How to Make Your Common Application Essay Personal

Here’s the truth: college admissions may read your resume, but in regard to your personal character, they remain in the dark. The only opportunity you have to truly showcase the individual you are is by providing informative, emotional and personal responses to the essay prompts provided. In regard to the common application essay, you are presented with a blank slate. This essay is the best shot you have at telling a story that defines you, or at the very least provides the reader with a snapshot into your personal life. Those who are passionate about photography may choose to dissect their favorite prize-winning portraits. Basketball champions may recall their failure at state–how it tested them beyond previously anticipated boundaries, how it demanded good sportsmanship and humility. STEM students may recall the first computer or robot they built, how it made coffee, opened doors or calculated complex equations. Regardless of the topic, each student has a story to tell, and it’s the creativity of that story–as well as its heart and soul–that will give him or her control of the conversation.

So what story should you tell? Answer these questions before getting started:

  1. Was there a time when your personal character was tested or brought to light? If so, how did you respond to this situation? Did you rise above immediately or were you confronted with conflict?
  2. When did you experience the most growth?
  3. How has your family situation or home life impacted you? Who assisted in making you who you are today?
  4. Have you felt a calling throughout life? If so, what prompted this?
  5. How has your community or school assisted in shaping your character?

The truth is, many of us share a similar story. You may feel that you don’t have unique information to share. However, it’s not about the topic of your story, but instead the way in which you tell it and how you have grown because of it. You may not be valedictorian, a top-three state athlete or a child prodigy, but you have overcome controversy. Show admissions your strength (and don’t be afraid to get vulnerable in the process).

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