. These prompts are fairly generic, giving applicants a lot of room for interpretation. This is good news for you as it allows you to choose what angle you want to go with writing your essay.

The essay prompts do not stay the same every year. The Common App publishes new prompts fairly regularly so make sure you check the most current prompts. Don’t take the same approach as your sibling or friend, even if they applied only one year ago.

Tips For Choosing a Topic To Write About

For most students, choosing a topic to write about can be the most challenging part of crafting the essay. The prompts do allow you to write on any topic of your choice as long as it addresses their prompts.

Although the exact prompts may vary from one year to the next, they generally have the same theme. All questions are designed to learn more about you as a person. They’ve seen your academic records and read about your extracurricular activities in your main application. This essay helps them understand more about you aside from these accomplishments.

Things to think about when writing your essay:

Choose a topic you are passionate about. When you write on a topic you are genuinely interested in, your enthusiasm will come through in your writing. Never choose a topic just because you think it is more likely to impress the reader. If you don’t care about a topic, you’ll find it difficult to bring your essay to life. Worse still, the college admissions authorities will see through your forced writing. After reading through hundreds of essays, they can spot the difference immediately.

Make a list of your unique skills, achievements, personality traits and hobbies. Think about how you can highlight one or more items from your list to give the reader insight into what makes you, ‘YOU’.

Whatever topic you pick, make sure you expand on the idea. Don’t just write a bullet point on your personality traits or achievements. For example, just saying you are passionate about global warming, doesn’t tell the reader anything about you. What’s important is to highlight what you have done to avert it.

Perfecting Your Essay

500 – 650 words isn’t as much as you may think. But writing the Common App essay is not just about meeting any word count limits. This is your opportunity to tell the college admissions committee something about you that the rest of your application doesn’t. Your essay is what sets you apart from the other applicants. Writing an essay that stands out from the competition takes time. You may go with one idea and then decide to go with something different the next time you look at it.

The key to crafting a perfect essay is to start early. Starting on your essay early gives you sufficient time to brainstorm ideas and let them simmer. It also gives you time to change things up if you decide to do that. Most important of all, it gives you enough time to edit your essay.

Be ruthlessly objective when editing your essay. Don’t keep an extra sentence or even an extra word simply because you like the way it sounds. If it doesn’t add value to your essay, delete it. Do your editing over several days with a few days break in between. This allows you to read the essay with fresh eyes.

Peer Review

After you’re done editing, give it to your teacher, academic advisor or parent to read through it. Somebody who is reading it for the first time will be more objective about essay’s flow and organization. Revise your essay again based on their feedback.

Don’t put off writing your Common Application essay. Use these tips to get started early and submit an essay you’re proud of.

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