Common App Essay Tips & Prompt Analysis

ADMISSIONADO’S Common App Essay Prompt Analysis

Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

Before we dig deep into the prompts themselves, let’s get our heads around what’s happening here—big picture. Remember Luke Skywalker at the end of the original Star Wars? Uh oh… was that before your time? Well, nuts and bolts, the big evil Death Star is SECONDS away from destroying the heroic rebel base. Seconds away, in other words, from securing certain victory for “evil” over “good.” But not if Luke Skywalker can fire a shot into the tiny exhaust vent. This isn’t just any shot—it’s his only shot. It’s a make or break, do or die moment—if he misses, it’s lights out for the good guys.

So what does he do in anticipation of this fateful moment? He switches off his targeting computer—the machine that’s supposed to help him, you know, MAKE THE SHOT. He elects instead to “trust his instincts.” Whaaa? To be sure, it’s a risky leap of faith. The thing is, no one else knows what Luke knows, sees what he sees, feels what he feels. Trusting himself completely is a massive risk, but in the end, it pays off. An okay shot – the kind the targeting computer would have guaranteed – wouldn’t have done the trick. It required the perfect shot. And perfection rarely comes from a paint-by-numbers approach.

Friends, the absolute worst thing you can do in your personal statement… is keep that “targeting computer” on, and play it safe. This is the time when a calculated risk can be the difference between your application blending in with the noise, and emerging from the pack, in an unforgettable, emotionally affecting way.

So, fine—you’re on board. Now what? Well, let’s understand the PURPOSE behind this risk. For Luke it was to destroy the Death Star with an unusually precise laser blast. For you, it’s establishing an emotional connection with a reader. It’s causing that guy’s blood to go cold. Or eliciting a belly laugh. Or bringing tears to his eyes. It can be many things, but it all boils down to connecting on an emotional level that makes the reader (or readers) wanna ADVOCATE for you. Is this important? Can’t numbers and stats and the promise of lofty future endowment do the trick by themselves? Sure they can. On occasion, specs alone will qualify or pre-qualify students. If you don’t believe this to be true, you’re buying the hype. (Don’t.) But forget those kids, there’s nothing you can do about them.

Let’s focus on the other kids. The kids whose fates are decided by DISCUSSIONS. The borderline students. You can bet your bottom dollar that there are more qualified students here with impressive statistics (grades, test scores, achievements, etc.) than there are seats. At some point, twenty points on an SAT, a tenth of a decimal point higher GPA, or involvement in an additional bout of community service, won’t be the deciding factor. It’ll be the promise of greatness. The promise of something special… as communicated through “the x-factor” of your personal statement. Maybe it’s something about the way you wrote the essay. Something about your story. Something you’re able to suggest about who you are and where you’re gonna go. Maybe even something you’re able to communicate about the type of impact you might have on the campus. THAT is the thing that will grab the reader and turn him into a FAN who will STAND UP to make a case for you. Whether it’s an actual plea or gets crunched down to a score your essay receives (different schools do it differently), your success boils down to establishing that connection. And a down-the-middle essay attempt will never succeed.

These guys have “seen it all.” You’re not gonna wow or surprise them with a generic story. Or worse, a generic PERSPECTIVE on a cool story. The trick is to show them that your “lens” is an interesting one. The experiences that have shaped you have shaped your INSIGHTS into things. And in order to connect – in order to make that perfect shot – you have to communicate the coolness of YOUR personal take on the world.

So…how do you do that? Yeah. This is the hard part. And we’re gonna unravel it in the actual Common App Essay Breakdown.


By Raj Patil, Admissionado Founder