I'd start with a story about how my parents worried I read too much as a kid, give some specific examples of things I've learned from particular books, and talk about how my enthusiasm for reading was so extreme it sometimes interfered with my actual life like the time I tripped and fell because I couldn't be bothered to put down my book long enough to walk from my room to the kitchen. Then I would tie it all together by explaining how my love of reading has taught me to look for ideas in unexpected places. You don't want your essay to read like a resume: it shouldn't be a list of accomplishments.
Your essay needs to add something to the rest of your application, so it also shouldn't focus on something you've already covered unless you have a really different take on it. In addition, try to avoid generic and broad topics: you don't want your essay to feel as though it could've been written by any student.
As I touched on above, one way to avoid this problem is to be very specific —rather than writing generally about your experience as the child of immigrants, you might tell a story about a specific family ritual or meaningful moment. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.
How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? This prompt is pretty straightforward. It's asking you to describe a challenge or obstacle you faced or a time you failed, and how you dealt with it. The part many students forget is the second half: what lessons did you learn from your challenge or failure? If you take on this question, you must show how you grew from the experience and, ideally, how you incorporated what you learned into other endeavors.
This question really raises two issues: how you handle difficult situations and whether you're capable of learning from your mistakes. You'll face a lot of challenges in college, both academic and social. In addressing this prompt, you have the opportunity to show admissions officers that you can deal with hardships without just giving up.
You also need to show that you can learn from challenges and mistakes. Can you find a positive lesson in a negative experience? Colleges want to see an example of how you've done so. Good topics will be specific and have a clearly explained impact on your perspective.
Choose Your Test
You need to address both parts of the question: the experience of facing the challenge and what you learned from it. Make sure you pick an actual failure or challenge—don't turn your essay into a humblebrag. How you failed at procrastination because you're just so organized or how you've been challenged by the high expectations of teachers at school because everyone knows you are so smart are not appropriate topics.
Also, don't write about something completely negative. Your response needs to show that you got something out of your challenge or failure and that you've learned skills you can apply to other situations. Spilling your coffee is not an appropriate failure, no matter how disastrous it may feel. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? There are two ways to approach this question. The first is to talk about a time you questioned a person or group on an idea of theirs. The second is to talk about a time that something caused you to reconsider a belief of your own.
In either case, you need to explain why you decided the belief should be challenged, what you actually did —if your story is just that someone gave you a new piece of information and you changed your mind, you should probably find a different topic— and how you feel about your actions in hindsight. The obvious question this prompt raises is what your values are and whether you're willing to stand up for what you believe. Whether you've reconsidered your own beliefs or asked others to reconsider theirs, it shows you've put genuine thought into what you value and why.
However, colleges also want to see that you're open minded and able to be fair and kind toward those who have different beliefs than you do. Can you question someone else's beliefs without belittling them? If not, don't choose this prompt. This prompt is really one where you either have a relevant story or you don't.
If there's a belief or idea that's particularly important to you, whether political or personal, this might be a good question for you to address. The main pitfall with this question is that it lends itself to very abstract answers. It's not that interesting to read about how you used to believe chocolate is the best ice cream flavor but then changed your mind and decided the best flavor is actually strawberry. Seriously, though, what is wrong with you!? Make sure there's clear conflict and action in your essay.
Divisive political issues, such as abortion and gun rights, are tricky to write about although not impossible because people feel very strongly about them and often have a hard time accepting the opposite viewpoint. In general, I would avoid these kinds of topics unless you have a highly compelling story. Also, keep in mind that most people who work at colleges are liberal, so if you have a conservative viewpoint, you'll need to tread more carefully.
Regardless of what you're writing about, don't assume that the reader shares your views. Finally, you want to avoid coming off as petty or inflexible , especially if you're writing about a controversial topic. It's great to have strong beliefs, but you also want to show that you're open to listening to other people's perspectives, even if they don't change your mind.
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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. The first part is very straightforward: how have you or would you solve a problem? However, you also need to "explain its significance to you. This prompt helps admissions officers see both what you care about and how you solve problems. Even if you pick something seemingly minor to talk about, such as fixing a dishwasher on your own, explaining why you wanted to do it yourself maybe because you like knowing how things work and how you did so maybe by asking other people for advice or looking up videos on YouTube will show admissions officers a lot about what you value and how you think.
Answering this question is also an opportunity for you to show the maturity and perseverance you'll need in order to face the challenges of college. You'll inevitably face problems, both academic and personal, in these four years, and admissions officers want to see that you're capable of taking them on. Any kind of problem "no matter the scale" is fine—it just has to be important to you.
Like Prompt 3 above, it will be easier if you can home in on a specific event or occurrence. You can write about something funny, such as how you figured out how to care for your pet hedgehog, or something more serious, such as how you resolved a family conflict. Writing about a problem you want to solve, rather than one you've already found a solution to, is much harder because it's more abstract. You certainly can do it, however; just make sure to have a compelling and concrete explanation for why this problem is important to you and how you came upon the solution you're proposing. For example, say a student, Tommy, wanted to solve the problem of homelessness.
First of all, because this is a very big problem that no one person or solution is going to fix, he would need to describe specifically what problem within the larger issue he wants to address. Then, in writing his essay, he might focus on telling a story about how a man he met while volunteering at a homeless shelter inspired his idea to hire men and women living in shelters to work as liaisons in public spaces like libraries and parks to help homeless people get access to the services they need. Avoid anything sweeping or general : for example, "How I plan to solve world hunger" is probably not going to work.
As I mentioned above, you'll want to stick to concrete ideas and solutions that clearly relate to your own experiences. Simply writing down some of your ideas, no matter how great they are, isn't going to make for a very interesting essay. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. Like Prompt 1, this one is very general.
It's asking you to talk about something you did or something that happened that caused you to grow or mature as a person. The other key point to remember when addressing this question is that you need to explain how this event changed or enriched your understanding of yourself or other people. In short: when and how have you grown as a person? Personal growth and maturity are complicated issues. Your essay might touch on themes such as personal responsibility and your role in the world and your community.
You don't have to explain your whole worldview, but you need to give readers a sense of why this particular event caused significant growth for you as a person. This prompt can also help you show either your own sense of self-concept or how you relate to others. Much like Prompt 3, this question likely either appeals to you or doesn't. Nonetheless, here are some potential topics:.
It's important that your topic describes a transition that led to real positive growth or change in you as a person. However, personal growth is a gradual process, and you can definitely still approach this topic if you feel you have more maturing to do. Fun fact: most adults feel they have more maturing to do, too! Just focus on a specific step in the process of growing up and explain what it meant to you and how you've changed. Almost any topic could theoretically make a good essay about personal growth, but it's important that the overall message conveys maturity.
If the main point of your essay about junior prom is that you learned you look bad in purple and now you know not to wear it, you'll seem like you just haven't had a lot of meaningful growth experiences in your life. You also want the personal growth and new understanding s you describe in your essay to be positive in nature.
If the conclusion of your essay is "and that's how I matured and realized that everyone in the world is terrible," that's not going to work very well with admissions committees, as you'll seem pessimistic and unable to cope with challenges. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
This prompt is asking you to describe something you're intellectually passionate about. But in addition to describing a topic of personal fascination and why you're so interested in it, you need to detail how you have pursued furthering your own knowledge of the topic. Did you undertake extra study? Hole yourself up in the library? Ask your math team coach for more practice problems?
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Colleges want to admit students who are intellectually engaged with the world. They want you to show that you have a genuine love for the pursuit of knowledge. Additionally, by describing how you've learned more about your chosen topic, concept, or idea, you can prove that you are self-motivated and resourceful. Pretty much any topic you're really interested in and passionate about could make a good essay here, just as long as you can put can put an intellectual spin on it and demonstrate that you've gone out of your way to learn about the topic. So It's fine to say that the topic that engages you most is football, but talk about what interests you in an academic sense about the sport.
Have you learned everything there is to know about the history of the sport? Are you an expert on football statistics? Emphasize how the topic you are writing about engages your brain. Don't pick something you don't actually care about just because you think it would sound good. If you say you love black holes but actually hate them and tortured yourself with astronomy books in the library for a weekend to glean enough knowledge to write your essay, your lack of enthusiasm will definitely come through. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Since this is a choose-your-own-adventure prompt, colleges aren't looking for anything specific to this prompt. However, you'll want to demonstrate some of the same qualities that colleges are looking for in all college essays: things like academic passion, maturity, resourcefulness, and persistence.
What are your values? How do you face setbacks? These are all things you can consider touching on in your essay. If you already have a topic in mind for this one that doesn't really fit with any of the other prompts, go for it! Avoid essays that aren't really about you as a person. However, if you want to write about the way that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" made you reconsider your entire approach to life, go ahead. We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies.
We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in. We've covered a lot of ground, but don't panic. I've collected the main ideas you should keep in mind as you plan your Common App essay below. Neatly packaged takeaways. For prompt 1, it's absolutely vital that your topic be something genuinely meaningful to you.
Big achievements and leadership roles, such as serving as captain of a team or winning a journalism award, can certainly be used as topics, but only if you can explain why they mattered to you beyond that it was cool to be in charge or that you liked winning. It's better if you can pick out something smaller and more individual , like helping your team rally after a particularly rough loss or laboring over a specific article to make sure you got every detail right.
Most students have an experience or interest that will work for either Prompt 2, Prompt 4, or Prompt 6. These prompts are slightly easier to approach than the others because they lend themselves to very specific and concrete topics that show clear growth. Describing a failure and what you learned from it is much simpler than trying to clarify why an event is a vital part of your identity. These questions ;ask about specific types of experiences that not every high school student has had. If they don't speak to you, don't feel compelled to answer them.
If you do want to take on Prompt 3 or 5, however, remember to clearly explain your perspective to the reader , even if it seems obvious to you.
For Prompt 3, you have to establish not just what you believe but why you believe it and why that belief matters to you, too. For prompt 5, you need to clarify how you moved from childhood to adulthood and what that means to both you and others. That ubiquitous, soothing command feels more natural to me than the sound of my own pulsating heartbeat, remaining constant and steady despite navigating the uncertain seas of adolescence. With this, I believed swimming would always be there——at least, until it was not.
In the blink of an eye, part of my identity was swept away and I was left desperately clinging to nothing. My childhood dream of swimming in the Olympics——to be remembered in history——crumbled before my eyes. I grasped at the memories of what once was and grieved over what could have been.
By the age of three, the water was my home. I felt more comfortable in an eighteen—feet deep, ten lane, twenty—five mete swimming pool than on dry ground. By age eight, I swam every day for my local swim club alongside the older summer swim team.
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I swam two hours each day with an hour of dryland practice twice a week before practice. However, during a grueling and intense practice freshman year, my dreams tore apart——literally. A team of doctors diagnosed me with scapular winging, rotator cuff tendinitis, and an extra bone near my calcaneus that caused flexor hallicus longus FHL tendinitis. Basically, I overused and irreparably shredded my shoulder. My fate was written. My swimming career was over and rehabilitation was not an option.
I was caught in a riptide of two different currents: who I aspired to be, and who I truly was. I stumbled predictably through each stage of grief: denying anything was wrong, anger for not listening to my body, trying to find any way to re—enter the pool. Everything in my life reminded me of my perceived personal failure and dreams forever deferred. One day, however, something switched. As if handed fresh goggles, I accepted a clearer outlook on life. I reframed my failures. Though I lost swimming, I found meaning in a renewed social life, a normal teenage existence, and a better relationship with my family.
I prioritized my health and embraced new opportunities and challenges, new aspects of a multifaceted identity. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be in the secret society of medicine with their facts, white lab coats, and remarkable self—confidence. I resolved to help other injured young athletes repair not only their bodies, but their minds.
Common Application Personal Essay Option 2
I began to consider a career in the specialties I personally experienced, such as orthopedic surgery and physical therapy. I imagined helping those who similarly experienced a drastic life change. I had once believed swimming was my calling; the pool would be my forever home. But as I became older, I reconsidered this belief——maybe swimming was not my true calling after all.
Maybe it was never meant to be anything more than a stepping stone to my true calling, medicine. Following years of recovery, I have managed recently to return to the pool. Before, I repeatedly pushed myself past my breaking point, never truly listening to my body. Without the burden of Olympic aspirations, I appreciate swimming different than before. With every slice of my streamlined hand through the ice—cold water, I am brought back to the grueling practices and arduous meets.
However, this time I grateful for the opportunity to be able to find my past self in the water once more rather than taking it for granted. Like with the first example, this applicant chose to link a discussion of their issue of importance with their long-term goals to practice medicine. It complements well their Essay A that discusses their short- and medium-term goals to study Anthropology at UT.
They walk the reviewer through their promising swimming career and subsequent injury. I appreciate their mature discussion of what swimming means to them today while seeing the big picture. Their essays helped contribute to their favorable admissions decision. We recognize both Jesus Christ and Buddha, Heaven and rebirth. Each weekend, I indulge in incense while offering tasty gifts to those long-past at the Teochew Temple. Each ceremony introduces a deeper division of my sense of self, my ethics, and where I come from.
In Mass, we seek redemption for past sins while Buddhism demands attention to the present and moderating our ever-present cravings and restless minds. I often feel like I exist in two different worlds, torn between these two families and these two beliefs. Not knowing whether I should exclusively commit myself to one, the other, or neither. Pi Patel in Life of Pi consoles, "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. Like Pi, I've discovered that if I bind myself to one option or the other, I feel perpetual doubt and insecurity.
Practicing two distinctly different religions helps me digest otherwise very uncomfortable ideas more easily. Christianity and Buddhism have many mutually exclusive conflicts where my beliefs may seem openly inconsistent or even hypocritical. I feel more open to talk with people from different backgrounds who share different beliefs or opinions, and being in Houston exposes me to people like my closest friend, who happens to follow Islam. I can look back and feel thankful for the many years of confusion borne from receiving conflicting messages from each family.
Never Underestimate the Importance of Supplemental Essays
I feel like everyone would be well served by taking a theology or philosophy class or make an effort to travel outside of their communities. Anything that forces you to consider different points of view is beneficial. Having an open mind opens so many doors that makes.