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Writing Your Common Application Essay and What to Avoid

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The Common Application is live and online for the coming admissions season. The Common Application essay prompts are available and located on the writing page of the application so writing can begin. Students will need to choose one of the five prompts and write to a 650-word essay.

The essay prompts are as follows:

1. 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.

2.Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5.Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Your essays will bring authenticity to your application and allow the admission officers to learn who you are. You need to make sure this happens. So just how should you start writing your essays?

Here are some suggestions we recommend to help you write essays where you can stand out:

1. Brainstorm possible topics: This could be absolutely anything -- Slice of life stories can be very appealing and just as noteworthy if the writing is exceptional. It's not necessary to write about some major event or achievement. Keep a file of life stories, specific moments and experiences. Think about how you have applied lessons you have learned. Read current college essay prompts and see if your ideas integrate.

2. Discuss your ideas with people you know: Listen to suggestions and elaborate on your thoughts. What do others think of your topics? Which ideas are discriminating and distinguish you as a strong applicant at your dream college?

3. Don't rush: Pace yourself well so that you have plenty of time to relax and write

4. Find a comfortable setting: Where your thoughts and ideas can flourish. Really like what you write about and mean it.

Once you have completed your "Free Write" go back and look at the specific essay prompts. The Common App Prompts can each inspire deep thoughts -- Select the one where you feel most sincere and authentic. Remember that your writing is quality over quantity so no need to write many rough drafts. Connect your topic ideas to the prompts and write a brief outline defining the paragraphs of your essay. This is where you may start to think about your opening "the grabber" and how to sustain interest. Keep track of the required word count.

Once you have your topic ideas and your general outline, you can begin writing out your rough draft.

Having reviewed countless Common App essays, below are some things we see and things you should try and avoid:

- Writing that does not emphasize the writer's strength of character

- Essays that make every effort to portray the writer as "perfect" and just try too hard

- Essays that don't reflect the writer's passion, curiosity and inspirations

- Contrived transitions that don't connect

- Narratives that do not engage the reader

- Repeating what is on the activity resume

- Dull openings that quickly lose interest

- Using quotes that don't connect or add anything to the essay

- Essays that don't realize the intent of the prompt and don't answer all the questions asked

- Essays that look too much like everyone else's. Common topics like community service in a foreign country, overcoming an obstacle and winning, a relationship with a close relative where the relative is the emphasis of the essay, winning a sporting event must remain unique with a well-told story

- Writing what you think admission officers want to read and therefore not your true self - using a thesaurus to impress

- Too much written in the passive voice

- Not keeping language specific -- writing too generally about too many things

- Use of slang or relaxed language

It is best to begin as soon as possible in order to present your best self and give your writing the time, thought and diligence it deserves!

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