Laptop ImageFor most College applicants, the Application Process begins with the Common Application (Common Ap). More than 600 Colleges accept the Common App, which allows you to complete one set of forms that is sent to all the Colleges where you applying. 

Before the Common App, students completed an individualized application for each College. People will tell you that using the Common App makes it easy to apply to a lot of Colleges, because you write one essay that goes to all of the Colleges and complete one set of forms with your academic credentials, contact information, etc. The reality is that most Colleges have supplemental essays, the most common one being, “Why do you want to attend this College?”. Some Colleges have numerous supplemental essays, or short questions. They may not be as long or complex as your Common App essay, but they will take you time.

Each year, The Common App offers several Essay Prompts to choose from – you choose from theses prompts and write your essay.  The prompts may not change from one year to the next. The Common App for the coming school year, along with the Essay Prompts, are generally released on August 1. Refer to Read the Common Application Essay Prompts for advice on early preparation for the Common Application Essay.

Here are the 2015-2015 Essay Prompts:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
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Your Common App Essay requires serious thought

There are tons of websites, articles and books with advice on writing the Common Application essay. This is because your Common Application essay can often be the difference between being accepted and rejected by a College. Do not underestimate the Common Application Essay’s importance, and plan to spend some serious thought and lots of time writing, editing and discussing your Common App Essay. If you don’t find writing to be a talent that comes naturally, this essay is going to take a while.


  1. Two bits of advice I regularly hear from Admissions Officers:
  • If you left your essay with no name on it on a table at school, would someone who knows you be able to read the essay and identify you as the author?
  • If you gave your essay to someone who doesn’t know you, would they feel like they knew you after reading your essay?
    • In order to accurately answer these questions, you should hand your draft essay to someone who knows you for their input on whether you have done a good job of describing yourself and to someone who doesn’t know you, to see if they believe they know you better after having read your essay.
    • After that, show it to anyone you respect for their opinion. It wouldn’t hurt if they are a thoughtful person with good writing skills.
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Reading Other Application Essays Gives You Good Ideas

2. It is worth the investment to read a book that has sample College essays, such as 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays, by Gen and Kelly Tanabe. Perusing the essays helps you take a step back and see the big picture and how a particular essay topic or writing style might be more effective than others. Chances are you will read a winning essay and wonder how someone could consider this a great example. That’s because essays are very subjective.

3. Imagine you are an Admissions Officer, reading 100’s or possibly even 1000’s of applications. As you read about their grades, test scores, clubs, (yawn) you get an idea of what type of student is applying, but the essay is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd and show your true personality. It might be the only thing the Admissions Officer thinks is interesting about your application, with the possible exception of your Letters of Recommendation. If it is not well written and/or not interesting, the Admission Officer has nothing to look forward to while reviewing your file. That might put a student with an excellent Academic Resume in the Rejection pile.

4. It’s important to think about the message you are sending with that essay. Let’s say you chose the prompt that asks you to describe how you experienced a failure, how it affected you and what you learned. If your essay describes how you were the victim in this experience, then you spread the blame for the failure to others and that you learned to never trust anyone, that is not a great message. The prompt is asking you to show how you have grown. Time to dig deep. As with all the prompts, Admission Officers want to believe they know you better after reading your essay.

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A sweet story must have depth

5. Telling a sweet story about making cookies with your Grandma is not going to cut it. Writing about how while you made cookies with your Grandma, she taught you about your family history, how it shaped who she became and how that shaped you, is getting warmer. Trite lines like “I feel fortunate to have grown up in easier times than my Grandma” is not going to cut it. Writing about how your life has been impacted by your Grandma, who is not bitter despite the hard times she endured, and how those difficult experiences empowered her to become an independent woman at a time when women were valued based on their homemaking, is getting warmer. This Essay must be well-written, demonstrating a strong vocabulary without appearing to be simply written and then edited via a thesaurus. This essay should be the best-written essay you have ever written, and be a reflection of who you are as a person.


  • Pixabay Colored Pencils

    Time to get creative’s Education website offers essay advice, broken down by prompt.

  • This website offers ideas for topics you might write about for each prompt.
  • These 2014 and 2013 Huffington Post articles offers essay tips and advice.
  • This 2014 US News article also offers tips.
  • College Board, makers of the SAT, website has tons of information on the entire process, including the Common App Essay.
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