3 Tips for Writing the Common App Essay: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

I have revised many exceptional essays, filled with honest self-reflection and true idealism, that were written in response to this prompt. I have read even more forgettable essays about a medical mission, violin performance, football injury and mountain climbing journey that fail to set the student apart. When writing this essay, here are some questions that you should be asking yourself:

“Is this the way I would describe it to a friend?”
While we are often proudest of our most shining accomplishments, resist the urge to brag. Your audience is an unfamiliar admissions reader but the tone should reflect the way you would talk to a friend. Try to be the best and most authentic version of yourself.

“What matters to me?”
Even the most thrilling description of your climb up Mount Everest will be meaningless if you cannot articulate why it mattered to you. Try to think of three adjectives that you would use to describe yourself. What are your core values and how does your story relate to them? A mountain climb can reflect patience, audacity, cooperation, determination, tenacity, fearlessness, camaraderie, ambition, and many other virtues. Mention one or two of them in your essay.

“How does this story relate to college and my future?”
The admissions reader wants to get to know you, so take the opportunity to connect this formative story to your dreams for college and the future. Did climbing the mountain make you realize that your dream of becoming a doctor was obtainable? Did it make you decide to become a professional athlete, teacher, conservationist or global leader? Did it make you excited to travel and explore new cultures? I want to know why the story matters not only for your life so far but also for your life to come.

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