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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 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? Share an essay on any topic of your choice. Which prompt are you going to choose? See how they got in, and how you can too! She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading.
We have some people who may have some experience with that. Letters of recommendation are important, because they give the While having five- and six-figures in student loan debt can Do you know how to evaluate your athletic abilities? If you follow these steps, I You have found the best source of specific tips and strategies on exactly how to brainstorm topics for each of the 5 prompts--and learn to But they already announced the changes for this coming season.
The most important were changes to the five essay prompts. You can write your The folks at The Common Application added a new prompt this year and I love it. It asks you to write about a problem. This may be the only time having a juicy problem is a good thing. Students trying to submit their college applications--including their essays--to The Common Application are finding all sorts of glitches and problems this fall. Most of this information is still helpful and relevant.
If you are ready to brainstorm ideas for your Common How to Answer Prompt 3 of the Common App. When you read the five options for your Common Application essay, one prompt probably will appeal to you first off. Others you will skim and choose to If you are working on your Common Application, you have five prompts or essay questions to choose from for your essay.
In previous years, you had the option to write Prompt 5 , Uncategorized 2 Comments. This prompt has changed for So it seems higher numbers are given for less prestigious educations by your parents. This makes me think that the less prepared your family is, the more points you get, and this might give your application an extra boost. Schools really do care about your background and how you performed relative to expectations.
For most applicants, your Extracurriculars and your Academic Honors will be where you develop your Spike and where your Personal Narrative shines through. This was how my application worked. As instructed, my extracurriculars were listed in the order of their interest to me.
The most important point I have to make about my extracurriculars: If I were to guess, I assign the following weights to how much each activity contributed to the strength of my activities section:. In other words, participating in the Research Science Institute RSI was far more important than all of my other extracurriculars, combined. You can see that this was the only activity my admissions reader circled.
You can see how Spike-y this is. The RSI just completely dominates all my other activities. The reason for this is the prestige of RSI. Because the program was so prestigious and selective, getting in served as a big confirmation signal of my academic quality. I had already ranked nationally in the Chemistry Olympiad more below , and I had done a lot of prior research work in computer science at Jisan Research Institute — more about this later.
But getting into RSI really propelled my application to another level. Because RSI was so important and was such a big Spike, all my other extracurriculars paled in importance. This is a good sign of developing a strong Spike. You want to do something so important that everything else you do pales in comparison to it. A strong Spike becomes impossible to ignore. Apply this concept to your own interests — what can be so impressive and such a big Spike that it completely overshadows all your other achievements?
This might be worth spending a disproportionate amount of time on. As I recommend in my Harvard guide and 4. Each week I spent eight hours on practice and a lesson and four hours of orchestra rehearsals.
This amounted to over 1, hours from freshman to junior year. I was pretty good, but definitely nowhere near world-class. Remember, there are thousands of orchestras and bands in the country, each with their own concertmasters, drum majors, and section 1 st chairs.
If I were to optimize purely for college applications, I should have spent that time on pushing my spike even further — working on more Olympiad competitions, or doing even more hardcore research. But this problem can be a lot worse for well-rounded students who are stretched too thin. First, developing a Spike requires continuous, increasingly ambitious foundational work. From the beginning of high school, each step was more and more ambitious — my first academic team, my first research experience, leading up to state and national competitions and more serious research work.
Second, it is important to do things you enjoy. Finally, note that most of my activities were pursued over multiple years. But this guide is already super long, so I want to focus our attention on the main points. Please describe which of your activities extracurricular and personal activities or work experience has been most meaningful and why. I chose RSI as my most significant activity for two reasons — one based on the meaning of the work, and another on the social aspect.
This is only the beginning of my cringe-y writing - wait until you get to my Personal Essays. I chose to spend this clarifying my extracurriculars even further. My main motive in this section was to add more detail around my most significant activities: The only parts the reader underlined were the name of my research supervisor, and the fact that my research was then a Siemens-Westinghouse Semi-Finalist.
Both of these legitimate my research. I highly recommend you take the time to write an Additional Information section. Here you have an extra words to add more color around your life and accomplishments — DO IT. Along with Activities, Academic Honors is the other major area where you can really shine and develop a big Spike. The higher the level of competition and the more prestigious the award, the more the honor is worth.
This has an exponential relationship, because of how quickly the field is narrowed at each stage of competition. This can also mean an international ranking is worth x that of a regional ranking — again, why a big Spike is so impressive. Academic honors and awards are a great, quantifiable way to show that. By far, the biggest academic honor I had was competing in the US National Chemistry Olympiad , where I ranked 6 in the country in junior year, out of roughly 11, students who took the first round test.
At the highest international level of competition, countries send their top students to wage battle against each other, just like the sports Olympics.
The best known subjects are Math , Physics , Chemistry , and Biology in order of descending prestige, among nerds. I ranked at the national level, before the US selected their final team — a study camp of 20 students. But this was still a national level honor, in a well-known competition. This is why I say a big Spike makes you stand out clearly among a bin of well-rounded applicants.
At Harvard in my class, I knew International Math and Physics Olympiad gold medalists, people who were on their national teams for the hardest subjects AND ranked in the top percentiles worldwide.
And there were students with similar level accomplishments in other arenas, from music performance to writing. Earning this kind of honor was nearly a golden ticket to getting into schools like Harvard , because you literally are the best in the world at what you care about. But remember there are thousands of nationally-ranked people in a multitude of honor types, from science competitions to essay contests to athletics to weird talents.
And I strongly believe the 1 differentiator of high school students who achieve things is work ethic, NOT intelligence or talent. Yes, you need a baseline level of competence to get places, but people far undervalue the progress they can make if they work hard and persevere.
Far too many people give up too quickly or fatigue without putting in serious effort. The truth is everyone who achieves something of note puts in an incredible amount of hard work. My research work took up the next two honors, one a presentation at an academic conference, and the other Siemens a research competition for high school researchers.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, think about how many state medalists there are in the country, in the hundreds of competitions that exist. The number of state to national rankers is probably at least There are just too many of them around. On the other hand, if you can get to be nationally ranked in something, you will have an amazing Spike that distinguishes you. How could anything I write compare to these tales of personal strength? The trite truth is that colleges want to know who you really are.
But they do want students who are:. I do think my Spike was nearly sufficient to get me admitted to every school in the country. Back then, we had a set of different prompts:.
I chose to write on a topic of my choice, which no longer exists as an option probably for good reason - kids just went all over the place. I also felt a need to be distinctive and thought that a free essay topic might give me more freedom.
The way I saw it, the personal statement was a vehicle to convey my personality and my interests. To build my Personal Narrative, I wanted to showcase my personality and reveal a bit about my life experiences. The idea I used was to talk about my battle against the snooze alarm. Frankly this personal statement is really embarrassing. Each time I read it, I cringe a bit. I think I sound too smug and self-satisfied. But again in the interest of transparency, here goes:.
I want to as well. The theme of the essay — battling an alarm clock — shows this well, in comparison to the gravitas of the typical student essay.
The frank admission of a realistic lazy habit — pushing the Snooze button — served as a nice foil to my academic honors and shows that I can be down-to-earth. So you see how the snooze button acts as a vehicle to carry these major points and a lot of details, tied together to the same theme. So overall, I believe the essay accomplishes my goals and the main points of what I wanted to convey about myself. Note that this is just one of many ways to write an essay.
It worked for me, but it may be totally inappropriate for you. Looking at it with a more seasoned perspective, some parts of it are WAY too try-hard. I try too hard to show off my breadth of knowledge in a way that seems artificial and embellishing. With just words, I could have made the essay more cohesive by keeping the same theme from beginning to end.
Some phrases really make me roll my eyes. A key principle of effective writing is to show, not say. The mention of Nietzsche is over-the-top. I mean, come on. Where in the world did fried rice come from?
I could have deleted the sentence and wrapped up the essay more cleanly. I think it accomplished my major goals and showed the humorous, irreverent side of my personality well.
However, it also gave the impression of a kid who thought he knew more than he did, a pseudo-sophisticate bordering on obnoxious. I still think it was a net positive. At the end of the day, I believe the safest, surefire strategy is to develop a Spike so big that the importance of the Personal Essay pales in comparison to your achievements. You want your Personal Essay to be a supplement to your application, not the only reason you get in. There are probably some cases where a well-rounded student writes an amazing Personal Essay and gets in through the strength of that.
Without a strong application to back it up, your mileage may vary. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools. This is a really fun section. Teacher recommendations are incredibly important to your application. The average teacher sees thousands of students through a career, and so he or she is very well equipped to position you relative to all other students.
Furthermore, your teachers are experienced adults — their impressions of you are much more reliable than your impressions of yourself see my Personal Essay above. They can corroborate your entire Personal Narrative as an outside observer.
The most effective recommendation letters speak both to your academic strengths and to your personality. For the second factor, the teacher needs to have interacted with you meaningfully, ideally both in and out of class.
Check out our guide on what makes for effective letters of recommendation.
For the application cycle, the Common Application essay prompts remain unchanged from the cycle. With the inclusion of the "Topic of Your Choice" option, you have the opportunity to write about anything you want to share with the folks in the admissions office.
The Common Application has announced that the personal statement essay prompts will be the same as the prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as students, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts.
Writing the Common Application essay can be tough. Check out our 6 simple common app essay tips, effective tricks and strategies to help you write a good - no, a great college essay! Score our Exclusive Video Brainstorming Guide and more! Important Note for Applicants: The Common Application changed on August 1st, ! The tips and sample essays below will still provide useful guidance and essay samples for the new Common Application, but be sure also to read the new article for the Common Application: Tips for the 5 New Common Application Essay Prompts.
My daydream then underwent a critical metamorphosis, from the realm of ideas to the realm of execution. That summer, I built a model for a double arm wrestling machine on Google Sketchup, and then, with the help of a professional welder, turned the model into a reality. 19 Common Application Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Many students trip over common obstacles in their college application essays. For example, many students can’t see beyond the superficial prompt to construct an essay that positively communicates their personality and passion.