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How to get started with Common App Essays this Summer

The Common App Personal Essay may seem like the final boss in a video game, seemingly undefeatable. However, with practice and a good strategy, you can emerge victorious. Your personal essay is a crucial part of the application process. It’s not just a task but an opportunity for you to display your unique voice and life experiences beyond grades and test scores.
Admission officers look for creativity, authenticity, and self-awareness. Let’s dive in and discuss how to kick off your Common App Essay in the summer.


The first step of working on your essay is to do some thinking. The Common App Essay should ideally show some growth or positive change. Consider life experiences, moments that have shaped you, challenges you’ve overcome, or achievements you are proud of. Also, think about childhood experiences, family vacations, your interests, and most importantly, your emotions because the main character here is YOU.
And in case you can’t think of anything, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • What was the happiest moment of my life?
  • How would my friends and family describe me?
  • What is my favorite childhood memory?
  • Was there a time when I felt like I didn’t belong somewhere?
  • Was I ever hurt by something someone said, and why?
  • What do I like to do in my free time?
  • What are my favorite shows, movies, or books?
  • Remember to note everything down, and don’t hesitate to ask the people around you if you can’t think of anything.


    Once you have some material, it’s time to connect the dots. Think about potential topics and group similar stories together. List the potential themes, such as overcoming challenges, specific personality traits, failure and change, etc.
    After you have finalized a list of potential themes and stories for your common app essay, it is time to decide on your prompt. Selecting the right prompt can seriously improve the quality and genuineness of your essay. Begin by carefully reading and understanding each prompt. Match your potential themes with the prompts. Remember to choose a prompt that resonates with you emotionally. An essay is more powerful when it shows genuine passion and personal connection, helping you to provide deep insights into your personality, values, and experiences. Most importantly, select a prompt that allows you to share multiple aspects of your life within that single prompt.


    Starting to write can be Scary! But getting your story on paper without worrying about perfection is important. What makes writing intimidating for many students is the fact that they are unsure of where to start and how to write. So, before you start writing your essay, create an outline to organize your thoughts. A basic essay should have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This outline will help you stay on track and help in making the essay flow more logically.
    To help you get into the habit of writing you can try free writing or journaling. Set aside 10-15 minutes of your day to write about anything you want. It could be about how your day went, a specific event that took place, or just something that interests you. For example, if you really like looking at the trees on your drive back home, you can try writing about this. The main aim of free writing is to help you get used to putting down your thoughts and feelings into words. Don’t forget that there is no right or wrong answer, and this is not something you will be assessed on. This will help you overcome the pressure to be perfect and open the gates to your creativity.
    When it comes to writing your first draft, the main obstacle is the first sentence. While the first sentence or hook of the essay should grab the reader’s attention, it can be changed later in the writing process. So, don’t try to think of the perfect first sentence right from the start. Instead, follow your outline, concentrate on the content of your story, and let your natural voice come through. Remember, your first draft is the starting point, and you will refine and polish it in later revisions.


    Starting your Common App Essay in the summer gives you time to work on it thoughtfully and steadily. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Seek feedback from your family, friends, and teachers. Be open to constructive criticism, but make sure the essay reflects the original tone and authenticity. Although the saying “practice makes perfect” may seem overused, it remains true. Remember to take your time and trust the process and yourself.

    Take that first step today and ask yourself: WHAT’S MY STORY?