The Common App essay, or personal statement, has been the bane of high school seniors for years. Students spend time crafting, editing and reworking their essay to not only meet the strict character limit but also so that their writing highlights their strengths and accomplishments. Though the essay has always been important in college admissions, in years past admissions officials usually put more weight on ACT and/or SAT scores. But with so many colleges going test-optional this admissions cycle, the Common App essay is likely to become more important than ever as admissions staff are moving towards a qualitative assessment of applications.
Writing the Common App essay has never been easy, but due to the pandemic, resources that were once easy to access for essay help – like a student’s school counselor or tutoring center – are largely off the table. These gaps, along with the added pressure on writing a fantastic essay, make an already stressful time in normal conditions feel even more stressful. Luckily, there are a few tricks to writing an essay that answers any of the Common App’s six provided prompts (or seventh personal choice prompt.)
To start, it’s important to identify the purpose of the personal statement. Boiled down, the Common App essay provides a place for students to share a challenge or achievement that highlights something essential about themselves and shows personal growth. Facing challenges and growing because of them is an important step towards adulthood and demonstrates that you have the maturity to enter this next phase of your education.
What stands out about you? Is it your creativity, your passion or your ability to problem solve, for example? Is it something intrinsic to your identity or something you developed during your time in high school? Identify a key personality trait that defines who you are as a student and as a person. If you’re stuck, focus on a personality trait that comes through in the rest of your application. If you have good grades, write about your intelligence; if you succeed in sports, write about your athleticism.
Think about a time when your chosen personality trait was challenged or put to the test. The Common App essay prompts use words like obstacles, challenges, dilemmas, achievements and questions, but they’re all asking for the same thing – a moment of change, hard work or careful thought that ties back into who you are. This may take some time to think of, and it’s a good place to ask family and friends for help.
Once you’ve decided on your personality trait and your challenge, use that situation as the introduction to your essay. Try to pour your memories, emotions and senses into your writing to really bring the reader into that moment with you. And above all else, show how that challenge has changed or affirmed the person you are today.
Whether it’s Common App essays or scholarship essays, Scholarships.com has a wealth of advice on writing a winning essay. Visit our essay section for more advice on writing, formatting and editing essays for any situation. Be sure to do a free scholarship search while you’re at it to discover how scholarships can help pave your way to paying for college.