College Essay Tips

Your Common App essay is one of the ways that you can show the colleges you are applying to who you are beyond your high school transcript. Your essay will show who you are, what’s important to you, and how you think about things.

For your essay, it matters less what topic or event you write about--what matters more is your reflection on it, and how it made you change in some way.

From the book “Crushing the Common App Essay” by Julie Ferber Frank:

“Even if you write your essay about your experience on a soccer team or in the French Club, at summer camp or an after-school job, it’s not really about soccer or the French Club or your summer camp or an after-school job. It’s about you. Each of those arenas is merely a setting in which you met challenges, struggled, grew, and gained new understanding.”

Common App Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

See information on the Common App blog here

Brainstorming Ideas for Your Essay

Brainstorming and self-examination are the hardest parts of the essay-writing process. If it is too easy, take some time to dig deeper!

Here are some brainstorming ideas from the book “Crushing the Common App Essay."

  • Five words that describe you on your best day.  In your essay, you won't necessarily be stating, "I am [x], [x], and [x]" but you will be showing that you have these characteristics through the story you choose.
  • Five words that describe you on your worst day. Brainstorming these words may help you recall an event that caused you to rethink a previously held belief or change course.
  • What was a moment when you felt most alive?
  • What qualities do you possess and how do they change the way you live?
  • What [place, object, relationship] holds the most significance for you?  If you choose to write about an important relationship, make sure the focus is on you, not the other person, i.e., action you took or thinking that changed because of your interaction with that person.
  • What have you failed at and what did you learn from that experience?
  • What really fascinates you?

Refining Your Essay

After you write the first draft of your essay, expect to revisit it and refine it, maybe many times. Your goal is to add as many specifics about you as possible. If you end up cutting out parts of your essay as you revise, create a document to save those parts in case you change your mind or find other essays that you can use them in.

Questions to Ask Yourself and Others

  • If your essay was in a pile of essays, could a friend or family member pick out which essay was yours? This question refers to what writers call “voice.”
Definition of "voice" from “Crushing the Common App Essay”: “When done right, your essay couldn’t be written by any other person on this planet because it’s an honest, thoughtful, and clear expression—in your own voice—of who you are.
  • Is my story clearly told?
  • Does my writer’s voice sound like me?
  • What personal qualities does my essay illustrate?
  • Is the particular value I will bring to a college campus coming across in my essay?

College Essay Help

From September through March, college essay help will be available on Wednesdays. More information to come.



Here are links to the slide presentation and recording from the College Essay Workshop held on Thursday, July 14, 2022.